Perhaps in his heart there still lurked some faint respect for the dead. Perhaps he merely intended to impress the white women in his audience, as from under the bizarre robe of his heathen office he produced a prayer-book, and in the voice he knew so well how to modulate, read the service for the dead. At the close he swept the gathering with an inclusive glance. First in Thlinget, then in English he addressed his listeners:
"People of the Kagwantans, of the Wuckitans, of the Yakutats, and the Ganahadi,"—His voice made music of the Indians names.—"Listen to the talk I make and remember. Always, while I am the White Chief and Medicine Man of the Kagwantans, I will watch over the ashes of my brown brothers and sisters. Always, when the nights of the Big Snows come to Katleean and the spirit-lights whisper in the North in the moon of Kokwa-ha, I, the Unseeable, will watch. . . . Always, in the moons of the Big Salmon run, the Hat-dee-se, when there is no darkness in the nights of the North, I, the Unseeable, will watch. . . . I, who have brought you the great white medicine of the Letquan, the Snow People, I make the Big Medicine now—I make it with the sacred book of the White Shamans." He held one corner of his Chilcat blanket tightly against his breast with the prayer-book, and with the other out at arm's length, swept the fringes slowly back and forth over the grave. "I make the Big Medicine. . . . My brothers and sisters may rest in peace at Katleean, for no witch can dig down into the grave below to work evil spells. . . . I, the White Chief, the Unseeable, I am always watching."
The solemn old Indians of the tribe nodded their masked heads approvingly and gave grunts of satisfaction. Kilbuck turned away as if a bit weary of his role and walked toward the trading-post. The white members of his audience followed him.
After the departure of their foreign visitors the natives assumed an alertness strangely at variance with their usual stolid demeanor. Kilbuck, with his white guests, watched them from his living-room windows.
Blanket after blanket was spread over the boxes of ashes in the grave. Bolt after bolt of bright calico was torn into streamers and flung into the open space. Cooking utensils and food came next; then trinkets of every kind that might cheer the souls of the departed on their journey over the Spirit Trail. At the very last, Swimming Wolf, who had heretofore taken little part in the ceremonies, stepped forward with a tiny phonograph, a rare possession since it was the only one in the Village. The Indian carefully wound it up and lowered it into the hole. There was a craning of masked heads, . . . a period of grunting approval, . . . and then faintly from below came a whirring, a sputtering and a high, cracked voice of announcement. The White Chief's face wore its sardonic smile as the gravel was being shoveled into the grave for the little tin phonograph was bravely playing: There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.
THE POTLATCH DANCE
Evening found the Boreland family, attended by Kayak Bill, taking the beach trail to the Village. It was well past nine o'clock and the twilight had merged into the soft, luminous duskiness that would continue until the sun came up at two-thirty in the morning.
In the gloom a hundred blanket-covered canoes lined the crescent beach that sloped gently upward to a strip of gravel before the row of Indian houses. The totems of the Thunder-bird and the Bear stood out high against the sky. Before the Potlatch-house an Indian dog, small, coyote-like, yelped shrilly as he tugged at the rope which fastened him to a stake. The air throbbed to the incessant beat of drums and the muffled chant that rose and fell inside the meeting-place.
The Potlatch-house, older than the oldest Indian at Katleean, had been built before ever a white man had set foot on the beach of the Village. The low building, over sixty feet square, was made of huge, hand-hewed yellow cedar planks standing vertically. The gable ends faced the bay and all across the triangular space above the eves was painted the startling conventionalized head of a wolf. The ears rose weirdly from the gable edge of the roof. Two monster eyes glared through the twilight above a grinning, squared mouth twenty feet across. On either side of the oval door stood a totem, hollow at the base and containing the ashes of long-dead chiefs. The corner-posts were carved into life-size grotesque figures of men.
Between Ellen and Jean sauntered Kayak Bill. Their half-fearful looks at the Potlach-house were inspired by the stories he had told, with a certain grim amusement, to these two fair women of the South. They were stories told to him over the hootch-cup by the wicked Old-Woman-Who-Would-Not-Die; tales of the long-ago heathen times when the Potlatch-house was erected and dedicated with human sacrifices; when for each of those carved corner-posts a slave had been murdered and placed at the bottom of the hole that was to receive it; tales of scores of slaves who had been slaughtered upon its completion; tales of animal-like orgies those walls had seen—cannibal feasts, torture of witches, fiendish carousals about the burning dead.
Tame, indeed, in comparison were the Potlatches of this day, even when the savage spirit was stimulated by the white man's fire-water. And tonight there could be none of that. In honor of the white women, Kayak Bill was keeping drink from the Indians this one evening.
Ellen looked at Jean apprehensively as they pressed closely on the heels of Shane Boreland and followed him through the low, oval door of the Potlatch-house.
Inside the air was thick with the smoke of many pipes. Through the haze the wall lights burned dimly. All about the sides of the great room squatted natives in their Potlatch finery. At the farther end sat the drummers beating in booming rhythm on war-drums made of hair-seal stretched over rings from hollowed logs. Never during the three days of the Potlatch did those drumbeats cease.
Near the doorway was a small slightly-raised platform. On this, in his Shaman robes, sat the White Chief of Katleean. As they ascended the step he rose ceremoniously to greet them and indicated some chairs near him which had been placed in anticipation of their coming.
When the white visitors had seated themselves the drum-beats took on a quicker staccato rhythm. There was a craning of necks toward the doorway. Another moment and the chief dancer of the Potlatch entered the oval.
Dancing in backwards so that the decorations on his blanket were displayed to the best advantage he sang a halting Thlinget song and scattered the down of eagles about him. In the middle of the room he whirled and Ellen recognized Swimming Wolf.
"If the feathers fall on you," said the White Chief leaning toward her, "you'll have good luck all the year."
Other dancers backed in and took their places about the drummers. As Swimming Wolf stepped forward the drum-beats died to a muffled softness. The dancing sticks beat the floor in a low, sensuous syncopation that stirred the blood. The long-fringed blanket lent a wild grace to the Indian's swaying, stamping figure. His crouched steps seemed part of his faint, humming chant.
Curious at first, and a little apprehensive, Ellen looked on, her hand clasping that of her husband. After a while, the steady pulsing of the drums banished that something faintly like foreboding with which the civilized woman looks for the first time on primitive ceremonies; it even stirred in her something that she seemed once to have known and forgotten.
By the time Swimming Wolf had finished his steps she had withdrawn her hand from that of Shane and was anticipating with eager interest what was coming next.
She had not long to wait for the oval door swung on its peg and into the room lumbered a huge brown bear so true to life in form and gait that both she and Jean gave a startled gasp. The White Chief smiled as he leaned toward them.
"It's only Hoots-noo, Heart-of-a-Grizzly, dressed in a bear hide!"
The Indian must have spent many hours studying the actions and habits of his ferocious namesake, for in the pantomime that followed he gave a perfect imitation of the great bear of the North. Shambling down toward the center of the floor he paused. Striking a pose he made a motion as if jumping into a river to catch a salmon. With a floundering of his ungainly body he brought the fish up on the bank of the stream. He turned his uplifted muzzle from side to side as if scenting danger and presently proceeded to tear the fish into pieces, his head continually moving as though looking and listening for the hunter's rifle.
Hoots-noo's performance was followed by other clever impersonations and by more solo dances of blanketed Indians. All the dances, the White Chief told Ellen, were taken from the movements of the wild things of the North—the slinking of the fox across the tundra, the leaping of the King salmon in the river, the flight of the eagle over the fishing grounds.
When the general dance was announced every Thlinget buck sprang to his feet and sought a partner of the opposite sex. About the room in a circle the fantastic figures leaped with savage abandon. When the tired couples sought the resting places against the walls again and each buck gallantly presented his partner with a small bag of raisins—a custom introduced by the enterprising white traders.
Faster and more softly came the boom and thud of drums and dancing sticks, until the urge of them caused even Ellen's feet to beat time to the primitive music. She glanced at her sister. Jean's eyes were sparkling. Her lithe body was swaying and her hands moving in rhythm with the Thlinget's dance.
"For two cents, Ellen, I'd dance with my admirer, Swimming Wolf!" She laughed in her sister's ear. "I feel the stir of the blood of our remote ancestors, who must have stepped it off in some such manner as this. . . . Look at your son, El!"
Loll, by now regarding every Indian as his friend, was standing before Senott. That dusky belle was resting after a mad, joyous whirl with Hoots-noo, Heart-of-a-Grizzly. The boy's head was nodding with earnestness as he talked to her, and he was playing with the dozen gold and silver bracelets which adorned the gay one's shapely arms. Suddenly, with a laugh, Senott rose from the floor and grasping the boy's hands began to circle about the room with him. The drummers and holders of the dancing sticks showed their white teeth in delighted grins and quickened the rhythm of their music.
"By ginger," said Shane, his lean face alight with interest, "I'd like to shake a leg myself. Ellen—" he turned to his wife—"what you say?"
Ellen shook her head, smiling. "Take Jean, dear. She's wild to dance."
Shane turned to his sister-in-law. Laughing, she gave him her hand and the two stepped down and joined the bizarre throng. The smiling natives paused a moment to watch as the white couple improvised steps to suit the music, then the dance went on as before.
The drum-beats grew wilder, more stirring. The room grew warmer and the lights burned dimmer. Kayak Bill sitting between Ellen and Paul Kilbuck, attempted a monologue, but finding no listeners, gave it up to puff contentedly.
The fumes of Kayak's pipe seemed overly strong to Ellen. She began to feel the need of fresh air. She glanced at her sister and her husband as they passed her, laughing over an intricate step they told her was the "Bear Paw." Kayak Bill and the White Chief seemed buried in their own thoughts. Ellen rose, looked about her a moment and then slipped quietly out of the oval door into the cool, star-spangled night.
After the close air of the Potlatch-house, it was good to draw in the freshness of the out-of-doors. The two tall totems framed a golden naked moon that hung above the hills across the bay. The shimmering path from its glow threw into silhouette the prows of the big canoes drawn up on the beach. Ellen walked down the sandy path toward them. Pausing she leaned against one and gazed idly out across the water.
For the moment the chanting of the natives had ceased, and the drum-beats sounded muffled and soothing. Weird and lonely from a distant ridge came the faint call of a wolf, presaging, though she did not know it, an early winter. She became aware of the aromatic savors of the wild—sea smells, the forest breath, the tang of camp-smokes. She was beginning to like these things.
There was a sense of dream-like unreality about the night—about her whole life at Katleean. Sometimes she caught herself marveling that she was not more startled, more surprised at the new ways of life that had come to her, for it is only the seasoned traveler in the little known places of the world who ceases to marvel at the adaptability of man to new and strange environment. Alaska, especially, Ellen thought, seemed to work strange spells on those who came to dwell within her borders. What would be considered melodramatic and foolish south of 53, became somehow, natural and fitting above the line.
Her drifting thoughts were suddenly checked by the sound of soft footsteps in the sand behind her. She turned swiftly. Her dreamy, contemplative mood changed to one closely akin to panic, as out of the shadows tall and dominant in his Potlatch robes, the White Chief stalked toward her.
She had no tangible reason for fearing to be alone with the trader of Katleean, and she despised herself now for the impulse that urged her to run as fast as she could from the man. Mentally upbraiding herself for her foolishness she forced a smile of greeting and in her haste to say something that would put the meeting on a commonplace basis, burst out with the inane and obvious:
"Isn't it a beautiful night, Mr. Kilbuck?"
The White Chief stopped beside her and flung back the blanket from his shoulder. There was a lawless gleam in the narrow eyes he turned on her and she was not unaware of a certain savage, picturesque appeal in him. She felt again a strange, undesired impulse that had troubled her ever since her first meeting with the man—the urge to go close and look deep into his pale, hypnotic eyes.
"On nights like this, Mrs. Boreland," he said, his tones low, almost caressing, "I always think of those lines—perhaps you know them:
"'Press close, magnetic, nourishing Night! Night of the South Winds! Night of the few large stars! Still, nodding Night. Mad, naked summer night!'" . . .
Despite herself, Ellen thrilled under the magic of his voice. He went on: "It's the memory of such nights that bring me back to this country year after year, and then . . . when I return . . . there is only the mocking beauty of their loneliness."
Ellen knew but little of the "good, grey poet," but at the incongruity of his quoting she gazed with a new curiosity at this tall figure in the heathen splendor of a Thlinget witch-doctor.
"To be satisfying," he said softly, "beauty like this must be shared with a loved woman. . . ." his sweeping gesture indicating the moonlit bay of Katleean. "You are the first white woman to share it with me."
He stepped closer to her. Though there were three feet between them she felt his presence as a tangible thing. She stirred uneasily. The dull throb of the drums filled a moment's space.
"I have loved many women," his low voice went on, "women—of a sort—but never anyone like. . . ." There was something tenderly personal in the omitted word. "Sometimes . . . I wonder . . . if I might not be a better man if I had someone like you to stand beside me when winter nights come, and watch the Northern Lights. . . ."
Kilbuck looked dreamily away toward the peaks raising their subtle loveliness to the stars. Doubtless he must have said the same things slightly varied to many women in the States, but never before had Nature provided such a setting for his posing. Doubtless it had always made a favorable appeal, for Ellen knew that man, though doing exactly as he pleases, is ever holding out his hand to woman to be uplifted, and the mother instinct in the feminine heart seldom fails to respond.
Ellen felt suddenly that the situation was getting beyond her. As she leaned against the canoe she tried in vain to think of some ordinary thing which would change the current of the White Chief's thoughts and enable her to get away to the Potlatch-house without his becoming aware of her perturbation. Fumbling uneasily with the handkerchief in her hand she dropped it. As she stooped to pick it up an exclamation escaped her. She had been resting her head against the up-curving prow of the canoe, and now, as she moved, she became aware, by a sharp painful tug, that her hair had become entangled in some torn rivets embedded in the tarpaulin.
Instantly Kilbuck was behind her reaching across her shoulders to release the strands. They refused to come away.
After a moment of ineffectual tugging, Ellen removed a pin from the soft, thick coil. Loosed by their efforts with the tangle, her hair shook down and tumbled in a lustrous mass below her waist. She felt Kilbuck's fingers working at the strands about the broken rivet.
Suddenly he was still, his hand grasping a long strand of the mass.
"Mrs. Boreland, there is a superstition among the Thlingets to the effect that whenever a man carries a lock of a white woman's hair he is protected from any kind of violence—no matter what he may have done to deserve punishment. Your hair is of such a rare shade and texture, there would be no mistaking a lock of it, would there?"
With a swift movement his hand slipped beneath the Chilcat blanket. There was a glint of steel, and the next moment he had severed the lock from the shining mass. Ellen started back, snatching up her hair to wind it into its accustomed knot, but before she could utter the words that sprang to her lips there was a sound of running footsteps.
"Ellen! Ellen!" came the voice of Jean, as the girl sped toward them down the pathway. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"
She glanced at the White Chief with surprise, suspicion and disapproval succeeding each other in her eyes. She made no effort to conceal her dislike of the trader of Katleean.
"Come, Ellen. Let's go back to Shane."
Jean took her sister's hand and the White Chief watched their retreating figures for several moments. . . . From beneath his blanket he drew the long lock of hair he had stolen. One hand passed gently, caressingly along the length of it. It clung softly to his finger like a live thing. . . . The hair of native women was long and thick, but coarse, and even after long residence in the trader's quarters seemed to hold the faint salmon tang of the smoke-house. But this. . . . His lip lifted in his wolfish smile. It would be difficult, very difficult indeed for a wife to explain his possession of such a trifle. . . . He held it against his mouth. The faint perfume of the white woman thrilled him. His nostrils twitched. He felt his eyes grow narrow as when he sighted game on the trail. . . . Suddenly, as if in decision, he turned and walked rapidly up the beach toward his quarters at the trading-post.
In his living-room, dark now except for a few dull embers in the fireplace, he lighted a candle and crossed to the corner beneath the high shelf of books. He drew aside a large hair-seal wall-pocket of Indian make, and fumbled a moment. A small door swung open revealing a hollow in the log wall.
Very carefully the White Chief wrapped the lock of hair in a handkerchief and laid it away in the hiding place. As carefully he drew out a small moose-hide poke and putting the candle on a nearby table, sat down before it. He removed the tag attached to the top and read the inscription: "Eldorado Creek gold," then he loosened the string.
On the wall behind the man, weird, gigantic shadows, born of the flickering candle flame, leaped and danced. In the crude light and shade his barbaric gorgeousness became doubly sinister, as he pushed the strange shaman headdress farther back on his dark head.
He wiped an ash-tray carefully and poured the contents of the poke into it. Beautifully yellow and gleaming it fell in a golden stream—perhaps two ounces of gold dust. With a satisfied nod he put the poke of dust into his pocket and a few minutes later stepped out into the night.
The sound of drums and dancing came up from the Village as he crossed the dim courtyard toward the light that shone palely from Silvertip's window. As he entered the cabin the Swede, still nursing the broken head that kept him from participating in the Potlatch festivities, groaned dismally in greeting.
There were a few perfunctory words, then for half an hour Kilbuck talked earnestly. Silvertip protested; he whined; but he listened. There was mention of Boreland and beach sand; of gold dust and Kon Klayu. After much persuasion Silvertip consented to do what the White Chief outlined.
Kilbuck held out the small bag of gold and the pale-eyed Swede reached for it and put it away under his pillow.
The trader rose to go. As he draped his robe about him, his eye caught a movement among the blankets in the top bunk. He started.
"God, you fool!" he whispered hoarsely, leaning down and grasping Silvertip's arm. "Why didn't you tell me you had some one here. Who is it?"
The Swede groaned. "By yingo, Ay plumb forget about te tarn jung yack-ass Harlan. He coom in har dis noon time drunk like hal, wit t'ree bottle of hootch. He tal me he iss lonesome. He iss drunk now, Chief. He can't har not'ing."
Kilbuck drew down the blankets from the head of the man in the upper bunk. The boyish sleeping face was flushed. Dark matted hair clung to the damp forehead and there was a sickening odor of vile liquor in the air. A long moment the trader looked to see if Harlan would open his eyes. Then with a contemptuous laugh he flung the blanket over the lean young face.
"Nothing to fear from him if he drank three bottles of Kayak Bill's brew."
He stepped out of the door into the courtyard, adjusted his headdress and humming a dance-hall ballad, swung down the beach path toward the Indian Village.
A week later, in the snug little cabin of the Hoonah, Ellen Boreland sat opposite a folding table, where her husband, humming contentedly, was adjusting a gold-scale. Ellen's hands were busy with mending but her brow puckered anxiously and her eyes had purple shadows beneath them.
From the moment she had realized the loss of her lock of hair, her conflicting impressions of the White Chief of Katleean had crystallized into a certainty that he meant no good to herself or to her husband. That he desired her she had now no doubt, and while she knew in her heart that she was in no way responsible for this, she felt more keenly than ever that baffling sense of guilt that had attached itself to her since her first meeting with the man. It seemed some loathed feeling shared with the man and more gripping because of words never spoken.
Another thing troubled her: Because of him she had told her husband a lie—the first during her ten years of married life. Her mind went back again and again to the scene. They had come back to their room at the post the night of the Potlatch dance. Jean, full of enthusiasm over the events of the evening came in from her loft-room to talk it all over with her sister. Little Loll in a corner, was solemnly practicing the bear-antics of Heart-of-a-Grizzly. Shane Boreland, as was his custom, sat watching his wife comb out the long beautiful tresses that were his pride.
Suddenly he rose from his chair. "By ginger, El!" he exclaimed. "What have you done to your hair? Looks as if you had cut a chunk out of it!" There was concern in his face as he picked up a handful and pointed out the severed portion to his sister-in-law.
Ellen's blood seemed to turn to water. Her heart fluttered in her throat. What explanation could she give this chivalrous, hot-heated Irishman who loved her, and who, she knew from past experience, would shoot a man for less than the Chief had done? She valued above all things the trust and loving companionship that had blessed her married life. She hesitated, desperately seeking some plausible explanation that would approach the truth. . . . Shane, she imagined, was looking at her keenly now and there was a curious light in Jean's frank eyes.
"I—I—cut it, dear," she stammered, hiding her face under the veil of her hair. "I—I cut it to send to mother in the next mail."
The instant the lie was out she would have given a year of her life to recall it. She realized, too late, that it but opened the way for other lies. It placed her in the position of one obliged to carry indefinitely an unexploded bomb, which the least jar might set off causing—who could tell what destruction.
The next day she had insisted with more than her usual vigor on returning to the schooner. Shane had consented reluctantly, but he would not for the present accede to her wish to leave Katleean. He was stubborn in his determination to learn all that was to be known about the Island of Kon Klayu.
Ellen recalled the events of the week. Her husband's enthusiastic reports of the Island gold. His talks with the carefully non-committal trader and the thin-nosed, shifty-eye Silvertip; and finally his decision to spend the winter on the Island in search of the precious metal. Shane was sitting now at the table pouring some shining dust into a saucer and studying the "colors" as they fell.
"The lure of raw gold, Ellen!" he mused looking up at her with glowing dark eyes. "There's no greater magnet for a man in the world, little fellow—except the love of a woman," he added softly with the smile that had won his wife's heart ten years ago and made her happy in sharing his shifting fortunes.
"But if I make a go of it this trip, Ellen, I give you my word that I'll go back to the States and settle down somewhere,—any place you wish. Look at it—just look at it, El!" He held the saucer so that it caught the sunlight streaming in through the round cabin window. "By Jove, it ought to go eighteen dollars to the ounce! It's clean as a dog's tooth! Silvertip says he and some of his mates panned it one day at Kon Klayu while the Sophie Sutherland took on water. . . . Of course the party sent over by Kilbuck's Company didn't find much, but from what I hear they were a hootch-drinking lot who knew nothing of mining, and thought only of drawing their pay and keeping drunk. You can see for yourself, Ellen, what this northern hootch does to a man—young Harlan is a good example. Gone to the dogs in three months, though I can't help liking the fellow."
He shifted the gold dust again and bent his head to peer at it through a small microscope. During the moment's silence came the lap of the incoming tide against the hull of the schooner.
"That reminds me, Ellen," Boreland went on. "The Chief received word yesterday from a trading-post down the coast that a revenue cutter is bound this way on a tour of inspection. Kayak Bill's going to hide his still and go into retirement until the cutter has finished investigating. Seems they're always suspecting him of making hootch!" Shane chuckled with amusement. "Funny old devil—Kayak Bill! I like the old cuss. I've asked him to come over to the Island with me for a couple of months until the Chief brings the Hoonah with our winter outfit."
At the mention of the Hoonah Ellen glanced about the snug, cheerful cabin that had been her home for many adventurous months. This staunch little schooner had brought her and her loved ones safely over hundreds of miles that separated her from her home port. Thoughts came to her now of wild, stormy nights when she had awakened in her reeling bunk to the scream of wind in the rigging, the roar of waves, the tramp of hurried feet overhead and the shouting of voices. At those times she knew Shane stood at the wheel in the drenching rain giving his orders for the reefing of sails. During the first days of the voyage the awakening in a gale had always filled her with a great fear—a fear not for herself but for her family, her little son. She would clasp the sleeping boy more closely in her arms and lie with straining muscles, waiting listening, every sense painfully alert and her eyes hypnotically watching the garments on the opposite wall swing out and back with the roll of the ship. Gradually as the schooner righted itself after every roll Ellen's nerves would relax. Unclasping her arms, she would snuggle close to the back of the bunk,—the few inches of the Hoonah's hull that separated her and her loved ones from the black, bull-throated billows that sought to swallow them. The feel of the cool wood brought a sense of safety, a certainty that with Shane's strong, thin hands on the wheel the Hoonah would bring them all safely through any danger of the sea. Then bit by bit approaching sleep would dim the fury of the gale until at last it was but a lullaby zephyr wafting her, like her little son, once more into the harbor of dreams. . . .
She had not realized how dear the schooner had grown to her until she had signed, against her better judgment, the bill-of-sale that transferred the vessel to Paul Kilbuck. On the reef-sown coast of Kon Klayu it appeared there was no harbor where a ship might find shelter, and Shane needed money for his winter outfit. Half the purchase price the trader had paid down—the other half was to be given Boreland when Kilbuck took the remainder of the outfit to Kon Klayu later in the fall.
Ellen aroused herself from her reverie. Shane had been speaking some minutes and his first words had been lost to her. He was quoting:
"One more trip for the golden treasure That will last us all our lives!"
Life to Shane was a sweet and wonderful thing. Though there had been years of hardship and struggle and often failure in the mining game, he still retained an eager joy in existence, a faith in men and women and something of the wonder of a boy. Perhaps it was because the place of his questing had ever been the forests, the mountains, the clean, unpeopled places.
His present life of a prospector, sailing his little schooner boldly across dangerous reaches of ocean, through the intricate lovely waterways of Alaska's Inland Sea, poking her prow into hidden crescent coves, trying his luck with a gold-pan on unknown streams, always sure that the next shift of the gravel in the pan would reveal a fortune—all this made life fascinating for Shane Boreland. No matter how far short realization fell, he was always ready with another dream, always eager when a new adventure beckoned.
And now it was the mysterious Island of Kon Klayu.
Stripped of the golden glamour with which Shane had invested it, Ellen knew it to be an island but five miles long and a mile and a half wide, which lay out in the North Pacific ninety miles from the nearest land; an island uninhabited and completely surrounded by dangerous reefs and shoals; shunned by ships and spoken of as a death trap by sailors. But one tree, other than alder and willow, grew upon it. Three hundred feet above sea-level on the high, flat top, a lone and stunted spruce rose from the tundra and breasted the heavy gales that swept the ocean. For firewood there were but the drift logs of the beach. There were no animals of any kind. The foxes and a pet cub bear taken there by the Alaska Fur and Trading Company at the time of the fox-farm experiment had been killed off by passing whalers who were sometimes forced ashore for water.
Shane had entertained no idea of allowing his wife and family to accompany him to the Island. All his powers of persuasion had been used to induce Ellen to stay at Katleean with her sister and Loll as guests of the White Chief until the tall steamer going south should take them back to the States. The trader, Ellen knew, had taken this arrangement for granted and she was certain she detected something of baffled rage in him when she informed him on her last visit to the shore, that since she could not dissuade her husband from going to the Island of Kon Klayu she and her family would accompany him.
It was in vain the White Chief pointed out to her that there were not provisions enough at the post to supply Shane with a complete winter outfit. He must sail at once for Kon Klayu in order to prepare for the winter's work, and the autumn steamer bringing more supplies was not due for six weeks. It was in vain Kilbuck assured her that he, himself, would take her to the Island later on when he went over with the remainder of Shane's outfit after the arrival of the steamer. Ellen was obdurate in her decision and once having committed herself she became a different woman. Whatever misgivings she held in regard to the enterprise she kept to herself. She plunged whole-heartedly into the preparations for the journey, becoming at once the practical director of the commissary. She looked carefully over the stock of goods at the trading-post and obtained far more in the way of supplies than the easy-going Shane, inclined to trust to the trader's judgment, would have done. And Kilbuck, for some reason, seemed disinclined to furnish even as much as his stock would allow.
For the past week Ellen eluded every effort made by the White Chief to see her alone. Since the night of the Potlatch dance she had talked with him only in the presence of a third person. Strange to say she found now that she could look him squarely in the eyes, but when she did so it was as if steel met steel. The feeling that she was playing a game of wits against the autocrat of Katleean was not without its interest for her. It was impossible entirely to conceal her growing hostility toward the man, and she knew that her wordless antagonism was felt by Kilbuck. To her anxiety she knew also that instead of diminishing his appetite for her, it increased it. She was growing eager to be away.
The outfitting went forward daily. Jean and Loll spent many hours ashore exploring the vicinity with Senott or Kayak Bill. Sometimes the visitors caught a glimpse of the tweed-clad young man who seemed so quiet and aloof, and who, even when not drinking, avoided them all. Ellen observed a certain interest in him growing in Jean. A tentative question or two put to Kayak Bill revealed this, though it availed her nothing. The old hootch-maker, muttering something about "everybody to his own cemetery" had branched off to relate something he had "hearn tell" when he was "a-punchin' o' cows down in Texas."
Ellen, as well as Jean, wondered at the presence in Katleean of such a man as Harlan, and the reason for his connection with the dead Naleenah. Understanding of another's lapses comes with years and Jean, Ellen knew, was too young fully to realize what this young man's dissipation portended.
Ellen kept a sharp eye on Harlan. Though she herself shared Jean's mild curiosity and faint pity, she managed to keep her sister at a safe distance from him. She intended very carefully to guard Jean.
Sometimes, in the evening, when the girl stood on the after-deck of the Hoonah, her violin tucked beneath her chin, her eyes on the dreaming radiance of the sunset, Ellen studied her as she played. She wondered, if in her heart, the young girl played to him, and if he heard. And once, to her anxiety, as she sat listening to the silvery music floating out over the water, she had caught a shadow moving on the shore—had seen a figure move stealthily down a hidden trail to the Point beyond the Indian Village and lie behind a great boulder, listening. . . .
The outfitting for the Island was nearly complete now. Each of the new acquaintances at Katleean contributed, with friendly intent, to the preparations of the departing travelers. In the cabin of young Harlan, which had been the home of the deceased Add-'em-up Sam were shelves laden with dusty books, old magazines and piles of ancient newspapers. At Kayak Bill's suggestion the bookkeeper had packed the best of these into a box and the old hootch-maker had borne the package to Jean, remarking that "readin' matter might come in mighty handy on the Island." The box was placed with Shane's outfit stacked in a corner of the store.
Ellen and Jean were looking through the collection one afternoon, judging the departed Sam by his taste in literature, which they found to be surprisingly good. As Jean turned the pages of Treasure Island, a paper fluttered to the floor. The girl picked it up, reading aloud the caption over a crude, penciled map: "The Island of Kon Klayu." She unfolded it and was smoothing out the creases that she might better study the drawing when Loll came running in from the platform in front of the store. His freckled face was puckered with suppressed grief, his grey eyes abrim with the tears he was too proud to shed.
"Mother—Jean—look at poor Kobuk," he faltered, with a gulp that threatened to send the drops tumbling over his brown cheeks.
Kobuk, the big huskie, had wagged himself into the hearts of every member of the Boreland family. Ellen knew that Shane had offered the White Chief a good price for the animal, but the trader had refused to part with his lead dog. Even when it was discovered that the huskie had developed mange Kilbuck would not give him up, though he did nothing to relieve him. Shane, busy with his outfitting, found time to take care of Kobuk, rubbing him every day with a mixture of sulphur, lard and carbolic acid until he was practically cured. Jean and Loll had attended these treatments taking turns holding the bowl of sulphur salve and encouraging the restive Kobuk to be a good dog and take his medicine. Now it was with the utmost pity and concern that they beheld him slinking to his corner in the store, for he had been out on a porcupine hunt and his nose, his entire head was literally bristling with needle-like quills.
Ellen had seen irate dog-owners spend hours with a pair of pinchers removing quills from their animals, and she knew that even one of those tiny needles, if overlooked, could work its way straight through Kobuk's body. If it struck a vital organ, he would die.
The dog eased himself into his corner and tried to rest his head on his paws. The quills under his muzzle stabbed him and he raised it with a sharp yelp of pain. Jean and Buddie sprang toward him with expressions of sympathy and endearment. The dog whimpered, raising his soft, dark eyes to their faces as if begging for help in his trouble. Jean, on the verge of tears, sank down beside him, but Ellen, thinking to relieve him, ran to the living-quarters back of the store to get a pair of pinchers from Decitan.
When she returned she stood a moment half-concealed by the curtain in the doorway. Jean was soothingly stroking one of Kobuk's big paws. Near her stood the White Chief who evidently had just come in. Both thumbs were hooked beneath his scarlet belt, and he was looking down at the dog. Kobuk at that moment lowered his head and tried to work himself farther back in his corner, but the effort brought out another yelp of pain.
The man's eyes became mere slits.
"Ah, damn you, so you've done it again, have you?" he said with a softness that in some indefinable way chilled the blood. "Well, this time we'll let the quills work through your brainless skull—or— Here, Hoots-noo—" he turned to the Indian who was entering the store. "Take this cur out and shoot him. I'm tired of having quills yanked out of him."
With a cry of protest Jean came to her feet.
"Oh, no, no! Please!" Apparently forgetful of all but the safety of the dog, the girl clasped both her little hands about the man's arm. Her hazel eyes pleaded. Loll, too, was clinging to the trader's other hand, stroking it and looking up beseechingly into his bearded face.
"Oh, Chief, please, please don't shoot Kobuk! We want him! We'll take care of him!"
The White Chief paid no attention to the boy, but he looked down into the face of the girl and laughed unpleasantly.
"The little squaw with white feet can be very nice to me when she wants something," he said. "What are you willing to give me for Kobuk, my little lady?"
At his tone the girl shrank back, but Loll, sturdily refusing to be ignored, interrupted hastily:
"She ain't got nothing you want, Chief!" He began tugging desperately at a string about his waist which bound to him his most cherished possession—an old broken revolver bestowed on him by Kayak Bill. "Here, I'll give you my pistol for Kobuk!" The earnest little fellow held out the weapon with an air of certainty which indicated that there could be no refusal of such a treasure.
The White Chief sat down leisurely on a box of pilot bread as if to better enjoy the situation.
"No, my boy," he said with another laugh. "Your disdainful aunt is going to pay me for Kobuk in coin which you will learn more of bye and bye." He turned to the girl. "I'm not such a bad fellow, Jean," he continued with an attempt at an ingenuous smile. "Come, kiss me once and the dogs is yours."
Over Jean's face swept conflicting emotions, disgust, contempt for the man, pity for the moaning dog whose life depended on her decision. The Indian, stolid and unseeing, had already laid a hand on Kobuk's collar.
Ellen, unable to remain silent longer, started forward unnoticed by the others in the tenseness of the moment, but before she had taken two steps Loll had taken charge of the situation.
Going close he rested a hand on either knee of the trader and looked up earnestly into the man's pale eyes.
"Chief," he spoke half-apologetically as man to man, "you see Jean—" he indicated his aunt with a tilt of his head—"Jean doesn't like to kiss strange men—but I don't mind." And before anyone realized what was happening, the boy had taken Kilbuck's face between two small hands and pressed cool, childish lips to the man's forehead.
Jean caught her nephew in her arms impulsively. "You darling!" Half laughing, half crying she buried her face in his neck. "You darling!"
"Well, that's settled!" said Loll in his matter of fact tones as he wriggled to free himself. "Kobuk's ours now. Thank you, Chief. I'll have—" He broke off with a shout to welcome Ellen, whom he had just seen. "Hey, mothey! He's ours now. Gimme the pinchers!" He took them from Ellen's hand and started toward the quill-filled Kobuk, who, sensing perhaps a change in his fortunes, had risen expectantly to his feet.
Shane, entering the doorway at that moment, was apprized of the addition to the family. The next two hours were spent by the Borelands in extracting quills from the repentant Kobuk. For the first time in his life, perhaps, the pain-racked animal was soothed and cheered during the hated operation by quaint old Irish terms of endearment, punctuated with advice.
"But there'll be no more porky hunting for you, me lad," Shane assured the dog as he pulled the last quill. "For the very first fine day we have we're off for the Island of Kon Klayu and divil a thing you'll find there to chase but sand fleas!"
HARLAN WAKES UP
Gregg Harlan had watched with interest the Boreland's preparation for departure to the island of Kon Klayu. For the first time in his life he was doing some serious thinking; and ever since the Potlatch he had been seeing himself in no complimentary light.
His chief source of self-disgust was his way of taking the information that the Borelands, including Jean Wiley, thought him a squaw-man. In his dejection his thoughts went back time and again to those few moments of silent companionship when he had stood beside the girl in the dusk and watched the funeral canoes come in. . . . Why hadn't he, after the White Chief told him of his reputed connection with Naleenah, why hadn't he followed Jean and explained? True, the shock and surprise of the thing had momentarily swept him off his feet, but why had he, in foolish reckless resentment against unjust circumstances, rushed off instead to the cabin of Kayak Bill and taken glass after glass of the stuff that had put him in such a state of oblivion that he was unable to take any part in the Potlatch festivities? Since then he had been too ashamed to approach either of the white women. He felt that he must first do something to win their respect.
During his twenty-five years Harlan had been a drifter along the pleasant ways of least resistance. This was, perhaps, because he had never been called upon to shoulder responsibility. Six months before, because of this tendency more than because he had been in love, he had found himself involved in a foolish but unpleasant financial tangle brought about by a plump, perfumed, pleasure-loving little blonde. This small person from an eastern state had made his former knowledge of the hectic night-life of San Francisco seem but a tuning up of the orchestra before the overture. . . . After the inevitable parting of the ways, he had found himself obliged to call upon his irate and disgusted father for financial assistance. He had done this often before—so often that this last episode, more scarlet than any of the others, brought about a crisis. Later, penniless, but debtor to his father only, he had departed under a cloud of paternal disapproval to take the position of bookkeeper at faraway Katleean. It was then that he decided he was through with women.
At the time he believed it, as all men do who make a similar decision, but up here in the North he found that a white woman meant more to men than in the States. After three months in Katleean a white woman had come to stand for the cleanness and the decencies of life. He found himself longing to be near and speak to these two visiting women of his own kind. He had heard of the "woman hunger" of Alaska and recognized in himself the symptoms of that state which causes even the most hardened misogynist to travel a hundred perilous miles merely to look on a white woman's face and hear her voice.
And music—the music of Jean's violin drew him like a magnet. Every evening when she played on the afterdeck of the Hoonah he slipped down to the Point beyond the Indian Village and listened—listened hungrily, with a longing to join her and explain his stupid innocence in connection with the dead Naleenah. His youth called to hers, and he wanted this clean-hearted girl to think well of him.
His drunkenness—but of course there was no excuse for that. He despised weakness in a man, and he had thought a good deal about his own of late. The episode of Naleenah had brought him face to face with the grim realities attending his drifting.
Sometimes when he looked at Silvertip, lolling brutish and drunken on the blankets of his bunk, Harlan had wondered what alcohol did for the squaw-man. Once he had tried to outline to the one-time cook of the Sophie Sutherland, the beauties, as he saw them, of getting drunk. He recalled now his sensations from the moment the alcohol began creeping through his veins, softly, warmly, creating a glow about his heart. Vistas then opened up before him. Romance and adventure beckoned him. . . . Later, when the stimulant reached the centers of his brain, like the sentient fingers of a musician touching the keyboard of his soul, it produced golden harmonies from those keys whose tones are love, rhythm, color, appreciation of the beautiful: Inhibitions melted away in the amber light that enfolded him. Lovely things he had read or seen or thought and kept to himself for lack of expression formed themselves into words of exquisite simplicity that were to his ear as pastel shades to the eye. He could sing then, as he never sang at other times. Music that was felt, rather than heard, swayed him, and his feet, his hands, his whole body longed to dance and interpret this rhythm of the universe.
Afterward came oblivion, a sweet forgetting of all unpleasantness, a divine sense of mingling without responsibility with the elements.
But lately, he admitted reluctantly to himself, even in his moments of keenest alcoholic pleasure, he had been aware of an underthought that his exalted mood must pass leaving him more colorless, more listless, more inclined to drift than before. It took more of Kayak's whisky to produce an effect now than it had in the beginning. Perhaps, in time, he might even grow to be like Silvertip. . . . He shuddered. It sickened and dismayed him to realize how the pale liquor had already enslaved him—to what it might lead him.
Another thing troubled him also. Ever since the night of the Potlatch dance which he had been too intoxicated to attend, something vague but insistent at the back of his consciousness strove to make itself remembered. Something he had heard in a half-drugged sleep. Something about gold and Kon Klayu. An idea persisted that on him depended some grave issue, but strive as he would he could not remember what it was.
Once, as he swam in the dawn below the Point in an effort to clear his cloudy brain, he prolonged his course until he found himself close to the hull of the Hoonah. It gave him satisfaction to find that despite three months of heavy drinking at Katleean, his daily plunge in the sea had kept him physically fit. He looked at the trim little schooner cradling her sleeping crew. Green wavelets lapped against the clean white side, and below the water-line the red of the bottom glimmered. Her upcurving prow seemed to urge to sea adventures. He wished he might go with Boreland to spend the winter on the Island of Kon Klayu. But this, he knew, was not possible. He had work to do at Katleean and it was time he was beginning it. And Ellen Boreland—he was not unaware that she disapproved of him and did her best to keep her sister from friendship with him. . . . But—he might make the trip to the island and back to help Silvertip, whom Kilbuck had detailed to pilot the Hoonah to Kon Klayu. Silver was not fond of work. He would welcome the extra help in bringing the vessel home again from Kon Klayu. . . . Kon Klayu! The words tantalized him afresh with his failure to remember the thing he should. Perhaps the sight of that mysterious island, though he had never seen it, might bring back to him the memory he sought. . . . He decided suddenly. When the Hoonah sailed for the Island of Kon Klayu he would be aboard, even though he had to go as a deck hand!
A morning came favorable for the departure of the Hoonah. Sunshine flooded the peaks, the hills, the post of Katleean. A stiff easterly breeze ruffled the bay into pale golden-green, and overhead long, white, scarf-like clouds streaked the blue. "Mares' tails" Kayak Bill called them, as he stood on the beach shifting his sombrero forward over his eyes so that he might better engage himself in what is known in Alaska as "taking a look at the weather," a proceeding which becomes second nature to those who live in the North where travel depends on wind, tide and atmospheric conditions.
The time of saying good-bye was at hand. Silvertip, with one of his countrymen and Gregg Harlan were already aboard the schooner. The White Chief stood on a driftlog watching Boreland load the last trifles into a whale-boat some hundred yards below him. One hand was hooked beneath the trader's scarlet belt; the other held an unlighted cigarette. The wind ruffling the long dark hair on his bare head gave him a lean and savage look.
Kayak Bill, who had been unusually silent all morning, left off searching for weather signs, and sauntered over to him. His eyes narrowed slightly as he looked keenly into Kilbuck's face.
"Chief," he said nonchalantly, as he drew his pipe from the pocket of his mackinaw, "you and me's grazed conside'able on the same range. We ain't never got in each other's way. . . . There's some things about you I ain't no nature for a-tall—but you been purty square with me. . . . Likewise I'm not goin' round tellin' all I know about you. Everybody to his own cemetery, I say." The old man took his pipe from his mouth and faced the trader again. "But before I go a-rampin' off on this vacation o' mine, I want to say this, Chief: I'm not knowin' nothin' but hearsay about this Island o' Kon Klayu—but—yars ago I lost out in the matter o' family and I'm thinkin' a heap o' this Boreland outfit now. I'm trustin' to you, Chief, not to ring in no cold deck on 'em—or me. I'm figgerin' on seein' you at the Island o' Kon Klayu in about six weeks with the balance o' the grub."
"You needn't be so all-fired serious about it, Kayak. I'll take care of the grub all right. You say yourself that I've always played fair with you."
"Yas, Chief," drawled the old man, "but they ain't never been no women in the game before. Women and dogs is hell for startin' trouble. I ain't blind, Chief. I can still see offen the end o' my nose."
The trader laughed abruptly.
"Well, old timer, you seem to be seeing off the wrong side this time. Don't you worry, Kayak. I'll be along and get you about the middle of October. Your revenue cutter friends will be gone by that time."
Kayak Bill was silent for a moment. Then with seeming irrelevance he said slowly:
"One time . . . a long spell back . . . I knew a woman . . . and a man. He cheated her, and—wall, I shot him dead . . ."
"Hey, there, Kayak!" came Boreland's shout from the whale-boat. "Come lend a hand here a minute, will you?"
Kayak Bill waited a moment. Then shaking the ashes from his pipe he restored it to his pocket and plodded down to the boat.
Farther along the beach a little group of Thlinget women had gathered about Ellen and Jean to bid them good-bye. Senott, self-appointed spokeswoman for her shyer sisters, was shoving forward a plump, good-natured looking squaw, who handed Jean a pair of hair-seal moccasins and a small Indian basket.
"She potlatch you," explained Senott, supplementing her words with eloquent eyes and hands. "She like you, Girl-Who-Make-Singing-Birds-In-Little-Brown-Box. She Add-'m-up Sam 'ooman. She go Kon Klayu long time ago. She sorry you go. No river on dat island. No salmon, no tree, no mans. Only b-i-g wind! B-I-G sea! She sorry you go." The plump widow stood by shaking her head and making soft clucking sounds in her throat.
Leaving Jean to thank their Indian friends Ellen slipped through the circle. Her conventional training evidently asserted itself, for she turned now and went to say a few words of good-bye to their host.
She looked singularly small and attractive as she stood before him, her blue eyes raised to his face, the sea-wind blowing her hair across the pink of her cheeks. The trader stepped down from his log to greet her.
"I wondered if you would say good-bye to me without the presence of your whole family," he said softly, bending his head. Many a squaw in Katleean, after incurring his displeasure, had seen the same expression in his eyes just before he struck her in the face with the flat of his hand. "One might almost think you are afraid of me. But . . . though you will not stay at Katleean, I'll always have something to remind me of you." He slipped a hand into the pocket of his flannel shirt and the sheen of Ellen's stolen lock of hair caught the light for a moment before he buttoned the flap over it again.
Ellen, with a few stammered words, was backing away from him, her wide, fearful gaze fixed on his face, when he reached out, and as if merely to shake her hand in farewell, laid his iron fingers over hers in a grasp that made her wince.
"Just a moment, my frigid little Lucretia." He spoke hurriedly: "I'm letting you go now because the time is coming when you'll want me. When you get aboard the schooner you'll find I have presented your son with a pigeon. Take good care of it. It was hatched here—and it's your only means of communicating with the mainland. And listen—" he leaned down almost whispering the words—"When I want a squaw, I get her. When I want a white woman, I get her. Remember the pigeon. You'll want me. The pigeon, loose, comes back. I shall understand!" He laughed, as if sharing with her the humor of some vile joke.
Ellen shrank back, her face flushing with outraged helplessness and shame. She wrenched her hand free.
"All aboard! All aboard for Kon Klayu!" The cheery voice of her husband rang out. She turned from the White Chief and ran.
The natives came forward in a crowd. Jean free-stepping, wind-ruffled, met her halfway, and seizing her hand, the two hurried down to the whale-boat. Friendly native hands shoved the boat off amid shouts of good will and good-bye.
The rattle of the anchor-chain sounded as they boarded the Hoonah and made the tow-line of the whale-boat fast to the stern. The sails were hoisted and a moment later the little craft listed slightly as she caught the breeze. The entire population of Katleean waving farewell followed along the beach past the Indian Village and down to the Point.
"Good-bye! Good luck!" shouted the few white men on the shore.
"Tay-a-wah-cu-sha! Tay-a-wah-cu-sha!" echoed the plaintive Indian voices.
From the top of the cabin the Borelands waved back as the Hoonah rounded the wooded point that shut out even the smoke from the trading-post.
Sea-gulls white as the bellying sails, tilted against the wind in the sunshine. A wedge of wild geese honked high on their way to southern lands. Countless sea-parrots squattered away from the schooner's path, dragging their fat, black bodies in splashing clumsiness across the water. The wind freshened and the rigging strained and creaked as the Hoonah swung to the long, wrinkled swells of the open sea. Driven ahead by the breeze she dipped and splashed sending showers of whitened water away from her prow and leaving a wake of foam-laces behind her like a veil.
Already the adventurers had left behind the creatures of their kind, for Silvertip at the wheel was headed out into the lonely North Pacific, laying his course for the Island of Kon Klayu.
THE ISLAND OF THE RUBY SANDS
Next morning the schooner was rolling easily on a long swell. Through the open hatchway the sun streamed down into the hold where Harlan lay, and as he awoke, the appetizing fragrance of boiling coffee drifted in to him from the cabin in the stern. Above the calls and the sound of feet on deck came a thin wild chorus which he had learned to associate with the island nesting grounds of thousands of sea-birds.
Hastily slipping into his clothes he climbed to the deck and looked about him. The Hoonah was riding at anchor—ninety miles out at sea!
The morning air of sea-swept spaces filled his lungs with freshness. On three sides the sun-silvered green of the ocean fairly sang to the eye as it rolled away to meet the far blue of the horizon. Half a mile off the starboard bow, edged by lines of breaking surf, sand-dunes topped with green merged gradually southward, into strange jade-green hills, low and soft as brushed velvet in the distance. To the North the dunes tapered to a long, narrow shoal over which, as far as the eye could reach, swells of clearest emerald broke into a splendor of flying spray.
Above this sand-spit thousands of gulls flashed, skirling and screeching in the sunlight, their weird, thin calls mingling with the diapason of the surf that boomed against the beach and the hundred reefs of Kon Klayu. Overhead a constant stream of gulls and sea-parrots plied between their fishing grounds and the south end of the island where they had their young.
"By Jove, it's a regular little island paradise?" Harlan called to Kayak Bill. "How comes it that everyone is afraid of such an inviting looking spot?"
Kayak, who was picking his way forward to where Boreland was already busy with the outfit, paused and leaned a moment against the main-mast. His eyes with one slow glance took in land and sea.
"Wall, son, I reckon she's somethin' like a pussy-cat. She's a-smilin' and a-purrin' in the sun today, but I'm thinkin' when it blows up a sou'easter, with nothin' in God's world a-tween here and Honolulu to stop the sweep o' it, she shows every one o' her reefs like a cat barrin' her claws."
Kayak Bill looked about him once more before striking a match to light his pipe. Then drawling something about the "ox-wee-nee-chal" gales, he passed on to the bow of the schooner, leaving Harlan smiling.
Silvertip and his mate were kneeling in the stern, both busy with the pully-blocks that held the steering cable of the Hoonah. Their low tones did not carry beyond a few feet. Silvertip slanted uneasy glances in the direction of the foaming shoals that ran far out into the sea. His helper, evidently disagreeing with him on some point shook his head. Harlan caught something about fog and getting off the course in the night.
At last the man burst out:
"By yingo, I tank we are on wrong side of——"
"Shut up, you tarn squarehead," snapped Silvertip, with a glance in Harlan's direction.
The man made a gesture as if he washed his hands of the whole affair, then raised his head to look about him. A dark streak far toward the southern horizon indicated a breeze from that direction.
"I guess we haf a beam wind home," he announced.
"Yas, tank God," assented Silvertip, with a last look at the rudder cable. "Ant as kwicker ve leaf dis de'th trap, as better for me. She blow up gale har in turty minutes. Ven Ay vas cook on Soofie Suderlant——"
"Breakfast is ready, men!" interrupted Ellen's clear voice from the cabin hatchway.
The Swedes came to their feet and after a moment of whispered conversation, joined the others in the cabin. Half an hour later, when Boreland and Silvertip came on deck again, the breeze had freshened slightly and the sailor looked about him in a restless and worried manner, his glance finally lingering on the sand-spit.
"Borelant, Ay tank ve lant you har right avay kwick. Ay tank she blow by an' by like hal."
Shane, glancing at the clear sky and the sun-kissed waves, laughed.
"Nonsense, Silver! The island's got you buffaloed, just as it has all the sailors in this section. . . . But it's up to you. I'm ready to go ashore any time you say. The sooner you land me and show me our cabin, the better I'll like it."
The whale-boat at the stern of the schooner was drawn alongside, and another which had been carried on the forward deck was lowered.
The first one loaded, Kayak Bill and the two Swedes climbed down into it and shoved off from the side. Boreland and Harlan, loading the second one, stopped in their work to watch them.
Tossing up and down on the long, green swells, the moving boat drew nearer and nearer to the foaming lines of surf. Presently they were in the welter of white. Once when the little craft went completely out of sight behind a monster swell, Loll, watching from the cabin top, shouted in alarm, but yelled again in delight as it rose high on the same billow.
Silvertip and his mate bent to the long oars. In the stern Kayak Bill, hatless and wind-blown, steered wisely over the rollers which threatened to break on them any moment.
In profane admiration Boreland watched. "It's the ninth wave," he shouted presently. "Kayak'll take her in on that one. . . . By thunder!" he broke out as the boat rushed toward the shore in a smother of foam, and landed well up on the beach, "if that old cuss could rope a steer as well as he can land a boat in a surf, I wonder that they ever let him out of Texas!"
The work of landing the outfit went steadily on and with each trip to the beach Silvertip urged more haste. Tides, currents, quick-rising fogs and gales, and the extreme danger of the anchorage—these were the burden of his conversation. Since he was the only one in the party who had been on Kon Klayu before they were obliged to accept his reasons without argument.
Despite haste, however, it was late afternoon when the last boat-load went ashore. Turning from his contemplation of it, Gregg Harlan looked down ruefully at the water-blisters that decorated the palms of his slim hands. He was spending the most arduous day of his life. He was tired. Every muscle in his body ached from the heavy work of handling the outfit and in his mind was a weariness slightly tinged with bitterness.
It was not until he saw Ellen and Jean in the departing whale-boat that he realized how much he had counted on the few hours of their companionship aboard the Hoonah. With Loll he was on friendly, almost brotherly terms, because of his sincere appreciation of Kobuk and the boy's new pigeon. But as for anything else—he smiled now a little bitterly as he recalled Ellen's polite but wary treatment of him, and the seemingly casual way in which she managed to prevent any interchange of thought between himself and her young sister. He fancied Jean felt this also and resented it, for several times during the day, across the confusion of the deck, her eyes had sought his and in the meeting there was a warming sense of intimacy.
But she was gone now. He would never see her again. He had handed down her violin as she reached up from the tossing whale-boat to receive it. He remembered her firm, boyish hand-clasp as she said good-bye to him. Was there regret in her eyes at the separation, or had he imagined it?
Gregg leaned wearily against the cabin looking toward the shore. Everything seemed to have gone wrong for him today. He had intended going in with the last load for an hour's stay on the Island, but Silvertip, fearing that the wind might grow stronger, had insisted on his remaining behind to watch the schooner.
Through the glasses he could see Loll and Kobuk racing up and down the beach now. Jean and her sister sat, somewhat forlornly, he thought, on part of the outfit piled up on the sand. The men had gathered about the whale-boat which was to be left on the Island, and were drawing it up higher on the shingle.
It would be an hour or more before the Swedes returned to the Hoonah. Gregg looked out across the rolling, endless ocean. Although the sun was yet shining brightly there was a feeling of evening coming on. The cries of the gulls seemed to have taken on a tone of infinite sadness. All at once, for some inexplicable reason, he was overwhelmed by a sense of the futility of life—of living. No quest seemed worth pursuing. No dream worth dreaming. He had often felt this way during the past three months, and when he did—he drank. He longed, with sudden intensity, for a bottle of Kayak's clear, white brew. Alcohol was the magic brush that transformed the monotone of life into shades of wondrous hue.
His dejection was deepened by the fact that ever since leaving Katleean he had been trying vainly to recall that thing he should remember. While he strained and sweated over the loading of the outfit, his mind had been busy seeking, searching, trying to pierce the curtain of oblivion that separated him from that subliminal self who knew the thing he wanted. He felt as though he were being tantalized. It was almost the same feeling he remembered having in boyish dreams that came during examination time, when the answers to dream questions flashed in his mind for a moment then diabolically faded before he got them down on paper.
After a while his unseeing eyes left the water. He gingerly felt the blisters on his hands and shook his head with a half-contemptuous, half-humorous smile at himself. Then restlessly he began to pace the deck. If only he had something stinging—something stimulating to drink! But the White Chief had seen to it that there was nothing intoxicating aboard the Hoonah. It would be eighteen hours at least before he could hope to be in Katleean where Kayak Bill had left a generous supply of hootch stowed away in the top bunk of his cabin. In the top bunk——
He stopped short. From some remote corner of his brain there had come to him one of those inexplicable flashes of memory that revealed, unbidden, the thing he had struggled so hard to remember! In a moment he was back in Silvertip's top bunk the night of the Potlatch dance. The voice of the White Chief came back arguing, commanding, threatening. The whine of Silvertip protested, and finally assented. As a realization of what this conversation portended dawned on Gregg, his blistered hands clenched. Curs! Cowards! to lend themselves to such a work of deception! . . . The aroused young man tossed back his wind-ruffled hair and squared his shoulders. He must reach Boreland immediately; must tell him what he knew before the Swedes left the beach of Kon Klayu.
He sprang to the starboard side of the schooner and trained the glasses on the shore. The men were gathered about the whale-boat talking. He could see Silvertip's hand emphasizing some statement as he pointed to the hills. Gregg knew that once the Swede left the beach, he would never return to it. He had landed his party and his work was done.
Desperately Harlan longed for some kind of craft in which he might reach the shore before the sailors left it. There was none. For a moment he considered waiting until they came aboard. But could he, single handed, force them to return for the Borelands? . . . No, the outcome of such a course was too uncertain. Something must be done at once.
There was only one other way in which he could get word to the adventurers. His eye measured the heaving, foam-streaked distance between him and the beach. Could he make it? A year ago in the States, before drink had gotten such a hold on him, that half mile would have meant nothing to him—but now . . . Temperature, unknown currents, undertows must be reckoned with here. Again, shaking him with its intensity, returned the intolerable craving for a drink.
His eyes once more swept the long line of breakers. If he would warn the Borelands he must do it at once! He must make that half mile before Silvertip left the beach. . . . He would do it!
Even as he decided he had torn open the front of his shirt. Swiftly he stripped to his underwear and the next instant had dived over the side of the schooner.
He came sputtering to the surface. Contrary to expectations the water was much warmer than that at Katleean. With a feeling of relief he struck out for the beach.
He had not gone thirty yards when he became aware that a strong current was carrying him toward the south end of the Island. Desperately he put every ounce of his strength into his shoreward strokes. The buffeting of the running chop sea began to tire him. He was becoming winded. He was losing his sense of direction. After ten minutes he realized, with alarm, that he could never make a landing, near Boreland's outfit. . . . Five minutes more and he knew he would be lucky if he made any landing at all. . . . The current was sweeping him on toward the cliffs at the south end of Kon Klayu where black reefs bared their fangs in a welter of foam. Even in the smother of the chop he was aware of the increased roaring of the breakers.
He made one mighty, but ineffectual effort to reach the shore, then with a feeling of baffled despair he turned his back on the breaking surf and began to fight his way, inch by inch, back to the safety of the Hoonah.
On the beach the last sack and box had been carried up to a place selected by Silvertip as being above the high-tide line.
"Well, old man, I think we'll take a stroll around and see where that cabin is located," said Boreland cheerfully. "It can't be far from the anchorage here."
"No, no. Youst a little vay. Youst a little vay," hurriedly answered Silvertip as he waved an indefinite hand across the dunes. "You'll find it so easy you don't need me. Ay tank she makes a big vind in the sout'vest, so Ay go before a heavy sea coomes."
They talked about the island anchorage for a few minutes. Boreland insisted that the breeze would die down at sunset as is often the case during good weather, but Silvertip persisted in his determination to get away from the Island at once.
Finally Shane turned to Kayak Bill with a somewhat contemptuous laugh.
"What do you say, Kayak? This fellow seems scared to death to stay here any longer. I reckon we can get along without him now, don't you?"
Kayak Bill spat meditatively at a knot of brown kelp.
"Wall, we mout be a-makin' a false play, but—durn the critter anyway, Shane! He ain't got no more backbone than a wet string! He's been in a hell of a stew ever since we got here about this storm a-brewing and it's beginnin' to roil me just havin' him pesticate around. Let him go."
During the conversation Silvertip's pale eyes had been shifting back and forth between Boreland and Kayak. If he resented Kayak's disparaging remarks he made no sign. When the old man finished he began moving swiftly toward the whale-boat where his mate was adjusting the oar-locks.
Five minutes after a last hurried direction relating to the location of the house, he and his partner were making their way out over the breakers to the Hoonah. Shane and Kayak started out at once to look for the cabin in which they intended to sleep that night. As they left they called cheerily to the women standing on the beach, but Ellen hardly heard them.
As the distance between the shore and the moving whale-boat lengthened she felt a growing depression, a sinking of the heart. She was filled with a vast loneliness. All about her and above her was illimitable distance—ocean spaces green and rolling; sky spaces far and wide and blue; spaces through which the winds of the world swept unhindered; spaces filled eternally with the sound of the sea. She was awed and silenced by the immensity, the impersonality of it all.
Jean, too, was silent and meditative. Ellen wondered if she were thinking of young Harlan. That problem at least was solved, she thought with relief. The girl came close and placed an arm about Ellen's waist as if for the comfort her physical presence might bring.
Together they looked on while the Hoonah got under weigh. Flying before the wind it grew smaller and smaller in the distance. The awe in Ellen's heart gradually gave place to an acute homesickness for the comfort of the little craft that would be her home no more. Time passed, and as she watched the topmast sail going down on the horizon she realized, as never before, that the fate of herself and her family was dependent solely on the White Chief of Katleean. His word was law, his power absolute. She was aghast at her blindness in permitting the shaping of such a situation. Blaming herself, she went over the events of the last two weeks step by step, perceiving too late what she would have done, what she should have said to dissuade her husband from this last mad venture.
She turned her eyes from the sea at last, resolving to shake off her depression. She must prepare to meet the future. Jean had left her some time before and was busy tucking her violin away more securely in its wrapping of silk. Lollie kneeling before the cage in which his pigeon fluttered experimentally was trying to force bunches of wild peas through the bars. Ellen went close to the cage and looked down at the bird.
There was something sinister in the gleam of the bright, beady eye it turned up at her. The words of the White Chief came back to her. "You'll want me. . . . The pigeon loose, comes back. I will understand." . . . "You'll want me." What had he meant by that? The pigeon—She looked down at it again thoughtfully. That afternoon, in lowering the cage from the deck of the Hoonah into the whale-boat, the fastening had slipped and it had fallen into the sea, but Silvertip, by a quick movement, had grasped it before it sank. Suddenly Ellen found herself beset by two conflicting emotions—one moment she wished it had gone down into the depths—the next she felt that she must let nothing happen to this last, this only connecting link with the mainland.
She was brought back to her surroundings by Jean's call, as the young girl hailed Shane and Kayak Bill, who were coming toward them through the tall rice-grass. The faces of both men wore looks of unusual seriousness and there was no answer to Jean's greeting until they stopped beside the piled-up outfit.
"Oh, Shane, you didn't find the cabin?" Even as she asked the question Ellen knew the answer.
"No, dear. It doesn't seem to be at this end of the Island at all. But—" noting the dismayed faces of those about him—"we needn't worry about it. We'll put up the tents here for the night and make an early start in the morning."
Loll had left his pigeon, and was listening, wide-eyed and serious.
"But what if there is no cabin, dad?" With child-like directness he voiced the question that was uppermost in the minds of every other member of the party on the tree-less Island of Kon Klayu. In the momentary silence that followed a gust of wind stirred the rice-grass into questioning sound as the coarse blades swayed together.
"Oh, I know!" the boy answered himself enthusiastically, "we'll find a cave, of course, and live in it like Robinson Crusoe."
"Right-o, boy!" Boreland assented with a cheerfulness that did not escape being forced. "But just now we'll get busy making camp for the night."
Two tents were pitched in the rice-grass at the edge of the beach. On a foundation of stones was set the small rectangular sheet-iron stove that every gold-trail in Alaska knows. Within the hour the shiny new pipe was carrying a gay plume of smoke, and with the cheery crackling of the flames, the spirits of everyone rose; for the adventurer may wander where he will, but when he builds a fire—whether it be of coconut husks on the rim of a South Sea atoll, or of drift-wood on the beach of a northern sea, there comes a sense of home and comfort.
Boreland, unpacking what he called the "grub-box," volunteered to get supper for the hungry band while they went in search of more driftwood for the fire. Leaving him busy with the frying-pan they headed northward toward the long sand-spit that pointed like an accusing finger in the direction of the mainland ninety miles away. Above the high-tide line the sand dunes were as powdery blue with lupine as the April fields of California, and Loll's whooping investigation revealed patches of wild strawberries larger than those found at Katleean, where acres of them grow on the low sand hills along the sea.
Jean and Lollie lay flat on their stomachs filling their mouths and grass-lined hats. The bouquet of sun-warmed strawberries and the perfume of flowering lupine were wafted across the dunes in intermittent gusts of fragrance. Ellen almost forgot her anxiety as she picked the red-toned fruit and listened to the drawling voice of Kayak Bill describing a cordial he had once made from the berries—a liqueur so subtle in its effects, so delicious and so warming that it had melted even the heart of a revenue officer sent up from Sitka especially to investigate him.
Later when they returned to the tents with lupine-laden arms and hats full of berries, there was in the air the good camp smell of frying-bacon, warmed-over brown beans and bubbling coffee. Boreland, apparently in the best of spirits, was setting out the dishes on a clean piece of canvas spread on the sand.
"Get a move on, gang!" he called. "Come and get it! My stomach's fairly cleaving to my backbone!"
As the adventurers ate, the sun, going down on the other side of the island, tinted the sky with shades of wild rose and forget-me-not. A cluster of tiny golden clouds floated high in the blue. As the trembling pearl of twilight came on, an occasional belated gull flew overhead with a single, gently-sad question. The wind died away and the song of the surf mellowed to a croon.
After the dishes were done Ellen and Jean put Lollie to bed in the blankets spread in the larger tent while Boreland and Kayak Bill, smoking and discussing the possibilities of the sands of Kon Klayu, squatted about the drift-wood fire. Presently Jean left her sister and stepped out into the gloaming. She turned toward the south and walked along the edge of the sea-drift. The smooth hard beach was a lure to her feet.
She lifted her chin, breathing deeply and swinging her arms free as she walked. The air was faintly cool with the smell of the sea and with it mingled the multi-scented breath of northern Indian summer: lupine, sundried sand, beach grass and celery bloom. Soft and dim and strangely lovely dreamed this Island of the ruby sands. From a shadowy grove of alders inland came the three plaintive notes of a sleepy golden-crown sparrow voicing the beauty, the mystery, the gentleness of the North. Enchantment broods in the twilight of Alaskan nights. Jean had felt it many times during the summer, and loved it—the vague, wild sense of romance in its dusks. Tonight the thrill and promise of life seemed more poignantly sweet than ever before. She longed suddenly for some one to share this hour with her. . . .
Reluctantly, at last she turned from the dim beckoning distance, and retraced her steps.
As she neared camp, Kobuk, yawning, rose from his post by Ellen's tent, to greet her. Boreland and Kayak Bill had gone to bed in the smaller tent, and about the greying embers of their bonfire, rubber boots stood, like grotesque plants, each one drying upside down over a stake driven into the sand.
Jean undressed and slipped between the blankets beside her sister. . . . The clean, fresh smell of trampled rice-grass drifted about her pillow. . . . As the tide came in the murmur of surf on the distant shoals was soothing as a cradle song, and the girl, with a tired sigh, adjusted her body to the unyielding, sandy bed, and drowsed off into slumber, unaware of the peril that was even then creeping nearer and nearer to the sleepers on the beach of Kon Klayu.
It was long past midnight when Jean was startled into wakefulness. Kobuk was barking with the queer, short woofs of the huskie, and outside the tent Ellen's voice fraught with fear and anxiety, was calling:
"Shane! O, Shane! Wake up! Quick!"
There was a stealthy sound as of lapping water close at hand; then Boreland's shout:
"For God's sake, Kayak, get up!"
Jean, now fully awake, ran out into the grey that precedes the dawn. There was not a breath of wind, and the sea, glassy and as grey as the sky above, was smoother than she ever saw it afterward on Kon Klayu. There was something sinister in the gently heaving stillness of the vast body of water, for not ten feet from the flap of the tent tiny ripples of the incoming tide were swallowing at the dry sand with sibilant softness. One end of the pile of provisions just below the tent was already a foot deep in the advancing flood.
There was no thought of dressing. The race with the sea began at once. No one knew when the tide would be full, but each realized that should the provisions be ruined or swept away by the water, slow starvation would terminate the quest for the gold of Kon Klayu. Every moment counted. Every hand must help.
Grim-faced and silent, Boreland and Kayak Bill drew on their tremendous reserve power, and during the next few hours performed almost super-human feats of strength and endurance in transferring the provisions to safety. Ellen and Jean, regardless of unbound hair and thin night-robes, dashed out time after time into the ever rising tide to snatch up sacks of flour or boxes of canned goods, running with them far above the beachline. In the face of the threatened catastrophe they were hardly aware of wet or cold or the weight of objects. They were small women, but in the peril of the moment they carried back-breaking loads that would ordinarily have taxed the muscles of a strong man. Even Lollie, after the first look of sleepy wonder, became alive to the situation when he saw his new pet, the pigeon, clutching the top of its cage above six inches of water. He rescued the bird and while the others were busy with the outfit, rolled up the blankets one by one, and carried them beyond danger. Before he had finished, the relentless tide had crept up about the stove, the box where all the cooking utensils had been placed, and the four rubber boots drying on their stakes. The little fellow, looking absurdly babylike in his nightgown, for all his eight years, splashed out to rescue the threatened articles. Later, at a word from his father, he gathered some high-thrown drift-wood to make the fire, by that time sorely needed by all.
The sun was coming up radiantly over the edge of the ocean when they finished their labors. Though nothing had been carried away, the tide had risen two feet after discovery, and a third of the provisions was wet. Silvertip, in his haste to get away from the Island had landed them on the tide lands. As they afterward learned but one or two tides a month reached that particular level, but the Borelands had encountered one of them. Had there been any sea on whatever that night everything would have been swept away, leaving them destitute, even if they had escaped with their lives.
The sun and a good, hot breakfast warmed and cheered everybody. Besides there was little time to discuss their escape, since every wet dunnage bag and box had to be unpacked and the contents spread out in the sun to dry.
In making her round of the salvage, Jean came upon the box containing the old magazines and books from the collection of Add-'em-up Sam. It had been wetted on one end. Taking out the top layer of books she paused over the tattered volume of Treasure Island to put into place a crumpled paper which protruded from beneath the cover. To her interest she found it to be the crude drawing of Kon Klayu which she had hastily thrust back that afternoon at Katleean when the quill-filled Kobuk had come cowering to her feet in the store.
"Shane," she called, waving it in front of her, "here's a little map of Kon Klayu. Maybe you might find out about the cabin from this."
Boreland strode over to her and glanced at the paper. Then he took it in his own hands and scanned it more closely, looking up at the landscape, the sea, and the shoals off which they were camped.
Suddenly his hand fell to his side, and with a great oath he began to pace up and down the sand.
The others, dismayed, gathered about him.
"Why, Shane! What is the matter?" cried Ellen.
"Matter!" Anger flared in his brown eyes and his hand closed on the map as if it had been the throat of an enemy. "Ellen, Silvertip lied! That pale-eyed son of a sea-cook has landed us on the wrong side of the Island. He was too much of a coward to take the Hoonah around the shoals. Look at this, Kayak—" He smoothed out the paper so that his partner could see the lines. "According to this, the cabin is all of three miles from here on the other side."
Kayak Bill took the map in his hands and held it for a long moment before his near-sighted eyes.
"By . . . hell!" The words came slowly in a sort of whispered shout.
Then as if unable to declare himself in the presence of the women, Kayak, with a suspicion of haste in his going, sauntered off to the far side of a sand-dune, where he sat down and in the manner of the true Alaskan, drew heavily on his stock of profanity to express his opinion of all Swedes, Silvertip in particular, the country, and the blind Providence that could create an island without a harbor.
The situation forced upon the party was a serious one. It involved transferring the entire outfit three miles to the cabin—if there was one—over the soft beach sand that made their only means of transportation, a wheelbarrow, utterly useless. There were but a few days during the year when a small boat, such as the whale-boat, could safely circumnavigate the shoals at the north end and the reef-sown waters about the Island. Since this means could not be relied upon, the two men were confronted with the necessity of packing on their backs to the cabin every pound of provisions; and with the equinoctial storms close at hand, every day counted.
Boreland bit his lip in the effort to control the anger that burned within him as he realized that a month or six weeks must be spent in transferring the provisions. But there was no time to lose in cursing the absent Silvertip; immediate action counted and he was never one to let misfortune weigh long upon him.
Noting the worried look on Ellen's face he crossed over to where she sat upon the opened box of books, and put his arms about her.
"Never mind, little fellow. We'll come out all right. The darkest hour always comes before the dawn," he said, laying his rough cheek against her hair.
Despite her anxiety, a smile stirred the corner of Ellen's mouth as she heard this familiar bit of sentimental philosophy. During the ten years of her married life Shane had always been ready with these words, no matter what crushing calamity came upon them. She patted his hand as she would have patted that of a child.
Loll, with his fingers under Kobuk's collar, had been looking on, his little face unconsciously assuming the seriousness of those about him. He turned now to greet Kayak Bill, who, apparently calmed and refreshed, was wading out of the rice-grass. The old man's sombrero was cocked at a militant angle; his long raw-hide laces snaked along behind his boots, and clouds of tobacco smoke enveloped him.
"Well," he said gently, "I reckon there ain't no useless good vocabulatin' about that varmint, Silvertip. I should a-known better'n to trust a man o' his moth-eaten morals, anyhow."
Ellen stooped down to pick up the map which had fallen unheeded to the sand. For a moment she traced the beachline with her forefinger, reading the penciled names from the paper. "Sunset Point. Skeleton Rib. . . . Well, at least we know where to look for the cabin, Shane." She looked up decisively. "Let's find it before anything else happens to us."
Ten minutes later the two men had disappeared behind the western sand-dunes, and as if to assure them of his confidence in the future, Boreland's voice, raised: a quavering Irish melody floated back to the camp where Ellen and Jean were spreading the blankets upon the sand. They were weary from their night's work. With Kobuk on guard they curled up beside Lollie, and lulled by the far-away calls of the gulls and the ceaseless chant of the sea, were soon fast asleep. . . .
The hoo-hooing of Boreland and Kayak Bill two hours later awakened the sleepers before the men reached camp.
"Everything is lovely and the goose hangs high!" Boreland cheerily answered their questions. "We found the cabin all right and tonight we all sleep in our own little wickie!"
The pale-green combers that were breaking for miles out on the shoals, made it impossible to think of using the whale-boat. Therefore, immediately after lunch, the party started on the three-mile walk, each one carrying a pack. Jean, with her violin and a scarlet blanket strapped across her strong young shoulders, stopped in the trail again and again to laugh at her smaller sister, nearly obliterated under two feather pillows. Loll, important as the head packer of a Government party, carried a pot of cold beans in his hand, and encouraged Kobuk, whose pack-saddle was filled with necessary odds and ends for the night's camp. The sheet-iron stove, with food and cooking utensils inside, made a noisy, rattling pack on Boreland's back, leaving his hands free for his shot-gun which he carried for the ducks that were flying south. Kayak Bill shouldered a roll of blankets with an ease which many a younger man might have envied. He was balancing the broom across his palm when his eye fell on the pigeon. He picked up the cage with his free hand.
"Beats all get-out what women will get a man into."
A quizzical smile crinkled the corners of his eyes as he "hefted" his burdens. "Here's an old sourdough like me hittin' the trail with a broom in one fist and—by he—hen, a dicky-bird in the other!" Occasionally it appeared to dawn on Kayak that his expletives were not exactly suited to the ears of women and children and he seemed to be doing his best to modify them.
Boreland, whistling, led the way. Despite the discouraging events of the night and morning it was a cheerful little party that started out for the cabin. It is only in civilization that trouble and calamity eat into the heart. The wonder of the wilderness lies in that sense of adventure just ahead, which brings forgetfulness of the hardships left behind.
Shane and Kayak tramped down a trail across the sand-dunes, through patches of purple wild peas, and tall rice-grass whose silver-green heads nodded heavily against the travelers as they passed. Wind, spiced with sea-weed and flowers blew across their faces. They came out on the west side of Kon Klayu in a field of blossoming lupine that sloped gently downward to the sands, and beyond, the sea dashed in foam-shot emerald against a ragged reef.
Loll's flower-loving soul looked out of his eyes an instant; then with a shout he abandoned Kobuk and the bean-pot for the moment, and scattering the red-vested bumble-bees that were avidly working for honey in the lupine flowers he began gathering a bouquet for his mother.
The warm August sun coaxed tiny whiffs of vapor from the long grey beach that curved southward toward a distant bluff. Sky and water met far out on the rim of the world.
Scampering ahead along the wave-washed margin, Loll excited Kobuk to laughter-provoking antics, as the dog, trying to play with him, swung along with his ungainly pack. The boy made frequent dashes up to the high-tide line, where Indian celery lifted creamy, umbrella-like blooms. From the beach-line the vivid green of the tundra, patterned with daisies, stretched away to meet the alder trees growing thickly where the land gradually rose toward the center of the island. A small lake here and there reflected the sky.
It was in one of these lakes close to the beach that a flock of mallards alighted, passing so near that the travelers could see the iridescent green of the drakes' heads catching the sun. Boreland slipped off his pack and creeping toward the lake, disappeared in the Indian celery.
There was a moment of breathless waiting; a loud report: and a squattering and whirring as the flock flew away toward the hill. Then Boreland, wet to the knees but grinning, appeared holding aloft three birds. . . .
The tide had been coming in for some time, assaulting the shore with ever nearing combers. As the party neared the bluff round which they must pass, the wash of extra large breakers licked the base and in the wake of each receding wave the wet sand mirrored the steep, rocky wall above it. At such times it was necessary to wait until a wave had run out before they could hurry to a place of safety farther on.
"I ain't no nature for this place a-tall," said Kayak Bill, when they had safely dashed over the two hundred feet of this sort of going. "There'd be hell a-poppin' if a fella'd get caught there in a high tide."
"The cabin lies just beyond," Boreland announced.
The bluff sloped down to a tall bank topped with green, having a beach below it.
Following the sands for a short distance, they turned into what had once been a trail. The party halted looking upward to the place that was to be their home.
A mere thread of a footpath, almost blotted out by tall grasses, led gently up the slope for sixty yards to where, above a natural hedge of celery blooms, a little cabin of weather-beaten drift-logs cuddled at the foot of a steep, green hill. A porch jutted out in front, spindling uprights supporting the slanting roof. To the right, farther down and half hidden in the grass, lay the remains of a board shack which had fallen in. There was a sound of trickling water in some hidden place. The sun fell warmly in this sheltered nook, bringing out the scent of green things; and over all was that melancholy stillness which envelopes human dwellings long deserted.