The boom of breakers far out on the reefs was hushed to a soothing hum, and faintly, from the reedy little lake farther down on the southward slope came the quacking of wild ducks. To the north and south and west lay the open sea, and as far as the eye could reach was no sight of land.
Jean broke her wide-eyed silence with a whisper:
"It's under a spell, Ellen, sure as you live." . . . She continued aloud: "Look at that quaint old latch on the door—made of a piece of drift-wood. And see the— Oh! Shane!" Incredulity and fear shrilled in her voice—"Shane! Why, it's moving!" She grasped her brother-in-law's arm as she pointed to the door of the cabin.
It was true. The door was opening slowly, jerkily, in a way that hinted of fearsome, because unknown things. The next instant there stepped out of the opening a tall, shock-haired young man, naked, except for some tatters of an undershirt and a piece of old canvas wound about his hips after the fashion of a South Sea pareu.
Kayak Bill was the first to find voice.
"By the roarin' Jasus,"—his tones trembled with enormous astonishment—"if it ain't young Harlan!"
"My God, Gregg, has anything happened to the schooner?" shouted Boreland, his long stride covering the distance to the porch.
"Not a thing that I know of, Skipper." The young man, with a weary gesture, brushed the hair back from his forehead upon which blood from a slight wound had dried. "But you see I left her before she started back to Katleean." In answer to the quick questioning in the five pairs of eyes raised to his he stammered: "I—I—wanted to come—ashore—for a few minutes, and—I—I—the current carried me onto the reefs at the south end, and—I wandered in here a little while ago."
Bruises and deep scratches marred the whiteness of his slim body, and bore evidence of a desperate struggle with the sea and rocks. He was the last person in the world that Ellen would have chosen to be thus romantically cast up on the shores of Kon Klayu with them, but woman is potentially a mother and even her heart was touched by his plight. For Harlan, trying—and failing—to appear nonchalant and at ease in his embarrassing situation was boyishly appealing.
"Why, Shane, then the poor fellow hasn't had a bite to eat since yesterday," she exclaimed practically, while preparing to divest herself of her pack. "Everybody get busy here and we'll get him some lunch. Shane, you and Kayak see what you can spare in the way of clothes, and in the meantime, Mr. Harlan—" her conventionally polite tone as she turned to that young man caused Boreland and Kayak Bill to exchange an amused wink—"you may take this blanket that Jean has wrapped about her violin, and put it around you."
A few minutes later Kayak Bill filled the coffee pot from a small crystal spring that trickled from the hillside into a sunken, moss-grown barrel, and placed it over a bonfire Boreland had made. Ellen left the old man to prepare lunch for their unexpected guest, and followed Jean and Lollie into the cabin that was to be their home.
As she crossed the threshold the close, musty odor of decay smote her unpleasantly. The room had one tiny cobwebbed window through which the north light filtered. In the center a rough, home-made table, with one leg slanting inward, supported some battered cooking utensils now green with a fungus-like mould and disagreeably reminiscent of the Indian hunters who had last camped in the place, no one knew how long ago. In the corner where a stove had once stood, was a pile of damp soot and ashes, and the floor was littered with decaying woolen socks, old papers and rubber boots from which the tops had been cut to make a house-shoe known to Alaskan miners as "stags." Here and there daylight showed between the uncovered log walls, and great cobwebs wavered in dusty festoons from the chinking of brown peat. An infirm ladder leaned against one side of the room evidently for the purpose of mounting to the loft indicated by the black opening that yawned in the ceiling.
Ellen had no inclination to follow her sister into the little room that opened off the right. She was appalled at the amount of work to be done before the musty squalor of the place could be banished and the cabin made really habitable. For a moment she even considered the possibility of living in the tents until the White Chief brought the winter provisions, by which time she hoped she might be able to persuade her husband to leave the Island.
Boreland, coming into the room with the broom on his shoulder, interrupted her gloomy thoughts.
"Pretty snug little place, eh, El?" he said cheerfully, looking about him and lunging for the nearest cobweb with his broom. "The roof is good and when we get another window here facing the sea, and fix her up a bit, we'll be cozy as bears in a cave."
He filled his pipe, still warm from the last smoke, and lighted it. Going to the opening leading to the next room he called: "Clear out now, young ones. I'm going to start things going in here pretty pronto!"
Through the open cabin doorway Ellen could see Harlan sitting by the bonfire in a borrowed undershirt and the scarlet blanket. He seemed refreshed and strengthened by his lunch and was telling Kayak Bill of his failure to swim back to the Hoonah, and his subsequent landing on the south end of the Island. Though all but exhausted by his battle with the waves he had managed to dig himself into the dry, sun-warmed sand, and had slept heavily for hours. When he awoke the position of the sun told him that it must be morning. After washing the blood and sand from his scratches, he had set out to find the camp of the Borelands.
Harlan did not give any reason for his apparently senseless determination to swim ashore at the last moment, nor was any expected. On the frontier it is actions, not the reasons for them that are of moment. At the risk of appearing a fool Harlan kept silent on the subject. If he told now what he had heard of Kon Klayu that night he had lain in the top bunk at Silvertip's, there would be nothing for the Borelands to work for, nothing to hope for, during the time that must elapse before the Hoonah returned with the winter stores. The truth now would only arouse bitter thoughts of revenge in the heart of Boreland, who must chafe inwardly at his helplessness. There was time enough for the truth when the schooner returned to Kon Klayu.
"Over there on the east side of the Island, almost directly opposite to this point, I think, I found a sort of Eskimo hut made of whale ribs and peat and drift," Harlan was saying as Ellen came out of the cabin. "It isn't half bad, and with a little work I can make it fit to live in."
The young man saw Ellen and came to his feet. "I honestly don't know how to excuse myself for being here, Mrs. Boreland,"—there was a hint of wistfulness in the deep dark eyes he bent upon her—"but—I am here and dependent on your generosity until the schooner comes back. I'll try to be as little of a bother as I can. I was just telling Kayak about the hut I found on the other side of the Island. I'll live there."
Ellen's mind had already been busy with the problem of housing her unwelcome guest. She had not been blind to the interested and welcoming look Jean had given the young man as she greeted him half an hour before. She was aware of the almost inevitable result of propinquity. She looked up now with relieved interest and despite herself, with faintly quickening approval. By living on the other side of the Island, Harlan would in part solve the problem. She could then see to it that he saw little of Jean. If it were not for her sister, she might find it in her to like, though she could never approve of the good-looking young ne'er-do-well. Through Kayak Bill she had come to know part of the truth about the death of Naleenah, but like most good women, she could not bring herself fully to exonerate one who had been so compromised. Potentially, if not actually, Gregg Harlan was to her a squaw-man, and most certainly he was a drunkard.
"Well, Lady, me and him's goin' down to the North end of the Island for another load o' grub and camp gear," drawled Kayak Bill as he finished scouring out a burned place in the frying pan. "You can't tell a speck about how long this here weather's goin' to last and we want to get under cover soon as possible. Besides—" the old man's eyes twinkled—"Gregg here looks too durned lady-like in this la-de-dah outfit." He pointed to the scarlet blanket. "What he needs is a pair o' pants. Pants, I claim, has a powerful civilizin' and upliftin' influence on the mind o' man. Take the heathen now. They don't wear none, and see what——"
Kayak's threatened monologue was cut short by Boreland, who, having attacked the dirt and debris in the cabin appeared now and began to pile some of it on the fire.
After the old man and Harlan had gone, Boreland swept down the cobwebs and made the cabin ready for scrubbing. That sense of satisfaction and happiness which comes to those in the process of home-making in the wilderness, found expression in his rollicking Irish melody.
The legless Yukon stove was set up after the fashion of the country—an old packing box, found at the cabin, being filled with gravel and the stove put on top of it. A few minutes later there was a crackling fire of drift-wood and every pot and kettle brought from the camp that morning was full of heating water.
The floor of smooth boards, was unbelievably dirty. The lack of soap at first caused Ellen to despair of ever getting it clean, but Loll, who had watched Senott at Katleean cleaning her house, solved the problem by pouring sand on it while Boreland scrubbed with the broom.
Two hours later the clean bare floor was drying rapidly from the heat of the stove before which Ellen stood stirring a savory pot of duck mulligan for an early supper. . . .
It was late afternoon when Kayak and Harlan returned with their loads. As they turned in from the beach to the little grass-grown trail, Kayak stood a moment looking up at the silver smoke floating against the green hill. Jean, more starry-eyed than usual, was singing as she arranged the dishes on a canvas spread upon the floor of the porch, and at her direction Lollie was painstakingly placing some wild flowers in a tin can for a centerpiece. The two looked up to wave a welcome to the packers as they approached.
"By hell," said Kayak with slow appreciation, "it beats all creation how quick women folks can make a home out o' nothin'." . . .
After supper the men sat on the porch smoking and discussing ways of transferring the provisions from the north end of the Island.
"If we ever get a day calm enough so that we can use the whale-boat," said Boreland, "it won't take long to get the whole business down here. But we can't depend on that. I don't think the sea will get smooth enough this fall for us to bring the boat around the North Shoals. We'd better skid it across to this side of the Island—it can't be over a quarter of a mile wide there—and pack the grub over too. When a favorable day comes we can load her up and it's only a few miles down here. It's lucky for us, Gregg," he added placing a hand on the young man's shoulder, "that we have another strong back to depend on." . . .
As they talked evening closed in. From the alders on the hillside came the plaintive night-song of the golden-crown—the three notes of poignant beauty and mystery that were linked indissolubly with the summer twilights of Kon Klayu. Out over the reefs the sun had gone down splendidly into the sea. Broad ribbons of clear jade streaked the primrose of the sky. Beneath, bands of amethyst, amber and rose merged slowly into a flame of crimson, and while the violet dusk crept over the sea, the stars came out. Blowing across the bare brown reefs the night wind brought the scent of kelp and the muffled boom of surf.
The peace and promise of the sunset soothed all into silence for a time. Ellen and Jean and Lollie sitting close on the bottom step of the porch, watched in reverent wonder as the colors changed. At last the boy lifted his eyes to his mother's face.
"God smiles, mother," he said simply, resting his tired head against her shoulder.
Jean leaned across to her sister.
"Ellen," she said quietly, "I think I love best of all the evening-time of things, don't you—the fall of the year; the end of the day. I wonder—" a wistfulness crept into her voice—"I wonder . . . I hope . . . no, I know that when it comes, I'll find that the sunset time of life is the most beautiful!"
As she finished speaking she turned instinctively to look at the old man on the porch above her, the only one of them whose slowing feet had turned into the Sundown Trail. Kayak's hand, loosely holding his cooling pipe, rested on his knee. His sombrero backed his strong, bearded face, which had taken on the serenity of the evening. His deep eyes were calm with revery. As she gazed the girl's heart was flooded with a pitying tenderness for him, for Kayak Bill who, because of something buried deep in his past, faced the sunset of life—alone.
She turned her face away—and met the warm young eyes of Gregg Harlan bent upon her. . . . Then suddenly she was glowingly happy because she was still young.
THE GIANT BALLS OF STONE
It was not yet five o'clock the following morning when Loll, from his blankets on the floor of the cabin living-room, raised his tousled head and looked cautiously about him. His big, grey eyes were alive with eagerness and expectation. The strangeness of his surroundings thrilled him with possibilities. Through the window the sun-flooded world called him to adventure.
Again he glanced speculatively at the sleeping forms round him and then eased warily out of bed.
With a pudgy finger on his lips and long steps of a stealthiness so exaggerated that his balance was threatened at every move, he tip-toed to the corner where his shoes lay, and without stopping for any further addition to his toilet, slipped out the door in his nightgown.
He avoided the blanket-cocooned figures of Kayak Bill and Harlan on the porch, and continued a short distance down the path to the chopping block where he sat down to pull the shoes on his little bare feet.
Kobuk, returning from some early morning adventure on the beach, espied him, and with a red-mouthed huskie smile, came bounding up the trail, wriggling an extravagant and clumsy welcome. With loud whispers hissed through fiercely protruding lips, Loll tried to shoo him away, but the dog only whirled about, thumping him with a joyously wagging tail and poking a cold damp nose down the neck of his nightgown.
After fastening the top button of his shoes the boy stood up and looked about him. The wonderful sunniness of the world thrilled him. From the blue sky soaring gulls called to one another, and the sunlight poured down on the silver-green ocean and the little lake to the south. Faint breaths of air stirred the scent of green things, and everywhere was that exhilarating freshness of late summer that has in it the hint of autumn frosts.
The youngster waved his arms and danced from sheer joy in living, and with Kobuk at his heels, ran down off the trail through the damp grass toward the lake.
About a hundred yards from the cabin, hidden in a clump of alder bushes, he came upon a low hut built of drift logs. Half the roof was gone and pieces of decaying seal-hide and a ragged red shawl embedded in the dirt floor hinted of the visits of long-ago Indian otter-hunters.
Interested in his discovery, the little fellow was peering cautiously in, when, with a sudden bound, Kobuk dashed by him nearly knocking him over. There was a whirr of wings overhead, sounds of bird alarm, and half a dozen swallows circled wildly about the frantic Kobuk before finding a place of escape through the hole in the roof.
"Gosh, Kobuk, I was pretty near scared," admitted the youthful explorer, looking up at the rafters under which several nests made clay-grey splotches.
Swallowing hard a time or two he buttoned up the neck of his nightgown. Outside the hut again he slanted a discreet glance back in the direction of the cabin to assure himself that everyone still slept, and then with a whispered whoop of invitation to the dog, skipped down toward the beach.
The cabin stood well back on the bank off the center of a small crescent cove, flanked on the north by the bluff around which the party had come the day before. Toward the south the beach curved to what was marked "Sunset Point" on Add-'em-up's map. Loll tucked his nightgown up under his arm and headed for that unexplored territory, talking to Kobuk as he skipped along.
The tide was falling and screaming gulls rose and fell over the rocks feeding on the shellfish among the seaweed. Far out on the water great flocks of black sea-parrots floated, and overhead these stocky little birds flew in hundreds, their huge, crimson beaks thrust determinedly out before them, their round, white-ringed eyes showing plainly, and their wings, seemingly too small for their pudgy bodies, beating the air in a hurried manner, as they attended strictly to the business of feeding their young. Unlike the lazy gulls they took no time to loiter along the way.
The boy, looking up at the busy black workers, little dreamed of the vital and spectacular part both he and they were to play later in the struggle for existence on the Island of Kon Klayu.
The weed-covered boulders of Sunset Point drew him, but though he felt strongly the fascination of the ocean bed now becoming uncovered by the tide, for some indefinable childish reason he hesitated to go down among the rocks in his nightgown. So, whistling with moist tunelessness, he rounded the Point, Kobuk trotting on ahead.
Here the character of the beach changed, and the high-tide line, where the rice-grass began, was piled with a criss-cross confusion of bleached drift-logs thrown up by the mighty surf of storms. Mounds of old kelp lay drying in the sun, and the unforgettable odor of decaying sea-things mingled with the freshness of the morning.
Absorbed in the delights of discovery, Lollie poked about in the tangled masses finding strange, beautiful shells and sea-flowers fragile and delicately colored as the heart of a rose. He gathered his nightgown up into a pocket in front of him in which to carry home some of the damp and none too fresh treasures of the beach.
Sea figs in tan and orange and vermilion made splashes of color among the wet piles of shiny brown kelp brought up by the last tide, and small dead starfish turned pale stomachs to the sun. Grotesque, bulging seaweeds stirred him to laughter, and after untangling one—a head-like growth that seemed to grin sociably at him from a tail twenty feet long, he tied the thin end about his waist. The bulb wriggled along behind him on the sand, alternately piquing and repelling the curiosity of the sniffing Kobuk.
Another point ahead lured him on. Clouds of sand fleas rose in rustling hops as he ran along. Here and there monster jelly-fish glistened in the sun. With his mouth in a continual O of admiration and wonder, the little fellow squatted repeatedly to gaze at the exquisite geometrical designs in their crystal depths; but after one or two half-hearted attempts to pry them apart to see how they were made he contented himself with adding one to his already overburdened nightgown. Even in the thrill of discovery he had an instinctive antipathy against marring a beautiful thing.
Kobuk, running on ahead, had found something which interested him. He stood looking back, woofing impatiently as if urging the boy to hasten and see what it was. As Loll came nearer he shouted in astonishment, increasing his gait with difficulty because of the impeding pocket in front of him. What he saw was a head of some great sea monster, perhaps twelve feet long. The dark skin was streaked with dull red and purple, and where the head had been severed from the body, the sea had whitened it to sand-encrusted tatters. The huge mouth lay open and twisted, and from the lower jaw protruded two rounded tusks, nearly a foot long.
There was a contemplative moment while Loll's eyes opened wide.
"Golly, Kobuk—" reverent awe was in his tones—"I bet-cha that's the whale that swallowed old Jonah!"
There was a singular fascination about the battered remnant, far gone in decay, but the stench from it finally proved so overpowering that, despite his intense desire to linger near his discovery, Loll was obliged to move on.
He turned to the upper beachline for further explorations. Across a narrow strip of tundra-like land lay the small lake visible from the cabin porch. On the edge of the rice-grass he stumbled against a boulder that was as remarkably round as if it had been shaped by human hands. He stopped in delight at the great stone ball and tried to move it with his one free hand. Farther on he saw more of the curious spheres. Some were two feet and more in diameter.
"Maybe—giants played ball with 'em once!" he whispered to himself, with a cautious glance about him.
He headed for the tundra and was startled by coming suddenly upon the skeleton of a whale whitening in the sand where an extra high tide had thrown the creature long ago. Purple wild peas and blue beach forget-me-nots blossomed between the monster ribs, and the huge vertebrae, scattered here and there, were half hidden by the grass. It was from this relic, no doubt, that the Point opposite derived its name—Skeleton Rib.
Afterward Louie's father utilized several of these vertebrae for stools, but seeing them for the first time, the little fellow looked down at them respectfully, hushed into silence by vague, sea-born feelings. Far down the beach to the southward rose the cliff's where thousands of sea-birds swarmed in the sunshine. Their screaming, softened by the distance, came to his ears with an eerie wildness. All at once he felt very small and alone among alien creatures. Kobuk had turned back without him and was bounding out of sight around Skeleton Rib. The giant balls of stone suddenly took on fearsome suggestions from the realms of fairy tales.
The dog had disappeared now. The plaint of a high-flying gull drifted down to the boy. A breath of wind whispered in the grass about the whitening bones. . . . Suddenly he was flooded with a very panic of loneliness. Grasping the folds of the nightgown more tightly before him he set out as fast as his little bare legs would carry him towards home, the trailing kelp attached to his waist bounding wildly along behind him. . . .
It was thus that Ellen, white-faced with anxiety, met her returning son as he rounded Sunset Point. She clasped him frantically to her to assure herself that he was indeed safe and sound, and then held him off at arm's length, surveying the havoc to his nightgown, and preparing for the admonishing that was due. But Loll had already learned to divert many a mild scolding by the relation of some startling discovery. He launched forth now on the subject of the whale's head and the stone balls that giants must have played with, giving embellishments so amazing that his eyes stood out in growing astonishment as he talked.
Out-maneuvered, Ellen led him to breakfast where he took his place still holding forth on the wonders of his adventures. Kayak Bill regarded him with an appreciative eye. Finally he drawled:
"Son, you sure do vocabulate most as well as a sourdough!"  He paused to take a long, slow swoop of coffee and wipe his mouth with his red bandana. "The whale's head that et Jonah ain't so bad—but them giant hand balls o' stone sounds phoney. . . . You know there seems to be somethin' about this durned country that just nache'ly makes white men—not lie exactly—but sort o' put trimmin's on the truth. . . . I recollect a couple o' yars back when I'm hibernatin' one winter up on the Kuskokwim River with a bunch o' white trappers and prospectors." With his spoon, Kayak scraped the bottom of his empty coffee-cup to get every unmelted grain of sugar that lay there. "The next summer, I'm a son-of-a-gun, if them Injines up there ain't callin' that place by an Injine name that means 'The Valley o' Lies'. . . . I've sort o' got it figgered out like this: This doggoned Alasky land, bein' so big and magnificent like, a man just feels plumb ashamed to tell of some little meachin' thing a-happenin' in it—he feels downright obliged to fix things up so's they'll match the mountains and the rest o' it."
And drawing his corn-cob from the pocket of his hair-seal waistcoat, Kayak Bill shuffled off into the cabin to light it from a splinter thrust into the round draft hole of the Yukon stove, while Boreland and Harlan made ready to leave for the provision camp at the North end.
For five days after landing the weather continued clear, although the sea never became sufficiently smooth for a trip with the whale-boat. Each day the men of the party went down to the first camp to pack provisions across the Island to what they called the West Camp, the place from which they expected to load them into the whale-boat and take them by water to the cabin. When the entire outfit had been packed across, the whale-boat was also skidded over on small drift logs. By this means they avoided the long shoals which ran so far out into the sea.
"Now for a few days of smooth water," said Boreland, when the job was completed, "and we'll be able to take everything down to the cabin by boat. We must have this grub under cover before the autumn storms set in. The rougher the sea, the better chance for gold, so Silvertip—damn his cowardly hide—told me. Kilbuck said old Add-'em-up used to send his squaw out patrolling the beach after each storm, and she usually found patches of black or ruby sand which carried considerable gold. . . . It seems reasonable enough, Kayak, for it's the same with all placer diggings along the sea."
The three men seated themselves on the upturned boat to eat their lunch. Boreland, whose mind was ever dwelling on the time when he should be free to begin his search for the gold of Kon Klayu, talked on. Harlan listened in silence to the other's eager plans.
"But of course it's the source of the gold we want! Silvertip thinks it is thrown up out of the sea by the action of the waves. Kilbuck imagines it is washed down from the banks, although all the prospecting done by the fox-farmers revealed nothing. But—gold is where you find it, and I mean to leave no stone unturned while I'm here. . . . Speaking of stones," he went on after a moment's silence, "Loll was right about his giant balls of stone. Have either of you noticed here and there along the beach, especially toward the south, small, perfectly round boulders? By thunder, they look exactly like cannon balls!"
Harlan, though he had at first attended the others' speeches had gradually become immersed in his own thoughts. Each day, while his muscles ached and the desire for stinging liquor flamed like fire in his veins, he had worked with Boreland and Kayak Bill at the North end of the Island packing provisions across on his back. Though he still ate his meals with the Borelands at the cabin, almost immediately after supper he took the mile and a half trail across the Island to the hut, which he had found on his landing. Intuitively, he knew Ellen Boreland's opinion of him. He smiled sometimes at the grim humor of the situation: He, who had tried to get away from the society of women found himself now on the mercy and generosity of a woman who did not like him. He was dependent on her, by Jove, for every stitch of clothing on him, for even the soap that he used—for his very toothbrush. Soon, he knew, she would be giving him provisions so that he might cook his own meals on the other side of the Island. She didn't want him around her, or her sister. It piqued him to be felt unwanted—aroused in him a desire to show her——
His innate honesty compelled him to admit that Ellen knew him in no hero's light. Still he could not help a feeling of bitterness at the relieved look that came, unconsciously, to her face each evening when he turned, reluctantly, from the homelike group on the cabin porch, to take the lonely little zig-zag trail up the hillside.
His mind went back now to a scene of the evening before. After supper just as he was preparing to leave. Jean had taken her violin from its case.
"I'm going to play, tonight, Mr. Harlan. Are you too tired to stay a while?" she asked, looking at him with friendly eyes.
Too quickly Ellen had interrupted:
"No, no, Jean. Don't keep this poor, tired fellow from his bed. I'm sure he wants to go to sleep as soon as possible. And here, Mr. Harlan,"—she advanced toward him thrusting into his arms a blanket and a pillow,—"I found this extra bedding for your bunk today. . . . There now, tuck it under your arm, like this. . . . Good-night. . . . Sleep well. . . . Good-night." Her voice was kind as she smiled up into his face, but there was no mistaking her meaning. With shame and resentment in his heart he had turned up the hillside trail.
On the brow of the hill he had stopped and flung the bedding angrily on the ground, himself upon it. Was he a criminal that he should be debarred from an hour's pleasure in the society of the only other human beings on this Island? Suddenly he felt that he hated Ellen Boreland. He hated all women. He hated all the world. The longing for strong liquor swept him, shaking him like a leaf. He could feel his chin under his soft young beard quiver. He despised himself for a weakling and a fool. He tightened the clasped hold of his arms about his knees and dropped his head upon them. The thought that had been tormenting him since the first day he began transferring the provisions, came back now with an added urge. At the West Camp were flour, sugar, cornmeal and dried fruit. With those ingredients he could make himself the stuff that his system craved—make it as the Indians made it, with two kerosene cans and a long piece of hollow kelp. In his hut on the other side of the Island he could, undetected, heat the fermented mash in a can, attach the piece of kelp to the top and immerse it in cold water until the condensed steam came out at the other end in the form of Thlinget hoochinoo.
As he huddled there on the brow of the hill he had cradled the thought in his mind, planning in detail each step of the distilling. With provisions so low it would be impossible to take enough from the cache to make any quantity—but he might make sufficient to ease, just once, the intolerable thirst that possessed him. It might be six weeks before the Hoonah returned—six weeks of torment and loneliness.
Another thing had been troubling him of late. His thoughts had been returning to stories he had heard of Add-'em-up Sam who had died of delirium tremens at Katleean. Silvertip, when in liquor, was fond of detailing the last, violent days of the old bookkeeper. . . . Sometimes, Harlan fancied, he too was beginning to see those fearful shadowy images that dance on the borderland of insanity. How else could he account for that spectre of the tundra which he saw, sometimes, as he went home in the dusk—that dark, almost imperceptible figure far off toward the south cliffs where the lone tree of Kon Klayu stood on the brow of the hill? Was he too going the way of Add-'em-up Sam?
As he sat there he had cursed himself for ever leaving the Hoonah and risking his life to help a woman whose kind, polite aloofness irritated his drink-shattered nerves as an open declaration of hostility could not have done—a woman to whom he was merely a foolish young man who had chosen to get himself marooned, and whose presence forced her to calculate more closely the alarmingly depleted store of provisions left after the wetting of the tide.
Suddenly, in the midst of his bitter reverie, he raised his face from his clasped arms. Up from the cabin below floated the faint, pure harmony of violin strings. So exquisite, so lovely sounded the notes in the wide, wild loneliness of the evening, that Harlan sat for a moment with suspended breath. Gradually, under the spell of the music, he became aware of the beauty of the world about him. The after-sunset sky was a vast expanse of tender rose and blue deepening into violet on the long encircling horizon line. Below lay the wine-dark sea fringing with pale foam the sands of Kon Klayu. The noise of breakers on distant reefs was like the wind in the eucalyptus trees of his California home. . . . A flood of homesickness dissolved the resentment in his heart. . . . Gradually the old fears and haunting troubles faded from his lean young face. The low, vibrant tones of Jean's violin brought him comfort. The soft, rippling notes breathed him confidence, and the silvery chords lured him into the promises of the future. He felt equal to noble and heroic deeds—to fighting and conquering. From a sense of being outcast and alone, he felt a sudden warming kinship with all the world. With his heart expanding he came to his feet, the better to catch the harmony.
The time and air had changed into something vaguely familiar. . . . With a glow of pleasure he recognized it,—the lament of the funeral canoes at Katleean, but with something else added, something that made him feel the mystery and the weirdness and the elemental call of the North. It was almost as if she played to him comforting him with promises of this clean, new land of beginnings.
Abruptly, he remembered, the music had broken off. There was a moment's silence. And then there had drifted up to him Jean's invariable good-night to the deepening twilight. Sweet and clear from a long-drawn singing bow it came—a commingling of love and peace and beauty he had once heard a great contralto sing:
"In the West Sable night lulls the day on her breast. Sweet, good-night! . . ."
He had longed to throw back his head and sing these words to Jean's music, but he had shaken himself. No. That was a song for a lover. . .
"Son, are you plumb dead to the world?" Kayak Bill's words roused Harlan from his dreaming. He sprang up and began stacking provisions inside the tent. He realized as he worked, that today no tempting thought had come to him of secretly distilling hootch from stores he might take from this camp. The enormity of such an action struck him for the first time. This food meant life on Kon Klayu—and there was little of it. . . .
A few hours later headed down the long stretch of beach toward the cabin, he squared his shoulders under the heavy pack he bore and joined in with the voices of Kayak Bill and Boreland who, with lusty incongruity were singing the whaling song of the trading-post:
"Up into the Polar seas Where ice is delivered free, And a man don't have to hustle Like a blooming honey-bee!"
Work was hard in this country of the last frontier, but men had more time, more inclination to sing, he thought.
As he swung along the hard sand, in his heart was a sense of expectancy—for what he did not know.
 Old-time Alaskan.
The following morning was sunless. The air was still and heavy with foreboding. Leaden-colored waters heaved under a gloomy sky and though the sea appeared smooth to the eye the hollow roar of distant surf sounded louder than usual. There was a strong smell of kelp and salt brine, and a new, wild note in the cries of the gulls.
"I say," Boreland called to Kayak Bill, who was tying back the flap of the tent in which he slept. "It looks as if there's a storm brewing. But I never saw the sea smoother. I think, if we're quick about it, we can get a boat-load of grub down here before she breaks. What you say, Kayak?"
Kayak spread his legs and leaned back to take a long look at the sky, just as Harlan came down over the hill and joined them.
"I'm yore man, Boreland," he said at last. "But we'd better be spry about it, for it'll be Davy Jones' locker for us if we get caught in a gale off the reefs."
A hasty breakfast over, Ellen joined the men and the four left for the West Camp to select the most important things with which to load the whale-boat.
Arrived at their destination they worked swiftly, Ellen making her selection of necessities while the men skidded the boat down to the water's edge. It was soon loaded. A small pile of lumber from Katleean for making sluice-boxes and furniture was made into a raft to be towed.
"About three more trips with the boat, and we'll have everything down at the cabin," said Ellen, as she tied the flap of the tent. She had noted that while he worked, Shane had glanced uneasily from time to time at the grey sky. It was rapidly taking on a purple tinge, though the sea was still as oily-smooth as it had been early in the morning.
When the last sack had been stowed away and the raft made fast to the boat, Ellen saw Harlan call her husband aside. In a low voice she heard him make some suggestion which Boreland dismissed with a gesture.
"Thanks, old man," he said, "but this is a job for all three of us," and he turned to join Ellen who was standing at the edge of the water. "We'll be home in time for supper, El," he said, with forced cheeriness. "Don't worry, now—mind!" And he patted her hand reassuringly before he turned to the boat.
As she watched the craft slip away from the shore she conquered a wild impulse to reach out and drag it back again. Shane and Harlan shoved on their oars with long, slow strokes, as they faced the reefs that lay between them and the open sea; Kayak Bill steered. Ellen watched them move in and out between the protruding rocks. On the grey slope of the sullen swells that rose and fell unbroken about them the raft in tow shone wetly yellow. From time to time she caught glimpses of streaming tangles of kelp which somehow suggested the floating hair of dead women. . . .
The boat crept off-shore to get outside the most dangerous of the reefs, and once free, Boreland, small now in the distance, looked back to wave a hand at her. At last, having seen the craft swing and move slowly southward on the home stretch round the Island, Ellen sighed with relief, and turning away from the sea, started down the beach toward the cabin.
Across the dark pall of the sky in the southwest clouds were beginning to form in heaving sombre masses. A breeze, coming at first in scarcely perceptible breaths, freshened almost in a moment, until the glassy surface of the sea was wrinkled and streaked far out with black. It was impossible to see the whaleboat now because of the barrier reefs. Ellen's heart grew heavy with foreboding. The wind . . . Remembering the tales of quick-rising wind and sea, she prayed that these fitful puffs might not be the first breaths of a borning gale.
She found Jean and Loll on the beach below the house. They had felt the danger of the coming storm and were looking out anxiously for a first glimpse of the boat.
Only rearing waters and lowering sky bounded their vision.
The wind increased.
Silence grew upon them.
The cloud banks in the southwest separated into weird-shaped masses which detached themselves and began to travel swift and low toward them across the sky. Some menacing quality in this relentless, headlong rush increased Ellen's fears, and in growing alarm she watched the tiny white-caps that were beginning to form on the waves.
As they hurried down to the point off the bluff to command a wider view of the waters, the wind whipped their skirts about them and tore at their hair.
Three grey gulls flew swiftly overhead with plaintive, long-drawn cries quite different from their usual raucous screams. In her anxiety Ellen remembered that these wild birds of Kon Klayu had as many moods as the sea, and were prophetic of them. Loll, holding tightly to his mother's hand, looked up at her with grave eyes.
"Mother," he said, "Senott told me one time that sea-gulls are the souls of little dead Indian babies and they always cry for their mothers before a storm. Hear them now?"
Immeasurably sad and longing the bird call struck through the sound of increasing surf. Above, the whole sky was a mass of swiftly moving clouds. The wind increased steadily.
Another dragging hour went by with no sign of the whale-boat. With the incoming tide the wind had risen until Ellen's heart quaked with a great fear for the men who must row against it. Her senses tingled with the welter of torn, tempestuous sea and clouds that seemed to mingle and snatch at her with stinging, salt fingers. Her straining eyes smarted from the high-flung spray of increasing combers.
Bracing against the gale, she suddenly found herself aching from the stress of trying, by sheer will, to keep back the force of the storm. Some pagan thing within her had endowed the elements with a godlike personality. She caught herself praying, beseeching the sea to rise no higher; to be kind to her loved ones tossing somewhere on its seething bosom. Both wind and tide were against the whale-boat now, and looking out across the rearing waters it seemed to her that no small craft could live in such a sea.
A few drops of rain stung her face. Afar off from the southwest more was coming. . . . She turned hopelessly from it, then almost at once her dull misery was changed to joy.
Half a mile out a blurred, dark thing rose for an instant on the crest of a billow. She started to point it out to Jean, but simultaneously the rain-squall struck her, drenching, stinging, cutting off for a moment her view of the sea. From under the grey curtain of the driving rain combers of muddy green raced in, spouting high in wind-torn fury against the rocks and rolling swiftly toward her to fling themselves roaring at her. . . . Again in a lull she caught a glimpse of the boat tossing skyward . . . dropping from sight . . . rising again and creeping slowly, slowly onward. . . .
Hatless and coatless Boreland and Harlan were standing in the bottom of the boat shoving on the oars with every ounce of their strength. Twice she saw the younger man take the oars alone while her husband bailed. Kayak Bill, rigid, watchful, sat in the stern his hand on the tiller, ready with the instinct that comes of long experience for every motion of the sea.
Inch by inch they battled their way around the point in the face of flying spray and driving rain. Behind them, like a live thing tugging on the rope the raft rose and fell on the combs of the dark swells. Pathetic and tear-compelling was the courage of these three men pitting their puny strength against the pitiless violence of the elements. Once the little boat seemed to stand still a long time, swashing up and down in the hollows of the waves, while over it the chop of the sea splashed in spiteful fury. . . . At last it advanced again slowly and Kayak swung broadside, turning in towards the beach on which the anxious woman stood.
A gust of wind caught viciously at the tarpaulin spread over provisions in the stern. It carried its fluttering blackness straight back into the white and green of a giant comber directly behind. The onrushing breaker reared its cruel head . . . then just as another rain-squall broke, hiding it from view, it curled down swift, terrifying, and the whale-boat disappeared in its foaming maw. . . .
With a cry of despair Ellen rushed to the very edge of the surf, straining her eyes over the wild sea. Had the force of the breaker swept everyone from the whale-boat? Had the canvas stretched tightly over the provisions been sufficient to keep the water from filling and swamping the boat? Would the violence of the tide and wind bring them in if—if—Kayak Bill had not been torn from his post? Suddenly she knew that on Kayak depended everything: Kayak Bill who had once been a pilot at surf-bound Yakataga; Kayak Bill who had run the raging bars of the delta-mouthed Copper River. Would he be equal to the surf of Kon Klayu? Could he keep his hold on the tiller? . . . Oh, if the rain-curtain would only lift! If she could but see out there in that foaming, roaring swelter of water!
She dashed a hand across her face tearing aside the wet hair that flattened itself against her eyes. . . . The squall was letting up. . . . She could see now, but there was nothing—nothing but breakers. . . . A sob tore itself from her throat. She started to turn away. Then dimly, she saw. . . .
Low in the water, veiled by flying white-caps, they came—Boreland and Harlan bailing desperately, and in the stern Kayak Bill, his hand still on the tiller, keeping the oarless boat steady a-top the swift, rushing wave that was sweeping them on to the beach!
With outstretched, welcoming arms Ellen waded out into the foam of the spent breaker that grounded the whale-boat almost at her feet. . . .
That evening the adventurers sat in the warmth of the crowded cabin living over again the events of the day. Every available corner was piled high with the wet provisions that had been unloaded from the whale-boat that afternoon, but contrasted with the gale outside the place was satisfyingly snug and comfortable. Still lingered the savory aroma of the duck mulligan that had been their supper. In the Yukon stove the fire roared and crackled as if in defiance of the terrific blasts that shook the cabin. The sense of kinship that comes to those who have fought their way together through some great danger was strong upon them all tonight.
"Holy Mackinaw, boys!"—Boreland emphasized his remarks with the stem of his pipe—"I wouldn't have given a hoot in Hades for our chances when that wave broke! Thought it was all day with us then. Kayak, Harlan, a fellow never realized what small potatoes he is until he looks up from the hollow of a wave!" He stretched his long arms comfortably and laughed. "But . . . after you've been up against a proposition like that, and come through, it certainly makes a man feel like a man!"
"It certainly does, Skipper!" Harlan's eyes glowed. He appeared more alive than at any other time since his landing, beginning to understand, evidently, something of the hard freedom of the North, for which men must either fight or die.
Of the three men Kayak Bill alone had been silent concerning his sensations. Ellen thought that the praise of the others had smitten him with a strange shyness. Loll was sitting astride the old man's knees, questioning him about that moment when the giant breaker had engulfed the boat.
Determined on an answer, the boy was urging for the fifth time:
"But, Kayak, what did you feel like?"
"Wall, son,"—Kayak's hazel eyes twinkled—"I just couldn't' figger out for a minute whether I was a clam . . . or a pond-lily."
In the laugh that followed Harlan took up a roll of blankets and went into the other room. There was no thought of his crossing the Island tonight. Kayak Bill's tent had blown down during the afternoon and he was, as he put it, "forced to seek better anchorage." He and Harlan were to spread a bed on the floor of the adjoining room.
Kobuk, with appealing whines and tentative pawings at the door, had finally won an entrance and was curled up in front of the stove. Just before supper Shane had come in lugging the pigeon's cage, which he placed carefully on top of a tall packing box. Ellen felt the bird's presence in a way that was beginning to trouble her. Tonight it seemed to wear a sullen and dejected look, unlike its usual bold air. All evening it had sat motionless in the bottom of the cage. The only sign of life it displayed was in the deep orange pupils of its eyes which, she was sure, followed her about wherever she went.
She forced herself to look away from the cage. A hush had fallen on those in the room. The shrieking of rising wind challenged attention. Ellen listened with a feeling strangely compounded of delight and terror. Never before had she known such a wind. It swept down on the roof of the cabin in woolies, threatening to blow it in, and then seemingly sucking it out again. The log walls quivered. Every joist, and board creaked and strained. The box on which the lamp stood vibrated, and the flat yellow flame flickered. The air reverberated to the thunder of surf that crashed against the hundred reefs on Kon Klayu. Ellen had a feeling that the little Island trembled in the splendid abandon of wind and sea—trembled, yet exulted in the freedom of the elements. She found herself paradoxically fearing, yet hoping that the next blast of the gale might be heavier.
Harlan had finished spreading the blankets in the other room. "Skipper," he said, "I've been wondering how the whale-boat is. Before we turn in I think I'll go down and see that we made the old girl fast." He took up his oilskins from the floor and slipped into them.
When the door had closed behind him, Kayak Bill looked at Boreland and nodded.
"I make affirmation," he drawled, "that there's a paystreak in any man who looks first after his hoss—or his boat."
While the significance of the old man's remark was dawning on Ellen, there was an odd lull in the storm. Surprisingly a new sound came to them. It was a sound blown from the south cliffs; a sound that was, yet was not of the storm; a hollow reverberating roll that was deep and mellow, thrilling and strange. Boreland and Kayak rose simultaneously and looked questioningly into each other's eyes.
"What—" Boreland's words were cut off by the flinging open of the door. White-faced and dripping Harlan staggered in, slamming it to shut out the driving rain. He leaned heavily against it.
"God—Skipper," he gasped. "The whale-boat— It's gone!"
At that moment, like a happening in a sinister dream, Ellen was aware that the pigeon perched high on the packing-box, had suddenly come to life. It was flapping its wings diabolically, exultingly.
THE MYSTERIOUS PRESENCE
The loss of the whale-boat was a calamity staggering in its magnitude. It meant that every pound of provisions left at the West Camp must be packed on the backs of the men to the cabin. Not only that, but they were now without any means whatever of leaving the Island. Nothing but the direst necessity could have forced Boreland to seek the mainland in the frail craft, but, remembering that the Indians of the coast had been known to journey the hundreds of miles from Sitka to Kodiak in open canoes, there had been a certain feeling of assurance in the thought that with the whale-boat there was at least a chance of bringing help to the Island should it be necessary.
Boreland was the first to recover from the blow. The morning following the loss the three men were discussing it.
"Well, these post mortems get us nowhere," he said at last as he rose and prepared to stow the provisions away in the loft. "We'll tackle the job on hand now. After all, Kilbuck will be here with the Hoonah soon, and we can get another boat from him."
All that afternoon while the gale tore at the corners of the little cabin and the sea beat with increasing violence on the beach and reefs, the men worked with hammer and saw, putting up shelves, making a table and a bedstead, and erecting two bunks for Jean and Lollie, one above the other in the adjoining room. Because he would so soon be leaving, Kayak Bill decided to pitch his tent again in the lee of the house as soon as the storm permitted, and occupy it until the Hoonah came.
The storm lasted three days. The second day the roof began to leak. The third day the rickety little porch blew down on one end and much of the chinking came out from between the logs of the cabin.
When, on the fourth morning, the wind died away and the sun burst out brilliantly upon a tumbling, muddy sea and rain-drenched landscape, Boreland's first thought was of repairing the house.
"We're in a devil of a stew here," he exclaimed after breakfast. "We'll have to get this place fixed up right now. Still, some of us ought to go down to the West Camp and take a look at the cache. Luckily there are no animals on the island, so we have nothing to fear from that source."
"Why can't Loll and I go down to the camp, Shane?" broke in Jean. "Then all you men can get busy on the house. The poor, little old thing looks as if it had a black eye, with the porch battered down over the door."
Boreland was at first not in favor of the idea, doubting that it was safe for them to go alone. At last, however, he consented.
"Keep to the upper beach line," he cautioned, as the two started out, "and remember, if the sea is breaking near the bluff when you come home, wait on the other side until the tide drops before you attempt to cross."
After the long confinement in the crowded cabin Jean was as delighted as her capering little nephew to feel again the freedom of the beach. In spite of all the hardships—perhaps because of them—she was growing to love the sands of Kon Klayu, and to look upon this incalculable ocean as a sort of fairy god-mother, who, with every tide, brought up something different to lay at her feet. She never started out for a walk along the sea without experiencing that delightful, childish sense of expectancy which is so keenly a part of the life of Alaska.
While Kobuk trotted on ahead she and Loll, remembering the talk of beach mining to which they had so often listened, scanned the way for ruby sand, the carrier of gold. But this morning the beach was untidy with great masses of fresh kelp and seaweeds from the deep, torn by the storm and scattered everywhere.
"Oh, look, Jean! The gulls have found something!" Loll's finger, pointing ahead indicated a cloud of screaming, white-breasted birds that were rising and falling on slate-tipped wings over some object below them. "Let's hurry and see what it is."
But Kobuk was before them. Dashing on ahead he plunged into the melee, frightening the gulls from their find so that they flew shrieking into the air as the girl and her little companion ran up to discover the remains of a large fish on the sand. It was a halibut nearly six feet long. With the exception of the bones but a small portion and the head remained, for the birds had been gorging on it for some time. The flesh, however, looked fresh and firm and white.
Jean regarded it thoughtfully. "If we had nothing else to eat, Lollie, we might eat a fish like this—that is if we got it before the gulls had been at it." In an emergency even a great storm might be made to serve, since its very violence flung up from the deep such fare as this. At any rate, the gulls appreciated it, for even as Loll and Jean stood there, the birds had flown back, settling upon their find, their strong, lemon-colored, crimson-splotched beaks tearing greedily at the flesh. In their eagerness they flew thrillingly close, cold, gold-ringed eyes staring fiercely into the faces of the two, powerful wings fanning their cheeks. Loll, seeing Jean shrink away from an overly bold bird, took her hand and tugged her away from the discordantly screaming mass.
"Gosh, Jean, if those fellows were very hungry and I was alone, I bet they'd take a peck at me!"
Recalling a day at Katleean, when she had stood by a creek watching the salmon struggle up through the shallow water, while screeching gulls swooped exultantly down on the helpless creatures and gouged the eyes out of the living fish, Jean shuddered and quickened her steps.
They approached the tent cache at the West Camp. It appeared intact. The wind, being from the southwest had struck with full force on the opposite end of the Island. Jean untied the flap of the tent and went inside. The provisions were piled up nearly to the ridgepole at the back. Lollie, poking about, came upon a piece of rope, which, boylike, he took outside and wound about his waist. Jean heard him stumbling over the guy-ropes at the side. Then from the back came his call:
"Jean! Come here!"
The girl ran out and joined him. He was pointing to the back of the tent. The pegs which had fastened it to the earth were uprooted. The canvas swung free. But what filled her with momentary conjecture was that which lay at her feet. A sack of flour evidently had been dragged out from under the wall of the tent and ripped open, for the sand was whitened with the doughy mixture resulting from the rain.
At this moment it did not occur to the girl to be frightened. There were no tracks in the sand other than hers and Loll's. Evidently, she thought, in the haste to load the boat before the storm, the men had dropped the sack and it had burst open.
"But how careless of them, Loll, not to peg the tent down again," she said. Loll, however, was already headed for the first camp-site made when landing on the northeast side of the Island. Her call brought his eager answer:
"Aw, come on, Jean, I want to see how drowned we'd be if we'd stayed there during the storm."
Smiling to herself at the boy's love of dwelling on their narrow escapes from death, real and imaginary, the girl turned and picking up a stone drove in a few of the tent-pegs before she followed him.
On each side of the trail great patches of rice-grass had been flattened from the force of the wind and rain, and the air was filled with the sweet smell of vegetation drying in the sun. As she approached the other side, the blue sky curved down to meet the ocean on a far straight line. The yellow-green of the sea was set off by astonishing areas of clearest cobalt blue, and the flying spray from combers breaking for miles out on the North Shoals, caught the sunlight in a glory of rainbow mist.
"See, I told you, Jean," Loll nodded sagely and pointed ahead as she overtook him.
A hundred feet above the place where the first camp had been the rice-grass had been torn out by the roots and whitened drift-logs and kelp were massed there confusedly.
In silence the girl stood looking at the spot. Emotions of fear, thankfulness and something of reverence swept her. Lollie, looking down over the freckles on his nose, vested the lower part of his face in his hand in a manner reminiscent of Kayak Bill.
"Escaped, by hell, by the skin of our teeth!" he gloated.
The tide had been coming in fast during the past half hour. Jean, noting it, suddenly turned back, and with uneasy haste began the homeward journey.
Opposite the little lake where Boreland had shot the first ducks, Loll insisted on running up to the beach line to look over and see whether there were any more birds feeding there. Jean, waiting for him, watched him make his way through the short grass to the narrow, sandy lake-shore, and then stoop to look at something. . . . All at once he raised his head, and with a strange, blanched look on his little face, glanced quickly, fearfully behind him into the tall alder thicket toward the hill. Then, wide-eyed, he sprang toward her without a sound.
"Wha—what is it, Loll?" she gasped.
The boy's eyes shone with excitement. "It—it—it was a wild beast's tracks, Jean. This long—" He measured off about twelve inches between his trembling hands—"and it had claws—big ones that digged deep into the sand!"
"But there are no beasts on the Island, Loll! You must be mistaken!"
"No, no!" Loll's face quivered in his anxiety to convince her of the truth of his statements. Knowing the youngster's unconscious tendency toward exaggeration, she was doubtful. There could be no animal on the Island. But . . . to make sure . . . she herself would go back to see.
She looked about for Kobuk, but the dog had gone on toward the bluff. Impressing on Loll the necessity of remaining where he was until she should come back she turned toward the lake again, running.
As she drew near the margin, unreasoning terror of the unknown began to take possession of her. Every pile of driftwood, every alder bush became alive with sinister possibilities. She drove herself forward. She could see the stretch of sand where Loll had stood. She could see that there were marks of some kind upon it. Trembling, fearful, her heart beating like a hammer in her breast, she pressed forward and looked closely at the marks. . . . Loll was right. Here on Kon Klayu were monster tracks of—what she did not know.
She wheeled swiftly and ran back to where the boy waited. Without a word she snatched his hand and fled with him down the beach toward the bluff and home.
Kobuk, far in advance, was picking his way along the bluff, and now as they ran Jean became aware that a new danger threatened them. The tide had come in so far that even from a distance she could see the foam of spent breakers washing up against the rocky wall ahead. Boreland had said to wait until the tide fell, before attempting to pass the bluff, but with the new, strange terror behind them, she had no thought of obeying. The sea, roaring almost at her feet, seemed kinder and more to be trusted than the unknown beast lurking in the alders, or perhaps slinking along, even now, above the beach line, watching, waiting to spring out at them any moment.
Arrived at the bluff she saw, with dismay, that all along, the back-wash of breakers licked the base. She stopped, tightening her hold on Loll's hand. She looked a long moment at the huge rollers of the incoming tide that crashed so close to her, and then back from whence she had come.
Loll raised his sober little face to the sky.
"God," he said, conversationally, "I guess you'll have to take a hand."
Jean slipped the rope from about his waist. She tied one end to him and the other about her own body in clumsy, womanish knots.
"Lollie,"—despite her efforts her voice quavered—"we're going to run for it. Cling tightly to my hand, dear."
At that moment a wave receded. They ran dizzily forward in the shifting, wet gravel of the beach. When the next incoming comber was beginning to curl down from the top, Jean dashed to the bluff. Shielding the little fellow below her, she clung to the uneven shale of its base, presenting her back to the billow that crashed with a deafening roar just behind her.
Swift, terrifying, the wash of the breaker boiled and foamed about their feet, to their ankles, to their knees. It made Jean's head swim. It paralyzed her power of thought, leaving her with only the instinct to cling. She had to wait while two more breakers rolled in and broke before she saw a chance to stagger to the next point of safety. It seemed to her that hours passed thus while she and Loll struggled, wet and battered, onward.
They had gone but two-thirds of the way when, glancing at the incoming wave to calculate how far they might run, she became aware of a mountainous unbroken roller immediately behind it—a watery monster that humped its back into a ragged, dancing crest high above her head. It advanced in eager, liquid blackness. She knew it must break nearly against the bluff where they stood.
Her desperate eyes espied a rough ledge just above her. With the strength born of despair she caught up her nephew and tossed him to safety. Frantically she herself tried to climb the bluff. . . . She thought she heard a man's voice shouting to her. . . . There was a moment when Loll's white face looked down at her through a haze. . . . A moment when his little hands moved swiftly taking a turn with the rope about a ragged, upstanding piece of rock. Then a boiling, roaring sound filled her ears. . . . An avalanche of dark water crashed down upon her, freezing her, smothering her, crushing her. She felt her body thrown high against the stony wall. . . .
As she was whirled, choking, into darkness and oblivion there flashed through her mind the thought:
"This, then, is how it feels to die."
THE PERIL OF THE SURF
After Jean and Loll had left for the West Camp that morning Harlan, Boreland and Kayak Bill set to work repairing the roof of the cabin and the porch. From his position astride the peak Harlan could hear Ellen busy at her tasks indoors. As the tide began to run in he saw her come to the door from time to time and walk down onto the beach to look for the absent ones. Apparently she was vaguely uneasy. The Island's possibilities for good or bad were yet unknown to her and she was evidently never quite secure in her mind when any of her household was out of her sight. After one of the last excursions to the beach she had spoken of the fact that the waves had reached the base of the cliff.
"They won't be able to come now for a while," she said, addressing the men on the roof. And then she added: "Could two of you give me a little help inside, Shane? I need to move the bed."
Kayak and Boreland accordingly slid down from the ridge and followed her into the house.
Gregg paused in his work of nailing tar-paper over the boards, and stretched wide his arms. He was taking a cursory glance toward the incoming tide when his attention was attracted by the figure of Kobuk ambling up the trail from the beach. The dog was dripping wet and at intervals he stopped to shake himself violently. Kobuk must have been playing along the edge of the surf, Harlan thought. And yet, he must have crossed the sands below the bluff . . . and the tide was only an hour from the flood. . . . But of course Jean would not dream of attempting a crossing now. He took up his hammer again. . . . Suddenly he hooked it over the ridge. At any rate, he would go down and make certain. . .
Slipping off the roof he ran down to the beach. There he sped along its curve until his eye could command the length of the bluff. . . . He stopped aghast. Midway Jean and the boy were coming on, stumbling across the sand left bare by a receding wave, dashing to the ragged base of the cliff and clinging to it while the incoming comber broke and seethed about them, then rushing on again! Owing to the storm of the past days the billows were higher than usual. Also there was yet the most dangerous portion of the way to be traversed.
With a call for help Harlan started toward them, he also racing as the breakers ran out, and climbing the cliff out of their reach as they broke.
He shouted to Jean to attract her attention. If he could only sign to her to ascend the bluff and hold fast till he came! Vainly he tried to make his voice heard above the deafening roar. She neither heard nor saw him. . . . Desperately he plunged on, not taking time now to climb up for his own safety, but ploughing through the onrushing waves. Once a crashing comber caught and threw him flat on the shifting gravel. Before he could right himself it had sucked him almost into the maw of the next down-curling sea. Fortunately it was a small one. He was able to regain his feet and stagger to a hand hold.
Then at the same instant that Jean's eye caught it, he became aware of the huge, unbroken billow advancing toward the struggling figures of the girl and boy. He saw her snatch up the child and toss him to the safety of the ledge, saw her ineffectual efforts to follow . . . then the dancing crest broke and Jean became but a formless dark object tossed like a drift-log on the foaming waters that spouted against the foot of the bluff.
With a despairing cry, Harlan plunged forward, and as the great wave, the first of three, receded, he reached her.
Limp and unconscious she hung from the rope that bound her to the terrified small boy above, and he saw that the little fellow had taken a turn with it about a jagged rock. But for this timely precaution the girl must have been drawn back into the sea and the child with her.
An extra long recession of the water gave him time to lift the inert body and throw it across his shoulder, and thus, while the second giant roller broke at his hack he gripped with his torn hands into the sharp shale and held on. As it ebbed he hoisted her to the ledge above him.
From the temporary safety of this narrow shelf he considered their chances. It was impossible to scale the face of the bluff above him, yet the tide would not be full for an hour. Owing to the enormous sea, they would all three be swept into the ocean if they remained where they were. There was but one thing he could do.
He laid a hand on Loll's quaking shoulder.
"Pal," he said quietly, "will you be afraid to stay here while I carry Jean to the other side of the bluff?"
The boy looked down at the clamorous, booming tide and hesitated. . . . He swallowed hard, blinking. Then he looked at the inert form of his aunt, and meeting Harlan's eyes, shook his head bravely.
"Good! Hang on tight then, old man, and I'll be back for you before you can say 'Jack Robinson'!"
He cut the rope about Jean's waist, and backing down from the ledge, took her again across his shoulder. As Lollie's hand reached out and began coiling the rope, he turned to watch the breakers, that he might time the first dash of his flight back to safety.
The tide was higher now, the combers nearer, and he had but one free hand with which to cling to the base of the bluff when the enveloping waters rose about him. He plunged. He staggered. . . . His senses after a few moments were bludgeoned into numbness by the roar of the sea; his body was sore from the impact of beating water and stinging gravel. He struggled on step by step, feeling his way along the shifting beach, until only the primal instinct of self-preservation was guiding him in the grim game with the tide.
At last he reached the other end of the bluff. He reeled up to the dry sand and let the body of the girl slip from his shoulder. As he did so he heard a shout. Boreland and his wife were running down from the cabin trail. He did not pause but plunged back again through the drenching maelstrom.
In a moment their frantic calls were swallowed up in the deafening roar of waters. Would he have strength to fight his way back? Would he find the boy where he had left him, or had a comber swept him off the narrow shelf? Harlan was unutterably weary now. He longed to let go his hold on the rocky wall, to cease fighting, and let himself be taken out into obliteration; but he drove himself on . . . and on. . . . After a long while he gained the perilous perch where Loll bravely awaited him above the roar.
He rested a moment. The little fellow's absolute faith in him gave him the will to fight his way back again. He took the child on his shoulders and once more plunged into the watery hell.
How he returned to safety he never knew. He was conscious only of reaching the place where Jean lay . . . of asking whether or not the girl was still alive . . . then the great weariness overpowered him. He sank down on the sand beside Jean, and Lollie's glad shout, as he was clasped in his mother's arms, floated through his mental numbness like a clear toy balloon drifting up in a fog.
Three hours later Harlan was resting on the bed in the living-room. In the adjoining room where Jean lay in her little bunk he knew that the girl was hearing, from Ellen's guarded lips, the story of her rescue. On recovering consciousness she had tried to rise, but one side, where she had struck against the rocks, was bruised and so painful that, though she rebelled, she would be obliged to remain in bed for the remainder of the day at least.
Loll had already told the story of the mysterious animal tracks by the lake, and the scattered flour at the cache. Boreland had taken his rifle and gone down to the place as soon as the tide permitted. As Harlan lay there thinking, he was filled with an intense relief—he knew now that the spectre of the tundra that had so worried him was no creature of his own disordered brain. Whatever it might be, it was of flesh and blood. He could speak of it now.
Boreland returned about supper time.
"Did you see 'em, dad?" shouted Loll as his father came in the door.
"What was it, Shane?" Jean called from the other room.
Boreland replaced his rifle in the rack over the head of the bed.
"Bear tracks," he answered succinctly. "Hind foot measures fourteen and a half inches!"
"I figure that the Kodiak cub the Alaska Fur and Trading Company brought over here as a pet, is now wandering about the Island a full-grown grizzly, instead of being in bear heaven, as the people of Katleean thought," said Boreland, as they all sat about the supper table. "Confound it, it makes it mighty bad for us, with all that grub down there at the West Camp! If the beast takes a notion he can go there and raise the very devil."
"I'll take my blankets down there tomorrow and guard the cache until we get the provisions transferred," announced Harlan, quickly. "I'd like to get a shot at a Kodiak bear."
"Son, I ain't a-castin' any asparagus on yore shootin' ability, but I claims the right to shoot that anamile myself!" spoke up Kayak Bill.
"Funny!" Boreland laughed. "I had the same idea myself."
After supper they discussed the problem of getting the remainder of the provisions down to the cabin at once. It was decided that each man should take a turn guarding the cache. Boreland finally left the conversation to Kayak and Harlan while he sat at the table silent, one hand clutching his hair, the other drawing queer-looking cart-wheels and figures on a paper before him. Just before the others started to leave for the night, he sprang up, with an exclamation.
"By thunder, I've got it!" he announced enthusiastically. "Fellows, we're going to make a nautical cart and sail her on the beach of Kon Klayu!"
The nautical cart, when completed, proved to be a hybrid contrivance with two large wheels. The wheels had a cumbersome appearance, owing to the double rims, which were tired with barrel-staves cut in two and mailed crosswise to prevent sinking into the sand. The top of the cart was a platform eight feet long and four wide, with two handles projecting at each end. Rising from its middle was a mast for which Kayak Bill rigged up a sail from a tarpaulin.
Boreland stood off and regarded the finished child of his brain. Beside him Kayak eyed it for some minutes in admiring silence.
"By—hell!" he drawled at last. "Sired by a whisky barrel, spawned by a stretcher, and a throw-back to a Chinese sampan!"
Boreland laughed. "I got my idea for this little beauty from something I read once about the sailing wheelbarrows used by farmers in the interior of China, Bill! I'll bet you, with a fair wind, we can make all of five miles an hour with her on the beach!"
The cart exceeded even its builder's expectations. Steered to the West Camp the next afternoon it was loaded with provisions and the sail hoisted. With Harlan between the two front handles and Boreland at the rear, the odd vehicle was headed toward home. The sail, twice as large as the cart, strained at the mast from the force of the wind behind it, and to the men between the handles, the load seemed hardly to matter at all. Bare-footed, with trousers rolled up to their knees as in boyhood days, the two men found it a new and distinctly pleasant sensation to be swept along thus before wind. In a few minutes Kayak Bill, smoking placidly before the provision tent, was left far behind.
Remembering the back-breaking loads he had carried to the cabin, Harlan grinned back at the bellying sail behind him as he sped along.
"This is child's play, Boreland!" he shouted to his partner. "The problem of transportation is solved; for if there's one thing we never lack on Kon Klayu, it's wind!"
And so it came about that, thanks to the nautical cart, which though the subject of much jesting, did the work, a month from the time of landing found all that remained of the adventurers' outfit transferred to the cabin. Not once during this time was the bear seen in the vicinity of the cache, though sometimes fresh tracks appeared on the margin of the little lake—now christened Bear Paw Lake—where Loll had discovered them.
With the boards taken from the tumble-down shack an extra shed had been built near the cabin, and the porch repaired and strengthened. Harlan found time to make a much larger cage for the pigeon. As he told Ellen, the bird, confined in such close quarters, might not thrive.
Harlan noticed that despite Ellen's determination to leave the Island on the coming of the Hoonah she took a woman's delight in doing her best to make life comfortable with the few things at her command. Since it was the dictum of fate—if she would be with the man she loved—that she must spend so much of her married life in tents along new trails, floating down rivers in flatboats, or wayfaring in trappers' cabins, she sooner or later accepted those conditions. Doubtless, many times she rebelled in her heart. Any woman would. But, he fancied, she was the kind who would chide herself for the momentary disloyalty to Shane and with an increased tenderness, set her capable, feminine touch to perform some new marvel of transformation in each wild place of the moment.
In the cabin on Kon Klayu she accomplished much. With newspapers and magazines found in the box of books from Add-'em-up Sam's collection, she papered the rooms. At the new windows which framed a wide expanse of ever-changing sea, giving a sense of space and freedom to the living-room, she hung cheese-cloth curtains. The folds of these draped a book shelf beside the window, supporting few books but holding in its empty space the gold-scale, unused as yet on Kon Klayu, and glinting newly as it caught the light on its polished surface. In a corner of the room the bed was gay with Indian blankets and bright cushions. The homely cheer of a red tablecloth was reflected in the bright nickel of the shaded lamp on the table, and on the white, sand-scoured floor a long strip of rag carpet from Ellen's old home in the States, made a note of old-fashioned, comforting cleanliness. On the Yukon stove the kettle sang cheerily to the pots and pans hanging in a shining row on the wall behind and the room was pervaded by the faint, clean smell from the woodbox piled high with newly-split wood that had lain long in the sea.
Harlan followed Boreland into the house the day Ellen finished her curtains. He came upon the big prospector standing with his arm across his wife's shoulders.
"I'm blessed of the saints, entirely," Shane was saying, as he bent to lay his cheek affectionately against her hair. "God love you, Ellen, little fellow. . . . you could make a home out of a drygoods box." . . .
After the rescue of Loll and Jean at the bluff, Harlan noticed that Ellen's silent gratitude found vent in a dozen little ways, though he was aware also that he never had an opportunity of seeing the girl alone. Since the Hoonah was expected any day now, Ellen had suggested that the young man bring his blankets across the Island and "bunk" with Kayak Bill until their departure. Had it been offered three weeks earlier, this arrangement would have been eagerly accepted. But Gregg's attitude toward life on Kon Klayu had changed. It was still changing.
He was now cooking his own meals at the Hut, clumsily, it is true, since his unaccustomed hands had never before held a frying-pan. But he was learning, and he was surprised to find himself taking pleasure in the experience. He thanked Ellen for her invitation, but refused it. He would not have been human had he not felt a certain satisfaction in doing so.
He wondered tentatively if Kayak Bill had suspected the struggle that was going on within him during his first days on the Island—the fear of delirium tremens, the fight he was making to conquer the craving for liquor which continued, intermittently now, to torment him. The old man said nothing on the subject, but on one pretext or another Harlan noticed that Kayak managed to spend much of his leisure time at the Hut. Often, if the night were fine, he would roll up in a blanket before the fire and stay there until morning.
Kayak Bill's sauntering feet had followed Dame Fortune over every gold-trail from Dawson to Nome, and there was no trick of Alaskan camp life that he had not learned. He never tried to force his knowledge on the younger man, but casually, in the course of his slow, whimsical monologues, he taught Harlan much that was of inestimable value to him. Indeed, if it had not been for the old man, Harlan might have been forced to swallow his pride long before and ask for shelter at the Boreland cabin, for despite his brave talk of living in the Hut, it was a shelter of the rudest type, built, probably, as a feeding station by the experimenting fox-farmers.
Its structure interested him. It was made by standing whale ribs up on end about two feet apart in a circle. The spaces between were filled with turf, which abounded all over the island, thus making a wall two feet thick. Harlan had repaired it, and in the words of Kayak who helped him, had "rigged" himself up a stove from kerosene cans. It was the old hootch-maker who showed him how to arrange stones to form a crude, open-air fireplace in front of his door for use in fine weather. It was Kayak Bill who taught his blundering hands the trail way of stirring up a bannock and baking it in a frying-pan propped up before the blaze.
Harlan now had less time to think about himself. The little can stove required much finely chopped firewood to keep it going. The open-air fireplace consumed large quantities of drift which he had to chop with an axe, since the one saw on the Island was needed at the cabin. After his day's work with Boreland, he had his meals to prepare. There were brown beans to clean and cook, and sourdough hotcakes to set for the morning. Kayak had taught him to prepare his sourdoughs—a resource which was to become the food mainstay of all on the Island. Harlan learned from the old man that the sourdough hotcake, or flapjack is as typical of Alaska as the glacier. The wilderness man carries, always, a little can filled with a batter of it; with this he starts the leavening of his bread, or, with the addition of a pinch of soda he fries it in the form of flapjacks. So typical a feature of Alaska is the sourdough pot that the old timer in the North is called a "Sourdough."
Harlan grew to have a real fondness for his Hut—the only home he had ever made for himself. Its very primitiveness endeared it to him. He grew also to look forward to the fine evenings when he and Kayak, stretched before the open fireplace with their backs to a bleached whale rib, smoked and yarned and sang, while they watched the leaping driftwood flames.
Strange, picturesque characters of the last frontier stalked through all Kayak Bill's tales: Reckless Bonanza Kings of Klondyke days, buying with their new-found gold the love of painted women; simple-hearted, gentle Aleuts kissing the footprints of skirted, bearded, Russian priests; pathetic, gay ladies of adventure; half-mad hermits of the hills; secretive squaw-men, and wistful, emotional half-breeds—all these Kayak Bill made to live again in the glow of the evening fire.
In his quaint, whimsical way he told of the prospector—that brave heart who makes gold but an excuse for his going forth to conquer the wilds. Harlan came to understand them—the lure of gold, and their slogan: "This time we will strike it." Through Kayak Bill's eyes he saw them aged, broken by the rigors of many northern winters, but with the indomitable spirit of youth still in them, a recurrent yearning that defies age, rheumatism and poverty, and sends them with their grub-stakes out questing into the hills. He saw them, with picks, and gold pans wandering happily during the wonderful Alaskan summer and fall, and when the frost paints the green above timber-line with russet and gold and the Northern Lights beckon them back to the settlements, he saw them arrive, tired, penniless, perhaps, but satisfied, and already planning the next trip into the magnetic golden hills.
And one night, being in a pensive mood, Kayak told of a partner of his, the Bard of the Kuskokwim, an old northern poet unknown except in the Valley o' Lies, who had put the prospector's soul hunger into verse:
"We yearned beyond the skyline, With a wistful wish to know What was hidden by the high line, Glist'ning with eternal snow. And we yearned and wished and wondered At the secrets there untold, As the glaciers growled and thundered, Came the whisper: 'Red, raw gold!'" 
As if he feared Harlan might think him sentimental, Kayak Bill finished his recital with:
"Yas, son, that old cuss partner o' mine was always recitin' them poetry sayin's o' his. Durned if he wouldn't vocabulate to the trees or the hills when there warn't another soul nearer to him than a hundred miles!"
But of Kayak Bill, himself, Harlan noted, there was never a personal thing. In all his tales the old hootch-maker was ever the spectator, amused, kindly, philosophical.
Sometimes the two were silent—with the companionable silence that the camp-fire instills. Leaning back against the whale-rib, while the embers died in the fireplace and the sea below took on its veil of twilight, they mused and listened to the universe. It was at such times that Harlan began to feel, though faintly, the healing, vibrant energy that comes to those who live close to Mother Earth. Katleean and the bunkful of liquor that at first had occupied so much of his thought, occurred to him less frequently. The States—and all that had happened to him there were becoming a dream. He began to feel as though he had always lived as he was living now. To his surprise as the time drew near for the arrival of the Hoonah he found himself unconcerned, indifferent. Like Kayak Bill, he was learning to face life serenely, undisturbed as to the morrow, but doing his best today.
 From the unpublished poems of Edward C. Cone, Bard of Kuskokwim.
Toward the end of September another heavy gale swept the Island. This time the little party was snug and warm in the cabin with the provisions under cover, and while the storm raged outside, Ellen and Boreland climbed up into the loft and made a list of the supplies on hand. In the log Ellen had begun to keep the day they landed on Kon Klayu she made this entry:
"Heavy gale blowing from the southwest. We hear again that strange rolling sound from the south cliffs. Discovered today that all rolled oats and flour is musty from being wetted by the tide when we landed, and much of it is spoiled. Fortunately the flour caked on the outside and the inside is fairly well preserved. We used the last of our butter today. We have sugar for one more week."
Though she said little her growing anxiety communicated itself in some occult way to the other members of her household, even to Loll, to whom she gave daily lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic. The little fellow was at this time moved to write and illustrate a book on some discarded letter-heads of a defunct life insurance company. Ellen breathed a prayer of thanks that he so well entertained himself on stormy days.
On the first page of this work appeared the text of Old Mother Hubbard written in the boy's large, childish, downhill hand with spelling of distinct originality. Above it in a flaming red wrapper a lady with a large bust and impossible tiny feet, slanted tipsily toward some shelves—conspicuously empty, while in the offing quite aloof from the lady a lean, pale-green animal stood with despondent drooping head and tail. Other nursery favorites that had to do with eating and food, followed. They were illustrated in red and black and green. The red was made by a crayon pencil, miraculously produced by Kayak Bill; the green was obtained by the simple expedient of chewing up rice-grass. Toward the end of the book were many of Lollie's own poems, composed for his mother, and beautified with marginal decorations of flying gulls, sailing ships and fat button-eyed daisies, all bearing evidence of repeated erasures with a wet little finger.
"The red sun sinks down in the sea of the West, The wind goes to sleep. Seagulls flies homes to their nests. And the gold stars their watches keeps. I think the weather will be fine. So the Hoonah can come in. If she don't we will be out of grub. And O, what will we do then."
Thus Lollie indicated the unspoken thought which underlay all the activities of the Boreland household now. They were subconsciously counting the days until the White Chief should come to the Island with the Hoonah and, while they counted, they were beginning to fear.
During the time of this second great gale Boreland and Kayak Bill made ready for mining by making a gold-saving device called a rocker. It was a box-like affair four feet long, eighteen inches wide and the same dimension in height. The front end was open as well as the top and it was mounted on rockers like a cradle. Over the back end was a sieve or hopper, and immediately beneath slanted a frame covered with blanket cloth. The pay-dirt was to be poured into the hopper and running water turned in on it. While the cradle was rocked with a jerky movement the sand sifted down through the hopper to the slanting apron. Much of the gold, Boreland explained, would be caught in the nap of the apron, and in the little sag at the bottom of it, but the sand would flow on out over the bottom of the rocker which was also lined with blanket cloth held down by cleats nailed crosswise at intervals. The sand, being lighter than the gold, was washed on down the length of the rocker floor and thence out on the ground, while the cleats and the rough nap of the cloth caught any further yellow metal.
With his Irishman's gift for seeing life through childish eyes, Boreland made a small duplicate of the rocker for his son's use, a gift which, in a way, was for the purpose of distracting Loll's mind from a misfortune which had befallen Kobuk during the storm. The dog in playing about the shed where the men were working, had knocked down the long cross-cut saw, and the sharp teeth had fallen with full force across Kobuk's right foreleg cutting it cruelly and, it was feared, cracking the bone. Shane had cleansed the wound with the last bit of antiseptic and bound it up in splints, but Kobuk's limping had brought forth Loll's extravagant proffers of sympathy.
The first receding tide after the six-day storm found the whole party on the beach. With the provisions under cover and the cabin repaired all was clear for the mining. They were patrolling the beach for prospects.
Kayak Bill and Gregg turned southward toward Skeleton Rib, as Harlan's growing interest in the round boulders of that vicinity often drew him there. Shane and his family took the beach around the bluff toward the north. Ellen carried the rifle, for though there had been no time yet to hunt, especially for the great bear that roamed Kon Klayu, she was always on the alert. Boreland, happier than he had been since his landing, was at last outfitted with a shovel and a gold pan, emblems of his romantic calling.