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A Daughter of the Snows online

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heels of Louis an' Swiftwater. Andy's still tindin' store, I'm told,
an' we'll see if I still linger in the pages iv his mimory."

"And I, also." Frona seized him by the hand. It was a bad habit she
had of seizing the hands of those she loved. "It's ten years since I
went away."

The Irishman forged his way through the crowd like a pile-driver, and
Frona followed easily in the lee of his bulk. The tenderfeet watched
them reverently, for to them they were as Northland divinities. The
buzz of conversation rose again.

"Who's the girl?" somebody asked. And just as Frona passed inside the
door she caught the opening of the answer: "Jacob Welse's daughter.
Never heard of Jacob Welse? Where have you been keeping yourself?"


She came out of the wood of glistening birch, and with the first fires
of the sun blazoning her unbound hair raced lightly across the
dew-dripping meadow. The earth was fat with excessive moisture and
soft to her feet, while the dank vegetation slapped against her knees
and cast off flashing sprays of liquid diamonds. The flush of the
morning was in her cheek, and its fire in her eyes, and she was aglow
with youth and love. For she had nursed at the breast of nature, - in
forfeit of a mother, - and she loved the old trees and the creeping
green things with a passionate love; and the dim murmur of growing life
was a gladness to her ears, and the damp earth-smells were sweet to her

Where the upper-reach of the meadow vanished in a dark and narrow
forest aisle, amid clean-stemmed dandelions and color-bursting
buttercups, she came upon a bunch of great Alaskan violets. Throwing
herself at full length, she buried her face in the fragrant coolness,
and with her hands drew the purple heads in circling splendor about her
own. And she was not ashamed. She had wandered away amid the
complexities and smirch and withering heats of the great world, and she
had returned, simple, and clean, and wholesome. And she was glad of
it, as she lay there, slipping back to the old days, when the universe
began and ended at the sky-line, and when she journeyed over the Pass
to behold the Abyss.

It was a primitive life, that of her childhood, with few conventions,
but such as there were, stern ones. And they might be epitomized, as
she had read somewhere in her later years, as "the faith of food and
blanket." This faith had her father kept, she thought, remembering
that his name sounded well on the lips of men. And this was the faith
she had learned, - the faith she had carried with her across the Abyss
and into the world, where men had wandered away from the old truths and
made themselves selfish dogmas and casuistries of the subtlest kinds;
the faith she had brought back with her, still fresh, and young, and
joyous. And it was all so simple, she had contended; why should not
their faith be as her faith - _the faith of food and blanket_? The
faith of trail and hunting camp? The faith with which strong clean men
faced the quick danger and sudden death by field and flood? Why not?
The faith of Jacob Welse? Of Matt McCarthy? Of the Indian boys she
had played with? Of the Indian girls she had led to Amazonian war? Of
the very wolf-dogs straining in the harnesses and running with her
across the snow? It was healthy, it was real, it was good, she
thought, and she was glad.

The rich notes of a robin saluted her from the birch wood, and opened
her ears to the day. A partridge boomed afar in the forest, and a
tree-squirrel launched unerringly into space above her head, and went
on, from limb to limb and tree to tree, scolding graciously the while.
From the hidden river rose the shouts of the toiling adventurers,
already parted from sleep and fighting their way towards the Pole.

Frona arose, shook back her hair, and took instinctively the old path
between the trees to the camp of Chief George and the Dyea tribesmen.
She came upon a boy, breech-clouted and bare, like a copper god. He
was gathering wood, and looked at her keenly over his bronze shoulder.
She bade him good-morning, blithely, in the Dyea tongue; but he shook
his head, and laughed insultingly, and paused in his work to hurl
shameful words after her. She did not understand, for this was not the
old way, and when she passed a great and glowering Sitkan buck she kept
her tongue between her teeth. At the fringe of the forest, the camp
confronted her. And she was startled. It was not the old camp of a
score or more of lodges clustering and huddling together in the open as
though for company, but a mighty camp. It began at the very forest,
and flowed in and out among the scattered tree-clumps on the flat, and
spilled over and down to the river bank where the long canoes were
lined up ten and twelve deep. It was a gathering of the tribes, like
unto none in all the past, and a thousand miles of coast made up the
tally. They were all strange Indians, with wives and chattels and
dogs. She rubbed shoulders with Juneau and Wrangel men, and was
jostled by wild-eyed Sticks from over the Passes, fierce Chilcats, and
Queen Charlotte Islanders. And the looks they cast upon her were black
and frowning, save - and far worse - where the merrier souls leered
patronizingly into her face and chuckled unmentionable things.

She was not frightened by this insolence, but angered; for it hurt her,
and embittered the pleasurable home-coming. Yet she quickly grasped
the significance of it: the old patriarchal status of her father's time
had passed away, and civilization, in a scorching blast, had swept down
upon this people in a day. Glancing under the raised flaps of a tent,
she saw haggard-faced bucks squatting in a circle on the floor. By the
door a heap of broken bottles advertised the vigils of the night. A
white man, low of visage and shrewd, was dealing cards about, and gold
and silver coins leaped into heaping bets upon the blanket board. A
few steps farther on she heard the cluttering whirl of a wheel of
fortune, and saw the Indians, men and women, chancing eagerly their
sweat-earned wages for the gaudy prizes of the game. And from tepee
and lodge rose the cracked and crazy strains of cheap music-boxes.

An old squaw, peeling a willow pole in the sunshine of an open doorway,
raised her head and uttered a shrill cry.

"Hee-Hee! Tenas Hee-Hee!" she muttered as well and as excitedly as her
toothless gums would permit.

Frona thrilled at the cry. Tenas Hee-Hee! Little Laughter! Her name
of the long gone Indian past! She turned and went over to the old

"And hast thou so soon forgotten, Tenas Hee-Hee?" she mumbled. "And
thine eyes so young and sharp! Not so soon does Neepoosa forget."

"It is thou, Neepoosa?" Frona cried, her tongue halting from the disuse
of years.

"Ay, it is Neepoosa," the old woman replied, drawing her inside the
tent, and despatching a boy, hot-footed, on some errand. They sat down
together on the floor, and she patted Frona's hand lovingly, peering,
meanwhile, blear-eyed and misty, into her face. "Ay, it is Neepoosa,
grown old quickly after the manner of our women. Neepoosa, who dandled
thee in her arms when thou wast a child. Neepoosa, who gave thee thy
name, Tenas Hee-Hee. Who fought for thee with Death when thou wast
ailing; and gathered growing things from the woods and grasses of the
earth and made of them tea, and gave thee to drink. But I mark little
change, for I knew thee at once. It was thy very shadow on the ground
that made me lift my head. A little change, mayhap. Tall thou art,
and like a slender willow in thy grace, and the sun has kissed thy
cheeks more lightly of the years; but there is the old hair, flying
wild and of the color of the brown seaweed floating on the tide, and
the mouth, quick to laugh and loth to cry. And the eyes are as clear
and true as in the days when Neepoosa chid thee for wrong-doing, and
thou wouldst not put false words upon thy tongue. Ai! Ai! Not as
thou art the other women who come now into the land!"

"And why is a white woman without honor among you?" Frona demanded.
"Your men say evil things to me in the camp, and as I came through the
woods, even the boys. Not in the old days, when I played with them,
was this shame so."

"Ai! Ai!" Neepoosa made answer. "It is so. But do not blame them.
Pour not thine anger upon their heads. For it is true it is the fault
of thy women who come into the land these days. They can point to no
man and say, 'That is my man.' And it is not good that women should he
thus. And they look upon all men, bold-eyed and shameless, and their
tongues are unclean, and their hearts bad. Wherefore are thy women
without honor among us. As for the boys, they are but boys. And the
men; how should they know?"

The tent-flaps were poked aside and an old man came in. He grunted to
Frona and sat down. Only a certain eager alertness showed the delight
he took in her presence.

"So Tenas Hee-Hee has come back in these bad days," he vouchsafed in a
shrill, quavering voice.

"And why bad days, Muskim?" Frona asked. "Do not the women wear
brighter colors? Are not the bellies fuller with flour and bacon and
white man's grub? Do not the young men contrive great wealth what of
their pack-straps and paddles? And art thou not remembered with the
ancient offerings of meat and fish and blanket? Why bad days, Muskim?"

"True," he replied in his fine, priestly way, a reminiscent flash of
the old fire lighting his eyes. "It is very true. The women wear
brighter colors. But they have found favor, in the eyes of thy white
men, and they look no more upon the young men of their own blood.
Wherefore the tribe does not increase, nor do the little children
longer clutter the way of our feet. It is so. The bellies are fuller
with the white man's grub; but also are they fuller with the white
man's bad whiskey. Nor could it be otherwise that the young men
contrive great wealth; but they sit by night over the cards, and it
passes from them, and they speak harsh words one to another, and in
anger blows are struck, and there is bad blood between them. As for
old Muskim, there are few offerings of meat and fish and blanket. For
the young women have turned aside from the old paths, nor do the young
men longer honor the old totems and the old gods. So these are bad
days, Tenas Hee-Hee, and they behold old Muskim go down in sorrow to
the grave."

"Ai! Ai! It is so!" wailed Neepoosa.

"Because of the madness of thy people have my people become mad,"
Muskim continued. "They come over the salt sea like the waves of the
sea, thy people, and they go - ah! who knoweth where?"

"Ai! Who knoweth where?" Neepoosa lamented, rocking slowly back and

"Ever they go towards the frost and cold; and ever do they come, more
people, wave upon wave!"

"Ai! Ai! Into the frost and cold! It is a long way, and dark and
cold!" She shivered, then laid a sudden hand on Frona's arm. "And
thou goest?"

Frona nodded.

"And Tenas Hee-Hee goest! Ai! Ai! Ai!"

The tent-flap lifted, and Matt McCarthy peered in. "It's yerself,
Frona, is it? With breakfast waitin' this half-hour on ye, an' old
Andy fumin' an' frettin' like the old woman he is. Good-mornin' to ye,
Neepoosa," he addressed Frona's companions, "an' to ye, Muskim, though,
belike ye've little mimory iv me face."

The old couple grunted salutation and remained stolidly silent.

"But hurry with ye, girl," turning back to Frona. "Me steamer starts
by mid-day, an' it's little I'll see iv ye at the best. An' likewise
there's Andy an' the breakfast pipin' hot, both iv them."


Frona waved her hand to Andy and swung out on the trail. Fastened
tightly to her back were her camera and a small travelling satchel. In
addition, she carried for alpenstock the willow pole of Neepoosa. Her
dress was of the mountaineering sort, short-skirted and scant, allowing
the greatest play with the least material, and withal gray of color and

Her outfit, on the backs of a dozen Indians and in charge of Del
Bishop, had got under way hours before. The previous day, on her
return with Matt McCarthy from the Siwash camp, she had found Del
Bishop at the store waiting her. His business was quickly transacted,
for the proposition he made was terse and to the point. She was going
into the country. He was intending to go in. She would need somebody.
If she had not picked any one yet, why he was just the man. He had
forgotten to tell her the day he took her ashore that he had been in
the country years before and knew all about it. True, he hated the
water, and it was mainly a water journey; but he was not afraid of it.
He was afraid of nothing. Further, he would fight for her at the drop
of the hat. As for pay, when they got to Dawson, a good word from her
to Jacob Welse, and a year's outfit would be his. No, no; no
grub-stake about it, no strings on him! He would pay for the outfit
later on when his sack was dusted. What did she think about it,
anyway? And Frona did think about it, for ere she had finished
breakfast he was out hustling the packers together.

She found herself making better speed than the majority of her fellows,
who were heavily laden and had to rest their packs every few hundred
yards. Yet she found herself hard put to keep the pace of a bunch of
Scandinavians ahead of her. They were huge strapping blond-haired
giants, each striding along with a hundred pounds on his back, and all
harnessed to a go-cart which carried fully six hundred more. Their
faces were as laughing suns, and the joy of life was in them. The toil
seemed child's play and slipped from them lightly. They joked with one
another, and with the passers-by, in a meaningless tongue, and their
great chests rumbled with cavern-echoing laughs. Men stood aside for
them, and looked after them enviously; for they took the rises of the
trail on the run, and rattled down the counter slopes, and ground the
iron-rimmed wheels harshly over the rocks. Plunging through a dark
stretch of woods, they came out upon the river at the ford. A drowned
man lay on his back on the sand-bar, staring upward, unblinking, at the
sun. A man, in irritated tones, was questioning over and over,
"Where's his pardner? Ain't he got a pardner?" Two more men had
thrown off their packs and were coolly taking an inventory of the dead
man's possessions. One called aloud the various articles, while the
other checked them off on a piece of dirty wrapping-paper. Letters and
receipts, wet and pulpy, strewed the sand. A few gold coins were
heaped carelessly on a white handkerchief. Other men, crossing back
and forth in canoes and skiffs, took no notice.

The Scandinavians glanced at the sight, and their faces sobered for a
moment. "Where's his pardner? Ain't he got a pardner?" the irritated
man demanded of them. They shook their heads. They did not understand
English. They stepped into the water and splashed onward. Some one
called warningly from the opposite bank, whereat they stood still and
conferred together. Then they started on again. The two men taking
the inventory turned to watch. The current rose nigh to their hips,
but it was swift and they staggered, while now and again the cart
slipped sideways with the stream. The worst was over, and Frona found
herself holding her breath. The water had sunk to the knees of the two
foremost men, when a strap snapped on one nearest the cart. His pack
swung suddenly to the side, overbalancing him. At the same instant the
man next to him slipped, and each jerked the other under. The next two
were whipped off their feet, while the cart, turning over, swept from
the bottom of the ford into the deep water. The two men who had almost
emerged threw themselves backward on the pull-ropes. The effort was
heroic, but giants though they were, the task was too great and they
were dragged, inch by inch, downward and under.

Their packs held them to the bottom, save him whose strap had broken.
This one struck out, not to the shore, but down the stream, striving to
keep up with his comrades. A couple of hundred feet below, the rapid
dashed over a toothed-reef of rocks, and here, a minute later, they
appeared. The cart, still loaded, showed first, smashing a wheel and
turning over and over into the next plunge. The men followed in a
miserable tangle. They were beaten against the submerged rocks and
swept on, all but one. Frona, in a canoe (a dozen canoes were already
in pursuit), saw him grip the rock with bleeding fingers. She saw his
white face and the agony of the effort; but his hold relaxed and he was
jerked away, just as his free comrade, swimming mightily, was reaching
for him. Hidden from sight, they took the next plunge, showing for a
second, still struggling, at the shallow foot of the rapid.

A canoe picked up the swimming man, but the rest disappeared in a long
stretch of swift, deep water. For a quarter of an hour the canoes
plied fruitlessly about, then found the dead men gently grounded in an
eddy. A tow-rope was requisitioned from an up-coming boat, and a pair
of horses from a pack-train on the bank, and the ghastly jetsam hauled
ashore. Frona looked at the five young giants lying in the mud,
broken-boned, limp, uncaring. They were still harnessed to the cart,
and the poor worthless packs still clung to their backs, The sixth sat
in the midst, dry-eyed and stunned. A dozen feet away the steady flood
of life flowed by and Frona melted into it and went on.

The dark spruce-shrouded mountains drew close together in the Dyea
Canyon, and the feet of men churned the wet sunless earth into mire and
bog-hole. And when they had done this they sought new paths, till
there were many paths. And on such a path Frona came upon a man spread
carelessly in the mud. He lay on his side, legs apart and one arm
buried beneath him, pinned down by a bulky pack. His cheek was
pillowed restfully in the ooze, and on his face there was an expression
of content. He brightened when he saw her, and his eyes twinkled

"'Bout time you hove along," he greeted her. "Been waitin' an hour on
you as it is."

"That's it," as Frona bent over him. "Just unbuckle that strap. The
pesky thing! 'Twas just out o' my reach all the time."

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

He slipped out of his straps, shook himself, and felt the twisted arm.
"Nope. Sound as a dollar, thank you. And no kick to register,
either." He reached over and wiped his muddy hands on a low-bowed
spruce. "Just my luck; but I got a good rest, so what's the good of
makin' a beef about it? You see, I tripped on that little root there,
and slip! slump! slam! and slush! - there I was, down and out, and the
buckle just out o' reach. And there I lay for a blasted hour,
everybody hitting the lower path."

"But why didn't you call out to them?"

"And make 'em climb up the hill to me? Them all tuckered out with
their own work? Not on your life! Wasn't serious enough. If any
other man 'd make me climb up just because he'd slipped down, I'd take
him out o' the mud all right, all right, and punch and punch him back
into the mud again. Besides, I knew somebody was bound to come along
my way after a while."

"Oh, you'll do!" she cried, appropriating Del Bishop's phrase. "You'll
do for this country!"

"Yep," he called back, shouldering his pack and starting off at a
lively clip. "And, anyway, I got a good rest."

The trail dipped through a precipitous morass to the river's brink. A
slender pine-tree spanned the screaming foam and bent midway to touch
the water. The surge beat upon the taper trunk and gave it a
rhythmical swaying motion, while the feet of the packers had worn
smooth its wave-washed surface. Eighty feet it stretched in ticklish
insecurity. Frona stepped upon it, felt it move beneath her, heard the
bellowing of the water, saw the mad rush - and shrank back. She slipped
the knot of her shoe-laces and pretended great care in the tying
thereof as a bunch of Indians came out of the woods above and down
through the mud. Three or four bucks led the way, followed by many
squaws, all bending in the head-straps to the heavy packs. Behind came
the children burdened according to their years, and in the rear half a
dozen dogs, tongues lagging out and dragging forward painfully under
their several loads.

The men glanced at her sideways, and one of them said something in an
undertone. Frona could not hear, but the snicker which went down the
line brought the flush of shame to her brow and told her more forcibly
than could the words. Her face was hot, for she sat disgraced in her
own sight; but she gave no sign. The leader stood aside, and one by
one, and never more than one at a time, they made the perilous passage.
At the bend in the middle their weight forced the tree under, and they
felt for their footing, up to the ankles in the cold, driving torrent.
Even the little children made it without hesitancy, and then the dogs
whining and reluctant but urged on by the man. When the last had
crossed over, he turned to Frona.

"Um horse trail," he said, pointing up the mountain side. "Much better
you take um horse trail. More far; much better."

But she shook her head and waited till he reached the farther bank; for
she felt the call, not only upon her own pride, but upon the pride of
her race; and it was a greater demand than her demand, just as the race
was greater than she. So she put foot upon the log, and, with the eyes
of the alien people upon her, walked down into the foam-white swirl.

She came upon a man weeping by the side of the trail. His pack,
clumsily strapped, sprawled on the ground. He had taken off a shoe,
and one naked foot showed swollen and blistered.

"What is the matter?" she asked, halting before him.

He looked up at her, then down into the depths where the Dyea River cut
the gloomy darkness with its living silver. The tears still welled in
his eyes, and he sniffled.

"What is the matter?" she repeated. "Can I be of any help?"

"No," he replied. "How can you help? My feet are raw, and my back is
nearly broken, and I am all tired out. Can you help any of these

"Well," judiciously, "I am sure it might be worse. Think of the men
who have just landed on the beach. It will take them ten days or two
weeks to back-trip their outfits as far as you have already got yours."

"But my partners have left me and gone on," he moaned, a sneaking
appeal for pity in his voice. "And I am all alone, and I don't feel
able to move another step. And then think of my wife and babies. I
left them down in the States. Oh, if they could only see me now! I
can't go back to them, and I can't go on. It's too much for me. I
can't stand it, this working like a horse. I was not made to work like
a horse. I'll die, I know I will, if I do. Oh, what shall I do? What
shall I do?"

"Why did your comrades leave you?"

"Because I was not so strong as they; because I could not pack as much
or as long. And they laughed at me and left me."

"Have you ever roughed it?" Frona asked.


"You look well put up and strong. Weigh probably one hundred and

"One hundred-and seventy," he corrected.

"You don't look as though you had ever been troubled with sickness.
Never an invalid?"


"And your comrades? They are miners?"

"Never mining in their lives. They worked in the same establishment
with me. That's what makes it so hard, don't you see! We'd known one
another for years! And to go off and leave me just because I couldn't
keep up!"

"My friend," and Frona knew she was speaking for the race, "you are
strong as they. You can work just as hard as they; pack as much. But
you are weak of heart. This is no place for the weak of heart. You
cannot work like a horse because you will not. Therefore the country
has no use for you. The north wants strong men, - strong of soul, not
body. The body does not count. So go back to the States. We do not
want you here. If you come you will die, and what then of| your wife
and babies? So sell out your outfit and go back. You will be home in
three weeks. Good-by."

She passed through Sheep Camp. Somewhere above, a mighty glacier,
under the pent pressure of a subterranean reservoir, had burst asunder
and hurled a hundred thousand tons of ice and water down the rocky
gorge. The trail was yet slippery with the slime of the flood, and men
were rummaging disconsolately in the rubbish of overthrown tents and

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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 2 of 20)