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caches. But here and there they worked with nervous haste, and the
stark corpses by the trail-side attested dumbly to their labor. A few
hundred yards beyond, the work of the rush went on uninterrupted. Men
rested their packs on jutting stones, swapped escapes whilst they
regained their breath, then stumbled on to their toil again.

The mid-day sun beat down upon the stone "Scales." The forest had
given up the struggle, and the dizzying heat recoiled from the
unclothed rock. On either hand rose the ice-marred ribs of earth,
naked and strenuous in their nakedness. Above towered storm-beaten
Chilcoot. Up its gaunt and ragged front crawled a slender string of
men. But it was an endless string. It came out of the last fringe of
dwarfed shrub below, drew a black line across a dazzling stretch of
ice, and filed past Frona where she ate her lunch by the way. And it
went on, up the pitch of the steep, growing fainter and smaller, till
it squirmed and twisted like a column of ants and vanished over the
crest of the pass.

Even as she looked, Chilcoot was wrapped in rolling mist and whirling
cloud, and a storm of sleet and wind roared down upon the toiling
pigmies. The light was swept out of the day, and a deep gloom
prevailed; but Frona knew that somewhere up there, clinging and
climbing and immortally striving, the long line of ants still twisted
towards the sky. And she thrilled at the thought, strong with man's
ancient love of mastery, and stepped into the line which came out of
the storm behind and disappeared into the storm before.

She blew through the gap of the pass in a whirlwind of vapor, with hand
and foot clambered down the volcanic ruin of Chilcoot's mighty father,
and stood on the bleak edge of the lake which filled the pit of the
crater. The lake was angry and white-capped, and though a hundred
caches were waiting ferriage, no boats were plying back and forth. A
rickety skeleton of sticks, in a shell of greased canvas, lay upon the
rocks. Frona sought out the owner, a bright-faced young fellow, with
sharp black eyes and a salient jaw. Yes, he was the ferryman, but he
had quit work for the day. Water too rough for freighting. He charged
twenty-five dollars for passengers, but he was not taking passengers
to-day. Had he not said it was too rough? That was why.

"But you will take me, surely?" she asked.

He shook his head and gazed out over the lake. "At the far end it's
rougher than you see it here. Even the big wooden boats won't tackle
it. The last that tried, with a gang of packers aboard, was blown over
on the west shore. We could see them plainly. And as there's no trail
around from there, they'll have to camp it out till the blow is over."

"But they're better off than I am. My camp outfit is at Happy Camp,
and I can't very well stay here," Frona smiled winsomely, but there was
no appeal in the smile; no feminine helplessness throwing itself on the
strength and chivalry of the male. "Do reconsider and take me across."


"I'll give you fifty."

"No, I say."

"But I'm not afraid, you know."

The young fellow's eyes flashed angrily. He turned upon her suddenly,
but on second thought did not utter the words forming on his lips. She
realized the unintentional slur she had cast, and was about to explain.
But on second thought she, too, remained silent; for she read him, and
knew that it was perhaps the only way for her to gain her point. They
stood there, bodies inclined to the storm in the manner of seamen on
sloped decks, unyieldingly looking into each other's eyes. His hair
was plastered in wet ringlets on his forehead, while hers, in longer
wisps, beat furiously about her face.

"Come on, then!" He flung the boat into the water with an angry jerk,
and tossed the oars aboard. "Climb in! I'll take you, but not for
your fifty dollars. You pay the regulation price, and that's all."

A gust of the gale caught the light shell and swept it broadside for a
score of feet. The spray drove inboard in a continuous stinging
shower, and Frona at once fell to work with the bailing-can.

"I hope we're blown ashore," he shouted, stooping forward to the oars.
"It would be embarrassing - for you." He looked up savagely into her

"No," she modified; "but it would be very miserable for both of us, - a
night without tent, blankets, or fire. Besides, we're not going to
blow ashore."

She stepped out on the slippery rocks and helped him heave up the
canvas craft and tilt the water out. On either side uprose bare wet
walls of rock. A heavy sleet was falling steadily, through which a few
streaming caches showed in the gathering darkness.

"You'd better hurry up," he advised, thanking her for the assistance
and relaunching the boat. "Two miles of stiff trail from here to Happy
Camp. No wood until you get there, so you'd best hustle along.

Frona reached out and took his hand, and said, "You are a brave man."

"Oh, I don't know." He returned the grip with usury and looked his

A dozen tents held grimly to their pegs on the extreme edge of the
timber line at Happy Camp. Frona, weary with the day, went from tent
to tent. Her wet skirts clung heavily to her tired limbs, while the
wind buffeted her brutally about. Once, through a canvas wall, she
heard a man apostrophizing gorgeously, and felt sure that it was Del
Bishop. But a peep into the interior told a different tale; so she
wandered fruitlessly on till she reached the last tent in the camp.
She untied the flap and looked in. A spluttering candle showed the one
occupant, a man, down on his knees and blowing lustily into the
fire-box of a smoky Yukon stove.


She cast off the lower flap-fastenings and entered. The man still blew
into the stove, unaware of his company. Frona coughed, and he raised a
pair of smoke-reddened eyes to hers.

"Certainly," he said, casually enough. "Fasten the flaps and make
yourself comfortable." And thereat returned to his borean task.

"Hospitable, to say the least," she commented to herself, obeying his
command and coming up to the stove.

A heap of dwarfed spruce, gnarled and wet and cut to proper
stove-length, lay to one side. Frona knew it well, creeping and
crawling and twisting itself among the rocks of the shallow alluvial
deposit, unlike its arboreal prototype, rarely lifting its head more
than a foot from the earth. She looked into the oven, found it empty,
and filled it with the wet wood. The man arose to his feet, coughing
from the smoke which had been driven into his lungs, and nodding

When he had recovered his breath, "Sit down and dry your skirts. I'll
get supper."

He put a coffee-pot on the front lid of the stove, emptied the bucket
into it, and went out of the tent after more water. As his back
disappeared, Frona dived for her satchel, and when he returned a moment
later he found her with a dry skirt on and wringing the wet one out.
While he fished about in the grub-box for dishes and eating utensils,
she stretched a spare bit of rope between the tent-poles and hung the
skirt on it to dry. The dishes were dirty, and, as he bent over and
washed them, she turned her back and deftly changed her stockings. Her
childhood had taught her the value of well-cared feet for the trail.
She put her wet shoes on a pile of wood at the back of the stove,
substituting for them a pair of soft and dainty house-moccasins of
Indian make. The fire had now grown strong, and she was content to let
her under-garments dry on her body.

During all this time neither had spoken a word. Not only had the man
remained silent, but he went about his work in so preoccupied a way
that it seemed to Frona that he turned a deaf ear to the words of
explanation she would have liked to utter. His whole bearing conveyed
the impression that it was the most ordinary thing under the sun for a
young woman to come in out of the storm and night and partake of his
hospitality. In one way, she liked this; but in so far as she did not
comprehend it, she was troubled. She had a perception of a something
being taken for granted which she did not understand. Once or twice
she moistened her lips to speak, but he appeared so oblivious of her
presence that she withheld.

After opening a can of corned beef with the axe, he fried half a dozen
thick slices of bacon, set the frying-pan back, and boiled the coffee.
From the grub-box he resurrected the half of a cold heavy flapjack. He
looked at it dubiously, and shot a quick glance at her. Then he threw
the sodden thing out of doors and dumped the contents of a sea-biscuit
bag upon a camp cloth. The sea-biscuit had been crumbled into chips
and fragments and generously soaked by the rain till it had become a
mushy, pulpy mass of dirty white.

"It's all I have in the way of bread," he muttered; "but sit down and
we will make the best of it."

"One moment - " And before he could protest, Frona had poured the
sea-biscuit into the frying-pan on top of the grease and bacon. To
this she added a couple of cups of water and stirred briskly over the
fire. When it had sobbed and sighed with the heat for some few
minutes, she sliced up the corned beef and mixed it in with the rest.
And by the time she had seasoned it heavily with salt and black pepper,
a savory steam was rising from the concoction.

"Must say it's pretty good stuff," he said, balancing his plate on his
knee and sampling the mess avidiously. "What do you happen to call it?"

"Slumgullion," she responded curtly, and thereafter the meal went on in

Frona helped him to the coffee, studying him intently the while. And
not only was it not an unpleasant face, she decided, but it was strong.
Strong, she amended, potentially rather than actually. A student, she
added, for she had seen many students' eyes and knew the lasting
impress of the midnight oil long continued; and his eyes bore the
impress. Brown eyes, she concluded, and handsome as the male's should
be handsome; but she noted with surprise, when she refilled his plate
with slumgullion, that they were not at all brown in the ordinary
sense, but hazel-brown. In the daylight, she felt certain, and in
times of best health, they would seem gray, and almost blue-gray. She
knew it well; her one girl chum and dearest friend had had such an eye.

His hair was chestnut-brown, glinting in the candle-light to gold, and
the hint of waviness in it explained the perceptible droop to his tawny
moustache. For the rest, his face was clean-shaven and cut on a good
masculine pattern. At first she found fault with the more than slight
cheek-hollows under the cheek-bones, but when she measured his
well-knit, slenderly muscular figure, with its deep chest and heavy
shoulders, she discovered that she preferred the hollows; at least they
did not imply lack of nutrition. The body gave the lie to that; while
they themselves denied the vice of over-feeding. Height, five feet,
nine, she summed up from out of her gymnasium experience; and age
anywhere between twenty-five and thirty, though nearer the former most

"Haven't many blankets," he said abruptly, pausing to drain his cup and
set it over on the grub-box. "I don't expect my Indians back from Lake
Linderman till morning, and the beggars have packed over everything
except a few sacks of flour and the bare camp outfit. However, I've a
couple of heavy ulsters which will serve just as well."

He turned his back, as though he did not expect a reply, and untied a
rubber-covered roll of blankets. Then he drew the two ulsters from a
clothes-bag and threw them down on the bedding.

"Vaudeville artist, I suppose?"

He asked the question seemingly without interest, as though to keep the
conversation going, and, in fact, as if he knew the stereotyped answer
beforehand. But to Frona the question was like a blow in the face.
She remembered Neepoosa's philippic against the white women who were
coming into the land, and realized the falseness of her position and
the way in which he looked upon her.

But he went on before she could speak. "Last night I had two
vaudeville queens, and three the night before. Only there was more
bedding then. It's unfortunate, isn't it, the aptitude they display in
getting lost from their outfits? Yet somehow I have failed to find any
lost outfits so far. And they are all queens, it seems. No
under-studies or minor turns about them, - no, no. And I presume you
are a queen, too?"

The too-ready blood sprayed her cheek, and this made her angrier than
did he; for whereas she was sure of the steady grip she had on herself,
her flushed face betokened a confusion which did not really possess her.

"No," she answered, coolly; "I am not a vaudeville artist."

He tossed several sacks of flour to one side of the stove, without
replying, and made of them the foundation of a bed; and with the
remaining sacks he duplicated the operation on the opposite side of the

"But you are some kind of an artist, then," he insisted when he had
finished, with an open contempt on the "artist."

"Unfortunately, I am not any kind of an artist at all."

He dropped the blanket he was folding and straightened his back.
Hitherto he had no more than glanced at her; but now he scrutinized her
carefully, every inch of her, from head to heel and back again, the cut
of her garments and the very way she did her hair. And he took his
time about it.

"Oh! I beg pardon," was his verdict, followed by another stare. "Then
you are a very foolish woman dreaming of fortune and shutting your eyes
to the dangers of the pilgrimage. It is only meet that two kinds of
women come into this country. Those who by virtue of wifehood and
daughterhood are respectable, and those who are not respectable.
Vaudeville stars and artists, they call themselves for the sake of
decency; and out of courtesy we countenance it. Yes, yes, I know. But
remember, the women who come over the trail must be one or the other.
There is no middle course, and those who attempt it are bound to fail.
So you are a very, very foolish girl, and you had better turn back
while there is yet a chance. If you will view it in the light of a
loan from a stranger, I will advance your passage back to the States,
and start an Indian over the trail with you to-morrow for Dyea."

Once or twice Frona had attempted to interrupt him, but he had waved
her imperatively to silence with his hand.

"I thank you," she began; but he broke in, -

"Oh, not at all, not at all."

"I thank you," she repeated; but it happens that - a - that you are
mistaken. I have just come over the trail from Dyea and expect to meet
my outfit already in camp here at Happy Camp. They started hours ahead
of me, and I can't understand how I passed them - yes I do, too! A boat
was blown over to the west shore of Crater Lake this afternoon, and
they must have been in it. That is where I missed them and came on.
As for my turning back, I appreciate your motive for suggesting it, but
my father is in Dawson, and I have not seen him for three years. Also,
I have come through from Dyea this day, and am tired, and I would like
to get some rest. So, if you still extend your hospitality, I'll go to

"Impossible!" He kicked the blankets to one side, sat down on the
flour sacks, and directed a blank look upon her.

"Are - are there any women in the other tents?" she asked, hesitatingly.
"I did not see any, but I may have overlooked."

"A man and his wife were, but they pulled stakes this morning. No;
there are no other women except - except two or three in a tent,
which - er - which will not do for you."

"Do you think I am afraid of their hospitality?" she demanded, hotly.
"As you said, they are women."

"But I said it would not do," he answered, absently, staring at the
straining canvas and listening to the roar of the storm. "A man would
die in the open on a night like this.

"And the other tents are crowded to the walls," he mused. "I happen to
know. They have stored all their caches inside because of the water,
and they haven't room to turn around. Besides, a dozen other strangers
are storm-bound with them. Two or three asked to spread their beds in
here to-night if they couldn't pinch room elsewhere. Evidently they
have; but that does not argue that there is any surplus space left.
And anyway - "

He broke off helplessly. The inevitableness of the situation was

"Can I make Deep Lake to-night?" Frona asked, forgetting herself to
sympathize with him, then becoming conscious of what she was doing and
bursting into laughter.

"But you couldn't ford the river in the dark." He frowned at her
levity. "And there are no camps between."

"Are you afraid?" she asked with just the shadow of a sneer.

"Not for myself."

"Well, then, I think I'll go to bed."

"I might sit up and keep the fire going," he suggested after a pause.

"Fiddlesticks!" she cried. "As though your foolish little code were
saved in the least! We are not in civilization. This is the trail to
the Pole. Go to bed."

He elevated his shoulders in token of surrender. "Agreed. What shall
I do then?"

"Help me make my bed, of course. Sacks laid crosswise! Thank you,
sir, but I have bones and muscles that rebel. Here - Pull them
around this way."

Under her direction he laid the sacks lengthwise in a double row. This
left an uncomfortable hollow with lumpy sack-corners down the middle;
but she smote them flat with the side of the axe, and in the same
manner lessened the slope to the walls of the hollow. Then she made a
triple longitudinal fold in a blanket and spread it along the bottom of
the long depression.

"Hum!" he soliloquized. "Now I see why I sleep so badly. Here goes!"
And he speedily flung his own sacks into shape.

"It is plain you are unused to the trail," she informed him, spreading
the topmost blanket and sitting down.

"Perhaps so," he made answer. "But what do you know about this trail
life?" he growled a little later.

"Enough to conform," she rejoined equivocally, pulling out the dried
wood from the oven and replacing it with wet.

"Listen to it! How it storms!" he exclaimed. "It's growing worse, if
worse be possible."

The tent reeled under the blows of the wind, the canvas booming
hollowly at every shock, while the sleet and rain rattled overhead like
skirmish-fire grown into a battle. In the lulls they could hear the
water streaming off at the side-walls with the noise of small
cataracts. He reached up curiously and touched the wet roof. A burst
of water followed instantly at the point of contact and coursed down
upon the grub-box.

"You mustn't do that!" Frona cried, springing to her feet. She put her
finger on the spot, and, pressing tightly against the canvas, ran it
down to the side-wall. The leak at once stopped. "You mustn't do it,
you know," she reproved.

"Jove!" was his reply. "And you came through from Dyea to-day! Aren't
you stiff?"

"Quite a bit," she confessed, candidly, "and sleepy."

"Good-night," she called to him several minutes later, stretching her
body luxuriously in the warm blankets. And a quarter of an hour after
that, "Oh, I say! Are you awake?"

"Yes," his voice came muffled across the stove. "What is it?"

"Have you the shavings cut?"

"Shavings?" he queried, sleepily. "What shavings?"

"For the fire in the morning, of course. So get up and cut them."

He obeyed without a word; but ere he was done she had ceased to hear

The ubiquitous bacon was abroad on the air when she opened her eyes.
Day had broken, and with it the storm. The wet sun was shining
cheerily over the drenched landscape and in at the wide-spread flaps.
Already work had begun, and groups of men were filing past under their
packs. Frona turned over on her side. Breakfast was cooked. Her host
had just put the bacon and fried potatoes in the oven, and was engaged
in propping the door ajar with two sticks of firewood.

"Good-morning," she greeted.

"And good-morning to you," he responded, rising to his feet and picking
up the water-bucket. "I don't hope that you slept well, for I know you

Frona laughed.

"I'm going out after some water," he vouchsafed. "And when I return I
shall expect you ready for breakfast."

After breakfast, basking herself in the sun, Frona descried a familiar
bunch of men rounding the tail of the glacier in the direction of
Crater Lake. She clapped her hands.

"There comes my outfit, and Del Bishop as shame-faced as can be, I'm
sure, at his failure to connect." Turning to the man, and at the same
time slinging camera and satchel over her shoulder, "So I must say
good-by, not forgetting to thank you for your kindness."

"Oh, not at all, not at all. Pray don't mention it. I'd do the same
for any - "

"Vaudeville artist!"

He looked his reproach, but went on. "I don't know your name, nor do I
wish to know it."

"Well, I shall not be so harsh, for I do know your name, MISTER VANCE
CORLISS! I saw it on the shipping tags, of course," she explained.
"And I want you to come and see me when you get to Dawson. My name is
Frona Welse. Good-by."

"Your father is not Jacob Welse?" he called after her as she ran
lightly down towards the trail.

She turned her head and nodded.

But Del Bishop was not shamefaced, nor even worried. "Trust a Welse to
land on their feet on a soft spot," he had consoled himself as he
dropped off to sleep the night before. But he was angry - "madder 'n
hops," in his own vernacular.

"Good-mornin'," he saluted. "And it's plain by your face you had a
comfortable night of it, and no thanks to me."

"You weren't worried, were you?" she asked.

"Worried? About a Welse? Who? Me? Not on your life. I was too busy
tellin' Crater Lake what I thought of it. I don't like the water. I
told you so. And it's always playin' me scurvy - not that I'm afraid of
it, though."

"Hey, you Pete!" turning to the Indians. "Hit 'er up! Got to make
Linderman by noon!"

"Frona Welse?" Vance Corliss was repeating to himself.

The whole thing seemed a dream, and he reassured himself by turning and
looking after her retreating form. Del Bishop and the Indians were
already out of sight behind a wall of rock. Frona was just rounding
the base. The sun was full upon her, and she stood out radiantly
against the black shadow of the wall beyond. She waved her alpenstock,
and as he doffed his cap, rounded the brink and disappeared.


The position occupied by Jacob Welse was certainly an anomalous one.
He was a giant trader in a country without commerce, a ripened product
of the nineteenth century flourishing in a society as primitive as that
of the Mediterranean vandals. A captain of industry and a splendid
monopolist, he dominated the most independent aggregate of men ever
drawn together from the ends of the earth. An economic missionary, a
commercial St. Paul, he preached the doctrines of expediency and force.
Believing in the natural rights of man, a child himself of democracy,
he bent all men to his absolutism. Government of Jacob Welse, for
Jacob Welse and the people, by Jacob Welse, was his unwritten gospel.
Single-handed he had carved out his dominion till he gripped the domain
of a dozen Roman provinces. At his ukase the population ebbed and
flowed over a hundred thousand miles of territory, and cities sprang up
or disappeared at his bidding.

Yet he was a common man. The air of the world first smote his lungs on
the open prairie by the River Platte, the blue sky over head, and
beneath, the green grass of the earth pressing against his tender
nakedness. On the horses his eyes first opened, still saddled and
gazing in mild wonder on the miracle; for his trapper father had but
turned aside from the trail that the wife might have quiet and the
birth be accomplished. An hour or so and the two, which were now
three, were in the saddle and overhauling their trapper comrades. The
party had not been delayed; no time lost. In the morning his mother
cooked the breakfast over the camp-fire, and capped it with a
fifty-mile ride into the next sun-down.

The trapper father had come of the sturdy Welsh stock which trickled
into early Ohio out of the jostling East, and the mother was a nomadic
daughter of the Irish emigrant settlers of Ontario. From both sides
came the Wanderlust of the blood, the fever to be moving, to be pushing
on to the edge of things. In the first year of his life, ere he had

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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 3 of 20)