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Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1904. Reprinted
June, August, September, 1904.






I WASH my hands of him at the start.
I cannot father his tales, nor will I be
responsible for them. I make these pre
liminary reservations, observe, as a guard upon
my own integrity. I possess a certain definite
position in a small way, also a wife ; and for
the good name of the community that hon
ors my existence with its approval, and for
the sake of her posterity and mine, I cannot
take the chances I once did, nor foster proba
bilities with the careless improvidence of youth.
So, I repeat, I wash my hands of him, this
Nimrod, this mighty hunter, this homely, blue-
eyed, freckle-faced Thomas Stevens.

Having been honest to myself, and to what
ever prospective olive branches my wife may
be pleased to tender me, I can now afford to

1 Copyright, 1900, by P. F. Collier & Son.


be generous. I shall not criticise the tales
told me by Thomas Stevens, and, further, I
shall withhold my judgment. If it be asked
why, I can only add that judgment I have
none. Long have I pondered, weighed, and
balanced, but never have my conclusions been
twice the same forsooth ! because Thomas
Stevens is a greater man than I. If he have
told truths, well and good ; if untruths, still
well and good. For who can prove? or who
disprove ? I eliminate myself from the propo
sition, while those of little faith may do as I
have done go find the said Thomas Stevens,
and discuss to his face the various matters which,
if fortune serve, I shall relate. As to where
he may be found ? The directions are simple :
anywhere between 53 north latitude and the
Pole, on the one hand ; and, on the other, the
likeliest hunting grounds that lie between
the east coast of Siberia and farthermost Lab
rador. That he is there, somewhere, within
that clearly defined territory, I pledge the
word of an honorable man whose expecta
tions entail straight speaking and right living.


Thomas Stevens may have toyed prodi
giously with truth, but when we first met (it
were well to mark this point), he wandered
into my camp when I thought myself a thou
sand miles beyond the outermost post of civ
ilization. At the sight of his human face, the
first in weary months, I could have sprung
forward and folded him in my arms (and I
am not by any means a demonstrative man) ;
but to him his visit seemed the most casual
thing under the sun. He just strolled into
the light of my camp, passed the time of day
after the custom of men on beaten trails, threw
my snowshoes the one way and a couple of
dogs the other, and so made room for him
self by the fire. Said he d just dropped in
to borrow a pinch of soda and to see if I
had any decent tobacco. He plucked forth
an ancient pipe, loaded it with painstaking
care, and, without as much as by your leave,
whacked half the tobacco of my pouch into
his. Yes, the stuff was fairly good. He
sighed with the contentment of the just, and
literally absorbed the smoke from the crisping


yellow flakes, and it did my smoker s heart
good to behold him.

Hunter? Trapper? Prospector? He
shrugged his shoulders No ; just sort of
knocking round a bit. Had come up from
the Great Slave some time since, and was
thinking of trapsing over into the Yukon
country. The Factor of Koshim had spoken
about the discoveries on the Klondike, and he
was of a mind to run over for a peep. T
noticed that he spoke of the Klondike in the
archaic vernacular, calling it the Reindeer
River a conceited custom that the Old
Timers employ against the che-cha-quas and
all tenderfeet in general. But he did it so
naively and as such a matter of course, that
there was no sting, and I forgave him. He
also had it in view, he said, before he crossed
the divide into the Yukon, to make a little
run up Fort o* Good Hope way.

Now Fort o Good Hope is a far journey
to the north, over and beyond the Circle, in
a place where the feet of few men have trod ;
and when a nondescript ragamuffin comes in


out of the night, from nowhere in particular,
to sit by one s fire and discourse on such in
terms of " trapsing " and " a little run," it is
fair time to rouse up and shake off the dream.
Wherefore I looked about me ; saw the fly,
and, underneath, the pine boughs spread for
the sleeping furs ; saw the grub sacks, the
camera, the frosty breaths of the dogs circling
on the edge of the light ; and, above, a great
streamer of the aurora bridging the zenith from
southeast to northwest. I shivered. There
is a magic in the Northland night, that steals
in on one like fevers from malarial marshes.
You are clutched and downed before you are
aware. Then I looked to the snowshoes,
lying prone and crossed where he had flung
them. Also I had an eye to my tobacco
pouch. Half, at least, of its goodly store
had vamosed. That settled it. Fancy had
not tricked me after all.

Crazed with suffering, I thought, looking
steadfastly at the man one of those wild
stampeders, strayed far from his bearings and
wandering like a lost soul through great vast-


nesses and unknown deeps. Oh, well, let his
moods slip on, until, mayhap, he gathers his
tangled wits together. Who knows ? the
mere sound of a fellow-creature s voice mayi
bring all straight again.

So I led him on in talk, and soon I mar
velled, for he talked of game and the ways
thereof. He had killed the Siberian wolf of
westernmost Alaska, and the chamois in the
secret Rockies. He averred he knew the
haunts where the last buffalo still roamed ;
that he had hung on the flanks of the caribou
when they ran by the hundred thousand, and
slept in the Great Barrens on the musk-ox s
winter trail.

And I shifted my judgment accordingly (the
first revision, but by no account the last), and
deemed him a monumental effigy of truth.
Why it was I know not, but the spirit moved
me to repeat a tale told to me by a man who
had dwelt in the land too long to know better.
It was of the great bear that hugs the steep
slopes of St. Elias, never descending to the
levels of the gentler inclines. Now God so


constituted this creature for its hillside habitat
that the legs of one side are all of a foot longer
than those of the other. This is mighty con
venient, as will be readily admitted. So I
hunted this rare beast in my own name, told
it in the first person, present tense, painted the
requisite locale, gave it the necessary garnish-
ings and touches of verisimilitude, and looked
to see the man stunned by the recital.

Not he. Had he doubted, I could have
forgiven him. Had he objected, denying the
dangers of such a hunt by virtue of the
animal s inability to turn about and go
the other way had he done this, I say, I
could have taken him by the hand for the
true sportsman that he was. Not he. He
sniffed, looked on me, and sniffed again ; then
gave my tobacco due praise, thrust one foot
into my lap, and bade me examine the gear.
It was a mucluc of the Innuit pattern, sewed
together with sinew threads, and devoid of
beads or furbelows. But it was the skin
itself that was remarkable. In that it was all
of half an inch thick, it reminded me of


walrus-hide ; but there the resemblance ceased,
for no walrus ever bore so marvellous a growth
of hair. On the side and ankles this hair was
well-nigh worn away, what of friction with
underbrush and snow ; but around the top and
down the more sheltered back it was coarse,
dirty black, and very thick. I parted it with
difficulty and looked beneath for the fine fur
that is common with northern animals, bt .t
found it in this case to be absent. This, how
ever, was compensated for by the length.
Indeed, the tufts that had survived wear
and tear measured all of seven or eight inches.

I looked up into the man s face, and he
pulled his foot down and asked, " Find hide
like that on your St. Elias bear?"

I shook my head. " Nor on any other
creature of land or sea," I answered candidly.
The thickness of it, and the length of the
hair, puzzled me.

"That," he said, and said without the
slightest hint of impressiveness, "that came
from a mammoth."

" Nonsense ! " I exclaimed, for I could not


forbear the protest of my unbelief. " The
mammoth, my dear sir, long ago vanished
from the earth. We know it once existed
by the fossil remains that we have unearthed,
and by a frozen carcass that the Siberian
sun saw fit to melt from out the bosom of a
glacier; but we also know that no living
specimen exists. Our explorers "

At this word he broke in impatiently.
" Your explorers ? Pish ! A weakly breed.
Let us hear no more of them. But tell me,
O man, what you may know of the mammoth
and his ways."

Beyond contradiction, this was leading to a
yarn ; so I baited my hook by ransacking my
memory for whatever data I possessed on the
subject in hand. To begin with, I emphasized
that the animal was prehistoric, and marshalled
all my facts in support of this. I mentioned
the Siberian sand bars that abounded with
ancient mammoth bones ; spoke of the large
quantities of fossil ivory purchased from the
Innuits by the Alaska Commercial Company ;
and i acknowledged having myself mined six-


and eight-foot tusks from the pay gravel of the
Klondike creeks. " All fossils/ I concluded,
"found in the midst of debris deposited
through countless ages."

" I remember when I was a kid," Thomas
Stevens sniffed (he had a most confounded
way of sniffing), " that I saw a petrified
watermelon. Hence, though mistaken persons
sometimes delude themselves into thinking
that they are really raising or eating them,
there are no such things as extant water

" But the question of food," I objected,
ignoring his point, which was puerile and
without bearing. " The soil must bring forth
vegetable life in lavish abundance to support
so monstrous creations. Nowhere in the
North is the soil so prolific. Ergo, the
mammoth cannot exist."

" I pardon your ignorance concerning many
matters of this Northland, for you are a young
man and have travelled little ; but, at the same
time, I am inclined to agree with you on one
thing. The mammoth no longer exists.


How do I know ? I killed the last one with
my own right arm."

Thus spake Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter.
I threw a stick of firewood at the dogs and
bade them quit their unholy howling, and
waited. Undoubtedly this liar of singular
felicity would open his mouth and requite me
for my St. Elias bear.

"It was this way," he at last began, after
the appropriate silence had intervened. " I
was in camp one day "

" Where ? " I interrupted.

He waved his hand vaguely in the direction
of the northeast, where stretched a terra incog
nita into which vastness few men have strayed
and fewer emerged. " I was in camp one day
with Klooch. Klooch was as handsome a
little kamooks as ever whined betwixt the traces
or shoved nose into a camp kettle. Her father
was a full-blood Malemute from Russian Pas-
tilik on Bering Sea, and I bred her, and with
understanding, out of a clean-legged bitch of
the Hudson Bay stock. I tell you, O man,
she was a corker combination. And now, on


this day I have in mind, she was brought to
pup through a pure wild wolf of the woods
gray, and long of limb, with big lungs and no
end of staying powers. Say ! Was there ever
the like ? It was a new breed of dog I had
started, and I could look forward to big things.
" As I have said, she was brought neatly to
pup, and safely delivered. I was squatting on
my hams over the litter seven sturdy, blind
little beggars when from behind came a bray
of trumpets and crash of brass. There was a
rush, like the wind-squall that kicks the
heels of the rain, and I was midway to my
feet when knocked flat on my face. At the
same instant I heard Klooch sigh, very much
as a man does when youVe planted your fist
in his belly. You can stake your sack I lay
quiet, but I twisted my head around and saw
a huge bulk swaying above me. Then the
blue sky flashed into view and I got to my
feet. A hairy mountain of flesh was just dis
appearing in the underbrush on the edge of
the open. I caught a rear-end glimpse, with
a stiff" tail, as big in girth as my body, standing


out straight behind. The next second only a
tremendous hole remained in the thicket,
though I could still hear the sounds as of a
tornado dying quickly away, underbrush rip
ping and tearing, and trees snapping and

" I cast about for my rifle. It had been
lying on the ground with the muzzle against
a log ; but now the stock was smashed, the
barrel out of line, and the working-gear in a
thousand bits. Then I looked for the slut,
and and what do you suppose ? "

I shook my head.

" May my soul burn in a thousand hells if
there was anything left of her! Klooch, the
seven sturdy, blind little beggars gone, all
gone. Where she had stretched was a slimy,
bloody depression in the soft earth, all of a
yard in diameter, and around the edges a few
scattered hairs."

I measured three feet on the snow, threw
about it a circle, and glanced at Nimrod.

" The beast was thirty long and twenty
high," he answered, " and its tusks scaled


over six times three feet. I couldn t believe,
myself, at the time, for all that it had just
happened. But if my senses had played me,
there was the broken gun and the hole in the
brush. And there was or, rather, there was
not Klooch and the pups. O man, it makes
me hot all over now when I think of it.
Klooch ! Another Eve ! The mother of a
new race ! And a rampaging, ranting, old
bull mammoth, like a second flood, wiping
them, root and branch, off the face of the
earth ! Do you wonder that the blood-soaked
earth cried out to high God ? Or that I grabbed
the hand-axe and took the trail ? "

" The hand-axe ? " I exclaimed, startled out
of myself by the picture. " The hand-axe,
and a big bull mammoth, thirty feet long,
twenty feet "

Nimrod joined me in my merriment, chuck
ling gleefully. " Wouldn t it kill you P " he
cried. " Wasn t it a beaver s dream ? Many s
the time I ve laughed about it since, but at
the time it was no laughing matter, I was that
danged mad, what of the gun and Klooch.


Think of it, O man ! A brand-new, unclassi
fied, uncopyrighted breed, and wiped out before
ever it opened its eyes or took out its intention
papers ! Well, so be it. Life s full of disap
pointments, and rightly so. Meat is best after
a famine, and a bed soft after a hard trail.

" As I was saying, I took out after the
beast with the hand-axe, and hung to its
heels down the valley ; but when he circled
back toward the head, I was left winded at the
lower end. Speaking of grub, I might as
well stop long enough to explain a couple
of points. Up thereabouts, in the midst of
the mountains, is an almighty curious forma
tion. There is no end of little valleys, each
like the other much as peas in a pod, and all
neatly tucked away with straight, rocky walls
rising on all sides. And at the lower ends
are always small openings where the drainage
or glaciers must have broken out. The only
way in is through these mouths, and they are
all small, and some smaller than others. As
to grub you ve slushed around on the rain-
soaked islands of the Alaskan coast down


Sitka way, most likely, seeing as you re a
traveller. And you know how stuff grows
there big, and juicy, and jungly. Well,
that s the way it was with those valleys.
Thick, rich soil, with ferns and grasses and
such things in patches higher than your head.
Rain three days out of four during the sum
mer months ; and food in them for a thousand
mammoths, to say nothing of small game for

" But to get back. Down at the lower
end of the valley I got winded and gave over.
I began to speculate, for when my wind left
me my dander got hotter and hotter, and I
knew I d never know peace of mind till I
dined on roasted mammoth-foot. And I knew,
also, that that stood for skookum mamook puka-
puk excuse Chinook, I mean there was a big
fight coming. Now the mouth of my valley
was very narrow, and the walls steep. High
up on one side was one of those big pivot
rocks, or balancing rocks, as some call them,
weighing all of a couple of hundred tons.
Just the thing. I hit back for camp, keeping


an eye open so the bull couldn t slip past, and
got my ammunition. It wasn t worth any
thing with the rifle smashed ; so I opened the
shells, planted the powder under the rock,
and touched it off with slow fuse. Wasn t
much of a charge, but the old boulder tilted up
lazily and dropped down into place, with just
space enough to let the creek drain nicely.
Now I had him."

" But how did you have him ? " I queried.
" Who ever heard of a man killing a mam
moth with a hand-axe ? And, for that matter,
with anything else ? "

" O man, have I not told you I was mad ? "
Nimrod replied, with a slight manifestation
of sensitiveness. " Mad clean through, what
of Klooch and the gun ? Also, was I not
a hunter ? And was this not new and most
unusual game ? A hand-axe ? Pish ! I did
not need it. Listen, and you shall hear of
a hunt, such as might have happened in the
youth of the world when caveman rounded
up the kill with hand-axe of stone. Such
would have served me as well. Now is it not


a fact that man can outwalk the dog or
horse ? That he can wear them out with
the intelligence of his endurance ? "

I nodded.

" Well ? "

The light broke in on me, and I bade him

" My valley was perhaps five miles around.
The mouth was closed. There was no way
to get out. A timid beast was that bull
mammoth, and I had him at my mercy. I
got on his heels again, hollered like a fiend,
pelted him with cobbles, and raced him around
the valley three times before I knocked off
for supper. Don t you see ? A race-course !
A man and a mammoth ! A hippodrome,
with sun, moon, and stars to referee !

" It took me two months to do it, but I
did it. And that s no beaver dream. Round
and round I ran him, me travelling on the
inner circle, eating jerked meat and salmon
berries on the run, and snatching winks of
sleep between. Of course, he d get desperate
at times and turn. Then I d head for soft


ground where the creek spread out, and lay
anathema upon him and his ancestry, and dare
him to come on. But he was too wise to bog
in a mud puddle. Once he pinned me in
against the walls, and I crawled back into
a deep crevice and waited. Whenever he felt
for me with his trunk, I d belt him with the
hand-axe till he pulled out, shrieking fit to
split my ear drums, he was that mad. He
knew he had me and didn t have me, and it
near drove him wild. But he was no man s
fool. He knew he was safe as long as I stayed
in the crevice, and he made up his mind to
keep me there. And he was dead right, only
he hadn t figured on the commissary. There
was neither grub nor water around that spot,
so on the face of it he couldn t keep up
the siege. He d stand before the opening for
hours, keeping an eye on me and flapping
mosquitoes away with his big blanket ears.
Then the thirst would come on him and he d
ramp round and roar till the earth shook, call
ing me every name he could lay tongue to.
This was to frighten me, of course ; and when


he thought I was sufficiently impressed, he d
back away softly and try to make a sneak for
the creek. Sometimes I d let him get almost
there only a couple of hundred yards away
it was when out I d pop and back he d
come, lumbering along like the old landslide
he was. After I d done this a few times,
and he d figured it out, he changed his tactics.
Grasped the time element, you see. Without
a word of warning, away he d go, tearing for
the water like mad, scheming to get there and
back before I ran away. Finally, after cursing
me most horribly, he raised the siege and
deliberately stalked off to the water hole.

" That was the only time he penned me,
three days of it, but after that the hippo
drome never stopped. Round, and round,
and round, like a six days go-as-I -please, for
he never pleased. My clothes went to rags
and tatters, but I never stopped to mend, till
at last I ran naked as a son of earth, with
nothing but the old hand-axe in one hand
and a cobble in the other. In fact, I never
stopped, save for peeps of sleep in the crannies


and ledges of the cliffs. As for the bull, he
got perceptibly thinner and thinner must
have lost several tons at least and as ner
vous as a schoolmarm on the wrong side of
matrimony. When I d come up with him
and yell, or lam him with a rock at long
range, he d jump like a skittish colt and
tremble all over. Then he d pull out on
the run, tail and trunk waving stiff, head over
one shoulder and wicked eyes blazing, and the
way he d swear at me was something dreadful.
A most immoral beast he was, a murderer, and
a blasphemer.

" But toward the end he quit all this, and
fell to whimpering and crying like a baby.
His spirit broke and he became a quivering
jelly-mountain of misery. He d get attacks
of palpitation of the heart, and stagger around
like a drunken man, and fall down and bark
his shins. And then he d cry, but always
on the run. O man, the gods themselves
would have wept with him, and you yourself
or any other man. It was pitiful, and there
was so much of it, but I only hardened my


heart and hit up the pace. At last I wore
him clean out, and he lay down, broken-
winded, broken-hearted, hungry, and thirsty.
When I found he wouldn t budge, I ham
strung him, and spent the better part of the
day wading into him with the hand-axe, he a
sniffing and sobbing till I worked in far
enough to shut him off. Thirty feet long he
was, and twenty high, and a man could sling a
hammock between his tusks and sleep com
fortably. Barring the fact that I had run
most of the juices out of him, he was fair eat
ing, and his four feet, alone, roasted whole,
would have lasted a man a twelvemonth. I
spent the winter there myself."

" And where is this valley ? " I asked.

He waved his hand in the direction of the
northeast, and said : " Your tobacco is very
good. I carry a fair share of it in my pouch,
but I shall carry the recollection of it until I
die. In token of my appreciation, and in
return for the moccasins on your own feet, I
will present to you these muclucs. They com
memorate Klooch and the seven blind little


beggars. They are also souvenirs of an un
paralleled event in history, namely, the de
struction of the oldest breed of animal on
earth, and the youngest. And their chief
virtue lies in that they will never wear out."

Having effected the exchange, he knocked
the ashes from his pipe, gripped my hand
good night, and wandered off through the
snow. Concerning this tale, for which I have
already disclaimed responsibility, I would
recommend those of little faith to make a
visit to the Smithsonian Institute. If they
bring the requisite credentials and do not come
in vacation time, they will undoubtedly gain
an audience with Professor Dolvidson. The
muclucs are in his possession, and he will
verify, not the manner in which they were
obtained, but the material of which they are
composed. When he states that they are
made from the skin of the mammoth, the
scientific world accepts his verdict. What
more would you have?




THOMAS STEVENS S veracity may
have been indeterminate as x, and his
imagination the imagination of ordi
nary men increased to the nth power, but this,
at least, must be said : never did he deliver
himself of word nor deed that could be

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Online LibraryJack LondonFaith of men → online text (page 1 of 19)