Ridgwell Cullum.

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if the words were jerked from under the restraint he was putting on

The girl had no words with which to answer him. Her eyes were wide and
dry. But from her pallor it was obvious deep emotion was stirring. She
came to his side, and held the baby up to him, a movement that had
something of the tragic in it.

The father swept his hat from his head and bent down in the saddle, and
gazed yearningly into the sleeping child's cherubic face. Then he
reached lower and kissed the pretty forehead tenderly.

"She'll be getting big when I see her again," he said, in a voice that
was not quite steady.

Then a passionate light flooded his eyes as he looked into the face of
his girl wife.

"For God's sake care for her, Nita," he cried. "She's ours - and she's
all we've got. Here, kiss me, dear. I can't stop another moment, or - or
I'll make a fool of myself."

The girl turned her face up and the man's passionate kisses were given
across the small atom which was the pledge of their early love. Then
Steve straightened up in the saddle and replaced his hat. A moment
later he had vanished within the woods through which he must pass on his
way to Ian Ross and his wife, to whom he desired to convey his final
word of thanks.

Nita stood silent, dry-eyed gazing after him. He was gone, and she knew
she would not see him again for two years.

* * * * *

The woodland shadows were lengthening. The delicate green of the trees
had lost something of its brightness. Already the distance was taking on
that softened hue which denotes the dying efforts of daylight.

Nita was passing rapidly over the footpath which would take her to her
new home. She was alone with her child in her arms, and carrying a small
bundle. Her violet eyes were widely serious, the pallor of her pretty
cheeks was unchanged. But whatever the emotions that inspired these
things she lacked all those outward signs of feeling which few women,
under similar circumstances, could have resisted. There were no tears.
Yet her brows were puckered threateningly. She was absorbed, deeply
absorbed, but it was hardly with the absorption of blind grief.

She paused abruptly. The startled look in her eyes displayed real
apprehension. The sound of someone or something moving in the
low-growing scrub beside her had stirred her to a physical fear of
woodland solitudes she had never been able to conquer.

She stood glancing in apprehension this way and that. She was utterly
powerless. Flight never entered her head. Panic completely prevailed.

A moment later a man thrust his way into the clearing of the path.


His name broke from Nita in a world of relief. Then reaction set in.

"You - you scared me to death. Why didn't you speak, or - or something?"

Hervey Garstaing stood smilingly before her. His dark eyes hungrily
devouring her flushed face and half-angry eyes.

"You wouldn't have me hollering your dandy name, with him only just
clear of Ross's house? I'm not chasing trouble."

"Has Steve only just gone?"

"Sure. I waited for that before I came along."

The man moistened his lips. It was a curiously unpleasant operation.
Then he came a step nearer.

"Well, Nita," he said, with a world of meaning in eyes and tone. "We're
rid of him for two years - anyway."

The girl started. The flush in her cheeks deepened, and the angry light
again leapt into her eyes.

"What d'you mean?" she cried.

The man laughed.

"Mean? Do you need to ask? Ain't you glad?"

"Glad? I - " Suddenly pallor had replaced the flush in the girl's cheeks,
and a curious light shone in eyes which a moment before had been alight
with swift resentment. " - I - don't know."

The man nodded confidently, and drew still closer.

"That's all right," he said. "I do."



It was the last of the night watch. The depths of the primeval forest
were alive with sound, those sounds which are calculated to set the
human pulse athrob. Steve Allenwood crouched over the fire. He was
still, silent, and he squatted with his hands locked about his knees.

The fitful firelight only served to emphasize the intensity of
surrounding darkness. It yielded little more than a point of attraction
for the prowling, unseen creatures haunting the wild. The snow outside
was falling silently, heavily, for it was late in the year, and October
was near its close! Here there was shelter under the wide canopy which
the centuries had grown.

As yet the falling temperature was still above zero. Later it would be
different. The cap on the man's head was pressed low over his ears, and
his summer buckskin shirt had been replaced by the furs which would
stand between him and the fierce breath of winter during the long months
to come. His eyes were wide. Every sense was alert. For all he was
gazing into the fire, he was listening, always listening to those sounds
which he dared not ignore for one single moment.

The sounds were many. And each had a meaning which he read with a
sureness that was almost instinctive. The deep unease of the myriads of
bare tree-trunks about him, supporting their snow-laden canopy, told
him of the burden which the pitiless northern heavens were thrusting
upon them. It also told him of the strength of the breeze which was
driving the banking snow outside. The not infrequent booming crash of a
falling tree spoke of a burden already too great to bear. So with the
splitting of an age-rotted limb torn from the parent trunk.

Of deeper significance, and more deadly, is the sound which never dies
out completely. It is a sound as of falling leaves, pattering softly
upon the underlay of rotting cones and dead pine needles. Its insistence
is peculiar. There are moments when it is distant. And moments, again,
when it is near, desperately near.

It is at times such as the latter that the man at the fire unlocks his
hands. With a swift movement, he reaches down to the fire and seizes a
blazing brand. For a moment a trail of fire arcs against the black
depths of the forest and falls to the ground. Then, with a hasty
scuttling, the sounds die away in the distance, and a fierce snarling
challenge is flung from the safer depths.

The challenge is without effect. The man rises swiftly to his feet, and,
a moment later, the smouldering firebrand is gathered up, and all signs
of fire where it has fallen are stamped out. Again he returns to the
comforting warmth to continue his watch, whilst his companions sleep on
securely in their arctic, fur-lined bags.

But the threat is real and deadly. Woe betide the foolish human soul who
ignores it, or fails to read it aright. The eyes of the forest are wide
awake. They are everywhere watching. They are there, in pairs,
merciless, savage eyes, only awaiting opportunity. It is the primeval
forest world where man is no more than those other creatures who seek to
support the life that is thrust upon them.

These things were only a few of the voiceless hauntings which never
ceased. Steve and his companions knew them all by heart. Every sound,
every cadence told its tale. Every danger, with which they were
surrounded, was calculated to a fraction and left them undisturbed.

Slowly the power of the firelight lessened. For all the stirring and
replenishing, the flickering blaze yielded before the steadily growing
twilight, and presently it sulkily abandoned the unequal contest. The
dawn had come.

It was sufficient. Steve rose from his seat and stretched himself. Then,
moving over to the wood pile he replenished the fire and set the camp
kettle to boil. After that he passed on to the two figures still
sleeping under their furs.

Oolak was the first to reach full wakefulness, and he promptly crawled
from his sleeping-bag. Steve's instructions were brief and to the point.

"Fix the dogs," he ordered. And Oolak grunted his simple acquiescence.

As Julyman broke from his spell of dreaming Steve indicated the camp

"I've set it to boil. I'll take a look outside," he said.

He passed on without waiting for reply and his way followed the track
which the sled had left in the rotting underlay, where over night it had
been laboriously hauled into the shelter of the woods.

His movements were vigorous. The bulk of his outer clothing robbed him
of much of such height as he possessed, but it added to the natural
appearance of muscular sturdiness which was always his. His mission was
important, for on his accurate reading of the elemental conditions
depended immediate movements, and safety or disaster for his expedition.

As he neared the break in the forest, through which their course lay,
the twilight gave before the light of day, and through the aisles of
bare tree-trunks ahead he beheld the white carpet which night had laid.
Nearly a foot of snow had fallen, and everywhere under its burden the
foliage drooped dismally in the perfect morning light.

These things, however, were without serious concern. Steve knew that for
the next seven months the earth would lie deep buried under its winter
pall. That was the condition under which most of his work was carried
on. It was the sunrise, and the wind, which must tell him the things he
desired to know.

Passing beyond the shadowed aisles he moved out over the soft snow,
where the crisp breeze swept down through the break. He was a few
hundred yards from the summit of the high ridge over which, for miles,
to the north and south, the primeval forest spread its mantle. It was a
barrier set up and shutting off the view of the final stage of his
journey; that final stage towards which he had laboured for so many
weeks. He had reached so nearly the heart of Unaga, and beyond,
somewhere towards the shores of Hudson's Bay lay that winter goal where
he hoped to find the friendly shelter of the home of the seal-hunting
Eskimo who peopled the regions.

He ploughed his way through the snow towards the summit of the ridge.

* * * * *

For all his outward calm Steve Allenwood was deeply stirred. For all he
knew the wide Northland, with its mystery, its harshnesses, the sight
that met his gaze from the summit of the ridge was one that left him
wondering, and amazed, and not a little overwhelmed.

The immensity of it all! The harsh, unyielding magnificence! The bitter
breath from the north-east stung his cheeks with its fierce caresses. He
felt like a man who has stolen into the studio of a great artist and
finds himself confronted with a canvas upon which is roughly outlined
the masterly impression of a creation yet to be completed. It seemed to
him as if he were gazing upon the bold, rough draft of the Almighty
Creator's uncompleted work.

The blazing arc of the rising sun was lifting over the tattered skyline,
and its light burnished the snow-crowned glacial beds to an almost
blinding whiteness. As yet it only caught the hill tops within its
range. The hollows, the shadowed woodlands, remained lost beneath the
early morning mists. It gave the impression of gazing down upon one vast
steaming lake, out of which was slowly emerging ridges of white-crested
land chequered with masses of primeval forest.

In all directions it was the same; a hidden world having laboriously to
free itself from the bondage of the mists.

The churning mists rolled on. They cleared for a moment at a point to
let the sunlight shafts illuminate some sweep of glacial ice. Then they
closed down again, swiftly, as though to hide once more those secrets
inadvertently revealed. The sun rose higher. The movement of the mists
became more rapid. They thinned. They deepened once more. And with every
change the sense of urgent movement grew. It was like the panic movement
of a beaten force. The all-powerful light of day was absorbing, draining
the moisture-laden shadows, and reducing them to gossamer.

It was with the final passing of the mists that a sharp ejaculation
broke from the watching man. It verily seemed to have been wrung from
him. His gaze was fixed at a point of the broken skyline. A great cloud
lay banked above the rising crest of the snowy barrier. It was stirring.
It was lifting. Slowly. Reluctantly.

The moments passed. It was like the rising of the curtain upon a
wonderful stage picture. Unlike the mists the cloud did not disperse. It
lifted up, up before the man's amazed eyes, and settled a dense dark
mass to crown that which it had revealed.


The startled monosyllable was thrilling with every emotion of wonder.

A spire towered over the serrated skyline. Its height was utterly beyond
Steve's calculation. Its final peak was lost amidst the heavy cloud.
Sheer up it rose. Sheer above its monstrous surroundings. It rose like
the spire of some cathedral of Nature's moulding, and dwarfed the world
about it. It was dark, dark, in contrast to the crystal splendour
outspread, and frowned with the unyielding hue of the barren rock.

"Boss - look!"

It was the first intimation of Julyman's presence. Steve accepted it
without question. He was wholly absorbed in what he beheld. The Indian
was at his side pointing at the monstrous tower.

"Him Unaga - Unaga Spire. Julyman know. Him Father wise man. Him tell of
Unaga Spire. Him hot. Him hot lak hell. Him all burn up snow - ice. Him
burn up all thing. Come. It not good. Him Unaga Spire!"

* * * * *

A wide declining expanse stretched out before them as Steve and Julyman
swung along over the snow. They were following the track of a dog train,
leaving behind them the added tracks of their own snow-shoes to mark the
way. Ahead of them lay another short rise whose crest was dotted with
timber bluffs. It was beyond this they hoped to discover the winter
shelter they were seeking. Somewhere behind them the indomitable Oolak,
silent, enduring, was shepherding their own dog train over their tracks.

The end of the month had come and their fortunes were at a crisis. A
thousand miles of territory had been covered since the early summer day
when Steve had bade farewell to his wife and child.

The effort had been tremendous. Far more tremendous than these men knew.
And the story of the journey, the endurance, the hardship of it, would
have made an epic of man's silent heroism. With Steve each hardship,
each difficulty encountered had been a matter of course. Accident was a
thing simply to be avoided, and when avoidance was impossible then to be
accepted without complaint. And these things had been so many.

Now the wide Northland had been traversed from west to east and they had
crossed the fierce bosom of Unaga's plateau. The reality of it was no
better and only little worse than had been anticipated. It had been a
journey of hills, everlasting hills, and interminable primordial
forests, with dreary breaks of open plains. Each season had brought its
own troubles, with always lying ahead the deadly anticipation of the
winter yet to come.

It was the thought of this, and the indications everywhere about them,
that had spurred Steve to hunt down the sled track upon which they had
miraculously fallen.

They moved on in silence for a long time. Such was the way of these men.
The great silences had eaten into their bones. The life and labours of
the trail would have been intolerable amidst the chatter of useless

The rolling swing of their gait carried them swiftly to their vantage
ground, and hope stirred Steve to give expression to his thoughts.

"It would be queer to find those fancy 'Sleeper Indians' of yours," he

Julyman cast a glance over his left shoulder in the direction of the
steely north. Somewhere back there far beyond his view stood the great
Spire of Unaga, and the black cloud hovering about its crest. It had
been left far, far behind them, but it still remained a memory.

"No Sleeper Indian man," he said decidedly. Then he added with a final
shake of his head: "Oh no."

Steve laughed. It was not often these men laughed on the trail. Just
now, however, the excitement of hope had robbed the white man of
something of his habit.

"Guess your yarn didn't just locate them. Where d'you reckon they are?"

Julyman slackened his gait as they breasted the final rise where the
sled track vanished over the brow of the hill. His dark, questioning
eyes were turned enquiringly upon his boss, and he searched the smiling
face that looked back at him out of its framing of heavy fur. He feared
to be laughed at. He pointed at the northern horizon.

"Him - Unaga," was all he said.

Steve followed the direction of the mitted hand pointing northward, and
the smile died out of his eyes. That strange Spire filled his memory
still in spite of himself. Something of the Indian's awe communicated
itself to him.

But he thrust it from him and gazed out ahead again, searching the
tracks they were following.

"We'll find something, anyway," he said presently. "This track's not
half a day old. There's folks beyond the rise. Say, maybe we can winter
hereabouts, and work along the coast. The coast line's warmer. It never
hits zero on the coast till you make inside the Arctic Circle. We'll get
back to home next winter. It'll be good getting back to your squaws on
Caribou, eh?"

There was a note in Steve's voice which did not fail to impress itself
on the Indian's keen understanding. He knew his boss was thinking of his
own white squaw and the pretty blue eyes of the pappoose which made the
father forget every trouble and concern when he gazed down into them.
Oh, yes, Julyman understood. He understood pretty well every mood of his
boss. And who should understand them if he did not? Men on the trail
together learn to read each other like a book.

"Squaws him trash!" exclaimed the Indian. And he spat to emphasize his
cynical opinion.

"Some squaws," corrected Steve.

Julyman glanced at him from the corners of eyes which had become mere
slits before the biting drift of the wind.

"All squaw," he said doggedly. Then he went on. "Squaw him all smile.
Him soft. Him mak dam fool of Indian man. Squaw no good - only mak
pappoose, feed pappoose. Raise him. All the time squaw mak pappoose. Him
not think nothin' more. Just pappoose. Indian man think all things. Him
squaw only mak pappoose an' - trouble."

"Trouble?" Steve's smile was alight with humour.

The Indian nodded.

"All time," he said decidedly. "No man, no pappoose, then squaw him mak
trouble all time. It all same. Him find man sure. All man dam fool.
Squaw mak him dam fool. Julyman stand by teepee. Him tak rawhide. Him
say, 'do so!' Squaw him do. Julyman mak long trail. Him not care. Him
come back him find plenty much other squaw. So!"

The Indian's watchful eyes had turned again to the tracks ahead. But he
had seen. The humour had completely vanished out of Steve's eyes. So had
his smile. Julyman's purpose was not quite clear. He loved and revered
his chief. He had no desire to hurt him. But Steve knew that the man
had been saying what he had said for his benefit.

"You're a damn scoundrel, Julyman," he said, and there was less than the
usual tolerance in his tone.

The Indian shrugged under his furs.

"Julyman wise man," he protested. "All the time white man say, 'one
squaw.' It good! So! It fine! Indian man say one - two - five - ten squaw.
Then him not care little dam!"

Steve made no reply. The man's cynicism was sufficiently brutal to make
it impossible to reply without heat. And Steve had no desire to quarrel
with his chief lieutenant. Besides, he was deeply attached to the
rascal. So they swung up the last sharp incline in the voiceless manner
in which so much of their work was done.

It was Steve who reached the brow first, and it was his arm, and his
voice that indicated the discoveries beyond.

"Right!" he exclaimed. "Look, Julyman," he went on pointing. "A lodge. A
lodge of neches. And - see! What's that?" There was excitement in the
tone of his question. "It's - a fort!" he cried, his eyes reflecting the
excitement he could no longer restrain. "A - post! A white man's trading
post! What in hell! Come on!"

He moved on impetuously, and in a moment the two men were speeding down
the last incline.

The last recollection of the Indian's deplorable philosophy had passed
from Steve's mind. His eyes were on the distant encampment. He had been
prepared for some discovery. But never, in his wildest dreaming, had he
anticipated a white man's trading post.

It was something amazing. As far as Steve could reckon they were
somewhere within a hundred miles of the great inland sea. It might be
thirty miles. It might be sixty. He could not tell. Far as the eye could
see there was little change from what they had been travelling over for
weeks. Appalling wastes of snow, and hill, and forest, with every here
and there a loftier rise supporting a glacial bed. There were
watercourses. Oh, yes, rivers abounded in that wide, unknown land. But
they were frozen deeply, and later would, freeze doubtless to their very

But here was a wide shallow valley with a high range of hill country
densely forest clad forming its northeastern boundary. The hither side
was formed by the low rising ground over which they had just passed. The
hollow passed away, narrowing more deeply to the southeast, and lost
itself in the dark depths of a forest. To the north-west the valley
seemed to wander on amidst a labyrinth of sharp hills, which, in the
distance, seemed to grow loftier and more broken as they merged
themselves into the range Steve believed supported the mysterious Spire
of Unaga.

The point of deepest interest and wonder was that which lay in the heart
of the valley less than three miles further on. Numberless small bluffs
chequered the open and suggested the parentage of one which stood out
amongst them, wide, and dark, and lofty. Here there was a long wavering
line of low bush reaching out down the heart of the valley indicating
the course of a river. It was on this river bank, snuggled against the
fringe of the great pine bluff that a cluster of dome-roofed habitations
were plainly visible.

But the wonder of all stood a short distance away to the right where the
woods came down towards the river. It was a wide group of buildings of
lateral logs, with log roofs, and surrounded by a stockade of similar
material. The touch of the white man's hand was unmistakable. No race of
northern Indians or Eskimo could have built such a place.

They sped on over the snow unconscious of the increase of their speed.
And as they approached each man realized the same thought. There was no
sign of life anywhere. There was not even a prowling dog to be seen
searching amongst the refuse of the encampment.

As they drew nearer they failed to discover any addition to the solitary
track they were following. It was curious. It was almost ominous. But
its significance was lost in the thought that here at least was shelter
for themselves against the real winter yet to come.

They reached the banks of the river. It was a good-sized creek frozen
solid, and already deep buried under snow. Without a pause they crossed
to the other side and broke their way through the scrubby snow-laden
bush on the opposite bank.


The two men came to an abrupt halt. They were confronting a small child
of perhaps five or six years. He was clad in furs from head to foot. A
pretty, robust, white-skinned child, wide-eyed, and smiling his frankly
cordial greeting.



For a moment astonishment robbed Steve of speech. Julyman was, perhaps,
less affected. He stood beside his boss grinning down at the apparition
till his eyes were almost entirely hidden by their closing lids, and his
copper skin was wrinkled into a maze of creases.

Steve's ultimate effort was a responsive, "Hello!"

It seemed to meet with the child's approval, for he came trustfully
towards the strangers.

"Mummy's sick," he informed them, gazing smilingly up into the white
man's face. "The Injuns is all asleep. Pop's all gone away. So's Uncle
Cy. Gone long time. There's An-ina and me. That's all. I likes
An-ina - only hers always wash me."

The whole story of the post was told. The direct childish mind had taken
the short cut which maturity would probably have missed.

Steve had recovered himself, and he smiled down into the pretty, eager,
up-turned face.

"What's your name, little man?" he asked kindly.

"Marcel," the boy returned, without the least shyness.

Steve stooped down into a squatting position, and held out his hands
invitingly. There could be no mistaking his attitude. There could be no

Online LibraryRidgwell CullumThe Heart of Unaga → online text (page 4 of 30)