Ridgwell Cullum.

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face. "He's got to go right back with me, when my work's done. And
you - why, you'd best come, too. I'd hate to rob you of the boy. You'll
both need to come right along. And the big folk will say what's to be
done with you when we get back. How do you say?"

The trouble had completely vanished from the woman's eyes. It was like
the passing of a great shadow. Their velvet softness radiated her
thankfulness, her gratitude.

"It good. Much good," she cried, with a sudden abandonment of that stoic
unemotional manner which was native to her. "An-ina love white boy. She
love him much. Boy go? Then An-ina all go dead. An-ina wait. So storm
devil him come. Then An-ina go out, and sleep, sleep, and not wake never
no more. An-ina keep boy? Then An-ina much happy. An-ina help white man
officer. An-ina strong. Mak long trail. An-ina no sick. No mak tire.
Work all time. An' help - much help white man officer. So."

Steve's smiling eyes indicated his acceptance of the woman's

"That's all right," he said. Then he went on after a moment's thought:
"Now, you know these folk. These 'Sleepers.' Do you know their
lingo - their language? I've got to make a big pow-wow with their head
man. I guess that can't be done till they wake. You figger they wake at
intervals, and they dope themselves again. If that's so, I've got to get
their big chief right at that time. D' you guess you could take me right
along to get a look at these folk, and, after that, fix things so I can
grab their big man first time he wakes?"

The woman nodded at once, and her eyes wore a contented smile.

"Sure. An-ina know. Show him white man officer. Oh, yes. Show him all
this folk. Oh, yes. When? Now? Oh, yes. Him not snow. It good. Then
sometime An-ina watch. She watch, watch, all time, and when him wake,
an' eat, then him white man come an' mak pow-wow. Good?"

"Fine." Steve returned all the papers to the drawers in the desk and
stood up. "Guess I'll eat right away, and after that we'll get along an'
take a peek at these folks. The boys got the snow clear outside?"

"Him dig much. Snow plenty gone."

"Good. And little Marcel?" Steve enquired, with a tender smile. "Has he
been digging?"

The squaw's eyes lit.

"Oh, yes, him boy dig. An' Julyman, an' him Oolak all laff. Boy dig all
time, everywhere." An-ina laughed in her silent way. Then she sobered,
and a great warmth shone in her eyes. "Boss white man officer love him
boy? Yes?"

Steve nodded in his friendly way.

"Oh, I guess so," he admitted. "You see, I've got a little girl baby of
my own way back - where I come from."


There was no mistaking the understanding in the woman's significant

* * * * *

Steve and An-ina passed out into the wonderful glowing twilight. There
was no need for the sun in the steely glittering heavens. The full
moonlight of the lower latitudes was incomparable with the Arctic night.
From end to end in a great arc the aurora lit the world, and left the
stars blazing impotently. The cold was at its lowest depths, and not a
breath of wind stirred the air. Up to the eyes in furs the two figures
moved out beyond the stockade into the shadowed world.

The squaw led the way, floundering over the frozen snow-drifts with the
gentle padding sound of her moccasined feet. Steve kept hard behind her
yielding himself entirely to her guidance.

Out in the open no sign remained of the dome-roofed settlement of the
Sleepers. The huts had served to buttress the snow for the blizzard.
They were buried deep under the great white ridges which the storm had

It was something upon which Steve had not calculated. And he swiftly
drew the squaw's attention.

"Say," he cried, pointing at the place where the huts had been visible,
"I kind of forgot the snow."

The squaw's eyes were just visible under her fur hood. Their brightness
suggested a smile.

"No 'Sleeper' man by this hut. Oh, no," she exclaimed decidedly. "No
winter, then him 'Sleeper' man live by this hut. Winter come, then him
sleep by woods. Much hut. Plenty. All cover, hid-up. Come, I show."

Steve was more than relieved. The snow had looked like upsetting all his

Once clear of the banked snow-drifts, which rose to the height of the
stockade, they moved rapidly over the crusted surface towards the dark
wall of woods which frowned down upon them in the twilight, and, in a
few moments, the light of the splendid aurora was shut out, and the
myriad of night lights were suddenly extinguished.

"Keep him much close," An-ina cried, her mitted hand grasping Steve by
the arm. "Bimeby him bush go all thick. An-ina know."

They trudged on, and as they proceeded deeper and deeper into the
darkness of the forest, Steve's eyes became accustomed. The snow broke
into patches, and soon they found themselves more often walking over the
underlay of rotting pine cones than the winter carpet of the Northern
world. The temperature, too, rose, and Steve, at least, was glad to
loosen the furs from about his cheeks and nose.

Half an hour of rapid walking proved the squaw's words. The lank
tree-trunks, down aisles of which they had been passing, became lost in
a wealth of dense undergrowth. It was here that the woman paused for her
bearings. But her fault was brief, and in a few moments she picked up
the opening of a distinct but winding pathway. The windings, the
entanglement of the growth which lined it, made the path seem
interminable. But the confidence and decision of his guide left Steve
without the slightest doubt. Presently his confidence was justified.

The path led directly to the entrance of a stoutly constructed
habitation. Even in the darkness Steve saw that the hut exactly occupied
a cleared space. The surrounding bush, in its wild entanglement,
completely overgrew it. The result was an extraordinarily effective
hiding. Only precise knowledge could ever have hoped to discover it.

An-ina paused at the low door and pointed beyond.

"Track him go long way. More hut. Much, plenty. Oh, yes. Much hut. This,
big man chief. All him fam'ly. Come."

She bent low, and passed into the tunnel-like entrance, built of closely
interlaced Arctic willow. A dozen paces or more brought them to a
hanging curtain of skins. The woman raised this, and held it while Steve
passed beyond. A few paces farther on was a second curtain, and An-ina
paused before she raised it.

"So," she said, pointing at it. "All him Sleepers."

Steve understood. And with a queer feeling, almost of excitement, he
waited while the woman cautiously raised the last barrier. He scarcely
knew what to expect. Perhaps complete darkness, and the sound of
stertorous, drugged slumber. That which was revealed, however, came as a
complete surprise.

The first thing he became aware of was light, and a reeking atmosphere
of burning oil. The next was the warmth and flicker of two wood fires.
And after that a general odour which he recognized at once. It was the
same heavy, pungent aroma that pervaded the fort where the dead chemist
stored the small but precious quantities of the strange weed he traded.

They stepped cautiously within, and stood in silent contemplation of the
fantastic picture revealed by the three primitive lights. They emanated
from what looked like earthenware bowls of oil, upon which some sort of
worsted wicks were floating. These were augmented by the ruddy flicker
of two considerable wood fires, which burned within circular embankments
constructed on the hard earthen floor.

The lights and fires were a revelation to the man, and he wondered at
them, and the means by which they were tended. But his speculations were
quickly swallowed up by the greater interest of the rest of the scene.

The hut was large. Far larger than might have been supposed; and Steve
estimated it at something like thirty feet long by twenty wide. The roof
was thatched with reedy grass, bound down with thongs of rawhide to the
sapling rafters. The ridge of the pitched roof was supported by two
tree-trunks, which had been cut to the desired height, and left rooted
in the ground, while the two ends of it rested upon the end walls. The
walls themselves were constructed of thick mud plaster, overlaying a
foundation of laced willow branches. The whole construction was of
unusual solidity, and the smoke-blackened thatch yielded two holes,
Indian fashion, through which the fire smoke was permitted exit.

But Steve's main interest lay in the drug-suspended life which the place
contained. It was there, still, silent. It lay in two rows down the
length of either side of the great interior. In the dim light he counted
it. There were forty-two distinct piles of furs, each yielding the rough
outline of a prone human figure beneath it. Each figure was deathly
still. And the whole suggested some primitive mortuary, with its
freight, awaiting identification.

For many moments Steve remained powerless to withdraw his fascinated
gaze. And all the while he was thinking of Julyman, and the story he had
been told so long ago. He remembered how he had derided it as beyond

At last the fascination passed, and he turned his gaze in search of
those things which made this extraordinary scene possible. They were
there. Oh, yes. Julyman had not lied. No one had lied about these
creatures of hibernation. Piles of food were set out in earthenware
bowls, similar to the bowls which contained the floating lights. Then
there were other vessels, set ready to hand beside the food, and he
conjectured their contents to be the necessary brew of the famous drug.

An-ina's voice broke in upon his reflections.

"Him all much sleep," she said. "No wake now. Bimeby. Oh, yes."

She spoke in her ordinary tone. She had no fear of waking these "dead"

"Tell me," Steve said after a pause, "who keeps these fires going? Who
watches them? And those oil lights. Do they burn by themselves?"

An-ina made a little sound. It was almost a laugh.

"Him light burn all time. Him seal oil," she explained. "Indian man much
'fraid for devil-man come. Him light keep him devil-man 'way all time.
Winter, yes. Summer, yes. Plenty oil. Only wind mak him blow out. Fire,
oh yes. When him wakes bimeby him mak plenty fire. Each man. Him sit by
fire all time eat. Then him sleep once more plenty. Each man wake, each
man mak fire. So fire all time. No freeze dead."

"None awake now," demurred Steve lowering his voice unconsciously.

"Oh, no," returned the squaw. "No man wake now. Bimeby yes. H'st!"

The woman's sudden, low-voiced warning startled Steve. Her Indian eyes
had been quicker than his. There was a movement under the fur robes of
one of the curious heaps in the distance, to the left, and she pointed
at it.

Steve followed the direction indicated. Sure enough there was movement.
One of the men had turned over on his back.

"Him wake - bimeby," whispered the squaw. "Come!"

She moved towards the doorway, and Steve followed closely. In a moment
they had passed the curtained barriers out into the fresh night air.

Steve paused.

"Would that be the headman?" he demanded.

An-ina shook her head.

"Him headman by door. Him sleep where we stand. Him sleep by door. Him
brave. Keep devil-man away. So."

"I see," Steve moved on down the path. "Well, we'll get right back. I'm
going to reckon on you, An-ina. Each day you go. When the headman wakes
you speak with him. You tell him white man officer of the Great White
Chief come. He looks for dead white men. You must tell him to keep awake
while you bring white man officer. See?"

"Sure. An-ina know. An-ina mak him fix all so."



The enclosure of the fort was at last cleared of snow. It was now ready,
waiting for the elements to render abortive in a few short hours the
labour of many days. Julyman and Steve had spent the brief daylight in
setting up a snow-break before the open sheds which housed the sleds and
canoes. Oolak was at the quarters of the train dogs at the back of the
store. These were his charge. He drove them, he fed them, and cared for
them. And his art lay in his nimble manipulation of the club, at once
the key to discipline, and his only means of opening up a way to their
savage intelligence. Steve shared in every labour and none knew better
than he the value of work and discipline under the conditions of their
long imprisonment upon the bitter plateau.

Daylight had merged into twilight, and the cold blaze of the Northern
night had again enthroned itself. It was on the abandonment of his own
labours that Steve's attention was at once drawn to others going on
beyond the wall of the stockade. And forthwith he passed out of the
gates to investigate.

That which he discovered brought a smile to his eyes. From the summit of
a drift, which stood the height of the timbered walls, he found himself
gazing down upon the quaintly associated figures of little Marcel and
his nurse. They were busy, particularly the boy. Amidst a confusion of
coiled, rawhide ropes An-ina, hammer in hand, was securing a rope end
to the angle of the wall, while Marcel, with tireless vocal energy, was
encouraging and instructing her to his own complete satisfaction.

The sturdy, busy little figure, so overburdened with its bulk of furs,
was always a sight that delighted Steve. The childish enthusiasm was so
inspiriting, so heedless, so lost to everything but the sheer delight of

While he stood there the rope was made secure and the squaw's efforts
ceased. Instantly the scene changed. The high spirits of the boy sought
to forestall the next move. With unthinking abandon he flung himself
upon the pile of ropes, and manfully struggled to gather them into his
baby arms. The result was inevitable. In a moment hopeless confusion
reigned and An-ina was to the rescue disentangling him. It was in the
midst of this that Marcel became aware of Steve's presence. The moment
he was successfully freed he abandoned his nurse for the object of his
new worship.

"Us makes life-line," he panted, scrambling up the snow-drift. "Boy fix
it all a way through the forest to 'Sleeper' men."

Steve reached out a helping hand, and hauled the little fellow up to his

"Ah. I was guessing that way," he said. "And An-ina was helping boy,

"Oh, 'ess. An-ina help. An-ina always help boy. And boy help Uncle

Steve led the way down. An-ina was waiting with smiling patience.

"Setting out a line to the Sleepers' camp?" he said, as they reached the
woman's side.

An-ina nodded and began to coil the ropes afresh.

"It much good," she said. "Bimeby it storm plenty. So. Each day An-ina
mak headman hut. When him wake then white man officer go mak big talk.
Storm, it not matter nothin'. No."

"Fine," Steve agreed warmly. "You're a good squaw, An-ina."

His approval had instant effect.

"Him good? An-ina glad," she observed contentedly.

An-ina moved on towards the forest bearing her burden of ropes, paying
out the line as she went.

Steve watched her, his steady eyes full of profound thought.

"Us helps An-ina, Uncle Steve?" enquired the boy doubtfully.

The man had almost forgotten the mitted hand he was still clasping. Now
he looked down into the up-turned, enquiring eyes.

"I don't guess An-ina needs us for awhile," he said. Then, after a
pause: "No," he added. "Boy's worked hard - very hard. Maybe we'll go
back to the fort. And - Uncle tell boy a story? Eh?"

Steve had no need to wait for the torrent of verbal appreciation that
came. The boy's delight at the prospect was instant. So they forthwith
abandoned the snow-drifts for the warm interior of the store.

Their furs removed, Steve settled himself on the bench which stood
before the stove. The room was shadowed by the twilight outside, but he
did not light a lamp. There was oil enough for their needs in the
stores, but eventualities had to be considered, and rigid economy in all
things was necessary.

The picture was complete. The dimly lit store, with its traffic counter
deserted, and its shelves sadly depleted of trade. The staunch,
plastered and lime-washed walls, which revealed the stress of climate in
the gaping cracks that were by no means infrequent. The hard-beaten
earth floor swept clean. The glowing stove that knew no attention from
the cleaner's brush. Then the two figures on the rough bench, which was
worn and polished by long years of use.

The completion of the picture, however, lay in the personalities for
which the rest was only a setting. Steve, in his buckskin shirt and
moleskin trousers, which divested him of the last sign of his
relationship to the force which administered the white man's law. His
young face so set and weather-tanned, so full of decision and strength,
and his eyes, far gazing, like those of the men of the deep seas. And
the boy upon his knee, his little hands clasping each other in his lap.
With his curling, fair hair, and his wide, questioning eyes gazing up
into the man's face. With his small body clad from head to foot in the
beaded buckskin, which it was his nurse's joy to fashion for him. There
was a wonderfully intimate touch in it all. It was a touch that
powerfully illustrated the lives of those who are far removed from the
luxury of civilization, and who depend for every comfort, even for their
very existence, upon those personal physical efforts, the failure of
which, at any moment, must mean final and complete disaster.

"Tell boy of bears, an' wolves, an' Injuns, an' debble-men, wot An-ina
hers scairt of."

The demand was prompt and decided.

"An-ina scared of devil-men?" Steve smilingly shook his head. "It's only
stupid 'Sleeper' men scared of devil-men. Anyway there's no devil-men.
Just wolves, and bears, that boy'll hunt and kill when he grows up."

"But hers says ther's debble-men," the boy protested, his eyes wide with

Steve shook his head.

"No," he said firmly. "Uncle Steve knows. He knows better than Indians.
Better than An-ina. Boy always remember that."

"Oh, 'ess, boy 'members."

The child impulsively thrust an arm about the man's neck and Steve's arm
tightened unconsciously about the little body.

"Tell us 'tory," the child urged.

Steve's contemplative eyes were upon the glowing stove.

"What'll it be about?" he said at last. Then, as though suddenly
inspired, "Why, I know, sure. It's about a little boy. A real bright
little boy. Oh, I guess he was all sorts of a boy - like - like Marcel."

"Wot's 'all sorts'?" the child demanded.

"Why, just a sample of all the good things a boy can be. Same as you."

The explanation seemed sufficient, and Marcel's eyes were turned
dreamily upon the red patch on the side of the stove.

"'Ess," he agreed.

"Well, Uncle Steve travelled a great, long way. It was dreadful hard.
There were bears, and wolves, I guess, and queer Indian folk, and
rivers, and lakes, and forests; forests much bigger and darker than
boy's ever seen."

"Wos thems bigger than the Sleepers' forest?" The challenge was
instantly taken up.

"Oh, yes."

"An' darker, an' fuller of debble-men?"

"Much darker, and there were no devil-men, because there just aren't

"No. Course not," the boy agreed readily.

"That's so. Well, Uncle Steve came a long, long way, and his dogs were
tired, and his Indians were tired - - "

"Wos thems like Julyman an' Oolak?"

"Yes. That's who the Indians were. Uncle always has Julyman and Oolak.
Well, he came to a valley where he found a little boy. All sorts of a
boy. And he liked the little boy, and the little boy liked him. Didn't


"Well, the little chap was alone."

"Didn't hims have no An-ina?"

"Oh, yes. He had his nurse. But his Pop had gone away, and so had his
Mummy. So he was kind of alone. Well, the little boy and Uncle Steve
became great friends. Oh, big friends. Ever so big. And Uncle Steve
didn't want ever to leave the little boy. And I don't guess the little
boy ever wanted to leave Uncle Steve. But then you see there was the Pop
and Mummy, who'd gone away, and of course the boy liked them ever so
much. So Uncle Steve was in a dilemma."

"Wot's 'd'lemma'?"

"Why just a 'fix.' Like boy was in when he got all mussed up with the
ropes just now."

"Wos you mussed up with ropes?"

"Oh, no. Only in a 'fix.'"

"'Ess." The briefest explanations seemed to satisfy.

"Well, Uncle Steve guessed the Pop an' Mummy wouldn't come back for ever
so long, maybe not till the boy was grown up. So he guessed he'd take
the little boy - such a jolly little chap - with him, back to his home,
where there was a nice Auntie, and a little baby cousin. A little girl,
such a pretty little dear, all eyes, and fat cheeks, that sort of tell
you life's the bulliest thing ever. Well, he took him to his home, such
a long, long way, over snow, and over rivers and lakes, where there's
fishes, and through forests where there's wolves, an' bears - - "

"Does hims see any debble-mens?"

"No. Because Uncle Steve says there just aren't any."

"But An-ina sezes ther' is."

"An-ina's a squaw."


"Well, after long time this funny little fellow finds his new Auntie,
and he loves his little cousin right away, and he has such a bully time
with her. They play together. Such games. She pulls his hair and laughs,
and the boy, who's such a bright little kid, likes it because she's a
little girl, and they grow, and grow up together, and then - and
then - - "

"Does hims marry her, an' live happy ever after?"

The question was disconcerting. But Steve did his best.

"Well, I can't just say, old fellow," he demurred. "You see, I hadn't
fixed that."

"But they allus does in my Mummy's 'tories," came the instant protest.

"Do they? Well, then I guess these'll have to," the man agreed. "We'll
fix it that way."

"'Ess. An' then - - "

But the prompting failed in its purpose.

"An' then? Why - I guess that's just all. You see, when folks get
married, and live happy ever after, there's most generally no more story
to tell. Is there?"

"No." Then the child sat up. His appetite had been whetted. "Tell boy
'nother 'tory. Great big, long one. Ever so long."

Steve shook his head.

"Guess Uncle Steve's not great on yarns," he admitted. "You see, I was
kind of thinking. Say, how'd boy like to go with Uncle Steve, and see
the nice Auntie, and the little dear, with lovely, lovely curly hair and
blue eyes, and cheeks like - like - - "

"'Ess. Us goes," the child cried, with a sudden enthusiasm. "Us finds
all the lakes, an' rivers, an' forests, an' wolves, an' bears, an' the
little dear. Boy likes 'em. Us goes now?"

The headlong nature of the demand set Steve smiling.

"Well, I guess we can't go till winter quits," he said. "We'll need to
wait awhile till it's not dark any more. Then we'll take An-ina. And
Julyman. And Oolak. And the dogs. How's that? Then, after awhile, when
boy's Pop and his Mummy come back, then maybe we'll come right back,
too. Eh?"

The anticipation of it all was ravishing to the child mind, and the boy
resettled himself.

"'Ess," he agreed, with a great sigh. "An' the little dear, an' the nice
Auntie. Us all come back." Then with infantile persistence he returned
to his old love. "More 'tory," he demanded. "'Bout debble-mens." Then,
as an after-thought: "Wot isn't, cos Uncle says they doesn't, an' An-ina
says him is when he wasn't, cos he can't be."

Steve sprang to his feet with a great laugh, bearing the little fellow
in his strong arms. He had accomplished his task and all was well.

"No more 'tory," he cried setting him on the ground. "All us men have
work to do. We need to help An-ina. Come on, old fellow."

And with a great feeling of relief and contentment he began the
re-adjustment of the furs which protected the little life which had
become so precious to him.

* * * * *

For all the nights were almost interminable, and the days so desperately
short time passed rapidly. It was nearly three weeks later that the
patient, indefatigable An-ina brought the word Steve awaited.

The daylight had passed, engulfed by the Arctic night which had added a
dull, misty moon to its splendid illumination. The temperature had
risen. Steve knew a change was coming. The signs were all too plain. He
knew that the period of peace had nearly run its course, and the
elements were swiftly mobilizing for a fresh attack.

He was standing in the great gateway considering these things when
An-ina came to him. She appeared abruptly over the top of the great
snow-drift, which had been driven against the angle of the stockade. The

Online LibraryRidgwell CullumThe Heart of Unaga → online text (page 7 of 30)