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Jack London 1 страница




The Faith of Men

By

 

Contents:

 

A Relic of the Pliocene

A Hyperborean Brew

The Faith of Men

Too Much Gold

The One Thousand Dozen

The Marriage of Lit-lit

Batard

The Story of Jees Uck

 

 

A RELIC OF THE PLIOCENE

 

I wash my hands of him at the start. I cannot father his tales,

nor will I be responsible for them. I make these preliminary

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 honours my existence with its

approval, and for the sake of her posterity and mine, I cannot take

the chances I once did, nor foster probabilities 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 whatever prospective olive

branches my wife may be pleased to tender me, I can now afford to

be generous. I shall not criticize 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 proposition, while those of little faith may do as

I have done--go find the same 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 Labrador. That he is there,

somewhere, within that clearly defined territory, I pledge the word

of an honourable man whose expectations entail straight speaking

and right living.

 

Thomas Stevens may have toyed prodigiously with truth, but when we

first met (it were well to mark this point), he wandered into my

camp when I thought myself a thousand miles beyond the outermost

post of civilization. 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 himself 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. I

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 CHECHAQUAS 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 south-east to north-west. 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 vastnesses 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 may bring all straight again.

 

So I led him on in talk, and soon I marvelled, 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 convenient, as will be reality 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

garnishings 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, but found it in this case to be absent. This,

however, 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 carcase 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 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 water-

melon. 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-melons?"

 

"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 north-east, where

stretched a TERRA INCOGNITA 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 Pastilik 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--grey, 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 you`ve 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 disappearing 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 ripping and tearing, and trees snapping and crashing.

 

"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, chuckling gleefully. "Wouldn`t

it kill you?" 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, unclassified, 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 disappointments,

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

formation. 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 summer months; and food in them for a thousand

mammoths, to say nothing of small game for man.

 

"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 PUKAPUK--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 anything 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 mammoth 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 cavemen 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 continue.

 

"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, calling 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 hippodrome 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 nervous as a schoolmarm on the

wrong side of matrimony. When I`d come up with him and yell, or

lain 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 towards 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 I 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 hamstrung 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 comfortably. Barring

the fact that I had run most of the juices out of him, he was fair

eating, 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 north-east, 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 commemorate

Klooch and the seven blind little beggars. They are also souvenirs

of an unparalleled event in history, namely, the destruction 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?

 

A HYPERBOREAN BREW

 

[The story of a scheming white man among the strange people who

live on the rim of the Arctic sea]

 

 

Thomas Stevens`s veracity may have been indeterminate as X, and his

imagination the imagination of ordinary 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 branded as a lie outright. .

. He may have played with probability, and verged on the extremest

edge of possibility, but in his tales the machinery never creaked.

That he knew the Northland like a book, not a soul can deny. That

he was a great traveller, and had set foot on countless unknown

trails, many evidences affirm. Outside of my own personal

knowledge, I knew men that had met him everywhere, but principally

on the confines of Nowhere. There was Johnson, the ex-Hudson Bay

Company factor, who had housed him in a Labrador factory until his

dogs rested up a bit, and he was able to strike out again. There

was McMahon, agent for the Alaska Commercial Company, who had run

across him in Dutch Harbour, and later on, among the outlying

islands of the Aleutian group. It was indisputable that he had

guided one of the earlier United States surveys, and history states

positively that in a similar capacity he served the Western Union

when it attempted to put through its trans-Alaskan and Siberian

telegraph to Europe. Further, there was Joe Lamson, the whaling

captain, who, when ice-bound off the mouth of the Mackenzie, had

had him come aboard after tobacco. This last touch proves Thomas

Stevens`s identity conclusively. His quest for tobacco was

perennial and untiring. Ere we became fairly acquainted, I learned

to greet him with one hand, and pass the pouch with the other. But

the night I met him in John O`Brien`s Dawson saloon, his head was

wreathed in a nimbus of fifty-cent cigar smoke, and instead of my

pouch he demanded my sack. We were standing by a faro table, and

forthwith he tossed it upon the "high card." "Fifty," he said, and

the game-keeper nodded. The "high card" turned, and he handed back







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