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Jack London 10 страница
fortnight, when it burst. There was no telling how much colder it
was after that. Another occurrence, monotonous in its regularity,
was the lengthening of the nights, till day became a mere blink of
light between the darkness.
Neil Bonner was a social animal. The very follies for which he was
doing penance had been bred of his excessive sociability. And
here, in the fourth year of his exile, he found himself in company-
-which were to travesty the word--with a morose and speechless
creature in whose sombre eyes smouldered a hatred as bitter as it
was unwarranted. And Bonner, to whom speech and fellowship were as
the breath of life, went about as a ghost might go, tantalized by
the gregarious revelries of some former life. In the day his lips
were compressed, his face stern; but in the night he clenched his
hands, rolled about in his blankets, and cried aloud like a little
child. And he would remember a certain man in authority and curse
him through the long hours. Also, he cursed God. But God
understands. He cannot find it in his heart to blame weak mortals
who blaspheme in Alaska.
And here, to the post of Twenty Mile, came Jees Uck, to trade for
flour and bacon, and beads, and bright scarlet cloths for her fancy
work. And further, and unwittingly, she came to the post of Twenty
Mile to make a lonely man more lonely, make him reach out empty
arms in his sleep. For Neil Bonner was only a man. When she first
came into the store, he looked at her long, as a thirsty man may
look at a flowing well. And she, with the heritage bequeathed her
by Spike O`Brien, imagined daringly and smiled up into his eyes,
not as the swart-skinned peoples should smile at the royal races,
but as a woman smiles at a man. The thing was inevitable; only, he
did not see it, and fought against her as fiercely and passionately
as he was drawn towards her. And she? She was Jees Uck, by
upbringing wholly and utterly a Toyaat Indian woman.
She came often to the post to trade. And often she sat by the big
wood stove and chatted in broken English with Neil Bonner. And he
came to look for her coming; and on the days she did not come he
was worried and restless. Sometimes he stopped to think, and then
she was met coldly, with a resolve that perplexed and piqued her,
and which, she was convinced, was not sincere. But more often he
did not dare to think, and then all went well and there were smiles
and laughter. And Amos Pentley, gasping like a stranded catfish,
his hollow cough a-reek with the grave, looked upon it all and
grinned. He, who loved life, could not live, and it rankled his
soul that others should be able to live. Wherefore he hated
Bonner, who was so very much alive and into whose eyes sprang joy
at the sight of Jees Uck. As for Amos, the very thought of the
girl was sufficient to send his blood pounding up into a
Jees Uck, whose mind was simple, who thought elementally and was
unused to weighing life in its subtler quantities, read Amos
Pentley like a book. She warned Bonner, openly and bluntly, in few
words; but the complexities of higher existence confused the
situation to him, and he laughed at her evident anxiety. To him,
Amos was a poor, miserable devil, tottering desperately into the
grave. And Bonner, who had suffered much, found it easy to forgive
But one morning, during a bitter snap, he got up from the
breakfast-table and went into the store. Jees Uck was already
there, rosy from the trail, to buy a sack of flour. A few minutes
later, he was out in the snow lashing the flour on her sled. As he
bent over he noticed a stiffness in his neck and felt a premonition
of impending physical misfortune. And as he put the last half-
hitch into the lashing and attempted to straighten up, a quick
spasm seized him and he sank into the snow. Tense and quivering,
head jerked back, limbs extended, back arched and mouth twisted and
distorted, he appeared as though being racked limb from limb.
Without cry or sound, Jees Uck was in the snow beside him; but he
clutched both her wrists spasmodically, and as long as the
convulsion endured she was helpless. In a few moments the spasm
relaxed and he was left weak and fainting, his forehead beaded with
sweat, and his lips flecked with foam.
"Quick!" he muttered, in a strange, hoarse voice. "Quick!
He started to crawl on hands and knees, but she raised him up, and,
supported by her young arm, he made faster progress. As he entered
the store the spasm seized him again, and his body writhed
irresistibly away from her and rolled and curled on the floor.
Amos Pentley came and looked on with curious eyes.
"Oh, Amos!" she cried in an agony of apprehension and helplessness,
"him die, you think?" But Amos shrugged his shoulders and
continued to look on.
Bonner`s body went slack, the tense muscles easing down and an
expression of relief coming into his face. "Quick!" he gritted
between his teeth, his mouth twisting with the on-coming of the
next spasm and with his effort to control it. "Quick, Jees Uck!
The medicine! Never mind! Drag me!"
She knew where the medicine-chest stood, at the rear of the room
beyond the stove, and thither, by the legs, she dragged the
struggling man. As the spasm passed he began, very faint and very
sick, to overhaul the chest. He had seen dogs die exhibiting
symptoms similar to his own, and he knew what should be done. He
held up a vial of chloral hydrate, but his fingers were too weak
and nerveless to draw the cork. This Jees Uck did for him, while
he was plunged into another convulsion. As he came out of it he
found the open bottle proffered him, and looked into the great
black eyes of the woman and read what men have always read in the
Mate-woman`s eyes. Taking a full dose of the stuff, he sank back
until another spasm had passed. Then he raised himself limply on
"Listen, Jees Uck!" he said very slowly, as though aware of the
necessity for haste and yet afraid to hasten. "Do what I say.
Stay by my side, but do not touch me. I must be very quiet, but
you must not go away." His jaw began to set and his face to quiver
and distort with the fore-running pangs, but he gulped and
struggled to master them. "Do not got away. And do not let Amos
go away. Understand! Amos must stay right here."
She nodded her head, and he passed off into the first of many
convulsions, which gradually diminished in force and frequency.
Jees Uck hung over him remembering his injunction and not daring to
touch him. Once Amos grew restless and made as though to go into
the kitchen; but a quick blaze from her eyes quelled him, and after
that, save for his laboured breathing and charnel cough, he was
Bonner slept. The blink of light that marked the day disappeared.
Amos, followed about by the woman`s eyes, lighted the kerosene
lamps. Evening came on. Through the north window the heavens were
emblazoned with an auroral display, which flamed and flared and
died down into blackness. Some time after that, Neil Bonner
roused. First he looked to see that Amos was still there, then
smiled at Jees Uck and pulled himself up. Every muscle was stiff
and sore, and he smiled ruefully, pressing and prodding himself as
if to ascertain the extent of the ravage. Then his face went stern
"Jees Uck," he said, "take a candle. Go into the kitchen. There
is food on the table--biscuits and beans and bacon; also, coffee in
the pot on the stove. Bring it here on the counter. Also, bring
tumblers and water and whisky, which you will find on the top shelf
of the locker. Do not forget the whisky."
Having swallowed a stiff glass of the whisky, he went carefully
through the medicine chest, now and again putting aside, with
definite purpose, certain bottles and vials. Then he set to work
on the food, attempting a crude analysis. He had not been unused
to the laboratory in his college days and was possessed of
sufficient imagination to achieve results with his limited
materials. The condition of tetanus, which had marked his
paroxysms, simplified matters, and he made but one test. The
coffee yielded nothing; nor did the beans. To the biscuits he
devoted the utmost care. Amos, who knew nothing of chemistry,
looked on with steady curiosity. But Jees Uck, who had boundless
faith in the white man`s wisdom, and especially in Neil Bonner`s
wisdom, and who not only knew nothing but knew that she knew
nothing watched his face rather than his hands.
Step by step he eliminated possibilities, until he came to the
final test. He was using a thin medicine vial for a tube, and this
he held between him and the light, watching the slow precipitation
of a salt through the solution contained in the tube. He said
nothing, but he saw what he had expected to see. And Jees Uck, her
eyes riveted on his face, saw something too,--something that made
her spring like a tigress upon Amos, and with splendid suppleness
and strength bend his body back across her knee. Her knife was out
of its sheaf and uplifted, glinting in the lamplight. Amos was
snarling; but Bonner intervened ere the blade could fall.
"That`s a good girl, Jees Uck. But never mind. Let him go!"
She dropped the man obediently, though with protest writ large on
her face; and his body thudded to the floor. Bonner nudged him
with his moccasined foot.
"Get up, Amos!" he commanded. "You`ve got to pack an outfit yet
to-night and hit the trail."
"You don`t mean to say--" Amos blurted savagely.
"I mean to say that you tried to kill me," Neil went on in cold,
even tones. "I mean to say that you killed Birdsall, for all the
Company believes he killed himself. You used strychnine in my
case. God knows with what you fixed him. Now I can`t hang you.
You`re too near dead as it is. But Twenty Mile is too small for
the pair of us, and you`ve got to mush. It`s two hundred miles to
Holy Cross. You can make it if you`re careful not to over-exert.
I`ll give you grub, a sled, and three dogs. You`ll be as safe as
if you were in jail, for you can`t get out of the country. And
I`ll give you one chance. You`re almost dead. Very well. I shall
send no word to the Company until the spring. In the meantime, the
thing for you to do is to die. Now MUSH!"
"You go to bed!" Jees Uck insisted, when Amos had churned away into
the night towards Holy Cross. "You sick man yet, Neil."
"And you`re a good girl, Jees Uck," he answered. "And here`s my
hand on it. But you must go home."
"You don`t like me," she said simply.
He smiled, helped her on with her PARKA, and led her to the door.
"Only too well, Jees Uck," he said softly; "only too well."
After that the pall of the Arctic night fell deeper and blacker on
the land. Neil Bonner discovered that he had failed to put proper
valuation upon even the sullen face of the murderous and death-
stricken Amos. It became very lonely at Twenty Mile. "For the
love of God, Prentiss, send me a man," he wrote to the agent at
Fort Hamilton, three hundred miles up river. Six weeks later the
Indian messenger brought back a reply. It was characteristic:
"Hell. Both feet frozen. Need him myself--Prentiss."
To make matters worse, most of the Toyaats were in the back country
on the flanks of a caribou herd, and Jees Uck was with them.
Removing to a distance seemed to bring her closer than ever, and
Neil Bonner found himself picturing her, day by day, in camp and on
trail. It is not good to be alone. Often he went out of the quiet
store, bare-headed and frantic, and shook his fist at the blink of
day that came over the southern sky-line. And on still, cold
nights he left his bed and stumbled into the frost, where he
assaulted the silence at the top of his lungs, as though it were
some tangible, sentiment thing that he might arouse; or he shouted
at the sleeping dogs till they howled and howled again. One shaggy
brute he brought into the post, playing that it was the new man
sent by Prentiss. He strove to make it sleep decently under
blankets at nights and to sit at table and eat as a man should; but
the beast, mere domesticated wolf that it was, rebelled, and sought
out dark corners and snarled and bit him in the leg, and was
finally beaten and driven forth.
Then the trick of personification seized upon Neil Bonner and
mastered him. All the forces of his environment metamorphosed into
living, breathing entities and came to live with him. He recreated
the primitive pantheon; reared an altar to the sun and burned
candle fat and bacon grease thereon; and in the unfenced yard, by
the long-legged cache, made a frost devil, which he was wont to
make faces at and mock when the mercury oozed down into the bulb.
All this in play, of course. He said it to himself that it was in
play, and repeated it over and over to make sure, unaware that
madness is ever prone to express itself in make-believe and play.
One midwinter day, Father Champreau, a Jesuit missionary, pulled
into Twenty Mile. Bonner fell upon him and dragged him into the
post, and clung to him and wept, until the priest wept with him
from sheer compassion. Then Bonner became madly hilarious and made
lavish entertainment, swearing valiantly that his guest should not
depart. But Father Champreau was pressing to Salt Water on urgent
business for his order, and pulled out next morning, with Bonner`s
blood threatened on his head.
And the threat was in a fair way toward realization, when the
Toyaats returned from their long hunt to the winter camp. They had
many furs, and there was much trading and stir at Twenty Mile.
Also, Jees Uck came to buy beads and scarlet cloths and things, and
Bonner began to find himself again. He fought for a week against
her. Then the end came one night when she rose to leave. She had
not forgotten her repulse, and the pride that drove Spike O`Brien
on to complete the North-West Passage by land was her pride.
"I go now," she said; "good-night, Neil."
But he came up behind her. "Nay, it is not well," he said.
And as she turned her face toward his with a sudden joyful flash,
he bent forward, slowly and gravely, as it were a sacred thing, and
kissed her on the lips. The Toyaats had never taught her the
meaning of a kiss upon the lips, but she understood and was glad.
With the coming of Jees Uck, at once things brightened up. She was
regal in her happiness, a source of unending delight. The
elemental workings of her mind and her naive little ways made an
immense sum of pleasurable surprise to the over-civilized man that
had stooped to catch her up. Not alone was she solace to his
loneliness, but her primitiveness rejuvenated his jaded mind. It
was as though, after long wandering, he had returned to pillow his
head in the lap of Mother Earth. In short, in Jees Uck he found
the youth of the world--the youth and the strength and the joy.
And to fill the full round of his need, and that they might not see
overmuch of each other, there arrived at Twenty Mile one Sandy
MacPherson, as companionable a man as ever whistled along the trail
or raised a ballad by a camp-fire. A Jesuit priest had run into
his camp, a couple of hundred miles up the Yukon, in the nick of
time to say a last word over the body of Sandy`s partner. And on
departing, the priest had said, "My son, you will be lonely now."
And Sandy had bowed his head brokenly. "At Twenty Mile," the
priest added, "there is a lonely man. You have need of each other,
So it was that Sandy became a welcome third at the post, brother to
the man and woman that resided there. He took Bonner moose-hunting
and wolf-trapping; and, in return, Bonner resurrected a battered
and way-worn volume and made him friends with Shakespeare, till
Sandy declaimed iambic pentameters to his sled-dogs whenever they
waxed mutinous. And of the long evenings they played cribbage and
talked and disagreed about the universe, the while Jees Uck rocked
matronly in an easy-chair and darned their moccasins and socks.
Spring came. The sun shot up out of the south. The land exchanged
its austere robes for the garb of a smiling wanton. Everywhere
light laughed and life invited. The days stretched out their balmy
length and the nights passed from blinks of darkness to no darkness
at all. The river bared its bosom, and snorting steamboats
challenged the wilderness. There were stir and bustle, new faces,
and fresh facts. An assistant arrived at Twenty Mile, and Sandy
MacPherson wandered off with a bunch of prospectors to invade the
Koyokuk country. And there were newspapers and magazines and
letters for Neil Bonner. And Jees Uck looked on in worriment, for
she knew his kindred talked with him across the world.
Without much shock, it came to him that his father was dead. There
was a sweet letter of forgiveness, dictated in his last hours.
There were official letters from the Company, graciously ordering
him to turn the post over to the assistant and permitting him to
depart at his earliest pleasure. A long, legal affair from the
lawyers informed him of interminable lists of stocks and bonds,
real estate, rents, and chattels that were his by his father`s
will. And a dainty bit of stationery, sealed and monogramed,
implored dear Neil`s return to his heart-broken and loving mother.
Neil Bonner did some swift thinking, and when the Yukon Belle
coughed in to the bank on her way down to Bering Sea, he departed--
departed with the ancient lie of quick return young and blithe on
"I`ll come back, dear Jees Uck, before the first snow flies," he
promised her, between the last kisses at the gang-plank.
And not only did he promise, but, like the majority of men under
the same circumstances, he really meant it. To John Thompson, the
new agent, he gave orders for the extension of unlimited credit to
his wife, Jees Uck. Also, with his last look from the deck of the
Yukon Belle, he saw a dozen men at work rearing the logs that were
to make the most comfortable house along a thousand miles of river
front--the house of Jees Uck, and likewise the house of Neil
Bonner--ere the first flurry of snow. For he fully and fondly
meant to come back. Jees Uck was dear to him, and, further, a
golden future awaited the north. With his father`s money he
intended to verify that future. An ambitious dream allured him.
With his four years of experience, and aided by the friendly
cooperation of the P. C. Company, he would return to become the
Rhodes of Alaska. And he would return, fast as steam could drive,
as soon as he had put into shape the affairs of his father, whom he
had never known, and comforted his mother, whom he had forgotten.
There was much ado when Neil Bonner came back from the Arctic. The
fires were lighted and the fleshpots slung, and he took of it all
and called it good. Not only was he bronzed and creased, but he
was a new man under his skin, with a grip on things and a
seriousness and control. His old companions were amazed when he
declined to hit up the pace in the good old way, while his father`s
crony rubbed hands gleefully, and became an authority upon the
reclamation of wayward and idle youth.
For four years Neil Bonner`s mind had lain fallow. Little that was
new had been added to it, but it had undergone a process of
selection. It had, so to say, been purged of the trivial and
superfluous. He had lived quick years, down in the world; and, up
in the wilds, time had been given him to organize the confused mass
of his experiences. His superficial standards had been flung to
the winds and new standards erected on deeper and broader
generalizations. Concerning civilization, he had gone away with
one set of values, had returned with another set of values. Aided,
also, by the earth smells in his nostrils and the earth sights in
his eyes, he laid hold of the inner significance of civilization,
beholding with clear vision its futilities and powers. It was a
simple little philosophy he evolved. Clean living was the way to
grace. Duty performed was sanctification. One must live clean and
do his duty in order that he might work. Work was salvation. And
to work toward life abundant, and more abundant, was to be in line
with the scheme of things and the will of God.
Primarily, he was of the city. And his fresh earth grip and virile
conception of humanity gave him a finer sense of civilization and
endeared civilization to him. Day by day the people of the city
clung closer to him and the world loomed more colossal. And, day
by day, Alaska grew more remote and less real. And then he met
Kitty Sharon--a woman of his own flesh and blood and kind; a woman
who put her hand into his hand and drew him to her, till he forgot
the day and hour and the time of the year the first snow flies on
Jees Uck moved into her grand log-house and dreamed away three
golden summer months. Then came the autumn, post-haste before the
down rush of winter. The air grew thin and sharp, the days thin
and short. The river ran sluggishly, and skin ice formed in the
quiet eddies. All migratory life departed south, and silence fell
upon the land. The first snow flurries came, and the last homing
steamboat bucked desperately into the running mush ice. Then came
the hard ice, solid cakes and sheets, till the Yukon ran level with
its banks. And when all this ceased the river stood still and the
blinking days lost themselves in the darkness.
John Thompson, the new agent, laughed; but Jees Uck had faith in
the mischances of sea and river. Neil Bonner might be frozen in
anywhere between Chilkoot Pass and St. Michael`s, for the last
travellers of the year are always caught by the ice, when they
exchange boat for sled and dash on through the long hours behind
the flying dogs.
But no flying dogs came up the trail, nor down the trail, to Twenty
Mile. And John Thompson told Jees Uck, with a certain gladness ill
concealed, that Bonner would never come back again. Also, and
brutally, he suggested his own eligibility. Jees Uck laughed in
his face and went back to her grand log-house. But when midwinter
came, when hope dies down and life is at its lowest ebb, Jees Uck
found she had no credit at the store. This was Thompson`s doing,
and he rubbed his hands, and walked up and down, and came to his
door and looked up at Jees Uck`s house and waited. And he
continued to wait. She sold her dog-team to a party of miners and
paid cash for her food. And when Thompson refused to honour even
her coin, Toyaat Indians made her purchases, and sledded them up to
her house in the dark.
In February the first post came in over the ice, and John Thompson
read in the society column of a five-months-old paper of the
marriage of Neil Bonner and Kitty Sharon. Jees Uck held the door
ajar and him outside while he imparted the information; and, when
he had done, laughed pridefully and did not believe. In March, and
all alone, she gave birth to a man-child, a brave bit of new life
at which she marvelled. And at that hour, a year later, Neil
Bonner sat by another bed, marvelling at another bit of new life
that had fared into the world.
The snow went off the ground and the ice broke out of the Yukon.
The sun journeyed north, and journeyed south again; and, the money
from the being spent, Jees Uck went back to her own people. Oche
Ish, a shrewd hunter, proposed to kill the meat for her and her
babe, and catch the salmon, if she would marry him. And Imego and
Hah Yo and Wy Nooch, husky young hunters all, made similar
proposals. But she elected to live alone and seek her own meat and
fish. She sewed moccasins and PARKAS and mittens--warm,
serviceable things, and pleasing to the eye, withal, what of the
ornamental hair-tufts and bead-work. These she sold to the miners,
who were drifting faster into the land each year. And not only did
she win food that was good and plentiful, but she laid money by,
and one day took passage on the Yukon Belle down the river.
At St. Michael`s she washed dishes in the kitchen of the post. The
servants of the Company wondered at the remarkable woman with the
remarkable child, though they asked no questions and she vouchsafed
nothing. But just before Bering Sea closed in for the year, she
bought a passage south on a strayed sealing schooner. That winter
she cooked for Captain Markheim`s household at Unalaska, and in the
spring continued south to Sitka on a whisky sloop. Later on
appeared at Metlakahtla, which is near to St. Mary`s on the end of
the Pan-Handle, where she worked in the cannery through the salmon
season. When autumn came and the Siwash fishermen prepared to
return to Puget Sound, she embarked with a couple of families in a
big cedar canoe; and with them she threaded the hazardous chaos of
the Alaskan and Canadian coasts, till the Straits of Juan de Fuca
were passed and she led her boy by the hand up the hard pave of
There she met Sandy MacPherson, on a windy corner, very much
surprised and, when he had heard her story, very wroth--not so
wroth as he might have been, had he known of Kitty Sharon; but of
her Jees Uck breathed not a word, for she had never believed.
Sandy, who read commonplace and sordid desertion into the
circumstance, strove to dissuade her from her trip to San
Francisco, where Neil Bonner was supposed to live when he was at
home. And, having striven, he made her comfortable, bought her