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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

hemorrhage.

 

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

greatly.

 

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!

Inside!"

 

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

his elbow.

 

"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

very quiet.

 

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

and businesslike.

 

"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,

my son."

 

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

his lips.

 

"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

the Yukon.

 

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

Seattle.

 

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







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