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Jack London 11 страница




tickets and saw her off, the while smiling in her face and

muttering "dam-shame" into his beard.

 

With roar and rumble, through daylight and dark, swaying and

lurching between the dawns, soaring into the winter snows and

sinking to summer valleys, skirting depths, leaping chasms,

piercing mountains, Jees Uck and her boy were hurled south. But

she had no fear of the iron stallion; nor was she stunned by this

masterful civilization of Neil Bonner`s people. It seemed, rather,

that she saw with greater clearness the wonder that a man of such

godlike race had held her in his arms. The screaming medley of San

Francisco, with its restless shipping, belching factories, and

thundering traffic, did not confuse her; instead, she comprehended

swiftly the pitiful sordidness of Twenty Mile and the skin-lodged

Toyaat village. And she looked down at the boy that clutched her

hand and wondered that she had borne him by such a man.

 

She paid the hack-driver five pieces and went up the stone steps of

Neil Bonner`s front door. A slant-eyed Japanese parleyed with her

for a fruitless space, then led her inside and disappeared. She

remained in the hall, which to her simply fancy seemed to be the

guest-room--the show-place wherein were arrayed all the household

treasures with the frank purpose of parade and dazzlement. The

walls and ceiling were of oiled and panelled redwood. The floor

was more glassy than glare-ice, and she sought standing place on

one of the great skins that gave a sense of security to the

polished surface. A huge fireplace--an extravagant fireplace, she

deemed it--yawned in the farther wall. A flood of light, mellowed

by stained glass, fell across the room, and from the far end came

the white gleam of a marble figure.

 

This much she saw, and more, when the slant-eyed servant led the

way past another room--of which she caught a fleeting glance--and

into a third, both of which dimmed the brave show of the entrance

hall. And to her eyes the great house seemed to hold out the

promise of endless similar rooms. There was such length and

breadth to them, and the ceilings were so far away! For the first

time since her advent into the white man`s civilization, a feeling

of awe laid hold of her. Neil, her Neil, lived in this house,

breathed the air of it, and lay down at night and slept! It was

beautiful, all this that she saw, and it pleased her; but she felt,

also, the wisdom and mastery behind. It was the concrete

expression of power in terms of beauty, and it was the power that

she unerringly divined.

 

And then came a woman, queenly tall, crowned with a glory of hair

that was like a golden sun. She seemed to come toward Jees Uck as

a ripple of music across still water; her sweeping garment itself a

song, her body playing rhythmically beneath. Jees Uck herself was

a man compeller. There were Oche Ish and Imego and Hah Yo and Wy

Nooch, to say nothing of Neil Bonner and John Thompson and other

white men that had looked upon her and felt her power. But she

gazed upon the wide blue eyes and rose-white skin of this woman

that advanced to meet her, and she measured her with woman`s eyes

looking through man`s eyes; and as a man compeller she felt herself

diminish and grow insignificant before this radiant and flashing

creature.

 

"You wish to see my husband?" the woman asked; and Jees Uck gasped

at the liquid silver of a voice that had never sounded harsh cries

at snarling wolf-dogs, nor moulded itself to a guttural speech, nor

toughened in storm and frost and camp smoke.

 

"No," Jees Uck answered slowly and gropingly, in order that she

might do justice to her English. "I come to see Neil Bonner."

 

"He is my husband," the woman laughed.

 

Then it was true! John Thompson had not lied that bleak February

day, when she laughed pridefully and shut the door in his face. As

once she had thrown Amos Pentley across her knee and ripped her

knife into the air, so now she felt impelled to spring upon this

woman and bear her back and down, and tear the life out of her fair

body. But Jees Uck was thinking quickly and gave no sign, and

Kitty Bonner little dreamed how intimately she had for an instant

been related with sudden death.

 

Jees Uck nodded her head that she understood, and Kitty Bonner

explained that Neil was expected at any moment. Then they sat down

on ridiculously comfortable chairs, and Kitty sought to entertain

her strange visitor, and Jees Uck strove to help her.

 

"You knew my husband in the North?" Kitty asked, once.

 

"Sure. I wash um clothes," Jees Uck had answered, her English

abruptly beginning to grow atrocious.

 

"And this is your boy? I have a little girl."

 

Kitty caused her daughter to be brought, and while the children,

after their manner, struck an acquaintance, the mothers indulged in

the talk of mothers and drank tea from cups so fragile that Jees

Uck feared lest hers should crumble to pieces beneath her fingers.

Never had she seen such cups, so delicate and dainty. In her mind

she compared them with the woman who poured the tea, and there

uprose in contrast the gourds and pannikins of the Toyaat village

and the clumsy mugs of Twenty Mile, to which she likened herself.

And in such fashion and such terms the problem presented itself.

She was beaten. There was a woman other than herself better fitted

to bear and upbring Neil Bonner`s children. Just as his people

exceeded her people, so did his womankind exceed her. They were

the man compellers, as their men were the world compellers. She

looked at the rose-white tenderness of Kitty Bonner`s skin and

remembered the sun-beat on her own face. Likewise she looked from

brown hand to white--the one, work-worn and hardened by whip-handle

and paddle, the other as guiltless of toil and soft as a newborn

babe`s. And, for all the obvious softness and apparent weakness,

Jees Uck looked into the blue eyes and saw the mastery she had seen

in Neil Bonner`s eyes and in the eyes of Neil Bonner`s people.

 

"Why, it`s Jees Uck!" Neil Bonner said, when he entered. He said

it calmly, with even a ring of joyful cordiality, coming over to

her and shaking both her hands, but looking into her eyes with a

worry in his own that she understood.

 

"Hello, Neil!" she said. "You look much good."

 

"Fine, fine, Jees Uck," he answered heartily, though secretly

studying Kitty for some sign of what had passed between the two.

Yet he knew his wife too well to expect, even though the worst had

passed, such a sign.

 

"Well, I can`t say how glad I am to see you," he went on. "What`s

happened? Did you strike a mine? And when did you get in?"

 

"Oo-a, I get in to-day," she replied, her voice instinctively

seeking its guttural parts. "I no strike it, Neil. You known

Cap`n Markheim, Unalaska? I cook, his house, long time. No spend

money. Bime-by, plenty. Pretty good, I think, go down and see

White Man`s Land. Very fine, White Man`s Land, very fine," she

added. Her English puzzled him, for Sandy and he had sought,

constantly, to better her speech, and she had proved an apt pupil.

Now it seemed that she had sunk back into her race. Her face was

guileless, stolidly guileless, giving no cue. Kitty`s untroubled

brow likewise baffled him. What had happened? How much had been

said? and how much guessed?

 

While he wrestled with these questions and while Jees Uck wrestled

with her problem--never had he looked so wonderful and great--a

silence fell.

 

"To think that you knew my husband in Alaska!" Kitty said softly.

 

Knew him! Jees Uck could not forbear a glance at the boy she had

borne him, and his eyes followed hers mechanically to the window

where played the two children. An iron hand seemed to tighten

across his forehead. His knees went weak and his heart leaped up

and pounded like a fist against his breast. His boy! He had never

dreamed it!

 

Little Kitty Bonner, fairylike in gauzy lawn, with pinkest of

cheeks and bluest of dancing eyes, arms outstretched and lips

puckered in invitation, was striving to kiss the boy. And the boy,

lean and lithe, sunbeaten and browned, skin-clad and in hair-

fringed and hair-tufted MUCLUCS that showed the wear of the sea and

rough work, coolly withstood her advances, his body straight and

stiff with the peculiar erectness common to children of savage

people. A stranger in a strange land, unabashed and unafraid, he

appeared more like an untamed animal, silent and watchful, his

black eyes flashing from face to face, quiet so long as quiet

endured, but prepared to spring and fight and tear and scratch for

life, at the first sign of danger.

 

The contrast between boy and girl was striking, but not pitiful.

There was too much strength in the boy for that, waif that he was

of the generations of Shpack, Spike O`Brien, and Bonner. In his

features, clean cut as a cameo and almost classic in their

severity, there were the power and achievement of his father, and

his grandfather, and the one known as the Big Fat, who was captured

by the Sea people and escaped to Kamchatka.

 

Neil Bonner fought his emotion down, swallowed it down, and choked

over it, though his face smiled with good-humour and the joy with

which one meets a friend.

 

"Your boy, eh, Jees Uck?" he said. And then turning to Kitty:

"Handsome fellow! He`ll do something with those two hands of his

in this our world."

 

Kitty nodded concurrence. "What is your name?" she asked.

 

The young savage flashed his quick eyes upon her and dwelt over her

for a space, seeking out, as it were, the motive beneath the

question.

 

"Neil," he answered deliberately when the scrutiny had satisfied

him.

 

"Injun talk," Jees Uck interposed, glibly manufacturing languages

on the spur of the moment. "Him Injun talk, NEE-AL all the same

`cracker.` Him baby, him like cracker; him cry for cracker. Him

say, `NEE-AL, NEE-AL,` all time him say, `NEE-AL.` Then I say that

um name. So um name all time Nee-al."

 

Never did sound more blessed fall upon Neil Bonner`s ear than that

lie from Jees Uck`s lips. It was the cue, and he knew there was

reason for Kitty`s untroubled brow.

 

"And his father?" Kitty asked. "He must be a fine man."

 

"Oo-a, yes," was the reply. "Um father fine man. Sure!"

 

"Did you know him, Neil?" queried Kitty.

 

"Know him? Most intimately," Neil answered, and harked back to

dreary Twenty Mile and the man alone in the silence with his

thoughts.

 

And here might well end the story of Jees Uck but for the crown she

put upon her renunciation. When she returned to the North to dwell

in her grand log-house, John Thompson found that the P. C. Company

could make a shift somehow to carry on its business without his

aid. Also, the new agent and the succeeding agents received

instructions that the woman Jees Uck should be given whatsoever

goods and grub she desired, in whatsoever quantities she ordered,

and that no charge should be placed upon the books. Further, the

Company paid yearly to the woman Jees Uck a pension of five

thousand dollars.

 

When he had attained suitable age, Father Champreau laid hands upon

the boy, and the time was not long when Jees Uck received letters

regularly from the Jesuit college in Maryland. Later on these

letters came from Italy, and still later from France. And in the

end there returned to Alaska one Father Neil, a man mighty for good

in the land, who loved his mother and who ultimately went into a

wider field and rose to high authority in the order.

 

Jees Uck was a young woman when she went back into the North, and

men still looked upon her and yearned. But she lived straight, and

no breath was ever raised save in commendation. She stayed for a

while with the good sisters at Holy Cross, where she learned to

read and write and became versed in practical medicine and surgery.

After that she returned to her grand log-house and gathered about

her the young girls of the Toyaat village, to show them the way of

their feet in the world. It is neither Protestant nor Catholic,

this school in the house built by Neil Bonner for Jees Uck, his

wife; but the missionaries of all the sects look upon it with equal

favour. The latchstring is always out, and tired prospectors and

trail-weary men turn aside from the flowing river or frozen trail

to rest there for a space and be warm by her fire. And, down in

the States, Kitty Bonner is pleased at the interest her husband

takes in Alaskan education and the large sums he devotes to that

purpose; and, though she often smiles and chaffs, deep down and

secretly she is but the prouder of him.

 

 







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