Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 9)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
Louis Chevoit was one of those who reached the Klondike in the autumn of '97. A lucky chance brought him the opportunity of going shares with a man whose fitness for "pardnership" Cheviot had tested coming over the awful Pass and shooting the Hootalinqua Rapids.
The two had washed out ten thousand dollars apiece by the end of June. They had the prospect of making an even better thing of it the next year. Cheviot left his partner to carry on the development of the lease, and for himself, turned his bronzed face homeward.
He was as certain now as before he had garnered his experience that for wild life, qua wild life, he had no taste. That it should be so was partly, strange as it may sound, a result of the cool and balanced mixing of the elements in him. He had no physical sluggishness to be sloughed off by harsh impacts, no mental inertia to be hammered into action by hard necessity, no crust of chrysalis that must be broken before the winged life might emerge, no essential wildness of spirit that needed training, no excess of ungoverned ardor that needed cooling in the northern frosts.
And so it was that he was coming home with little gain but bullion, since he had gone forth with smaller
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need than most of the lesson learnt in chastening the body, or the lightening revelation of some crashing danger.
He could endure hardship with reasonable patience for some reasonable end, but the gains of civilization were in his eyes too excellent to be even temporarily abandoned without a sense of heavy deprivation, which affected him like a loss of common dignity.
Even though he had n't one he loved the idea of home. He loved his friends and all the friendlier aspect of the earth, gardens, ordered communities of his kind, and all man's device for socializing for socializing life and regulating the unruliness of nature.
And there was Hildegarde--who had not answered either of his two letters. Why was that? He felt a contraction of the heart as he refused to allow himself to formulate surmise; yet if any one had come and said to him "Galbraith is in Valdivia," he would have felt it no surprise.
Some friends of his were going out by the Yukon River route. He knew it to be unlikely that he should return to this part of the world. As well see that more western aspect of it, too, since he might do so in congenial company.
It was really the company that decided him--that was responsible for a circumstance that changed the entire course of his own and several other lives. Instead of going back as he had come, by the shorter way, he found himself, at the end of July, with seventeen hundred miles of river behind him waiting at the mouth of the the Yukon for the San Francisco steamer.
He heard with surprise that there was a letter for him
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at the post-office. The more strange, if true, since his coming to St. Michaels was less than mere chance--it had been unlikely in the extreme.
However, upon demand, an envelop appeared in the window of the little post-office. Before ever it reached the hand of the man waiting without, he recognized Hildegarde's writing. He tore it open to read a hurried resumé of what she said she had already written him at length, to Dyea and to Dawson, and now repeated, on the bare possibility of his taking the American route home. For her father was just setting out out by the same route to the far North, and by the same ship that carried her letter. His plan of campaign was not generally known, and all she could say with certainty was that he would be at St. Michaels some time in August. And she greatly hoped that if Cheviot should be passing that way, or even if he found that he could arrange to go there without too great personal cost, Hildegarde hoped, and even begged, that he would look out for her father. She "quite approved," Cheviot read with incredulous eyes--(Hildegarde! who had thought the expedition mad for a man young and sound as an oak)--she quite approved her father's going. At the same time she did not forget that he was no longer young, and being so lame was at a disadvantage. "Good Lord! I should say so!" The upshot was that she "lived upon the hope" that Cheviot would bring her news of Mr. Mar. The ideal thing would be that they should come home together. If Cheviot brought that about she would be "unendingly grateful."
No syllable about Galbraith.
Cheviot went strait to the Alaska Commercial Company's hotel and looked through the names registered
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since the season opened. Not a Mar among them. So the ship that brought the letter had not brought Mr. Mar--for this was the only conceivable place he could have stayed in. It was no small personal relief to Cheviot to conclude that wiser counsels had prevailed.
The same afternoon it was noised about the office that a steamer had just been sighted. After all, Mar might only be delayed! While most of the population rushed down to the beach, Cheviot scribbled a hasty note and handed it to the clerk.
"If a man of that name should come in on this ship--" he began.
"He has n't gone back yet," interrupted the clerk, studying the superscription.
"You don't mean he's here already!"
"Well, he was."
"When? It can't be the person I mean?"
"Lame man, about sixty? Yes, remember him perfectly. Could n't quite make him out, for he did n't seem to care a tinker's curse about getting to the Klondike. The boys set him down finally as a sort of a missionary, because" (with a laugh) "he seemed so ready to go the wrong way."
"Up the coast to Golovin Bay." No, he had n't come back. A trader from Kwimkuk, who had been down for supplies, said Mar was staying up there at the Swedish Mission. That was all the clerk knew. He was turning the pages back to the entries of the previous summer. "That's the man!" And there was Mar's unmistakable signature staring Cheviot in the face.
"But that's '97," he said bewildered. He pulled out
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Hildegarde's letter and looked at the date. It was a year old.
Shortie Hinkson stopped sweeping out the office to say: "One o' them missionary fellers come down here from Golovin Sat'day. No, he ain't gone back yit. I seen him only a while ago goin' by the A.C. office."
When a few minutes later, among the crowd down by the old Block House, the missionary was run to earth, Cheviot found him a great tow-headed Swede, looking as if he had been not so much cut out of wood as hacked out, and with a very dull implement at that. Close at his elbow, and appealed to now and then for verification of some statement, was a thin little dark man, with glittering black eyes and a turn for silence.
The tall missionary was bargaining about some "canned stuff" with great A.C. Company's agent, Captain Seilberg. This magnate, leaning against one of the mounted cannon the Russians had left behind in '67, was looking through a spy-glass at the ship discernible on the far horizon, while between the ejaculatory oaths he "did business" with the rugged Lutheran. Waiting for a chance to introduce himself, Cheviot wondered aside to a bystander why those two talked English to each other.
"Oh, Seilberg's a Norwegian."
"No, a Dane," put in another, overhearing.
"I thought," said Cheviot, "they could all understand one another after a fashion--all Scandinavians."
"Scanda who? Well, anyway, they 're too thick on the ground in Alaska for us to bother about fine distinctions."
"Yes," agreed the customs officer, as Cheviot pressed forward to speak to the missionary, "so far as we 're concerned they 're Scandahoojians together."
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Certainly Mr. Christianson knew Mr. Mar. Mr. Mar was still at the Mission House up at Kwimkuk. How to get there? The big missionary turned to his silent companion, who stood gloomily by. Mr Björk and he would n't mind taking back a passenger in their boat. They were going just as soon as they'd settled matters with Captain Seilberg.
"Vell, I von't keep you," says the great man cavalierly, shutting up the spy-glass with a snap. "Dat's not de Trush, Got dammer!" and he turned testily away. Mr. Christianson followed with words about rebate on "damaged cans." Mr. Björk followed Mr. Christianson, deaf to Cheviot's questions about Mar, eyes fixed in glassy abstraction on the red-brown scoriæ under foot.
THE two "Scandahoojians" and their passenger left St. Michaels the next day in the little sail-boat St.Olaf, managed with no small skill by Mr. Björk. It was the rugged Christianson, however, who issued the orders, and strangely enough, considering his aspect, supplied the social element and the information. If you saw Christianson alone, you would have thought him one of the grimmest works of God, but seeing him beside Björk you would find him almost genial.
What chiefly occupied Cheviot, as the St.Olaf sped through the windy drizzle, was a growing wonder as to how Hildegarde's father had come to be stranded up here all these months, and how a man accustomed to creature comforts, a cripple, and close on sixty--how had he endured the conditions of life at "Golovin!" What were the conditions at Golovin? Curious to know, for Hildegarde would ask--afraid to know, for Hilde-
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garde must be answered, he kept seeing in flashes and as through the eyes of a girl, all the probable harshness of the old man's adventure.
Cheviot's questions about Golovin were interrupted by Mr. Christianson somewhat narrowly--eliciting an account of how the mission prospered; what the native population was; how many were converts; and other matters not strictly to the point Cheviot had in mind.
"Yes, oh, yes! Dere is great acti- vitty. You can see in our reports. Ve make great progress. Ve bring de true light to many who sat in darkness. But ve arre poore--meezerabble poor. Nobody knows, what haf not lief dere, how harrd de life. Eh, Björk?"
Björk, sheet in hand, gloomily assented, without the aid of speech.
Cheviot caught in his glancing eye. "Are you--a--a--at the mission, too?"
The dark man studied the course and held on his silent way.
"Oh, yes. Mr.Björk ees von of os. He is not long dere--but he understand. Ve haf great need of vorkers. So he come."
"You mean you sent home for Mr. Björk?"
Mr. Christianson stared a monent. Send home? Oh, it is far to Sveden. Heaven is nearer."
It was Cheviot's turn for mystification.
"Vhen ve need helpers," Mr. Chriantianson explained, "ve pray for dem. God send os Mr. Björk."
He spoke with a curious matter-of-factness.
"Oh," said Cheviot, "and--a--how did Mr. Björk know where to find you?"
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"He see Kwimkuk in a visshun. He see de Mission House and he see me, too. Eh, Björk."
The helper nodded with preternatural gravity.
"Where were you," said Cheviot, "when you had the vision?"
"On board a whaler. Dat 's where Björk was," proudly Christianson answered for him. "On de whaler up in Grantley Harbor, vhile I am down dere at Kwimkuk praying for help."
"But how could he leave his ship?"
"Leedle boat," said Christianson, laconic for once.
"Oh, the captain let him off?"
Christianson shook his pale locks. "You do not know vhat dey are-dose whaling captains."
"You don't mean"--in his astonishment Cheviot addressed the dumb navigator again, as if given such a theme even he must at last find tongue--"you don't mean you," and then he halted, for there is something about the impact of the word "deserted" that men shy from, "you don't mean you left the ship without leave?" Björk's face never changed.
But not so Christianson's. He regarded his acolyte with a somber enthusiasm. "It was yoost like Björk. Say noddind. Yoost follow de call. Dat 's Björk!"
"Pretty big risk, I should have thought."
At which, somewhat to Cheviot's surprise, Björk gave a sharp little nod and Christianson showed his long yellow teeth in a rather horrible smile.
Cheviot felt egged on to say, Don't they shoot deserters up here?"
"Yes!" said Björk, speaking for the first time.
"If dey find dem," amended Christianson.
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Björk's little eyes glittered. His thin lips moved faintly, as if they, too, would have smiled had they ever learned the trick of it.
"And you came straight to Kwimkuk?" persisted Cheviot.
"No, had land oop by Sinook," Christianson said. "He see dat not de place he vas shown in de visshun, and dose whaler fellows after him de next day. Björk hide in de scrub villow, and creep along vid hands and knees. After two days he come to a native camp. Next morning he see out dere dat Seagull comin'. But he haf anodder visshun. He know now he haf to get a squaw to hide him in de bottom ob a kyak, and take him like dat down de coast to Golovin. Terrible long journey! I am down dere on de shore, when de squaw beach de boat. I see Björk crawl out de hole in de middle, half dead, and look round, Look all round. Den I hear him say in Svedish, 'Dis de place!' and I say, 'Vad Plads?' leedle surprised, and he come right away up to me, and he say 'De Lord sent me.' So I see he vas de man I pray for."
"Oh! And when he is n't managing a boat--up at the mission, what does Mr. Björk do?"
"Oh, he help," said Christianson, with unshakable satisfaction in the answer to his prayer. "Better as anybody he can preach."
"Preach?" echoed Cheviot, not believing his ears.
"Yes, Björk not talk mooch, except vhen he is in de pulpit or vhen he haf a refelation."
Well, they were odd Hausgenossen for Hildegarde's father! "How long had Mr. Mar been with them," Cheviot asked. Ten or eleven months. He had got to St. Michaels too late last year to reach the Klondike. He
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just had time to go and take a look at Golovin Bay, when the winter overtook him at Kwimkuk. So he stayed there.
But this summer? Well, he was taken ill just about the time the ice went out of the bay--no, no he was all right now. Mrs. Christianson had nursed him. Christianson did n't know what Mar's plans were-doubted if anybody did; though he was laying in supplies for some sort of excursion. He once had an idea of going all the way to Teller Station to see the Government reindeer. That was Mar's stuff, there, in the boat. Of course it was little use now to go the the Klondike. Besides, what incentive had a man of that age to face the hardships of prospecting in the arctic? It was no matter if such a man had not great fortune. He would n't know how to use it. He had not, Mr. Christianson was sorry to say it, but Mr. Mar had not the true light.
From which Cheviot gathered that Mr. Mar had not contributed all he might to the cause of Righteouness. But it was a relief to know that he had not been in straits. "He seem to haf blenty to bay his bills"--so why had he come up there, caring neither for money nor for missions? Here Cheviot caught the momentary gleam in Björk's little eyes. A question in them, but unspoken, like all else that went on in the close-cropped bullet head. Cheviot became aware that his old friend had somehow succeeded in making himself an object of intense curiosity to these queer folk.
They liked Mr. Mar, though--Christianson tried to catch Björk's eye, but the dark one declined confederacy--though Mr. Mar had done something a little while ago that made a great deal of trouble.
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"Hein? Vell, it vas like dis. Von of our great deeficoolty is de vitchcraftiness of de natives. Not a season go by vidout dey have to tie up some von." He pursed his wrinkled lips and slowly shook his colorless locks.
"Oh!" said Cheviot, feeling his way. "How long do they keep them tied up?"
"Till de confesses, or till dey dies."
There was need then of the missionary in this savage place, where Hildegarde's father had had to spend a year of his life.
"And if they confess, it's all right, is it?" asked Cheviot.
"If dey confess, and if dey go and get a piece of de fur, or whatever it is, dat dey 've cut off de clo'es of de person dey been vitching, and if dey give it back, and promise 'never again.'"
"And then they 're forgiven?"
"Yes. Sometimes dey 're stoned, sometimes dey 're yoost spit at and den let to vander avay-but dey 're forgiven."
"Oh, like that? Well, I wonder they trouble to confess."
"Dey like it better dan to be dead."
"Really? They went as far as that? But now, you mission people, I suppose, have put a stop to such goings on!"
"Ve are not greater at Kwimkuk dan Saul at Endor."
"But Mr. Mar," the missionary went on, "he vill be viser dan de Prophets. He tink dere are no more any
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vitches. Not even vhen he see dat Yakutat girl dey call Omilik--not even vhen he see vhat she have done. But von day Mr. Mar hear some noise, and he go down to de beach, and he see de girl tied to de tall stone ve fastens our boats to. He see dey been beating her, and now dey pile up de driftwood round, and he, not understanding"--the missionary explained, with an air of forbearance--"he, not understanding, he try to interfere. Dey very mad of course. Dey send for me. I tell Mr. Mar I know dis girl have vitched a baby and two men. De vomen all know it-- everybody but Mr. Mar know it quite vell. Mr. Mar get very oxcited and say he not believe it. Dey bring de baby; he say, 'Dat a sick baby, anyhow.' He not understand at all. Dey go on vid making de fire. Mr. Mar yoost goin' to do something foolish, vhen de girl cry out, 'I confess. Yes, yes, I do all dem tings!' 'Dere, you see! ' I tell Mr. Mar. So dey make de vitch go and bring de little pieces vhat she cut off de baby coat, and off de men's clo'es for to vitch dem vid. Dey all holla vhen dey see dose tings. All but Mr. Mar. He say de natives dey all done dat; dey all steals pieces off everybody in the settlemint; cause de so 'fraid anybody get sick, dey be called vitches; and if dey not got any pieces to give up, dey know dey shall be burnt. 'So dey all keeps plenty 'gainst de evil day,' says Mr. Mar.
"He mek so great foos, I tell dem yoost to tie de girl so she not wriggle out, and leave her dere like dey done Chuchuk last year. So dey does dat. Ve all goes avay.
"Von day and night. Two day and night. Tree day and night. Dat girl yoost de same. Dey cooms to me and says, 'Somebody gif dat vitch to eat.' I say nobody vill do a ting like dat. Dey say dey sure. Next
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night dey vatch. Dey see Mr. Mar go down vid bread and vater. You can tink dey are mad. It is good I am dere. I say, 'Vait! I vill talk vid Mr. Mar.' I do dat."
His faded white-lashed eyes grew sterner still as he recalled the interview.
"Well, what happened?"
It vas for me a moment of great responsibeeleetee. De more ve talk, de more I see it ees it for Mr. Mar a matter of sentiment. No! of nairves! For os it ees a matter of religion. Ve live vid dose people. Ve teach dem. Ve feed dem in time of famine. Ve nurse dem ven dey are sick. But ven dey do vat the Yakutat voman haf done--"
His low, booming voice went across the surf, leaving behind a trail of menace like the deadened roll of a distant gun.
Cheviot's eyes were held by the fiery look on the rugged face. Impossible to doubt the burning sincerity that gave its ugliness that moment of almost uncanny power.
"Mr. Mar see it no good to say dere is no more any vitches vid dat Yakutat voman at our door. So he say ve shall not be crool even to a vitch. Den I tell him, 'A man also or a voman dat haf a familiar spirit or dat is a vizard shall surely be put to death; dey shall stone dem vid stones; dere blood shall be upon dem. For all dat do dese dede tings are an abomination unto de Lord.'"
After a silence, "What did he say to that?" Cheviot asked.
"Hein--hn--hn!" Christianson shook back the square cut hanks of tow that fell from under his hat.
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"Not even Mr. Mar," he said, with an air of triumph, "not even Mr. Mar talk back to Moses!"
But the good man's satisfaction seemed short-lived. He was grave enough as he went on, "Big storm in de night. Next day no vitch dere." He waved a great bony hand toward Kamchatka.
"Vtich gone off vid de vind."
Then, lowering his voice as though out there in the sea hollows listeners might be lurking, he bent forward: "If dey vas to know Mr. Mar go down in de storm, and cut de raw hide for let dat vitch go!--" Again, with grim foreboding, he shook the hanks of tow.
"Ve all like your friend, but ve sorry see any yentleman tink he know better as de Bible."
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