the Unveracious by Jack London
"A Bidarka, is it not so! Look! a bidarka, and one man who drives
clumsily with a paddle!"
Old Bask-Wah-Wan rose to her knees, trembling with weakness and
eagerness, and gazed out over the sea.
"Nam-Bok was ever clumsy at the paddle," she maundered reminiscently,
shading the sun from her eyes and staring across the silver-spilled
water. "Nam-Bok was ever clumsy. I remember…."
But the women and children laughed loudly, and there was a gentle
mockery in their laughter, and her voice dwindled till her lips moved
Koogah lifted his grizzled head from his bone-carving and followed the
path of her eyes. Except when wide yawns took it off its course, a
bidarka was heading in for the beach. Its occupant was paddling with
more strength than dexterity, and made his approach along the zigzag
line of most resistance. Koogah's head dropped to his work again, and on
the ivory tusk between his knees he scratched the dorsal fin of a fish
the like of which never swam in the sea.
"It is doubtless the man from the next village," he said finally, "come
to consult with me about the marking of things on bone. And the man is a
clumsy man. He will never know how."
"It is Nam-Bok," old Bask-Wah-Wan repeated. "Should I not know my son!"
she demanded shrilly. "I say, and I say again, it is Nam-Bok."
"And so thou hast said these many summers," one of the women chided
softly. "Ever when the ice passed out of the sea hast thou sat and
watched through the long day, saying at each chance canoe, 'This is
Nam-Bok.' Nam-Bok is dead, O Bask-Wah-Wan, and the dead do not come
back. It cannot be that the dead come back."
"Nam-Bok!" the old woman cried, so loud and clear that the whole
village was startled and looked at her.
She struggled to her feet and tottered down the sand. She stumbled over
a baby lying in the sun, and the mother hushed its crying and hurled
harsh words after the old woman, who took no notice. The children ran
down the beach in advance of her, and as the man in the bidarka drew
closer, nearly capsizing with one of his ill-directed strokes, the women
followed. Koogah dropped his walrus tusk and went also, leaning heavily
upon his staff, and after him loitered the men in twos and threes.
The bidarka turned broadside and the ripple of surf threatened to swamp
it, only a naked boy ran into the water and pulled the bow high up on
the sand. The man stood up and sent a questing glance along the line of
villagers. A rainbow sweater, dirty and the worse for wear, clung
loosely to his broad shoulders, and a red cotton handkerchief was
knotted in sailor fashion about his throat. A fisherman's tam-o'-shanter
on his close-clipped head, and dungaree trousers and heavy brogans
completed his outfit.
But he was none the less a striking personage to these simple
fisherfolk of the great Yukon Delta, who, all their lives, had stared
out on Bering Sea and in that time seen but two white men,—the census
enumerator and a lost Jesuit priest. They were a poor people, with
neither gold in the ground nor valuable furs in hand, so the whites had
passed them afar. Also, the Yukon, through the thousands of years, had
shoaled that portion of the sea with the detritus of Alaska till vessels
grounded out of sight of land. So the sodden coast, with its long inside
reaches and huge mud-land archipelagoes, was avoided by the ships of
men, and the fisherfolk knew not that such things were.
Koogah, the Bone-Scratcher, retreated backward in sudden haste, tripping
over his staff and falling to the ground. "Nam-Bok!" he cried, as he
scrambled wildly for footing. "Nam-Bok, who was blown off to sea, come
The men and women shrank away, and the children scuttled off between
their legs. Only Opee-Kwan was brave, as befitted the head man of the
village. He strode forward and gazed long and earnestly at the newcomer.
"It is Nam-Bok," he said at last, and at the conviction in his voice
the women wailed apprehensively and drew farther away.
The lips of the stranger moved indecisively, and his brown throat
writhed and wrestled with unspoken words.
"La, la, it is Nam-Bok," Bask-Wah-Wan croaked, peering up into his face.
"Ever did I say Nam-Bok would come back."
"Ay, it is Nam-Bok come back." This time it was Nam-Bok himself who
spoke, putting a leg over the side of the bidarka and standing with one
foot afloat and one ashore. Again his throat writhed and wrestled as he
grappled after forgotten words. And when the words came forth they were
strange of sound and a spluttering of the lips accompanied the
gutturals. "Greetings, O brothers," he said, "brothers of old time
before I went away with the off-shore wind."
He stepped out with both feet on the sand, and Opee-Kwan waved him back.
"Thou art dead, Nam-Bok," he said.
Nam-Bok laughed. "I am fat."
"Dead men are not fat," Opee-Kwan confessed. "Thou hast fared well, but
it is strange. No man may mate with the off-shore wind and come back on
the heels of the years."
"I have come back," Nam-Bok answered simply.
"Mayhap thou art a shadow, then, a passing shadow of the Nam-Bok that
was. Shadows come back."
"I am hungry. Shadows do not eat."
But Opee-Kwan doubted, and brushed his hand across his brow in sore
puzzlement. Nam-Bok was likewise puzzled, and as he looked up and down
the line found no welcome in the eyes of the fisherfolk. The men and
women whispered together. The children stole timidly back among their
elders, and bristling dogs fawned up to him and sniffed suspiciously.
"I bore thee, Nam-Bok, and I gave thee suck when thou wast little,"
Bask-Wah-Wan whimpered, drawing closer; "and shadow though thou be, or
no shadow, I will give thee to eat now."
Nam-Bok made to come to her, but a growl of fear and menace warned him
back. He said something angrily in a strange tongue, and added, "No
shadow am I, but a man."
"Who may know concerning the things of mystery?" Opee-Kwan demanded,
half of himself and half of his tribespeople. "We are, and in a breath
we are not. If the man may become shadow, may not the shadow become man?
Nam-Bok was, but is not. This we know, but we do not know if this be
Nam-Bok or the shadow of Nam-Bok."
Nam-Bok cleared his throat and made answer. "In the old time long ago,
thy father's father, Opee-Kwan, went away and came back on the heels of
the years. Nor was a place by the fire denied him. It is said …" He
paused significantly, and they hung on his utterance. "It is said," he
repeated, driving his point home with deliberation, "that Sipsip, his
klooch, bore him two sons after he came back."
"But he had no doings with the off-shore wind," Opee-Kwan retorted. "He
went away into the heart of the land, and it is in the nature of things
that a man may go on and on into the land."
"And likewise the sea. But that is neither here nor there. It is said
… that thy father's father told strange tales of the things he saw."
"Ay, strange tales he told."
"I, too, have strange tales to tell," Nam-Bok stated insidiously. And,
as they wavered, "And presents likewise."
He pulled from the bidarka a shawl, marvelous of texture and color, and
flung it about his mother's shoulders. The women voiced a collective
sigh of admiration, and old Bask-Wah-Wan ruffled the gay material and
patted it and crooned in childish joy.
"He has tales to tell," Koogah muttered. "And presents," a woman
And Opee-Kwan knew that his people were eager, and further, he was aware
himself of an itching curiosity concerning those untold tales. "The
fishing has been good," he said judiciously, "and we have oil in plenty.
So come, Nam-Bok, let us feast."
Two of the men hoisted the bidarka on their shoulders and carried it up
to the fire. Nam-Bok walked by the side of Opee-Kwan, and the villagers
followed after, save those of the women who lingered a moment to lay
caressing fingers on the shawl.
There was little talk while the feast went on, though many and curious
were the glances stolen at the son of Bask-Wah-Wan. This embarrassed
him—not because he was modest of spirit, however, but for the fact
that the stench of the seal-oil had robbed him of his appetite, and that
he keenly desired to conceal his feelings on the subject.
"Eat; thou art hungry," Opee-Kwan commanded, and Nam-Bok shut both his
eyes and shoved his fist into the big pot of putrid fish.
"La la, be not ashamed. The seal were many this year, and strong men are
ever hungry." And Bask-Wah-Wan sopped a particularly offensive chunk of
salmon into the oil and passed it fondly and dripping to her son.
In despair, when premonitory symptoms warned him that his stomach was
not so strong as of old, he filled his pipe and struck up a smoke. The
people fed on noisily and watched. Few of them could boast of intimate
acquaintance with the precious weed, though now and again small
quantities and abominable qualities were obtained in trade from the
Eskimos to the northward. Koogah, sitting next to him, indicated that he
was not averse to taking a draw, and between two mouthfuls, with the oil
thick on his lips, sucked away at the amber stem. And thereupon Nam-Bok
held his stomach with a shaky hand and declined the proffered return.
Koogah could keep the pipe, he said, for he had intended so to honor him
from the first. And the people licked their fingers and approved of his
Opee-Kwan rose to his feet. "And now, O Nam-Bok, the feast is ended, and
we would listen concerning the strange things you have seen."
The fisherfolk applauded with their hands, and gathering about them
their work, prepared to listen. The men were busy fashioning spears and
carving on ivory, while the women scraped the fat from the hides of the
hair seal and made them pliable or sewed muclucs with threads of sinew.
Nam-Bok's eyes roved over the scene, but there was not the charm about
it that his recollection had warranted him to expect. During the years
of his wandering he had looked forward to just this scene, and now that
it had come he was disappointed. It was a bare and meagre life, he
deemed, and not to be compared to the one to which he had become used.
Still, he would open their eyes a bit, and his own eyes sparkled at the
"Brothers," he began, with the smug complacency of a man about to relate
the big things he has done, "it was late summer of many summers back,
with much such weather as this promises to be, when I went away. You all
remember the day, when the gulls flew low, and the wind blew strong from
the land, and I could not hold my bidarka against it. I tied the
covering of the bidarka about me so that no water could get in, and all
of the night I fought with the storm. And in the morning there was no
land,—only the sea,—and the off-shore wind held me close in its arms
and bore me along. Three such nights whitened into dawn and showed me no
land, and the off-shore wind would not let me go.
"And when the fourth day came, I was as a madman. I could not dip my
paddle for want of food; and my head went round and round, what of the
thirst that was upon me. But the sea was no longer angry, and the soft
south wind was blowing, and as I looked about me I saw a sight that made
me think I was indeed mad."
Nam-Bok paused to pick away a sliver of salmon lodged between his teeth,
and the men and women, with idle hands and heads craned forward, waited.
"It was a canoe, a big canoe. If all the canoes I have ever seen were
made into one canoe, it would not be so large."
There were exclamations of doubt, and Koogah, whose years were many,
shook his head.
"If each bidarka were as a grain of sand," Nam-Bok defiantly continued,
"and if there were as many bidarkas as there be grains of sand in this
beach, still would they not make so big a canoe as this I saw on the
morning of the fourth day. It was a very big canoe, and it was called a
schooner. I saw this thing of wonder, this great schooner, coming
after me, and on it I saw men——"
"Hold, O Nam-Bok!" Opee-Kwan broke in. "What manner of men were
"Nay, mere men like you and me."
"Did the big canoe come fast?"
"The sides were tall, the men short." Opee-Kwan stated the premises with
conviction. "And did these men dip with long paddles?"
Nam-Bok grinned. "There were no paddles," he said.
Mouths remained open, and a long silence dropped down. Ope-Kwan
borrowed Koogah's pipe for a couple of contemplative sucks. One of the
younger women giggled nervously and drew upon herself angry eyes.
"There were no paddles?" Opee-Kwan asked softly, returning the pipe.
"The south wind was behind," Nam-Bok explained.
"But the wind drift is slow."
"The schooner had wings—thus." He sketched a diagram of masts and sails
in the sand, and the men crowded around and studied it. The wind was
blowing briskly, and for more graphic elucidation he seized the corners
of his mother's shawl and spread them out till it bellied like a sail.
Bask Wah-Wan scolded and struggled, but was blown down the breach for a
score of feet and left breathless and stranded in a heap of driftwood.
The men uttered sage grunts of comprehension, but Koogah suddenly tossed
back his hoary head.
"Ho! Ho!" he laughed. "A foolish thing, this big canoe! A most foolish
thing! The plaything of the wind! Wheresoever the wind goes, it goes
too. No man who journeys therein may name the landing beach, for always
he goes with the wind, and the wind goes everywhere, but no man knows
"It is so," Opee-Kwan supplemented gravely. "With the wind the going is
easy, but against the wind a man striveth hard; and for that they had no
paddles these men on the big canoe did not strive at all."
"Small need to strive," Nam-Bok cried angrily. "The schooner went
likewise against the wind."
"And what said you made the sch—sch—schooner go?" Koogah asked,
tripping craftily over the strange word.
"The wind," was the impatient response.
"Then the wind made the sch—sch—schooner go against the wind." Old
Koogah dropped an open leer to Opee-Kwan, and, the laughter growing
around him, continued: "The wind blows from the south and blows the
schooner south. The wind blows against the wind. The wind blows one way
and the other at the same time. It is very simple. We understand,
Nam-Bok. We clearly understand."
"Thou art a fool!"
"Truth falls from thy lips," Koogah answered meekly. "I was over-long
in understanding, and the thing was simple."
But Nam-Bok's face was dark, and he said rapid words which they had
never heard before. Bone-scratching and skin-scraping were resumed, but
he shut his lips tightly on the tongue that could not be believed.
"This sch—sch—schooner," Koogah imperturbably asked; "it was made of a
"It was made of many trees," Nam-Bok snapped shortly. "It was very big."
He lapsed into sullen silence again, and Opee-Kwan nudged Koogah, who
shook his head with slow amazement and murmured, "It is very strange."
Nam-Bok took the bait. "That is nothing," he said airily; "you should
see the steamer. As the grain of sand is to the bidarka, as the
bidarka is to the schooner, so the schooner is to the steamer. Further,
the steamer is made of iron. It is all iron."
"Nay, nay, Nam-Bok," cried the head man; "how can that be? Always iron
goes to the bottom. For behold, I received an iron knife in trade from
the head man of the next village, and yesterday the iron knife slipped
from my fingers and went down, down, into the sea. To all things there
be law. Never was there one thing outside the law. This we know. And,
moreover, we know that things of a kind have the one law, and that all
iron has the one law. So unsay thy words, Nam-Bok, that we may yet honor
"It is so," Nam-Bok persisted. "The steamer is all iron and does not
"Nay, nay; this cannot be."
"With my own eyes I saw it."
"It is not in the nature of things."
"But tell me, Nam-Bok," Koogah interrupted, for fear the tale would go
no farther, "tell me the manner of these men in finding their way across
the sea when there is no land by which to steer."
"The sun points out the path."
"At midday the head man of the schooner takes a thing through which his
eye looks at the sun, and then he makes the sun climb down out of the
sky to the edge of the earth."
"Now this be evil medicine!" cried Opee-Kwan, aghast at the sacrilege.
The men held up their hands in horror, and the women moaned. "This be
evil medicine. It is not good to misdirect the great sun which drives
away the night and gives us the seal, the salmon, and warm weather."
"What if it be evil medicine?" Nam-Bok demanded truculently. "I, too,
have looked through the thing at the sun and made the sun climb down out
of the sky."
Those who were nearest drew away from him hurriedly, and a woman covered
the face of a child at her breast so that his eye might not fall upon
"But on the morning of the fourth day, O Nam-Bok," Koogah suggested; "on
the morning of the fourth day when the sch—sch—schooner came after
"I had little strength left in me and could not run away. So I was taken
on board and water was poured down my throat and good food given me.
Twice, my brothers, you have seen a white man. These men were all white
and as many as have I fingers and toes. And when I saw they were full of
kindness, I took heart, and I resolved to bring away with me report of
all that I saw. And they taught me the work they did, and gave me good
food and a place to sleep.
"And day after day we went over the sea, and each day the head man drew
the sun down out of the sky and made it tell where we were. And when the
waves were kind, we hunted the fur seal and I marvelled much, for always
did they fling the meat and the fat away and save only the skin."
Opee-Kwan's mouth was twitching violently, and he was about to make
denunciation of such waste when Koogah kicked him to be still.
"After a weary time, when the sun was gone and the bite of the frost
come into the air, the head man pointed the nose of the schooner south.
South and east we traveled for days upon days, with never the land in
sight, and we were near to the village from which hailed the men——"
"How did they know they were near?" Opee-Kwan, unable to contain himself
longer, demanded. "There was no land to see."
Nam-Bok glowered on him wrathfully. "Did I not say the head man brought
the sun down out of the sky?"
Koogah interposed, and Nam-Bok went on. "As I say, when we were near to
that village a great storm blew up, and in the night we were helpless
and knew not where we were——"
"Thou hast just said the head man knew——"
"Oh, peace, Opee-Kwan. Thou art a fool and cannot understand. As I say,
we were helpless in the night, when I heard, above the roar of the
storm, the sound of the sea on the beach. And next we struck with a
mighty crash and I was in the water, swimming. It was a rock-bound
coast, with one patch of beach in many miles, and the law was that I
should dig my hands into the sand and draw myself clear of the surf. The
other men must have pounded against the rocks, for none of them came
ashore but the head man, and him I knew only by the ring on his finger.
"When day came, there being nothing of the schooner, I turned my face to
the land and journeyed into it that I might get food and look upon the
faces of the people. And when I came to a house I was taken in and given
to eat, for I had learned their speech, and the white men are ever
kindly. And it was a house bigger than all the houses built by us and
our fathers before us."
"It was a mighty house," Koogah said, masking his unbelief with wonder.
"And many trees went into the making of such a house," Opee-Kwan added,
taking the cue.
"That is nothing." Nam-Bok shrugged his shoulders in belittling fashion.
"As our houses are to that house, so that house was to the houses I was
yet to see."
"And they are not big men?"
"Nay; mere men like you and me," Nam-Bok answered. "I had cut a stick
that I might walk in comfort, and remembering that I was to bring report
to you, my brothers, I cut a notch in the stick for each person who
lived in that house. And I stayed there many days, and worked, for which
they gave me money—a thing of which you know nothing, but which is
"And one day I departed from that place to go farther into the land. And
as I walked I met many people, and I cut smaller notches in the stick,
that there might be room for all. Then I came upon a strange thing. On
the ground before me was a bar of iron, as big in thickness as my arm,
and a long step away was another bar of iron——"
"Then wert thou a rich man," Opee-Kwan asserted; "for iron be worth more
than anything else in the world. It would have made many knives."
"Nay, it was not mine."
"It was a find, and a find be lawful."
"Not so; the white men had placed it there. And further, these bars were
so long that no man could carry them away—so long that as far as I
could see there was no end to them."
"Nam-Bok, that is very much iron," Opee-Kwan cautioned.
"Ay, it was hard to believe with my own eyes upon it; but I could not
gainsay my eyes. And as I looked I heard …" He turned abruptly upon
the head man. "Opee-Kwan, thou hast heard the sea-lion bellow in his
anger. Make it plain in thy mind of as many sea-lions as there be waves
to the sea, and make it plain that all these sea-lions be made into one
sea-lion, and as that one sea-lion would bellow so bellowed the thing I
The fisherfolk cried aloud in astonishment, and Opee-Kwan's jaw lowered
and remained lowered.
"And in the distance I saw a monster like unto a thousand whales. It was
one-eyed, and vomited smoke, and it snorted with exceeding loudness. I
was afraid and ran with shaking legs along the path between the bars.
But it came with speed of the wind, this monster, and I leaped the iron
bars with its breath hot on my face …"
Opee-Kwan gained control of his jaw again. "And—and then, O Nam-Bok?"
"Then it came by on the bars, and harmed me not; and when my legs could
hold me up again it was gone from sight. And it is a very common thing
in that country. Even the women and children are not afraid. Men make
them to do work, these monsters."
"As we make our dogs do work?" Koogah asked, with sceptic twinkle in his
"Ay, as we make our dogs do work."
"And how do they breed these—these things?" Opee-Kwan questioned.
"They breed not at all. Men fashion them cunningly of iron, and feed
them with stone, and give them water to drink. The stone becomes fire,
and the water becomes steam, and the steam of the water is the breath of
their nostrils, and—"
"There, there, O Nam-Bok," Opee-Kwan interrupted. "Tell us of other
wonders. We grow tired of this which we may not understand."
"You do not understand?" Nam-Bok asked despairingly.
"Nay, we do not understand," the men and women wailed back. "We cannot
Nam-Bok thought of a combined harvester, and of the machines wherein
visions of living men were to be seen, and of the machines from which
came the voices of men, and he knew his people could never understand.
"Dare I say I rode this iron monster through the land?" he asked
Opee-Kwan threw up his hands, palms outward, in open incredulity. "Say
on; say anything. We listen."
"Then did I ride the iron monster, for which I gave money—"
"Thou saidst it was fed with stone."
"And likewise, thou fool, I said money was a thing of which you know
nothing. As I say, I rode the monster through the land, and through
many villages, until I came to a big village on a salt arm of the sea.
And the houses shoved their roofs among the stars in the sky, and the
clouds drifted by them, and everywhere was much smoke. And the roar of
that village was like the roar of the sea in storm, and the people were
so many that I flung away my stick and no longer remembered the notches
"Hadst thou made small notches," Koogah reproved, "thou mightst have
Nam-Bok whirled upon him in anger. "Had I made small notches! Listen,
Koogah, thou scratcher of bone! If I had made small notches neither the
stick, nor twenty sticks, could have borne them—nay, not all the
driftwood of all the beaches between this village and the next. And if
all of you, the women and children as well, were twenty times as many,
and if you had twenty hands each, and in each hand a stick and a knife,
still the notches could not be cut for the people I saw, so many were
they and so fast did they come and go."
"There cannot be so many people in all the world," Opee-Kwan objected,
for he was stunned and his mind could not grasp such magnitude of
"What dost thou know of all the world and how large it is?" Nam-Bok
"But there cannot be so many people in one place."
"Who art thou to say what can be and what cannot be?"
"It stands to reason there cannot be so many people in one place. Their
canoes would clutter the sea till there was no room. And they could
empty the sea each day of its fish, and they would not all be fed."
"So it would seem," Nam-Bok made final answer; "yet it was so. With my
own eyes I saw, and flung my stick away." He yawned heavily and rose to
his feet. "I have paddled far. The day has been long, and I am tired.
Now I will sleep, and to-morrow we will have further talk upon the
things I have seen."
Bask-Wah-Wan, hobbling fearfully in advance, proud indeed, yet awed by
her wonderful son, led him to her igloo and stowed him away among the
greasy, ill-smelling furs. But the men lingered by the fire, and a
council was held wherein was there much whispering and low-voiced
An hour passed, and a second, and Nam-Bok slept, and the talk went on.
The evening sun dipped toward the northwest, and at eleven at night was
nearly due north. Then it was that the head man and the bone-scratcher
separated themselves from the council and aroused Nam-Bok. He blinked up
into their faces and turned on his side to sleep again. Opee-Kwan
gripped him by the arm and kindly but firmly shook his senses back into
"Come, Nam-Bok, arise!" he commanded. "It be time."
"Another feast!" Nam-Bok cried. "Nay, I am not hungry. Go on with the
eating and let me sleep."
"Time to be gone!" Koogah thundered.
But Opee-Kwan spoke more softly. "Thou wast bidarka-mate with me when we
were boys," he said. "Together we first chased the seal and drew the
salmon from the traps. And thou didst drag me back to life, Nam-Bok,
when the sea closed over me and I was sucked down to the black rocks.
Together we hungered and bore the chill of the frost, and together we
crawled beneath the one fur and lay close to each other. And because of
these things, and the kindness in which I stood to thee, it grieves me
sore that thou shouldst return such a remarkable liar. We cannot
understand, and our heads be dizzy with the things thou hast spoken. It
is not good, and there has been much talk in the council. Wherefore we
send thee away, that our heads may remain clear and strong and be not
troubled by the unaccountable things."
"These things thou speakest of be shadows," Koogah took up the strain.
"From the shadow-world thou hast brought them, and to the shadow-world
thou must return them. Thy bidarka be ready, and the tribespeople wait.
They may not sleep until thou art gone."
Nam-Bok was perplexed, but hearkened to the voice of the head man.
"If thou art Nam-Bok," Opee-Kwan was saying, "thou art a fearful and
most wonderful liar; if thou art the shadow of Nam-Bok, then thou
speakest of shadows, concerning which it is not good that living men
have knowledge. This great village thou hast spoken of we deem the
village of shadows. Therein flutter the souls of the dead; for the dead
be many and the living few. The dead do not come back. Never have the
dead come back—save thou with thy wonder-tales. It is not meet that the
dead come back, and should we permit it, great trouble may be our
Nam-Bok knew his people well and was aware that the voice of the council
was supreme. So he allowed himself to be led down to the water's edge,
where he was put aboard his bidarka and a paddle thrust into his hand. A
stray wildfowl honked somewhere to seaward, and the surf broke limply
and hollowly on the sand. A dim twilight brooded over land and water,
and in the north the sun smouldered, vague and troubled, and draped
about with blood-red mists. The gulls were flying low. The off-shore
wind blew keen and chill, and the black-massed clouds behind it gave
promise of bitter weather.
"Out of the sea thou earnest," Opee-Kwan chanted oracularly, "and back
into the sea thou goest. Thus is balance achieved and all things brought
Bask-Wah-Wan limped to the froth-mark and cried, "I bless thee,
Nam-Bok, for that thou remembered me."
But Koogah, shoving Nam-Bok clear or the beach, tore the shawl from her
shoulders and flung it into the bidarka.
"It is cold in the long nights," she wailed; "and the frost is prone to
nip old bones."
"The thing is a shadow," the bone-scratcher answered, "and shadows
cannot keep thee warm."
Nam-Bok stood up that his voice might carry. "O Bask-Wah-Wan, mother
that bore me!" he called. "Listen to the words of Nam-Bok, thy son.
There be room in his bidarka for two, and he would that thou earnest
with him. For his journey is to where there are fish and oil in plenty.
There the frost comes not, and life is easy, and the things of iron do
the work of men. Wilt thou come, O Bask-Wah-Wan?"
She debated a moment, while the bidarka drifted swiftly from her, then
raised her voice to a quavering treble. "I am old, Nam-Bok, and soon I
shall pass down among the shadows. But I have no wish to go before my
time. I am old, Nam-Bok, and I am afraid."
A shaft of light shot across the dim-lit sea and wrapped boat and man
in a splendor of red and gold. Then a hush fell upon the fisherfolk, and
only was heard the moan of the off-shore wind and the cries of the gulls
flying low in the air.