Jack London

         Nam-Bok the Unveracious

             From "Children Of the Frost"

    "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  silverspilled  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 without sound. 
    Koogah lifted his grizzled head from his bone-carving and followed the path of 
her eyes. Except when wide yaws 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 
    "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 
    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 back!" 
    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 new-comer. 
    "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. 
    "Greeting, 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 
    "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  west  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 in a strange tongue which sounded like "Goddam," 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, marvellous 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 seconded. 
    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 
    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 liberality. 
    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 thought. 
    "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 
    "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  they?  -  big 
    "Nay, mere men like you and me." 
    "Did the big canoe come fast?" 
    "Ay. " 
    "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.  OpeeKwan  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 beach 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 where." 
    "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  overlong  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 big 
    "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 thee." 
    "It is so," Nam-Bok persisted. "The steamer is all iron and does not sink." 
    "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." 
    "But how?" 
    "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 it. 
    "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 thee?" 
    "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 
travelled 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 very good." 
    "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 heard." 
    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  the 
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 
    "As we make our dogs do work?" Koogah asked, with sceptic twinkle m his eye. 
    "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 bitterly. 
    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, anal 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 I notches upon it." 
    "Hadst thou made small notches," Koogah reproved, "thou mightst | have brought 
    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 the world," Opee-Kwan objected, for he  was 
stunned and his mind could not grasp such magnitude of numbers. 
    "What cost thou know of all the world and how large it is?" Nam-Bok demanded. 
    "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 lowvoiced discussion. 
    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  bonescratcher  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 him. 
    "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 west 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 wild-fowl 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 camest," Opee-Kwan chanted oracularly, "and back into the 
sea thou goest. Thus is balance achieved and all things brought to law." 
    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 of  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 
camest 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.



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