The Boy spoke of the famine and Ol’ Chief’s illness.
“It is true,” said Unookuk gravely, and turning, he added something in Ingalik to the company. Peetka answered back as surly as ever. But the Boy went on, telling how the Shaman had cured Ol’ Chief, and that turned out to be a surprisingly popular story. Peetka wouldn’t interrupt it, even to curse the Leader for getting up and stretching himself. When the dog—feeling that for some reason discipline was relaxed—dared to leave his cramped quarters, and come out into the little open space between the white men and the close-packed assembly, the Boy forced himself to go straight on with his story as if he had not observed the liberty the Leader was taking. When, after standing there an instant, the dog came over and threw himself down at the stranger’s feet as if publicly adopting him, the white story-teller dared not meet Peetka’s eye. He was privately most uneasy at the Nigger dog’s tactless move, and he hurried on about how Brother Paul caught the Shaman, and about the Penitential Journey—told how, long before that, early in the Fall, Nicholas had got lost, making the portage from St. Michael’s, and how the white camp had saved him from starvation; how in turn the Pymeuts had pulled the speaker out of a blow-hole; what tremendous friends the Pymeuts were with these particular, very good sort of white men. Here he seemed to allow by implication for Peetka’s prejudice—there were two kinds of pale-face strangers—and on an impulse he drew out Muckluck’s medal. He would have them to know, so highly were these present specimens of the doubtful race regarded by the Pymeuts—such friends were they, that Nicholas’ sister had given him this for an offering to Yukon Inua, that the Great Spirit might help them on their way. He owned himself wrong to have delayed this sacrifice. He must to-morrow throw it into the first blow-hole he came to—unless indeed... his eye caught Kurilla’s. With the help of his stick the old Guide pulled his big body up on his one stout leg, hobbled nearer and gravely eyed Muckluck’s offering as it swung to and fro on its walrus-string over the Leader’s head. The Boy, quite conscious of some subtle change in the hitherto immobile face of the Indian, laid the token in his hand. Standing there in the centre of the semicircle between the assembly and the dog, Kurilla turned the Great Katharine’s medal over, examining it closely, every eye in the room upon him.
When he lifted his head there was a rustle of expectation and a craning forward.
“It is the same.” Kurilla spoke slowly like one half in a dream. “When I go down river, thirty winter back, with the Great Dall, he try buy this off Nicholas’s mother. She wear it on string red Russian beads. Oh, it is a thing to remember!” He nodded his grey head significantly, but he went on with the bare evidence: “When John J. Healy make last trip down this fall—Nicholas pilot you savvy—they let him take his sister, Holy Cross to Pymeut. I see she wear this round neck.”