They were much nearer Kaltag than they had realised, arriving after only two hours’ struggle with the dogs at the big Indian village on the left bank of the river. But their first appearance here was clouded by Nig’s proposal to slay all the dogs in sight. He was no sooner unharnessed than he undertook the congenial job. It looked for a few minutes as if Peetka’s bully dog would chew up the entire canine population, and then lie down and die of his own wounds. But the Kaltags understood the genus Siwash better than the white man, and took the tumult calmly.
It turned out that Nig was not so much bloodthirsty as “bloody-proud”—one of those high souls for ever concerned about supremacy. His first social act, on catching sight of his fellow, was to howl defiance at him. And even after they have fought it out and come to some sort of understanding, the first happy thought of your born Leader on awakening is to proclaim himself boss of the camp.
No sooner has he published this conviction of high calling than he is set upon by the others, punishes them soundly, or is himself vanquished and driven off. Whereupon he sits on his haunches in the snow, and, with his pointed nose turned skyward, howls uninterruptedly for an hour or two, when all is forgiven and forgotten—till the next time.
Order being restored, the travellers got new harness for the dogs, new boots for themselves, and set out for the white trading post, thirty miles above.
Here, having at last come into the region of settlements, they agreed never again to overtax the dogs. They “travelled light” out of Nulato towards the Koyukuk.
The dogs simply flew over those last miles. It was glorious going on a trail like glass.
They had broken the back of the journey now, and could well afford, they thought, to halt an hour or two on the island at the junction of the two great rivers, stake out a trading post, and treat themselves to town lots. Why town lots, in Heaven’s name! when they were bound for Minook, and after that the Klondyke, hundreds of miles away? Well, partly out of mere gaiety of heart, and partly, the Colonel would have told you gravely, that in this country you never know when you have a good thing. They had left the one white layman at Nulato seething with excitement over an Indian’s report of still another rich strike up yonder on the Koyukuk, and this point, where they were solemnly staking out a new post, the Nulato Agent had said, was “dead sure to be a great centre.” That almost unknown region bordering the great tributary of the Yukon, haunt of the fiercest of all the Indians of the North, was to be finally conquered by the white man. It had been left practically unexplored ever since the days when the bloodthirsty Koyukons came down out of their fastnesses and perpetrated the great Nulato massacre, doing to death with ghastly barbarity every man, woman, and child at the post, Russian or Indian, except Kurilla, not sparing the unlucky Captain Barnard or his English escort, newly arrived here in their search for the lost Sir John Franklin. But the tables were turned now, and the white man was on the trail of the Indian.