The Boy stopped and hesitated; it was a sore temptation to climb up and see what they had in that cache. There was an inviting plank all ready, with sticks nailed on it transversely to prevent the feet from slipping. But the Boy stopped at the rude ladder’s foot, deciding that this particular mark of interest on the part of a stranger might be misinterpreted. It would, perhaps, be prudent to find Nicholas first of all. But where was Nicholas?—where was anybody?
The scattered, half-buried huts were more like earth-mounds, snow-encrusted, some with drift-logs propped against the front face looking riverwards.
While he was cogitating how to effect an entrance to one of these, or to make his presence known, he saw, to his relief, the back of a solitary Indian going in the direction of an ighloo farther up the river.
“Hi, hi!” he shouted, and as the figure turned he made signs. It stopped.
“How-do?” the Boy called out when he got nearer. “You talk English?”
The native laughed. A flash of fine teeth and sparkling eyes lit up a young, good-looking face. This boy seemed promising.
“How d’ye do? You know Nicholas?”
The laugh was even gayer. It seemed to be a capital joke to know Nicholas.
“Where is he?”
The figure turned and pointed, and then: “Come. I show you.”
This was a more highly educated person than Nicholas, thought the visitor, remarking the use of the nominative scorned of the Prince.
They walked on to the biggest of the underground dwellings.
“Is this where the King hangs out? Nicholas’ father lives here?”
“No. This is the Kazhga.”
“Oh, the Kachime. Ain’t you comin’ in?”
His guide had a fit of laughter, and then turned to go.
“Say, what’s your name?”
The answer sounded like “Muckluck.”
And just then Nicholas crawled out of the tunnel-like opening leading into the council-house. He jumped up, beaming at the sight of his friend.
“Say, Nicholas, who’s this fella that’s always laughing, no matter what you say? Calls himself ‘Muckluck.’”
The individual referred to gave way to another spasm of merriment, which infected Nicholas.
“My sister—this one,” he explained.
“Oh-h!” The Boy joined in the laugh, and pulled off his Arctic cap with a bow borrowed straight from the Colonel.
“Princess Muckluck, I’m proud to know you.”
“Name no Muckluck,” began Nicholas; “name Mahk——”
“Mac? Nonsense! Mac’s a man’s name—she’s Princess Muckluck. Only, how’s a fella to tell, when you dress her like a man?”
The Princess still giggled, while her brother explained.
“No like man. See?” He showed how the skirt of her deerskin parki, reaching, like her brother’s, a little below the knee, was shaped round in front, and Nicholas’s own—all men’s parkis were cut straight across.