Ten men and many dogs lay together in the Crooked River Road House through the storm. At late bedtime of the last night came a scratching on the door.
“Somebody’s left a dog outside,” said a teamster, and rose to let him in. He opened the door only to retreat affrightedly.
“My God!” he said. “My God!” and the miners crowded forward.
A figure tottered over the portal, swaying drunkenly. They shuddered at the sight of its face as it crossed toward the fire. It did not walk; it shuffled, haltingly, with flexed knees and hanging shoulders, the strides measuring inches only—a grisly burlesque upon senility.
Pausing in the circle, it mumbled thickly, with great effort, as though gleaning words from infinite distance:
“Wild Pierre—frozen—buried—in—snow—hurry!” Then he straightened and spoke strongly, his voice flooding the room:
“It’s the mind, Pierre. Ha! ha! ha! The mind.”
He cackled hideously, and plunged forward into a miner’s arms.
It was many days before his delirium broke. Gradually he felt the pressure of many bandages upon him, and the hunger of convalescence. As he lay in his bunk the past came to him hazy and horrible; then the hum of voices, one loud, insistent, and familiar.
He turned weakly, to behold Pierre propped in a chair by the stove, frost-scarred and pale, but aggressive even in recuperation. He gesticulated fiercely with a bandaged hand, hot in controversy with some big-limbed, bearded strangers.
“Bah! You fellers no good—too beeg in the ches’, too leetle in the forehead. She’ll tak’ the heducate mans for stan’ the ‘ardsheep—lak’ me an’ Meestaire Weelard.”
Big George was drinking, and the activities of the little Arctic mining camp were paralysed. Events invariably ceased their progress and marked time when George became excessive, and now nothing of public consequence stirred except the quicksilver, which was retiring fearfully into its bulb at the song of the wind which came racing over the lonesome, bitter, northward waste of tundra.
He held the centre of the floor at the Northern Club, and proclaimed his modest virtues in a voice as pleasant as the cough of a bull-walrus.
“Yes, me! Little Georgie! I did it. I’ve licked ’em all from Herschel Island to Dutch Harbour, big uns and little uns. When they didn’t suit I made ’em over. I’m the boss carpenter of the Arctic and I own this camp; don’t I, Slim? Hey? Answer me!” he roared at the emaciated bearer of the title, whose attention seemed wandering from the inventory of George’s startling traits toward a card game.
“Sure ye do,” nervously smiled Slim, frightened out of a heart-solo as he returned to his surroundings.
“Well, then, listen to what I’m saying. I’m the big chief of the village, and when I’m stimulated and happy them fellers I don’t like hides out and lets me and Nature operate things. Ain’t that right?” He glared inquiringly at his friends.