Jacob Welse laughed when the correspondent told him. “Just his way,” he said; “for his ways are like his looks,—unusual. He’s an unsociable beast. Been in the country more years than he can number acquaintances. Truth to say, I don’t think he has a friend in all Alaska, not even among the Indians, and he’s chummed thick with them off and on. ‘Johnny Sorehead,’ they call him, but it might as well be ‘Johnny Break-um-head,’ for he’s got a quick temper and a rough hand. Temper! Some little misunderstanding popped up between him and the agent at Arctic City. He was in the right, too,—agent’s mistake,—but he tabooed the Company on the spot and lived on straight meat for a year. Then I happened to run across him at Tanana Station, and after due explanations he consented to buy from us again.”
“Got the girl from up the head-waters of the White,” Bill Brown told St. Vincent. “Welse thinks he’s pioneering in that direction, but Borg could give him cards and spades on it and then win out. He’s been over the ground years ago. Yes, strange sort of a chap. Wouldn’t hanker to be bunk-mates with him.”
But St. Vincent did not mind the eccentricities of the man, for he spent most of his time on Split-up Island with Frona and the Baron. One day, however, and innocently, he ran foul of him. Two Swedes, hunting tree-squirrels from the other end of Roubeau Island, had stopped to ask for matches and to yarn a while in the warm sunshine of the clearing. St. Vincent and Borg were accommodating them, the latter for the most part in meditative monosyllables. Just to the rear, by the cabin-door, Bella was washing clothes. The tub was a cumbersome home-made affair, and half-full of water, was more than a fair match for an ordinary woman. The correspondent noticed her struggling with it, and stepped back quickly to her aid.
With the tub between them, they proceeded to carry it to one side in order to dump it where the ground drained from the cabin. St. Vincent slipped in the thawing snow and the soapy water splashed up. Then Bella slipped, and then they both slipped. Bella giggled and laughed, and St. Vincent laughed back. The spring was in the air and in their blood, and it was very good to be alive. Only a wintry heart could deny a smile on such a day. Bella slipped again, tried to recover, slipped with the other foot, and sat down abruptly. Laughing gleefully, both of them, the correspondent caught her hands to pull her to her feet. With a bound and a bellow, Borg was upon them. Their hands were torn apart and St. Vincent thrust heavily backward. He staggered for a couple of yards and almost fell. Then the scene of the cabin was repeated. Bella cowered and grovelled in the muck, and her lord towered wrathfully over her.
“Look you,” he said in stifled gutturals, turning to St. Vincent. “You sleep in my cabin and you cook. That is enough. Let my woman alone.”