There was no lack of luster in the black eyes that roved inquiringly from the Englishman’s bantering grin to the others in the room. Mukee, the half Cree, was sitting with his elbows on his knees gazing with stoic countenance at this new curiosity who had wandered four hundred miles northward from civilization. Williams, the Hudson’s Bay man who claimed to be all white, was staring hard at the red side of the stove, and the factor’s son looked silently at Jan. He and the half-breed noted the warm glow in the eyes that rested casually upon the Englishman.
“It ees truth—thees honor of the Beeg Snows!” said Jan again, and his moccasined feet fell in heavy, thumping tread to the door.
That was the first time he had spoken that evening, and not even the half Cree, or Williams, or the factor’s son guessed how the blood was racing through his veins. Outside he stood with the pale, cold glow of the Aurora Borealis shining upon him, and the limitless wilderness, heavy in its burden of snow, reaching out into the ghost-gray fabric of the night. The Englishman’s laugh followed him, boisterous and grossly thick, and Jan moved on,—wondering how much longer the half Cree and Williams and the factor’s son would listen to the things that this man was saying of the most beautiful thing that had ever come into their lives.
“It ees truth, I swear, by dam’—thees honor of what he calls the ’Beeg Snows!’” persisted Jan to himself, and he set his back to the factor’s office and trudged through the snow.
When he came to the black ledge of the spruce and balsam forest he stopped and looked back. It was an hour past bedtime at the post. The Company’s store loomed up silent and lightless. The few log cabins betrayed no signs of life. Only in the factor’s office, which was the Company’s haven for the men of the wilderness, was there a waste of kerosene, and that was because of the Englishman whom Jan was beginning to hate. He stared back at the one glowing window with a queer thickening in his throat and a clenching of the hands in the pockets of his caribou-skin coat. Then he looked long and wistfully at a little cabin which stood apart from the rest, and to himself he whispered again what he had said to the Englishman. Until to-night—or, perhaps, until two weeks ago—Jan had been satisfied with his world. It was a big, passionless world, mostly of snow and ice and endless privation, but he loved it, and there was only a fast-fading memory of another world in his brain. It was a world of big, honest hearts kept warm within caribou skins, of moccasined men whom endless solitude had taught to say little and do much—a world of “Big Snows,” as the Englishman had said, in which Jan and all his people had come very close to the things which God created. Without the steely gray flash of those mystery-lights over the Arctic pole Jan would have been homesick; his soul would have withered and died in anything but this