One night, many weeks later, Malemute Kid and Prince fell to solving chess problems from the torn page of an ancient magazine. The Kid had just returned from his Bonanza properties and was resting up preparatory to a long moose hunt.
Prince, too, had been on creek and trail nearly all winter, and had grown hungry for a blissful week of cabin life.
'Interpose the black knight, and force the king. No, that won't do. See, the next move-'
'Why advance the pawn two squares? Bound to take it in transit, and with the bishop out of the way-' 'But hold on! That leaves a hole, and-' 'No; it's protected. Go ahead! You'll see it works.' It was very interesting. Somebody knocked at the door a second time before Malemute Kid said, 'Come in.' The door swung open. Something staggered in.
Prince caught one square look and sprang to his feet. The horror in his eyes caused Malemute Kid to whirl about; and he, too, was startled, though he had seen bad things before. The thing tottered blindly toward them. Prince edged away till he reached the nail from which hung his Smith & Wesson.
'My God! what is it?' he whispered to Malemute Kid.
'Don't know. Looks like a case of freezing and no grub,' replied the Kid, sliding away in the opposite direction. 'Watch out! It may be mad,' he warned, coming back from closing the door.
The thing advanced to the table. The bright flame of the slush lamp caught its eye. It was amused, and gave voice to eldritch cackles which betokened mirth.
Then, suddenly, he—for it was a man—swayed back, with a hitch to his skin trousers, and began to sing a chantey, such as men lift when they swing around the capstan circle and the sea snorts in their ears: Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er, Pull! my bully boys! Pull! D'yeh want—to know de captain ru-uns her? Pull! my bully boys! Pull! Jon-a-than Jones ob South Caho-li-in-a, Pull! my bully. He broke off abruptly, tottered with a wolfish snarl to the meat shelf, and before they could intercept was tearing with his teeth at a chunk of raw bacon. The struggle was fierce between him and Malemute Kid; but his mad strength left him as suddenly as it had come, and he weakly surrendered the spoil. Between them they got him upon a stool, where he sprawled with half his body across the table.
A small dose of whiskey strengthened him, so that he could dip a spoon into the sugar caddy which Malemute Kid placed before him. After his appetite had been somewhat cloyed, Prince, shuddering as he did so, passed him a mug of weak beef tea.
The creature's eyes were alight with a somber frenzy, which blazed and waned with every mouthful. There was very little skin to the face. The face, for that matter, sunken and emaciated, bore little likeness to human countenance.
Frost after frost had bitten deeply, each depositing its stratum of scab upon the half-healed scar that went before. This dry, hard surface was of a bloody-black color, serrated by grievous cracks wherein the raw red flesh peeped forth. His skin garments were dirty and in tatters, and the fur of one side was singed and burned away, showing where he had lain upon his fire.
Malemute Kid pointed to where the sun-tanned hide had been cut away, strip by strip—the grim signature of famine.
'Who—are—you?' slowly and distinctly enunciated the Kid.
The man paid no heed.
'Where do you come from?' 'Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er,' was the quavering response.
'Don't doubt the beggar came down the river,' the Kid said, shaking him in an endeavor to start a more lucid flow of talk.
But the man shrieked at the contact, clapping a hand to his side in evident pain. He rose slowly to his feet, half leaning on the table.
'She laughed at me—so—with the hate in her eye; and she—would—not—come.' His voice died away, and he was sinking back when Malemute Kid gripped him by the wrist and shouted, 'Who? Who would not come?' 'She, Unga. She laughed, and struck at me, so, and so. And then-' 'Yes?'
'And then—' 'And then what?' 'And then he lay very still in the snow a long time. He is-still in—the—snow.' The two men looked at each other helplessly.
'Who is in the snow?' 'She, Unga. She looked at me with the hate in her eye, and then—'
'Yes, yes.' 'And then she took the knife, so; and once, twice—she was weak. I traveled very slow. And there is much gold in that place, very much gold.' 'Where is Unga?' For all Malemute Kid knew, she might be dying a mile away. He shook the man savagely, repeating again and again, 'Where is Unga? Who is Unga?' 'She—is—in—the—snow.' 'Go on!' The Kid was pressing his wrist cruelly.
'So—I—would—be—in—the snow—but—I—had—a—debt—to—pay. It—was—heavy—I—had—a-debt—to—pay—a—debt—to—pay I—had-' The faltering monosyllables ceased as he fumbled in his pouch and drew forth a buckskin sack. 'A—debt—to—pay—five—pounds—of —gold-grub—stake—Mal—e—mute—Kid—I-' The exhausted head dropped upon the table; nor could Malemute Kid rouse it again.
'It's Ulysses,' he said quietly, tossing the bag of dust on the table. 'Guess it's all day with Axel Gunderson and the woman. Come on, let's get him between the blankets. He's Indian; he'll pull through and tell a tale besides.' As they cut his garments from him, near his right breast could be seen two unhealed, hard-lipped knife thrusts.