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North Of Fifty-Three
by [?]

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.

Red, the proprietor, explained over the bar in a whisper to Captain, the new man from Dawson: “That’s Big George, the whaler. He’s a squaw-man and sort of a bully–see? When he’s sober he’s on the level strickly, an’ we all likes him fine, but when he gets to fightin’ the pain-killer, he ain’t altogether a gentleman. Will he fight? Oh! Will he fight? Say! he’s there with chimes, he is! Why, Doc Miller’s made a grub-stake rebuildin’ fellers that’s had a lingerin’ doubt cached away about that, an’ now when he gets the booze up his nose them patched-up guys oozes away an’ hibernates till the gas dies out in him. Afterwards he’s sore on himself an’ apologizes to everybody. Don’t get into no trouble with him, cause he’s two checks past the limit. They don’t make ’em as bad as him any more. He busted the mould.”

George turned, and spying the new-comer, approached, eyeing him with critical disfavour.

Captain saw a bear-like figure, clad cap-a-pie in native fashion. Reindeer pants, with the hair inside, clothed legs like rock pillars, while out of the loose squirrel parka a corded neck rose, brown and strong, above which darkly gleamed a rugged face seamed and scarred by the hate of Arctic winters. He had kicked off his deer-skin socks, and stood bare-footed on the cold and draughty floor, while the poison he had imbibed showed only in his heated face, Silently he extended a cracked and hardened hand, which closed like the armoured claw of a crustacean and tightened on the crunching fingers of the other. Captain’s expression remained unchanged and, gradually slackening his grip, the sailor roughly inquired:

“Where’d you come from?”

“Just got in from Dawson yesterday,” politely responded the stranger.

“Well! what’re you goin’ to do now you’re here?” he demanded.

“Stake some claims and go to prospecting, I guess. You see, I wanted to get in early before the rush next spring.”

“Oh! I ‘spose you’re going to jump some of our ground, hey? Well, you ain’t! We don’t want no claim jumpers here,” disagreeably continued the seaman; “we won’t stand for it. This is my camp–see? I own it, and these is my little children.” Then, as the other refused to debate with him, he resumed, groping for a new ground of attack.

“Say! I’ll bet you’re one of them eddicated dudes, too, ain’t you? You talk like a feller that had been to college,” and, as the other assented, he scornfully called to his friends, saying “Look here, fellers! Pipe the jellyfish! I never see one of these here animals that was worth a cuss; they plays football an’ smokes cigareets at school; then when they’re weaned they come off up here an’ jump our claims ’cause we can’t write a location notice proper. They ain’t no good. I guess I’ll stop it.”