Jack London. Lost Face (in English, in the original)

Page 6

Yakaga whispered to the chief.

“But how can I know your medicine is true medicine?” Makamuk asked.

“It is very easy.  First, I shall go into the woods—”

Again Yakaga whispered to Makamuk, who made a suspicious dissent.

“You can send twenty hunters with me,” Subienkow went on.  “You see, I must get the berries and the roots with which to make the medicine.  Then, when you have brought the two sleds and loaded on them the fish and the beaver skins and the rifle, and when you have told off the six hunters who will go with me—then, when all is ready, I will rub the medicine on my neck, so, and lay my neck there on that log.  Then can your strongest hunter take the axe and strike three times on my neck.  You yourself can strike the three times.”

Makamuk stood with gaping mouth, drinking in this latest and most wonderful magic of the fur-thieves.

“But first,” the Pole added hastily, “between each blow I must put on fresh medicine.  The axe is heavy and sharp, and I want no mistakes.”

“All that you have asked shall be yours,” Makamuk cried in a rush of acceptance.  “Proceed to make your medicine.”

Subienkow concealed his elation.  He was playing a desperate game, and there must be no slips.  He spoke arrogantly.

“You have been slow.  My medicine is offended.  To make the offence clean you must give me your daughter.”

He pointed to the girl, an unwholesome creature, with a cast in one eye and a bristling wolf-tooth.  Makamuk was angry, but the Pole remained imperturbable, rolling and lighting another cigarette.

“Make haste,” he threatened.  “If you are not quick, I shall demand yet more.”

In the silence that followed, the dreary northland scene faded before him, and he saw once more his native land, and France , and, once, as he glanced at the wolf-toothed girl, he remembered another girl, a singer and a dancer, whom he had known when first as a youth he came to Paris.

“What do you want with the girl?” Makamuk asked.

“To go down the river with me.”  Subienkow glanced over her critically.  “She will make a good wife, and it is an honour worthy of my medicine to be married to your blood.”

Again he remembered the singer and dancer and hummed aloud a song she had taught him.  He lived the old life over, but in a detached, impersonal sort of way, looking at the memory-pictures of his own life as if they were pictures in a book of anybody’s life.  The chief’s voice, abruptly breaking the silence, startled him.

“It shall be done,” said Makamuk.  “The girl shall go down the river with you.  But be it understood that I myself strike the three blows with the axe on your neck.”

“But each time I shall put on the medicine,” Subienkow answered, with a show of ill-concealed anxiety.

“You shall put the medicine on between each blow.  Here are the hunters who shall see you do not escape.  Go into the forest and gather your medicine.”

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