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

Page 9

While this was being done, Subienkow turned to Makamuk.

“And remember, you are to strike hard.  This is not baby-work.  Here, take the axe and strike the log, so that I can see you strike like a man.”

Makamuk obeyed, striking twice, precisely and with vigour, cutting out a large chip.

“It is well.”  Subienkow looked about him at the circle of savage faces that somehow seemed to symbolize the wall of savagery that had hemmed him about ever since the Czar’s police had first arrested him in Warsaw .  “Take your axe, Makamuk, and stand so.  I shall lie down.  When I raise my hand, strike, and strike with all your might.  And be careful that no one stands behind you.  The medicine is good, and the axe may bounce from off my neck and right out of your hands.”

He looked at the two sleds, with the dogs in harness, loaded with furs and fish.  His rifle lay on top of the beaver skins.  The six hunters who were to act as his guard stood by the sleds.

“Where is the girl?” the Pole demanded.  “Bring her up to the sleds before the test goes on.”

When this had been carried out, Subienkow lay down in the snow, resting his head on the log like a tired child about to sleep.  He had lived so many dreary years that he was indeed tired.

“I laugh at you and your strength, O Makamuk,” he said.  “Strike, and strike hard.”

He lifted his hand.  Makamuk swung the axe, a broadaxe for the squaring of logs.  The bright steel flashed through the frosty air, poised for a perceptible instant above Makamuk’s head, then descended upon Subienkow’s bare neck.  Clear through flesh and bone it cut its way, biting deeply into the log beneath.  The amazed savages saw the head bounce a yard away from the blood-spouting trunk.

There was a great bewilderment and silence, while slowly it began to dawn in their minds that there had been no medicine.  The fur-thief had outwitted them.  Alone, of all their prisoners, he had escaped the torture.  That had been the stake for which he played.  A great roar of laughter went up.  Makamuk bowed his head in shame.  The fur-thief had fooled him.  He had lost face before all his people.  Still they continued to roar out their laughter.  Makamuk turned, and with bowed head stalked away.  He knew that thenceforth he would be no longer known as Makamuk.  He would be Lost Face; the record of his shame would be with him until he died; and whenever the tribes gathered in the spring for the salmon, or in the summer for the trading, the story would pass back and forth across the camp-fires of how the fur-thief died peaceably, at a single stroke, by the hand of Lost Face.
“Who was Lost Face?” he could hear, in anticipation, some insolent young buck demand, “Oh, Lost Face,” would be the answer, “he who once was Makamuk in the days before he cut off the fur-thief’s head.”


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