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Love of Life and Other Stories

Negore, The Coward
HE had followed the trail of his fleeing people for eleven days, and his pursuit had been
in itself a flight; for behind him he knew full well were the dreaded Russians, toiling
through the swampy lowlands and over the steep divides, bent on no less than the
extermination of all his people. He was travelling light. A rabbit-skin sleeping-robe, a
muzzle-loading rifle, and a few pounds of sun-dried salmon constituted his outfit. He
would have marvelled that a whole people - women and children and aged - could travel
so swiftly, had he not known the terror that drove them on.
It was in the old days of the Russian occupancy of Alaska, when the nineteenth century
had run but half its course, that Negore fled after his fleeing tribe and came upon it this
summer night by the head waters of the Pee-lat. Though near the midnight hour, it was
bright day as he passed through the weary camp. Many saw him, all knew him, but few
and cold were the greetings he received.
"Negore, the Coward," he heard Illiha, a young woman, laugh, and Sun-ne, his sister's
daughter, laughed with her.
Black anger ate at his heart; but he gave no sign, threading his way among the camp-fires
until he came to one where sat an old man. A young woman was kneading with skilful
fingers the tired muscles of his legs. He raised a sightless face and listened intently as
Negore's foot crackled a dead twig.
"Who comes?" he queried in a thin, tremulous voice.
"Negore," said the young woman, scarcely looking up from her task.
Negore's face was expressionless. For many minutes he stood and waited. The old man's
head had sunk back upon his chest. The young woman pressed and prodded the wasted
muscles, resting her body on her knees, her bowed head hidden as in a cloud by her black
wealth of hair. Negore watched the supple body, bending at the hips as a lynx's body
might bend, pliant as a young willow stalk, and, withal, strong as only youth is strong. He
looked, and was aware of a great yearning, akin in sensation to physical hunger. At last
he spoke, saying:
"Is there no greeting for Negore, who has been long gone and has but now come back?"
She looked up at him with cold eyes. The old man chuckled to himself after the manner
of the old.
"Thou art my woman, Oona," Negore said, his tones dominant and conveying a hint of
menace.
 
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