The God of His Fathers and Other Stories HTML version

The Man With The Gash
Jacob Kent had suffered from cupidity all the days of his life. This, in turn, had
engendered a chronic distrustfulness, and his mind and character had become so warped
that he was a very disagreeable man to deal with. He was also a victim to somnambulic
propensities, and very set in his ideas. He had been a weaver of cloth from the cradle,
until the fever of Klondike had entered his blood and torn him away from his loom. His
cabin stood midway between Sixty Mile Post and the Stuart River; and men who made it
a custom to travel the trail to Dawson, likened him to a robber baron, perched in his
fortress and exacting toll from the caravans that used his ill-kept roads. Since a certain
amount of history was required in the construction of this figure, the less cultured
wayfarers from Stuart River were prone to describe him after a still more primordial
fashion, in which a command of strong adjectives was to be chiefly noted.
This cabin was not his, by the way, having been built several years previously by a
couple of miners who had got out a raft of logs at that point for a grub-stake. They had
been most hospitable lads, and, after they abandoned it, travelers who knew the route
made it an object to arrive there at nightfall. It was very handy, saving them all the time
and toil of pitching camp; and it was an unwritten rule that the last man left a neat pile of
firewood for the next comer. Rarely a night passed but from half a dozen to a score of
men crowded into its shelter. Jacob Kent noted these things, exercised squatter
sovereignty, and moved in. Thenceforth, the weary travelers were mulcted a dollar per
head for the privilege of sleeping on the floor, Jacob Kent weighing the dust and never
failing to steal the down-weight. Besides, he so contrived that his transient guests
chopped his wood for him and carried his water. This was rank piracy, but his victims
were an easy-going breed, and while they detested him, they yet permitted him to flourish
in his sins.
One afternoon in April he sat by his door,--for all the world like a predatory spider,--
marvelling at the heat of the returning sun, and keeping an eye on the trail for prospective
flies. The Yukon lay at his feet, a sea of ice, disappearing around two great bends to the
north and south, and stretching an honest two miles from bank to bank. Over its rough
breast ran the sled-trail, a slender sunken line, eighteen inches wide and two thousand
miles in length, with more curses distributed to the linear foot than any other road in or
out of all Christendom.
Jacob Kent was feeling particularly good that afternoon. The record had been broken the
previous night, and he had sold his hospitality to no less than twenty-eight visitors. True,
it had been quite uncomfortable, and four had snored beneath his bunk all night; but then
it had added appreciable weight to the sack in which he kept his gold dust. That sack,
with its glittering yellow treasure, was at once the chief delight and the chief bane of his
existence. Heaven and hell lay within its slender mouth. In the nature of things, there
being no privacy to his one-roomed dwelling, he was tortured by a constant fear of theft.
It would be very easy for these bearded, desperate-looking strangers to make away with
it. Often he dreamed that such was the case, and awoke in the grip of nightmare. A select