The God of His Fathers and Other Stories HTML version

Where The Trail Forks
"Must I, then, must I, then, now leave this town -
And you, my love, stay here?"--Schwabian Folk-song.
The singer, clean-faced and cheery-eyed, bent over and added water to a pot of
simmering beans, and then, rising, a stick of firewood in hand, drove back the circling
dogs from the grub-box and cooking-gear. He was blue of eye, and his long hair was
golden, and it was a pleasure to look upon his lusty freshness. A new moon was thrusting
a dim horn above the white line of close-packed snow-capped pines which ringed the
camp and segregated it from all the world. Overhead, so clear it was and cold, the stars
danced with quick, pulsating movements. To the southeast an evanescent greenish glow
heralded the opening revels of the aurora borealis. Two men, in the immediate
foreground, lay upon the bearskin which was their bed. Between the skin and naked snow
was a six-inch layer of pine boughs. The blankets were rolled back. For shelter, there was
a fly at their backs,--a sheet of canvas stretched between two trees and angling at forty-
five degrees. This caught the radiating heat from the fire and flung it down upon the skin.
Another man sat on a sled, drawn close to the blaze, mending moccasins. To the right, a
heap of frozen gravel and a rude windlass denoted where they toiled each day in dismal
groping for the pay-streak. To the left, four pairs of snowshoes stood erect, showing the
mode of travel which obtained when the stamped snow of the camp was left behind.
That Schwabian folk-song sounded strangely pathetic under the cold northern stars, and
did not do the men good who lounged about the fire after the toil of the day. It put a dull
ache into their hearts, and a yearning which was akin to belly-hunger, and sent their souls
questing southward across the divides to the sun- lands.
"For the love of God, Sigmund, shut up!" expostulated one of the men. His hands were
clenched painfully, but he hid them from sight in the folds of the bearskin upon which he
"And what for, Dave Wertz?" Sigmund demanded. "Why shall I not sing when the heart
is glad?"
"Because you've got no call to, that's why. Look about you, man, and think of the grub
we've been defiling our bodies with for the last twelvemonth, and the way we've lived
and worked like beasts!"
Thus abjured, Sigmund, the golden-haired, surveyed it all, and the frost-rimmed wolf-
dogs and the vapor breaths of the men. "And why shall not the heart be glad?" he
laughed. "It is good; it is all good. As for the grub--" He doubled up his arm and caressed
the swelling biceps. "And if we have lived and worked like beasts, have we not been paid
like kings? Twenty dollars to the pan the streak is running, and we know it to be eight
feet thick. It is another Klondike--and we know it--Jim Hawes there, by your elbow,
knows it and complains not. And there's Hitchcock! He sews moccasins like an old