“Brothers,” he began, with the smug complacency of a man about to relate the big things he has done, “it was late summer of many summers back, with much such weather as this promises to be, when I went away. You all remember the day, when the gulls flew low, and the wind blew strong from the land, and I could not hold my bidarka against it. I tied the covering of the bidarka about me so that no water could get in, and all of the night I fought with the storm. And in the morning there was no land,–only the sea,–and the off-shore wind held me close in its arms and bore me along. Three such nights whitened into dawn and showed me no land, and the off-shore wind would not let me go.
“And when the fourth day came, I was as a madman. I could not dip my paddle for want of food; and my head went round and round, what of the thirst that was upon me. But the sea was no longer angry, and the soft south wind was blowing, and as I looked about me I saw a sight that made me think I was indeed mad.”
Nam-Bok paused to pick away a sliver of salmon lodged between his teeth, and the men and women, with idle hands and heads craned forward, waited.
“It was a canoe, a big canoe. If all the canoes I have ever seen were made into one canoe, it would not be so large.”
There were exclamations of doubt, and Koogah, whose years were many, shook his head.
“If each bidarka were as a grain of sand,” Nam-Bok defiantly continued, “and if there were as many bidarkas as there be grains of sand in this beach, still would they not make so big a canoe as this I saw on the morning of the fourth day. It was a very big canoe, and it was called a _schooner_. I saw this thing of wonder, this great schooner, coming after me, and on it I saw men—-”
“Hold, O Nam-Bok!” Opee-Kwan broke in. “What manner of men were they?–big men?”
“Nay, mere men like you and me.”
“Did the big canoe come fast?”
“The sides were tall, the men short.” Opee-Kwan stated the premises with conviction. “And did these men dip with long paddles?”
Nam-Bok grinned. “There were no paddles,” he said.
Mouths remained open, and a long silence dropped down. Ope-Kwan borrowed Koogah’s pipe for a couple of contemplative sucks. One of the younger women giggled nervously and drew upon herself angry eyes.
“There were no paddles?” Opee-Kwan asked softly, returning the pipe.
“The south wind was behind,” Nam-Bok explained.
“But the wind drift is slow.”
“The schooner had wings–thus.” He sketched a diagram of masts and sails in the sand, and the men crowded around and studied it. The wind was blowing briskly, and for more graphic elucidation he seized the corners of his mother’s shawl and spread them out till it bellied like a sail. Bask Wah-Wan scolded and struggled, but was blown down the breach for a score of feet and left breathless and stranded in a heap of driftwood. The men uttered sage grunts of comprehension, but Koogah suddenly tossed back his hoary head.
“Ho! Ho!” he laughed. “A foolish thing, this big canoe! A most foolish thing! The plaything of the wind! Wheresoever the wind goes, it goes too. No man who journeys therein may name the landing beach, for always he goes with the wind, and the wind goes everywhere, but no man knows where.”
“It is so,” Opee-Kwan supplemented gravely. “With the wind the going is easy, but against the wind a man striveth hard; and for that they had no paddles these men on the big canoe did not strive at all.”
“Small need to strive,” Nam-Bok cried angrily. “The schooner went likewise against the wind.”
“And what said you made the sch–sch–schooner go?” Koogah asked, tripping craftily over the strange word.
“The wind,” was the impatient response.
“Then the wind made the sch–sch–schooner go against the wind.” Old Koogah dropped an open leer to Opee-Kwan, and, the laughter growing around him, continued: “The wind blows from the south and blows the schooner south. The wind blows against the wind. The wind blows one way and the other at the same time. It is very simple. We understand, Nam-Bok. We clearly understand.”
“Thou art a fool!”
“Truth falls from thy lips,” Koogah answered meekly. “I was over-long in understanding, and the thing was simple.”
But Nam-Bok’s face was dark, and he said rapid words which they had never heard before. Bone-scratching and skin-scraping were resumed, but he shut his lips tightly on the tongue that could not be believed.