“This sch–sch–schooner,” Koogah imperturbably asked; “it was made of a big tree?”
“It was made of many trees,” Nam-Bok snapped shortly. “It was very big.”
He lapsed into sullen silence again, and Opee-Kwan nudged Koogah, who shook his head with slow amazement and murmured, “It is very strange.”
Nam-Bok took the bait. “That is nothing,” he said airily; “you should see the _steamer._ As the grain of sand is to the bidarka, as the bidarka is to the schooner, so the schooner is to the steamer. Further, the steamer is made of iron. It is all iron.”
“Nay, nay, Nam-Bok,” cried the head man; “how can that be? Always iron goes to the bottom. For behold, I received an iron knife in trade from the head man of the next village, and yesterday the iron knife slipped from my fingers and went down, down, into the sea. To all things there be law. Never was there one thing outside the law. This we know. And, moreover, we know that things of a kind have the one law, and that all iron has the one law. So unsay thy words, Nam-Bok, that we may yet honor thee.”
“It is so,” Nam-Bok persisted. “The steamer is all iron and does not sink.”
“Nay, nay; this cannot be.”
“With my own eyes I saw it.”
“It is not in the nature of things.”
“But tell me, Nam-Bok,” Koogah interrupted, for fear the tale would go no farther, “tell me the manner of these men in finding their way across the sea when there is no land by which to steer.”
“The sun points out the path.”
“At midday the head man of the schooner takes a thing through which his eye looks at the sun, and then he makes the sun climb down out of the sky to the edge of the earth.”
“Now this be evil medicine!” cried Opee-Kwan, aghast at the sacrilege. The men held up their hands in horror, and the women moaned. “This be evil medicine. It is not good to misdirect the great sun which drives away the night and gives us the seal, the salmon, and warm weather.”
“What if it be evil medicine?” Nam-Bok demanded truculently. “I, too, have looked through the thing at the sun and made the sun climb down out of the sky.”
Those who were nearest drew away from him hurriedly, and a woman covered the face of a child at her breast so that his eye might not fall upon it.
“But on the morning of the fourth day, O Nam-Bok,” Koogah suggested; “on the morning of the fourth day when the sch–sch–schooner came after thee?”
“I had little strength left in me and could not run away. So I was taken on board and water was poured down my throat and good food given me. Twice, my brothers, you have seen a white man. These men were all white and as many as have I fingers and toes. And when I saw they were full of kindness, I took heart, and I resolved to bring away with me report of all that I saw. And they taught me the work they did, and gave me good food and a place to sleep.
“And day after day we went over the sea, and each day the head man drew the sun down out of the sky and made it tell where we were. And when the waves were kind, we hunted the fur seal and I marvelled much, for always did they fling the meat and the fat away and save only the skin.”
Opee-Kwan’s mouth was twitching violently, and he was about to make denunciation of such waste when Koogah kicked him to be still.
“After a weary time, when the sun was gone and the bite of the frost come into the air, the head man pointed the nose of the schooner south. South and east we traveled for days upon days, with never the land in sight, and we were near to the village from which hailed the men—-”
“How did they know they were near?” Opee-Kwan, unable to contain himself longer, demanded. “There was no land to see.”
Nam-Bok glowered on him wrathfully. “Did I not say the head man brought the sun down out of the sky?”
Koogah interposed, and Nam-Bok went on. “As I say, when we were near to that village a great storm blew up, and in the night we were helpless and knew not where we were—-”
“Thou hast just said the head man knew—-”
“Oh, peace, Opee-Kwan. Thou art a fool and cannot understand. As I say, we were helpless in the night, when I heard, above the roar of the storm, the sound of the sea on the beach. And next we struck with a mighty crash and I was in the water, swimming. It was a rock-bound coast, with one patch of beach in many miles, and the law was that I should dig my hands into the sand and draw myself clear of the surf. The other men must have pounded against the rocks, for none of them came ashore but the head man, and him I knew only by the ring on his finger.