“These things thou speakest of be shadows,” Koogah took up the strain. “From the shadow-world thou hast brought them, and to the shadow-world thou must return them. Thy bidarka be ready, and the tribespeople wait. They may not sleep until thou art gone.”
Nam-Bok was perplexed, but hearkened to the voice of the head man.
“If thou art Nam-Bok,” Opee-Kwan was saying, “thou art a fearful and most wonderful liar; if thou art the shadow of Nam-Bok, then thou speakest of shadows, concerning which it is not good that living men have knowledge. This great village thou hast spoken of we deem the village of shadows. Therein flutter the souls of the dead; for the dead be many and the living few. The dead do not come back. Never have the dead come back–save thou with thy wonder-tales. It is not meet that the dead come back, and should we permit it, great trouble may be our portion.”
Nam-Bok knew his people well and was aware that the voice of the council was supreme. So he allowed himself to be led down to the water’s edge, where he was put aboard his bidarka and a paddle thrust into his hand. A stray wildfowl honked somewhere to seaward, and the surf broke limply and hollowly on the sand. A dim twilight brooded over land and water, and in the north the sun smouldered, vague and troubled, and draped about with blood-red mists. The gulls were flying low. The off-shore wind blew keen and chill, and the black-massed clouds behind it gave promise of bitter weather.
“Out of the sea thou earnest,” Opee-Kwan chanted oracularly, “and back into the sea thou goest. Thus is balance achieved and all things brought to law.”
Bask-Wah-Wan limped to the froth-mark and cried, “I bless thee, Nam-Bok, for that thou remembered me.”
But Koogah, shoving Nam-Bok clear or the beach, tore the shawl from her shoulders and flung it into the bidarka.
“It is cold in the long nights,” she wailed; “and the frost is prone to nip old bones.”
“The thing is a shadow,” the bone-scratcher answered, “and shadows cannot keep thee warm.”
Nam-Bok stood up that his voice might carry. “O Bask-Wah-Wan, mother that bore me!” he called. “Listen to the words of Nam-Bok, thy son. There be room in his bidarka for two, and he would that thou earnest with him. For his journey is to where there are fish and oil in plenty. There the frost comes not, and life is easy, and the things of iron do the work of men. Wilt thou come, O Bask-Wah-Wan?”
She debated a moment, while the bidarka drifted swiftly from her, then raised her voice to a quavering treble. “I am old, Nam-Bok, and soon I shall pass down among the shadows. But I have no wish to go before my time. I am old, Nam-Bok, and I am afraid.”
A shaft of light shot across the dim-lit sea and wrapped boat and man in a splendor of red and gold. Then a hush fell upon the fisherfolk, and only was heard the moan of the off-shore wind and the cries of the gulls flying low in the air.