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The Heart of Unaga

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Steve Allenwood raked the fire together. A shower of sparks flew up and cascaded in the still air of the summer night. A moment later his smiling eyes were peering through the thin veil of smoke at the two dusky figures beyond the fire. They were Indian figures, huddled down on their haunches, with their moccasined feet in dangerous proximity to the live cinders strewn upon the ground.

"Oh, yes?" he said. "And you guess they sleep all the time?"

The tone of his voice was incredulous.

"Sure, boss," one of the Indians returned, quite unaffected by the tone. The other Indian remained silent. He was in that happy condition between sleep and waking which is the very essence of enjoyment to his kind.

Inspector Allenwood picked up a live coal in his bare fingers. He dropped it into the bowl of his pipe. Then, after a deep inhalation or two, he knocked it out again.

"'Hibernate'—eh? That's how we call it," he said presently. Then he shook his head. The smile had passed out of his eyes. "No. It's a dandy notion. But—it's not true. They'd starve plumb to death. You see, Julyman, they're human folks—the same as we are."

The flat denial of his "boss" was quite without effect upon Julyman. Oolak, beside him, roused himself sufficiently to turn his head and blink enquiry at him. He was a silent creature whose admiration for those who could sustain prolonged talk was profound.

"All same, boss, that so," Julyman protested without emotion. "Him same like all men. Him just man, squaw, pappoose. All same him sleep—sleep—sleep, when snow comes," Julyman sucked deeply at his pipe and spoke through a cloud of tobacco smoke. "Julyman not lie. Oh, no. Him all true. When Julyman young man—very young—him father tell him of Land of Big Fire. Him say all Indian man sleeping—so." He leant over sideways, with his hands pressed together against his cheek to illustrate his meaning. "Him father say this. Him say when snow come All Indian sleep. One week—two week. Then him wake—so." He stretched himself, giving a great display of a weary half-waking condition. "Him sit up. The food there by him, an' he eat—eat plenty much. Then him drink. An' bimeby him drink the spirit stuff again. Bimeby, too, him roll up in blanket. Then him sleep some more. One week—two week. So. An' bimeby winter him all gone. Oh, him very wise man. Him no work lak hell same lak white man. No. Him sleep—sleep all him winter. An' when him wake it all sun, an' snow all gone. All very much good. Indian man him go out. Him hunt the caribou. Him fish plenty good. Him kill much seal. Make big trade. Oh, yes. Plenty big trade. So him come plenty old man. No him die young. Only very old. Him much wise man."

The white man smiled tolerantly. He shrugged.

"Guess you got a nightmare, Julyman," he said. "Best turn over."

Steve had nothing to add. He knew his scouts as he knew all other Indians in the wide wilderness of the extreme Canadian north. These creatures were submerged under a mental cloud of superstition and mystery....