Collection 1999 - Beyond The Great Snow Mountains (v5.0)

BOOK: Collection 1999 - Beyond The Great Snow Mountains (v5.0)
10.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Will to Survive

HE LAUGHED AT the picture of herself, stark-naked and freezing in a primitive forest, clutching a rifle and daring a man like Pete Kubelik to come and get her. What made it funny was the thought of her husband, champion of the working class, seeing her now. That her often drunk, ineffective coffeehouse Bolshevik could never even imagine this.

“Come on, damn you.”

From somewhere inside her there came a deep swell of emotion. Some of it was the loss of her father. Some of it was fear of this terrible man. Some of it was anger, finally, not with herself, but with her no-good husband.

But most of it was an emotion that had no name, something ancient and primal, the feeling that a tiny animal might have when, after being pursued to the end of its endurance, it turns and bares its teeth. Not only does it have to fight, but something inside has changed…now it
to fight.

To John Veitch and Louis L’Amour …together again


HE DOZEN SHACKS that made up the village of San Esteban huddled, dwarfed and miserable, below the craggy ramparts that walled them away from the world. The lofty circle of mountains, with their ice-choked ravines and thick tangles of beech forest, formed an enclosing wall as impassable as the mountains of the moon. Only in one direction was escape from the village possible…through the narrow mouth of the inlet, eight miles from the village.

Julie Marrat had thought of all that many times in the last few weeks, and each time she had come to the same conclusion, and each time that conclusion was just as hopeless. There was but one way of escape…by boat.

There were three boats at the inlet, and all of these belonged to Pete Kubelik. One was the schooner that he used for infrequent trips up the coast and to bring in supplies. There were also two fishing boats, not much more than dinghies, far too small in which to brave the sea that lay outside. Yet escape she must, and immediately.

Returning to the bedside, she looked down at the dying man who was her father. Lovable, impractical, and a dreamer with an always restless heart, George Marrat had never been able to remain still. Now, this lonely inlet far south on the coast of Chile had trapped him, and once there he could not leave.

Two things ensured that. One was his own health, which failed rapidly in the cold, dreary world of San Esteban, where the sun rarely shone and the sky was overcast nearly three hundred days of the year. Yet had it been his health alone, Julie could have managed. The other element was Pete Kubelik.

From the moment they drew their ketch up to the jetty and Julie turned to look into the piglike eyes of the big trader, she had been frightened. Right then she asked her father to leave, knowing that this was not a place they should stay.

He was amazed. “Why, Julie? We’ve only just come! We can at least look around, can’t we?”

“No, Father, please! Let’s go find somewhere else.”

Her father had turned to face Kubelik, and the big man’s brown face wrinkled in a smile. “I’m afraid my daughter doesn’t like it here,” he confessed.

“Well,” Kubelik had replied, “it ain’t much of a place for women, that’s true, but there’s gold here, plenty of it!”

“Gold?” Her heart sank at the eagerness in her father’s voice. What would he do if he found it? she wondered. No man ever cared less for money, but in her father’s mind the concept of gold was so much more than money. It was the reward that he was searching for, the last reward that would somehow repair the life that luck had deserted. But, ironically, that life without luck was not his…it was hers. “There’s gold here?”

“Yes, sir!” Kubelik had turned and waved a hand at the long spit of black sand that pointed into the inlet from a nearby island. “We’ve washed many a good stake out of that beach! Best beach placer I ever saw! Was that why you came here?”

Had there been anxiety in the big man’s voice? Julie had looked at him again, and felt such revulsion that she could scarcely stand to be near him.

Plodding along beside her father, Kubelik had dwarfed him with his huge body. His face was round and moonlike under the thick black beard. Wrinkles ran out in a network of tiny lines from the corners of both eyes, eyes that were small and cruel. His hands were dirty, the fingernails black and broken. And then, for the first time, she’d seen the gun. It was in a holster under his sheepskin coat.

Not until later did Julie wonder that none of the others came near them. An Indian woman standing in the door of a driftwood cabin hurriedly stepped back and closed the door when Julie started toward her. Despite the inhospitable gesture, Julie had not been alarmed, taking it for granted that the woman was naturally shy.

By midnight, when they moved into the inner room at Kubelik’s station and to bed, they had met only one other man. He was a pasty Austrian named Rudy, and seemed to be Kubelik’s shadow. He rarely spoke, but whenever Kubelik and Rudy shared a look, Julie realized there was some silent communication. She saw other people moving among the shacks, but they did not come near the store.

That inner room had been Pete Kubelik’s suggestion. She had wanted to return to the boat, hoping that her father could be talked into leaving, but Kubelik laughed at her and waved her objections away with an impatient hand. He would take it as an insult, he said. By all means, they should stay. Entranced by his stories of the coast, her father listened, and they remained. And in the morning, their boat was gone.

She had just gotten out of bed when she saw through the small window the empty pier where the ketch had been left. Fear gripping her heart, she awakened her father. George Marrat’s face went pale, and for the first time, he was afraid.

They rushed down to the beach, but the ketch was nowhere to be seen.

Kubelik had come from the house, rubbing his eyes. “What’s the matter. Something wrong?”

“Our boat’s gone!” Marrat exclaimed. “Lord, man! What will we do? What could have happened to it?”

“Wind, maybe,” Kubelik suggested, “or some thief. No use standing here. Come in an’ let’s fix breakfast. Then we can take one of my boats an’ look around.”

Yet when her eyes happened to meet those of Kubelik, his had been triumphant.

Her father, despite his interest in the gold, was genuinely worried. He knew the mountains were impassable, that the forests were undergrown with thick moss, laden with moisture, and a man could sink to his waist in trying to struggle through. And by the end of the day, they realized that the boat was gone and they knew they would not find it.

“How about taking us to Puerto Montt?” Marrat had suggested. “You have the schooner, and we can’t stay here. I have money in the bank back in Santiago. Take us out, and I’ll pay your price.”

“All right,” Kubelik had said thoughtfully. “But you’ll have to wait until I’m ready to go for supplies. A week or so, maybe.”

Yet when the week had passed, he said nothing about leaving. Her father had been placer mining on the beach and caught a severe cold. By that time, they had moved to a small shack, refusing to accept more of Kubelik’s hospitality.

“I’m sorry, Julie,” George said. “When I get well, we’ll get out of here and I’ll make it up to you.” He coughed, the breath rattling deep in his lungs.

“Get some rest,” she said. He nodded and relaxed, breathing more easily. She sat there in the dark, a twenty-six-year-old woman who had failed in life, failed in marriage, who had fled back to her father, a ne’er-do-well adventurer, and ended up here, in a narrow fjord at the end of the earth.

Her grandfather had been a Chilean who migrated north with his son to fish the waters of British Columbia and Alaska. Her father had spent much of his life in Canada, and she was born there, schooled there, and had been wed there.

Like many young girls, Julie had thought that marriage would change her life, and indeed it had. But she discovered that the qualities in a man that had appealed to her when she was being courted were not the qualities that made a good partner for life.

Her husband had been a dashing young bohemian who could quote enough Spencer, Marx, or Freud to prove any point. Unfortunately, for all his obsession with the working man, he could not seem to hold a job. What she had mistaken for intensity turned out to be self-obsession, and the wild ways that she once thought were delightfully liberated proved to be simple self-indulgence.

After six months he had disappeared to prowl the bars and jazz clubs of San Francisco by himself, and she fled back to her father in shame. Julie hid herself away from the world on her father’s boat, ashamed because she had not been wise enough to choose the right man and hadn’t been strong enough to confront that man about their problems.

George Marrat had never questioned her. Although he had made many a poor choice himself, and life had dealt him many a blow, he still met the morning with a smile and fixed his eyes on the horizon. He planned a trip south to show his daughter his homeland, to take her mind off her problems. They would prospect on the southern coast. If they could find a cannery and take on a crew, they would fish the southern waters as he had in Ketchikan and Port Albion.

But now they were here in this dismal settlement. And George Marrat was very sick. Julie put her father to bed and hurried to the store for medicine.

Pete Kubelik shook his head. “Medicine?” he said. “Ain’t got much. Aspirin, an’ some cold tablets. Anything more I can do, let me know.”

He came around the counter and leaned against it. Despite her fear, she forced herself to stand still, but couldn’t look him in the eye.

“You know,” he said, “we could get along, you an’ me. Gets mighty lonesome here, of a winter.” In the corner, Rudy stifled a whispering laugh.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kubelik. I couldn’t do that. When Father gets well, we will leave.”

“Suppose he doesn’t get well?”

Cold fear welled up within her. “Oh, he will,” she said firmly. “He often has touches of cold like this. He’ll get well, and then we’ll leave.”

Kubelik grinned at her, his teeth yellow and broken. “Well, maybe,” he said. “
I decide to take you up the coast. Then again, I may just keep you here, sort of company for me.”

“That’s ridiculous!” She looked up at him for the first time. “You couldn’t get away with anything like that! What about the authorities?”

“The Chileans? The army? The police?” He laughed with genuine amusement. “They don’t come here. Know why these folks don’t come near you? Because I told ’em to stay away, that’s why. Know why they stay here? Because they can’t get away, either! They are pilin’ up gold for me. Me an’ Rudy, here!”

He chuckled. “Why, the government thinks this place is abandoned. Nobody ever comes here, at least,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “nobody that goes out again.”

Two days later her father died.

He died suddenly, in the night. Only for a moment was he rational, and seemed to realize there was little time left. He called her to him. “Julie…” His voice was hoarse. “I…” He fumbled for words. “I know what happened to the boat. He…Kubelik…he towed it away. He hid it over at Rio de San Tadeo. One of the others told me, that last day, workin’ on the spit.”

“It’s all right, Dad,” she said gently, “we’ll manage!”

The long gray miles of cold sea and the towering cliffs that flanked it filled her with horror. In all the world, there could be no more desolate place than this coast north of Magellan. “We’ll manage,” she whispered, but she knew he was dying.

They buried her father at the foot of a huge rock three hundred yards up the canyon from San Esteban. Several of the villagers were out for the funeral, but had she ever hoped for help from them, she gave up now. They were a thin, woebegone group, obviously afraid of Kubelik, who towered above them.

There were six men in the village, she discovered, four of them Chileans and two Yahgans, natives from the Beagle Channel area. The four women were all Yahgans but one, an Ona woman from Tierra del Fuego.

After the funeral, she talked with them while Pete Kubelik and Rudy ignored her. They had the only weapons among the group, and aside from the pistol which he always carried, Kubelik possessed two shotguns and a rifle. He had killed a man only a few days before their ketch arrived.

Recalling Kubelik’s anxiety over their discovery of the place, she realized that was his greatest fear. Here in his little kingdom, he ruled supreme while they slaved for him and lived in abject fear of his rages. As he controlled the only means of escape as well as the only source of food, tobacco, and liquor, he was firmly in the saddle.

“But what about the boats?” she said to Aleman, one of the villagers. “Couldn’t you steal one and get away?”

“Not a chance!” he told her. “His schooner has an auxiliary engine, and he’d have us before we made a dozen miles. Besides, where could we go on the supplies we’d have? We are a long way from the nearest port.”

During the afternoon preceding her father’s burial, she tried to recall exactly what the chart had pictured. The inlet was in the southeast corner of the Gulf of San Esteban, and the Rio San Tadeo was to the north. Although the chart indicated little of the nature of the country back of the coast, she knew it was rugged mountain and glacier. Of the beech forests, she knew only by hearsay, but they were pictured as dark, fearsome places, well nigh impenetrable.

It was raining when they finished the funeral service. She started away when the grave had been filled, but Pete Kubelik overtook her. “Get your stuff, whatever you got,” he ordered, “an’ move over to my place.”

It didn’t take much to bring her to tears, but she intentionally pushed her sorrow and terror to the forefront. “Oh, not now! Please!” She sobbed hysterically, fell to her knees moaning, “My father…my father…”

She made the most unappealing spectacle of herself possible. Finally, in disgust, he shrugged it off. “All right, tomorrow, then,” Kubelik said, and trudged away.

She was rolling up her father’s jacket when she found the knife. Evidently, he had planned to use it himself, yet it was no knife she had ever seen aboard the boat. That meant he had acquired it since coming ashore, either finding it or getting it from one of the others.

The thought filled her with excitement. Perhaps…if one of the men had given the knife to her father, she might have a friend out there. How could she know who he was?

Holding the coat so anyone peeking through the window could not see the knife, she examined the blade. It was bright and gleaming, and obviously had not been lying out in the weather.

The knife gave her courage. At least she could kill herself. The thought of killing Kubelik came first, but she dismissed the idea at once. He was too big, too strong, and he wore too many thicknesses of clothing. She would never have strength enough to drive the knife home.

Then she remembered the tobacco. Her father had come ashore prepared to trade, carrying a small sack filled with plugs of tobacco, some large packages of smoking tobacco, and a few cartons of cigarettes. In this place, it was a veritable fortune.

BOOK: Collection 1999 - Beyond The Great Snow Mountains (v5.0)
10.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

No, Not that Jane Austen by Marilyn Grey
A New World [7] Takedown by John O'Brien
BAD TRIP SOUTH by Mosiman, Billie Sue
Love's Forbidden Flower by Rinella, Diane
3 Among the Wolves by Helen Thayer
Assur by Francisco Narla
Things Withered by Susie Moloney