One Over

by Robert W. Chambers


It was, to be accurate, exactly twenty-three days later that our voyage by sea and land ended one Monday morning upon the gigantic terminal moraine of the Golden Glacier, Cook’s Peninsula, Baffin Land. 
          Four pack-mules carried our luggage, four more bore our persons; an arctic dicky-bird sat on a bowlder and said, “Pilly-willy-willy! Tweet! Tweet!” 
          As we rode out to the bowlder-strewn edge of the moraine the rising sun greeted us cordially, illuminating below us the flat surface of the marsh which stretched away to the east and south as far as the eye could see. 
          So flat was it that we immediately made out the silhouettes of two mules tethered below us a quarter of a mile away. 
          Something about the attitude of these mules arrested our attention, and, gazing upon them through our field-glasses we beheld Professor Bottomly.  That resourceful lady had mounted a pneumatic hammock upon the two mules, their saddles had sockets to fit the legs of the galvanized iron tripod.  No matter in which way the mules turned, sliding swivels on the hollow steel frames regulated the hammock slung between them.  It was an infernal invention. 
          There lay Jane Bottomly asleep, her back hair drying over the hammock’s edge, gilded to a peroxide lustre by the rays of the rising sun. 
          I gazed upon her with a sort of ferocious pity.  Her professional days were numbered.  I also had her number! 
          “How majestically she slumbers,” whispered Dr.  Delmour to me, “dreaming, doubtless, of her approaching triumph.” 
          Dr.  Fooss and Professor Lezard, driving the pack-mules ahead of them, were already riding out across the marsh. 
          “Daisy,” I said, leaning from my saddle and taking one of her gloved hands into mine, “the time has come for me to disillusion you.  There are no mammoths in that mud down there.” 
          She looked at me in blue-eyed amazement. 
          “You are mistaken,” she said; “Professor Bottomly is celebrated for the absolute and painstaking accuracy of her deductions and the boldness and the imagination of her scientific investigations.  She is the most cautious scientist in America; she would never announce such a discovery to the newspapers unless she were perfectly certain of its truth.” 
          I was sorry for this young girl.  I pressed her hand because I was sorry for her.  After a few moments of deepest thought I felt so sorry for her that I kissed her. 
          “You mustn’t,” said Dr.  Delmour, blushing. 
          The things we mustn’t do are so many that I can’t always remember all of them. 
          “Daisy,” I said, “shall we pledge ourselves to each other for eternity—here in the presence of this immemorial glacier which moves a thousand inches a year—I mean an inch every thousand years—here in these awful solitudes where incalculable calculations could not enlighten us concerning the number of cubic tons of mud in that marsh—here in the presence of these innocent mules—” 
          “Oh, look!” exclaimed Dr.  Delmour, lifting her flushed cheek from my shoulder.  “There is a man in the hammock with Professor Bottomly!” 
          I levelled my field-glasses incredulously.  Good Heavens! There was a man there.  He was sitting on the edge of the hammock in a dejected attitude, his booted legs dangling. 
          And, as I gazed, I saw the arm of Professor Bottomly raised as though groping instinctively for something in her slumber—saw her fingers close upon the blue-flannel shirt of her companion, saw his timid futile attempts to elude her, saw him inexorably hauled back and his head forcibly pillowed upon her ample chest. 
          “Daisy!” I faltered, “what does yonder scene of presumable domesticity mean?” 
          “I—I haven’t the faintest idea!” she stammered. 
          “Is that lady married! Or is this revelry?” I asked, sternly. 
          “She wasn’t married when she sailed from N-New-York,” faltered Dr.  Delmour. 
          We rode forward in pained silence, spurring on until we caught up with Lezard and Fooss and the pack-mules; then we all pressed ahead, a prey, now, to the deepest moral anxiety and agitation. 
          The splashing of our mule’s feet on the partly melted surface of the mud aroused the man as we rode up and he scrambled madly to get out of the hammock as soon as he saw us. 
          A detaining feminine hand reached mechanically for his collar, groped aimlessly for a moment, and fell across the hammock’s edge.  Evidently its owner was too sleepy for effort. 
          Meanwhile the man who had floundered free from the hammock, leaped overboard and came hopping stiffly over the slush toward us like a badly-winged snipe. 
          “Who are you?” I demanded, drawing bridle so suddenly that I found myself astride of my mule’s ears.  Sliding back into the saddle, I repeated the challenge haughtily, inwardly cursing my horsemanship. 
          He stood balancing his lank six feet six of bony altitude for a few moments without replying.  His large gentle eyes of baby blue were fixed on me. 
          “Speak!” I said.  “The reputation of a lady is at stake! Who are you? We ask, before we shoot you, for purpose of future identification.” 
          He gazed at me wildly.  “I dunno who I be,” he replied.  “My name was James Skaw before that there lady went an’ changed it on me.  She says she has changed my name to hers.  I dunno.  All I know is I’m married.” 
          “Married!” echoed Dr.  Delmour. 
          He looked dully at the girl, then fixed his large mild eyes on me. 
          “A mission priest done it for her a month ago when we was hikin’ towards Fort Carcajou.  Hoonhel are you?” he added. 
          I informed him with dignity; he blinked at me, at the others, at the mules.  Then he said with infinite bitterness: 
          “You’re a fine guy, ain’t you, a-wishin’ this here lady onto a pore pelt-hunter what ain’t never done nothin’ to you!” 
          “Who did you say I wished on you?” I demanded, bewildered. 
          “That there lady a-sleepin’ into the nuptool hammick! You wished her onto me—yaas you did! Whatnhel have I done to you, hey?” 
          We were dumb.  He shoved his hand into his pocket, produced a slug of twist, slowly gnawed off a portion, and buried the remains in his vast jaw. 
          “All I done to you,” he said, “was to write you them letters sayin’s as how I found a lot of ellerphants into the mud. 
          “What you done to me was to send that there lady here.  Was that gratitood? Man to man I ask you?” 
          A loud snore from the hammock startled us all.  James Skaw twisted his neck turkey-like, and looked warily at the hammock, then turning toward me; 
          “Aw,” he said, “she don’t never wake up till I have breakfast ready.” 
          “James Skaw,” I said, “tell me what has happened.  On my word of honor I don’t know.” 
          He regarded me with lack-lustre eyes. 
          “I was a-settin’ onto a bowlder,” said he, “a-figurin’ out whether you was a-comin’ or not, when that there lady rides up with her led-mule a trail-in’. 
          “Sez she: ‘Are you James Skaw?’ 
          “Yes, marm,’ sez I, kinder scared an’ puzzled. 
          “‘Where is them ellerphants?’ sez she, reachin’ down from her saddle an’ takin’ me by the shirt collar, an’ beatin’ me with her umbrella. 
          “Sez I, ‘I have wrote to a certain gent that I would show him them ellerphants for a price.  Bein’ strictly hones’ I can’t show ‘em to no one else until I hear from him.’ 
          “With that she continood to argoo the case with her umbrella, never lettin’ go of my shirt collar.  Sir, she argood until dinner time, an’ then she resoomed the debate until I fell asleep.  The last I knowed she was still conversin’. 
          “An’ so it went next day, all day long, an’ the next day.  I couldn’t stand it no longer so I started for Fort Carcajau.  But she bein’ onto a mule, run me down easy, an’ kep’ beside me conversin’ volooble. 
          “Sir, do you know what it is to listen to umbrella argooment every day, all day long, from sun up to night-fall? An’ then some more? 
          “I was loony, I tell you, when we met the mission priest.  ‘Marry me,’ sez she, ‘or I’ll talk you to death!” I didn’t realise what she was sayin’ an’ what I answered.  But them words I uttered done the job, it seems. 
          “We camped there an’ slep’ for two days without wakin.’ When I waked up I was convalescent. 
          “She was good to me.  She made soup an’ she wrapped blankets onto me an’ she didn’t talk no more until I was well enough to endoor it. 
          “An’ by’m’by she brooke the nooze to me that we was married an’ that she had went as far as to marry me in the sacred cause of science because man an’ wife is one, an’ what I knowed about them ellerphants she now had a right to know.  “Sir, she had put one over on me.  So bein, strickly hones’ I had to show her where them ellerphants lay froze up under the marsh.” 

End of PART THREE..... GO TO PART FOUR..... 

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