My aunt gave me this book (along with Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf and Richard Halliburton’s Royal Road to Romance), when I became a dedicated reader at age eight. Recently I stumbled across a copy in a used book store. White was a contemporary of Zane Grey and Rex Beach and all those he-man dime-store novel-writing types, but they could never write women. White can. He also writes scenery and weather as well as Grey and characters better than Beach.
Here cowboy John Murdock woos and in a single day wins Oregonian schoolteacher Sarah Slowcum in 1895. They marry and their mutual itchy feet take them first to a lumber camp in the Cascades, on to Seattle, to ownership of a sailboat, which takes them to southeast Alaska, land of opportunity, where they at last come to roost. There is much humor, as in Sally’s first fishing lesson:
…the fish attended to his own striking. The very speed of his rush drove the hook home; and Sally found herself clasping desperately a rod that suddenly seemed charged with electricity, attached to a darting, diving, turning, jumping streak of sheer velocity that seemed everywhere at once; and married to an imbecile that leaped around back of her and implored her to reel in and let him run and sub him and keep the tip up and–in a shriek of agony–for God’s sake not to give him any slack.
and on every other page some wonderful description of landscape and wildlife, as in Sally seeing her first salmon run:
The pool was gray with fish, lying side by side, like wavering shadows. As she reached the bank a half-dozen or so, as thought on signal, detached themselves to rush the riffles. There the water was not deep enough to cover them, so that as they rose to the shallows their backs looked like emerged submarines. With so little purchase against the fast current, the rush must be determined. From their vibrating tails the water flew in white spray…At times, when the flow momentarily strengthened, hold the onrush posed and motionless. And then with a heart-bursting spurt of effort they tore themselves free. All but three. The direct line of their attack had brought them hurtling hard on against a wide spit of gravel…It seemed only too clear to her what would happen when they must turn: the pounce of the exacting waters; the frantic and despairing struggle; the final ignominious tumbling over and over down the rapids back to the lower pool.
and there are heroes like sourdough Len Saunders, John and Sally’s fast friend, and villains like Pirate Kelly, with whom we get to see John throw down (squee!), Chilkat Harry, a child-man turned self-confessed monster when the drink is upon him, boomer Nels Cole, a recognizable figure in any Alaskan era, his man Ashley who does John wrong and atones for it and then some, and Annabelle, no better than she should be, which is very good indeed. Not forgetting Chilkat the dog, who I now wonder isn’t a bit of an ancestor to Mutt.
This book was published in 1940 and it shows in places, but not in so many that you can’t enjoy it for what it is, a pioneering adventure story about two well-matched, high-hearted heroes, set in a much less complicated time. It will take you there, and you will enjoy the visit.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.