Laughing Bill Hyde and Other Stories
Part 1 out of 6
LAUGHING BILL HYDE
And Other Stories
By REX BEACH
"Rainbow's End," "Heart of the Sunset," "The Spoilers," Etc.
[Illustration: "LIKE ME?" HE ASKED. PONATAH TURNED AWAY BLINDLY]
Mr. William Hyde was discharged from Deer Lodge Penitentiary a changed
man. That was quite in line with the accepted theory of criminal
jurisprudence, the warden's discipline, and the chaplain's prayers.
Yes, Mr. Hyde was changed, and the change had bitten deep; his
humorous contempt for the law had turned to abiding hatred; his
sunburned cheeks were pallid, his lungs were weak, and he coughed
considerably. Balanced against these results, to be sure, were the
benefits accruing from three years of corrective discipline at the
State's expense; the knack of conversing through stone walls, which
Mr. Hyde had mastered, and the plaiting of wonderful horsehair
bridles, which he had learned. Otherwise he was the same "Laughing
Bill" his friends had known, neither more nor less regenerate.
Since the name of Montana promised to associate itself with unpleasant
memories, Mr. Hyde determined at once to bury his past and begin life
anew in a climate more suited to weak lungs. To that end he stuck up a
peaceful citizen of Butte who was hurrying homeward with an armful of
bundles, and in the warm dusk of a pleasant evening relieved him
of eighty-three dollars, a Swiss watch with an elk's-tooth fob, a
pearl-handled penknife, a key-ring, and a bottle of digestive tablets.
Three wasted years of industry had not robbed Mr. Hyde of the
technique of his trade, hence there was nothing amateurish or
uproarious about the procedure. He merely back-heeled the pedestrian
against a bill-board, held him erect and speechless by placing his
left hand upon his victim's shoulder and pressing his left forearm
firmly across the gentleman's apple, the while with his own dexterous
right mit he placed the eighty-three dollars in circulation. During
the transaction he laughed constantly. An hour later he was en route
for the sunny South, there being good and sufficient reasons why he
preferred that direction to any other.
Arizona helped Mr. Hyde's lungs, for the random town which he selected
was high and dry, but, unfortunately, so was Laughing Bill soon after
his arrival, and in consequence he was forced to engage promptly in
a new business enterprise. This time he raised a pay-roll. It was an
easy task, for the custodian of the pay-roll was a small man with a
kindly and unsuspicious nature. As a result of this operation Bill was
enabled to maintain himself, for some six weeks, in a luxury to which
of late he had been unaccustomed. At the end of this time the original
bearer of the payroll tottered forth from the hospital and, chancing
to overhear Mr. Hyde in altercation with a faro dealer, he was struck
by some haunting note in the former's laughter, and lost no time in
shuffling his painful way to the sheriff's office.
Seeing the man go, Laughing Bill realized that his health again
demanded a change of climate, and since it lacked nearly an hour of
train time he was forced to leave on horseback. Luckily for him he
found a horse convenient. It was a wild horse, with nothing whatever
to indicate that it belonged to any one, except the fact that it
carried a silver-mounted saddle and bridle, the reins of which were
fastened to a post in front of a saloon.
Mr. Hyde enjoyed the ride, for it kept him out in the open air. It
grieved him to part with the horse, a few hours later, but being
prodigal with personal property he presented the animal to a poor
Mexican woman, leaving her to face any resulting embarrassments. Ten
minutes later he swung himself under a west-bound freight, and in
due time arrived in California, somewhat dirty and fatigued, but in
Laughing Bill's adventures and his aliases during his slow progress up
the coast form no part of this story. It might be said, with a great
deal of truth, that he was missed, if not mourned, in many towns.
Finally, having found the climates of California, Oregon and
Washington uniformly unsuited to one of his habits, force of
circumstance in the shape of numerous hand-bills adorned with an
unflattering half-tone of himself, but containing certain undeniably
accurate data such as diameter of skull, length of nose, angle of ear,
and the like, drove him still north and west. Bill was a modest man;
he considered these statistics purely personal in character; to see
them blazoned publicly on the walls of post-offices, and in the
corridors of county buildings, outraged his finer feelings, so he went
away from there, in haste, as usual.
Having never sailed the sea, he looked forward to such an experience
with lively anticipation, only to be disappointed in the realization.
It was rough off Flattery, and he suffered agonies strange and
terrifying. In due time, however, he gained his sea legs and, being
forever curious, even prying, he explored the ship. His explorations
were interesting, for they took him into strange quarters--into
the forecastle, the steerage, even into some of the first-class
state-rooms, the doors of which had been left "on the hook" while
their occupants were at meals. No small benefit accrued to Mr. Hyde
from these investigations.
One day during the dinner-hour, as he was occupied in admiring the
contents of a strange suit-case, a voice accosted him over his
shoulder, and he looked up to discover a face in the cabin window.
Bill realized that an explanation was due, for it was evident that
the speaker had been watching him for some little time; but under the
circumstances, even though the face in the window was round, youthful,
good-humored, explanations promised to be embarrassing.
"How d'y?" said Mr. Hyde.
"What luck?" inquired the stranger.
Mr. Hyde sat back upon his heels and grinned engagingly. "Not much,"
he confessed. "Can't find it nowhere. This guy must be a missionary."
The new-comer opened the door and entered. He was a medium-sized,
plump young man. "Oh, I say!" he protested. "Is it as bad as that?"
Bill nodded vaguely, meanwhile carefully measuring the physical
proportions of the interloper. The latter went on:
"I saw that you knew your business, and--I was hoping you'd manage to
find something I had missed."
Mr. Hyde breathed deep with relief; his expression altered. "You been
through ahead of me?" he inquired.
"Oh, several times; daily, in fact." The speaker tossed a bunch of
keys upon the berth, saying: "Glance through the steamer-trunk while
you're here and declare me in on anything-you find."
Mr. Hyde rose to his feet and retreated a step; his look of relief was
replaced by one of dark suspicion. As always, in moments of extremity,
he began to laugh.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I? Why, I live here. That's my baggage. I've been through it, as
I told you, but--" The young man frowned whimsically and lit a
cigarette. "It doesn't diagnose. I can't find a solitary symptom of
anything worth while. Sit down, won't you?"
Mr. Hyde's manner changed for a second time. He was embarrassed,
apologetic, crestfallen. "_Your_ cabin? Why, then--it's my mistake!"
he declared. "I must 'a' got in the wrong flat. Mac sent me up for a
deck of cards, but--Say, that's funny, ain't it?"
He began to see the joke upon himself, and the youth echoed his
"It _is_ funny," the latter agreed. "For Heaven's sake, don't spoil
it. Sit down and have a smoke; I'm not going to eat you."
"See here! You don't mean--? D'you think for a minute--?" Mr.
Hyde began with rotund dignity, but the other waved his cigarette
"Oh, drop that stuff or I'll page your friend 'Mac' and show you up."
In assuming his air of outraged innocence Laughing Bill had arched
his hollow chest and inhaled deeply. As a result he began to cough,
whereupon his new acquaintance eyed him keenly, saying:
"That's a bad bark. What ails you?"
"Con," said Laughing Bill.
"Pardon me. I wouldn't have smoked if I'd known." The speaker dropped
his cigarette and placed a heel upon it. "What are you doing here?
Alaska's no place for weak lungs."
Gingerly seating himself upon the narrow settee Mr. Hyde murmured,
wonderingly: "Say! You're a regular guy, ain't you?" He began to laugh
again, but now there was less of a metallic quality to his merriment.
"Yes sir, dam' if you ain't." He withdrew from his pocket a
silver-mounted hair-brush and comb, and placed them carefully upon the
washstand. "I don't aim to quit winner on a sport like you."
"Thanks, awfully!" smiled the young man. "I'd have fought you for that
comb and brush. Girl stuff, you understand? That's she." He pointed to
a leather-framed photograph propped against the mirror.
Laughing Bill leaned forward and studied the picture approvingly.
"Some queen, all right. Blonde, I reckon."
"Sure. You like blondes?"
"Who, me? I ain't strong for no kind of women. You hate her, don't
The young man smiled more widely, his whole face lit up. "I hate her
so much that I kissed her good-by and sailed away to make a quick
fortune. I hope Alaska's unhealthy."
"You see, I'm a doctor. I'm a good doctor, too, but it takes a long
time to prove it, out in the States, and I can't wait a long time."
Mr. Hyde pondered briefly. "I don't see's you got much on me, Doc," he
said. "I frisk 'em while they're good and healthy, and you 'take' 'em
when they're feeble. I don't see no difference to speak of."
"It's an interesting viewpoint," the physician agreed, seriously
enough, "and I respect every man's opinion. Tell me, how did you
acquire that cough?"
"Livin' in a ground-floor apartment."
"What's your business?"
"Hm-m! You'll do well up here." The doctor was highly entertained. "I
understand there's a horse at Nome."
"Alaska isn't a stock country."
Laughing Bill was genuinely surprised. "No horses!" he murmured. "How
the hell do you get away?"
"You don't. You stay and face the music."
"Now what do you know about that?" There was a brief silence. "Well, I
bet I'll turn my hand to something."
"No doubt. You impress me as a man of resource." The doctor's eyes
twinkled and Bill smiled. A bond of friendly understanding had already
sprung up between the two men. "Now then, I'm interested in your case.
I've a notion to try to cure you."
"Nothing doin' on the fees. I'm a dead card."
"Oh, I won't charge you anything! I'm merely interested in obscure
ailments, and, if I'm not mistaken, you suffer from more than
one--well, disease. I think you need curing about as badly as any man
I ever saw."
Now Laughing Bill was not skilled in subtleties, and his relief at
extricating himself from a trying predicament banished any resentment
he might have felt at the doctor's double meaning. Since the latter
was a good-natured, harmless individual he decided to humor him, and
so, after they had visited for an hour or more, Mr. Hyde discreetly
withdrew. But, oddly enough, during the days immediately following,
Laughing Bill grew to like the young fellow immensely. This in itself
was a novel experience, for the ex-convict had been a "loner" all
his-life, and had never really liked any one. Dr. Evan Thomas,
however, seemed to fill some long-felt want in Hyde's hungry make-up.
He fitted in smoothly, too, and despite the latter's lifelong habit of
suspicion, despite his many rough edges, he could not manage to hold
the young man at a distance.
Thomas was of a type strange to the wanderer, he was educated, he had
unfamiliar airs and accomplishments, but he was human and natural
withal. He was totally ignorant of much that Mr. Hyde deemed
fundamental, and yet he was mysteriously superior, while his
indifferent good nature, his mild amusement at the antics of the world
about him covered a sincere and earnest nature. He knew his business,
moreover, and he revolutionized Bill's habits of hygiene in spite of
the latter's protests.
But the disease which ravaged Mr. Hyde's constitution had its toes dug
in, and when the steamer touched at St. Michaels he suffered a severe
hemorrhage. For the first time in his life Laughing Bill stood face to
face with darkness. He had fevered memories of going over side on a
stretcher; he was dimly aware of an appalling weakness, which grew
hourly, then an agreeable indifference enveloped him, and for a long
time he lived in a land of unrealities, of dreams. The day came when
he began to wonder dully how and why he found himself in a freezing
cabin with Doctor Thomas, in fur cap and arctic overshoes, tending
him. Bill pondered the phenomenon for a week before he put his query
"I've had a hard fight for you, old man," the doctor explained. "I
couldn't leave you here to die."
"I guess I must 'a' been pretty sick."
"Right! There's no hospital here, so I took this cabin--borrowed it
from the Company. We don't burn much fuel, and expenses aren't high."
"You been standin' off the landlord?"
There was a considerable silence, then Bill said, fervently: "You're a
regular guy, like I told you! But you got your pill business to attend
to. I'm all right now, so you better blow."
Thomas smiled dubiously. "You're a long way from all right, and
there's no place to 'blow' to. The last boat sailed two weeks ago."
"Last boat for where?"
"For anywhere. We're here for the winter, unless the mail-carrier will
take us to Nome, or up the Yukon, after the trails open."
"I bet you'll do a good business right here, when folks see what you
done for me," Bill ventured.
"Just wait till you look at the town--deserted warehouses, some young
and healthy watchmen, and a Siwash village. You're the only possible
patient in all of St. Michaels."
Bill lay silent for an hour, staring through the open cabin window
at a gray curtain of falling snowflakes; then he shook his head and
"Well, I be danged!"
"Anything you want?" Thomas inquired, quickly.
"I was just thinking about that gal." Bill indicated the
leather-framed photograph which was prominently featured above the
other bunk. "You ain't gettin' ahead very fast, are you?"
This time the young medical man smiled with his lips only--his eyes
were grave and troubled. "I've written her all the circumstances, and
she'll understand. She's that sort of a girl." He turned cheerfully
back to his task. "I found that I had a few dollars left, so we won't
Mr. Hyde felt impelled to confess that in his war-bag there was a roll
of some seven hundred dollars, title to which had vested in him on the
northward trip, together with certain miscellaneous objects of virtu,
but he resisted the impulse, fearing that an investigation by his
nurse might lead the latter to believe that he, Bill, was not a
harness-maker at all, but a jewelry salesman. He determined to spring
that roll at a later date, and to present the doctor with a very thin,
very choice gold watch out of State-room 27. Bill carried out this
intention when he had sufficiently recovered to get about.
Later, when his lungs had healed, Bill hired the mail-man to take him
and his nurse to Nome. Since he was not yet altogether strong, he rode
the sled most of the way, while the doctor walked. It was a slow and
tiresome trip, along the dreary shores of Behring Sea, over timberless
tundras, across inlets where the new ice bent beneath their weight and
where the mail-carrier cautiously tested the footing with the head of
his ax. Sometimes they slept in their tent, or again in road-houses
and in Indian villages.
Every hour Laughing Bill grew stronger, and with his strength of
body grew his strength of affection for the youthful doctor. Bill
experienced a dog-like satisfaction in merely being near him; he
suffered pangs when Thomas made new friends; he monopolized him
jealously. The knowledge that he had a pal was new and thrilling; it
gave Bill constant food for thought and speculation. Thomas was always
gentle and considerate, but his little services, his unobtrusive
sacrifices never went unnoticed, and they awoke in the bandit an
ever-increasing wonderment. Also, they awoke a fierce desire to square
The two men laid over at one of the old Russian towns, and Thomas, as
was his restless custom, made investigation of the native village.
Of course Bill went with him. They had learned by this time to enter
Indian houses without knocking, so, therefore, when they finally came
to a cabin larger and cleaner than the rest they opened the door and
stepped inside, quite like experienced travelers.
A squaw was bent over a tub of washing, another stood beside the tiny
frosted window staring out. Neither woman answered the greeting of the
"Must be the chief's house," Thomas observed.
"Must be! I s'pose the old bird is out adding up his reindeer.
'Sapolio Sue' is prob'ly his head wife." Laughing Bill ran an
interested eye over the orderly interior. "Some shack, but--I miss the
Neither woman paid them the least attention, so they continued to talk
with each other.
"I wonder what she is washing," Doctor Thomas said, finally.
The figure at the window turned, exposing the face of a comely young
Indian girl. Her features were good, her skin was light. She eyed the
intruders coolly, then in a well-modulated voice, and in excellent
English, she said:
"She is washing a pair of sealskin pants."
Both men removed their caps in sudden embarrassment. Thomas exclaimed:
"I beg your pardon! We thought this was just an ordinary native house,
or we wouldn't have intruded."
"You haven't intruded. This is 'Reindeer Mary's' house." The girl had
again turned her back.
"Are you Reindeer Mary?"
"No, I am Ponatah. Mary befriended me; she lets me live with her."
"Allow me to introduce Mr. Hyde. I am Doctor Thomas. We were very
"Oh, everybody comes here." The men recognized instantly in the
speaker's face, as well as in her voice, that education had set its
stamp. "Will you sit down and wait for her?"
"You overwhelm us." After an awkward moment the physician queried,
"How in the world did you learn to speak such good English?"
"A missionary took an interest in me when I was a little girl. He sent
me to Carlisle."
Laughing Bill had been an attentive listener, now he ventured to say:
"I know this Carlisle. He's a swell football player, or something."
Ponatah smiled, showing a row of small, white teeth. "Carlisle is an
"What made you come back?" Thomas inquired, curiously.
Ponatah shrugged her shoulders. "There was an end to the money. What
could I do? At first I thought I'd be able to help my people, but--I
couldn't. They will learn from the white people, but not from one of
their own kind."
"They died when I was a baby. Mary took me in." The girl spoke in a
flat, emotionless tone.
"It must be tough to come back to this, now that you know what life
really is," said Thomas, after a time.
Ponatah's eyes were dark with tragedy when she turned them to the
speaker. "_God!_" she cried, unexpectedly, then abruptly she faced
the window once more. It was a moment before she went on in fierce
"Why didn't they leave me as they found me? Why did they teach me
their ways, and then send me back to this--this dirt and ignorance and
squalor? Sometimes I think I can't stand it. But what can I do? Nobody
understands. Mary can't see why I'm different from her and the others.
She has grown rich, with her reindeer; she says if this is good enough
for her it should be good enough for me. As for the white men who come
through, they can't, or they won't, understand. They're hateful to me.
Petersen, the mail-carrier, for instance! I don't know why I'm telling
you this. You're strangers. You're probably just like Petersen."
"I know why you're telling us," Thomas said, slowly. "It's because
I--because we're _not_ like Petersen and the others; it's because
I--we can help you."
"Help me?" sneered the girl. "How?"
"I don't know, yet. But you're out of place here. There's a place for
you somewhere; I'll find it."
Ponatah shook her head wearily. "Mary says I belong here, with my
"No. You belong with white people--people who will treat you well."
This time the girl smiled bitterly. "They have treated me worse than
my own people have. I know them, and--I hate them."
"Ain't you the sore-head, now?" Laughing Bill murmured. "You got a
hundred-per-cent. grouch, but if the old medicine-man says he'll put
you in right, you bet your string of beads he'll do it. He's got a
gift for helpin' down-and-outers. You got class, Kid; you certainly
rhinestone this whole bunch of red men. Why, you belong in French
heels and a boodwar cap; that's how I dope you."
"There must be a chance for a girl like you in Nome," Thomas
continued, thoughtfully. "You'd make a good hand with children.
Suppose I try to find you a place as governess?"
"_Would_ you?" Ponatah's face was suddenly eager. "Children? Oh yes!
I'd work my fingers to the bone. I--I'd do _anything_--"
"Then I'll do what I can."
For some time longer the three of them talked, and gradually into the
native girl's eyes there came a light, for these men were not like the
others she had met, and she saw the world begin to unfold before her.
When at last they left she laid a hand upon the doctor's arm and said,
"You won't forget. You--promise?"
"I promise," he told her.
"He don't forget nothing," Bill assured her, "and if he does I'll see
that he don't."
After they had gone Ponatah stood motionless for a long time, then she
"Children! Little white children! I'll be very good to them."
"She's a classy quilt," Laughing Bill said, on the way back to the
"She's as pretty as a picture, and little more than a child," the
"You made a hit. She'd do 'most anything for you." The doctor
muttered, absent-mindedly. "She's stood off Petersen and these
red-necks, but she'd fall for you." Mr. Hyde was insinuating.
Thomas halted; he stared at his partner curiously, coldly. "Say! Do
you think that's why I offered to help her?" he inquired.
"Come clean!" The invalid winked meaningly. "You're a long ways from
home, and I've knew fellers to do a lot worse. You can grab her, easy.
And if you do--"
Thomas grunted angrily. "I've put up with a lot from you," he said,
then he strode on.
"And if you do," the other resumed, falling into step with him, "I'll
bust you right where you're thickest."
"I'll bust you wide open. Oh, me 'n' that gal in the leather frame had
a long talk while I was sick in St. Mikes, and she asked me to keep
you in the middle of the trail. Well, I'm the little guy that can do
"Bill!" Evan Thomas's eyes were twinkling. "I believe I'm going to
cure you, after all," said he.
Late that afternoon Mr. Hyde disappeared; he did not show up until
"I been to see Lo, the poor squaw," he readily confessed. "She ain't
the pure domestic leaf, she's a blend--part Rooshian, or something.
Seems there was a gang of Rooshians or Swedes or Dagoes of some sort
used to run this country. She says they horned into some of the best
Injun families, and she's one of the 'overs.'"
"They were Russians."
"Rooshians is a kind of white people, ain't they? Well, that's how she
come so light-complected. You remember she said our folks had treated
her bad? It's a fact, Doc. She spilled the story, and it made a
mouthful. It's like this: when Nome was struck a Swede feller she
had knew staked her a claim, but she couldn't hold it, her bein' a
squab--under age, savvy? There's something in the law that prevents
Injuns gettin' in on anything good, too; I don't rightly recollect
what it is, but if it's legal you can bet it's crooked. Anyhow, Uncle
Sam lets up a squawk that she's only eighteen, goin' on nineteen, and
a noble redskin to boot, and says his mining claims is reserved for
Laps and Yaps and Japs and Wops, and such other furrin' slantheads of
legal age as declare their intention to become American citizens if
their claims turn out rich enough so's it pays 'em to do so.
"Well, Ponatah's Swede friend gets himself froze, somehow, so she has
to pass the buck. Naturally, she turns to her pals, the missionaries.
There's a he-missionary here--head mug of the whole gang. He's a godly
walloper, and he tears into Satan bare-handed every Sunday. He slams
the devil around something shameful, and Ponatah thinks he's a square
guy if ever they come square, so she asks him to re-locate her claim,
on shares, and hold it for the joint account. Old Doctor M.E. Church
agrees to split fifty-fifty, half to her and half to heaven, then he
vamps to Nome and chalks his monaker over the Kid's. Now get me: the
claim turns out good, and Ponatah's heavenly pilot makes a Mexican
divvy--he takes the money and gives her his best wishes. He grabs
everything, and says he never knew nobody by the name of Ponatah--he
gets so he can't even pronounce it. He allows her face is familiar,
but he can't place her, and the partnership idea allus was repugnant
to him. He never was partners with nobody, understand? He blows the
show; he bows out and leaves the Kid flat. He forsakes the Milky Way
for the Great White one, and he's out there now, smokin' Coronas and
wearin' a red vest under his black coat, with a diamond horseshoe
in his tie. It looks to me like the James boys could 'a' learned
something from this gospel hold-up."
"Do you believe her story?" Thomas inquired.
"She don't know enough to lie, and you can't trust a guy that wears
his collar backwards."
"She should go to court."
Mr. Hyde shook his head. "I been there, often, but I never picked up a
bet. Somehow or other courts is usually right next to jails, and you
got to watch out you don't get in the wrong place. You can't win
nothing in either one. I thought I'd tell you the story, so if you
ever meet up with this shave-tail preacher and he wants a headache
pill you can slip him some sugar-coated arsenic."
In the days immediately following Doctor Thomas's arrival at Nome
he was a busy man, but he did not forget Ponatah. He was allowed no
opportunity of doing so, for Bill frequently reminded him of her, and
as a result it was not long before he found a place for his charge, in
the home of a leading merchant. Arrangements made, Bill went in search
of the mail-carrier.
Petersen was drinking with two friends at the bar of the Last Chance,
and he pressed his late passenger to join them. But alcoholism was not
one of Mr. Hyde's weaknesses. The best of Bill's bad habits was much
worse than drink; he had learned from experience that liquor put a
traitor's tongue in his head, and in consequence he was a teetotaler.
"I got a job for you, Pete," he announced. "I got you another
sled-load for your next trip. You know Ponatah?"
"Ponatah? Sure Aye know 'im." Petersen. spoke with enthusiasm.
"Well, bring her along when you come. Me 'n' the little Doc will
"Dat's good yob for me, all right. Vot mak' you tank she'll come? Aye
ask her plenty tams, but she ant like me."
"You slip her this billy-ducks and she'll come."
Petersen pocketed the letter which Bill handed him; his eyes
brightened; the flush in his face deepened. "You bet your gum boots
Aye bring her. She's svell, ant she, Bill? She's yust some svell like
"Who's this?" queried one of Petersen's companions.
"Ponatah. She's jung sqvaw. Aye got eyes on dat chicken long tam
now." The burly mail-man laughed loudly and slapped his friend on the
Mr. Hyde appeared to share in the general good nature. Carelessly,
smilingly he picked up Petersen's dog-whip, which lay coiled on the
bar; thoughtfully he weighed it. The lash was long, but the handle was
short and thick, and its butt was loaded with shot; it had much the
balance of a black-jack--a weapon not unknown to Mr. Hyde.
"Pretty soft for you mail-men." The former speaker grinned.
"Ja! Pretty soft. Aye bet Aye have good tam dis trip. Yust vait. You
don't know how purty is Ponatah. She--"
Petersen's listeners waited. They are waiting yet, for the mail-man
never completed his admiring recital of the Indian girl's charms,
owing to the fact that the genial Mr. Hyde without warning tapped his
late friend's round head with the leather butt of the dog-whip. Had
it not been for the Norseman's otter cap it is probable that a new
mail-carrier would have taken the St. Michaels run.
Petersen sat down upon his heels, and rested his forehead against the
cool brass foot-rail; the subsequent proceedings interested him not
at all. Those proceedings were varied and sudden, for the nearest and
dearest of Petersen's friends rushed upon Mr. Hyde with a roar. Him,
too, Bill eliminated from consideration with the loaded whip handle.
But, this done, Bill found himself hugged in the arms of the other
man, as in the embrace of a bereaved she-grizzly. Now even at his best
the laughing Mr. Hyde was no hand at rough-and-tumble, it being his
opinion that fisticuffs was a peculiarly indecisive and exhausting way
of settling a dispute. He possessed a vile temper, moreover, and once
aroused half measures failed to satisfy it.
After Mr. Hyde's admirable beginning those neutrals who had seen the
start of the affray were prepared to witness an ending equally quick
and conclusive. They were surprised, therefore, to note that Bill put
up a very weak struggle, once he had come to close quarters. He made
only the feeblest resistance, before permitting himself to be borne
backward to the floor, and then as he lay pinned beneath his opponent
he did not even try to guard the blows that rained upon him; as a
matter of fact, he continued to laugh as if the experience were highly
Seeing that the fight was one-sided, the bartender hastened from his
retreat, dragged Petersen's champion to his feet, and flung him back
into the arms of the onlookers, after which he stooped to aid the
loser. His hands were actually upon Bill before he understood the
meaning of that peculiar laughter, and saw in Mr. Hyde's shaking
fingers that which caused him to drop the prostrate victim as if he
were a rattlesnake.
"God'l'mighty!" exclaimed the rescuer. He retreated hurriedly whence
he had come.
Bill rose and dusted himself off, then he bent over Petersen, who was
"Just give her that billy-ducks and tell her it's all right. Tell her
I say you won't hurt her none." Then, still chuckling, he slipped into
the crowd and out of the Last Chance. As he went he coughed and spat a
mouthful of blood.
Once the mail-carrier had been apprised of the amazing incidents which
had occurred during his temporary inattention, he vowed vengeance in
a mighty voice, and his threats found echo in the throats of his two
companions. But the bartender took them aside and spoke guardedly:
"You better lay off of that guy, or he'll fatten the graveyard with
all three of you. I didn't 'make' him at first, but I got him now, all
"What d'you mean? Who is he?"
"His name's Hyde, 'Laughing Bill.'"
"'Laughing Bill' Hyde!" One of Petersen's friends, he who had come
last into the encounter, turned yellow and leaned hard against the
bar. A sudden nausea assailed him and he laid tender hands upon his
abdomen. "'Laughing Bill' Hyde! That's why he went down so easy! Why,
he killed a feller I knew--ribboned him up from underneath, just
that way--and the jury called it self-defense." A shudder racked the
"Sure! He's a cutter--a reg'lar gent's cutter and fitter. He'd 'a' had
you all over the floor in another minute; if I hadn't pried you apart
they'd 'a' sewed sawdust up inside of you like you was a doll. He had
the old bone-handled skinner in his mit; that's why I let go of him.
Laughing Bill! Take it from me, boys, you better walk around him like
he was a hole in the ice."
It may have been the memory of that heavy whip handle, it may have
been the moral effect of stray biographical bits garnered here and
there around the gambling-table, or it may have been merely a high
and natural chivalry, totally unsuspected until now, which prompted
Petersen to treat Ponatah with a chill and formal courtesy when he
returned from St. Michaels. At any rate, the girl arrived in Nome with
nothing but praise for the mail-man. Pete Petersen, so she said, might
have his faults, but he knew how to behave like a perfect gentleman.
Ponatah took up her new duties with enthusiasm, and before a month had
passed she had endeared herself to her employers, who secretly assured
Doctor Thomas that they had discovered a treasure and would never part
with her. She was gentle, patient, sweet, industrious; the children
idolized her. The Indian girl had never dreamed of a home like this;
she was deliriously happy.
She took pride in discharging her obligations; she did not forget the
men who had made this wonder possible. They had rented a little cabin,
and, after the fashion of men, they make slipshod efforts at keeping
house. Since it was Ponatah's nature to serve, she found time somehow
to keep the place tidy and to see to their comfort.
Laughing Bill was a hopeless idler; he had been born to leisure and
was wedded to indigence, therefore he saw a good deal of the girl on
her visits. He listened to her stories of the children, he admired her
new and stylish clothes, he watched her develop under the influence of
her surroundings. Inasmuch as both of them were waifs, and beholden
to the bounty of others, thy had ties in common--a certain
mutuality--hence they came to know each other intimately.
Despite the great change in her environment, Ponatah remained in many
ways quite aboriginal. For instance, she was embarrassingly direct and
straightforward; she entirely lacked hypocrisy, and that which puzzled
or troubled her she boldly put into words. There came a time when Bill
discovered that Ponatah's eyes, when they looked at him, were more
than friendly, that most of the services she performed were aimed at
Then one day she asked him to marry her.
There was nothing brazen or forward about the proposal; Ponatah merely
gave voice to her feelings in a simple, honest way that robbed her of
Bill laughed the proposal off. "I wouldn't marry the Queen of Sheby,"
"I ain't that kind of a bird, that's why."
"What kind of a bird are you?" Ponatah eyed him with grave curiosity.
"All men marry. I'm reading a great many books, and they're all about
love and marriage. I love you, and I'm pretty. Is it because I'm an
"Hell! That wouldn't faze me, Kiddo. You skin the white dames around
this village. But you better cut out them books."
"I'd make you a good wife."
"Sure! You're aces. But I'd make a bum husband. I ain't got the breath
to blow out a candle." Mr. Hyde chuckled; the idea of marriage plainly
amused him. "How you know I ain't got a covey of wives?" he inquired.
"Oh, I know!" Ponatah was unsmiling. "I'm simple, but I can see
through people. I can tell the good ones and the bad ones. You're a
good man, Billy."
Now this praise was anything but agreeable to Mr. Hyde, for above all
things he abhorred so-called "good" people. Good people were suckers,
and he prided himself upon being a wise guy, with all that was meant
"You lay off of me, Kid," he warned, darkly, "and you muffle them
wedding bells. You can't win nothing with that line of talk. If I
was fifty inches around the chest, liked to work, and was fond of
pas'ment'ries I'd prob'ly fall for you, but I ain't. I'm a good man,
all right--to leave alone. I'll be a brother to you, but that's my
limit." The subject was embarrassing, so he changed it. "Say! I been
thinking about that claim of yours. Didn't you get no paper from that
"Then his word's as good as yours."
"That's what the lawyer told me. I offered to give him half, but he
wouldn't touch the case."
"It was a dirty deal, but you better forget it."
"I'll try," the girl promised. "But I don't forget easily."
Laughing Bill's rejection of Ponatah's offer of marriage did not in
the least affect their friendly relations. She continued to visit the
cabin, and not infrequently she reverted to the forbidden topic, only
to meet with discouragement.
Doctor Thomas had opened an office, of course, but business was light
and expenses heavy. Supplies were low in Nome and prices high; coal,
for instance, was a hundred dollars a ton and, as a result, most
of the idle citizens spent their evenings---but precious little
else--around the saloon stoves. When April came Laughing Bill
regretfully decided that it was necessary for him to go to work. The
prospect was depressing, and he did not easily reconcile himself to
it, for he would have infinitely preferred some less degraded and
humiliating way out of the difficulty. He put up a desperate battle
against the necessity, and he did not accept the inevitable until
thoroughly convinced that the practice of medicine and burglary could
not be carried on from the same residence without the risk of serious
embarrassment to his benefactor.
However, to find employment in a community where there were two men to
one job was not easy, but happily--or unhappily--Bill had a smattering
of many trades, and eventually there came an opening as handy-man at a
mine. It was a lowly position, and Bill had little pride in it, for
he was put to helping the cook, waiting on table, washing dishes,
sweeping cabins, making beds, and the like. He had been assured that
the work was light, and so it was, but it was also continuous. He
could summon not the slightest interest in it until he discovered that
this was the very claim which rightfully belonged to Ponatah. Then,
indeed, he pricked up his ears.
The Aurora Borealis, as the mine was now called, had been working all
winter, and gigantic dumps of red pay-dirt stood as monuments to the
industry of its workmen. Rumor had it that the "streak" was rich, and
that Doctor Slayforth, the owner, would be in on the first boat to
personally oversee the clean-ups. The ex-missionary, Bill discovered,
had the reputation of being a tight man, and meanly suspicious in
money matters. He reposed no confidence in his superintendent, a
surly, saturnine fellow known as Black Jack Berg, nor in Denny Slevin,
his foreman. So much Laughing Bill gathered from camp gossip.
It soon became evident that Black Jack was a hard driver, for sluicing
began with the first trickle of snow water--even while the ditches
were still ice-bound--and it continued with double shifts thereafter.
A representative of Doctor Slayforth came out from Nome to watch the
first clean-up, and Bill, in his capacity as chambermaid, set up a cot
for him in the cabin shared by Black Jack and Denny. While so engaged
the latter discovered him, and gruffly ordered him to remove the cot
to the bunk-house.
"Put him in with the men," growled Slevin. "Serves the dam' spy
"Spy? Is he a gum-shoe?" Mr. Hyde paused, a pillow slip between his
"That's what! Me and Jack was honest enough to run things all
winter, but we ain't honest enough to clean up. That's like old
Slayforth--always lookin' to get the worst of it. I'm square, and so's
Jack. Makes me sick, this spyin' on honest folks. Everybody knows we
wouldn't turn a trick."
Now it was Laughing Bill's experience that honesty needs no boosting,
and that he who most loudly vaunts his rectitude is he who is least
certain of it.
"The boss must be a good man, him being a sort of psalm-singer," Bill
Denny snorted: "Oh, sure! He's good, all right. He's 'most too
good--to be true. Billy, my boy, when you've seen as many crooks as I
have you'll know 'em, no matter how they come dressed."
As he folded the cot Mr. Hyde opined that worldly experience must
indeed be a fine thing to possess.
"You go gamble on it!" Slevin agreed. "Now then, just tell that
Hawkshaw we don't want no dam' spies in our house. We're square guys,
and we can't stomach 'em."
That evening Black Jack called upon the handy-man to help with the
clean-up, and put him to tend the water while he and Denny, under the
watchful eye of the owner's representative, lifted the riffles, worked
down the concentrates, and removed them from the boxes.
Bill was an experienced placer miner, so it was not many days before
he was asked to help in the actual cleaning of the sluices. He was
glad of the promotion, for, as he told himself, no man can squeeze a
lemon without getting juice on his fingers. It will be seen, alas!
that Mr. Hyde's moral sense remained blunted in spite of the refining
influence of his association with Doctor Thomas. But Aurora dust
was fine, and the handy-man's profits were scarcely worth the risks
involved in taking them.
One morning while Bill was cleaning up the superintendent's cabin
he noticed a tiny yellow flake of gold upon the floor in front of
Slevin's bed. Careful examination showed him several "colors" of the
same sort, so he swept the boards carefully and took up the dust in
a "blower." He breathed upon the pile, blowing the lighter particles
away. A considerable residue of heavy yellow grains remained. With
a grin Bill folded them in a cigarette paper and placed them in his
pocket. But it puzzled him to explain how there came to be gold on the
cabin floor. His surprise deepened when, a few days later, he found
another "prospect" in the same place. His two sweepings had yielded
perhaps a pennyweight of the precious metal--enough to set him to
thinking. It seemed queer that in the neighborhood of Black Jack's
bunk he could find no pay whatever.
Slevin had left his hip boots in the cabin, and as Laughing Bill
turned down their tops and set them out in the wind to dry his sharp
eye detected several yellow pin-points of color which proved, upon
closer investigation, to be specks of gold clinging to the wet lining.
"Well, I be danged!" said Mr. Hyde. Carefully, thoughtfully, he
replaced the boots where he had found them. The knowledge that he was
on a hot trail electrified him.
At the next clean-up Laughing Bill took less interest in his part of
the work and more in Denny Slevin's. When the riffles were washed,
and the loose gravel had been worked down into yellow piles of rich
concentrates, Slevin, armed with whisk broom, paddle, and scoop,
climbed into the sluices. Bill watched him out of a corner of his eye,
and it was not long before his vigilance was rewarded. The hold-up
man turned away with a feeling of genuine admiration, for he had
seen Slevin, under the very nose of the lookout, "go south" with a
substantial amount of gold.
The foreman's daring and dexterity amazed Bill and deepened his
respect. Slevin's work was cunning, and yet so simple as to be almost
laughable. With his hip boots pulled high he had knelt upon one knee
in the sluice scooping up the wet piles of gold and black iron sand,
while Berg held a gold pan to receive it. During the process Black
Jack had turned to address the vigilant owner's representative, and,
profiting by the brief diversion, Bill had seen Denny dump a heaping
scoop-load of "pay" into the gaping pocket-like top of his capacious
"The sons-of-a-gun!" breathed Laughing Bill. "The double-crossing
sons-of-a-gun! Why, it begins to look like a big summer for me."
Bill slept well that night, for now that he knew the game which was
going on he felt sure that sooner or later he would take a hand in it.
Just how or when the hand would fall he could not tell, but that did
not worry him in the least, inasmuch as he already held the trumps. It
seemed that a kindly fortune had guided him to the Aurora; that fate
had decreed he should avenge the wrongs of Ponatah. The handy-man fell
asleep with a smile upon his lips.
The first ship arrived that very evening, and the next day Doctor
Slayforth in person appeared at the Aurora. He was a thin, restless
man with weak and shifting eyes; he said grace at dinner, giving
thanks for the scanty rations of hash and brown beans over which his
hungry workmen were poised like cormorants. The Aurora had won the
name of a bad feeder, but its owner seemed satisfied with his meal.
Later Bill overheard him talking with his superintendent.
"I'm disappointed with the clean-ups," Slayforth confessed. "The pay
appears to be pinching out."
"She don't wash like she sampled, that's a fact," said Black Jack.
"I'm afraid we shall have to practise economies--"
"Look here! If you aim to cut down the grub, don't try it," counseled
Berg. "It's rotten now."
"Indeed? There appeared to be plenty, and the quality was excellent. I
fear you encourage gluttony, and nothing so interferes with work. We
must effect a saving somehow; there is too great a variation between
theoretical and actual values."
"Huh! You better try feeding hay for a while," sourly grumbled the
superintendent. "If you ain't getting what you aimed to get it's
because it ain't in the cards."
This conversation interested Bill, for it proved that the robbers had
helped themselves with a liberal hand, but how they had managed to
appropriate enough gold to noticeably affect the showing of the
winter's work intensely mystified him; it led him to believe that
Black Jack and Denny were out for a homestake.
That such was indeed the case and that Slevin was not the only thief
Bill soon discovered, for after the next clean-up he slipped away
through the twilight and took stand among the alders outside the rear
window of the shack on the hill. From his point of concealment he
could observe all that went on inside.
It was a familiar scene. By the light of an oil lamp Black Jack was
putting the final touches to the clean-up. Two gold pans, heaped high
with the mingled black sand and gold dust, as it came out of the
sluices, were drying on the Yukon stove, and the superintendent was
engaged in separating the precious yellow particles from the worthless
material which gravity had deposited with it. This refining process
was slow, painstaking work, and was effected with the help of a flat
brass scoop--a "blower." By shaking this blower and breathing upon its
contents the lighter grains of iron sand were propelled to the edge,
as chaff is separated from wheat, and fell into a box held between the
superintendent's knees. The residue, left in the heel of the blower
after each blowing process, was commercial "dust," ready for the bank
or the assay office. Doctor Slayforth, with his glasses on the end of
his nose, presided at the gold scales, while Denny Slevin looked on.
As the dust was weighed, a few ounces at a time, it was dumped into a
moose-skin sack and entered upon the books.
Black Jack had the light at his back, he was facing the window,
therefore Laughing Bill commanded an unobstructed view of his
adept manipulations. It was not long before the latter saw him
surreptitiously drop a considerable quantity of gold out of the scoop
and into the box between his knees, then cover it up with the black
sand. This sleight-of-hand was repeated several times, and when
the last heap of gold had been weighed Bill estimated that Doctor
Slayforth was poorer by at least a hundred ounces--sixteen hundred
dollars. There was no question about it now; these were not common
thieves; this was becoming a regular man's game, and the stakes were
assuming a size to give Laughing Bill a tingling sensation along his
spine. Having discovered the _modus operandi_ of the pair, and having
read their cards, so to speak, he next set himself to discover where
they banked their swag. But this was by no means easy. His utmost
vigilance went unrewarded by so much as a single clue.
Berg and Slevin had a habit of riding into town on Saturday nights,
and the next time they left the claim Bill pleaded a jumping toothache
and set out afoot for medical attention.
It was late when he arrived at Nome, nevertheless a diligent search
of the Front Street saloons failed to locate either man. He was still
looking for them when they came riding in.
With their delayed arrival Bill's apprehensions vanished, as likewise
did his imaginary toothache. He had feared that they were in the habit
of bringing the gold to Nome, there perhaps to bank it with some
friend; but now he knew that they were too cautious for that, and
preferred instead to cache it somewhere in the hills. This simplified
matters immensely, so Bill looked up his little doctor for a sociable
Thomas was in his office; he greeted Bill warmly.
"Say! Pill-rolling must be brisk to keep you on the job till
midnight," the latter began.
"Business is rotten!" exclaimed the physician. "And it's a rotten
"Nobody sick? That's tough. Open a can of typhoid germs, and I'll put
'em in the well. Anything to stir up a little trade."
"I've just balanced my books and--I've just heard from Alice."
"Do the books balance?"
"Oh, perfectly--nothing equals nothing--it's a perfect equilibrium.
Alice wants me to come home and start all over, and I'm tempted to do
"Ain't going to throw up your tail, are you?"
"I can't get along without her." Thomas was plainly in the depths; he
turned away and stared moodily out into the dim-lit street. It was
midnight, but already the days were shortening, already there was an
hour or two of dusk between the evening and the morning light.
"Of course you can't get along without her," the ex-bandit agreed. "I
seen that when I looked at her picture. Why don't you bring her in?"
"Bring her in--_here_?" Thomas faced about quickly. "Humph! Not much."
"Well, this ain't no doll's village, that's a fact. It's full of
wicked men, and the women ain't wuth braggin' over. S'pose we go out
and marry her?"
"We?" Thomas smiled for the first time.
"Sure. I'll stick to the bitter finish."
"I'm broke, Bill."
"Pshaw, now! Don't let that worry you. I got money."
"You?" The doctor was surprised. "Where did you get it?"
"Well, I _got_ it! That's the main thing. It was--left to me."
"What d'you mean, 'honestly'?"
"I dunno, exactly. You see, I ain't got it actually in my mit--"
"But I'll have it, all righto. It's just waiting for me to close down
on it. I reckon there must be a thousand gold buzzards in the stack,
mebby more. It's all yours."
"Thanks!" said the physician, unimpressed.
"Look me in the eye." Bill spoke earnestly. "Twenty thousand iron men
ain't so bad. It'll buy a lot of doll's clothes. We can have a big
party--I ain't kidding!" Then reading amused incredulity in his
friend's face he demanded: "How you know I ain't got a rich uncle that
raised me from a colt and that broke his heart at me runnin' away and
turning out wild, and has had lawyers gunnin' for me ever since he
knew he was gettin' old and going to croak? How you know that, eh?"
"I don't know. I don't know anything about you, Bill. That's one of
the most interesting features of our friendship."
"Well, pay a little attention to me. Now then, I figger it like this:
I got lungs like a grasshopper, and the money won't do me no good, so
I'll stake you and Miss Alice to it."
Doctor Thomas eyed the speaker curiously. "I believe you would," said
he, after a moment.
"Would I? Say! You ever seen a feather bed tied up with a rope? You
sit tight and I'll slip you a roll just that size."
"Of course you know I wouldn't take it?"
"Why not? It's more'n likely it'll get me into evil company or gimme
some bad habit, and I'll gargle off before I've had a chance to spend
it. I ain't strong."
"I'll earn what I get, Billy."
"All right. If you feel like that I'll bet it for you on a crap game,
and you can take the winnings--"
"Nothing doing. I want honest money--money that I can look in the
Mr. Hyde was out of patience. "All money's honest, after you get it!"
he cried. "It's gettin' it that draws blood. I never knew the silver
bird to fly off a dollar and scratch a guy, did you?"
"I want to make money--that's why I came up to this God-forsaken
place--but--when your uncle's draft arrives you cash it."
"Ain't you the champeen bone-dome?" muttered Bill. Such an attitude
seemed to him both senseless and quixotic, for he had never attached
the least sentiment to money. Money was an elemental necessity,
therefore he looked upon it with practical, unromantic eyes,
and helped himself to it as he helped himself to such elemental
necessities as air or water. Most of life's necessaries had fallen
into monopolistic hands and were used to wring tribute from
unfortunate mortals who had arrived too late to share in the graft, as
witness, for instance, Standard Oil. So ran Bill's reasoning when he
took the trouble to reason at all. Men had established arbitrary rules
to govern their forays upon one another's property, to be sure, but
under cover of these artificial laws they stole merrily, and got away
with it. Eagles did not scruple to steal from one another, horses ate
one another's fodder; why human beings should not do likewise had
always puzzled Mr. Hyde. The basic principle held good in both cases,
it seemed to him, and Doctor Thomas's refusal to share in the coming
legacy struck him as silly; it was the result of a warped and unsound
philosophy. But argue as he would he could not shake his friend's
opinion of the matter.
One evening, not long after his visit to town, Bill's toothache
returned again to plague him. He raised groans and hoarse profanities,
and then, while the crew was still at supper, he abandoned his work
and set out in search of relief. But he did not go to Nome. Once
out of sight of the mine he doubled back and came out behind the
superintendent's cabin. A moment later he was stretched out in the
narrow, dark space beneath Black Jack's bunk. Dust irritated Bill's
lungs, therefore he had carefully swept out the place that morning;
likewise he had thoughtfully provided himself with a cotton comforter
as protection to his bones. He had no intention of permitting himself
to be taken at a disadvantage, and knowing full well the painful
consequences of discovery he opened his bone-handled pocket-knife and
tested its keen edge with his thumb. In the interests of peace and
good-fellowship, however, he hoped he could go through the night
Slevin was the first to return from supper. He went directly to his
bunk, drew a bottle of whisky from beneath his pillow, poured himself
a drink, and replaced the bottle. When Berg entered he went through a
similar procedure, after which a fire was built, the men kicked off
their boots, lit their pipes, and stretched out upon their beds.
"I've been thinking it over," the superintendent began, "and you can't
"Why not?" queried Slevin. "I told his nibs I was sick of the grub."
"Foremen don't quit good jobs on account of the grub. You've got to
stick till fall; then we'll both go. We'll strike the old man for a
"Humph! He'll let us go, quick enough, when we do that. Let's strike
him now. I'm through."
"Nothing stirring," Berg firmly declared. "We'll play out the string.
I'm taking no chances."
"Hell! Ain't we takin' a chance every day we stay here? I'm getting
so I don't sleep. I got enough to do me; I ain't a hog. I got a bully
corner all picked out, Jack--best corner in Seattle for a gin-mill."
"It'll wait. Corners don't get up and move. No, I won't hold the
bag for you or for anybody," declared the former speaker. "We'll go
through, arm in arm. Once we're away clean you can do what you like.
Me for the Argentine and ten thousand acres of long-horns. You better
forget that corner. Some night you'll get stewed and spill the beans."
"Who, me?" Slevin laughed in disdain. "Fat chance!" There was a long
silence during which the only sound was the bubbling of a pipe. "I
s'pose I'll have to stick, if you say so," Denny agreed finally, "but
I'm fed up. I'm getting jumpy. I got a hunch the cache ain't safe; I
feel like something was goin' to happen."
Mr. Slevin's premonition, under the circumstances, was almost uncanny;
it gave startling proof of his susceptibility to outside influences.
"You _are_ rickety," Black Jack told him. "Why, there ain't any
danger; nobody goes up there." Laughing Bill held his breath, missing
not a word. "If they did we'd pick 'em up with the glasses. It's open
country, and we'd get 'em before they got down."
"I s'pose so. But the nights are getting dark."
"Nobody's out at night, either, you boob. I ain't losing any slumber
over that. And I ain't going to lose any about your quitting ahead of
me. That don't trouble me none." Berg yawned and changed the subject.
Half an hour later he rose, languidly undressed and rolled into his
bed. Slevin followed suit shortly after, and the rapidity with which
both men fell asleep spoke volumes for the elasticity of the human
Now, Laughing Bill had come prepared to spend the night, but his
throat tickled and he had a distressing habit of snoring, therefore he
deemed it the part of caution to depart before he dropped off into the
land of dreams. He effected the manoeuver noiselessly.
Bill lingered at the spring hole on the following morning, and lost
himself in an attentive study of the surrounding scenery. It was
fairly impressive scenery, and he had a keen appreciation of nature's
beauty, but Black Jack's words continued to puzzle him. "Nobody goes
up there." Up where? The Aurora lay in a valley, therefore most of the
country round about was "up"--it was open, too. The ridges were bold
and barren, garbed only with shreds and patches of short grass and
reindeer moss. "We'd pick 'em up with the glasses--we'd get 'em before
they got down." Manifestly the cache was in plain sight, if one only
knew where to look for it, but Mr. Hyde's sharp eyes took in ten
thousand likely hiding-places, and he reasoned that it would be worse
than folly to go exploring blindly without more definite data than he
It was clever of the pair to hide the swag where they could oversee it
every hour of the day, and they had chosen a safe location, too, for
nobody wasted the effort to explore those domes and hogbacks now that
they were known to contain no quartz. There was Anvil Mountain, for
instance, a bold schist peak crowned with a huge rock in the likeness
of a blacksmith's anvil. It guarded the entrance to the valley, rising
from the very heart of the best mining section; it was the most
prominent landmark hereabouts, but not a dozen men had ever climbed
it, and nowadays nobody did.
As Bill pondered the enigma, out from his bed in the willows came Don
Antonio de Chiquito, a meek and lowly burro, the only member of the
Aurora's working force which did not outrank in social importance the
man-of-all-work. Don Antonio was the pet of the Aurora Borealis, and
its scavenger. He ate everything from garbage to rubber boots--he was
even suspected of possessing a low appetite for German socks. It was,
in fact, this very democratic taste in things edible which caused
him to remain the steadiest of Doctor Slayforth's boarders. Wisdom,
patience, the sagacity of Solomon, lurked in Don Antonio's eyes, and
Laughing Bill consulted him as a friend and an equal.
"Tony," said he, "you've done a heap of prospecting and you know the
business. There's a rich pocket on one of them hills. Which one is
Don Antonio de Chiquito had ears like sunbonnets; he folded them back,
lifted his muzzle toward Anvil rock, and brayed loudly.
"Mebbe you're right," said the man. He fitted the Chinese yoke to his
skinny shoulders, and took up his burden. The load was heavy, the yoke
bruised his bones, therefore he was moved to complain: "The idea of
me totin' water for the very guys that stole my uncle's money! It's
awful--the darned crooks!"
It was a rainy evening when business next took Black Jack Berg and
Denny Slevin to town. Having dined amply, if not well, they donned
slickers, saddled a pair of horses, and set out down the creek. Few
people were abroad, therefore they felt secure from observation when
they swung off the trail where it bends around the foot of Anvil
Mountain and bore directly up through the scattered alders. The grass
was wet, the rain erased the marks of their horses' feet almost in the
passing. Tethering their mounts in the last clump of underbrush the
riders labored on afoot up a shallow draw which scarred the steep
slope. The murk of twilight obscured them, but even in a good light
they would have run small risk of discovery, for slow-moving human
figures would have been lost against the dark background.
The climb was long and arduous; both men were panting when they
breasted the last rise and looked down into the valley where lay the
Aurora Borealis. This was a desolate spot, great boulders, fallen from
the huge rock overhead, lay all about, the earth was weathered by
winter snows and summer rains. Ghostly fingers of mist writhed over
the peak; darkness was not far distant.
The robbers remained on the crest perhaps twenty minutes, then they
came striding down. They passed within a hundred yards of Laughing
Bill Hyde, who lay flat in the wet grass midway of their descent.
He watched them mount and ride out of sight, then he continued his
painful progress up the hillside.
Weak lungs are not suited to heavy grades and slippery footing. Bill
was sobbing with agony when he conquered the last rise and collapsed
upon his face. He feared he was dying, every cough threatened a
hemorrhage; but when his breath came more easily and he missed the
familiar taste of blood in his mouth he rose and tottered about
through the fog. He could discover no tracks; he began to fear the
night would foil him, when at last luck guided his aimless footsteps
to a slide of loose rock banked against a seamy ledge. The surface of
the bank showed a muddy scar, already half obliterated by the rain;
brief search among the near-by boulders uncovered the hiding-place of
a pick and shovel.
For once in his life Mr. Hyde looked upon these tools with favor, and
energetically tackled the business end of a "Number 2." He considered
pick-and-shovel work the lowest form of human endeavor; nevertheless
he engaged in it willingly enough, and he had not dug deeply before
he uncovered the side of a packing-case, labeled "Choice California
Canned Fruits." Further rapid explorations showed that the box was
fitted with a loose top, and that the interior was well-nigh filled
with stout canvas and moose skin bags. Bill counted them; he weighed
one, then he sat down weakly and his hard, smoke-blue eyes widened
"Suffering cats!" he whispered. He voiced other expletives, too, even
more forcefully indicative of surprise. He was not an imaginative man;
it did not occur to him to doubt his sanity or to wonder if he were
awake, nevertheless he opened one of the pokes and incredulously
examined its contents. "I'm dam' if it ain't!" he said, finally. "I
should reckon they _was_ ready to quit. Argentine! Why, Jack'll bust
the bottom out of a boat if he takes this with him. He'll drown a lot
of innocent people." Mr. Hyde shook his head and smiled pityingly. "It
ain't safe to trust him with it. It ain't safe--the thievin' devil!
There's five hundred pounds if there's an ounce!" He began to figure
with his finger on the muddy shovel blade. "A hundred thousand bucks!"
he announced, finally. "Them boys is _all right_!"
Slowly, reluctantly, he replaced the gold sacks, reburied the box, and
placed the tools where he had found them; then he set out for home.
Don Antonio de Chiquito was contentedly munching an empty oat sack,
doubtless impelled thereto by the lingering flavor of its former
contents, when on the following morning Bill accosted him.
"Tony, I got to hand it to you," the man said, admiringly. "You're
some pocket miner, and you speak up like a gent when you're spoken to.
I got some nice egg-shells saved up for you." Then his voice dropped
to a confidential tone. "We're in with a passel of crooks, Tony. Evil
associates, I call 'em. They're bound to have a bad influence over
us--I feel it a'ready, don't you? Well, s'pose you meet me to-night at
the gap in the hedge and we'll take a walk?"
Don Antonio appeared in every way agreeable to the proposal, but to
make certain that he would keep his appointment Bill led him down
into the creek bottom and tied him securely, after which he removed a
pack-saddle and a bundle of hay from the stable. The saddle he hid in
the brush, the hay he spread before his accomplice, with the generous
invitation: "Drink hearty; it's on the house!" In explanation he went
on: "It's this way, Tony; they left the elevator out of that Anvil
skyscraper, and I can't climb stairs on one lung, so you got to be my
six-cylinder oat-motor. We got a busy night ahead of us."
That evening Laughing Bill ascended Anvil Mountain for a second time,
but the exertion did not wind him unduly, for he made the ascent at
the end of Don Antonio's tail. He was back in camp for breakfast, and
despite his lack of sleep he performed his menial duties during the
day with more than his usual cheerfulness.
* * * * *
"Speed up, can't you?" Slevin paused midway of the steepest slope and
spoke impatiently to his partner below.
"I'm coming," Black Jack panted. Being the heavier and clumsier of the
two, the climb was harder for him. "You're so spry, s'pose you just
pack this poke!" He unslung a heavy leather sack from his belt and
gave it to Denny.
"We'd ought to 'a' got an early start," the latter complained. "The
days are gettin' short and I had a rotten fall going down, last time."
Relieved of some fifteen pounds of dead, awkward weight--and nothing
is more awkward to carry than a sizable gold sack--Berg made better
speed, arriving at the cache in time to see Slevin spit on his hands
and fall to digging.
"Every time we open her up I get a shiver," Denny confessed, with a
laugh. "I'm scared to look."
"Humph! Think she's going to get up and walk out on us?" Berg seated
himself, lit his pipe, and puffed in silence for a while. "We ain't
never been seen," he declared, positively. "She's as safe as the Bank
of England as long as you don't get drunk."
"Me drunk! Ha! Me and the demon rum is divorced forever." Slevin's
shovel struck wood and he swiftly uncovered the box, then removed its
top. He, stood for a full minute staring into its interior, then he
cried, hoarsely, "_Jack_!"
Berg was on his feet in an instant; he strode to the excavation and
bent over it. After a time he straightened himself and turned blazing
eyes upon his confederate. Denny met his gaze with the glare of a man
"Wha'd I tell you?" the latter chattered. "I told you they'd get it.
By God! They have!"
He cast an apprehensive glance over his shoulder. Far below the lights
of the valley were beginning to twinkle, in the direction of Nome the
cross on the Catholic church gleamed palely against the steel-gray
expanse of Behring Sea.
Berg was a man of violent temper; he choked and gasped; his face was
bloated with an apoplectic rage. He began to growl curses deep in his
throat. "_Who_ got it?" he demanded. "Who d'you mean by '_they_'?"
"'Sh-h!" Slevin was panic-stricken; he flung out a nervous, jerky
hand. "Mebbe they're here--now. Look out!"
"Who d'you mean by '_they_'?" the larger man repeated.
"I--God! I dunno! But there must 'a' been more'n one. Five hundred
pounds! One man couldn't pack it!"
"You said '_they_'!" Berg persisted in an odd tone.
Slevin's madly roving gaze flew back and settled upon the discolored
visage thrust toward him, then his own eyes widened. He recoiled,
"Look here! You don't think I--?" His words ended in a bark.
"I ain't said what I think, but I'm thinkin' fast. Nobody knew it but
"How d'you know?"
Slowly Slevin settled himself. His muscles ceased jumping, his bullet
head drew down between his shoulders. "Well, it wasn't me, so it must
"Don't stall!" roared the larger man. "It won't win you anything. You
can't leave here till you come through."
"That goes double, Jack. I got my gat, too, and you ain't going to run
out on me."
"You wanted to quit. You weakened."
"You're a liar!"
The men stared fixedly at each other, heads forward, bodies tense; as
they glared the fury of betrayal grew to madness.
"Where'd you put it?" Berg ground the words between his teeth.
"I'm askin' you that very thing," the foreman answered in a thin,
menacing voice. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he widened the distance
between himself and his accuser. It was not a retreat, he merely drew
himself together defensively, holding himself under control with the
last supreme effort of his will.
The tension snapped suddenly.
With a harsh, wordless cry of fury Black Jack tore his six-shooter
from its resting-place. But Slevin's right hand stirred in unison and
it moved like light. Owing to the fact that he carried his gun beneath
his left armpit he was the first to fire, by the fraction of a second.
It was impossible to miss at this distance. Berg went to his knees
as if hit by a sledge. But he fired from that position, and his shot
caught Slevin as the latter crow-hopped nimbly. Both men were down
now. Slevin, however, seemed made of rubber; he was up again almost
instantly, and zigzagging toward the shelter of the nearest rocks.
Berg emptied his Colt at the running target, then a shout burst from
his lips as he saw Denny pitch forward out of sight.
With shaking, clumsy fingers Black Jack reloaded his hot weapon. With
his left hand pressed deep into his side he rose slowly to his feet
and lurched forward.
"You rat!" he yelled. "Double-cross _me_, will yeh?" He heard the
sound of a body moving over loose stones and halted, weaving in his
tracks and peering into the gloom.
"Come out!" he ordered. "Come out and own up and I'll let yeh off."
There was a silence. "I see yeh!" He took unsteady aim at a shadow and
fired. "Never mind, I'll get yeh!" After a little while he stumbled
onward between the boulders, shouting a challenge to his invisible
opponent. He had gone perhaps fifty feet when the darkness was stabbed
by the blaze of Slevin's gun. Three times the weapon spoke, at little
more than arm's-length, and Black Jack spun on his heels, then rocked
forward limply. It was a long time before the sound of his loud, slow
breathing ceased. Not until then did Denny Slevin move. With a rattle
in his throat the foreman crept out from hiding and went down the
mountain-side upon his hands and knees.
It occasioned considerable speculation at the Aurora Borealis when
neither the superintendent nor the foreman appeared for breakfast.
Later, a telephone message to Doctor Slayforth having elicited the
startling intelligence that neither man had been seen in town during
the night, there came a flicker of excitement. This excitement blazed
to white heat when Slayforth rode up on a muddy horse, accompanied by
the town marshal and the chief of police. Followed more telephoning
and some cross-examination. But the men were gone. They had
It was a mystery baffling any attempt at explanation, for there were
no ships in the roadstead, and hence it was impossible for the pair
to have taken French leave. While a search party was being organized
there came word that the missing saddle-horses had been found on the
slope of Anvil Mountain, and by the time Slayforth's party had reached
the ground more news awaited them. Up near the head of the draw some
one had discovered the body of Denny Slevin. There was a rush thither,
and thence on up the trail Slevin had left, to the scene of the
twilight duel, to Black Jack Berg and the cache in the slide.
The story told itself down to the last detail; it was the story of a
thieves' quarrel and a double killing. Doctor Slayforth fell upon
his bag of gold as a mother falls upon her babe; he voiced loud,
hysterical condemnation of the deed; he wept tears of mingled
indignation and thanksgiving; he gabbled scriptural quotations about
the wages of sin. Then, remembering that the wages of his men were
going on, he sent them back to their work, and determined to dock half
their morning's pay.
The story of the tragedy was still the sensation of Nome when, a
fortnight later, Laughing Bill Hyde showed up in town with the
cheerful announcement that he had been fired. Ponatah was at the cabin
when he arrived, and she did not try to conceal her joy at seeing him
"I've been so unhappy," she told him. "You've never been out of my
"Ain't you got nothing better to think about than me?" he asked, with
a smile. "Well, the psalm-shouter let me out--jerked the piller-slip
from under me, you might say--and turned me adrift. He's got a
high-chested, low-browed Swede in my place. It takes a guy with hair
down to his eyebrows to be a buck chamber-maid."
"The old rascal!" Ponatah's face darkened with anger. "No wonder those
men robbed him. I wish they had taken all his gold, and escaped."
"You're pretty sore on his heavenly nibs, ain't you?" Ponatah clenched
her hands and her eyes blazed. "Well, you got this consolation, the
Aurora ain't as rich as it was."
"It would have been rich enough for us."
"Yes. You'd marry me if I were rich, wouldn't you?"
"No, I wouldn't," Bill declared, firmly. "What's the use to kid you?"
"Why wouldn't you? Are you ashamed of me?"
Bill protested, "Say, what is this you're giving me, the third
"If I were as rich as--well, as Reindeer Mary, wouldn't you marry me?"
Ponatah gazed at the unworthy object of her affections with a yearning
that was embarrassing, and Laughing Bill was forced to spar for wind.
"Ain't you the bold Mary Ann--makin' cracks like that?" he chided.
"I'm ashamed of you, honest. I've passed up plenty of frills in my
time, and we're all better off for it. My appetite for marriage ain't
no keener than it used to be, so you forget it. Little Doc, he's the
"Oh yes. He tells me a great deal about his Alice. He's very much
discouraged. If--if I had the Aurora I wouldn't forget him; I'd give
"Would you, now? Well, he's the one stiffneck that wouldn't take it.
He's funny that way--seems to think money 'll bite him, or something.
I don't know how these pullanthrofists get along, with proud people
always spurning their gifts. He's got my nan. You take my tip, Kid,
and cling to your coin. Salt it down for winter. That's what I'm doing
"Are you?" Ponatah was not amused, she was gravely interested. "I
thought you were broke, Billy."
"Where'd you get that at?" he demanded. "I've always got a pinch of
change, I have. I'm lucky that way. Now then, you run along and don't
never try to feint me into a clinch. It don't go."
Laughing Bill enjoyed a good rest in the days that followed. He rested
hard for several weeks, and when he rested he lifted his hand to
absolutely nothing. He was an expert idler, and with him indolence was
but a form of suspended animation. In spite of himself, however, he
was troubled by a problem; he was completely baffled by it, in fact,
until, without warning and without conscious effort, the solution
presented itself. Bill startled his cabin mate one day by the
announcement that he intended to go prospecting.
"Nonsense!" said Thomas, when the first shock of surprise had passed.
"This country has been run over, and every inch is staked."
"I bet I'll horn in somewhere. All I want is one claim where I got
room to sling myself."
"If that's all you want I'll give you a claim. It has twenty acres. Is
that room enough?"
"Plenty. Where is it?"
"It's on Eclipse Creek, I believe. A patient gave it to me for a
"He won't call for a new deal if I strike it rich?"
"No. I paid his fare out of the country. But why waste your valuable
time? Your time _is_ valuable, I presume?"
"Sure! I ain't got much left. You don't believe in hunches, do
you? Well, I do. I've seen 'em come out. Look at Denny Slevin, for
instance! I heard him say he had a hunch something unpleasant was
going to happen to him, and it did. We'll go fifty-fifty on this
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself. Fresh air won't
The first frosts of autumn had arrived before Laughing Bill returned
to town with the announcement that he had struck a prospect. Doctor
Thomas was at first incredulous, then amazed; finally, when the
true significance of those tiny yellow grains came home to him, his
enthusiasm burst all bounds. He was for at once closing his office and
joining actively in his partner's work, but Bill would not hear to
such a thing.
"Stick to the pills and powders, Doc," he counseled. "You know that
game and I know this. It's my strike and I don't want no amachoors
butting in. I got options on the whole creek--she's eclipsed for
fair--'cause I don't like neighbors. You shut your trap till spring
and sit tight, then we'll roll our packs, stomp on the fire, and call
the dog. Old Home Week for us."
"But, Billy, we can't work out that claim in one winter," protested
"How d'you know we can't? Mebbe it's just a pocket."
"We'll find other pockets. We have the whole creek--"
"Say, how much d'you need to satisfy you?" Bill inquired, curiously.
"I--don't know. A hundred thousand dollars, perhaps."
"A hundred thousand! Whew! You got rich tastes! This ain't no
"But if it's any good at all it will net us that much, probably more."
Bill considered briefly, then he announced: "All right, bo, I got
your idea. When I hand you a hundred thousand iron men we quit--no
questions, no regrets; Is that it? But you've hiked the limit on me; I
dunno's I'll make good."
By the time snow flew the tent on Eclipse Creek had been replaced by a
couple of warm shacks, provisions had been bought, and a crew hired.
Work commenced immediately, and it continued throughout the winter
with Bill in charge. The gravel was lean-looking stuff, but it seemed
to satisfy the manager, and whenever Thomas came out from town he
received encouraging reports from his partner. Hyde ceased playing
solitaire long enough to pan samples in his tub of snow water. Now had
the younger man been an experienced placer miner he might have noted
with suspicion that whenever Bill panned he chewed tobacco--a new
habit he had acquired--and not infrequently he spat into the tub of
muddy water. But Thomas was not experienced in the wiles and artifices
of mine-salters, and the residue of yellow particles left in the pan
was proof positive that the claim was making good. It did strike him
as strange, however, that when he selected a pan of dirt and washed
it unassisted he found nothing. At such times Bill explained
glibly enough that no pay dump carried steady values, and that an
inexperienced sampler was apt to get "skunked" under the best of
circumstances. Concentrates lay in streaks and pockets, he declared.
Then to prove his assertions Bill would help his partner pan, and
inasmuch as he wore long finger-nails, underneath which colors of gold
could be easily concealed, it was not surprising that he succeeded in
finding a prospect where the doctor had failed. For fear Thomas should
still entertain some lingering doubts, Bill occasionally sent him down
into the shaft alone, to sample the pay streak, but in each instance
he took pains to go down beforehand with a shot-gun and some shells of
his own loading and to shoot a few rounds into the face of the thawed
The winter passed quickly enough, Bill's only concern arising from the
fact that his strike had become common knowledge, and that men were
clamoring to buy or to lease a part of the creek. It was a tiny creek,
and he had it safely tied up under his options, therefore he was in a
position to refuse every offer. By so doing he gained the reputation
of being a cautious, cagey man and difficult to deal with.
Bill paid off his crew out of the first spring cleanup, from the dust
he had managed to dump into the sluices at night. Thereafter he sent
the gold to town by Doctor Thomas, who came after it regularly. When
he closed down the works, in June, he and his partner held bank
deposit slips for a trifle over one hundred thousand dollars. Rumor
placed their profits at much more.
Bill saw little of Ponatah after his return to Nome, for the girl
avoided him, and when he did see her she assumed a peculiar reserve.
Her year and a half of intimate association with cultured people had
in reality worked an amazing improvement in her, and people no longer
regarded her as an Indian, but referred to her now as "that Russian
governess," nevertheless she could retreat behind a baffling air
of stolidity--almost of sullenness--when she chose, and that was
precisely the mask she wore for Bill. In reality she was far from
stolid and anything but sullen.
For his part he made no effort to break down the girl's guard; he
continued to treat her with his customary free good nature.
Notwithstanding the liberal margin of profit on his winter's
operations, Bill realized that he was still shy approximately half
of the sum which Doctor Thomas had set as satisfactory, and when the
latter began planning to resume work on a larger scale in the fall Mr.
Hyde was stricken with panic. Fearing lest his own lack of enthusiasm
in these plans and his indifference to all affairs even remotely
concerning Eclipse Creek should awaken suspicion, he determined to
sell out his own and his partner's interests in accordance with their
original understanding. Without consulting Thomas he called upon
The pious mine-owner was glad to see him; his manner was not at all
what it had been when Bill worked for him. His words of greeting
fairly trickled prune juice and honey.
"Say, Doc, I got a load on my chest! I'm a strayed lamb and you being
a sort of shepherd I turns to you," Bill began.
"I trust you have not come in vain." The ex-missionary beamed
benignly. "It has been my duty and my privilege to comfort the
afflicted. What troubles you, William?"
"There's a school of sharks in this village, and I don't trust 'em.
They're too slick for a feller like me,"
"It _is_ an ungodly place," the doctor agreed. "I have felt the call
to work here, but my duties prevent. Of course I labor in the Lord's
vineyard as I pass through, but--I am weak."
"Me, too, and getting weaker daily." Bill summoned a hollow cough.
"Listen to that hospital bark,' I gotta blow this place, Doc, or
they'll button me up in a rosewood overcoat. I gotta sell Eclipse
Creek and beat it." Again he coughed.
"I am distressed. But why do you come here?"
"I aim to sell out to you."
"What is your price, William?"
"A hundred and fifty thousand, cash."
Slayforth lifted protesting palms. "My dear man--"
"That's cheaper'n good advice, and you know it. I took out 'most that
much last winter with a scowegian gang of six. Here's the bank's O.K.
But I ain't got use for a lot of money, Doc. I wouldn't know how to
run a vineyard like you do. All I want is a nice little corner saloon
or a cattle ranch."
"It is a large sum of money you ask. There is always an element of
uncertainty about placer mining." Doctor Slayforth failed to conceal
the gleam of avarice in his eyes.
"Doc, take it from me; there ain't a particle of uncertainty about
Eclipse Creek," Bill earnestly assured his hearer. "If I told you
what's there you wouldn't believe me. But Thomas, he's got a gal and I
got a cough. They both need attention, and he's the only guy that can
give it. We're willing to hand you Eclipse Creek if you'll take it."
There was considerable conversation, and a visit to Eclipse Creek, but
the doctor, it proved, was willing to take any good bargain, and a few
days later the transfer was made. When the larger part of Slayforth's
winter's clean-up had changed hands the two partners adjourned to
Thomas's little office.
"Well!" The physician heaved a deep sigh of relief. "It's all over,
and--I feel as if I were dreaming."
"The _Oregon_ sails to-morrow. It's time to stomp on the fire."
"I--I wonder if we were wise to sell out at that price," the doctor
"You lay a bet on it, bo. Something tells me that soul-saver will go
bust on Eclipse Creek. I got a hunch that way." Mr. Hyde's seamy face
wrinkled into a broad grin.
"Well, I've more faith in your hunches than I used to have. You've
been a good friend, Bill, and a square one." The speaker choked, then
wrung his partner's hand. "I've cabled Alice to meet us. I want you to
know her and--I want her to see that I cured you, after all."
"I'd admire to meet her, but my taste has allus run more to
brunettes," said Mr. Hyde. Then, since he abhorred emotional display,
he continued, briskly: "Now call the dog. I'm off to buy our duckets."
Laughing Bill purchased three tickets instead of two, then he went in
search of Ponatah. It so chanced that he found her alone. Now neither
he nor any other man had ever called upon her, therefore she was
dumfounded at his coming.
"Well, Kid," he announced, "me 'n' the Doc have sold Eclipse Creek,
and we bow out tomorrow on the big smoke."
Ponatah opened her lips, but no sound issued. She possessed a strong
young body, but the strength, the life, seemed suddenly to go out of
it, leaving her old and spiritless.
"Got a kind word for us?" the man inquired, with a twinkle.
"I'm glad you struck it rich," she murmured, dully. "You--you'll take
care of yourself, Billy?"
"Who, me? I don't s'pose so. I don't know how to take care of
nothing." There was a moment of silence. "Like me?" he asked.
Ponatah turned away blindly, but as she did so Laughing Bill put his
hand gently upon her shoulder, saying:
"Cheer up, Kid. You're going to join the troupe. I've come to get
There was amazement, incredulity, in the girl's face as she lifted it
to his. "What do you--mean?" she quavered. "Are you going to--marry
"You guessed it!" he laughed. "I been aiming to put up that job on you
for a long time, but I had a lot of deals on my hands. I was a sort
of power-of-attorney for a coupla simps, and it kept me busy. If
you think the two of us can do with three lungs, why, we'll grab a
"Billy! Billy!" Ponatah clung to him fiercely, hungrily. "Oh,
Billy--I'll make you well. We'll go to Arizona, Colorado,
Montana--where it is high and dry--"
"I been to them places," he told her, dubiously, "and I 'most stopped
"New Mexico, then. You won't be ashamed of me there."
"Say, Kid! I wouldn't be ashamed of a harelip and warts in New Mexico.
But you got me wrong; I'm plumb proud of you, and just to prove it
I aim to make you carry our bank-roll in your name. That's how she
stands at the bank, and that's how she's goin' to stand. From time to
time you can gimme a check for what you think I'm wuth. Now then, do
with me as you will; grab your lid; we'll join hands and be soldered
Laughing Bill stared after the girl as she hurried away; musingly he
said: "The little Doc got in on no pair, for it was all her coin, of
course. But she'd 'a' had to split, fifty-fifty, with a lawyer, so it
ain't a bad deal all around."
THE NORTH WIND'S MALICE
It had snowed during the night, but toward morning it had grown cold;
now the sled-runners complained and the load dragged heavily. Folsom,
who had been heaving at the handle-bars all the way up the Dexter
Creek hill, halted his dogs at the crest and dropped upon the sled,
only too glad of a breathing spell. His forehead was wet with sweat;
when it began to freeze in his eyebrows he removed his mittens and
wiped away the drops, then watched them congeal upon his fingers.
Yes, it was all of thirty below, and a bad morning to hit the trail,
but--Folsom's face set itself--better thirty below in the open than
the frigid atmosphere of an unhappy home.
Harkness, who had led the way up the hill, plodded onward for a time
before discovering that his companion had paused; then, through the
ring of hoar frost around his parka hood, he called back:
"I'll hike down to the road-house and warm up."
Folsom made no answer, he did not even turn his head. Taciturnity was
becoming a habit with him, and already he was beginning to dislike his
new partner. For that matter he disliked everybody this morning.
Below him lay the level tundra, merging indistinguishably with the
white anchor-ice of Behring Sea; beyond that a long black streak of
open water, underscoring the sky as if to emphasize the significance
of that empty horizon, a horizon which for many months would remain
unsmudged by smoke. To Folsom it seemed that the distant stretch of
dark water was like a prison wall, barring the outside world from him
and the other fools who had elected to stay "inside."
Fools? Yes; they were all fools!
Folsom was a "sour-dough." He had seen the pranks that Alaskan winters
play with men and women, he had watched the alteration in minds and
morals made by the Arctic isolation, and he had considered himself
proof against the malice that rides the north wind--the mischief that
comes with the winter nights. He had dared to put faith in his perfect
happiness, thinking himself different from other men and Lois superior
to other wives, wherefore he now called himself a fool!
Sprawled beside the shore, five miles away, was Nome, its ugliness of
corrugated iron, rough boards, and tar paper somewhat softened by the
distance. From the jumble of roofs he picked out one and centered his
attention upon it. It was his roof--or had been. He wondered, with a
sudden flare of wrathful indignation, if Lois would remember that fact
during his absence. But he banished this evil thought. Lois had pride,
there was nothing common about her; he could not believe that she
would affront the proprieties. It was to spare that very pride of
hers, even more than his own, that he had undertaken this adventure to
the Kobuk; and now, as he looked back upon Nome, he told himself that
he was acting handsomely in totally eliminating himself, thus allowing
her time and freedom in which to learn her heart. He hoped that before
his return she would have chosen between him and the other man.
It was too cold to remain idle long. Folsom's damp body began
to chill, so he spoke to his team and once more heaved upon the
Leaving the crest of the ridge behind, the dogs began to run; they
soon brought up in a tangle at the road-house door. When Harkness
did not appear in answer to his name Folsom entered, to find his
trail-mate at the bar, glass in hand.
"Put that down!" Folsom ordered, sharply.
Harkness did precisely that, then he turned, wiping his lips with
the back of his hand. He was a small, fox-faced man; with a grin he
invited the new-comer to "have one."
"Don't you know better than to drink on a day like this?" the latter
"Don't worry about me. I was raised on 'hootch,'" said Harkness.
"It's bad medicine."
"Bah! I'll travel further drunk than--" Harkness measured his critic
with an insolent eye--"than some folks sober." He commenced to warm
himself at the stove, whereupon the other cried, impatiently:
"Come along. We can't stop at every cabin."
But Harkness was in no hurry, he consumed considerable time. When
he finally followed Folsom out into the air the latter, being in a
peculiarly irritable mood, warned him in a voice which shook with
"We're going to start with an understanding. If you take another drink
during the daytime I'll leave you flat."
"Rats! How you aim to get to the Kobuk without me?" asked Harkness.
"I'll manage somehow."
The smaller man shot a startled glance at the speaker, then his
insolence vanished. "All right, old top," he said, easily. "But don't
cut off your nose to spite your face. Remember, I promised if you'd
stick to me you'd wear gold-beaded moccasins." He set off at a trot,
with the dogs following.
This fellow Harkness had come with the first snow into Nome, bearing
news of a strike on the Kobuk, and despite his braggadocio he had made
rather a good impression. That luck which favors fools and fakers had
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