Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared from the 1913 Mills and Boon edition
by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorest.
THE TASTE OF THE MEAT
THE STAMPEDE TO SQUAW CREEK
THE MAN ON THE OTHER BANK
THE RACE FOR NUMBER ONE
THE TASTE OF THE MEAT.
In the beginning he was Christopher Bellew. By the time he was at
college he had become Chris Bellew. Later, in the Bohemian crowd of
San Francisco, he was called Kit Bellew. And in the end he was
known by no other name than Smoke Bellew. And this history of the
evolution of his name is the history of his evolution. Nor would it
have happened had he not had a fond mother and an iron uncle, and
had he not received a letter from Gillet Bellamy.
"I have just seen a copy of the Billow," Gillet wrote from Paris.
"Of course O'Hara will succeed with it. But he's missing some
plays." (Here followed details in the improvement of the budding
society weekly.) "Go down and see him. Let him think they're your
own suggestions. Don't let him know they're from me. If he does,
he'll make me Paris correspondent, which I can't afford, because I'm
getting real money for my stuff from the big magazines. Above all,
don't forget to make him fire that dub who's doing the musical and
art criticism. Another thing, San Francisco has always had a
literature of her own. But she hasn't any now. Tell him to kick
around and get some gink to turn out a live serial, and to put into
it the real romance and glamour and colour of San Francisco."
And down to the office of the Billow went Kit Bellew faithfully to
instruct. O'Hara listened. O'Hara debated. O'Hara agreed. O'Hara
fired the dub who wrote criticism. Further, O'Hara had a way with
him--the very way that was feared by Gillet in distant Paris. When
O'Hara wanted anything, no friend could deny him. He was sweetly
and compellingly irresistible. Before Kit Bellew could escape from
the office he had become an associate editor, had agreed to write
weekly columns of criticism till some decent pen was found, and had
pledged himself to write a weekly instalment of ten thousand words
on the San Francisco serial--and all this without pay. The Billow
wasn't paying yet, O'Hara explained; and just as convincingly had he
exposited that there was only one man in San Francisco capable of
writing the serial, and that man Kit Bellew.
"Oh, Lord, I'm the gink!" Kit had groaned to himself afterwards on
the narrow stairway.
And thereat had begun his servitude to O'Hara and the insatiable
columns of the Billow. Week after week he held down an office
chair, stood off creditors, wrangled with printers, and turned out
twenty-five thousand words of all sorts weekly. Nor did his labours
lighten. The Billow was ambitious. It went in for illustration.
The processes were expensive. It never had any money to pay Kit
Bellew, and by the same token it was unable to pay for any additions
to the office staff.
"This is what comes of being a good fellow," Kit grumbled one day.
"Thank God for good fellows then," O'Hara cried, with tears in his
eyes as he gripped Kit's hand. "You're all that's saved me, Kit.
But for you I'd have gone bust. Just a little longer, old man, and
things will be easier."
"Never," was Kit's plaint. "I see my fate clearly. I shall be here
A little later he thought he saw his way out. Watching his chance,
in O'Hara's presence, he fell over a chair. A few minutes
afterwards he bumped into the corner of the desk, and, with fumbling
fingers, capsized a paste pot.
"Out late?" O'Hara queried.
Kit brushed his eyes with his hands and peered about him anxiously
"No, it's not that. It's my eyes. They seem to be going back on
me, that's all."
For several days he continued to fall over and bump into the office
furniture. But O'Hara's heart was not softened.
"I tell you what, Kit," he said one day, "you've got to see an
oculist. There's Doctor Hassdapple. He's a crackerjack. And it
won't cost you anything. We can get it for advertizing. I'll see
And, true to his word, he dispatched Kit to the oculist.
"There's nothing the matter with your eyes," was the doctor's
verdict, after a lengthy examination. "In fact, your eyes are
magnificent--a pair in a million."
"Don't tell O'Hara," Kit pleaded. "And give me a pair of black
The result of this was that O'Hara sympathized and talked glowingly
of the time when the Billow would be on its feet.
Luckily for Kit Bellew, he had his own income. Small it was,
compared with some, yet it was large enough to enable him to belong
to several clubs and maintain a studio in the Latin Quarter. In
point of fact, since his associate editorship, his expenses had
decreased prodigiously. He had no time to spend money. He never
saw the studio any more, nor entertained the local Bohemians with
his famous chafing-dish suppers. Yet he was always broke, for the
Billow, in perennial distress, absorbed his cash as well as his
brains. There were the illustrators who periodically refused to
illustrate, the printers who periodically refused to print, and the
office boy who frequently refused to officiate. At such times
O'Hara looked at Kit, and Kit did the rest.
When the steamship Excelsior arrived from Alaska, bringing the news
of the Klondike strike that set the country mad, Kit made a purely
"Look here, O'Hara," he said. "This gold rush is going to be big--
the days of '49 over again. Suppose I cover it for the Billow?
I'll pay my own expenses."
O'Hara shook his head.
"Can't spare you from the office, Kit. Then there's that serial.
Besides, I saw Jackson not an hour ago. He's starting for the
Klondike to-morrow, and he's agreed to send a weekly letter and
photos. I wouldn't let him get away till he promised. And the
beauty of it is, that it doesn't cost us anything."
The next Kit heard of the Klondike was when he dropped into the club
that afternoon, and, in an alcove off the library, encountered his
"Hello, avuncular relative," Kit greeted, sliding into a leather
chair and spreading out his legs. "Won't you join me?"
He ordered a cocktail, but the uncle contented himself with the thin
native claret he invariably drank. He glanced with irritated
disapproval at the cocktail, and on to his nephew's face. Kit saw a
"I've only a minute," he announced hastily. "I've got to run and
take in that Keith exhibition at Ellery's and do half a column on
"What's the matter with you?" the other demanded. "You're pale.
You're a wreck."
Kit's only answer was a groan.
"I'll have the pleasure of burying you, I can see that."
Kit shook his head sadly.
"No destroying worm, thank you. Cremation for mine."
John Bellew came of the old hard and hardy stock that had crossed
the plains by ox-team in the fifties, and in him was this same
hardness and the hardness of a childhood spent in the conquering of
a new land.
"You're not living right, Christopher. I'm ashamed of you."
"Primrose path, eh?" Kit chuckled.
The older man shrugged his shoulders.
"Shake not your gory locks at me, avuncular. I wish it were the
primrose path. But that's all cut out. I have no time."
"Then what in-?"
John Bellew laughed harshly and incredulously.
Again came the laughter.
"Men are the products of their environment," Kit proclaimed,
pointing at the other's glass. "Your mirth is thin and bitter as
"Overwork!" was the sneer. "You never earned a cent in your life."
"You bet I have--only I never got it. I'm earning five hundred a
week right now, and doing four men's work."
"Pictures that won't sell? Or--er--fancy work of some sort? Can
"I used to."
"Sit a horse?"
"I have essayed that adventure."
John Bellew snorted his disgust.
"I'm glad your father didn't live to see you in all the glory of
your gracelessness," he said. "Your father was a man, every inch of
him. Do you get it? A Man. I think he'd have whaled all this
musical and artistic tomfoolery out of you."
"Alas! these degenerate days," Kit sighed.
"I could understand it, and tolerate it," the other went on
savagely, "if you succeeded at it. You've never earned a cent in
your life, nor done a tap of man's work."
"Etchings, and pictures, and fans," Kit contributed unsoothingly.
"You're a dabbler and a failure. What pictures have you painted?
Dinky water-colours and nightmare posters. You've never had one
exhibited, even here in San Francisco-"
"Ah, you forget. There is one in the jinks room of this very club."
"A gross cartoon. Music? Your dear fool of a mother spent hundreds
on lessons. You've dabbled and failed. You've never even earned a
five-dollar piece by accompanying some one at a concert. Your
songs?--rag-time rot that's never printed and that's sung only by a
pack of fake Bohemians."
"I had a book published once--those sonnets, you remember," Kit
"What did it cost you?"
"Only a couple of hundred."
"Any other achievements?"
"I had a forest play acted at the summer jinks."
"What did you get for it?"
"And you used to swim, and you have essayed to sit a horse!" John
Bellew set his glass down with unnecessary violence. "What earthly
good are you anyway? You were well put up, yet even at university
you didn't play football. You didn't row. You didn't-"
"I boxed and fenced--some."
"When did you last box?"
"Not since; but I was considered an excellent judge of time and
distance, only I was--er-"
"Lazy, you mean."
"I always imagined it was an euphemism."
"My father, sir, your grandfather, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man
with a blow of his fist when he was sixty-nine years old."
"No, your--you graceless scamp! But you'll never kill a mosquito at
"The times have changed, oh, my avuncular. They send men to state
prisons for homicide now."
"Your father rode one hundred and eighty-five miles, without
sleeping, and killed three horses."
"Had he lived to-day, he'd have snored over the course in a
The older man was on the verge of choking with wrath, but swallowed
it down and managed to articulate:
"How old are you?"
"I have reason to believe-"
"I know. Twenty-seven. You finished college at twenty-two. You've
dabbled and played and frilled for five years. Before God and man,
of what use are you? When I was your age I had one suit of
underclothes. I was riding with the cattle in Colusa. I was hard
as rocks, and I could sleep on a rock. I lived on jerked beef and
bear-meat. I am a better man physically right now than you are.
You weigh about one hundred and sixty-five. I can throw you right
now, or thrash you with my fists."
"It doesn't take a physical prodigy to mop up cocktails or pink
tea," Kit murmured deprecatingly. "Don't you see, my avuncular, the
times have changed. Besides, I wasn't brought up right. My dear
fool of a mother-"
John Bellew started angrily.
"-As you described her, was too good to me; kept me in cotton wool
and all the rest. Now, if when I was a youngster I had taken some
of those intensely masculine vacations you go in for--I wonder why
you didn't invite me sometimes? You took Hal and Robbie all over
the Sierras and on that Mexico trip."
"I guess you were too Lord Fauntleroyish."
"Your fault, avuncular, and my dear--er--mother's. How was I to
know the hard? I was only a chee-ild. What was there left but
etchings and pictures and fans? Was it my fault that I never had to
The older man looked at his nephew with unconcealed disgust. He had
no patience with levity from the lips of softness.
"Well, I'm going to take another one of those what-you-call
masculine vacations. Suppose I asked you to come along?"
"Rather belated, I must say. Where is it?"
"Hal and Robert are going in to Klondike, and I'm going to see them
across the Pass and down to the Lakes, then return-"
He got no further, for the young man had sprung forward and gripped
John Bellew was immediately suspicious. He had not dreamed the
invitation would be accepted.
"You don't mean it," he said.
"When do we start?"
"It will be a hard trip. You'll be in the way."
"No, I won't. I'll work. I've learned to work since I went on the
"Each man has to take a year's supplies in with him. There'll be
such a jam the Indian packers won't be able to handle it. Hal and
Robert will have to pack their outfits across themselves. That's
what I'm going along for--to help them pack. It you come you'll
have to do the same."
"You can't pack," was the objection.
"When do we start?"
"You needn't take it to yourself that your lecture on the hard has
done it," Kit said, at parting. "I just had to get away, somewhere,
anywhere, from O'Hara."
"Who is O'Hara? A Jap?"
"No; he's an Irishman, and a slave-driver, and my best friend. He's
the editor and proprietor and all-around big squeeze of the Billow.
What he says goes. He can make ghosts walk."
That night Kit Bellew wrote a note to O'Hara.
"It's only a several weeks' vacation," he explained. "You'll have
to get some gink to dope out instalments for that serial. Sorry,
old man, but my health demands it. I'll kick in twice as hard when
I get back."
Kit Bellew landed through the madness of the Dyea beach, congested
with thousand-pound outfits of thousands of men. This immense mass
of luggage and food, flung ashore in mountains by the steamers, was
beginning slowly to dribble up the Dyea valley and across Chilcoot.
It was a portage of twenty-eight miles, and could be accomplished
only on the backs of men. Despite the fact that the Indian packers
had jumped the freight from eight cents a pound to forty, they were
swamped with the work, and it was plain that winter would catch the
major portion of the outfits on the wrong side of the divide.
Tenderest of the tender-feet was Kit. Like many hundreds of others
he carried a big revolver swung on a cartridge-belt. Of this, his
uncle, filled with memories of old lawless days, was likewise
guilty. But Kit Bellew was romantic. He was fascinated by the
froth and sparkle of the gold rush, and viewed its life and movement
with an artist's eye. He did not take it seriously. As he said on
the steamer, it was not his funeral. He was merely on a vacation,
and intended to peep over the top of the pass for a 'look see' and
then to return.
Leaving his party on the sand to wait for the putting ashore of the
freight, he strolled up the beach toward the old trading post. He
did not swagger, though he noticed that many of the be-revolvered
individuals did. A strapping, six-foot Indian passed him, carrying
an unusually large pack. Kit swung in behind, admiring the splendid
calves of the man, and the grace and ease with which he moved along
under his burden. The Indian dropped his pack on the scales in
front of the post, and Kit joined the group of admiring gold-rushers
who surrounded him. The pack weighed one hundred and twenty pounds,
which fact was uttered back and forth in tones of awe. It was going
some, Kit decided, and he wondered if he could lift such a weight,
much less walk off with it.
"Going to Lake Linderman with it, old man?" he asked.
The Indian, swelling with pride, grunted an affirmative.
"How much you make that one pack?"
Here Kit slid out of the conversation. A young woman, standing in
the doorway, had caught his eye. Unlike other women landing from
the steamers, she was neither short-skirted nor bloomer-clad. She
was dressed as any woman travelling anywhere would be dressed. What
struck him was the justness of her being there, a feeling that
somehow she belonged. Moreover, she was young and pretty. The
bright beauty and colour of her oval face held him, and he looked
over-long--looked till she resented, and her own eyes, long-lashed
and dark, met his in cool survey.
From his face they travelled in evident amusement down to the big
revolver at his thigh. Then her eyes came back to his, and in them
was amused contempt. It struck him like a blow. She turned to the
man beside her and indicated Kit. The man glanced him over with the
same amused contempt.
"Chechaquo," the girl said.
The man, who looked like a tramp in his cheap overalls and
dilapidated woollen jacket, grinned dryly, and Kit felt withered
though he knew not why. But anyway she was an unusually pretty
girl, he decided, as the two moved off. He noted the way of her
walk, and recorded the judgment that he would recognize it after the
lapse of a thousand years.
"Did you see that man with the girl?" Kit's neighbour asked him
excitedly. "Know who he is?"
Kit shook his head.
"Cariboo Charley. He was just pointed out to me. He struck it big
on Klondike. Old timer. Been on the Yukon a dozen years. He's
just come out."
"What's chechaquo mean?" Kit asked.
"You're one; I'm one," was the answer.
"Maybe I am, but you've got to search me. What does it mean?"
On his way back to the beach Kit turned the phrase over and over.
It rankled to be called tender-foot by a slender chit of a woman.
Going into a corner among the heaps of freight, his mind still
filled with the vision of the Indian with the redoubtable pack, Kit
essayed to learn his own strength. He picked out a sack of flour
which he knew weighed an even hundred pounds. He stepped astride of
it, reached down, and strove to get it on his shoulder. His first
conclusion was that one hundred pounds was the real heavy. His next
was that his back was weak. His third was an oath, and it occurred
at the end of five futile minutes, when he collapsed on top of the
burden with which he was wrestling. He mopped his forehead, and
across a heap of grub-sacks saw John Bellew gazing at him, wintry
amusement in his eyes.
"God!" proclaimed that apostle of the hard. "Out of our loins has
come a race of weaklings. When I was sixteen I toyed with things
"You forget, avuncular," Kit retorted, "that I wasn't raised on
"And I'll toy with it when I'm sixty."
"You've got to show me."
John Bellew did. He was forty-eight, but he bent over the sack,
applied a tentative, shifting grip that balanced it, and, with a
quick heave, stood erect, the somersaulted sack of flour on his
"Knack, my boy, knack--and a spine."
Kit took off his hat reverently.
"You're a wonder, avuncular, a shining wonder. D'ye think I can
learn the knack?"
John Bellew shrugged his shoulders.
"You'll be hitting the back trail before we get started."
"Never you fear," Kit groaned. "There's O'Hara, the roaring lion,
down there. I'm not going back till I have to."
Kit's first pack was a success. Up to Finnegan's Crossing they had
managed to get Indians to carry the twenty-five hundred-pound
outfit. From that point their own backs must do the work. They
planned to move forward at the rate of a mile a day. It looked
easy--on paper. Since John Bellew was to stay in camp and do the
cooking, he would be unable to make more than an occasional pack;
so, to each of the three young men fell the task of carrying eight
hundred pounds one mile each day. If they made fifty-pound packs,
it meant a daily walk of sixteen miles loaded and of fifteen miles
light--"Because we don't back-trip the last time," Kit explained the
pleasant discovery; eighty-pound packs meant nineteen miles travel
each day; and hundred-pound packs meant only fifteen miles.
"I don't like walking," said Kit. "Therefore I shall carry one
hundred pounds." He caught the grin of incredulity on his uncle's
face, and added hastily: "Of course I shall work up to it. A
fellow's got to learn the ropes and tricks. I'll start with fifty."
He did, and ambled gaily along the trail. He dropped the sack at
the next camp-site and ambled back. It was easier than he had
thought. But two miles had rubbed off the velvet of his strength
and exposed the underlying softness. His second pack was sixty-five
pounds. It was more difficult, and he no longer ambled. Several
times, following the custom of all packers, he sat down on the
ground, resting the pack behind him on a rock or stump. With the
third pack he became bold. He fastened the straps to a ninety-five-
pound sack of beans and started. At the end of a hundred yards he
felt that he must collapse. He sat down and mopped his face.
"Short hauls and short rests," he muttered. "That's the trick."
Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he
struggled to his feet for another short haul the pack became
undeniably heavier. He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed
from him. Before he had covered a quarter of a mile he stripped off
his woollen shirt and hung it on a tree. A little later he
discarded his hat. At the end of half a mile he decided he was
finished. He had never exerted himself so in his life, and he knew
that he was finished. As he sat and panted, his gaze fell upon the
big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.
"Ten pounds of junk," he sneered, as he unbuckled it.
He did not bother to hang it on a tree, but flung it into the
underbush. And as the steady tide of packers flowed by him, up
trail and down, he noted that the other tender-feet were beginning
to shed their shooting irons.
His short hauls decreased. At times a hundred feet was all he could
stagger, and then the ominous pounding of his heart against his ear-
drums and the sickening totteriness of his knees compelled him to
rest. And his rests grew longer. But his mind was busy. It was a
twenty-eight mile portage, which represented as many days, and this,
by all accounts, was the easiest part of it. "Wait till you get to
Chilcoot," others told him as they rested and talked, "where you
climb with hands and feet."
"They ain't going to be no Chilcoot," was his answer. "Not for me.
Long before that I'll be at peace in my little couch beneath the
A slip, and a violent wrenching effort at recovery, frightened him.
He felt that everything inside him had been torn asunder.
"If ever I fall down with this on my back I'm a goner," he told
"That's nothing," came the answer. "Wait till you hit the Canyon.
You'll have to cross a raging torrent on a sixty-foot pine tree. No
guide ropes, nothing, and the water boiling at the sag of the log to
your knees. If you fall with a pack on your back, there's no
getting out of the straps. You just stay there and drown."
"Sounds good to me," he retorted; and out of the depths of his
exhaustion he almost half meant it.
"They drown three or four a day there," the man assured him. "I
helped fish a German out there. He had four thousand in greenbacks
"Cheerful, I must say," said Kit, battling his way to his feet and
He and the sack of beans became a perambulating tragedy. It
reminded him of the old man of the sea who sat on Sinbad's neck.
And this was one of those intensely masculine vacations, he
meditated. Compared with it, the servitude to O'Hara was sweet.
Again and again he was nearly seduced by the thought of abandoning
the sack of beans in the brush and of sneaking around the camp to
the beach and catching a steamer for civilization.
But he didn't. Somewhere in him was the strain of the hard, and he
repeated over and over to himself that what other men could do, he
could. It became a nightmare chant, and he gibbered it to those
that passed him on the trail. At other times, resting, he watched
and envied the stolid, mule-footed Indians that plodded by under
heavier packs. They never seemed to rest, but went on and on with a
steadiness and certitude that was to him appalling.
He sat and cursed--he had no breath for it when under way--and
fought the temptation to sneak back to San Francisco. Before the
mile pack was ended he ceased cursing and took to crying. The tears
were tears of exhaustion and of disgust with self. If ever a man
was a wreck, he was. As the end of the pack came in sight, he
strained himself in desperation, gained the camp-site, and pitched
forward on his face, the beans on his back. It did not kill him,
but he lay for fifteen minutes before he could summon sufficient
shreds of strength to release himself from the straps. Then he
became deathly sick, and was so found by Robbie, who had similar
troubles of his own. It was this sickness of Robbie that braced him
"What other men can do, we can do," Kit told him, though down in his
heart he wondered whether or not he was bluffing.
"And I am twenty-seven years old and a man," he privately assured
himself many times in the days that followed. There was need for
it. At the end of a week, though he had succeeded in moving his
eight hundred pounds forward a mile a day, he had lost fifteen
pounds of his own weight. His face was lean and haggard. All
resilience had gone out of his body and mind. He no longer walked,
but plodded. And on the back-trips, travelling light, his feet
dragged almost as much as when he was loaded.
He had become a work animal. He fell asleep over his food, and his
sleep was heavy and beastly, save when he was aroused, screaming
with agony, by the cramps in his legs. Every part of him ached. He
tramped on raw blisters, yet this was even easier than the fearful
bruising his feet received on the water-rounded rocks of the Dyea
Flats, across which the trail led for two miles. These two miles
represented thirty-eight miles of travelling. He washed his face
once a day. His nails, torn and broken and afflicted with
hangnails, were never cleaned. His shoulders and chest, galled by
the pack-straps, made him think, and for the first time with
understanding, of the horses he had seen on city streets.
One ordeal that nearly destroyed him at first had been the food.
The extraordinary amount of work demanded extraordinary stoking, and
his stomach was unaccustomed to great quantities of bacon and of the
coarse, highly poisonous brown beans. As a result, his stomach went
back on him, and for several days the pain and irritation of it and
of starvation nearly broke him down. And then came the day of joy
when he could eat like a ravenous animal, and, wolf-eyed, ask for
When they had moved the outfit across the foot-logs at the mouth of
the Canyon, they made a change in their plans. Word had come across
the Pass that at Lake Linderman the last available trees for
building boats were being cut. The two cousins, with tools,
whipsaw, blankets, and grub on their backs, went on, leaving Kit and
his uncle to hustle along the outfit. John Bellew now shared the
cooking with Kit, and both packed shoulder to shoulder. Time was
flying, and on the peaks the first snow was falling. To be caught
on the wrong side of the Pass meant a delay of nearly a year. The
older man put his iron back under a hundred pounds. Kit was
shocked, but he gritted his teeth and fastened his own straps to a
hundred pounds. It hurt, but he had learned the knack, and his
body, purged of all softness and fat, was beginning to harden up
with lean and bitter muscle. Also, he observed and devised. He
took note of the head-straps worn by the Indians, and manufactured
one for himself, which he used in addition to the shoulder-straps.
It made things easier, so that he began the practice of piling any
light, cumbersome piece of luggage on top. Thus, he was soon able
to bend along with a hundred pounds in the straps, fifteen or twenty
more lying loosely on top the pack and against his neck, an axe or a
pair of oars in one hand, and in the other the nested cooking-pails
of the camp.
But work as they would, the toil increased. The trail grew more
rugged; their packs grew heavier; and each day saw the snow-line
dropping down the mountains, while freight jumped to sixty cents.
No word came from the cousins beyond, so they knew they must be at
work chopping down the standing trees, and whipsawing them into
boat-planks. John Bellew grew anxious. Capturing a bunch of
Indians back-tripping from Lake Linderman, he persuaded them to put
their straps on the outfit. They charged thirty cents a pound to
carry it to the summit of Chilcoot, and it nearly broke him. As it
was, some four hundred pounds of clothes-bags and camp outfit was
not handled. He remained behind to move it along, dispatching Kit
with the Indians. At the summit Kit was to remain, slowly moving
his ton until overtaken by the four hundred pounds with which his
uncle guaranteed to catch him.
Kit plodded along the trail with his Indian packers. In recognition
of the fact that it was to be a long pack, straight to the top of
Chilcoot, his own load was only eighty pounds. The Indians plodded
under their loads, but it was a quicker gait than he had practised.
Yet he felt no apprehension, and by now had come to deem himself
almost the equal of an Indian.
At the end of a quarter of a mile he desired to rest. But the
Indians kept on. He stayed with them, and kept his place in the
line. At the half mile he was convinced that he was incapable of
another step, yet he gritted his teeth, kept his place, and at the
end of the mile was amazed that he was still alive. Then, in some
strange way, came the thing called second wind, and the next mile
was almost easier than the first. The third mile nearly killed him,
and, though half delirious with pain and fatigue, he never
whimpered. And then, when he felt he must surely faint, came the
rest. Instead of sitting in the straps, as was the custom of the
white packers, the Indians slipped out of the shoulder- and head-
straps and lay at ease, talking and smoking. A full half hour
passed before they made another start. To Kit's surprise he found
himself a fresh man, and 'long hauls and long rests' became his
The pitch of Chilcoot was all he had heard of it, and many were the
occasions when he climbed with hands as well as feet. But when he
reached the crest of the divide in the thick of a driving snow-
squall, it was in the company of his Indians, and his secret pride
was that he had come through with them and never squealed and never
lagged. To be almost as good as an Indian was a new ambition to
When he had paid off the Indians and seen them depart, a stormy
darkness was falling, and he was left alone, a thousand feet above
timber line, on the back-bone of a mountain. Wet to the waist,
famished and exhausted, he would have given a year's income for a
fire and a cup of coffee. Instead, he ate half a dozen cold flap-
jacks and crawled into the folds of the partly unrolled tent. As he
dozed off he had time only for one fleeting thought, and he grinned
with vicious pleasure at the picture of John Bellew in the days to
follow, masculinely back-tripping his four hundred pounds up
Chilcoot. As for himself, even though burdened with two thousand
pounds, he was bound down the hill.
In the morning, stiff from his labours and numb with the frost, he
rolled out of the canvas, ate a couple of pounds of uncooked bacon,
buckled the straps on a hundred pounds, and went down the rocky way.
Several hundred yards beneath, the trail led across a small glacier
and down to Crater Lake. Other men packed across the glacier. All
that day he dropped his packs at the glacier's upper edge, and, by
virtue of the shortness of the pack, he put his straps on one
hundred and fifty pounds each load. His astonishment at being able
to do it never abated. For two dollars he bought from an Indian
three leathery sea-biscuits, and out of these, and a huge quantity
of raw bacon, made several meals. Unwashed, unwarmed, his clothing
wet with sweat, he slept another night in the canvas.
In the early morning he spread a tarpaulin on the ice, loaded it
with three-quarters of a ton, and started to pull. Where the pitch
of the glacier accelerated, his load likewise accelerated, overran
him, scooped him in on top, and ran away with him.
A hundred packers, bending under their loads, stopped to watch him.
He yelled frantic warnings, and those in his path stumbled and
staggered clear. Below, on the lower edge of the glacier, was
pitched a small tent, which seemed leaping toward him, so rapidly
did it grow larger. He left the beaten track where the packers'
trail swerved to the left, and struck a patch of fresh snow. This
arose about him in frosty smoke, while it reduced his speed. He saw
the tent the instant he struck it, carrying away the corner guys,
bursting in the front flaps, and fetching up inside, still on top of
the tarpaulin and in the midst of his grub-sacks. The tent rocked
drunkenly, and in the frosty vapour he found himself face to face
with a startled young woman who was sitting up in her blankets--the
very one who had called him chechaquo at Dyea.
"Did you see my smoke?" he queried cheerfully.
She regarded him with disapproval.
"Talk about your magic carpets!" he went on.
"Do you mind removing that sack from my foot?" she said coldly.
He looked, and lifted his weight quickly.
"It wasn't a sack. It was my elbow. Pardon me."
The information did not perturb her, and her coolness was a
"It was a mercy you did not overturn the stove," she said.
He followed her glance and saw a sheet-iron stove and a coffee-pot,
attended by a young squaw. He sniffed the coffee and looked back to
"I'm a chechaquo," he said.
Her bored expression told him that he was stating the obvious. But
he was unabashed.
"I've shed my shooting-irons," he added.
Then she recognized him, and her eyes lighted.
"I never thought you'd get this far," she informed him.
Again, and greedily, he sniffed the air.
"As I live, coffee!" He turned and directly addressed her. "I'll
give you my little finger--cut it right off now; I'll do anything;
I'll be your slave for a year and a day or any other odd time, if
you'll give me a cup out of that pot."
And over the coffee he gave his name and learned hers--Joy Gastell.
Also, he learned that she was an old-timer in the country. She had
been born in a trading post on the Great Slave, and as a child had
crossed the Rockies with her father and come down to the Yukon. She
was going in, she said, with her father, who had been delayed by
business in Seattle, and who had then been wrecked on the ill-fated
Chanter and carried back to Puget Sound by the rescuing steamer.
In view of the fact that she was still in her blankets, he did not
make it a long conversation, and, heroically declining a second cup
of coffee, he removed himself and his quarter of a ton of baggage
from her tent. Further, he took several conclusions away with him:
she had a fetching name and fetching eyes; could not be more than
twenty, or twenty-one or -two; her father must be French; she had a
will of her own and temperament to burn; and she had been educated
elsewhere than on the frontier.
Over the ice-scoured rocks, and above the timber-line, the trail ran
around Crater Lake and gained the rocky defile that led toward Happy
Camp and the first scrub pines. To pack his heavy outfit around
would take days of heart-breaking toil. On the lake was a canvas
boat employed in freighting. Two trips with it, in two hours, would
see him and his ton across. But he was broke, and the ferryman
charged forty dollars a ton.
"You've got a gold-mine, my friend, in that dinky boat," Kit said to
the ferryman. "Do you want another gold-mine?"
"Show me," was the answer.
"I'll sell it to you for the price of ferrying my outfit. It's an
idea, not patented, and you can jump the deal as soon as I tell you
it. Are you game?"
The ferryman said he was, and Kit liked his looks.
"Very well. You see that glacier. Take a pick-axe and wade into
it. In a day you can have a decent groove from top to bottom. See
the point? The Chilcoot and Crater Lake Consolidated Chute
Corporation, Limited. You can charge fifty cents a hundred, get a
hundred tons a day, and have no work to do but collect the coin."
Two hours later, Kit's ton was across the lake, and he had gained
three days on himself. And when John Bellew overtook him, he was
well along toward Deep Lake, another volcanic pit filled with
The last pack, from Long Lake to Linderman, was three miles, and the
trail, if trail it could be called, rose up over a thousand-foot
hogback, dropped down a scramble of slippery rocks, and crossed a
wide stretch of swamp. John Bellew remonstrated when he saw Kit
arise with a hundred pounds in the straps and pick up a fifty-pound
sack of flour and place it on top of the pack against the back of
"Come on, you chunk of the hard," Kit retorted. "Kick in on your
bear-meat fodder and your one suit of underclothes."
But John Bellew shook his head.
"I'm afraid I'm getting old, Christopher."
"You're only forty-eight. Do you realize that my grandfather, sir,
your father, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man with his fist when he
was sixty-nine years old?"
John Bellew grinned and swallowed his medicine.
"Avuncular, I want to tell you something important. I was raised a
Lord Fauntleroy, but I can outpack you, outwalk you, put you on your
back, or lick you with my fists right now."
John Bellew thrust out his hand and spoke solemnly.
"Christopher, my boy, I believe you can do it. I believe you can do
it with that pack on your back at the same time. You've made good,
boy, though it's too unthinkable to believe."
Kit made the round trip of the last pack four times a day, which is
to say that he daily covered twenty-four miles of mountain climbing,
twelve miles of it under one hundred and fifty pounds. He was
proud, hard, and tired, but in splendid physical condition. He ate
and slept as he had never eaten and slept in his life, and as the
end of the work came in sight, he was almost half sorry.
One problem bothered him. He had learned that he could fall with a
hundredweight on his back and survive; but he was confident, if he
fell with that additional fifty pounds across the back of his neck,
that it would break it clean. Each trail through the swamp was
quickly churned bottomless by the thousands of packers, who were
compelled continually to make new trails. It was while pioneering
such a new trail, that he solved the problem of the extra fifty.
The soft, lush surface gave way under him; he floundered, and
pitched forward on his face. The fifty pounds crushed his face in
the mud and went clear without snapping his neck. With the
remaining hundred pounds on his back, he arose on hands and knees.
But he got no farther. One arm sank to the shoulder, pillowing his
cheek in the slush. As he drew this arm clear, the other sank to
the shoulder. In this position it was impossible to slip the
straps, and the hundredweight on his back would not let him rise.
On hands and knees, sinking first one arm and then the other, he
made an effort to crawl to where the small sack of flour had fallen.
But he exhausted himself without advancing, and so churned and broke
the grass surface, that a tiny pool of water began to form in
perilous proximity to his mouth and nose.
He tried to throw himself on his back with the pack underneath, but
this resulted in sinking both arms to the shoulders and gave him a
foretaste of drowning. With exquisite patience, he slowly withdrew
one sucking arm and then the other and rested them flat on the
surface for the support of his chin. Then he began to call for
help. After a time he heard the sound of feet sucking through the
mud as some one advanced from behind.
"Lend a hand, friend," he said. "Throw out a life-line or
It was a woman's voice that answered, and he recognized it.
"If you'll unbuckle the straps I can get up."
The hundred pounds rolled into the mud with a soggy noise, and he
slowly gained his feet.
"A pretty predicament," Miss Gastell laughed, at sight of his mud-
"Not at all," he replied airily. "My favourite physical exercise
stunt. Try it some time. It's great for the pectoral muscles and
He wiped his face, flinging the slush from his hand with a snappy
"Oh!" she cried in recognition. "It's Mr--ah--Mr Smoke Bellew."
"I thank you gravely for your timely rescue and for that name," he
answered. "I have been doubly baptized. Henceforth I shall insist
always on being called Smoke Bellew. It is a strong name, and not
He paused, and then voice and expression became suddenly fierce.
"Do you know what I'm going to do?" he demanded. "I'm going back to
the States. I am going to get married. I am going to raise a large
family of children. And then, as the evening shadows fall, I shall
gather those children about me and relate the sufferings and
hardships I endured on the Chilcoot Trail. And if they don't cry--I
repeat, if they don't cry, I'll lambaste the stuffing out of them."
The arctic winter came down apace. Snow that had come to stay lay
six inches on the ground, and the ice was forming in quiet ponds,
despite the fierce gales that blew. It was in the late afternoon,
during a lull in such a gale, that Kit and John Bellew helped the
cousins load the boat and watched it disappear down the lake in a
"And now a night's sleep and an early start in the morning," said
John Bellew. "If we aren't storm-bound at the summit we'll make
Dyea to-morrow night, and if we have luck in catching a steamer
we'll be in San Francisco in a week."
"Enjoyed your vacation?" Kit asked absently.
Their camp for that last night at Linderman was a melancholy
remnant. Everything of use, including the tent, had been taken by
the cousins. A tattered tarpaulin, stretched as a wind-break,
partially sheltered them from the driving snow. Supper they cooked
on an open fire in a couple of battered and discarded camp utensils.
All that was left them were their blankets, and food for several
From the moment of the departure of the boat, Kit had become absent
and restless. His uncle noticed his condition, and attributed it to
the fact that the end of the hard toil had come. Only once during
supper did Kit speak.
"Avuncular," he said, relevant of nothing, "after this, I wish you'd
call me Smoke. I've made some smoke on this trail, haven't I?"
A few minutes later he wandered away in the direction of the village
of tents that sheltered the gold-rushers who were still packing or
building their boats. He was gone several hours, and when he
returned and slipped into his blankets John Bellew was asleep.
In the darkness of a gale-driven morning, Kit crawled out, built a
fire in his stocking feet, by which he thawed out his frozen shoes,
then boiled coffee and fried bacon. It was a chilly, miserable
meal. As soon as finished, they strapped their blankets. As John
Bellew turned to lead the way toward the Chilcoot Trail, Kit held
out his hand.
"Good-bye, avuncular," he said.
John Bellew looked at him and swore in his surprise.
"Don't forget my name's Smoke," Kit chided.
"But what are you going to do?"
Kit waved his hand in a general direction northward over the storm-
"What's the good of turning back after getting this far?" he asked.
"Besides, I've got my taste of meat, and I like it. I'm going on."
"You're broke," protested John Bellew. "You have no outfit."
"I've got a job. Behold your nephew, Christopher Smoke Bellew!
He's got a job at a hundred and fifty per month and grub. He's
going down to Dawson with a couple of dudes and another gentleman's
man--camp-cook, boatman, and general all-around hustler. And O'Hara
and the Billow can go to hell. Good-bye."
But John Bellew was dazed, and could only mutter:
"I don't understand."
"They say the baldface grizzlies are thick in the Yukon Basin," Kit
explained. "Well, I've got only one suit of underclothes, and I'm
going after the bear-meat, that's all."
Half the time the wind blew a gale, and Smoke Bellew staggered
against it along the beach. In the gray of dawn a dozen boats were
being loaded with the precious outfits packed across Chilcoot. They
were clumsy, home-made boats, put together by men who were not boat-
builders, out of planks they had sawed by hand from green spruce
trees. One boat, already loaded, was just starting, and Kit paused
The wind, which was fair down the lake, here blew in squarely on the
beach, kicking up a nasty sea in the shallows. The men of the
departing boat waded in high rubber boots as they shoved it out
toward deeper water. Twice they did this. Clambering aboard and
failing to row clear, the boat was swept back and grounded. Kit
noticed that the spray on the sides of the boat quickly turned to
ice. The third attempt was a partial success. The last two men to
climb in were wet to their waists, but the boat was afloat. They
struggled awkwardly at the heavy oars, and slowly worked off shore.
Then they hoisted a sail made of blankets, had it carried away in a
gust, and were swept a third time back on the freezing beach.
Kit grinned to himself and went on. This was what he must expect to
encounter, for he, too, in his new role of gentleman's man, was to
start from the beach in a similar boat that very day.
Everywhere men were at work, and at work desperately, for the
closing down of winter was so imminent that it was a gamble whether
or not they would get across the great chain of lakes before the
freeze-up. Yet, when Kit arrived at the tent of Messrs Sprague and
Stine, he did not find them stirring.
By a fire, under the shelter of a tarpaulin, squatted a short, thick
man smoking a brown-paper cigarette.
"Hello," he said. "Are you Mister Sprague's new man?"
As Kit nodded, he thought he had noted a shade of emphasis on the
mister and the man, and he was sure of a hint of a twinkle in the
corner of the eye.
"Well, I'm Doc Stine's man," the other went on. "I'm five feet two
inches long, and my name's Shorty, Jack Short for short, and
sometimes known as Johnny-on-the-Spot."
Kit put out his hand and shook.
"Were you raised on bear-meat?" he queried.
"Sure," was the answer; "though my first feedin' was buffalo-milk as
near as I can remember. Sit down an' have some grub. The bosses
ain't turned out yet."
And despite the one breakfast, Kit sat down under the tarpaulin and
ate a second breakfast thrice as hearty. The heavy, purging toil of
weeks had given him the stomach and appetite of a wolf. He could
eat anything, in any quantity, and be unaware that he possessed a
digestion. Shorty he found voluble and pessimistic, and from him he
received surprising tips concerning their bosses, and ominous
forecasts of the expedition. Thomas Stanley Sprague was a budding
mining engineer and the son of a millionaire. Doctor Adolph Stine
was also the son of a wealthy father. And, through their fathers,
both had been backed by an investing syndicate in the Klondike
"Oh, they're sure made of money," Shorty expounded. "When they hit
the beach at Dyea, freight was seventy cents, but no Indians. There
was a party from Eastern Oregon, real miners, that'd managed to get
a team of Indians together at seventy cents. Indians had the straps
on the outfit, three thousand pounds of it, when along comes Sprague
and Stine. They offered eighty cents and ninety, and at a dollar a
pound the Indians jumped the contract and took off their straps.
Sprague and Stine came through, though it cost them three thousand,
and the Oregon bunch is still on the beach. They won't get through
till next year.
"Oh, they are real hummers, your boss and mine, when it comes to
sheddin' the mazuma an' never mindin' other folks' feelin's. What
did they do when they hit Linderman? The carpenters was just
putting in the last licks on a boat they'd contracted to a 'Frisco
bunch for six hundred. Sprague and Stine slipped 'em an even
thousand, and they jumped their contract. It's a good-lookin' boat,
but it's jiggered the other bunch. They've got their outfit right
here, but no boat. And they're stuck for next year.
"Have another cup of coffee, and take it from me that I wouldn't
travel with no such outfit if I didn't want to get to Klondike so
blamed bad. They ain't hearted right. They'd take the crape off
the door of a house in mourning if they needed it in their business.
Did you sign a contract?"
Kit shook his head.
"Then I'm sorry for you, pardner. They ain't no grub in the
country, and they'll drop you cold as soon as they hit Dawson. Men
are going to starve there this winter."
"They agreed--" Kit began.
"Verbal," Shorty snapped him short. "It's your say so against
theirs, that's all. Well, anyway--what's your name, pardner?"
"Call me Smoke," said Kit.
"Well, Smoke, you'll have a run for your verbal contract just the
same. This is a plain sample of what to expect. They can sure shed
mazuma, but they can't work, or turn out of bed in the morning. We
should have been loaded and started an hour ago. It's you an' me
for the big work. Pretty soon you'll hear 'em shoutin' for their
coffee--in bed, mind you, and they grown men. What d'ye know about
boatin' on the water? I'm a cowman and a prospector, but I'm sure
tender-footed on water, an' they don't know punkins. What d'ye
"Search me," Kit answered, snuggling in closer under the tarpaulin
as the snow whirled before a fiercer gust. "I haven't been on a
small boat since a boy. But I guess we can learn."
A corner of the tarpaulin tore loose, and Shorty received a jet of
driven snow down the back of his neck.
"Oh, we can learn all right," he muttered wrathfully. "Sure we can.
A child can learn. But it's dollars to doughnuts we don't even get
It was eight o'clock when the call for coffee came from the tent,
and nearly nine before the two employers emerged.
"Hello," said Sprague, a rosy-cheeked, well-fed young man of twenty-
five. "Time we made a start, Shorty. You and--" Here he glanced
interrogatively at Kit. "I didn't quite catch your name last
"Well, Shorty, you and Mr Smoke had better begin loading the boat."
"Plain Smoke--cut out the Mister," Kit suggested.
Sprague nodded curtly and strolled away among the tents, to be
followed by Doctor Stine, a slender, pallid young man.
Shorty looked significantly at his companion.
"Over a ton and a half of outfit, and they won't lend a hand.
"I guess it's because we're paid to do the work," Kit answered
cheerfully, "and we might as well buck in."
To move three thousand pounds on the shoulders a hundred yards was
no slight task, and to do it in half a gale, slushing through the
snow in heavy rubber boots, was exhausting. In addition, there was
the taking down of the tent and the packing of small camp equipage.
Then came the loading. As the boat settled, it had to be shoved
farther and farther out, increasing the distance they had to wade.
By two o'clock it had all been accomplished, and Kit, despite his
two breakfasts, was weak with the faintness of hunger. His knees
were shaking under him. Shorty, in similar predicament, foraged
through the pots and pans, and drew forth a big pot of cold boiled
beans in which were imbedded large chunks of bacon. There was only
one spoon, a long-handled one, and they dipped, turn and turn about,
into the pot. Kit was filled with an immense certitude that in all
his life he had never tasted anything so good.
"Lord, man," he mumbled between chews, "I never knew what appetite
was till I hit the trail."
Sprague and Stine arrived in the midst of this pleasant occupation.
"What's the delay?" Sprague complained. "Aren't we ever going to get
Shorty dipped in turn, and passed the spoon to Kit. Nor did either
speak till the pot was empty and the bottom scraped.
"Of course we ain't ben doin' nothing," Shorty said, wiping his
mouth with the back of his hand. "We ain't ben doin' nothing at
all. And of course you ain't had nothing to eat. It was sure
careless of me."
"Yes, yes," Stine said quickly. "We ate at one of the tents--
friends of ours."
"Thought so," Shorty grunted.
"But now that you're finished, let us get started," Sprague urged.
"There's the boat," said Shorty. "She's sure loaded. Now, just how
might you be goin' about to get started?"
"By climbing aboard and shoving off. Come on."
They waded out, and the employers got on board, while Kit and Shorty
shoved clear. When the waves lapped the tops of their boots they
clambered in. The other two men were not prepared with the oars,
and the boat swept back and grounded. Half a dozen times, with a
great expenditure of energy, this was repeated.
Shorty sat down disconsolately on the gunwale, took a chew of
tobacco, and questioned the universe, while Kit baled the boat and
the other two exchanged unkind remarks.
"If you'll take my orders, I'll get her off," Sprague finally said.
The attempt was well intended, but before he could clamber on board
he was wet to the waist.
"We've got to camp and build a fire," he said, as the boat grounded
again. "I'm freezing."
"Don't be afraid of a wetting," Stine sneered. "Other men have gone
off to-day wetter than you. Now I'm going to take her out."
This time it was he who got the wetting, and who announced with
chattering teeth the need of a fire.
"A little splash like that," Sprague chattered spitefully. "We'll
"Shorty, dig out my clothes-bag and make a fire," the other
"You'll do nothing of the sort," Sprague cried.
Shorty looked from one to the other, expectorated, but did not move.
"He's working for me, and I guess he obeys my orders," Stine
retorted. "Shorty, take that bag ashore."
Shorty obeyed, and Sprague shivered in the boat. Kit, having
received no orders, remained inactive, glad of the rest.
"A boat divided against itself won't float," he soliloquized.
"What's that?" Sprague snarled at him.
"Talking to myself--habit of mine," he answered.
His employer favoured him with a hard look, and sulked several
minutes longer. Then he surrendered.
"Get out my bag, Smoke," he ordered, "and lend a hand with that
fire. We won't get off till the morning now."
Next day the gale still blew. Lake Linderman was no more than a
narrow mountain gorge filled with water. Sweeping down from the
mountains through this funnel, the wind was irregular, blowing great
guns at times and at other times dwindling to a strong breeze.
"If you give me a shot at it, I think I can get her off," Kit said,
when all was ready for the start.
"What do you know about it?" Stine snapped at him.
"Search me," Kit answered, and subsided.
It was the first time he had worked for wages in his life, but he
was learning the discipline of it fast. Obediently and cheerfully
he joined in various vain efforts to get clear of the beach.
"How would you go about it?" Sprague finally half-panted, half-
whined at him.
"Sit down and get a good rest till a lull comes in the wind, and
then buck in for all we're worth."
Simple as the idea was, he had been the first to evolve it; the
first time it was applied it worked, and they hoisted a blanket to
the mast and sped down the lake. Stine and Sprague immediately
became cheerful. Shorty, despite his chronic pessimism, was always
cheerful, and Kit was too interested to be otherwise. Sprague
struggled with the steering sweep for a quarter of an hour, and then
looked appealingly at Kit, who relieved him.
"My arms are fairly broken with the strain of it," Sprague muttered
"You never ate bear-meat, did you?" Kit asked sympathetically.
"What the devil do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing; I was just wondering."
But behind his employer's back Kit caught the approving grin of
Shorty, who had already caught the whim of his simile.
Kit steered the length of Linderman, displaying an aptitude that
caused both young men of money and disinclination for work to name
him boat-steerer. Shorty was no less pleased, and volunteered to
continue cooking and leave the boat work to the other.
Between Linderman and Lake Bennet was a portage. The boat, lightly
loaded, was lined down the small but violent connecting stream, and
here Kit learned a vast deal more about boats and water. But when
it came to packing the outfit, Stine and Sprague disappeared, and
their men spent two days of back-breaking toil in getting the outfit
across. And this was the history of many miserable days of the
trip--Kit and Shorty working to exhaustion, while their masters
toiled not and demanded to be waited upon.
But the iron-bound arctic winter continued to close down, and they
were held back by numerous and avoidable delays. At Windy Arm,
Stine arbitrarily dispossessed Kit of the steering-sweep and within
the hour wrecked the boat on a wave-beaten lee shore. Two days were
lost here in making repairs, and the morning of the fresh start, as
they came down to embark, on stern and bow, in large letters, was
charcoaled 'The Chechaquo.'
Kit grinned at the appropriateness of the invidious word.
"Huh!" said Shorty, when accused by Stine. "I can sure read and
spell, an' I know that Chechaquo means tenderfoot, but my education
never went high enough to learn me to spell a jaw-breaker like
Both employers looked daggers at Kit, for the insult rankled; nor
did he mention that the night before, Shorty had besought him for
the spelling of that particular word.
"That's 'most as bad as your bear-meat slam at 'em," Shorty confided
Kit chuckled. Along with the continuous discovery of his own powers
had come an ever-increasing disapproval of the two masters. It was
not so much irritation, which was always present, as disgust. He
had got his taste of the meat, and liked it; but they were teaching
him how not to eat it. Privily, he thanked God that he was not made
as they. He came to dislike them to a degree that bordered on
hatred. Their malingering bothered him less than their helpless
inefficiency. Somewhere in him, old Isaac Bellew and all the rest
of the hardy Bellews were making good.
"Shorty," he said one day, in the usual delay of getting started, "I
could almost fetch them a rap over the head with an oar and bury
them in the river."
"Same here," Shorty agreed. "They're not meat-eaters. They're
fish-eaters, and they sure stink."
They came to the rapids, first, the Box Canyon, and, several miles
below, the White Horse. The Box Canyon was adequately named. It
was a box, a trap. Once in it, the only way out was through. On
either side arose perpendicular walls of rock. The river narrowed
to a fraction of its width, and roared through this gloomy passage
in a madness of motion that heaped the water in the centre into a
ridge fully eight feet higher than at the rocky sides. This ridge,
in turn, was crested with stiff, upstanding waves that curled over,
yet remained each in its unvarying place. The Canyon was well
feared, for it had collected its toll of dead from the passing gold-
Tying to the bank above, where lay a score of other anxious boats,
Kit and his companions went ahead on foot to investigate. They
crept to the brink and gazed down at the swirl of water. Sprague
drew back shuddering.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "A swimmer hasn't a chance in that."
Shorty touched Kit significantly with his elbow and said in an
"Cold feet. Dollars to doughnuts they don't go through."
Kit scarcely heard. From the beginning of the boat trip he had been
learning the stubbornness and inconceivable viciousness of the
elements, and this glimpse of what was below him acted as a
"We've got to ride that ridge," he said. "If we get off of it we'll
hit the walls--"
"And never know what hit us," was Shorty's verdict. "Can you swim,
"I'd wish I couldn't if anything went wrong in there."
"That's what I say," a stranger, standing alongside and peering down
into the Canyon, said mournfully. "And I wish I were through it."
"I wouldn't sell my chance to go through," Kit answered.
He spoke honestly, but it was with the idea of heartening the man.
He turned to go back to the boat.
"Are you going to tackle it?" the man asked.
"I wish I could get the courage to," the other confessed. "I've
been here for hours. The longer I look, the more afraid I am. I am
not a boatman, and I have only my nephew with me, who is a young
boy, and my wife. If you get through safely, will you run my boat
Kit looked at Shorty, who delayed to answer.
"He's got his wife with him," Kit suggested. Nor had he mistaken
"Sure," Shorty affirmed. "It was just that I was stopping to think
about. I knew there was some reason I ought to do it."
Again they turned to go, but Sprague and Stine made no movement.
"Good luck, Smoke," Sprague called to him. "I'll--er--" He
hesitated. "I'll just stay here and watch you."
"We need three men in the boat, two at the oars and one at the
steering sweep," Kit said quietly.
Sprague looked at Stine.
"I'm damned if I do," said that gentleman. "If you're not afraid to
stand here and look on, I'm not."
"Who's afraid?" Sprague demanded hotly.
Stine retorted in kind, and their two men left them in the thick of
"We can do without them," Kit said to Shorty. "You take the bow
with a paddle, and I'll handle the steering sweep. All you'll have
to do is just to keep her straight. Once we're started, you won't
be able to hear me, so just keep on keeping straight."
They cast off the boat and worked out to middle in the quickening
current. From the Canyon came an ever-growing roar. The river
sucked in to the entrance with the smoothness of molten glass, and
here, as the darkening walls received them, Shorty took a chew of
tobacco, and dipped his paddle. The boat leaped on the first crests
of the ridge, and they were deafened by the uproar of wild water
that reverberated from the narrow walls and multiplied itself. They
were half-smothered with flying spray. At times Kit could not see
his comrade at the bow. It was only a matter of two minutes, in
which time they rode the ridge three-quarters of a mile, and emerged
in safety and tied to the bank in the eddy below.
Shorty emptied his mouth of tobacco juice--he had forgotten to spit-
"That was bear-meat," he exulted, "the real bear-meat. Say, we want
a few, didn't we, Smoke, I don't mind tellin' you in confidence that
before we started I was the gosh-dangdest scaredest man this side of
the Rocky-Mountains. Now I'm a bear-eater. Come on an' we'll run
that other boat through."
Midway back, on foot, they encountered their employers, who had
watched the passage from above.
"There comes the fish-eaters," said Shorty. "Keep to win'ward."
After running the strangers' boat through, whose name proved to be
Breck, Kit and Shorty met his wife, a slender, girlish woman whose
blue eyes were moist with gratitude. Breck himself tried to hand
Kit fifty dollars, and then attempted it on Shorty.
"Stranger," was the latter's rejection, "I come into this country to
make money outa the ground an' not outa my fellow critters."
Breck rummaged in his boat and produced a demijohn of whiskey.
Shorty's hand half went out to it and stopped abruptly. He shook
"There's that blamed White Horse right below, an' they say it's
worse than the Box. I reckon I don't dast tackle any lightning."
Several miles below they ran in to the bank, and all four walked
down to look at the bad water. The river, which was a succession of
rapids, was here deflected toward the right bank by a rocky reef.
The whole body of water, rushing crookedly into the narrow passage,
accelerated its speed frightfully, and was upflung unto huge waves,
white and wrathful. This was the dread Mane of the White Horse, and
here an even heavier toll of dead had been exacted. On one side of
the Mane was a corkscrew curl-over and suck-under, and on the
opposite side was the big whirlpool. To go through, the Mane itself
must be ridden.
"This plum rips the strings outa the Box," Shorty concluded.
As they watched, a boat took the head of the rapids above. It was a
large boat, fully thirty feet long, laden with several tons of
outfit and handled by six men. Before it reached the Mane it was
plunging and leaping, at times almost hidden by the foam and spray.
Shorty shot a slow, sidelong glance at Kit, and said:
"She's fair smoking, and she hasn't hit the worst. They've hauled
the oars in. There she takes it now. God! She's gone! No; there
Big as the boat was, it had been buried from sight in the flying
smother between crests. The next moment, in the thick of the Mane,
the boat leaped up a crest and into view. To Kit's amazement he saw
the whole long bottom clearly outlined. The boat, for the fraction
of an instant, was in the air, the men sitting idly in their places,
all save one in the stern who stood at the steering sweep. Then
came the downward plunge into the trough and a second disappearance.
Three times the boat leaped and buried itself, then those on the
bank saw its nose take the whirlpool as it slipped off the Mane.
The steersman, vainly opposing with his full weight on the steering-
gear, surrendered to the whirlpool and helped the boat to take the
Three times it went around, each time so close to the rocks on which
Kit and Shorty stood, that either could have leaped on board. The
steersman, a man with a reddish beard of recent growth, waved his
hand to them. The only way out of the whirlpool was by the Mane,
and on the round the boat entered the Mane obliquely at its upper
end. Possibly out of fear of the draw of the whirlpool, the
steersman did not attempt to straighten out quickly enough. When he
did, it was too late. Alternately in the air and buried, the boat
angled the Mane and sucked into and down through the stiff wall of
the corkscrew on the opposite side of the river. A hundred feet
below, boxes and bales began to float up. Then appeared the bottom
of the boat and the scattered heads of six men. Two managed to make
the bank in the eddy below. The others were drawn under, and the
general flotsam was lost to view, borne on by the swift current
around the bend.
There was a long minute of silence. Shorty was the first to speak.
"Come on," he said. "We might as well tackle it. My feet'll get
cold if I stay here any longer."
"We'll smoke some," Kit grinned at him.
"And you'll sure earn your name," was the rejoinder. Shorty turned
to their employers. "Comin'?" he queried.
Perhaps the roar of the water prevented them from hearing the
Shorty and Kit tramped back through a foot of snow to the head of
the rapids and cast off the boat. Kit was divided between two
impressions: one, of the caliber of his comrade, which served as a
spur to him; the other, likewise a spur, was the knowledge that old
Isaac Bellew, and all the other Bellews, had done things like this
in their westward march of empire. What they had done, he could do.
It was the meat, the strong meat, and he knew, as never before, that
it required strong men to eat such meat.
"You've sure got to keep the top of the ridge," Shorty shouted at
him, the plug tobacco lifting to his mouth, as the boat quickened in
the quickening current and took the head of the rapids.
Kit nodded, swayed his strength and weight tentatively on the
steering oar, and headed the boat for the plunge.
Several minutes later, half-swamped and lying against the bank in
the eddy below the White Horse, Shorty spat out a mouthful of
tobacco juice and shook Kit's hand.
"Meat! Meat!" Shorty chanted. "We eat it raw! We eat it alive!"
At the top of the bank they met Breck. His wife stood at a little
distance. Kit shook his hand.
"I'm afraid your boat can't make it," he said. "It is smaller than
ours and a bit cranky."
The man pulled out a row of bills.
"I'll give you each a hundred if you run it through."
Kit looked out and up the tossing Mane of the White Horse. A long,
gray twilight was falling, it was turning colder, and the landscape
seemed taking on a savage bleakness.
"It ain't that," Shorty was saying. "We don't want your money.
Wouldn't touch it nohow. But my pardner is the real meat with
boats, and when he says yourn ain't safe I reckon he knows what he's
Kit nodded affirmation, and chanced to glance at Mrs Breck. Her
eyes were fixed upon him, and he knew that if ever he had seen
prayer in a woman's eyes he was seeing it then. Shorty followed his
gaze and saw what he saw. They looked at each other in confusion
and did not speak. Moved by the common impulse, they nodded to each
other and turned to the trail that led to the head of the rapids.
They had not gone a hundred yards when they met Stine and Sprague
"Where are you going?" the latter demanded.
"To fetch that other boat through," Shorty answered.
"No you're not. It's getting dark. You two are going to pitch
So huge was Kit's disgust that he forebore to speak.
"He's got his wife with him," Shorty said.
"That's his lookout," Stine contributed.
"And Smoke's and mine," was Shorty's retort.
"I forbid you," Sprague said harshly. "Smoke, if you go another
step I'll discharge you."
"And you, too, Shorty," Stine added.
"And a hell of a pickle you'll be in with us fired," Shorty replied.
"How'll you get your blamed boat to Dawson? Who'll serve you coffee
in your blankets and manicure your finger-nails? Come on, Smoke.
They don't dast fire us. Besides, we've got agreements. It they
fire us they've got to divvy up grub to last us through the winter."
Barely had they shoved Breck's boat out from the bank and caught the
first rough water, when the waves began to lap aboard. They were
small waves, but it was an earnest of what was to come. Shorty cast
back a quizzical glance as he gnawed at his inevitable plug, and Kit
felt a strange rush of warmth at his heart for this man who couldn't
swim and who couldn't back out.
The rapids grew stiffer, and the spray began to fly. In the
gathering darkness, Kit glimpsed the Mane and the crooked fling of
the current into it. He worked into this crooked current, and felt
a glow of satisfaction as the boat hit the head of the Mane squarely
in the middle. After that, in the smother, leaping and burying and
swamping, he had no clear impression of anything save that he swung
his weight on the steering oar and wished his uncle were there to
see. They emerged, breathless, wet through, and filled with water
almost to the gunwale. Lighter pieces of baggage and outfit were
floating inside the boat. A few careful strokes on Shorty's part
worked the boat into the draw of the eddy, and the eddy did the rest
till the boat softly touched against the bank. Looking down from
above was Mrs Breck. Her prayer had been answered, and the tears
were streaming down her cheeks.
"You boys have simply got to take the money," Breck called down to
Shorty stood up, slipped, and sat down in the water, while the boat
dipped one gunwale under and righted again.
"Damn the money," said Shorty. "Fetch out that whiskey. Now that
it's over I'm getting cold feet, an' I'm sure likely to have a
In the morning, as usual, they were among the last of the boats to
start. Breck, despite his boating inefficiency, and with only his
wife and nephew for crew, had broken camp, loaded his boat, and
pulled out at the first streak of day. But there was no hurry in
Stine and Sprague, who seemed incapable of realizing that the
freeze-up might come at any time. They malingered, got in the way,
delayed, and doubted the work of Kit and Shorty.
"I'm sure losing my respect for God, seein' as he must a-made them
two mistakes in human form," was the latter's blasphemous way of
expressing his disgust.
"Well, you're the real goods at any rate," Kit grinned back at him.
"It makes me respect God the more just to look at you."
"He was sure goin' some, eh?" was Shorty's fashion of overcoming the
embarrassment of the compliment.
The trail by water crossed Lake Le Barge. Here was no fast current,
but a tideless stretch of forty miles which must be rowed unless a
fair wind blew. But the time for fair wind was past, and an icy
gale blew in their teeth out of the north. This made a rough sea,
against which it was almost impossible to pull the boat. Added to
their troubles was driving snow; also, the freezing of the water on
their oar-blades kept one man occupied in chopping it off with a
hatchet. Compelled to take their turn at the oars, Sprague and
Stine patently loafed. Kit had learned how to throw his weight on
an oar, but he noted that his employers made a seeming of throwing
their weights and that they dipped their oars at a cheating angle.
At the end of three hours, Sprague pulled his oar in and said they
would run back into the mouth of the river for shelter. Stine
seconded him, and the several hard-won miles were lost. A second
day, and a third, the same fruitless attempt was made. In the river
mouth, the continually arriving boats from White Horse made a
flotilla of over two hundred. Each day forty or fifty arrived, and
only two or three won to the north-west short of the lake and did
not come back. Ice was now forming in the eddies, and connecting
from eddy to eddy in thin lines around the points. The freeze-up
was very imminent.
"We could make it if they had the souls of clams," Kit told Shorty,
as they dried their moccasins by the fire on the evening of the
third day. "We could have made it to-day if they hadn't turned
back. Another hour's work would have fetched that west shore.
They're--they're babes in the woods."
"Sure," Shorty agreed. He turned his moccasin to the flame and
debated a moment. "Look here, Smoke. It's hundreds of miles to
Dawson. If we don't want to freeze in here, we've got to do
something. What d'ye say?"
Kit looked at him, and waited.
"We've got the immortal cinch on them two babes," Shorty expounded.
"They can give orders an' shed mazuma, but, as you say, they're plum
babes. If we're goin' to Dawson, we got to take charge of this here
They looked at each other.
"It's a go," said Kit, as his hand went out in ratification.
In the morning, long before daylight, Shorty issued his call.
"Come on!" he roared. "Tumble out, you sleepers! Here's your
coffee! Kick in to it! We're goin' to make a start!"
Grumbling and complaining, Stine and Sprague were forced to get
under way two hours earlier than ever before. If anything, the gale
was stiffer, and in a short time every man's face was iced up, while
the oars were heavy with ice. Three hours they struggled, and four,
one man steering, one chopping ice, two toiling at the oars, and
each taking his various turns. The north-west shore loomed nearer
and nearer. The gale blew even harder, and at last Sprague pulled
in his oar in token of surrender. Shorty sprang to it, though his
relief had only begun.
"Chop ice," he said, handing Sprague the hatchet.
"But what's the use?" the other whined. "We can't make it. We're
going to turn back."
"We're going on," said Shorty. "Chop ice. An' when you feel better
you can spell me."
It was heart-breaking toil, but they gained the shore, only to find
it composed of surge-beaten rocks and cliffs, with no place to land.
"I told you so," Sprague whimpered.
"You never peeped," Shorty answered.
"We're going back."
Nobody spoke, and Kit held the boat into the seas as they skirted
the forbidding shore. Sometimes they gained no more than a foot to
the stroke, and there were times when two or three strokes no more
than enabled them to hold their own. He did his best to hearten the
two weaklings. He pointed out that the boats which had won to this
shore had never come back. Perforce, he argued, they had found a
shelter somewhere ahead. Another hour they laboured, and a second.
"If you fellows put into your oars some of that coffee you swig in
your blankets, we'd make it," was Shorty's encouragement. "You're
just goin' through the motions an' not pullin' a pound."
A few minutes later Sprague drew in his oar.
"I'm finished," he said, and there were tears in his voice.
"So are the rest of us," Kit answered, himself ready to cry or to
commit murder, so great was his exhaustion. "But we're going on
just the same."
"We're going back. Turn the boat around."
"Shorty, if he won't pull, take that oar yourself," Kit commanded.
"Sure," was the answer. "He can chop ice."
But Sprague refused to give over the oar; Stine had ceased rowing,
and the boat was drifting backward.
"Turn around, Smoke," Sprague ordered.
And Kit, who never in his life had cursed any man, astonished
"I'll see you in hell, first," he replied. "Take hold of that oar
It is in moments of exhaustion that men lose all their reserves of
civilization, and such a moment had come. Each man had reached the
breaking-point. Sprague jerked off a mitten, drew his revolver, and
turned it on his steersman. This was a new experience to Kit. He
had never had a gun presented at him in his life. And now, to his
surprise, it seemed to mean nothing at all. It was the most natural
thing in the world.
"If you don't put that gun up," he said, "I'll take it away and rap
you over the knuckles with it."
"If you don't turn the boat around I'll shoot you," Sprague
Then Shorty took a hand. He ceased chopping ice and stood up behind
"Go on an' shoot," said Shorty, wiggling the hatchet. "I'm just
aching for a chance to brain you. Go on an' start the festivities."
"This is mutiny," Stine broke in. "You were engaged to obey
Shorty turned on him.
"Oh, you'll get yours as soon as I finish with your pardner, you
little hog-wallopin' snooper, you."
"Sprague," Kit said, "I'll give you just thirty seconds to put away
that gun and get that oar out."
Sprague hesitated, gave a short hysterical laugh, put the revolver
away and bent his back to the work.
For two hours more, inch by inch, they fought their way along the
edge of the foaming rocks, until Kit feared he had made a mistake.
And then, when on the verge of himself turning back, they came
abreast of a narrow opening, not twenty feet wide, which led into a
land-locked inclosure where the fiercest gusts scarcely flawed the
surface. It was the haven gained by the boats of previous days.
They landed on a shelving beach, and the two employers lay in
collapse in the boat, while Kit and Shorty pitched the tent, built a
fire, and started the cooking.
"What's a hog-walloping snooper, Shorty?" Kit asked.
"Blamed if I know," was the answer; "but he's one just the same."
The gale, which had been dying quickly, ceased at nightfall, and it
came on clear and cold. A cup of coffee, set aside to cool and
forgotten, a few minutes later was found coated with half an inch of
ice. At eight o'clock, when Sprague and Stine, already rolled in
their blankets, were sleeping the sleep of exhaustion, Kit came back
from a look at the boat.
"It's the freeze-up, Shorty," he announced. "There's a skin of ice
over the whole pond already."
"What are you going to do?"
"There's only one thing. The lake of course freezes first. The
rapid current of the river may keep it open for days. This time to-
morrow any boat caught in Lake Le Barge remains there until next
"You mean we got to get out to-night? Now?"
"Tumble out, you sleepers!" was Shorty's answer, couched in a roar,
as he began casting off the guy-ropes of the tent.
The other two awoke, groaning with the pain of stiffened muscles and
the pain of rousing from exhausted sleep.
"What time is it?" Stine asked.
"It's dark yet," was the objection.
Shorty jerked out a couple of guy-ropes, and the tent began to sag.
"It's not morning," he said. "It's evening. Come on. The lake's
freezin'. We got to get acrost."
Stine sat up, his face bitter and wrathful.
"Let it freeze. We're not going to stir."
"All right," said Shorty. "We're goin' on with the boat."
"You were engaged--"
"To take you to Dawson," Shorty caught him up. "Well, we're takin'
you, ain't we?"
He punctuated his query by bringing half the tent down on top of
They broke their way through the thin ice in the little harbour, and
came out on the lake, where the water, heavy and glassy, froze on
their oars with every stroke. The water soon became like mush,
clogging the stroke of the oars and freezing in the air even as it
dripped. Later the surface began to form a skin, and the boat
proceeded slower and slower.
Often, afterwards, when Kit tried to remember that night and failed
to bring up aught but nightmare recollections, he wondered what must
have been the sufferings of Stine and Sprague. His one impression
of himself was that he struggled through biting frost and
intolerable exertion for a thousand years more or less.
Morning found them stationary. Stine complained of frosted fingers,
and Sprague of his nose, while the pain in Kit's cheeks and nose
told him that he, too, had been touched. With each accretion of
daylight they could see farther, and far as they could see was icy
surface. The water of the lake was gone. A hundred yards away was
the shore of the north end. Shorty insisted that it was the opening
of the river and that he could see water. He and Kit alone were
able to work, and with their oars they broke the ice and forced the
boat along. And at the last gasp of their strength they made the
suck of the rapid river. One look back showed them several boats
which had fought through the night and were hopelessly frozen in;
then they whirled around a bend in a current running six miles an
Back to Full Books