Part 2 out of 3
Day by day they floated down the swift river, and day by day the
shore-ice extended farther out. When they made camp at nightfall,
they chopped a space in the ice in which to lay the boat, and
carried the camp outfit hundreds of feet to shore. In the morning,
they chopped the boat out through the new ice and caught the
current. Shorty set up the sheet-iron stove in the boat, and over
this Stine and Sprague hung through the long, drifting hours. They
had surrendered, no longer gave orders, and their one desire was to
gain Dawson. Shorty, pessimistic, indefatigable, and joyous, at
frequent intervals roared out the three lines of the first four-line
stanza of a song he had forgotten. The colder it got the oftener he
"Like Argus of the ancient times,
We leave this Modern Greece;
Tum-tum, tum-tum; tum-tum, tum-tum,
To shear the Golden Fleece."
As they passed the mouths of the Hootalinqua and the Big and Little
Salmon, they found these streams throwing mush-ice into the main
Yukon. This gathered about the boat and attached itself, and at
night they found themselves compelled to chop the boat out of the
current. In the morning they chopped the boat back into the
The last night ashore was spent between the mouths of the White
River and the Stewart. At daylight they found the Yukon, half a
mile wide, running white from ice-rimmed bank to ice-rimmed bank.
Shorty cursed the universe with less geniality than usual, and
looked at Kit.
"We'll be the last boat this year to make Dawson," Kit said.
"But they ain't no water, Smoke."
"Then we'll ride the ice down. Come on."
Futilely protesting, Sprague and Stine were bundled on board. For
half an hour, with axes, Kit and Shorty struggled to cut a way into
the swift but solid stream. When they did succeed in clearing the
shore-ice, the floating ice forced the boat along the edge for a
hundred yards, tearing away half of one gunwale and making a partial
wreck of it. Then they caught the current at the lower end of the
bend that flung off-shore. They proceeded to work farther toward
the middle. The stream was no longer composed of mush-ice but of
hard cakes. In between the cakes only was mush-ice, that froze
solidly as they looked at it. Shoving with the oars against the
cakes, sometimes climbing out on the cakes in order to force the
boat along, after an hour they gained the middle. Five minutes
after they ceased their exertions, the boat was frozen in. The
whole river was coagulating as it ran. Cake froze to cake, until at
last the boat was the centre of a cake seventy-five feet in
diameter. Sometimes they floated sidewise, sometimes stern-first,
while gravity tore asunder the forming fetters in the moving mass,
only to be manacled by faster-forming ones. While the hours passed,
Shorty stoked the stove, cooked meals, and chanted his war song.
Night came, and after many efforts, they gave up the attempt to
force the boat to shore, and through the darkness they swept
"What if we pass Dawson?" Shorty queried.
"We'll walk back," Kit answered, "if we're not crushed in a jam."
The sky was clear, and in the light of the cold leaping stars they
caught occasional glimpses of the loom of mountains on either hand.
At eleven o'clock, from below, came a dull, grinding roar. Their
speed began to diminish, and cakes of ice to up-end and crash and
smash about them. The river was jamming. One cake, forced upward,
slid across their cake and carried one side of the boat away. It
did not sink, for its own cake still upbore it, but in a whirl they
saw dark water show for an instant within a foot of them. Then all
movement ceased. At the end of half an hour the whole river picked
itself up and began to move. This continued for an hour, when again
it was brought to rest by a jam. Once again it started, running
swiftly and savagely, with a great grinding. Then they saw lights
ashore, and, when abreast, gravity and the Yukon surrendered, and
the river ceased for six months.
On the shore at Dawson, curious ones gathered to watch the river
freeze, heard from out of the darkness the war-song of Shorty:
"Like Argus of the ancient times,
We leave this Modern Greece;
Tum-tum, tum-tum; tum-tum, tum-tum,
To shear the Golden Fleece."
For three days Kit and Shorty laboured, carrying the ton and a half
of outfit from the middle of the river to the log-cabin Stine and
Sprague had bought on the hill overlooking Dawson. This work
finished, in the warm cabin, as twilight was falling, Sprague
motioned Kit to him. Outside the thermometer registered sixty-five
"Your full month isn't up, Smoke," Sprague said. "But here it is in
full. I wish you luck."
"How about the agreement?" Kit asked. "You know there's a famine
here. A man can't get work in the mines even, unless he has his own
grub. You agreed--"
"I know of no agreement," Sprague interrupted. "Do you, Stine? We
engaged you by the month. There's your pay. Will you sign the
Kit's hands clenched, and for the moment he saw red. Both men
shrank away from him. He had never struck a man in anger in his
life, and he felt so certain of his ability to thrash Sprague that
he could not bring himself to do it.
Shorty saw his trouble and interposed.
"Look here, Smoke, I ain't travelin' no more with a ornery outfit
like this. Right here's where I sure jump it. You an' me stick
together. Savve? Now, you take your blankets an' hike down to the
Elkhorn. Wait for me. I'll settle up, collect what's comin', an'
give them what's comin'. I ain't no good on the water, but my
feet's on terry-fermy now an' I'm sure goin' to make smoke."
. . . . .
Half an hour afterwards Shorty appeared at the Elkhorn. From his
bleeding knuckles and the skin off one cheek, it was evident that he
had given Stine and Sprague what was coming.
"You ought to see that cabin," he chuckled, as they stood at the
bar. "Rough-house ain't no name for it. Dollars to doughnuts nary
one of 'em shows up on the street for a week. An' now it's all
figgered out for you an' me. Grub's a dollar an' a half a pound.
They ain't no work for wages without you have your own grub. Moose-
meat's sellin' for two dollars a pound an' they ain't none. We got
enough money for a month's grub an' ammunition, an' we hike up the
Klondike to the back country. If they ain't no moose, we go an'
live with the Indians. But if we ain't got five thousand pounds of
meat six weeks from now, I'll--I'll sure go back an' apologize to
our bosses. Is it a go?"
Kit's hand went out and they shook. Then he faltered.
"I don't know anything about hunting," he said.
Shorty lifted his glass.
"But you're a sure meat-eater, an' I'll learn you."
THE STAMPEDE TO SQUAW CREEK.
Two months after Smoke Bellew and Shorty went after moose for a
grubstake, they were back in the Elkhorn saloon at Dawson. The
hunting was done, the meat hauled in and sold for two dollars and a
half a pound, and between them they possessed three thousand dollars
in gold dust and a good team of dogs. They had played in luck.
Despite the fact that the gold rush had driven the game a hundred
miles or more into the mountains, they had, within half that
distance, bagged four moose in a narrow canyon.
The mystery of the strayed animals was no greater than the luck of
their killers, for within the day four famished Indian families
reporting no game in three days' journey back, camped beside them.
Meat was traded for starving dogs, and after a week of feeding,
Smoke and Shorty harnessed the animals and began freighting the meat
to the eager Dawson market.
The problem of the two men now, was to turn their gold-dust into
food. The current price for flour and beans was a dollar and a half
a pound, but the difficulty was to find a seller. Dawson was in the
throes of famine. Hundreds of men, with money but no food, had been
compelled to leave the country. Many had gone down the river on the
last water, and many more with barely enough food to last, had
walked the six hundred miles over the ice to Dyea.
Smoke met Shorty in the warm saloon, and found the latter jubilant.
"Life ain't no punkins without whiskey an' sweetenin'," was Shorty's
greeting, as he pulled lumps of ice from his thawing moustache and
flung them rattling on the floor. "An' I sure just got eighteen
pounds of that same sweetenin'. The geezer only charged three
dollars a pound for it. What luck did you have?"
"I, too, have not been idle," Smoke answered with pride. "I bought
fifty pounds of flour. And there's a man up on Adam Creek says
he'll let me have fifty pounds more to-morrow."
"Great! We'll sure live till the river opens. Say, Smoke, them
dogs of ourn is the goods. A dog-buyer offered me two hundred
apiece for the five of them. I told him nothin' doin'. They sure
took on class when they got meat to get outside of; but it goes
against the grain feedin' dog-critters on grub that's worth two and
a half a pound. Come on an' have a drink. I just got to celebrate
them eighteen pounds of sweetenin'."
Several minutes later, as he weighed in on the gold-scales for the
drinks, he gave a start of recollection.
"I plum forgot that man I was to meet in the Tivoli. He's got some
spoiled bacon he'll sell for a dollar an' a half a pound. We can
feed it to the dogs an' save a dollar a day on each's board bill.
"So long," said Smoke. "I'm goin' to the cabin an' turn in."
Hardly had Shorty left the place, when a fur-clad man entered
through the double storm-doors. His face lighted at sight of Smoke,
who recognized him as Breck, the man whose boat he had run through
the Box Canyon and White Horse rapids.
"I heard you were in town," Breck said hurriedly, as they shook
hands. "Been looking for you for half an hour. Come outside, I
want to talk with you."
Smoke looked regretfully at the roaring, red-hot stove.
"Won't this do?"
"No; it's important. Come outside."
As they emerged, Smoke drew off one mitten, lighted a match, and
glanced at the thermometer that hung beside the door. He re-
mittened his naked hand hastily as if the frost had burnt him.
Overhead arched the flaming aurora borealis, while from all Dawson
arose the mournful howling of thousands of wolf-dogs.
"What did it say?" Breck asked.
"Sixty below." Kit spat experimentally, and the spittle crackled in
the air. "And the thermometer is certainly working. It's falling
all the time. An hour ago it was only fifty-two. Don't tell me
it's a stampede."
"It is," Breck whispered back cautiously, casting anxious eyes about
in fear of some other listener. "You know Squaw Creek?--empties in
on the other side the Yukon thirty miles up?"
"Nothing doing there," was Smoke's judgment. "It was prospected
"So were all the other rich creeks. Listen! It's big. Only eight
to twenty feet to bedrock. There won't be a claim that don't run to
half a million. It's a dead secret. Two or three of my close
friends let me in on it. I told my wife right away that I was going
to find you before I started. Now, so long. My pack's hidden down
the bank. In fact, when they told me, they made me promise not to
pull out until Dawson was asleep. You know what it means if you're
seen with a stampeding outfit. Get your partner and follow. You
ought to stake fourth or fifth claim from Discovery. Don't forget--
Squaw Creek. It's the third after you pass Swede Creek."
When Smoke entered the little cabin on the hillside back of Dawson,
he heard a heavy familiar breathing.
"Aw, go to bed," Shorty mumbled, as Smoke shook his shoulder. "I'm
not on the night shift," was his next remark, as the rousing hand
became more vigorous. "Tell your troubles to the bar-keeper."
"Kick into your clothes," Smoke said. "We've got to stake a couple
Shorty sat up and started to explode, but Smoke's hand covered his
"Ssh!" Smoke warned. "It's a big strike. Don't wake the
neighbourhood. Dawson's asleep."
"Huh! You got to show me. Nobody tells anybody about a strike, of
course not. But ain't it plum amazin' the way everybody hits the
trail just the same?"
"Squaw Creek," Smoke whispered. "It's right. Breck gave me the
tip. Shallow bedrock. Gold from the grass-roots down. Come on.
We'll sling a couple of light packs together and pull out."
Shorty's eyes closed as he lapsed back into sleep. The next moment
his blankets were swept off him.
"If you don't want them, I do," Smoke explained.
Shorty followed the blankets and began to dress.
"Goin' to take the dogs?" he asked.
"No. The trail up the creek is sure to be unbroken, and we can make
better time without them."
"Then I'll throw 'em a meal, which'll have to last 'em till we get
back. Be sure you take some birch-bark and a candle."
Shorty opened the door, felt the bite of the cold, and shrank back
to pull down his ear-flaps and mitten his hands.
Five minutes later he returned, sharply rubbing his nose.
"Smoke, I'm sure opposed to makin' this stampede. It's colder than
the hinges of hell a thousand years before the first fire was
lighted. Besides, it's Friday the thirteenth, an' we're goin' to
trouble as the sparks fly upward."
With small stampeding packs on their backs, they closed the door
behind them and started down the hill. The display of the aurora
borealis had ceased, and only the stars leaped in the great cold,
and by their uncertain light made traps for the feet. Shorty
floundered off a turn of the trail into deep snow, and raised his
voice in blessing of the date of the week and month and year.
"Can't you keep still?" Smoke chided. "Leave the almanac alone.
You'll have all Dawson awake and after us."
"Huh! See the light in that cabin? And in that one over there?
An' hear that door slam? Oh, sure Dawson's asleep. Them lights?
Just buryin' their dead. They ain't stampedin', betcher life they
By the time they reached the foot of the hill and were fairly in
Dawson, lights were springing up in the cabins, doors were slamming,
and from behind came the sound of many moccasins on the hard-packed
snow. Again Shorty delivered himself.
"But it beats hell the amount of mourners there is."
They passed a man who stood by the path and was calling anxiously in
a low voice: "Oh, Charley; get a move on."
"See that pack on his back, Smoke? The graveyard's sure a long ways
off when the mourners got to pack their blankets."
By the time they reached the main street a hundred men were in line
behind them, and while they sought in the deceptive starlight for
the trail that dipped down the bank to the river, more men could be
heard arriving. Shorty slipped and shot down the thirty-foot chute
into the soft snow. Smoke followed, knocking him over as he was
rising to his feet.
"I found it first," he gurgled, taking off his mittens to shake the
snow out of the gauntlets.
The next moment they were scrambling wildly out of the way of the
hurtling bodies of those that followed. At the time of the freeze-
up, a jam had occurred at this point, and cakes of ice were up-ended
in snow-covered confusion. After several hard falls, Smoke drew out
his candle and lighted it. Those in the rear hailed it with
acclaim. In the windless air it burned easily, and he led the way
"It's a sure stampede," Shorty decided. "Or might all them be
"We're at the head of the procession at any rate," was Smoke's
"Oh, I don't know. Mebbe that's a firefly ahead there. Mebbe
they're all fireflies--that one, an' that one. Look at 'em.
Believe me, they is whole strings of processions ahead."
It was a mile across the jams to the west bank of the Yukon, and
candles flickered the full length of the twisting trail. Behind
them, clear to the top of the bank they had descended, were more
"Say, Smoke, this ain't no stampede. It's a exode-us. They must be
a thousand men ahead of us an' ten thousand behind. Now, you listen
to your uncle. My medicine's good. When I get a hunch it's sure
right. An' we're in wrong on this stampede. Let's turn back an'
hit the sleep."
"You'd better save your breath if you intend to keep up," Smoke
"Huh! My legs is short, but I slog along slack at the knees an'
don't worry my muscles none, an' I can sure walk every piker here
off the ice."
And Smoke knew he was right, for he had long since learned his
comrade's phenomenal walking powers.
"I've been holding back to give you a chance," Smoke jeered.
"An' I'm plum troddin' on your heels. If you can't do better, let
me go ahead and set pace."
Smoke quickened, and was soon at the rear of the nearest bunch of
"Hike along, you, Smoke," the other urged. "Walk over them unburied
dead. This ain't no funeral. Hit the frost like you was goin'
Smoke counted eight men and two women in this party, and before the
way across the jam-ice was won, he and Shorty had passed another
party twenty strong. Within a few feet of the west bank, the trail
swerved to the south, emerging from the jam upon smooth ice. The
ice, however, was buried under several feet of fine snow. Through
this the sled-trail ran, a narrow ribbon of packed footing barely
two feet in width. On either side one sank to his knees and deeper
in the snow. The stampeders they overtook were reluctant to give
way, and often Smoke and Shorty had to plunge into the deep snow,
and by supreme efforts flounder past.
Shorty was irrepressible and pessimistic. When the stampeders
resented being passed, he retorted in kind.
"What's your hurry?" one of them asked.
"What's yours?" he answered. "A stampede come down from Indian
River yesterday afternoon an' beat you to it. They ain't no claims
"That being so, I repeat, what's your hurry?"
"WHO? Me? I ain't no stampeder. I'm workin' for the government.
I'm on official business. I'm just traipsin' along to take the
census of Squaw Creek."
To another, who hailed him with: "Where away, little one? Do you
really expect to stake a claim?" Shorty answered:
"Me? I'm the discoverer of Squaw Creek. I'm just comin' back from
recordin' so as to see no blamed chechaquo jumps my claim."
The average pace of the stampeders on the smooth going was three
miles and a half an hour. Smoke and Shorty were doing four and a
half, though sometimes they broke into short runs and went faster.
"I'm going to travel your feet clean off, Shorty," Smoke challenged.
"Huh! I can hike along on the stumps an' wear the heels off your
moccasins. Though it ain't no use. I've ben figgerin'. Creek
claims is five hundred feet. Call 'em ten to the mile. They's a
thousand stampeders ahead of us, an' that creek ain't no hundred
miles long. Somebody's goin' to get left, an' it makes a noise like
you an' me."
Before replying, Smoke let out an unexpected link that threw Shorty
half a dozen feet in the rear.
"If you saved your breath and kept up, we'd cut down a few of that
thousand," he chided.
"Who? Me? If you's get outa the way I'd show you a pace what is."
Smoke laughed, and let out another link. The whole aspect of the
adventure had changed. Through his brain was running a phrase of
the mad philosopher--"the transvaluation of values." In truth, he
was less interested in staking a fortune than in beating Shorty.
After all, he concluded, it wasn't the reward of the game but the
playing of it that counted. Mind, and muscle, and stamina, and
soul, were challenged in a contest with this Shorty, a man who had
never opened the books, and who did not know grand opera from rag-
time, nor an epic from a chilblain.
"Shorty, I've got you skinned to death. I've reconstructed every
cell in my body since I hit the beach at Dyea. My flesh is as
stringy as whipcords, and as bitter and mean as the bite of a
rattlesnake. A few months ago I'd have patted myself on the back to
write such words, but I couldn't have written them. I had to live
them first, and now that I'm living them there's no need to write
them. I'm the real, bitter, stinging goods, and no scrub of a
mountaineer can put anything over on me without getting it back
compound. Now, you go ahead and set pace for half an hour. Do your
worst, and when you're all in I'll go ahead and give you half an
hour of the real worst."
"Huh!" Shorty sneered genially. "An' him not dry behind the ears
yet. Get outa the way an' let your father show you some goin'."
Half-hour by half-hour they alternated in setting pace. Nor did
they talk much. Their exertions kept them warm, though their breath
froze on their faces from lips to chin. So intense was the cold
that they almost continually rubbed their noses and cheeks with
their mittens. A few minutes cessation from this allowed the flesh
to grow numb, and then most vigorous rubbing was required to produce
the burning prickle of returning circulation.
Often they thought they had reached the lead, but always they
overtook more stampeders who had started before them. Occasionally,
groups of men attempted to swing in behind to their pace, but
invariably they were discouraged after a mile or two, and
disappeared in the darkness to the rear.
"We've been out on trail all winter," was Shorty's comment. "An'
them geezers, soft from laying around their cabins, has the nerve to
think they can keep our stride. Now, if they was real sour-doughs
it'd be different. If there's one thing a sour-dough can do it's
Once, Smoke lighted a match and glanced at his watch. He never
repeated it, for so quick was the bite of the frost on his bared
hands, that half an hour passed before they were again comfortable.
"Four o'clock," he said, as he pulled on his mittens, "and we've
already passed three hundred."
"Three hundred and thirty-eight," Shorty corrected. "I ben keepin'
count. Get outa the way, stranger. Let somebody stampede that
knows how to stampede."
The latter was addressed to a man, evidently exhausted, who could no
more than stumble along, and who blocked the trail. This, and one
other, were the only played-out men they encountered, for they were
very near to the head of the stampede. Nor did they learn till
afterwards the horrors of that night. Exhausted men sat down to
rest by the way, and failed to get up. Seven were frozen to death,
while scores of amputations of toes, feet, and fingers were
performed in the Dawson hospitals on the survivors. For of all
nights for a stampede, the one to Squaw Creek occurred on the
coldest night of the year. Before morning, the spirit thermometers
at Dawson registered seventy degrees below zero. The men composing
the stampede, with few exceptions, were new-comers in the country
who did not know the way of the cold.
The other played-out man they found a few minutes later, revealed by
a streamer of aurora borealis that shot like a searchlight from
horizon to zenith. He was sitting on a piece of ice beside the
"Hop along, sister Mary," Shorty gaily greeted him. "Keep movin'.
If you sit there you'll freeze stiff."
The man made no response, and they stopped to investigate.
"Stiff as a poker," was Shorty's verdict. "If you tumbled him over
"See if he's breathing," Smoke said, as, with bared hands, he sought
through furs and woollens for the man's heart.
Shorty lifted one ear-flap and bent to the iced lips.
"Nary breathe," he reported.
"Nor heart-beat," said Smoke.
He mittened his hand and beat it violently for a minute before
exposing it to the frost to strike a match. It was an old man,
incontestably dead. In the moment of illumination, they saw a long
grey beard, massed with ice to the nose, cheeks that were white with
frost, and closed eyes with frost-rimmed lashes frozen together.
Then the match went out.
"Come on," Shorty said, rubbing his ear. "We can't do nothing for
the old geezer. An' I've sure frosted my ear. Now all the blamed
skin'll peel off and it'll be sore for a week."
A few minutes later, when a flaming ribbon spilled pulsating fire
over the heavens, they saw on the ice a quarter of a mile ahead two
forms. Beyond, for a mile, nothing moved.
"They're leading the procession," Smoke said, as darkness fell
again. "Come on, let's get them."
At the end of half an hour, not yet having overtaken the two in
front, Shorty broke into a run.
"If we catch 'em we'll never pass 'em," he panted. "Lord, what a
pace they're hittin'. Dollars to doughnuts they're no chechaquos.
They're the real sour-dough variety, you can stack on that."
Smoke was leading when they finally caught up, and he was glad to
ease to a walk at their heels. Almost immediately he got the
impression that the one nearer him was a woman. How this impression
came, he could not tell. Hooded and furred, the dark form was as
any form; yet there was a haunting sense of familiarity about it.
He waited for the next flame of the aurora, and by its light saw the
smallness of the moccasined feet. But he saw more--the walk; and
knew it for the unmistakable walk he had once resolved never to
"She's a sure goer," Shorty confided hoarsely. "I'll bet it's an
"How do you do, Miss Gastell," Smoke addressed.
"How do you do," she answered, with a turn of the head and a quick
glance. "It's too dark to see. Who are you?"
She laughed in the frost, and he was certain it was the prettiest
laughter he had ever heard.
"And have you married and raised all those children you were telling
me about?" Before he could retort, she went on. "How many
chechaquos are there behind?"
"Several thousand, I imagine. We passed over three hundred. And
they weren't wasting any time."
"It's the old story," she said bitterly. "The new-comers get in on
the rich creeks, and the old-timers who dared and suffered and made
this country, get nothing. Old-timers made this discovery on Squaw
Creek--how it leaked out is the mystery--and they sent word up to
all the old-timers on Sea Lion. But it's ten miles farther than
Dawson, and when they arrive they'll find the creek staked to the
skyline by the Dawson chechaquos. It isn't right, it isn't fair,
such perversity of luck."
"It is too bad," Smoke sympathized. "But I'm hanged if I know what
you're going to do about it. First come, first served, you know."
"I wish I could do something," she flashed back at him. "I'd like
to see them all freeze on the trail, or have everything terrible
happen to them, so long as the Sea Lion stampede arrived first."
"You've certainly got it in for us, hard," he laughed.
"It isn't that," she said quickly. "Man by man, I know the crowd
from Sea Lion, and they are men. They starved in this country in
the old days, and they worked like giants to develop it. I went
through the hard times on the Koyokuk with them when I was a little
girl. And I was with them in the Birch Creek famine, and in the
Forty Mile famine. They are heroes, and they deserve some reward,
and yet here are thousands of green softlings who haven't earned the
right to stake anything, miles and miles ahead of them. And now, if
you'll forgive my tirade, I'll save my breath, for I don't know when
you and all the rest may try to pass dad and me."
No further talk passed between Joy and Smoke for an hour or so,
though he noticed that for a time she and her father talked in low
"I know'm now," Shorty told Smoke. "He's old Louis Gastell, an' the
real goods. That must be his kid. He come into this country so
long ago they ain't nobody can recollect, an' he brought the girl
with him, she only a baby. Him an' Beetles was tradin' partners an'
they ran the first dinkey little steamboat up the Koyokuk."
"I don't think we'll try to pass them," Smoke said. "We're at the
head of the stampede, and there are only four of us."
Shorty agreed, and another hour of silence followed, during which
they swung steadily along. At seven o'clock, the blackness was
broken by a last display of the aurora borealis, which showed to the
west a broad opening between snow-clad mountains.
"Squaw Creek!" Joy exclaimed.
"Goin' some," Shorty exulted. "We oughtn't to ben there for another
half hour to the least, accordin' to my reckonin'. I must a' ben
spreadin' my legs."
It was at this point that the Dyea trail, baffled by ice-jams,
swerved abruptly across the Yukon to the east bank. And here they
must leave the hard-packed, main-travelled trail, mount the jams,
and follow a dim trail, but slightly packed, that hovered the west
Louis Gastell, leading, slipped in the darkness on the rough ice,
and sat up, holding his ankle in both his hands. He struggled to
his feet and went on, but at a slower pace and with a perceptible
limp. After a few minutes he abruptly halted.
"It's no use," he said to his daughter. "I've sprained a tendon.
You go ahead and stake for me as well as yourself."
"Can't we do something?" Smoke asked.
Louis Gastell shook his head.
"She can stake two claims as well as one. I'll crawl over to the
bank, start a fire, and bandage my ankle. I'll be all right. Go
on, Joy. Stake ours above the Discovery claim; it's richer higher
"Here's some birch bark," Smoke said, dividing his supply equally.
"We'll take care of your daughter."
Louis Gastell laughed harshly.
"Thank you just the same," he said. "But she can take care of
herself. Follow her and watch her."
"Do you mind if I lead?" she asked Smoke, as she headed on. "I know
this country better than you."
"Lead on," Smoke answered gallantly, "though I agree with you it's a
darned shame all us chechaquos are going to beat that Sea Lion bunch
to it. Isn't there some way to shake them?"
She shook her head.
"We can't hide our trail, and they'll follow it like sheep."
After a quarter of a mile, she turned sharply to the west. Smoke
noticed that they were going through unpacked snow, but neither he
nor Shorty observed that the dim trail they had been on still led
south. Had they witnessed the subsequent procedure of Louis
Gastell, the history of the Klondike would have been written
differently; for they would have seen that old-timer, no longer
limping, running with his nose to the trail like a hound, following
them. Also, they would have seen him trample and widen the turn
they had made to the west. And, finally, they would have seen him
keep on the old dim trail that still led south.
A trail did run up the creek, but so slight was it that they
continually lost it in the darkness. After a quarter of an hour,
Joy Gastell was willing to drop into the rear and let the two men
take turns in breaking a way through the snow. This slowness of the
leaders enabled the whole stampede to catch up, and when daylight
came, at nine o'clock, as far back as they could see was an unbroken
line of men. Joy's dark eyes sparkled at the sight.
"How long since we started up the creek?" she asked.
"Fully two hours," Smoke answered.
"And two hours back makes four," she laughed. "The stampede from
Sea Lion is saved."
A faint suspicion crossed Smoke's mind, and he stopped and
"I don't understand," he said.
"You don't. Then I'll tell you. This is Norway Creek. Squaw Creek
is the next to the south."
Smoke was for the moment, speechless.
"You did it on purpose?" Shorty demanded.
"I did it to give the old-timers a chance."
She laughed mockingly. The men grinned at each other and finally
"I'd lay you across my knee an' give you a wallopin', if womenfolk
wasn't so scarce in this country," Shorty assured her.
"Your father didn't sprain a tendon, but waited till we were out of
sight and then went on?" Smoke asked.
"And you were the decoy."
Again she nodded, and this time Smoke's laughter rang out clear and
true. It was the spontaneous laughter of a frankly beaten man.
"Why don't you get angry with me?" she queried ruefully. "Or--or
"Well, we might as well be starting back," Shorty urged. "My feet's
gettin' cold standin' here."
Smoke shook his head.
"That would mean four hours lost. We must be eight miles up this
Creek now, and from the look ahead Norway is making a long swing
south. We'll follow it, then cross over the divide somehow, and tap
Squaw Creek somewhere above Discovery." He looked at Joy. "Won't
you come along with us? I told your father we'd look after you."
"I--" She hesitated. "I think I shall, if you don't mind." She
was looking straight at him, and her face was no longer defiant and
mocking. "Really, Mr Smoke, you make me almost sorry for what I
have done. But somebody had to save the old-timers."
"It strikes me that stampeding is at best a sporting proposition."
"And it strikes me you two are very game about it," she went on,
then added with the shadow of a sigh: "What a pity you are not old-
For two hours more they kept to the frozen creek-bed of Norway, then
turned into a narrow and rugged tributary that flowed from the
south. At midday they began the ascent of the divide itself.
Behind them, looking down and back, they could see the long line of
stampeders breaking up. Here and there, in scores of places, thin
smoke-columns advertised the making of camps.
As for themselves, the going was hard. They wallowed through snow
to their waists, and were compelled to stop every few yards to
breathe. Shorty was the first to call a halt.
"We ben hittin' the trail for over twelve hours," he said. "Smoke,
I'm plum willin' to say I'm good an' tired. An' so are you. An'
I'm free to shout that I can sure hang on to this here pascar like a
starvin' Indian to a hunk of bear-meat. But this poor girl here
can't keep her legs no time if she don't get something in her
stomach. Here's where we build a fire. What d'ye say?"
So quickly, so deftly and methodically, did they go about making a
temporary camp, that Joy, watching with jealous eyes, admitted to
herself that the old-timers could not do it better. Spruce boughs,
with a spread blanket on top, gave a foundation for rest and cooking
operations. But they kept away from the heat of the fire until
noses and cheeks had been rubbed cruelly.
Smoke spat in the air, and the resultant crackle was so immediate
and loud that he shook his head.
"I give it up," he said. "I've never seen cold like this."
"One winter on the Koyokuk it went to eighty-six below," Joy
answered. "It's at least seventy or seventy-five right now, and I
know I've frosted my cheeks. They're burning like fire."
On the steep slope of the divide there was no ice, while snow, as
fine and hard and crystalline as granulated sugar, was poured into
the gold-pan by the bushel until enough water was melted for the
coffee. Smoke fried bacon and thawed biscuits. Shorty kept the
fuel supplied and tended the fire, and Joy set the simple table
composed of two plates, two cups, two spoons, a tin of mixed salt
and pepper, and a tin of sugar. When it came to eating, she and
Smoke shared one set between them. They ate out of the same plate
and drank from the same cup.
It was nearly two in the afternoon when they cleared the crest of
the divide and began dropping down a feeder of Squaw Creek. Earlier
in the winter some moose-hunter had made a trail up the canyon--that
is, in going up and down he had stepped always in his previous
tracks. As a result, in the midst of soft snow, and veiled under
later snow falls, was a line of irregular hummocks. If one's foot
missed a hummock, he plunged down through unpacked snow and usually
to a fall. Also, the moose-hunter had been an exceptionally long-
legged individual. Joy, who was eager now that the two men should
stake, and fearing that they were slackening pace on account of her
evident weariness, insisted on taking the lead. The speed and
manner in which she negotiated the precarious footing, called out
Shorty's unqualified approval.
"Look at her!" he cried. "She's the real goods an' the red meat.
Look at them moccasins swing along. No high-heels there. She uses
the legs God gave her. She's the right squaw for any bear-hunter."
She flashed back a smile of acknowledgment that included Smoke. He
caught a feeling of chumminess, though at the same time he was
bitingly aware that it was very much of a woman who embraced him in
that comradely smile.
Looking back, as they came to the bank of Squaw Creek, they could
see the stampede, strung out irregularly, struggling along the
descent of the divide.
They slipped down the bank to the creek bed. The stream, frozen
solidly to bottom, was from twenty to thirty feet wide and ran
between six- and eight-foot earth banks of alluvial wash. No recent
feet had disturbed the snow that lay upon its ice, and they knew
they were above the Discovery claim and the last stakes of the Sea
"Look out for springs," Joy warned, as Smoke led the way down the
creek. "At seventy below you'll lose your feet if you break
These springs, common to most Klondike streams, never ceased at the
lowest temperatures. The water flowed out from the banks and lay in
pools which were cuddled from the cold by later surface-freezings
and snow falls. Thus, a man, stepping on dry snow, might break
through half an inch of ice-skin and find himself up to the knees in
water. In five minutes, unless able to remove the wet gear, the
loss of one's foot was the penalty.
Though only three in the afternoon, the long grey twilight of the
Arctic had settled down. They watched for a blazed tree on either
bank, which would show the centre-stake of the last claim located.
Joy, impulsively eager, was the first to find it. She darted ahead
of Smoke, crying: "Somebody's been here! See the snow! Look for
the blaze! There it is! See that spruce!"
She sank suddenly to her waist in the snow.
"Now I've done it," she said woefully. Then she cried: "Don't come
near me! I'll wade out."
Step by step, each time breaking through the thin skin of ice
concealed under the dry snow, she forced her way to solid footing.
Smoke did not wait, but sprang to the bank, where dry and seasoned
twigs and sticks, lodged amongst the brush by spring freshets,
waited the match. By the time she reached his side, the first
flames and flickers of an assured fire were rising.
"Sit down!" he commanded.
She obediently sat down in the snow. He slipped his pack from his
back, and spread a blanket for her feet.
From above came the voices of the stampeders who followed them.
"Let Shorty stake," she urged
"Go on, Shorty," Smoke said, as he attacked her moccasins, already
stiff with ice. "Pace off a thousand feet and place the two centre-
stakes. We can fix the corner-stakes afterwards."
With his knife Smoke cut away the lacings and leather of the
moccasins. So stiff were they with ice that they snapped and
crackled under the hacking and sawing. The Siwash socks and heavy
woollen stockings were sheaths of ice. It was as if her feet and
calves were encased in corrugated iron.
"How are your feet?" he asked, as he worked.
"Pretty numb. I can't move nor feel my toes. But it will be all
right. The fire is burning beautifully. Watch out you don't freeze
your own hands. They must be numb now from the way you're
He slipped his mittens on, and for nearly a minute smashed the open
hands savagely against his sides. When he felt the blood-prickles,
he pulled off the mittens and ripped and tore and sawed and hacked
at the frozen garments. The white skin of one foot appeared, then
that of the other, to be exposed to the bite of seventy below zero,
which is the equivalent of one hundred and two below freezing.
Then came the rubbing with snow, carried on with an intensity of
cruel fierceness, till she squirmed and shrank and moved her toes,
and joyously complained of the hurt.
He half-dragged her, and she half-lifted herself, nearer to the
fire. He placed her feet on the blanket close to the flesh-saving
"You'll have to take care of them for a while," he said.
She could now safely remove her mittens and manipulate her own feet,
with the wisdom of the initiated, being watchful that the heat of
the fire was absorbed slowly. While she did this, he attacked his
hands. The snow did not melt nor moisten. Its light crystals were
like so much sand. Slowly the stings and pangs of circulation came
back into the chilled flesh. Then he tended the fire, unstrapped
the light pack from her back, and got out a complete change of foot-
Shorty returned along the creek-bed and climbed the bank to them.
"I sure staked a full thousan' feet," he proclaimed. "Number
twenty-seven and number twenty-eight, though I'd only got the upper
stake of twenty-seven, when I met the first geezer of the bunch
behind. He just straight declared I wasn't goin' to stake twenty-
eight. An' I told him . . . ."
"Yes, yes," Joy cried. "What did you tell him?"
"Well, I told him straight that if he didn't back up plum five
hundred feet I'd sure punch his frozen nose into ice-cream an'
chocolate eclaires. He backed up, an' I've got in the centre-stakes
of two full an' honest five-hundred-foot claims. He staked next,
and I guess by now the bunch has Squaw Creek located to head-waters
an' down the other side. Ourn is safe. It's too dark to see now,
but we can put out the corner-stakes in the mornin'."
When they awoke, they found a change had taken place during the
night. So warm was it, that Shorty and Smoke, still in their mutual
blankets, estimated the temperature at no more than twenty below.
The cold snap had broken. On top their blankets lay six inches of
"Good morning! how's your feet?" was Smoke's greeting across the
ashes of the fire to where Joy Gastell, carefully shaking aside the
snow, was sitting up in her sleeping furs.
Shorty built the fire and quarried ice from the creek, while Smoke
cooked breakfast. Daylight came on as they finished the meal.
"You go an' fix them corner-stakes, Smoke," Shorty said. "There's a
gravel under where I chopped ice for the coffee, an' I'm goin' to
melt water and wash a pan of that same gravel for luck."
Smoke departed, axe in hand, to blaze the stakes. Starting from the
down-stream centre-stake of 'twenty-seven,' he headed at right
angles across the narrow valley towards its rim. He proceeded
methodically, almost automatically, for his mind was alive with
recollections of the night before. He felt, somehow, that he had
won to empery over the delicate lines and firm muscles of those feet
and ankles he had rubbed with snow, and this empery seemed to extend
to all women. In dim and fiery ways a feeling of possession
mastered him. It seemed that all that was necessary was for him to
walk up to this Joy Gastell, take her hand in his, and say "Come."
It was in this mood that he discovered something that made him
forget empery over the white feet of woman. At the valley rim he
blazed no corner-stake. He did not reach the valley rim, but,
instead, he found himself confronted by another stream. He lined up
with his eye a blasted willow tree and a big and recognizable
spruce. He returned to the stream where were the centre stakes. He
followed the bed of the creek around a wide horseshoe bend through
the flat, and found that the two creeks were the same creek. Next,
he floundered twice through the snow from valley rim to valley rim,
running the first line from the lower stake of 'twenty-seven,' the
second from the upper stake of 'twenty-eight,' and he found that THE
UPPER STAKE OF THE LATTER WAS LOWER THAN THE LOWER STAKE OF THE
FORMER. In the gray twilight and half-darkness Shorty had located
their two claims on the horseshoe.
Smoke plodded back to the little camp. Shorty, at the end of
washing a pan of gravel, exploded at sight of him.
"We got it!" Shorty cried, holding out the pan. "Look at it! A
nasty mess of gold. Two hundred right there if it's a cent. She
runs rich from the top of the wash-gravel. I've churned around
placers some, but I never got butter like what's in this pan."
Smoke cast an incurious glance at the coarse gold, poured himself a
cup of coffee at the fire, and sat down. Joy sensed something wrong
and looked at him with eagerly solicitous eyes. Shorty, however,
was disgruntled by his partner's lack of delight in the discovery.
"Why don't you kick in an' get excited?" he demanded. "We got our
pile right here, unless you're stickin' up your nose at two-hundred-
Smoke took a swallow of coffee before replying.
"Shorty, why are our two claims here like the Panama Canal?"
"What's the answer?"
"Well, the eastern entrance of the Panama Canal is west of the
western entrance, that's all."
"Go on," Shorty said. "I ain't seen the joke yet."
"In short, Shorty, you staked our two claims on a big horseshoe
Shorty set the gold pan down in the snow and stood up.
"Go on," he repeated.
"The upper stake of twenty-eight is ten feet below the lower stake
"You mean we ain't got nothin', Smoke?"
"Worse than that; we've got ten feet less than nothing."
Shorty departed down the bank on the run. Five minutes later he
returned. In response to Joy's look, he nodded. Without speech, he
went over to a log and sat down to gaze steadily at the snow in
front of his moccasins.
"We might as well break camp and start back for Dawson," Smoke said,
beginning to fold the blankets.
"I am sorry, Smoke," Joy said. "It's all my fault."
"It's all right," he answered. "All in the day's work, you know."
"But it's my fault, wholly mine," she persisted. "Dad's staked for
me down near Discovery, I know. I'll give you my claim."
He shook his head.
"Shorty," she pleaded.
Shorty shook his head and began to laugh. It was a colossal laugh.
Chuckles and muffled explosions yielded to hearty roars.
"It ain't hysterics," he explained, "I sure get powerful amused at
times, an' this is one of them."
His gaze chanced to fall on the gold pan. He walked over and
gravely kicked it, scattering the gold over the landscape.
"It ain't ourn," he said. "It belongs to the geezer I backed up
five hundred feet last night. An' what gets me is four hundred an'
ninety of them feet was to the good . . . his good. Come on, Smoke.
Let's start the hike to Dawson. Though if you're hankerin' to kill
me I won't lift a finger to prevent."
"Funny you don't gamble none," Shorty said to Smoke one night in the
Elkhorn. "Ain't it in your blood?"
"It is," Smoke answered. "But the statistics are in my head. I
like an even break for my money."
All about them, in the huge bar-room, arose the click and rattle and
rumble of a dozen games, at which fur-clad, moccasined men tried
their luck. Smoke waved his hand to include them all.
"Look at them," he said. "It's cold mathematics that they will lose
more than they win to-night, that the big proportion is losing right
"You're sure strong on figgers," Shorty murmured admiringly. "An'
in the main you're right. But they's such a thing as facts. An'
one fact is streaks of luck. They's times when every geezer playin'
wins, as I know, for I've sat in in such games an' saw more'n one
bank busted. The only way to win at gamblin' is wait for a hunch
that you've got a lucky streak comin' and then to play it to the
"It sounds simple," Smoke criticized. "So simple I can't see how
men can lose."
"The trouble is," Shorty admitted, "that most men gets fooled on
their hunches. On occasion I sure get fooled on mine. The thing is
to try, an' find out."
Smoke shook his head.
"That's a statistic, too, Shorty. Most men prove wrong on their
"But don't you ever get one of them streaky feelin's that all you
got to do is put your money down an' pick a winner?"
"I'm too scared of the percentage against me. But I'll tell you
what, Shorty. I'll throw a dollar on the 'high card' right now and
see if it will buy us a drink."
Smoke was edging his way in to the faro table, when Shorty caught
"Hold on. I'm gettin' one of them hunches now. You put that dollar
They went over to a roulette table near the bar.
"Wait till I give the word," Shorty counselled.
"What number?" Smoke asked.
"Pick it yourself. But wait till I say let her go."
"You don't mean to say I've got an even chance on that table?" Smoke
"As good as the next geezers."
"But not as good as the bank's."
"Wait and see," Shorty urged. "Now! Let her go!"
The game-keeper had just sent the little ivory ball whirling around
the smooth rim above the revolving, many-slotted wheel. Smoke, at
the lower end of the table, reached over a player, and blindly
tossed the dollar. It slid along the smooth, green cloth and
stopped fairly in the centre of '34.'
The ball came to rest, and the game-keeper announced, "Thirty-four
wins!" He swept the table, and alongside of Smoke's dollar, stacked
thirty-five dollars. Smoke drew the money in, and Shorty slapped
him on the shoulder.
"Now, that was the real goods of a hunch, Smoke! How'd I know it?
There's no tellin'. I just knew you'd win. Why, if that dollar of
yourn'd fell on any other number it'd won just the same. When the
hunch is right, you just can't help winnin'."
"Suppose it had come 'double nought'?" Smoke queried, as they made
their way to the bar.
"Then your dollar'd ben on 'double nought,'" was Shorty's answer.
"They's no gettin' away from it. A hunch is a hunch. Here's how.
Come on back to the table. I got a hunch, after pickin' you for a
winner, that I can pick some few numbers myself."
"Are you playing a system?" Smoke asked, at the end of ten minutes,
when his partner had dropped a hundred dollars.
Shorty shook his head indignantly, as he spread his chips out in the
vicinities of '3,' '11,' and '17,' and tossed a spare chip on the
"Hell is sure cluttered with geezers that played systems," he
exposited, as the keeper raked the table.
From idly watching, Smoke became fascinated, following closely every
detail of the game from the whirling of the ball to the making and
the paying of the bets. He made no plays, however, merely
contenting himself with looking on. Yet so interested was he, that
Shorty, announcing that he had had enough, with difficulty drew
Smoke away from the table. The game-keeper returned Shorty the gold
sack he had deposited as a credential for playing, and with it went
a slip of paper on which was scribbled, "Out . . . 350 dollars."
Shorty carried the sack and the paper across the room and handed
them to the weigher, who sat behind a large pair of gold-scales.
Out of Shorty's sack he weighed 350 dollars, which he poured into
the coffer of the house.
"That hunch of yours was another one of those statistics," Smoke
"I had to play it, didn't I, in order to find out?" Shorty retorted.
"I reckon I was crowdin' some just on account of tryin' to convince
you they's such a thing as hunches."
"Never mind, Shorty," Smoke laughed. "I've got a hunch right now--"
Shorty's eyes sparkled as he cried eagerly: "What is it? Kick in
an' play it pronto."
"It's not that kind, Shorty. Now, what I've got is a hunch that
some day I'll work out a system that will beat the spots off that
"System!" Shorty groaned, then surveyed his partner with a vast
pity. "Smoke, listen to your side-kicker an' leave system alone.
Systems is sure losers. They ain't no hunches in systems."
"That's why I like them," Smoke answered. "A system is statistical.
When you get the right system you can't lose, and that's the
difference between it and a hunch. You never know when the right
hunch is going wrong."
"But I know a lot of systems that went wrong, an' I never seen a
system win." Shorty paused and sighed. "Look here, Smoke, if
you're gettin' cracked on systems this ain't no place for you, an'
it's about time we hit the trail again."
During the several following weeks, the two partners played at cross
purposes. Smoke was bent on spending his time watching the roulette
game in the Elkhorn, while Shorty was equally bent on travelling
trail. At last Smoke put his foot down when a stampede was proposed
for two hundred miles down the Yukon.
"Look here, Shorty," he said, "I'm not going. That trip will take
ten days, and before that time I hope to have my system in proper
working order. I could almost win with it now. What are you
dragging me around the country this way for anyway?"
"Smoke, I got to take care of you," was Shorty's reply. "You're
getting nutty. I'd drag you stampedin' to Jericho or the North Pole
if I could keep you away from that table."
"It's all right, Shorty. But just remember I've reached full man-
grown, meat-eating size. The only dragging you'll do, will be
dragging home the dust I'm going to win with that system of mine,
and you'll most likely have to do it with a dog-team."
Shorty's response was a groan.
"And I don't want you to be bucking any games on your own," Smoke
went on. "We're going to divide the winnings, and I'll need all our
money to get started. That system's young yet, and it's liable to
trip me for a few falls before I get it lined up."
At last, after long hours and days spent at watching the table, the
night came when Smoke proclaimed he was ready, and Shorty, glum and
pessimistic, with all the seeming of one attending a funeral,
accompanied his partner to the Elkhorn. Smoke bought a stack of
chips and stationed himself at the game-keeper's end of the table.
Again and again the ball was whirled and the other players won or
lost, but Smoke did not venture a chip. Shorty waxed impatient.
"Buck in, buck in," he urged. "Let's get this funeral over. What's
the matter? Got cold feet?"
Smoke shook his head and waited. A dozen plays went by, and then,
suddenly, he placed ten one-dollar chips on '26.' The number won,
and the keeper paid Smoke three hundred and fifty dollars. A dozen
plays went by, twenty plays, and thirty, when Smoke placed ten
dollars on '32.' Again he received three hundred and fifty dollars.
"It's a hunch." Shorty whispered vociferously in his ear. "Ride
it! Ride it!"
Half an hour went by, during which Smoke was inactive, then he
placed ten dollars on '34' and won.
"A hunch!" Shorty whispered.
"Nothing of the sort," Smoke whispered back. "It's the system.
Isn't she a dandy?"
"You can't tell me," Shorty contended. "Hunches comes in mighty
funny ways. You might think it's a system, but it ain't. Systems
is impossible. They can't happen. It's a sure hunch you're
Smoke now altered his play. He bet more frequently, with single
chips, scattered here and there, and he lost more often than he won.
"Quit it," Shorty advised. "Cash in. You've rung the bull's eye
three times, an' you're ahead a thousand. You can't keep it up."
At this moment the ball started whirling, and Smoke dropped ten
chips on '26.' The ball fell into the slot of '26,' and the keeper
again paid him three hundred and fifty dollars. "If you're plum
crazy an' got the immortal cinch, bet'm the limit," Shorty said.
"Put down twenty-five next time."
A quarter of an hour passed, during which Smoke won and lost on
small scattering bets. Then, with the abruptness that characterized
his big betting, he placed twenty-five dollars on the 'double
nought,' and the keeper paid him eight hundred and seventy-five
"Wake me up, Smoke, I'm dreamin'," Shorty moaned.
Smoke smiled, consulted his note-book, and became absorbed in
calculation. He continually drew the note-book from his pocket, and
from time to time jotted down figures.
A crowd had packed densely around the table, while the players
themselves were attempting to cover the same numbers he covered. It
was then that a change came over his play. Ten times in succession
he placed ten dollars on '18' and lost. At this stage he was
deserted by the hardiest. He changed his number and won another
three hundred and fifty dollars. Immediately the players were back
with him, deserting again after a series of losing bets.
"Quit it, Smoke, quit it," Shorty advised. "The longest string of
hunches is only so long, an' your string's finished. No more
bull's-eyes for you."
"I'm going to ring her once again before I cash in," Smoke answered.
For a few minutes, with varying luck, he played scattering chips
over the table, and then dropped twenty-five dollars on the 'double
"I'll take my slip now," he said to the dealer, as he won.
"Oh, you don't need to show it to me," Shorty said, as they walked
to the weigher. "I ben keepin' track. You're something like
thirty-six hundred to the good. How near am I?"
"Thirty-six-thirty," Smoke replied. "And now you've got to pack the
dust home. That was the agreement."
"Don't crowd your luck," Shorty pleaded with Smoke, the next night,
in the cabin, as he evidenced preparations to return to the Elkhorn.
"You played a mighty long string of hunches, but you played it out.
If you go back you'll sure drop all your winnings."
"But I tell you it isn't hunches, Shorty. It's statistics. It's a
system. It can't lose."
"System be damned. They ain't no such a thing as system. I made
seventeen straight passes at a crap table once. Was it system?
Nope. It was fool luck, only I had cold feet an' didn't dast let it
ride. It it'd rid, instead of me drawin' down after the third pass,
I'd a won over thirty thousan' on the original two-bit piece."
"Just the same, Shorty, this is a real system."
"Huh! You got to show me."
"I did show you. Come on with me now and I'll show you again."
When they entered the Elkhorn, all eyes centred on Smoke, and those
about the table made way for him as he took up his old place at the
keeper's end. His play was quite unlike that of the previous night.
In the course of an hour and a half he made only four bets, but each
bet was for twenty-five dollars, and each bet won. He cashed in
thirty-five hundred dollars, and Shorty carried the dust home to the
"Now's the time to jump the game," Shorty advised, as he sat on the
edge of his bunk and took off his moccasins. "You're seven thousan'
ahead. A man's a fool that'd crowd his luck harder."
"Shorty, a man would be a blithering lunatic if he didn't keep on
backing a winning system like mine."
"Smoke, you're a sure bright boy. You're college-learnt. You know
more'n a minute than I could know in forty thousan' years. But just
the same you're dead wrong when you call your luck a system. I've
ben around some, an' seen a few, an' I tell you straight an'
confidential an' all-assurin', a system to beat a bankin' game ain't
"But I'm showing you this one. It's a pipe."
"No, you're not, Smoke. It's a pipe-dream. I'm asleep. Bime by
I'll wake up, an' build the fire, an' start breakfast."
"Well, my unbelieving friend, there's the dust. Heft it."
So saying, Smoke tossed the bulging gold-sack upon his partner's
knees. It weighed thirty-five pounds, and Shorty was fully aware of
the crush of its impact on his flesh.
"It's real," Smoke hammered his point home.
"Huh! I've saw some mighty real dreams in my time. In a dream all
things is possible. In real life a system ain't possible. Now, I
ain't never ben to college, but I'm plum justified in sizin' up this
gamblin' orgy of ourn as a sure enough dream."
"Hamilton's 'Law of Parsimony,'" Smoke laughed.
"I ain't never heard of the geezer, but his dope's sure right. I'm
dreamin', Smoke, an' you're just snoopin' around in my dream an'
tormentin' me with system. If you love me, if you sure do love me,
you'll just yell, 'Shorty! Wake up!' An' I'll wake up an' start
The third night of play, as Smoke laid his first bet, the game-
keeper shoved fifteen dollars back to him.
"Ten's all you can play," he said. "The limit's come down."
"Gettin' picayune," Shorty sneered.
"No one has to play at this table that don't want to," the keeper
retorted. "And I'm willing to say straight out in meeting that we'd
sooner your pardner didn't play at our table."
"Scared of his system, eh?" Shorty challenged, as the keeper paid
over three hundred and fifty dollars.
"I ain't saying I believe in system, because I don't. There never
was a system that'd beat roulette or any percentage game. But just
the same I've seen some queer strings of luck, and I ain't going to
let this bank go bust if I can help it."
"Gambling is just as much business, my friend, as any other
business. We ain't philanthropists."
Night by night, Smoke continued to win. His method of play varied.
Expert after expert, in the jam about the table, scribbled down his
bets and numbers in vain attempts to work out his system. They
complained of their inability to get a clew to start with, and swore
that it was pure luck, though the most colossal streak of it they
had ever seen.
It was Smoke's varied play that obfuscated them. Sometimes,
consulting his note-book or engaging in long calculations, an hour
elapsed without his staking a chip. At other times he would win
three limit-bets and clean up a thousand dollars and odd in five or
ten minutes. At still other times, his tactics would be to scatter
single chips prodigally and amazingly over the table. This would
continue for from ten to thirty minutes of play, when, abruptly, as
the ball whirled through the last few of its circles, he would play
the limit on column, colour, and number, and win all three. Once,
to complete confusion in the minds of those that strove to divine
his secret, he lost forty straight bets, each at the limit. But
each night, play no matter how diversely, Shorty carried home
thirty-five hundred dollars for him.
"It ain't no system," Shorty expounded at one of their bed-going
discussions. "I follow you, an' follow you, but they ain't no
figgerin' it out. You never play twice the same. All you do is
pick winners when you want to, an' when you don't want to, you just
on purpose don't."
"Maybe you're nearer right than you think, Shorty. I've just got to
pick losers sometimes. It's part of the system."
"System--hell! I've talked with every gambler in town, an' the last
one is agreed they ain't no such thing as system."
"Yet I'm showing them one all the time."
"Look here, Smoke." Shorty paused over the candle, in the act of
blowing it out. "I'm real irritated. Maybe you think this is a
candle. It ain't. An' this ain't me neither. I'm out on trail
somewheres, in my blankets, lyin' on my back with my mouth open, an'
dreamin' all this. That ain't you talkin', any more than this
candle is a candle."
"It's funny, how I happen to be dreaming along with you then," Smoke
"No, it ain't. You're part of my dream, that's all. I've hearn
many a man talk in my dreams. I want to tell you one thing, Smoke.
I'm gettin' mangy an' mad. If this here dream keeps up much more
I'm goin' to bite my veins an' howl."
On the sixth night of play at the Elkhorn, the limit was reduced to
"It's all right," Smoke assured the game-keeper. "I want thirty-
five hundred to-night, as usual, and you only compel me to play
longer. I've got to pick twice as many winners, that's all."
"Why don't you buck somebody else's table?" the keeper demanded
"Because I like this one." Smoke glanced over to the roaring stove
only a few feet away. "Besides, there are no draughts here, and it
is warm and comfortable."
On the ninth night, when Shorty had carried the dust home, he had a
"I quit, Smoke, I quit," he began. "I know when I got enough. I
ain't dreamin'. I'm wide awake. A system can't be, but you got one
just the same. There's nothin' in the rule o' three. The almanac's
clean out. The world's gone smash. There's nothin' regular an'
uniform no more. The multiplication table's gone loco. Two is
eight, nine is eleven, and two-times-six is eight hundred an' forty-
six--an'--an' a half. Anything is everything, an' nothing's all,
an' twice all is cold cream, milk-shakes, an' calico horses. You've
got a system. Figgers beat the figgerin'. What ain't is, an' what
isn't has to be. The sun rises in the west, the moon's a paystreak,
the stars is canned corn-beef, scurvy's the blessin' of God, him
that dies kicks again, rocks floats, water's gas, I ain't me, you're
somebody else, an' mebbe we're twins if we ain't hashed-brown
potatoes fried in verdigris. Wake me up! Somebody! Oh! Wake me
The next morning a visitor came to the cabin. Smoke knew him,
Harvey Moran, the owner of all the games in the Tivoli. There was a
note of appeal in his deep gruff voice as he plunged into his
"It's like this, Smoke," he began. "You've got us all guessing.
I'm representing nine other game-owners and myself from all the
saloons in town. We don't understand. We know that no system ever
worked against roulette. All the mathematic sharps in the colleges
have told us gamblers the same thing. They say that roulette itself
is the system, the one and only system, and, therefore, that no
system can beat it, for that would mean arithmetic has gone bug-
Shorty nodded his head violently.
"If a system can beat a system, then there's no such thing as
system," the gambler went on. "In such a case anything could be
possible--a thing could be in two different places at once, or two
things could be in the same place that's only large enough for one
at the same time."
"Well, you've seen me play," Smoke answered defiantly; "and if you
think it's only a string of luck on my part, why worry?"
"That's the trouble. We can't help worrying. It's a system you've
got, and all the time we know it can't be. I've watched you five
nights now, and all I can make out is that you favour certain
numbers and keep on winning. Now the ten of us game-owners have got
together, and we want to make a friendly proposition. We'll put a
roulette table in a back room of the Elkhorn, pool the bank against
you, and have you buck us. It will be all quiet and private. Just
you and Shorty and us. What do you say?"
"I think it's the other way around," Smoke answered. "It's up to
you to come and see me. I'll be playing in the bar-room of the
Elkhorn to-night. You can watch me there just as well."
That night, when Smoke took up his customary place at the table, the
keeper shut down the game.
"The game's closed," he said. "Boss's orders."
But the assembled game-owners were not to be balked. In a few
minutes they arranged a pool, each putting in a thousand, and took
over the table.
"Come on and buck us," Harvey Moran challenged, as the keeper sent
the ball on its first whirl around.
"Give me the twenty-five limit," Smoke suggested.
"Sure; go to it."
Smoke immediately placed twenty-five chips on the 'double nought,'
Moran wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"Go on," he said. "We got ten thousand in this bank."
At the end of an hour and a half, the ten thousand was Smoke's.
"The bank's bust," the keeper announced.
"Got enough?" Smoke asked.
The game-owners looked at one another. They were awed. They, the
fatted proteges of the laws of chance, were undone. They were up
against one who had more intimate access to those laws, or who had
invoked higher and undreamed laws.
"We quit," Moran said. "Ain't that right, Burke?"
Big Burke, who owned the games in the M. and G. Saloon, nodded.
"The impossible has happened," he said. "This Smoke here has got a
system all right. If we let him go on we'll all bust. All I can
see, if we're goin' to keep our tables running, is to cut down the
limit to a dollar, or to ten cents, or a cent. He won't win much in
a night with such stakes."
All looked at Smoke. He shrugged his shoulders.
"In that case, gentlemen, I'll have to hire a gang of men to play at
all your tables. I can pay them ten dollars for a four-hour shift
and make money."
"Then we'll shut down our tables," Big Burke replied. "Unless--"
He hesitated and ran his eye over his fellows to see that they were
with him. "Unless you're willing to talk business. What will you
sell the system for?"
"Thirty thousand dollars," Smoke answered. "That's a tax of three
They debated and nodded.
"And you'll tell us your system?"
"And you'll promise not to play roulette in Dawson ever again?"
"No, sir," Smoke said positively. "I'll promise not to play this
"My God!" Moran exploded. "You haven't got other systems, have
"Hold on!" Shorty cried. "I want to talk to my pardner. Come over
here, Smoke, on the side."
Smoke followed into a quiet corner of the room, while hundreds of
curious eyes centred on him and Shorty.
"Look here, Smoke," Shorty whispered hoarsely. "Mebbe it ain't a
dream. In which case you're sellin' out almighty cheap. You've
sure got the world by the slack of its pants. They's millions in
it. Shake it! Shake it hard!"
"But if it's a dream?" Smoke queried softly.
"Then, for the sake of the dream an' the love of Mike, stick them
gamblers up good and plenty. What's the good of dreamin' if you
can't dream to the real right, dead sure, eternal finish?"
"Fortunately, this isn't a dream, Shorty."
"Then if you sell out for thirty thousan', I'll never forgive you."
"When I sell out for thirty thousand, you'll fall on my neck an'
wake up to find out that you haven't been dreaming at all. This is
no dream, Shorty. In about two minutes you'll see you have been
wide awake all the time. Let me tell you that when I sell out it's
because I've got to sell out."
Back at the table, Smoke informed the game-owners that his offer
still held. They proffered him their paper to the extent of three
"Hold out for the dust," Shorty cautioned.
"I was about to intimate that I'd take the money weighed out," Smoke
The owner of the Elkhorn cashed their paper, and Shorty took
possession of the gold-dust.
"Now, I don't want to wake up," he chortled, as he hefted the
various sacks. "Toted up, it's a seventy thousan' dream. It's be
too blamed expensive to open my eyes, roll out of the blankets, an'
"What's your system?" Big Burke demanded. "We've paid for it, and
we want it."
Smoke led the way to the table.
"Now, gentlemen, bear with me a moment. This isn't an ordinary
system. It can scarcely be called legitimate, but its one great
virtue is that it works. I've got my suspicious, but I'm not saying
anything. You watch. Mr Keeper, be ready with the ball. Wait, I
am going to pick '26.' Consider I've bet on it. Be ready, Mr
The ball whirled around.
"You observe," Smoke went on, "that '9' was directly opposite."
The ball finished in '26.'
Big Burke swore deep in his chest, and all waited.
"For 'double nought' to win, '11' must be opposite. Try it yourself
"But the system?" Moran demanded impatiently. "We know you can pick
winning numbers, and we know what those numbers are; but how do you
"By observed sequences. By accident I chanced twice to notice the
ball whirled when '9' was opposite. Both times '26' won. After
that I saw it happen again. Then I looked for other sequences, and
found them. 'Double nought' opposite fetches '32,' and '11' fetches
'double nought.' It doesn't always happen, but it USUALLY happens.
You notice, I say 'usually.' As I said before, I have my
suspicions, but I'm not saying anything."
Big Burke, with a sudden dawn of comprehension reached over, stopped
the wheel, and examined it carefully. The heads of the nine other
game-owners bent over and joined in the examination. Big Burke
straightened up and cast a glance at the near-by stove.
"Hell," he said. "It wasn't any system at all. The table stood
close to the fire, and the blamed wheel's warped. And we've been
worked to a frazzle. No wonder he liked this table. He couldn't
have bucked for sour apples at any other table."
Harvey Moran gave a great sigh of relief and wiped his forehead.
"Well, anyway," he said, "it's cheap at the price just to find out
that it wasn't a system." His face began to work, and then he broke
into laughter and slapped Smoke on the shoulder. "Smoke, you had us
going for a while, and we patting ourselves on the back because you
were letting our tables alone! Say, I've got some real fizz I'll
open if all you'll come over to the Tivoli with me."
Later, back in the cabin, Shorty silently overhauled and hefted the
various bulging gold-sacks. He finally piled them on the table, sat
down on the edge of his bunk, and began taking off his moccasins.
"Seventy thousan'," he calculated. "It weighs three hundred and
fifty pounds. And all out of a warped wheel an' a quick eye.
Smoke, you eat'm raw, you eat'm alive, you work under water, you've
given me the jim-jams; but just the same I know it's a dream. It's
only in dreams that the good things comes true. I'm almighty
unanxious to wake up. I hope I never wake up."
"Cheer up," Smoke answered. "You won't. There are a lot of
philosophy sharps that think men are sleep-walkers. You're in good
Shorty got up, went to the table, selected the heaviest sack, and
cuddled it in his arms as if it were a baby.
"I may be sleep-walkin'," he said, "but as you say, I'm sure in
mighty good company."
THE MAN ON THE OTHER BANK.
It was before Smoke Bellew staked the farcical town-site of Tra-Lee,
made the historic corner of eggs that nearly broke Swiftwater Bill's
bank account, or won the dog-team race down the Yukon for an even
million dollars, that he and Shorty parted company on the Upper
Klondike. Shorty's task was to return down the Klondike to Dawson
to record some claims they had staked.
Smoke, with the dog-team, turned south. His quest was Surprise Lake
and the mythical Two Cabins. His traverse was to cut the headwaters
of the Indian River and cross the unknown region over the mountains
to the Stewart River. Here, somewhere, rumour persisted, was
Surprise Lake, surrounded by jagged mountains and glaciers, its
bottom paved with raw gold. Old-timers, it was said, whose very
names were forgotten in the forests of earlier years, had dived in
the ice-waters of Surprise Lake and fetched lump-gold to the surface
in both hands. At different times, parties of old-timers had
penetrated the forbidding fastness and sampled the lake's golden
bottom. But the water was too cold. Some died in the water, being
pulled up dead. Others died of consumption. And one who had gone
down never did come up. All survivors had planned to return and
drain the lake, yet none had ever gone back. Disaster always
happened. One man fell into an air-hole below Forty Mile; another
was killed and eaten by his dogs; a third was crushed by a falling
tree. And so the tale ran. Surprise Lake was a hoodoo; its
location was unremembered; and the gold still paved its undrained
Two Cabins, no less mythical, was more definitely located. 'Five
sleeps,' up the McQuestion River from the Stewart, stood two ancient
cabins. So ancient were they that they must have been built before
ever the first known gold-hunter had entered the Yukon Basin.
Wandering moose-hunters, whom even Smoke had met and talked with,
claimed to have found the two cabins in the old days, but to have
sought vainly for the mine which those early adventurers must have
"I wish you was goin' with me," Shorty said wistfully, at parting.
"Just because you got the Indian bug ain't no reason for to go
pokin' into trouble. They's no gettin' away from it, that's loco
country you're bound for. The hoodoo's sure on it, from the first
flip to the last call, judgin' from all you an' me has hearn tell
"It's all right, Shorty. I'll make the round trip and be back in
Dawson in six weeks. The Yukon trail is packed, and the first
hundred miles or so of the Stewart ought to be packed. Old-timers
from Henderson have told me a number of outfits went up last fall
after the freeze-up. When I strike their trail I ought to hit her
up forty or fifty miles a day. I'm likely to be back inside a
month, once I get across."
"Yes, once you get acrost. But it's the gettin' acrost that worries
me. Well, so long, Smoke. Keep your eyes open for that hoodoo,
that's all. An' don't be ashamed to turn back if you don't kill any
A week later, Smoke found himself among the jumbled ranges south of
Indian River. On the divide from the Klondike he had abandoned the
sled and packed his wolf-dogs. The six big huskies each carried
fifty pounds, and on his own back was an equal burden. Through the
soft snow he led the way, packing it down under his snow-shoes, and
behind, in single file, toiled the dogs.
He loved the life, the deep arctic winter, the silent wilderness,
the unending snow-surface unpressed by the foot of any man. About
him towered icy peaks unnamed and uncharted. No hunter's camp-
smoke, rising in the still air of the valleys, ever caught his eye.
He, alone, moved through the brooding quiet of the untravelled
wastes; nor was he oppressed by the solitude. He loved it all, the
day's toil, the bickering wolf-dogs, the making of the camp in the
long twilight, the leaping stars overhead and the flaming pageant of
the aurora borealis.
Especially he loved his camp at the end of the day, and in it he saw
a picture which he ever yearned to paint and which he knew he would
never forget--a beaten place in the snow, where burned his fire; his
bed, a couple of rabbit-skin robes spread on fresh-chopped spruce-
boughs; his shelter, a stretched strip of canvas that caught and
threw back the heat of the fire; the blackened coffee-pot and pail
resting on a length of log, the moccasins propped on sticks to dry,
the snow-shoes up-ended in the snow; and across the fire the wolf-
dogs snuggling to it for the warmth, wistful and eager, furry and
frost-rimed, with bushy tails curled protectingly over their feet;
and all about, pressed backward but a space, the wall of encircling
At such times San Francisco, The Billow, and O'Hara seemed very far
away, lost in a remote past, shadows of dreams that had never
happened. He found it hard to believe that he had known any other
life than this of the wild, and harder still was it for him to
reconcile himself to the fact that he had once dabbled and dawdled
in the Bohemian drift of city life. Alone, with no one to talk to,
he thought much, and deeply, and simply. He was appalled by the
wastage of his city years, by the cheapness, now, of the
philosophies of the schools and books, of the clever cynicism of the
studio and editorial room, of the cant of the business men in their
clubs. They knew neither food nor sleep, nor health; nor could they
ever possibly know the sting of real appetite, the goodly ache of
fatigue, nor the rush of mad strong blood that bit like wine through
all one's body as work was done.
And all the time this fine, wise, Spartan North Land had been here,
and he had never known. What puzzled him was, that, with such
intrinsic fitness, he had never heard the slightest calling whisper,
had not himself gone forth to seek. But this, too, he solved in
"Look here, Yellow-face, I've got it clear!"
The dog addressed lifted first one fore-foot and then the other with
quick, appeasing movements, curled his bush of a tail about them
again, and laughed across the fire.
"Herbert Spencer was nearly forty before he caught the vision of his
greatest efficiency and desire. I'm none so slow. I didn't have to
wait till I was thirty to catch mine. Right here is my efficiency
and desire. Almost, Yellow Face, do I wish I had been born a wolf-
boy and been brother all my days to you and yours."
For days he wandered through a chaos of canyons and divides which
did not yield themselves to any rational topographical plan. It was
as if they had been flung there by some cosmic joker. In vain he
sought for a creek or feeder that flowed truly south toward the
McQuestion and the Stewart. Then came a mountain storm that blew a
blizzard across the riff-raff of high and shallow divides. Above
timber-line, fireless, for two days, he struggled blindly to find
lower levels. On the second day he came out upon the rim of an
enormous palisade. So thickly drove the snow that he could not see
the base of the wall, nor dared he attempt the descent. He rolled
himself in his robes and huddled the dogs about him in the depths of
a snow-drift, but did not permit himself to sleep.
In the morning, the storm spent, he crawled out to investigate. A
quarter of a mile beneath him, beyond all mistake, lay a frozen,
snow-covered lake. About it, on every side, rose jagged peaks. It
answered the description. Blindly, he had found Surprise Lake.
"Well-named," he muttered, an hour later, as he came out upon its
margin. A clump of aged spruce was the only woods. On his way to
it, he stumbled upon three graves, snow-buried, but marked by hand-
hewn head-posts and undecipherable writing. On the edge of the
woods was a small ramshackle cabin. He pulled the latch and
entered. In a corner, on what had once been a bed of spruce-boughs,
still wrapped in mangy furs, that had rotted to fragments, lay a
skeleton. The last visitor to Surprise Lake, was Smoke's
conclusion, as he picked up a lump of gold as large as his doubled
fist. Beside the lump was a pepper-can filled with nuggets of the
size of walnuts, rough-surfaced, showing no signs of wash.
So true had the tale run, that Smoke accepted without question that
the source of the gold was the lake's bottom. Under many feet of
ice and inaccessible, there was nothing to be done, and at mid-day,
from the rim of the palisade, he took a farewell look back and down
at his find.
"It's all right, Mr Lake," he said. "You just keep right on staying
there. I'm coming back to drain you--if that hoodoo doesn't catch
me. I don't know how I got here, but I'll know by the way I go
In a little valley, beside a frozen stream and under beneficent
spruce trees, he built a fire four days later. Somewhere in that
white anarchy he left behind him, was Surprise Lake--somewhere, he
knew not where; for a hundred hours of driftage and struggle through
blinding driving snow, had concealed his course from him, and he
knew not in what direction lay BEHIND. It was as if he had just
emerged from a nightmare. He was not sure that four days or a week
had passed. He had slept with the dogs, fought across a forgotten
number of shallow divides, followed the windings of weird canyons
that ended in pockets, and twice had managed to make a fire and thaw
out frozen moose-meat. And here he was, well-fed and well-camped.
The storm had passed, and it had turned clear and cold. The lay of
the land had again become rational. The creek he was on was natural
in appearance, and trended as it should toward the southwest. But
Surprise Lake was as lost to him as it had been to all its seekers
in the past.
Half a day's journey down the creek brought him to the valley of a
larger stream which he decided was the McQuestion. Here he shot a
moose, and once again each wolf-dog carried a full fifty-pound pack
of meat. As he turned down the McQuestion, he came upon a sled-
trail. The late snows had drifted over, but underneath, it was
well-packed by travel. His conclusion was that two camps had been
established on the McQuestion, and that this was the connecting
trail. Evidently, Two Cabins had been found and it was the lower
camp, so he headed down the stream.
It was forty below zero when he camped that night, and he fell
asleep wondering who were the men who had rediscovered the Two
Cabins, and if he would fetch it next day. At the first hint of
dawn he was under way, easily following the half-obliterated trail
and packing the recent snow with his webbed shoes so that the dogs
should not wallow.
And then it came, the unexpected, leaping out upon him on a bend of
the river. It seemed to him that he heard and felt simultaneously.
The crack of the rifle came from the right, and the bullet, tearing
through and across the shoulders of his drill parka and woollen
coat, pivoted him half around with the shock of its impact. He
staggered on his twisted snow-shoes to recover balance, and heard a
second crack of the rifle. This time it was a clean miss. He did
not wait for more, but plunged across the snow for the sheltering
trees of the bank a hundred feet away. Again and again the rifle
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