The Magnetic North
Elizabeth Robins (C. E. Raimond)
Part 10 out of 11
The Boy tore himself away from his old friends, and followed the
arbiter of his fate. The engines had started up again, and they were
"I'm told," said the Captain rather severely, "that Minook's a busted
"Oh, is it?" returned the ragged one cheerfully. Then he remembered
that this Captain Rainey had grub-staked a man in the autumn--a man who
was reported to know where to look for the Mother Lode, the mighty
parent of the Yukon placers. "I can tell you the facts about Minook."
He followed the Captain up on the hurricane-deck, giving him details
about the new strike, and the wonderful richness of Idaho Bar. "Nobody
would know about it to-day, but that the right man went prospecting
there." (One in the eye for whoever said Minook was "busted," and
another for the prospector Rainey had sent to look for----) "You see,
men like Pitcairn have given up lookin' for the Mother Lode. They say
you might as well look for Mother Eve; you got to make out with her
descendants. Yukon gold, Pitcairn says, comes from an older rock series
than this"--he stood in the shower of sparks constantly spraying from
the smoke-stack to the fireproof deck, and he waved his hand airily at
the red rock of the Ramparts--"far older than any of these. The gold up
here has all come out o' rock that went out o' the rock business
millions o' years ago. Most o' that Mother Lode the miners are lookin'
for is sand now, thirteen hundred miles away in Norton Sound."
"Just my luck," said the Captain gloomily, going a little for'ard, as
though definitely giving up mining and returning to his own proper
"But the rest o' the Mother Lode, the gold and magnetic iron, was too
heavy to travel. That's what's linin' the gold basins o' the
North--linin' Idaho Bar thick."
The Captain sighed.
"Twelve," a voice sang out on the lower deck.
"Twelve," repeated the Captain.
"Twelve," echoed the pilot at the wheel.
"Twelve and a half," from the man below, a tall, lean fellow, casting
the sounding-pole. With a rhythmic nonchalance he plants the long black
and white staff at the ship's side, draws it up dripping, plunges it
down again, draws it up, and sends it down hour after hour. He never
seems to tire; he never seems to see anything but the water-mark, never
to say anything but what he is chanting now, "Twelve and a half," or
some variation merely numerical. You come to think him as little human
as the calendar, only that his numbers are told off with the
significance of sound, the suggested menace of a cry. If the "sounding"
comes too near the steamer's draught, or the pilot fails to hear the
reading, the Captain repeats it. He often does so when there is no
need; it is a form of conversation, noncommittal, yet smacking of
"Ten," echoed the pilot, while the Captain was admitting that he had
been mining vicariously "for twenty years, and never made a cent.
Always keep thinkin' I'll soon be able to give up steamboatin' and buy
He shook his head as one who sees his last hope fade.
But his ragged companion turned suddenly, and while the sparks fell in
a fresh shower, "Well, Captain," says he, "you've got the chance of
your life right now."
"Ten and a half."
"Just what they've all said. Wish I had the money I've wasted on
The ragged one thrust his hands in the pockets of his chaparejos.
"I grub-staked myself, and I'm very glad I did."
"Nobody in with you?"
"Pitcairn says, somehow or other, there's been gold-washin' goin' on up
here pretty well ever since the world began."
"No; seems to have been a bigger job than even white men could manage.
Instead o' stamp-mills, glaciers grindin' up the Mother Lode; instead
o' little sluice-boxes, rivers; instead o' riffles, gravel bottoms.
Work, work, wash, wash, day and night, every summer for a million
years. Never a clean-up since the foundation of the world. No, sir,
waitin' for us to do that--waitin' now up on Idaho Bar."
The Captain looked at him, trying to conceal the envy in his soul. They
were sounding low water, but he never heard. He looked round sharply as
the course changed.
"I've done my assessment," the ragged man went on joyously, "and I'm
going to Dawson."
This was bad navigation. He felt instantly he had struck a snag. The
Captain smiled, and passed on sounding: "Nine and a half."
"But I've got a fortune on the Bar. I'm not a boomer, but I believe in
"Six. Gettin' into low water."
Again the steamer swung out, hunting a new channel.
"Pitcairn's opinion is thought a lot of. The Geologic Survey men listen
to Pitcairn. He helped them one year. He's one of those extraordinary
old miners who can tell from the look of things, without even panning.
When he saw that pyrites on Idaho Bar he stopped dead. 'This looks good
to me!' he said, and, Jee-rusalem! it was good!"
They stared at the Ramparts growing bolder, the river hurrying like a
mill-race, the steamer feeling its way slow and cautiously like a blind
man with a stick.
"Six and a half."
"Pitcairn says gold is always thickest on the inside of an elbow or
turn in the stream. It's in a place like that my claim is."
The steamer swerved still further out from the course indicated on the
chart. The pilot was still hunting a new channel, but still the Captain
stood and listened, and it was not to the sounding of the Yukon Bar.
"They say there's no doubt about the whole country being glaciated."
"Signs of glacial erosion everywhere."
The Captain looked sharply about as if his ship might be in some new
"No doubt the gold is all concentrates."
"Oh, is that so?" He seemed relieved on the whole.
"Eight and a half," from below.
"Eight and a half," from the Captain.
"Eight and a half," from the pilot-house.
Something arresting, rich-sounding, in the news--a triple essence of
the perfume of riches.
With the incantation of technical phrase over the witch-brew of
adventure, gambling, and romance, that simmers in the mind when men
tell of finding gold in the ground, with the addition of this salt of
science comes a savour of homely virtue, an aroma promising sustenance
and strength. It confounds suspicion and sees unbelief, first weaken,
and at last do reverence. There is something hypnotic in the
terminology. Enthusiasm, even backed by fact, will scare off your
practical man, who yet will turn to listen to the theory of "the
mechanics of erosion" and one of its proofs--"up there before our eyes,
the striation of the Ramparts."
But Rainey was what he called "an old bird." His squinted pilot-eye
came back from the glacier track and fell on the outlandish figure of
his passenger. And with an inward admiration of his quality of extreme
old-birdness, the Captain struggled against the trance.
"Didn't I hear you say something about going to Dawson?"
"Y-yes. I think Dawson'll be worth seeing."
"Holy Moses, yes! There's never been anything like Dawson before."
"And I want to talk to the big business men there. I'm not a miner
myself. I mean to put my property on the market." As he said the words
it occurred to him unpleasantly how very like McGinty they sounded. But
he went on: "I didn't dream of spending so much time up here as I've
put in already. I've got to get back to the States."
"You had any proposition yet?" The Captain led the way to his private
"About my claim? Not yet; but once I get it on the market----"
So full was he of a scheme of his own he failed to see that he had no
need to go to Dawson for a buyer.
The Captain set out drinks, and still the talk was of the Bar. It had
come now to seem impossible, even to an old bird, that, given those
exact conditions, gold should not be gathered thick along that Bar.
"I regard it as a sure thing. Anyhow, it's recorded, and the
assessment's done. All the district wants now is capital to develop
"Districts like that all over the map," said the old bird, with a final
flutter of caution. "Even if the capital's found--if everything's ready
for work, the summer's damn short. But if it's a question of goin'
huntin' for the means of workin'----"
"There's time," returned the other quietly, "but there's none to waste.
You take me and my pardner----"
"Thought you didn't have a pardner," snapped the other, hot over such
"Not in ownership; he's got another claim. But you take my pardner and
me to Dawson----"
The Captain stood on his legs and roared:
"I can't, I tell you!"
"You can if you will--you will if you want that farm!"
"Take us to Dawson, and I'll get a deed drawn up in Minook turning over
one-third of my Idaho Bar property to John R. Rainey."
John R. Rainey gaped the more, and then finding his tongue:
"No, no. I'd just as soon come in on the Bar, but it's true what I'm
tellin' you. There simply ain't an unoccupied inch on the Oklahoma this
trip. It's been somethin' awful, the way I've been waylaid and prayed
at for a passage. People starvin' with bags o' money waitin' for 'em at
the Dawson Bank! Settlements under water--men up in trees callin' to us
to stop for the love of God--men in boats crossin' our channel, headin'
us off, thinkin' nothin' o' the risk o' bein' run down. 'Take us to
Dawson!' it's the cry for fifteen hundred miles."
"Oh, come! you stopped for me."
The Captain smiled shrewdly.
"I didn't think it necessary at the time to explain. We'd struck bottom
just then--new channel, you know; it changes a lot every time the ice
goes out and the floods come down. I reversed our engines and went up
to talk to the pilot. We backed off just after you boarded us. I must
have been rattled to take you even to Minook."
"No. It was the best turn you've done yourself in a long while."
The Captain shook his head. It was true: the passengers of the Oklahoma
were crowded like cattle on a Kansas stock-car. He knew he ought to
unload and let a good portion wait at Minook for that unknown quantity
the next boat. He would issue the order, but that he knew it would mean
"I'll get into trouble for overloading as it is."
"You probably won't; people are too busy up here. If you do, I'm
offerin' you a good many thousand dollars for the risk."
"God bless my soul! where'd I put you? There ain't a bunk."
"I've slept by the week on the ice."
"There ain't room to lie down."
"Then we'll stand up."
Lord, Lord! what could you do with such a man? Owner of Idaho Bar, too.
"Mechanics of erosion," "Concentrates," "a third interest"--it all rang
in his head. "I've got nine fellers sleepin' in here," he said
helplessly, "in my room."
"Can we come if we find our own place, and don't trouble you?"
"Well, I won't have any pardner--but perhaps you----"
"Oh, pardner's got to come too."
Whatever the Captain said the nerve-tearing shriek of the whistle
drowned. It was promptly replied to by the most horrible howls.
"Reckon that's Nig! He's got to come too," said this dreadful ragged
"God bless me, this must be Minook!"
The harassed Captain hustled out.
"You must wait long enough here to get that deed drawn, Captain!"
called out the other, as he flew down the companionway.
Nearly six hundred people on the bank. Suddenly controlling his
eagerness, the Boy contented himself with standing back and staring
across strange shoulders at the place he knew so well. There was "the
worst-lookin' shack in the town," that had been his home, the A. C.
store looming importantly, the Gold Nugget, and hardly a face to which
he could not give a name and a history: Windy Jim and the crippled
Swede; Bonsor, cheek by jowl with his enemy, McGinty; Judge Corey
spitting straight and far; the gorgeous bartender, all checks and
diamonds, in front of a pitiful group of the scurvy-stricken (thirty of
them in the town waiting for rescue by the steamer); Butts, quite
bland, under the crooked cottonwood, with never a thought of how near
he had come, on that very spot, to missing the first boat of the year,
and all the boats of all the years to follow.
Maudie, Keith and the Colonel stood with the A. C. agent at the end of
the baggage-bordered plank-walk that led to the landing. Behind them,
at least four hundred people packed and waiting with their possessions
at their feet, ready to be put aboard the instant the Oklahoma made
fast. The Captain had called out "Howdy" to the A. C. Agent, and
several greetings were shouted back and forth. Maudie mounted a huge
pile of baggage and sat there as on a throne, the Colonel and Keith
perching on a heap of gunny-sacks at her feet. That woman almost the
only person in sight who did not expect, by means of the Oklahoma, to
leave misery behind! The Boy stood thinking "How will they bear it when
The Oklahoma was late, but she was not only the first boat--she might
conceivably be the last.
Potts and O'Flynn had spotted the man they were looking for, and called
out "Hello! Hello!" as the big fellow on the pile of gunnies got up and
waved his hat.
Mac leaned over the rail, saying gruffly, "That you, Colonel?" trying,
as the Boss of the Big Chimney saw--"tryin' his darndest not to look
pleased," and all the while O'Flynn was waving his hat and howling with
"How's the gowld? How's yersilf?"
The gangway began its slow swing round preparatory to lowering into
place. The mob on shore caught up boxes, bundles, bags, and pressed
"No, no! Stand back!" ordered the Captain.
"Take your time!" said people trembling with excitement. "There's no
"There's no room!" called out the purser to a friend.
"No room?" went from mouth to mouth, incredulous that the information
could concern the speaker. He was only one. There was certainly room
for him; and every man pushed the harder to be the sole exception to
the dreadful verdict.
"Stand back there! Can't take even a pound of freight. Loaded to the
A whirlwind of protest and appeal died away in curses. Women wept, and
sick men turned away their faces. The dogs still howled, for nothing is
so lacerating to the feelings of your Siwash as a steam-whistle blast.
The memory of it troubles him long after the echo of it dies. Suddenly
above the din Maudie's shrill voice:
"I thought that was Nig!"
Before the gangway had dropped with a bang her sharp eyes had picked
out the Boy.
"Well I'll be----See who that is behind Nig? Trust him to get in on the
ground-floor. He ain't worryin' for fear his pardner'll lose the boat,"
she called to the Colonel, who was pressing forward as Rainey came down
"How do you do, Captain?"
The man addressed never turned his head. He was forcing his way through
the jam up to the A. C. Store.
"You may recall me, sah; I am----"
"If you are a man wantin' to go to Dawson, it doesn't matter who you
are. I can't take you."
"But, sah----" It was no use.
A dozen more were pushing their claims, every one in vain. The Oklahoma
passengers, bent on having a look at Minook, crowded after the Captain.
Among those who first left the ship, the Boy, talking to the purser,
hard upon Rainey's heels. The Colonel stood there as they passed, the
Captain turning back to say something to the Boy, and then they
disappeared together through the door of the A. C.
Never a word for his pardner, not so much as a look. Bitterness fell
upon the Colonel's heart. Maudie called to him, and he went back to his
seat on the gunny-sacks.
"He's in with the Captain now," she said; "he's got no more use for
But there was less disgust than triumph in her face.
O'Flynn was walking over people in his frantic haste to reach the
Colonel. Before he could accomplish his design he had three separate
quarrels on his hands, and was threatening with fury to "settle the
hash" of several of his dearest new friends.
Potts meanwhile was shaking the Big Chimney boss by the hand and
saying, "Awfully sorry we can't take you on with us;" adding lower: "We
had a mighty mean time after you lit out."
Then Mac thrust his hand in between the two, and gave the Colonel a
monkey-wrench grip that made the Kentuckian's eyes water.
"Kaviak? Well, I'll tell you."
He shouldered Potts out of his way, and while the talk and movement
went on all round Maudie's throne, Mac, ignoring her, set forth grimly
how, after an awful row with Potts, he had adventured with Kaviak to
Holy Cross. "An awful row, indeed," thought the Colonel, "to bring Mac
to that;" but the circumstances had little interest for him, beside the
fact that his pardner would be off to Dawson in a few minutes, leaving
him behind and caring "not a sou markee."
Mac was still at Holy Cross. He had seen a woman there--"calls herself
a nun--evidently swallows those priests whole. Kind of mad, believes it
all. Except for that, good sort of girl. The kind to keep her
word"--and she had promised to look after Kaviak, and never let him
away from her till Mac came back to fetch him.
"Fetch him where?"
"When will that be?"
"Just as soon as I've put through the job up yonder." He jerked his
head up the river, indicating the common goal.
And now O'Flynn, roaring as usual, had broken away from those who had
obstructed his progress, and had flung himself upon the Colonel. When
the excitement had calmed down a little, "Well," said the Colonel to
the three ranged in front of him, Maudie looking on from above, "what
you been doin' all these three months?"
"Oh, we done a lot."
They looked at one another out of the corners of their eyes and then
they looked away. "Since the birds came," began Mac in the tone of one
who wishes to let bygones be bygones.
"Och, yes; them burruds was foine!"
Potts pulled something out of his trousers pocket----a strange
collapsed object. He took another of the same description out of
another pocket. Mac's hands and O'Flynn's performed the same action.
Each man seemed to have his pockets full of these----
"What are they?"
"Money-bags, me bhoy! Made out o' the fut o' the 'Lasky swan, God bless
'em! Mac cahls 'em some haythen name, but everybuddy else cahls 'em
* * * * *
In less than twenty minutes the steamer whistle shrieked. Nig bounded
out of the A. C., frantic at the repetition of the insult; other dogs
took the quarrel up, and the Ramparts rang.
The Boy followed the Captain out of the A. C. store. All the motley
crew that had swarmed off to inspect Minook, swarmed back upon the
Oklahoma. The Boy left the Captain this time, and came briskly over to
his friends, who were taking leave of the Colonel.
"So you're all goin' on but me!" said the Colonel very sadly.
The Colonel's pardner stopped short, and looked at the pile of baggage.
"Got your stuff all ready!" he said.
"Yes." The answer was not free from bitterness. "I'll have the pleasure
of packin' it back to the shack after you're gone."
"So you were all ready to go off and leave me," said the Boy.
The Colonel could not stoop to the obvious retort. His pardner came
round the pile and his eyes fell on their common sleeping-bag, the two
Nulato rifles, and other "traps," that meant more to him than any
objects inanimate in all the world.
"What? you were goin' to carry off my things too?" exclaimed the Boy.
"That's all you get," Maudie burst out indignantly--"all you get for
packin' his stuff down to the landin', to have it all ready for him,
and worryin' yourself into shoe-strings for fear he'd miss the boat."
Mac, O'Flynn, and Potts condoled with the Colonel, while the fire of
the old feud flamed and died.
"Yes," the Colonel admitted, "I'd give five hundred dollars for a
ticket on that steamer."
He looked in each of the three faces, and knew the vague hope behind
his words was vain. But the Boy had only laughed, and caught up the
baggage as the last whistle set the Rampart echoes flying, piping, like
a lot of frightened birds.
"Come along, then."
"Look here!" the Colonel burst out. "That's my stuff."
"It's all the same. You bring mine. I've got the tickets. You and me
and Nig's goin' to the Klondyke."
"Poverty is an odious calling."--Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.
On Monday morning, the 6th of June, they crossed the British line; but
it was not till Wednesday, the 8th, at four in the afternoon, just ten
months after leaving San Francisco, that the Oklahoma's passengers saw
between the volcanic hills on the right bank of the Yukon a stretch of
boggy tundra, whereon hundreds of tents gleamed, pink and saffron. Just
beyond the bold wooded height, wearing the deep scar of a landslide on
its breast, just round that bend, the Klondyke river joins the
Yukon--for this is Dawson, headquarters of the richest Placer Diggings
the world has seen, yet wearing more the air of a great army
For two miles the river-bank shines with sunlit canvas--tents, tents
everywhere, as far as eye can see, a mushroom growth masking the older
cabins. The water-front swarms with craft, scows and canoes, birch,
canvas, peterboro; the great bateaux of the northern lumberman, neat
little skiffs, clumsy rafts; heavy "double-enders," whip-sawed from
green timber, with capacity of two to five tons; lighters and barges
carrying as much as forty tons--all having come through the perils of
the upper lakes and shot the canon rapids.
As the Oklahoma steams nearer, the town blossoms into flags; a great
murmur increases to a clamour; people come swarming down to the
water-front, waving Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes as well----What
does it all mean? A cannon booms, guns are fired, and as the Oklahoma
swings into the bank a band begins to play; a cheer goes up from
fifteen thousand throats: "Hurrah for the first steamer!"
The Oklahoma has opened the Klondyke season of 1898!
They got their effects off the boat, and pitched the old tent up on the
Moosehide; then followed days full to overflowing, breathless, fevered,
yet without result beyond a general stringing up of nerves. The special
spell of Dawson was upon them all--the surface aliveness, the inner
deadness, the sense of being cut off from all the rest of the world, as
isolated as a man is in a dream, with no past, no future, only a
fantastic, intensely vivid Now. This was the summer climate of the
Klondyke. The Colonel, the Boy, and Captain Rainey maintained the
illusion of prosecuting their affairs by frequenting the offices,
stores, and particularly saloons, where buyers and sellers most did
congregate. Frequent mention was made of a certain valuable piece of
Where was it?
"Down yonder at Minook;" and then nobody cared a straw.
It was true there was widespread dissatisfaction with the Klondyke.
Everyone agreed it had been overdone. It would support one-quarter of
the people already here, and tens of thousands on their way! "Say
Klondyke, and instantly your soberest man goes mad; say anything else,
and he goes deaf."
Minook was a good camp, but it had the disadvantage of lying outside
the magic district. The madness would, of course, not last, but
meanwhile the time went by, and the people poured in day and night. Six
great steamers full came up from the Lower River, and still the small
craft kept on flocking like coveys of sea-fowl through the Upper Lakes,
each party saying, "The crowd is behind."
On the 14th of June a toy whistle sounded shrill above the town, and in
puffed a Liliputian "steel-hull" steamer that had actually come "on her
own" through the canon and shot the White Horse Rapids. A steamer from
the Upper River! after that, others. Two were wrecked, but who minded?
And still the people pouring in, and still that cry, "The crowd's
behind!" and still the clamour for quicker, ampler means of transport
to the North, no matter what it cost. The one consideration "to get
there," and to get there "quickly," brought most of the horde by the
Canadian route; yet, as against the two ocean steamers--all-sufficient
the year before to meet the five river boats at St. Michael's--now, by
the All-American route alone, twenty ocean steamers and forty-seven
river boats, double-deckers, some two hundred and twenty-five feet
long, and every one crowded to the guards with people coming to the
Meanwhile, many of those already there were wondering why they came and
how they could get home. In the tons of "mail matter" for Dawson,
stranded at Skaguay, must be those "instructions" from the Colonel's
bank, at home, to the Canadian Bank of Commerce, Dawson City. He agreed
with the Boy that if--very soon now--they had not disposed of the
Minook property, they would go to the mines.
"What's the good?" rasped Mac. "Every foot staked for seventy miles."
"For my part," admitted the Boy, "I'm less grand than I was. I meant to
make some poor devil dig out my Minook gold for me. It'll be the other
way about: I'll dig gold for any man on Bonanza that'll pay me wages."
They sat slapping at the mosquitoes till a whistle screamed on the
Lower River. The Boy called to Nig, and went down to the town to hear
the news. By-and-by Mac came out with a pack, and said he'd be back in
a day or two. After he had disappeared among the tents--a conquering
army that had forced its way far up the hill by now--the Colonel got up
and went to the spring for a drink. He stood there a long time looking
out wistfully, not towards the common magnet across the Klondyke, but
quite in the other direction towards the nearer gate of exit--towards
"What special brand of fool am I to be here?"
Down below, Nig, with hot tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth,
now followed, now led, his master, coming briskly up the slope.
"That was the Weare we heard whistlin'," said the Boy, breathless. "And
who d'you think's aboard?"
"Nicholas a' Pymeut, pilot. An' he's got Princess Muckluck along."
"No," laughed the Colonel, following the Boy to the tent. "What's the
Princess come for?"
"How should I know?"
"Didn't she say?"
"Didn't stop to hear."
"Reckon she was right glad to see you," chaffed the Colonel. "Hey?
"I--don't think she noticed I was there."
"What! you bolted?" No reply. "See here, what you doin'?"
"Where you goin'?"
"Been thinkin' for some time I ain't wealthy enough to live in this
metropolis. There may be a place for a poor man, but Dawson isn't It."
"Well, I didn't think you were that much of a coward--turnin' tail like
this just because a poor little Esquimaux--Besides, she may have got
over it. Even the higher races do." And he went on poking his fun till
suddenly the Boy said:
"You're in such high spirits, I suppose you must have heard Maudie's up
"It ain't my idea of a joke. She's comin' up here soon's she's landed
"She's not comin' up here!"
"Why not? Anybody can come up on the Moosehide, and everybody's doin'
it. I'm goin' to make way for some of 'em."
"Did she see you?"
"Well, she's seen Potts, anyhow."
"You're right about Dawson," said the Colonel suddenly; "it's too rich
for my blood."
They pinned a piece of paper on the tent-flap to say they were "Gone
prospecting: future movements uncertain."
Each with a small pack, and sticking out above it the Klondyke shovel
that had come all the way from San Francisco, Nig behind with
provisions in his little saddle-bags, and tongue farther out than ever,
they turned their backs on Dawson, crossed the lower corner of Lot 6,
behind the Government Reserve, stared with fresh surprise at the young
market-garden flourishing there, down to the many-islanded Klondyke,
across in the scow-ferry, over the Corduroy, that cheers and deceives
the new-comer for that first mile of the Bonanza Trail, on through pool
and morass to the thicket of white birches, where the Colonel thought
it well to rest awhile.
"Yes, he felt the heat," he said, as he passed the time of day with
other men going by with packs, pack-horses, or draught-dogs, cursing at
the trail and at the Government that taxed the miners so cruelly and
then did nothing for them, not even making a decent highway to the
Dominion's source of revenue. But out of the direct rays of the sun the
traveller found refreshment, and the mosquitoes were blown away by the
keen breeze that seemed to come from off some glacier. And the birds
sang loud, and the wild-flowers starred the birch-grove, and the
briar-roses wove a tangle on either side the swampy trail.
On again, dipping to a little valley--Bonanza Creek! They stood and
"Well, here we are."
"Yes, this is what we came for."
And it was because of "this" that so vast a machinery of ships,
engines, and complicated human lives had been set in motion. What was
it? A dip in the hills where a little stream was caught up into
sluices. On either side of every line of boxes, heaps and windrows of
gravel. Above, high on log-cabin staging, windlasses. Stretching away
on either side, gentle slopes, mossed and flower starred. Here and
there upon this ancient moose pasture, tents and cabins set at random.
In the bed of the creek, up and down in every direction, squads of men
sweating in the sun--here, where for untold centuries herds of
leisurely and majestic moose had come to quench their thirst. In the
older cabins their horns still lorded it. Their bones were bleaching in
On from claim to claim the new-comers to these rich pastures went, till
they came to the junction of the El Dorado, where huddles the haphazard
settlement of the Grand Forks, only twelve miles from Dawson. And now
they were at the heart of "the richest Placer Mining District the world
has seen." But they knew well enough that every inch was owned, and
that the best they could look for was work as unskilled labourers, day
shift or night, on the claims of luckier men.
They had brought a letter from Ryan, of the North-West Mounted Police,
to the Superintendent of No. 10, Above Discovery, a claim a little this
side of the Forks. Ryan had warned them to keep out of the way of the
part-owner, Scoville Austin, a surly person naturally, so exasperated
at the tax, and so enraged at the rumour of Government spies
masquerading as workmen, checking his reports, that he was "a
first-rate man to avoid." But Seymour, the Superintendent, was, in the
words of the soothing motto of the whole American people, "All right."
They left their packs just inside the door of the log-cabin, indicated
as "Bunk House for the men on No. 6, Above"--a fearsome place, where,
on shelf above shelf, among long unwashed bedclothes, the unwashed
workmen of a prosperous company lay in the stupor of sore fatigue and
semi-asphyxiation. Someone stirred as the door opened, and out of the
fetid dusk of the unventilated, closely-shuttered cabin came a voice:
"Night shift on?"
"Then, damn you! shut the door."
As the never-resting sun "forced" the Dawson market-garden and the
wild-roses of the trail, so here on the creek men must follow the
strenuous example. No pause in the growing or the toiling of this
Northern world. The day-gang on No. 0 was hard at it down there where
lengthwise in the channel was propped a line of sluice-boxes, steadied
by regularly spaced poles laid from box to bank on gravel ridge.
Looking down from above, the whole was like a huge fish-bone lying
along the bed of the creek. A little group of men with picks, shovels,
and wheelbarrows were reducing the "dump" of winter pay, piled beside a
windlass, conveying it to the sluices. Other men in line, four or five
feet below the level of the boxes, were "stripping," picking, and
shovelling the gravel off the bed-rock--no easy business, for even this
summer temperature thawed but a few inches a day, and below, the frost
of ten thousand years cemented the rubble into iron.
"Where is the Superintendent?"
"That's Seymour in the straw hat."
It was felt that even the broken and dilapidated article mentioned was
a distinction and a luxury.
Yes, it was too hot up here in the Klondyke.
They made their way to the man in authority, a dark, quiet-mannered
person, with big, gentle eyes, not the sort of Superintendent they had
expected to find representing such a man as the owner of No. 0.
Having read Ryan's letter and slowly scanned the applicants: "What do
you know about it?" He nodded at the sluice.
"All of nothing," said the Boy.
"Does it call for any particular knowing?" asked the Colonel.
"Calls for muscle and plenty of keep-at-it." His voice was soft, but as
the Colonel looked at him he realized why a hard fellow like Scoville
Austin had made this Southerner Superintendent.
"Better just try us."
"I can use one more man on the night shift, a dollar and a half an
"All right," said the Boy.
The Colonel looked at him. "Is this job yours or mine?"
The Superintendent had gone up towards the dam.
"Whichever you say."
The Boy did not like to suggest that the Colonel seemed little fit for
this kind of exercise. They had been in the Klondyke long enough to
know that to be in work was to be in luck.
"I'll tell you," the younger man said quickly, answering something
unspoken, but plain in the Colonel's face; "I'll go up the gulch and
see what else there is."
It crossed his mind that there might be something less arduous than
this shovelling in the wet thaw or picking at frozen gravel in the hot
sun. If so, the Colonel might be induced to exchange. It was obvious
that, like so many Southerners, he stood the sun very ill. While they
were agreeing upon a rendezvous the Superintendent came back.
"Our bunk-house is yonder," he said, pointing. A kind of sickness came
over the Kentuckian as he recalled the place. He turned to his pardner.
"Wish we'd got a pack-mule and brought our tent out from Dawson." Then,
apologetically, to the Superintendent: "You see, sah, there are men who
take to bunk-houses just as there are women who want to live in hotels;
and there are others who want a place to call home, even if it's a
The Superintendent smiled. "That's the way we feel about it in
Alabama." He reflected an instant. "There's that big new tent up there
on the hill, next to the Buckeyes' cabin. Good tent; belongs to a
couple o' rich Englishmen, third owners in No. 0. Gone to Atlin. Told
me to do what I liked with that tent. You might bunk there while
"Now, that's mighty good of you, sah. Next whose cabin did you say?"
"Oh, I don't know their names. They have a lay on seventeen. Ohio men.
They're called Buck One and Buck Two. Anybody'll show you to the
Buckeyes';" and he turned away to shout "Gate!" for the head of water
was too strong, and he strode off towards the lock.
As the Boy tramped about looking for work he met a great many on the
same quest. It seemed as if the Colonel had secured the sole job on the
creek. Still, vacancies might occur any hour.
In the big new tent the Colonel lay asleep on a little camp-bed,
(mercifully left there by the rich Englishmen), "gettin' ready for the
night-shift." As he stood looking down upon him, a sudden wave of pity
came over the Boy. He knew the Colonel didn't "really and truly have to
do this kind of thing; he just didn't like givin' in." But behind all
that there was a sense in the younger mind that here was a life unlike
his own, which dimly he foresaw was to find its legitimate expression
in battle and in striving. Here, in the person of the Colonel, no
soldier fore-ordained, but a serene and equable soul wrenched out of
its proper sphere by a chance hurt to a woman, forsooth! an imagination
so stirred that, if it slept at all, it dreamed and moaned in its
sleep, as now; a conscience wounded and refusing to heal. Had he not
said himself that he had come up here to forget? It was best to let him
have the job that was too heavy for him--yes, it was best, after all.
And so they lived for a few days, the Boy chafing and wanting to move
on, the Colonel very earnest to have him stay.
"Something sure to turn up, and, anyhow, letters--my instruction----"
And he encouraged the acquaintance the Boy had struck up with the
Buckeyes, hoping against hope that to go over and smoke a pipe, and
exchange experiences with such mighty good fellows would lighten the
tedium of the long day spent looking for a job.
"I call it a very pleasant cabin," the Colonel would say as he lit up
and looked about. Anything dismaller it would be hard to find. Not
clean and shipshape as the Boy kept the tent. But with double army
blankets nailed over the single window it was blessedly dark, if
stuffy, and in crying need of cleaning. Still, they were mighty good
fellows, and they had a right to be cheerful. Up there, on the rude
shelf above the stove, was a row of old tomato-cans brimful of Bonanza
gold. There they stood, not even covered. Dim as the light was, you
could see the little top nuggets peering out at you over the ragged
tin-rims, in a never locked shanty, never molested, never bothered
about. Nearly every cabin on the creek had similar chimney ornaments,
but not everyone boasted an old coat, kept under the bunk, full of the
bigger sort of nuggets.
The Colonel was always ready with pretended admiration of such
bric-a-brac, but the truth was he cared very little about this gold he
had come so far to find. His own wages, paid in dust, were kept in a
jam-pot the Boy had found "lyin' round."
The growing store shone cheerfully through the glass, but its value in
the Colonel's eyes seemed to be simply as an argument to prove that
they had enough, and "needn't worry." When the Boy said there was no
doubt this was the district in all the world the most overdone, the
Colonel looked at him with sun-tired, reproachful eyes.
"You want to dissolve the pardnership--I see."
But the Colonel, after any such interchange, would go off and smoke by
himself, not even caring for Buckeyes'. The work was plainly overtaxing
him. He slept badly, was growing moody and quick to take offence. One
day when he had been distinctly uncivil he apologized for himself by
saying that, standing with feet always in the wet, head always in the
scorching sun, he had taken a hell of a cold. Certain it was that,
without sullenness, he would give in to long fits of silence; and his
wide, honest eyes were heavy again, as if the snow-blindness of the
winter had its analogue in a summer torment from the sun. And his
sometimes unusual gentleness to his companion was sharply alternated
with unusual choler, excited by a mere nothing. Enough if the Boy were
not in the tent when the Colonel came and went. Of course, the Boy did
the cooking. The Colonel ate almost nothing, but he made a great point
of his pardner's service in doing the cooking. He would starve, he
said, if he had to cook for himself as well as swing a shovel; and the
Boy, acting on pure instinct, pretended that he believed this was so.
Then came the evening when the Boy was so late the Colonel got his own
breakfast; and when the recreant did get home, it was to announce that
a man over at the Buckeyes' had just offered him a job out on Indian
River. The Colonel set down his tea-cup and stared. His face took on
an odd, rigid look. But almost indifferently he said:
"So you're goin'?"
"Of course, you know I must. I started with an outfit and fifteen
hundred dollars, now I haven't a cent."
The Kentuckian raised his heavy eyes to the jam-jar. "Oh, help
The Boy laughed, and shook his head.
"I wish you wouldn't go," the other said very low.
"You see, I've got to. Why, Nig and I owe you for a week's grub
Then the Colonel stood up and swore--swore till he was scarlet and
shaking with excitement.
"If the life up here has brought us to 'Scowl' Austin's point of view,
we are poorly off." And he spoke of the way men lived in his part of
Kentucky, where the old fashion of keeping open house survived. And
didn't he know it was the same thing in Florida? "Wouldn't you do as
much for me?"
"Yes, only I can't--and--I'm restless. The summer's half gone. Up here
that means the whole year's half gone."
The Colonel had stumbled back into his seat, and now across the deal
table he put out his hand.
"Don't go, Boy. I don't know how I'd get on without----" He stopped,
and his big hand was raised as if to brush away some cloud between him
and his pardner. "If you go, you won't come back."
"Oh, yes, I will. You'll see."
"I know the kind," the other went on, as if there had been no
interruption. "They never come back. I don't know as I ever cared quite
as much for my brother--little fella that died, you know." Then, seeing
that his companion did not instantly iterate his determination to go,
"That's right," he said, getting up suddenly, and leaving his breakfast
barely touched. "We've been through such a lot together, let's see it
Without waiting for an answer, he went off to his favourite seat under
the little birch-tree. But the incident had left him nervous. He would
come up from his work almost on the run, and if he failed to find his
pardner in the tent there was the devil to pay. The Boy would laugh to
himself to think what a lot he seemed able to stand from the Colonel;
and then he would grow grave, remembering what he had to make up for.
Still, his sense of obligation did not extend to giving up this
splendid chance down on Indian River. On Wednesday, when the fellow
over at the Buckeyes' was for going back, the Boy would go along.
On Sunday morning he ran a crooked, rusty nail into his foot. Clumsily
extracted, it left an ugly wound. Walking became a torture, and the
pain a banisher of sleep. It was during the next few days that he found
out how much the Colonel lay awake. Who could sleep in this blazing
sun? Black tents were not invented then, so they lay awake and talked
of many things.
The man from Indian River went back alone. The Boy would limp after the
Colonel down to the sluice, and sit on a dump heap with Nig. Few people
not there strictly on business were tolerated on No. 0, but Nig and his
master had been on good terms with Seymour from the first. Now they
struck up acquaintance with several of the night-gang, especially with
the men who worked on either side of the Colonel. An Irish gentleman,
who did the shovelling just below, said he had graduated from Dublin
University. He certainly had been educated somewhere, and if the
discussion were theologic, would take out of his linen-coat pocket a
little testament in the Vulgate to verify a bit of Gospel. He could
even pelt the man next but one in his native tongue, calling the
Silesian "Uebermensch." There existed some doubt whether this were the
gentleman's real name, but none at all as to his talking philosophy
with greater fervour than he bestowed on the puddling box.
The others were men more accustomed to work with their hands, but, in
spite of the conscious superiority of your experienced miner, a very
good feeling prevailed in the gang--a general friendliness that
presently centred about the Colonel, for even in his present mood he
was far from disagreeable, except now and then, to the man he cared the
Seymour admitted that he had placed the Southerner where he thought
he'd feel most at home. "Anyhow, the company is less mixed," he said,
"than it was all winter up at twenty-three, where they had a
Presbyterian missionary down the shaft, a Salvation Army captain
turnin' the windlass, a nigger thief dumpin' the becket, and a
dignitary of the Church of England doin' the cookin', with the help of
a Chinese chore-boy. They're all there now (except one) washin' out
gold for the couple of San Francisco card-sharpers that own the claim."
"Vich von is gone?" asked the Silesian, who heard the end of the
"Oh, the Chinese chore-boy is the one who's bettered himself," said the
Superintendent--"makin' more than all the others put together ever made
in their lives; runnin' a laundry up at Dawson."
The Boy, since this trouble with his foot, had fallen into the way of
turning night into day. The Colonel liked to have him down there at the
sluice, and when he thought about it, the Boy marvelled at the hours he
spent looking on while others worked.
At first he said he came down only to make Scowl Austin mad. And it did
make him mad at first, but the odd thing was he got over it, and used
to stop and say something now and then. This attention on the part of
the owner was distinctly perilous to the Boy's good standing with the
gang. Not because Austin was the owner; there was the millionaire
Swede, Ole Olsen--any man might talk to him. He was on the square,
treated his workmen mighty fair, and when the other owners tried to
reduce wages, and did, Ole wouldn't join them--went right along paying
the highest rate on the creek.
Various stories were afloat about Austin. Oh, yes, Scowl Austin was a
hard man--the only owner on the creek who wouldn't even pay the little
subscription every poor miner contributed to keep the Dawson Catholic
The women, too, had grievances against Austin, not only "the usual lot"
up at the Gold Belt, who sneered at his close fist, but some of the
other sort--those few hard-working wives or "women on their own," or
those who washed and cooked for this claim or that. They had stories
about Austin that shed a lurid light. And so by degrees the gathered
experience, good and ill, of "the greatest of all placer diggin's"
flowed by the idler on the bank.
"You seem to have a lot to do," Seymour would now and then say with a
"So I have."
"What do you call it?"
"Of things in general."
"What did you mean by that?" demanded the Colonel suspiciously when the
Superintendent had passed up the line.
The shovelling in was done for the time being. The water was to be
regulated, and then the clean-up as soon as the owner came down.
"Better not let Austin hear you say you're takin' stock. He'll run you
out o' the creek."
The Boy only smiled, and went on fillipping little stones at Nig.
"What did you mean?" the Colonel persisted, with a look as suspicious
as Scowl Austin's own.
"Oh, nothin'. I'm only thinkin' out things."
"Your future, I suppose?" he said testily.
"Mine and other men's. The Klondyke's a great place to get things clear
in your head."
"Don't find it so." The Colonel put up his hand with that now familiar
action as if to clear away a cloud. "It's days since I had anything
clear in my head, except the lesson we learned on the trail."
The Boy stopped throwing stones, and fixed his eyes on his friend, as
the Colonel went on:
"We had that hammered into us, didn't we?"
"Oh, that--you know--that--I don't know quite how to put it so it'll
sound as orthodox as it might be, bein' true; but it looks pretty clear
even to me"--again the big hand brushing at the unmoted sunshine--"that
the only reason men got over bein' beasts was because they began to be
"Don't," said the Boy.
"I've always known I should have to tell you some time. I won't be able
to put it off if I stay ... and I hate tellin' you now. See here: I
b'lieve I'll get a pack-mule and go over to Indian River."
The Colonel looked round angrily. Standing high against the sky,
Seymour, with the gateman up at the lock, was moderating the strong
head of water. It began to flow sluggishly over the gravel-clogged
riffles, and Scowl Austin was coming down the hill.
"I don't know what you're drivin' at, about somethin' to tell. I know
one thing, though, and I learned it up here in the North: men were
meant to stick to one another."
"Don't, I say."
"Here's Austin," whispered the Colonel.
The Silesian philosopher stood in his "gum-boots" in the puddling-box
as on a rostrum; but silent now, as ever, when Scowl Austin was in
sight. With the great sluice-fork, the philosopher took up, washed, and
threw out the few remaining big stones that they might not clog the
narrow boxes below.
Seymour had so regulated the stream that, in place of the gush and foam
of a few minutes before, there was now only a scant and gently falling
veil of water playing over the bright gravel caught in the riffle-lined
bottoms of the boxes.
As the Boy got up and reached for his stick, Austin stood there saying,
to nobody in particular, that he'd just been over to No. 29, where they
were trying a new-fangled riffle.
"Don't your riffles do the trick all right?" asked the Boy.
"If you're in any doubt, come and see," he said.
They stood together, leaning over the sluice, looking in at one of the
things human industry has failed to disfigure, nearly as beautiful
to-day as long ago on Pactolus' banks when Lydian shepherds, with great
stones, fastened fleeces in the river that they might catch and gather
for King Croesus the golden sands of Tmolus. Improving, not in beauty,
but economy, quite in the modern spirit, the Greeks themselves
discovered that they lost less gold if they led the stream through
fleece-lined water-troughs--and beyond this device of those early
placer-miners we have not progressed so far but that, in every long,
narrow sluice-box in the world to-day, you may see a Lydian
water-trough with a riffle in the bottom for a golden fleece.
The rich Klondyker and the poor one stood together looking in at the
water, still low, still slipping softly over polished pebbles, catching
at the sunlight, winking, dimpling, glorifying flint and jasper, agate
and obsidian, dazzling the uncommercial eye to blind forgetfulness of
the magic substance underneath.
Austin gathered up, one by one, a handful of the shining stones, and
tossed them out. Then, bending down, "See?"
There, under where the stones had been, neatly caught in the lattice of
the riffle, lying thick and packed by the water action, a heavy ridge
of black and yellow--magnetic sand and gold.
"Riffles out!" called Seymour, and the men, who had been extracting the
rusty nails that held them firm, lifted out from the bottom of each box
a wooden lattice, soused it gently in the water, and laid it on the
The Boy had turned away again, but stood an instant noticing how the
sun caught at the countless particles of gold still clinging to the
wood; for this was one of the old riffles, frayed by the action of much
water and the fret of many stones. Soon it would have to be burned, and
out of its ashes the careful Austin would gather up with mercury all
those million points of light.
Meanwhile, Seymour had called to the gateman for more water, and
himself joining the gang, armed now with flat metal scoops, they all
began to turn over and throw back against the stream the debris in the
bottom of the boxes, giving the water another chance to wash out the
lighter stuff and clean the gold from all impurity. Away went the last
of the sand, and away went the pebbles, dark or bright, away went much
of the heavy magnetic iron. Scowl Austin, at the end of the line, had a
corn-whisk with which he swept the floor of the box, always upstream,
gathering the contents in a heap, now on this side, now on that,
letting the water play and sort and carry away, condensing, hastening
the process that for ages had been concentrating gold in the Arctic
"Say, look here!" shouted Austin to the Boy, already limping up the
When he had reached the sluice again he found that all Scowl Austin
wanted, apparently, was to show him how, when he held the water back
with the whisk, it eddied softly at each side of the broad little
broom, leaving exposed the swept-up pile.
"What's all that?"
"What do you think?"
"Looks like a heap o' sawdust."
Austin actually laughed.
"See if it feels like sawdust. Take it up like this," he ordered.
His visitor obeyed, lifting a double handful out of the water and
holding it over the box, dripping, gleaming, the most beautiful thing
that comes out of the earth, save only life, and the assertion may
stand, even if the distinction is without difference, if the crystal is
born, grows old, and dies as undeniably as the rose.
The Boy held the double handful of well-washed gold up to the sunshine,
feeling to the full the immemorial spell cast by the King of Metals.
Nothing that men had ever made out of gold was so entirely beautiful as
Scowl Austin's grim gratification was openly heightened with the rich
man's sense of superiority, but his visitor seemed to have forgotten
"Colonel! here a minute. We thought it looked wonderful enough on the
Big Chimney table--but Lord! to see it like this, out o' doors, mixed
with sunshine and water!"
Still he stood there fascinated, leaning heavily against the
sluice-box, still with his dripping hands full, when, after a hurried
glance, the Colonel returned to his own box. None of the gang ever
talked in the presence of the owner.
"Guess that looks good to you." Austin slightly stressed the pronoun.
He had taken a reasonless liking for the young man, who from the first
had smiled into his frowning face, and treated him as he treated
others. Or perhaps Austin liked him because, although the Boy did a
good deal of "gassin' with the gang," he had never hung about at
clean-ups. At all events, he should stay to-night, partly because when
the blue devils were down on Scowl Austin nothing cheered him like
showing his "luck" off to someone. And it was so seldom safe in these
days. People talked. The authorities conceived unjust suspicions of a
man's returns. And then, far back in his head, that vague need men
feel, when a good thing has lost its early zest, to see its dimmed
value shine again in an envious eye. Here was a young fellow, who,
before he went lame, had been all up and down the creek for days
looking for a job--probably hadn't a penny--livin' off his friend, who
himself would starve but for the privilege Austin gave him of washing
out Austin's gold. Let the young man stop and see the richest clean-up
at the Forks.
And so it was with the acrid pleasure he had promised himself that he
said to the visitor, bending over the double handful of gold, "Guess it
looks good to you."
"Yes, it looks good!" But he had lifted his eyes, and seemed to be
studying the man more than the metal.
A couple of newcomers, going by, halted.
"Christ!" said the younger, "look at that!"
The Boy remembered them; they had been to Seymour only a couple of
hours before asking for work. One was old for that country--nearly
sixty--and looked, as one of the gang had said, "as if, instid o'
findin' the pot o' gold, he had got the end of the rainbow slam in his
face--kind o' blinded."
At sound of the strange voice Austin had wheeled about with a fierce
look, and heavily the strangers plodded by. The owner turned again to
the gold. "Yes," he said curtly, "there's something about that that
looks good to most men."
"What I was thinkin'," replied the Boy slowly, "was that it was the
only clean gold I'd ever seen--but it isn't so clean as it was."
"What do you mean?" Austin bent and looked sharply into the full hands.
"I was thinkin' it was good to look at because it hadn't got into dirty
pockets yet." Austin stared at him an instant. "Never been passed
round--never bought anybody. No one had ever envied it, or refused it
to help someone out of a hole. That was why I thought it looked
good--because it was clean gold ... a little while ago." And he plunged
his hands in the water and washed the clinging particles off his
Austin had stared, and then turned his back with a blacker look than
even "Scowl" had ever worn before.
"Gosh! guess there's goin' to be trouble," said one of the gang.
"He saw, and first of brotherhood had sight...."
It was morning, and the night-shift might go to bed; but in the absent
Englishmen's tent there was little sleep and less talk that day. The
Boy, in an agony, with a foot on fire, heard the Colonel turning,
tossing, growling incoherently about "the light."
It seemed unreasonable, for a frame had been built round his bed, and
on it thick gray army blankets were nailed--a rectangular tent. Had he
cursed the heat now? But no: "light," "God! the light, the light!" just
as if he were lying as the Boy was, in the strong white glare of the
tent. But hour after hour within the stifling fortress the giant tossed
and muttered at the swords of sunshine that pierced his semi-dusk
through little spark-burnt hole or nail-tear, torturing sensitive eyes.
Near three hours before he needed, the Colonel got up and splashed his
way through a toilet at the tin basin. The Boy made breakfast without
waiting for the usual hour. They had nearly finished when it occurred
to the Colonel that neither had spoken since they went to bed. He
glanced across at the absorbed face of his friend.
"You'll come down to the sluice to-night, won't you?"
"Why shouldn't I?"
"No reason on earth, only I was afraid you were broodin' over what you
said to Austin."
"Austin? Oh, I'm not thinkin' about Austin."
"What, then? What makes you so quiet?"
"Well, I'm thinkin' I'd be better satisfied to stay here a little
"If there was truth between us two."
"I thought there was."
"No. What's the reason you want me to stay here?"
"Reason? Why"--he laughed in his old way--"I don't defend my taste, but
I kind o' like to have you round."
His companion's grave face showed no lightening. "Why do you want me
round more than someone else?"
"Haven't got anyone else."
"Oh, yes, you have! Every man on Bonanza's a friend o' yours, or would
"It isn't just that; we understand each other."
"No, we don't."
No answer. The Boy looked through the door across Bonanza to the hills.
"I thought we understood each other if two men ever did. Haven't we
travelled the Long Trail together and seen the ice go out?"
"That's just it, Colonel. We know such a lot more than men do who
haven't travelled the Trail, and some of the knowledge isn't
A shadow crossed the kind face opposite.
"You're thinkin' about the times I pegged out--didn't do my share."
"Lord, no!" The tears sprang up in the young eyes. "I'm thinkin' o' the
times--I--" He laid his head down on the rude table, and sat so for an
instant with hidden face; then he straightened up. "Seems as if it's
only lately there's been time to think it out. And before, as long as I
could work I could get on with myself.... Seemed as if I stood a chance
to ... a little to make up."
"But it's always just as it was that day on the Oklahoma, when the
captain swore he wouldn't take on another pound. I was awfully happy
thinkin' if I made him bring you it might kind o' make up, but it
"Made a big difference to me," the Colonel said, still not able to see
the drift, but patiently brushing now and then at the dazzling mist and
waiting for enlightenment.
"It's always the same," the other went on. "Whenever I've come up
against something I'd hoped was goin' to make up, it's turned out to be
a thing I'd have to do anyway, and there was no make up about it. For
all that, I shouldn't mind stayin' on awhile since you want me to----"
The Colonel interrupted him, "That's right!"
"Only if I do, you've got to know--what I'd never have guessed myself,
but for the Trail. After I've told you, if you can bear to see me
round----" He hesitated and suddenly stood up, his eyes still wet, but
his head so high an onlooker who did not understand English would have
called the governing impulse pride, defiance even. "It seems I'm the
kind of man, Colonel--the kind of man who could leave his pardner to
die like a dog in the snow."
"If any other fella said so, I'd knock him down."
"That night before we got to Snow Camp, when you wouldn't--couldn't go
any farther, I meant to go and leave you--take the sled, and take--I
guess I meant to take everything and leave you to starve."
They looked into each other's faces, and years seemed to go by. The
Colonel was the first to drop his eyes; but the other, pitilessly, like
a judge arraigning a felon, his steady scrutiny never flinching: "Do
you want that kind of a man round, Colonel?"
The Kentuckian turned quickly as if to avoid the stab of the other's
eye, and sat hunched together, elbows on knees, head in hands.
"I knew you didn't." The Boy answered his own question. He limped over
to his side of the tent, picked up some clothes, his blanket and few
belongings, and made a pack. Not a word, not a sound, but some birds
twittering outside in the sun and a locust making that frying sound in
the fire-weed. The pack was slung on the Boy's back, and he was
throwing the diamond hitch to fasten it when the Colonel at last looked
"Lord, what you doin'?"
"Guess I'm goin' on."
"I'll write you when I know; maybe I'll even send you what I owe you,
but I don't feel like boastin' at the moment. Nig!"
"You can't walk."
"Did you never happen to notice that one-legged fella pluggin' about
He had gone down on his hands and knees to see if Nig was asleep under
the camp-bed. The Colonel got up, went to the door, and let down the
flap. When he turned, the traveller and the dog were at his elbow. He
squared his big frame at the entrance, looking down at the two, tried
to speak, but the Boy broke in: "Don't let's get sentimental, Colonel;
just stand aside."
Never stirring, he found a voice to say, "I'm not askin' you to
stay"--the other turned and whistled, for Nig had retired again to the
seclusion of the gray blanket screen--"I only want to tell you
something before you go."
The Boy frowned a little, but rested his pack against the table in that
way in which the Klondyker learns to make a chair-back of his burden.
"You seem to think you've been tellin' me news," said the Colonel.
"When you said that about goin' on, the night before we got to Snow
Camp, I knew you simply meant you still intended to come out alive. I
had thrown up my hands--at least, I thought I had. The only difference
between us--I had given in and you hadn't."
The other shook his head. "There was a lot more in it than that."
"You meant to take the only means there were--to carry off the sled
that I couldn't pull any farther----" The Boy looked up quickly.
Something stern and truth-compelling in the dark face forced the
Colonel to add: "And along with the sled you meant to carry
off--the--the things that meant life to us."
"Just that----" The Boy knotted his brown fingers in Nig's hair as if
to keep tight hold of one friend in the wreck.
"We couldn't divide," the Colonel hurried on. "It was a case of
crawlin' on together, and, maybe, come out alive, or part and one die
The Boy nodded, tightening his lips.
"I knew well enough you'd fight for the off-chance. But"--the Colonel
came away from the door and stood in front of his companion--"so would
I. I hadn't really given up the struggle."
"You were past strugglin', and I would have left you sick----"
"You wouldn't have left me--if I'd had my gun."
The Boy remembered that he had more than suspected that at the time,
but the impression had by-and-by waxed dim. It was too utterly unlike
the Colonel--a thing dreamed. He had grown as ashamed of the dream as
of the thing he knew was true. The egotism of memory absorbed itself in
the part he himself had played--that other, an evil fancy born of an
evil time. And here was the Colonel saying it was true. The Boy dropped
his eyes. It had all happened in the night. There was something in the
naked truth too ghastly for the day. But the Colonel went on in a harsh
"I looked round for my gun; if I'd found it I'd have left you behind."
And the Boy kept looking down at Nig, and the birds sang, and the
locust whirred, and the hot sun filled the tent as high-tide flushes a
"You've been a little hard on me, Boy, bringin' it up like
this--remindin' me--I wouldn't have gone on myself, and makin' me
"No, no, Colonel."
"Makin' me admit that before I would have let you go on I'd have shot
"Colonel!" He loosed his hold of Nig.
"I rather reckon I owe you my life--and something else besides"--the
Colonel laid one hand on the thin shoulder where the pack-strap
pressed, and closed the other hand tight over his pardner's right--"and
I hadn't meant even to thank you neither."
"Don't, for the Lord's sake, don't!" said the younger, and neither
dared look at the other.
A scratching on the canvas, the Northern knock at the door.
"You fellers sound awake?"
A woman's voice. Under his breath, "Who the devil's that?" inquired the
Colonel, brushing his hand over his eyes. Before he got across the tent
Maudie had pushed the flap aside and put in her head.
"Hell-o! How d'e do?"
He shook hands, and the younger man nodded, "Hello."
"When did you come to town?" asked the Colonel mendaciously.
"Why, nearly three weeks ago, on the Weare. Heard you had skipped out
to Sulphur with MacCann. I had some business out that way, so that's
where I been."
"Have some breakfast, won't you--dinner, I mean?"
"I put that job through at the Road House. Got to rustle around now and
get my tent up. Where's a good place?"
"Well, I--I hardly know. Goin' to stay some time?"
The Boy slipped off his pack.
"They've got rooms at the Gold Belt," he said.
"You mean that Dance Hall up at the Forks?"
"Oh, it ain't so far. I remember you can walk."
"I can do one or two other things. Take care you don't hurt yourself
worryin' about me."
"Yes. Bein' so hospittable. The way you're pressin' me to settle right
down here, near's possible--why, it's real touchin'."
He laughed, and went to the entrance to tic back the door-flap, which
was whipping and snapping in the breeze. Heaven be praised! the night
was cooler. Nig had been perplexed when he saw the pack pushed under
the table. He followed his master to the door, and stood looking at the
flap-tying, ears very pointed, critical eye cocked, asking as plain as
could be, "You wake me up and drag me out here into the heat and
mosquitoes just to watch you doin' that? Well, I've my opinion of you."
"Colonel gone down?" inquired the Silesian, passing by.
"Anything I can do?" the gentleman inside was saying with a sound of
effort in his voice. The lady was not even at the pains to notice the
"Well, Colonel, now you're here, what do you think o' the Klondyke?"
"Think? Well, there's no doubt they've taken a lot o' gold out o'
"Reg'lar old Has Been, hey?"
"Oh, I don't say it hasn't got a future."
"What! Don't you know the boom's busted?"
"Has. Tax begun it. Too many cheechalkos are finishing it. Klondyke?"
She laughed. "The Klondyke's goin' to hell down-grade in a hand-car."
Scowl Austin was up, ready, as usual, to relieve Seymour of half the
superintending, but never letting him off duty till he had seen the new
shift at work. As the Boy limped by with the German, Austin turned his
scowl significantly towards the Colonel's tent.
"Good-mornin'--good-night, I mean," laughed the lame man, just as if
his tongue had not run away with him the last time the two had met. It
was not often that anyone spoke so pleasantly to the owner of No. 0.
Perhaps the circumstance weighed with him; at all events, he stopped
short. When the German had gone on, "Foot's better," Austin asserted.
"Perhaps it is a little," though the lame man had no reason to think
"Lucky you heal quick. Most people don't up here--livin' on the stale
stuff we get in this----country. Seymour said anything to you about a
"Well, since you're on time, you better come on the night shift,
instead o' that lazy friend o' yours."
"Oh, he ain't lazy--been up hours. An old acquaintance dropped in;
he'll be down in a minute."
"'Tisn't only his bein' late. You better come on the shift."
"Don't think I could do that. What's the matter?"
"Don't say there's anything very much the matter yet. But he's sick,
"Sick? No, except as we all are--sick o' the eternal glare."
The Colonel was coming slowly down the hill. Of course, a man doesn't
look his best if he hasn't slept. The Boy limped a little way back to
"Anything the matter with you, Colonel?"
"Well, my Bonanza headache ain't improved."
"I suppose you wouldn' like me to take over the job for two or three
"You? Crippled! Look here--" The Colonel flushed suddenly. "Austin been
"Oh, I was just thinkin' about the sun."
"Well, when I want to go in out of the sun, I'll say so." And, walking
more quickly than he had done for long, he left his companion, marched
down to the creek, and took his place near the puddling-box.
By the time the Boy got to the little patch of shade, offered by the
staging, Austin had turned his back on the gang, and was going to speak
to the gateman at the locks. He had evidently left the Colonel very
much enraged at some curt comment.
"He meant it for us all," the Dublin gentleman was saying soothingly.
By-and-by, as they worked undisturbed, serenity returned. Oh, the
Colonel was all right--even more chipper than usual. What a
good-looking fella he was, with that clear skin and splendid colour!
A couple of hours later the Colonel set his long shovel against the
nearest of the poles steadying the sluice, and went over to the staging
for a drink. He lifted the can of weak tea to his lips and took a long
draught, handed the can back to the Boy, and leant against the staging.
They talked a minute or two in undertones.
A curt voice behind said: "Looks like you've got a deal to attend to
to-day, beside your work."
They looked round, and there was Austin. As the Colonel saw who it was
had spoken, the clear colour in the tan deepened; he threw back his
shoulders, hesitated, and then, without a word, went and took up his
Austin walked on. The Boy kept looking at his friend. What was the
matter with the Colonel? It was not only that his eyes were queer--most
of the men complained of their eyes, unless they slept in cabins. But
whether through sun-blindness or shaken by anger, the Colonel was
handling his shovel uncertainly, fumbling at the gravel, content with
half a shovelful, and sometimes gauging the distance to the box so
badly that some of the pay fell down again in the creek. As Austin came
back on the other side of the line, he stopped opposite to where the
Colonel worked, and suddenly called: "Seymour!"
Like so many on Bonanza, the Superintendent could not always sleep when
the time came. He was walking about "showing things" to a stranger, "a
newspaper woman," it was whispered--at all events, a lady who, armed
with letters from the highest British officials, had come to "write up
Seymour had left her at his employer's call. The lady, thin, neat,
alert, with crisply curling iron-gray hair, and pleasant but
unmistakably dignified expression, stood waiting for him a moment on
the heap of tailings, then innocently followed her guide.
Although Austin lowered his voice, she drew nearer, prepared to take an
intelligent interest in the "new riffles up on Skookum."
When Austin had first called Seymour, the Colonel started, looked up,
and watched the little scene with suspicion and growing anger. Seeing
Seymour's eyes turn his way, the Kentuckian stopped shovelling, and, on
a sudden impulse, called out:
"See here, Austin: if you've any complaints to make, sah, you'd better
make them to my face, sah."
The conversation about riffles thus further interrupted, a little
silence fell. The Superintendent stood in evident fear of his employer,
but he hastened to speak conciliatory words.
"No complaint at all--one of the best hands."
"May be so when he ain't sick," said Austin contemptuously.
"Sick!" the Boy called out. "Why, you're dreamin'. He's our strong
man--able to knock spots out of anyone on the creek, ain't he?"
appealing to the gang.
"I shall be able to spare him from my part of the creek after
"Do I understand you are dismissing me?"
"Oh, go to hell!"
The Colonel dropped his shovel and clenched his hands.
"Get the woman out o' the way," said the owner; "there's goin' to be
trouble with this fire-eating Southerner."
The woman turned quickly. The Colonel, diving under the sluice-box for
a plunge at Austin, came up face to face with her.
"The lady," said the Colonel, catching his breath, shaking with rage,
but pulling off his hat--"the lady is quite safe, but I'm not so sure
about you." He swerved as if to get by.
"Safe? I should think so!" she said steadily, comprehending all at
once, and not unwilling to create a diversion.
"This is no place for a woman, not if she's got twenty letters from the
Misunderstanding Austin's jibe at the official, the lady stood her
ground, smiling into the face of the excited Kentuckian.
"Several people have asked me if I was not afraid to be alone here, and
I've said no. It's quite true. I've travelled so much that I came to
know years ago, it's not among men like you a woman has anything to
It was funny and pathetic to see the infuriate Colonel clutching at his
grand manner, bowing one instant to the lady, shooting death and
damnation the next out of heavy eyes at Austin. But the wiry little
woman had the floor, and meant, for peace sake, to keep it a few
"At home, in the streets of London, I have been rudely spoken to; I
have been greatly annoyed in Paris; in New York I have been subject to
humorous impertinence; but in the great North-West every man has seemed
to be my friend. In fact, wherever our English tongue is spoken," she
wound up calmly, putting the great Austin in his place, "a woman may go
Austin seemed absorbed in filling his pipe. The lady tripped on to the
next claim with a sedate "Good-night" to the men on No. 0. She thought
the momentary trouble past, and never turned to see how the Kentuckian,
waiting till she should be out of earshot, came round in front of
Austin with a low question.
The gang watched the Boy dodge under the sluice and hobble hurriedly
over the chaos of stones towards the owner. Before he reached him he
called breathless, but trying to laugh:
"You think the Colonel's played out, but, take my word for it, he ain't
a man to fool with."
The gang knew from Austin's sneering look as he turned to strike a
match on a boulder--they knew as well as if they'd been within a yard
of him that Scowl had said something "pretty mean." They saw the
Colonel make a plunge, and they saw him reel and fall among the stones.
The owner stood there smoking while the night gang knocked off work
under his nose and helped the Boy to get the Colonel on his feet. It
was no use. Either he had struck his head or he was dazed--unable, at
all events, to stand. They lifted him up and started for the big tent.
Three Indians accosted the cripple leading the procession. He started,
and raised his eyes. "Nicholas! Muckluck!" They shook hands, and all
went on together, the Boy saying the Colonel had a little sunstroke.
* * * * *
The next day Scowl Austin was found lying face down among the
cotton-woods above the benches on Skookum, a bullet-wound in his back.
He had fainted from loss of blood, when he was picked up by the two
Vermonters, the men who had twice gone by No. 0 the night before the
quarrel, and who had enraged Austin by stopping an instant during the
clean-up to look at his gold. They carried him back to Bonanza.
The Superintendent and several of the day gang got the wounded man into
bed. He revived sufficiently to say he had not seen the man that shot
him, but he guessed he knew him all the same. Then he turned on his
side, swore feebly at the lawlessness of the South, and gave up the
Not a man on the creek but understood who Scowl Austin meant.
"Them hot-headed Kentuckians, y' know, they'd dowse a feller's glim for
less 'n that."
"Little doubt the Colonel done it all right. Why, his own pardner says
to Austin's face, says he, 'The Colonel's a bad man to fool with,' and
just then the big chap plunged at Austin like a mad bull."
But they were sorry to a man, and said among themselves that they'd see
he was defended proper even if he hadn't nothin' but a little dust in a
The Grand Forks constable had put a watch on the big tent, despatched a
man to inform the Dawson Chief of Police, and set himself to learn the
details of the quarrel. Meanwhile the utter absence of life in the
guarded tent roused suspicion. It was recalled now that since the
Indians had left a little while after the Colonel was carried home,
sixteen hours ago, no one had seen either of the Southerners. The
constable, taking alarm at this, left the crowd at Scowl Austin's, and
went hurriedly across the meadow to the new centre of interest. Just as
he reached the tent the flap was turned back, and Maudie put her head
"Hah!" said the constable, with some relief, "they both in there?"
"The Colonel is."
Now, it was the Colonel he had wanted till he heard he was there. As
the woman came out he looked in to make certain. Yes, there he was,
calmly sleeping, with the gray blanket of the screen thrown up for air.
It didn't look much like----
"Where's the other feller?"
"Gone to Dawson."
"With that lame leg?"
"Went on horseback."
It had as grand a sound as it would have in the States to say a man had
departed in a glass coach drawn by six cream-coloured horses. But he
had been "in a hell of a hurry," evidently. Men were exchanging
"Funny nobody saw him."
"When'd he light out?"
"About five this morning."
Oh, that explained it. The people who were up at five were abed now.
And the group round the tent whispered that Austin had done the unheard
of--had gone off and left the night gang at three o'clock in the
morning. They had said so as the day shift turned out.
"But how'd the young feller get such a thing as a horse?"
"Hired it off a stranger out from Dawson yesterday," Maudie answered
"Oh, that Frenchman--Count--a--Whirligig?"
But Maudie was tired of giving information and getting none. The answer
came from one in the group.
"Yes, that French feller came in with a couple o' fusst-class horses.
He's camped away over there beyond Muskeeter." He pointed down Bonanza.
"P'raps you won't mind just mentionin'," said Maudie with growing
irritation, "why you're makin' yourself so busy about my friends?"
(Only strong resentment could have induced the plural.)
When she heard what had happened and what was suspected she uttered a
contemptuous "Tschah!" and made for the tent. The constable followed.
She wheeled fiercely round.
"The man in there hasn't been out o' this tent since he was carried up
from the creek last night. I can swear to it."
"Can you swear the other was here all the time?"
"Did he say what he went to Dawson for?"
One or two laughed. "Who's sick enough to send for a Dawson doctor?"
"So you think he's gone for a----"
"I know he is."
"And do you know what it costs to have a doctor come all the way out
"Yes, beasts! won't budge till you've handed over five hundred dollars.
"Did your friend mention how he meant to raise the dust?"
"He's got it," she said curtly.
"Why, he was livin' off his pardner. Hadn't a red cent."
"She's shieldin' him," the men about the door agreed.
"Lord! he done it well--got away with five hundred and a horse!"
"He had words with Austin, himself, the night o' the clean-up. Sassed
Scowl Austin! Right quiet, but, oh my! Told him to his face his gold
was dirty, and washed it off his hands with a look----Gawd! you could
see Austin was mad clear through, from his shirt-buttons to his spine.
You bet Scowl said something back that got the young feller's monkey
They all agreed that the only wonder was that Austin had lived as
long--"On the other side o' the line--Gee!"
* * * * *
That evening the Boy, riding hard, came into camp with a doctor,
followed discreetly in the rear by an N. W. M. P., really mounted this
time. It had occurred to the Boy that people looked at him hard, and
when he saw the groups gathered about the tent his heart contracted
sharply. Had the Colonel died? He flung himself off the horse, winced
as his foot cried out, told Joey Bludsoe to look after both beasts a
minute, and led the Dawson doctor towards the tent.
The constable followed.
Maudie, at the door, looked at her old enemy queerly, and just as,
without greeting, he pushed by, "S'pose you've heard Scowl Austin's
dead?" she said in a low voice.
"No! Dead, eh? Well, there's one rattlesnake less in the woods."
The constable stopped him with a touch on the shoulder: "We have a
warrant for you."
The Colonel lifted his head and stared about, in a dazed way, as the
Boy stopped short and stammered, "Warr--what for?"
"For the murder of Scoville----"
"Look here," he whispered: "I--I don't know what you mean, but I'll go
along with you, of course, only don't talk before this man. He's
sick----" He beckoned the doctor. "This is the man I brought you to
see." Then he turned his back on the wide, horrified eyes of his
friend, saying, "Back in a minute, Kentucky." Outside: "Give me a
second, boys, will you?" he said to the N. W. M. P.'s, "just till I
hear what that doctor fella says about my pardner."
He stood there with the Buckeyes, the police, and the various day gangs
that were too excited to go to bed. And he asked them where Austin was
found, and other details of the murder, wearily conscious that the
friendliest there felt sure that the man who questioned could best fill
in the gaps in the story. When the doctor came out, Maudie at his heels
firing off quick questions, the Boy hobbled forward.
"Temperature a hundred and four," said the Dawson doctor.
"Oh, is--is that much or little?"
"Well, it's more than most of us go in for."
"Can you tell what's the matter with him?"
"Oh, typhoid, of course."
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