HOW TWO BOYS SECURED THEM
E. S. ELLIS
AUTHOR OF "Deerfoot Series," "Boy-Pioneer Series," etc.
24 ILLUSTRATIONS AFTER ORSON LOWELL
DOUBLEDAY & McCLURE CO. NEW YORK 1898
Copyright, 1898, by Doubleday & McClure Co.
THE GOLD-HUNTERS 3
AT JUNEAU 13
UP THE LYNN CANAL 37
THE AVALANCHE 47
THROUGH CHILKOOT PASS 58
A SIGNIFICANT DISCOVERY 71
THE PLOTTERS 80
ON LAKE BENNET 90
INTO BRITISH TERRITORY 100
AT WHITE HORSE RAPIDS 111
ON THE YUKON 120
AT DAWSON CITY 131
ON THE EDGE OF THE GOLD-FIELDS 141
A FIND 159
THE CLAIM 169
A GOLDEN HARVEST 180
A STARTLING DISCOVERY 191
THE TRAIL INTO THE MOUNTAINS 200
A SOUND FROM OUT THE STILLNESS 209
A TURNING OF THE TABLES 218
A LION IN THE PATH 227
A GENERAL SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 236
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS OF A MAN INTENTLY STUDYING THEM Frontispiece.
"ROSWELL, DO YOU KNOW THAT STRANGE MAN HAS BEEN FOLLOWING US FOR THE PAST HOUR?" 33
CATCHING THE EYE OF THE AMAZED BOYS, TIM WINKED 43
THE TENT-POLES WERE SHOVED DOWN INTO THE SNOW 53
ALL JOINED IN PUSHING AND PULLING ONE SLED 65
SUDDENLY HARDMAN MADE A SIGN 75
"YOU'RE A PRETTY FELLOW TO STAND GUARD," SAID FRANK 85
"OH, LOOK THERE! ISN'T IT DREADFUL?" 97
"WE'RE AT THE FUT OF THE LAKE," SHOUTED TIM 105
THE CURRENT WAS NOT ONLY VERY SWIFT, BUT THE CHANNEL WAS FILLED WITH ROCKS 113
TIM AND JEFF LIT THEIR PIPES; HARDMAN SAT APART 127
AND THE THREE CHEERS WERE GIVEN WITH A WILL 137
"I DON'T SEE THE USE OF YOUR HARPING ON THAT AFFAIR," SAID HARDMAN 147
"IT'S GOLD!" HE EXCLAIMED 161
THE BOYS STOOD ATTENTIVELY WATCHING THE OPERATION 175
"I HAVE JUST THOUGHT WHAT TIM'S BUSINESS IS AT DAWSON," SAID FRANK 189
"WE HAVE BEEN ROBBED! ALL THE GOLD IS GONE," 195
THE TELL-TALE FOOTPRINTS 203
WATCHING AT THE TURN IN THE TRAIL 215
"HANDS UP, YOUNKER!" 223
"WE HAVE MADE A MESS OF IT," WAS THE DISGUSTED COMMENT OF FRANK 231
TIM AND HIS PRISONERS 241
"SAY, TIM, YOU HAIN'T ANY IDEA OF GOING TO COLLEGE, HAVE YOU?" 251
KLONDIKE NUGGETS AND HOW TWO BOYS SECURED THEM
Jeff Graham was an Argonaut who crossed the plains in 1849, while he was yet in his teens, and settling in California, made it his permanent home. When he left Independence, Mo., with the train, his parents and one sister were his companions, but all of them were buried on the prairie, and their loss robbed him of the desire ever to return to the East. Hostile Indians, storm, cold, heat, privation, and suffering were the causes of their taking off, as they have been of hundreds who undertook the long journey to the Pacific coast in quest of gold.
Jeff spent several years in the diggings, and after varying fortune, made a strike, which yielded him sufficient to make him comfortable for the rest of his days. He never married, and the income from his investments was all and, indeed, more than he needed to secure him against want.
He was now past threescore, grizzled, somewhat stoop-shouldered, but robust, rugged, strong, and, in his way, happy. His dress varied slightly with the changes of the seasons, consisting of an old slouch hat, a red shirt, coarse trousers tucked in the tops of his heavy boots, and a black neckerchief with dangling ends. He had never been addicted to drink, and his only indulgence was his brierwood pipe, which was his almost inseparable companion. His trousers were secured at the waist by a strong leathern belt, and when he wore a coat in cold weather he generally had a revolver at his hip, but the weapon had not been discharged in years.
There were two members of that overland train whom Jeff never forgot. They were young children, Roswell and Edith Palmer, who lost both of their parents within five years after reaching the coast. Jeff proved the friend in need, and no father could have been kinder to the orphans, who were ten and twelve years younger than he.
Roswell Palmer was now married, with a son named for himself, while his sister, Mrs. Mansley, had been a widow a long time, and she, too, had an only son, Frank, who was a few months older than his cousin. The boys had received a good common-school education, but their parents were too poor to send them to college. Jeff would have offered to help but for his prejudice against all colleges. The small wages which the lads received as clerks in a leading dry-goods house were needed by their parents, and the youths, active, lusty, and ambitious, had settled down to the career of merchants, with the hoped-for reward a long, long way in the future.
One evening late in March, 1897, Jeff opened the door of Mr. Palmer's modest home, near the northern suburb of San Francisco, and with his pipe between his lips, sat down in the chair to which he was always welcome. In truth, the chair was considered his, and no one would have thought of occupying it when he was present. As he slowly puffed his pipe he swayed gently backward and forward, his slouch hat on the floor beside him, and his long, straggling hair dangling about his shoulders, while his heavy beard came almost to his eyes.
It was so late that the wife had long since cleared away the dishes from the table, and sat at one side of the room sewing by the lamp. The husband was reading a paper, but laid it aside when Jeff entered, always glad to talk with their quaint visitor, to whom he and his family were bound by warm ties of gratitude.
Jeff smoked a minute or two in silence, after greeting his friends, and the humping of his massive shoulders showed that he was laughing, though he gave forth no sound.
"What pleases you, Jeff?" asked Mr. Palmer, smiling in sympathy, while the wife looked at their caller in mild surprise.
"I've heerd it said that a burned child dreads the fire, but I don't b'lieve it. After he's burnt he goes back agin and gits burnt over. Why is it, after them explorers that are trying to find the North Pole no sooner git home and thawed out than they're crazy to go back agin! Look at Peary. You'd think he had enough, but he's at it once more, and will keep at it after he finds the pole—that is, if he ever does find it. Nansen, too, he'll be like a fish out of water till he's climbing the icebergs agin."
And once more the huge shoulders bobbed up and down. His friends knew this was meant to serve as an introduction to something else that was on Jeff's mind, and they smilingly waited for it to come.
"It's over forty years since I roughed it in the diggings, starving, fighting Injins, and getting tough," continued the old minor musingly. "After I struck it purty fair I quit; but I never told you how many times the longing has come over me so strong that it was all I could do to stick at home and not make a fool of myself."
"But that was in your younger days," replied his friend; "you have had nothing of the kind for a good while."
Jeff took his pipe from the network of beard that enclosed his lips, and turned his bright, gray eyes upon the husband and wife who were looking curiously at him. They knew by the movement of the beard at the corners of the invisible mouth that he was smiling.
"There's the joke. It's come over me so strong inside the last week, that I've made up my mind to start out on a hunt for gold. What do you think of that, eh?"
And restoring his pipe to his lips, he leaned back and rocked his chair with more vigor than before, while he looked fixedly into the faces of his friends.
"Jeff, you can't be in earnest; you are past threescore—"
"Sixty-four last month," he interrupted; "let's git it right."
"And you are in no need of money; besides it is a hard matter to find any place in California where it is worth your while—"
"But it ain't Californy," he broke in again; "it's the Klondike country. No use of talking," he added with warmth, "there's richer deposits in Alaska and that part of the world than was ever found hereabouts. I've got a friend, Tim McCabe, at Juneau; he's been through the Klondike country, and writes me there's no mistake about it; he wants me to join him. I'm going to do it, and your boy Roswell and his cousin Frank are to go with me. Oh, it's all settled," said Jeff airily; "the only question is how soon you can git him ready. A day oughter be enough."
The husband and wife looked at each other in astonishment. They had not dreamed of anything like this; but if the truth were told, Mr. Palmer had been so wrought up by the wonderful stories that were continually coming from Alaska and British Columbia, that he was seriously thinking of joining the northward-bound procession.
Startling as was the announcement of Jeff Graham, a discussion of the scheme brought out more than one fact to recommend it. The youths were in perfect health, strong and athletic. Jeff volunteered to provide all the funds needed, and his early experience in mining and his love for the boys made him an invaluable guide and companion despite his years. He had turned over in his mind every phase of the question, and met each objection the affectionate mother brought forward, alarmed as she was at the thought of having her boy go so many miles from under her care.
"It will be necessary to talk with Roswell about it," said the father, after the conversation had lasted a considerable while.
"No, it won't; I've talked with him, and he's as crazy as me to go."
"But what will Frank's mother say?"
"She's said what she's got to say; had a talk with her last night, and it's all fixed. I've sent word to Tim that I'll be at Juneau by next steamer, and have two of the likeliest younkers with me on the coast; then we'll head for the Upper Yukon, and bime-by hire a ship to bring back all the gold we'll scoop in."
"It seems to me that we have nothing to do in the premises, Jeff."
"Nothing 'cept to git the youngster ready."
Now it is a serious undertaking for any one to make a journey to the gold regions at the headwaters of the Yukon, as every one will admit who has been there. All know of the starvation which threatened the people of Dawson City during the winter of 1897-98, when the whole country was stirred with sympathy, and our Government made use of reindeer to take food to the suffering miners.
No dangers of that kind confronted Roswell Palmer and Frank Mansley, but their parents could not contemplate the undertaking without anxiety. The mothers held more than one consultation, and there was a time when both were inclined to object to the boys going at all. The dread of that desolate, icy region in the far Northwest grew upon them, until it is safe to say that if the departure had been postponed for only a few days Mrs. Mansley and Mrs. Palmer would never have given their consent. But Mr. Palmer laughed at their fears, and assured them there was no cause for alarm. He spoke so cheeringly that they caught his hopefulness, but neither noticed the lump he swallowed, nor with what difficulty he kept back the tears when the hour for parting came. He was fully as anxious as they, but he knew how to dissemble, and would not have confessed his real emotions for the world.
After all, it was Jeff Graham who deserved the credit for the willingness of the parents to see their sons venture upon the long and dangerous journey. To him the trip was much the same as a visit to Los Angeles or the Yosemite Valley. His self-confidence never faltered. He was sure it would be only a pleasant outing, with the certainty of a big reward at the end of it. The sly fellow dwelt on the pale complexion and debilitated appearance of the lads. He even said that a cough which he heard Frank try to suppress (in swallowing some fruit, a bit of it went the "wrong way"—it was nothing more) indicated the insidious approach of consumption. Jeff was the only one who was able to see any paleness in the countenance of the young athletes, or suspect them of being otherwise than fine specimens of youthful health and vigor; but since he was as solemn as a judge when making his declaration, the father and mother of the one and the mother of the other could not feel quite certain there were not grounds for his fears.
And so it being settled that the boys were to go to the Klondike gold fields under the care of the grim old Argonaut, it only remained to complete the preparations in the short time at their disposal.
Had the mothers been free to carry out their wishes, their sons would have been loaded down with baggage upon leaving San Francisco. There are so many things which seem indispensable, when an affectionate mother is considering the comfort of her only son, that she is sure to overwhelm him. At first the mothers insisted upon each being furnished with a large trunk, which would have to be crowded to bursting to contain what was needed, but Jeff put his foot down.
"Nothin' of the kind. Didn't I tell you that we'll git all that's needed at Juneau or Dyea or some point on the road? You've forgot that."
"But, Jeff, there are some articles which they must take with them."
The old miner lit his pipe, sat down in the rocking-chair at the Palmer home, where the mothers had met while the boys and Mr. Palmer were down-town making a few forgotten purchases. The old fellow chuckled a little and then became serious.
"In the fust place, not a trunk!" and he shook his head decisively.
"Do you expect them to take what they want in their pockets?"
"Umph! it would be the sensiblest thing they could do, but we can't be bothered with any trunks, that would be sure to be lost in the first shuffle. Each of us will have a good, big, strong carpet-bag, and nothing more. You can cram them as full as you choose, but what you can't git in has got to be left at home."
There could be no mistake as to Jeff's earnestness, and neither mother attempted to gainsay his words.
"Now," said he, "jest lay out on the floor what you have in your mind that the youngsters need, and I'll tell you what they do need."
"You mustn't forget," observed Mrs. Palmer, as she started to comply, "that the boys are now down-town buying some things which they positively cannot get along without."
"As, for instance, what?"
"Well, tooth-brushes, soap, combs, courtplaster, handkerchiefs, buttons, thread, quinine, and pain-killer."
"Is that all?" asked Jeff so quizzically that both ladies laughed.
"You have forgotten," added Mrs. Mansley, "the shirts, underclothing, socks, and shoes."
"They are here," replied Mrs. Palmer, stepping briskly into the next room and returning with her arms full.
"I've got to lay down the law," observed Jeff, just as Mr. Palmer and the two boys came in, glowing with excitement. "Here are the young men, and they look as if they had bought out half the town. Dump everything on the floor, and let's sort 'em out."
When the pile was complete the miner gravely remarked:
"Nothing less than a freight-car will answer for all that stuff, and I don't b'lieve we can charter one through to Dawson. In the first place, I s'pose the tooth-brushes will have to go, though I never found any use for such things, and I can crack a bull hickory-nut with my teeth. The same may be obsarved of the soap and combs, while a roll of court plaster don't take up much room. We'll be likely to need thread, buttons, and some patches for our clothes, though I've got a supply in my carpetbag. The quinine and pain-killer they may take if you can find a corner to squeeze 'em in. As to the underclothing, extra shirts, it depends whether there is room for 'em; but the boys mustn't think of taking their dress suits along, 'cause I'm not going to. There ain't any room for violins, pianos, or music-boxes, and the only clothing and shoes that can go with this party is what we wear on our bodies and feet."
"Suppose the shoes wear out?" asked Mrs. Mansley in dismay.
"Then we'll go barefoot. Now, see here, we shan't be away more than three months. A pair of well-made shoes will last longer than that, and the same is true about our clothes, though we have the means of mending them, if modesty calls for it, which ain't likely to be the case in the diggings. Caps, coats, vests, trousers, and shoes are to sarve from the day we start till we come back. If one of the boys casts a shoe and loses it, we'll find some way of getting him another. What's this?" suddenly asked Jeff, picking up a small volume from the floor and opening it.
He looked at the fly-leaf, on which was written: "To my dear boy Roswell, from his affectionate mother. Read a portion every day, and be guided in your thoughts, words, and deeds by its blessed precepts. Then it shall always be well with thee."
There were two of the small Bibles, the other being similarly inscribed with the name of Frank Mansley. The boys and their parents were standing around the seated miner, and no one spoke. He looked at each precious volume in turn, and then reverently laid them among the pile of indispensables.
"That's the mother of it," he said, as if speaking with himself; "it's a good many years since my poor old mother done the same thing for me when I started for Californy, and I've got the book among my things yet, though I don't read it as often as I should. Them go if we have to leave everything else behind."
When the task was completed, every one acknowledged the excellent judgment displayed by Jeff Graham. The three were arrayed in strong, thick, warm clothing, and, in addition, each carried a heavy overcoat on his arm. In the valises were crowded underclothing, shirts, handkerchiefs, and the articles that have been already specified. It was wonderful how skilfully the mothers did the packing. When it looked as if every inch of space was filled, they found a crevice into which another bottle of standard medicine, an extra bit of soap, more thread and needles and conveniences of which no other person would think were forced without adding to the difficulty of locking the valises.
Nothing remaining to be done, on the following day the boys kissed their tearful mothers good-by, and warmly shook hands with Mr. Palmer, who brokenly murmured, "God bless you! be good boys!" as he saw them off on the steamer bound for Seattle, and thence to Juneau, where they safely arrived one day early in April, 1897.
In making such a voyage, many people are necessarily thrown together in more or less close companionship, with the result of forming numerous acquaintances and sometimes lasting friendships. Following the advice of Jeff, the cousins had little to say about their plans, though they became interested in more than one passenger, and often speculated between themselves as to the likelihood of certain ones meeting success or failure in the gold regions.
There were three sturdy lumbermen all the way from Maine. A curious fact about them was that, although they were not related at all, the name of each was Brown. They were light-hearted and the life of the large party. One Brown had a good tenor voice, and often sang popular ballads with taste and great acceptability. Another played the violin with considerable skill, and sometimes indulged in jig tunes, to which his friends, and occasionally others, danced an accompaniment.
"They'll succeed," was the verdict of Roswell, "for they are strong, healthy, and will toil like beavers."
"And what of the two men smoking their pipes just beyond the fiddler?" asked Frank.
"I had a talk with them the other day; one has been a miner in Australia, and the other spent two years in the diamond mines of Kimberley, South Africa. Meeting for the first time in San Francisco, they formed a partnership; they, too, are rugged and must understand their business."
"No doubt of it. Do you remember that stoop-shouldered old man whose room is next to ours?"
"The one who has such dreadful coughing spells in the night?"
"Yes; he is far gone with consumption, and yet he won't believe there's anything the matter with him. He is worse than when he came on board: but he says it is only a slight cold which will soon pass off, and he is just as hopeful as you or I of taking a lot of nuggets home with him."
"He never will see the other side of Chilkoot Pass."
"I doubt whether he will ever see this side."
Thus the boys speculated, sometimes amused and sometimes saddened by what they saw. There was a big San Francisco policeman, who said he had cracked heads so long that he thought he knew how to crack some golden nuggets; a correspondent of a prominent New York newspaper, whose situation was enviable, since his salary and expenses were guaranteed, and he was free to gather gold when the opportunity offered; a voluble insurance agent, who made a nuisance of himself by his solicitations, in season and out; a massive football-player, who had no companion, and did not wish any, since he was sure he could buck the line, make a touchdown, and kick a goal; a gray-haired head of a family, who, having lost his all, had set out to gather another fortune along the Klondike. He walked briskly, threw back his shoulders, and tried hard to appear young and vigorous, but the chances were strongly against him. There were a number of bright clerks; a clergyman, pleasant and genial with all; gamblers, with pallid faces and hair and mustaches dyed an intense black, who expected to win the gold for which others dug; young and middle-aged men, some with their brave wives, serene and calmly prepared to bear their full share of privation and toil; and adventurers, ready to go anywhere for the sake of adventure itself. In truth, it was a motley assemblage, which to the boys was like a continually shifting panorama of hope, ambition, honesty, dishonor, pluck, and human enterprise and daring, that was ever present throughout the thousand miles of salt water that stretches from Seattle to Juneau.
Juneau, the metropolis of Alaska, was founded in 1880, and named in honor of Joseph Juneau, the discoverer of gold on Douglas Island, two miles distant. There is located the Treadwell quartz-mill, the largest in the world. The city nestles at the base of a precipitous mountain, thirty-three hundred feet high, has several thousand inhabitants, with its wooden houses regularly laid out, good wharves, water works, electric lights, banks, hotels, newspapers, schools, and churches.
"Here's where we get our outfit," said Jeff, as they hurried over the plank to the landing. "But where can Tim be?"
He paused abruptly as soon as he was clear of the crowd, and looked around for the one who was the cause of his coming to this out-of-the-way corner of the world. He was still gazing when a man, dressed much the same as himself, but short, stockily built, and with the reddest hair and whiskers the boys had ever seen, his round face aglow with pleasure stepped hastily forward from the group of spectators and extended his hand.
"Ah, Jiff, it does me good to see your handsome silf; and how have ye been, and how do ye expect to continue to be?"
Tim McCabe was an Irishman who, when overtaken by misfortune in San Francisco, found Jeff Graham the good Samaritan, and he could never show sufficient gratitude therefor. It was only one of the many kindly deeds the old miner was always performing, but he did not meet in every case with such honest thankfulness.
Jeff clasped his hand warmly, and then looked at the smiling boys, to whom he introduced his friend, and who shook their hands. He eyed them closely, and, with the quizzical expression natural to many of his people, said:
"And these are the laddies ye wrote me about? Ye said they were likely broths of boys; but, Jiff, ye didn't do them justice—they desarved more."
"Tim is always full of blarney," explained Jeff, who, it was evident, was fond of the merry Irishman; "so you mustn't mind him and his ways."
Roswell and Frank were attracted by Jeff's friend. He was one of those persons who, despite their homeliness of face and feature, win us by their genial nature and honest, outspoken ways. No one ever saw a finer set of big, white teeth, nor a broader smile, which scarcely ever was absent from the Irishman's countenance. He shook hands with each lad in turn, giving a warm pressure and expressing his pleasure at meeting them. "I'm glad to greet ye, me friends," he said, as the whole party moved out of the way of the hurrying, bustling swarm who were rushing back and forth, each intent on his own business; "not only on your own account, but on account of me friend Jiff."
"I do not quite understand you," said Roswell with a smile.
"Well, you see, I've met Jiff before, and formed a rather fair opinion of him; but whin a gintleman like mesilf is engaged on some important business, them as are to be favored with me confidence must have their credentials."
"And you accept our presence with him as proof that he is what he should be?"
Tim gravely inclined his head.
"Do ye think I would admit Jiff as a partner if it was otherwise? Not I."
"But," interposed Frank, "how is it with us? You never saw us before."
"One look at them faces is enough," was the prompt reply; "ye carry a certificate wid ye that no one can dispoot."
"And I should like to know," said Jeff, with assumed indignation, "what credential you have to present to us, young man."
"Mine is the same as the young gintlemen," answered Tim, removing his thick fur cap and displaying his whole wealth of fiery red hair; "obsarve me countenance."
His face became grave for the first time, while all the rest laughed.
"I'm satisfied and hungry," said Jeff; "take us where we can get something to eat."
"I knew by that token that I had forgot something, and it's me breakfast and dinner. In honor of yer coming, I've engaged the best quarters at the leading hotel. Come wid me."
It was but a short distance up the street to a frame hotel, which was kept by a corpulent German who had been in the country for a couple of years. The men registered, during which Tim remarked to the landlord, who seemed never to be without his long-stemmed meerschaum pipe between his lips:
"This gintleman isn't the burglar that ye would think from his looks. He belongs to a good family, or ye wouldn't obsarve him in my company. The young gintlemen are two princes that are travelling in cog. In consideration of all of them having delicate appetites like mesilf, not forgetting the honor of their company, ye will be glad to make a reduction in your exorbitant rates, Baron Fritz, I am sure."
The phlegmatic German smiled, and in a guttural voice announced that his terms were three dollars a day, including rooms and meals, which, when all the circumstances are considered, was not extravagant. The party carried their luggage to their rooms, where they prepared themselves for the meal, which was satisfactory in every respect and better than they expected.
It came out during the conversation that Tim McCabe had not a dollar to his name, and he spoke the truth when he said that he had not eaten a mouthful that day. It would have gone hard for him but for the arrival of Jeff Graham, though there is such a lively demand for labor in Juneau that he must have soon found means to provide himself with food.
As for Jeff, he was glad in his heart that his old friend was in such sore straits, inasmuch as it gave him the pleasure of providing for him. Tim had taken out some five hundred dollars, but a companion whom he fully trusted robbed him of it, and the small amount left barely kept the Irishman afloat until the arrival of the old miner.
Jeff Graham showed prudence in bringing a plentiful supply of funds with him, and since he expected to take back a hundredfold more than he brought, he could well afford to do so. Stowed away in his safe inside pocket was fully two thousand dollars, and inasmuch as gold is the "coin of the realm" in California, as well as in Alaska, the funds were in shining eagles and half eagles—rather bulky of themselves, but not uncomfortably so.
The experience of McCabe and Jeff prevented any mistake in providing their outfit. They had good, warm flannels, thick woollen garments, strong shoes, and rubber boots. Those who press their mining operations during the long and severe winter generally use the water boot of seal and walrus, which costs from two dollars to five dollars a pair, with trousers made from Siberian fawn-skins and the skin of the marmot and ground squirrel, with the outer garment of marmot-skin. Blankets and robes, of course, are indispensable. The best are of wolf-skin, and Jeff paid one hundred dollars apiece for those furnished to himself and each of his companions.
The matter of provisions was of the first importance. A man needs a goodly supply of nourishing food to sustain him through the trying journey from Juneau to Dawson City, the following being considered necessary for an able-bodied person: Twenty pounds of flour, twelve of bacon, twelve of beans, four of butter, five of vegetables, five of sugar, three of coffee, five of corn-meal, one pound of tea, four cans of condensed milk, one and one half pounds of salt, with a little pepper and mustard.
Because of the weight and bulk, Jeff omitted from this list the tea, the condensed milk and butter, and while the supply in other respects was the same, respectively, for himself and McCabe, that of the boys was cut down about one third; for besides the food, the party were compelled to take with them a frying-pan, a water-kettle, a Yukon stove, a bean-pot, a drinking-cup, knives and forks, and a large and small frying-pan.
Since they would find a good raft necessary, axes, hatchets, hunting-knives, nails, one hundred and fifty feet of rope, and two Juneau sleds were purchased. To these were added snow-shoes, a strong duck-tent, fishing-tackle, snow-glasses to protect themselves against snow-blindness, rubber blankets, mosquito-netting, tobacco, and a few minor articles.
The start from Juneau to the gold fields should not be made before the beginning of April. Our friends had struck that date, but the headlong rush did not begin until some time later. One of the principal routes is from Seattle to St. Michael, on the western coast of Alaska, and then up that mighty river whose mouth is near, for nearly two thousand more miles to Dawson City. The river is open during the summer—sometimes barely four months—and our friends took the shorter route to Juneau on the southern coast, from which it is about a thousand miles to Dawson. While this route is much shorter, it is a hundred times more difficult and dangerous than by the Yukon.
From Juneau there are four different routes to the headwaters of the Yukon, all crossing by separate paths the range of mountains along the coast. They are the Dyea or Chilkoot Pass, the Chilkat, Moore's or White Pass, and Takon. At this writing the Chilkoot is the favorite, because it is better known than the others, but the facilities for passing through this entrance or doorway to the new El Dorado are certain to be greatly increased at an early day.
It was learned on inquiry that another day would have to be spent in the town before the little steamer would leave for Dyea. While Tim and Jeff stayed at the hotel, talking over old times and laying plans for the future, the boys strolled through the streets, which were knee-deep with mud.
The curio shops on Front and Seward streets were interesting, and from the upper end of the latter street they saw a path leading to the Auk village, whose people claim to own the flats at the mouth of Gold Creek. On the high ground across the stream is a cemetery containing a number of curious totemic carvings, hung with offerings to departed spirits. It would cost a white man his life to disturb any of them.
It was early in the afternoon that the cousins were strolling aimlessly about and had turned to retrace their steps to the hotel, when Frank touched the arm of his companion and said, in a low voice:
"Roswell, do you know that a strange man has been following us for the past hour?"
"No; where is he?"
"On the other side of the street and a little way behind us. Don't look around just now. I don't fancy his appearance."
A minute later, Roswell managed to gain a good view.
"I don't like his looks as well as he seems to like ours. Shall we wait for him and ask him his business?"
"No need of that, for he is walking so fast, he will soon be up with us. Here he comes, as if in a great hurry."
A few minutes later the boys were overtaken by the suspicious stranger.
UP THE LYNN CANAL.
Roswell and Frank were standing in front of one of the curio stores, studying the interesting exhibits, among which was a pan of Klondike gold, but they kept watch of the stranger, who slouched up to them and halted at the side of Frank.
"I say, pards," he said in the gruff, wheedling tones of the professional tramp, "can't you do something for a chap that's down on his luck?"
As the lads turned to face him they saw an unclean, tousled man, very tall, with stooping shoulders, protruding black eyes, spiky hair, and a generally repellent appearance.
"What's the trouble?" asked Frank, looking into the face that had not been shaven for several days.
"Had the worst sort of luck; got back from Klondike two days ago with thirty thousand dollars, and robbed of every cent. I'm dead broke."
"You seem to have had enough to buy whiskey," remarked Roswell, who had had a whiff of his breath, and placed no faith in his story. The man looked angrily at them, but restrained himself, in hopes of receiving help.
"There's where you're mistaken, my friends; I haven't had anything to eat for two days, and when a stranger offered me a swallow of whiskey to keep up my strength, I took it, as a medicine. If it hadn't been for that, I'd have flunked right in the street—sure as you live. What are you doing, if I may ask, in Juneau?"
"We are listening to you just now, but we are on our way to the gold fields," replied Roswell.
"We are going with two men, one of whom has been there before."
"That's more sensible. Let me give you a little advice—"
"We really do not feel the need of it," interposed Roswell, who liked the man less each minute. "You must excuse us, as we wish to join them at the hotel. Good-day."
"See here," said the fellow angrily, as he laid his hand on the arm of Frank; "ain't you going to stake me a bit?"
The lad shook off his grasp.
"Even if we wished to do so, we could not, for our friend at the hotel has all the funds that belong to our party. Perhaps if you go there, and he believes the story, Mr. Graham may do something for you, but Tim McCabe has not the means with which to help anybody."
At mention of the Irishman's name the fellow showed some agitation. Then, seeing that he was about to lose the expected aid, he uttered a savage expression and exclaimed:
"I don't believe a word you say."
"It is no concern of ours whether you believe it or not," replied Roswell, as he and Frank started down the street toward their hotel. The fellow was amazed at the defiance of the lads, and stood staring at them and muttering angrily to himself. Could he have carried out his promptings, he would have robbed both, but was restrained by several reasons.
In the first place, Juneau, despite the influx of miners, is a law-abiding city, and the man's arrest and punishment would have followed speedily. Moreover, it would not have been an altogether "sure thing" for him to attack the youths. They were exceptionally tall, active and strong, and would have given him trouble without appeal to the firearms which they carried.
They looked round and smiled, but he did not follow them. When they reached the hotel they related the incident.
"Would ye oblige me with a description of the spalpeen?" said Tim McCabe, after they had finished. Roswell did as requested.
"Be the powers, it's him!" exclaimed Tim. "I 'spected it when ye told the yarn which I've heerd he has been telling round town."
"Whom do you mean?" asked Frank.
"Hardman, Ike Hardman himsilf."
"Who is he?"
"Didn't I tell ye he was the one that robbed me of my money? Sure I did, what is the matter wid ye?"
"You told us about being robbed," said Jeff, "but didn't mention the name of the man who did it."
"I want to inthrodooce mesilf to him!" exclaimed Tim, flushed with indignation; "axscoose me for a bit."
He strode to the door with the intention of hunting up and chastising the rogue, but, with his hand on the knob, checked himself. For a moment he debated with himself, and then, as his broad face lit up with his natural good humor, he came back to his chair, paraphrasing Uncle Toby:
"The world's big enough for the likes of him and me, though he does crowd a bit. Let him git all the good out of the theft he can, say I."
Dyea is at the head of navigation, and is the timber line, being a hundred miles to the northwest of Juneau. It is at the upper fork of what is termed Lynn Canal, the most extensive fiord on the coast. It is, in truth, a continuation of Chatham Strait, the north and south passage being several hundred miles in extent, the whole forming the trough of a glacier which disappeared ages ago.
On the day following the incident described our friends boarded the little, untidy steam launch bound for Dyea. There were fifty passengers beside themselves, double the number it was intended to carry, the destination of all being the gold fields. The weather was keen and biting, and the accommodations on the boat poor. They pushed here and there, surveying with natural interest the bleak scenery along shore, the mountains white with snow, and foretelling the more terrible regions that lay beyond. Hundreds of miles remained to be traversed before they could expect to gather the yellow particles, but neither of the sturdy lads felt any abatement of courage.
"Well, look at that!" suddenly exclaimed Roswell, catching the arm of his companion as they were making their way toward the front of the boat.
Frank turned in the direction indicated, and his astonishment was as great as his companion's. Tim McCabe and the shabby scamp, Ike Hardman, were sitting near each other on a bench, and smoking their pipes like two affectionate brothers. No one would have suspected there had ever been a ripple between them.
Catching the eye of the amazed boys, Tim winked and threw up his chin as an invitation for them to approach. Frank shook his head, and he and Roswell went back to where Jeff was smoking his pipe. They had hardly time to tell their story when the Irishman joined them.
"I obsarved by the exprission on your faces that ye were a bit surprised," he said, addressing the youths.
"Is that fellow the Hardman you told us about?" asked Roswell.
"The same at your sarvice."
"And the man who robbed you of your money?"
Tim flung one of his muscular legs over the other, and with a twinkle of the eyes said:
"Hardman has made it all right; the matter is fixed atween oursilves."
"Then he give you back your money?" was the inquiring remark of Jeff.
"Not precisely that, though he said he would do the same if he only had it with him, but he run up agin a game at Juneau and was cleaned out. Whin he told me that I was a bit sorry for him. He further obsarved that it was his intintion if he won to stake me agin and add something extra for interest on what he borrowed of me. That spakes well for Hardman, so we shook hands over it," was the hearty conclusion of Tim.
The boys were too astonished to speak. Jeff Graham's shoulders shook, and he looked sideways at his friend with a quizzical expression, unable to do justice to his feelings. As for Tim, his red face was the picture of bland innocence, but he was not through. Astounding as were the statements he had just made, he had a still more astounding one to submit.
It was late in the day that the little steamer arrived at Dyea, which was found to be a village with one log store, a number of movable tents, and without any wharf, the beach being so flat that at high water the tide reaches a half mile or more inland. To guard against losing any of their supplies, Tim McCabe told his friends that it would be necessary to unload them themselves.
"From this p'int," said he, "we must hoe our own row; under hiven we must depind on oursilves. Hardman, lind a hand there, and step lively."
To the astonishment of the youths, the man took hold and wrought with right good will. Jeff looked at Tim queerly as he pointed out the different articles, he himself, as may be said, overlooking the job; but the conclusion was that the Irishman had promised him a small amount for his help. When, however, the task was finished Tim came to the group, and while Hardman, with shamefaced expression, remained in the background, he said with that simplicity which any one would find hard to resist:
"You see poor Hardman is in bad luck; he hain't any outfit, and wants to go to the gold fields, but will have to git some one to stake him. Obsarving the same, I made bowld to remark that it would give me frind Jiff the highest plisure to do it for him, not forgetting to obsarve that I knew his company would be agreeable to the byes, and he will be of great hilp to the same."
"Well, I'm blessed!" exclaimed the old miner, removing his hat and mopping his forehead with his big red handkerchief. Then he turned half way round and looked steadily at the fellow, who was standing with his head down.
"Poor dog! let him come along, but if he makes any trouble, I'll hold you responsible, Tim."
"And I'll be happy to take charge of the same 'sponsibility, and if he don't toe the mark, it's mesilf that will make him. Do you hear that, Ike?" he roared, turning fiercely toward the fellow, who started, and meekly replied that he heard, though it was impossible for anything to reach him except the last thunderous demand.
"It isn't for us to say anything," remarked Roswell aside to his chum, "but that means trouble for us all."
"It surely does; we must be on our guard against him."
The outfits were piled on a sandspit about a mile below the trading posts of Healy and Wilson. In the foreground were the ranch and store owned by them, and beyond towered the coast mountains, their tops gleaming in the sunshine with enormous masses of snow, while hundreds of miles still beyond stretched the immense Yukon country, toward which the eyes of the civilized world are turned at the present time.
One of the strange facts connected with Alaska and the adjoining region is that in May the sun rises at 3 o'clock and sets at 9, while in June it rises at 1.30 and sets at 10.30. Thus the summer day is twenty hours long, and it has a diffuse twilight. The change from winter to summer is rapid, winter setting in in September, and in the Klondike region zero weather lasts from November to May, though at times the weather moderates early in March, but does not become settled until May. The Yukon generally freezes shut in the latter part of October, and breaks up about the middle of May, when the western route to the gold fields by the river becomes practicable.
The hour was so late when our friends had finished carrying their outfit beyond reach of the high tide, which rises twenty feet at Dyea, that they lodged and took their meals at the ranch trading post. By arrangement, an early breakfast was eaten the next morning, and the goods were loaded upon the two Yukon sleds with which they were provided. These were seven feet long, sixteen inches wide, and were shod with steel. Other gold-seekers were stopping, like themselves, at the ranch, but they lagged so much that when the men and boys headed northward they were alone.
Jeff Graham and Ike Hardman passed the rope attached to one of the sleds over their shoulders, the elder in advance, and led off. Tim took the lead, with the boys behind him, with the second sled, following the trail left by their friends. The deep snow was packed so hard that no use was made of the snow-shoes which Jeff had provided.
From Dyea the trail led for five miles over the ice, when they reached the mouth of the canon. This is two miles long with an average width of fifty feet. The sleds were dragged over the strong ice, but later in the season, when it breaks up, travellers are obliged to follow the trail to the east of the canon.
The party were so unaccustomed to this kind of labor that they found it exhausting. Curiously enough, Jeff bore the fatigue better than any. His iron muscles were the last to yield, and he was the first to resume the journey. He chaffed the others, and offered to let them mount his sled while he pulled them.
Beyond the canon is a strip of woods three miles in length, which bears the name of Pleasant Camp, though it has not the first claim to the name. It does not contain the ruins of even a cabin or shanty—nothing, in fact, but trees, through which the wintry winds sough and howl dismally. There the party halted, ate lunch, rested for an hour, and then set out with the determination to make the next camping ground before night.
The ascent now became gradual, and before the day was spent they arrived at Sheep Camp, on the edge of the timber. This is the last spot where wood for fuel can be obtained until the other side of Chilkoot Pass is reached. The tent was pitched on top of the snow, the poles and pins being shoved down into it. Jeff took it upon himself to cut what fuel was needed, gathering at the same time a liberal quantity of hemlock brush, upon which to spread their blankets for beds.
Since it was necessary to use the stove, and it must rest on the snow, a simple arrangement provided against trouble from the melting of the latter. Three poles, eight feet in length, were laid parallel on the snow and the stove placed upon them. Although a hole was soon dissolved beneath, the length of the supports kept the stove upright.
The experience which Jeff and Tim had had made them both excellent cooks, which was a fortunate thing for the boys, since they would have made sorry work in preparing a meal; but the art of the Irishman deserved the many compliments it received. With the aid of baking powder he prepared a goodly number of light, flaky biscuit, and by exposing some of the butter to the warmth of the stove, it was gradually changed from its stone-like hardness to a consistency that permitted it to be cut with a knife and spread upon the hot bread. The coffee was amber, clear, and fragrant, and with the condensed milk and sugar would have reflected credit upon the chef of any establishment. In addition, there were fried bacon and canned corn.
Until this time the boys had never believed they could eat bacon, but nothing could have had a more delicious flavor to them. It was not alone because of their vigorous appetites, but partly on account of the bitterly cold weather. There is a good deal of animal heat evolved in the digestion of fat bacon, and it is therefore among the favorite articles of food in the Arctic regions.
Probably there isn't a boy in the country who would not revolt at the thought of eating a tallow candle, and yet if he was exposed to the rigors of Greenland and the far north, he would soon look upon it as one of the greatest delicacies of the table.
The hemlock branches were now spread on top of the snow at the side of the tent, a large square of canvas was placed over them, upon which the blankets and robes were put, the whole forming a springy, comfortable bed.
Roswell and Frank were sure that in all their lives they were never so tired. Leaving the three men to talk and smoke, they stretched out on their blankets, wrapping themselves in them, and almost immediately sank into deep, dreamless slumber.
The sleep had lasted perhaps a couple of hours, when, without any apparent cause, Frank Mansley awoke in the full possession of his senses. Lying motionless, he listened to the soft breathing of his cousin beside him, while the regular respiration of the men left no doubt of their condition. Everything around was in blank, impenetrable darkness and all profoundly still.
"It's strange that I should awake like this," he thought, slightly shifting his position. "I'm tired, and was so drowsy that I felt as if I could sleep a week, but I was never wider awake than I am this minute—"
Amid the all-pervading silence he was sensible of a low, solemn murmur, like that of the distant ocean. At first it seemed to be the "voice of silence" itself, but it steadily increased in volume until its roar became overpowering. Startled and frightened, he lay still, wondering what it could mean, or whether his senses were deceiving him. Then he suddenly remembered the vast masses of ice and snow which towered above them all through the day. He recalled the stories he had read of the glaciers and avalanches, and how Tim McCabe had referred to them as sometimes overtaking travellers in this part of the world.
He knew what it meant, and, leaping from his couch, he shouted:
"Wake up! Quick! An avalanche is upon us!"
THROUGH CHILKOOT PASS.
As Frank Mansley's words rang through the tent they were followed by the awful roar of the descending avalanche, and all awoke on the instant. But no one could do anything to save himself. They could only cower and pray to Heaven to protect them.
Something struck the side of the tent, like the plunge of a mountain torrent, yet it was not that, nor was it the snow. Tim McCabe knew its nature, and catching his breath, he called:
"It's the wind of the avalanche! That won't hurt ye!"
The wonder was that it did not blow the canvas like a feather from its path; but the tent held its position, and the appalling rush and roar ceased with more suddenness than it had begun. The throbbing air became still.
Jeff Graham, who had not spoken, struck a match, and holding it above his head, peered around the interior of the tent, which he observed had sagged a good deal from the impact of the avalanche's breath, though the stakes held their places in the snow. He saw Frank Mansley standing pale with affright, while Roswell, sitting on the edge of his couch, was equally startled. Ike Hardman had covered his face with his blanket, like a child, who thus seeks to escape an impending danger. Incredible as it may seem, Tim McCabe was filling his pipe in the gloom, preparatory to a smoke.
"Be aisy," was his comment, as he struck a match and held it above the bowl; "we're as safe as if in 'Frisco, and a little safer, for it's whin ye are there ye are liable to have an airthquake tumble the buildings about yer hid."
"Wasn't that an avalanche?" asked the amazed Frank.
"It was that, but it didn't hit us. If we had put up the tint a little beyant and further to the right, we'd've been mashed flat."
He spoke the truth. The enormous mass of snow, weighing thousands of tons, had toppled over and slid down the mountain-side with a roar like Niagara, but stopped short, just before reaching the tent. Some of the feathery particles sailed forward and struck the canvas, the greatest effect being produced by the wind, but the monster was palsied before he could reach forward and seize his victims.
When the situation became clear, every one uttered expressions of gratitude, but the boys were not relieved of all fear. What had taken place might occur again.
"Not a bit of it," was Tim's reassuring reply. "I've obsarved the things before, and we shan't be bothered agin to-night. Take me advice and go to sleep, which the same is what I shall do mesilf as soon as I finishes me smoke."
The shock, however, had been too great for all to compose their nerves at once. Jeff was the first to succumb, having faith in the assurance of his friend, and Ike Hardman soon followed him in the land of dreams. Frank and Roswell lay for a long time talking in low tones, but finally drowsiness overcame them, and with the pungent odor of Tim's pipe in their nostrils they sank into slumber, which was not broken until Jeff called to them that breakfast was waiting.
The melted snow furnished what water they needed to drink and in which to lave their faces and hands. Then, before eating, they hurried outside the tent to survey the snowy mountain that had come so near swallowing them up. They were filled with amazement when they looked upon the vast pile, amid which were observed many chunks and masses of ice, several that must have weighed hundreds of pounds, lying on the snow within a few yards of the tent. Had one of these been precipitated against the shelter, it would have crushed the inmates, like the charge from the most enormous of our seacoast guns. It was a providential escape, indeed, for our friends, and it was no wonder that they continued to discuss it and to express their gratitude to Heaven, that had mercifully shielded them while they slept.
Standing at Sheep Camp, they saw the summit towering thirty-five hundred feet in front, though Chilkoot Pass, which they were to follow, is five hundred feet lower. The task of climbing to the summit of this pass is of the most trying nature conceivable, and many gold-seekers have turned back in despair. Terrific weather is often encountered, and men have been held in camp for weeks, during which the crest of the mountains was hidden by clouds and tempests, and the whirling snow and sleet were so blinding that they hardly ventured to peep out from their tent. The weather was such as has baffled the most intrepid of explorers for centuries in their search for the North Pole.
Our friends were unusually fortunate in being favored with good weather, there being hardly any wind stirring, while, more wonderful than all, the sun shone from an unclouded sky, in a section where the clear days average less than seventy degrees in the course of the entire year.
No one who has ever climbed Chilkoot Pass will forget it. Some, alas! who have made the attempt never succeeded in reaching the other side, but perished in the frightful region; while many more have become disheartened by the perils and difficulties and turned back when on the threshold of the modern El Dorado. At the foot of the pass our friends met two men, bending low with the packs strapped to their shoulders, and plodding wearily southward. Tim called to them to know what the trouble was, and received a glum answer, accompanied by an oath that they had had enough of such a country, and if they ever lived to reach New York, they would shoot any man who pronounced the word "Klondike" in their presence.
It is a curious fact regarding this famous pass that the snow with which it is choked is what makes it possible for travel. The snow sometimes lies to the depth of fifty or sixty feet, and from February, through May, and often June, its smooth surface allows one to walk over it without trouble. Should it be fine and yielding, the snow-shoes come into play, but when the crust is hard, no better support could be asked. The trouble lies in the steep incline, which becomes more decided the higher one climbs.
Underneath this enormous mass rush violent torrents of water, which, hollowing out passages for themselves, leave the snow white arches far above, over which one walks upon a natural bridge. Later in the season, when the effects of the warm weather are felt, these arches begin to tumble in, and the incautious traveller who misses his footing and drops into one of the huge crevices is lost.
As has been said, the steepness increases as one approaches the top, the last five hundred feet being like the roof of a house. Bending forward under their loads, our friends often found their noses within a few inches of the snow, while masses of rock protruding in many places added to the difficulties of travel. The combined strength of the party was required to get a single sled to the top. While one was left behind, they joined in pushing and pulling the other, with frequent pauses for rest, until, after hours of the hardest work conceivable, they succeeded in reaching the summit. Then, resting again, they began their descent for the other sled. It was fortunate that the crust of the snow removed the need of using the long snow-shoes, whose make suggests the bats used in playing tennis, for the men were the only ones who knew how to handle the awkward contrivances, which would have proved a sore perplexity for Roswell and Frank.
Under some circumstances it becomes a question which is the harder, to descend or ascend a steep hill. Despite the utmost care, the whole five stumbled several times. Roswell felt the chills run through him, and he held his breath in dismay when he saw himself sliding toward the edge of a ravine, over which if he fell he would have been dashed to death on the instant. While desperately trying to check himself, he shouted for help, but it looked equally fatal for any one to venture near him, since the slope was so abrupt that he could not check himself.
Jeff Graham was carrying the coil of rope which he had loosened from the first sled, and, seeing the peril of his young friend, he flung the end toward him with the skill of a Mexican or cowboy in throwing the rita, or lasso. The youth was slipping downward on his face, with his terrified countenance turned appealingly to his friends, while he tried, by jamming his toes and clutching at the surface, to check himself, and Frank was on the point of going to his help when the end of the rope struck his shoulder and he seized it with both hands. The next minute he was drawn back to safety.
"I'm surprised wid ye," remarked Tim McCabe, when the panting youth stood among them again. "I thought ye were too tired to indulge in any such foolin'. Whin ye want to slide down hill, make use of the slid instead of your stummick."
"I don't think I'll want to do any more sliding down hill in this part of the world," replied the frightened, but grateful youth.
Once more they bent to their work, and pulling themselves together, succeeded at last in reaching the summit with the second sled, the whole party utterly used up. Even Jeff Graham sat down on one of the loads, panting and too tired to speak. When he found voice, he said:
"What fools we are! And yet if I went back to 'Frisco, I'd start agin for the Klondike the next day; so I reckon we'll keep on."
No one responded, for they were so wearied that talking itself was labor.
Looking to the southwest, they could see the blue shimmer of the Pacific, where the Gulf of Alaska rolls its white surges against the dismal shores. Far in the distance a faint line against the sky showed where a steamer was probably ploughing its way to St. Michael's, with hundreds of gold-seekers on board, the van of the army that is pushing toward the Klondike from the West, the South, and the East, until it would seem that even that immense region must overflow with the innumerable multitudes, drawn thither by the most resistless magnet that can make men brave peril, suffering, and death.
Turning in the opposite direction, they saw the mountain slope melting away in the great valley of the Yukon, with the trail leading through a narrow, rocky gap, and with naked granite rocks rising steeply to the partly snow-clad mountains. The party had been fortunate in completing the ascent in less than a day, when it often requires twice as long. The first half mile of the descent was steep, when the slope becomes more gradual. The glare of the snow compelled all to use their glasses, and seven miles from the summit they reached the edge of timber, where camp was made.
Freed from all fear of descending avalanches, with plenty of food and wood for fuel, the exhausted gold-hunters lay down on their blankets, resting upon more hemlock boughs, and enjoyed the most refreshing sleep since leaving the steamer at Juneau. It was not until considerably after daylight that Jeff awoke and started a new fire, with which to prepare their breakfast, and when that was ready the boys were roused from slumber.
They were now within three miles of Lake Lindeman, a body of water five miles in length, and the journey was speedily made. It was on the shore of this lake that the party expected to build a raft or boat with which to make the long, rough voyage to the Yukon, but, to their pleased surprise, they found an old Indian, with a broad scow, anxious to transport them and their luggage to the foot of the lake. He had already secured three men and their outfits, but was able to carry the new arrivals, and Jeff was not long in making a bargain with him.
A SIGNIFICANT DISCOVERY.
Game is so scarce in the valley of the Upper Yukon and in the Klondike country that many gold-seekers take no firearms at all with them. Years ago the Indians showed occasional hostility toward the missions and trading-posts, but nothing now is to be feared from them. They are often hired to help carry loads through the passes, and with that aptitude for imitating the white man, they have speedily learned to charge high prices for their labor.
Before leaving Juneau, Jeff Graham presented each of his little party with an excellent revolver, quoting the remark which a cowboy once made to a tenderfoot:
"You may not want the weapon often, but when you do you'll want it mighty bad."
Jeff took with him his own pistol which he had carried for years, besides which he was provided with a fine Winchester rifle. He knew he was not likely to find any use for it in shooting game, but he grimly observed that if a pistol should prove handy, the larger weapon was apt to prove much more so.
The Indian who engaged to take them to the foot of Lake Lindeman was old, but wiry and tough, and understood his business. He could speak a few words of English, which were enough for his purposes. He raised a small soiled sail of canvas on the scow, and with the help of a long pole kept the heavily laden craft moving. Although the lake was open thus early in the season, the shores were lined with ice, much of it extending into the water for a number of rods. Huge cakes sometimes bumped against the scow, but they caused no damage, and did not interfere with its progress.
The three men who had first engaged the boat looked as if they had come a long distance. Our friends had no recollection of having seen them on the steamer from Seattle or on the steam launch that connects Juneau with Dyea at the head of Lynn Canal. Where they came from, therefore, was a mystery, the probability being that they had been loitering about Dyea for a long time, waiting for the season to advance sufficiently to allow them to start for the Yukon. They seemed reserved to the point of sullenness, keeping by themselves and showing so much antipathy to any approach that they were let alone.
But just before the foot of the lake, nearly six miles distant, was reached, Frank Mansley made an interesting discovery. The most ill-favored of the trio was an acquaintance of Ike Hardman. No one else noticed the significant fact, and it was partly through accident that the truth came to the lad.
The two men acted as if strangers, not exchanging a word on the passage, and seemingly feeling no interest in each other. All of Frank's friends were near the bow of the boat, looking to where they were soon to touch shore. Two of the strangers were standing just back of and near them, while Hardman was in the middle of the boat, apparently watching the old Indian as he plied his paddle with untiring vigor.
The third stranger was at the stern, seated on the gunwale, smoking a clay pipe and seemingly taking no note of anything about him. When Ike Hardman sauntered among the piles of luggage to the rear, Frank was impelled by an impulse for which he could not account to watch him. He had no well-defined suspicion, and least of all did he suspect what proved to be the truth.
Hardman halted a few paces from the man sitting on the edge of the boat, and, so far as appearances went, did not pay any attention to him. A quick, furtive glance to the front put the lad on his guard, and he, too, turned his face toward land, but his position was such that he could look sideways at the two, while not seeming to do so.
Suddenly Hardman, with his back partly toward the youth, made a sign with his hands, the meaning of which Frank could not catch, because the signal was not fully seen, but the fellow sitting down nodded his head, and taking his pipe from between his lips, said something in so guarded a voice that only the ears for which the words were intended could understand them.
This brief interchange ought to have been enough, but Hardman did not appear to think so. He stepped somewhat closer, and he, too, spoke, still gesticulating with one of his hands. The man addressed was impatient. He nodded again in a jerky fashion, and made answer with less caution, as a consequence of which the eavesdropper caught the words, "Yes, yes, to-night; I understand."
Hardman was satisfied, and came back to the front of the boat, which was now approaching the shore. His friend smoked a few minutes until the scow bumped against the projection of ice, and, the old Indian leaping lightly out, carried the heavy stone anchor as far as the rope would permit. This held the boat in place, and the unloading began. The Indian offered to help for an extravagant price, but his offer was refused, and the respective parties busied themselves with their own work.
The discovery made by Frank Mansley caused him considerable uneasiness. The dislike which he felt toward Hardman the first time he saw him had never abated, and it was the same with his cousin. Young as they were, they felt that a great mistake was made when Hardman was allowed to join the party, and they wondered that Jeff permitted it, but, as has been shown, they were too discreet to object.
That Hardman, on his part, detested the youths was apparent, though he tried to conceal the feeling when he feared it might attract the attention of others. He had little to say to them or they to him. Frank decided to tell his chum of the discovery he had made, and they would consult as to whether they should take Jeff and Tim into their confidence.
Meanwhile, the trio gathered their loads upon their backs and started northward without so much as calling good-by to those whom they left behind, and who were not sorry to part company with them.
The gold-hunters had had a little lift on their journey, but it was not worth considering, in view of what remained before them. A mile advance with sleds and their packs took them to the head of Lake Bennet, where it may be said the navigation of the Yukon really begins. The lake is about twenty-eight miles long, contains a number of islands, and in going to the foot one passes from Alaska into British Columbia. Along its shores were scores of miners, busily engaged in building boats with which to make the rest of the journey. Sad to say, owing to their impatience and lack of skill, some of the boats were so flimsy and ill-constructed that they were certain to go to pieces in the fierce rapids below, and add their owners to the long list of victims whose bodies strew the pathway from Chilkoot to the Upper Yukon.
Here, too, it became necessary for our friends to build a craft, and since it was comparatively early in the day, Jeff and Tim, each with an axe over his shoulder, went into the wood, already partly cut down, Hardman accompanying them, in order to bear his turn. The boys remained behind to guard the property, though their neighbors were so occupied with their own affairs that they gave them little heed. Frank took the opportunity to tell his companion what he had observed on the boat while crossing the lake.
"Hardman has joined our company for some evil purpose," said Roswell, "and the other man is his partner in the plot."
"But they are gone, and we may not see them again."
"One of them, at least, has an understanding with Hardman, and will keep him within hailing distance."
"We will say nothing to Jeff or Tim until to-morrow; I fear that we shall learn something to-night."
The boy was right in his supposition.
All day long the two axes swung vigorously. Both Jeff and Tim were expert woodmen, and they felled pine after pine. Hardman pleaded that he was unaccustomed to such work; but Jeff grimly told him he could never have a better chance to learn to cut down trees, and compelled him to take his turn. The work was continued until dark, which, it will be remembered, comes much later in the far North than in our latitude.
The distance between the scene of their work and the point where the outfits and goods were piled was so slight that there was really no need of the boys remaining on guard. Feeling that they were favored too much, they sauntered to the wood and asked the privilege of taking a hand in felling the trees. It was granted; but they made such sorry work, finding it almost impossible to sink the blade twice in the same spot, that they yielded the implements to those who understood the business so much better.
The snow was deep, and the camp was much the same as the one made before entering Chilkoot Pass. All were tired, and lay down after the evening meal, glad of the opportunity for a few hours' sleep.
In accordance with their agreement, the boys said nothing to either of their friends about what Frank had observed on the boat. It was understood between them that they were to feign sleep, but to keep watch of Hardman during the night as long as they could remain awake. Ordinarily it is a difficult if not impossible task for one to fight off the insidious approach of slumber, but Frank Mansley had wrought himself into such a state of anxiety that he was sure he could command his senses until well toward morning.
He and Roswell lay under the same blanket, with their backs to each other, while the others were by themselves, the interior of the tent barely permitting the arrangement. Had any one stealthily entered fifteen minutes after they had lain down, he would have declared that all were asleep, though such was not the fact.
Despite his nervousness, Frank was beginning to feel drowsy when he was startled and set on edge by a sound that penetrated the profound silence. It resembled the whistle of a bird from the timber, soft, clear, and tremulous. Almost in the same instant he heard one of the men rise stealthily from his couch. It was easy to determine, from the direction of the slight rustle, that it was Hardman.
Frank thrust his elbow into the back of his comrade as a warning for him to be alert; but there was no response. Roswell had been asleep for an hour. It was too dark to perceive anything within the tent, though all was clear outside; but the lad's senses were in that tense condition that he heard the man lift the flap of the tent and move softly over the snow on the outside. With the same silence, Frank flung back the blanket that enveloped him and stepped out on the packed snow of the interior. Pausing but a moment, he crept through the opening. In that cold region men sleep in their clothing, so he had nothing to fear from exposure.
The night was brilliantly clear, the sky studded with stars, and not a breath of air stirring. He remained a brief while in a crouching posture, while he peered in different directions. Before him stretched the lake, its shores crusted with snow and ice, with the cold water shining in the star-gleam. Still stooping low and looking intently about him, he saw something move between the tent and the water. A second glance revealed Hardman, who was standing alone and looking about him, as if he expected the approach of some person. Impatient at the delay, he repeated the signal that had aroused the attention of Frank a few minutes before.
The tremulous note had scarcely pierced the air when a shadowy form emerged from the wood and walked the short distance that took him to the waiting Hardman. The two were so far off that it was impossible to identify him; but the lad was as certain it was the man who had exchanged the words and signs with Hardman as if the noonday sun were shining.
Frank Mansley would have given anything he had to be able to steal near enough to overhear what passed between them, but that was clearly impossible. To move from his place by the tent was certain to bring instant detection. Now and then he could catch the faint murmur of their voices, but not once was he able to distinguish a syllable that was uttered.
The interview lasted but a short time. Whatever understanding was reached between the plotters must have been simple, else it would not have been effected so soon. Suddenly the stranger moved off over the snow in the direction of the wood and disappeared among the trees. At the same moment Hardman moved silently toward the tent. Frank was on the alert, and when the man entered he was lying on his couch, his blanket over him, and his chilled body against the warm form of his comrade, who recoiled slightly with a shiver, though he did not awake.
The fear of Frank Mansley had been that the two men were plotting some scheme for the robbery of Jeff, though it would seem that they would prefer to wait until he had made a strike in the gold district. What the youth had seen convinced him that the latter plan would be followed, or at least attempted, and he had hardly reached that conclusion when he fell asleep.
"You're a pretty fellow to stand guard," he remarked to his cousin the next morning, after the men had gone to the wood again.
"I didn't try to stand guard," replied Roswell with a laugh; "I was lying down all the time."
"Why didn't you keep awake?"
"Because I fell asleep, and you would have done the same if you hadn't kept awake."
"Probably I should—most people do; but what do you think of it, Roswell?"
"First tell me something to think of."
His cousin told all that he had seen the night before.
"There can't be any doubt that Hardman and one, if not all three of those fellows, are plotting mischief. It might have been one of the others who signalled to and met him. I think we ought to tell Jeff."
"We'll do so before night. It isn't likely Hardman suspects anything, and you will have no trouble in finding the chance."
"You think it best that I should tell Jeff?"
"By all means, since you will tell what you saw. Such things are best first-hand; but neither of us will say anything to Tim."
"Jeff is the leader of this expedition. Tim is so soft-hearted that likely enough he would try to convince Hardman of his wrongdoing, and so put him on his guard. Let Jeff tell him if he chooses."
"I hope he will drive Hardman out of our party; my impression of him is that he would not only rob but kill for the sake of gold."
Roswell looked grave. The same thought had been in his mind, but he disliked to give expression to it. He hoped his cousin was wrong, but could not feel certain that he was.
"Frank, make an excuse for calling Jeff here; he ought to know of this at once."
Looking toward the timber, they saw that their friend had just given up his axe to Hardman, who was swinging it a short distance from where Tim McCabe was lustily doing the same. Frank called to him, and when the old miner looked around, he beckoned for him to approach. Jeff slouched forward, wondering why the boys had summoned him from his work. He was quickly told. He listened, silent, but deeply interested, until the story was finished. Then, without any excitement, he said, "Don't let Tim know anything of this, younkers;" and, with a strange gleam in his keen gray eyes, the old man added, "I've got a Winchester and a revolver, and I keep 'em both loaded, and I've plenty of ammunition. I think I'll have use for 'em purty soon."
ON LAKE BENNET.
The men wrought steadily in felling trees, and by the close of the second day had enough timber for their raft. It would have been much preferable could they have constructed a good, stout boat; but it was not feasible, though Jeff and Tim would have built it had they possessed the necessary planking and boards. They had provided themselves with oakum, pitch, and other material; but the labor of sawing out the right kind of stuff would have taken weeks. The Irishman had learned from his late experience; as a result of which a double-decker, as it may be termed, was planned. This consisted first of a substantial framework of buoyant pine logs, securely nailed together, while upon that was reared another some two feet in height. This upper framework was intended to bear their outfits, over which were fastened rubber cloths. The Alaskan lakes are often swept by terrific tempests, the waves sometimes dashing entirely over the rafts and boats, and wetting everything that is not well protected. The upper deck serves also partially to protect the men.
The boys spent a portion of the days in fishing. There was a notable moderation in the weather, the snow and ice rapidly melting. Sitting or standing on the bank, they cast out their lines, baited with bits of meat, and met with pleasing success. Plump, luscious white-fish, grayling, and lake trout were landed in such numbers that little or no other solid food was eaten during their halt at the head of Lake Bennet.
Work was pushed so vigorously that on the third day the goods were carefully piled on the upper deck, secured in place, and with their long poles they pushed out from the shore on the voyage of twenty-eight miles to the foot of the sheet of water. They were provided with a sturdy mast reared near the middle of the craft, but they did not erect a sail, for the reason that the strong wind which was blowing was almost directly from the north, and would have checked their progress.
The unwieldy structure was pushed along the eastern side, where the poles were serviceable at all times. Each took his turn at the work, the boys with the others, and the progress, if slow, was sure.
The first twelve miles of Lake Bennet are quite shallow, with a width barely exceeding a half mile. Fifteen miles down occurs the junction with the southwest arm, and the point had hardly come into sight when Tim said:
"Now look out for trouble, for here's where we'll catch it sure."
All understood what he meant, for a wind was blowing down the arm with such fierceness that it looked as if everything would be swept off the raft. The prospect was so threatening that they ran inshore while yet at a safe distance, and waited for the gale to subside.
"Is it likely to last long?" asked Roswell, when they had secured shelter.
"That depinds how far off the end of the same may be," was the unsatisfactory reply. "I've knowed men to be held here for days, but I have hopes that we may get off in the coorse of two or three weeks."
The boys as well as Jeff could not believe that Tim was in earnest, for his lightest words were often spoken with the gravest expression of face; but their former experience taught them to be prepared for almost any whim in the weather. They recalled those dismal days and nights earlier on their journey, when they were storm-stayed, and they were depressed at the thought that something of the nature might again overtake them. When the boys proposed to put up the tent, the Irishman said:
"It is early in the day; bide awhile before going to that trouble."
This remark convinced them that he was more hopeful of a release than would be implied from his words; so they wrapped their heavy coats closer and hoped for the best. The men lit their pipes, while the boys huddled close together and had little to say. Unexpectedly there came such a lull in the gale early in the afternoon that the voyage, to the delight of all, was resumed.
Ike Hardman was in more genial spirits than at any time since he joined the company. He showed an eagerness to help, declining to yield the pole when Jeff offered to relieve him, and ventured now and then upon some jest with Roswell and Frank. Their distrust, however, was not lessened, and they were too honest to affect a liking that it was impossible to feel. They had little to say to him, and noticing the fact, he finally let them alone. Whatever misgiving Jeff may have felt was skilfully concealed, and the fellow could have felt no suspicion that his secret was suspected by any member of the company.
The wind blew so strongly that there was some misgiving; but observing that it came from the right quarter, the sail was hoisted, and as the canvas bellied outward, the raft caught the impulse and began moving through the water at a rate that sent the ripples flying over the square ends of the logs at the front. All sat down on the upper framework, with the exception of Jeff, who stood, pole in hand, at the bow, ready to guide the structure should it sheer in the wrong direction.
The conformation of the shore and a slight change of wind carried the raft farther out on the lake. Observing that it was getting slightly askew, Jeff pushed the long pole downward until his hand almost touched the surface of the water. While holding it there the other end bobbed up, having failed to touch ground.
"No use," he said, facing his friends, who were watching him, "the bottom may be half a mile below."
"That looks as if we're over our hids," said Tim; "by which token, if this steamer blows up we've got to swim for our lives, and I never larned to swim a stroke."
The boys looked at him wonderingly.
"How is it you did not learn?" asked Roswell.
"I've tried hundreds of times. I kept in the water till me toes begun to have webs between 'em, but at the first stroke me hid went down and me heels up. I can swim in that style," he added gravely, "but find the same slightly inconvanient owing to the necissity of braithing now and thin. I tried fur a long time to braithe through me toes, but niver made much of a succiss of it."
"And I learned to swim in one day," remarked Frank; "strange that you should have so much trouble."
"Undoubtedly that's because yer hid is so light, while me own brains weigh me down; it's aisy to understand that."
"If we should have any mishap, Tim," said Frank, "you must remember to hold fast to a piece of wood to help you float—a small bit is enough."
"I have a bitter plan than that."
"What is it?"
"Niver have anything to do wid the water."
"That would be certain safety if you could carry it out; but you can't help it all times—such, for instance, as the present."
"And I'm thinking we shall have plinty of the same before we raich Dawson."
"After we get to the foot of this lake, what comes next, Tim?"
"Caribou Crossing, which we pass through to Lake Tagish, which isn't quite as big as is this one. I'm thinking," he added thoughtfully, watching the rising anger of the waves, "that bime-by, whin we come near land, we'll be going that fast that we'll skim over the snow like a sled to the nixt lake."
Roswell pointed to the shore on their right, indicating a stake which rose upright from the ground and stood close to the water.
"What is the meaning of that?" he asked.
"That," replied Tim, "marks the grave of some poor chap that died on his way to the Klondike. Do ye obsarve that cairn of stones a bit beyont?"
Each saw it.
"That marks anither grave; and ye may call to mind that we obsarved more of the same along Lake Lindeman."
Such was the fact, though this was the first reference to them.
"And we shall hardly be out of sight of some of the same all the way to the Klondike; and I'm thinking," was his truthful remark, "that hundreds more will lay their bones down in these parts and niver see their loved ones again."
It was a sad thought. In a few years improved routes, railway-tracks, and houses for food and lodging will rob the Klondike region of its terrors, but until then death must exact a heavy toll from the gold-seekers crowding northward, without regard to season or the simplest laws of prudence.
Roswell was standing on the upper deck, near a corner, when he exclaimed excitedly:
"Oh, look there! Isn't it dreadful?"
He was pointing out on the lake, and, following the direction of his hand, all saw the answer to his question.
INTO BRITISH TERRITORY.
All hurried to the side of Roswell, who was pointing to a place a short distance from the raft.
It was the body of a man that they saw, floating face upward. His clothing was good, and the white features, partly hidden by a black beard, must have been pleasing in life. The feet and hands, dangling at the sides, were so low in the water that only when stirred by the waves did they show, but the face rose and fell, sometimes above, and never more than a few inches below, so that it was in view all the time.
The group silently viewed the scene. The body drifted nearer and nearer and faintly touched the edge of the raft, as the wind carried it past. Then it continued dipping, and gradually floated away in the gathering gloom.
"We ought to give it burial," said Frank to Jeff, who shook his head.
"What's the use? We might tow it ashore, dig up a foot of the frozen earth, and set a wooden cross or heap of stones to mark the grave, but the lake is as good a burial-place as it could have."
"I wonder who he could have been," said Roswell thoughtfully. "Some man, no doubt, who has come from his home in the States, thousands of miles away, and started to search for gold. He may have left wife and children behind, who will look longingly for his coming, but will never see his face again."
"The world is full of such sad things," observed Tim McCabe, impressed, like all, with the melancholy incident, and then he expressed the thought that was in the mind of each: "There be five of us: will we all see home again?"
There was no reply. Hardman had not spoken, and, as if the occasion was too oppressive, he sauntered to another part of the raft, while the rest gradually separated, each grave and saddened by what he had witnessed.
It is well for us to turn aside from the hurly-burly of life and reflect upon the solemn fact of the inevitable end that awaits us all.
But the long afternoon was drawing to a close, and the question to be considered was whether the raft should be allowed to drift or land, or they should continue forward, despite a certain degree of danger during the darkness. All were eager to improve the time, and Jeff, as the head of the expedition, said they would keep at it at least for a while longer.
"As far as I can tell," he said, "there's no danger of running into anything that'll wreck us, and we must use our sail while we can. Besides," he added, after testing it, "the water is so deep that we can't reach bottom, and there isn't much chance to help ourselves."
The wind which swept over the raft had risen almost to a gale, and brought with it a few scurrying flakes of snow. There was a perceptible fall in the temperature, and the chilly, penetrating air caused all to shiver, despite their thick clothing.
Finally night closed in, and the raft was still drifting, the wind carrying it four or five miles an hour. The night was so short that the hope was general that the straightforward progress would continue until sunrise, though Tim, who was better acquainted with the region, expressed the belief that a storm of several days' duration had set in.
Since there was nothing to do, the men and boys disposed of themselves as comfortably as possible on the lee side of the raft, beyond reach of the waves, though the spray now and then dashed against their rubber blankets which each had wrapped about his shoulders and body. After a time Jeff took his station at the bow, though an almost imperceptible change of wind caused the structure to drift partly sideways.
Roswell and Frank, who were seated back to back and in an easy attitude, had sunk into a doze, when both were startled by a bump which swung them partly over. They straightened up and looked around in the gloom, wondering what it meant.
"We've struck shore," called Jeff, who was the only one on watch. "The voyage is over for the time."
There was hurrying to and fro, as all perceived that he had spoken the truth. The corner of the raft had impinged against some ice that was piled on the beach. The gloom was too deep for any one to see more than a few rods, so that Tim, who had traversed the sheet of water before, was unable to guess where they were.
"Provided we've come over a straight coorse," said the Irishman, "we can't be far from the fut of the lake."
"We'll know in the morning, which can't be far off," replied Jeff; "we'll make ourselves as comfortable as we can until then."
Despite the wind, they managed to light several matches and examine their watches. To their surprise, the night was nearly gone, and it was decided not to attempt to put up their tent until daylight. Accordingly, they huddled together and spent the remaining hour of gloom in anything but comfort.
At the earliest streakings of light all were astir. Springing from the ground, Tim McCabe hurriedly walked a short way to the northward. The others had risen to their feet and were watching him. As the gray light rapidly overspread the scene, they saw the lake, still tossing with whitecaps, stretching to the south and west, with the shore faintly visible. On the east, north, south, and west towered the snow-capped mountains, with Mount Lotne and other peaks piercing the very clouds. The sun was still hidden, with the air damp, cold, and penetrating.
Tim McCabe was seen to stand motionless for some minutes, when he slowly turned about on his heels and attentively studied the landmarks. Then he suddenly flung his cap high in air, and, catching it as it came down, began dancing a jig with furious vigor. He acted as if he had bidden good-by to his senses.
"Whoop! hurrah!" he shouted, as he replaced his cap and hurried to his friends. "We're at the fut of the lake!"
Such was the fact. A steamer guided by pilot and compass could not have come more directly to the termination of the sheet of water. Tim had cause for rejoicing, and all congratulated themselves upon their good fortune.
"There's only one bad thing about the same," he added more seriously.
"What's that?" asked Jeff.
"We're no longer in the United States."
"That's the fact," said Hardman, "we're in British Columbia."
After all, this was a small matter. Inasmuch as the signs indicated a severe storm, it was decided to stay where they were until its chief fury was spent. The snow was shovelled aside to allow them to reach the frozen earth, into which the stakes were securely driven, and the tent set up, with the stove in position.
Beyond Chilkoot Pass plenty of timber is to be found, consisting of pine, spruce, cottonwood, and birch. Thus far not the first sign of game had been seen. The whole country, after leaving Dyea, is mountainous.
Most of the goods were left on the raft, where they were protected by the rubber sheathing and the secure manner in which they were packed and bound.
Three dreary days of waiting followed, and the hours became so monotonous at times, especially after the hard, active toil that had preceded them, that in some respects it was the most trying period of the memorable journey of our friends from Dyea to Dawson City. The men found consolation in their pipes, which frequently made the air within the tent intolerable to the youngsters. Like most smokers, however, the men never suspected the annoyance they caused, and the boys were too considerate to hint anything of the kind. When their young limbs yearned for exercise, they bolted out of doors, in the face of the driving sleet and fine snow which cut the face like bird-shot. Locking arms, they wrestled and rolled and tumbled in the snow, washed each other's faces, flung the snow about—for it was too dry to admit of being wrought into balls—and when tired out, they came back panting and with red cheeks, showing that their lungs had been filled with the life-giving ozone.
It was necessary now and then to cut fuel from the adjacent wood, and this was done by Tim and Jeff. The boys asked to be allowed to try their hand, but they were too unskilful in wielding an axe, and their request was denied. Now and then the howling gale drove the smoke back into the tent, where it was almost as bad as the odor from the pipes.
The four slept at intervals through the day and most of the long night; but now and then the men laid aside their pipes, the stove "drew," and the atmosphere within was agreeable. The only books in the company were the two pocket Bibles furnished by the mothers of Roswell and Frank. Neither boy forgot his promise to read the volume whenever suitable opportunity presented. Seeing Frank reclining on his blanket, with his little Bible in hand, Jeff asked him to read it aloud, and the boy gladly complied. It was a striking sight, as the men inclined their heads and reverently listened to the impressive words from the Book of Life. There was no jesting or badinage, for that chord which the Creator has placed in every human heart was touched, and responded with sweet music. Many an hour was thus passed—let us hope with profit to every one of the little party.
Finally the longed-for lull in the storm came, and the voyage was renewed. The trip through Caribou Crossing was made without mishap, the distance being about four miles, when they entered Marsh Lake, often known as Mud Lake, though no apparent cause exists for the title. No difficulty was experienced in making their way for the twenty-four miles of its length, at the end of which they debouched into Lynx River, where twenty-seven more miles were passed without incident or trouble worth recording.
AT WHITE HORSE RAPIDS.
"We're doing well," observed Tim McCabe, when the raft with its load and party of gold-seekers reached the end of Lynx River, "but be the same token, we're drawing nigh the worst part of the voyage, and we'll be lucky if we git through the same without mishap."
"What have we ahead?" asked Jeff.
"Miles Canon; it's a little more than half a mile long, and if this raft isn't as strong as it should be it'll be torn to pieces."
Fortunately Jeff had given attention from the first to the stability of the structure, upon which everything depended. He was continually examining it from stem to stern, and where there was a suspicion of the necessity, he drove nails and strengthened the craft in every way possible.
The sail was used whenever possible; but since they were really among the network of lakes which form the headwaters of the Yukon, the current carried them steadily toward their destination, and there were hours when they scarcely lifted their hands except to keep the raft in proper position by means of the poles. The weather grew steadily milder, for summer was approaching. The snow and ice rapidly melted, and now and then, when the sun shone, the thick clothing felt uncomfortable during the middle of the day. Our friends were in advance of the great multitude that were pushing toward the Klondike from the south, from Canada and to St. Michael's, whence they would start on the two-thousand-mile climb of the Yukon, as soon as it shook off its icy bounds.
It was impossible that the party should not view with solicitude their entrance into Miles Canon, though Tim assured his friends that much more dangerous rapids would remain to be passed. The canon is five-eighths of a mile long, with an angry and swift current. Although the raft was tossed about like a cockleshell, it went through without injury, and none of the goods were displaced or harmed.
Following this came the severest kind of work. For three miles it seemed as if the river could be no worse, and the raft must be wrenched asunder. The current was not only very swift, but the channel was filled with rocks. Each man grasped one of the strong poles with which the craft was provided, and wrought with might and main to steer clear of the treacherous masses of stone which thrust up their heads everywhere. There were many narrow escapes, and despite the utmost they could do, the raft struck repeatedly. Sometimes it was a bump and sheer to one side so suddenly that the party were almost knocked off their feet. Once, owing to unintentional contrary work the raft banged against the head of a rock and stood still. While the men were desperately plying their poles the current slewed the craft around, and the voyage was resumed.
"Look out!" shouted Jeff; "there's another rock right ahead!"
Unfortunately it was just below the surface, and there were so many ripples and eddies in the current that neither Tim nor Hardman was sure of its exact location, but taking their cue from the leader, they pushed with all their strength to clear the obstruction.
They failed, and the flinty head swept directly under the logs and gouged its course for the entire length of the craft. All felt the jar, and those who could look beneath the upper deck saw the lower timbers rise from the impact, which was so severe that when the raft at last swung free it was barely moving, but, like a wounded horse, it shook itself clear, and the next moment was plunging forward as impetuously as ever. The fears of the party were intensified by sight of wreckage along the banks, proving that more than one of their predecessors had come to grief in trying to make the passage.
While all were on edge with the danger, however, they found themselves at the end of the perilous passage and floating in comparatively smooth water again. Men and boys drew sighs of relief, the former mopping their perspiring brows and looking their mutual congratulations.
"The fun is only just begun," said Tim McCabe; "we had matters purty lively fur a time, but they'll soon be a good deal livelier."
"What is next due?" asked Frank.
"I belave," said Tim, "that some folks spake of death as riding on a pale horse, don't they?"
"That must be the raison they call the nixt plisure thramp White Horse Canon, or White Horse Rapids."
"Where are they?"
"But a little way ahid; many men have been drowned in thrying to sail through the same; and him as doesn't know how to swim in a whirlpool hasn't ony business to thry it."