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´╗┐Title: The Trail of a Sourdough - Life in Alaska
Author: Sullivan, May Kellogg
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Trail of a Sourdough - Life in Alaska" ***

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produced from images generously made available by the
Library of Congress)



[Illustration: _The heart of Alaska in winter_]



  THE TRAIL OF A
  SOURDOUGH

  _Life in Alaska_

  BY

  MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN

  _Author of "A Woman Who Went to Alaska"_

  [Illustration: ARTI et VERITATI]

  RICHARD G. BADGER
  THE GORHAM PRESS
  BOSTON



  Copyright 1910 by Richard G. Badger

  All Rights Reserved


  THE GORHAM PRESS, BOSTON, U. S. A.



SOURDOUGH DEFINED


While the word _Sourdough_ (sour dough) is perfectly familiar to those
in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast it may not be amiss to give a
brief explanation to our Eastern readers.

A _Sourdough_ is a miner who has spent one winter in Alaska and "has
seen the ice go out." Mrs. Sullivan is a _Sourdough_ herself. In all she
has made seven trips to Alaska extending over a period of ten years.

When miners are beyond the pale of civilization, with a supply of flour
but no baking powder, yeast or potatoes, they cut from each batch of
bread dough a little piece, to be kept until it turns sour, and then
used as leaven for the next baking.

It is through this custom that the miners themselves came to be called
sourdoughs.



PREFACE


This little book is my second Brain-child. The first, entitled "A Woman
Who Went to Alaska," has been so cordially received by the reading
public that I have been induced to send another in its footsteps. It is
with great pleasure and perfect confidence that I do this.

To my Alaskan readers it is unnecessary to state that these little tales
are deduced from every day life, as they are easily recognizable. To
those not yet favored by a residence in this Northland I would say that
I have written each tale with a well defined purpose. With truthfulness
could each one have been more vividly, yes startlingly, told; but I have
no wish to unduly disturb my readers. It has been my aim, however, to
picture not only character, but also the vast and wonderful gold
producing region, so plainly that even the young may better know Alaska,
and learn somewhat from glimpses of the trials, privations and successes
of its early pioneers.

To these last Trail-blazers no "_Chee-chako_" can ever do justice. Their
courage, bravery, patience under difficulties, and stoicism under severe
trial can never be properly appreciated except by their fellow
sufferers.

My readers will find in the book much of the folklore and a touch of the
mysticism so common to all people of the northland.

Counting myself one of the least among them I have been a witness to
their struggles and triumphs, and for this reason I do most heartily
dedicate this little book to the memory of each horny-handed pack-laden
miner "musher" who has ever lifted a finger to assist, encourage, or
strengthen the author of The Trail of a Sourdough.

The name of these helpers is Legion. That their cabins may be warm and
roomy, winter dumps high and numerous, sluice boxes filled with nuggets,
and lives long and happy is the earnest wish of

  MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

  _I The Miner's Reasons_                                             11

  _II Under the Tundra_                                               22

  _III The Hidden Ledge_                                              44

  _IV A New Klondyke_                                                 81

  _V Estella the Eskimo_                                             106

  _VI Why Midas Failed_                                              132

  _VII The Old Stone House_                                          172

  _VIII A Miner's Own Story_                                         192

  _IX Eyllen's Water Witch_                                          214



_ILLUSTRATIONS_


                                                                  _Page._

  _The Heart of Alaska in Winter_                          _frontispiece_

  _A Huskie_                                                          21

  _Dressed in his fresh miner's rig_                                  25

  _A welcome shelter_                                                 43

  _The scene on shore was a repetition of
  that on the neighboring beach at
  Skagway_                                                            51

  _A Messenger of cheer_                                              80

  _Panning out_                                                      105

  _Upon his mother's back, beneath her
  parkie_                                                            115

  _The little one clinging tightly to her hand
  she approached the door_                                           121

  _The pretty woman was a full-blooded
  Eskimo_       _to face page_                                       138

  _Poling up the river_                                              171

  _When Old Tillie was Young_                                        181

  _She scanned the horizon_       _to face page_                     216

  _"Holy Mother Mary! I believe it's gold"_                          223

  _Father Peter_                                                     229

  _The Lord of the Northland_                                        258

_The cover design is a picture of Cape Nome, Alaska._



The Trail of a Sourdough



CHAPTER I

THE MINER'S REASONS


A furious blizzard was raging. Six or eight miners of various ages were
huddled around the stove in a little road-house where they were likely
to remain storm-bound for several days.

"Chuck some more wood into that bloomin' fire and fill up my pipe if you
fellers want a yarn from me," said one, when they had besieged him for a
story with which to pass the time.

"You wanted to know yesterday when I staked that claim for the woman,
who and where she is, also my reasons for stakin' it; and I promised to
tell you when I got the chance. One or two of you grumbled considerable
at my stakin' for a person away in the States, and maybe when I have
finished my story you won't feel any different; but I can't help it, and
it is none of your ---- business. The deed is done, and well done, and
Rosa Nell (that ain't her name, as you can see by the initial stake if
you want to dig it out from under the snow) is the half owner today of
one of the handsomest quartz ledges on the whole Seward Peninsula. Walls
of grey slate and trachyte, and the yellow stuff is good and plenty.
Zounds, boys! I wish I had a bumper," and the speaker threw his furry
cap to the ceiling.

"Never mind the bumper, pard, you know it's the last of March when no
live mining camp in this country has a thing but empty bottles to bump
with. Behold the size of the glass dump outside yonder if you don't
believe me", remarked the keeper of the place in vindication of his
house; but with sore regret in his voice.

"The story, the story! We want the story", sang out one and another by
the stove, "the fire is just a whoopin' and 'twill soon be goin' out".

"Well, then, here goes," said the miner addressed. "It happened two
years ago. I sold one of my Nome claims for fifteen hundred dollars with
slight prospecting, (like a blasted fool that I was) and after blowin'
in a good third or more of the money concluded to buy a thousand dollar
outfit and go to Norton Sound. It was late in October; the storms came
on, and the upshot of it was that we were ship-wrecked off the coast and
were finally put in at a small camp nearly a hundred miles from where we
wanted to winter. I had taken two men with me named Long and Hartley,
and though we saved, by hard fightin' in one way and another, the most
of our supplies, we were without shelter, except a couple of tents, with
an Arctic winter--our first in this country, upon us.

"Gee-Whilikins! Boys, it makes my black hair white to think of it! What
we suffered for two months in those tents was awful; for the camp was
full and there was not a vacant cabin anywhere. If there had been, you
know we were absolutely without money to buy or build with. How I cursed
myself for havin' foolishly spent hundreds of dollars on 'box rustlers'
at the Casino,--but that is another story, boys, so we'll pass it.

"In our new camp we had many Eskimos and all kinds of people. Among
others there was a little blue-eyed woman perhaps thirty years of age;
maybe more--maybe less. She was also evidently not where she had
intended to be, just like ourselves, but was a teacher, left over from
some stranded expedition, probably. Anyhow, there she was, and there we
were. We a-livin' in the tents, and the thermometer forty degrees below
zero. The teacher was stayin' with some of the Missionary folks only a
quarter of a mile away, and she was all right.

"In December the dogs of the camp began to go mad. Every few days one or
two had to be killed. Some men, you know, don't water their dogs once in
six weeks, if at all, and as everything is froze hard in winter, the
poor brutes go mad, exactly as in summer in the States, from heat.

"One night, Long and I smoked in the little road-house close by, but
Hartley went to his bunk in the tent and turned in. He had not slept,
but lay with closed eyes, he said, tryin' hard to get warm under his fur
robe; when the tent flap was brushed aside, and in rushed a mad dog,
snapping and foaming. At the first movement Hartley supposed we had
returned to go to bed, but was instantly undeceived as the crazy brute
made directly for him.

"Hartley threw out his hands and leaped from his bunk, seizing an axe
that lay upon the floor. With that he made for the dog, and finally
drove him from the tent; but only after he had been badly bitten in
several places.

"The first we knew he rushed in, half dressed, where we were. He was
pale with fright, covered with blood, and his eyes seemed starting from
their sockets.

"Whiskey, for God's sake!' he pleaded, panting for breath. 'Hydrophobia,
and so far from home. This is hard lines, ain't it, boys?' between
gulps, the blood dripping from the hand that tremblingly held the glass.

"With that he broke down utterly and cried like a baby. We washed and
dressed his wounds as best we could, and put him to bed in the
road-house as it was then past midnight, while three of the boys rigged
themselves in their furs and hunted the blasted brute that had done the
mischief. They found him gnashing his teeth alongside an outhouse, and a
good dose of cold pills settled him forever.

"Next mornin' we sent a man to the little teacher to ask for medicine
for Hartley, and immediately she and another woman came over. They
brought lint bandages, carbolic acid, and other things and bathed the
wounds; but, best of all, they cheered up the poor fellow by telling him
that he need have no fear of hydrophobia, as the bite of the Eskimo dogs
in winter does not have the same effect that the bite of other dogs has
in hot weather. By the repeated visits and ministrations of the women,
poor Hartley, in a few weeks, recovered.

"However, the little teacher was not satisfied. She knew we must suffer
terribly in our tents, and wanted us to make other arrangements. At last
she thought of a plan for us: An old log school-house, long since
deserted for the new one built near by, was unused except as a
store-room. This building had been originally made warm and tight by
moss chinking, a heavy door, and closely caulked windows. Some of the
latter were now broken, and the snow sifted in upon the dirt floor, but
these things could be remedied.

"The little woman had planned it all before we knew it. She had asked
and gained consent of the owners before she opened her story up to us.
The baggage then in the cabin was to be piled in one corner, the
windows were to be mended as well as possible along with the chimney in
the middle of the roof; and for a trifling consideration each month we
were to have the use of the building. It was a god-send to three men
only partly sheltered by canvas in January, latitude sixty-five; and if
you don't believe me, boys, just try tents yourselves next winter, and
find out.

"Did we spend the remainder of the winter in that old school-house? You
bet we did. After puttin' considerable time on the old chimney, makin'
some new stove-pipe and a patent damper of our own from coal-oil cans,
and usin' the sides of some of the same in place of glass in the
windows, we did get fixed some sort of comfortable. Anyhow, we had a
house over our heads that could not blow down in a blizzard, and a solid
door which kept out mad dogs at night. To be sure, when the spring rains
came, the roof of turf, upon which the grass began to grow, leaked in
several places; but we spread our canvas tent over it, weighted it down
with stones at the corners, and got along finely.

"The gist of my story is still to come. One day along in February the
little woman sent for me. She wanted to see me very particular, the
messenger said. When I saw her a few minutes later her eyes were shinin'
like stars in the night time. She wanted me to go with another man to
stake a creek about fifteen miles to the north of us. She had heard from
some source that the creek was good.

"Would I go the next day if she furnished the outfit? Of course I said,
yes, and our plans were hastily laid for the next day. We had some
trouble to get good dogs for the trip, and before our preparations were
completed the whole camp was onto our racket and wanted to go along.

"Now, you know on such occasions, above all others, one does not want
the whole country at one's heels, so we tried our best to shake them. We
postponed our trip until the second day; the women in the meantime
gettin' our grub cooked. We then took the bells off our dog collars and
packed our sleds behind closed doors; but it was no go. In spite of all
our precautions three dog-teams followed our trail as we slipped
stealthily out of camp at midnight. The moon shone brightly and the
snow was not too deep. The boys kept at a respectful distance behind us,
and we mushed along between low hills mostly up the streams on the ice.

"To make my story shorter, we staked what we wanted of the creek, and
let the other fellows in on what was left. After that, without sleeping,
but with a hasty meal, we put back home again as fast as our dogs would
travel.

"Three months later, when the snow was about gone, and we thought the
time ripe for prospectin', I took my two men and an outfit and gave that
blamed old creek a fair trial. We hustled and rustled to beat the band.
We shovelled, panned, built dams, and worked like beavers in water above
our knees. We moved our tents further up on the bank at midnight at the
risin' of the creek durin' a hard rain--but, egad! after two weeks of
that sort of thing, no gold could we find. Not a color! We cursed and
tore around something fierce among the Queen's English, but it did not
help matters a particle.

"There was no gold there.

"When we reported to the little woman she would not believe a word of
it. She did not think we had tried to find it. Perhaps we had not gone
deep enough. We should have waited until midsummer when we could have
done better work; and a lot of other things of like description. When I
insisted that we had done the very best we possibly could, and that
there was positively no gold there, she still persisted in sayin' she
wanted that bunch of claims recorded. In vain I told her it was no use;
the creek was no good, and to record the claims was a waste of money.

"While I talked, the little woman stood lookin' in an absent-minded way
before her. When I had finished she turned toward me with considerable
spirit, and almost with anger said, the tears comin' into her eyes
meanwhile, 'I will never again ask you to stake a claim for me, so
there! and she ran into the next room and shut the door.

"The claims were never recorded.

"Well, boys, she kept her word, and I wish she hadn't. I would be
willin' to let her pick out creeks for me forever, for, say, let me tell
you, fellows," dropping his voice and taking the pipe from between his
teeth he knocked its ashes out upon the cold hearth, "that creek bed was
solid stream tin; pure cassiterite, the best on the Seward Peninsula,
and a whole fortune for anyone; but we did not know it.

"Next time a woman like that one tells me to do any recordin' of claims
I'll do it, you bet; for somehow, I can't explain it, but there are
others besides Eugene Field's kids who are good at 'seein' things at
night,' and a woman can sometimes feel things that we fellows can't see
in broad daylight.

"Now you have my reasons for stakin' for her yesterday. If any of you
fellows want to kick at what I have done, you can just take it out in
kickin'--yourselves. Our new ledge is a jim-dandy; and seem' as I
cheated the woman out of her cassiterite, I'm bound to make it good in
yellow gold.

"But I'm goin' to turn in now, boys, and I'll listen to you to-morrow.
Good night."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER II

UNDER THE TUNDRA


In a little three-room cabin in Nome, a middle-aged woman, wearing
glasses, knitted a gray woollen sock for her boy, as she called him.

"Yes", she said musingly, "my husband and I came here during the rush of
1900. My son, Leroy, had come the year before to pave the way for us, as
he called it, and this he tried his best to do. He staked some gold
claims and a town lot, and put up a one-room cabin, building on to the
latter after we arrived. His idea was to get his father and me away from
the farm (which he hated) and start us in mining in Alaska, he being
exceedingly enthusiastic on this subject and positive that we would
enjoy it as well as he did."

At the conclusion of this introduction to the story the woman laid down
her knitting and pushed her glasses up to the top of her head. Then with
an amused expression about the corners of her mouth, she said:

"The story of all the actual mining that Pa Morrison and I ever did is
not a long one, but it is one he would much rather I did not often
relate. However, as you wish to hear it, and he is too busy at his
book-keeping in the next room to know what is going on, I will tell you
how we began mining in Alaska.

"We had landed safely upon the beach with all our necessary belongings,
as well as feather-beds and pillows, also fruit-cake and other good
things for Christmas. My son had met us with open arms and shown us with
much pleasure to his tiny cabin on a nearby street. To this place all
our boxes were in due time hauled by dog-team, and a big tent set up
temporarily alongside the cabin.

"While unpacking articles to be immediately used we had not forgotten
our mining tools, gold pan, picks and shovels, as well as rubber boots,
and all were spread out in fine array in the sunshine beside the tent.

"Much of our clothing had been especially selected with a view to our
new occupation, and there were dozens of new blue and brown denim
jumpers and overalls, bandana handkerchiefs, woollen socks and shirts
for Pa, as well as short, warm dresses and stout aprons for me.

"To enumerate all would take too long. Enough to say that in our anxiety
to get to work at the real object of our coming, we rushed the
adjustment of affairs in our camp through with all speed, and two days
after landing at Nome, Pa and I started out to do some mining on our own
hook upon our first gold claim."

Here the woman paused to take breath, and picking up her knitting to
inspect it for a moment, seemed somewhat reluctant to proceed.

"Was the claim far from town?" some one asked, in order to bring her
back to her narrative, and at the same time not to appear too anxious.

"Oh, no," she said, brightening considerably. "Leroy is always such a
good and thoughtful fellow, and he had selected this cabin for us near
the west end of town, close to the cemetery, on the tundra. It was only
a short walk for us, he said, and the ground must, undoubtedly, be rich,
as much gold had been taken out of the beach-diggings next the tundra
where our claim was located.

[Illustration: "_Dressed in his fresh miner's rig_"]

"It was reported that the beach contained from one to three pay streaks
before a depth of three feet was reached; that nuggets worth as much
as twenty dollars were found in the beach-diggings, and the tundra was
good pay dirt from the 'grass roots down'.

"Well, my husband and I started for the claim, as I said--we started
Snake River bridge, Pa paying his ten cents toll, while I went across
free as was the custom that summer, and we trudged down the road on the
sandspit to the cemetery. Dressed in his fresh miner's rig, (that was an
accidental pun) taken so lately from our big packing boxes, Pa marched
with all the dignity a man of his height and thinness can assume, with a
gold pan under one arm, and a shiny pick and shovel upon his shoulder. I
followed close behind."

At this stage of the story Mrs. Morrison cast a quick glance at the door
of the adjoining room where her husband was writing. Then opening a
table drawer close at hand, she took out two kodak views and handed them
to her listeners.

"He must not know where I keep these pictures or he would burn them as
sure as fate; I have dubbed them 'before and after'."

They examined the views she handed them. A stout, resolute looking
woman with a pleased expectant countenance, short dress, huge basket on
right arm. The man beside her holding his broad brimmed miner's hat in
his hands, his unused gold pan, pick and shovel, at his feet. For a
background a tent, a bit of the river, and bridge.

In the "After" picture the scene was changed. Dejection was depicted on
both faces. Their clothing was soiled and their implements had seen
usage, but were now flung upon the ground in disorder.

"A friend took these snap-shots of us," she explained, returning the
photos to their places, "and Leroy likes to preserve them 'just for fun'
he says.

"To go back to my story, we made our way along as best we could by
inquiring (for Leroy had been obliged to go to the creeks to attend to
some work in progress; so could not go with us; in fact, he did not know
of our intention of sallying out upon the tundra), and finally arrived
at the cemetery. We spent little time in looking at the few rude
head-boards and scattered mounds of those quiet sleepers by the sea, but
bestowed more attention upon the beach-miners on our left. Here, at the
edge of the water, and even standing in the surf, were many men at work,
beach-mining with Long-Toms' or other contrivances, and all wore
high-topped rubber boots.

"Looking about for the claim in which we were so much interested, we
finally found the corner stakes, and the St. Charles cream can in which
the location notice had been placed by Leroy a few months before.

"Then Pa wanted me to read the paper to him, which I did, after seating
myself on a big hummock of tundra and properly adjusting my spectacles.

"The paper ran thus: 'We, the undersigned citizens of the United States,
have discovered placer gold in the ground hereinafter described, and
hereby claim for placer-mining purposes twenty acres on the tundra west
of Nome and 100 feet north of the cemetery.' Then followed the distance
between stakes, the name of the witness, our own names, and that of
Leroy as our agent, the date of the location, etc.

"By this time Mr. Morrison was hungry. So after replacing the location
notice on the initial stake under the old cream can, just as we found
it, we lunched heartily on ham sandwiches, doughnuts, pie and cheese. A
quart bottle of coffee had added much to the weight of the basket on the
way.

"We now turned our attention to the tundra. Of what was it composed? How
deep was it? Was it easily handled? Would it burn? Was it wet? And how
large an extent of country, or rather territory, did it cover. These
were only a few of the questions that Pa Morrison now flung at me in
quick succession, leaning as he did meanwhile on the handle of the
shovel.

"I grew impatient.

"'I really cannot answer your questions, Pa Morrison, and you know it;
but as to the extent of the tundra I think I can safely say that it
covers the whole of this gold claim and a good deal more besides, for I
can see as far as the hills yonder without my glasses that it all looks
alike,' and I tugged with might and main at some small trailing vines
imbedded in the deep mosses.

"'As to the depth of this tundra you have the shovel in your hands and
can soon investigate if you see fit to do so', I continued as Pa still
stood looking dubiously about him without so much as making a jab with
his shovel.

"'Then there is the composition of this tundra to be studied. If I
understood the flora of Alaska I would give you the desired information
quick, but I don't, and I am too old to begin to study it now. I
believe, however, that I can tell a gold nugget when I see it, and if
you will bestir yourself and turn up a few, I will agree to analyze them
to your heart's content,' giving him what was meant to be a conciliatory
smile which was entirely lost because he never looked my way.

"With that he set to work. Down into the deep moss and tangled vines of
the tundra he plunged that new and shining shovel with force enough to
jar the teeth out of his head. This was kept up for fully ten minutes,
while I rummaged around among the hummocks for the lovely many colored
mosses, and mentally tried to count the different kinds of tiny plants,
numbers of which were blossoming in artistic colors and profusion under
our feet.

"'Mary.'

"'Yes, Pa.'

"'Do you think a hole four feet square instead of six would be big
enough?'

"'O, yes, certainly. Anything, if it is only one foot square,' said I,
sarcastically, for I had a consuming anxiety to get down to those
nuggets which lay 'just at the grass roots' and Pa was so awfully slow.

"We had talked this matter over the day before, and had decided upon a
hole six feet square.

"'If I were in your place, Mary, I wouldn't be too smart,' said he
testily, and then rested again upon the shovel handle. His face was
flushed and heated. He breathed hard. Dead silence for a long minute.

"'I wish I'd brought the axe,' said he.

"'What for?'

"'To cut these beastly vines and roots with.'

"'Dear me! Shall I go home and fetch it?'

"'No, you needn't', crossly. 'By the time you got here with it you would
have to go right back to get supper. It is half past one o'clock now,
and I have been at work an hour.'

"'But you were going to work all day, weren't you?' He had scarcely made
an impression on that tundra, and not a single nugget had we seen.

"With that he planted a few more good, hard jabs into the thicket of
moss, vines and leaves, trying to get the hole four feet square anyway,
after my rather uncalled for taunt about its size.

"In the meanwhile I was not wasting my time. I was using the pick upon a
cluster of bunch grass hummocks, wishing to fill the gold pan with dirt
from underneath that I might wash it out and see if it contained
'colors'.

"Somehow I felt more subdued like, perhaps because I was growing tired;
but Pa seemed to be affected differently. I could hear him grumbling to
himself, and that was a bad sign. By and by his shovel struck something
hard. He uttered an oath.

"'Pa Morrison!' I exclaimed, 'Ain't you ashamed of yourself? To think of
your swearing like that. It's awful! Give me that shovel instantly.'

"'I won't!'

"'Give me that shovel, I say,' for we were both church members and had
been for many years, and I was inexpressibly shocked at his profanity,
and wished to remove the cause.

"'Shut your head, Mary Morrison! Whose doing this mining, will you tell
me?'

"'O, of course you are, but then I wanted to help you if I could,'
trying to speak quietly and coming close enough to take the instrument
of dispute from his hand if he would let me.

"No reply.

"'What did you strike, Pa, that made the shovel ring just now?'

"'Shovel!--ring!--It was ice! bloomin', blasted, infernal ice, I tell
you,' he shouted in a rage, standing in black muck almost to his knees,
with the same material bespattered over him from head to foot. Indeed
his red and perspiring face showed a couple of great, black smirches
with which he had unknowingly beautified himself.

"He was fairly sizzling with wrath. 'Git down here yourself, and go to
work, and see how you like it,' he shouted excitedly, forgetting his
English and everything but that we had encountered an astonishingly hard
proposition, and it had gotten the best of us. Like an old clock he was
wound up and could not stop.

"'No gold, no nuggets, no grass roots even; nothing but muck and ice!'
and another mouthful of big, strong words gurgled from that man's lips
like water from an uncorked jug.

"'Don't, Mr. Morrison, don't do that,' said I, in a voice cold as the
ice in that four foot hole, 'you may be heard by some one who will
report you to the church trustees, and then you will be expelled. At
your age it would be a positive disgrace.'

"'Shut your mouth, I tell you,' he yelled, 'I ain't no baby! I know what
I'm doing, and I know what I want to do, but it ain't mining on this
confounded tundra!'

"At this I clapped my hands over my ears to shut out such language, but
he kept on just the same.

"'Did we lease our farm for a whole year with all the machinery and
stock, pack up our household furniture and come three thousand miles
over this water like the blooming old idiots we are, to dig in a
muckhole full of ice? Did we tell our banker that he should have the
very first gold we took out of the ground to pay the two hundred dollar
mortgage on our town lots? Does this look much like lifting mortgages
from anything?'

"As I made no reply he insisted, 'Does it, I say?'

"'No, Pa Morrison, it doesn't,' I admitted, 'but wait a minute and let
me talk.'

"'Well, ain't you talking now?' he rejoined irritably.

"Without noticing his exasperating words or tone I said calmly:

"'I remember hearing Leroy say when we first arrived that the tundra is
a hard and peculiar proposition. Many have failed at mining it, but to
those who go to work at it in the right way, at the proper time it will
prove a bonanza. Now, probably you and I have not gone at it properly.'

"A surly silence ensued, during which Pa worked slowly, with anything
but a good grace. Leroy was right. The tundra was a hard and peculiar
proposition. Nothing like it had we ever seen before. For miles on three
sides of us it spread itself like a carpet of green, dotted often with
tiny pools of clear water, shining like glass in the June sunshine.
Miles away to the northward rolled the smooth-topped hills, only one of
them bearing a small, rocky crest; while further away, and forming a
background to these, lay the snow-tipped Sawtooth."

To the south of us and close at hand spread the wonderful waters upon
whose broad and beautiful bosom we had so lately sailed, and whose
gently sweeping surf was today making sweet music among the sands and
pebbles on the beach.

"Many ships lay at anchor beyond. However, it was neither the scenery,
nor the water, nor the ships that we were now called upon to consider;
but a layer of ice, the depth of which we did not know, lying between us
and the much desired golden nuggets. The ground lay level and open to
the sun, with nothing to prevent its thawing except this peculiar
blanket of tundra mosses, vines, and plants, which formed an insulator
as perfect as if made to order. It was now the middle of June. There was
no doubt but that the ice would remain as it was all summer.

"Giant powder might possibly be used, but it was dangerous and
expensive. I would never allow Father to handle the stuff. Better let it
all go forever. Probably Pa was right about our being foolish to come
here. We could go home again as many people were doing. There lay the
steamers making preparations to sail; but how our friends at home would
laugh at us!

"On the other hand was it not too soon to pronounce on this tundra, and
really no fair trial of the ground or mining? Then, too, our son
probably had his own plans for us which must be more intelligent ones,
for had he not had some experience and a year's residence in this place?

"There were the creek claims, besides. They must surely be very
different and easier to work.

"Reasoning thus I had wandered away a short distance by myself in order
to let Pa's temper cool, and had forgotten the panning I had started
out to do.

"I now returned. Taking up the gold pan I filled it with dirt and muck
from the four foot hole taken directly above the objectionable ice, and
though I found its weight almost more than I could carry, and Pa did not
offer to help me in the least, I carried it to a small pool of water at
no great distance and began to pan it.

"How heavy it was to be sure. There might be gold in it yet. I would see
presently. I had watched men panning on the beach that morning and I
believed I could do it as it appeared very easy.

"Immersing the pan in the water, after pinning my skirts carefully
higher, I began the rotary motion so necessary to separate the gold from
the sand and dirt. A moment of this employment and I was breathing
heavily and felt very warm. I put the pan down and flung off my
sun-bonnet, pulling my sleeves a notch higher before continuing. Again
the rotary movement with various dips of the edge of the big pan to let
the waste material pass away. Small pebbles showed themselves and had to
be picked out, the heavier material sinking in the natural order of
things, to the bottom.

"I was watching the outcome with great interest, though panting for
breath and covered with perspiration. Suddenly the soft earth under my
right foot gave way, and I found myself, gold pan and all, in the mud
and water up to my knees.

"I thought of Pa and his recent profanity, but I shut my teeth
resolutely together, wringing out the edges of my petticoats and pulling
my rubber boot tops still higher.

"Fishing for the gold pan I brought it to light. Of course its contents
were lost, my hands and clothes were muddied and my efforts wasted; but
I would not give it up yet.

"Another pan of the same material was brought and a second trial was
made, with success this time as the pan was not filled so full.

"Finally, after shaking, twisting, dipping, picking out pebbles, washing
off sand, and resting a moment at intervals, it was finished.

"There was gold in the pan.

"A few small 'colors', bright and shining as if made so by much scouring
of beach sand, appeared in the bottom of the gold pan to gladden my
longing eyes, and I hastened to show them to Pa Morrison, whose head and
shoulders were still visible in that four foot hole.

"'Humph!' said he, in much disgust, as I exhibited the result of my
labors. 'Is that all?'

"'Why, yes.'

"'And no nuggets?'

"'No nuggets.'

"At that he flung the pick he had been using in the ice upon the ground.

"'I'm going home', he said shortly.

"Now I hardly knew whether he intended to say he was going to the United
States, or to the little cabin and tent on Front Street, but rather than
run the risk of exploding another bomb of wrath like the last one by
asking a question, I kept quiet and made preparations to go back to our
tent.

"On the beach we washed our hands and smoothed our clothing as best we
could; but the frown which had lodged on Pa's forehead remained.

"That evening when Leroy had returned from his work and we had eaten our
eight o'clock supper with the sun still shining very brightly upon the
tent, the boy lighted his pipe and asked for the story of the day's
doings.

"I then gave it from the beginning. When I reached Pa's discovery of the
ice in the prospect hole on the tundra, Leroy laughed heartily. Then
seeing the aggrieved look on his father's face, and, I suppose, a
bothered one on my own, he became more serious, and drawing closer, took
my hand in both of his.

"'I never intended you to begin mining in that way, Mother,' he said,
simply, in a low voice. 'I want you here to help me keep house, to mend
my clothes, to bake bread and fry griddle cakes, and do the many little
things for Father and me that only you can do. In this way I can keep my
health and give all my time to my mining.'

"'I want you, Father,' he continued, laying his hand affectionately on
his pa's knee, 'to do my book-keeping, reckoning the time and wages of
my men at work on the claims. Accounts of assessment work on twenty
claims, besides new prospecting in different localities, will give you
something to do after cutting the kindling for Mother; and neither of
you need feel that you are useless nor idle. Part of these gold claims
are yours, and in your own names, and you can both make short 'mushing'
trips of inspection over the country when you like; though the new
railroad up Anvil will be finished in a few weeks, and then you can
ride. Under no consideration must either of you think for one moment of
buying steamer tickets back to the States inside of a year. At the end
of that time we will be taking out so much gold that you will not wish
to leave, I assure you. I am almost thirty years old now, Mother, and
you and Father are all I have,' he said softly, pressing my hand.

"Then I kissed his forehead and promised to stay, and I have never been
sorry. Father said he would try it a year, and then see about staying
longer, and here we are still in Nome after four years without once
going 'outside'.

"And you like it here?" they asked.

"Very much indeed, because our ground is turning out finely, and Leroy
is so good to us.

"About that tundra claim, however, nothing was ever done. Pa could never
be induced to step his foot upon it again, and being so determined in
the matter, we just let it drop.

"There it is yet, St. Charles cream can, stakes, and all; but the four
foot hole, with its icy foundations, is nowhere to be seen, having been
long ago levelled by wind and weather."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER III

THE HIDDEN LEDGE


The summer of 1897 was a memorable one in the great Northwest. It was
then that the first authentic news of the immense richness of the
Klondyke region became public. Less than a dozen persons had wintered on
Bonanza and Eldorado, the famous gold creeks discovered by Carmack in
September, 1896, and these reported the marvelously rich "strikes."
Certain weighty moose-hide sacks they carried, confirmed their stories.

Two weeks later the docks of the principal cities on the sunset coast
presented a changed appearance. All was hurry and flurry. Ships being
loaded to the deck rails were moored by their great hawsers alongside
docks groaning under immense freight deposited upon them. The rush and
clatter of drays and wagons united in one deep, deafening roar. These
huge masses of freight and baggage presented the same general
appearance. Everything with which to begin mining life in a new and
barren country was there. Dog sleds and fur robes, heavy army sacks
crammed to their drawstrings with Mackinaw and rubber clothing, boots
and shoes, boats, tents, dogs and horses, piles of lumber for boat
building, coils of rope, dog harness and bales of hay, while fat yellow
coated hams bulged in heaps both gay and greasy in the summer sun as
though further frying were unnecessary.

There were mining tools heaped in corners or against the walls of
warehouses, being stacked too high to safely keep their places if
jostled ever so lightly. New and clean gold pans, one inside another,
towered roofward among outfits of aspiring tradespeople of the
prospective camps in the Klondyke; these same rich men in embryo being
also the proprietors of the closely piled sacks of flour, meal and
beans, along with hundreds of cases of butter, eggs and cream, _ad
infinitum_.

Among the hurrying, excited men preparing for departure an undesirably
large number were those anxiously caring for bottle-filled cases and
black barrels, cumbrous and heavy enough to have been already crammed
with Klondyke gold; but in reality being full to the brim of that which
(their owners prognosticated) would relieve them of using pick and
shovel, and bring them without effort after their arrival in the new
diggings all the shining gold they could want to handle. It concerned
them little that they would give in exchange for all this wealth only
that which would deplete the pockets, befuddle the brains and steal the
wits of the deluded purchasers, making them in every case less able to
cope with adverse conditions so desperate in this new, untried, and
remote region.

These men walked, well dressed and pompous, among their goods and
chattels on the great and busy wharves in the hot sunshine, mopping
their perspiring brows and fat cheeks, which latter, like those of well
kept porkers, adorned their rubicund faces. Across their broad
waistcoats dangled glittering ropes and "charms" of tawdry composition,
well suited to the ankles of a chaingang, so heavy were they; and from
spotless white shirt fronts there shone jewels (?) of enormous size and
cheapness.

Above the din was heard at short intervals on the steamer's deck the
rattle of machinery, dropping huge, freight-laden nets or baskets into
the hold. Upon the wharves hustled blackened stevedores, flushed and
panting, reeking with perspiration and tobacco juice, but straining,
tugging, lifting until one could almost imagine he heard their muscles
snap; resolutely and steadily laboring hour after hour, until at last,
wearied beyond further endurance, they gave way to others who sprang
energetically into their places.

It was little past midsummer. A large ship of the collier class, lately
fitted in the roughest possible manner for carrying passengers to
Alaska, lay alongside the dock in the great town of S. Hundreds of
people waited on shore to catch the latest glimpse of friends about to
leave them, while a round thousand of those eager to "strike it rich" in
the new Klondyke swarmed over the vessel.

Of these, many, no doubt, would never return. It was a sad day, and
brightened only by that hope without which the world would be undone.

Upon their arrival in the quiet little sea of Lynn three days later all
hands were cheered because this indicated the end of their uncomfortable
voyage; and even if new discomforts awaited them, they would, at least,
be those occurring on shore and under broad heavens, in pure, cool air,
where the fetid atmosphere of ship's steerage quarters was unknown.

But alas! When the dense fog lifted, and the sun with diffidence peeped
through its grey and watery veil, the sight that met the eyes of the
expectant argonauts was grand but not reassuring. Mountains rose to
wondrous heights above and on all sides of them, while those directly in
front, and barring them from their desired route and destination in
sheer contrariety loomed heaven-high, as though they would rend the
azure sky with their jagged and snowy peaks. Steep and precipitous rose
the sides of those giant hills directly from the water's edge except
where, at the foot of the Grand Canyon, trending northward, a small
tract of wet and boggy land dejectedly spread itself. Between this and
the anchored vessel upon the decks of which stood the thousand would-be
miners the waters of old Lynn rose and fell with an ocean's pulsing, at
the same time quietly moving in their accustomed way among the beach
sands and shingle. No soothing lap of the waters against the sides of
the vessel consoled these unromantic men. There were no docks or wharves
at Skagway. The immense ship's cargo must be unloaded into small boats
or hastily built scows to be towed ashore over the shallow waters. It
was the beginning of a gigantic undertaking, and many, hearing of a more
desirable landing-spot and a quicker, easier mountain pass further on,
kept with the ship to Dyea. But the same low and lazily lapping waters
surrounded them as at Skagway. Tides rose and fell, and, at their own
will, fogs settled and lifted.

By turns rain came, winds blew, and the sun shone, the latter in a
subdued and apparently reluctant manner, as in winter on the shores of
old Puget.

At this stage of affairs there was no further postponement of an evil
day possible, and the remaining voyagers with their freight were hustled
on shore with as much expedition as was permissible with a few barges,
flat-bottomed fishing boats, and Indian canoes.

With their faraway homes behind them, and the top of lowering mountains
often hidden by storm-clouds before them, these hundreds of daring
argonauts faced the hardships of a trail, and life in an Alaskan
mountain wilderness; their own backs and those of a few pack animals
being the only means of transporting many tons of necessary supplies
into the vast interior to which they journeyed.

To say that the courage of no man failed at the prospect would be
untrue; but none liked to appear to his fellows to weaken, and
notwithstanding the disheartening outlook, all set to work with a will
until the hold of the great ship was entirely empty and her waterline
had risen many feet above the ripples of Lynn.

The scene on shore was a repetition of that on the neighboring beach at
Skagway, separated from it, however, by glittering peaks, the snows of
which were melted daily by the sun and warm wind and found their way in
streams down ravines and canyons, across glaciers and around boulders,
dropping lower and still lower to the moraines near salt water.

Busy indeed was the scene now presented. Colonies of canvas tents were
grouped upon the beaches close above the high water mark where the
outfits of the travelers had been hastily dumped. Camp fires crackled
and Indian fishermen traded fresh salmon for tobacco; but the tired
and already mud-bedraggled prospectors slept heavily upon the damp, cold
ground when too much exhausted to proceed further with their "packing."

[Illustration: _The scene on shore was a repetition of that on the
neighboring beach at Skagwan_]

The race was now on. With many it was a race to their death. On sight of
the struggle at closer range, men formed themselves into groups or
partnerships, thinking thus to simplify and make easier the crossing
with their heavy outfits these tremendous mountains. In some instances
this was a wise precaution, but in many more cases it was followed by
failure to work harmoniously together, and profanity, bad feeling, and
quarreling ensued.

Like fish in their native element, or vampires living off others, so the
fat and rubicund-visaged owners of the bulky, black barrels before
mentioned, flourished on the needs, discouragements and extremity of
their brothers. Booths and shacks were expeditiously erected above their
barrels dumped out upon the sands, counters and rude seats were
provided, while flaring, staring cloth signs were flung out informing
all that this was "The Shelter", "Tommy's Place", or "Your Own
Fireside", in order to allure the cold, weary and disheartened travelers
into the saloons. Here, in exchange for their money, they were given
poisonous and adulterated liquors, imbibing which, with empty stomachs
and discouraged hearts, they became ill-natured and selfish, as well as
in a chronic state of internal drought.

At Skagway the army of "stampeders" swarmed up into the mountains.
Following the Skagway River northward up the Grand Canyon, their
difficult trail crossed and recrossed the bed of the stream many times.
With small trees "corduroy" bridges were hastily thrown down in spots
made impassable by bogs and the continued tread of hundreds of hurrying
feet. With quick, impatient axe strokes men struck at overhanging and
obstructing trees and vines. On all sides hung huge boulders and cliffs
like pouting, protruding lips, as if the mountains had been shaken into
shape by some subterrane force and resented even yet their rough
treatment. Mosses hung from tree trunks, and vines thickly blanketed the
rocks and ledges between which dashed sparkling waterfalls in haste to
join the Skagway below. It mattered not if the hot noonday sun at times
entered these fastnesses; it served only to cheer the hearts of little
birds and animals, and bring to pestiferous life millions of mosquitoes
and flies to torment both day and night the unfortunate toilers on the
White Pass Trail.

These toilers worked in desperation. Their mad haste was infectious. Men
literally tumbled over each other on the trail in their eagerness to put
the Passes behind them. Every man carried strapped upon his back as much
of a load as it was possible for him to carry, and often times more,
with the not infrequent result that they dropped beneath their packs on
the trail. In like manner they loaded the animals they drove before
them, and here was exhibited man's awful inhumanity to the dumb brutes.
Pack horses, mules and dogs, loaded to top-heaviness and cinched until
one could almost hear their bones crack, climbed, straining, struggling,
panting, wild eyed and steaming from over-exertion under the lash of
angry and profane drivers, until they sank to their haunches, helpless
and exhausted, in some quagmire. Such common misfortune necessitated
the unloading of the poor beast at the loss of time and patience, not
only of his own driver, but those following, as any obstruction to this
narrow trail was greeted with extreme disfavor.

Language both bad and bitter was hourly exchanged between men on this
strenuous stampede to the Klondyke in the fall of '97. Animosities were
born which die only when hearts in men's bosoms are forever stilled.
Feuds were here originated, which if not settled with firearms were
ended in ways as deadly afterwards.

Conditions on the Chilkoot were identical. "Tenderfeet" were there as
tender, and the way as rough, even if a trifle shorter than that over
the White Pass. Nor were the tempers of the Chilkoot argonauts better
than those of their neighbors.

One root of the matter was not far to seek. Had they been content to
leave liquors untouched, nerves would have been less often jarred,
patience would not have become so soon exhausted, while brains would
have been clearer to plan, foresee, and execute. Not every man drank
liquors. There were numbers whose strongest stimulant was the fragrant
coffee, or water from the mountain springs; and these were among the
quiet, helpful ones who plodded patiently and industriously; lending a
kindly hand to some unfortunate fallen comrade or animal along the
rock-bound trail. They, too, were the ones who soonest reached the first
objective point of their journey--the end of mountaineering at Bennett,
from which place their boats would carry them into the Klondyke.

Among hundreds of others two travelers one day trudged with heavy packs
upon their backs, each following his loaded mule, which, once placed in
the long line of men and animals, wending their way toward the
mountains, would not, in self-defense choose to deviate from that
course.

Both men were strong, of middle age, and with money and supplies enough
to take them into the gold fields. After landing at Skagway they decided
to go into partnership, chiefly for the purpose of receiving assistance.

Little thought was given by either to the help he was to render his
partner; and although they had now been but a few days together, each
had already reminded the other of some fancied duty to himself; which
act, often repeated, will sometimes stir up unpleasantly the muddy
waters of men's souls. After having gotten a late start from Skagway,
they had gone only about two miles up the Canyon when both men and mules
seemed too much fagged to proceed further without rest, and as night was
close upon them they decided to make camp.

Turning to the west side of the Canyon they moved laboriously among
fallen logs, boulders and driftwood, and through the tangle of vines,
ferns, and foliage which also barred their way.

When they were well out of sight of their trail companions they found
themselves close under a huge wall of rock in the steep mountain side
which made a quiet spot for camping.

Selecting an open space between trees, the packs of all were deposited
upon the ground. Men and mules now breathed deeply, and rested strained
muscles, so chafed beneath the heavy and unaccustomed packs.

"Give the mules enough rope, but fasten 'em tight, Smithson," said one,
"we don't want 'em wanderin' away and we havin' to hunt 'em up. Time is
too precious on this trail, and there are too many fellows around
wishin' fur just such mules. We'd have a dandy time hiking it over the
Pass with our four tons of grub all on our backs, wouldn't we?"

"It would take us a year, sure," was the reply, "and may as it is. I
know one thing. I'm goin' to take a drink before continuing these
proceedings, and I advise you to do the same," pulling a flat bottle
from his "jumper" pocket and putting it to his lips.

For answer his companion dropped the sticks he had been gathering for a
fire, and produced a duplicate bottle which he quickly appropriated in
like manner.

To an old miner, inured to such life, the work of pitching camp here
would have been slight, but to these men it was a new experience.
Cooking upon a camp fire, sleeping upon a bed of boughs, cut from the
thicket when exhausted after new and hard labor was bad enough; but when
to this was added the almost unendurable stinging and singing of the
ever present mosquitoes it was a thousand fold worse. A good fire and
smoke must be kept going all night, and by lying close beside it they
hoped to get some rest from the insects.

Before sleeping the two men planned their next day's work. They would
leave everything and ride back to Skagway for another load of supplies,
getting all here under the rock before proceeding further up the trail.

In the meantime the bothersome winged insects buzzed and flirted. They
crept into the ears of men and mules in spite of the long journey the
latter necessitated; the poor brutes learned after a time either to keep
up a continual flopping of these head ornaments, or to assume a low,
drooping position, thus keeping their ear chambers closed to visitors;
while their caudal appendages were not allowed a moment's respite from
duty. The men relieved themselves of bitter and revengeful sentiments
toward their unwelcome visitants by deep and hearty curses, until a
little later, worn and weary, in the camp-fire "smudge" they slept
despite their discomforts. It is not really known, but it is supposed,
that the two long eared animals might have done good work that night had
they been wise enough to also raise their voices in protest; the
mosquitoes of these mountain fastnesses being as yet unused to such
foreign and reverberating sounds.

However, the men slept fitfully, though they arose in testy humor the
following morning and took immediate recourse to their whiskey bottles
upon awaking.

The mules were still fastened to a tree nearby. They had crossed in
front of the wall of rock which was moss covered to such an extent that
its face was considerably hidden, and then climbed higher in an attempt
to secure the best herbage, and were still browsing.

"Smithson, you're the youngest, you fetch the mules while I make the
fire for breakfast," said Roberts to his companion, yawning and rubbing
his mosquito bitten hands and face.

"Do it yourself! I'm only two years younger than you. If I'm going to
hear that gag every time there is anything extra hard to do on this trip
I'll quit now and hunt a boy to work with," was the disgruntled answer.

"Do it then! I don't care; though I don't think it's harder to get the
mules than to bring water, cut wood, and get breakfast, do you? I'll
swap jobs if you want to, but getting the mules includes watering them
at the creek, of course."

"Oh, yes, of course," echoed Smithson in a surly voice.

"You better get a move on or I'll have breakfast cooked and eaten before
you get 'round to anything. You needn't suppose I'm going to do your
work and mine, too," was the impatient rejoinder of Roberts as he swung
his axe hard into a stick of wet wood he was cutting.

Smithson shuffled off up the bluff in search of the animals, which, when
found, were treated in no very kindly manner by the sour faced,
mosquito-bitten and generally disgusted tenderfoot, whose introduction
into this new world was, apparently, taking all good-nature out of him.

The mules made no resistance and were soon poking their noses into the
creek waters where Smithson had led them. When he returned to camp
expecting to find a smoking breakfast awaiting him, he was disappointed.
Looking about for Roberts he saw him against the face of the cliff
nearly half way to its top.

"Smithson, come here quick," called Roberts in a voice trembling with
excitement.

"I won't do it! I want my breakfast. What are you doing? Picking wild
flowers, I suppose. How're we goin' to get along without grub, I'd like
to know. Come down, I say!"

Roberts appeared to be working industriously. Finally he rose from his
stooping position, and motioning to his partner, called out in a low
tone:

"Come quick, man, or you'll be sorry! Never mind breakfast; you can eat
that any day; but you don't see this sight often."

With that Smithson ambled over to the foot of the cliff.

"What is it?" he inquired crossly.

"Catch this bit of rock and look at it," said Roberts in a low, excited
voice, dropping a small white fragment at the feet of the other.

"By Jove! Roberts, it carries gold!"

"Shut your mouth! Don't tell the men on the trail! These hills have ears
and plenty of 'em. Come up here quick, but first bring a pick and hammer
from the packs."

With that the dilatory fellow forgot his hunger, his mosquito-bitten
hands and face, and in less than two minutes was climbing up the cliff
with the tools.

He found his partner looking well pleased but perspiring. As Smithson
joined him he sat down on the rock and mopped his face with his red
bandana.

"What made you come up here?" asked Smithson, "I thought you were
gettin' the grub."

"So I was, but I had no dry wood, and saw some near the foot of the
cliff. Coming to get it I saw that the ropes of the mules had crossed
this rock and as they climbed higher their ropes pulled tighter and had
worn off the moss which fell to the ground below. Among this moss there
were several bits of whitish rock which seemed to be quartz. Then I saw
a spot high above my head that looked like the small piece below, and
climbed to see, when you came back and found me."

"What do you think of it?" asked Smithson.

"Think of it? Why, man, we have struck a quartz ledge with gold in it!
See that shiny yellow stuff, scattered through this rock! Can't you tell
gold when you see it?"

"Yes, but perhaps that's all there is of it--what then?"

"A likely story! No, sir, there's more where that comes from. Give me
that pick! You scrape off the moss and break up some of the rock as I
get it out, and we'll see what it looks like; but above all things we
must not forget to speak low, for by Jiminy crickets! we don't want to
see anyone around here but you and me."

"What about goin' to Skagway for the freight?"

"We won't go to-day. We've got enough grub to last till to-morrow. We'll
work right here."

They did so. Even the mosquitoes were forgotten. At noon they wondered
what made them feel so faint. The bottles in their "jumper" pockets were
empty--they had eaten nothing since the night before. Both at last
decided to quit work and prepare their meal before prospecting further.

In their eager efforts to get at the width of the ledge the men
afterwards scraped off the moss and vines, by this means exposing what
appeared to be a four foot vein. On each side of this vein ran a wall of
hard, dark rock they did not recognize, but the quartz was quartz and
carried free gold; and that at present was enough for them. In their
ignorance they knew nothing of which way the vein "dipped", of what the
"gangue" was composed, nor how often and where "faults" occurred. The
question in hand was the presence of gold and the length, width, and
depth of the quartz lode. The gold was really there in pretty yellow
streaks and spots, shining brightly in whichever way it was turned.

Of course Roberts claimed the discovery. This angered his partner.

"The mules are the real discoverers," declared Smithson with spirit,
"and one of them is mine. You knew very well that the quartz was there
when you sent me after the animals so you could prospect the place."

"You're a liar, and you know it!" retorted Roberts, hotly. "There is
none so suspicious of others as a rogue. If you understood mining laws
you would know that by being my partner one half of all I find is yours
without your raising a finger, and you could quit this howl before
beginning. A man may be an idiot in the States if he chooses, but here
he needs all the sense he was born with besides what he can cultivate."
With this thrust Roberts picked up his tools to resume his prospecting.

"I like that first rate. It reminds me of home and Hannah. I presume you
want me to put these things in a grub box and wash the dishes while you
go out to prospect your quartz ledge, don't you?" sneered Smithson, in
whose temper there was little improvement since he had eaten because his
stock of whiskey and tobacco was exhausted.

"It is almost as easy as swinging a heavy iron pick, I reckon," replied
Roberts sarcastically.

With this the men parted. A fresh dispute soon arose, however, as to
whether the ledge should be immediately staked or not.

"We would surely be fools to go and leave it for others, especially as
it is uncovered and in plain sight," objected Smithson.

"We will cover it so that none can find it. If we stake the ledge it
must be recorded in Skagway, and the moment we do that our secret is
out. By simply planting stakes or monuments, we cannot hold the ground
from others, but it must be on record. Now if we stop here long all
these fellows on the trail will get into Dawson ahead of us and gobble
up the claims. We started out for placer gold--creek gold--not quartz
gold which takes machinery for development. By going to Dawson first we
may find enough to allow of our opening up this ledge in a year or two."

"Well, I've always heard that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the
bush', and if this is true I think we'd better stay right here."

"If you knew more you would kick less. It takes a lot more money to open
up quartz mines than we've got or ever may have. But I see what you're
after. You want to stay near Skagway and its well warmed barrooms, don't
you?" laughed Roberts.

"You go to blazes!"

"No, no, I'm going to Dawson. But first I think we'd better drop this
business and pack our supplies from Skagway, don't you?" asked the more
sensible man of the two.

"Yes, yes," said Smithson, who was thinking of his whiskey and tobacco
in that place, and of his chronic thirst which water from the mountain
could not allay.

Before leaving, the new prospect hole was hidden from the view of
stragglers. A few tall saplings were felled, which, with foliage still
upon them, were pushed over the edge of the cliff with stems downward in
order that their leafy tops might rest against the prospected rock and
temporarily hide the new discovery. In case anyone happened that way it
would appear to them that the saplings had been felled and dropped over
the cliff for firewood.

By this time the White Pass trail had grown to be a veritable horror.
Men were ill and suffering from hard work and exposure. Animals lay dead
at the foot of cliffs, over the edges of which they had slipped or been
crowded with packs still strapped upon their sore and bleeding backs.
Others lay, stripped of all accoutrements, in the hot sunshine among the
buzzing flies, after a broken leg had necessitated a bullet in the head,
thus causing stenches to fill the nostrils of the already suffering and
oppressed passersby. No one had time to bury animals. If a man fell it
was, of course, obligatory to halt from their "packing" long enough to
dig a shallow bed among the rocks; but this done, and a handful of
granite fragments heaped above his head, the procession moved on as
before. No time could be spared for headstone marking; and long after
these strugglers of the argonauts on the White Pass Trail were forgotten
by all but the participants (who will never to their dying day forget
them) these lonely mounds of the fallen men could at intervals have been
seen flanked by bleaching bones of defunct animals.

Lonely indeed were these dreary resting places. The scream of the eagle
as he easily swung on powerful pinions from cliff to cliff on family
errands or to drink at the foot of some rushing cascade was the only
dirge that was sung. Ferns swayed gently in shaded nooks, and wild
flowers nodded familiarly to each other. Filmy winged bees flitted with
bustling movement head foremost into the cups of bluebells beneath skies
as azure as they, and in atmosphere as pure as God could make it.

In winter all this was changed. Snow covered the little mounds as well
as the whole surrounding region; and intermittently the falling flakes
whirled and drifted into ravines and canyons, making them level with the
steep mountain-sides; presently melting under the sunshine and
beginning a race to the sea.

However, the argonauts hurried on. They were not here to moralize--they
had something else to do.

As the two men proceeded, making numerous trips with the freight laden
mules between camps, they found, much to their disappointment, that,
without assistance, they would not be able to reach Lake Bennett in time
to build a boat and make their way into the Klondyke before being
overtaken by winter.

In order to proceed faster it would be necessary to hire Indian packers
to help them over the summit of the Pass, else the sun of another summer
would see them still wearily toiling on that terrible trail.

Indians were then hired. The great mountain tops, bald of everything
save boulders and a few saucer-shaped lakelets reflecting in their cold
depths the floating clouds above, seemed now for the first time to
encourage the harassed and footsore travelers.

Soon they were cheered by entering a forest. Here was fuel in abundance,
and shelter, at least partial, from frosts and rain. Below, the green
and level "meadows" beckoned to them, and still farther the shining
waters of Bennett. But trail troubles would soon for them be over, and
with lighter hearts, though with weary feet and backs, they stumbled on
in their eagerness to reach the long waterway which was to guide them
into the promised land.

Beautiful Bennett! How pure its waters, and how clean its sands! With
what maidenly modesty it nestles in the rugged arms of its lovers, the
sky-piercing mountains!

Tents were everywhere. Cabins rose in a night. In surrounding thickets
were the axes of men heard, felling trees for boat-building. Night and
day this continued, and turns were taken at sleeping in order that the
work might not be stopped; indeed, some men seemed never to sleep, so
intent were they on making an early entrance into the gold fields ahead.

Not so, Smithson. He slept more than ever. His bottle made him drowsy.
It did not increase the sweetness of his naturally selfish disposition,
which under the delays, hardships, and extra expense of their journey
had rather increased his laziness and stubbornness.

Nothing Roberts did pleased him. They often came to words, but never to
blows in an argument, for sooner than do this Roberts would turn on his
heel and leave his partner to fall asleep and thus escape his burden of
the work.

"Come now," said Roberts one morning, "our boat is nearly finished and
we ought to be off and away in about two days. You can surely do the
caulking of seams, after which I'll paint her."

"I never caulked a boat in my life, and I think it a poor time to
begin," said Smithson. "If it isn't done right all hands may go to the
bottom. You better get someone else to do it."

"There is nobody but me to do it unless we pay ten dollars a day, and we
can't afford that. I've done most of the work so far, and I think you
might take hold now like a man if you never do again," argued Roberts.

The words "like a man" nettled Smithson. He resented the inference that
he was not manly. Seizing his hat he shambled off toward the beach where
the boat was in process of construction.

His heart was filled with anger. He began fairly to hate Roberts. He had
no right to order him around, and he hated to leave that quartz ledge.
If Roberts were only out of his way the hidden ledge would all be his
own. He had pondered this many times when his working partner supposed
him sleeping. Only for Roberts he could sell the boat and supplies for
double their cost, return to Skagway, and build a cabin near the quartz
ledge, thus escaping the long and dangerous trip down the lakes and
rivers as well as the awful Arctic winter which he more and more dreaded
in the Klondyke. On the south side of the mountains the weather would be
more mild; he would have no difficulty in finding another partner, if
not of his own sex, then the other--why not? he asked himself. The owner
of a ledge like that one might afford luxuries beyond those of the
common people. In this way he ruminated, standing with his hands in
pockets alongside the boat he was expected to finish by caulking.

Smithson hated work. Why should he work? There was enough gold in the
big ledge on the other side of the summit to keep him as long as he
lived if he could have the whole and manage it to suit himself. Could a
boat be caulked lightly in spots, he wondered, so that such weak places
might be plugged at the proper moment afterwards, making it fill with
water and sink with its freight?

It might be done, but that would be bad policy, for freight landed even
this far had cost large sums of money; farther on it would be worth more
and could be sold for many times what they had paid for it at starting;
but men were far too plenty. One man would not be missed. It might be
managed, perhaps, and he decided to do the caulking as requested by
Roberts.

An hour later a fair beginning had been made. A fire was built over
which the smoke of melting pitch ascended, while oakum was filling the
seams of the boat's sides under the hands of the new ship-builder.

Smithson could work if he liked. When his partner, after taking a much
needed rest and nap, came out to see how the business was progressing he
was well pleased. The work appeared satisfactory.

"I'm afraid you'll be sick, old fellow, after such exertion as this,"
laughed he with a twinkle in his eye, "for you're breaking your record,
sure; but keep right on; I'll get paint and brushes in readiness to
start my job the moment you've done. The sun will soon dry all
thoroughly," and he hastened back to their tent.

For reply the new workman only lighted his pipe. His mind was busy and
he needed a nerve-quieter. The train of thought in which he had just
indulged was strange, and rather disquieting--altogether he needed the
smoke.

The common industry at Bennett was now the launching of boats. Hundreds
of frail and faulty craft were started upon their long voyage to the
Klondyke laden with freight to the water's edge. Men who had never
before used a saw, axe, or plane, here built boats and sailed
courageously away.

Smithson and Roberts had done the same.

It was late in the afternoon. The storm clouds were rapidly gathering
overhead. The men had raised a sail and were scudding northward before
the wind towards Caribou. If they could make the crossing that night,
Roberts said, they would be in luck. To sleep on shore and sail again
next morning was his plan.

Night came on. No other craft was near. The wind flapped their small
sail and the yardarm wobbled badly. Roberts sat in the stern.

"Mind the sail, there, Smithson, and pull that tarpaulin over the grub
pile, for by Jingo! we're goin' to catch it now!" as the cold rain
dashed full against their faces, and they both crouched lower in the
boat.

"Haul in the sail!" shouted Roberts, an instant later at the top of his
voice, and Smithson arose presumedly to obey.

"Haul in the sail!" repeated Roberts while tending the rudder, as the
other hesitated.

With that the man addressed moved, but not in the way expected. He
grasped the yardarm and swung it suddenly and heavily around against
Roberts.

Instantly the side of the little craft dipped low, shipping water, but
the roar of the gale drowned the noise of a sudden splash. A cry of
horror, the flash of two hands in the water, and the boat sped madly
away on her course.

Ten minutes later the white capped waters tossed a boat upon the beach
near Caribou. Its one occupant looked wildly around in the darkness but
presently managed to make a fire by which to warm and dry himself.

He muttered incoherently meanwhile.

"I didn't do it--'twas the wind--dark and wild--couldn't stop the
boat--terrible storm--two hands in the water--Jove! where's that
whiskey?" and he fumbled among the supplies under the tarpaulin. When he
had found it and drunk deeply he felt stronger and replenished the fire.

"The ledge! The hidden ledge! It's all mine now, yes, mine, mine!" and
he hugged himself in his greedy, guilty joy.

"To-morrow I'll sell the grub and backtrack to the coast to guard it."

The storm died away and the cold, bright moon shone searchingly. The man
lay down in the boat to rest, pulling his furs and tarpaulin over him.

Sleep did not immediately come at his bidding. He saw and heard
affrighting things. The rush and roar of the elements--two hands
flashing out of the ink-black water--the cry of horror--but he wanted to
forget, and at last, in spite of all, he slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

An Indian guide trudged heavily up the long trail toward the summit. He
was closely followed by a white man and both were headed southward. The
guide carried a heavy pack on his back, but the white man was "traveling
light."

When night came they camped and rested; amusing themselves for a while
with a poker game. Black bottles kept them company. At last trouble
arose over the cards. Smithson had indiscreetly allowed his guide a
glimpse of his money belt, and though the white man was well armed, in a
moment of forgetfulness he allowed the native to pass behind him; when a
sudden shot and thud upon the ground quickly settled forever all scores
between them.

An Indian seldom smiles.

This one smiled gloomily now; muttering as he wiped the revolver in his
hand:

"Him bad white man yesterday,--good man now,--heap long time sleep."

Half an hour later the sure-footed Indian cautiously made his way along
the trail. Stars twinkled overhead. A well filled money belt, a
revolver, and blankets ornamented his person, though only the latter
were visible.

The "Hidden Ledge" was close at hand, but unknowingly he passed it by;
its secret having been, for the present, buried with the two partners
who were numbered among the strenuous stampeders on the White Pass
Trail.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV

A NEW KLONDYKE


Two miners sat smoking in a small log cabin in Dawson. They were hardy
young fellows, and used the accent of born Canadians. They were
brothers, and the elder was speaking.

"What's the use of our hanging 'round here all winter doing nothing? The
best creeks are all staked, and there isn't the ghost of a show for us
to get any first class ground hereabouts. Let's light out, blaze a new
trail for ourselves, and prospect in the likeliest places during the
winter instead of idling away our time here, eating up high-priced grub
and hating ourselves. I'm sick of this camp. What do you say?"

"Which way shall we go?"

"Any old way. No, it would be better to have some definite idea of the
point we wish to reach, of course. We might make for the headwaters of
the Klondyke and then east into the unknown country where only a few
poor Indians live."

"They might prove ugly. What then?"

"We could manage them. We would take plenty of grub and ammunition, and
a couple of white men, at least, with us."

"What makes you think there's gold there? It wouldn't pay us to risk our
lives for nothing in such a wilderness. I would be willing to go if I
thought our time and efforts might turn up something good."

"I have been watching the Indians who come here for supplies from that
direction, and they are far from penniless. They carry good-sized pokes
of nuggets and dust which they use in trading. They must get these from
some of the creeks over east," said the elder of the two men.

"They are mum as oysters; one can't get any information from them."

"What'll you bet I can't?"

"A box of cigars," laughed the younger, whose name seemed appropriately
bestowed, for it was Thomas, and he often doubted.

With that George MacDougall drew on his fur coat and mittens and quitted
the cabin. He would find a certain long haired Indian he had seen that
day, and prove to his brother that he was not simply a boaster.

It was early in the evening; but for the matter of that, the hour made
little difference, for time slipped by unreckoned in the Klondyke in
winter. Night was more often than not turned into day by the restless
denizens of the mining camp, and belated breakfast sometime the
following afternoon was the sequel.

Just now the moon shown brightly above the camp, the deep frozen river
and the high hills. George MacDougall could plainly hear the loud
talking and shouts of those bent on dissipation while crossing the ice
by dog-team to West Dawson. Glancing in that direction he saw the
brilliantly lighted dance-house and saloon, whose blare of brassy
instruments reached his unwilling ears at that distance; the still, cold
air of an Arctic night being a perfect conductor of sound. Under the
sheltering, furry fringe of his cap his forehead gathered itself into a
scowl.

"What fools!" he muttered. "If one must carouse why come here? That sort
of thing can be done on the 'outside', but in here where grub is worth
its weight in gold, and none expect comforts, why waste time? We came
here for that we cannot obtain in the States--at least I did--for
gold,--gold, and I'll have it, too, by Gad!" Then pricking up his ears
again at the end of his soliloquy, he listened and laughed aloud.

"Hear those malamute cusses! How they do whoop it up, to be sure," as a
familiar canine chorus surged clearcut through the frosty air. "I'd
rather listen any time to the brutes zig-zagging up and down their
scales than to the giggling 'box rustlers' from the Monte Carlo crossing
yonder to the dance-house; but where's that blooming Indian, I wonder? I
must find him," and the stalwart Canadian moved on more quickly up the
main street.

An hour later he again smoked in his cabin with his brother. Opposite
them sat an Indian with long, black hair. The latter held in his hand a
whiskey glass, now almost drained, the contents of which had no doubt
called up the good-humored expression at the corners of the native's
habitually unsmiling mouth.

The Canadians smoked; their chair-backs tilted against the wall. There
was no hurry. The elder MacDougall re-filled the Indian's glass with
liquor, and leisurely and carefully knocking the ashes from his pipe,
placed it upon a shelf. He then took from an inside pocket a half dozen
cigars of reputable brand and placed one between his lips, by chance,
probably, glancing toward his visitor, whose fingers now twitched at
sight of the much relished tobacco stick.

"Plenty gold where you come from?" carelessly interrogated MacDougall,
his eyes on the lighted end of his cigar, and flirting away the match he
had been using.

"Yes," grunted the Indian in answer.

"Can we find it, too, Pete?" queried the white man, at the same moment
holding one of the cigars toward his visitor, who eagerly seized it.

"I tink."

"Will you show us a gold creek, Pete?" continued the patiently
questioning Canadian.

"How much you give?"

"I'll give you a gallon of whiskey and a box of good cigars if you will
take me with my brother here to your gold creek, or any gold creek that
is not taken up by white men already. Understand, Pete?"

The Indian nodded. He loved liquor better than gold, but Yukon
authorities had prohibited the sale of the stuff to Indians, and
strictly enforced the law, so, though he had attempted in various ways
to purchase it in Dawson he had not been successful. Here was the offer
of a whole gallon in exchange for gold so far away that the white man
would probably die before he reached it, even if he attempted to cover
the distance; and the Indian acquiesced in the bargain.

Thomas MacDougall wanted to be shown some of Pete's gold, and so
remarked; whereupon the latter thrust his hand into his trouser's
pockets, well hidden by the fur parkie he wore, took out a poke and
threw it upon the table. When Thomas had untied the string and held the
moose-hide sack by its two lower corners bottom upwards there clattered
out upon the boards enough of good-sized golden nuggets to cause the
eyes of the doubter to sparkle with interest.

"Are you sure you did not steal these from some white man's cabin on
Bonanza or Eldorado, Pete?" queried the skeptic Thomas.

"No steal 'um,--catch 'um big crik,--plent' gold,--heap. You sabee?"

Thomas understood, but only partly believed. His brother argued that it
was a case of "nothing venture, nothing have" and he would take the risk
and follow Pete into the wintry wilderness.

If indecision is a sign of weak minds then there are but few
feeble-minded men in an Alaskan gold camp. Here men decide matters
quickly. It is touch and go with them. This trip might mean the end of
all things earthly to the two MacDougalls, but they determined to make
the venture. They might fail of finding gold in quantities, but that was
their fate if they remained in Dawson. They could die but once. Having
risked so much, and come so far already, it was small effort to stake
still more of time, effort and money, and they decided to follow Pete.

A week later the two brothers, (their company augmented by two white men
and as many Indians, besides long-haired Pete, the guide) might have
been seen slowly but carefully making their way through the snowy hill
region of the headwaters of the Klondyke River. Mapped carelessly, as it
often is, this appears a small and unpretending stream; but to the
Indian or prospector who has tracked its length from a small creeklet at
starting to a wide and rushing mouth emptying its pure waters into the
muddy Yukon, it has a good length of several hundred miles, and must not
be lightly mentioned. On its "left limit" were Bonanza and Eldorado
Creeks where men with underground fires burning both night and day tried
with puny strength to checkmate the stubborn ice king in order to add to
the dumps to be hopefully washed out in the springtime. Though they
burned their eyes from their sockets in these pestilential smoke holes,
and though from badly cooked and scanty meals their blackened limbs made
declaration that the dreaded scurvy was upon them; still there were
always men eager to fill the places of those who succumbed, and the work
went on.

There were creeks called Bear, Rock, Benson, Wolf, Gnat and Fox, which
with Nello, Arizona, and many more, went to make up the far-famed
Klondyke River.

Now all were fast frozen. Snow lay deep upon the ice. No babbling of
hurrying waters over pebbly creek beds was heard, but instead, the axe
of the solitary miner at wood chopping on the banks of silent streams.

As the short days passed, and the small caravan forged on, the smoke of
white men's cabins was more seldom seen; until finally the last one was
pointed out by Indian Pete, and it was soon left far behind.

Shorter grew the daylight hours. Proceeding they were forced to break
trails, although their guide appeared familiar with the region and was
heading toward the best and easiest pass in the Rockies. This tedious
snow waste once crossed, their way to the great lakes was comparatively
clear.

They soon learned to travel as well in the dusky snow-light as by
daylight, and enjoyed it better, for there was no glare of the sun on
the white mantled earth. Their dog-teams were good ones, and a source of
comfort to the travelers whose experience with this mode of migration
was limited. While the weary men slept in their little tents by night
the malamutes howled and rested at intervals. If one happened to be
startled by a bad dream he immediately communicated the fact to his
neighbors, of whom there were more than thirty, and they, either from
sympathetic interest in a brother, or because they resented being waked
thus unceremoniously in the midst of enjoyable naps, began echoing their
sentiments in the most lugubrious manner. To all sorts of notes in the
musical scale the voices of these dogs ranged, they seeming to spare no
pains to give varied entertainment. How these creatures work so hard,
eat and sleep so little, howl so much, and keep in good condition, is
ever an unsolvable riddle; but they are usually docile, pleasant of
disposition, and ready for any task.

The MacDougall party treated their animals kindly. Men must reasonably
do this in self defense. That a brow-beaten dog gives up and drops from
the race through sheer discouragement often happens; but well fed and
with considerate treatment a malamute will bravely work to the last
moment.

A few hundred miles farther east and these dogs would be exchanged for
"Hudson Bay huskies", or sent back over the trail to Dawson to be sold.
In case the MacDougalls "struck it rich" in the Indian country it was
imperative that they be provided with huskies, but for the present the
"malamute made much music", as Tom MacDougall laughingly remarked.

One day the party came upon the fresh tracks of a caribou. Made by
good-sized hoofs, the animal had gone toward the south apparently in
great haste. In a moment Pete was off with his rifle to the nearest
hill-top, stealthily but rapidly treading the soft, deep snow. The elder
MacDougall shouldered his gun and followed the trail of the animal whose
flesh he coveted as a feasting dish after living so long upon dried fish
and bacon.

For more than an hour the Canadian tracked his game. Pete, from the
hill-top, had sighted a tiny thread of blue smoke rising from the valley
on the other side, and knew that Indians, probably Peel River men, were
also upon the track of the animal, when instantly his enthusiasm in the
chase cooled.

He decided to follow MacDougall. If these were the Peel River Indians
they were far from their own hunting grounds, and must have driven big
game into this vicinity which they were loath to abandon. In case that
MacDougall should bring down the caribou he might get into trouble, and
Pete hastened on.

The cold, crisp air was intensely still. As he proceeded, with alert
ears, he heard a shot, angry voices in altercation, and a second shot,
when the now thoroughly awakened Indian hurried on in the footprints of
the Canadian.

One of the hunters would probably hunt no more; but which one was it?

He was not long in doubt. Coming suddenly upon them he discovered that
his fears were realized.

MacDougall stood sternly regarding a fur-dressed Indian lying dead upon
the snow. He and Pete exchanged glances.

"What's the matter?" asked Pete.

"He jumped upon me and declared the caribou was his. I told him it was
mine, when he pulled his gun and I shot him--that's all," said
MacDougall.

"That's plent'," tersely from Pete. Then casting his eye over the sky he
said: "Snow cum quick,--hide um. We cut caribou," whereupon he whipped
out a big hunting knife, after placing his rifle in the crotch of a
tree, and began slashing the still warm body of the big caribou.

MacDougall followed suit. It was not long before the two had selected
and cut away the choice parts of the carcass, and with as much of the
meat as they could handle, made their way back to camp. Pete and his
Indians, with dog-teams, were dispatched to the scene of the double
tragedy for the remainder.

The dead Indian was left as he fell, and falling snow soon covered him.

That night the Canadians pushed on without resting, laden with as much
meat as they could carry. It was thought safest not to remain long in
the vicinity, as some of the Peel River Indians might track the murderer
of their brother.

The dogs had feasted on caribou as well as the men, and all could return
to the long trail with redoubled energy. More large game was seen, and
from this on there was no lack of venison.

Ptarmigan, too, made a variety of eating. The snow-white beauties were
never tired of, but furnished food equally as good as the caribou. The
miners were given a pleasant surprise one evening when George
MacDougall cleaned the birds for his breakfast. Three or four peculiar
looking pebbles rolled out of the craw of the bird he was handling and
fell upon the ground. Stooping, he picked them up.

"Gad! What's this?"

"He then made an examination.

"Here you, Indian! Get some ice and melt it. I want to wash these
stones. If they are stones, I'll eat 'em. I believe they're gold
nuggets," he added to his brother, at which the latter crawled out of
his fur sleeping bag to investigate.

They were now in a gold-bearing country. Of this MacDougall felt
assured. The nuggets found in the craw of the ptarmigan, though not
large, were of pure gold, and once clean of filth looked good to the
eyes of the patient prospectors. They had certainly come from the bars
of some stream, which, in an exposed place, had been wind-swept,
furnishing the grouse a late feeding ground when tundra berries were
covered with snow. To be sure, not much nourishment could have been
gotten from the nuggets, but the latter had answered the purpose of
pebbles in mastication processes.

After this MacDougall kept more hopefully on. Each bird shot was
examined, and many carried their own savings bank with them. No better
indications were wanted of the contents of the creeks of the region.

The gold was surely there.

Finally, after six cold and weary weeks, during which time much of hope
and fear had constantly alternated in the breasts of the two Canadians
and their men, notwithstanding the reiterated affirmative statements of
the Indians; Pete grunted with satisfaction and pointed to a nearby
forest.

"Indian cabins over there," said he. "Two sleeps cum rich crik."

"I hope so, Pete," MacDougall had replied, being tired and hungry.

Only twice on their long trip had they come upon small Indian
settlements, and then a few hours' rest within the crowded and stifling
huts satisfied them to resume their march. The air outside, if cold, was
pure, sweet and invigorating, and these hardy, fur clad men were now
accustomed to it and enjoyed it.

A fresh surprise awaited them at Pete's house. A good, large, log cabin
of two rooms, lined from top to bottom with the furs of animals, and
ornamented with antlers and similar trophies of the chase, made a warm
and comfortable home compared to that which the white men had expected
to find. A pleasant-faced squaw and several small children retreated to
the inner room upon the entrance of the men from the trail. While Pete
greeted his family, the visitors made notes and discussed the surprising
situation.

"Gee Whiz! Who'd a thought it?"

"I thought Pete lived in an ice hut, or a teepee made of skins and
sticks," said one.

"A filthy hole in the ground was what I thought we'd find," declared
another.

"We're right in civilization!" exclaimed a fourth, slapping his knee in
delight.

"A music box, as I live!" eyeing an old accordian in a corner.

"Well, I snum!"

The men were all talking at once.

"I'd like to take a smoke, but don't dare," said Tom MacDougall,
demurely, with a wink.

"I fancy it might injure the lace curtains," laughed his brother, who
looked as well pleased as any of the group, while touching the bit of
calico draping at the tiny window.

But Pete was now going out of doors and they all trooped after him.
Surrounding the Indian they plied him with a hundred questions. They
wanted to know where he and his squaw had learned to make a home like
this,--where he got so much of civilization,--who had taught his squaw
to keep house,--who played the accordian,--where he got tools to work
with, and many other things; above all, where he bought certain
accessories to his cabin which they had never seen in Dawson.

Flinging, as they did, all these questions at the poor fellow in a
breath, MacDougall feared he would be stalled for replies, and finally
halted for him to make a beginning; but Pete only remarked quietly,
twitching his thumb toward the southeast:

"Fort by big lake. White man,--mission,--teach um Indian,"
unconcernedly, as though it was of every day occurrence, and there was
no further explanation necessary.

"Do they talk as we do?" asked MacDougall.

"No."

"What do you call them?"

"Father Petroff,--teach um. Indian sick,--fix um. Heap good man," and
Pete turned away, thinking this sufficient.

"Ask him how far it is to the Fort, Mac," said one of the men.

"Not now. He has had enough quizzing for this time. It is evidently a
Russian Mission on one of the big lakes,--which mission, and what lake,
I don't know. But we must pitch our tents, cook our supper, and feed the
dogs. Poor fellows! They shall have a good long rest soon for they've
well earned it," and George MacDougall patted the snow white head of the
nearest malamute looking up into his face for sympathy.

Next day the men had eaten, slept and rested. They had listened the
evening before to the old accordian in the hands of Pete's wife; they
had trotted the infant of the family on their knees; they had propounded
another hundred questions to their uncommunicative host and gotten
monosyllabic answers; but they had heard only that which was good to
hear, and that which confirmed the leader in his mind that he had made
a capital move in coming into this country with the Indians.

Pete had exhibited nuggets and gold dust of astonishing richness.
Kicking a bear skin from the center of the room, he disclosed a box
embedded in the earth, the sight of which, when uncovered, caused the
white men to feel repaid for coming. There were chunks and hunks of the
precious yellow metal larger than the thumbs of the brawny handed
miners; besides gold dust in moose-hide sacks tied tightly and placed
systematically side by side in rows.

The surprise of the white men was great. They did not imagine that Pete
mined gold to any extent, but thought he had secured enough in a
desultory way for his present use. The trusting native had no fear of
the men, having unreservedly laid bare his treasure house.

"I no lie. I tell um truf," said Pete, looking toward Thomas MacDougall,
remembering that the doubter had frequently called into question his
word.

"We see your gold, Pete, but you must show us a gold creek, too," was
Tom's answer to the Indian.

"I show you. Come!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Three years passed. The great lakes south of the headwaters of the
Mackenzie River were again frozen. Darkness claimed the land except when
the brilliant low-swinging moon lighted the heavens and snowy earth
below, and the sun for a few brief hours consented to coldly shine upon
the denizens of the wilderness at midday.

A gang of miners worked like beavers in the bed of the stream. With
fires they thawed the ground, after having diverted the creek waters the
previous summer.

Their camp was a large one. Fifty men worked in two shifts, one half in
the daytime, the others at night. At the beginning of each month they
were changed, and night men were placed on the day force; this
alternation being found best in all mining camps. Log cabins and bunk
houses were numerous, large, and comfortable, for forests of excellent
timber dotted the Mackenzie landscape, and men, as ever ambitious for
comfort, had felled, hewed, and crosscut the trees to their liking.

Much that was crude of construction was here in confirmation of the fact
that the camp was far removed from civilization, and men had, with great
ingenuity, supplied deficiencies whenever practicable.

As helpers who were ever faithful there were "Hudson Bay huskies" to the
number of four score who had become real beasts of burden, and vied with
each other as to which should carry the palm for leadership and favor in
their masters' eyes. They were mainly used for hauling wood and ice; the
latter in lieu of water at this season.

For carrying gravel and dirt to the dumps the miners had constructed
rude tramways with small flat cars, which being successfully operated by
gravity in all weather left the dogs free for other service.

No sluicing of dumps could now be done. When summer came again and the
creeks and rivers were full of water, this would be directed into
ditches conveying it to the well arranged heaps of dirt and gravel, and
then these dumps rapidly melted like snow before hot sunshine, leaving
in their wake a stream of yellow metal so coveted by these fearless and
daring miners.

For no small amount of gold had they risked their lives in this far away
corner of the earth. Only four of the miners had come on
uncertainty,--the four guided by Indian Pete three years before,--the
others had known why they came, how far the distance, how cold it grew,
and many other points of which it is well to be advised before
venturing; but they had come, and here they were.

Not a man regretted his coming. Not even old Charlie, after breaking his
leg and having to wait for days while two Indians "mushed" southward to
the Fort, four hundred miles away, for Father Petrof to come and set it
right again.

None heard him complain; though some of the "boys" tried to force him to
confess that he wished himself back in Dawson.

"Not by a jugful! I don't give in like a baby," said he, stoutly,
although the pain in his limb must have been considerable. "There aint
no whiskey in me system, either, to keep me leg from healin' when it's
once put right (though I'll admit there is some tobac), and I'll be in
trim again presently," declared the gritty old miner.

Having nothing better to do while in his bunk he talked on, addressing
the camp cook who had a few leisure moments from the kitchen.

"I've seed many a gold camp in me day, boy, and plenty as good as the
Klondyke before I ever struck that Canadian bird; but I never got into
ground so rich as this. I tell you, boy, it not only makes me eyes bug
out, but it makes me hair stand on end, fur it's a whale of a gold
creek! When I lay here studyin' the old tin cans and grub boxes full of
gold under these bunks, and get to computin' what's in 'em, I feel like
hollerin' for joy!"

"But its all Mac's gold, you know," said the cook regretfully.

"Yes, but you and me are gettin' the biggest wages we ever got in our
lives, and Mac never squirms at payin' either. Then we have a reasonable
hope that Sister Creek is as good as this one, and we boys have got it
all staked,--that's where we're comin' in at. See?"

"I hope to. How much do you calculate there is under the bunks in this
room, Charlie? I'd just like to know."

"There's about half a million dollars in this cabin and as much in the
dumps as they stand-now. By cleanin' up time next summer there'll be
half a million more at least; judgin' from indications. That aint half
bad, eh?" and Charlie's eyes shone as he talked.

"By George! It's great, and no mistake; but a fellow can't spend any of
it here," said the cook ruefully.

"All the better for us. We've got to save it. We can't do nothin' else.
Great box we're in, to be sure," and the man laughed heartily in spite
of his infirmity. Continuing, he said:

"It's the best place we could be in, I tell you; especially so for Bill
who can't buy a drop of whiskey for a thousand dollars, although he
would buy it sometimes at that price, I think, if he could."

"It don't hinder him playing that violin of his'n, does it? Do you mind
how he played last night?"

"You bet your life. I had nothin' else to do. He's a crackerjack, and
that's no josh, either. But here comes Mac. What in thunder's that?" The
question was put to the man entering with a heavy load in his hands.

MacDougall laughed.

"Only a nugget that Tom turned up. I brought it in to show you, and the
Canadian placed the mammoth chunk of gold on the floor near the bunk.

"What do you think of it?"

"Great Scott and little fishes! She's a bird! Why, man, this new
Klondyke will make the old one look like thirty cents!"

[Illustration]



CHAPTER V

ESTELLA THE ESKIMO


Estella was not the name her parents had given her. That was
unpronounceable to the white man's tongue and was replaced by Estella
when she married the trader not many years ago.

She was a bright and amiable young woman, though not actually pretty.
Born and raised on the Seward Peninsula, she had learned to hunt, fish
and trap, as do all the Eskimo women while still in their teens. Numbers
of young men among her people had sought her hand in marriage, but up to
the time of the advent of the white men into the country she had never
yielded to their entreaties.

When approached on the subject she glanced demurely down at the toe of
her mukluks, tossed back her long hair, and, turning her back on the
suitor who did not suit, ran away to play on the beach with the
children.

Her people did not know her heart. She had ambition, though it was
unknown to them. None of the young Eskimos entirely pleased her. Some
one with better looks and more supplies than they must offer himself
before she decided to take a life-mate, she told herself.

At her birth some planet must have bestowed upon her many aspirations
above those of the common Eskimo, and though she was ignorant of the
cause of her ambition she realized the possession of it.

Being a sensible young woman she hid these things in her own bosom, for
why should she trouble her parents? They would not understand her, but
would oppose, say harsh things, perhaps, and, at any rate, feel badly.

So she ran away to play with the little ones. If this did not answer her
purpose she persuaded her young brother to take her in his didarka on
the water to some quiet island, where in the pleasant sunshine they sat
upon the sandy beach or fished in some gurgling stream.

In winter there was less freedom. She must keep more to her father's
igloo and help her mother at sewing of furs for the clothing, going out
at times with the other women to set their traps in the snow for animals
whose skins were in demand by the traders.

At last, one day in winter, there came to the home of the Eskimo girl,
two white men. They were clothed in furs and rode behind dog-teams. They
came to buy skins, principally those of the black fox, mink and white
ermine.

One of the men could speak a good deal of the Eskimo language, and had
no difficulty in making known their errand. They wished to remain all
night in the igloo as it was too late and stormy to proceed farther on
the trail.

The Alaskan Eskimo is kindly and generous. No one is ever turned from
his door. It matters not how low the state of his larder, or how few
sticks there are before the fire; the stranger is always welcome.

The two white traders remained. They bought of the Eskimo what furs they
wanted and paid as little for them as possible. A little thread, calico,
tea, tobacco, and a few glass beads were given in exchange for the soft
and shining skins which in civilized centers would sell for a fabulous
sum.

The storm continued. The traders remained for days. When they left the
igloo the heart of the Eskimo maiden was no longer her own; she had
given it to another who would presently return and take her to his
cabin.

The girl's ambition was now about to be realized. To be looked upon by
her people as the bride of a white man, and that one a rich trader who
owned, not only a cabin and many skins, but dogs, sleds and boats, was
truly a great honor and not to be lightly considered. She would soon be
in a position high above that of any of the Eskimo women of her
acquaintance, and she began to feel the importance and desirability of
her station.

The trader who had succeeded in winning where others had failed was much
older than his sweetheart. He was of middle height, with black hair, and
swarthy, not unlike in this respect to her own family; but totally
different in disposition, a striking contrast to the gentle and yielding
character of the Eskimo, but the girl in crass ignorance was quite
unaware of the difference. To her he was an ardent lover, brave,
fearless, strong, and with worldly goods to provide her with all she
liked and needed.

Poor, simple-hearted, little Eskimo girl! Are your good and kind devas
sleeping that they do not better guard you? Of what can they be
thinking? Call them quickly to advise and help you before it is too
late, and your happiness is forever blasted! Will they not wake in time
to keep you from making this terrible mis-step? Beware of the white man
whose heart is blackness!

But her good devas slept on. The return of the trader was expected, and
as far as lay in their power the Eskimo had made ready for the great and
unusual event soon to be celebrated. The igloo was made tidy, heaps of
firewood were piled beside the door, and from the cache not far distant
were brought quantities of frozen tomcod, seal meat, and salmon berries.
Whale oil for illuminating the interior of the snow-covered igloo was
bought in puffed out seal bladders, tied at each end by stoutly knotted
sinews.

A new fur parkie for the bride made of reindeer skin and decorated with
black and white fur squares for a border, was completed by Eskimo women
sitting crosslegged in a corner of the igloo.

At last the white man arrived. He was accompanied by another who was to
act as the officiating clergyman; the Eskimo girl wished to have
performed the ceremony of his people; but alas! she had not overheard a
conversation which had taken place between the two men.

"Get off some rigmarole of your own, I tell you," laughed the coming
bridegroom, speaking to his companion, "It's no matter what it is, only
don't make me burst out laughing in the middle of it, for Estella might
resent it. She's a bright little one, and that's no josh. Seriously, I
don't want a bona fide marriage ceremony performed, you understand. When
I make my stake and leave Alaska behind forever I don't care to have a
legal wife tagging at my coat-tails. I want to be a free man to go and
come as I please. See?" and the speaker puffed a cloud of tobacco smoke
from between his lips.

"What about the children, Buster? Will there be any?"

"You bet your life! The brats can live as well as those up the country
with that other squaw of mine. But you're a terror for questions, pard.
If you squeal on me I'll send you to thunder," clapping his hand on his
hip pocket where protruded a stout, black handle.

"No fear of me," laughed the other. "I'm too eager for the rest of them
fine furs which we must try to get. Can't you work the girl for them,
Buster?"

"I'll try. In the meantime get the dogs together to-morrow and feed 'em
up. They're lookin' thin. I hope to hear from Dan in a day or two as
regards that creek and what he's found in it. Then I'm off to the nest
of my turtle dove, for the bridegroom is hungry for his bride, eh,
pard?" winked the dark-browed fellow, still smoking heavily.

"You're a dandy, sure!" retorted the man designated as "pard" by the
trader. "I see your finish if your squaw's people up country find out
your doin's here."

"They never will. The Yukon is many 'sleeps' away, and there is no
communication between these Eskimos and the Indians."

"You're makin' good the sayin' that a sailor has a wife in every port
aint you Buster?" continued the man who in the absence of better
employment delighted in teasing his partner.

"Wife be blowed! What's got into you to-night? Go along to bed!"

"Thank you I'm there," mockingly from the other, while tumbling into his
bunk in the cabin corner, and pulling away at his smudgy cob pipe after
retiring.

The two men understood each other. "Buster", as he was nicknamed, was
shameless. He respected neither God nor man. Whatever he willed to do,
he did, regardless of results, and was well known in Alaska by the white
inhabitants. The other was a trifle weaker though not less wicked. He
could stand beside Buster and urge him on, while hesitating to do the
same acts of lawlessness. There is small difference in these degrees of
sinning. If any, it may be in favor of the Busters, who possibly deserve
credit for fearlessness where the others are cowardly.

The scant mock marriage was soon over. The smiling little bride said
good-bye to her people, who wept around her; climbed into the dog-sled
of her new master, and rode proudly away southward.

With the summer her friends might come on a fishing trip to visit her,
and renew their acquaintance in her new home.

She wanted to convince them of the wisdom of her selection. She felt
that she could do so--if not now, then by the time of their coming.

[Illustration: "_Upon his mother's back beneath her parkie_"]

Poor child! She had not yet learned that it is best to feel confident of
nothing.

Two years passed, and a small, black-eyed toddler kept Estella company.
He wore a red calico cap upon his head and his stout and chubby limbs
grew perceptibly. While young he was tied upon his mother's back beneath
her parkie, a stout leather belt confining the same around the woman's
waist to prevent the baby from falling out. There his black eyes winked
and blinked above the little, round mouth which had only lately learned
to smile, and which was beginning to experiment daily among the
difficult mazes of his native dialects. For the child was confronted
with two languages; English, spoken by his father, the Eskimo spoken
by his mother; but he was as yet ignorant of both. Dearly his mother
loved him, and enjoyed his companionship during the long and frequent
absences of his father.

Gold in great quantities had now been discovered on the Seward
Peninsula. Hundreds of people were flocking into the country. Camps were
filling with eager fortune-seekers, and the beach was strewn with tents.

Fur traders had gone into mining. Miners were scattered over the
country, carrying supplies by boat up stream to the sections where they
looked for gold, and where, in many instances, they found it.

The attention of all had been drawn to a stream called Anvil, near the
sea, whose sentinel rock, perched upon a tall hillcrest near, had long
and successfully guarded its wealth of gold and treasure.

It could be hidden and guarded no longer. Men now labored strenuously
with pick and shovel in the bed of the golden stream; nor stopped for
sleeping; while accumulating riches filled their vaults to overflowing.

In a small hut upon the beach lived the Eskimo woman and her boy. Her
husband had sailed with others for the north country, and the two were
unprovided for and alone. With industrious fingers Estella made small
trifles to sell to the white people in camp, many of whom carried heavy
purses and coveted the souvenirs made by the natives.

It was her only way of earning a poor subsistence for herself and boy.
Her father and brothers supplied her with fish in summer and her wants
were not numerous. Like worn out footgear which had served its purpose,
being perhaps well fitting and useful for a time, but after fresh
purchases to be cast aside as worthless, was the native woman now
discarded.

It was summer time in Alaska. Tundra mosses were at their freshest, and
wild flowers bloomed and nodded on every side. It was the time for
fishing, and Estella's relatives came to take her with them on their
annual excursion, when for a time she was happy trying to forget the
white man's neglect. It was better than his abuse and curses which she
had meekly borne; but which still sorely rankled in her bosom. Her
parents did not upbraid her. They appeared to have forgotten the girl's
pride on her wedding day, and had only kind words for their sad-hearted
daughter in her trouble. But sympathy alone could not put food in her
mouth nor that of her boy, and winter was approaching.

Her parents had many children, and others depended upon them, and little
with which to feed them. The fishing season had been a poor one. Nets
and seines had been placed in streams as usual by the Eskimo, but many
of these had been destroyed by white men, and where this was not the
case the waters of creeks and rivers had been so muddied by mining
operations as to ruin all chances of securing fish.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a cold and wintry night. The snow was sifting over the tundra in
icy gusts from the westward. Morning would see all snow-hidden,
including the huts of the four remaining natives on the sandspit between
the river and the sea.

Estella's camp fire was dead. There was neither sticks nor coals to feed
it. A long-drawn wail from her boy lying huddled in skins upon the
ground, reminded her of other deficiencies--there was nothing to eat in
the igloo--absolutely nothing. Both were cold and hungry.

Wrapping herself and her little boy as warmly as possible, she took the
child's hand and started down the street of the mining camp in the
blizzard. There were places open to her. There were the saloons. They
were at least filled with warmth and brightness, and she would there be
safe from freezing till morning. There were undoubtedly other dangers,
but these she could not now contemplate. She could not let her baby
freeze while starving.

Making her way along with her boy between the winter blasts, the little
one clinging tightly to her hand, she approached the door.

Lights were shining brightly through the windows, and she heard voices.
Would she meet her husband if she entered? She hoped not, for she must
go in. It was death to remain outside. Timidly she placed her hand upon
the door and partly opened it, glancing quickly about the room to note
its occupants.

The flaring of the lamps indicated her presence.

[Illustration: "_The little one clinging tightly to her hand she
approached the door_"]

"Shut the door, you beggar!" shouted the bartender. "Don't you know the
wind is blowin' and lights will go out? Besides its deuced cold night,
and coal costs money, you know, Stella," added the fellow less savagely,
as, glancing quietly at him, and leading her boy, she slowly moved
toward the big coal stove.

"Let 'em warm themselves, can't you?" exclaimed one of the men sitting
at a table and shuffling cards for a game.

"Whose hinderin' 'em? I aint! All I'm objectin' to is the length of time
she held the door open when she came in."

"Wal, she's in now, and the door's shut, aint it?" drawled the card
player.

"Yes."

"Then close your gab!" and lowering his tone to his partner opposite he
said shortly, "Play, wont you?"

In the meantime Estella was warming herself beside the fire. On her
knees she held the boy whose head soon drooped drowsily in spite of his
hunger.

It was a long, bare room, newly boarded as to ceiling, flooring and
walls. A smooth and shining counter stretched along the west side of
the room, behind which stood rows of well filled bottles, ready to be
uncorked. For ornament, upon the opposite wall there hung a great
mirror, trying its best to duplicate the owner's stock in trade, as
though he would be needing such help before the winter was over, when
his whiskies were gone. For further brightening the room there hung
suspended from gilt buttons close below the ceiling, certain
representations of personages in garments too filmy to assure the
observer that they were intended for this Arctic world, because
rivalling the costumes of two solitary gardeners in the long ago.

However that may be, the pictures did not disturb Estella--as to the
miners they were accustomed to these and many other sights. Something
far worse to her troubled the Eskimo. It was hunger.

Suddenly one of the loungers, considerably younger that the others, said
to his neighbors:

"I'll bet she's hungry."

"Very likely, Sam, they mostly always are. There's nothin' here to eat
if she is, by George."

"There's plenty of booze!"

"Yes, at two bits a drink."

"Then straightening himself in his seat the first speaker called out:

"Stella!"

"What?" answered the woman in a low voice.

"Are you hungry?"

Quick as thought she raised her head and looked appealingly into his
face.

"Yes." Her lips trembled, and tears sprang into the dark eyes.

"Have you had anything to eat to-day?"

"No--little fish yesterday," she said quietly, holding up one finger to
indicate the number.

"Good God! She's starving! Here, you toddy slinger, there! I say, can't
you give this woman something to eat?" to the man behind the bar.

"Wal, I'm sorry to say it, but there aint no grub here; leastwise that's
good for Eskimo," he added with a wink.

"I guess most anything would be good for her, and you hand out something
real sudden, too," said the young man, tossing a bright silver dollar
toward the counter.

"Oh, wal', if that's the game, I'm here. Oyster cocktail and crackers,
eh, Stella?"

The woman's eyes brightened at the last words, which she understood; the
first she was a stranger to, but if it was something to fill the awful
void beneath she could eat it. She nodded eagerly.

Beggars could not be choosers. That was never plainer than now. Cocktail
and crackers soon disappeared, a good share of the latter going
underneath the woman's parkie to keep for her boy when he awaked. The
cocktail he must not have.

An hour later a few of the miners played on. Some, whose well filled
"pokes" permitted had gone to warm and comfortable beds, others to cold
and cheerless bunks, as the case happened; but the Eskimo woman, with
her sleeping boy on her lap, slept heavily. Sitting on the floor in a
corner, with her head against a bench, she had for a time forgotten her
sorrows.

Presently the door was partly opened, and an Eskimo slipped softly
inside. The men were still intent on their "black jack", and he was
unnoticed. His anxious face perceptibly brightened when he saw Estella,
and he gave a deep sigh of relief as he seated himself near the fire.

There was a lull between games at the green table.

"Say, boys, what's become of Buster?" asked one of the miners.

"Gone to the devil, I guess. That's where he was goin' the last time I
saw him," remarked one in no uncertain tone of voice.

"Oh, no, he's married a white woman," exclaimed the youngest of the
party.

"Ha, ha! That's a good 'un. My lad, I'm older'n you, and I tell you it
may be as you say and still not alter the case of his goin' to the old
boy. Some women I know of help a man faster that way than t'other," said
the old miner.

"Buster's a chump! Just look at all the money he's made off the natives
and see the way he treats 'em!" jerking his thumb over his shoulder
toward the two asleep in the corner.

"And that kid of his'n. He ought to take care of him instead of lettin'
him starve to death like this. I swear its a shame!"

"Yes, he ought to," from another of the group, "but he wont."

"When I was a kid I was told that a bird what can sing and wont sing
should be made to sing, and that fits Buster now."

"Oh, well, Alaska's a big place, and there's plenty of natives. It don't
matter if a few does die off, There'll be enough left, I reckon,"
carelessly remarked a man who had not spoken.

"You go 'way back and set down, Tenderfoot; you've allers got a pimple
on yer nose! Don't you s'pose that Eskimos feel or sense things? I do. I
think that such people as this, 'Stella now, orter be looked
after,--'specially with that boy of her'n, for he's a likely kid, and
might make somethin'. Wonder why the big guns at Washington don't try a
hand at helpin'? Seems to me they could if they'd a mind." The man ended
his speech in a lower tone of soliloquy.

"Easy to tell others what ter do, aint it, boss?" queried one.

"I s'pose that's so; but I was thinkin' of my own woman and kids at
home, and how I'd feel to see 'em starving!" Then as though regretting
the turn the conversation had taken, he reached for his furs, and while
pulling his parkie over his head preparatory to leaving, said more
briskly: "I'm goin' to bed, boys; you better do the same; it's near
mornin'," and with that he left the saloon.

Presently the little boy stirred and whimpered. Instantly the mother
roused herself, though with some effort, and the crackers were brought
to light. The child was ravenous, and ate greedily. When he had finished
the Eskimo by the fire came toward them, saying a few words softly in
his own tongue. With that the boy put out his arms and the man took him,
going back to his place by the fire.

The woman had changed her position, and was soon again asleep.

When daylight came, the bartender began moving about. He thought the
natives had better get into the fresh air, as he wanted to clean the
place, he said.

With that the two Eskimos plodded out through the snowdrifts; the man
carrying the child in his arms.

The blizzard had died away, and the air was still and cold. When they
reached the woman's door they entered, the man first pushing away the
snow with his feet, the child still cuddling in his arms.

Beside the camp stove lay piled a heap of small driftwood sticks and a
sack of coal. Upon the table a few eatables had been deposited,
evidently some hours before. A fire was soon crackling, and a meal was
cooking. To the woman's questions the man had not replied. He might have
been a deaf man, for all the notice he had taken. She still questioned,
speaking their native dialect. When all was done he came close, took her
hand in his own, and, speaking in Eskimo, said feelingly:

"My little sweetheart, wont you let me love you now? Many long and weary
moons have I waited until my heart is very sore. Tell me if you cannot
love me? I will be very good and you shall never starve. I will work. I
will bring much driftwood. I have salmon and tomcod, and a dog-team of
the best. In summer we will sail for Tubuktulik and make a pleasant
hunting camp. There we will shoot squirrels and the big bear, and you
shall again be happy with freedom."

At this effort of long speaking the Eskimo seemed abashed, for he was a
man of few words usually; but he still clung to the little hand of the
woman by his side.

"And my boy?" she whispered eagerly, with tears shining in her eyes,
which were now looking unreservedly into his own.

"He shall be mine, and I will ever love him," was the reply, as she
glanced proudly toward the baby amusing himself with the sticks.

"You are gentle to Stella, and she will do all things as you say,"
murmured the woman softly, with drooping head, and trembling.

"And will you love me always, little one?" putting his arms about her
and pressing her dose to his heart.

"Yes, always and forever. Then I will not be alone," she smiled brightly
through her tears at the prospect, while nestling closer in his strong
arms.

"Never alone again, dear one. I promise, if your heart will only love
me," said he, kissing her; and the child at play among the driftwood
sticks gravely gave a handful to his mother.

"He shall call you his papa," said she almost gaily, "for will it not be
true?"



CHAPTER VI

WHY MIDAS FAILED


It was in the Fall of the year 19-- that a party of miners outfitted in
Nome and started for the Arctic. One of them had been in that vicinity
before, was familiar with the trails, and had some acquaintance with the
natives of that section.

Like all real "sourdough" miners they knew how to speak a good many
words in Eskimo, especially young Gibbs, who had wintered there.

Not only did it please the natives to have the white men use the Eskimo
language because it showed friendliness, but it made bargaining easier
for all.

It was not, however, for the purpose of trading that this party of five
men were making a long, cold and tedious trip to the Selawik River.

They were looking for gold. It was late in November when the creeks and
rivers were frozen, and the swamps and tundra could be everywhere
crossed; and as the weather was not so severe as it would be later, and
the snow was not so deep it was considered the best time of the year for
starting the expedition.

There were three dog-teams and as many heavy sleds, packed tightly with
all manner of necessary equipments--fur sleeping bags, tents, clothing
of skins, and food supplies in the smallest possible compass, besides
frozen tomcod for the malamutes.

To be sure, reindeer would have been more expeditious, and would have
hunted their own provender, thus lightening the loads on the sleds, as
well as making a delicious food for the men in case of a shortage of
provisions; but there were none of these animals at Nome and the dogs
were substituted.

It was a long journey. The prospect was one of great hardship and even
suffering to those not accustomed to a miner's life; but to these hardy
men of Alaska, inured as they had been to the cold of this northland, it
was a real pleasure trip which was looked forward to with keenest
interest.

The direction they wished to take was due northeast from Nome to the
Selawik River; and at that place their plans would be further perfected.
Their object was to find virgin gold--placer gold--to discover it in
such quantities that all might become rich; and incidentally, after
their own wants had been supplied, those of the gentlemen whose money
had outfitted them would be considered--perhaps.

They were already on the trail, at any rate, with all they needed upon
their sleds and in their pockets; the gentlemen in question were far
away--too far to interfere with their movements; in fact, had gone to
London for the season and could not return for many months.

This was their opportunity. They proposed to use it for their own
advantage unless prevented by some unforeseen calamity which should end
their lives; at least, this was the way two of the miners expressed
themselves in the little roadhouse at Keewalik after many days of hard
travel from Nome.

Drinks and tobacco were passed over the counter. Goodbye greetings were
being exchanged.

"Hope you'll strike it rich and let us in on the ground floor, Dunbar,"
called out one of the loafers to the oldest man of the party about to
leave.

"Thanks, awfully; I'll remember," replied the man addressed, laughing,
but without promising. "So long!"

"So long," called out the bartender in reply. Then to those in the room:
"Them fellers are hittin' the trail in good shape with all they need for
six weeks, but when that's gone they'll have ter come to us to fill up
again. There aint no other place this side of Nome to buy a hunk of
terbac that I knows of, eh, Curley?"

"Nope, nor drinks, nor grub neither, by Jove!" removing the smutty cob
pipe from between his teeth in order to smile widely as was habitual
with Curley.

"I wish 'em much joy with that Selawik gang," said the man behind the
bar.

"Well, there's a few whites there, and then there's ole Kuikutuk and his
brood, besides a dozen other natives. Does the ole shaman's squaw still
live in his igloo?"

"Oh, yes, I guess so. She did the last I heerd," answered the other.

"Ole Kuik better look sharp when Gibbs gits there, for I have heerd that
the young fool was awful sweet on his pretty woman last year," and wide
smiling Curly pulled his parkie hood over his head preparatory to
leaving the roadhouse, after delivering himself of this piece of gossip.

"Them chaps is swelled up now all right enough, but just wait a bit.
They may come back with their feathers picked, for the job they've
struck aint a summer picnic, and that's no josh, either."

In this manner were the departed miners and their actions commented
upon; not in the most complimentary way, to be sure, as is the custom
with many when those around them seem prosperous.

In the meantime the prospectors pushed on. Lakes, rivers and mountains
were crossed. In the latter the lowest passes and the most used trails
were selected, but these were always rough and bewildering at best--a
few blazoned spruces on the hills or hatchet-hacked willows near the
creeks, a tin can placed upon a stake or a bit of rag flying from a
twig; all these but poorly marked the paths which were seldom pressed by
the foot of a human being. Weeks might elapse, or months even, when no
soul passed that way. Perhaps the whir of a partridge's wing as he flew
from one feeding ground to another on the tundra was the only sound
disturbing the still air for hours; or when a red fox, made sprightly by
hunger, left as few foot-prints on the snow as possible, by leaping with
great bounds forward to the hills.

Buckland River and its tributaries were left behind. No gold of any
account had as yet been found in their vicinity, and the miners hurried
on. Time was precious, for food was disappearing and severe weather was
approaching.

Finally, at the close of a short winter's day in December, the three
dog-teams drew their sleds into the camp at Selawik. Flinging themselves
upon the snow in their harness the patient brutes looked appealingly
into their masters' faces. Then, as if by instinct they understood that
here they would stop for some days, tense and tired muscles relaxed,
each pointed furry head was laid between two weary little feet, and the
malamutes rested. They had well earned the rest.

Here in the midst of a forest of small firs the boughs of which were
still covered with snow as if it had just fallen, rose the chimneys of
perhaps a half dozen log cabins and igloos, the latter appearing to be
simply burrows from which smoke was slowly issuing; but being in reality
the winter homes of the Selawik Indians or Eskimo.

The latter usually lived in filth and squalor, it being their habit to
perform only the most necessary labor, and that, too, with the least
amount of effort. The women were the workers, performing the major part
of every duty.

In the igloo of the shaman, or medicine man, however, it was different.
The old native had lost his first wife and married another and younger
one, the pretty woman spoken of by wide-mouthed Curley in the Keewalik
roadhouse some days before. She was a full blooded Eskimo, as was the
shaman, but had enjoyed the advantages of travel, having visited in the
Nome country; remaining for a time also in the mission house at
Kotzebue.

[Illustration: _The pretty woman ... was a full-blooded Eskimo_]

Among the Selawiks she was accounted a beauty. Her cheeks were rosy
though high-boned, her skin dark but clear, and her lips, not too
full for symmetry, repeated the tint of her cheeks artistically. She was
fond of weaving bright bits of color into the two long braids of black
hair, and decorating in many different ways her fur parkies and mukluks.
She was proud of keeping her house and person as tidy as possible, while
her versatility allowed her the use of many English words and sentences.

It was not long after his arrival in camp the year before, that the
young prospector and miner, Gibbs by name, began looking upon the wife
of the old shaman, Kuiktuk, in a way that boded trouble for someone.

The old Eskimo was not slow to perceive it. It was not his custom to
talk much, but he was often, though silent, an intensely interested
observer of the white man who so often came to his igloo.

The shaman's wife flirted. Then the shaman sorrowed. Like a philosopher
he bore his trouble for some months until the spring came, the snow and
ice left the Selawik, the young white man's supplies were low, and he
was finally seen poling his small boat down the river to the Kotzebue,
apparently leaving forever.

Then Kuiktuk took courage, picked up the broken ends of his matrimonial
cable, and putting them together as best he could, devoutly hoped he had
seen the last of the youthful lover.

Now, after a year, he returned. Not only so, but he had brought others
with him who might aggravate the situation; and the old Eskimo's heart
was sore. Gibbs and his men had made for the shaman's igloo soon after
their arrival in the camp. What would happen next?

He knew their object. They were searching for gold, guided by the man he
hated but whom his wife loved. She and her former admirer were already
renewing their acquaintance of the year before, to the sorrow and
mortification of the shaman.

The men had brought trading tobacco, tea and coffee, with which to gain
favor with the Eskimos while they talked of the unknown country about
them, its possibilities and probabilities. Did the natives know of gold
in this region? Had they seen the shining metal in any of the nearby
creeks or rivers during the summer? Had there been reports from
neighboring tribes of any such discoveries?

These and many like inquiries were made by the men, but were answered in
the negative.

The shaman kept silent.

This was finally noticed by Gibbs, who immediately imagined that here
was the only source from which the desired information could be gained.

Kuiktuk had intended it so.

In his corner of the igloo he had ruminated long and earnestly. Three
days had the miners already spent in the camp of the Eskimos, and unless
they were encouraged in their own way--that is, unless they were given
the explanation they sought, they might remain here a month longer;
which stay would doubtless bring greater disgrace to the shaman's
household than ever; the sooner they were told where to find the gold
the better for all concerned; when they would again take to the trail,
and he would be left in the undisputed possession of his Selawik wife
whom he loved.

"Cow-cow" and calico were kept in store for the natives (the white men
said) who would point the way or guide them to a spot rich in the
desired mineral; and who needed these things more than he and his
family, reasoned Kuiktuk.

It was really no matter if the gold creeks were omitted altogether; he
should by good rights have the cow-cow and calico. There were reindeer
skins which had been secured the year before by Gibbs, but which he had
forgotten to pay for; and lastly, there were damages which should be
settled, for had not the young miner stolen his wife's affections and
well nigh broken his heart?

Thus Kuiktuk continued to reason. He was not revengeful by nature; he
could easily have slipped a deadly draught into the drinking cup of the
man, but he had no wish to kill. He only thought to send Gibbs away
about his business in order that his own peace of mind might be left
undisturbed. To be sure, he might return to Selawik unless entirely put
out of the way, but that risk would have to be borne.

Gold-bearing creeks and rivers were little thought of by the Eskimos.
Their use for gold was small. Given an igloo, a boat, fishing and
hunting tackle, and they were happy and satisfied; but the white man
should be taught to let the wives of the Eskimos alone, and that, too,
right early.

All this, and a great deal more, passed through the mind of the shaman.

On the evening of the third day after the arrival of the miners, while
all sat smoking before the fire, Kuiktuk decided to act.

Taking his pipe from his mouth he pulled himself slowly together as if
about to speak.

"Say, Kuiktuk, old man, what is it? Can you tell us where to find the
yellow stuff we look for?" keenly inquired Dunbar.

The Eskimo slowly nodded.

"Is it far from here?"

A shake of the head in reply.

"How far? Where?" eagerly asked the men in a breath.

He pointed in a southeasterly direction.

"How many sleeps?" inquired Gibbs, meaning to ask how many days' journey
it was.

Kuiktuk held up the fingers of one hand.

"He says its a five days' 'mush' from here," interpreted Gibbs.

"Will you go with us to the place?" from Dunbar.

"Me want cow-cow ameluktuk," mumbled the medicine man slowly.

"Yes, yes, you shall have the cow-cow," impatiently cried Dunbar, "but
not until you show us the place."

"Me want cow-cow ameluktuk," again muttered the man, still slowly but
more firmly.

"Oh, he wants the grub before we leave," said Gibbs.

"The devil he does!" cried another, who then tried to explain to Kuiktuk
that he must produce the gold-bearing creek before he was given the food
in payment.

The native was obstinate.

"Cow-cow peeluk, gold peeluk," indifferently, from the medicine man,
going back to his pipe in the corner as if not caring for further
conversation.

"He means no grub, no gold--or we must give him the supplies first, else
we don't get the creek," again interpreted Gibbs.

"To the dogs with the fellow!" cried one.

"He wants the whole cheese."

"Let him keep his creek and be--blessed!"

"Forget it, boys, and come to the Kobuk with me," laughed one.

"Let's give him the calico and beads, but cut out the grub," finally
from one of the most generous, while Kuiktuk sat stolidly smoking.

The latter would not compromise. The men hated to part with the
supplies, but dreaded far worse to lose the prospect of that good creek
said by the native to contain gold. It might prove another Anvil, who
could tell? Possibly it was not so far away as the fellow said, Eskimos
were never well up in time and distances, and knew nothing of
prospectors' methods.

This was what Dunbar argued, and he, being the eldest of the party, was
finally allowed his way, and that was to pay the shrewd trader his
price, delivering to him the supplies agreed to on the next day before
they started out upon their stampede to the creek.

"Then in case the old fellow has lied about the gold," said Gibbs,
"we'll hang him to the nearest tree."

A consultation of miners, including Kuiktuk was held. Plans for the trip
were laid, the route selected and all preparations completed. The shaman
would lead the men up the Selawik Rive; to its head waters, as the
trails on the ice, though poor, were level and much better than across
the country, where mountain ranges intercepted. They would then head due
south.

Only this much of his plan did the old Eskimo reveal. Secretly he wished
to lead the men by ways they could not possibly traverse in returning.
In doing the latter they would not wish to break a new trail unguided
through an unexplored region of such magnitude, and by spring the ice
would be leaving the Selawik.

As they had no boats it would be impossible for them to return as they
had come. If they came to Selawik during the summer, he, and his family
and friends would be away on their annual fishing excursion and their
igloos would be deserted.

Thus the Shaman planned before the start was made for Midas.

The weather was not severe and signs were propitious for "mushing". The
men were clothed in reindeer skins, with sleeping bags of the same
material; their dogs were fresh, and they themselves were well fed and
rested.

A hundred miles or more were as nothing to them as compared to the trip
from Nome.

At last the head waters of the Selawik were reached under Kuiktuk's
guidance. No white man had they seen. A few Eskimo huts were passed;
game was more abundant, and as they came into heavily wooded country
with guns and ammunition they supplied themselves with ptarmigan and
other winter fowl of various kinds. Then they hoped to kill a caribou or
reindeer which would furnish food for the malamutes as well as for
themselves.

By this time three of the party hung back. With the Eskimo guide they
numbered six. To penetrate still farther into an unknown wilderness at
this season with an insufficient food supply would be foolhardy; it
would be better for them to return to Nome by the shortest trail and
again secure provisions.

This course was finally adopted.

Dunbar and Gibbs, accompanied by their guide, one day longer, were to
push on as speedily as possible to the wonderful creek, while the others
would return to Nome. Here they were to rest quietly until the two had
made fast their stakes on Midas, and also returned to the city for
supplies. In the meantime, the ones to reach the latter place first were
to give out the news of the discovery of a magnificent new section, the
center of which was a gold-bearing creek of amazing richness. Here was a
chance to excite the credulity of the people of Nome, than whom there
were none more willing and anxious to learn of new and rich gold
discoveries; and the possibility occurred to the miners that money with
which to prospect the new Midas might be collected from the citizens.

With this understanding the men parted; Kuiktuk remaining with Dunbar
and Gibbs for another day, when, giving them full and explicit
directions as to the route to the creek, as well as a complete
description of the same, he started back to his own camp.

Again the two men pushed southward.

"We're up against it now, Dunbar," laughed Gibbs, "and its a question of
who'll win out. If it hadn't been for the old rascal's appetite we would
have made Kuiktuk come the entire way to Midas; but he lowered our grub
so fast it was no use."

"No, but be sure you don't lose his rude map and directions to Midas in
your notebook. Without them we would indeed be up against it, as you
say," replied the older man, seriously, as they were making their way
across the big "Divide" when the native had left them.

Snow was now beginning to fall in large flakes; a storm signal, and one
they liked little. The temperature was falling. It was quite dark at
three o'clock in the afternoon, and they were obliged to travel by
snow-light. When camp was finally made, after halting for the night in a
thicket of pine and spruce trees, the men were cold, tired and hungry.

Close under the branches of the pine trees they pitched their little
tent for shelter. A big fire of logs and branches was kindled in front.
The weary malamutes and their masters had eaten, and lay stretched upon
the ground, the men in sleeping bags, thrown upon boughs from the
thicket; the dogs upon the snow near the fire.

The latter was to be replenished during the night from the pile of
sticks just gathered, and the animals would act as sentinels in case a
wolf or bear happened to stray that way.

Oh, the loneliness of that winter's night; they were surrounded by a
sheeted wilderness, how far from human habitation they did not know. No
moon or stars gave light to cheer the wanderers, but instead, snow
falling heavily and noiselessly over all. No winds stirred among the
pines, causing them dead silence. The one solitary sound to be heard at
intervals was the snapping in the fire of some pine knot, long since
broken and dead upon the ground, or clipped from its parent stem by the
axe of the prospector.

When the storm had cleared and the two miners were able to look about
them sufficiently, they discovered the creek described by Kuiktuk.

It lay between high hills, locked in the icy grip of an Arctic winter.
On the southern exposure of these hills grew fir, pine and spruce trees
of no great size, but still invaluable to prospectors in this otherwise
inhospitable region. Had it been in summer time one could have seen a
narrow and sinuous creek flowing in a northeasterly direction, emptying
itself into a much larger and more sinuous stream which trended
easterly and united with the great Koyukuk.

There were but a few low-lying "benches" to be found. The hills were
everywhere. They sprang from the earth like mushrooms in a moist garden.
Their summits were rock-ribbed and sides boulder-strewn.

Worse than all else the rock was granite. No miner of experience in this
country hoped to find gold in a granite section; it had never been known
to accompany such a formation in Alaska, and these men well knew that
they were check-mated.

There was no gold there.

They had been duped. When further investigation had confirmed the truth
of their first fears the rage of these men knew no bounds. Gibbs,
especially, raved like a madman, and swore dire vengeance on the native
who had been the cause of their disappointment.

It was all clear to his mind now. The old man whom he had thought so
docile and inoffensive as he sat in his igloo corner smoking his pipe,
was in reality not what he appeared, but a being like other men, having
the same sensibilities and passions. There was no doubt now that he had
felt the greatest resentment to the young man's course in regard to his
wife, and had quietly plotted against him with this result.

Dunbar was angered that he, an innocent man, should have been made the
scapegoat for the shortcomings of his companion; declaring that in doing
this Kuiktuk had overreached himself. If he had wanted to punish Gibbs
he should not have selected the whole party of five to wreak his
vengeance upon in this manner, not knowing when they left Selawik that
three of their number would return so soon to Nome. The three latter
were in reality as much dupes of the old native as they themselves, for
had they not gone on to town to spread the news of the splendid gold
discovery?

From this standpoint the matter was reasoned upon by the two men sitting
before their camp fire, and ended as usual in an explosion of violent
wrath on the part of the young miner.

"Oh, quit your cursing, Gibbs," at last exclaimed the older man,
ill-naturedly, "and let's decide what can be done. I have a plan which I
will unfold to you if you can stop swearing long enough to listen."

"What is it?" moodily asked Gibbs.

"Let the boys go on to Nome and tell as many big yarns as they like
about this rich old creek. When we get there we'll go them one better
and make the eyes of the Nomites stand out in wonderment. We will then
collect money from as many persons as we can successfully hoodwink into
believing our stories and then skip back to the Koyukuk. When the ice
has left the rivers we can change our currency into gold dust at some
trading post and quietly leave for the 'outside'. Afterwards, if we
wish, we can carry this scheme a point farther and on the outside sell
Midas ground to all who are easily gullible. See?"

As the man said this he leaned forward to get a closer view of his
listener's face. What he saw encouraged him to proceed.

"What do you say, will you do it?'"

"It is the only honorable way out of the scrape, eh?" laughed the other.

"Honor be d----d!" exclaimed Dunbar. "Will you do this or not?"

"I will."

"Shake!"

The two men then shook hands, sealing a compact diabolical to the last
degree, and without further hesitation started for Nome the next
morning.

There was great excitement in Nome. Five miners had returned from the
Koyukuk country and given out information of a gold "strike" of
exceeding richness. Three of these men had arrived before the others,
but all told the same story. A Selawik Eskimo, they said, had recently
guided them to the creek where their own discoveries had confirmed his
statement. Nothing so rich had they ever before seen. The creek gave
promise of being one of the most famous placer gold diggings that had
ever been found in Alaska; was in fact a veritable Golconda, and the
returned prospectors dilated upon the interesting details of their story
with evident enjoyment. They stated that the formation of the country
was the very best for gold indications; that the creek was wide and
shallow, the benches were broad, and the hills few in number but long
and sweeping like the famous hills of Solomon and Anvil.

The two miners went further. While expatiating to their listeners upon
the extent of the possible and probable contents of their new creek,
each man exhibited with much gusto a medium-sized "poke" partly filled
with coarse gold and nuggets which they had panned (they affirmed) from
the gravel bed of the stream after cutting away the ice sufficiently;
and with these and other plausible tales were the good people of Nome
for weeks entertained.

To their three companions Dunbar and Gibbs gave no hint regarding their
actual experiences at Midas.

The secret was safer with two than five; but five men could arouse
greater interest and raise more funds for their schemes. For this reason
the two leaders kept their own counsel, but urged the spreading of the
false reports.

Money soon began to flow into their pockets. Everyone wished to have a
hand in this wonderful "strike", and all were willing to pay for such
interests. Not only did mining men go into their bank books, but clerks,
stenographers, and small tradespeople passed out their hard-earned
money. Women also felt reluctant to be left behind at a time of such
wondrous opportunity, and plunged their hands into all sorts of nooks
and crannies for their long hoarded but smaller denominations.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few months and the scene was changed. Two miners poled their small
boats down the Koyukuk River. Winter was gone, taking ice and snow with
it. Instead of these, the waters of the great river, fed by melted snow
and tributaries, surged on mightily, now whirling in swift rapids where
huge boulders impeded their progress; or to lower levels where green
islands caused a division of the floods allowing reunion later.

The men in the boat talked little. They managed to drift past the
principal mining camps during the night in order not to be much seen. To
be sure, there was no darkness at this time of the year, but the camps
were not stirring much through the night; and in the event of a near
approach to a trading post in daylight they rested a few hours among the
willows on the river banks or upon some island in mid-stream. When they
had slept and eaten before their camp fire their journey was resumed.

In the bow of the boat lay two sacks of very great weight. They were not
large, but were made of strong, thick material, such as is used for
tents. Great care was given these sacks by the two men. At every halt
along the river they were carefully lifted out upon the ground above the
reach of the water, and covered by some article of clothing or bedding.

The sacks contained gold.

The men had come from Nome to the Koyukuk, where at a small trading post
they had changed a large amount of currency into gold dust and nuggets,
mined from adjacent creeks. With this they were making their way south
to the Yukon River where they intended to go quietly on board a steamer
heading up stream, thus making their way to the Klondyke and later to
the States.

Reaching the Yukon River, a small steamer was hailed; they boarded her
and soon smoked contentedly on deck in the sunshine.

"Are you going on to 'Frisco' as you first thought of doing, Dunbar?"
inquired Gibbs, for these were the two Midas Creek promotors.

"You bet I am, and you go, too, for you are pledged to the scheme to the
end, you know. You won't back down now, will you?" with some anxiety
the question was asked by Dunbar.

"I couldn't with honor, old man, could I?" and the young miner laughed,
tossing a handful of gold nuggets up in the air and carelessly catching
them as he spoke.

"There you go again!" said the other, "If I were you I would cut out all
the small talk about honor after this. It isn't consistent."

"Agreed, but one likes to hear oneself mention the word occasionally as
a reminder that there is such a thing. Then, too, if one chanced to be
overheard it might make a good impression on somebody," winked the
fellow slyly.

"I never thought of that to be sure. You may be young in years but
you're not in wickedness. I believe you'll do. If you're not afraid it
will injure that blessed honor of yours, go fetch another bottle of the
best champagne from the bar, will you?"

"You bet I will. I'll get two of them while I'm getting," and Gibbs
sauntered away with his hands in his pockets after tossing his cigarette
over the steamer rail.

When Gibbs returned he was followed by a waiter who carried a tray with
bottles and glasses. In their wake were others who had quickly
responded to the young miner's invitation to drink with them, and they
were all presently hilarious.

In this way were the two men scattering the contends of their gold
sacks--their's by right of possession only; but really belonging to the
townspeople of Nome. Little cared the two men how quickly the gold sacks
were empty for they had the ability to replenish them when they liked.
They were smooth talkers, told plausible tales, looked one squarely in
the eye while speaking, and bore no marks to the casual observer of the
rascality underneath.

If people were so easily taken in it was their own look-out, and served
them right--this was a much quicker and easier way of mining the creek
gold than with pick and shovel--nobody need be poor--"we will soon have
money to burn, and might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb;" these
were some of the arguments and observations made by the two miners as
they proceeded up the river on their way to the "outside" and the scene
of their future operations.

       *       *       *       *       *

A year passed. In the great Koyukuk country the summer had come again
and with it new life and activity in the way of prospectors and
settlers. Craft of all shapes and sizes could be seen trying to force
their way against the current of the great river. There were scows,
houseboats, and small steamers. Families there were on flat boats which
appeared to hold the earthly possessions of many. Tents were pitched on
scows, and camp stoves with their accompanying smoke stacks peeping
through the canvas did full duty. Mining tools formed a large and
conspicuous part of the supplies of the incoming prospectors, for they
were to exploit a certain rich section of country still in its
virginity, and there were no trading posts near.

In the multitude there were men, women and children. There were outfits
costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars, but all were full of
eager expectancy; for were they not coming to one of the richest
gold-bearing sections in Alaska? And had not their funds preceeded them
for the purchase of claims soon now to be opened up by them?

It was small wonder that they were light hearted and worked early and
late to get to the desired place. All carried descriptions of the famous
creek and its surroundings, and each day eyes were strained in a
westerly direction in the hope of catching a first glimpse of the
promised land.

They had come from the Nome country, and a dozen different states
besides; the Pacific coast being largely represented. They were there by
scores from farms, from shops, from colleges, and from the great cities,
and all were filled with highest anticipations.

They were looking for the creek called Midas.

They found it.

Dunbar and Gibbs were not there, but the granite mountains were. Many of
the first prospectors to ascend the creek left their outfits and poled
even farther in small boats. Many miles they toiled between banks so
close and around curves so sharp that there was small chance for turning
a tiny craft; but on all sides it was the same.

Winding in and out between great boulders of granite which had in some
tremendous upheaval of nature been tossed aloft like snowballs from the
hands of a schoolboy, the waters of this creek struggled, icy and
sullen.

A tall and distinguished looking gentleman sat in the stern of a boat
while his men laboriously poled. He was from London. He had outfitted a
party of men in Nome many months before, and had come to find his gold
claims.

No staking ground had been done. Close under a clump of pines the
remains of a white man's camp in the shape of tin food cans, and broken
cob pipes were found; while scattered near were the leaves of an old
notebook and rudely traced map.

No further proof was needed. It was the identical creek called Midas by
Dunbar and Gibbs.

It was well for them that they were not there.

The heart of Alaska in winter! It is more than pen can describe. Its
beauty, grandeur, and immensity are feebly told in words. Snow and ice
are everywhere, and that everywhere seems as great as the world. Hills
and mountains are here innumerable and majestic; while rivers and creeks
unlimited in number and of untold wealth lie safely locked in Nature's
storehouse by Nature's hand. The heavens are glorious! the noonday sun
making the whole earth to sparkle with diamonds like the gems on a
queen's bosom; followed by hours illumined by a moon so softly and
brilliantly beautiful as to appear like the eye of a god.

Fully as wonderful as in her gentler moods but far more terrible is
Alaska when the great blizzard rages. There remains then no signs of
serenity. Whirlwind follows whirlwind; gales from the ends of the earth
blow horribly and with frenzied swiftness, bearing upon their breath the
icy points of millions of keen needles which bite like the stings of
insects. Flying, sifting, drifting snow, which before formed jewels of
such exquisite beauty is now piled mountain high, or sucks itself with
savage fierceness through crannies and into deep gorges between high
hills, thus creating a fitting accompaniment in the dangerous crevasse.

Into this wilderness, north of the great Circle, and amid conditions
like these, one would scarcely hope to find white men penetrating.
Probably not from choice would they enter; certainly by force of
circumstances if at all; and these must have been the most desperate. Be
that as it may, a small trail of smoke one day made its way aloft from a
log cabin half buried in the snow; while a pack of a dozen malamutes
played about the door. A pile of logs and sticks of firewood, an axe, a
tin bucket, and dog-sleds near, gave undisputed evidence of the presence
here of someone besides natives.

Entering the door, a visitor would have been welcomed by two occupants.
One of them lay stretched upon his bunk in the corner of the room; the
other, a younger man, threw some sticks upon the fire.

They were arguing the question of breaking camp and pushing further
eastward.

"If we can reach the Crow Mountains by spring, secure a boat at Rampart
House and work along to the Mackenzie River we are all right," and the
speaker bent over a map of Alaska spread out before him.

"From there to the coast is an easy matter, and to secure passage on
some whaler for Point Barrow will not be difficult; but afterward--"

"Yes, afterward," interrupted the man upon the bunk, impatiently. "What
about afterwards?"

"We will find a way into Siberia or China where we can enjoy our
hard-earned gold," with a sarcastic emphasis upon the three last words
of his sentence, but laughing lightly.

"There is no reason you should not do this," was the reply, "but with me
it is different. I am ill, and daily growing weaker. This isolation and
enforced inaction takes the life out of me; my head grows dizzy from
much thinking, and I see forms, spectres, and hobgoblins in all shapes
and colors," this was said complainingly and in a weakened voice.

"My dreams are so horrible that I dread the prospect of night."

"You're a fool to worry. Keep a stiff upper lip, and all will be well.
See, I'm making a checker-board with which we can kill time when we
like."

"I'd like to kill the whole of it before it kills me," was the response.
"If I only had something to read or something to do. I'm sick of this
infernal hole!"

"Ditto here, but what can we do? If we push on eastward now we will
probably be without shelter, and it is a long and tedious job to build
a log cabin. With the thermometer at sixty degrees below zero as it is
we will freeze to death on the trail."

"Much loss it would be," growled Dunbar.

"Then if we went back to the Koyukuk," continued Gibbs, "we would be
sure to run into the arms of some of our numerous mining partners from
Midas, which we are in no hurry to do. We are now about half way between
the headwaters of the Koyukuk and the Canadian boundary line, and as we
are fairly comfortable here, with plenty of game and firewood, and as we
are not sure of finding a shelter for our heads if we move now, I think
it wise to stay right here for two months longer at least. With our
hunting, eating, sleeping and checkers, the time will pass if we wait
long enough," and the speaker resumed a lighter tone while trying to
encourage the other.

"I suppose you are right, boy, but I detest this kind of a life."

"It's a heap better than being behind bars for a lifetime or feeding
buzzards while dangling from the limb of a tree." Then seeing the
horror on his partner's face, he said with a mockingly polite bow, "A
thousand pardons, old fellow, for such unpleasant allusions, but I was
only seeking to make you more contented for your own good as well as
mine."

"I'm tired of it all," sighed the older man wearily.

"Oh, _no_, we're not tired of this, Dunbar," seizing a gold sack from
among a heap of them upon the ground in a corner of the cabin and
emptying the shining nuggets upon the checkerboard. "These look as good
to me as ever, because I can see in them ease and luxury in some
beautiful southern clime, where the birds sing sweetly and the flowers
bloom unendingly; where we can find sweethearts by the dozen and live
like sultans--by Jove, I wish I were there now."

The other groaned aloud. He covered his face with his hands.

"Take it away, take it out of my sight, I tell you. I hate it! I hate
it!" he cried hoarsely and with eyes glaring, as he leaped from his bunk
to the ground.

The younger man knew that he had gone too far and tried to pacify him,
putting the gold hastily away and covering it from sight.

Afterwards when the older man had grown calmer, the two went for a hunt,
followed by three of their dogs for company. The remainder of the
malamutes kept watch by the camp in their absence.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun had long since sunk below the western horizon. Following in its
wake great banks of luminous clouds swept by, finally culminating in a
heavy sheet of haze.

From this gradually sprung broad arches of light to the zenith; while
rays of brilliant crimson color ranged themselves perpendicularly from
earth to sky, shooting up and down with great velocity and
tremulousness. In the zenith these arches slowly widened, their rays
multiplying until the whole sky was hidden, and then, deepening in
intensity of color, became a veritable sea of blood, flowing steadily
westward. Over the vast and snowy Arctic waste this glorious flood of
color was pouring until no particle of whiteness remained.

At the close of the day the hunters and their dogs were returning to
their cabin after having shot enough small game for some time.

A solemn stillness had until now prevailed, when suddenly, without
warning, there were heard with startling clearness on the frosty air
hissing or whizzing sounds, like the crackling of firebrands in a
furnace.

With the first appearance of the polaris in the heavens Dunbar became
greatly excited, clutching the arm of his companion until he cried out
with pain.

"It has come at last! Its the judgment! Its hell, hell! See the blood!
See it on my hands--it covers everything. Hell's everywhere!" and the
man shrieked, tearing his clothing from him and darting from side to
side as if trying to escape some awful fate.

In vain the younger man tried to quiet him.

"The devil's coming! He'll get me! Keep him away!" he cried with curses,
and he crouched at the feet of Gibbs, a wild-eyed, and screaming maniac.

At that instant the crackling about their heads became louder, and the
older man sprang to his feet in a frenzy of fright.

Leaping, shouting, cursing, flinging out his arms to imaginary
assailants, tearing his beard and his hair by handfuls, he ran to and
fro, a raving madman. Then in an insane frenzy he turned his back on his
companion for one instant as if about to flee to the woods, when Gibbs,
snatching his revolver from his belt, aimed it at the man's back and
fired.

Dunbar fell dead upon the ground.

Until that moment the dogs, quite unconcerned at what was going on about
them, being intent only upon following their trail of the morning back
to the cabin, now fled toward home, howling dismally.

The young miner was now alone; utterly and entirely alone. Above and
around him shone the blood-red light from the heavens; at his feet the
body of his only friend--dead.

Gibbs fainted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The magnificent electrical hurricane of the night before had passed
over, leaving behind one faithful sentinel--the moon. Lovingly and
brightly her beams were shed over the wilderness of snow whose purity
was marred by only two dark blots--the bodies of two men lying dead upon
their faces. The first died by the hand of the other. The second by
freezing. Both were suddenly called to that judgment so horribly feared
by the older man, who saw in the unusual display of the aurora polaris
the realization of his worst imaginings.

So these two men fell; while the influence of their evil deeds continue
like the ripples on a lake surrounding a sinking stone; perhaps forever.

  "For I hold it true that thoughts are things
  Endowed with body, breath and wings,
  And that we send them forth to fill
  The world with good results or ill."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII

THE OLD STONE HOUSE


The inhabitants of Rainy Hollow were greatly disturbed. In the face of
facts there really was justification for such excitement on the part of
the miners, the issue at stake being an important boundary line between
two great nations. Those loyal to the stars and stripes, and supporting
themselves under the protection of their beloved colors, were surprised
to hear hinted the possibility of their being placed, against their
will, under the jurisdiction of a foreign power, whose hand might easily
prove an arbitrary one. Restlessly they agitated the question at their
miners' meetings, with a dim hope that some solution of the trouble
would present itself, and ultimately they would be left in the happy
possession of properties for which they had endured strenuous hardships
and from which they would only part when compelled.

From the channel called Portland on the south, along the coast to the
pinnacles of St. Elias, ten marine leagues were supposed from time
immemorial to be defined; neither the channel, the salt water line, nor
the mountain's top having been materially changed as to configuration.
From Mt. Elias a perpendicular line to the Frozen Ocean farther outlined
the boundary between the two nations, this not being included, however,
in the debatable country at this time.

The question, then, before the miners, resolved itself into one
peculiarly simple. It was this: Had the line of demarcation been
successfully deflected in order to include the natural seaports of such
increased importance since the gold discoveries in the Klondyke? and if
so, how? The line was far from being imaginary. In the long, long ago in
certain places natural landmarks had been made use of by the Russians,
but where they were not available monuments of stone had been erected at
intervals, and these built in solid masonry had withstood the
encroachments of the elements for more than fifty years.

An old stone monument house built by the Russians almost a century
before was yet to be discovered by those of the "ten leagues" theory,
and it must be searched for, but where, and by whom? If this could be
found the authenticity of the old boundary line would be established,
and those in authority could place their hands without hesitation upon
proof which must be decisive.

Finally, one beautiful day in summer, a miners' meeting was called, and
the Rainy Hollow men assembled to decide what they could do to assist
the government to put an end to the matter forever.

A burly, old-time miner and pioneer called "Dick Dead-eye" by his
fellows, was made chairman of the meeting. This name was given him
because he was a good marksman, having an eye which seldom failed him in
taking aim with a gun. He was seconded by a stranger, who, having a
keen, quick glance and well knit figure dressed appropriately in
leathern trousers and leggings, sat at the chairman's right and
evidently "meant business", as Billy Blue intimated on the aside to his
companions.

"This meetin' will now come to order," called out the chairman of
dead-shot fame, giving two or three good, hard thumps on the table with
his heavy fist.

As the buzzing in the room ceased and each man gave his attention the
speaker continued.

"You fellers all know why we came here to-day. We have with us one of
Uncle Sam's men from Washington, D. C. He has been sent by our
government to look up the matter of the boundary line between us and the
Yukon territory, and see if we can't git things settled rightly."

At this a storm of applause greeted the speaker and along with the
clapping of hands was heard the thud of the miners' heavy hob-nailed
boots upon the floor in emphasis.

The chairman waited for silence. When it came he said:

"I have the great honor and pleasure, gentlemen, to introduce to you
Lieutenant Adams, our friend from Washington. The lieutenant will give
us a talk," and with that the chairman took his seat, while wiping away
the perspiration incident to the exertion of conducting a meeting in the
presence of a man from Washington.

The lieutenant rose quickly, and looking over the little band of miners,
briskly addressed them as one of their number.

"My friends," said he, "you have all had experience in locating mining
claims, but we want you to locate something else in order that you may
keep possession of the ground you have, and that is the old Russian
Boundary Line so long ago established by the first white settlers and
traders in Alaska. If we can verify the boundary now held by us as being
the one established and held by them, you will be left in the
undisturbed right of your property."

"Hear! Hear!" exclaimed his enthusiastic listeners, causing the officer
to smile.

"You probably all know that our government bought Alaska from Russia a
few years ago at what seemed at that time an enormous sum for a frozen
good-for-nothing country. The transaction was designated 'Seward's
Folly', and the country was said to be a fit residence only for polar
bears and Eskimos. The whale and seal industries were fast reaching
extinction when gold was discovered, and this, too, in such vast
quantities and widely separated districts as to enormously increase by
leaps and bounds the value of the whole of Alaska. For this reason the
matter of the boundary line has grown to be of immense importance, and
in justice to our neighbors as well as to ourselves, it should now be
authoritatively settled once and forever. What I want to know is, how
many of those present will assist me in securing evidence of the old
boundary marks. It is a big undertaking. We shall need guides and boats.
I understand what it means for miners to leave their work in the busy
summer season, but this affair is urgent and cannot be delayed. Will you
help me?"

"We will, we will!" cried the men enthusiastically.

"I thank you heartily, and hope we shall soon accomplish our mission,"
and with that the Lieutenant took his seat.

Great applause followed, and again the cannonading of boots upon the
floor was put into action.

The chairman arose and called for order. After a little time, during
which the men gave what information they could, it was arranged that
Dick Dead-eye should be the Lieutenant's guide into the mountains. The
old pioneer was acquainted with Indians on the Klukwan River who had
lived in that vicinity for many years, and as he was conversant with
the Chilkat language he thought they could get the desired information.
The Klukwan River was a tributary of the Chilkat, rising in the
mountains which should be their first objective point.

In the late twilight of an Alaskan summer's day the keel of a little
boat grated upon the pebbles of the beach at Klukwan. Mission and the
west arm of Lynn had been left behind. Here two small rivers emptied
their mountain waters into the big Canal whose long, wet fingers
persistently pointed toward the Passes and the Golden North.
Incidentally, also, they indicated the direction to the disputed
Boundary Line, the exact whereabouts of which the pioneer "Dead-eye" and
his official companion had come to determine. For years the Lieutenant
had been engaged by the United States Government in making surveys along
the southern coast of Alaska where he was no stranger to the Indians.
These knew him, and he spoke their language, as did also the old hunter,
trapper and pathfinder.

For two decades had the old hunter forced long trails into the unknown
country and blazed the way for those who were speedily to follow by
thousands. To him Yukon and Selkirk were household words.

So their landing at Klukwan was no new experience. In truth a cabin,
substantially built of logs and stocked with edibles and other comforts,
awaited the two hardy frontier-men. Had there been no such luxuries they
would have felt as much at home sleeping beside a camp fire in the open.
They looked for those who could tell them of the doings of white men who
landed on these shores nearly a century before, and for those who could
point the way to boundary monuments wherever they were. Of necessity
they must look among the aged ones of Chilkats for information.

On the day following their landing the Indians were assembled, and
inquiry was made by the white men as to the location of the boundary
monuments. Had any of the people present ever seen such, or did they
know where they were to be found?

Two or three then declared that they had seen, many years before, a
Russian Boundary House and knew how to reach it; but they were too old
to walk so far, or climb the mountains. They said they would direct
some younger Indian, and he should guide the white men to the spot.

Their search, however, proved unavailing, for days they wandered about
the mountains and even reached the divide indicated by the old Indians;
but nowhere could a Boundary House, or anything of a like description,
be found.

At last they returned to Klukwan for supplies and further instructions.
There was evidently some mistake.

A consultation was held. An Indian, who had been upon the identical spot
of the Boundary House, must accompany the white men and indicate the
place, if possible.

Some one mentioned the name of Old Tillie. She was too old to see well,
her teeth were long since gone, and she dozed often. No one thought her
able to walk any distance; but if she were strong enough she could
locate the place, if anyone could. She had been there in her girlhood,
seventy years before. When she was asked to guide the white men to the
mountains she slowly shook her head but said nothing.

[Illustration: _When Old Tillie was young_]

"Well, Dick," said the Lieutenant, "we may as well go home. It is too
late to do anything more to-day. It is supper time."

Later, when their meal was finished, and tin cups and plates had been
put aside, the officer took from its nail an old banjo, and began
strumming. Presently he was singing, and his rich, clear voice,
admirably suited to the time, place and surroundings, filled the little
cabin and floated across to the green where the Indians camped. Song
followed song, and the guide continually puffed his pipe near at hand.

By and by, a form stood in the doorway. It was old Tillie. She had heard
the music and had hobbled over to the officer's cabin to listen.

"Come in and sit down, Tillie," called out the Lieutenant. "Do you like
music?"

She smiled and nodded, accepting his invitation.

"Shall I sing for you, Tillie?"

A low spoken affirmative came from the old creature, who had seated
herself near the entrance.

"I'll see if I can remember a few lines in Chilkat that I wrote some
time ago," said the musician, as he again touched the strings.

It was only a simple song, descriptive of two Indian lovers, and it ran
in this fashion:

  In western skies the sun dips low
    Above the purpled hills,
  While glinting waters and their flow
    The air with music fills.

  Filmy and light as fairies' wings,
    The fading clouds descend,
  Touching with finger tips the strings
    While leaves on green boughs bend.

  The lone loon's call unto his mate
    The rustle of the quail,
  Announce the day as growing late,
    And sunshine's pleasures fail.

  Then out upon the quiet lake,
    In tiny birch canoe,
  Ageeluk and her lover make
    Their vows for weal or woe.

  In Chilkat tongue the lover sings,
    The song all lovers know,
  To dusky maid with copper rings,
    Where long, lank rushes grow.

  The shadows lengthen, slowly creep
    Across the water dark,
  While little waves are hiding deep,
    Around the lovers' bark.

  Content, at last, these lovers leap
    Upon the steep bank's stone.
  The leaves are still, the birds asleep,
    And they are left alone.

When he had finished the song he paused. Tillie seemed fast asleep. She
had slipped to the floor at the beginning of the song, and sat with her
head upon her drawn-up knees, with her hands clasped above them. She
made no move. The officer continued his singing, still softly, and in a
retrospective mood. He was a born musician. His whole soul craved song,
and the greatest deprivation to him in Alaska was the lack of music. For
this reason, he kept his own banjo with him, and many an evening's
entertainment had he furnished in cabin and beside camp fire, when his
fine barytone mingled with an ascending cloud from burning spruce knots,
and added enjoyment to the hour.

At last the old Indian raised her head. Pushing back a few long wisps of
hair that had fallen over her face, she asked for water. Her mouth
seemed parched and dry, and her withered lips scarcely moved. She had
just seen the old stone house they were looking for, and would tell the
white men of it, she said.

"Is it the same you saw when a child?" asked the officer.

"Yes, but broken,--the walls stand not. Last moon came men from the
north while hunting."

"What did they do?"

"They broke the house,--its walls are down," mumbled the old woman with
a scowl.

"_How_ were they before, Tillie?"

"Before? Ah, before! In my childhood I saw it,--that Boundary House on
the summit. How green the spruce and pine trees, and the nuts that
dropped before snow-fall! What fires we made, and the roaring and
sweet-smelling! How dear the Indian lovers, and how brave in bear
hunting! With teeth of the cinnamon and grizzly we made chains for our
necks, and with breasts of waterfowl we made aprons. In streams we
tracked beaver and muskrat, besides mink for our coats in the winter."

"But, Tillie, old woman, what of the white men,--the Russians?"

"Not much white, but dark," she returned, correcting him. "Fine
dressing, many knives and guns in belt, buttons bright like money, and
they sit on animals, big like caribou, what you call? Yes, horses. Then
in boat they sailed to beautiful island. Listen!"

The old creature placed her hand behind her ear as if trying to catch
some sound or name. Then, brightening up, she exclaimed: "Baranhoff it
is! Big house, fine castle. Beautiful laughing ladies in lovely
dressing. Gold, gold, I see everywhere on fingers, ears and necks. Money
plenty. All make pleasure, good time, dancing, gambling; drink tea much
from big copper dish. Ah, great man many sleeps gone by. This way they
dance," then added the old creature, scrambling to her feet clumsily and
catching up her tattered skirt daintily with each hand after the manner
of a danseuse. Then, still with closed eyes, she glided gracefully and
with dignified movement over the floor in imitation of long dead
Russian ladies of high degree.

The Lieutenant strummed a few chords softly upon his banjo, but old
Tillie was drowsily crooning her own accompaniment as she swayed
backward and forward, and seemed not to notice.

At last, wearied by her unusual efforts, she sank upon the floor in her
accustomed attitude and breathed deeply.

"But, Tillie, old woman," urged the Lieutenant, who had not forgotten
his important business with the Indians, "what did the men leave in the
old stone house on the mountain to tell us they built it?"

"I see iron box and many things in it; kettles, pipes, spoons and a big
knife. I see small gun that shoots, and bullets to put in it. Many
things are in box, and for it you must dig below the ground, not far, in
a corner by the old chimney there; but first you roll the stones away."

"But we cannot find the place unless you show us the way, Tillie. Will
you go with us?"

"Yes. Me quick find stone house; but Tillie is old, very old, and not
much can hurry. She cannot climb mountains like young Indian," and she
sighed heavily as she spoke.

"You shall take your own time, only show us to the Boundary House on the
Summit, and I will pay you well," said the Lieutenant.

The following day they started. Everything that could be done for the
comfort of the Indian woman was done by the two white men. When she was
tired she was allowed to rest; and at night a bed of boughs was made for
her near the camp fire. Along the banks of the Klahenia she led them,
finally leaving the river and following a dry creek bed into the
mountains.

Not since she was a little child had she visited this region except in
her vision, when she had plainly seen her route and destination,--the
ruins of the old stone house on the mountains.

On the afternoon of the fourth day the party reached the desired spot,
exactly as old Tillie had described. The Lieutenant and his man found
it. Clearing away the huge stones which had formed the walls of the
house, they found, upon digging in the corner, an old iron chest of
ancient Russian manufacture. In it were the proofs (if more were needed)
that this was the identical Boundary House for which they had been
seeking. A couple of small copper kettles, blackened with age and
dampness, like the rude knives, clumsy revolver, and bullets for the
same, as well as a few old pipes, spoons, and a hatchet, lay as they had
done for many years, in the bottom of this old chest. Upon the inside of
the latter's lid was inscribed the owner's name--Petrofsky--Russian
without a doubt; and a rude drawing which clearly traced the much
disputed, much sought out Boundary Line between Alaska and the British
Possessions.

On this drawing was shown the very stone house upon the site of which
they now stood; and Lieutenant Adams and his companion, threw up their
caps for joy.

Pressing the old woman's skinny hand in his own, the Lieutenant filled
it with gold pieces, saying as he did so:

"Here is money with which to buy blankets. Take it. You are a wonderful
woman, and you shall never suffer. You shall have a warm house and
plenty of coal for the winter, and I will see now that you reach your
camp safely. You have served us well, and I thank you."

So saying, the white man covered the iron chest, and even replaced the
stones above as they had found them. They then returned to Klukwan and
their own cabin.

Later, the Lieutenant was successful in gathering information from
Indians at Bennett and Tahku, relative to boundary marks and monuments,
which was also of great service to him in establishing the fact that the
line as it then stood was the one of the original Russian owners, and
that no power had authority to change it.

By arbitration between the two countries the matter was finally
adjusted, leaving the miners of Rainy Hollow, as well as those of the
Porcupine District and other places, in peaceful possession of their
lands as they desired; but of those who had given assistance to the
United States officials while inquiring into the location of Boundary
marks, none had given more satisfactory and timely aid than Tillie, the
Chilkat Indian, when she led the white men to the Old Stone House on the
Summit.



CHAPTER VIII

A MINER'S OWN STORY


The woman I loved above all others in this world had been my happy wife
for a number of years when we decided to come to hunt for Alaskan gold.

We lived only for each other. Our attachment was very great, a feeling
which at the first time of meeting sprang suddenly into existence. My
love for my wife was my ruling passion, my ambition for Alaskan gold
being always secondary, as were all other earthly concerns.

Her attachment for me was of a like nature, warm and sincere.

My greatest anxiety was her health. Never entirely robust, she had
gradually grown less so, even with all my tender care, and as her mind
grew and expanded her body became more frail. At last our physician
prescribed an entire change of life and scene. As I was not a rich man,
and must wherever I went still manage to bring in by business methods
enough for our support, it was an important question with us for some
time where we should settle.

Olga (for that was the name of my little wife) wished to go to Alaska.
There she thought we could together search for the precious mineral only
recently discovered in various places; and though the journey was a long
one she argued that the change would be beneficial to her.

So we came to the northern gold fields. Fortune favored us for two
years. Our claims were turning out so well that we planned to build a
good house in town soon which would be a comfortable home until, after
the further growth of our bank account, we could leave the country
forever.

Before that time arrived, however, a thunder bolt had fallen--Olga was
dead.

I had gone for two days to my claims on the creeks ten miles away,
leaving her alone. At night she was to have the company of a woman
friend in order that she might not feel lonely, and the following
evening I was to be at home again.

How I hated to leave her! Something like an unseen hand upon my arm held
me back; but my men were even then awaiting my orders and I was obliged
to go. To remain at home now meant a loss of thousands of dollars as the
late rains had so swollen the creeks that sluicing was in full blast
after many weeks of waiting on account of scarcity of water.

Olga was in her usual health and smiled brightly, standing in the
doorway when I pressed my lips to her for a good-bye.

"Don't get lonesome, dear, I'll be back as soon as possible, and bring a
good-size poke full of nuggets with me, too," said I hurrying away in
the direction of the hills where my claims were situated.

Looking back from the tundra trail which I had been putting behind me as
fast as possible for some time, I saw her standing in the doorway
looking after me, but whether she had remained as I left her, or whether
she had returned to the door after going inside, I never knew.

The next time I saw her she was dead.

I had walked ten miles to my claim and superintended the daily
"clean-up" at the sluice boxes, securing as I had said I would a poke
full of golden nuggets worth several thousand dollars.

It was a splendid clean-up, but for some unexplainable reason I was
restless and uneasy. I had seen so much gold it was getting to be an old
story; or my meals had not digested well; or perhaps I was working too
hard--I tried in these ways to account for my indifference. My mind
wandered from the work in hand. I looked often in the direction of home
and Olga, but the hills were between us. I slept fitfully at night,
after waking with a start which disturbed me greatly. At last I looked
at my watch. It was past midnight, and I determined to go home.

Going to the creek where the night gang was at work, shoveling into the
sluice boxes, I told the foreman I was starting for home, as I believed
something had happened.

"You're nervous!" he said.

"I don't care what you call it; I'm going home to see how things are
there," and I hurried away toward town.

"Don't worry, Mr. A.", called out the man after me, "Your wife's all
right," then in a lower tone to himself, "That fellow'll go daffy over
his little wife, as he calls her, if he isn't careful. It's a good thing
I haven't any, for I couldn't watch her like that if I did have, that's
certain."

I hurried on over the trail, the night being light and clear, the grass
dewy, and the sun about to rise; for it was midsummer in Alaska.

Afterwards I remembered these things.

When half way home I saw a horseman coming toward me. He was riding
rapidly, and when he drew near I recognized a neighbor. He reined in his
horse.

"Good morning, Mr. A.," said he.

"What is it, Peter, tell me quick! Has anything happened at home?" I
cried impatiently.

"Mr. A., I am sorry to tell you, but you're"--

"Don't say she is dead! Don't say that!" I begged.

"Mount my horse, and I'll follow. Go as fast as you can for the animal
is fresh," said he; but I heard nothing, saw nothing. I was simply
clinging to the saddle, as the animal galloped back over the trail.

In a dazed condition I reached home. Our cabin was filled with
sympathetic friends, trying to assist in some way. As I came in they
dispersed, leaving me alone with Olga.

They had placed her upon a couch where she lay with a sweet smile upon
her lips, but they were cold when I kissed them--her heart had ceased
to beat, and for the first time in all our lives there was no answering
pressure when I took her hands in mine.

Oh, the agony of that moment! No tongue can tell, no pen describe, the
awful loneliness of that hour. She had been part of my life--of me. I
could not live without her; I did not want to try.

Oh, God! How could I bear it? What should I do? I had given her my love,
my life, and now she was dead--everything was swept away and there was
absolutely nothing to live for. If I could only die! Dare I take my own
life? No, for that would then mean everlasting separation, as she was
doubtless now in the happiest state to which mortals could be assigned.
I must try to reach her no matter at what cost. For hours I knelt beside
her with her hands in mine, and my cheek beside her cold one.

I was again talking to Olga, as I fondled her face, her hair, her hands.

"Speak to me, my darling," I pleaded, "if only once more. I cannot live
without you. Why did you leave me? How could you go without telling me?
Surely you did not intend to do it, did you, darling?" Eagerly I
watched her face to see her blue eyes open and her lips once more move.
Could I bring her back by calling her? It might be so; and then I tried,
repeating her name again and again, tenderly, lovingly, oh, so lovingly!

Hours passed thus. The smile on her lips remained. Presently I listened,
my arms about her neck and my head upon her breast.

I was quiet now. The awful storm which had well-nigh uprooted my very
soul was gradually subsiding. I must be ready to hear her if she should
come back with a message.

This I believed she would do. Many times we had talked together of these
things, and each had faithfully promised the other to return, if
possible, with comfort and assistance from the mysterious beyond in the
event of a separation by death.

I could see her now as she looked while speaking, and then I grew calmer
immediately.

I would wait.

By and by it came--only two words.

"The letter."

The letter! Where was it? I had not seen it--I had not thought to look
for such a thing because her departure came so suddenly. A burning
building close to our cabin, with wind blowing the flames toward her,
had caused the fright and heart failure which deprived me of Olga--but a
letter! I would search for it.

Among her writing materials I found it. A sealed packet, directed to me
in her own dainty Swedish handwriting.

I cannot reproduce it here. It was for my eyes only, and written a week
previously; but she said she was expecting soon to be called away. She
did not wish to worry me with goodbyes, and in truth there was no need
of saying them for she would be as constantly with me as ever, even
though I could not always see her. She did not want me to forget her and
hoped I could conveniently manage to keep the poor little body (in which
she had lived for nearly thirty years) quite close to me where I could
sometimes look upon her face.

All this and much more she had written; each letter and word of which
comforted me as only Olga knew how to comfort, because she understood my
very soul.

We had been made for each other. We were souls twinned in creation by a
higher power than many know; but it had been given us to understand in
her lifetime, and now that she had been called away for a season I must
bear it as patiently as possible for her sake, and I would. God helping
me, I would bear it! And my unreasoning grief should not disturb her
quietude.

The day passed.

In the evening a knock at the door brought me back to my objective
senses. I had been oblivious to the outside world all day.

"We thought you might like some coffee and supper, and I have brought it
to you," said a kind miner, who was also a neighbor.

"Wife and I will come and stay all night here if you will go to our
cabin and get some rest."

I thanked him, declining his last offer, but drank the hot coffee. I
then asked him if he would go out and secure the use of the adjoining
vacant log cabin for me, so that I could immediately move into it.

This he did, returning in half an hour, asking what further service he
could render.

I told him I would move all my belongings into the log cabin, leaving
Olga here. This was her house, and it was still to be her home.

By midnight this was done. The man had gone home after making me promise
to call him when I wanted help.

In Olga's cabin of two small rooms there remained only a stove, a couch
upon which she still rested, and an easy lounging chair.

The door at the front I soon padlocked on the outside, and barricaded
within, leaving the back door as the only entrance. Next a man was hired
to dig a narrow trench about the whole cabin to conduct all surface
water away from the lot. During the hours following I busied myself with
the receptacle which would contain the still beautiful, but now
discarded body, of my darling Olga.

Carefully removing a part of the flooring in the center of the room, I
began digging underneath. The ground was frozen. A pick and shovel in my
hands found their way into the frost-locked earth and gravel; but at a
depth of about five feet I stopped.

Her bed was deep enough; also long and wide enough. Its walls were of
ice.

They had dressed her in a robe of pale blue veiling, distinctly suited
to her, upon which rested the long braids of her yellow hair, while her
only ornament was her wedding ring upon her finger.

How perfectly serene and happy she looked! I fully expected her to open
her lips and speak. When this did not happen, the sense of my awful loss
surged back into my brain, seeming almost to take my reason; but another
quiet hour by the side of my darling partially restored me.

It was midnight. A perfect storm of grief had just spent itself and left
me weak and weary. I threw myself, with a heavy sigh, into the depth of
the lounging chair.

Presently I slept. What was that? A bit of beautiful yellow light
floated gracefully above Olga's head. With a fast-beating heart I
watched it from my resting place. It grew in size, and increased in
height, gradually assuming the form of my darling, a complete
counterpart of the one lying before me in the soft blue gown.

The face, the golden braids, the fingers, and the wedding ring were all
there, completed by a smile so heavenly that I gazed as one transfixed.

Could this, then, be Olga, and not a stray beam of light which had
struggled through the curtains?

"Olga!" I cried, stretching out my arms toward her in an ecstasy of
gladness.

"Dear Victor! Have no fear. I will come again." The voice seemed like
Olga's and as full of love as ever.

With that the beautiful yellow light began slowly to fade, the form of
my beloved melted into a haze which drifted gradually upward and out of
sight. Then I awoke.

Weeks passed, during which the fall rains set in, and I was working as
hard as ever; not so much in a feverish desire for the gold I was taking
out of the ground, but because the work helped me to forget my sorrow. I
did not cease to think hourly of Olga, but I wished to put behind me the
shock of her sudden leave-taking, and remember the fact that she was
still in memory mine, that she was watching over me and would visit me
in my dreams.

My all-absorbing love for her I could not--did not wish to put away from
me. I had loved her so devotedly that I envied the passing breeze which
played among the loose locks of the hair on her forehead. I had envied
the dust of the road as it clung to her feet because it could remain so
near to her; and I longed to become the atmosphere she breathed, that I
might live a part of her very physical being This sort of love never
dies, because it is part of one's constitution and sub-consciousness,
and cannot be eradicated.

I grew more and more silent. I was physically well and strong, but
looked forward from morning until night to going home to my cabin and
Olga. Each evening when my lonely supper had been eaten I turned the key
of the adjoining cabin door, and carefully locked it behind me. From the
outer place I entered the room which was now a sacred spot. A solitary
candle gave all the light required. Lifting the section of flooring upon
which had been placed two strong hinges, a few turns of the mechanical
contrivance brought up from below the narrow bed in which the earthly
form of Olga rested, securely covered by clear and heavy glass.

In my low, lounging chair I sat for hours beside her, told her of my
love which would remain forever the same; I reminded her of her pledges
of constancy, reviving instances of our past lives, even bringing to my
mind bright bits of pleasantry which had been habitual to her while
here.

At times I placed my cheek upon the icy glass as near hers as possible,
whispering words of love--always my great love, which like a deep and
flowing well refused to be stopped.

At last one evening I leaned back in my easy chair much wearied, and
because of the stillness, soon slept.

Ah! She had come again! In the brightest and purest yellow light she
stood there bending toward me with a radiant and happy smile upon her
face.

"Victor," she said, softly, "don't worry so much, dear, you will make
yourself ill. Believe me you will soon cease to do this for you will
know the better way and find real happiness. I know that this trial has
been very hard indeed for you to bear, but you must not grieve longer,"
then I seemed to feel the light pressure of her hand upon my head.

Oh, the joy of it all once more!

"Tell me, Olga, do you still love me as well as before you went away?"

"Victor, dear Victor, believe me, I love you far better than ever
before, because I understand. Try to be happy, dear." Then, with a light
caress, she vanished.

For a moment I felt dazed. I looked about me. The lighted candle was
sputtering itself out in its socket, fitfully darting a thin and feeble
flame upward into the darkness. My mouth was parched and dry--I must
have water.

Carefully I lowered the blue-robed form to its resting place, adjusting
the cover, locked the door behind me, and crept back into my own cabin.

Time passed. With a young lover's regularity at the side of his
sweetheart I visited my dear one in the little cabin beside my own.
Casting about in my mind how to make the place appropriate for the
purpose for which it was now used, and at the same time be somewhat more
comfortable, I had covered the walls of Olga's cabin both inside and out
with a heavy black paper, well calculated to keep out the wind. Upon the
ceiling of the front room hung silvered stars which shone brightly, and
with a fitfulness not all unnatural in the flickering candlelight. In
one corner of the outer room there still remained the heap of earth and
gravel taken from the spot where Olga's body now rested. The rainy
season was far advanced and before many days the snow and ice would be
here for long and weary months. My mining would then be over until
another summer. I had been successful beyond my dreaming and could
afford to rest, but I dreaded the tediousness and loneliness of winter.

One evening, while dozing in the depths of the easy chair, I saw a form
bending above the sand and gravel in the next room. I fancied I heard a
pleased and gentle laugh like Olga's of old, and I asked timidly, "What
is it, friend?"

"Here is gold. Will you pan out this sand and gravel? You will be
repaid." And again I heard the gentle laugh.

"What," said I in astonishment, "will I there find gold?"

A gesture of assent was given.

"Then this cabin and others must stand upon rich, gold-bearing ground?"

A second gesture of assent.

With that I wakened. I immediately procured a gold pan from my cabin,
and used it for a few hours to good advantage.

The ground was truly rich; and Olga's form was lying in a bed literally
lined with gold. There was wheat gold as well as dust and small nuggets.
In my agony of mind at her sudden death it had never occurred to me
while digging that the gravel might contain anything of value; but it
was plain to me now. Only for my dream I would surely have shovelled the
sand thoughtlessly outside where someone might have made the discovery
to my own loss.

Not long afterward a strange incident occurred. It happened in the
following way. It was raining and past midnight, being one of the last
rainstorms before the regular freeze-up it was proving to us there was
no shortage of water in the clouds which seemed wide open, and it was
pouring in torrents. For four hours I had been using the pick and shovel
in the frozen gravel under the adjoining cabin, and had finally gone to
sleep, lulled by the patter of the regularly falling rain upon the roof.

Suddenly I was aroused with a fear of--I knew not what. I instantly
sprang from my bed, striking a match, and getting into my clothing as
rapidly as possible, I made my way through the storm into the next
cabin. It was then but a moment's work to lift Olga's casket to the
floor from its icy bed beneath. As I did so a small stream of water
burst its way through below the flooring and began pouring over the
side of the excavation, at the bottom of which only a moment before had
rested Olga's casket.

Like a flash I understood the situation. The small trench around the
cabin had filled with water and become obstructed, while the heavy rain
had saturated the surface of the ground swelling the little stream
beyond the capacity of its bank. I immediately ran out of doors to make
a search for the obstruction, which, once removed, allowed the water to
pass away as before. A small clump of grass and sticks had found
lodgment, having been swept there by the unusual amount of falling rain,
and in less time than it takes to write it, the mortal remains of my
darling would have been flooded, had it not been for the warning and my
prompt response. To clean out the small amount of water which had
entered while I hastily worked at the trench was short work and soon
completed.

With these and other incidents was my life henceforth made up. For
months I spent several hours each day with pick or shovel in my hands. I
bought the adjoining cabins with the lots upon which they stood, thereby
continuing my work of thoroughly prospecting the ground, even after
finishing that upon which Olga's house stood.

Following my practice of working during the midnight hour when most
people were asleep, the indistinct noise of my pick in the frozen gravel
below the floors aroused no one; though I once overheard two belated
pedestrians outside my door wondering from what quarter the noise of the
picking and shoveling came. No light was allowed to betray my
whereabouts, as a single tallow candle placed low in my prospect hole
beneath the floor told no tales; and once hearing the sound of voices in
the street my labors instantly ceased.

After a few weeks it was whispered about the camp that strange noises
proceeded from the mysterious black cabin at midnight, and later that
the same uncanny sounds seemed further away. Only a few persons had ever
heard them, and they assured their friends that the vicinity was a good
one to keep away from at night time; the latter advice pleasing me quite
as well as it did them.

For this reason I was never disturbed; and if more and more left to
myself by my neighbors I was not displeased, as it suited my frame of
mind best to be alone with my own thoughts--and Olga.

Many months now passed. My life was a very quiet one, the most enjoyable
hours to me being the ones spent in dreaming of Olga. Gradually the fact
dawned upon me that my life was now a most selfish one. I was feeding
upon memories of dear, by-gone days, but allowing the present to slip
unimproved away. If I could arouse myself to some good purpose in life,
and take a hand at scattering bright bits of happiness to console some
lonely hearts who had less of comfort than myself, might it not be
better? With the wealth which I had rapidly accumulated in Alaska, I
could assist in much good work for the poor and needy if I were so
inclined.

Perhaps I would find more happiness and contentment in living henceforth
unselfishly, with more thought for others and less for myself.

Many times during the long winter evenings I had felt twinges of
conscience concerning my selfish mode of life, well knowing that Olga
would enjoy spending our wealth for the good and happiness of others
before accepting luxuries for herself. Now I had come to feel in the
same way, and no longer craved riches or that which they would bring. My
own wants were simple, and would continue to be so. I would make others
happier. The helpless, homeless and suffering, I would relieve. My
wealth would now permit it.

In this manner, and by my dreaming, my sorrow had been somewhat
mitigated, and that grief, so terrible in the beginning, was to some
extent assuaged. Not that I loved Olga less, or had forgotten, but all
unknowingly I had been striving to be more worthy of her memory.

Daily I meditated in the sweet silence, and hourly received strength and
consolation therefrom. Many pledges I made which I would fulfil later
on--the future then held no terrors for me--I would work, work and wait.
More, I would learn, I would grow, I would climb. I resolved to reach
those heights to which many were traveling, and to which Olga had
already surely attained. In due time, my Olga, we shall no doubt meet
again and live, love and work together as of old, only that our
happiness will be farther perfected because we have farther advanced.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was midnight. I seemed to visit the land of Holy Dreams. In the
distance I heard a chorus of voices, exquisitely beautiful and well
modulated, coming nearer as I continued to listen. The singers were
many, but so perfect was the rhythm and harmony that I dared not breathe
for fear of losing some part of the beautiful song. Not only so, but the
accompanying orchestra faithfully upheld and completed the symphony
which rose and fell with crescendos and diminuendoes more glorious as
the chorus pealed louder and nearer. I was listening in sheer delight
and with each nerve tingling, when a dear familiar voice began in
obligato, so clearly and sweetly that the tears sprang into my eyes--

  "Have love; not love alone for one,
  But man as man thy brother call,
  And scatter like the circling sun
  Thy charities on all."



CHAPTER IX

EYLLEN'S WATER WITCH


Two women sat weaving baskets. They were not Aleut Indians, and barely
escaped being Russians; but were of mixed blood so common on the
Aleutian Islands.

The younger one broke the silence.

"I'm tired of baskets! I want to do something else," she said, with a
yawn.

"Run out upon the hills awhile, but first finish the row you are doing,
then put all away in a safe place. No Russian leaves her work scattered
to get lost or soiled," said the older woman.

"Am I a Russian lady?" queried the girl, apparently about the age of
eighteen.

"You may be if your father comes to take you to Russia with him. But by
this time he is likely dead;--there is no telling. It is three years
since we saw him, and he promised to come again in two." And the woman
sighed.

"Oh, he may come at any time, and I am going to the top of the hill to
look for him now," said the girl with youth's hopefulness, as she
hastened to obey her aunt.

"Don't set your mind on it, for sailor men are very uncertain; only they
are pretty sure to roll around the whole world, making excuses that
ships take them whether they will or not. A poor excuse for not coming
is better than none." Then as the door closed behind the girl she added,
"I wish he would send money to buy her clothes; it would be as little as
he could do, for she is not my child, but my sister's. I, too, wish he
would come, for a cold winter we have had taking much coal and many
furs, and my money is nearly gone. To be sure when the steamers come
with their hundreds of people bound for the gold fields we shall sell
some of our baskets, but it will be weeks before they arrive," and she
pulled industriously at the long strands of dried grass she was weaving
into her basket.

While her aunt meditated on these and various other matters the girl,
Eyllen, glad to get away from the cabin and basket-making, crossed the
foot bridge over the small stream which ran behind the house and began
to ascend the high bluff which she claimed as her watch tower. If she
could only discern her father's ship in the distance, how surprised her
aunt would be!

On the islands the winter was over. The month of May had come with its
many attendant delights. Snow had gone from the ground in the little
settlements and lay only upon the high hills and great mountain tops
surrounding. Down gulches and canyons flowed swift, icy streams of what
had until lately been great snow masses, but which on melting had left
bare the sides of the tundra-covered hills where the brightest of wild
flowers were beginning to spring into beauty.

The girl was not blind to their loveliness. Upon leaving the cabin she
had determined to bring back all she could carry of the blossoms, but
not until she had well scanned the horizon for ships. Her father might
even now be approaching the islands, and perhaps he could see her
through his glass. With this thought in mind she pulled her handkerchief
from her pocket and waved it enthusiastically, although as yet no ship
had she seen. Seeing some little children far below in the village
playing near the priest's school she laughed aloud.

[Illustration: _She scanned the horizon_]

"They will surely say I am bewitched if they see me, and what a joke
that would be! I am certain to be badly quizzed by the youngsters when I
get home, for there is no such luck as to escape their sharp eyes while
standing upon this hill-top. It will be a wonder if some of them do not
follow me. If they do, they will not find me," and she laughed again as
she hastened on over the brow of the bluff.

Eyllen was lithe of limb and supple. To mountain climbing she had been
accustomed since a baby, and was well and hardy. She now stood for a
moment to take a fresh survey of the bay. A slight breeze was blowing,
and had tinted her smooth round cheeks with crimson. Her eyes sparkled,
and her whole face betokened earnest and animated thought. Down her back
hung two thick braids of dark hair, but the ends had become free, and,
left unconfined, floated picturesquely about her shoulders.

An Aleut Indian she surely was not. She had not their short, dumpy
stature, but was slender and graceful, and would not have seemed out of
place in civilization.

Having satisfied herself that no vessel could put into the harbor for
some hours, if at all that day, she strolled farther on. Down one hill
and up another, picking a flower here and one there, humming as she went
some old Russian song, her time passed in evident enjoyment though with
more or less abstraction.

"I will visit that spot again, and find out what there is so strange and
uncanny about it," she murmured. "I am not afraid, for nothing can harm
me. It is said that a woman has much curiosity, and I am a woman, so
that will allow me to inquire into the mystery, for mystery it surely
is. Why should I be so strangely affected when visiting that spot? Why
these sudden head pains, and dizziness as though I were about to fall to
the ground? Can it be that some witch or evil spirit dwells there and is
displeased with my coming? Does it belong to them any more than to me?
Have I not the right to come and sit beside the little stream as often
as I choose? I will inquire into the matter this very day, and solve the
puzzle, for I will never rest until I do."

So saying, she hurried her steps and was finally standing at the head of
a small stream, where, from between rocks, the water came bubbling to
the surface and trickled away to lower ground. She was thirsty from her
long walk and climbing in the sunshine, and stooped to fill a drinking
cup she had brought with her for the purpose.

Suddenly she was seized with dizziness, then an electric thrill or
trembling passed through her whole body, and a wave of faintness swept
over her. She felt ill.

Her face grew very pale.

Was it the work of one of the witches she had heard so many times about?

At that she ran away a little distance and sat down upon a grassy knoll.
She had not yet quenched her thirst, and longed for the water. There was
no other spring near at hand, and she was determined to have a cupful
from that one. The witch, she thought, (if a witch's work it was) had
not done worse with her than cause the sudden illness and disagreeable
sensations, and she would repeat her visit to the spring and secure a
cupful of the water; which, though possibly bewitched, still looked as
pure and sparkling as that of her own bright mountain stream near home.

When she had fully recovered, she again advanced toward the spring. Not
until she stood above its waters and peered into their shallow depths
did the old and oddly unpleasant experience repeat itself. Exactly as
before it happened now; but the girl, always a determined and resolute
creature, secured the water as she had intended, and retreated to her
hillock where she again seated herself before tasting the liquid.

A second time the trembling left her, not so quickly as before, perhaps,
yet still in a very few moments she was again herself.

Gingerly she sipped the water. It tasted clean, sweet, and deliciously
cool. Again she cautiously sipped. Still no evil effects from the
draught. Thus encouraged, she drained the cup, laughing aloud as she did
so.

"Ha, ha! old water witch of the mountains! I am neither afraid of you
nor your twin brother, the wind wizard. I am light, love and happiness,
and you cannot harm me."

Saying this she began braiding her long hair with which the breezes had
played so mischievously during her rambles, and growing more serious she
reflected on the phenomenon.

"It is in the rocks or ground underneath the spring, and not in the
water. Surely I have proved that. Before today have I visited this
place, and it is always the same. I will tell no one, else the priest
may say I am bewitched, and make me do severe penance. Only once more
will I approach the spring today and then I must surely go home or I
will lose my supper."

She was the lodestone, being irresistably drawn to the magnet, which was
apparently the rocks at the fountain.

As before she approached, but with less trepidation. She began to lose
all fear. Some inner monitor urged fearlessness, and she felt full of
courage.

As she stooped low above the spring, surrounded on all sides as it was
by ledges of rocks and boulders, she determined to hold herself,
notwithstanding the decidedly disagreeable sensations it gave her,
firmly in position long enough to get a view of the bottom of the
spring. It was not a deep pool, forming a mirror for all above it, but
rather a bed of loose rocks, evidently from crumbled ledges. These
latter, crossed the place from east to west, but to the careless glance
of Eyllen, seemed simply a confused jumble of rocks and nothing more.

Several of these pieces were light and clear. They looked attractive in
contrast to darker ones, and being washed clean by the water, and made
brighter by the sunshine, tempted the young girl to reach for them,
which she did.

"See! What was that?"

The rock was filled with shining yellow specks which shone dazzlingly in
the sunbeams.

The girl gazed in astonishment upon them.

"Holy Mother Mary!" she ejaculated. "How beautiful! I believe its gold!"

With that she made a dash for other bits of the same rock, and though
her head ached fearfully, and it seemed to her that she stood upon an
electric battery, which was anything but pleasant, she secured as much
as she could carry, and fled as before from the spot.

[Illustration: "Holy Mother Mary!" she ejaculated. "How beautiful! I
believe its gold!"]

Upon examination it proved to be the same as the first piece discovered.

Crossing herself devoutly she murmured a prayer. That over she kissed
the fragments of quartz in her hand, talking lovingly to them in the
meantime.

"Why did you hide away from me so long? Why cause me to think of
witches, but force me to come to you once and again, and giving me the
illness? That's a funny way, you little rascals! And I will now repay
you by hiding you yet longer from sight of any who might come here. I
will cover you carefully until I come again, or until my father comes
from across the ocean. Then I will give you to him, and he shall find
the rest of your brothers and sisters." She pulled energetically at the
moss and grass at her side in order to make a hiding spot for her newly
discovered friends, as she chose to consider them.

Before putting the last piece beside the others she again kissed it
tenderly, patted it, and giving a little gurgling laugh, said:

"You pretty darlings! Sleep quietly until I come again, and let nobody
find you. See? I will tuck you up, head and heels, with this cover,"
and she replaced the mosses and grass she had just pulled.

"By and by you can make me very happy if you will, when I can be a rich
lady. I have heard old miners talk lovingly of you many times, but they
shall not find you. You are mine! Remember, you are mine!"

With that she gave a last look at the spot where her secret was hidden,
and bounded away down the hillside.

Presently in the valley below she struck an old trail,--one made long
ago by the cattle belonging to the settlement, and the occasional tread,
perhaps, of a few reindeer and goats owned by the mission priest.

Hurrying along toward home she had almost forgotten the flowers she had
intended to gather but now had little time to leave the trail and pluck
them. For the sake of appearance, however, she pulled those happening to
grow alongside her path, not wishing to reach home empty handed.

As it was, her aunt's sharp eyes took notice.

"To be gone so long upon the hills, and yet bring so few blossoms? You
must be slow in bending your back or heedless of the beauty around you.
Where are the buttercups and beautiful blue iris from the field below
the hill? Was the upper bridge gone that you could not cross the stream
at that place either going or coming?" asked the woman, a little
sarcastically.

"No, no, Aunt, but it is early for iris, and the buttercups are not half
so lovely as these bluets and violets. See the darling little blue eyes
peeping at us! Tomorrow I will look for the iris. But let me eat my
supper now, for I am very hungry," laughed Eyllen, after she had placed
her spring beauties in water.

"When we played by the schoolyard," remarked her youngster cousin dryly,
from between huge mouthfuls of fish and potato, "she was standing on the
high hilltop and looking out to sea. I am certain I saw her wave
something to the sailors, only there were no sailors there," and the
urchin glanced roguishly across the table at Eyllen.

"Ha, you rogue! It was likely the corner of my apron you saw, if indeed
your sight was clear enough to see me at all so far away. I wonder
Father Peter allows you to let go your fancy in such manner."

"Father Peter wishes us to learn by seeing, he tells us. Besides I
wondered how you thought to pluck flowers on that barren hilltop where
the snow is hardly yet melted. Warm and sunny hillsides are the spots
where spring flowers grow."

"There, there," said the boy's mother, "you talk far too much. Eat your
supper and let your elders alone."

The boy shrugged his shoulders and gulped down his tea, having finished
his tea before the others owing to his haste in beginning.

The older woman then gravely inquired if any ships had that day been
seen.

None could be reported; and the youngster was soon in a state of great
sleepiness in bed, while the two women washed the supper dishes and made
the small cabin once more tidy.

That night Eyllen slept little. On her cot in the corner she pondered
long and earnestly. Just what was the nature of the strange phenomenon
with which she was so lately identified she had no idea. She only knew
that the mystical rocks lying embedded in that spring were full of life
which thrilled her tremendously as she made a near approach to them.
As a magnet they had attracted her until finally she perceived what to
her constituted discovery.

[Illustration: _Father Peter_]

How very strange it was! Could it be possible that here were ledges
containing much gold which no one had ever discovered, and which might
all be her own if she could succeed in keeping her secret until her
father should arrive? Of his coming she had not the least doubt, as had
her aunt; she felt positive if he were dead she would in some way know
it. It was springtime and the season for vessels to put into the harbor
for coal and fresh water on their way to the Arctic Ocean; and they
would bring him sometime she felt confident. Then he would be delighted
to hear of his daughter's discovery, and together they would grow to be
very rich indeed.

Eyllen was a sensible girl and a good reasoner, but her knowledge of
minerals was exceedingly limited. Each piece of white rock was, to her,
quartz; and the place where gold was found in any form was a mine, or
would be one later when developed. She really wished to find out if
there was more of the same gold-bearing ore at the spring, for unless
there were large masses of it she knew her discovery was worthless.

Then she thought of her often recurring and unpleasant sensations at the
spring, and it occurred to her that here was a way by which to gain
further knowledge. If she could bear the headaches and dizziness might
she not, by this means, trace the hidden ledges? It seemed reasonable
even to her inexperienced mind. But she would need to use considerable
caution. None must see the gold-bearing rock which was already so
fascinating to her. In some manner, she reasoned, she must find a way of
gaining information about minerals other than by asking questions.
Curiosity upon the subject would quickly give her friends the cue to her
new interest. She decided to visit the library of Father Peter in his
absence, and from his housekeeper borrow some book giving such
information. By talking to the good woman about her home work and
children she could manage to distract her attention so she would not
notice which book it was she was taking.

In this way Eyllen planned for hours before sleeping. When she finally
slept it was to dream of a beautiful water witch who lived in the bottom
of the mountain spring between the rocks, but when, on insisting upon a
nearer view she found it to be only herself with her dark hair floating
around her, she laughed aloud, and so awakened. This decided her,
however, upon one thing.

She would search for a tiny fragment of the beautiful rock containing as
much of the precious mineral as possible, and wear it suspended about
her neck underneath her dress; as this, according to tradition, would
surely preserve the wearer from witchcraft. Not that she believed
herself possessed of any spirit other than her own; but the strangeness
of the sudden indisposition attacking her at the spring, added to her
dream, caused her to greatly wonder.

A week passed. Eyllen developed a most remarkable passion for wild
flowers, along with a sudden and vigorous distaste for basket-making.
She declared the latter occupation gave her headache and loss of
appetite, and only the fresh mountain air made her feel like herself
again. In her aunt's cabin the window ledges were filled with blossoms,
and an overflow of the same was furnished the priest's housekeeper.

Then, too, a daily watch was kept for ships from the westward by the
girl whose strong limbs served her well in mountain climbing. As the sun
grew warmer and clearer above the islands, she could see old "Round Top"
begin to breathe. At times this mountain's snowy head became quite
hidden in the obscurity of misty vapor or smoke clouds, while the double
peak of Isanotski, rising as grandly as ever to its height above the
others, seemed, by its longer-retained snow cap, to assure the world of
its superiority.

Frequently, but cautiously, she rambled among the hills. Patiently she
investigated the rocks upon the hillside, quickly learning where she
might venture to be free from the sudden indisposition, and where it was
sure to attack her; for there appeared no cessation of the phenomenon.
With the hammer which she secretly fetched from home she hacked the
out-cropping lode in different directions. Everywhere in the white rocks
there were the golden specks scintillating in the sunshine. It was a
bona fide gold-bearing ledge. From the borrowed book she gained much
knowledge that was helpful, but with this more and more she felt her
powerlessness to proceed or to turn her newly found interest to good
account.

More than ever she longed to see her father. Between her walks to the
spring on the hillside she climbed the bluff and continued to look for
ships from the westward. To be sure other vessels were beginning to
arrive, and to welcome them the whole settlement habitually turned out
upon the wharf. There were empty water tanks re-filled, repairs made,
and larders replenished, while ship's officers drank, smoked, and told
sea yarns in the saloons along the water front.

Thus passed weeks of waiting to Eyllen and her aunt. It seemed that the
monotony would never end; but it did end suddenly at last.

One day as the two women sat busily at work upon their baskets the
youngster of the family rushed in quite breathless.

"A ship's in sight which flies the Russian flag! She's nearing the
harbor now! Some men with glasses on the bluff have sighted her, and
signalled to those below! She may be coming from Vladivostock and bring
news of my uncle!" and the lad dashed out of the cabin and down again
upon the wharf.

"Or, better yet, the ship may bring him!" suggested Eyllen, in a
flutter, hastily rising and putting away her work. "I must see if my
father has really come."

"I trust it is so; then will my prayers not be in vain. If he brings
money again will they be answered," said the girl's relative.

"If he brings no gold his daughter will be glad to see him," said Eyllen
in a slightly offended tone.

"I meant no harm, Eyllen. You surely understand me. Has not your father
been always welcome here?"

"Yes, yes, Aunt," and tears forced their way out of her eyes, as the
girl threw her shawl about her. "But come, we will soon find out about
this vessel, and who is on board."

The ship was now moving into the placid bay and toward the shore. From a
flag staff the Russian emblem already fluttered a welcome to the
visiting craft. To be sure, the shore flag was accompanied by one made
up of stars and stripes, and this last floated proudly at top of the
mast above the other, but the two flags seemed not to be on unfriendly
terms.

At last the vessel swung alongside the dock. Eagerly did Eyllen and her
aunt, standing among the group of natives, scan the faces of those on
the vessel. None were familiar, and they were about to turn disappointed
away when they heard a shout.

Some one on deck motioned to the two women to come to the ship's side,
and they hurriedly obeyed, scarcely knowing what they did.

"Were you looking for someone?" kindly inquired an officer in Russian.

"My father," replied the girl, disappointedly. "But he cannot be on
board your ship or he would have been out to greet us."

"Your father's name?" asked the officer.

"Fedor Michaelovitz," responded Eyllen.

"He is on board, but he is ill. We will fetch him ashore presently," but
even as he spoke two men passed through the door to the gangplank. They
carried a litter between them upon which lay stretched a man.

Eyllen rushed toward the litter. It was really her father, but so
changed that she would not have recognized him.

According to the physician's orders Fedor Michaelovitz was placed in the
small hospital established upon the islands for sailors, and there he
was well tended. In a few days he was far enough recovered to relate to
his daughter his story.

After leaving her three years before and meeting many vicissitudes and
disappointments, he had at last gained a fairly good position, when
smallpox overtook him, and during a long illness he had lost it.
Recovering and working his way up again elsewhere, he had lived frugally
in order to save a competence upon which to live with his daughter in
their own country to which he wished to take her.

When his wishes seemed about to be realized the bank in which his money
had been placed, failed, and he lost all his hard earned savings.
Weakened by discouragement he again fell ill, and then he decided to
sail for the Aleutians and see his daughter at all hazards. Penniless,
ill, and discouraged, he was a man who, in middle life, had still
nothing to show for years of work and hardships.

One redeeming feature of all this dark outlook, there was with him a
friend who was apparently moved by the misfortunes of Michaelovitz, and
that was a young Russian sailor with whom he had become acquainted some
years before, and who followed him wherever he went, even at the risk of
causing a corresponding failure in his own affairs by so doing.

The young man's name was Shismakoff, and he had proven himself not only
kindly and generous, but self-sacrificing and noble. Along with these
good and somewhat unusual qualities, he possessed more than average good
looks and abundant patience. He it was who now in the hospital
faithfully attended Michaelovitz, as was his habit.

This young man had been told but little of the family history of his
friend, only knowing that his wife was dead and that a daughter lived
upon the Aleutians with her aunt.

This much he knew upon landing. At sight of Eyllen's bright eyes and
rosy cheeks the young man's heart fluttered. She was good to look upon.
Without commenting upon it even to himself he immediately proceeded to
take, as compensation for attentions to her sick father, such keen
enjoyment in her presence as only those long isolated can know in the
society of ladies. Not that he forgot his manliness. For that the young
man was too sensible; but he simply drank in every word uttered by the
young girl, as a thirsty traveler would drink fresh water in a parched
and burning desert.

The girl, herself, was unconstrained. Probably in this lay her greatest
attraction. She had other hopes and interests, and they were centered in
her father's recovery, and in her rocks a few miles away on the
hillside.

Eyllen did not immediately relate her adventures to her father. He must
recover his health before she disclosed her secret. To this end she now
bent all her energies. A basket was traded to a neighbor for fowls in
order that he might have nourishing broths, and her fishing tackle was
brought into play to furnish the freshest of fish from the bay.

With attendants like Eyllen and Shismakoff, who could long remain upon a
sick bed? Especially on these beautiful green islands in spring-time?
Greatest of all grasses were those growing before the doors, and
brightest of all blossoms were those plucked by the hands of Eyllen.
Sweet was the fragrance of iris and violets, and lupins grew straight
stalked and fearless. Lilies, too, appeared later, and all crowded the
windows of the invalid whose heart was gladdened, softened, and
refreshed by their sweet and silent influence.

At her basket work Eyllen sat daily for hours with her father, until he
was strong enough to walk to her relative's cabin. Of course it was only
to be expected that Shismakoff would accompany them. Upon one side of
the convalescent he furnished support, while Eyllen assisted on the
other.

The girl's aunt had prepared a dinner especially for the visitors, at
which the incorrigible youngster had been instructed to appear only when
his elders had finished. It was Saturday, and the priest's school was
not in session that day. Freedom from this restraint had had its effect
upon the urchin, and his mother found it in her heart to frequently wish
that it had been a school day instead. With care she instructed him in
what manner to behave himself, and what things he must under no
consideration do, one of which was not to talk too much.

"In that case, mother, what I do say must count," said the boy, not dull
as to wit.

"Count fifty before you speak at all. Then you must consider what you
say, and you will not be foolish. I daresay you will still show yourself
feather-headed enough," and his mother sighed, apparently striving to be
resigned to the suspense of her position.

The visitors were telling of their recent voyage to the islands. The
youngster could keep quiet no longer.

"Eyllen has been long expecting you, Mr. Shismakoff. She often went to
the hilltop to wave to you, and I suppose she also called you. Did you
hear her across the water, and come in answer?"

The young man smiled.

"Be silent! you naughty boy!" commanded his mother, with as much force
as she could master.

Eyllen's color grew like the wild roses in the window.

"Did you hear her calling?" persisted the mischief loving youngster.

"I do not think so. I take it the saints directed me here, for none but
they could bring me this present happiness," said the visitor, gallantly
inclining his head to the one with the roses in her cheeks.

At this point Eyllen's father began to speak of other things, and the
irrepressible youngster subsided; while Eyllen and her aunt looked
modestly down upon the plates before them.

Two weeks passed. The ship which brought the sick man and his friend had
departed, leaving them behind. None were sad at its going. Eyllen's
father was rapidly improving, and gradually grew to feel that life was,
after all, worth having. To the younger man, each hour in the presence
of Eyllen seemed brighter even than the one before it, and a longing for
many of the same in the future took possession of him. There was no real
enjoyment out of her sight. His former existence looked to him a blank.
He could not go back to it. He could not leave this green island, the
clear mountain air made salt by great encircling waters and scented by
spring blossoms. There were no fish like those in these waters, and no
winds so free as the ones playing over the crests of Progromni and
Shishaldin. Finally, nowhere in the whole world was an equal to Eyllen
among women.

This last consideration settled everything. He was determined to win her
in marriage if possible, but her father no longer needed attention, and
he bethought himself to set to work at something by which to earn money.
More fishermen were in demand at this time in the settlement to supply
the constantly arriving ships with fresh fish, and he devoted himself
temporarily to this labor.

In her turn Eyllen was interested in Shismakoff, but she longed to
disclose her secret to her father, who, she felt confident, could not
refrain from sharing it with his friend. To this she could not yet
consent. She had suddenly grown wise with a wisdom not before exhibited.
If the young man loved her as she felt that he did, might not the
knowledge of her secret urge him to increase his attention? In all
probability it would, and she heartily repudiated this idea.

Of all things in the world, to be loved for her gold-bearing ledges
would be the worst of misfortunes, she reflected, and this feeling,
growing upon her, prevented her day after day from confiding in her
father. When he had recovered his strength sufficiently to walk among
the hills (she told herself) then she would inform him of her good
fortune; and even then he must be pledged to keep his own counsel.

At last the time came; the girl invited her father to walk with her upon
the hills to gather wild flowers.

"We will go first into the valley by way of the trail, Father, and then
come home another way. There are many beautiful blossoms and mosses, and
we will take our tin cup and lunch along with us," said Eyllen brightly
as she made ready for the tramp.

"Anywhere you say, Eyllen, only let it not be too far for my feet to
travel," replied the man indulgently, as he watched her, well pleased
with the grace of her movements.

"When we are tired we will sit and rest in the sunshine. See! Here is
buttermilk the priest's housekeeper has sent you. I will carry a
bottleful to refresh you when thirsty."

They then trudged off among the hills. A few short walks Michaelovitz
had already taken with his friend and good supporter at his arm, but who
was today away in his boat on the water, and he now leaned upon the
stock he carried in his right hand.

For a time Eyllen walked by her father's side, carrying her basket of
luncheon, but as the trail narrowed she led the way, restraining her
haste as best she could (for she was impatient to be at her ledges) lest
she should tire her father before their walk was ended.

Several times they halted to rest. As yet her father saw no reason for
hurrying. To loiter, to rest upon the hillside and chat in the sunshine
was what he liked; and here was his daughter fleet-footed and strong,
almost hurriedly leading him far into the valley between the hills as
though bent on some mission.

Where could she be going?

"Are you sure you know where you go, daughter? And that you will not get
us lost in the mountains? I have never before been so far from the
settlement in this direction, and we cannot hear the church bell ring,
eh, Eyllen?"

"No, Father, we care nothing for hearing the church bells now," laughed
the girl, "and as for losing ourselves, it is impossible, as I have many
times rambled over and through these hills. I know each rock as large as
my head, and I will show you some presently much larger and more
beautiful, as you are sure to agree with me."

"Rocks are not beautiful, child. I thought it was blossoms you wanted to
show me."

"So it is, but on our return. We have reached the place I wanted to show
you, Father. Sit upon this mound while I fetch a cup of water from the
spring," and the girl ran a few steps farther.

Returning with the water she said briskly, "now we will eat our lunch
while we rest and talk, for I have a little story to tell you in the
meantime," and the hands at the basket trembled a trifle.

A cloth was spread upon the ground, and the basket's contents turned out
upon it. There was the bottle of buttermilk which Eyllen declared she
would not carry home again, as it might be changed into butter by that
time, and she urged her father to drink it and eat heartily.

"But the story, Eyllen, the story! What is it you will tell me? I doubt
not 'tis some island-lover business, or a new gown you will politely ask
for when your father's appetite is quieted, as is the way of many keen
women, eh, little girl?" said Michaelovitz giving his daughter's pink
right ear a gentle tweak.

"There is neither new gown nor lover in it, and you will never guess, so
I am going directly to tell you," smiled Eyllen. "Do you see this piece
of pretty rock, Father?"

"There you go again with calling rocks pretty. But stay! What is this,
child? Where did you get it? Is there more? Do you know what it is that
sparkles?" questioned the man rapidly, bending forward toward his
daughter.

"Yes, Father, it is gold, and there is much more of it where that comes
from. I have found the ledges."

"You, child? You? How did it happen? Tell me."

Then the girl proceeded to relate her experience with which we are
already familiar; how she first came to drink at the spring, and her
peculiar sensations which were at first affrighting; how she persisted
in returning to the place until by accident she discovered the quartz
pieces in the water; her foolish fears of a water witch, including her
dream, and her decision to wear as a talisman a bit of the gold
besprinkled rock; of her hesitating in telling her father her secret for
fear he would divulge it to his companion, young Shismakoff, at the same
time entreating her listener to keep sacred her confidence for fear that
others would molest the treasure-laden ledges; and lastly, inquiring if
he would, as her partner, accept one half of the property as a present.

"May the blessed saints preserve us! my child, what is this you are
saying? Where are the ledges? Where are they?" and the man sprang to his
feet in excited interest. At that, the buttermilk flask rolled away down
the hillside where it landed against the stones below, breaking into
hundreds of flying fragments. The lunch basket, too, toppled over, with
the contents, luckily being only sandwiches of bread and butter; and
Eyllen, as excited now as her father, ran lightly down the path to the
spring from which she had filled her drinking cup a few minutes
earlier.

"Here are the ledges, Father, here they are! Come and see for yourself!"
pointing to the rocks she had already so thoroughly investigated.

The man quickly followed. He was weak and weary no longer. His walking
stick lay neglected on the ground beside the luncheon, and he had
forgotten that weariness or hunger were possible. Eagerly he examined
the formation, the quartz, the wall rocks and surroundings, ejaculating
and questioning Eyllen in the meantime.

She replied that she was positive no one knew of her interest in the
hillside, as she had carefully kept concealed her destination when
walking so frequently here. All prospecting had been done by herself,
and now she would gladly share the work, worry, and profits with him,
she laughingly avowed.

Only one condition would she rigidly impose, and that was that
Shismakoff should be kept in ignorance of their good fortune as long as
was possible.

At this her father arose from his stooping position among the rocks and
looked keenly at Eyllen.

"You mistake if you think that Shismakoff is unable to keep a secret,"
said he earnestly. Then seeing Eyllen's blushing and downcast
countenance, the facts began to take shape in his brain.

"Oh, ho! I see it! Is that your meaning? My wit is not the keenest, else
I would sooner have caught it. Well, well, child, perhaps you are right,
although I shall sorely want his counsel and advice in this matter. I
promise to withhold the knowledge of these ledges from him until I have
your permission to tell it; so rest easy, and fret not. He is a good
fellow, and I fancy will presently remove the necessity for further
secrecy by making known his intentions to your father. With your
acceptance of his hand there need be only confidence between us."

As he finished speaking, a wave of sentiment passed over him, and his
eyes filled with tears. Approaching his daughter, he took her hand in
his own, drew her closer to him and kissed her. "You are a good child,
Eyllen, and very like your mother. It is a pity she cannot be with us!
You are worthy of a good husband, and he will be one. You will have
great happiness."

Resuming his examination of the rocks he dropped his seriousness and
remarked in a lighter tone: "That he is a poor man is not important now
that you will have riches yourself. Should both possess wealth it would
be too much of good luck, and one fortune is quite sufficient."

Eyllen was now herself once more. Tilting her head backwards she
measured the sun with her eyes.

"It is time we returned now, Father," she said, "for we will have
flowers to gather by handfuls. There is no such thing for us as reaching
home empty handed. It would never do. You see I have been much at this
work, and know how to manage."

"Right you are, child, we will do so."

"Here is your walking stick, Father," holding it out to him.

"Bah! I do not need it! I am now strong."

"But, Father, please use the stick, because you must not be grown strong
too rapidly. It may cause comment, and you must not excite suspicion of
our good fortune, and why we came here today. Leave the stick where you
will tomorrow, but take it with you today," she urged laughingly, and
with eyes twinkling.

"To be sure,--to be sure. I forgot. I will not expose your secret,
child; have no fear."

With that they turned their faces toward home. Flowers nodded gaily on
all sides, and soon replaced the luncheon in their basket.

Mosses, green and velvety, sank beneath the pressure of each foot-fall,
and a brood of eaglets tested their pinions near the crag above the
trail.

Right glad was Fedor Michaelovitz before reaching home that he had
listened to Eyllen and carried his walking stick. Without its support he
would have found much more tedious the long walk from the mountains.

A hot supper, a pipe full of tobacco and a restful evening, however,
restored him, especially as Shismakoff made his appearance all spick and
span after his day's work on the water. The recital of his adventures
with a school of whale in mid-ocean, and the capture of one of them,
occupied a good share of the evening. Eyllen's father asked many
questions relative to the subject. To these were supplemented the
queries of the youngster, whose large dark eyes fairly stood out upon
his cheeks with wonder at the tale. To say that the boy's admiration for
Shismakoff was thereafter greatly augmented would be speaking much too
mildly. From that day, the young man was looked upon by him as a hero
who needed only a following of soldiers to make him a real general.

In this way the evening passed with slight reference to the tramp of
Eyllen and her father in the mountains, much to the girl's satisfaction.

Her mind was now relieved. Work upon her baskets was again taken up, and
perseveringly done. Michaelovitz, with walking stick in hand, tramped
among the hills alone often, considering it the affair of no one that a
pick and shovel did honest duty in his hands during the day, and lay
secreted beneath the rocks near the little spring when he returned to
his cabin at night-fall. If his capacious coat pockets contained bread
slices in the morning, it was empty by evening, and his hands full of
blossoms then quickly pacified the children he met in the village.

At times Eyllen accompanied her father. Then, at his direction, by the
use of her mysterious instinct for minerals, she could trace still
further the treasure-filled ledges from the spring or ore shute where
her initial discovery had been made. By this means, several hundred feet
of gold-bearing ledges were located and staked by the girl and her
father, whose active labor in the open air, along with a brightened
future and more encouraging life prospects, soon caused the man to grow
strong and well again. Shismakoff and Eyllen became more fond of each
other day by day, until at last it was beyond his patience to endure
uncertainty longer, and he told her of his great love, begging for a
response in the form of a promise of marriage. To this the girl replied
as he desired, taking no note of his reference to a lack of exchequer,
and that he must go away from the islands in order to make money more
rapidly.

A few days afterwards, Michaelovitz invited the young man to join
himself and daughter in a ramble to the hills. Eyllen thought it was no
harm to give the whales and fishes one day more of freedom, she said,
and his boat needed caulking. She insisted that the boat must be made
entirely seaworthy, now that it must carry her future husband; and she
could not endure the thought of his life being in danger.

Upon reaching the vicinity of the spring in the ledges, Michaelovitz
proposed that they rest for a little and listen to a story which Eyllen
had to relate to them, but (with a woman's usual perverseness) when they
were comfortably seated upon the grass she refused to begin it. Would
she finish if her father began it? they asked.

No, she would not even promise to finish. If her father wished the story
to be told, then he must tell it, she declared between laughing and
blushing.

The old man needed no urging. He proceeded to relate the story of the
discovery of her gold ledges. Of her patiently locating the ledges in
the face of the fact that her strange electric instinct for minerals
gave her real suffering; and of her taking him into her secret; not
omitting to tell of the water witch, the talisman, and the dream, as
well as her wish that Shismakoff be kept in ignorance to the last
moment. It was now that Michaelovitz forced his daughter to regret that
she had not herself told the tale.

He did not spare her blushes. On the contrary he bore down upon the
finale of the narrative with all the vigor of a surgeon performing a
serious duty, adding that she had had her wishes in the matter
gratified, and she ought to be satisfied that their listener was a
genuine lover, and not one seeking a wife for her possessions.

At this juncture Eyllen's poor cheeks could blush no longer. Her eyes
were wet, but her lips were smiling; and Michaelovitz betook himself to
the path which led to the spring, thus giving the lovers an opportunity
to be alone.

Shismakoff was the first to speak.

"So this is the little one who wears the talisman," he laughed. "But it
has no power to protect you from witchcraft, as I can honestly testify.
See! Here in me is the proof of my story. Have you not bewitched _me_?"
his strong arms moving tenderly around the girl's little jacket, while
he covered her lips with kisses.

"Give the talisman to me, darling, that I may wear it until your love
shall be as strong for me as is my own for Eyllen!"

Then the girl, thinking him in earnest, handed it to her lover who hung
it about his neck beneath his waistcoat next to his heart. So the lovers
had forgotten the ledges and the man among them, and thought only of
their love and each other; the rocks, gold-laden though they were, as
well as everything else, being then of secondary importance.

[Illustration]





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