Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Smoke Bellew
Author: London, Jack, 1876-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Smoke Bellew" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Smoke Bellew



Contents

  THE TASTE OF THE MEAT
  THE MEAT
  THE STAMPEDE TO SQUAW CREEK
  SHORTY DREAMS
  THE MAN ON THE OTHER BANK
  THE RACE FOR NUMBER ONE



THE TASTE OF THE MEAT.



I.


In the beginning he was Christopher Bellew.  By the time he was at
college he had become Chris Bellew.  Later, in the Bohemian crowd of
San Francisco, he was called Kit Bellew.  And in the end he was known
by no other name than Smoke Bellew.  And this history of the evolution
of his name is the history of his evolution.  Nor would it have
happened had he not had a fond mother and an iron uncle, and had he not
received a letter from Gillet Bellamy.

"I have just seen a copy of the Billow," Gillet wrote from Paris. "Of
course O'Hara will succeed with it.  But he's missing some plays."
(Here followed details in the improvement of the budding society
weekly.)  "Go down and see him.  Let him think they're your own
suggestions.  Don't let him know they're from me.  If he does, he'll
make me Paris correspondent, which I can't afford, because I'm getting
real money for my stuff from the big magazines.  Above all, don't
forget to make him fire that dub who's doing the musical and art
criticism.  Another thing, San Francisco has always had a literature of
her own.  But she hasn't any now.  Tell him to kick around and get some
gink to turn out a live serial, and to put into it the real romance and
glamour and colour of San Francisco."

And down to the office of the Billow went Kit Bellew faithfully to
instruct.  O'Hara listened.  O'Hara debated.  O'Hara agreed.  O'Hara
fired the dub who wrote criticism.  Further, O'Hara had a way with
him--the very way that was feared by Gillet in distant Paris.  When
O'Hara wanted anything, no friend could deny him.  He was sweetly and
compellingly irresistible.  Before Kit Bellew could escape from the
office he had become an associate editor, had agreed to write weekly
columns of criticism till some decent pen was found, and had pledged
himself to write a weekly instalment of ten thousand words on the San
Francisco serial--and all this without pay.  The Billow wasn't paying
yet, O'Hara explained; and just as convincingly had he exposited that
there was only one man in San Francisco capable of writing the serial,
and that man Kit Bellew.

"Oh, Lord, I'm the gink!" Kit had groaned to himself afterwards on the
narrow stairway.

And thereat had begun his servitude to O'Hara and the insatiable
columns of the Billow.  Week after week he held down an office chair,
stood off creditors, wrangled with printers, and turned out twenty-five
thousand words of all sorts weekly.  Nor did his labours lighten.  The
Billow was ambitious.  It went in for illustration. The processes were
expensive.  It never had any money to pay Kit Bellew, and by the same
token it was unable to pay for any additions to the office staff.

"This is what comes of being a good fellow," Kit grumbled one day.

"Thank God for good fellows then," O'Hara cried, with tears in his eyes
as he gripped Kit's hand.  "You're all that's saved me, Kit. But for
you I'd have gone bust.  Just a little longer, old man, and things will
be easier."

"Never," was Kit's plaint.  "I see my fate clearly.  I shall be here
always."

A little later he thought he saw his way out.  Watching his chance, in
O'Hara's presence, he fell over a chair.  A few minutes afterwards he
bumped into the corner of the desk, and, with fumbling fingers,
capsized a paste pot.

"Out late?" O'Hara queried.

Kit brushed his eyes with his hands and peered about him anxiously
before replying.

"No, it's not that.  It's my eyes.  They seem to be going back on me,
that's all."

For several days he continued to fall over and bump into the office
furniture.  But O'Hara's heart was not softened.

"I tell you what, Kit," he said one day, "you've got to see an oculist.
There's Doctor Hassdapple.  He's a crackerjack.  And it won't cost you
anything.  We can get it for advertizing.  I'll see him myself."

And, true to his word, he dispatched Kit to the oculist.

"There's nothing the matter with your eyes," was the doctor's verdict,
after a lengthy examination.  "In fact, your eyes are magnificent--a
pair in a million."

"Don't tell O'Hara," Kit pleaded.  "And give me a pair of black
glasses."

The result of this was that O'Hara sympathized and talked glowingly of
the time when the Billow would be on its feet.

Luckily for Kit Bellew, he had his own income.  Small it was, compared
with some, yet it was large enough to enable him to belong to several
clubs and maintain a studio in the Latin Quarter.  In point of fact,
since his associate editorship, his expenses had decreased
prodigiously.  He had no time to spend money.  He never saw the studio
any more, nor entertained the local Bohemians with his famous
chafing-dish suppers.  Yet he was always broke, for the Billow, in
perennial distress, absorbed his cash as well as his brains.  There
were the illustrators who periodically refused to illustrate, the
printers who periodically refused to print, and the office boy who
frequently refused to officiate.  At such times O'Hara looked at Kit,
and Kit did the rest.

When the steamship Excelsior arrived from Alaska, bringing the news of
the Klondike strike that set the country mad, Kit made a purely
frivolous proposition.

"Look here, O'Hara," he said.  "This gold rush is going to be big--the
days of '49 over again.  Suppose I cover it for the Billow? I'll pay my
own expenses."

O'Hara shook his head.

"Can't spare you from the office, Kit.  Then there's that serial.
Besides, I saw Jackson not an hour ago.  He's starting for the Klondike
to-morrow, and he's agreed to send a weekly letter and photos.  I
wouldn't let him get away till he promised.  And the beauty of it is,
that it doesn't cost us anything."

The next Kit heard of the Klondike was when he dropped into the club
that afternoon, and, in an alcove off the library, encountered his
uncle.

"Hello, avuncular relative," Kit greeted, sliding into a leather chair
and spreading out his legs.  "Won't you join me?"

He ordered a cocktail, but the uncle contented himself with the thin
native claret he invariably drank.  He glanced with irritated
disapproval at the cocktail, and on to his nephew's face.  Kit saw a
lecture gathering.

"I've only a minute," he announced hastily.  "I've got to run and take
in that Keith exhibition at Ellery's and do half a column on it."

"What's the matter with you?" the other demanded.  "You're pale. You're
a wreck."

Kit's only answer was a groan.

"I'll have the pleasure of burying you, I can see that."

Kit shook his head sadly.

"No destroying worm, thank you.  Cremation for mine."

John Bellew came of the old hard and hardy stock that had crossed the
plains by ox-team in the fifties, and in him was this same hardness and
the hardness of a childhood spent in the conquering of a new land.

"You're not living right, Christopher.  I'm ashamed of you."

"Primrose path, eh?" Kit chuckled.

The older man shrugged his shoulders.

"Shake not your gory locks at me, avuncular.  I wish it were the
primrose path.  But that's all cut out.  I have no time."

"Then what in-?"

"Overwork."

John Bellew laughed harshly and incredulously.

"Honest?"

Again came the laughter.

"Men are the products of their environment," Kit proclaimed, pointing
at the other's glass.  "Your mirth is thin and bitter as your drink."

"Overwork!" was the sneer.  "You never earned a cent in your life."

"You bet I have--only I never got it.  I'm earning five hundred a week
right now, and doing four men's work."

"Pictures that won't sell?  Or--er--fancy work of some sort?  Can you
swim?"

"I used to."

"Sit a horse?"

"I have essayed that adventure."

John Bellew snorted his disgust.

"I'm glad your father didn't live to see you in all the glory of your
gracelessness," he said.  "Your father was a man, every inch of him.
Do you get it?  A Man.  I think he'd have whaled all this musical and
artistic tomfoolery out of you."

"Alas! these degenerate days," Kit sighed.

"I could understand it, and tolerate it," the other went on savagely,
"if you succeeded at it.  You've never earned a cent in your life, nor
done a tap of man's work."

"Etchings, and pictures, and fans," Kit contributed unsoothingly.

"You're a dabbler and a failure.  What pictures have you painted? Dinky
water-colours and nightmare posters.  You've never had one exhibited,
even here in San Francisco-"

"Ah, you forget.  There is one in the jinks room of this very club."

"A gross cartoon.  Music?  Your dear fool of a mother spent hundreds on
lessons.  You've dabbled and failed.  You've never even earned a
five-dollar piece by accompanying some one at a concert.  Your
songs?--rag-time rot that's never printed and that's sung only by a
pack of fake Bohemians."

"I had a book published once--those sonnets, you remember," Kit
interposed meekly.

"What did it cost you?"

"Only a couple of hundred."

"Any other achievements?"

"I had a forest play acted at the summer jinks."

"What did you get for it?"

"Glory."

"And you used to swim, and you have essayed to sit a horse!"  John
Bellew set his glass down with unnecessary violence.  "What earthly
good are you anyway?  You were well put up, yet even at university you
didn't play football.  You didn't row.  You didn't-"

"I boxed and fenced--some."

"When did you last box?"

"Not since; but I was considered an excellent judge of time and
distance, only I was--er-"

"Go on."

"Considered desultory."

"Lazy, you mean."

"I always imagined it was an euphemism."

"My father, sir, your grandfather, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man with
a blow of his fist when he was sixty-nine years old."

"The man?"

"No, your--you graceless scamp!  But you'll never kill a mosquito at
sixty-nine."

"The times have changed, oh, my avuncular.  They send men to state
prisons for homicide now."

"Your father rode one hundred and eighty-five miles, without sleeping,
and killed three horses."

"Had he lived to-day, he'd have snored over the course in a Pullman."

The older man was on the verge of choking with wrath, but swallowed it
down and managed to articulate:

"How old are you?"

"I have reason to believe-"

"I know.  Twenty-seven.  You finished college at twenty-two.  You've
dabbled and played and frilled for five years.  Before God and man, of
what use are you?  When I was your age I had one suit of underclothes.
I was riding with the cattle in Colusa.  I was hard as rocks, and I
could sleep on a rock.  I lived on jerked beef and bear-meat.  I am a
better man physically right now than you are. You weigh about one
hundred and sixty-five.  I can throw you right now, or thrash you with
my fists."

"It doesn't take a physical prodigy to mop up cocktails or pink tea,"
Kit murmured deprecatingly.  "Don't you see, my avuncular, the times
have changed.  Besides, I wasn't brought up right.  My dear fool of a
mother-"

John Bellew started angrily.

"-As you described her, was too good to me; kept me in cotton wool and
all the rest.  Now, if when I was a youngster I had taken some of those
intensely masculine vacations you go in for--I wonder why you didn't
invite me sometimes?  You took Hal and Robbie all over the Sierras and
on that Mexico trip."

"I guess you were too Lord Fauntleroyish."

"Your fault, avuncular, and my dear--er--mother's.  How was I to know
the hard?  I was only a chee-ild.  What was there left but etchings and
pictures and fans?  Was it my fault that I never had to sweat?"

The older man looked at his nephew with unconcealed disgust.  He had no
patience with levity from the lips of softness.

"Well, I'm going to take another one of those what-you-call masculine
vacations.  Suppose I asked you to come along?"

"Rather belated, I must say.  Where is it?"

"Hal and Robert are going in to Klondike, and I'm going to see them
across the Pass and down to the Lakes, then return-"

He got no further, for the young man had sprung forward and gripped his
hand.

"My preserver!"

John Bellew was immediately suspicious.  He had not dreamed the
invitation would be accepted.

"You don't mean it," he said.

"When do we start?"

"It will be a hard trip.  You'll be in the way."

"No, I won't.  I'll work.  I've learned to work since I went on the
Billow."

"Each man has to take a year's supplies in with him.  There'll be such
a jam the Indian packers won't be able to handle it.  Hal and Robert
will have to pack their outfits across themselves.  That's what I'm
going along for--to help them pack.  It you come you'll have to do the
same."

"Watch me."

"You can't pack," was the objection.

"When do we start?"

"To-morrow."

"You needn't take it to yourself that your lecture on the hard has done
it," Kit said, at parting.  "I just had to get away, somewhere,
anywhere, from O'Hara."

"Who is O'Hara?  A Jap?"

"No; he's an Irishman, and a slave-driver, and my best friend.  He's
the editor and proprietor and all-around big squeeze of the Billow.
What he says goes.  He can make ghosts walk."

That night Kit Bellew wrote a note to O'Hara.

"It's only a several weeks' vacation," he explained.  "You'll have to
get some gink to dope out instalments for that serial.  Sorry, old man,
but my health demands it.  I'll kick in twice as hard when I get back."



II.

Kit Bellew landed through the madness of the Dyea beach, congested with
thousand-pound outfits of thousands of men.  This immense mass of
luggage and food, flung ashore in mountains by the steamers, was
beginning slowly to dribble up the Dyea valley and across Chilcoot. It
was a portage of twenty-eight miles, and could be accomplished only on
the backs of men.  Despite the fact that the Indian packers had jumped
the freight from eight cents a pound to forty, they were swamped with
the work, and it was plain that winter would catch the major portion of
the outfits on the wrong side of the divide.

Tenderest of the tender-feet was Kit.  Like many hundreds of others he
carried a big revolver swung on a cartridge-belt.  Of this, his uncle,
filled with memories of old lawless days, was likewise guilty.  But Kit
Bellew was romantic.  He was fascinated by the froth and sparkle of the
gold rush, and viewed its life and movement with an artist's eye.  He
did not take it seriously.  As he said on the steamer, it was not his
funeral.  He was merely on a vacation, and intended to peep over the
top of the pass for a 'look see' and then to return.

Leaving his party on the sand to wait for the putting ashore of the
freight, he strolled up the beach toward the old trading post.  He did
not swagger, though he noticed that many of the be-revolvered
individuals did.  A strapping, six-foot Indian passed him, carrying an
unusually large pack.  Kit swung in behind, admiring the splendid
calves of the man, and the grace and ease with which he moved along
under his burden.  The Indian dropped his pack on the scales in front
of the post, and Kit joined the group of admiring gold-rushers who
surrounded him.  The pack weighed one hundred and twenty pounds, which
fact was uttered back and forth in tones of awe.  It was going some,
Kit decided, and he wondered if he could lift such a weight, much less
walk off with it.

"Going to Lake Linderman with it, old man?" he asked.

The Indian, swelling with pride, grunted an affirmative.

"How much you make that one pack?"

"Fifty dollar."

Here Kit slid out of the conversation.  A young woman, standing in the
doorway, had caught his eye.  Unlike other women landing from the
steamers, she was neither short-skirted nor bloomer-clad.  She was
dressed as any woman travelling anywhere would be dressed.  What struck
him was the justness of her being there, a feeling that somehow she
belonged.  Moreover, she was young and pretty.  The bright beauty and
colour of her oval face held him, and he looked over-long--looked till
she resented, and her own eyes, long-lashed and dark, met his in cool
survey.

From his face they travelled in evident amusement down to the big
revolver at his thigh.  Then her eyes came back to his, and in them was
amused contempt.  It struck him like a blow.  She turned to the man
beside her and indicated Kit.  The man glanced him over with the same
amused contempt.

"Chechaquo," the girl said.

The man, who looked like a tramp in his cheap overalls and dilapidated
woollen jacket, grinned dryly, and Kit felt withered though he knew not
why.  But anyway she was an unusually pretty girl, he decided, as the
two moved off.  He noted the way of her walk, and recorded the judgment
that he would recognize it after the lapse of a thousand years.

"Did you see that man with the girl?" Kit's neighbour asked him
excitedly.  "Know who he is?"

Kit shook his head.

"Cariboo Charley.  He was just pointed out to me.  He struck it big on
Klondike.  Old timer.  Been on the Yukon a dozen years.  He's just come
out."

"What's chechaquo mean?" Kit asked.

"You're one; I'm one," was the answer.

"Maybe I am, but you've got to search me.  What does it mean?"

"Tender-foot."

On his way back to the beach Kit turned the phrase over and over. It
rankled to be called tender-foot by a slender chit of a woman.

Going into a corner among the heaps of freight, his mind still filled
with the vision of the Indian with the redoubtable pack, Kit essayed to
learn his own strength.  He picked out a sack of flour which he knew
weighed an even hundred pounds.  He stepped astride of it, reached
down, and strove to get it on his shoulder.  His first conclusion was
that one hundred pounds was the real heavy.  His next was that his back
was weak.  His third was an oath, and it occurred at the end of five
futile minutes, when he collapsed on top of the burden with which he
was wrestling.  He mopped his forehead, and across a heap of grub-sacks
saw John Bellew gazing at him, wintry amusement in his eyes.

"God!" proclaimed that apostle of the hard.  "Out of our loins has come
a race of weaklings.  When I was sixteen I toyed with things like that."

"You forget, avuncular," Kit retorted, "that I wasn't raised on
bear-meat."

"And I'll toy with it when I'm sixty."

"You've got to show me."

John Bellew did.  He was forty-eight, but he bent over the sack,
applied a tentative, shifting grip that balanced it, and, with a quick
heave, stood erect, the somersaulted sack of flour on his shoulder.

"Knack, my boy, knack--and a spine."

Kit took off his hat reverently.

"You're a wonder, avuncular, a shining wonder.  D'ye think I can learn
the knack?"

John Bellew shrugged his shoulders.

"You'll be hitting the back trail before we get started."

"Never you fear," Kit groaned.  "There's O'Hara, the roaring lion, down
there.  I'm not going back till I have to."



III.

Kit's first pack was a success.  Up to Finnegan's Crossing they had
managed to get Indians to carry the twenty-five hundred-pound outfit.
From that point their own backs must do the work.  They planned to move
forward at the rate of a mile a day.  It looked easy--on paper.  Since
John Bellew was to stay in camp and do the cooking, he would be unable
to make more than an occasional pack; so, to each of the three young
men fell the task of carrying eight hundred pounds one mile each day.
If they made fifty-pound packs, it meant a daily walk of sixteen miles
loaded and of fifteen miles light--"Because we don't back-trip the last
time," Kit explained the pleasant discovery; eighty-pound packs meant
nineteen miles travel each day; and hundred-pound packs meant only
fifteen miles.

"I don't like walking," said Kit.  "Therefore I shall carry one hundred
pounds."  He caught the grin of incredulity on his uncle's face, and
added hastily:  "Of course I shall work up to it.  A fellow's got to
learn the ropes and tricks.  I'll start with fifty."

He did, and ambled gaily along the trail.  He dropped the sack at the
next camp-site and ambled back.  It was easier than he had thought.
But two miles had rubbed off the velvet of his strength and exposed the
underlying softness.  His second pack was sixty-five pounds.  It was
more difficult, and he no longer ambled.  Several times, following the
custom of all packers, he sat down on the ground, resting the pack
behind him on a rock or stump.  With the third pack he became bold.  He
fastened the straps to a ninety-five-pound sack of beans and started.
At the end of a hundred yards he felt that he must collapse.  He sat
down and mopped his face.

"Short hauls and short rests," he muttered.  "That's the trick."

Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he struggled
to his feet for another short haul the pack became undeniably heavier.
He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed from him.  Before he had
covered a quarter of a mile he stripped off his woollen shirt and hung
it on a tree.  A little later he discarded his hat.  At the end of half
a mile he decided he was finished.  He had never exerted himself so in
his life, and he knew that he was finished.  As he sat and panted, his
gaze fell upon the big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.

"Ten pounds of junk," he sneered, as he unbuckled it.

He did not bother to hang it on a tree, but flung it into the
underbush.  And as the steady tide of packers flowed by him, up trail
and down, he noted that the other tender-feet were beginning to shed
their shooting irons.

His short hauls decreased.  At times a hundred feet was all he could
stagger, and then the ominous pounding of his heart against his
ear-drums and the sickening totteriness of his knees compelled him to
rest.  And his rests grew longer.  But his mind was busy.  It was a
twenty-eight mile portage, which represented as many days, and this, by
all accounts, was the easiest part of it.  "Wait till you get to
Chilcoot," others told him as they rested and talked, "where you climb
with hands and feet."

"They ain't going to be no Chilcoot," was his answer.  "Not for me.
Long before that I'll be at peace in my little couch beneath the moss."

A slip, and a violent wrenching effort at recovery, frightened him. He
felt that everything inside him had been torn asunder.

"If ever I fall down with this on my back I'm a goner," he told another
packer.

"That's nothing," came the answer.  "Wait till you hit the Canyon.
You'll have to cross a raging torrent on a sixty-foot pine tree.  No
guide ropes, nothing, and the water boiling at the sag of the log to
your knees.  If you fall with a pack on your back, there's no getting
out of the straps.  You just stay there and drown."

"Sounds good to me," he retorted; and out of the depths of his
exhaustion he almost half meant it.

"They drown three or four a day there," the man assured him.  "I helped
fish a German out there.  He had four thousand in greenbacks on him."

"Cheerful, I must say," said Kit, battling his way to his feet and
tottering on.

He and the sack of beans became a perambulating tragedy.  It reminded
him of the old man of the sea who sat on Sinbad's neck. And this was
one of those intensely masculine vacations, he meditated.  Compared
with it, the servitude to O'Hara was sweet. Again and again he was
nearly seduced by the thought of abandoning the sack of beans in the
brush and of sneaking around the camp to the beach and catching a
steamer for civilization.

But he didn't.  Somewhere in him was the strain of the hard, and he
repeated over and over to himself that what other men could do, he
could.  It became a nightmare chant, and he gibbered it to those that
passed him on the trail.  At other times, resting, he watched and
envied the stolid, mule-footed Indians that plodded by under heavier
packs.  They never seemed to rest, but went on and on with a steadiness
and certitude that was to him appalling.

He sat and cursed--he had no breath for it when under way--and fought
the temptation to sneak back to San Francisco.  Before the mile pack
was ended he ceased cursing and took to crying.  The tears were tears
of exhaustion and of disgust with self.  If ever a man was a wreck, he
was.  As the end of the pack came in sight, he strained himself in
desperation, gained the camp-site, and pitched forward on his face, the
beans on his back.  It did not kill him, but he lay for fifteen minutes
before he could summon sufficient shreds of strength to release himself
from the straps.  Then he became deathly sick, and was so found by
Robbie, who had similar troubles of his own.  It was this sickness of
Robbie that braced him up.

"What other men can do, we can do," Kit told him, though down in his
heart he wondered whether or not he was bluffing.



IV.

"And I am twenty-seven years old and a man," he privately assured
himself many times in the days that followed.  There was need for it.
At the end of a week, though he had succeeded in moving his eight
hundred pounds forward a mile a day, he had lost fifteen pounds of his
own weight.  His face was lean and haggard.  All resilience had gone
out of his body and mind.  He no longer walked, but plodded.  And on
the back-trips, travelling light, his feet dragged almost as much as
when he was loaded.

He had become a work animal.  He fell asleep over his food, and his
sleep was heavy and beastly, save when he was aroused, screaming with
agony, by the cramps in his legs.  Every part of him ached.  He tramped
on raw blisters, yet this was even easier than the fearful bruising his
feet received on the water-rounded rocks of the Dyea Flats, across
which the trail led for two miles.  These two miles represented
thirty-eight miles of travelling.  He washed his face once a day.  His
nails, torn and broken and afflicted with hangnails, were never
cleaned.  His shoulders and chest, galled by the pack-straps, made him
think, and for the first time with understanding, of the horses he had
seen on city streets.

One ordeal that nearly destroyed him at first had been the food. The
extraordinary amount of work demanded extraordinary stoking, and his
stomach was unaccustomed to great quantities of bacon and of the
coarse, highly poisonous brown beans.  As a result, his stomach went
back on him, and for several days the pain and irritation of it and of
starvation nearly broke him down.  And then came the day of joy when he
could eat like a ravenous animal, and, wolf-eyed, ask for more.

When they had moved the outfit across the foot-logs at the mouth of the
Canyon, they made a change in their plans.  Word had come across the
Pass that at Lake Linderman the last available trees for building boats
were being cut.  The two cousins, with tools, whipsaw, blankets, and
grub on their backs, went on, leaving Kit and his uncle to hustle along
the outfit.  John Bellew now shared the cooking with Kit, and both
packed shoulder to shoulder.  Time was flying, and on the peaks the
first snow was falling.  To be caught on the wrong side of the Pass
meant a delay of nearly a year.  The older man put his iron back under
a hundred pounds.  Kit was shocked, but he gritted his teeth and
fastened his own straps to a hundred pounds.  It hurt, but he had
learned the knack, and his body, purged of all softness and fat, was
beginning to harden up with lean and bitter muscle.  Also, he observed
and devised.  He took note of the head-straps worn by the Indians, and
manufactured one for himself, which he used in addition to the
shoulder-straps. It made things easier, so that he began the practice
of piling any light, cumbersome piece of luggage on top.  Thus, he was
soon able to bend along with a hundred pounds in the straps, fifteen or
twenty more lying loosely on top the pack and against his neck, an axe
or a pair of oars in one hand, and in the other the nested
cooking-pails of the camp.

But work as they would, the toil increased.  The trail grew more
rugged; their packs grew heavier; and each day saw the snow-line
dropping down the mountains, while freight jumped to sixty cents. No
word came from the cousins beyond, so they knew they must be at work
chopping down the standing trees, and whipsawing them into boat-planks.
John Bellew grew anxious.  Capturing a bunch of Indians back-tripping
from Lake Linderman, he persuaded them to put their straps on the
outfit.  They charged thirty cents a pound to carry it to the summit of
Chilcoot, and it nearly broke him.  As it was, some four hundred pounds
of clothes-bags and camp outfit was not handled.  He remained behind to
move it along, dispatching Kit with the Indians.  At the summit Kit was
to remain, slowly moving his ton until overtaken by the four hundred
pounds with which his uncle guaranteed to catch him.



V.

Kit plodded along the trail with his Indian packers.  In recognition of
the fact that it was to be a long pack, straight to the top of
Chilcoot, his own load was only eighty pounds.  The Indians plodded
under their loads, but it was a quicker gait than he had practised. Yet
he felt no apprehension, and by now had come to deem himself almost the
equal of an Indian.

At the end of a quarter of a mile he desired to rest.  But the Indians
kept on.  He stayed with them, and kept his place in the line.  At the
half mile he was convinced that he was incapable of another step, yet
he gritted his teeth, kept his place, and at the end of the mile was
amazed that he was still alive.  Then, in some strange way, came the
thing called second wind, and the next mile was almost easier than the
first.  The third mile nearly killed him, and, though half delirious
with pain and fatigue, he never whimpered.  And then, when he felt he
must surely faint, came the rest.  Instead of sitting in the straps, as
was the custom of the white packers, the Indians slipped out of the
shoulder- and head-straps and lay at ease, talking and smoking.  A full
half hour passed before they made another start.  To Kit's surprise he
found himself a fresh man, and 'long hauls and long rests' became his
newest motto.

The pitch of Chilcoot was all he had heard of it, and many were the
occasions when he climbed with hands as well as feet.  But when he
reached the crest of the divide in the thick of a driving snow-squall,
it was in the company of his Indians, and his secret pride was that he
had come through with them and never squealed and never lagged.  To be
almost as good as an Indian was a new ambition to cherish.

When he had paid off the Indians and seen them depart, a stormy
darkness was falling, and he was left alone, a thousand feet above
timber line, on the back-bone of a mountain.  Wet to the waist,
famished and exhausted, he would have given a year's income for a fire
and a cup of coffee.  Instead, he ate half a dozen cold flap-jacks and
crawled into the folds of the partly unrolled tent.  As he dozed off he
had time only for one fleeting thought, and he grinned with vicious
pleasure at the picture of John Bellew in the days to follow,
masculinely back-tripping his four hundred pounds up Chilcoot.  As for
himself, even though burdened with two thousand pounds, he was bound
down the hill.

In the morning, stiff from his labours and numb with the frost, he
rolled out of the canvas, ate a couple of pounds of uncooked bacon,
buckled the straps on a hundred pounds, and went down the rocky way.
Several hundred yards beneath, the trail led across a small glacier and
down to Crater Lake.  Other men packed across the glacier.  All that
day he dropped his packs at the glacier's upper edge, and, by virtue of
the shortness of the pack, he put his straps on one hundred and fifty
pounds each load.  His astonishment at being able to do it never
abated.  For two dollars he bought from an Indian three leathery
sea-biscuits, and out of these, and a huge quantity of raw bacon, made
several meals.  Unwashed, unwarmed, his clothing wet with sweat, he
slept another night in the canvas.

In the early morning he spread a tarpaulin on the ice, loaded it with
three-quarters of a ton, and started to pull.  Where the pitch of the
glacier accelerated, his load likewise accelerated, overran him,
scooped him in on top, and ran away with him.

A hundred packers, bending under their loads, stopped to watch him. He
yelled frantic warnings, and those in his path stumbled and staggered
clear.  Below, on the lower edge of the glacier, was pitched a small
tent, which seemed leaping toward him, so rapidly did it grow larger.
He left the beaten track where the packers' trail swerved to the left,
and struck a patch of fresh snow.  This arose about him in frosty
smoke, while it reduced his speed.  He saw the tent the instant he
struck it, carrying away the corner guys, bursting in the front flaps,
and fetching up inside, still on top of the tarpaulin and in the midst
of his grub-sacks.  The tent rocked drunkenly, and in the frosty vapour
he found himself face to face with a startled young woman who was
sitting up in her blankets--the very one who had called him chechaquo
at Dyea.

"Did you see my smoke?" he queried cheerfully.

She regarded him with disapproval.

"Talk about your magic carpets!" he went on.

"Do you mind removing that sack from my foot?" she said coldly.

He looked, and lifted his weight quickly.

"It wasn't a sack.  It was my elbow.  Pardon me."

The information did not perturb her, and her coolness was a challenge.

"It was a mercy you did not overturn the stove," she said.

He followed her glance and saw a sheet-iron stove and a coffee-pot,
attended by a young squaw.  He sniffed the coffee and looked back to
the girl.

"I'm a chechaquo," he said.

Her bored expression told him that he was stating the obvious.  But he
was unabashed.

"I've shed my shooting-irons," he added.

Then she recognized him, and her eyes lighted.

"I never thought you'd get this far," she informed him.

Again, and greedily, he sniffed the air.

"As I live, coffee!"  He turned and directly addressed her.  "I'll give
you my little finger--cut it right off now; I'll do anything; I'll be
your slave for a year and a day or any other odd time, if you'll give
me a cup out of that pot."

And over the coffee he gave his name and learned hers--Joy Gastell.
Also, he learned that she was an old-timer in the country.  She had
been born in a trading post on the Great Slave, and as a child had
crossed the Rockies with her father and come down to the Yukon.  She
was going in, she said, with her father, who had been delayed by
business in Seattle, and who had then been wrecked on the ill-fated
Chanter and carried back to Puget Sound by the rescuing steamer.

In view of the fact that she was still in her blankets, he did not make
it a long conversation, and, heroically declining a second cup of
coffee, he removed himself and his quarter of a ton of baggage from her
tent.  Further, he took several conclusions away with him: she had a
fetching name and fetching eyes; could not be more than twenty, or
twenty-one or -two; her father must be French; she had a will of her
own and temperament to burn; and she had been educated elsewhere than
on the frontier.



VI.

Over the ice-scoured rocks, and above the timber-line, the trail ran
around Crater Lake and gained the rocky defile that led toward Happy
Camp and the first scrub pines.  To pack his heavy outfit around would
take days of heart-breaking toil.  On the lake was a canvas boat
employed in freighting.  Two trips with it, in two hours, would see him
and his ton across.  But he was broke, and the ferryman charged forty
dollars a ton.

"You've got a gold-mine, my friend, in that dinky boat," Kit said to
the ferryman.  "Do you want another gold-mine?"

"Show me," was the answer.

"I'll sell it to you for the price of ferrying my outfit.  It's an
idea, not patented, and you can jump the deal as soon as I tell you it.
Are you game?"

The ferryman said he was, and Kit liked his looks.

"Very well.  You see that glacier.  Take a pick-axe and wade into it.
In a day you can have a decent groove from top to bottom.  See the
point?  The Chilcoot and Crater Lake Consolidated Chute Corporation,
Limited.  You can charge fifty cents a hundred, get a hundred tons a
day, and have no work to do but collect the coin."

Two hours later, Kit's ton was across the lake, and he had gained three
days on himself.  And when John Bellew overtook him, he was well along
toward Deep Lake, another volcanic pit filled with glacial water.



VII.

The last pack, from Long Lake to Linderman, was three miles, and the
trail, if trail it could be called, rose up over a thousand-foot
hogback, dropped down a scramble of slippery rocks, and crossed a wide
stretch of swamp.  John Bellew remonstrated when he saw Kit arise with
a hundred pounds in the straps and pick up a fifty-pound sack of flour
and place it on top of the pack against the back of his neck.

"Come on, you chunk of the hard," Kit retorted.  "Kick in on your
bear-meat fodder and your one suit of underclothes."

But John Bellew shook his head.

"I'm afraid I'm getting old, Christopher."

"You're only forty-eight.  Do you realize that my grandfather, sir,
your father, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man with his fist when he was
sixty-nine years old?"

John Bellew grinned and swallowed his medicine.

"Avuncular, I want to tell you something important.  I was raised a
Lord Fauntleroy, but I can outpack you, outwalk you, put you on your
back, or lick you with my fists right now."

John Bellew thrust out his hand and spoke solemnly.

"Christopher, my boy, I believe you can do it.  I believe you can do it
with that pack on your back at the same time.  You've made good, boy,
though it's too unthinkable to believe."

Kit made the round trip of the last pack four times a day, which is to
say that he daily covered twenty-four miles of mountain climbing,
twelve miles of it under one hundred and fifty pounds.  He was proud,
hard, and tired, but in splendid physical condition.  He ate and slept
as he had never eaten and slept in his life, and as the end of the work
came in sight, he was almost half sorry.

One problem bothered him.  He had learned that he could fall with a
hundredweight on his back and survive; but he was confident, if he fell
with that additional fifty pounds across the back of his neck, that it
would break it clean.  Each trail through the swamp was quickly churned
bottomless by the thousands of packers, who were compelled continually
to make new trails.  It was while pioneering such a new trail, that he
solved the problem of the extra fifty.

The soft, lush surface gave way under him; he floundered, and pitched
forward on his face.  The fifty pounds crushed his face in the mud and
went clear without snapping his neck.  With the remaining hundred
pounds on his back, he arose on hands and knees. But he got no farther.
One arm sank to the shoulder, pillowing his cheek in the slush.  As he
drew this arm clear, the other sank to the shoulder.  In this position
it was impossible to slip the straps, and the hundredweight on his back
would not let him rise. On hands and knees, sinking first one arm and
then the other, he made an effort to crawl to where the small sack of
flour had fallen. But he exhausted himself without advancing, and so
churned and broke the grass surface, that a tiny pool of water began to
form in perilous proximity to his mouth and nose.

He tried to throw himself on his back with the pack underneath, but
this resulted in sinking both arms to the shoulders and gave him a
foretaste of drowning.  With exquisite patience, he slowly withdrew one
sucking arm and then the other and rested them flat on the surface for
the support of his chin.  Then he began to call for help.  After a time
he heard the sound of feet sucking through the mud as some one advanced
from behind.

"Lend a hand, friend," he said.  "Throw out a life-line or something."

It was a woman's voice that answered, and he recognized it.

"If you'll unbuckle the straps I can get up."

The hundred pounds rolled into the mud with a soggy noise, and he
slowly gained his feet.

"A pretty predicament," Miss Gastell laughed, at sight of his
mud-covered face.

"Not at all," he replied airily.  "My favourite physical exercise
stunt.  Try it some time.  It's great for the pectoral muscles and the
spine."

He wiped his face, flinging the slush from his hand with a snappy jerk.

"Oh!" she cried in recognition.  "It's Mr--ah--Mr Smoke Bellew."

"I thank you gravely for your timely rescue and for that name," he
answered.  "I have been doubly baptized.  Henceforth I shall insist
always on being called Smoke Bellew.  It is a strong name, and not
without significance."

He paused, and then voice and expression became suddenly fierce.

"Do you know what I'm going to do?" he demanded.  "I'm going back to
the States.  I am going to get married.  I am going to raise a large
family of children.  And then, as the evening shadows fall, I shall
gather those children about me and relate the sufferings and hardships
I endured on the Chilcoot Trail.  And if they don't cry--I repeat, if
they don't cry, I'll lambaste the stuffing out of them."



VIII.

The arctic winter came down apace.  Snow that had come to stay lay six
inches on the ground, and the ice was forming in quiet ponds, despite
the fierce gales that blew.  It was in the late afternoon, during a
lull in such a gale, that Kit and John Bellew helped the cousins load
the boat and watched it disappear down the lake in a snow-squall.

"And now a night's sleep and an early start in the morning," said John
Bellew.  "If we aren't storm-bound at the summit we'll make Dyea
to-morrow night, and if we have luck in catching a steamer we'll be in
San Francisco in a week."

"Enjoyed your vacation?" Kit asked absently.

Their camp for that last night at Linderman was a melancholy remnant.
Everything of use, including the tent, had been taken by the cousins.
A tattered tarpaulin, stretched as a wind-break, partially sheltered
them from the driving snow.  Supper they cooked on an open fire in a
couple of battered and discarded camp utensils. All that was left them
were their blankets, and food for several meals.

From the moment of the departure of the boat, Kit had become absent and
restless.  His uncle noticed his condition, and attributed it to the
fact that the end of the hard toil had come.  Only once during supper
did Kit speak.

"Avuncular," he said, relevant of nothing, "after this, I wish you'd
call me Smoke.  I've made some smoke on this trail, haven't I?"

A few minutes later he wandered away in the direction of the village of
tents that sheltered the gold-rushers who were still packing or
building their boats.  He was gone several hours, and when he returned
and slipped into his blankets John Bellew was asleep.

In the darkness of a gale-driven morning, Kit crawled out, built a fire
in his stocking feet, by which he thawed out his frozen shoes, then
boiled coffee and fried bacon.  It was a chilly, miserable meal.  As
soon as finished, they strapped their blankets.  As John Bellew turned
to lead the way toward the Chilcoot Trail, Kit held out his hand.

"Good-bye, avuncular," he said.

John Bellew looked at him and swore in his surprise.

"Don't forget my name's Smoke," Kit chided.

"But what are you going to do?"

Kit waved his hand in a general direction northward over the
storm-lashed lake.

"What's the good of turning back after getting this far?" he asked.
"Besides, I've got my taste of meat, and I like it.  I'm going on."

"You're broke," protested John Bellew.  "You have no outfit."

"I've got a job.  Behold your nephew, Christopher Smoke Bellew! He's
got a job at a hundred and fifty per month and grub.  He's going down
to Dawson with a couple of dudes and another gentleman's
man--camp-cook, boatman, and general all-around hustler.  And O'Hara
and the Billow can go to hell.  Good-bye."

But John Bellew was dazed, and could only mutter:

"I don't understand."

"They say the baldface grizzlies are thick in the Yukon Basin," Kit
explained.  "Well, I've got only one suit of underclothes, and I'm
going after the bear-meat, that's all."



THE MEAT.



I.

Half the time the wind blew a gale, and Smoke Bellew staggered against
it along the beach.  In the gray of dawn a dozen boats were being
loaded with the precious outfits packed across Chilcoot.  They were
clumsy, home-made boats, put together by men who were not
boat-builders, out of planks they had sawed by hand from green spruce
trees.  One boat, already loaded, was just starting, and Kit paused to
watch.

The wind, which was fair down the lake, here blew in squarely on the
beach, kicking up a nasty sea in the shallows.  The men of the
departing boat waded in high rubber boots as they shoved it out toward
deeper water.  Twice they did this.  Clambering aboard and failing to
row clear, the boat was swept back and grounded.  Kit noticed that the
spray on the sides of the boat quickly turned to ice.  The third
attempt was a partial success.  The last two men to climb in were wet
to their waists, but the boat was afloat.  They struggled awkwardly at
the heavy oars, and slowly worked off shore. Then they hoisted a sail
made of blankets, had it carried away in a gust, and were swept a third
time back on the freezing beach.

Kit grinned to himself and went on.  This was what he must expect to
encounter, for he, too, in his new role of gentleman's man, was to
start from the beach in a similar boat that very day.

Everywhere men were at work, and at work desperately, for the closing
down of winter was so imminent that it was a gamble whether or not they
would get across the great chain of lakes before the freeze-up.  Yet,
when Kit arrived at the tent of Messrs Sprague and Stine, he did not
find them stirring.

By a fire, under the shelter of a tarpaulin, squatted a short, thick
man smoking a brown-paper cigarette.

"Hello," he said.  "Are you Mister Sprague's new man?"

As Kit nodded, he thought he had noted a shade of emphasis on the
mister and the man, and he was sure of a hint of a twinkle in the
corner of the eye.

"Well, I'm Doc Stine's man," the other went on.  "I'm five feet two
inches long, and my name's Shorty, Jack Short for short, and sometimes
known as Johnny-on-the-Spot."

Kit put out his hand and shook.

"Were you raised on bear-meat?" he queried.

"Sure," was the answer; "though my first feedin' was buffalo-milk as
near as I can remember.  Sit down an' have some grub.  The bosses ain't
turned out yet."

And despite the one breakfast, Kit sat down under the tarpaulin and ate
a second breakfast thrice as hearty.  The heavy, purging toil of weeks
had given him the stomach and appetite of a wolf.  He could eat
anything, in any quantity, and be unaware that he possessed a
digestion.  Shorty he found voluble and pessimistic, and from him he
received surprising tips concerning their bosses, and ominous forecasts
of the expedition.  Thomas Stanley Sprague was a budding mining
engineer and the son of a millionaire.  Doctor Adolph Stine was also
the son of a wealthy father.  And, through their fathers, both had been
backed by an investing syndicate in the Klondike adventure.

"Oh, they're sure made of money," Shorty expounded.  "When they hit the
beach at Dyea, freight was seventy cents, but no Indians.  There was a
party from Eastern Oregon, real miners, that'd managed to get a team of
Indians together at seventy cents.  Indians had the straps on the
outfit, three thousand pounds of it, when along comes Sprague and
Stine.  They offered eighty cents and ninety, and at a dollar a pound
the Indians jumped the contract and took off their straps. Sprague and
Stine came through, though it cost them three thousand, and the Oregon
bunch is still on the beach.  They won't get through till next year.

"Oh, they are real hummers, your boss and mine, when it comes to
sheddin' the mazuma an' never mindin' other folks' feelin's.  What did
they do when they hit Linderman?  The carpenters was just putting in
the last licks on a boat they'd contracted to a 'Frisco bunch for six
hundred.  Sprague and Stine slipped 'em an even thousand, and they
jumped their contract.  It's a good-lookin' boat, but it's jiggered the
other bunch.  They've got their outfit right here, but no boat.  And
they're stuck for next year.

"Have another cup of coffee, and take it from me that I wouldn't travel
with no such outfit if I didn't want to get to Klondike so blamed bad.
They ain't hearted right.  They'd take the crape off the door of a
house in mourning if they needed it in their business. Did you sign a
contract?"

Kit shook his head.

"Then I'm sorry for you, pardner.  They ain't no grub in the country,
and they'll drop you cold as soon as they hit Dawson.  Men are going to
starve there this winter."

"They agreed--" Kit began.

"Verbal," Shorty snapped him short.  "It's your say so against theirs,
that's all.  Well, anyway--what's your name, pardner?"

"Call me Smoke," said Kit.

"Well, Smoke, you'll have a run for your verbal contract just the same.
This is a plain sample of what to expect.  They can sure shed mazuma,
but they can't work, or turn out of bed in the morning.  We should have
been loaded and started an hour ago.  It's you an' me for the big work.
Pretty soon you'll hear 'em shoutin' for their coffee--in bed, mind
you, and they grown men.  What d'ye know about boatin' on the water?
I'm a cowman and a prospector, but I'm sure tender-footed on water, an'
they don't know punkins.  What d'ye know?"

"Search me," Kit answered, snuggling in closer under the tarpaulin as
the snow whirled before a fiercer gust.  "I haven't been on a small
boat since a boy.  But I guess we can learn."

A corner of the tarpaulin tore loose, and Shorty received a jet of
driven snow down the back of his neck.

"Oh, we can learn all right," he muttered wrathfully.  "Sure we can. A
child can learn.  But it's dollars to doughnuts we don't even get
started to-day."

It was eight o'clock when the call for coffee came from the tent, and
nearly nine before the two employers emerged.

"Hello," said Sprague, a rosy-cheeked, well-fed young man of
twenty-five.  "Time we made a start, Shorty.  You and--"  Here he
glanced interrogatively at Kit.  "I didn't quite catch your name last
evening."

"Smoke."

"Well, Shorty, you and Mr Smoke had better begin loading the boat."

"Plain Smoke--cut out the Mister," Kit suggested.

Sprague nodded curtly and strolled away among the tents, to be followed
by Doctor Stine, a slender, pallid young man.

Shorty looked significantly at his companion.

"Over a ton and a half of outfit, and they won't lend a hand. You'll
see."

"I guess it's because we're paid to do the work," Kit answered
cheerfully, "and we might as well buck in."

To move three thousand pounds on the shoulders a hundred yards was no
slight task, and to do it in half a gale, slushing through the snow in
heavy rubber boots, was exhausting.  In addition, there was the taking
down of the tent and the packing of small camp equipage. Then came the
loading.  As the boat settled, it had to be shoved farther and farther
out, increasing the distance they had to wade. By two o'clock it had
all been accomplished, and Kit, despite his two breakfasts, was weak
with the faintness of hunger.  His knees were shaking under him.
Shorty, in similar predicament, foraged through the pots and pans, and
drew forth a big pot of cold boiled beans in which were imbedded large
chunks of bacon.  There was only one spoon, a long-handled one, and
they dipped, turn and turn about, into the pot.  Kit was filled with an
immense certitude that in all his life he had never tasted anything so
good.

"Lord, man," he mumbled between chews, "I never knew what appetite was
till I hit the trail."

Sprague and Stine arrived in the midst of this pleasant occupation.

"What's the delay?" Sprague complained. "Aren't we ever going to get
started?"

Shorty dipped in turn, and passed the spoon to Kit.  Nor did either
speak till the pot was empty and the bottom scraped.

"Of course we ain't ben doin' nothing," Shorty said, wiping his mouth
with the back of his hand.  "We ain't ben doin' nothing at all.  And of
course you ain't had nothing to eat.  It was sure careless of me."

"Yes, yes," Stine said quickly.  "We ate at one of the tents--friends
of ours."

"Thought so," Shorty grunted.

"But now that you're finished, let us get started," Sprague urged.

"There's the boat," said Shorty.  "She's sure loaded.  Now, just how
might you be goin' about to get started?"

"By climbing aboard and shoving off.  Come on."

They waded out, and the employers got on board, while Kit and Shorty
shoved clear.  When the waves lapped the tops of their boots they
clambered in.  The other two men were not prepared with the oars, and
the boat swept back and grounded.  Half a dozen times, with a great
expenditure of energy, this was repeated.

Shorty sat down disconsolately on the gunwale, took a chew of tobacco,
and questioned the universe, while Kit baled the boat and the other two
exchanged unkind remarks.

"If you'll take my orders, I'll get her off," Sprague finally said.

The attempt was well intended, but before he could clamber on board he
was wet to the waist.

"We've got to camp and build a fire," he said, as the boat grounded
again.  "I'm freezing."

"Don't be afraid of a wetting," Stine sneered.  "Other men have gone
off to-day wetter than you.  Now I'm going to take her out."

This time it was he who got the wetting, and who announced with
chattering teeth the need of a fire.

"A little splash like that," Sprague chattered spitefully.  "We'll go
on."

"Shorty, dig out my clothes-bag and make a fire," the other commanded.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," Sprague cried.

Shorty looked from one to the other, expectorated, but did not move.

"He's working for me, and I guess he obeys my orders," Stine retorted.
"Shorty, take that bag ashore."

Shorty obeyed, and Sprague shivered in the boat.  Kit, having received
no orders, remained inactive, glad of the rest.

"A boat divided against itself won't float," he soliloquized.

"What's that?" Sprague snarled at him.

"Talking to myself--habit of mine," he answered.

His employer favoured him with a hard look, and sulked several minutes
longer.  Then he surrendered.

"Get out my bag, Smoke," he ordered, "and lend a hand with that fire.
We won't get off till the morning now."



II.

Next day the gale still blew.  Lake Linderman was no more than a narrow
mountain gorge filled with water.  Sweeping down from the mountains
through this funnel, the wind was irregular, blowing great guns at
times and at other times dwindling to a strong breeze.

"If you give me a shot at it, I think I can get her off," Kit said,
when all was ready for the start.

"What do you know about it?" Stine snapped at him.

"Search me," Kit answered, and subsided.

It was the first time he had worked for wages in his life, but he was
learning the discipline of it fast.  Obediently and cheerfully he
joined in various vain efforts to get clear of the beach.

"How would you go about it?" Sprague finally half-panted, half-whined
at him.

"Sit down and get a good rest till a lull comes in the wind, and then
buck in for all we're worth."

Simple as the idea was, he had been the first to evolve it; the first
time it was applied it worked, and they hoisted a blanket to the mast
and sped down the lake.  Stine and Sprague immediately became cheerful.
Shorty, despite his chronic pessimism, was always cheerful, and Kit was
too interested to be otherwise.  Sprague struggled with the steering
sweep for a quarter of an hour, and then looked appealingly at Kit, who
relieved him.

"My arms are fairly broken with the strain of it," Sprague muttered
apologetically.

"You never ate bear-meat, did you?" Kit asked sympathetically.

"What the devil do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing; I was just wondering."

But behind his employer's back Kit caught the approving grin of Shorty,
who had already caught the whim of his simile.

Kit steered the length of Linderman, displaying an aptitude that caused
both young men of money and disinclination for work to name him
boat-steerer.  Shorty was no less pleased, and volunteered to continue
cooking and leave the boat work to the other.

Between Linderman and Lake Bennet was a portage.  The boat, lightly
loaded, was lined down the small but violent connecting stream, and
here Kit learned a vast deal more about boats and water.  But when it
came to packing the outfit, Stine and Sprague disappeared, and their
men spent two days of back-breaking toil in getting the outfit across.
And this was the history of many miserable days of the trip--Kit and
Shorty working to exhaustion, while their masters toiled not and
demanded to be waited upon.

But the iron-bound arctic winter continued to close down, and they were
held back by numerous and avoidable delays.  At Windy Arm, Stine
arbitrarily dispossessed Kit of the steering-sweep and within the hour
wrecked the boat on a wave-beaten lee shore.  Two days were lost here
in making repairs, and the morning of the fresh start, as they came
down to embark, on stern and bow, in large letters, was charcoaled 'The
Chechaquo.'

Kit grinned at the appropriateness of the invidious word.

"Huh!" said Shorty, when accused by Stine.  "I can sure read and spell,
an' I know that Chechaquo means tenderfoot, but my education never went
high enough to learn me to spell a jaw-breaker like that."

Both employers looked daggers at Kit, for the insult rankled; nor did
he mention that the night before, Shorty had besought him for the
spelling of that particular word.

"That's 'most as bad as your bear-meat slam at 'em," Shorty confided
later.

Kit chuckled.  Along with the continuous discovery of his own powers
had come an ever-increasing disapproval of the two masters.  It was not
so much irritation, which was always present, as disgust.  He had got
his taste of the meat, and liked it; but they were teaching him how not
to eat it.  Privily, he thanked God that he was not made as they.  He
came to dislike them to a degree that bordered on hatred.  Their
malingering bothered him less than their helpless inefficiency.
Somewhere in him, old Isaac Bellew and all the rest of the hardy
Bellews were making good.

"Shorty," he said one day, in the usual delay of getting started, "I
could almost fetch them a rap over the head with an oar and bury them
in the river."

"Same here," Shorty agreed.  "They're not meat-eaters.  They're
fish-eaters, and they sure stink."



III.

They came to the rapids, first, the Box Canyon, and, several miles
below, the White Horse.  The Box Canyon was adequately named.  It was a
box, a trap.  Once in it, the only way out was through.  On either side
arose perpendicular walls of rock.  The river narrowed to a fraction of
its width, and roared through this gloomy passage in a madness of
motion that heaped the water in the centre into a ridge fully eight
feet higher than at the rocky sides.  This ridge, in turn, was crested
with stiff, upstanding waves that curled over, yet remained each in its
unvarying place.  The Canyon was well feared, for it had collected its
toll of dead from the passing gold-rushers.

Tying to the bank above, where lay a score of other anxious boats, Kit
and his companions went ahead on foot to investigate.  They crept to
the brink and gazed down at the swirl of water.  Sprague drew back
shuddering.

"My God!" he exclaimed.  "A swimmer hasn't a chance in that."

Shorty touched Kit significantly with his elbow and said in an
undertone:

"Cold feet.  Dollars to doughnuts they don't go through."

Kit scarcely heard.  From the beginning of the boat trip he had been
learning the stubbornness and inconceivable viciousness of the
elements, and this glimpse of what was below him acted as a challenge.

"We've got to ride that ridge," he said.  "If we get off of it we'll
hit the walls--"

"And never know what hit us," was Shorty's verdict.  "Can you swim,
Smoke?"

"I'd wish I couldn't if anything went wrong in there."

"That's what I say," a stranger, standing alongside and peering down
into the Canyon, said mournfully.  "And I wish I were through it."

"I wouldn't sell my chance to go through," Kit answered.

He spoke honestly, but it was with the idea of heartening the man. He
turned to go back to the boat.

"Are you going to tackle it?" the man asked.

Kit nodded.

"I wish I could get the courage to," the other confessed.  "I've been
here for hours.  The longer I look, the more afraid I am.  I am not a
boatman, and I have only my nephew with me, who is a young boy, and my
wife.  If you get through safely, will you run my boat through?"

Kit looked at Shorty, who delayed to answer.

"He's got his wife with him," Kit suggested.  Nor had he mistaken his
man.

"Sure," Shorty affirmed.  "It was just that I was stopping to think
about.  I knew there was some reason I ought to do it."

Again they turned to go, but Sprague and Stine made no movement.

"Good luck, Smoke," Sprague called to him.  "I'll--er--"  He hesitated.
"I'll just stay here and watch you."

"We need three men in the boat, two at the oars and one at the steering
sweep," Kit said quietly.

Sprague looked at Stine.

"I'm damned if I do," said that gentleman.  "If you're not afraid to
stand here and look on, I'm not."

"Who's afraid?" Sprague demanded hotly.

Stine retorted in kind, and their two men left them in the thick of a
squabble.

"We can do without them," Kit said to Shorty.  "You take the bow with a
paddle, and I'll handle the steering sweep.  All you'll have to do is
just to keep her straight.  Once we're started, you won't be able to
hear me, so just keep on keeping straight."

They cast off the boat and worked out to middle in the quickening
current.  From the Canyon came an ever-growing roar.  The river sucked
in to the entrance with the smoothness of molten glass, and here, as
the darkening walls received them, Shorty took a chew of tobacco, and
dipped his paddle.  The boat leaped on the first crests of the ridge,
and they were deafened by the uproar of wild water that reverberated
from the narrow walls and multiplied itself.  They were half-smothered
with flying spray.  At times Kit could not see his comrade at the bow.
It was only a matter of two minutes, in which time they rode the ridge
three-quarters of a mile, and emerged in safety and tied to the bank in
the eddy below.

Shorty emptied his mouth of tobacco juice--he had forgotten to
spit--and spoke.

"That was bear-meat," he exulted, "the real bear-meat.  Say, we want a
few, didn't we, Smoke, I don't mind tellin' you in confidence that
before we started I was the gosh-dangdest scaredest man this side of
the Rocky-Mountains.  Now I'm a bear-eater.  Come on an' we'll run that
other boat through."

Midway back, on foot, they encountered their employers, who had watched
the passage from above.

"There comes the fish-eaters," said Shorty.  "Keep to win'ward."



IV.

After running the strangers' boat through, whose name proved to be
Breck, Kit and Shorty met his wife, a slender, girlish woman whose blue
eyes were moist with gratitude.  Breck himself tried to hand Kit fifty
dollars, and then attempted it on Shorty.

"Stranger," was the latter's rejection, "I come into this country to
make money outa the ground an' not outa my fellow critters."

Breck rummaged in his boat and produced a demijohn of whiskey. Shorty's
hand half went out to it and stopped abruptly.  He shook his head.

"There's that blamed White Horse right below, an' they say it's worse
than the Box.  I reckon I don't dast tackle any lightning."

Several miles below they ran in to the bank, and all four walked down
to look at the bad water.  The river, which was a succession of rapids,
was here deflected toward the right bank by a rocky reef. The whole
body of water, rushing crookedly into the narrow passage, accelerated
its speed frightfully, and was upflung unto huge waves, white and
wrathful.  This was the dread Mane of the White Horse, and here an even
heavier toll of dead had been exacted.  On one side of the Mane was a
corkscrew curl-over and suck-under, and on the opposite side was the
big whirlpool.  To go through, the Mane itself must be ridden.

"This plum rips the strings outa the Box," Shorty concluded.

As they watched, a boat took the head of the rapids above.  It was a
large boat, fully thirty feet long, laden with several tons of outfit
and handled by six men.  Before it reached the Mane it was plunging and
leaping, at times almost hidden by the foam and spray.

Shorty shot a slow, sidelong glance at Kit, and said:

"She's fair smoking, and she hasn't hit the worst.  They've hauled the
oars in.  There she takes it now.  God!  She's gone!  No; there she is!"

Big as the boat was, it had been buried from sight in the flying
smother between crests.  The next moment, in the thick of the Mane, the
boat leaped up a crest and into view.  To Kit's amazement he saw the
whole long bottom clearly outlined.  The boat, for the fraction of an
instant, was in the air, the men sitting idly in their places, all save
one in the stern who stood at the steering sweep.  Then came the
downward plunge into the trough and a second disappearance. Three times
the boat leaped and buried itself, then those on the bank saw its nose
take the whirlpool as it slipped off the Mane. The steersman, vainly
opposing with his full weight on the steering-gear, surrendered to the
whirlpool and helped the boat to take the circle.

Three times it went around, each time so close to the rocks on which
Kit and Shorty stood, that either could have leaped on board.  The
steersman, a man with a reddish beard of recent growth, waved his hand
to them.  The only way out of the whirlpool was by the Mane, and on the
round the boat entered the Mane obliquely at its upper end.  Possibly
out of fear of the draw of the whirlpool, the steersman did not attempt
to straighten out quickly enough.  When he did, it was too late.
Alternately in the air and buried, the boat angled the Mane and sucked
into and down through the stiff wall of the corkscrew on the opposite
side of the river.  A hundred feet below, boxes and bales began to
float up.  Then appeared the bottom of the boat and the scattered heads
of six men.  Two managed to make the bank in the eddy below.  The
others were drawn under, and the general flotsam was lost to view,
borne on by the swift current around the bend.

There was a long minute of silence.  Shorty was the first to speak.

"Come on," he said.  "We might as well tackle it.  My feet'll get cold
if I stay here any longer."

"We'll smoke some," Kit grinned at him.

"And you'll sure earn your name," was the rejoinder.  Shorty turned to
their employers.  "Comin'?" he queried.

Perhaps the roar of the water prevented them from hearing the
invitation.

Shorty and Kit tramped back through a foot of snow to the head of the
rapids and cast off the boat.  Kit was divided between two impressions:
one, of the caliber of his comrade, which served as a spur to him; the
other, likewise a spur, was the knowledge that old Isaac Bellew, and
all the other Bellews, had done things like this in their westward
march of empire.  What they had done, he could do. It was the meat, the
strong meat, and he knew, as never before, that it required strong men
to eat such meat.

"You've sure got to keep the top of the ridge," Shorty shouted at him,
the plug tobacco lifting to his mouth, as the boat quickened in the
quickening current and took the head of the rapids.

Kit nodded, swayed his strength and weight tentatively on the steering
oar, and headed the boat for the plunge.

Several minutes later, half-swamped and lying against the bank in the
eddy below the White Horse, Shorty spat out a mouthful of tobacco juice
and shook Kit's hand.

"Meat! Meat!" Shorty chanted.  "We eat it raw!  We eat it alive!"

At the top of the bank they met Breck.  His wife stood at a little
distance.  Kit shook his hand.

"I'm afraid your boat can't make it," he said.  "It is smaller than
ours and a bit cranky."

The man pulled out a row of bills.

"I'll give you each a hundred if you run it through."

Kit looked out and up the tossing Mane of the White Horse.  A long,
gray twilight was falling, it was turning colder, and the landscape
seemed taking on a savage bleakness.

"It ain't that," Shorty was saying.  "We don't want your money.
Wouldn't touch it nohow.  But my pardner is the real meat with boats,
and when he says yourn ain't safe I reckon he knows what he's talkin'
about."

Kit nodded affirmation, and chanced to glance at Mrs Breck.  Her eyes
were fixed upon him, and he knew that if ever he had seen prayer in a
woman's eyes he was seeing it then.  Shorty followed his gaze and saw
what he saw.  They looked at each other in confusion and did not speak.
Moved by the common impulse, they nodded to each other and turned to
the trail that led to the head of the rapids. They had not gone a
hundred yards when they met Stine and Sprague coming down.

"Where are you going?" the latter demanded.

"To fetch that other boat through," Shorty answered.

"No you're not.  It's getting dark.  You two are going to pitch camp."

So huge was Kit's disgust that he forebore to speak.

"He's got his wife with him," Shorty said.

"That's his lookout," Stine contributed.

"And Smoke's and mine," was Shorty's retort.

"I forbid you," Sprague said harshly.  "Smoke, if you go another step
I'll discharge you."

"And you, too, Shorty," Stine added.

"And a hell of a pickle you'll be in with us fired," Shorty replied.
"How'll you get your blamed boat to Dawson?  Who'll serve you coffee in
your blankets and manicure your finger-nails?  Come on, Smoke. They
don't dast fire us.  Besides, we've got agreements.  It they fire us
they've got to divvy up grub to last us through the winter."

Barely had they shoved Breck's boat out from the bank and caught the
first rough water, when the waves began to lap aboard.  They were small
waves, but it was an earnest of what was to come.  Shorty cast back a
quizzical glance as he gnawed at his inevitable plug, and Kit felt a
strange rush of warmth at his heart for this man who couldn't swim and
who couldn't back out.

The rapids grew stiffer, and the spray began to fly.  In the gathering
darkness, Kit glimpsed the Mane and the crooked fling of the current
into it.  He worked into this crooked current, and felt a glow of
satisfaction as the boat hit the head of the Mane squarely in the
middle.  After that, in the smother, leaping and burying and swamping,
he had no clear impression of anything save that he swung his weight on
the steering oar and wished his uncle were there to see.  They emerged,
breathless, wet through, and filled with water almost to the gunwale.
Lighter pieces of baggage and outfit were floating inside the boat.  A
few careful strokes on Shorty's part worked the boat into the draw of
the eddy, and the eddy did the rest till the boat softly touched
against the bank.  Looking down from above was Mrs Breck.  Her prayer
had been answered, and the tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"You boys have simply got to take the money," Breck called down to them.

Shorty stood up, slipped, and sat down in the water, while the boat
dipped one gunwale under and righted again.

"Damn the money," said Shorty.  "Fetch out that whiskey.  Now that it's
over I'm getting cold feet, an' I'm sure likely to have a chill."



V.

In the morning, as usual, they were among the last of the boats to
start.  Breck, despite his boating inefficiency, and with only his wife
and nephew for crew, had broken camp, loaded his boat, and pulled out
at the first streak of day.  But there was no hurry in Stine and
Sprague, who seemed incapable of realizing that the freeze-up might
come at any time.  They malingered, got in the way, delayed, and
doubted the work of Kit and Shorty.

"I'm sure losing my respect for God, seein' as he must a-made them two
mistakes in human form," was the latter's blasphemous way of expressing
his disgust.

"Well, you're the real goods at any rate," Kit grinned back at him. "It
makes me respect God the more just to look at you."

"He was sure goin' some, eh?" was Shorty's fashion of overcoming the
embarrassment of the compliment.

The trail by water crossed Lake Le Barge.  Here was no fast current,
but a tideless stretch of forty miles which must be rowed unless a fair
wind blew.  But the time for fair wind was past, and an icy gale blew
in their teeth out of the north.  This made a rough sea, against which
it was almost impossible to pull the boat.  Added to their troubles was
driving snow; also, the freezing of the water on their oar-blades kept
one man occupied in chopping it off with a hatchet.  Compelled to take
their turn at the oars, Sprague and Stine patently loafed.  Kit had
learned how to throw his weight on an oar, but he noted that his
employers made a seeming of throwing their weights and that they dipped
their oars at a cheating angle.

At the end of three hours, Sprague pulled his oar in and said they
would run back into the mouth of the river for shelter.  Stine seconded
him, and the several hard-won miles were lost.  A second day, and a
third, the same fruitless attempt was made.  In the river mouth, the
continually arriving boats from White Horse made a flotilla of over two
hundred.  Each day forty or fifty arrived, and only two or three won to
the north-west short of the lake and did not come back.  Ice was now
forming in the eddies, and connecting from eddy to eddy in thin lines
around the points.  The freeze-up was very imminent.

"We could make it if they had the souls of clams," Kit told Shorty, as
they dried their moccasins by the fire on the evening of the third day.
"We could have made it to-day if they hadn't turned back.  Another
hour's work would have fetched that west shore. They're--they're babes
in the woods."

"Sure," Shorty agreed.  He turned his moccasin to the flame and debated
a moment.  "Look here, Smoke.  It's hundreds of miles to Dawson.  If we
don't want to freeze in here, we've got to do something.  What d'ye
say?"

Kit looked at him, and waited.

"We've got the immortal cinch on them two babes," Shorty expounded.
"They can give orders an' shed mazuma, but, as you say, they're plum
babes.  If we're goin' to Dawson, we got to take charge of this here
outfit."

They looked at each other.

"It's a go," said Kit, as his hand went out in ratification.

In the morning, long before daylight, Shorty issued his call.

"Come on!" he roared.  "Tumble out, you sleepers!  Here's your coffee!
Kick in to it!  We're goin' to make a start!"

Grumbling and complaining, Stine and Sprague were forced to get under
way two hours earlier than ever before.  If anything, the gale was
stiffer, and in a short time every man's face was iced up, while the
oars were heavy with ice.  Three hours they struggled, and four, one
man steering, one chopping ice, two toiling at the oars, and each
taking his various turns.  The north-west shore loomed nearer and
nearer.  The gale blew even harder, and at last Sprague pulled in his
oar in token of surrender.  Shorty sprang to it, though his relief had
only begun.

"Chop ice," he said, handing Sprague the hatchet.

"But what's the use?" the other whined.  "We can't make it.  We're
going to turn back."

"We're going on," said Shorty.  "Chop ice.  An' when you feel better
you can spell me."

It was heart-breaking toil, but they gained the shore, only to find it
composed of surge-beaten rocks and cliffs, with no place to land.

"I told you so," Sprague whimpered.

"You never peeped," Shorty answered.

"We're going back."

Nobody spoke, and Kit held the boat into the seas as they skirted the
forbidding shore.  Sometimes they gained no more than a foot to the
stroke, and there were times when two or three strokes no more than
enabled them to hold their own.  He did his best to hearten the two
weaklings.  He pointed out that the boats which had won to this shore
had never come back.  Perforce, he argued, they had found a shelter
somewhere ahead.  Another hour they laboured, and a second.

"If you fellows put into your oars some of that coffee you swig in your
blankets, we'd make it," was Shorty's encouragement.  "You're just
goin' through the motions an' not pullin' a pound."

A few minutes later Sprague drew in his oar.

"I'm finished," he said, and there were tears in his voice.

"So are the rest of us," Kit answered, himself ready to cry or to
commit murder, so great was his exhaustion.  "But we're going on just
the same."

"We're going back.  Turn the boat around."

"Shorty, if he won't pull, take that oar yourself," Kit commanded.

"Sure," was the answer.  "He can chop ice."

But Sprague refused to give over the oar; Stine had ceased rowing, and
the boat was drifting backward.

"Turn around, Smoke," Sprague ordered.

And Kit, who never in his life had cursed any man, astonished himself.

"I'll see you in hell, first," he replied.  "Take hold of that oar and
pull."

It is in moments of exhaustion that men lose all their reserves of
civilization, and such a moment had come.  Each man had reached the
breaking-point.  Sprague jerked off a mitten, drew his revolver, and
turned it on his steersman.  This was a new experience to Kit.  He had
never had a gun presented at him in his life.  And now, to his
surprise, it seemed to mean nothing at all.  It was the most natural
thing in the world.

"If you don't put that gun up," he said, "I'll take it away and rap you
over the knuckles with it."

"If you don't turn the boat around I'll shoot you," Sprague threatened.

Then Shorty took a hand.  He ceased chopping ice and stood up behind
Sprague.

"Go on an' shoot," said Shorty, wiggling the hatchet.  "I'm just aching
for a chance to brain you.  Go on an' start the festivities."

"This is mutiny," Stine broke in.  "You were engaged to obey orders."

Shorty turned on him.

"Oh, you'll get yours as soon as I finish with your pardner, you little
hog-wallopin' snooper, you."

"Sprague," Kit said, "I'll give you just thirty seconds to put away
that gun and get that oar out."

Sprague hesitated, gave a short hysterical laugh, put the revolver away
and bent his back to the work.

For two hours more, inch by inch, they fought their way along the edge
of the foaming rocks, until Kit feared he had made a mistake. And then,
when on the verge of himself turning back, they came abreast of a
narrow opening, not twenty feet wide, which led into a land-locked
inclosure where the fiercest gusts scarcely flawed the surface.  It was
the haven gained by the boats of previous days. They landed on a
shelving beach, and the two employers lay in collapse in the boat,
while Kit and Shorty pitched the tent, built a fire, and started the
cooking.

"What's a hog-walloping snooper, Shorty?" Kit asked.

"Blamed if I know," was the answer; "but he's one just the same."

The gale, which had been dying quickly, ceased at nightfall, and it
came on clear and cold.  A cup of coffee, set aside to cool and
forgotten, a few minutes later was found coated with half an inch of
ice.  At eight o'clock, when Sprague and Stine, already rolled in their
blankets, were sleeping the sleep of exhaustion, Kit came back from a
look at the boat.

"It's the freeze-up, Shorty," he announced.  "There's a skin of ice
over the whole pond already."

"What are you going to do?"

"There's only one thing.  The lake of course freezes first.  The rapid
current of the river may keep it open for days.  This time to-morrow
any boat caught in Lake Le Barge remains there until next year."

"You mean we got to get out to-night?  Now?"

Kit nodded.

"Tumble out, you sleepers!" was Shorty's answer, couched in a roar, as
he began casting off the guy-ropes of the tent.

The other two awoke, groaning with the pain of stiffened muscles and
the pain of rousing from exhausted sleep.

"What time is it?" Stine asked.

"Half-past eight."

"It's dark yet," was the objection.

Shorty jerked out a couple of guy-ropes, and the tent began to sag.

"It's not morning," he said.  "It's evening.  Come on.  The lake's
freezin'.  We got to get acrost."

Stine sat up, his face bitter and wrathful.

"Let it freeze.  We're not going to stir."

"All right," said Shorty.  "We're goin' on with the boat."

"You were engaged--"

"To take you to Dawson," Shorty caught him up.  "Well, we're takin'
you, ain't we?"

He punctuated his query by bringing half the tent down on top of them.

They broke their way through the thin ice in the little harbour, and
came out on the lake, where the water, heavy and glassy, froze on their
oars with every stroke.  The water soon became like mush, clogging the
stroke of the oars and freezing in the air even as it dripped.  Later
the surface began to form a skin, and the boat proceeded slower and
slower.

Often, afterwards, when Kit tried to remember that night and failed to
bring up aught but nightmare recollections, he wondered what must have
been the sufferings of Stine and Sprague.  His one impression of
himself was that he struggled through biting frost and intolerable
exertion for a thousand years more or less.

Morning found them stationary.  Stine complained of frosted fingers,
and Sprague of his nose, while the pain in Kit's cheeks and nose told
him that he, too, had been touched.  With each accretion of daylight
they could see farther, and far as they could see was icy surface.  The
water of the lake was gone.  A hundred yards away was the shore of the
north end.  Shorty insisted that it was the opening of the river and
that he could see water.  He and Kit alone were able to work, and with
their oars they broke the ice and forced the boat along.  And at the
last gasp of their strength they made the suck of the rapid river.  One
look back showed them several boats which had fought through the night
and were hopelessly frozen in; then they whirled around a bend in a
current running six miles an hour.



VI.

Day by day they floated down the swift river, and day by day the
shore-ice extended farther out.  When they made camp at nightfall, they
chopped a space in the ice in which to lay the boat, and carried the
camp outfit hundreds of feet to shore.  In the morning, they chopped
the boat out through the new ice and caught the current.  Shorty set up
the sheet-iron stove in the boat, and over this Stine and Sprague hung
through the long, drifting hours.  They had surrendered, no longer gave
orders, and their one desire was to gain Dawson.  Shorty, pessimistic,
indefatigable, and joyous, at frequent intervals roared out the three
lines of the first four-line stanza of a song he had forgotten.  The
colder it got the oftener he sang:

     "Like Argus of the ancient times,
       We leave this Modern Greece;
      Tum-tum, tum-tum; tum-tum, tum-tum,
       To shear the Golden Fleece."

As they passed the mouths of the Hootalinqua and the Big and Little
Salmon, they found these streams throwing mush-ice into the main Yukon.
This gathered about the boat and attached itself, and at night they
found themselves compelled to chop the boat out of the current.  In the
morning they chopped the boat back into the current.

The last night ashore was spent between the mouths of the White River
and the Stewart.  At daylight they found the Yukon, half a mile wide,
running white from ice-rimmed bank to ice-rimmed bank. Shorty cursed
the universe with less geniality than usual, and looked at Kit.

"We'll be the last boat this year to make Dawson," Kit said.

"But they ain't no water, Smoke."

"Then we'll ride the ice down.  Come on."

Futilely protesting, Sprague and Stine were bundled on board.  For half
an hour, with axes, Kit and Shorty struggled to cut a way into the
swift but solid stream.  When they did succeed in clearing the
shore-ice, the floating ice forced the boat along the edge for a
hundred yards, tearing away half of one gunwale and making a partial
wreck of it.  Then they caught the current at the lower end of the bend
that flung off-shore.  They proceeded to work farther toward the
middle.  The stream was no longer composed of mush-ice but of hard
cakes.  In between the cakes only was mush-ice, that froze solidly as
they looked at it.  Shoving with the oars against the cakes, sometimes
climbing out on the cakes in order to force the boat along, after an
hour they gained the middle.  Five minutes after they ceased their
exertions, the boat was frozen in.  The whole river was coagulating as
it ran.  Cake froze to cake, until at last the boat was the centre of a
cake seventy-five feet in diameter.  Sometimes they floated sidewise,
sometimes stern-first, while gravity tore asunder the forming fetters
in the moving mass, only to be manacled by faster-forming ones.  While
the hours passed, Shorty stoked the stove, cooked meals, and chanted
his war song.

Night came, and after many efforts, they gave up the attempt to force
the boat to shore, and through the darkness they swept helplessly
onward.

"What if we pass Dawson?" Shorty queried.

"We'll walk back," Kit answered, "if we're not crushed in a jam."

The sky was clear, and in the light of the cold leaping stars they
caught occasional glimpses of the loom of mountains on either hand. At
eleven o'clock, from below, came a dull, grinding roar.  Their speed
began to diminish, and cakes of ice to up-end and crash and smash about
them.  The river was jamming.  One cake, forced upward, slid across
their cake and carried one side of the boat away.  It did not sink, for
its own cake still upbore it, but in a whirl they saw dark water show
for an instant within a foot of them.  Then all movement ceased.  At
the end of half an hour the whole river picked itself up and began to
move.  This continued for an hour, when again it was brought to rest by
a jam.  Once again it started, running swiftly and savagely, with a
great grinding.  Then they saw lights ashore, and, when abreast,
gravity and the Yukon surrendered, and the river ceased for six months.

On the shore at Dawson, curious ones gathered to watch the river
freeze, heard from out of the darkness the war-song of Shorty:

     "Like Argus of the ancient times,
       We leave this Modern Greece;
      Tum-tum, tum-tum; tum-tum, tum-tum,
       To shear the Golden Fleece."



VII.

For three days Kit and Shorty laboured, carrying the ton and a half of
outfit from the middle of the river to the log-cabin Stine and Sprague
had bought on the hill overlooking Dawson.  This work finished, in the
warm cabin, as twilight was falling, Sprague motioned Kit to him.
Outside the thermometer registered sixty-five below zero.

"Your full month isn't up, Smoke," Sprague said.  "But here it is in
full.  I wish you luck."

"How about the agreement?" Kit asked.  "You know there's a famine here.
A man can't get work in the mines even, unless he has his own grub.
You agreed--"

"I know of no agreement," Sprague interrupted.  "Do you, Stine?  We
engaged you by the month.  There's your pay.  Will you sign the
receipt?"

Kit's hands clenched, and for the moment he saw red.  Both men shrank
away from him.  He had never struck a man in anger in his life, and he
felt so certain of his ability to thrash Sprague that he could not
bring himself to do it.

Shorty saw his trouble and interposed.

"Look here, Smoke, I ain't travelin' no more with a ornery outfit like
this.  Right here's where I sure jump it.  You an' me stick together.
Savve?  Now, you take your blankets an' hike down to the Elkhorn.  Wait
for me.  I'll settle up, collect what's comin', an' give them what's
comin'.  I ain't no good on the water, but my feet's on terry-fermy now
an' I'm sure goin' to make smoke."

          .          .          .          .          .

Half an hour afterwards Shorty appeared at the Elkhorn.  From his
bleeding knuckles and the skin off one cheek, it was evident that he
had given Stine and Sprague what was coming.

"You ought to see that cabin," he chuckled, as they stood at the bar.
"Rough-house ain't no name for it.  Dollars to doughnuts nary one of
'em shows up on the street for a week.  An' now it's all figgered out
for you an' me.  Grub's a dollar an' a half a pound. They ain't no work
for wages without you have your own grub.  Moose-meat's sellin' for two
dollars a pound an' they ain't none.  We got enough money for a month's
grub an' ammunition, an' we hike up the Klondike to the back country.
If they ain't no moose, we go an' live with the Indians.  But if we
ain't got five thousand pounds of meat six weeks from now, I'll--I'll
sure go back an' apologize to our bosses.  Is it a go?"

Kit's hand went out and they shook.  Then he faltered.

"I don't know anything about hunting," he said.

Shorty lifted his glass.

"But you're a sure meat-eater, an' I'll learn you."



THE STAMPEDE TO SQUAW CREEK.



I.

Two months after Smoke Bellew and Shorty went after moose for a
grubstake, they were back in the Elkhorn saloon at Dawson.  The hunting
was done, the meat hauled in and sold for two dollars and a half a
pound, and between them they possessed three thousand dollars in gold
dust and a good team of dogs.  They had played in luck. Despite the
fact that the gold rush had driven the game a hundred miles or more
into the mountains, they had, within half that distance, bagged four
moose in a narrow canyon.

The mystery of the strayed animals was no greater than the luck of
their killers, for within the day four famished Indian families
reporting no game in three days' journey back, camped beside them. Meat
was traded for starving dogs, and after a week of feeding, Smoke and
Shorty harnessed the animals and began freighting the meat to the eager
Dawson market.

The problem of the two men now, was to turn their gold-dust into food.
The current price for flour and beans was a dollar and a half a pound,
but the difficulty was to find a seller.  Dawson was in the throes of
famine.  Hundreds of men, with money but no food, had been compelled to
leave the country.  Many had gone down the river on the last water, and
many more with barely enough food to last, had walked the six hundred
miles over the ice to Dyea.

Smoke met Shorty in the warm saloon, and found the latter jubilant.

"Life ain't no punkins without whiskey an' sweetenin'," was Shorty's
greeting, as he pulled lumps of ice from his thawing moustache and
flung them rattling on the floor.  "An' I sure just got eighteen pounds
of that same sweetenin'.  The geezer only charged three dollars a pound
for it.  What luck did you have?"

"I, too, have not been idle," Smoke answered with pride.  "I bought
fifty pounds of flour.  And there's a man up on Adam Creek says he'll
let me have fifty pounds more to-morrow."

"Great!  We'll sure live till the river opens.  Say, Smoke, them dogs
of ourn is the goods.  A dog-buyer offered me two hundred apiece for
the five of them.  I told him nothin' doin'.  They sure took on class
when they got meat to get outside of; but it goes against the grain
feedin' dog-critters on grub that's worth two and a half a pound.  Come
on an' have a drink.  I just got to celebrate them eighteen pounds of
sweetenin'."

Several minutes later, as he weighed in on the gold-scales for the
drinks, he gave a start of recollection.

"I plum forgot that man I was to meet in the Tivoli.  He's got some
spoiled bacon he'll sell for a dollar an' a half a pound.  We can feed
it to the dogs an' save a dollar a day on each's board bill. So long."

"So long," said Smoke.  "I'm goin' to the cabin an' turn in."

Hardly had Shorty left the place, when a fur-clad man entered through
the double storm-doors.  His face lighted at sight of Smoke, who
recognized him as Breck, the man whose boat he had run through the Box
Canyon and White Horse rapids.

"I heard you were in town," Breck said hurriedly, as they shook hands.
"Been looking for you for half an hour.  Come outside, I want to talk
with you."

Smoke looked regretfully at the roaring, red-hot stove.

"Won't this do?"

"No; it's important.  Come outside."

As they emerged, Smoke drew off one mitten, lighted a match, and
glanced at the thermometer that hung beside the door.  He re-mittened
his naked hand hastily as if the frost had burnt him. Overhead arched
the flaming aurora borealis, while from all Dawson arose the mournful
howling of thousands of wolf-dogs.

"What did it say?" Breck asked.

"Sixty below."  Kit spat experimentally, and the spittle crackled in
the air.  "And the thermometer is certainly working.  It's falling all
the time.  An hour ago it was only fifty-two.  Don't tell me it's a
stampede."

"It is," Breck whispered back cautiously, casting anxious eyes about in
fear of some other listener.  "You know Squaw Creek?--empties in on the
other side the Yukon thirty miles up?"

"Nothing doing there," was Smoke's judgment.  "It was prospected years
ago."

"So were all the other rich creeks.  Listen!  It's big.  Only eight to
twenty feet to bedrock.  There won't be a claim that don't run to half
a million.  It's a dead secret.  Two or three of my close friends let
me in on it.  I told my wife right away that I was going to find you
before I started.  Now, so long.  My pack's hidden down the bank.  In
fact, when they told me, they made me promise not to pull out until
Dawson was asleep.  You know what it means if you're seen with a
stampeding outfit.  Get your partner and follow.  You ought to stake
fourth or fifth claim from Discovery.  Don't forget--Squaw Creek.  It's
the third after you pass Swede Creek."



II.

When Smoke entered the little cabin on the hillside back of Dawson, he
heard a heavy familiar breathing.

"Aw, go to bed," Shorty mumbled, as Smoke shook his shoulder.  "I'm not
on the night shift," was his next remark, as the rousing hand became
more vigorous.  "Tell your troubles to the bar-keeper."

"Kick into your clothes," Smoke said.  "We've got to stake a couple of
claims."

Shorty sat up and started to explode, but Smoke's hand covered his
mouth.

"Ssh!" Smoke warned.  "It's a big strike.  Don't wake the
neighbourhood.  Dawson's asleep."

"Huh!  You got to show me.  Nobody tells anybody about a strike, of
course not.  But ain't it plum amazin' the way everybody hits the trail
just the same?"

"Squaw Creek," Smoke whispered.  "It's right.  Breck gave me the tip.
Shallow bedrock.  Gold from the grass-roots down.  Come on. We'll sling
a couple of light packs together and pull out."

Shorty's eyes closed as he lapsed back into sleep.  The next moment his
blankets were swept off him.

"If you don't want them, I do," Smoke explained.

Shorty followed the blankets and began to dress.

"Goin' to take the dogs?" he asked.

"No.  The trail up the creek is sure to be unbroken, and we can make
better time without them."

"Then I'll throw 'em a meal, which'll have to last 'em till we get
back.  Be sure you take some birch-bark and a candle."

Shorty opened the door, felt the bite of the cold, and shrank back to
pull down his ear-flaps and mitten his hands.

Five minutes later he returned, sharply rubbing his nose.

"Smoke, I'm sure opposed to makin' this stampede.  It's colder than the
hinges of hell a thousand years before the first fire was lighted.
Besides, it's Friday the thirteenth, an' we're goin' to trouble as the
sparks fly upward."

With small stampeding packs on their backs, they closed the door behind
them and started down the hill.  The display of the aurora borealis had
ceased, and only the stars leaped in the great cold, and by their
uncertain light made traps for the feet.  Shorty floundered off a turn
of the trail into deep snow, and raised his voice in blessing of the
date of the week and month and year.

"Can't you keep still?" Smoke chided.  "Leave the almanac alone. You'll
have all Dawson awake and after us."

"Huh!  See the light in that cabin?  And in that one over there? An'
hear that door slam?  Oh, sure Dawson's asleep.  Them lights? Just
buryin' their dead.  They ain't stampedin', betcher life they ain't."

By the time they reached the foot of the hill and were fairly in
Dawson, lights were springing up in the cabins, doors were slamming,
and from behind came the sound of many moccasins on the hard-packed
snow.  Again Shorty delivered himself.

"But it beats hell the amount of mourners there is."

They passed a man who stood by the path and was calling anxiously in a
low voice:  "Oh, Charley; get a move on."

"See that pack on his back, Smoke?  The graveyard's sure a long ways
off when the mourners got to pack their blankets."

By the time they reached the main street a hundred men were in line
behind them, and while they sought in the deceptive starlight for the
trail that dipped down the bank to the river, more men could be heard
arriving.  Shorty slipped and shot down the thirty-foot chute into the
soft snow.  Smoke followed, knocking him over as he was rising to his
feet.

"I found it first," he gurgled, taking off his mittens to shake the
snow out of the gauntlets.

The next moment they were scrambling wildly out of the way of the
hurtling bodies of those that followed.  At the time of the freeze-up,
a jam had occurred at this point, and cakes of ice were up-ended in
snow-covered confusion.  After several hard falls, Smoke drew out his
candle and lighted it.  Those in the rear hailed it with acclaim.  In
the windless air it burned easily, and he led the way more quickly.

"It's a sure stampede," Shorty decided.  "Or might all them be
sleep-walkers?"

"We're at the head of the procession at any rate," was Smoke's answer.

"Oh, I don't know.  Mebbe that's a firefly ahead there.  Mebbe they're
all fireflies--that one, an' that one.  Look at 'em. Believe me, they
is whole strings of processions ahead."

It was a mile across the jams to the west bank of the Yukon, and
candles flickered the full length of the twisting trail.  Behind them,
clear to the top of the bank they had descended, were more candles.

"Say, Smoke, this ain't no stampede.  It's a exode-us.  They must be a
thousand men ahead of us an' ten thousand behind.  Now, you listen to
your uncle.  My medicine's good.  When I get a hunch it's sure right.
An' we're in wrong on this stampede.  Let's turn back an' hit the
sleep."

"You'd better save your breath if you intend to keep up," Smoke
retorted gruffly.

"Huh!  My legs is short, but I slog along slack at the knees an' don't
worry my muscles none, an' I can sure walk every piker here off the
ice."

And Smoke knew he was right, for he had long since learned his
comrade's phenomenal walking powers.

"I've been holding back to give you a chance," Smoke jeered.

"An' I'm plum troddin' on your heels.  If you can't do better, let me
go ahead and set pace."

Smoke quickened, and was soon at the rear of the nearest bunch of
stampeders.

"Hike along, you, Smoke," the other urged.  "Walk over them unburied
dead.  This ain't no funeral.  Hit the frost like you was goin'
somewheres."

Smoke counted eight men and two women in this party, and before the way
across the jam-ice was won, he and Shorty had passed another party
twenty strong.  Within a few feet of the west bank, the trail swerved
to the south, emerging from the jam upon smooth ice.  The ice, however,
was buried under several feet of fine snow.  Through this the
sled-trail ran, a narrow ribbon of packed footing barely two feet in
width.  On either side one sank to his knees and deeper in the snow.
The stampeders they overtook were reluctant to give way, and often
Smoke and Shorty had to plunge into the deep snow, and by supreme
efforts flounder past.

Shorty was irrepressible and pessimistic.  When the stampeders resented
being passed, he retorted in kind.

"What's your hurry?" one of them asked.

"What's yours?" he answered.  "A stampede come down from Indian River
yesterday afternoon an' beat you to it.  They ain't no claims left."

"That being so, I repeat, what's your hurry?"

"WHO?  Me?  I ain't no stampeder.  I'm workin' for the government. I'm
on official business.  I'm just traipsin' along to take the census of
Squaw Creek."

To another, who hailed him with:  "Where away, little one?  Do you
really expect to stake a claim?" Shorty answered:

"Me?  I'm the discoverer of Squaw Creek.  I'm just comin' back from
recordin' so as to see no blamed chechaquo jumps my claim."

The average pace of the stampeders on the smooth going was three miles
and a half an hour.  Smoke and Shorty were doing four and a half,
though sometimes they broke into short runs and went faster.

"I'm going to travel your feet clean off, Shorty," Smoke challenged.

"Huh!  I can hike along on the stumps an' wear the heels off your
moccasins.  Though it ain't no use.  I've ben figgerin'.  Creek claims
is five hundred feet.  Call 'em ten to the mile.  They's a thousand
stampeders ahead of us, an' that creek ain't no hundred miles long.
Somebody's goin' to get left, an' it makes a noise like you an' me."

Before replying, Smoke let out an unexpected link that threw Shorty
half a dozen feet in the rear.

"If you saved your breath and kept up, we'd cut down a few of that
thousand," he chided.

"Who?  Me?  If you's get outa the way I'd show you a pace what is."

Smoke laughed, and let out another link.  The whole aspect of the
adventure had changed.  Through his brain was running a phrase of the
mad philosopher--"the transvaluation of  values."  In truth, he was
less interested in staking a fortune than in beating Shorty. After all,
he concluded, it wasn't the reward of the game but the playing of it
that counted.  Mind, and muscle, and stamina, and soul, were challenged
in a contest with this Shorty, a man who had never opened the books,
and who did not know grand opera from rag-time, nor an epic from a
chilblain.

"Shorty, I've got you skinned to death.  I've reconstructed every cell
in my body since I hit the beach at Dyea.  My flesh is as stringy as
whipcords, and as bitter and mean as the bite of a rattlesnake.  A few
months ago I'd have patted myself on the back to write such words, but
I couldn't have written them.  I had to live them first, and now that
I'm living them there's no need to write them.  I'm the real, bitter,
stinging goods, and no scrub of a mountaineer can put anything over on
me without getting it back compound.  Now, you go ahead and set pace
for half an hour.  Do your worst, and when you're all in I'll go ahead
and give you half an hour of the real worst."

"Huh!" Shorty sneered genially.  "An' him not dry behind the ears yet.
Get outa the way an' let your father show you some goin'."

Half-hour by half-hour they alternated in setting pace.  Nor did they
talk much.  Their exertions kept them warm, though their breath froze
on their faces from lips to chin.  So intense was the cold that they
almost continually rubbed their noses and cheeks with their mittens.  A
few minutes cessation from this allowed the flesh to grow numb, and
then most vigorous rubbing was required to produce the burning prickle
of returning circulation.

Often they thought they had reached the lead, but always they overtook
more stampeders who had started before them.  Occasionally, groups of
men attempted to swing in behind to their pace, but invariably they
were discouraged after a mile or two, and disappeared in the darkness
to the rear.

"We've been out on trail all winter," was Shorty's comment.  "An' them
geezers, soft from laying around their cabins, has the nerve to think
they can keep our stride.  Now, if they was real sour-doughs it'd be
different.  If there's one thing a sour-dough can do it's sure walk."

Once, Smoke lighted a match and glanced at his watch.  He never
repeated it, for so quick was the bite of the frost on his bared hands,
that half an hour passed before they were again comfortable.

"Four o'clock," he said, as he pulled on his mittens, "and we've
already passed three hundred."

"Three hundred and thirty-eight," Shorty corrected.  "I ben keepin'
count.  Get outa the way, stranger.  Let somebody stampede that knows
how to stampede."

The latter was addressed to a man, evidently exhausted, who could no
more than stumble along, and who blocked the trail.  This, and one
other, were the only played-out men they encountered, for they were
very near to the head of the stampede.  Nor did they learn till
afterwards the horrors of that night.  Exhausted men sat down to rest
by the way, and failed to get up.  Seven were frozen to death, while
scores of amputations of toes, feet, and fingers were performed in the
Dawson hospitals on the survivors.  For of all nights for a stampede,
the one to Squaw Creek occurred on the coldest night of the year.
Before morning, the spirit thermometers at Dawson registered seventy
degrees below zero.  The men composing the stampede, with few
exceptions, were new-comers in the country who did not know the way of
the cold.

The other played-out man they found a few minutes later, revealed by a
streamer of aurora borealis that shot like a searchlight from horizon
to zenith.  He was sitting on a piece of ice beside the trail.

"Hop along, sister Mary," Shorty gaily greeted him.  "Keep movin'. If
you sit there you'll freeze stiff."

The man made no response, and they stopped to investigate.

"Stiff as a poker," was Shorty's verdict.  "If you tumbled him over
he'd break."

"See if he's breathing," Smoke said, as, with bared hands, he sought
through furs and woollens for the man's heart.

Shorty lifted one ear-flap and bent to the iced lips.

"Nary breathe," he reported.

"Nor heart-beat," said Smoke.

He mittened his hand and beat it violently for a minute before exposing
it to the frost to strike a match.  It was an old man, incontestably
dead.  In the moment of illumination, they saw a long grey beard,
massed with ice to the nose, cheeks that were white with frost, and
closed eyes with frost-rimmed lashes frozen together. Then the match
went out.

"Come on," Shorty said, rubbing his ear.  "We can't do nothing for the
old geezer.  An' I've sure frosted my ear.  Now all the blamed skin'll
peel off and it'll be sore for a week."

A few minutes later, when a flaming ribbon spilled pulsating fire over
the heavens, they saw on the ice a quarter of a mile ahead two forms.
Beyond, for a mile, nothing moved.

"They're leading the procession," Smoke said, as darkness fell again.
"Come on, let's get them."

At the end of half an hour, not yet having overtaken the two in front,
Shorty broke into a run.

"If we catch 'em we'll never pass 'em," he panted.  "Lord, what a pace
they're hittin'.  Dollars to doughnuts they're no chechaquos. They're
the real sour-dough variety, you can stack on that."

Smoke was leading when they finally caught up, and he was glad to ease
to a walk at their heels.  Almost immediately he got the impression
that the one nearer him was a woman.  How this impression came, he
could not tell.  Hooded and furred, the dark form was as any form; yet
there was a haunting sense of familiarity about it. He waited for the
next flame of the aurora, and by its light saw the smallness of the
moccasined feet.  But he saw more--the walk; and knew it for the
unmistakable walk he had once resolved never to forget.

"She's a sure goer," Shorty confided hoarsely.  "I'll bet it's an
Indian."

"How do you do, Miss Gastell," Smoke addressed.

"How do you do," she answered, with a turn of the head and a quick
glance.  "It's too dark to see.  Who are you?"

"Smoke,"

She laughed in the frost, and he was certain it was the prettiest
laughter he had ever heard.

"And have you married and raised all those children you were telling me
about?"  Before he could retort, she went on.  "How many chechaquos are
there behind?"

"Several thousand, I imagine.  We passed over three hundred.  And they
weren't wasting any time."

"It's the old story," she said bitterly.  "The new-comers get in on the
rich creeks, and the old-timers who dared and suffered and made this
country, get nothing.  Old-timers made this discovery on Squaw
Creek--how it leaked out is the mystery--and they sent word up to all
the old-timers on Sea Lion.  But it's ten miles farther than Dawson,
and when they arrive they'll find the creek staked to the skyline by
the Dawson chechaquos.  It isn't right, it isn't fair, such perversity
of luck."

"It is too bad," Smoke sympathized.  "But I'm hanged if I know what
you're going to do about it.  First come, first served, you know."

"I wish I could do something," she flashed back at him.  "I'd like to
see them all freeze on the trail, or have everything terrible happen to
them, so long as the Sea Lion stampede arrived first."

"You've certainly got it in for us, hard," he laughed.

"It isn't that," she said quickly.  "Man by man, I know the crowd from
Sea Lion, and they are men.  They starved in this country in the old
days, and they worked like giants to develop it.  I went through the
hard times on the Koyokuk with them when I was a little girl.  And I
was with them in the Birch Creek famine, and in the Forty Mile famine.
They are heroes, and they deserve some reward, and yet here are
thousands of green softlings who haven't earned the right to stake
anything, miles and miles ahead of them.  And now, if you'll forgive my
tirade, I'll save my breath, for I don't know when you and all the rest
may try to pass dad and me."

No further talk passed between Joy and Smoke for an hour or so, though
he noticed that for a time she and her father talked in low tones.

"I know'm now," Shorty told Smoke.  "He's old Louis Gastell, an' the
real goods.  That must be his kid.  He come into this country so long
ago they ain't nobody can recollect, an' he brought the girl with him,
she only a baby.  Him an' Beetles was tradin' partners an' they ran the
first dinkey little steamboat up the Koyokuk."

"I don't think we'll try to pass them," Smoke said.  "We're at the head
of the stampede, and there are only four of us."

Shorty agreed, and another hour of silence followed, during which they
swung steadily along.  At seven o'clock, the blackness was broken by a
last display of the aurora borealis, which showed to the west a broad
opening between snow-clad mountains.

"Squaw Creek!" Joy exclaimed.

"Goin' some," Shorty exulted.  "We oughtn't to ben there for another
half hour to the least, accordin' to my reckonin'.  I must a' ben
spreadin' my legs."

It was at this point that the Dyea trail, baffled by ice-jams, swerved
abruptly across the Yukon to the east bank.  And here they must leave
the hard-packed, main-travelled trail, mount the jams, and follow a dim
trail, but slightly packed, that hovered the west bank.

Louis Gastell, leading, slipped in the darkness on the rough ice, and
sat up, holding his ankle in both his hands.  He struggled to his feet
and went on, but at a slower pace and with a perceptible limp.  After a
few minutes he abruptly halted.

"It's no use," he said to his daughter.  "I've sprained a tendon. You
go ahead and stake for me as well as yourself."

"Can't we do something?" Smoke asked.

Louis Gastell shook his head.

"She can stake two claims as well as one.  I'll crawl over to the bank,
start a fire, and bandage my ankle.  I'll be all right.  Go on, Joy.
Stake ours above the Discovery claim; it's richer higher up."

"Here's some birch bark," Smoke said, dividing his supply equally.
"We'll take care of your daughter."

Louis Gastell laughed harshly.

"Thank you just the same," he said.  "But she can take care of herself.
Follow her and watch her."

"Do you mind if I lead?" she asked Smoke, as she headed on.  "I know
this country better than you."

"Lead on," Smoke answered gallantly, "though I agree with you it's a
darned shame all us chechaquos are going to beat that Sea Lion bunch to
it.  Isn't there some way to shake them?"

She shook her head.

"We can't hide our trail, and they'll follow it like sheep."

After a quarter of a mile, she turned sharply to the west.  Smoke
noticed that they were going through unpacked snow, but neither he nor
Shorty observed that the dim trail they had been on still led south.
Had they witnessed the subsequent procedure of Louis Gastell, the
history of the Klondike would have been written differently; for they
would have seen that old-timer, no longer limping, running with his
nose to the trail like a hound, following them.  Also, they would have
seen him trample and widen the turn they had made to the west.  And,
finally, they would have seen him keep on the old dim trail that still
led south.

A trail did run up the creek, but so slight was it that they
continually lost it in the darkness.  After a quarter of an hour, Joy
Gastell was willing to drop into the rear and let the two men take
turns in breaking a way through the snow.  This slowness of the leaders
enabled the whole stampede to catch up, and when daylight came, at nine
o'clock, as far back as they could see was an unbroken line of men.
Joy's dark eyes sparkled at the sight.

"How long since we started up the creek?" she asked.

"Fully two hours," Smoke answered.

"And two hours back makes four," she laughed.  "The stampede from Sea
Lion is saved."

A faint suspicion crossed Smoke's mind, and he stopped and confronted
her.

"I don't understand," he said.

"You don't.  Then I'll tell you.  This is Norway Creek.  Squaw Creek is
the next to the south."

Smoke was for the moment, speechless.

"You did it on purpose?" Shorty demanded.

"I did it to give the old-timers a chance."

She laughed mockingly.  The men grinned at each other and finally
joined her.

"I'd lay you across my knee an' give you a wallopin', if womenfolk
wasn't so scarce in this country," Shorty assured her.

"Your father didn't sprain a tendon, but waited till we were out of
sight and then went on?" Smoke asked.

She nodded.

"And you were the decoy."

Again she nodded, and this time Smoke's laughter rang out clear and
true.  It was the spontaneous laughter of a frankly beaten man.

"Why don't you get angry with me?" she queried ruefully.  "Or--or
wallop me?"

"Well, we might as well be starting back," Shorty urged.  "My feet's
gettin' cold standin' here."

Smoke shook his head.

"That would mean four hours lost.  We must be eight miles up this Creek
now, and from the look ahead Norway is making a long swing south.
We'll follow it, then cross over the divide somehow, and tap Squaw
Creek somewhere above Discovery."  He looked at Joy.  "Won't you come
along with us?  I told your father we'd look after you."

"I--"  She hesitated.  "I think I shall, if you don't mind."  She was
looking straight at him, and her face was no longer defiant and
mocking.  "Really, Mr Smoke, you make me almost sorry for what I have
done.  But somebody had to save the old-timers."

"It strikes me that stampeding is at best a sporting proposition."

"And it strikes me you two are very game about it," she went on, then
added with the shadow of a sigh:  "What a pity you are not old-timers."

For two hours more they kept to the frozen creek-bed of Norway, then
turned into a narrow and rugged tributary that flowed from the south.
At midday they began the ascent of the divide itself. Behind them,
looking down and back, they could see the long line of stampeders
breaking up.  Here and there, in scores of places, thin smoke-columns
advertised the making of camps.

As for themselves, the going was hard.  They wallowed through snow to
their waists, and were compelled to stop every few yards to breathe.
Shorty was the first to call a halt.

"We ben hittin' the trail for over twelve hours," he said.  "Smoke, I'm
plum willin' to say I'm good an' tired.  An' so are you.  An' I'm free
to shout that I can sure hang on to this here pascar like a starvin'
Indian to a hunk of bear-meat.  But this poor girl here can't keep her
legs no time if she don't get something in her stomach.  Here's where
we build a fire.  What d'ye say?"

So quickly, so deftly and methodically, did they go about making a
temporary camp, that Joy, watching with jealous eyes, admitted to
herself that the old-timers could not do it better.  Spruce boughs,
with a spread blanket on top, gave a foundation for rest and cooking
operations.  But they kept away from the heat of the fire until noses
and cheeks had been rubbed cruelly.

Smoke spat in the air, and the resultant crackle was so immediate and
loud that he shook his head.

"I give it up," he said.  "I've never seen cold like this."

"One winter on the Koyokuk it went to eighty-six below," Joy answered.
"It's at least seventy or seventy-five right now, and I know I've
frosted my cheeks.  They're burning like fire."

On the steep slope of the divide there was no ice, while snow, as fine
and hard and crystalline as granulated sugar, was poured into the
gold-pan by the bushel until enough water was melted for the coffee.
Smoke fried bacon and thawed biscuits.  Shorty kept the fuel supplied
and tended the fire, and Joy set the simple table composed of two
plates, two cups, two spoons, a tin of mixed salt and pepper, and a tin
of sugar.  When it came to eating, she and Smoke shared one set between
them.  They ate out of the same plate and drank from the same cup.

It was nearly two in the afternoon when they cleared the crest of the
divide and began dropping down a feeder of Squaw Creek.  Earlier in the
winter some moose-hunter had made a trail up the canyon--that is, in
going up and down he had stepped always in his previous tracks.  As a
result, in the midst of soft snow, and veiled under later snow falls,
was a line of irregular hummocks.  If one's foot missed a hummock, he
plunged down through unpacked snow and usually to a fall.  Also, the
moose-hunter had been an exceptionally long-legged individual.  Joy,
who was eager now that the two men should stake, and fearing that they
were slackening pace on account of her evident weariness, insisted on
taking the lead.  The speed and manner in which she negotiated the
precarious footing, called out Shorty's unqualified approval.

"Look at her!" he cried.  "She's the real goods an' the red meat. Look
at them moccasins swing along.  No high-heels there.  She uses the legs
God gave her.  She's the right squaw for any bear-hunter."

She flashed back a smile of acknowledgment that included Smoke.  He
caught a feeling of chumminess, though at the same time he was bitingly
aware that it was very much of a woman who embraced him in that
comradely smile.

Looking back, as they came to the bank of Squaw Creek, they could see
the stampede, strung out irregularly, struggling along the descent of
the divide.

They slipped down the bank to the creek bed.  The stream, frozen
solidly to bottom, was from twenty to thirty feet wide and ran between
six- and eight-foot earth banks of alluvial wash.  No recent feet had
disturbed the snow that lay upon its ice, and they knew they were above
the Discovery claim and the last stakes of the Sea Lion stampeders.

"Look out for springs," Joy warned, as Smoke led the way down the
creek.  "At seventy below you'll lose your feet if you break through."

These springs, common to most Klondike streams, never ceased at the
lowest temperatures.  The water flowed out from the banks and lay in
pools which were cuddled from the cold by later surface-freezings and
snow falls.  Thus, a man, stepping on dry snow, might break through
half an inch of ice-skin and find himself up to the knees in water.  In
five minutes, unless able to remove the wet gear, the loss of one's
foot was the penalty.

Though only three in the afternoon, the long grey twilight of the
Arctic had settled down.  They watched for a blazed tree on either
bank, which would show the centre-stake of the last claim located. Joy,
impulsively eager, was the first to find it.  She darted ahead of
Smoke, crying:  "Somebody's been here!  See the snow!  Look for the
blaze!  There it is!  See that spruce!"

She sank suddenly to her waist in the snow.

"Now I've done it," she said woefully.  Then she cried:  "Don't come
near me!  I'll wade out."

Step by step, each time breaking through the thin skin of ice concealed
under the dry snow, she forced her way to solid footing. Smoke did not
wait, but sprang to the bank, where dry and seasoned twigs and sticks,
lodged amongst the brush by spring freshets, waited the match.  By the
time she reached his side, the first flames and flickers of an assured
fire were rising.

"Sit down!" he commanded.

She obediently sat down in the snow.  He slipped his pack from his
back, and spread a blanket for her feet.

From above came the voices of the stampeders who followed them.

"Let Shorty stake," she urged

"Go on, Shorty," Smoke said, as he attacked her moccasins, already
stiff with ice.  "Pace off a thousand feet and place the two
centre-stakes.  We can fix the corner-stakes afterwards."

With his knife Smoke cut away the lacings and leather of the moccasins.
So stiff were they with ice that they snapped and crackled under the
hacking and sawing.  The Siwash socks and heavy woollen stockings were
sheaths of ice.  It was as if her feet and calves were encased in
corrugated iron.

"How are your feet?" he asked, as he worked.

"Pretty numb.  I can't move nor feel my toes.  But it will be all
right.  The fire is burning beautifully.  Watch out you don't freeze
your own hands.  They must be numb now from the way you're fumbling."

He slipped his mittens on, and for nearly a minute smashed the open
hands savagely against his sides.  When he felt the blood-prickles, he
pulled off the mittens and ripped and tore and sawed and hacked at the
frozen garments.  The white skin of one foot appeared, then that of the
other, to be exposed to the bite of seventy below zero, which is the
equivalent of one hundred and two below freezing.

Then came the rubbing with snow, carried on with an intensity of cruel
fierceness, till she squirmed and shrank and moved her toes, and
joyously complained of the hurt.

He half-dragged her, and she half-lifted herself, nearer to the fire.
He placed her feet on the blanket close to the flesh-saving flames.

"You'll have to take care of them for a while," he said.

She could now safely remove her mittens and manipulate her own feet,
with the wisdom of the initiated, being watchful that the heat of the
fire was absorbed slowly.  While she did this, he attacked his hands.
The snow did not melt nor moisten.  Its light crystals were like so
much sand.  Slowly the stings and pangs of circulation came back into
the chilled flesh.  Then he tended the fire, unstrapped the light pack
from her back, and got out a complete change of foot-gear.

Shorty returned along the creek-bed and climbed the bank to them.

"I sure staked a full thousan' feet," he proclaimed.  "Number
twenty-seven and number twenty-eight, though I'd only got the upper
stake of twenty-seven, when I met the first geezer of the bunch behind.
He just straight declared I wasn't goin' to stake twenty-eight.  An' I
told him . . . ."

"Yes, yes," Joy cried.  "What did you tell him?"

"Well, I told him straight that if he didn't back up plum five hundred
feet I'd sure punch his frozen nose into ice-cream an' chocolate
eclaires.  He backed up, an' I've got in the centre-stakes of two full
an' honest five-hundred-foot claims.  He staked next, and I guess by
now the bunch has Squaw Creek located to head-waters an' down the other
side.  Ourn is safe.  It's too dark to see now, but we can put out the
corner-stakes in the mornin'."



III.

When they awoke, they found a change had taken place during the night.
So warm was it, that Shorty and Smoke, still in their mutual blankets,
estimated the temperature at no more than twenty below. The cold snap
had broken.  On top their blankets lay six inches of frost crystals.

"Good morning! how's your feet?" was Smoke's greeting across the ashes
of the fire to where Joy Gastell, carefully shaking aside the snow, was
sitting up in her sleeping furs.

Shorty built the fire and quarried ice from the creek, while Smoke
cooked breakfast.  Daylight came on as they finished the meal.

"You go an' fix them corner-stakes, Smoke," Shorty said.  "There's a
gravel under where I chopped ice for the coffee, an' I'm goin' to melt
water and wash a pan of that same gravel for luck."

Smoke departed, axe in hand, to blaze the stakes.  Starting from the
down-stream centre-stake of 'twenty-seven,' he headed at right angles
across the narrow valley towards its rim.  He proceeded methodically,
almost automatically, for his mind was alive with recollections of the
night before.  He felt, somehow, that he had won to empery over the
delicate lines and firm muscles of those feet and ankles he had rubbed
with snow, and this empery seemed to extend to all women.  In dim and
fiery ways a feeling of possession mastered him.  It seemed that all
that was necessary was for him to walk up to this Joy Gastell, take her
hand in his, and say "Come."

It was in this mood that he discovered something that made him forget
empery over the white feet of woman.  At the valley rim he blazed no
corner-stake.  He did not reach the valley rim, but, instead, he found
himself confronted by another stream.  He lined up with his eye a
blasted willow tree and a big and recognizable spruce.  He returned to
the stream where were the centre stakes.  He followed the bed of the
creek around a wide horseshoe bend through the flat, and found that the
two creeks were the same creek.  Next, he floundered twice through the
snow from valley rim to valley rim, running the first line from the
lower stake of 'twenty-seven,' the second from the upper stake of
'twenty-eight,' and he found that THE UPPER STAKE OF THE LATTER WAS
LOWER THAN THE LOWER STAKE OF THE FORMER.  In the gray twilight and
half-darkness Shorty had located their two claims on the horseshoe.

Smoke plodded back to the little camp.  Shorty, at the end of washing a
pan of gravel, exploded at sight of him.

"We got it!" Shorty cried, holding out the pan.  "Look at it!  A nasty
mess of gold.  Two hundred right there if it's a cent.  She runs rich
from the top of the wash-gravel.  I've churned around placers some, but
I never got butter like what's in this pan."

Smoke cast an incurious glance at the coarse gold, poured himself a cup
of coffee at the fire, and sat down.  Joy sensed something wrong and
looked at him with eagerly solicitous eyes.  Shorty, however, was
disgruntled by his partner's lack of delight in the discovery.

"Why don't you kick in an' get excited?" he demanded.  "We got our pile
right here, unless you're stickin' up your nose at two-hundred-dollar
pans."

Smoke took a swallow of coffee before replying.

"Shorty, why are our two claims here like the Panama Canal?"

"What's the answer?"

"Well, the eastern entrance of the Panama Canal is west of the western
entrance, that's all."

"Go on," Shorty said.  "I ain't seen the joke yet."

"In short, Shorty, you staked our two claims on a big horseshoe bend."

Shorty set the gold pan down in the snow and stood up.

"Go on," he repeated.

"The upper stake of twenty-eight is ten feet below the lower stake of
twenty-seven."

"You mean we ain't got nothin', Smoke?"

"Worse than that; we've got ten feet less than nothing."

Shorty departed down the bank on the run.  Five minutes later he
returned.  In response to Joy's look, he nodded.  Without speech, he
went over to a log and sat down to gaze steadily at the snow in front
of his moccasins.

"We might as well break camp and start back for Dawson," Smoke said,
beginning to fold the blankets.

"I am sorry, Smoke," Joy said.  "It's all my fault."

"It's all right," he answered.  "All in the day's work, you know."

"But it's my fault, wholly mine," she persisted.  "Dad's staked for me
down near Discovery, I know.  I'll give you my claim."

He shook his head.

"Shorty," she pleaded.

Shorty shook his head and began to laugh.  It was a colossal laugh.
Chuckles and muffled explosions yielded to hearty roars.

"It ain't hysterics," he explained, "I sure get powerful amused at
times, an' this is one of them."

His gaze chanced to fall on the gold pan.  He walked over and gravely
kicked it, scattering the gold over the landscape.

"It ain't ourn," he said.  "It belongs to the geezer I backed up five
hundred feet last night.  An' what gets me is four hundred an' ninety
of them feet was to the good . . . his good.  Come on, Smoke. Let's
start the hike to Dawson.  Though if you're hankerin' to kill me I
won't lift a finger to prevent."



SHORTY DREAMS.



I.

"Funny you don't gamble none," Shorty said to Smoke one night in the
Elkhorn.  "Ain't it in your blood?"

"It is," Smoke answered.  "But the statistics are in my head.  I like
an even break for my money."

All about them, in the huge bar-room, arose the click and rattle and
rumble of a dozen games, at which fur-clad, moccasined men tried their
luck.  Smoke waved his hand to include them all.

"Look at them," he said.  "It's cold mathematics that they will lose
more than they win to-night, that the big proportion is losing right
now."

"You're sure strong on figgers," Shorty murmured admiringly.  "An' in
the main you're right.  But they's such a thing as facts.  An' one fact
is streaks of luck.  They's times when every geezer playin' wins, as I
know, for I've sat in in such games an' saw more'n one bank busted.
The only way to win at gamblin' is wait for a hunch that you've got a
lucky streak comin' and then to play it to the roof."

"It sounds simple," Smoke criticized.  "So simple I can't see how men
can lose."

"The trouble is," Shorty admitted, "that most men gets fooled on their
hunches.  On occasion I sure get fooled on mine.  The thing is to try,
an' find out."

Smoke shook his head.

"That's a statistic, too, Shorty.  Most men prove wrong on their
hunches."

"But don't you ever get one of them streaky feelin's that all you got
to do is put your money down an' pick a winner?"

Smoke laughed.

"I'm too scared of the percentage against me.  But I'll tell you what,
Shorty.  I'll throw a dollar on the 'high card' right now and see if it
will buy us a drink."

Smoke was edging his way in to the faro table, when Shorty caught his
arm.

"Hold on.  I'm gettin' one of them hunches now.  You put that dollar on
roulette."

They went over to a roulette table near the bar.

"Wait till I give the word," Shorty counselled.

"What number?" Smoke asked.

"Pick it yourself.  But wait till I say let her go."

"You don't mean to say I've got an even chance on that table?" Smoke
argued.

"As good as the next geezers."

"But not as good as the bank's."

"Wait and see," Shorty urged.  "Now!  Let her go!"

The game-keeper had just sent the little ivory ball whirling around the
smooth rim above the revolving, many-slotted wheel.  Smoke, at the
lower end of the table, reached over a player, and blindly tossed the
dollar.  It slid along the smooth, green cloth and stopped fairly in
the centre of '34.'

The ball came to rest, and the game-keeper announced, "Thirty-four
wins!"  He swept the table, and alongside of Smoke's dollar, stacked
thirty-five dollars.  Smoke drew the money in, and Shorty slapped him
on the shoulder.

"Now, that was the real goods of a hunch, Smoke!  How'd I know it?
There's no tellin'.  I just knew you'd win.  Why, if that dollar of
yourn'd fell on any other number it'd won just the same.  When the
hunch is right, you just can't help winnin'."

"Suppose it had come 'double nought'?" Smoke queried, as they made
their way to the bar.

"Then your dollar'd ben on 'double nought,'" was Shorty's answer.
"They's no gettin' away from it.  A hunch is a hunch.  Here's how. Come
on back to the table.  I got a hunch, after pickin' you for a winner,
that I can pick some few numbers myself."

"Are you playing a system?" Smoke asked, at the end of ten minutes,
when his partner had dropped a hundred dollars.

Shorty shook his head indignantly, as he spread his chips out in the
vicinities of '3,' '11,' and '17,' and tossed a spare chip on the
'green.'

"Hell is sure cluttered with geezers that played systems," he
exposited, as the keeper raked the table.

From idly watching, Smoke became fascinated, following closely every
detail of the game from the whirling of the ball to the making and the
paying of the bets.  He made no plays, however, merely contenting
himself with looking on.  Yet so interested was he, that Shorty,
announcing that he had had enough, with difficulty drew Smoke away from
the table.  The game-keeper returned Shorty the gold sack he had
deposited as a credential for playing, and with it went a slip of paper
on which was scribbled, "Out . . . 350 dollars." Shorty carried the
sack and the paper across the room and handed them to the weigher, who
sat behind a large pair of gold-scales. Out of Shorty's sack he weighed
350 dollars, which he poured into the coffer of the house.

"That hunch of yours was another one of those statistics," Smoke jeered.

"I had to play it, didn't I, in order to find out?" Shorty retorted. "I
reckon I was crowdin' some just on account of tryin' to convince you
they's such a thing as hunches."

"Never mind, Shorty," Smoke laughed. "I've got a hunch right now--"

Shorty's eyes sparkled as he cried eagerly:  "What is it?  Kick in an'
play it pronto."

"It's not that kind, Shorty.  Now, what I've got is a hunch that some
day I'll work out a system that will beat the spots off that table."

"System!" Shorty groaned, then surveyed his partner with a vast pity.
"Smoke, listen to your side-kicker an' leave system alone. Systems is
sure losers.  They ain't no hunches in systems."

"That's why I like them," Smoke answered.  "A system is statistical.
When you get the right system you can't lose, and that's the difference
between it and a hunch.  You never know when the right hunch is going
wrong."

"But I know a lot of systems that went wrong, an' I never seen a system
win."  Shorty paused and sighed.  "Look here, Smoke, if you're gettin'
cracked on systems this ain't no place for you, an' it's about time we
hit the trail again."



II.

During the several following weeks, the two partners played at cross
purposes.  Smoke was bent on spending his time watching the roulette
game in the Elkhorn, while Shorty was equally bent on travelling trail.
At last Smoke put his foot down when a stampede was proposed for two
hundred miles down the Yukon.

"Look here, Shorty," he said, "I'm not going.  That trip will take ten
days, and before that time I hope to have my system in proper working
order.  I could almost win with it now.  What are you dragging me
around the country this way for anyway?"

"Smoke, I got to take care of you," was Shorty's reply.  "You're
getting nutty.  I'd drag you stampedin' to Jericho or the North Pole if
I could keep you away from that table."

"It's all right, Shorty.  But just remember I've reached full
man-grown, meat-eating size.  The only dragging you'll do, will be
dragging home the dust I'm going to win with that system of mine, and
you'll most likely have to do it with a dog-team."

Shorty's response was a groan.

"And I don't want you to be bucking any games on your own," Smoke went
on.  "We're going to divide the winnings, and I'll need all our money
to get started.  That system's young yet, and it's liable to trip me
for a few falls before I get it lined up."



III.

At last, after long hours and days spent at watching the table, the
night came when Smoke proclaimed he was ready, and Shorty, glum and
pessimistic, with all the seeming of one attending a funeral,
accompanied his partner to the Elkhorn.  Smoke bought a stack of chips
and stationed himself at the game-keeper's end of the table. Again and
again the ball was whirled and the other players won or lost, but Smoke
did not venture a chip.  Shorty waxed impatient.

"Buck in, buck in," he urged.  "Let's get this funeral over.  What's
the matter?  Got cold feet?"

Smoke shook his head and waited.  A dozen plays went by, and then,
suddenly, he placed ten one-dollar chips on '26.'  The number won, and
the keeper paid Smoke three hundred and fifty dollars.  A dozen plays
went by, twenty plays, and thirty, when Smoke placed ten dollars on
'32.'  Again he received three hundred and fifty dollars.

"It's a hunch."  Shorty whispered vociferously in his ear.  "Ride it!
Ride it!"

Half an hour went by, during which Smoke was inactive, then he placed
ten dollars on '34' and won.

"A hunch!" Shorty whispered.

"Nothing of the sort," Smoke whispered back.  "It's the system. Isn't
she a dandy?"

"You can't tell me," Shorty contended.  "Hunches comes in mighty funny
ways.  You might think it's a system, but it ain't.  Systems is
impossible.  They can't happen.  It's a sure hunch you're playin'."

Smoke now altered his play.  He bet more frequently, with single chips,
scattered here and there, and he lost more often than he won.

"Quit it," Shorty advised.  "Cash in.  You've rung the bull's eye three
times, an' you're ahead a thousand.  You can't keep it up."

At this moment the ball started whirling, and Smoke dropped ten chips
on '26.'  The ball fell into the slot of '26,' and the keeper again
paid him three hundred and fifty dollars.  "If you're plum crazy an'
got the immortal cinch, bet'm the limit," Shorty said. "Put down
twenty-five next time."

A quarter of an hour passed, during which Smoke won and lost on small
scattering bets.  Then, with the abruptness that characterized his big
betting, he placed twenty-five dollars on the 'double nought,' and the
keeper paid him eight hundred and seventy-five dollars.

"Wake me up, Smoke, I'm dreamin'," Shorty moaned.

Smoke smiled, consulted his note-book, and became absorbed in
calculation.  He continually drew the note-book from his pocket, and
from time to time jotted down figures.

A crowd had packed densely around the table, while the players
themselves were attempting to cover the same numbers he covered.  It
was then that a change came over his play.  Ten times in succession he
placed ten dollars on '18' and lost.  At this stage he was deserted by
the hardiest.  He changed his number and won another three hundred and
fifty dollars.  Immediately the players were back with him, deserting
again after a series of losing bets.

"Quit it, Smoke, quit it," Shorty advised.  "The longest string of
hunches is only so long, an' your string's finished.  No more
bull's-eyes for you."

"I'm going to ring her once again before I cash in," Smoke answered.

For a few minutes, with varying luck, he played scattering chips over
the table, and then dropped twenty-five dollars on the 'double nought.'

"I'll take my slip now," he said to the dealer, as he won.

"Oh, you don't need to show it to me," Shorty said, as they walked to
the weigher.  "I ben keepin' track.  You're something like thirty-six
hundred to the good.  How near am I?"

"Thirty-six-thirty," Smoke replied.  "And now you've got to pack the
dust home.  That was the agreement."



IV.

"Don't crowd your luck," Shorty pleaded with Smoke, the next night, in
the cabin, as he evidenced preparations to return to the Elkhorn. "You
played a mighty long string of hunches, but you played it out. If you
go back you'll sure drop all your winnings."

"But I tell you it isn't hunches, Shorty.  It's statistics.  It's a
system.  It can't lose."

"System be damned.  They ain't no such a thing as system.  I made
seventeen straight passes at a crap table once.  Was it system? Nope.
It was fool luck, only I had cold feet an' didn't dast let it ride.  It
it'd rid, instead of me drawin' down after the third pass, I'd a won
over thirty thousan' on the original two-bit piece."

"Just the same, Shorty, this is a real system."

"Huh!  You got to show me."

"I did show you.  Come on with me now and I'll show you again."

When they entered the Elkhorn, all eyes centred on Smoke, and those
about the table made way for him as he took up his old place at the
keeper's end.  His play was quite unlike that of the previous night. In
the course of an hour and a half he made only four bets, but each bet
was for twenty-five dollars, and each bet won.  He cashed in
thirty-five hundred dollars, and Shorty carried the dust home to the
cabin.

"Now's the time to jump the game," Shorty advised, as he sat on the
edge of his bunk and took off his moccasins.  "You're seven thousan'
ahead.  A man's a fool that'd crowd his luck harder."

"Shorty, a man would be a blithering lunatic if he didn't keep on
backing a winning system like mine."

"Smoke, you're a sure bright boy.  You're college-learnt.  You know
more'n a minute than I could know in forty thousan' years.  But just
the same you're dead wrong when you call your luck a system.  I've ben
around some, an' seen a few, an' I tell you straight an' confidential
an' all-assurin', a system to beat a bankin' game ain't possible."

"But I'm showing you this one.  It's a pipe."

"No, you're not, Smoke.  It's a pipe-dream.  I'm asleep.  Bime by I'll
wake up, an' build the fire, an' start breakfast."

"Well, my unbelieving friend, there's the dust.  Heft it."

So saying, Smoke tossed the bulging gold-sack upon his partner's knees.
It weighed thirty-five pounds, and Shorty was fully aware of the crush
of its impact on his flesh.

"It's real," Smoke hammered his point home.

"Huh!  I've saw some mighty real dreams in my time.  In a dream all
things is possible.  In real life a system ain't possible.  Now, I
ain't never ben to college, but I'm plum justified in sizin' up this
gamblin' orgy of ourn as a sure enough dream."

"Hamilton's 'Law of Parsimony,'" Smoke laughed.

"I ain't never heard of the geezer, but his dope's sure right.  I'm
dreamin', Smoke, an' you're just snoopin' around in my dream an'
tormentin' me with system.  If you love me, if you sure do love me,
you'll just yell, 'Shorty!  Wake up!'  An' I'll wake up an' start
breakfast."



V.

The third night of play, as Smoke laid his first bet, the game-keeper
shoved fifteen dollars back to him.

"Ten's all you can play," he said.  "The limit's come down."

"Gettin' picayune," Shorty sneered.

"No one has to play at this table that don't want to," the keeper
retorted.  "And I'm willing to say straight out in meeting that we'd
sooner your pardner didn't play at our table."

"Scared of his system, eh?" Shorty challenged, as the keeper paid over
three hundred and fifty dollars.

"I ain't saying I believe in system, because I don't.  There never was
a system that'd beat roulette or any percentage game.  But just the
same I've seen some queer strings of luck, and I ain't going to let
this bank go bust if I can help it."

"Cold feet."

"Gambling is just as much business, my friend, as any other business.
We ain't philanthropists."

Night by night, Smoke continued to win.  His method of play varied.
Expert after expert, in the jam about the table, scribbled down his
bets and numbers in vain attempts to work out his system.  They
complained of their inability to get a clew to start with, and swore
that it was pure luck, though the most colossal streak of it they had
ever seen.

It was Smoke's varied play that obfuscated them.  Sometimes, consulting
his note-book or engaging in long calculations, an hour elapsed without
his staking a chip.  At other times he would win three limit-bets and
clean up a thousand dollars and odd in five or ten minutes.  At still
other times, his tactics would be to scatter single chips prodigally
and amazingly over the table.  This would continue for from ten to
thirty minutes of play, when, abruptly, as the ball whirled through the
last few of its circles, he would play the limit on column, colour, and
number, and win all three.  Once, to complete confusion in the minds of
those that strove to divine his secret, he lost forty straight bets,
each at the limit.  But each night, play no matter how diversely,
Shorty carried home thirty-five hundred dollars for him.

"It ain't no system," Shorty expounded at one of their bed-going
discussions.  "I follow you, an' follow you, but they ain't no
figgerin' it out.  You never play twice the same.  All you do is pick
winners when you want to, an' when you don't want to, you just on
purpose don't."

"Maybe you're nearer right than you think, Shorty.  I've just got to
pick losers sometimes.  It's part of the system."

"System--hell!  I've talked with every gambler in town, an' the last
one is agreed they ain't no such thing as system."

"Yet I'm showing them one all the time."

"Look here, Smoke."  Shorty paused over the candle, in the act of
blowing it out.  "I'm real irritated.  Maybe you think this is a
candle.  It ain't.  An' this ain't me neither.  I'm out on trail
somewheres, in my blankets, lyin' on my back with my mouth open, an'
dreamin' all this.  That ain't you talkin', any more than this candle
is a candle."

"It's funny, how I happen to be dreaming along with you then," Smoke
persisted.

"No, it ain't.  You're part of my dream, that's all.  I've hearn many a
man talk in my dreams.  I want to tell you one thing, Smoke. I'm
gettin' mangy an' mad.  If this here dream keeps up much more I'm goin'
to bite my veins an' howl."



VI.

On the sixth night of play at the Elkhorn, the limit was reduced to
five dollars.

"It's all right," Smoke assured the game-keeper.  "I want thirty-five
hundred to-night, as usual, and you only compel me to play longer.
I've got to pick twice as many winners, that's all."

"Why don't you buck somebody else's table?" the keeper demanded
wrathfully.

"Because I like this one." Smoke glanced over to the roaring stove only
a few feet away.  "Besides, there are no draughts here, and it is warm
and comfortable."

On the ninth night, when Shorty had carried the dust home, he had a fit.

"I quit, Smoke, I quit," he began.  "I know when I got enough.  I ain't
dreamin'.  I'm wide awake.  A system can't be, but you got one just the
same.  There's nothin' in the rule o' three.  The almanac's clean out.
The world's gone smash.  There's nothin' regular an' uniform no more.
The multiplication table's gone loco.  Two is eight, nine is eleven,
and two-times-six is eight hundred an' forty-six--an'--an' a half.
Anything is everything, an' nothing's all, an' twice all is cold cream,
milk-shakes, an' calico horses.  You've got a system.  Figgers beat the
figgerin'.  What ain't is, an' what isn't has to be.  The sun rises in
the west, the moon's a paystreak, the stars is canned corn-beef,
scurvy's the blessin' of God, him that dies kicks again, rocks floats,
water's gas, I ain't me, you're somebody else, an' mebbe we're twins if
we ain't hashed-brown potatoes fried in verdigris.  Wake me up!
Somebody!  Oh!  Wake me up!"



VII.

The next morning a visitor came to the cabin.  Smoke knew him, Harvey
Moran, the owner of all the games in the Tivoli.  There was a note of
appeal in his deep gruff voice as he plunged into his business.

"It's like this, Smoke," he began.  "You've got us all guessing. I'm
representing nine other game-owners and myself from all the saloons in
town.  We don't understand.  We know that no system ever worked against
roulette.  All the mathematic sharps in the colleges have told us
gamblers the same thing.  They say that roulette itself is the system,
the one and only system, and, therefore, that no system can beat it,
for that would mean arithmetic has gone bug-house."

Shorty nodded his head violently.

"If a system can beat a system, then there's no such thing as system,"
the gambler went on.  "In such a case anything could be possible--a
thing could be in two different places at once, or two things could be
in the same place that's only large enough for one at the same time."

"Well, you've seen me play," Smoke answered defiantly; "and if you
think it's only a string of luck on my part, why worry?"

"That's the trouble.  We can't help worrying.  It's a system you've
got, and all the time we know it can't be.  I've watched you five
nights now, and all I can make out is that you favour certain numbers
and keep on winning.  Now the ten of us game-owners have got together,
and we want to make a friendly proposition.  We'll put a roulette table
in a back room of the Elkhorn, pool the bank against you, and have you
buck us.  It will be all quiet and private.  Just you and Shorty and
us.  What do you say?"

"I think it's the other way around," Smoke answered.  "It's up to you
to come and see me.  I'll be playing in the bar-room of the Elkhorn
to-night.  You can watch me there just as well."



VIII.

That night, when Smoke took up his customary place at the table, the
keeper shut down the game.

"The game's closed," he said.  "Boss's orders."

But the assembled game-owners were not to be balked.  In a few minutes
they arranged a pool, each putting in a thousand, and took over the
table.

"Come on and buck us," Harvey Moran challenged, as the keeper sent the
ball on its first whirl around.

"Give me the twenty-five limit," Smoke suggested.

"Sure; go to it."

Smoke immediately placed twenty-five chips on the 'double nought,' and
won.

Moran wiped the sweat from his forehead.

"Go on," he said.  "We got ten thousand in this bank."

At the end of an hour and a half, the ten thousand was Smoke's.

"The bank's bust," the keeper announced.

"Got enough?" Smoke asked.

The game-owners looked at one another.  They were awed.  They, the
fatted proteges of the laws of chance, were undone.  They were up
against one who had more intimate access to those laws, or who had
invoked higher and undreamed laws.

"We quit," Moran said.  "Ain't that right, Burke?"

Big Burke, who owned the games in the M. and G. Saloon, nodded.

"The impossible has happened," he said.  "This Smoke here has got a
system all right.  If we let him go on we'll all bust.  All I can see,
if we're goin' to keep our tables running, is to cut down the limit to
a dollar, or to ten cents, or a cent.  He won't win much in a night
with such stakes."

All looked at Smoke.  He shrugged his shoulders.

"In that case, gentlemen, I'll have to hire a gang of men to play at
all your tables.  I can pay them ten dollars for a four-hour shift and
make money."

"Then we'll shut down our tables," Big Burke replied.  "Unless--" He
hesitated and ran his eye over his fellows to see that they were with
him.  "Unless you're willing to talk business.  What will you sell the
system for?"

"Thirty thousand dollars," Smoke answered.  "That's a tax of three
thousand apiece."

They debated and nodded.

"And you'll tell us your system?"

"Surely."

"And you'll promise not to play roulette in Dawson ever again?"

"No, sir," Smoke said positively.  "I'll promise not to play this
system again."

"My God!" Moran exploded.  "You haven't got other systems, have you?"

"Hold on!" Shorty cried.  "I want to talk to my pardner.  Come over
here, Smoke, on the side."

Smoke followed into a quiet corner of the room, while hundreds of
curious eyes centred on him and Shorty.

"Look here, Smoke," Shorty whispered hoarsely.  "Mebbe it ain't a
dream.  In which case you're sellin' out almighty cheap.  You've sure
got the world by the slack of its pants.  They's millions in it.  Shake
it!  Shake it hard!"

"But if it's a dream?" Smoke queried softly.

"Then, for the sake of the dream an' the love of Mike, stick them
gamblers up good and plenty.  What's the good of dreamin' if you can't
dream to the real right, dead sure, eternal finish?"

"Fortunately, this isn't a dream, Shorty."

"Then if you sell out for thirty thousan', I'll never forgive you."

"When I sell out for thirty thousand, you'll fall on my neck an' wake
up to find out that you haven't been dreaming at all.  This is no
dream, Shorty.  In about two minutes you'll see you have been wide
awake all the time.  Let me tell you that when I sell out it's because
I've got to sell out."

Back at the table, Smoke informed the game-owners that his offer still
held.  They proffered him their paper to the extent of three thousand
each.

"Hold out for the dust," Shorty cautioned.

"I was about to intimate that I'd take the money weighed out," Smoke
said.

The owner of the Elkhorn cashed their paper, and Shorty took possession
of the gold-dust.

"Now, I don't want to wake up," he chortled, as he hefted the various
sacks.  "Toted up, it's a seventy thousan' dream.  It's be too blamed
expensive to open my eyes, roll out of the blankets, an' start
breakfast."

"What's your system?" Big Burke demanded.  "We've paid for it, and we
want it."

Smoke led the way to the table.

"Now, gentlemen, bear with me a moment.  This isn't an ordinary system.
It can scarcely be called legitimate, but its one great virtue is that
it works.  I've got my suspicious, but I'm not saying anything.  You
watch.  Mr Keeper, be ready with the ball.  Wait, I am going to pick
'26.'  Consider I've bet on it.  Be ready, Mr Keeper--Now!"

The ball whirled around.

"You observe," Smoke went on, "that '9' was directly opposite."

The ball finished in '26.'

Big Burke swore deep in his chest, and all waited.

"For 'double nought' to win, '11' must be opposite.  Try it yourself
and see."

"But the system?" Moran demanded impatiently.  "We know you can pick
winning numbers, and we know what those numbers are; but how do you do
it?"

"By observed sequences.  By accident I chanced twice to notice the ball
whirled when '9' was opposite.  Both times '26' won.  After that I saw
it happen again.  Then I looked for other sequences, and found them.
'Double nought' opposite fetches '32,' and '11' fetches 'double
nought.'  It doesn't always happen, but it USUALLY happens. You notice,
I say 'usually.'  As I said before, I have my suspicions, but I'm not
saying anything."

Big Burke, with a sudden dawn of comprehension reached over, stopped
the wheel, and examined it carefully.  The heads of the nine other
game-owners bent over and joined in the examination.  Big Burke
straightened up and cast a glance at the near-by stove.

"Hell," he said.  "It wasn't any system at all.  The table stood close
to the fire, and the blamed wheel's warped.  And we've been worked to a
frazzle.  No wonder he liked this table.  He couldn't have bucked for
sour apples at any other table."

Harvey Moran gave a great sigh of relief and wiped his forehead.

"Well, anyway," he said, "it's cheap at the price just to find out that
it wasn't a system."  His face began to work, and then he broke into
laughter and slapped Smoke on the shoulder.  "Smoke, you had us going
for a while, and we patting ourselves on the back because you were
letting our tables alone!  Say, I've got some real fizz I'll open if
all you'll come over to the Tivoli with me."

Later, back in the cabin, Shorty silently overhauled and hefted the
various bulging gold-sacks.  He finally piled them on the table, sat
down on the edge of his bunk, and began taking off his moccasins.

"Seventy thousan'," he calculated.  "It weighs three hundred and fifty
pounds.  And all out of a warped wheel an' a quick eye. Smoke, you
eat'm raw, you eat'm alive, you work under water, you've given me the
jim-jams; but just the same I know it's a dream.  It's only in dreams
that the good things comes true.  I'm almighty unanxious to wake up.  I
hope I never wake up."

"Cheer up," Smoke answered.  "You won't.  There are a lot of philosophy
sharps that think men are sleep-walkers.  You're in good company."

Shorty got up, went to the table, selected the heaviest sack, and
cuddled it in his arms as if it were a baby.

"I may be sleep-walkin'," he said, "but as you say, I'm sure in mighty
good company."



THE MAN ON THE OTHER BANK.



I.

It was before Smoke Bellew staked the farcical town-site of Tra-Lee,
made the historic corner of eggs that nearly broke Swiftwater Bill's
bank account, or won the dog-team race down the Yukon for an even
million dollars, that he and Shorty parted company on the Upper
Klondike.  Shorty's task was to return down the Klondike to Dawson to
record some claims they had staked.

Smoke, with the dog-team, turned south.  His quest was Surprise Lake
and the mythical Two Cabins.  His traverse was to cut the headwaters of
the Indian River and cross the unknown region over the mountains to the
Stewart River.  Here, somewhere, rumour persisted, was Surprise Lake,
surrounded by jagged mountains and glaciers, its bottom paved with raw
gold.  Old-timers, it was said, whose very names were forgotten in the
forests of earlier years, had dived in the ice-waters of Surprise Lake
and fetched lump-gold to the surface in both hands.  At different
times, parties of old-timers had penetrated the forbidding fastness and
sampled the lake's golden bottom.  But the water was too cold.  Some
died in the water, being pulled up dead.  Others died of consumption.
And one who had gone down never did come up.  All survivors had planned
to return and drain the lake, yet none had ever gone back.  Disaster
always happened.  One man fell into an air-hole below Forty Mile;
another was killed and eaten by his dogs; a third was crushed by a
falling tree.  And so the tale ran.  Surprise Lake was a hoodoo; its
location was unremembered; and the gold still paved its undrained
bottom.

Two Cabins, no less mythical, was more definitely located.  'Five
sleeps,' up the McQuestion River from the Stewart, stood two ancient
cabins.  So ancient were they that they must have been built before
ever the first known gold-hunter had entered the Yukon Basin. Wandering
moose-hunters, whom even Smoke had met and talked with, claimed to have
found the two cabins in the old days, but to have sought vainly for the
mine which those early adventurers must have worked.

"I wish you was goin' with me," Shorty said wistfully, at parting.
"Just because you got the Indian bug ain't no reason for to go pokin'
into trouble.  They's no gettin' away from it, that's loco country
you're bound for.  The hoodoo's sure on it, from the first flip to the
last call, judgin' from all you an' me has hearn tell about it."

"It's all right, Shorty.  I'll make the round trip and be back in
Dawson in six weeks.  The Yukon trail is packed, and the first hundred
miles or so of the Stewart ought to be packed.  Old-timers from
Henderson have told me a number of outfits went up last fall after the
freeze-up.  When I strike their trail I ought to hit her up forty or
fifty miles a day.  I'm likely to be back inside a month, once I get
across."

"Yes, once you get acrost.  But it's the gettin' acrost that worries
me.  Well, so long, Smoke.  Keep your eyes open for that hoodoo, that's
all.  An' don't be ashamed to turn back if you don't kill any meat."



II.

A week later, Smoke found himself among the jumbled ranges south of
Indian River.  On the divide from the Klondike he had abandoned the
sled and packed his wolf-dogs.  The six big huskies each carried fifty
pounds, and on his own back was an equal burden.  Through the soft snow
he led the way, packing it down under his snow-shoes, and behind, in
single file, toiled the dogs.

He loved the life, the deep arctic winter, the silent wilderness, the
unending snow-surface unpressed by the foot of any man.  About him
towered icy peaks unnamed and uncharted.  No hunter's camp-smoke,
rising in the still air of the valleys, ever caught his eye. He, alone,
moved through the brooding quiet of the untravelled wastes; nor was he
oppressed by the solitude.  He loved it all, the day's toil, the
bickering wolf-dogs, the making of the camp in the long twilight, the
leaping stars overhead and the flaming pageant of the aurora borealis.

Especially he loved his camp at the end of the day, and in it he saw a
picture which he ever yearned to paint and which he knew he would never
forget--a beaten place in the snow, where burned his fire; his bed, a
couple of rabbit-skin robes spread on fresh-chopped spruce-boughs; his
shelter, a stretched strip of canvas that caught and threw back the
heat of the fire; the blackened coffee-pot and pail resting on a length
of log, the moccasins propped on sticks to dry, the snow-shoes up-ended
in the snow; and across the fire the wolf-dogs snuggling to it for the
warmth, wistful and eager, furry and frost-rimed, with bushy tails
curled protectingly over their feet; and all about, pressed backward
but a space, the wall of encircling darkness.

At such times San Francisco, The Billow, and O'Hara seemed very far
away, lost in a remote past, shadows of dreams that had never happened.
He found it hard to believe that he had known any other life than this
of the wild, and harder still was it for him to reconcile himself to
the fact that he had once dabbled and dawdled in the Bohemian drift of
city life.  Alone, with no one to talk to, he thought much, and deeply,
and simply.  He was appalled by the wastage of his city years, by the
cheapness, now, of the philosophies of the schools and books, of the
clever cynicism of the studio and editorial room, of the cant of the
business men in their clubs.  They knew neither food nor sleep, nor
health; nor could they ever possibly know the sting of real appetite,
the goodly ache of fatigue, nor the rush of mad strong blood that bit
like wine through all one's body as work was done.

And all the time this fine, wise, Spartan North Land had been here, and
he had never known.  What puzzled him was, that, with such intrinsic
fitness, he had never heard the slightest calling whisper, had not
himself gone forth to seek.  But this, too, he solved in time.

"Look here, Yellow-face, I've got it clear!"

The dog addressed lifted first one fore-foot and then the other with
quick, appeasing movements, curled his bush of a tail about them again,
and laughed across the fire.

"Herbert Spencer was nearly forty before he caught the vision of his
greatest efficiency and desire.  I'm none so slow.  I didn't have to
wait till I was thirty to catch mine.  Right here is my efficiency and
desire.  Almost, Yellow Face, do I wish I had been born a wolf-boy and
been brother all my days to you and yours."

For days he wandered through a chaos of canyons and divides which did
not yield themselves to any rational topographical plan.  It was as if
they had been flung there by some cosmic joker.  In vain he sought for
a creek or feeder that flowed truly south toward the McQuestion and the
Stewart.  Then came a mountain storm that blew a blizzard across the
riff-raff of high and shallow divides.  Above timber-line, fireless,
for two days, he struggled blindly to find lower levels.  On the second
day he came out upon the rim of an enormous palisade.  So thickly drove
the snow that he could not see the base of the wall, nor dared he
attempt the descent.  He rolled himself in his robes and huddled the
dogs about him in the depths of a snow-drift, but did not permit
himself to sleep.

In the morning, the storm spent, he crawled out to investigate.  A
quarter of a mile beneath him, beyond all mistake, lay a frozen,
snow-covered lake.  About it, on every side, rose jagged peaks.  It
answered the description.  Blindly, he had found Surprise Lake.

"Well-named," he muttered, an hour later, as he came out upon its
margin.  A clump of aged spruce was the only woods.  On his way to it,
he stumbled upon three graves, snow-buried, but marked by hand-hewn
head-posts and undecipherable writing.  On the edge of the woods was a
small ramshackle cabin.  He pulled the latch and entered.  In a corner,
on what had once been a bed of spruce-boughs, still wrapped in mangy
furs, that had rotted to fragments, lay a skeleton.  The last visitor
to Surprise Lake, was Smoke's conclusion, as he picked up a lump of
gold as large as his doubled fist.  Beside the lump was a pepper-can
filled with nuggets of the size of walnuts, rough-surfaced, showing no
signs of wash.

So true had the tale run, that Smoke accepted without question that the
source of the gold was the lake's bottom.  Under many feet of ice and
inaccessible, there was nothing to be done, and at mid-day, from the
rim of the palisade, he took a farewell look back and down at his find.

"It's all right, Mr Lake," he said.  "You just keep right on staying
there.  I'm coming back to drain you--if that hoodoo doesn't catch me.
I don't know how I got here, but I'll know by the way I go out."



III.

In a little valley, beside a frozen stream and under beneficent spruce
trees, he built a fire four days later.  Somewhere in that white
anarchy he left behind him, was Surprise Lake--somewhere, he knew not
where; for a hundred hours of driftage and struggle through blinding
driving snow, had concealed his course from him, and he knew not in
what direction lay BEHIND.  It was as if he had just emerged from a
nightmare.  He was not sure that four days or a week had passed.  He
had slept with the dogs, fought across a forgotten number of shallow
divides, followed the windings of weird canyons that ended in pockets,
and twice had managed to make a fire and thaw out frozen moose-meat.
And here he was, well-fed and well-camped. The storm had passed, and it
had turned clear and cold.  The lay of the land had again become
rational.  The creek he was on was natural in appearance, and trended
as it should toward the southwest.  But Surprise Lake was as lost to
him as it had been to all its seekers in the past.

Half a day's journey down the creek brought him to the valley of a
larger stream which he decided was the McQuestion.  Here he shot a
moose, and once again each wolf-dog carried a full fifty-pound pack of
meat.  As he turned down the McQuestion, he came upon a sled-trail.
The late snows had drifted over, but underneath, it was well-packed by
travel.  His conclusion was that two camps had been established on the
McQuestion, and that this was the connecting trail.  Evidently, Two
Cabins had been found and it was the lower camp, so he headed down the
stream.

It was forty below zero when he camped that night, and he fell asleep
wondering who were the men who had rediscovered the Two Cabins, and if
he would fetch it next day.  At the first hint of dawn he was under
way, easily following the half-obliterated trail and packing the recent
snow with his webbed shoes so that the dogs should not wallow.

And then it came, the unexpected, leaping out upon him on a bend of the
river.  It seemed to him that he heard and felt simultaneously. The
crack of the rifle came from the right, and the bullet, tearing through
and across the shoulders of his drill parka and woollen coat, pivoted
him half around with the shock of its impact.  He staggered on his
twisted snow-shoes to recover balance, and heard a second crack of the
rifle.  This time it was a clean miss.  He did not wait for more, but
plunged across the snow for the sheltering trees of the bank a hundred
feet away.  Again and again the rifle cracked, and he was unpleasantly
aware of a trickle of warm moisture down his back.

He climbed the bank, the dogs floundering behind, and dodged in among
the trees and brush.  Slipping out of his snow-shoes, he wallowed
forward at full length and peered cautiously out.  Nothing was to be
seen.  Whoever had shot at him was lying quiet among the trees of the
opposite bank.

"If something doesn't happen pretty soon," he muttered at the end of
half an hour, "I'll have to sneak away and build a fire or freeze my
feet.  Yellow Face, what'd you do, lying in the frost with circulation
getting slack and a man trying to plug you?"

He crawled back a few yards, packed down the snow, danced a jig that
sent the blood back into his feet, and managed to endure another half
hour.  Then, from down the river, he heard the unmistakable jingle of
dog-bells.  Peering out, he saw a sled round the bend. Only one man was
with it, straining at the gee-pole and urging the dogs along.  The
effect on Smoke was one of shock, for it was the first human he had
seen since he parted from Shorty three weeks before.  His next thought
was of the potential murderer concealed on the opposite bank.

Without exposing himself, Smoke whistled warningly.  The man did not
hear, and came on rapidly.  Again, and more sharply, Smoke whistled.
The man whoa'd his dogs, stopped, and had turned and faced Smoke when
the rifle cracked.  The instant afterwards, Smoke fired into the wood
in the direction of the sound.  The man on the river had been struck by
the first shot.  The shock of the high velocity bullet staggered him.
He stumbled awkwardly to the sled, half-falling, and pulled a rifle out
from under the lashings.  As he strove to raise it to his shoulder, he
crumpled at the waist and sank down slowly to a sitting posture on the
sled.  Then, abruptly, as the gun went off aimlessly, he pitched
backward and across a corner of the sled-load, so that Smoke could see
only his legs and stomach.

From below came more jingling bells.  The man did not move.  Around the
bend swung three sleds, accompanied by half a dozen men.  Smoke cried
warningly, but they had seen the condition of the first sled, and they
dashed on to it.  No shots came from the other bank, and Smoke, calling
his dogs to follow, emerged into the open.  There were exclamations
from the men, and two of them, flinging off the mittens of their right
hands, levelled their rifles at him.

"Come on, you red-handed murderer, you," one of them, a black-bearded
man, commanded, "an' jest pitch that gun of yourn in the snow."

Smoke hesitated, then dropped his rifle and came up to them.

"Go through him, Louis, an' take his weapons," the black-bearded man
ordered.

Louis, a French-Canadian voyageur, Smoke decided, as were four of the
others, obeyed.  His search revealed only Smoke's hunting knife, which
was appropriated.

"Now, what have you got to say for yourself, Stranger, before I shoot
you dead?" the black-bearded man demanded.

"That you're making a mistake if you think I killed that man," Smoke
answered.

A cry came from one of the voyageurs.  He had quested along the trail
and found Smoke's tracks where he had left it to take refuge on the
bank.  The man explained the nature of his find.

"What'd you kill Joe Kinade for?" he of the black beard asked.

"I tell you I didn't--" Smoke began.

"Aw, what's the good of talkin'.  We got you red-handed.  Right up
there's where you left the trail when you heard him comin'.  You laid
among the trees an' bushwhacked him.  A short shot.  You couldn't
a-missed.  Pierre, go an' get that gun he dropped."

"You might let me tell what happened," Smoke objected.

"You shut up," the man snarled at him.  "I reckon your gun'll tell the
story."

All the men examined Smoke's rifle, ejecting and counting the
cartridges, and examining the barrel at muzzle and breech.

"One shot," Blackbeard concluded.

Pierre, with nostrils that quivered and distended like a deer's,
sniffed at the breech.

"Him one fresh shot," he said.

"The bullet entered his back," Smoke said.  "He was facing me when he
was shot.  You see, it came from the other bank."

Blackbeard considered this proposition for a scant second, and shook
his head.

"Nope.  It won't do.  Turn him around to face the other bank--that's
how you whopped him in the back.  Some of you boys run up an' down the
trail and see if you can see any tracks making for the other bank."

Their report was, that on that side the snow was unbroken.  Not even a
snow-shoe rabbit had crossed it.  Blackbeard, bending over the dead
man, straightened up, with a woolly, furry wad in his hand. Shredding
this, he found imbedded in the centre the bullet which had perforated
the body.  Its nose was spread to the size of a half-dollar, its
butt-end, steel-jacketed, was undamaged.  He compared it with a
cartridge from Smoke's belt.

"That's plain enough evidence, Stranger, to satisfy a blind man. It's
soft-nosed an' steel-jacketed; yourn is soft-nosed and steel-jacketed.
It's thirty-thirty; yourn is thirty-thirty.  It's manufactured by the
J. and T. Arms Company; yourn is manufactured by the J. and T. Arms
Company.  Now you come along an' we'll go over to the bank an' see jest
how you done it."

"I was bushwhacked myself," Smoke said.  "Look at the hole in my parka."

While Blackbeard examined it, one of the voyageurs threw open the
breech of the dead man's gun.  It was patent to all that it had been
fired once.  The empty cartridge was still in the chamber.

"A damn shame poor Joe didn't get you," Blackbeard said bitterly. "But
he did pretty well with a hole like that in him.  Come on, you."

"Search the other bank first," Smoke urged.

"You shut up an' come on, an' let the facts do the talkin'."

They left the trail at the same spot he had, and followed it on up the
bank and in among the trees.

"Him dance that place keep him feet warm," Louis pointed out.  "That
place him crawl on belly.  That place him put one elbow w'en him
shoot--"

"And by God there's the empty cartridge he had done it with!" was
Blackbeard's discovery.  "Boys, there's only one thing to do--"

"You might ask me how I came to fire that shot," Smoke interrupted.

"An' I might knock your teeth into your gullet if you butt in again.
You can answer them questions later on.  Now, boys, we're decent an'
law-abidin', an' we got to handle this right an' regular.  How far do
you reckon we've come, Pierre?"

"Twenty mile I t'ink for sure."

"All right.  We'll cache the outfit an' run him an' poor Joe back to
Two Cabins.  I reckon we've seen an' can testify to what'll stretch his
neck."



IV.

It was three hours after dark when the dead man, Smoke, and his captors
arrived at Two Cabins.  By the starlight, Smoke could make out a dozen
or more recently built cabins snuggling about a larger and older cabin
on a flat by the river bank.  Thrust inside this older cabin, he found
it tenanted by a young giant of a man, his wife, and an old blind man.
The woman, whom her husband called 'Lucy,' was herself a strapping
creature of the frontier type.  The old man, as Smoke learned
afterwards, had been a trapper on the Stewart for years, and had gone
finally blind the winter before. The camp of Two Cabins, he was also to
learn, had been made the previous fall by a dozen men who arrived in
half as many poling-boats loaded with provisions.  Here they had found
the blind trapper, on the site of Two Cabins, and about his cabin they
had built their own.  Later arrivals, mushing up the ice with
dog-teams, had tripled the population.  There was plenty of meat in
camp, and good low-pay dirt had been discovered and was being worked.

In five minutes, all the men of Two cabins were jammed into the room.
Smoke, shoved off into a corner, ignored and scowled at, his hands and
feet tied with thongs of moosehide, looked on.  Thirty-eight men he
counted, a wild and husky crew, all frontiersmen of the States or
voyageurs from Upper Canada.  His captors told the tale over and over,
each the centre of an excited and wrathful group. There were mutterings
of "Lynch him now--why wait?"  And, once, a big Irishman was restrained
only by force from rushing upon the helpless prisoner and giving him a
beating.

It was while counting the men that Smoke caught sight of a familiar
face.  It was Breck, the man whose boat Smoke had run through the
rapids.  He wondered why the other did not come and speak to him, but
himself gave no sign of recognition.  Later, when with shielded face
Breck passed him a significant wink, Smoke understood.

Blackbeard, whom Smoke heard called Eli Harding, ended the discussion
as to whether or not the prisoner should be immediately lynched.

"Hold on," Harding roared.  "Keep your shirts on.  That man belongs to
me.  I caught him an' I brought him here.  D'ye think I brought him all
the way here to be lynched?  Not on your life.  I could a-done that
myself when I found him.  I brought him here for a fair an' impartial
trial, an' by God, a fair an' impartial trial he's goin' to get.  He's
tied up safe an' sound.  Chuck him in a bunk till morning, an' we'll
hold the trial right here."



V.

Smoke woke up.  A draught, that possessed all the rigidity of an
icicle, was boring into the front of his shoulder as he lay on his side
facing the wall.  When he had been tied into the bunk there had been no
such draught, and now the outside air, driving into the heated
atmosphere of the cabin with the pressure of fifty below zero, was
sufficient advertizement that some one from without had pulled away the
moss-chinking between the logs.  He squirmed as far as his bonds would
permit, then craned his neck forward until his lips just managed to
reach the crack.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

"Breck," came the answer.  "Be careful you don't make a noise.  I'm
going to pass a knife in to you."

"No good," Smoke said.  "I couldn't use it.  My hands are tied behind
me and made fast to the leg of the bunk.  Besides, you couldn't get a
knife through that crack.  But something must be done.  Those fellows
are of a temper to hang me, and, of course, you know I didn't kill that
man."

"It wasn't necessary to mention it, Smoke.  And if you did you had your
reasons.  Which isn't the point at all.  I want to get you out of this.
It's a tough bunch of men here.  You've seen them. They're shut off
from the world, and they make and enforce their own law--by miner's
meeting, you know.  They handled two men already--both grub-thieves.
One they hiked from camp without an ounce of grub and no matches.  He
made about forty miles and lasted a couple of days before he froze
stiff.  Two weeks ago they hiked the second man.  They gave him his
choice:  no grub, or ten lashes for each day's ration.  He stood for
forty lashes before he fainted.  And now they've got you, and every
last one is convinced you killed Kinade."

"The man who killed Kinade, shot at me, too.  His bullet broke the skin
on my shoulder.  Get them to delay the trial till some one goes up and
searches the bank where the murderer hid."

"No use.  They take the evidence of Harding and the five Frenchmen with
him.  Besides, they haven't had a hanging yet, and they're keen for it.
You see, things have been pretty monotonous.  They haven't located
anything big, and they got tired of hunting for Surprise Lake.  They
did some stampeding the first part of the winter, but they've got over
that now.  Scurvy is beginning to show up amongst them, too, and
they're just ripe for excitement."

"And it looks like I'll furnish it," was Smoke's comment.  "Say, Breck,
how did you ever fall in with such a God-forsaken bunch?"

"After I got the claims at Squaw Creek opened up and some men to
working, I came up here by way of the Stewart, hunting for Two Cabins.
They'd beaten me to it, so I've been higher up the Stewart. Just got
back yesterday out of grub."

"Find anything?"

"Nothing much.  But I think I've got a hydraulic proposition that'll
work big when the country's opened up.  It's that, or a gold-dredger."

"Hold on," Smoke interrupted.  "Wait a minute.  Let me think."

He was very much aware of the snores of the sleepers as he pursued the
idea that had flashed into his mind.

"Say, Breck, have they opened up the meat-packs my dogs carried?"

"A couple.  I was watching.  They put them in Harding's cache."

"Did they find anything?"

"Meat."

"Good.  You've got to get into the brown canvas pack that's patched
with moosehide.  You'll find a few pounds of lumpy gold.  You've never
seen gold like it in the country, nor has anybody else. Here's what
you've got to do.  Listen."

A quarter of an hour later, fully instructed and complaining that his
toes were freezing, Breck went away.  Smoke, his own nose and one cheek
frosted by proximity to the chink, rubbed them against the blankets for
half an hour before the blaze and bite of the returning blood assured
him of the safety of his flesh.



VI.

"My mind's made up right now.  There ain't no doubt but what he killed
Kinade.  We heard the whole thing last night.  What's the good of goin'
over it again?  I vote guilty."

In such fashion, Smoke's trial began.  The speaker, a loose-jointed,
hard-rock man from Colorado, manifested irritation and disgust when
Harding set his suggestion aside, demanded the proceedings should be
regular, and nominated one, Shunk Wilson, for judge and chairman of the
meeting.  The population of Two Cabins constituted the jury, though,
after some discussion, the woman, Lucy, was denied the right to vote on
Smoke's guilt or innocence.

While this was going on, Smoke, jammed into a corner on a bunk,
overheard a whispered conversation between Breck and a miner.

"You haven't fifty pounds of flour you'll sell?" Breck queried.

"You ain't got the dust to pay the price I'm askin'," was the reply.

"I'll give you two hundred."

The man shook his head.

"Three hundred.  Three-fifty."

At four hundred, the man nodded, and said:  "Come on over to my cabin
an' weigh out the dust."

The two squeezed their way to the door, and slipped out.  After a few
minutes Breck returned alone.

Harding was testifying, when Smoke saw the door shoved open slightly,
and in the crack appear the face of the man who had sold the flour.  He
was grimacing and beckoning emphatically to one inside, who arose from
near the stove and started to work toward the door.

"Where are you goin', Sam?" Shunk Wilson demanded.

"I'll be back in a jiffy," Sam explained.  "I jes' got to go."

Smoke was permitted to question the witnesses, and he was in the middle
of the cross-examination of Harding, when from without came the whining
of dogs in harness, and the grind and churn of sled-runners.  Somebody
near the door peeped out.

"It's Sam an' his pardner an' a dog-team hell-bent down the trail for
Stewart River," the man reported.

Nobody spoke for a long half-minute, but men glanced significantly at
one another, and a general restlessness pervaded the packed room. Out
of the corner of his eye, Smoke caught a glimpse of Breck, Lucy, and
her husband whispering together.

"Come on, you," Shunk Wilson said gruffly to Smoke.  "Cut this
questionin' short.  We know what you're tryin' to prove--that the other
bank wasn't searched.  The witness admits it.  We admit it. It wasn't
necessary.  No tracks led to that bank.  The snow wasn't broke."

"There was a man on the other bank just the same," Smoke insisted.

"That's too thin for skatin', young man.  There ain't many of us on the
McQuestion, an' we got every man accounted for."

"Who was the man you hiked out of camp two weeks ago?" Smoke asked.

"Alonzo Miramar.  He was a Mexican.  What's that grub-thief got to do
with it?"

"Nothing, except that you haven't accounted for HIM, Mr Judge."

"He went down the river, not up."

"How do you know where he went?"

"Saw him start."

"And that's all you know of what became of him?"

"No, it ain't, young man.  I know, we all know, he had four day's grub
an' no gun to shoot meat with.  If he didn't make the settlement on the
Yukon he'd croaked long before this."

"I suppose you've got all the guns in this part of the country
accounted for, too," Smoke observed pointedly.

Shunk Wilson was angry.

"You'd think I was the prisoner the way you slam questions into me.
Come on with the next witness.  Where's French Louis?"

While French Louis was shoving forward, Lucy opened the door.

"Where you goin'?" Shunk Wilson shouted.

"I reckon I don't have to stay," she answered defiantly.  "I ain't got
no vote, an' besides my cabin's so jammed up I can't breathe."

In a few minutes her husband followed.  The closing of the door was the
first warning the judge received of it.

"Who was that?" he interrupted Pierre's narrative to ask.

"Bill Peabody," somebody spoke up.  "Said he wanted to ask his wife
something and was coming right back."

Instead of Bill, it was Lucy who re-entered, took off her furs, and
resumed her place by the stove.

"I reckon we don't need to hear the rest of the witnesses," was Shunk
Wilson's decision, when Pierre had finished.  "We know they only can
testify to the same facts we've already heard.  Say, Sorensen, you go
an' bring Bill Peabody back.  We'll be votin' a verdict pretty short.
Now, Stranger, you can get up an' say your say concernin' what
happened.  In the meantime we'll just be savin' delay by passin' around
the two rifles, the ammunition, an' the bullets that done the killin'."

Midway in his story of how he had arrived in that part of the country,
and at the point in his narrative where he described his own ambush and
how he had fled to the bank, Smoke was interrupted by the indignant
Shunk Wilson.

"Young man, what sense is there in you testifyin' that way?  You're
just takin' up valuable time.  Of course you got the right to lie to
save your neck, but we ain't goin' to stand for such foolishness. The
rifle, the ammunition, the bullet that killed Joe Kinade is against
you--What's that?  Open the door, somebody!"

The frost rushed in, taking form and substance in the heat of the room,
while through the open door came the whining of dogs that decreased
rapidly with distance.

"It's Sorensen an' Peabody," some one cried, "a-throwin' the whip into
the dawgs an' headin' down river!"

"Now, what the hell--!"  Shunk Wilson paused, with dropped jaw, and
glared at Lucy.  "I reckon you can explain, Mrs Peabody."

She tossed her head and compressed her lips, and Shunk Wilson's
wrathful and suspicious gaze passed on and rested on Breck.

"An' I reckon that new-comer you've ben chinning with could explain if
HE had a mind to."

Breck, now very uncomfortable, found all eyes centred on him.

"Sam was chewing the rag with him, too, before he hit out," some one
said.

"Look here, Mr Breck," Shunk Wilson continued.  "You've ben
interruptin' proceedings, and you got to explain the meanin' of it.
What was you chinnin' about?"

Breck cleared his throat timidly and replied.  "I was just trying to
buy some grub."

"What with?"

"Dust, of course."

"Where'd you get it?"

Breck did not answer.

"He's ben snoopin' around up the Stewart," a man volunteered.  "I run
across his camp a week ago when I was huntin'.  An' I want to tell you
he was almighty secretious about it."

"The dust didn't come from there," Breck said.  "That's only a
low-grade hydraulic proposition."

"Bring your poke here an' let's see your dust," Wilson commanded.

"I tell you it didn't come from there."

"Let's see it just the same."

Breck made as if to refuse, but all about him were menacing faces.
Reluctantly, he fumbled in his coat pocket.  In the act of drawing
forth a pepper can, it rattled against what was evidently a hard object.

"Fetch it all out!" Shunk Wilson thundered.

And out came the big nugget, first-size, yellow as no gold any onlooker
had ever seen.  Shunk Wilson gasped.  Half a dozen, catching one
glimpse, made a break for the door.  They reached it at the same
moment, and, with cursing and scuffling, jammed and pivoted through.
The judge emptied the contents of the pepper can on the table, and the
sight of the rough lump-gold sent half a dozen more toward the door.

"Where are you goin'?" Eli Harding asked, as Shunk started to follow.

"For my dogs, of course."

"Ain't you goin' to hang him?"

"It'd take too much time right now.  He'll keep till we get back, so I
reckon this court is adjourned.  This ain't no place for lingerin'."

Harding hesitated.  He glanced savagely at Smoke, saw Pierre beckoning
to Louis from the doorway, took one last look at the lump-gold on the
table, and decided.

"No use you tryin' to get away," he flung back over his shoulder.
"Besides, I'm goin' to borrow your dogs."

"What is it--another one of them blamed stampedes?" the old blind
trapper asked in a queer and petulant falsetto, as the cries of men and
dogs and the grind of the sleds swept the silence of the room.

"It sure is," Lucy answered.  "An' I never seen gold like it.  Feel
that, old man."

She put the big nugget in his hand.  He was but slightly interested.

"It was a good fur-country," he complained, "before them danged miners
come in an' scared back the game."

The door opened, and Breck entered.

"Well," he said, "we four are all that are left in camp.  It's forty
miles to the Stewart by the cut-off I broke, and the fastest of them
can't make the round trip in less than five or six days.  But it's time
you pulled out, Smoke, just the same."

Breck drew his hunting knife across the other's bonds, and glanced at
the woman.

"I hope you don't object?" he said, with significant politeness.

"If there's goin' to be any shootin'," the blind man broke out, "I wish
somebody'd take me to another cabin first."

"Go on, an' don't mind me," Lucy answered.  "If I ain't good enough to
hang a man, I ain't good enough to hold him."

Smoke stood up, rubbing his wrists where the thongs had impeded the
circulation.

"I've got a pack all ready for you," Breck said.  "Ten days' grub,
blankets, matches, tobacco, an axe, and a rifle."

"Go to it," Lucy encouraged.  "Hit the high places, Stranger.  Beat it
as fast as God'll let you."

"I'm going to have a square meal before I start," Smoke said.  "And
when I start it will be up the McQuestion, not down.  I want you to go
along with me, Breck.  We're going to search that other bank for the
man that really did the killing."

"If you'll listen to me, you'll head down for the Stewart and the
Yukon," Breck objected.  "When this gang gets back from my low-grade
hydraulic proposition, it will be seeing red."

Smoke laughed and shook his head.

"I can't jump this country, Breck.  I've got interests here.  I've got
to stay and make good.  I don't care whether you believe me or not, but
I've found Surprise Lake.  That's where that gold came from.  Besides,
they took my dogs, and I've got to wait to get them back.  Also, I know
what I'm about.  There was a man hidden on that bank.  He came pretty
close to emptying his magazine at me."

Half an hour afterward, with a big plate of moose-steak before him and
a big mug of coffee at his lips, Smoke half-started up from his seat.
He had heard the sounds first.  Lucy threw open the door.

"Hello, Spike; hello, Methody," she greeted the two frost-rimed men who
were bending over the burden on their sled.

"We just come down from Upper Camp," one said, as the pair staggered
into the room with a fur-wrapped object which they handled with
exceeding gentleness.  "An' this is what we found by the way.  He's all
in, I guess."

"Put him in the near bunk there," Lucy said.  She bent over and pulled
back the furs, disclosing a face composed principally of large,
staring, black eyes, and of skin, dark and scabbed by repeated
frost-bite, tightly stretched across the bones.

"If it ain't Alonzo!" she cried.  "You pore, starved devil!"

"That's the man on the other bank," Smoke said in an undertone to Breck.

"We found it raidin' a cache that Harding must a-made," one of the men
was explaining.  "He was eatin' raw flour an' frozen bacon, an' when we
got 'm he was cryin' an' squealin' like a hawk.  Look at him!  He's all
starved, an' most of him frozen.  He'll kick at any moment."

          .          .          .          .          .

Half an hour later, when the furs had been drawn over the face of the
still form in the bunk, Smoke turned to Lucy.

"If you don't mind, Mrs Peabody, I'll have another whack at that steak.
Make it thick and not so well done."



THE RACE FOR NUMBER ONE.



I.

"Huh!  Get on to the glad rags!"

Shorty surveyed his partner with simulated disapproval, and Smoke,
vainly attempting to rub the wrinkles out of the pair of trousers he
had just put on, was irritated.

"They sure fit you close for a second-hand buy," Shorty went on. "What
was the tax?"

"One hundred and fifty for the suit," Smoke answered.  "The man was
nearly my own size.  I thought it was remarkable reasonable.  What are
you kicking about?"

"Who?  Me?  Oh, nothin'.  I was just thinkin' it was goin' some for a
meat-eater that hit Dawson in an ice-jam, with no grub, one suit of
underclothes, a pair of mangy moccasins, an' overalls that looked like
they'd ben through the wreck of the Hesperus.  Pretty gay front,
pardner.  Pretty gay front.  Say--?"

"What do you want now?" Smoke demanded testily.

"What's her name?"

"There isn't any her, my friend.  I'm to have dinner at Colonel
Bowie's, if you want to know.  The trouble with you, Shorty, is you're
envious because I'm going into high society and you're not invited."

"Ain't you some late?" Shorty queried with concern.

"What do you mean?"

"For dinner.  They'll be eatin' supper when you get there."

Smoke was about to explain with elaborate sarcasm when he caught the
twinkle in the others' eyes.  He went on dressing, with fingers that
had lost their deftness, tying a Windsor tie in a bow-knot at the
throat of the soft cotton shirt.

"Wish I hadn't sent all my starched shirts to the laundry," Shorty
murmured sympathetically.  "I might a-fitted you out."

By this time Smoke was straining at a pair of shoes.  The thick woollen
socks were too thick to go into them.  He looked appealingly at Shorty,
who shook his head.

"Nope.  If I had thin ones I wouldn't lend 'em to you.  Back to the
moccasins, pardner.  You'd sure freeze your toes in skimpy-fangled gear
like that."

"I paid fifteen dollars for them, second-hand," Smoke lamented.

"I reckon they won't be a man not in moccasins."

"But there are to be women, Shorty.  I'm going to sit down and eat with
real live women--Mrs Bowie, and several others, so the Colonel told me."

"Well, moccasins won't spoil their appetite none," was Shorty's
comment.  "Wonder what the Colonel wants with you?"

"I don't know, unless he's heard about my finding Surprise Lake.  It
will take a fortune to drain it, and the Guggenheims are out for
investment."

"Reckon that's it.  That's right, stick to the moccasins.  Gee! That
coat is sure wrinkled, an' it fits you a mite too swift.  Just peck
around at your vittles.  If you eat hearty you'll bust through. And if
them women-folks gets to droppin' handkerchiefs, just let 'em lay.
Don't do any pickin' up.  Whatever you do, don't."



II.

As became a high-salaried expert and the representative of the great
house of Guggenheim, Colonel Bowie lived in one of the most magnificent
cabins in Dawson.  Of squared logs, hand-hewn, it was two stories high,
and of such extravagant proportions that it boasted a big living room
that was used for a living room and for nothing else.

Here were big bear-skins on the rough board floor, and on the walls
horns of moose and caribou.  Here roared an open fireplace and a big
wood-burning stove.  And here Smoke met the social elect of Dawson--not
the mere pick-handle millionaires, but the ultra-cream of a mining city
whose population had been recruited from all the world--men like
Warburton Jones, the explorer and writer, Captain Consadine of the
Mounted Police, Haskell, Gold Commissioner of the North-West Territory,
and Baron Von Schroeder, an emperor's favourite with an international
duelling reputation.

And here, dazzling in evening gown, he met Joy Gastell, whom hitherto
he had encountered only on trail, befurred and moccasined. At dinner he
found himself beside her.

"I feel like a fish out of water," he confessed.  "All you folks are so
real grand you know.  Besides I never dreamed such oriental luxury
existed in the Klondike.  Look at Von Schroeder there.  He's actually
got a dinner jacket, and Consadine's got a starched shirt. I noticed he
wore moccasins just the same.  How do you like MY outfit?"

He moved his shoulders about as if preening himself for Joy's approval.

"It looks as if you'd grown stout since you came over the Pass," she
laughed.

"Wrong.  Guess again."

"It's somebody else's."

"You win.  I bought it for a price from one of the clerks at the A. C.
Company."

"It's a shame clerks are so narrow-shouldered," she sympathized. "And
you haven't told me what you think of MY outfit."

"I can't," he said.  "I'm out of breath.  I've been living on trail too
long.  This sort of thing comes to me with a shock, you know. I'd quite
forgotten that women have arms and shoulders.  To-morrow morning, like
my friend Shorty, I'll wake up and know it's all a dream.  Now, the
last time I saw you on Squaw Creek--"

"I was just a squaw," she broke in.

"I hadn't intended to say that.  I was remembering that it was on Squaw
Creek that I discovered you had feet."

"And I can never forget that you saved them for me," she said. "I've
been wanting to see you ever since to thank you--"  (He shrugged his
shoulders deprecatingly).  "And that's why you are here to-night--"

"You asked the Colonel to invite me?"

"No!  Mrs Bowie.  And I asked her to let me have you at table.  And
here's my chance.  Everybody's talking.  Listen, and don't interrupt.
You know Mono Creek?"

"Yes."

"It has turned out rich--dreadfully rich.  They estimate the claims as
worth a million and more apiece.  It was only located the other day."

"I remember the stampede."

"Well, the whole creek was staked to the sky-line, and all the feeders,
too.  And yet, right now, on the main creek, Number Three below
Discovery is unrecorded.  The creek was so far away from Dawson that
the Commissioner allowed sixty days for recording after location.
Every claim was recorded except Number Three Below.  It was staked by
Cyrus Johnson.  And that was all.  Cyrus Johnson has disappeared.
Whether he died, whether he went down river or up, nobody knows.
Anyway, in six days, the time for recording will be up.  Then the man
who stakes it, and reaches Dawson first and records it, gets it."

"A million dollars," Smoke murmured.

"Gilchrist, who has the next claim below, has got six hundred dollars
in a single pan off bedrock.  He's burned one hole down. And the claim
on the other side is even richer.  I know."

"But why doesn't everybody know?" Smoke queried skeptically.

"They're beginning to know.  They kept it secret for a long time, and
it is only now that it's coming out.  Good dog-teams will be at a
premium in another twenty-four hours.  Now, you've got to get away as
decently as you can as soon as dinner is over.  I've arranged it. An
Indian will come with a message for you.  You read it, let on that
you're very much put out, make your excuses, and get away."

"I--er--I fail to follow."

"Ninny!" she exclaimed in a half-whisper.  "What you must do is to get
out to-night and hustle dog-teams.  I know of two.  There's Hanson's
team, seven big Hudson Bay dogs--he's holding them at four hundred
each.  That's top price to-night, but it won't be to-morrow. And Sitka
Charley has eight Malemutes he's asking thirty-five hundred for.
To-morrow he'll laugh at an offer of five thousand. Then you've got
your own team of dogs.  And you'll have to buy several more teams.
That's your work to-night.  Get the best.  It's dogs as well as men
that will win this race.  It's a hundred and ten miles, and you'll have
to relay as frequently as you can."

"Oh, I see, you want me to go in for it," Smoke drawled.

"If you haven't the money for the dogs, I'll--"

She faltered, but before she could continue, Smoke was speaking.

"I can buy the dogs.  But--er--aren't you afraid this is gambling?"

"After your exploits at roulette in the Elkhorn," she retorted, "I'm
not afraid that you're afraid.  It's a sporting proposition, if that's
what you mean.  A race for a million, and with some of the stiffest
dog-mushers and travellers in the country entered against you.  They
haven't entered yet, but by this time to-morrow they will, and dogs
will be worth what the richest man can afford to pay. Big Olaf is in
town.  He came up from Circle City last month.  He is one of the most
terrible dog-mushers in the country, and if he enters he will be your
most dangerous man.  Arizona Bill is another. He's been a professional
freighter and mail-carrier for years.  It he goes in, interest will be
centred on him and Big Olaf."

"And you intend me to come along as a sort of dark horse."

"Exactly.  And it will have its advantages.  You will not be supposed
to stand a show.  After all, you know, you are still classed as a
chechaquo.  You haven't seen the four seasons go around.  Nobody will
take notice of you until you come into the home stretch in the lead."

"It's on the home stretch the dark horse is to show up its classy form,
eh?"

She nodded, and continued earnestly.  "Remember, I shall never forgive
myself for the trick I played on the Squaw Creek Stampede until you win
this Mono claim.  And if any man can win this race against the
old-timers, it's you."

It was the way she said it.  He felt warm all over, and in his heart
and head.  He gave her a quick, searching look, involuntary and
serious, and for the moment that her eyes met his steadily, ere they
fell, it seemed to him that he read something of vaster import than the
claim Cyrus Johnson had failed to record.

"I'll do it," he said.  "I'll win it."

The glad light in her eyes seemed to promise a greater need than all
the gold in the Mono claim.  He was aware of a movement of her hand in
her lap next to his.  Under the screen of the tablecloth he thrust his
own hand across and met a firm grip of woman's fingers that sent
another wave of warmth through him.

"What will Shorty say?" was the thought that flashed whimsically
through his mind as he withdrew his hand.  He glanced almost jealously
at the faces of Von Schroeder and Jones, and wondered if they had not
divined the remarkableness and deliciousness of this woman who sat
beside him.

He was aroused by her voice, and realized that she had been speaking
some moments.

"So you see, Arizona Bill is a white Indian," she was saying.  "And Big
Olaf is--a bear wrestler, a king of the snows, a mighty savage. He can
out-travel and out-endure an Indian, and he's never known any other
life but that of the wild and the frost."

"Who's that?" Captain Consadine broke in from across the table.

"Big Olaf," she answered.  "I was just telling Mr Bellew what a
traveller he is."

"You're right," the Captain's voice boomed.  "Big Olaf is the greatest
traveller in the Yukon.  I'd back him against Old Nick himself for
snow-bucking and ice-travel.  He brought in the government dispatches
in 1895, and he did it after two couriers were frozen on Chilcoot and
the third drowned in the open water of Thirty Mile."



III.

Smoke had travelled in a leisurely fashion up to Mono Creek, fearing to
tire his dogs before the big race.  Also, he had familiarized himself
with every mile of the trail and located his relay camps. So many men
had entered the race, that the hundred and ten miles of its course was
almost a continuous village.  Relay camps were everywhere along the
trail.  Von Schroeder, who had gone in purely for the sport, had no
less than eleven dog teams--a fresh one for every ten miles.  Arizona
Bill had been forced to content himself with eight teams.  Big Olaf had
seven, which was the complement of Smoke.  In addition, over two-score
of other men were in the running.  Not every day, even in the golden
north, was a million dollars the prize for a dog race.  The country had
been swept of dogs.  No animal of speed and endurance escaped the
fine-tooth comb that had raked the creeks and camps, and the prices of
dogs had doubled and quadrupled in the course of the frantic
speculation.

Number Three Below Discovery was ten miles up Mono Creek from its
mouth.  The remaining hundred miles was to be run on the frozen breast
of the Yukon.  On Number Three itself were fifty tents and over three
hundred dogs.  The old stakes, blazed and scrawled sixty days before by
Cyrus Johnson, still stood, and every man had gone over the boundaries
of the claim again and again, for the race with dogs was to be preceded
by a foot and obstacle race.  Each man had to re-locate the claim for
himself, and this meant that he must place two centre-stakes and four
corner-stakes and cross the creek twice, before he could start for
Dawson with his dogs.

Furthermore, there were to be no 'sooners.'  Not until the stroke of
midnight of Friday night was the claim open for re-location, and not
until the stroke of midnight could a man plant a stake.  This was the
ruling of the Gold Commissioner at Dawson, and Captain Consadine had
sent up a squad of mounted police to enforce it.  Discussion had arisen
about the difference between sun-time and police-time, but Consadine
had sent forth his fiat that police time went, and, further, that it
was the watch of Lieutenant Pollock that went.

The Mono trail ran along the level creek-bed, and, less than two feet
in width, was like a groove, walled on either side by the snow-fall of
months.  The problem of how forty-odd sleds and three hundred dogs were
to start in so narrow a course was in everybody's mind.

"Huh!" said Shorty.  "It's goin' to be the gosh-dangdest mix-up that
ever was.  I can't see no way out, Smoke, except main strength an'
sweat an' to plow through.  If the whole creek was glare-ice they ain't
room for a dozen teams abreast.  I got a hunch right now they's goin'
to be a heap of scrappin' before they get strung out. An' if any of it
comes our way you got to let me do the punchin'."

Smoke squared his shoulders and laughed non-committally.

"No you don't!" his partner cried in alarm.  "No matter what happens,
you don't dast hit.  You can't handle dogs a hundred miles with a
busted knuckle, an' that's what'll happen if you land on somebody's
jaw."

Smoke nodded his head.

"You're right, Shorty.  I couldn't risk the chance."

"An' just remember," Shorty went on, "that I got to do all the shovin'
for them first ten miles an' you got to take it easy as you can.  I'll
sure jerk you through to the Yukon.  After that it's up to you an' the
dogs.  Say--what d'ye think Schroeder's scheme is? He's got his first
team a quarter of a mile down the creek an' he'll know it by a green
lantern.  But we got him skinned.  Me for the red flare every time."



IV.

The day had been clear and cold, but a blanket of cloud formed across
the face of the sky and the night came on warm and dark, with the hint
of snow impending.  The thermometer registered fifteen below zero, and
in the Klondike-winter fifteen below is esteemed very warm.

At a few minutes before midnight, leaving Shorty with the dogs five
hundred yards down the creek, Smoke joined the racers on Number Three.
There were forty-five of them waiting the start for the
thousand-thousand dollars Cyrus Johnson had left lying in the frozen
gravel.  Each man carried six stakes and a heavy wooden mallet, and was
clad in a smock-like parka of heavy cotton drill.

Lieutenant Pollock, in a big bearskin coat, looked at his watch by the
light of a fire.  It lacked a minute of midnight.

"Make ready," he said, as he raised a revolver in his right hand and
watched the second hand tick around.

Forty-five hoods were thrown back from the parkas.  Forty-five pairs of
hands unmittened, and forty-five pairs of moccasins pressed tensely
into the packed snow.  Also, forty-five stakes were thrust into the
snow, and the same number of mallets lifted in the air.

The shots rang out, and the mallets fell.  Cyrus Johnson's right to the
million had expired.  To prevent confusion, Lieutenant Pollock had
insisted that the lower centre-stake be driven first, next the
south-eastern; and so on around the four sides, including the upper
centre-stake on the way.

Smoke drove in his stake and was away with the leading dozen.  Fires
had been lighted at the corners, and by each fire stood a policeman,
list in hand, checking off the names of the runners.  A man was
supposed to call out his name and show his face.  There was to be no
staking by proxy while the real racer was off and away down the creek.

At the first corner, beside Smoke's stake, Von Schroeder placed his.
The mallets struck at the same instant.  As they hammered, more arrived
from behind and with such impetuosity as to get in one another's way
and cause jostling and shoving.  Squirming through the press and
calling his name to the policeman, Smoke saw the Baron, struck in
collision by one of the rushers, hurled clean off his feet into the
snow.  But Smoke did not wait.  Others were still ahead of him.  By the
light of the vanishing fire he was certain that he saw the back, hugely
looming, of Big Olaf, and at the south-western corner Big Olaf and he
drove their stakes side by side.

It was no light work, this preliminary obstacle race.  The boundaries
of the claim totalled nearly a mile, and most of it was over the uneven
surface of a snow-covered, niggerhead flat.  All about Smoke men
tripped and fell, and several times he pitched forward himself,
jarringly, on hands and knees.  Once, Big Olaf fell so immediately in
front of him as to bring him down on top.

The upper centre-stake was driven by the edge of the bank, and down the
bank the racers plunged, across the frozen creek-bed, and up the other
side.  Here, as Smoke clambered, a hand gripped his ankle and jerked
him back.  In the flickering light of a distant fire, it was impossible
to see who had played the trick.  But Arizona Bill, who had been
treated similarly, rose to his feet and drove his fist with a crunch
into the offender's face.  Smoke saw and heard as he was scrambling to
his feet, but before he could make another lunge for the bank a fist
dropped him half-stunned into the snow.  He staggered up, located the
man, half-swung a hook for his jaw, then remembered Shorty's warning
and refrained.  The next moment, struck below the knees by a hurtling
body, he went down again.

It was a foretaste of what would happen when the men reached their
sleds.  Men were pouring over the other bank and piling into the jam.
They swarmed up the bank in bunches, and in bunches were dragged back
by their impatient fellows.  More blows were struck, curses rose from
the panting chests of those who still had wind to spare, and Smoke,
curiously visioning the face of Joy Gastell, hoped that the mallets
would not be brought into play.  Overthrown, trod upon, groping in the
snow for his lost stakes, he at last crawled out of the crush and
attacked the bank farther along.  Others were doing this, and it was
his luck to have many men in advance of him in the race for the
northwestern corner.

Down to the fourth corner, he tripped midway and in the long sprawling
fall lost his remaining stake.  For five minutes he groped in the
darkness before he found it, and all the time the panting runners were
passing him.  From the last corner to the creek he began overtaking men
for whom the mile-run had been too much.  In the creek itself Bedlam
had broken loose.  A dozen sleds were piled up and overturned, and
nearly a hundred dogs were locked in combat. Among them men struggled,
tearing the tangled animals apart, or beating them apart with clubs.
In the fleeting glimpse he caught of it, Smoke wondered if he had ever
seen a Dore grotesquery to compare.

Leaping down the bank beyond the glutted passage, he gained the
hard-footing of the sled-trail and made better time.  Here, in packed
harbours beside the narrow trail, sleds and men waited for runners that
were still behind.  From the rear came the whine and rush of dogs, and
Smoke had barely time to leap aside into the deep snow.  A sled tore
past, and he made out the man, kneeling and shouting madly.  Scarcely
was it by when it stopped with a crash of battle.  The excited dogs of
a harboured sled, resenting the passing animals, had got out of hand
and sprung upon them.

Smoke plunged around and by.  He could see the green lantern of Von
Schroeder, and, just below it, the red flare that marked his own team.
Two men were guarding Schroeder's dogs, with short clubs interposed
between them and the trail.

"Come on, you Smoke!  Come on, you Smoke!" he could hear Shorty calling
anxiously.

"Coming!" he gasped.

By the red flare he could see the snow torn up and trampled, and from
the way his partner breathed he knew a battle had been fought. He
staggered to the sled, and, in a moment he was falling on it, Shorty's
whip snapped as he yelled:  "Mush! you devils!  Mush!"

The dogs sprang into the breast-bands, and the sled jerked abruptly
ahead.  They were big animals--Hanson's prize team of Hudson Bays--and
Smoke had selected them for the first stage, which included the ten
miles of Mono, the heavy-going of the cut-off across the flat at the
mouth, and the first ten miles of the Yukon stretch.

"How many are ahead?" he asked.

"You shut up an' save your wind," Shorty answered.  "Hi! you brutes!
Hit her up!  Hit her up!"

He was running behind the sled, towing on a short rope.  Smoke could
not see him; nor could he see the sled on which he lay at full length.
The fires had been left in the rear, and they were tearing through a
wall of blackness as fast as the dogs could spring into it.  This
blackness was almost sticky, so nearly did it take on the seeming of
substance.

Smoke felt the sled heel up on one runner as it rounded an invisible
curve, and from ahead came the snarls of beasts and the oaths of men.
This was known afterward as the Barnes-Slocum Jam.  It was the teams of
these two men which first collided, and into it, at full career, piled
Smoke's seven big fighters.  Scarcely more than semi-domesticated
wolves, the excitement of that night on Mono Creek had sent every dog
fighting-mad.  The Klondike dogs, driven without reins, cannot be
stopped except by voice, so that there was no stopping this glut of
struggle that heaped itself between the narrow rims of the creek.  From
behind, sled after sled hurled into the turmoil.  Men who had their
teams nearly extricated were overwhelmed by fresh avalanches of
dogs--each animal well-fed, well-rested, and ripe for battle.

"It's knock down an' drag out an' plow through!" Shorty yelled in his
partner's ear.  "An' watch out for your knuckles!  You drag out an' let
me do the punchin'!"

What happened in the next half hour Smoke never distinctly remembered.
At the end he emerged exhausted, sobbing for breath, his jaw sore from
a first-blow, his shoulder aching from the bruise of a club, the blood
running warmly down one leg from the rip of a dog's fangs, and both
sleeves of his parka torn to shreds.  As in a dream, while the battle
still raged behind, he helped Shorty reharness the dogs.  One, dying,
they cut from the traces, and in the darkness they felt their way to
the repair of the disrupted harnesses.

"Now you lie down an' get your wind back," Shorty commanded.

And through the darkness the dogs sped, with unabated strength, down
Mono Creek, across the long cut-off, and to the Yukon.  Here, at the
junction with the main river-trail, somebody had lighted a fire, and
here Shorty said good bye.  By the light of the fire, as the sled
leaped behind the flying dogs, Smoke caught another of the
unforgettable pictures of the North Land.  It was of Shorty, swaying
and sinking down limply in the snow, yelling his parting encouragement,
one eye blackened and closed, knuckles bruised and broken, and one arm,
ripped and fang-torn, gushing forth a steady stream of blood.



V.

"How many ahead?" Smoke asked, as he dropped his tired Hudson Bays and
sprang on the waiting sled at the first relay station.

"I counted eleven," the man called after him, for he was already away
behind the leaping dogs.

Fifteen miles they were to carry him on the next stage, which would
fetch him to the mouth of White River.  There were nine of them, but
they composed his weakest team.  The twenty-five miles between White
River and Sixty Mile he had broken into two stages because of ice-jams,
and here two of his heaviest, toughest teams were stationed.

He lay on the sled at full length, face-down, holding on with both
hands.  Whenever the dogs slacked from topmost speed he rose to his
knees, and, yelling and urging, clinging precariously with one hand,
threw his whip into them.  Poor team that it was, he passed two sleds
before White River was reached.  Here, at the freeze-up, a jam had
piled a barrier allowing the open water, that formed for half a mile
below, to freeze smoothly.  This smooth stretch enabled the racers to
make flying exchanges of sleds, and down all the course they had placed
their relays below the jams.

Over the jam and out on to the smooth, Smoke tore along, calling
loudly, "Billy!  Billy!"

Billy heard and answered, and by the light of the many fires on the
ice, Smoke saw a sled swing in from the side and come abreast.  Its
dogs were fresh and overhauled his.  As the sleds swerved toward each
other he leaped across and Billy promptly rolled off.

"Where's Big Olaf?" Smoke cried.

"Leading!" Billy's voice answered; and the fires were left behind and
Smoke was again flying through the wall of blackness.

In the jams of that relay, where the way led across a chaos of up-ended
ice-cakes, and where Smoke slipped off the forward end of the sled and
with a haul-rope toiled behind the wheel-dog, he passed three sleds.
Accidents had happened, and he could hear the men cutting out dogs and
mending harnesses.

Among the jams of the next short relay into Sixty Mile, he passed two
more teams.  And that he might know adequately what had happened to
them, one of his own dogs wrenched a shoulder, was unable to keep up,
and was dragged in the harness.  Its team-mates, angered, fell upon it
with their fangs, and Smoke was forced to club them off with the heavy
butt of his whip.  As he cut the injured animal out, he heard the
whining cries of dogs behind him and the voice of a man that was
familiar.  It was Von Schroeder.  Smoke called a warning to prevent a
rear-end collision, and the Baron, hawing his animals and swinging on
the gee-pole, went by a dozen feet to the side.  Yet so impenetrable
was the blackness that Smoke heard him pass but never saw him.

On the smooth stretch of ice beside the trading post at Sixty Mile,
Smoke overtook two more sleds.  All had just changed teams, and for
five minutes they ran abreast, each man on his knees and pouring whip
and voice into the maddened dogs.  But Smoke had studied out that
portion of the trail, and now marked the tall pine on the bank that
showed faintly in the light of the many fires.  Below that pine was not
merely darkness, but an abrupt cessation of the smooth stretch.  There
the trail, he knew, narrowed to a single sled-width. Leaning out ahead,
he caught the haul-rope and drew his leaping sled up to the wheel-dog.
He caught the animal by the hind-legs and threw it.  With a snarl of
rage it tried to slash him with its fangs, but was dragged on by the
rest of the team.  Its body proved an efficient brake, and the two
other teams, still abreast, dashed ahead into the darkness for the
narrow way.

Smoke heard the crash and uproar of their collision, released his
wheeler, sprang to the gee-pole, and urged his team to the right into
the soft snow where the straining animals wallowed to their necks.  It
was exhausting work, but he won by the tangled teams and gained the
hard-packed trail beyond.



VI.

On the relay out of Sixty Mile, Smoke had next to his poorest team, and
though the going was good, he had set it a short fifteen miles. Two
more teams would bring him in to Dawson and to the Gold-Recorder's
office, and Smoke had selected his best animals for the last two
stretches.  Sitka Charley himself waited with the eight Malemutes that
would jerk Smoke along for twenty miles, and for the finish, with a
fifteen-mile run, was his own team--the team he had had all winter and
which had been with him in the search for Surprise Lake.

The two men he had left entangled at Sixty Mile failed to overtake him,
and, on the other hand, his team failed to overtake any of the three
that still led.  His animals were willing, though they lacked stamina
and speed, and little urging was needed to keep them jumping into it at
their best.  There was nothing for Smoke to do but to lie face-downward
and hold on.  Now and again he would plunge out of the darkness into
the circle of light about a blazing fire, catch a glimpse of furred men
standing by harnessed and waiting dogs, and plunge into the darkness
again.  Mile after mile, with only the grind and jar of the runners in
his ears, he sped on.  Almost automatically he kept his place as the
sled bumped ahead or half-lifted and heeled on the swings and swerves
of the bends.  First one, and then another, without apparent rhyme or
reason, three faces limned themselves on his consciousness:  Joy
Gastell's, laughing and audacious; Shorty's, battered and exhausted by
the struggle down Mono Creek; and John Bellew's, seamed and rigid, as
if cast in iron, so unrelenting was its severity.  And sometimes Smoke
wanted to shout aloud, to chant a paean of savage exultation, as he
remembered the office of the Billow and the serial story of San
Francisco which he had left unfinished, along with the other fripperies
of those empty days.

The grey twilight of morning was breaking as he exchanged his weary
dogs for the eight fresh Malemutes.  Lighter animals than Hudson Bays,
they were capable of greater speed, and they ran with the supple
tirelessness of true wolves.  Sitka Charley called out the order of the
teams ahead.  Big Olaf led, Arizona Bill was second, and Von Schroeder
third.  These were the three best men in the country.  In fact, ere
Smoke had left Dawson, the popular betting had placed them in that
order.  While they were racing for a million, at least half a million
had been staked by others on the outcome of the race.  No one had bet
on Smoke, who, despite his several known exploits, was still accounted
a chechaquo with much to learn.

As daylight strengthened, Smoke caught sight of a sled ahead, and, in
half an hour, his own lead-dog was leaping at its tail.  Not until the
man turned his head to exchange greetings, did Smoke recognize him as
Arizona Bill.  Von Schroeder had evidently passed him.  The trail,
hard-packed, ran too narrowly through the soft snow, and for another
half-hour Smoke was forced to stay in the rear.  Then they topped an
ice-jam and struck a smooth stretch below, where were a number of relay
camps and where the snow was packed widely.  On his knees, swinging his
whip and yelling, Smoke drew abreast.  He noted that Arizona Bill's
right arm hung dead at his side, and that he was compelled to pour
leather with his left hand.  Awkward as it was, he had no hand left
with which to hold on, and frequently he had to cease from the whip and
clutch to save himself from falling off.  Smoke remembered the
scrimmage in the creek bed at Three Below Discovery, and understood.
Shorty's advice had been sound.

"What's happened?" Smoke asked, as he began to pull ahead.

"I don't know," Arizona Bill answered.  "I think I threw my shoulder
out in the scrapping."

He dropped behind very slowly, though when the last relay station was
in sight he was fully half a mile in the rear.  Ahead, bunched
together, Smoke could see Big Olaf and Von Schroeder.  Again Smoke
arose to his knees, and he lifted his jaded dogs into a burst of speed
such as a man only can who has the proper instinct for dog-driving.  He
drew up close to the tail of Von Schroeder's sled, and in this order
the three sleds dashed out on the smooth going, below a jam, where many
men and many dogs waited.  Dawson was fifteen miles away.

Von Schroeder, with his ten-mile relays, had changed five miles back,
and would change five miles ahead.  So he held on, keeping his dogs at
full leap.  Big Olaf and Smoke made flying changes, and their fresh
teams immediately regained what had been lost to the Baron.  Big Olaf
led past, and Smoke followed into the narrow trail beyond.

"Still good, but not so good," Smoke paraphrased Spencer to himself.

Of Von Schroeder, now behind, he had no fear; but ahead was the
greatest dog-driver in the country.  To pass him seemed impossible.
Again and again, many times, Smoke forced his leader to the other's
sled-trail, and each time Big Olaf let out another link and drew away.
Smoke contented himself with taking the pace, and hung on grimly.  The
race was not lost until one or the other won, and in fifteen miles many
things could happen.

Three miles from Dawson something did happen.  To Smoke's surprise, Big
Olaf rose up and with oaths and leather proceeded to fetch out the last
ounce of effort in his animals.  It was a spurt that should have been
reserved for the last hundred yards instead of being begun three miles
from the finish.  Sheer dog-killing that it was, Smoke followed.  His
own team was superb.  No dogs on the Yukon had had harder work or were
in better condition.  Besides, Smoke had toiled with them, and eaten
and bedded with them, and he knew each dog as an individual, and how
best to win in to the animal's intelligence and extract its last least
shred of willingness.

They topped a small jam and struck the smooth-going below.  Big Olaf
was barely fifty feet ahead.  A sled shot out from the side and drew in
toward him, and Smoke understood Big Olaf's terrific spurt.  He had
tried to gain a lead for the change.  This fresh team that waited to
jerk him down the home stretch had been a private surprise of his.
Even the men who had backed him to win had had no knowledge of it.

Smoke strove desperately to pass during the exchange of sleds. Lifting
his dogs to the effort, he ate up the intervening fifty feet.  With
urging and pouring of leather, he went to the side and on until his
lead-dog was jumping abreast of Big Olaf's wheeler.  On the other side,
abreast, was the relay sled.  At the speed they were going, Big Olaf
did not dare the flying leap.  If he missed and fell off, Smoke would
be in the lead and the race would be lost.

Big Olaf tried to spurt ahead, and he lifted his dogs magnificently,
but Smoke's leader still continued to jump beside Big Olaf's wheeler.
For half a mile the three sleds tore and bounced along side by side.
The smooth stretch was nearing its end when Big Olaf took the chance.
As the flying sleds swerved toward each other, he leaped, and the
instant he struck he was on his knees, with whip and voice spurting the
fresh team.  The smooth pinched out into the narrow trail, and he
jumped his dogs ahead and into it with a lead of barely a yard.

A man was not beaten until he was beaten, was Smoke's conclusion, and
drive no matter how, Big Olaf failed to shake him off.  No team Smoke
had driven that night could have stood such a killing pace and kept up
with fresh dogs--no team save this one.  Nevertheless, the pace WAS
killing it, and as they began to round the bluff at Klondike City, he
could feel the pitch of strength going out of his animals.  Almost
imperceptibly they lagged, and foot by foot Big Olaf drew away until he
led by a score of yards.

A great cheer went up from the population of Klondike City assembled on
the ice.  Here the Klondike entered the Yukon, and half a mile away,
across the Klondike, on the north bank, stood Dawson.  An outburst of
madder cheering arose, and Smoke caught a glimpse of a sled shooting
out to him.  He recognized the splendid animals that drew it.  They
were Joy Gastell's.  And Joy Gastell drove them.  The hood of her
squirrel-skin parka was tossed back, revealing the cameo-like oval of
her face outlined against her heavily-massed hair.  Mittens had been
discarded, and with bare hands she clung to whip and sled.

"Jump!" she cried, as her leader snarled at Smoke's.

Smoke struck the sled behind her.  It rocked violently from the impact
of his body, but she was full up on her knees and swinging the whip.

"Hi!  You!  Mush on!  Chook!  Chook!" she was crying, and the dogs
whined and yelped in eagerness of desire and effort to overtake Big
Olaf.

And then, as the lead-dog caught the tail of Big Olaf's sled, and yard
by yard drew up abreast, the great crowd on the Dawson bank went mad.
It WAS a great crowd, for the men had dropped their tools on all the
creeks and come down to see the outcome of the race, and a dead heat at
the end of a hundred and ten miles justified any madness.

"When you're in the lead I'm going to drop off!" Joy cried out over her
shoulder.

Smoke tried to protest.

"And watch out for the dip curve half way up the bank," she warned.

Dog by dog, separated by half a dozen feet, the two teams were running
abreast.  Big Olaf, with whip and voice, held his own for a minute.
Then, slowly, an inch at a time, Joy's leader began to forge past.

"Get ready!" she cried to Smoke.  "I'm going to leave you in a minute.
Get the whip."

And as he shifted his hand to clutch the whip, they heard Big Olaf roar
a warning, but too late.  His lead-dog, incensed at being passed,
swerved in to the attack.  His fangs struck Joy's leader on the flank.
The rival teams flew at one another's throats.  The sleds overran the
fighting brutes and capsized.  Smoke struggled to his feet and tried to
lift Joy up.  But she thrust him from her, crying:  "Go!"

On foot, already fifty feet in advance, was Big Olaf, still intent on
finishing the race.  Smoke obeyed, and when the two men reached the
foot of the Dawson bank, he was at the others heels.  But up the bank
Big Olaf lifted his body hugely, regaining a dozen feet.

Five blocks down the main street was the Gold Recorder's office. The
street was packed as for the witnessing of a parade.  Not so easily
this time did Smoke gain to his giant rival, and when he did he was
unable to pass.  Side by side they ran along the narrow aisle between
the solid walls of fur-clad, cheering men.  Now one, now the other,
with great convulsive jerks, gained an inch or so only to lose it
immediately after.

If the pace had been a killing one for their dogs, the one they now set
themselves was no less so.  But they were racing for a million dollars
and great honour in Yukon Country.  The only outside impression that
came to Smoke on that last mad stretch was one of astonishment that
there should be so many people in the Klondike. He had never seen them
all at once before.

He felt himself involuntarily lag, and Big Olaf sprang a full stride in
the lead.  To Smoke it seemed that his heart would burst, while he had
lost all consciousness of his legs.  He knew they were flying under
him, but he did not know how he continued to make them fly, nor how he
put even greater pressure of will upon them and compelled them again to
carry him to his giant competitor's side.

The open door of the Recorder's office appeared ahead of them.  Both
men made a final, futile spurt.  Neither could draw away from the
other, and side by side they hit the doorway, collided violently, and
fell headlong on the office floor.

They sat up, but were too exhausted to rise.  Big Olaf, the sweat
pouring from him, breathing with tremendous, painful gasps, pawed the
air and vainly tried to speak.  Then he reached out his hand with
unmistakable meaning; Smoke extended his, and they shook.

"It's a dead heat," Smoke could hear the Recorder saying, but it was as
if in a dream, and the voice was very thin and very far away. "And all
I can say is that you both win.  You'll have to divide the claim
between you.  You're partners."

Their two arms pumped up and down as they ratified the decision. Big
Olaf nodded his head with great emphasis, and spluttered.  At last he
got it out.

"You damn chechaquo," was what he said, but in the saying of it was
admiration.  "I don't know how you done it, but you did."

Outside the great crowd was noisily massed, while the office was
packing and jamming.  Smoke and Big Olaf essayed to rise, and each
helped the other to his feet.  Smoke found his legs weak under him, and
staggered drunkenly.  Big Olaf tottered toward him.

"I'm sorry my dogs jumped yours."

"It couldn't be helped," Smoke panted back.  "I heard you yell."

"Say," Big Olaf went on with shining eyes.  "That girl--one damn fine
girl, eh?"

"One damn fine girl," Smoke agreed.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Smoke Bellew" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home