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Title: Gold, Gold, in Cariboo! - A Story of Adventure in British Columbia
Author: Phillipps-Wolley, Clive
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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"GOLD, GOLD, IN CARIBOO!"


[Illustration: CORBETT SEIZES HIS ONE CHANCE FOR LIFE.]


GOLD, GOLD, IN CARIBOO!

A Story of Adventure in British Columbia

by

CLIVE PHILLIPPS-WOLLEY

Author of "Snap" "A Sportsman's Eden" &c.

Illustrated by Godfrey C. Hindley

New Edition



Blackie and Son Limited
London Glasgow and Dublin
1903



CONTENTS.

CHAP.                                       Page
     I. THE GOLD FEVER,                        9

    II. A "GILT-EDGED" SPECULATION,           23

   III. A LITTLE GAME OF POKER,               33

    IV. THE MOTHER OF GOLD,                   41

     V. "IS THE COLONEL 'STRAIGHT?'"          52

    VI. THE WET CAMP,                         64

   VII. FACING DEATH ON THE STONE-SLIDE,      73

  VIII. THEIR FIRST "COLOURS,"                82

    IX. UNDER THE BALM-OF-GILEAD TREE,        89

     X. THE SHADOWS BEGIN TO FALL,            97

    XI. "JUMP OR I'LL SHOOT,"                107

   XII. A SHEER SWINDLE,                     117

  XIII. THE BULLET'S MESSAGE,                125

   XIV. WHAT THE WOLF FOUND,                 132

    XV. IN THE DANCE-HOUSE,                  144

   XVI. THE PRICE OF BLOOD,                  153

  XVII. CHANCE'S GOLD-FEVER RETURNS,         162

 XVIII. ON THE COLONEL'S TRAIL AGAIN,        170

   XIX. "GOOD-BYE, LILLA,"                   177

    XX. THE ACCURSED RIVER,                  184

   XXI. PETE'S CREEK,                        192

  XXII. GOLD BY THE GALLON!                  203

 XXIII. THE HORNET'S NEST,                   211

  XXIV. DROWNING IN THE FOREST,              222

   XXV. IN THE CAMP OF THE CHILCOTINS,       234

  XXVI. RAMPIKE'S WINTER QUARTERS,           243

 XXVII. THE SEARCH FOR PHON,                 250

XXVIII. THE KING OF THE BIG-HORNS,           258

  XXIX. PHON'S RETURN,                       266

   XXX. CRUICKSHANK AT LAST!                 276



ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                       Page
CORBETT SEIZES HIS ONE CHANCE FOR LIFE       _Frontis._  80

"WITH A SCREAM OF FEAR THE CHINAMAN SPRANG OUT"         116

LILLA ACCOSTS THE COLONEL IN THE DANCE-HOUSE            146

"GOLD--GOLD IN FLAKES, AND LUMPS, AND NUGGETS"          210



CHAPTER I.

THE GOLD FEVER.


In the April of 1862, Victoria, British Columbia, was slowly recovering
from what her inhabitants described as a serious "set back."

From the position of a small Hudson Bay station she had suddenly risen
in '58 to the importance of a city of 17,000 inhabitants, from which
high estate she had fallen again with such rapidity, that in 1861 there
were only 5000 left in her to mourn the golden days of the "Frazer River
humbug."

In '48 the gold fever broke out in California, and for ten years, in the
words of an eye-witness, 50,000 adventurers of every hue, language, and
clime were drifting up and down the slopes of the Great Sierra, in
search of gold, ready to rush this way or that at the first rumour of a
fresh find.

In '58 California's neighbour, British Columbia, took the fever. The cry
of "Gold, gold!" was raised upon the Frazer, and the wharves of San
Francisco groaned beneath the burden of those who sought to take ship
for this fresh Eldorado.

In a year most of these pilgrims had returned from the new shrine,
poorer by one year of their short lives, beaten back by the grim canyons
of the Frazer river, or cheated of their reward by those late floods,
which kept the golden sands hidden from their view. In '58 and '59 the
miner cursed Victoria as a city of hopes unfulfilled, and left her to
dream on undisturbed of the greater days to come.

She looked as if, on this April day of '62, her dreams were of the
fairest. The air, saturated with spring sunshine, was almost too soft
and sweet to be wholesome for man. There was a languor in it which
dulled the appetite for work; merely to live was happiness enough;
effort seemed folly, and if a man could have been found with energy
enough to pray, he would have prayed only that no change might come to
him, that the gleam of the blue waters of the straits and the diamond
brightness of the distant snow-peaks might remain his for ever, balanced
by the soft green of the island pine-woods: that the hollow drumming of
the mating grouse and the song of the meadow lark, and the hum of waking
nature might continue to caress his ear, while only the scent of the
fresh-sawn lumber suggested to him that labour was the lot of man.

And yet, in spite of this seeming dreaminess in nature, the old earth
was busy fashioning new things out of the old, and the hearts of men all
along the Pacific slope were waking and thrilling in answer to the new
message of Mammon--"Gold! gold by the ton, to be had for the gathering
in Cariboo!" The reports which had come down from Quesnel, of the
fortunes made in '61 upon such creeks as Antler and Williams, had
restored heart to the Victorians, and even to those Californian miners
who still sojourned in their midst, so that quite half the people in the
town, old residents as well as new-comers, were only waiting for the
snows to melt, ere they rushed away to the mining district beyond the
Bald Mountains.

But the snows tarry long in the high places of British Columbia, and the
days went on in spite of the men and their desire, and bread had to be
earned even in such an Elysium as Vancouver Island, with all the gold
which a man could want, as folks said, within a few weeks' march of
them; so that hands and brains were busy, in spite of the temptations of
Hope and the spring sunshine. Moreover, there were dull dogs even then
in Victoria, who believed more in the virtue of steady toil than in
gold-mining up at Cariboo.

Thus it happened, then, that a big, yellow-headed axeman, and a ray of
evening sunlight, looking in together through an open doorway upon Wharf
Street, found a man within in his shirt sleeves, still busily engaged
upon his daily task.

"Hullo, Corbett, how goes it? Come right in and take a smoke."

The voice, a cheery one with a genuine welcome in it, came from the
inside of the house, and in answer the axeman heaved his great shoulder
up from the door-post and loafed in.

In every movement of this man there was a suggestion of healthy
weariness, that most luxurious and delightful sensation which comes over
him who has used his muscles throughout the day in some one of those
outdoor forms of labour which earn an appetite, even if they do not gain
a fortune.

As he stood in the little room looking quizzically at his friend's
work, Ned Corbett, in his old blue shirt and overalls, with the axe
lying across one bare brown forearm, might have served an artist as a
model for Labour; but the artist into whose studio he had come had no
need for such models. There was no money in painting such subjects, and
Steve Chance painted for dollars, and for dollars only. Round the room
at the height of a man's shoulder was stretched a long, long strip of
muslin (not canvas, canvas would cost six bits a picture), and this
strip had been sized and washed over with colour. When Corbett entered,
Chance had just slapped on the last patch of this preliminary coat of
paint, so that now there was nothing more to be done until the morrow.

"Well, Steve, how many works of art have you knocked off to-day?" asked
Corbett.

"Works of art be hanged!" replied his friend. "I've covered about twenty
feet of muslin, and that at five dollars a picture isn't a bad day's
work. What have you done?"

"Let me see, I've cut down a tree or two and earned an appetite,
and--oh, yes, a couple of dollars to satisfy the same. Isn't that
enough?"

"All depends upon the way you look at things. I call it fooling your
time away."

"And I call this work of yours a waste of talent worse, fifty times
worse, than my waste of time. Look at that thing, for instance;" and Ned
pointed to a large canvas, bright with all the colours of the rainbow.

"That! Well, you needn't look as if the thing might bite, Ned. That is
the new map of Ophir, a land brimming 'ophir'--forgive the joke--with
coarse gold, and, what is more important, bonded by those immaculate
knights of the curbstone, Messrs. Dewd and Cruickshank."

"An advertisement, is it? Well, it is ugly enough even for that. How
much lower do you mean to drag your hapless art, you vandal? 'Auctioning
pictures,' as you call it, is bad enough, but this is simple
sign-painting!"

"Well, and why not, if sign-painting pays? You take my advice, Ned; get
the 'sugar' first, the fame will come at its leisure. Sign-painting is
honest anyway, and more remunerative than felling trees, you bet."

"That may be," replied the younger man, balancing his axe in his strong
hands, "and more intellectual, I suppose; but, by George, there's a
pleasure in every ringing blow with the axe, and the scent of the fresh
pine-wood is sweeter than the smell of your oil-paints."

"Pot-paints, Ned, two bits a pot. We don't run to tube-paints in this
outfit."

"Well, pot-paints if you like; but even so you are not making a fortune.
We can't always sell those panoramas of yours, you know, even at a
dollar a foot."

"That's _your_ fault, Ned; you've no eye for the latent merits of my
pictures, and therefore make a shocking mess of the auctioneer's
department. However, I am not wedded to my art. If lumbering and
painting don't pay, what do you say to real estate?" and as he spoke,
Chance put his "fixins" together and proceeded to lock up the studio for
the night.

"Real estate! Why, fifty per cent of the inhabitants of the Queen City
are real estate agents professionally, and most of the others are
amateurs. Be a little original, outside your art anyway, old fellow. I
don't want anything to do with real estate, except in acre blocks
beyond the city limits, and a jolly long way beyond at that!"

"Is that so?" asked a mellow voice from behind the last speaker. "Then,
my dear sir, Messrs. Dewd and Cruickshank can fix you right away. What
do you say to a little farm on the gorge, fairly swarming with game, and
admirably suited for either stock raising or grain growing?"

"Viticulture, market-gardening, or a gentleman's park! Better go the
whole hog at once, Cruickshank," laughed Chance, turning round to greet
the new-comer, a dark, stout man with an unlit cigar stuck in the corner
of his mouth.

"You must have your joke, Mr. Chance; but the farm is really a gem for
all that, and with the certainty of a large advance in price this
summer, a man could not do better than buy."

"What, is the farm better than a claim in Ophir?" laughed Chance.

"Ah, well, that is another matter!" said Cruickshank. "The farm is a
gilt-edged investment. There is, of course, just a suspicion of
speculation in all gold-mining operations, though I can't see where the
risk is in such claims as those you mention. By the way, have you
finished the map?"

"Yes, here it is," replied the artist, producing a roll from under his
arm, and partly opening it to show it to his questioner. "I call it
rather a neat thing in sign-boards, don't you? I know I've used up all
my brightest colours upon it."

"Yes, it will do; and though I don't suppose Williams Creek is quite
that colour," laughed Cruickshank, "I am happy to say that our reports
are not over-coloured, even if our map is. Do you know the Duke of
Kent, Mr. Corbett?"

"No. Who is the Duke of Kent? I'd no idea that we had any aristocrats
out here."

"Oh, the duke's is only a fancy title; most titles are that way in the
far west."

"My sentiments exactly, Colonel Cruickshank," replied Corbett; and
anyone inclined to quarrel with him might have thought that Corbett
dwelt just a thought too long upon the "colonel."

But Cruickshank was not inclined to quarrel with a man who stood six
feet two, and girthed probably forty inches round the chest, and who was
reported, moreover, to be master of quite a snug little sum in good
English gold.

"The Duke of Kent has a claim alongside those which we bonded last fall,
and he tells me that he has already refused a hundred thousand dollars
for a half share in it."

"A hundred thousand dollars for a half share! Great Cæsar's ghost, why,
you could buy half Victoria for the money!" cried Chance.

"Well, not quite, but a good deal of it, and yet I've no doubt but that
we have quite as rich claims amongst those we offer for sale. How can it
be otherwise? They lie side by side on the same stream."

"Have you seen any of these claims yourself, colonel?" asked Corbett.

"Every one of them, my good sir. My clients are for the most part my own
countrymen, and you may bet that I won't let them be done by any beastly
Yank."

"Civil to you, Steve," laughed Corbett.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Chance, but there are Americans _and_ Americans;
and you can understand that a man who has spent the best years of his
life wearing the Queen's uniform feels hotly about some of the frauds
practised upon tender-feet by Californian bilks."

"Why, certainly; don't apologize. I suppose there are a few honest men
and a good many rogues in every nation. Did you say you had seen the
claims yourself? I thought you were in Victoria in the fall."

"No; Dewd and I were up together. I came down and he stayed there. There
is big money in them. Change your minds, gentlemen, and give up art for
gold-mining."

"No, thanks; I think not," replied Corbett.

"No! Well, you know best. Good-day to you. You won't take a drink, will
you?"

"No, I won't spoil my appetite even for a cock-tail."

"So long, then!" and with a flourish of his gold-headed cane, which was
meant to represent a military salute, the somewhat florid warrior dived
through a swing-door, over which was written in letters of gold, "The
Fashion Bar."

"Say, Corbett," remarked Chance as Cruickshank disappeared, "don't you
make yourself so deuced disagreeable to my best customers. Cruickshank's
orders keep our firm in bread and cheese, and I can see you want to kick
the fellow all the time he is in your company."

"All right, old chap; but I didn't say anything rude, did I? If he would
only drop the 'British army' and 'we English' I wouldn't even want to be
rude. What the deuce does he care whether he gets his dollars from a
Britisher or a Yank?"

"Not much, you bet! But here we are. Hullo, Phon, have you got the
muck-a-muck ready?"

"You bet you! Soup all ready. Muck-a-muck heap good to-day you see;"
and laughing and chattering Phon dived into the tent, and rattled about
the tin plates and clucked as if he were calling chickens to be fed.

Phon was a character in his way, and a good one at that; a little wizen,
yellow body, with an especially long pig-tail coiled up on his head like
a turban; eyes and tongue which were in perpetual motion, and a great
affection for the two white men, who treated him with the familiarity of
old friendship.

"What are you in such a deuce of a hurry for to-night, Phon?" asked
Corbett a little later, when the Chinaman rushed in to take away the
remains of dinner.

"S'pose I tell you, you no let me go?" replied the fellow, half
interrogatively.

"Go! of course I'll let you go. I couldn't help myself, I suppose. Where
are you going to--the hee-hee house?"

"No, no. Hee-hee house no good. No makee money there. Pay all the time.
Me go gamble."

"Gamble, you idiot! What, and lose all your pay for a month?"

"'Halo' (_anglice_ not) lose. Debbil come to me last night; debbil say,
'Phon, you go gamble, you win one hundred dollars.' I go win, you see."

"Please yourself. You'll see as much of that hundred dollars as you did
of the devil. Who's that calling?"

Phon went out of the tent for a moment and then returned, and holding up
the tent flap for someone to enter, said:

"Colonel Cruickshank want to see you. Me go now?"

"All right! go to blazes, only don't expect us to pay you any more wages
if you lose. Come in, colonel."

"Won't you come out instead, Mr. Corbett? It's better lying on the
grass outside than in to-night."

"Guess he is right, Ned. Come along, you lazy old beggar!" cried Chance.
And the three men in another minute were all lying prone on a blanket by
the embers of a camp-fire, smoking their pipes and chatting lazily.

Corbett's tent--a marvel of London make, convertible into anything from
a Turkish bath to a suit of clothes, and having every merit except the
essential one of portability--stood upon the very edge of the
encampment, commanding a view of the sea and the Olympic Range on the
farther shore.

The encampment itself was a kind of annexe of the town of Victoria,
standing where James Bay suburb now stands, although what is to-day
covered with villas and threatened by an extension of the electric
tramway was in '62 a place of willows and wild rosebushes.

Here lived part of the floating population of Victoria, miners _en
route_ to Cariboo, remittance-men sent away from home to go to the dogs
out of sight of their affectionate relatives, and a good many other
noisy good-fellows who liked to live in their shirt sleeves in the open
air.

Corbett and Chance were the aristocrats of this quarter, thanks to the
magnificence of their abode and the general "tonyness" of their outfit.
In their own hearts they knew that they were victims to their
outfitter--that they were living where they were instead of in a house
merely out of regard for their tent, and for those mysterious camp
appliances which all fitted into one another like Chinese puzzles.

That was where the shoe pinched. In a moment of pride they had pitched
their tent (according to written instructions) and unpacked their
"kitchen outfits," and _they had never been able to repack them_.

It was all very well to advertise the things as packing compactly into a
case two feet by one foot six inches, but it required an expert to pack
them; and so, unless they were minded to abandon their "fixings," they
had to stay by them. Therefore they stayed, and said they preferred the
open air, even when it rained, as it sometimes does even on Vancouver
Island.

Later on they learnt better, and were consoled for their losses by the
sight of the hundred and one "indispensable requisites of a camp life"
cast away by weary pilgrims all along the Frazer river road. It is a
pity that the gentlemen who sell camp outfits cannot be compelled to
pass one year in prospecting before they enter upon their trade.

But an April evening by the Straits of Fuca, with a freshly-lit pipe
between your teeth, will put you in charity even with a London
outfitter. The warm air was full of the scent of the sea and the sweet
smoke of the camp-fires, while the chorus of the bull-frogs sounded like
nature's protest against the advent of man.

As the darkness grew the forest seemed to close in round the intruding
houses, and for a while even the estate agent was silent, oppressed by
the majesty of night and nature.

It was Corbett who broke the silence at last.

"Do you know that long, blue valley, Steve--you can hardly see it
now,--the one that goes winding away back into the mountains from the
gate of the Angels?"

Steve nodded. He was too lazy to answer.

"That valley is my worst tempter. I know I ought to settle here and
work: keep a store and grow up with the country; but I can't do it. That
valley haunts me with longings to follow it through the blue mists to--"

"To the place where the gold comes from--eh, Ned? To the place where it
lies in lumps still, not worn into dust by its long journey down stream
from the heart of its parent mountain. Old Sobersides, you have been
reading your _Colonist_ too much lately."

Ned smiled, and knocking the ashes out of his pipe, began to refill it.

"How much of all these yarns about gold up at Antler and Williams Creek
do you believe, colonel?" he asked, turning to Cruickshank. "Do you
really think anyone ever took out fifty ounces in a day with a rocker?"

"I know it, my good sir. I have seen it. When Antler was found in 1860
the bed-rock was paved with gold, and you could not wash a shovelful of
dirt that had not from five to fifty dollars' worth of dust in it."

"Oh, there's gold up in Cariboo, Ned, but it wants finding. You've only
got to go into the saloons to know that there is plenty of dust for the
lucky ones. Fellows pay with pinches of dust for liquors whose names
they did not know a year ago."

"_Paid_, you mean, Chance," corrected Cruickshank. "They are all pretty
near stone-broke by now. But are you longing to go and bail up gold in
your silk hat, Mr. Corbett?"

"I am longing to be doing something new, colonel. I've taken the
prevalent fever, I think, and want to make one in this scrimmage. I
can't sit still and see band after band of hard-fists going north any
longer. Town life may be more profitable, perhaps, but I want to be
with the men."

"Bully for you, Ned! English solidity of intellect for ever! Why, you
villain, you're as bad a gambler as Yankee Chance."

"Worse, I expect, Mr. Chance," remarked Cruickshank, eyeing the two
young men critically. "You would play to win, he would play for the mere
fun of playing."

"Which would give me the advantage," retorted Corbett; "because in that
case I should stop when I was tired of the game."

"Never mind the argument," broke in Chance; "gambler or no gambler, if
you go I go. I'm sick of that picture of the pines and the waterfall,
anyway."

"So is Victoria. 'Bloomin' red clothes'-props and a mill-race,' one chap
called the last copy I tried to sell," muttered Corbett.

"Well, why not buy a couple of those claims of mine?" suggested
Cruickshank. "I always like to do a fellow-countryman a good turn, and
it would really be a genuine pleasure to me to put you two into a good
thing."

"How many have you left, Colonel Cruickshank?" He could not help it for
the life of him, but the moment Cruickshank became more than ordinarily
affectionate and open-hearted Corbett put on the colonel, and, as it
were, came on guard. He was angry with himself directly afterwards for
doing so, but he could no more help it than a man can help pulling
himself together when he hears the warning of the rattlesnake.

"Only three, Mr. Corbett; and I doubt whether I can hold those till
to-morrow morning. I am to meet a man in town at nine about them."

"What do you want for the three?"

"As a mere matter of curiosity?" put in Chance.

"Well, let me see. They are '100-foot' claims, right alongside the
places where the big hauls were made last year; but they are the last,
and as you are an Englishman and a friend--"

"Oh, please be good enough to treat this as a purely business matter,"
ejaculated Corbett, blushing up to the temples, whilst anyone looking at
Cruickshank might for the moment have thought that his speech had had
exactly the effect he intended it to have.

"Well, say two thousand dollars apiece; that is cheap and fair."

"Two thousand dollars apiece! What a chap you are to chaff,
Cruickshank!" cried Chance, breaking in. "Do you take us for
millionaires?"

"In embryo if you buy my shares, certainly, my dear sir."

"Perhaps. But look here, say a thousand dollars apiece, half cash, and
half when we make our pile."

"Can't do it; but I'll knock off a hundred dollars from each claim, as
we are friends."

"The market value is two thousand dollars, you say, Colonel Cruickshank
(my dear Chance, do leave this to me), and you have yourself inspected
these claims?"

"Certainly."

"And they are good workable claims, adjoining those you spoke of?"

"Undoubtedly, that gives them their principal value."

"Very well then, I'll buy the three. Here is a hundred dollars to bind
our bargain. We'll settle the rest to-morrow. Now, let me give you a
drink."

"Thank you. Are the claims to stand in your name?"

"In Chance's, Phon's, and mine. How will that do, Steve?"

"Settle it your own way; if you have gone crazy I suppose I must humour
you. But there is a good deal owing to our firm from yours, colonel,
isn't there?"

"Of course. That can be set off against a part of the sum due as payment
for the claims. Good-night, Mr. Corbett. Thank you for the confidence
you show in me. Treat a gentleman like a gentleman, and an honest man
like an honest man, say I."

"And a thief or a business man like a thief or a business man," muttered
Chance, as Cruickshank walked away. "Oh, Ned, Ned! What a lot nature
wasted on your muscles which she had much better have put into your
head!"



CHAPTER II.

A "GILT-EDGED" SPECULATION.


"Ned, were you drunk last night, or am I dreaming?" asked Chance next
morning, as the two sat over their breakfast, while the canoes of the
early Indian fishers stole out along the edges of the great kelp beds.

It was a lovely scene upon which Corbett's tent looked out, but Chance
at the moment had no eyes for the blue water, or the glories of the snow
range beyond, all he could think of was "three claims at two thousand
dollars apiece."

"Neither, that I am aware of, Steve. You eat as if you had all your
faculties about you, and I've no head ache."

"Then you did not buy three claims from Cruickshank at two thousand
dollars apiece?"

"Yes, I did; and why not?"

"Where is the money to come from?"

"I'll see to that," replied Corbett. "I am quite aware that six thousand
dollars is twelve hundred pounds; but if you don't want to take a share
in my speculation, I propose to invest that much of my capital in the
venture, and even if I lose it all I shall still have something left,
besides my muscles, thank God. You two, Phon and yourself, can work for
me on wages if you like, or we'll make some other arrangement to keep
the party together."

For a minute or two Chance said nothing, and then he began laughing
quietly to himself.

"Say, Ned, you took scarlatina pretty bad when you were a kiddy, didn't
you?"

"I don't remember, old chap. Why do you ask?"

"And whooping-cough, and measles, and chicken-pox, and now its gold
fever, and my stars isn't it a virulent attack?" and Chance broke out
laughing afresh.

"I don't see," began Corbett, growing rather red in the face.

"Oh, no; you don't see what all this has to do with me," interrupted
Chance, "and it's infernal impertinence on my part to criticise your
actions, and if I wasn't so small you would very likely punch my head. I
know all that. But, you see, we two are partners, and I am not going to
dissolve partnership because I think you are taking bigger risks than
you ought to. If you put up three thousand dollars I will put up as
much, and part of it can come out of the money owing to the firm."

"But why do this if you think the risk too big?" asked Corbett.

"Why ask questions, Ned? I feel like taking the risk; I am a Yankee,
and therefore a natural gambler. You of course are not, are you? And
then it's spring-time, and from twenty-three to the other end of
threescore years and ten is a long, long time; and even if we 'bust,'
there'll be lots of time to build again. So we will go halves, the third
claim to be held in Phon's name, and Phon to work on wages."

"Let us have old Phon in. Phon! Phon!" shouted Corbett.

The Chinaman, who was cleaning the tin plates by a creek hard by, came
slowly towards them.

"Well, Phon, did you lose all your dollars last night?" asked his
master.

"Me tell you debbil say me win--debbil know, you bet," replied Phon
coolly.

"And did you win?"

"Me win a hundred dollars--look!" and the little man held out a roll of
dirty notes, amounting to something more than the sum named.

"You were in luck, Phon. 'Spose I were you, I no go gamble any more,"
remarked Corbett, dropping into that pigeon English, which people seem
to think best adapted to the comprehension of the Chinaman.

"Oh yes, you go gamble too. Debbils bodder me very bad last night. They
say you go gamble, Chance he go gamble, Phon he go gamble too. All go
gamble togedder. And then debbil he show me gold, gold,--so much gold me
no able to carry it. Where you goin' now?"

"I guess your friends, the devils, might have told you that too,"
remarked Chance. "Don't you know?"

"No, me no savey. You tell me."

"Corbett and myself are going up to Cariboo mining, and if you like you
can come as cook, or you can come and work on wages in our claims. How
would you like that?"

"Me come, all-lite me come; only you give me one little share in the
claims--you let me put in one hundred dollars I win last night."

"Better keep what you've got and not gamble any more," replied Corbett
kindly.

"Halo! Halo keep him. 'Spose you not sell me share I go gamble again
to-night."

"Better let him have his way, Ned. Let the whole crowd go in together,
'sink or swim.'"

"Very well, Phon, then you will come."

"You bet you, Misser Corbett. Who you 'spose cook for you 'spose I no
come?" And having proposed this final conundrum, Phon retired again to
his kitchen.

"Rum, the way in which he seemed to know all about our movements, Ned,"
remarked Chance, when the Chinaman had done.

"Oh, he overheard what we said last night, or at breakfast this
morning," replied Corbett.

"He wasn't here last night, and he was down by the stream whilst we were
at breakfast."

"All right, old man, perhaps his 'debbil' told him. It doesn't much
matter anyway. Did you see this piece in the _Colonist_?"

"About us? No. Read it out."

"'We understand that Colonel Cruickshank, the Napoleon of Victorian
finance, the mammoth hustler of the Pacific coast, has determined to
conduct those gentlemen who have bought his bonded claims to the
fortunes which await them. This additional proof of the colonel's belief
in the property which he offers for sale should ensure a keen
competition for the one claim still left upon his hands, which we
understand will be raffled for this afternoon at 4 p.m. at Smith's
saloon. Tickets, ten dollars each. We are informed that amongst the
purchasers of claims in the Cruickshank reserve are an English gentleman
largely interested in the lumber business, and an American artist
rapidly rising into public notice.'"

"What cheer, my lumber king!" laughed Chance as Corbett laid down the
paper. "These journalists are wonderful fellows, but I suspect most of
that paragraph was inspired and paid for by the 'mammoth hustler.' By
the way, if it is true that he means to personally conduct a party to
Williams Creek, it does really look as if he had some belief in the
claims."

"Yes, IF he means to; but I expect that is simply to draw people to his
raffle this afternoon."

"Probably; but if he were to go up to Williams Creek we might as well go
up with him. You see, he has travelled along the trail before."

"Well, I'll see about that, and make any arrangements I can for getting
up to Cariboo, if you will try to get our accounts settled up, Steve.
I'm no good at figures, as you know."

"That's what!" replied Chance laconically; and the two young men got
upon their legs and prepared to start on their day's business.

It will be as well here to enter upon a short explanation of the law as
it then stood in British Columbia with regard to the bonding of claims.
Experience had shown that in the upper country, early winters and late
springs, with their natural accompaniment of deep snows, made mining
impossible for about half the year. In consequence of this a law had
been passed enabling miners to "bond" claims taken up late in the fall
until the next spring. Upon claims so bonded it was not necessary to do
any work until the 1st of June of the ensuing year, so that from
November to June the claims lay safe under the wing of the law; but
should their owners neglect to put in an appearance or fail to commence
work upon the 1st of June, they forfeited all right to the claims, which
could then be "jumped" or seized upon by the first comer.

It was under this law that Corbett and Chance had bought, so that it was
imperatively necessary that they should reach their claims by the 1st of
June; and although there was still ample time in which to make the
journey, there was no time to waste. The Cariboo migration had already
begun, and every day saw fresh bands of hard-fists leave Victoria for
the mines. Already the gamblers had gone, the whisky trains and other
pack trains had started, and the drain upon the stock of full-grown
manhood in Victoria was easily noticeable. It was no vain boast which
the miners made that the men of Cariboo were the pick of the men of
their day. Physically, at any rate, it would have been hard indeed to
find a body of men tougher in fibre and more recklessly indifferent to
hardships than the pioneers who pushed their way through the Frazer
valley to the gold-fields beyond. In that crowd there was no room for
the stripling or the old man. The race for gold upon the Frazer was one
in which only strong men of full age could live even for the first lap.

And this was the crowd which Corbett and Chance sought to join. To some
men the mere idea of a railway journey, entered upon without due
consideration and ample forethought, is fraught with terrors. Luckily
neither Corbett nor Chance were men of this sort. Chance was a Yankee to
the tips of his fingers, and had therefore no idea of distance or fear
of travel. The world was _nearly_ big enough for him, and he cared just
as little about "crossing the herring-pond" as he did about embarking on
a ride in a 'bus. As for Corbett, nature had made him a nomad--one of
those strangely restless beings, who, having a lovely home, and knowing
it to be lovely, still long for constant change, and circle the world
with tireless feet, only to bring home the report that "after all
England is the only place fit for a fellow to live in." The odd part of
it all is, that that being their conviction, most of these wanderers
contrive to live out of England for three parts of their lives.

It was no wonder, then, that when Corbett and Chance met again at dusk
everything had been, as Chance said, "fixed right away."

"It's a true bill about Cruickshank, old man," Corbett said. "And if you
can get the bills paid and our kit packed he wants us to start with him
on the _Umatilla_ for Westminster the day after to-morrow."

"I don't know about getting the bills paid," replied Chance. "A good
many fellows who owe us money appear to have gone before to Cariboo, but
I reckon we must look upon that as the opening of an account to our
credit in the new country."

"Not much of an account to draw upon; but I suppose it can't be helped.
I believe, though, that to do the thing properly we ought both to get
stone-broke before starting," remarked Corbett.

"That will come later. Hullo, Cruickshank! what is in the wind now?"
cried Steve, turning to the new-comer.

"Gold, gold, nothing but gold, Chance. But I say, gentlemen, are those
your packs?" asked the colonel, pointing to two small mountains of
luggage which nearly filled the interior of the tent.

"Yes. That is Chance's pack, and this is mine. There will be a sort of
joint-stock pack made up to-morrow of the kitchen stuff and the tent.
And I think that will be all."

"And you think that will be all, Mr. Corbett?" repeated Cruickshank.
"You are a strong man; can you lift that pack?" and he pointed to the
biggest of the two.

"Oh yes, easily; carry it a mile if necessary," replied Corbett,
swinging the great bundle up on to his shoulders.

"You _are_ a stout fellow," admitted Cruickshank admiringly; "but hasn't
it occurred to you that you may have to carry all you want for a good
many miles? And even if you can do that, who is to carry the joint-stock
pack? Not Phon, surely?"

"Well, but won't there be any pack ponies?" asked Corbett.

"For hire on the road, do you mean? Certainly not."

"All right, then," replied Corbett, after a minute or two spent in
solemnly and somewhat sadly contemplating all the neatly-packed camp
equipage. "I can do with two blankets and a tin pannikin if it comes to
that. Can't you, Steve?"

"A tin pannikin and blanket goes," answered Chance. "To blazes with all
English outfits anyway!"

"Well, I don't know about that," put in Cruickshank, who seemed hardly
as well pleased at his comrade's readiness to forswear comfort as might
have been expected. "I thought that you fellows might like to take a few
comforts along with you, so I had mentally arranged a way in which we
might combine pleasure with profit."

"Pleasure with profit by all means, my boy. Unfold your scheme, colonel;
we are with you," cried Chance.

"Well, stores are terribly high up in Cariboo. Whisky is about the only
thing these packers think of packing up to the mines, and if you fellows
had the coin I could easily buy a little train of cayuses down at
Westminster pretty cheap, and load them up with stuff which would pay
you cent per cent, and between us the management of a little train like
that would be a mere nothing."

"How about packing? You cain't throw a diamond hitch by instinct,"
remarked Chance, who knew a little from hearsay of the life of the road.

"Oh, I can throw the hitch, and so I guess can your heathen, and we'll
deuced soon teach both of you to take the on-side if you are wanted to."

"How much would such a train cost?"

"The ponies ought not to cost more than fifty dollars apiece; as to the
stores, of course it depends upon what you choose to take. The ponies
will carry about two hundred pounds apiece, if they are good ones."

"What do you say to it, Steve?" asked Ned.

"Seems a good business," replied Chance, "and we may as well put our
last dollars into a pack-train as leave them in the bank or chuck them
into the Frazer. A pack-train goes."

And so it was settled that the two friends should invest the balance of
their funds in a pack-train and stores for Cariboo. The venture looked a
promising one, with no possibility of failure or loss, and even if
things went wrong the boys would only be stone-broke; and who cares
whether he is stone-broke or not at twenty-three, in a new country with
no one dependent upon him?

It was only eighteen months before that Edward Corbett had left home, a
home in which it was part of the duty of about five different human
beings to see that Master Edward wanted for nothing. At about the same
time one of the finest houses in New York would have been disturbed to
its very foundations if it were suspected that Mr. Steve Chance wanted
for any of the luxuries of the nineteenth century, and yet here were
Steve Chance and Ned Corbett, their last dollar invested in a doubtful
venture, their razors abandoned, their toilet necessaries reduced to one
cake of soap and a towel between two (Cruickshank condemned the habit of
washing altogether upon the road), and their whole stock of household
goods reduced to two light packs, to be carried mile after mile upon
their own strong shoulders. There was daily labour ahead of them such as
a criminal would hardly have earned for punishment at home, there was a
certainty before them of bad food, restless nights, thirst, hunger, and
utter discomfort, and yet this life was of their own choosing, and a
smile hovered round the lips of each of them as the pipes dropped out of
their mouths and they turned over to sleep.

As for "gold," the prize which both of them appeared to be making all
these sacrifices for, neither of the boys, oddly enough, had thought of
it that night. With Phon it was different, but then he was a celestial.
He played for the stakes. Both the whites played, though in different
ways, for the fun of the game.



CHAPTER III.

A LITTLE GAME OF POKER.


"Well, Ned, how do our fellow-passengers strike you? This is a pretty
hard crowd, isn't it?" asked Chance, as his eyes wandered over the mob
of men of every nationality, who were jostling one another on board the
steamer _Umatilla_, ten minutes after she had left Victoria for New
Westminster.

"Yes, they look pretty tough, most of them," assented Corbett; "but a
three-weeks' beard, a patch in the seat of your pants, and a coat of
sun-tan, will bring you down to the same level, Steve. Civilized man
reverts naturally to barbarism as soon as he escapes from the tailor and
the hair-dresser."

"That's what, sonny! And I believe the only difference between a white
man and a siwash, is that one has had more sun and less soap than the
other."

"Oh, hang it, no! I draw the line there," cried Corbett. "But look,
there go the gamblers already;" and Ned pointed to a little group which
had gathered together aft, the leading spirit amongst them appearing to
be a dark, overdressed person, who was inviting everybody at the top of
his voice to "Chip in and take a drink."

"They don't mean to lose much time, do they?" remarked Chance. "And, by
the way, do you see that the 'mammoth hustler,' our own colonel, is
among them?"

"And seems to know every rascal in the gang," muttered Corbett.

"Come and look on, Ned, and don't growl. You don't expect a real-estate
agent to be a saint, do you?" remonstrated Chance.

"Not I. I don't care a cent for cards. You go if you like. I'll just
loaf and look at the scenery."

"As you please. I don't take much stock in scenery unless I have painted
it myself, and even that sours on me sometimes;" and with this frank and
quaintly expressed confession, Steve Chance turned and pushed his way
through the crowd to a place behind Cruickshank, who welcomed him
effusively, and introduced him to his friends.

Ned saw the artist gulp down what looked like a doctor's prescription,
and light up a huge black cigar, and then turning his back upon the
noisy expectorating crowd, he leant upon the bulwarks and forgot all
about it.

Before his eyes stretched a vast field of blue water; blue water without
a ripple upon it, save such as the steamer made, or the diving "cultus"
duck, which the boat almost ran down, before the bird woke and saw its
danger. Here and there on this blue field were groups of islands, wooded
to the water's edge, and inhabited only by the breeding ducks and a few
deer. As yet no one owned these islands, and, except for an occasional
fishing Indian, no one had ever set foot on most of them. Everything
spoke of rest and dreamful ease. What birds there were, were silent and
asleep, rocked only in their slumbers by the swell from the passing
boat, or else following in her wake on gliding wings which scarcely
seemed to stir. There was no wind to fret the sea, or stir an idle sail.
Nature was asleep in the spring sunlight, her calm contrasting strangely
with the noise, and passion, and unrest on board the tiny boat which was
puffing and churning its way through the still waters of the straits.

As for Ned, his ears were as deaf to the oaths and noise behind him as
his eyes were blind to the calm beauty beneath them. His eyes were wide
open, but his mind was not looking through them. As a matter of fact Ned
Corbett, the real Ned Corbett, was just then day-dreaming somewhere on
the banks of the Severn.

"Can you spare me a light, sir?"

This was the first sound that broke in upon his dreams, and Ned felt
instinctively in his waistcoat pocket, and handed the intruder the
matches which he found there.

"Thank you. I was fairly clemmed for a smoke."

"_Clemmed_" for a smoke! It was odd, but the dialect was the dialect of
Ned's dream still, and as he looked at the speaker, a broad burly
fellow, who evidently had made up his mind to have a chat, a pouch of
tobacco was thrust out to him with the words: "Won't you take a fill
yourself. It's pretty good baccy, and it ought to be. I had it sent to
me all the way from the Wyle Cop."

"The Wyle Cop!" ejaculated Ned. "I thought there was only one Wyle Cop.
Where do you come from, then?"

The stranger's face broadened into an honest grin.

"What part do I come from? Surely you ought to guess. Dunno yo' know a
Shropshire mon, when yo' sees un?" he added, dropping into his native
dialect, and holding out to Corbett a hand too broad to get a good grip
of, and as hard as gun-metal.

Ned took the proffered hand eagerly. The sound of the home dialect
stirred every chord in his heart.

"How did you know I was Shropshire?" he asked, laughing.

"How did I know? Well, I heard your friend call you Corbett, and that
and your yellow head and blue eyes were enough for me. But say," he
continued, resuming the Yankee twang which he had acquired in many a
western mining camp, "if that young man over there is any account to
you, you'd better go and see after him. They'll skin him clean in
another half hour unless he owns the Bank of England."

Corbett's eyes involuntarily followed those of his newly-found friend,
and he started as they rested upon Steve Chance, who now sat nervously
chewing at the end of an unlit cigar in the middle of the poker players.

"Your friend ain't a bad player, but he ain't old enough for that
crowd," remarked Roberts; and so saying he pushed a way for himself and
his brother Salopian through the crowd to the back of Chance's chair.

Except for the addition of Chance, and another youngish man who appeared
to be at least half-drunk, the party of poker players was the same which
sat down to play when the _Umatilla_ left the Victoria wharf.

Cruickshank faced Chance, and the same noisy dark fellow, who had been
anxious to assuage everyone's thirst in the morning, appeared to be
still ready to stand drinks and cigars. But the little crowd was quieter
than it had been in the morning. The players had settled down to
business.

"How deuced like Cruickshank that fellow is!" whispered Corbett to
Roberts.

"Which?" answered his friend. "There are two Cruickshanks playing--Dan
and Bub."

"But is the colonel any relation to the other?"

"I do not know which you call the colonel: never heard him called by
that name before; but that's Bub" (pointing to the ringleader of the
party), "and that's Dan" (pointing to the colonel). "Some say they are
brothers, some say they are cousins. Anyway, I know _one_ is a
scoundrel."

"The deuce you do. Which of them?" But his inquiries were cut short and
his attention diverted by the action of a new-comer, who just then
pushed past him with a curt, "'Scuse _me_, sir."

"Let him through," whispered Roberts. "I tipped him the wink, and if you
let him alone he'll fix them."

Ned was mystified, but did as he was bid. Indeed it was too late to
attempt to do otherwise, for the last-joined in that little crowd, a
withered gray man, whose features looked as if they had been hardened by
a hundred years of rough usage, had quietly forced his way to the front
until he had reached a seat at Steve Chance's elbow. It was noticeable
that though the crowd was by no means tolerant of others who tried to
usurp a front place amongst them, it gave way by common consent to the
new-comer, who was moreover specially honoured with a nod and a smile
from each of the Cruickshanks.

Steve only seemed inclined to resent the old man's familiarity, and for
any effect it had he might as well have hidden his resentment.

"Pretty new to this coast, ain't you, sir?" remarked Mr. Rampike, after
he had watched the game in silence for some minutes.

"Yes, I've only been out from the East a year," replied Steve shortly,
as he examined his hand.

"Bin losing quite a bit, haven't you?" persisted his tormentor. Steve
growled out that he _had_ lost "some," and turned his back on old
Rampike with an emphatic rudeness which would have silenced most men.

"'Scuse me, sir, one moment," remarked Rampike utterly unabashed, and
half rising to inspect Steve's hand over his shoulder.

A glance seemed to satisfy him.

"Who cut those cards?" he sung out.

"Dan Cruickshank," answered a voice from the crowd.

"Who dole those cards?" he persisted.

"Bub Cruickshank," replied the voice.

"Then, young man, you pass;" and without stirring a muscle of his face
he coolly took from the astounded Steve four queens, and threw them upon
the table.

For a moment Steve sat open-mouthed, utterly astounded by his adviser's
impudence, and when he tried to rise and give vent to his feelings,
Corbett's heavy hand was on his shoulder and kept him down.

Meanwhile an angry growl rose from the gamblers, but it was drowned at
once in the laugh of the crowd, as without a sign of feeling of any
kind, or a single comment, old Rampike slowly pulled from a pocket under
his coat-tails an old, strangely-fashioned six-shooter, which he began
to overhaul in the casual distrait manner of one who takes a mild
interest in some weapon of a remote antiquity.

One by one, as the old hard-fist played with his ugly toy, those who
objected to his intervention found that they had business elsewhere, so
that when at last he let down the hammer, and replaced his "gun" under
his coat-tails, Steve and the two Shropshiremen alone remained near him.
Glancing round for a moment, the old man came as near smiling as a man
could with features such as his, and then recovering himself he turned
to Steve and remarked:

"This ain't no concern of mine, mister, but my pardner there, Roberts, I
guess he takes some stock in you and he called me, so you'll 'scuse my
interfering, but ef you should happen to play agen with California
bilks, you mout sometimes go your pile on a poor hand, but pass four
aces, quicker nor lightning, if Bub Cruickshank deals 'em," with which
piece of advice the old man retired again into his shell, becoming, as
far as one could judge, an absolutely silent machine for the chewing of
tobacco.

Chance, now that he had had time to pull himself together, would gladly
have had a talk with his ally; but old Rampike would have none of him,
and Corbett, in obedience to a sign from Roberts, put his arm through
his friend's and carried him off to another part of the ship.

"Let the old man alone," remarked Roberts, "talking isn't in his line.
That is my share of the business. I sing and he fiddles."

"All right, as you please; but I say, Mr. Roberts," said Chance, "what
in thunder did your partner mean by making me throw down four queens?"

"Mean! why, that Bub Cruickshank had four kings or better. You don't
suppose that those chaps are here for their health, do you?"

"Here for their health?"

"Well, you don't suppose that they have come all the way to British
Columbia to play poker on the square?"

"Then who are the Cruickshanks?" demanded Chance.

"That is more than I know. Bub Cruickshank is just about as low-down a
gambler as there is on the coast; not a chap who pays up and stands
drinks when he is bust, like the count and that lot."

"And is the colonel his brother?"

"Some say he is, some say he isn't. But I never knew him regularly on
the gambling racket before, though he won a pile of money up at Williams
Creek last fall.

"Then you have been in Cariboo," Corbett remarked.

"In Cariboo? Rather! I was there when Williams Creek was found, and for
all that had to sing my way out with a splinter in my hand, and not a
nickel in my pocket."

"How do you mean 'sing your way out?'"

"I mean just what I say. My hand went back on me and swelled, so that I
couldn't work, and I just had to sing for my grub as I went along. Old
Rampike had a fiddle and used to play, and I used to make up the songs
and sing 'em. Perhaps you've heard the 'Old pack mule.' It's a great
favourite at the mines:


     "Ted staked and lost the usual way,
       But his loss he took quite cool;
     He was near the mines, and he'd start next day
       Riding on his old pack mule."


"Riding, riding, riding on his old pack mule," sang Chance.

"Oh, you know it, do you? Seems to me it suits your case pretty well.
Well, _I_ made that;" and so saying the poet protruded his portly bosom
three inches further into space, with the air of one who had done well
by his fellow-men and knew it.

"Are you coming up to Cariboo this spring?" asked Corbett.

"No, we haven't dust enough to pay our way so far, more's the pity."

"Why not come with us? I'll find the dollars if you'll lend a hand with
our pack-train," suggested Corbett.

"Well, I don't know, perhaps I might do worse; and as to that, if you
are taking a pack-train along I daresay I could pretty nearly earn my
grub packing. But I must talk it over with Rampike."

"All right, do you fix it your own way," put in Chance; "but mind, if
you feel at all like coming, there need be no difficulty about the
dollars either for you or your partner. I am pretty heavily in your debt
anyway."

"Not a bit of it. Those bilks owe us something perhaps, and if they get
a chance they won't forget to pay their score. But I guess they'll
hardly care to tackle Rampike, or me either for the matter of that;" and
whistling merrily his favourite tune, "Riding, riding, riding on the old
pack mule," the Cariboo poet went below for refreshment.



CHAPTER IV.

"THE MOTHER OF GOLD."


From Victoria to the mouth of the Frazer river is about seventy miles,
and thence to New Westminster is at least another sixteen. As the
steamers which used to ply between the two young cities in '62 were by
no means ocean racers, none of the passengers on board the S.S.
_Umatilla_ were in the least degree disappointed, although the shadows
of evening were beginning to fall before they passed the Sandheads, and
ran into the yellow waters of the Frazer.

Very few of those on board had eyes for scenery. A rich-looking bar or
a wavy riband of quartz high up on a mountain-side would have attracted
more attention from that crowd than all the beauties of the Yosemite,
and even had they been as keen about scenery as Cook's tourists, there
was but little food for their raptures in the delta they were entering.
The end of a river, like the end of a life, is apt to be ugly and dull,
and the Frazer exhibits no exception to this rule. Child as she is of
the winter's snows and the summer's sun, she loses all the purity of the
one and the gleam of the other long before she attains her middle
course, and at her mouth this "mother of gold" is but a tired, dull, old
river, sordid and rich with golden sands, glad, so it seems, to slip by
her monotonous mud-banks and lose herself and her yellow dross in the
purifying waters of the salt sea.

As Corbett gazed upon the wide expanse of dun-coloured flood, he saw no
sign even of that savage strength of which he had heard so much, except
one. Far out, and looking small in the great waste of waters, was a
stranded tree--a great pine, uprooted and now stranded on a sunken bank,
its roots upturned, its boughs twisted off, and its very bark torn from
its side by the fury of the riffles and whirlpools of the upper canyons.
To Corbett there was something infinitely sad in this lonely wreck,
though it was but the wreck of a forest tree. Had he known the great
sullen river better he would have known that she brought down many
sadder wrecks in those early days--human wrecks, whose wounds were not
all of her making, though the river got the evil credit of them.

As it was, the first sight of the Frazer depressed him, and his
depression was not dispelled by the sight of New Westminster. The idea
of a new city hewed by man out of the virgin forest is noble enough, and
whilst the sun is shining and the axes are ringing, the life and energy
of the workers makes some compensation for the ugliness of their work.
But it is otherwise when the sun is low and labour has ceased. Then
"Stump-town" seems a more appropriate title than New Westminster, and a
new-comer may be forgiven for shuddering at the ugliness of the new
frame-houses, at the charred stumps still left standing in the main
streets, at the little desolate forest swamps still left undrained
within a stone's-throw of the Grand Hotel, and at all the baldness and
beggarliness of the new town's surroundings. To Ned Corbett it looked as
if Nature had been murdered, and civilization had not had time to throw
a decent pall over her victim's body. Certainly in 1862 New Westminster
might be, as its citizens alleged, an infant prodigy, but it was not a
picturesque city.

However, as the S.S. _Umatilla_ ran alongside her wharf, a voice roused
Corbett from his musings, and turning he found Cruickshank beside him.

"What do you think about camping to-night, Corbett?" asked the colonel.
"It will be rather dark for pitching our tent, won't it?"

Now, since the poker-playing incident Corbett had not spoken to
Cruickshank. Indeed he had not seen him, and he had hardly made up his
mind how to treat him when they met. That Cruickshank had a good many
objectionable acquaintances was clear, but on the other hand there was
nothing definite which could be alleged against him. Moreover, for the
next month Ned and the estate-agent were bound to be a good deal
together, and taking this into consideration, Ned decided on the spur
of the moment to let all that had gone before pass without comment.
Cruickshank had evidently calculated upon Corbett taking this course,
for though there had been a shade of indecision in his manner when he
came up, he spoke quietly, and as one who had no explanations to make or
apologies to offer.

"Yes, it is too dark to make a comfortable camp to-night," assented
Corbett. "What does Chance want to do?"

"Oh, I vote for an hotel," cried Steve, coming up at the moment. "Let us
be happy whilst we may, we'll be down to bed-rock soon enough."

"All right, 'the hotel goes,' as you would say, Steve;" and together the
young men followed the crowd which streamed across the gangway to the
wharf.

There the arrival of the S.S. _Umatilla_ was evidently looked upon as
the event of the day, and a great crowd of idlers stood waiting for the
disembarkation of her passengers; and yet one man only seemed to be
there on business, the rest were merely loafing, and would as soon have
thought of lending a hand to carry a big portmanteau to the hotel as
they would have thought of touching their hats.

This one worker in the crowd was an old man in his shirt sleeves, who
caught Ned by the arm, as he had caught each of his predecessors, as
soon as his foot touched the wharf, and in a tone of fatherly command
bade him "Go up to the Mansion House. Best hotel in the city. It's the
miners' house," he added. "Three square meals a day every time, and
don't you forget it."

Ned laughed. The last recommendation was certainly worthy of
consideration, and as no one else seemed anxious for his patronage he
turned to Cruickshank with, "Is it to be the Mansion House?"

"Oh yes," replied the latter, "all the hard-fists stay with Mike."

"How long do you mean to stay here anyway?" asked Chance.

"Four or five days,--perhaps a week," replied Cruickshank. "There is a
boat for Douglas to-night, but we could not buy the horses and the
stores so as to be ready in less than a couple of days."

"That is so. We shall have to stay a week then?" asked Steve.

"Unless you like to intrust me with the purchase of your train. I could
hire a man to help me and come on by the next boat if you want
particularly to catch this one--"

The eyes of Corbett and Chance met, and unluckily Cruickshank saw the
glance, and interpreted it as correctly as if the words had been spoken.

Corbett noticed the flush on the man's face and the ugly glitter in his
eye, and hastened to soothe him.

"Oh no, colonel, it is deuced good of you," he said; "but we would
rather wait and all go together. We are looking to you to show us a good
deal besides the mere road in the next six weeks. But what are we to do
with our packs now?"

"We can't leave them here, can we?" asked Chance, pointing to where
their goods lay in a heap on the wharf.

"I don't see why not," growled Cruickshank; and then added
significantly, "Murder or manslaughter are no great crimes in the eyes
of some folk around here, but miners are a bit above petty larceny;" and
so saying he turned on his heel and left Chance and Corbett to shift
for themselves.

"Better take care what you say to that fellow," remarked Corbett,
looking after the retreating figure; "although I like him better in that
mood than in his oily one."

"Oh, I think he is all right; at any rate you won't want my help to
crush him, Ned, if he means to cut up rough."

"Not if he fights fair, Steve; but I don't trust the brute--I never
did."

"Just because he plays cards and calls himself a colonel? Why, everyone
is a colonel out here. But to blazes with Cruickshank anyway. Come and
get some grub."

And so saying Steve Chance entered the principal hotel of New
Westminster, down the plank walls of which the tears of oozing resin
still ran, while the smell of the pine-forest pervaded the whole house.

The "newness" of these young cities of the West is perhaps beyond the
imagination of dwellers in the old settled countries of Europe. It is
hard for men from the East to realize that the hotel, which welcomes
them to all the comforts and luxuries of the nineteenth century, was
standing timber a month before, that the walls covered with paper in
some pretty French design, and hung with mirrors and gilt-framed
engravings, were the homes of the jay and the squirrel, and that the
former tenants have hardly had time yet to settle in a new abode.

And yet so it is: we do our scene-shifting pretty rapidly out West, and
though there may not be time to perfect anything, the general effect is
wonderful in the extreme.

The Westminster hotel was a gem of its class, and even Ned and Steve,
who had become fairly used to Western ways, were a little aghast at the
contrast between the magnificence of some of the new furniture and the
simplicity of the sleeping accommodation, as illustrated by the rows of
miners' blankets neatly laid out along the floor. Luckily Cruickshank
had cautioned them to take their bedding with them, or they might have
been obliged to pass a cheerless night in one of the highly-gilded
arm-chairs, which looked as comfortless as they were gaudy.

The old tout upon the wharf, who owned what he advertised, had not
misrepresented his house. As he had said, the meals were square enough
even for the hungry miners who swarmed around his board, and though it
was dull to lie upon their oars and wait, Steve and Ned might have found
worst places to wait in than the Mansion House. For at Westminster a
delay arose, as delays will the moment a man begins packing or touches
cayuses out West. Of course there were a few horses to be bought, but
equally, of course, everyone in the city and its suburbs seemed to know
by instinct that Corbett & Co. were cornered, and must buy, however bad
the beasts and however high the prices.

An old Indian, one Captain Jim, who with the assistance of all his
female relatives used to pack liquor and other necessaries to the mines,
had part of an old train to sell, horses, saddles, and all complete, and
for the first three days of their stay at Westminster Corbett & Co.
expected every minute to become owners of this outfit. But the business
dragged on, until the noble savage upon whom they had looked as the type
of genial simplicity had become an abomination in their eyes, and they
had decided to leave the management of him to Cruickshank, resolving
that if the train was not bought and ready to be shipped on the next
boat to Douglas that they would go without a pack-train altogether. In
the meanwhile they had to get through the time as best they could,
assisted by the Cariboo poet, who had stayed on like themselves at
Westminster.

To Chance this was no hardship; what with a little sketching, a little
poker, and a great deal of smoking, he managed to get through the days
with a good deal of satisfaction to himself. As to Ned, the delay and
inaction disgusted him and spoilt his temper, which may account in some
measure for an unfortunate incident which occurred on the second day of
his stay at the Mansion House.

As the day was hot and he had nothing to do, the big fellow had laid out
his blankets in a shady corner and prepared to lie down and sleep the
weary hours away. Before doing so he turned for a minute or two to watch
a game of piquet, in which Roberts appeared to be invariably "piqued,
repiqued, pooped, and capoted," as his adversary, a red-headed Irishman,
announced at the top of his voice.

Tired of the game, Ned turned and sought his couch, upon which two
strangers had taken a seat. Going up to them, Ned asked them to move,
and as they did not appear to hear him he repeated his request in a
louder tone. Perhaps the heat and the flies had made him irritable, and
a tone of angry impatience had got into his voice which nettled the men,
one of whom, turning towards him, but not attempting to make room,
coolly told him "to go to blazes."

As the man turned, Ned recognized him as Bub Cruickshank, the brother
or cousin of the Colonel; but it needed neither the recognition nor the
laugh that ran round the room to put Ned's hackles up.

Without stopping to think, he picked up the fellow by the scruff of his
neck and the slack of his breeches and deposited him with the least
possible tenderness upon an untenanted piece of the floor.

Before he had time to straighten himself, the dislodged Bub aimed a
furious kick at Ned, and in another minute our hero was in the thick of
as merry a mill as any honest young Englishman could desire. Time after
time Ned floored his man, for though Bub knew very little of the use of
his hands he was a determined brute, and kept rushing in and trying to
get a grip of his man at close quarters, and, moreover, it was a case of
one down the other come on, for as soon as Ned had floored one fellow
and put him _hors de combat_ for a short time, his companion took up the
battle.

"Take care, Corbett,--take care of his teeth!" shouted Roberts all at
once; and Ned felt a horrible faint feeling come over him, robbing him
for the moment of all his strength, as Bub fastened on his thumb.

For a moment the Shropshireman almost gave up the battle. Those only
who have suffered from this dastardly trick of the lowest of Yankee
roughs, can have any idea of the effect it has upon a man's strength.
But Corbett was almost as mad with rage at what he considered
unsportsman-like treatment as he was with pain, so that he managed to
wrench himself free and send his man to earth again with another
straight left-hander.

Meanwhile the red-haired Irishman, who had been playing piquet with
Roberts, had lost all interest in his game since the fight began, and
was fairly writhing in his seat with suppressed emotion.

At last flesh and blood (or at least _Irish_ flesh and blood) could
endure it no longer, so that, jumping up from his seat, he took Ned just
by the shoulders and lifted him clean out of the way as if he had been a
baby, remarking as he did so--

"You stay there, sonny, and let me knock 'em down awhile."

But the poor simple Celt was doomed to disappointment. The truth was
that Ned had been greedy, and taken more than his share of this innocent
game of skittles, so that, as Mr. O'Halloran remarked sorrowfully at
supper, he did but get in "one from the shoulther, and thin them two
murtherin' haythens lit right out."

When the scrimmage was over Roberts took Ned on one side, and after
looking at the bitten thumb and bandaging it up for his friend, he gave
Ned a little advice.

"Fighting is all very well, Mr. Corbett, where people fight according to
rules, but you had better drop it here. If you don't, some fellow will
get level on you with the leg of a table or a little cold lead. If you
must fight, you had better learn to shoot like old Rampike."

"Where is old Rampike now?" asked Ned, anxious to turn the conversation,
and feeling a little ashamed of his escapade.

"Rampike went right on by the boat that met the _Umatilla_. He got a job
up at Williams Creek, and will be there ahead of us."

"Then you mean to come up too, Roberts, that's right," said Corbett
genially.

"Yes, I am coming up with your crowd. I met the count in town last night
and borrowed the chips from him. I am thinking that if you make a
practice of quarrelling with Cruickshank and all his friends you will
need someone along to look after you."

"But who is the count, and why could you not have borrowed the money
from us?" asked Corbett in a tone of considerable pique.

"The count! Oh, the count is an old friend, and lends to most anyone who
is broke. It's his business in a way. You see, he is the biggest gambler
in the upper country. Skins a chap one day and lends him a handful of
gold pieces the next. He'll get it back with interest from one of us
even if I don't pay him, so that's all right;" and honest Roberts
dismissed all thought of the loan from his mind, as if it was the most
natural thing in the world for a professional gambler to lend an
impecunious victim a hundred dollars on no security whatever.

Luckily for Ned his fellow countryman took him in hand after this, and
what with singing and working managed to keep him out of mischief. For
Roberts found Corbett work in Westminster which just suited his young
muscles, though it was as quaint in its way as Roberts' own financial
arrangements in their way.

It seemed that in the young city there was no church and no funds to
build one, but there was a sturdy, energetic parson, and a mob of noisy,
careless miners, who rather liked the parson; not, perhaps, _because_ he
was a parson, but because he had in some way or other proved to them
that he was a "man."

Had they been on the way down with their pockets full of "dust" the
boys would soon have built him anything he wanted, whether it had been a
church or a gin-shop. I am afraid it would have mattered little. As it
was they were unluckily on their way up, and their pockets were empty.

But as the will was there the parson found the way, and all through that
week of waiting Ned and a gang of other strong hardy fellows like
himself made their axes glitter and ring on the great pines, clearing a
site, and preparing the lumber for the first house of God erected in New
Westminster.

Who shall say that their contribution had not as much intrinsic value as
the thousand-dollar cheque which Croesus sends for a similar object. A
good deal more labour goes to the felling of a pine ten feet through
than to the signing of a cheque, anyway.



CHAPTER V.

"IS THE COLONEL 'STRAIGHT?'"


At the very last moment, when all Corbett's party, except Cruickshank,
had yielded to despair, the Indian Jim gave in, and sold his animals as
they stood for sixty dollars a head. This included the purchase of
pack-saddles, cinches, and other items essential to a packer's outfit.

The steamer for Douglas started at 8 p.m., and it was long after
breakfast on the same day that the eyes of Corbett and Chance, who were
smoking outside their inn, were gladdened by the sight of Phon and
Cruickshank driving ten meek-looking brutes up to the front of the
Mansion House.

Having tied each pony short by the head to the garden rail, Cruickshank
began to organize his forces. There were the ponies, it was true, but
their packs and many other things had still to be bought. There was much
to be done and very little time to do it in. Then it was that
Cruickshank showed himself to the greatest advantage. For days he had
appeared to dawdle over his bargaining with Jim, until Ned almost
thought that Indian and white together were in league against him; now
he felt miserable at the mere memory of his former suspicions.
Cruickshank knew that no man can hurry an Indian, and therefore
abstained from irritating Jim by attempting the impossible. The result
of this was that at the end of the time at his disposal Cruickshank had
by his indifference convinced Jim that he cared very little whether he
got the horses or not, so that now the Indian was in a hurry to sell
before the steamer should carry Cruickshank and his dollars away to
Douglas. So Cruickshank bought the ponies, bought them cheap, and,
moreover, just in time to catch the boat. This was all he had struggled
for.

But now that he had white men to deal with his tactics changed. These
men knew the value of time and could hurry, therefore Cruickshank
hurried them. To every man he gave some independent work to do. No one
was left to watch another working. Whilst one dashed off to buy stores
another took the horses to the forge to be shod, and old Phon was left
to repair the horse furniture and overhaul the outfit generally.
Cruickshank himself went off to buy gunny sacks, boxes, ropes, and
such-like, rendered necessary by the absence of _aparejos_, needing the
knowledge of an expert in their selection.

It was already late in the afternoon, and Ned, hot and dusty, and as
happy as a schoolboy, was helping the smith to shoe the last of the
ponies, when Roberts, who had done his own work, walked into the forge.

For a minute or two Roberts stood unnoticed, observing his
fellow-countryman with eyes full of a sort of hero-worship, commoner at
a public school than in the world.

But Ned was one of those fellows who win men's hearts without trying to
do so; a young fellow who said what he thought without waiting to pick
his words, who did what he liked, and luckily liked what was good, and
honest, and manly, and who withal looked the man he was, upstanding,
frank, and absolutely fearless. Ned had been in the forge for perhaps
half a day or more, and had already so won the heart of the smith that
that good man with his eyes on the boy's great forearm had been hinting
that there was "just as much money in a good smithy as there was in most
of them up-country claims."

But Ned was bent on gold-mining and seeing life with the hard-fists, so
though he loved to swing the great smith's hammer he was not to be
tempted from his purpose, though he was quite ready to believe that a
smith in New Westminster could earn more by his hands than many a
professional man by his brains in Westminster on the Thames.

"Hullo, Rob! have you got through with your work?" cried Ned, catching
sight of his friend at last.

"Yes. I've done all I've got to do; can I lend you a hand?"

"Why, no, thanks; my friend here is putting on the last shoe. But what
is the matter? you look as if you had got 'turned round' in the bush,
and were trying to think your way out;" and Ned laid his hand laughingly
on his friend's shoulder.

Roberts laughed too, but led the younger man outside, and once there
blurted out his trouble.

"Look here, Corbett, ever since that gambling row I've had my eye on
Cruickshank, and I thought that I knew him for a rascal, but blow me if
he hasn't got beyond me this time."

"How so, Rob?"

"Well, I'm half-inclined to think he's honest after all. He is a real
rustler when he chooses anyway," added the poet admiringly.

"Oh, I expect he is as honest as most of his kind. Why shouldn't he be?
All men haven't the same ideas of honesty out here; and if he isn't
honest it doesn't matter much to us, does it?" asked Ned carelessly.

"Doesn't it? Ain't you trusting him with a good many thousand dollars?"
asked Roberts with some asperity.

"No, I don't think so. You see, Rob, if he is, as you thought, a
card-sharper and a bogus estate-agent, my money is lost already; he
can't clear out with the claims or the packs even if he wants to. But
why do you think he is a rogue?"

"I tell you I'm beginning to think that he isn't."

"Bully for you, that's better!" cried Ned approvingly; "but what has
worked this change in your opinions, Rob?"

"Well, last night that scoundrelly siwash, Captain Jim, tried to work a
swindle with those pack-ponies, and Cruickshank wouldn't have it. Jim
was to sell you a lot of unsound beasts at eighty dollars a head. You
would never have noticed that they had healed sores on their backs, and
if Cruickshank had held his tongue he was to have had twenty dollars a
pony, and the way he 'talked honest' to that Indian was astonishing, you
bet."

"How did you find all this out?" asked Ned.

Roberts looked a little uncomfortable and flushed to the roots of his
hair, but at length made the best of it, and admitted that he had
followed the two men and overheard their conversation.

"You see, Ned," he added, "it's not very English, I know, but you must
fight these fellows with their own weapons."

For a while Ned said nothing, though he frowned more than Roberts had
ever seen him frown before, and his fingers tugged angrily at his slight
moustache.

"Roberts," he said at last, "I agree with you, this sort of thing isn't
very English, I'm hanged if it is; but I've been pretty nearly as
suspicious as you have, so I can't afford to talk. Once for all, do you
know anything against the colonel?"

"No," hesitated Roberts, "I don't know anything against Dan, but Bub--."

"Oh, to blazes with Bub!" broke in Corbett angrily. "A man cannot be
responsible for every one of his cousins and kinsmen. From to-day I mean
to believe in Cruickshank as an honest man, until I prove him to be a
knave. You had better do the same, Rob; spying after a fellow as we have
been doing is enough to make an honest man sick;" and Ned Corbett made a
wry face as if the mere thought of it left a bad taste in his mouth.

"All right, that's a-go then. He was honest about these cayuses anyway,
and if he does go back on us we'll fire him higher than a sky-rocket;"
and so saying Roberts lent Ned a hand to collect the said cayuses. These
at the first glance would have struck an English judge of horseflesh as
being ten of the very sorriest screws that ever stood upon four legs;
but at least they showed to Roberts' practised eye no signs of old sore
backs, none of those half-obliterated scars which warn the _cognoscenti_
of evils which have been and are likely to recur.

Taken in a body, they were a little too big for polo ponies, and a
little too ragged, starved, and ill-shaped for a respectable
costermonger's cart. There was one amongst them, a big buckskin standing
nearly 14.2 hands, which looked fairly plump and able-bodied, but atoned
for these merits by an ugly trick of laying back her ears and showing
the whites of her eyes whenever she got a chance.

The most typical beast of his class was one Job, a parti-coloured brute
(or pinto as they call them in British Columbia), with one eye brown and
the other blue, and a nose of the brightest pink, as if he suffered from
a chronic cold and a rough pocket-handkerchief. Job's bones stared at
you through his skin, his underlip protruded and hung down, giving him
an air of the most abject misery, and even a Yorkshire horse-dealer
could not have found a good point to descant upon from his small weak
quarters to his ill-shaped shoulder.

But though Job's head was fiddle-shaped there was a good deal in it, as
those were likely to discover who had given sixty dollars for him, and
expected to get sixty dollars' worth of work out of him. He had not been
packing since the days when he trotted as a foal beside a "greasers'"
train for nothing. At present he was the meekest, most ill-used-looking
brute on the Pacific coast, and Corbett was just remarking to Roberts
"that that poor devil of a pony would never be able to carry a hundred
and fifty pounds let alone two hundred over a bad road," when the
buckskin let out, and caught the bay alongside of him such a kick on the
stifle as made that poor beast go a little lame for days. No one noticed
that the bite which set the buckskin kicking was given by old Job, who
moved his weary old head sadly, just in time, however, to let the kick
go by and land on the unoffending body of his neighbour.

An hour later all the horses were up again at the hotel, and the bill
having been settled Phon and Roberts drove the train down to the wharf,
where the steamer for Douglas, a small stern-wheeler, was waiting for
her passengers and her cargo. With the exception of Job, all the cayuses
were put on board at once and secured, but seeing that there was still a
good deal of luggage in small parcels up at the hotel, Chance kept "that
quiet old beast Job, just to carry down the odds and ends;" and Job,
with a sigh which spoke volumes to those who could understand, plodded
away to do the extra work set aside as of right for the meek and
long-suffering.

It is an aggravating employment under any circumstances, the employment
of packing. Many men, otherwise good men, swear naturally (and freely)
as soon as they engage in it; but then, why I know not, the very
presence of a horse makes some men swear. Steve knew very little about
packing anyway, and had he known more he would not have found it easy to
fasten his bundles on to the back of a beast which shifted constantly
from one leg to another, and always seemed to be standing uphill or
downhill, with one leg at least a foot shorter than the other three.

When Steve spoke to him (with an angry kick in the stomach), Job would
lift his long-suffering head with an air of meek dejection, and shifting
his leg as required plant a huge hoof solidly upon Steve's moccasined
foot. If I could paint the look on that great ugly equine head as it
turned with leering eye and projecting nether lip, and looked into the
anguished face of Steve Chance, I should be able to teach my reader more
of cayuses (the meanest creatures on God's earth) than I can ever hope
to do. But even with Job to help him, Steve got his load down to the
boat at last, and put all aboard except a new pack-saddle, which he had
taken off the pack-horse and laid down on the ground beside him.

With lowered head and half-shut eyes Job stood for some minutes
patiently waiting, and then, as Steve came over the side to drive him on
board with his fellows, the old horse heaved a long, long sigh, and
before Steve could reach him lay down slowly and gently upon that
pack-saddle. Of course when he got up, the pack-saddle was demolished,
and as the last whistle had sounded, there was no time to get another
before leaving Westminster.

A new saddle would have to be bought at Douglas, and that would cost
money, or made upon the road, and that would mean delay, so Job, with a
cynical gleam in his wall-eye, trotted meekly and contentedly on board.
He had entered his first protest against extra work.

Five minutes later the steamer _Lillooet_ cast loose from her moorings,
the gangway was taken in, and the gallant little stern-wheeler went
cleaving her way up through the yellow Frazer, on her forty-mile run to
the mouth of Harrison river, steaming past long mud-flats and many a
mile of heavy timber.

A day and a half was the time allowed for the journey from New
Westminster to Douglas, but Corbett and Chance could hardly believe that
they had taken so long when they came to their moorings again at the
head of the Harrison Lake.

To them the hours had seemed to fly by, for their eyes and thoughts were
busy, intent at one moment upon the bare mud-banks, watching for game or
the tracks of the game, the next straining to catch a glimpse of deer
feeding at dawn upon the long gray hills--hills which were a pale dun in
the light of early morning, but which became full of rich velvety
shadows as the day wore on.

Overhead floated the fleecy blue and white sky of spring-time; on the
hills patches of wild sunflower mingled with the greenish gray of the
sage brush, and here and there, even on the arid barren banks of the
Frazer itself, occurred little "pockets" of verdure--hollows with
fresh-water springs in them, where the tender green of the young
willows, and the abundant white bloom of the choke cherries and olali
bushes, made Edens amongst the waste of alkaline mud-banks, Edens
tenanted and made musical by all the collected bird-life of that barren
land.

The only difficult bit of water for the little steamer was the seven
miles of the Harrison river, a rapid, turbulent stream, up which the
S.S. _Lillooet_ had to fight every inch of the way; but beyond that lay
the lake, a broad blue lake, penned in by steep and heavily-timbered
mountains, and beyond the one-house town of Douglas, at which Ned and
his fellow-passengers disembarked about noon of the second day out from
Westminster.

From Douglas the ordinary route was by river and lake, with a few short
portages to _Lillooet_ on the Frazer; and in 1862 there were steamers
upon all the lakes (Lillooet, Anderson, and Seton), and canoes (with a
certainty of a fair breeze in summer) for such as preferred them.

But Ned and his friends had decided that as they had a pack-train, and
would be compelled to pack part of the way in any case, they might just
as well harden their hearts and pack the whole distance, more especially
since they had ample time to make their journey in, and not too much
money to waste upon steamboat fares. So at Douglas Cruickshank bought
another pack-saddle for about twice what it would have cost at
Westminster (freight was high in the early days), and suggested that as
the one house (half store, half hotel) was full to overflowing, they
might as well strike out for themselves, and as it was only mid-day make
a few miles upon their road before camping for the night.

"You see," argued Cruickshank, "it's no violet's camping where so many
men have camped before, and a good many of them greasers and Indians."

Corbett and Chance were new to the discomforts of the road, and had
still to learn the penalty for camping where Indians have camped; but
for all that they took the colonel's advice and assented to his
proposal, though it meant bidding good-bye to their fellow-men a day or
two sooner than they need have done.

Once the start had been decided upon Cruickshank lost no time in getting
under weigh. The diamond hitch had no mysteries for him, the loops flew
out and settled to an inch where he wanted them to, every strand in his
ropes did its share of binding and holding fast; his very curses seemed
to cow the most stubborn cayuse better than another man's, and when he
cinched the unfortunate beasts up you could almost hear their ribs
crack.

Job alone nearly got the better of the colonel, but even he just missed
it. Cruickshank cinched this wretched scarecrow a little less severely
than the rest, but when later on he saw old Job with his cinch all
slack, a malevolent grin came over his face, and he muttered, "Oh,
that's your sort, is it, an old-timer? So am I!" And after giving Job a
kick which would have knocked the wind out of anything, he cinched him
up again before he could recover himself, and then led him to drink. As
the horse sucked down the water greedily Cruickshank muttered to
himself, "_Bueno_, I guess your load will stick now until you are
thirsty again." After this Job and the colonel seemed to have a mutual
understanding, and as long as he was within hearing of Cruickshank's
curses there was no better pack-pony on the road than old Job.

It seems as if men who have been used to packing, and have had a spell
of rest from their ordinary occupation, itch to handle the ropes again;
at least, it is only in this way that I can explain the readiness
displayed by so many of Ned's fellow-passengers to lend a hand in fixing
his packs for him.

In an hour from the time of disembarkation the train was ready to start,
and the welcome cry of "All set!" rang out, after which there was a
little hand-shaking, a lighting of pipes, and the procession filed away
up the river, Cruickshank leading the first five ponies, then Roberts
plodding patiently along on foot, then another five ponies, and then, as
long as the narrow train would permit of it, Ned and Steve trudging
along, chatting and keeping the ponies on the move.

Cruickshank was already some distance ahead, and even Steve and Ned were
almost outside the little settlement, when a big red-headed Irishman,
whom Corbett remembered as his fighting friend at Westminster, came
running after him.

"Say," asked Mr. O'Halloran, rather out of breath from his run. "Say,
are you and that blagyard partners?"

"Which?" asked Ned in amaze. "My friend Chance?"

"No, no, not this boy here--that fellow riding ahead of the train."

"Cruickshank? Yes, we are partners in a way," replied Ned.

"And you know it was his brother you laid out? Faith, you laid him out
as nate as if it was for a berryin'," he added with a grin.

"I've heard men say that the colonel is Bub Cruickshank's brother,"
admitted Ned; "but the colonel is all right, whatever Bub is."

"And you and he ain't had no turn-up along of that scrimmage down at
Westminster?" persisted O'Halloran.

"Not a word. I don't think he knew about it."

"Oh yes, he did. I saw Bub and him talking it over, and you may bet your
boots the only reason he didn't bark is that he means to bite--yes, and
bite hard too. It's the way with them dark, down-looking blagyards,"
added the honest Irishman, in a tone of the deepest scorn.

"Ah, well, I don't think Cruickshank is likely to try his teeth on me,"
laughed Ned. "If he does I must try that favourite rib-bender of yours
upon him," and Ned gripped O'Halloran's hand and strode gaily after his
train.

For a moment the red-headed one stood looking after his friend, and then
heaving a great sigh remarked:

"Indade and I'd like a turn wid you mesilf, but if that black-looking
blagyard does a happorth of harm to you, it's Kornaylius O'Halloran as
'll put a head on him."



CHAPTER VI.

THE WET CAMP.


As his pack-train wound away along the trail from Douglas, Ned Corbett
gave a great deep sigh as if there was something which he fain would
blow away from him. And so there was.

As he left the last white man's house between Douglas and Lillooet, he
hoped and believed that he left behind him towns and townsmen, petty
delays, swindlings, and suspicions of swindlings.

He was going to look for gold, and give a year at least of his young
life to be spent in digging for it, and yet this absurd young Englishman
was actually thanking his stars that now, at last, he was rid of dollars
and dollar hunters, business and business men, for at least a month.

There was food enough on the beasts in front of him to last his party
for a year. He was sound in wind and limb, his rifle was not a bad one,
and he had seen lots of game tracks already, and that being so he really
cared very little whether he reached his claims in time or not. But of
course, as Cruickshank said, there was ample time to make the journey
in, time indeed and to spare, as every one he had met admitted, so that
no doubt Steve and he would reach Williams Creek in time, find the
claims as Cruickshank had represented them, and make no end of money.

That would just suit Steve; and after all a lot of money would be a good
thing in its way. It would make a certain old uncle at home take back a
good many things he had once said about his nephew's "great useless body
and ramshackle brains," and besides, he would like a few hundred pounds
himself to send home, and a bit in hand to hire a boat to go to Alaska
in. That had been Ned's day-dream ever since he had seen a certain cargo
of bear-skins which had come down from that ice-bound _terra incognita_
to Victoria.

So Ned sighed a great sigh of relief and contentment, took off his coat
and slung it on his back, opened the collar of his flannel shirt and let
the soft air play about his ribs, turned his sleeves up over his elbows,
tied a silk handkerchief turban-wise on his yellow head, and having cut
himself a good stout stick trudged merrily along, sucking in the
glorious mountain air as greedily as if he had spent the last six months
of his life waiting for briefs in some grimy fog-haunted chamber of the
Temple.

He would have liked the ponies to have moved along a little faster,
because as it was he found it difficult to keep behind them, five miles
an hour suiting his legs better than two. But this was his only trouble,
and as every now and then he got a breather, racing up some steep
incline to head back a straggler to the path of duty, Ned managed to be
perfectly happy in spite of this little drawback.

As for the others, Cruickshank, who had seemed restless and nervous as
long as he had been with the crowd of miners on the boat and at Douglas,
had now relapsed into a mere automaton, which strode on silently ahead
of the pack-train, emitting from time to time little blue jets of
tobacco smoke. Steve seemed buried in calculations, based on a miner's
report that the dirt at Williams Creek had paid as much as fifty cents
to the shovelful, an historical fact which Phon and the young Yankee
discussed occasionally at some length; and old Roberts, having agreed to
leave his suspicions behind him, shared his tobacco cheerily with
Cruickshank, and from time to time startled the listening deer with
scraps of his favourite ditties.

It was the refrain of the old pack mule, "Riding, riding, riding on my
old pack mule," which at last roused Steve Chance's indignation against
the songster.

"Confound the old idiot!" growled the Yankee; "I wish he wouldn't remind
me of the unattainable. I shouldn't mind riding, but I am getting pretty
sick of tramping. Isn't it nearly time to camp, Ned?"

"Nearly time to camp? Why, we haven't made eight miles yet," replied
Corbett.

"Oh, that be hanged for a yarn! We have been going five solid hours by
my watch, and five fours are twenty."

"That may be, but five twos are ten, and what with stoppages to fix
packs, admire the scenery, and give you time to munch a sandwich and tie
up your moccasins, I don't believe we have been going two miles an hour.
But are you tired, Steve?"

"You bet I am, Ned. If there really is no particular hurry let us camp
soon."

"All right, we will if you like. Hullo, Cruickshank!" Cruickshank
turned.

"Steve is tired and wants to camp--what do you say?"

Cruickshank hesitated a moment and then agreed to the proposition,
beginning at once to loosen the packs upon the beasts nearest to him.

"Here, I say, steady there!" cried Corbett; "you take me too literally.
Steve can go another mile if necessary. We'll stop at the next good
camping-ground."

"I'm afraid you won't get anything better than this," replied the
colonel. "Why, what is the matter with this? You didn't expect
side-walks and hotels on the trail, did you, Corbett?"

Even in his best moods there was a nasty sneering way about Cruickshank,
which put his companions' backs up.

"No, but I did think we might find a flat spot to camp on."

"Did you? Then I'm sorry to disappoint you. You won't find anything
except a swamp meadow flatter than this for the next ten miles or so,
and the swamps are a little too wet for comfort at this time of year."

"Do you mean to say, Cruickshank, that we can't find a flatter spot than
this? Why, hang it, man, you couldn't put a tea-cup down here without
spilling the contents," remonstrated Corbett.

"Well, if you think you can better this, let us go on; perhaps you know
best. What is it to be, camp or 'get?'"

"Oh, if you are certain about it I suppose we may as well stay here;
but, by Jove, we shall have to tie ourselves up to trees when we go to
sleep to prevent our straying downhill." And Ned laughed at the vision
he had conjured up.

A minute later a bale,--bigger, heavier, and more round of belly than
its fellows,--escaped from Steve Chance's grip and fell heavily to the
earth. Steve was not a strong man, certainly not a man useful for
lifting weights, besides he was a careless fellow, and tired. For a
moment Steve stood looking at the bale as it turned slowly over and
over. Twice it turned round and Steve still looked at it. The next
moment it gathered way, and before Steve could catch it was hopping
merrily downhill, in bounds which grew in length every time it touched
the hillside. Steve, assisted by Phon, had the pleasure of recovering
that bale from the group of young pines amongst which it eventually
stuck, and brought it with many sobs and much perspiration to the point
from which it originally started. It took Steve and Phon longer to get
over that two hundred feet of hillside than it had taken the bale.

That first camp of theirs has left an impression upon Ned's mind and
Steve's which years will not efface. Ned was too tough to look upon it
as more than a somewhat rough practical joke, likely to pall upon a man
if repeated too often, but to Chance that camp was a camp of misery and
a place of tears. There was water, but it was a long way downhill; there
was, as Cruickshank said, timber enough to keep a mill going for a
twelvemonth, but whatever was worth having for firewood was either
uphill or downhill--you had to climb for everything you happened to
want; and to wind up with, you absolutely had to dig a sort of shelf out
of the hillside upon which to pitch your tent.

It was here, too, that Steve had his first real experience of camping
out. He helped to unpack the horses, but he took so long to retrieve the
bale which had gone downhill that some one had to lend him a hand even
with the one beast which he unpacked. He volunteered to cook, but when
on investigation it was discovered that he would have fried beans
without boiling them, a community unduly careful of its digestion
scornfully refused his assistance. In despair he seized an axe, and went
away as "a hewer of wood and a drawer of water." By and by the voice of
his own familiar friend came to him again and again in tones of cruel
derision:

"Where is that tree coming down, Steve?"

"I don't know and don't care, but it's got to come somewhere," replied
the operator angrily, as he hewed blindly at the tough green pine.

"But it won't do for firewood anyway, Steve, this year, and if you don't
take care you will never need firewood again. Don't you know how to make
a tree fall where you want it to?" and Ned took the tool from his hand,
and completing what his companion had so badly begun, laid the tree out
of harm's way.

"Well, it seems that I can't do anything to please you," grumbled Steve,
now thoroughly angry. "When there is anything that you and Cruickshank
reckon you want my help in you can call me, Corbett. I'll go and smoke
whilst you run this show to your own satisfaction."

"No you won't, old man, and you won't get riled either. Just be a good
chap and go and cut us some brush for bedding. See, this is the best
kind," and Ned held out to his friend a branch of hemlock. Although an
hour later Ned noticed that there was every kind of brush _except_
hemlock in the pile which Steve had collected, he wisely complimented
him on his work, and said nothing about his mistake. A man does not
become a woodsman in a week.

Meanwhile the tent had been pitched; Cruickshank was just climbing up
the hill again after driving the ponies to a swamp down below, and old
Phon was handling a frying-pan full of the largest and thickest rashers
of bacon on record. Little crisp ringlets of fried bacon may serve very
well for the breakfast of pampered civilization, but if you did not cut
your rashers thick out in the woods you would never stop cutting.

Lucky would it have been for Steve and Ned if rough fare and a rocky
camp had been the worst troubles in store for them, but unluckily, even
as they lit their post-prandial pipes, the storm-clouds began to blow up
the valley, ragged and brown, and whilst poor Steve was still tossing on
a sleepless pillow, vexed by the effects of black tea on his nerves, and
crawling beasts upon his sensitive skin, the first great drops of the
coming storm splashed heavily on the sides of the tent.

Of course the tent was new. Everything the two young miners had was new,
brand-new, and made upon the most recent and improved lines. None of the
old, time-tried contrivances of practical men are ever good enough for
beginners. So the fourth or fifth drop of rain which hit that tent came
through as if it had been a sieve, and when well-meaning Steve rubbed
his hand over the place "feeling for the leak," the water came in in a
stream.

When the next morning broke, the wanderers looked out upon that most
miserable of all things, a wet camp in the woods. The misery of a wet
camp is the one convincing argument in favour of civilization.

It was still early in the year, and the season was a late one even for
British Columbia, amongst whose mountains winter never yields without a
struggle. On the dead embers of last night's camp-fire were slowly
melting snowflakes, and a chill wet wind crept into Ned's bosom, as he
looked out upon the morning, and made him shudder.

But Ned was hard, so that careless of rain and puddles he splashed out
past the camp-fire, and after a good many failures kindled a little
comparatively dry wood, over which to make the morning tea, and then
drew upon himself the scorn of that old campaigner Cruickshank by
washing.

What work they could find to do the men did, but even so the hours went
wearily by. Cruickshank was opposed to making a start, for fear lest the
rain should damage the packs, which now lay all snug beneath their
_manteaux_. So they waited until Cruickshank was tired of smoking, and
Roberts of hearing himself sing; until Corbett could sleep no more, and
Steve was hoarse with grumbling. Only Phon, lost in thought which white
men cannot fathom, and the pack animals full of sweet young grass,
seemed content.

For three whole days the party stopped in the same camp, gazing hour
after hour upon a limited view of stiff burnt pines, with the melting
snow drifting down through them, and the fog wrapping them and hiding
away all the distance. Even the fire of piled logs shone, _not_ with
heat but with damp, and the monotonous splash of the drops as they fell
from a leak in the tent into the frying-pan set to catch them, combined
with Phon's harsh cough, to break the silence.

At last, when even Ned was beginning to think of rheumatism, and to
long for a glass of hot toddy and a Turkish bath, the sun came back
again, and cast long rich shadows from the red stems of the bull-pines
across the trail, over which Steve nearly ran, in his anxiety to leave
the wet camp as far behind him as possible.

But even the wet camp was only the beginning of troubles. Three days
they lost waiting for the sun, and in the next camp they waited three
more days for their horses.

At the first camp Cruickshank had been careful to hobble the horses,
which would not have strayed had he left them free in a small naturally
inclosed pasture, like that swamp at the foot of the side hills. But at
the second camp, where the feed was bad and the ways open, he neglected
to hobble any of them, and, oddly enough, old packer though he was, he
overlooked the whole band in his first day's search, so that no one went
that way to look for them again, until it occurred to Corbett to try to
puzzle out their tracks in that direction for himself. There he found
them, in the very meadow in which they had pastured the first night, all
standing in a row behind a bush no bigger than a cabbage, old Job at
their head, every nose down, every ear still, even Job's blue eye fixed
in a kind of glassy stare, and the bell round Job's neck dumb, for it
was full of mud and leaves. It was deuced odd, Ned thought, as he drove
the beasts home. Cruickshank didn't seem to know as much of packing and
the care of horses as he appeared to know at first; but if he knew too
little, that wall-eyed fiend, Job, knew too much.

Anyway, they had taken eight days to do two days' travel, up to that
time. It was well that they had ample time in which to make their
journey to Cariboo.



CHAPTER VII.

FACING DEATH ON THE STONE-SLIDE.


It was the last day of Corbett's journey between the Harrison and the
Frazer, and a boiling hot day at that. With the exception of Corbett
himself, and perhaps Cruickshank, whose back alone was visible as he led
the train, the whole outfit had relapsed into that dull mechanical gait
peculiar to packers and pack animals. To Chance it seemed that he was in
a dream--a dream in which he went incessantly up and up or down, down
day after day without pause or change. To him it seemed that there was
always the same gray stone-slide under foot, the same hot sun overheard,
and the same gleaming blue lake far below; like the pack animals, he was
content to plod along hour after hour, seeing nothing, thinking of
nothing, unless it was of that blessed hour when the camp would be
pitched and the tea made, and the soothing pipe be lighted.

But though Chance had no eyes for it, the end of this first part of his
journey was near at hand. Fourteen miles away the great grisly mountains
came together and threw a shadow upon Seton Lake, building a wall and
setting a barrier over or through which there seemed no possible way of
escape. As Corbett looked at it, he could see the trees quite plainly on
the narrow rim of grass between that mountain wall and the lake, and
though he could not see that too, he knew that through them ran a trail
which led to Lillooet on the Frazer. Even Ned longed to reach that trail
and catch a glimpse of the little town, in which he and his weary beasts
might take at least one day's rest and refreshment.

Since leaving Douglas, Cruickshank and Corbett had been upon the best of
terms. Cruickshank knew how everything ought to be done, and Corbett was
quick and tireless to do it, so that between them these two did most of
the work of the camp; and though Ned noticed that his guide was not as
anxious to get to Lillooet as he had been to get away from Douglas, he
made allowances for him. Cruickshank was hardly a young man, and no
doubt his strength was not equal to his will.

As to the straying of the horses at the second camp, there could be but
one opinion. It was a bad mistake to leave them unhobbled; but after all
everyone made mistakes sometimes, and though that mistake had involved
the loss of a great deal of time, it was the only one which could be
laid to Cruickshank's account. So far not one single thing, however
unimportant, had been left behind in camp or lost upon the trail; there
had been no accidents, no lost packs, nor any sign of sore backs. Day
after day Cruickshank himself had led the train, choosing the best going
for his ponies, and seeing them safely past every projecting rock and
over every _mauvais pas_.

On this day for the first time Cruickshank proposed to give up his
position in front of the train to Ned. Stopping at a place where there
was room to shunt the rear of his column to the front, the colonel
hailed Ned, and suggested that they should change places.

"Come on and set us a quick step, Corbett. Even if you do overtire the
ponies a bit, it doesn't matter now that we are so near Lillooet. They
can rest there as much as they like."

"Very well. I expect _you_ must want a change, and I'll bet old Steve
does. Why, you have hardly had anyone to speak to for a week," replied
Corbett good-naturedly.

"That's so, but I must save my breath a little longer still. If Roberts
will go behind with Phon and Chance, I'll keep the first detachment as
close to your heels as I can; and, by the way, we had better make a
change with the horses whilst we are about it."

"Why?" asked Ned. "What is the matter with them?"

"Not much, but if we are to have any more swimming across places where
the bridging is broken down, we may as well have the horses that take
kindly to water in front, and send that mean old beast to the rear;" and
the colonel pointed to Job, which with its head on one side and an
unearthly glare in its blue eye, appeared to be listening to what was
being said.

"All right, we can do that here if you will lend a hand. Which shall we
put the bell on?" and Ned took the bell off Job, and turned that veteran
over to the second half of the train.

"Put it on this fellow; he takes to the water like an otter, and he will
make a good leader. Wherever his packs can go, any of the others can
follow;" and Cruickshank pointed to the great bulging bales upon the
back of the buckskin.

"I expect Steve and Roberts packed him, didn't they?" Cruickshank added.
"Well, they aren't pretty to look at, but I guess they'll stick;" and so
saying, he gave the buckskin a smack on his quarters which sent that
big star-gazing brute trotting to the front, where Ned invested him with
the order of the bell.

"Is it all right now, Cruickshank?" asked Corbett.

"All right."

"Forrard away then!" cried Ned, and turning he strode merrily along a
narrow trail, which wound up and up across such sheer precipitous side
hills as would make some men dizzy to look at. A slip in some places
would have meant death to those who slipped, long before their bruised
bodies could reach the edge of the lake glittering far below; but
neither men in moccasins nor mountain ponies are given to slipping.

After the rain had come the sunshine and the genial warmth of spring,
under the influence of which every hill was musical with new-born
rivulets, and every level place brilliant with young grass. The very
stone-slides blossomed in great clumps of purple gentian, and over even
the stoniest places crept the tendrils of the Oregon vine, with its
thorny shining leaves and flower-clusters of pale gold.

Now and again the trail rose or fell so much that it seemed to Ned as if
he had passed from one season of flowers to another. Down by the lake,
where the pack animals splashed along the bed of a little mountain
stream, the first wild rose was opening, a mere speck of pink in the
cool darkness made by the overhanging bushes. Here by the lake side,
too, were numerous butterflies--great yellow and black "swallow tails,"
hovering in small clouds over the damp stones, or Camberwell beauties in
royal purple, floating through sun and shadow on wings as graceful in
flight as they were rich in colour. Higher up, where the sun had heated
the stone-slides to a white heat, were more butterflies (fritillaries
and commas and tortoise-shells), while now and again a flash of orange
and a shrill little screech told Ned that a humming-bird went by.

In the highest places of all, where the snow still lingered in tiny
patches, the red-eyed spruce-cocks hooted from the pines, the ruffed
grouse strutted and boomed in the thickets, and the yellow flowers of
lilies gave promise of many a meal for old Ephraim, when their sweet
bulbs should be a few weeks older.

To Ned, merely to swing along day after day in the sunshine and note
these things, was gladness enough, and it was little notice he took of
heat, or thirst, or weariness. Unfortunately he became too absorbed, and
as often happens with men unused to leading out, forgot his train and
walked right away from his ponies.

When this fact dawned upon him it was nearly mid-day, and he found
himself at the highest point which the path had yet reached, from which,
looking back, he could see the train crawling wearily after him. He
could see, too, that Cruickshank was signalling him to stop, so nothing
loth Ned sat down and waited. The path where he sat came out to a sharp
promontory, and turning round this it began to pass over the worst
stone-slide Ned had yet seen. Most of those he had hitherto encountered
had been mere narrow strips of bad going from fifty to a hundred yards
across, but this was nearly five hundred yards from side to side, and
except where the trail ran, there was not foothold upon it for a fly.
Properly speaking it was not, as the natives called it, a stone-slide at
all, but rather the bed or shoot, by which, century after century, some
hundreds of stone-slides had gone crashing down into the lake below.

As soon as Ned had assured himself that the train was once more as near
to him as it ought to be, he knocked off as much of the projecting
corner as he could, and passed round it on to the slide.

Looking up from the narrow trail, the young Englishman could see the
great rocks which hung out from the cliffs above; rocks whose fellows
had been the makers of this slide, letting go their hold up above as the
snows melted and the rains sapped their foundations, and then thundering
down to the lake with such an army of small stones and debris that it
seemed as if the whole mountain-side was moving. When this
stone-avalanche crashed into the water a wave rolled out upon the lake
big as an ocean swell from shore to shore.

Looking down, a smooth shoot sloped at an angle from him to the blue
water.

"Well, that is pretty sheer," muttered Ned, craning his neck to look
down to where the lake glistened a thousand feet below, "and if one of
our ponies gets his feet off this trail, there won't be anything of him
left unbroken except his shoes;" and so saying, he turned to see how the
leader would turn the awkward corner which led on to this _via
diabolica_.

As he did so the report of a pistol rang out sharp and clear, followed
by a rush and the clatter of falling stones, and the next moment Ned saw
the leading pony dash round the overhanging rocks, its ropes all loose,
its packs swinging almost under its belly, its bell ringing as if it
were possessed, and its eyes starting from its head in the insanity of
terror.

At every stride it was touch-and-go whether the brute would keep its
legs or not. Each slip and each recovery at that flying pace was in
itself a miracle, and Ned hardly hoped that he could stop the maddened
beast before it and the packs went crashing down to the lake.

Stop the pony! He might as well have tried to stop a stone-slide. And as
he realized this, the danger of his own position flashed across him for
the first time.

Coming towards him, now not fifty yards away, was the maddened horse,
which probably could not have stopped if it wanted to in that distance,
and on such a course. Behind Ned was four hundred yards of such a trail
as he hardly dared to run over to escape death, and even if he had
dared, what chance in the race would he have had against the horse?
Above him there was nothing to which even his strong fingers could
cling, and below the trail--well, he had already calculated on the
chances of any living thing finding foothold below the trail.
Instinctively Ned shouted and threw up his hands. He might as well have
tried to blow the horse back with his breath. In another ten seconds the
brute would be upon him; in other words, in another ten seconds horse
and packs and Ned Corbett would be the centre of a little dust-storm
bounding frantically down that steep path to death!

In such a crisis as this men think fast, or lose their wits altogether.
Some, perhaps, rather than face the horror of their position shut their
eyes, mental and physical, and are glad to die and get it over. Ned was
of the other kind: the kind that will face anything with their eyes
open, and fight their last round with death with eyes that will only
close when the life is out of them.

There was just one chance for life, and having his eyes open, Ned saw it
and took it.

Twenty yards from him now was that hideous maddened brute, with its
ears laid back, its teeth showing, the foam flying from its jaws, and
its great blood-shot eyes almost starting from their sockets. Twenty
yards, and the pace the brute was coming at was the pace of a
locomotive!

And yet, though Corbett's face was gray as a March morning, and his
square jaws set like a steel trap, there was no blinking in his eyes. He
saw the blow coming, and quick as light he countered. Never on parade in
the old school corps did his rifle come to his shoulder more steadily
than it came now; not a nerve throbbed as he pressed (not pulled) the
trigger, nor was it until he stood _alone_ upon that narrow path that
his knees began to rock beneath him, while the cold perspiration poured
down his drawn white face in streams.

One man only besides Corbett saw that drama; one man, whose features
wore a look of which hell might have been proud, so fiendish was it in
its disappointed malice, when through the dust he saw the red flame
flash, and then, almost before the report reached him, saw the body of
the big buckskin, a limp bagful of broken bones, splash heavily into the
Seton Lake.

But the look passed as a cloud passes on a windy morning, and the next
moment Cruickshank was at Corbett's side, a flood of congratulations and
inquiries pouring from his ready lips. As for Ned, now that the danger
was over, he was utterly unstrung, and a bold enemy might have easily
done for him that which the runaway horse had failed to do. Perhaps that
thought never occurred to any enemy of Ned's; perhaps the quick,
backward glance, in which Cruickshank recognized old Roberts' purple
features, was as effectual a safeguard to the young man's life as even
his own good rifle had been; be that as it may, a few moments later Ned
stumbled along after his friend to a place of safety, and there sat down
again to collect himself.

Meanwhile, Roberts and Cruickshank stood looking at one another, an
expression in the old poet's face, which neither Corbett nor Cruickshank
had ever seen there before, the hand in his coat pocket grasping a
revolver, whose ugly muzzle was ready to belch out death from that
pocket's corner at a moment's notice. At last Cruickshank spoke in a
voice so full of genuine sorrow, that even Roberts slackened his hold
upon the weapon concealed in his coat pocket.

"You've had a near shave to-day, Corbett, and it was my fault. I am
almost ashamed to ask you to forgive me."

"How--what do you mean? Did you fire that shot?"

"I did, like a cursed idiot," replied Cruickshank.

Roberts' face was a study for an artist. Speechless surprise reigned
upon it supreme.

"I did," Cruickshank repeated. "I fired at a grouse that was hooting in
a bull-pine by the track, and I suppose that that scared the
cayuse--though I've never known a pack-horse mind a man shooting
before."

"Nor I," muttered Roberts. "I suppose you didn't notice if you hit that
fool-hen, Colonel Cruickshank?"

"No; I don't suppose I did. I'd enough to think of when I saw what I had
done."

"Well, it didn't fly away, and it ain't there now," persisted Roberts.
"Perhaps you'd like to go and look for it."

However, Cruickshank took no notice of Roberts' speech, but held out his
hand to Corbett with such an honest expression of sorrow, that if it was
not sincere, it was superb as a piece of acting.

Without a word Corbett took the proffered hand. There are some natures
which find it hard to suspect evil in others, and Ned Corbett's was one
of these. Only he made a mental note, that though Cruickshank had only
made two mistakes since starting from Douglas, they had both been of
rather a serious nature.

Only one man climbed down to look at the dead cayuse as it lay half
hidden in the shallow water at the edge of the lake, and that was only a
Chinaman. Of course he went to see what he could save from the wreck;
equally, of course, he found nothing worth bringing away; found nothing
and noticed nothing, or if he did, only told what he had seen to old
Roberts. There seemed to be an understanding between these two, for Phon
trusted the hearty old Shropshireman as much as he seemed to dread and
avoid the colonel.



CHAPTER VIII.

THEIR FIRST "COLOURS."


"Lillooet at last!"

Steve Chance was the speaker, and as his eyes rested upon the Frazer,
just visible from the first bluff which overlooks the Lillooet, his
spirits rose so that he almost shouted aloud for joy. There beneath him,
only a short mile away, lay most of the things which he longed for: rest
after labour, good food, and pleasant drinks. Steve's cravings may not
have been the cravings of an ideal artist's nature, but let those who
would cavil at them tramp for a week over stone-slides and through
alkaline dust, and then decide if these are not the natural longings of
an ordinary man.

To tell the whole truth, Steve had amused himself and his comrade
Roberts for more than a mile by discussing what they would order to eat
and drink when once they reached comparative civilization again. Even
the hardest of men tire in time of bacon and beans and tea.

A "John Collins," a seductive fluid, taken in a long glass and sipped
through a straw, was perhaps what Steve hankered after most; but there
were many other things which he longed for besides that most delectable
of drinks, such for instance as a "full bath," a beefsteak, and clean
sheets to follow.

Alas, poor Steve! There was the Frazer to wash in if he liked, and no
doubt he could have obtained something which called itself a steak at
the saloon, but a "John Collins" and clean sheets he was not likely to
obtain west of Chicago.

Indeed, to this day long glasses and "drinketty drinks" are rare in the
wild west; "drunketty drinks" out of short thick vulgar little tumblers
being the order of the day. And apart from all this, Lillooet, though
larger in 1862 than it is to-day, was even then but a poor little town,
a town consisting only of one long straggling street, which looked as if
it had lost its way on a great mud-bluff by the river. Benches of yellow
mud and gray-green sage-brush rose above and around the "city," tier
above tier, until they lost themselves in the mountains which gathered
round, and deep down at the foot of the bluffs the Frazer roared along.

Since Chance had last seen the Frazer at Westminster its character had
considerably changed. There it was a dull heavy flood, at least half a
mile in breadth from bank to bank; here it was an angry torrent,
roaring between steep overhanging banks, nowhere two hundred yards
apart. There the river ran by flat lands, and fields which men might
farm; here the impending mountains hung threateningly above it. The most
daring steamboat which had ever plied upon the Frazer had not come
nearer to Lillooet than Lytton, and that was full forty miles down
stream.

In one thing only the Frazer was unchanged. At Lillooet, as at
Westminster, it was a sordid yellow river, with no sparkle in it, no
blue backwaters, no shallows through which the pebbles shone like jewels
through liquid sunshine. And yet, artist though he was in a poor
tradesman-like fashion, Steve gazed on the Frazer with a rapture which
no other stream had ever awakened in him. At the portage between Seton
and Anderson lakes he had passed a stream such as an angler dreams of in
his dusty chambers on a summer afternoon, but he had hardly wasted a
second glance upon it. Only trout lay there, great purple-spotted
fellows, who would make the line vibrate like a harp string, and thrash
the water into foam, ere they allowed themselves to be basketed; but in
the Frazer, though the fish were only torpid, half-putrid salmon, that
would not even take a fly, there was gold, and gold filled Steve's brain
and eyes and heart just then to the exclusion of every other created
thing. All he wanted was gold, gold; and his spirits rose higher and
higher as he noted the flumes which ran along the river banks, and saw
the little groups of blue-shirted Chinamen who squatted by their
rockers, or shovelled the gravel into their ditches.

So keen, indeed, was Steve to be at work amongst his beloved "dirt,"
that tired though he was, he persuaded Ned to come with him and wash a
shovelful of it, whilst dinner was being prepared.

Right at the back of the town a little company of white men had dug deep
into the gravel of the beach, set their flumes, and turned on a somewhat
scanty supply of water, and here Steve obtained his first "colours."

A tall old man who ran the mine lent him a shovel, and showed him where
to fill it with likely-looking dirt; taught him how to dip the edge of
his shovel in the bucket, and slowly swill the water thus obtained round
and round, so as to wash away the big stones and the gravel which he did
not want.

The operation looks easier than it is, and at first Steve washed his
shovel cleaner than he meant to, in a very short time. By and by,
however, he learnt the trick, and was rewarded by seeing a patch of fine
gravel left in the hollow of the shovel, with here and there a tiny ruby
amongst it, and here and there an agate. The next washing took away
everything except a sediment of fine black sand,--sand which will fly to
a magnet, and is the constant associate and sure indication of gold.

Steve was going to give this another wash when old Pete stopped him.
"Steady, my lad, don't wash it all away; there it is, don't you see it!"
and sure enough there it was, up by the point of the shovel, seven,
eight--a dozen small red specks, things that you almost needed a
microscope to see, not half as beautiful as the little rubies or the
pure white agates; but this was gold, and when the old miner, taking
back his shovel, dipped it carelessly into the water of his flume,
Chance felt for a moment a pang of indignation at seeing his first
"colours" treated with such scant ceremony, although the twelve specks
together were not, in all probability, worth a cent.

But the sight of the gold put new life into Chance and filled Phon's
veins with fever. One night at Lillooet, Steve said, was rest enough for
him; and most of that night he and Phon spent either down by the river
or in the saloon, watching the Chinese over their rockers, or listening
to the latest accounts from Cariboo. Men could earn good wages placer
mining at Lillooet in '62, even as they can now, but all who could
afford it were pushing on up stream to golden Cariboo. What was five
dollars a day, or ten, or even twenty for the matter of that, when other
men were digging out fortunes daily on Williams Creek and Antler
Cunningham's, and the Cottonwood?

And in this matter Cruickshank humoured Steve's feverish impatience to
get on. Here, as at Douglas, the gallant colonel showed a strange
reluctance to mingle with his fellows, or at least with such of them as
had passed a season in the upper country, and even went so far as to
camp out a mile away from the town, to give the pack animals a better
chance of getting good feed, and to secure them, so he said, against all
temptations to stray up stream with somebody else. Horseflesh was dear
at Lillooet in '62; and the colonel said that morals were lax, though
why they should have been worse than at Westminster, Ned could not
understand.

However, it suited him to go on, so he raised no objection to
Cruickshank's plans, more especially as the rest did not seem beneficial
to his honest old chum, Roberts, who had been the centre of a
hard-drinking, hard-swearing lot of mining men, ever since he arrived
at Lillooet. Whenever Ned came near, these men sunk their voices to a
whisper, and once when Cruickshank came in sight, the scowl upon their
brows grew so dark, and their mutterings so ominous, that the colonel
took the hint and vanished immediately. When Ned saw him next he was at
their trysting-place, a mile and a half from the saloon, and very
impatient to be off,--so impatient, indeed, that he absolutely refused
to wait for Roberts, who, he "guessed," was drunk.

"Those old-timers are all the same when they get amongst pals, and as
for Roberts, we are deuced well rid of him, he is no use anyway," said
the colonel.

This might very well be Cruickshank's opinion. It was not Ned's, and Ned
had a way of thinking and acting for himself, so without any waste of
words he bade his comrades "drive ahead," whilst he turned back in
search of Roberts.

By some accident this worthy had not heard of the intended start, and
was, as Ned expected, as innocent of any intention to desert as he was
of drunkenness.

When Ned found him he was sitting in the barroom with a lot of his pals,
and the conversation round him had grown loud and angry; indeed, as Ned
entered, a rough, weather-beaten fellow in his shirt sleeves was
shouting at the top of his voice, "What the deuce is the good of all
this jaw? Lynch the bilk, that's what I say, and save trouble."

But Ned's appearance put a stop to the proceedings, though an angry
growl broke out when he was overheard to say that Cruickshank and Steve
had started half an hour ago, and that he himself had come back to look
for old Roberts.

"Don't you go, Bob," urged one of his comrades; "them young Britishers
are bound to stay by their packs, but you've no call to."

"Not you. You'll stay right here, if you ain't a born fool," urged
another.

But Bob was not to be coaxed or bantered out of his determination to
stay by his brother Salopian.

"No, lads," he retorted, "I ain't a born fool, and I ain't the sort to
go back on a pal. If Corbett goes I'm going, though I don't pretend to
be over-keen on the job."

"Wal, if you will go, go and be hanged to you; only, Bob, keep your eye
skinned, and, I say, _shoot fust_ next time, _shoot fust_; now don't you
forget it!" with which mysterious injunction Bob's big friend reeled up
from the table (he was half-drunk already), shook hands, "liquored" once
more, and left. He said he had some business to attend to down town; and
as it was nearly noon, and he had done nothing but smoke and drink short
drinks since breakfast-time, he was probably right in thinking that it
was time to attend to it.

Whilst this gentleman rolled away down the street with a fine free
stride, requiring a good deal of sea-room, Ned and his friend had to put
their best feet foremost (as the saying is) to make up for lost time.
When you are walking fast over rough ground you have not much breath
left for conversation, and this, perhaps, and the roar of the sullen
river, accounts for the fact that the two men strode along in silence,
neither of them alluding to the conversation just overheard in the
saloon, although the minds of both were running upon that subject, and
Ned noticed that the pistol which Roberts pulled out and examined as
they went along was a recent purchase.

"Hullo, you've got a new gun, Rob," he remarked. Everything with which
men shoot is called a gun in British Columbia.

"Yes, it's one I bought at Lillooet. I hadn't got a good one with me."

"Well, I don't suppose you'll want it, now you have got it," replied
Corbett.

"Well, I don't know. I _might_ want it to shoot grouse with by the side
of the trail."

And the old fellow laid such an emphasis upon his last words and
chuckled so grimly, that Ned half suspected that he had wetted his
whistle once too often after all.



CHAPTER IX.

UNDER THE BALM-OF-GILEAD TREE.


From noon of the day upon which Ned Corbett and old Roberts strode out
of Lillooet until the night upon which we meet them again was a
fortnight and more, a fortnight of which I might, if I chose, write a
history, but it would only be the history of almost every mining party
and pack-train that ever went up the Frazer. The incidents of those days
are indelibly engraved upon the memories of Steve and of Corbett, but to
Roberts they passed without remark and left no impression behind. The
life was only the ordinary miner's life; and there was nothing new to
the old-timer in buoyant hopes wearing away day by day; nothing new in
the daily routine of camps broken by starlight and pitched again at
dusk; in trails blocked by windfalls or destroyed by landslips; in packs
which would shift, tie them ever so tightly; in stones which cut the
moccasins, and prickly pears which filled the sole with anguish; or in
cruel fire-hardened rampikes, which tore the skin to rags and the
clothes to ribands. Three weeks upon the road had done its work upon the
party, had added much to their knowledge, and taken much away that was
useless from their equipment.

When they left Westminster they were five smart, well-fed, civilized
human beings; when they struggled up out of the valley of the Frazer
towards Cariboo, at Soda Creek, they were five lean, weather-hardened
men, their clothes all rags and patches, their skin all wounded and
blistered, every "indispensable adjunct of a camp," as made by Mr.
Silver, discarded long ago; but every article of camp furniture which
was left, carried where it could be got at, ready when it was wanted,
and thoroughly adapted to the rough and ready uses of those who took the
trouble to "pack it along."

Even to Steve it seemed ages now since his nostrils were used to any
other odour than the pungent scent of the pines; ages since his ears
listened to any other sound than the roar of the yellow river and the
monotonous tinkle of the leader's bell; ages even since washing had been
to him as a sacred rite, and a clean shirt as desirable as a clean
conscience.

And yet Corbett and Chance had seen, on their way up, men who led harder
lives than theirs; blue-shirted, bearded fellows, who carried their all
upon their own shoulders; and others who had put their tools and their
grub in the craziest of crafts, and, climbing one moment and wading the
next, strove to drag it up stream in the teeth of the Frazer.

As Ned saw the frail canoes rear up on end against the angry waters, he
understood why the old river carried so many down stream whose dead
hands grasped no dollars, whose dead lips told no tales. But the river
trail had come to an end at last, and the five were now steering
north-east for the bold mountains and their gold-bearing rivers and
creeks. They had now put many a mile between themselves and Soda Creek,
and were lying smoking round their camp-fire, built under a huge
balm-of-gilead tree, which stood in the driest part of what we call a
swamp, and Canadians a meadow. The pack-saddles were set in orderly
line, with their ropes and cinches neatly coiled alongside them; the
packs were snug under their _manteaux_, and the tent was pitched as men
pitch a tent who are used to their work, not with its sides all bellying
in, strained in one place slack in another, but just loose enough to
allow for a wetting if it should happen to rain in the night. Now and
again the bell of one of the pack animals sounded not unmusically from
some dark corner of the swamp, or the long "ho-ho" of kalula, the
night-owl, broke the silence, which but for these sounds would have been
complete.

Suddenly a voice said:

"Great Scott! do you know what the date is?"

Since the pipes had been lighted no one had spoken, and as Cruickshank
broke the silence, it was almost under protest that Ned rolled round on
his blanket to face the speaker, and dropped a monosyllabic "Well?" The
men were too tired to talk, and night, which in these northern forests
is very still, had thrown its spell upon them. Steve and Phon merely
turned their heads inquiringly to the speaker, who sat upon a log
turning over the leaves of a little diary, and waited.

"To-morrow will be the 27th of May."

"The 27th of May--what then?" asked Ned dreamily. He was hardly awake
to everyday thoughts yet.

"What then! What then! Why, if you are not at Williams Creek by the 1st
of June your claims can be jumped by anyone who comes along."

"But can't we get there by the 1st of June?" asked Ned, sitting up and
taking his pipe out of his mouth.

"Impossible. If you could drive the ponies at a trot you could only just
do it. It is five good days' journey with fresh animals, and we have
only four to do it in, and grizzlies wouldn't make our ponies trot now."

"Well, what are we to do?" broke in Chance. "You calculated the time,
and said that we had enough and to spare."

"I know I did, but I made a mistake."

"Oh to blazes with your _mistakes_, Colonel Cruickshank," cried Chance
angrily; "they seem to me a bit too expensive to occur quite so often."

"Don't lose your temper, my good sir. I couldn't help it, but I am
willing to atone for it. I calculated as if April had thirty-one days in
it, and it hasn't; and, besides, I've dropped a day on the road
somehow."

"Looking for horses," growled Roberts, "or shooting grouse, maybe."

"What do you propose to do, Colonel Cruickshank?" asked Corbett, whose
face alone seemed still perfectly under his own control.

"Well, Mr. Corbett, I've led you into the scrape, so I must get you out
of it. If either you or Roberts will stay with me I'll bring the horses
on for you to Williams Creek, whilst the rest can start away right now
and make the best of their time to the claims. You could do the
distance all right if it wasn't for the pack-ponies."

"But how could _I_ stay?" asked Corbett.

"Well, you needn't, of course, if Roberts doesn't mind staying;
otherwise you could assign your interest in your claim to him, and he
could go on and hold it for you."

"But it will be deuced hard work for two men to manage nine pack-ponies
over such a trail as this."

"It won't be any violets," replied Cruickshank, "you may bet on that;
but it's my fault, so I'll 'foot the bill.'"

"I don't know about its being your fault either," broke in Corbett, "I
was just as big an ass as a man could be. I ought to have calculated the
time for myself. Can't we all stop and chance it?"

"What, and lose a good many thousand dollars paid, and every chance of
making a good many thousand more, for which we have been tramping over a
month--that would be lunacy!" broke in Chance.

"Well, if you don't mean to lose the claims, I know no other way of
getting to Williams Creek in time," said Cruickshank; and, looking up at
the sky, he added, "you might have two or three hours' sleep, and then
be off bright and early by moonlight. The moon rises late to-night."

It was a weird scene there by that camp-fire; and there were things
written on the faces of those sitting round it, which a mere outsider
could have read at a glance.

The moon might be coming up later on, but just at that moment there was
neither moon nor star, only a black darkness, broken by the occasional
sputtering flames of the wood fire. Out of the darkness the men's faces
showed from time to time as the red gleams flickered over them; the
faces of Corbett, Steve, and Roberts full of perplexity and doubt; the
eyes of Phon fixed in a frightened fascinated stare upon the colonel;
and Cruickshank's face white with suppressed excitement, the coarse,
cruel mouth drawn and twitching, and the eyes glaring like the eyes of a
tiger crouching for its prey.

"Well, what had we better do?" asked Corbett at last from somewhere
amongst the shadows, and Cruickshank's eyes shifted swiftly to where
Steve and Roberts lay, as if anxious to forestall their answer.

"I'll stay, Ned Corbett. It's safer for me than it would be for you,"
said Roberts. "I can only lose a little time, not much worth to anyone,
and you have a good deal to lose."

After all it was only a small question. They had driven the pack animals
now for a month, and, whoever stayed, would only at the worst have to
drive them for another week. The work, of course, would be rather heavy
with only two to divide it among; but on the other hand those who went
ahead would have to make forced marches and live upon very short
rations.

Ned was rather surprised then that Roberts answered as if it was a
matter of grave import, and that his voice seemed to have lost the jolly
ring which was natural to it.

"Don't stop if you don't like to, old chap. Phon can assign his
interests to you and stay behind instead."

"No, no, me halò stay. Halò! halò!" and the little Chinaman almost
shrieked the last word, so emphatic was his refusal.

"It's no good leaving Phon," replied Roberts, casting a pitying look
towards that frightened heathen; "he would see devils all the time, and
be of no use after it got dark. I tell you, I'll stay and take care of
the ponies; and now you had better all turn in and get some sleep. You
will have to travel pretty lively when you once start. I'll see to your
packs."

Probably Ned had been mistaken from the first, but if any feeling had
shaken his friend's voice for a moment, it had quite passed away now,
and Roberts was again his own genial, helpful self.

After all, he was the very best person to leave behind. Except
Cruickshank, he was the only really good packer amongst them. He was as
strong as a horse, and besides, he had no particular reason for wanting
to be at Williams Creek by the 1st of June.

"You really don't mind stopping, Rob?" asked Corbett.

"Not a bit. Why should I? I'd do a good deal more than that for you, if
it was only for the sake of the dear old country, my lad."

Again, just for a moment, there seemed to be a sad ring in his voice,
and he stretched out his hand and gripped Ned's in the darkness.

Ned was surprised.

"The old man is a bit sentimental to-night," he thought. "It's not like
him, but, I suppose, these dismal woods have put him a little off his
balance. They _are_ lonesome."

With which sage reflection Ned turned his eyes away from the dark vista
down which he had been gazing, and rolling round in his blankets forgot
both the gloom and the gold.

For two or three hours the sleepers lay there undisturbed by the calls
of the owls, or the stealthy tread of a passing bear, which chose the
trail as affording the best road from point to point. At night, when
there is no chance of running up against a man, no one appreciates a
well-made road better than a bear. He will crash through the thickest
brush if necessary, but if you leave him to choose, he will avoid rough
and stony places as carefully as a Christian.

Towards midnight Cruickshank, who had been tossing restlessly in his
blankets, sat up and crouched broodingly over the dying embers,
unconscious that a pair of bright, beady eyes were watching him
suspiciously all the time.

But Phon made no sign. He was only a bundle of blankets upon the ground,
a thing of no account.

By and by, when Cruickshank had settled himself again to sleep, this
bundle of blankets sat up and put fresh logs on the camp-fire. The
warmth from them soothed the slumberers, and after a while even
Cruickshank lay still. Phon watched him for some time, until convinced
that his regular breathing was not feigned, but real slumber, and then
he too crept away from the fire-side, not to his own place, but into the
shadow where Roberts lay.

After a while an owl, which had been murdering squirrels in their sleep,
came gliding on still wings, and lit without a sound on the limb of a
tall pine near the camp. The light from the camp-fire dazzled its big
red-brown eyes, but after a little time it could see that two of the
strange bundles, which lay like mummies round the smouldering logs, were
sitting up and talking together. But the owl could not catch what they
said, except once, when it saw a bright, white gleam flash from the
little bundle like moonlight showing through a storm-cloud, and then as
the bigger bundle snatched the white thing away, the listening owl
heard a voice say:

"No, my God, no! That may do very well for a Chinee; it won't do for a
Britisher, Phon!"

And another voice answered angrily:

"Why not? You white men all fool. You savey what _he_ did. S'pose you no
kill him, by'm bye he--"

But the rest was lost to the owl, and a few minutes later, just as it
raised its wings to go, it saw the smaller bundle wriggle across the
ground again to its old place by the embers.



CHAPTER X.

THE SHADOWS BEGIN TO FALL.


When Corbett woke, the first beams of the rising moon were throwing an
uncertain light over the forest paths, and the children of night were
still abroad, the quiet-footed deer taking advantage of the moonlight to
make an early breakfast before the sun and man rose together to annoy
them.

The camp-fire had just been made up afresh, and a frying-pan, full of
great rashers, was hissing merrily upon it, while a kettle full of
strong hot coffee stood beside it, ready to wash the rashers down.

Men want warming when they rise at midnight from these forest slumbers,
and Roberts, knowing that it would be long ere his friends broke their
fast again, had been up and busy for the last half-hour, building a real
nor'-west fire, and preparing a generous breakfast.

Cruickshank too was up, if not to speed the parting, at any rate to see
them safely off the premises, a smile of unusual benevolence on his dark
face.

Between them, he and Roberts put up the travellers' packs, taking each
man's blankets as he got out of them, and rolling in them such light
rations as would just last for a four days' trip. In twenty minutes from
the time when they crawled out of their blankets, the three stood ready
to start.

"Are you all set?" asked Cruickshank.

"All set," replied Chance.

"Then the sooner you 'get' the better. It will be as much as your
heathen can do to make the journey in time, I'll bet."

"Why, is the trail a very bad one?"

"Oh, it's all much like this, but it's most of it uphill, and there may
be some snow on the top. But you can't miss your way with all these
tracks in front."

"You will be in yourself a day or two after us, won't you?" asked
Corbett.

"Yes. If you don't make very good time I daresay I shall, although the
snow may delay the ponies some. But don't you worry about them. I'll
take care of the ponies, you can trust me for that."

"Then, if you will be in so soon, I won't trouble to take anything
except one blanket and my rifle," remarked Ned.

"Oh, take your rocker. It looks more business-like; and, besides, all
the millionaires go in with 'nothing but a rocker-iron for their whole
kit, and come out worth their weight in gold.'"

There was a mocking ring in Cruickshank's voice as he said this, at
variance with his oily smile, but Steve Chance took his words in good
faith. Steve still believed in the likelihood of his becoming a
millionaire at one stroke of the miner's pick.

"I guess you're right, colonel. I'll take my rocker-iron, whatever else
I leave behind. Lend a hand to fix it on to my pack, will you?" and
then, when Cruickshank had done this, Steve added with a laugh: "I shall
consider you entitled to (what shall we say?) one per cent on the
profits of the mine when in full swing, for your services, colonel."

"Don't promise too much, Chance. You don't know what sort of a gold-mine
you are giving away yet;" and the speaker bent over a refractory strap
in Steve's pack to hide an ugly gleam of white teeth, which might have
had a meaning even for such an unsuspicious fool as Ned Corbett, who at
this moment picked up his Winchester and held out his hand to
Cruickshank.

"Good-bye, colonel," he said. "What with the claims and the packs, we
have trusted you now with every dollar we have in the world. Lucky for
us that we are trusting to the honour of a soldier and a gentleman,
isn't it? Good-bye to you."

It was the kindliest speech Ned had ever made to Cruickshank. Weeks of
companionship, and the man's readiness to atone for his mistake, had had
their effect upon Corbett's generous nature; but its warmth was lost
upon the colonel.

Either he really did not see, or else he affected not to see the
outstretched hand; in any case he did not take it, and Ned went away
without exchanging that silent grip (which a writer of to-day has aptly
called "an Englishman's oath") with the man to whom he had intrusted his
last dollar.

As for old Roberts, he followed his friends for a couple of hundred
yards upon their way, and then wrung their hands until the bones
cracked.

"Give this to Rampike when you see him, Ned. I guess he'll be at
Williams Creek, or Antler; Williams Creek most likely," said the old
poet in parting, and handed a note with some little inclosure in it to
Ned.

"All right, I won't forget. Till we meet again, Rob;" and Corbett waved
his cap to him.

"Till we meet again!" Roberts repeated after him, and stood looking
vacantly along the trail until Steve and Corbett passed out of sight.
Then he, too, turned and tramped back to camp, cheering himself as he
went with a stave of his favourite ditty.

The last the lads heard of their comrade on that morning was the
crashing of a dry twig or two beneath old Roberts' feet, and the refrain
of his song as it died away in the distance--


     "Riding, riding, riding on my old pack-mule."


Ned Corbett could not imagine how he had ever thought that air a lively
one. It was stupidly mournful this morning, or else the woods and the
distance played strange tricks with the singer's voice. But if Ned was
affected by an imaginary minor key in his old friend's singing, a
glimpse at the camp he had left would not have done much to restore his
cheerfulness.

The embers had died down, and looked almost as gray and sullen as the
face of the man who sat and scowled at them from a log alongside. The
only living thing in camp besides the colonel was one of those impudent
gray birds, which the up-country folk call "whisky-jacks." Of course he
had come to see what he could steal. That is the nature of jays, and the
whisky-jack is the Canadian jay. At first the bird stood with his head
on one side eyeing the colonel, uncertain whether it would be safe to
come any closer or not. But there was a fine piece of bacon-rind at the
colonel's feet, so the bird plucked up his courage and hopped a few
paces nearer. He had measured his distance to an inch, and with one eye
on the colonel and one on the bacon, was just straining his neck to the
utmost to drive his beak into the succulent morsel, when the man whom he
thought was asleep discharged a furious kick at an unoffending log, and
clenching his fist ground out between his teeth muttered:

"A soldier and a gentleman! a soldier and a gentleman! Yes, but it came
a bit too late, Mr. Edward Corbett. Hang it, I wish you had stayed
behind instead of that fool, Roberts."

Of course the "whisky-jack" did not understand the other biped's
language, but he was a bird of the world, and instinct told him that his
companion in camp was dangerous; so, though the bacon-rind still lay
there, he flitted off to a tree hard by, and spent the next half-hour in
heaping abuse upon the colonel from a safe distance.

That "whisky-jack" grew to be a very wise bird, and in his old days used
to tell many strange stories about human bipeds and the Balm-of-Gilead
camp.

But there was half a mile of brush between Ned and their old camp, so he
saw nothing of all this; and after the fresh morning air had roused him,
and the exercise had set his blood going through his veins at its normal
pace, he went unconcernedly on his way, talking to Steve as long as
there was room enough for the two to walk side by side, and then
gradually forging ahead, and setting that young Yankee a step which kept
him extended, and made poor little Phon follow at a trot.

Though Ned and Steve had grown used to isolation upon the trail with
ten laden beasts between the two, they made several attempts upon this
particular morning to carry on a broken conversation, or lighten the
road with snatches of song.

Perhaps it was that they were making unconscious efforts to drive away a
feeling of depression, which sometimes comes over men's natures with as
little warning as a storm over an April sky.

But their efforts were in vain; nature was too strong for them. In the
great silence amid these funereal pines their voices seemed to fall at
their own feet, and ere long the forest had mastered them, as it masters
the Indians, and the birds, and the wild dumb beasts which wander about
in its fastnesses. The only creature which retains its loquacity in a
pine-forest is the squirrel, and he is always too busy to cultivate
sentiment of any kind.

Cruickshank had warned them that the trail led uphill, and it
undoubtedly did so. At first the three swung along over trails brown
with the fallen pine needles of last year, soft to the foot and level to
the tread, with great expanses of fruit bushes upon either side,--bushes
that in another month or two would be laden with a repast spread only
for the bear and the birds. Salmon-berry and rasp-berry, soap-berry and
service-berry, and two or three different kinds of bilberry were there,
as well as half a dozen others which neither Ned nor Steve knew by
sight. But the season of berries was not yet, so they wetted their
parched lips with their tongues and passed on with a sigh.

Then the road began to go uphill. They knew that by the way they kept
tripping over the sticks and by the increased weight of their packs. By
and by Steve thought they would come to a level place at the top, and
there they would lie down for a while and rest. But that top never came,
or at least the sun was going round to the south, and it had not come
yet. And then the air began to grow more chill, and the trees to change.
There were no more bushes, or but very few of them; and the trees, which
were black dismal-looking balsams, were draped with beard-moss, the
winter food of the cariboo, and there was snow in little patches at
their feet. When the sun had gone round to the west the snow had grown
more plentiful, and there were glades amongst the balsams, and at last
Steve was glad, for they had got up to the top of the divide.

But he was wrong again, for again the trail rose, and this time through
a belt of timber which the wind had laid upturned across their path.
Heavens! how heavy the packs grew then, and how their limbs ached with
stepping over log after log, bruising their shins against one and
stumbling head-first over another. At first Steve growled at every
spiked-bough which caught and held him, and groaned at every sharp stake
which cut into the hollow of his foot. But anger in the woods soon gives
place to a sullen stoicism. It is useless to quarrel with the
unresponsive pines. The mountains and the great trees look down upon
man's insignificance, and his feeble curse dies upon his lips, frozen by
the terrible sphinx-like silence of a cold passionless nature.

As long as the sunlight lasted the three kept up their spirits fairly
well. The glades in their winter dress, with the sunlight gleaming upon
the dazzling snow and flashing from the white plumes of the pines, were
cheery enough, and took Corbett's thoughts back to Christmas in the old
country; besides, there were great tracks across one glade--tracks like
the tracks of a cow, and Ned was interested in recognizing the
footprints of the beast which has given its name to Cariboo.

But when the sun went, everything changed. A great gloom fell like a
pall upon man and nature: the glitter which made a gem of every lakelet
was gone, and the swamps, which had looked like the homes of an ideal
Father Christmas, relapsed into dim shadowy places over whose soft
floors murder might creep unheard, whilst the balsam pines stood rigid
and black, like hearse plumes against the evening sky.

"Ned, we can't get out of this confounded mountain to-night, can we?"
asked Chance.

"No, old man, I don't think we can," replied Ned, straining his eyes
along the trail, which still led upwards.

"Then I propose that we camp;" and Chance suited the action to the word,
by heaving his pack off his shoulders and dropping on to it with a sigh
of relief.

Perhaps the three sat in silence for five minutes (it certainly was not
more), asking only for leave to let the aching muscles rest awhile;
though even this seemed too much to ask, for long before their muscles
had ceased to throb, before Steve's panting breath had begun to come
again in regular cadence, the chill of a winter night took hold upon
them, stiffened their clothes, and would shortly have frozen them to
their seats.

"This is deuced nice for May, isn't it, Steve?" remarked Ned with a
shiver. "Lend me the axe, Phon; it is in your pack. If we don't make a
fire we shall freeze before morning. Steve, you might cut some brush,
old chap, and you and Phon might beat down some of the snow into a floor
to camp on. I'll go and get wood enough to last all night;" and Corbett
walked off to commence operations upon a burnt "pine stick," still
standing full of pitch and hard as a nail. But Ned was used to his axe,
and the cold acted on him as a spur to a willing horse, so that he hewed
away, making the chips fly and the axe ring until he had quite a stack
of logs alongside the shelter which Steve had built up.

Then the sticks began to crackle and snap like Chinese fireworks, and
the makers of the huge fire were glad enough to stand at a respectful
distance lest their clothes should be scorched upon their backs. That is
the worst of a pine fire. It never gives out a comfortable glow, but
either leaves you shivering or scorches you.

Having toasted themselves on both sides, the three travellers found a
place where they would be safe from the wood smoke, and still standing
pulled out the rations set apart for the first day's supper, and ate the
cold bacon and heavy damper slowly, knowing that there was no second
course coming.

When you are reduced to two slices of bread and one of bacon for a full
meal, with only two such meals in the day, and twelve hours of
abstinence and hard labour between them, it is wonderful how even coarse
store bacon improves in flavour. I have even known men who would
criticise the cooking at a London club, to collect the stale crumbs from
their pockets and eat them with apparent relish in the woods, though the
crumbs were thick with fluff and tobacco dust! As they stood there
munching, Ned said:

"I suppose, Steve, we did wisely in coming on?"

"What else could we have done, Ned?"

"Yes, that's it. What else could we have done? And yet--"

"And yet?" repeated Steve questioningly. "What is your trouble, Ned?"

"Do you remember my saying, when I bought the claims, that with
Cruickshank under our eyes all the time we should have a good security
for our money?"

"Yes, and now you have let him go. I see what you mean; but you can rely
upon Roberts, can't you?"

"As I would upon myself," replied Corbett shortly. "But still I have
broken my resolution."

"Oh, well, that is no great matter; and besides, I don't believe that
the colonel would do a crooked thing any more than we would."

"He-he! He-he-he!"

It was a strangely-harsh cackle was Phon's apology for a laugh, and
coming so rarely and so unexpectedly, it made the two speakers start.

But they could get nothing out of the man when they talked to him. He
was utterly tired out, and in another few minutes lay fast asleep by the
fire.

"I am afraid that quaint little friend of ours doesn't care much for the
colonel," remarked Ned.

"Oh, Phon! Phon thinks he is the devil. He told me so;" and Steve
laughed carelessly.

What did it matter what a Chinaman thought! A little yellow-skinned,
pig-tailed fellow like Phon was not likely to have found out anything
which had escaped Steve's Yankee smartness.



CHAPTER XI.

"JUMP OR I'LL SHOOT."


Three days after they left the Balm-of-Gilead camp, Ned Corbett and his
two friends stood upon a ridge of the bald mountains looking down upon
the promised land.

"So this is Eldorado, is it?"

Ned Corbett himself was the speaker, though probably those who had known
him at home or in Victoria would have hardly recognized him. All the
three gold-seekers had altered much in the last month, and standing in
the bright sunlight of early morning the changes wrought by hard work
and scanty food were very apparent.

Bronzed, and tired, and ragged, with a stubble of half-grown beards upon
their chins, with patches of sacking or deer-skin upon their trousers,
and worn-out moccasins on their feet, none of the three showed signs of
that golden future which was to come. Beggars they might be, but surely
Croesus never looked like this!

"We shall make it to-day, Ned," remarked Chance, taking off his cap to
let the cool mountain breeze fan his brow.

"We may, if we can drag him along, but he is very nearly dead beat;" and
the direction in which Ned glanced showed his companion that he was
speaking of a limp bundle of blue rags, which had collapsed in a heap at
the first sign of a halt.

"Why not leave Phon to follow us?" asked Steve in a low tone. Low though
the tone was, the bundle of blue rags moved, and a worn, shrivelled
face looked piteously up into Ned's.

"No, no, Steve," replied Corbett. "All right, Phon, I'll not leave you
behind, even if I have to pack you on my own shoulders."

Thus reassured, the Chinaman collapsed once more. There was not a muscle
in his body which felt capable of further endurance, and yet, with the
gold so near, and his mind full of superstitious horrors, he would have
crawled the rest of the journey upon his hands and knees rather than
have stayed behind.

"Thank goodness, there it is at last!" cried Corbett a minute later,
shading his eyes with his hand. "That smoke I expect rises from
somewhere near our claims;" and the speaker pointed to a faint column of
blue which was just distinguishable from the surrounding atmosphere.

"I believe you are right, Ned. Come, Phon, one more effort!" and Steve
helped the Chinaman on to his legs, though he himself was very nearly
worn out.

Ned took up the slender pack which Phon had carried until then, and
added it to the other two packs already upon his broad shoulders. After
all the three packs weighed very little, for Ned's companions had thrown
away everything except their blankets, and Steve would have even thrown
his blanket away had not Ned taken charge of it. Ned knew from
experience that so long as he sleeps fairly soft and warm at night a
man's strength will endure many days, but once you rob him of his rest,
the strongest man will collapse in a few hours.

As for their food, that was not hard to carry. Each man had a crust
still left in his pocket, and more than enough tobacco. Along the trail
there were plenty of streams full of good water, and if bread and water
and tobacco did not satisfy them, they would have to remain unsatisfied.
It had been a hard race against time, and the last lap still remained to
be run; but that smoke was the goal, and with the goal in sight even
Phon shuffled along a little faster, though he was so tired that,
whenever he stumbled he fell from sheer weakness.

The bald mountains so often alluded to in Cariboo story are ranges of
high upland, rising above the forest level, and entirely destitute of
timber at the top.

Here in late summer the sunnier slopes are slippery with a luxuriant
growth of long lush grasses and weeds, and ablaze with the vivid crimson
of the Indian pink. In early spring (and May is early spring in Cariboo)
there is still snow along the ridges, and even down below, though the
grasses are brilliantly green, the time of flowers has hardly yet come.

Here and there as the three hurried down they came across big boulders
of quartz gleaming in the sun. These were as welcome to Steve as the
last milestone on his road home to a weary pedestrian. Where the quartz
was, there would the gold be also, argued Steve, and the thought roused
him for a moment out of the mechanical gait into which he had fallen.
But he soon dropped into it again. A hill had risen and shut the column
of smoke out of his sight, and the trail was leading down again to the
timber.

Away far to the east a huge dome of snow gleamed whitely against the
sky-line. That was the outpost of the Rockies. But Steve had no eyes
even for the Rockies. All he saw was a sea of endless brown hills
rolling and creeping away fold upon fold in the distance, all so like
one to another from their bald ridges to the blue lakes at their feet,
that his head began to spin, and he almost thought that he must be
asleep, and this some nightmare country in which he wandered along a
road that had no end.

Luckily Ned roused him from this dreamy fit from time to time, or it
might well have happened that Steve's journey would have ended on this
side of Williams Creek in a rapid slide from the narrow trail to the
bottom of one of the little ravines along which it ran.

Both men were apparently thinking of the same subject. So that though
their sentences were short and elliptical, they had no difficulty in
understanding each other's meaning. Men don't waste words on such a
march as theirs.

"Another three hours ought to do it," Ned would mutter, shifting his
pack so as to give the rope a chance of galling him in a fresh place.

"If we get there by midnight, I reckon it would do."

"Yes, if we could find the claims."

"Ah, there is that about it! Have you got the map?"

"Yes. I've got that all right. Oh, we shall do it in good time;" and Ned
looked up at his only clock, the great red sun, which was now nearly
overhead.

The next moment Corbett's face fell. The path led round a bluff, beyond
which he expected to see the trail go winding gradually down to a little
group of tents and huts gathered about Williams Creek. Instead of that
he found himself face to face with one of those exasperating gulches
which so often bar the weary hunter's road home in the Frazer country.
The swelling uplands rolled on, it was true, sinking gradually to the
level of Williams Creek, and he could see the trail running from him to
his goal in fairly gentle sweeps, all except about half a mile of it,
and that half-mile lay right in front of him, and was invisible.

It had sunk, so it seemed to Ned, into the very bowels of the earth, and
another hundred yards brought him to the edge of the gulch and showed
him that this was the simple truth. As so often happens in this country
which ice has formed (smoothing it here and cutting great furrows
through it elsewhere), the downs ended without warning in a precipitous
cliff leading into a dark narrow ravine, along the bottom of which the
gold-seekers could just hear the murmur of a mountain stream.

It was useless to look up and down the ravine. There was no way over and
no way round. It was a regular trap. A threadlike trail, but well worn,
showed the only way by which the gulch could be crossed, and as Ned
looked at it he came to the conclusion that if there was another such
gulch between him and Williams Creek it would probably cost him all he
was worth, for no one in his party could hope to cross two such gulches
before nightfall.

"It's no good looking at it, come along, Steve!" he cried, and grasping
at any little bush within reach to steady his steps, Ned began the
descent.

Who ever first made that trail was in a hurry to get to Williams Creek.
The recklessness of the gold miner, determined to get to his gold, and
careless of life and limb in pursuit of it, was apparent in every yard
of that descent, which, despising all circuitous methods, plunged
headlong into the depths below.

Twice on the way down Steve only owed his life to the stout mountain
weeds to which his fingers clung when his feet forsook him, and once it
was only Ned's strong hand which prevented Phon from following a great
flat stone which his stumbling feet had sent tobogganing into the dark
gulf below.

For two or three minutes Ned had to hold on to Phon by the scruff of the
neck before he was quite certain that he was to be trusted to walk alone
again. Even Steve kept staring into that "dark-profound" into which the
stone had vanished in a way which Corbett did not relish. Though he had
never felt it himself, he knew all about that strange fascination which
seems to tempt some men, brave men too, to throw themselves out of a
railway-carriage, off a pier-head, or down a precipice, and therefore
Ned was not sorry to be at the bottom of that precipitous trail without
the loss of either Steve or Phon.

"Say, Ned, how does that strike you? It's a 'way-up' bridge, isn't it,
old man?" and the speaker pointed to a piece of civil engineering
characteristic of Cariboo.

Two tall pines had grown upon opposite edges of the narrow ravine in
which the gulch ended. From side to side this ravine was rather too
broad for a single pine to span, and far down below, somewhere in the
darkness of it, a stream roared and foamed along. The rocks were damp
with mist and spray, but the steep walls of the narrow place let in no
light by which the prisoned river could be seen. In order to cross this
place, men had loosened the roots of the two pines with pick and shovel,
until the trees sinking slowly towards each other had met over the
mid-stream. Then those who had loosened the roots did their best to make
them fast again, weighting them with rocks, and tethering them with
ropes. When they had done this they had lashed the tops of the trees
together, lopped off a few boughs, run a hand-rope over all, and called
the structure a bridge.

Over this bridge Ned and his comrades had now to pass, and as he looked
at the white face and quaking legs of Phon, and then up at the evening
sky, Ned turned to Steve and whispered in his ear: "Pull yourself
together, Steve. This is a pretty bad place, but we have got to get over
at once or not at all. That fellow will faint or go off his head before
long."

Luckily for Ned, Steve Chance had plenty of what the Yankees call
"sand."

"I'm ready, go ahead," he muttered, keeping his eyes as much as possible
averted from the abyss towards which they were clambering.

"I'll go first," said Corbett, when they had reached the roots of the
nearest pine; "then Phon, and you last, Steve." Then bending over his
friend he whispered, "Threaten to throw him in if he funks."

Of course the bridge in front of Corbett was not the ordinary way to
Williams Creek. Pack-trains had come to Williams Creek even in those
early days, and clever as pack-ponies are, they have not yet developed a
talent for tree climbing. So there was undoubtedly some other way to
Williams Creek. This was only a short cut, a route taken by pedestrians
who were in a hurry, and surely no pedestrians were ever in a much
greater hurry than Steve and Ned and Phon.

Consider! Their all was on the other side of that ravine; all their
invested wealth and all their hopes as well; all the reward for weeks of
weary travel, as well as rest, and shelter, and food. They had much to
gain in crossing that ravine, and the slowly sinking sun warned them
that they had no time to look for a better way round. They must take
that short cut or none. And yet when Ned got closer to the rough bridge
he liked it less than ever. Where the trees should have met and joined
together a terrible thing had happened. Ned could see it now quite
plainly from where he stood. A wind, he supposed, must have come howling
up the gulch in one of the dark days of winter, a wind so strong that
when the narrow gully had pent it in, it had gone rushing along,
smashing everything that it met in its furious course, and amongst other
things it had struck just the top of the arch of the bridge.

The result was that just at the highest point there was a gap, not a big
gap, indeed it was so small that some of the ropes still held and
stretched from tree to tree, but still a gap, six feet wide with no
bridge across it, and black, unfathomable darkness down below. Ned
Corbett was one of those men who only see the actual danger which has to
be faced, the thing which has to be done--that which is, and not that
which may be. For instance, Ned saw that he had to jump from one stout
bough to another, that he would have to cling to something with his
hands on the other side, and that it would not do to make a false step,
or to clutch at a rotten bough.

That was all he saw. So he leapt with confidence (he had taken twenty
worse leaps in an afternoon in the gymnasium at home for the fun of the
thing), and of course he alighted in safety, clambered down the other
pine-tree trunk, and landed safe and sound on the farther shore. He had
never stayed to think of the awful things which would have happened if
he had slipped; of that poor body of his which might have gone whirling
round and round through the darkness, until it plunged into the waters
out of sight of the sun and his fellow-men.

But all men are not made after this fashion. When Ned turned towards
the bridge he had just passed his face turned white, and his hands,
which had until then been so firm trembled. What he saw was this. Phon
had been driven ahead of Steve, as Corbett and Steve had arranged. As
long as the big broad trunk of the pine was beneath him, with plenty of
strong boughs all round him to cling to, Phon had listened to Steve and
obeyed him. Now it was different. Phon had come to the end of the pine,
to the place from which Corbett had leaped, and nothing which Steve
could say would move him another inch. Chinamen are not trained in
athletics as white men are, and to Phon that six-foot jump appeared to
be a simply impossible feat. Steve might threaten what he liked, but
jump Phon would not. The mere sight of the horrible darkness below made
his head reel, and his fingers cling to the rough pine like the fingers
of a drowning man to a plank.

And now Ned noticed a worse thing even than this Phon had been driven to
the very end of the tree by Steve, and Steve himself was close behind
him. The result was that the weight of two men had to be borne at once
by the thin end of what, after all, was but a small pine, and one
extended almost like a fishing-rod across the ravine. So the tree began
to bow with the weight, and then to lift itself again until it was
swinging and tossing, swaying more and more after every recoil, so that
at each swing Ned expected to see one or both of his friends tossed off
into the gulf below. There must come an end to such a scene as this
sooner or later, and Ned could see but one chance of saving his friend.

"Chance," he shouted, "hold tight! I am going to shoot that cursed
Chinaman!"

The miserable wretch heard and understood the words, and saw the
Winchester, the same which had sent the runaway cayuse spinning down the
stone-slide, come slowly up to Corbett's shoulder.

"Jump or I'll shoot! It's your last chance!" and Phon heard the clank of
the pump as his master forced up a cartridge into the barrel of his
rifle.

It was now death anyway. Phon realized that, and even at that moment his
memory showed him plainly a picture of that pinto mare, whose bruised
and battered body, with a great ghastly hole between the eyes, he had
seen by the edge of Seton Lake. That last thought decided him, and with
a scream of fear he sprang out, and managed to cling, more by sheer luck
than in any other way, to the pine on the Williams Creek side of the
ravine. When Ned grounded arms and reached out to help Phon across the
last few feet of the bridge he was wet through with perspiration, and
yet he was as cool as a new-made grave.

"Ned," said Steve five minutes later, "I would give all the gold in
Cariboo if I had it, rather than cross that place again!"--and he meant
it.

For a few minutes Steve's gold fever had abated, and in the terror of
death even the Chinaman had forgotten the yellow metal. And yet their
journey was now over, and within half an hour's walk of them lay the
claims they had bought, the wonderful spot of earth out of which they
were to dig their heart's desire, the key to all pleasures and the
master of nine men out of every ten--gold!

Ned laughed to himself. Was a steady head and the agility of a very
second-rate gymnast worth more than all the gold in Cariboo?

[Illustration: "WITH A SCREAM OF FEAR THE CHINAMAN SPRANG OUT."]



CHAPTER XII.

A SHEER SWINDLE.


It is hard to sever the idea of a journey's end from ideas of rest and
comfort. A is the starting-point, B the goal, and no matter how distant,
no matter how wild the region in which B lies, the mind of the traveller
from A to B is sure to picture B as a centre of creature comforts and a
haven of luxurious rest.

Thus it was then that Steve and Corbett hurried through the lengthening
shadows, eager for the city that was to come, their eyes strained to
catch a glow of colour, and their ears alert for the first hum which
should tell of the presence of their fellow-men.

After the gloom of the northern forests, the silence of the pack-trail,
and the monotony of forced marches, they were ready to welcome any light
however garish, any revelry however mad it might be. Life and light and
noise were what both hankered after as a relief from the silence and
solitude of the last few days, and it is this natural craving for change
in the minds of men who have been too much alone, which accounts for
half the wild revels of the frontier towns.

As a matter of history, the first impression made by Williams Creek upon
the sensitive mind of the artist Chance was one of disappointment.
Perhaps it was that the heavy shadows of the mountains drowned all
colour, or that the day was nearly over and the dance-house not yet
open; whatever the cause Williams Creek struck Chance with a chill. It
was a miserable, mean-looking little place for so much gold to come
from. In his visions of the mines Steve had dwelt too much upon the
glitter of the metal, and too little on the dirt and bare rock from
which the gold has to be extracted; extracted, too, by hard labour,
about the hardest labour probably which the bodies of men were ever made
to undergo.

As his eyes gradually took in the details of the scene, Steve Chance
remembered Cruickshank's glowing word-pictures of the mines, and his own
gaudy map of them, and remembering these things a great fear fell upon
him. Steve had accomplished a pilgrimage over a road upon which stronger
men had died, and brave men turned back, and now the shrine of his
golden god lay at his feet, and this is what it looked like.

In the shadow of a spur of wooded mountains, lay a narrow strip of land
which might by comparison be called flat. It was lower than the bald
mountains which were at its back, so the melted snows of last winter had
trickled into it, until the whole place was a damp, miserable bog,
through the centre of which the waters had worn themselves a bed, and
made a creek.

There were many such bogs and many such creeks about the foothills of
the bald mountains, but these were for the most part hidden by an
abundant growth of pine, or adorned by a wealth of long grass and the
glory of yellow lily and blue larkspur. But this bog was less fortunate
than its fellows. Gold had been found in the creek which ran through it,
so that instead of the spring flowers and the pines, there were bare
patches of yellow mud, stumps rough and untrained where trees had stood,
tunnels in the hillside, great wooden gutters mounted high in the air to
carry off the stream from its bed and pour it into all manner of
unexpected places, piles of boulders and rubbish, so new and unadorned
by weed or flower that you knew instinctively that nature had had no
hand in their arrangement.

And everywhere amongst this brutal digging and hewing there were new log
huts, frame shanties, wet untidy tents, and shelters made of odds and
ends, shelters so mean that an African Bushman would have turned up his
nose at them. Instead of the telegraph and telephone wires that run
overhead in ordinary cities, there were in the mining camp innumerable
flumes, long wooden boxes or gutters, to carry water from point to
point. These gutters were everywhere. They ran over the tops of the
houses, they came winding down for miles along precipitous side-hills,
and they ran recklessly across the main street; for traffic there was
none in those days, or at any rate none which could not step over, or
would not pass round the miners' ditch. In 1862 rights of way were
disregarded up in Cariboo, but an inch of water if it could be used for
gold-washing was a matter of much moment.

"I say, Ned, this looks more like a Chinese camp than a white man's,
doesn't it?" remarked Steve with a shudder.

"What did you expect, Steve,--a second San Francisco?"

"Not that; but this place looks so dead and seems so still."

"Silence, they say, is the criterion of pace," quoted Ned; "but I can
hear the noise of the rockers and the rattle of the gravel in the
sluices. It looks to me as if men were at work here in grim
earnest.--Good-day. How goes it, sir?"

The last part of Corbett's speech was addressed to a man of whom he just
caught sight at that moment, standing in a deep cutting by the side of
the trail, and busily employed in shovelling gravel into a sluice-box at
his side.

"Day," grunted the miner, not pausing to lift his head to look at the
man who addressed him until he had finished his task.

"Are things booming here still?" asked Chance.

"Booming, you bet! Why, have you just come up from the river?" and the
man straightened his back with an effort and jerked his head in the
general direction of the Frazer.

"That's what," replied Steve, dropping naturally into the brief idioms
of the place.

"Seen anything of the bacon train?" asked the miner after a pause,
during which he had again ministered to the wants of his sluice-box.

"The bacon train! What's that?"

"Brown's bacon train from Oregon. Guess you haven't, or you'd know about
it. Bacon is played out in Williams Creek, and we are all going it
straight on flour."

The thought of "going it straight on flour" was evidently too much for
Steve's new friend, for he actually groaned aloud, and dug his shovel
into the wall of his trench with as much energy as if he had been
driving it into the ribs of the truant Bacon Brown.

"That will suit us royally," ejaculated Ned. "We shall have a small
train here in a day or two, and there's a good deal of bacon amongst our
stores."

"You've got a train acomin'! By thunder! I thought I knowed your voices.
Ain't you them two Britishers as were along of Cruickshank?"

"Strike me pink if it isn't Rampike!" cried Steve, and the next minute
the old gentleman who had helped Steve in his little game of poker
climbed out of the mud-pie he was making, and shook hands, even with the
Chinaman.

"But where's Roberts, and where's Cruickshank?" he asked.

Corbett told him.

"Wal, as you've left Roberts with him I suppose it's all right. Did you
meet any boys going back from these parts?"

"Only two, going back for grub," replied Ned.

"I guess they told you how short we were up here, and they are worse off
at Antler."

"No, they said very little to us. They had a bit of a yarn with
Cruickshank though. He was leading out and met them first. He didn't say
anything about the want of grub to us."

"That's a queer go. Why, it would almost have paid you to go to Antler
instead of coming here. You would get two dollars a pound for bacon up
there."

"Ah! but you see we were bound to be here for the 1st of June, because
of those claims we bought."

"Is that so? Bob did say summat about those claims. Do you know where
they are?"

"Here's our map," replied Corbett, producing the authorized map of Dewd
and Cruickshank, upon which the three claims had been duly marked. "Is
Dewd in the camp?" he added.

"I don't know; but come along, there goes Cameron's triangle. Let us go
and get some 'hash,' and we can find out about Dewd and the claims." And
so saying Rampike laid aside his shovel, put on his coat, and led the
way down to a big tent in the middle of the mining camp.

Here were gathered almost half the population of Williams Creek for
their evening meal, the other half having finished theirs and departed
to work upon the night-shift; for most of the claims were worked night
and day, their owners and the hired men dividing the twenty-four hours
amongst them.

Here, as on board the steamer, Rampike was evidently a man of some
account; one able to secure a place for himself and his chums in spite
of the rush made upon the food by the hungry mob in its shirt sleeves.

At first all three men were too busy with their knives and forks to
notice anyone or hear what men were saying about themselves, but in a
little while, when the edge of appetite was dulled, Ned caught the words
repeated over and over again--"Bacon Brown's men, I guess," and at last
had to answer point blank to a direct question, that he had "never heard
of Mr. Brown before."

"These fellows hain't seen Brown at all," added Rampike. "They're
looking for Dewd. Have you seen him anywhere around?"

At the mention of Dewd's name a broad grin passed over the faces of
those who heard it, and one man looked up and remarked that a good many
people had been inquiring kindly after Dewd lately. The speaker was a
common type amongst the miners, but in those early days his rough
clothes and refined speech struck Ned as contrasting strangely.

Truth to tell, he had been educated at Eton and Oxford, had thrown up a
good tutorship to come out here, and here he was happy as a king, though
all his classical education was thrown away, and his blue pantaloons
were patched fore and aft with bits of sacking once used to contain
those favourite brands of flour known respectively as "Self-rising" and
the "Golden Gate."

As he rose to his feet with the names of the brands printed in large
letters on either side of him, he looked something between a navvy and a
"sandwich man."

"Dewd," he went on, "has been playing poker lately a little too well to
please the boys. Say, O'Halloran, do you know where Dewd is?"

"Faith and I don't. If I did, Sandy M'Donald would give me half his
claim for the information. Hullo, have you got here already, sonny? I
was before ye though." And Ned's red-headed friend of fighting
proclivities held out his hand to him over the heads of his neighbours.

"What does Sandy want him for?" asked someone in the crowd.

"You'd betther ax Sandy. All I know is that he went gunning for him
early this morning, and if he wasn't so drunk that he can't walk he'd be
afther him still."

"Who's drunk, Pat,--Dewd or Sandy?"

"Oh, don't be foolish! Whoever heard of Dewd touching a drop of good
liquor. That's the worst of that mane shunk; he gets you blind drunk
first and robs you afther."

"What, have you been bitten too, O'Halloran?" asked the tutor; and while
the laugh was still going at the wry face poor Corny O'Halloran pulled,
Rampike and his three friends slipped quietly out of the room.

"I guess we may as well locate those claims of yourn right away,"
remarked Rampike as soon as they were clear of Cameron's tent, "so as
there'll be no trouble about securing them to-morrow. Not as I think any
one is likely to jump 'em. Let me see your map."

Ned handed over the map before alluded to.

"Why, look ye here, these claims are right alongside the Nugget, the
richest claim on the creek!" cried their friend, after studying the map
for a few minutes.

"Quite so, that is what gives them their exceptional value," remarked
Chance, quoting from memory Cruickshank's very words.

"Oh, that's what gives them their 'ceptional vally, is it, young man?"
sneered Rampike. "Wal, I guess they ought to have a 'ceptional vally' to
make it worth while working them there;" and Rampike, who was now
standing by the Nugget claim alongside the bed of the creek, pointed
upwards to where the bluffs, two hundred feet high, hung precipitously
over their heads.

It was no good arguing, no good swearing that the map must be wrong,
that Cruickshank had marked the wrong lots, that there was a mistake
somewhere.

"Just one of the colonel's mistakes, that's what it is. Come and see the
gold Commissioner, he'll straighten it out for you," retorted Rampike,
hurrying the three off into the presence of a big handsome man, whose
genial ways and handsome face made "the judge" a great favourite with
the miners.

All he could do he did, and was ready to go far beyond the obligations
of his office in his desire to help Cruickshank's victims. It was a very
common kind of fraud after all. The colonel had drawn a sufficiently
accurate map of the Williams Creek valley; he had even given accurately
every name upon that map, and moreover the claims which he had sold to
Corbett & Co. adjoined the Nugget claim, and had been regularly taken up
and bonded by his partner and himself. Cruickshank's story indeed was
true in every particular.

Gold was being taken out of the Nugget mine at the rate of several lbs.
per diem; why should it not be taken out of the claims which it
adjoined?

There was only one objection to Cruickshank's map,--he had not drawn it
in relief. There was only one objection to Corbett's claim--the surface
of it would have adjoined the surface of the Nugget claim had they both
been upon the same level, only,--only, you see, they were not. There was
a trifling difference of two hundred and fifty feet in the altitude of
the Nugget claim and the bluff adjoining it, and Corbett's claim was on
the top of that bluff. Now a claim on the top of a bluff, where no river
could ever have run to deposit gold, and whither no water could be
brought to wash for gold, was not considered worth two thousand dollars
even in Cariboo.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE BULLET'S MESSAGE.


"Wal, those'll maybe make vallible building lots when Williams Creek has
growed as big as 'Frisco, but somehow trade in building lots ain't brisk
here just now."

No one answered old Rampike. Steve and Ned felt rather hurt at the
levity of his remarks. It is poor fun even for a rich man to be robbed
of six thousand dollars, and neither Ned nor Steve were rich men. In
fact, in losing the six thousand dollars they had lost their all except
the pack-train.

"It ain't no manner of good to grizzle over it," continued this
philosopher, "Cruickshank has got the cinch on you to rights this time.
Six thousand dollars cash, the pleasure of your company from Victoria,
and your pack-train to remember you by! Ho! ho!" and although it was
very annoying to Ned, and quite contrary to Rampike's nature to do so,
he laughed aloud at his own grim joke.

The laugh roused Chance. He was a Yankee to the tips of his
finger-nails, one of those strange beings who "bust and boom" by
turns--millionaires to-day, bankrupts to-morrow, equally sanguine,
happy, and go-ahead in either extreme.

"Ned," he said, his face relaxing into a somewhat wintry smile, "I guess
you were right after all. Cruickshank is no Britisher, you bet."

"Glad you think so; hang him!" growled Ned.

"No Britisher could ever have planned so neat a swindle," continued
Steve meditatively. "By Jove, it is a 'way up'!" and this strange young
man really seemed lost in admiration at the smartness from which he
himself had suffered.

"I don't see much to admire in a thief and a liar. We prefer honesty to
smartness in my country, thank God!"

There was no disguising the fact that Ned Corbett was in a very ugly
temper. Not being one of those who look upon the whole struggle for
wealth as a game of chance and skill, in which everything is allowable
except a plain transgression of the written rules of the game, he could
not even simulate any admiration for a successful swindler's smartness.

Old Rampike saw his mood, and laying his hand on his shoulder gave him a
friendly shake. "Never mind, sonny," he said. "It's no good calling
names; and as for being stone-broke, why there isn't a man in Cariboo
to-day, I reckon, who hasn't been stone-broke, aye and most of 'em mor'n
once or twice."

"Oh, yes, I suppose that is so," said Ned a little wearily, but rousing
himself all the same. "What can a man earn here as a digger in another
fellow's claim?"

"Anything he likes to ask almost. Men who are worth anything at all as
workers are scarce around these parts."

"Then we sha'n't starve, that is some consolation. By the way, I have a
note here for you. This confounded business nearly made me forget it;"
and so saying Corbett produced from an inner pocket the little note
given him by Roberts at the Balm-of-Gilead camp.

For a few moments Rampike twisted and turned the note about, trying to
decipher the faint pencil-marks in the dim light. At last he got the
note right side up and began to read. Evidently he hardly understood
what he read at first, for those who were watching him saw that he read
the note through a second time, as if looking for some hidden meaning in
every word. When he had done this a vindictive bitter oath burst from
between his set teeth.

"If Cruickshank ain't dead by now, my old pal Roberts is. You may bet on
that. Look ye here!" and the speaker handed Ned a flattened,
blood-stained bullet which he had taken from Roberts' letter.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked.

"It looks like a revolver bullet," answered Ned.

"And so it is. That's the identical bullet as Dan Cruickshank fired at a
grouse and _hit a cayuse_ with. Pretty shooting, wasn't it?" and Rampike
ground his teeth with anger.

"What the deuce do you mean?" cried Steve in blank astonishment.

"Mean--mean! Why, that if you warn't such a durned tenderfoot you'd have
tumbled to the whole thing long ago! Men like Cruickshank don't leave
horses unhobbled by mistake, don't hit and scare pack-horses on a
stone-slide by mistake, don't get to Williams Creek a day late by
mistake. Oh, curse his mistakes! If he makes one more there'll be the
best pal and the sweetest singer in Cariboo lying dead up among them
pines."

"Do you mean that Cruickshank did these things on purpose?" asked
Corbett slowly, his face growing strangely hard as he spoke.

"Read Rob's letter," said Rampike, and gave Ned the scrap of paper on
which Rob had found time to write a brief record of the journey from
Douglas, ending his story in these words--"Cruickshank means Corbett
mischief, so I am staying instead of the lad. What his game is with the
pack-ponies I am blowed if I know, but if I don't come in with them
inside of a week, do some of you fellows try and get even with the
colonel for the sake of your old pal Roberts."

For several minutes after reading this note no one spoke; each man was
thinking out the situation after his own fashion.

"Will you trust me with grub for a fortnight, Rampike?" asked Ned at
last.

"Yes, lad, if you like; but you won't want to borrow. Men like you can
earn all they want here;" and the miner looked appreciatively at the
big-limbed man before him.

"I'll earn it by and by, Rampike. I'm going after Roberts first,"
replied Ned quietly.

"How's that?" demanded Rampike.

"I'm going after Roberts and Cruickshank. Can I have the grub?"

"If that's your style, you can have all the grub you want if I have to
go hungry for a week. When will you start?"

"It will be dark in two hours," replied Ned, "and the moon comes up
about midnight. I shall start as soon as the moon is up."

"Impossible, man!" cried Chance. "I could not drag myself to the top of
that first bluff unless I had had twenty-four hours' solid sleep, if my
life depended upon it."

"I know, old fellow, and I don't want you to; but you see a life may
depend upon it."

"But you aren't going alone, Corbett. I'll not hear of that."

"We will talk about that by and by, Steve. Let us go and turn in for a
little while now. I am dead tired myself." And so saying Corbett turned
on his heel and followed Rampike to his hut, where the old man found
room for all three of them upon the floor.

"If Steve and I go to look for Roberts can you find a job for our
Chinaman until we come back? I should not like the poor beggar to
starve," said Ned, pointing to where Phon lay already fast asleep. The
moment he laid down his head Phon had gone to sleep, and since then not
a muscle had twitched to show that he was alive. Whatever his master
might choose to arrange for his benefit the Chinaman was not likely to
overhear or object to.

"Oh yes, I can fix that easy enough. I'll set him to wash in my own
claim. I can afford to pay him good wages as well as feed him. Men are
scarce at Williams Creek."

Again for a time there was silence in the hut, Corbett and Rampike
puffing away at their pipes, and Steve Chance trying hard to keep his
eyes open as if he suspected mischief. At last nature got the better of
him; the young Yankee's head dropped on his arm, and in another moment
he was as sound asleep as Phon.

Then Ned stood up and went over to sit beside the old miner Rampike,
remarking as he did so:

"Thank heaven Steve is off at last. I thought the fellow never meant to
go to sleep."

"What! Do you mean to leave him behind?" asked Rampike.

"Does he look as if he could do another week's tramping?" retorted Ned,
glancing at the limp, worn-out figure of his friend. "He has pluck
enough to try, but he would only hinder me."

"If that's so, I'll chuck my claim and come along too."

"Nonsense, you can't afford to lose your claim; and, besides, you
couldn't help me."

"Couldn't help you! How's that?" snorted Rampike indignantly.

"A man can always hunt better alone than with another fellow. One makes
less noise than two in the woods."

"But you ain't going hunting?"

"Yes I am,--hunting big game too." And there was a light in Ned
Corbett's eye, as he overhauled his Winchester, that looked bad for an
enemy.

"You ain't afraid of--losing your way?" asked Rampike. He was going to
say "You ain't afraid of Cruickshank, are you?" but a look on Corbett's
face stopped that question.

"No, I'm used to the woods," Ned answered shortly; and then again for a
while the two men smoked on in silence.

Presently Corbett knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and put it away
carefully in his pocket.

"Do you work in the night-shift on your place?" he asked Rampike.

"Either me or my partner is there all the while."

"Shall you be there to-night?"

"I'll be going on at midnight, but I'll fix up a pack with some grub in
it for you before I go."

"Thank you, I'll leave that to you, if I may. Will you call me before
you go? I mean to try to get all the sleep I can before the moon is up."

"Well, lie down right now. I'll call you, you bet. You're a good sort
for a Britisher--give us a shake;" and Rampike held out a hand as hard
and as honest as the pick-handle to which it clung day after day.

Perhaps it was the thought of his old friend's danger which made Rampike
blind and careless, or perhaps it was only his natural clumsiness. In
any case he steered very badly for his own door, so badly indeed that he
tripped over Chance's prostrate form, dealing him a kick that might have
roused a dead man. But Steve only turned over restlessly in his sleep,
like one who dreams, and then lay as still again as ever.

Ned smiled. "No danger of waking him, I think, when I want to go. Poor
old Steve! the loss of the money does not seem to spoil your sleep
much."

Five minutes later, when Rampike had gone out to get together the
provisions which his guest needed, anyone listening to that guest's
regular breathing would have been of opinion that the loss of the
dollars troubled Ned Corbett as little as it troubled Steve Chance.



CHAPTER XIV.

WHAT THE WOLF FOUND.


About midnight Rampike returned to his hut, and as the moonlight
streamed through the doorway across the floor, Corbett rose without a
word and joined the old miner outside.

"You didn't need much waking, lad."

"No; and yet I slept like a top. But I _felt_ you were coming, and now
every nerve in my body is wide awake."

Rampike looked at his companion curiously.

"You're a strong man, Ned Corbett, but take care. I've known stronger
men than you get the 'jim-jams' from overwork."

Ned laughed. He hardly thought that a man who had not tasted liquor for
a month was likely to suffer much from the "jim-jams."

"That's all right," said Rampike testily. "You may laugh, but I've seen
more of this kind of life than you'll ever see, and I tell you, you'd
better stay where you are."

"What! and let Cruickshank go?"

"What are you going to do with Cruickshank when you catch him?"

"Bring him back to look at the _mistake_ he made about my claims,"
answered Corbett grimly.

"And suppose Cruickshank don't feel like coming back? It's more than
likely that he won't."

"Then it will be a painful necessity for Roberts and myself to pack him
back."

"If you get him back the law can't touch him, and the boys won't lynch
him just for swindling a tenderfoot."

"The law can't touch him?"

"Why, certainly not. If you were such a blessed fool as to buy claims
without a frontage on the crik, that's your business. He didn't say as
they weren't on the top of a mountain."

"But no mountain was shown on his map," argued Corbett.

"I guess he'd say as he couldn't draw maps well and the one Steve Chance
copied was the best he knew how to make. He sold you what he said he'd
sell you, and if you didn't ask any questions that's your fault."

This was a new view of the case to Corbett, and for a moment he felt
staggered by it, but only for a moment. After all, it was not for the
sake of the claims that he had made up his mind to pursue Cruickshank.

"Thanks, Rampike, for trying to make me stay here. I know what you mean,
but I am not as nearly 'beat' as you think I am, and I wouldn't leave
old Roberts alone with that scoundrel even if I was. Have you got the
grub there?"

"Well, if that's your reason for going I've no more to say, except as I
reckon Roberts is pretty good at taking care of himself. However, a
pal's a pal, and if you mean to stay by him, I'll not hinder you. Here's
the grub;" and so saying he helped Ned to fix a little bundle upon his
shoulders, taking care that whatever weight there was should lie easily
in the small of his back. "It's only dried venison," continued Rampike,
"and I didn't put any bread in. Bread weighs too much and takes up too
much room. You can go it on meat straight for a week, can't you?"

"I'll try to. Give Chance a helping hand if you can. He is a regular
rustler if you can get him any work to do."

"Don't worry yourself about your pals. You are going to look for Dick
Rampike's old partner, and you may bet your sweet life that he won't let
_your_ pals starve."

The two men, who had been walking slowly through the mining camp, had
now reached the foot of the trail by which Ned had arrived at Williams
Creek.

"Well, good-bye, Rampike," said Ned, stopping and holding out his hand.
"It's no good your coming any farther. Don't let Steve follow me."

"Good-bye, lad; I'll see that Steve Chance don't follow you. He ain't
built to go your pace," he added, looking after Ned, "if he wanted to,
but there'll be me and some of the boys after you afore long, if there's
going to be any trouble;" and with this consoling reflection in his
mind, the old hard-fist returned to his cabin, pulled off his long gum
boots, and lay down on the floor beside the still sleeping Chance and
Phon.

Mr. Rampike had not as yet had time to furnish his country residence,
and after all, in his eyes a bed was rather a useless luxury. 'What's
the matter with a good deal floor?' he often used to ask; and as he
never got a satisfactory answer, he never bothered to build himself a
bunk.

Meanwhile Ned Corbett was standing for a moment on the top of a bluff
above Williams Creek, whence he could still see the lights of the camp,
and still hear faint strains of music from the dance-house and the
monotonous "clink, clink" of the miner's pick. The next moment he turned
his back upon it all; a rising bank shut out the last glimpse of the
fires and the last faint hum of human life. The forest swallowed them
up, and Ned was alone with the silence.

Never in all his life had he been in so strange a mood as he was that
night.

It seemed to him that every nerve and muscle in his body, every faculty
of his brain, had been tuned to concert pitch. All his old calmness had
deserted him, and in place of it a very fire of impatience devoured him.
Wherever the trail allowed of it he broke into a long swinging run, and
yet, though the miles flew past him, he was not satisfied. On! on! a
voice seemed to cry to him, and in spite of his speed the voice still
urged him to further efforts. That was the worst of it. Instead of the
silence the forest seemed full of voices,--not voices which spoke to his
ear, but voices which cried to the soul that was within him. The shadows
were full of these inarticulate cries, the night air throbbed with them,
all nature was full of them, and of a secret which he alone seemed
unable to grasp.

But it was no good standing still to listen, so he pressed on until he
came to the bridge of pines where the day before Phon had clung,
swinging between this world and the next. Here Corbett hesitated for the
first time, standing at the top of that arch of pines, looking across
the black gulf in which the unseen waters moaned horribly. If his foot
slipped or his hands failed him for the tenth part of a second, he would
drop from the moonlight into eternal darkness, leaving no trace behind
by which men could tell that Ned Corbett had ever existed.

For a moment a cold horror seized him, he clung wildly to the boughs
round him and looked backwards instead of forwards. But this fit only
lasted for a moment, and then the bold English blood came back to his
heart with a rush. "Good heavens!" he muttered, "am I turning Chinaman?"
and as he muttered it he launched himself boldly across the gap, caught
at the rope to steady himself, and having crossed the bridge set his
face firmly once more for the bald mountains above him.

All through the night Corbett maintained that long swinging stride,
climbing steadily up the steep hills and passing swiftly down the forest
glades, tireless as a wolf and silent as a shadow.

When the dawn came he paused in his race, and sat down for a quarter of
an hour to eat a frugal meal of dried meat. Had he been living the
normal life of a civilized man in one of the cities of Europe, he would
have needed much less food and eaten much more. All civilized human
beings overeat themselves. Perhaps if the food at the Bristol or the
Windsor was served as dry and as little seasoned as Rampike's venison,
less would be eaten and more digested.

Breakfast over, Ned resumed his course. Even during his hurried meal he
had been restless and anxious to get on. Fatigue seemed not to touch
him, or a power over which mere human weariness could not prevail,
possessed him.

As the air freshened and the stars paled, the tits and "whisky-jacks"
began their morning complaints, their peevish voices convincing Ned that
they had been up too long the night before. A little later the
squirrels began to chatter and swear angrily at him as he passed, and a
gray old _coyoté_ slinking home to bed stood like a shadow watching him
as he went, wondering, no doubt, who this early-rising hunter might be,
with the swift silent feet, white set face, and stern blue eyes which
looked so keen and yet saw nothing.

Then the sun rose, and at last, taking a hint from the tall red-deer,
Ned threw himself down on the soft mosses, trusting in the sun to warm
him in his slumbers, as it does all the rest of that great world which
gets on very well without blankets.

Until the shadow had crept to the other side of the tree under which he
lay, Ned Corbett slept without moving; then he rose again, ate a few
mouthfuls of dried meat, took a modest draught of the white water which
foamed and bubbled through the moss of the hillside, and again went on.

One day went and another came, and still Corbett held on his course, and
on the third day he had his reward. At last on the trail in front of him
he saw the tracks of horses, nine in number, all of them shod before and
behind as his own had been, and the tracks of _one_ man driving them.

That was singular. There were two men left with Ned Corbett's
pack-train. Where had the other gone to? Backwards and forwards he went,
bending low over the trail and scrutinizing every inch of it, but he
could see no sign of that other man. Perhaps he had tired and had found
room upon one of the least laden of the pack animals. It would be hard
upon the beast and most uncomfortable for the rider, but it was
possible.

Or perhaps the tracks of the man who "led out" had been quite
obliterated by the feet of the beasts which followed him. That too was
possible, and Ned remembered how he had noticed upon the trail that a
horse's stride and a man's were almost exactly the same length, so that
it might be that for a few hundred yards at any rate one of the animals
had gone step for step over Cruikshanks or old Rob's tracks.

But this could not have lasted for long; either the man or the beast
would have strayed a yard or two from the track once in the course of a
mile; but Corbett had examined the tracks for more than a mile, and
still the story of them was the same: "nine pack-horses driven by one
man over the trail nearly a week ago;" that was the way the tracks read,
and Ned could make nothing else out of them.

There was one thing, however, worth mentioning. Corbett had hit upon the
tracks on the path by which he himself had come from the Balm-of-Gilead
camp to Williams Creek, at a point as nearly as he could judge five
miles on the Williams Creek side of that camp. So far then the
pack-train had followed him, but at this point it had turned away almost
at right angles to follow a well-beaten trail which Corbett and Steve
had overlooked when they passed it a week earlier.

"That, I suppose, is where we went wrong, and this must be the proper
pack-trail to Williams Creek," soliloquized Ned, and then for a moment
he stood, doubting which way he should turn. Should he follow his
pack-train, or should he go back until the tracks told him something of
that other man, whose feet had left no record on the road?

The same instinct which had urged him on for the last three days, took
hold upon him again and turned him almost against his will towards the
old Balm-of-Gilead camp.

It was nearly dark when he reached it, and he would perhaps have passed
it by, but that he stumbled over the half-burnt log which had been used
as the side log for his own fire. Since Ned had camped there a little
snow had fallen, a trifling local storm such as will take place in the
mountains even in May, and this had sufficed to hide almost all trace of
the camp in that rapidly waning light.

As well as he could, Corbett examined the camp, going carefully over
every inch of it; but the only thing he could find was a cartridge belt,
hung up on the branch of a pine,--a cartridge belt half full of
ammunition for a revolver. This he at once recognized as belonging to
Roberts.

"By Jove, that's careless," he muttered, "and unlike the old man. I
should have thought at any rate that he would have found out his loss
before he got very far away, and have come back for the belt."

In another quarter of an hour it was too dark to see his hand before his
face, so making the best of a bad business Ned sat down at the foot of a
big pine, and leaning his back against it tried to doze away the time
until the moon should rise and enable him to proceed on his way. But
though Corbett's muscles throbbed and his limbs trembled from
over-exertion, no sleep would come to him. In spite of himself his brain
kept on working, not in its ordinary methodical fashion, but as if it
were red-hot with fever. Indeed poor Ned began to think that he was
going mad. If he were not, what was this new fancy which possessed him?

For some reason beyond his own comprehension his brain would now do
nothing but repeat over and over again the refrain of Roberts' favourite
song. The tune of "the old pack-mule" had taken possession of him and
would give him no peace. Without his will his fingers moved to the time
of it; if he tried to think of something else his thoughts put
themselves in words, and the words fell into the metre of it, and at
last he became convinced that he could actually with his own bodily ears
hear the refrain of it, sad and distant as he had last heard it before
leaving that camp.

There it came again, wailing up out of the darkness, the very ghost of a
song, and yet as distinct as if the singer's mouth had been at his ear--


     "Riding, riding, riding on my old pack-mule."


When things had gone as far as this, Ned sprang to his feet with a
start. There was no doubt about _that_ weird note anyway; and though it
was but the howl of a wolf which roused him from his doze, Ned shuddered
as the long-drawn yell died away in the darkness, which was now slowly
giving way to the light of the rising moon.

Brave man though he was, Ned Corbett felt a chill perspiration break out
all over him, and his heart began to beat in choking throbs. The wolf's
weird music had a meaning for him which he had never noticed in it
before. He knew now why it was so sad. Had it not in it all the misery
of homeless wandering, all the hopelessness of the Ishmael, whose hand
is against every man as every man's hand is against him, all the
bitterness of cold and hunger and darkness? Was his own lot to be like
the wolf's?

"Great Scott, this won't do!" cried the lad, and snatching up his pack
he blundered away upon the trail, prepared to face anything rather than
his own fancies.

As he moved away down the trail Corbett thought that he caught a
glimpse of the beast, whose hideous voice had dispelled his dreams and
jarred so roughly upon his nerves.

Fear makes most men vicious, and Corbett was very human in all his
moods, so that his first impulse on seeing the beast which had
frightened him was to give it the contents of his revolver. Stooping
down to see more clearly, he managed to get a faint and spectral outline
of his serenader against the pale moonlight, and into the middle of this
he fired. A wolf's body is not at any time too large a mark for a
bullet, even if it be a rifle bullet; but a wolf's body is a very small
mark indeed for a revolver bullet at night, and so Ned found it, and
missed. To his intense surprise, however, the gray shadow was in no
hurry to be gone. Though the report of the revolver seemed curiously
loud in the absolute silence of a northern night, the wolf only cantered
a few yards and then stood still again, and again sent his hideous cry
wailing through the forest aisles.

"Curse you, you won't go, won't you?" hissed Ned, his nerve completely
gone, and his heart full of unreasonable anger; and again he fired at
the brute, and this time rushed in after his shot, determined if he
could not kill him with a bullet to settle matters with the butt.

But the wolf vanished in the uncertain light as if he had really been a
shadow, and his howl but the offspring of Corbett's fancy. For a few
yards Ned followed in the direction in which the beast seemed to have
gone, until his eyes fell upon a swelling in the snow, near to which the
wolf had been when the first shot was fired.

What is that other sense which we all of us possess and for which there
is no name,--that sense which is neither sight nor hearing, nor any of
the other three common to our daily lives? Before Ned Corbett's eyes
there lay a low swelling mound of snow, smooth white snow, still and
cold in the pale moonlight. There were ten thousand other mounds just
like it in the forest round him, and yet before _this_ mound Corbett
stood rooted to the ground, whilst his eyes dilated and he felt his hair
rising with horror, and in the utter stillness heard his own heart
thundering against his side.

Until that moment Ned Corbett had never looked upon the dead. He had
heard and read of death, and knew that in his turn he too must die; but
as it chanced, he had never yet seen that dumb blind thing which live
men bury, saying this _was_ a man. And yet it needed not the
disappointed yell of that foul scavenger to tell him what lay beneath
the snow.

Slowly he compelled himself to draw near, and stooping he completed with
reverent hands what the claws of the hungry beast had already begun, and
then the moon and the man, with wan white faces, looked down together
upon all that remained of cheery old Rob. Corbett knew at last why there
had been no peace for him in the forests that night. There was no
mystery about his old comrade's death. The whole foul story of murder
was written so large that the woods knew it, and were full of it. This
was the story which the shuddering pines had whispered all along the
trail, and at last Corbett had grasped their secret and knew what the
voices kept saying.

Just where the curly hair came down upon his friend's sturdy neck, was a
small dark hole; a trifling wound it looked to have killed so strong a
man, and yet when the bullet struck him there, Roberts had fallen
without knowing who had struck him.

Then for one moment, perhaps, the man who did this thing had stood
glaring at what he had done, more afraid of the dead man at his feet
than his victim had ever been of any man. The position of the body told
the rest of the story. Though he could kill him, Cruickshank dared not
leave those death-sharpened features staring up to heaven appealing for
vengeance against the murderer, so he had seized the corpse by its
wrists and dragged it away from the camp-fire, away to where the dark
balsams threw their heaviest shadows, and there left it, its arms
stretched out stiff and rigid for the snows to cover and hide until it
should melt away into the earth whence it came.

And what was Corbett to do? Men do not weep for men--their grief lies
too deep for that--and, moreover, there is nothing practical in tears.

And yet what was Corbett to do? He might hide the dead again for awhile,
but in the end he would be meat for the wolf and the raven.

"Oh God!" he cried in the bitterness of his spirit, "is this nothing
unto Thee? Dost Thou see what man has done?"

And even then, while the infinitely small pleaded from the depth of the
forest to the Infinitely Mighty, a little wind came and shook the tops
of the pines, and the dawn came.

Thereafter, as far as Corbett knew, time ceased. Only the pines went by
and the trail slipped past under his feet, until, in spite of all his
efforts, and although the trees seemed still to go past him, he himself
stood still. Then there came a humming in the air and the thunder of a
great river in his ears, and the earth began to rise and fall, and
suddenly it was night!

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

It was on a Monday morning that Ned Corbett started from Williams Creek
to search for Cruickshank, and on Saturday old Bacon Brown from Oregon
brought his train into Antler, and with it a tall, fair-haired man, whom
he had found upon the trail some fifteen miles back he said--a man whom
he guessed had had the "jim-jams" pretty bad, "and come mighty nigh to
sending in his chips, you bet."



CHAPTER XV.

IN THE DANCE-HOUSE.


"Chassey to the right, chassey to the left, swing your partners round,
and all promenade!" sang Old Dad, fiddler and master of ceremonies at
Antler, British Columbia.

It was early in June. The moon was riding high above the pine-trees, and
the men of the night-shifts were dropping in one by one for a dance with
Lilla and Katchen before going to supper.

Claw-hammer coats and boiled shirts were not insisted upon in the Antler
dance-house, so most of the men swaggered in in their gray suits and
long gum boots, all splashed with blue mud, and took their waltz just as
we should take our sherry and bitters, as a pleasant interlude between
business and dinner.

Some fellows found time to eat and sleep, and a few were said to wash,
but no one could afford to waste time in changing his clothes at the
Cariboo gold-mines in '62. When your overalls wore out you just handed
your dust over the store-keeper's counter and got into a new pair right
there, and some fellows took off their gum boots when they lay down for
a sleep. Wasn't that change enough?

At any rate the hurdy girls were content with their partners, and their
partners were all in love with the "hurdies."

Now, it may be that some unfortunate person who knows nothing of
anything west of Chicago may read this book, and may want to know what a
"hurdy" is or was, for, alas! the "hurdies," like the dodo, are extinct.

Be it known then to all who do not know it already, that the hurdy-gurdy
girls (to give them their full title) were douce, honest lassies from
Germany, who, being fond of dancing and fond of dollars, combined
business with pleasure, and sold their dances to the diggers at so many
pinches of dust per dance. It was an honest and innocent way of earning
money, and if any sceptic wants to sneer at the gentle hurdies, there
need be no difficulty in finding an "old-timer" to argue with him; only
the arguments used in Cariboo are forcible certainly, and might even
seem somewhat "rocky" to a mild-mannered man.

Well, now you know what a "hurdy" was, and when I tell you that a troop
of hurdies had just come up from Kamloops, you will understand that
Antler was very much _en fête_ on this particular June night.

Indeed, the long wooden shanty known as the dance house was full to
overflowing, full of miners having what they considered a good
time--dancing in gum boots, drinking bad whisky, singing songs, and
swearing wonderfully original "swears." But there was no popping of
pistols, no flashing of bowie-knives at Antler. That might do very well
in Californian mining camps, but in British Columbia, in early days,
even the strong men had been taught by a stronger to respect the law.

So Old Dad took command in the noisy room, and was under no apprehension
for his personal safety. He might be dead drunk before morning or
"dead-broke" before the end of the season, but there was very little
chance that a stray bullet would end his career before that terrible
time came round when the camp would be deserted, and he would have to
sneak away to the lower country to earn his living by pig-feeding and
"doing chores."

But the pig-feeding days were far distant still, so that this most
dissolute yet tuneful fiddler continued to incite his clients to fresh
efforts in dancing.

There were those, though, even at Antler, who were too staid, or too
shy, or too stolid to dance, and for the benefit of such as these small
tables had been arranged, not too far from the refreshments--small
tables at which they could sit and smoke in peace.

At one of these, in a pause between the dances, a tall, fair-haired
girl, all smiles and ribbons, came to a halt before a solitary,
dark-visaged misanthrope, who sat abstractedly chewing the end of an
unlit cigar.

[Illustration: LILLA ACCOSTS THE COLONEL IN THE DANCE-HOUSE.]

"What's the trouble, Colonel? Have you anyone murdered?"

The words were lightly spoken, and a laugh rippled over the speaker's
pretty face, but no answering smile came into the smoker's deep-set
eyes. On the contrary, he sprang to his feet with so fierce an oath that
Lilla started back, and the smokers at the next table turned with
savage scowls to see who it was who dared to swear at their little
German sweetheart.

"By mighty, I believe the girl's right!" said one of these; "the fellow
looks pretty scared."

"Like enough. A fellow who cain't speak civil to a woman might do
anything," growled another. This last was a Yankee, and Yankees have a
great respect for the ladies, all honour to them for it.

Meanwhile the colonel and the dancing-girl stood facing each other, the
smile dying out of her face as the scowl died out of his. She was
half-frightened, and he had overheard his neighbours' remarks, and
recognized the necessity for self-control.

"I beg your pardon, Lilla. What a brute you must think me! But don't you
know better than to wake a sleeping dog suddenly?"

"But no dog is so mean as to bite a woman," protested Lilla.

"That's so, and _I_ only barked. I've been so long packing all alone
that I have lost my company manners. Won't you forgive me, Lilla?" and
he held out his hand to her. Now it was part of Lilla's business to pour
oil upon the troubled waters of society at Antler, and, besides, the
colonel was an old acquaintance and excellent dancer, so Lilla took his
hand.

"Well, I'll try, but you pay me a fine. See, not once have you asked me
to dance this time in Antler. Now dance with me."

"Is that all, Lilla? Come then." And so saying he offered the girl his
arm, and walked away with her to another part of the room out of
ear-shot of the angry Yankee.

"I wanted to talk to you, Lilla," he began; but just then the music
struck up, and the girl, who had quite recovered her spirits, beat the
ground with a pretty impatient toe, exclaiming, "The talk will keep;
come on now, we mustn't lose a bar of it." And then, as her partner
steered her gracefully over the floor, she gave a little contented sigh
and muttered, "So you have not forgotten. Ach, himmel! this is to
dance."

And indeed the dark-faced man might have committed many crimes, but he
was not one to trample upon a woman's tenderest feelings by treading on
her toes, tearing her dress out at the gathers, and disregarding good
music.

On the contrary, he had a perfect ear for time, steered by instinct, and
held his partner like one who was proud of her and wanted to show her
off to advantage.

When the music ceased, and not until then, Lilla and the colonel stopped
dancing, and the girl had just enough breath left to say in a tone of
absolute conviction:

"You _must_ be a good man, I think, you dance so well."

"Of course I'm a good man, Lilla," laughed her partner. "Why should I
not be?"

"Well, I don't know, but you frightened me pretty bad just now. What was
it with you?"

"Oh, nothing--at least nothing much. I was sulky and you startled me.
Are you never sulky, Lilla?"

"What is that sulky, _traurig_?" asked the girl.

"No, not quite. More like what you feel when a frock won't fit you,
Lilla."

"So! I understand: well, wherefore are you sulky?"

"I can't sell my freight at my price. Just think what rough luck it was
for me that Bacon Brown got in so soon after me. And after bringing the
stuff so far and _at such a cost too_!" and again for a moment the
colonel's face looked white and drawn in the lamp light.

The Frazer river trail was a bad one, but once its perils were passed
there seemed to be no reason why an old packer should turn pale at the
mere memory of them.

"Ach, sacrifice!" cried the girl. "You sell your bacon a dollar a pound,
and you call that sacrifice. Have you no shame?"

"All very well for you, Lilla. You are a girl who owns a gold-mine; I'm
only a poor packer. By the way, have you done anything more about Pete's
Creek since last season?"

"No, but I think I'll do something soon."

"Better send me to find it for you, Lilla, before someone else gets hold
of it, and give me a share in it for my work. I'll take you, and you
keep the creek. How will that do?"

"And what do I become--ach, I mean what shall I get for my share?"

Her partner laid his hand upon his heart and made her his most
impressive bow, but the girl only burst out laughing merrily. Perhaps
the noise and bright lights of a dance-house are unfavourable to
sentiment.

"Ach so, Colonel. Bacon a dollar a pound, and you will trade yourself
for the richest gold-mine in Cariboo and me! _Danke schön_," and she
curtsied to him laughingly.

"As you please, Lilla. But will you bet me that I don't know where your
creek is?"

"I know you don't know anything about it, except what I told you last
fall."

"Don't be too sure. You'd better trust me, Lilla. It isn't the other
side of the Frazer in the Chilcotin country, is it?"

"I told you so much, and then--"

"It isn't up at the head of the Chilcotin?"

"On which bank?"

"The right."

"Ach so! I knew you didn't know," and then the girl stopped, and for a
moment suspicion looked out from her simple blue eyes. Lilla wasn't
quite sure whether her dancing partner had not been trying to pump her.

But the colonel saw the look, and knowing that he had obtained all the
information which he was likely to get, he deftly turned the
conversation into a fresh channel.

"Of course it's only my chaff, Lilla. I would rather have the pretty
gold on your head than all the gold in Pete's Creek, even if there was
such a place, which I doubt. But who is the new invalid you are
nursing?"

"A Britisher as you are, Colonel; only I find him better-looking,"
replied Lilla mischievously.

"He might easily be that, Lilla. I'm getting old, my dear, with waiting
for you. But how did you find this new treasure?"

"Bacon Brown brought him in."

"Brown brought him in! When?"

"Three days from to-day--when his train came along."

"Where did he find him? Is he one of his men?"

"Ach no. I tell you he is English not Yankee. Brown found him dying on
the trail."

"On the trail! Where?"

"I don't know quite where, but somewhere between this place and where
the trail forks for Williams Creek."

Whilst the girl had been speaking her companion had shifted his
position, so that he now stood with his back to the light, so that no
casual observer would have noticed even if his face should turn white
and his hand shake.

"What is your friend like, and what was the matter with him, Lilla?"
asked the colonel after a while, with a certain show of carelessness,
dropping out his words disjointedly between his efforts to light a
cigar.

"Well, I can hardly tell you, he lies down all the time. He is too weak
to stand up, but he looks a fine man, tall and big--oh, very big, and
hair like a Deutscher's, and blue eyes, more blue, I think, than mine;"
and she opened those pretty orbs very wide to let her questioner see how
very blue eyes would have to be to be bluer than her own.

"Is that so, and Lilla is half in love with him already? Oh, Lilla,
Lilla! And when will this beautiful person be well again?"

"Don't talk foolishness," replied the girl, blushing furiously. "How
could I love a man who has the 'jim-jams?'"

"The 'jim-jams!' What! from drink?"

"I don't know. But there, there's the music, come along;" and once more
Lilla bore away the best waltzer in Antler to the tune of some slow
rhythmical German air.

During the dance the girl said nothing, and after it was over she left
her partner for someone else (mind you, dancing meant business for
Lilla); but towards the end of the evening she sought out the colonel
again, and leading him on one side, said:

"What will you do when you have sold your freight?"

"I don't know. Anything. Why?"

"I have a fancy, and you shall not laugh at me. Pete gave me the map to
find his creek when he died. That is good. Now comes another Englishman,
also dying. I am, what do you call it--_abergläubig_?"

"I don't know superstitious perhaps?"

"Perhaps superstitious. Suppose this man gets well, he has no money, he
is dead-broke, and very young. Do you see?"

"I see. You say he is ill and a 'dead-beat.' Most of your patients are
that way, Lilla."

"No, he is not a 'dead-beat.' I think he is--ach, well no matter. But
see here, if you will give money for the outfit and grub, and take this
man along when he is well again, I will give you the map, and you two
can take half the mine between you. Is that good?"

"But why give him a quarter of your mine?"

"I give you a quarter also; and I tell you Pete was English, and you say
you are English, and he is English. I think Pete would have liked it so,
and this shall bring me luck."

"As you please, Lilla. I would go for you for nothing. Shall I have the
map to-night?" And at that moment the light fell upon the man's face,
which he had moved somewhat during the conversation, and showed that the
mouth was twitching and the eyes glittering with strong excitement which
would not be entirely suppressed.

"No, not to-night. When Corbett is well. I may change my mind before
then, you know, and give you all the mine, and myself too--who knows!"

And with a nod and a smile, half mocking, half friendly, Lilla the
hurdy girl turned on her heel and left the dancing-room for a little
poorly furnished chamber, where, behind a Hudson Bay blanket hung up as
a curtain, lay Ned Corbett in the first quiet sleep he had enjoyed since
Bacon Brown found him insensible upon the trail which leads to Antler.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PRICE OF BLOOD.


It was neither day nor night in Antler, but that time between the two
when the stars are fading and the moon has set and the sun has not yet
risen.

The men of the night-shift had gone back to the claims; the hurdy girls
had all followed Lilla's example and slipped away to their own rooms,
and though the big dancing hall was still open, the only people in it
were a few maudlin topers dozing over their liquor.

Out in the main street there was no light, no light either of sun or
moon; no light at all except one feeble ray which flickered from Lilla's
window, and fell upon the black water which hurried through the wooden
boxes laid across the highway.

By and by a man came out of the gloom, blundered heavily over the boxes,
and swore savagely below his breath as if the boxes had consciously
conspired for his downfall.

When he had picked himself up again from the mud, this night-bird stood
looking fixedly towards the light. Had he swayed unsteadily from side to
side, and perhaps fallen again, there would have been nothing worth
watching about him. Rye whisky, the fresh night air, and the ditches
laid across the roads, used often to persuade very honest gentlemen to
pass their nights beside the gutter. But this man stood firmly upon his
feet, looking steadily at the light ahead of him. Presently he appeared
to have made up his mind, for after looking up and down the road to see
whether anyone was watching him, he stole up to the window and crouched
beside it in such a position that he could peer in unseen.

Inside the room the light fell upon bare wooden walls, from which hung a
little mirror, and a man's coat and broad-brimmed hat. There was a rifle
in one corner, and half the room appeared to be partitioned off from the
rest by a bright red Hudson Bay blanket hung up as a curtain. In spite
of the rifle and the coat an expert would have decided at once that the
room was a woman's room. There was a trimness about it not masculine, a
cleanliness not Indian. Whatever a red lady's virtues may be,
cleanliness and order are not among them. But the figures upon which the
light fell explained the anomaly of a rifle and a mirror hung side by
side in a miner's shack, and explained, too, why a room in which hung a
miner's coat and hat was swept and garnished and in order.

In a bunk against the wall lay a fair-haired man, his eyes shut in
sleep, with one powerful arm thrown limp and nerveless upon the outside
of his bed. The man who watched him felt a nervous twitching at his
throat as his eyes rested upon the big brown hand, contrasting so
strongly with the white linen upon which it rested; for Lilla had given
her patient of her best, and Ned Corbett was sleeping between the only
pair of sheets in Cariboo.

The worst was evidently over for Corbett. The fever, or whatever his
disease had been, had left him, worn and pulled down it is true; but the
peacefulness of his sleep, the calm child-like restfulness of his face,
told both his watchers that unless a relapse took place his young life
would be as strong in him as ever before many days had passed.

The colonel, peering in at Lilla's face as she sat and watched her
patient, saw very little chance of a relapse whilst _she_ was Corbett's
nurse. If tender care and ceaseless watching would save him, Corbett
would be saved. The colonel fancied, indeed, that he saw even more than
this. His eyes ever since very early days had peered deep into the
hearts of men and women; not from sympathy with them, not even from idle
curiosity, but to see what profit could be made out of them. Now he
thought that he recognized in Lilla's eyes, and in the caressing touch
of her hand as she brushed back Corbett's yellow hair, something which
he had often seen before, something which he had generally turned to his
own advantage at whatever cost to the woman.

"The little fool!" he muttered. "She has got stuck on him because he has
blue eyes and yellow hair like a Deutscher. Great Scott, what simpletons
these women are!"

Perhaps the colonel's guess as to the state of Lilla's heart was a
shrewd one, perhaps not. At any rate if the girl was in love with her
handsome patient she was not herself conscious of it as yet, and as she
sat crooning the tender words of a German love song, she was unconscious
that they had any special meaning for her.

"_Du du liegst mir im Hertzen,_" she sang; but as she sang, she believed
that the only feeling which stirred her heart for the sick man at her
side was one of pity for a helpless bankrupt brother.

For some time Lilla sat dreaming and crooning scraps of German songs,
and then a thought seemed to strike her, and she drew from her bosom a
little leather case. Opening this she drew from it what looked like an
old bill, and indeed it was an old bill-head, frayed and torn as if it
had been carried for many, many months in some traveller's pocket. But
there was no account of goods delivered and still unpaid for upon that
dirty scrap of paper. As Lilla turned it to catch the light, the man at
the window had a glimpse of it, and started as if someone had struck
him.

"Old Pete's map, by thunder!" he exclaimed; and so loudly did he speak,
or so noisy was his movement as he tried to obtain a better view of that
precious document, that Lilla heard something, and replacing the paper
in her pocket rose and came to the window.

There was only a thin partition of rustic boarding and the bosom of a
woman's dress between the most reckless scoundrel in Cariboo and the key
to Cariboo's richest gold-mine. He could hear her breathing on the other
side of that thin partition, and he knew that his strong fingers could
tear it down and wrench away that secret before the woman and the sick
man her friend could even call assistance. But he dared not do the deed.
Life was still more than gold to him, and he knew that earth would be
hardly large enough to hide the man who should wrong Lilla from the
vengeance of the hard-fists she had danced with and sung to in their
merry moods, and nursed like a sister in their sickness.

"No," he muttered, when Lilla had resumed her seat, "I daren't do it,
and I daren't stay another hour. If that fool gets his wits back the cat
will soon be out of the bag, and the only question of interest to me
will be,--'Is it to be Begbie or Lynch?' If the boys knew, I believe it
would be Lynch!" and muttering and grinding his teeth, a prey to rage
and baffled greed, Colonel Cruickshank turned and retraced his steps to
his own quarters.

Once, and only once, he stopped before he reached them, and stood with
knitted brows like one who strives to master some difficult problem. At
last a light came into his face, and his coarse mouth opened in an evil
grin--"I will, by Jove I will! It will be as safe there as anywhere.
Cruickshank, my boy, you shall double the stakes and go for the pot. If
I had only seen more of that map--"

The rest of his sentence was lost as he entered the shack where his
goods were stored, and half an hour later, when the sun was still only
colouring the sky a faint saffron along the horizon, he strode up to the
store of Ben Hirsch, general dealer, money-changer, and purchaser of
gold-dust at Antler.

Old Ben was fairly early himself that morning. He had smoked so much the
night before (being a German Jew) that he really needed a breath of
fresh air to pull him together, before he engaged in another day of
chicanery, bargaining, and theft. But the sight of the dashing colonel
at such an hour in the morning considerably astonished him. There was
something wrong somewhere, of that he felt quite certain, and wherever
there was anything wrong there was profit for the wise old Jew. So his
beady eyes twinkled beside his purple beak, and he gave the man he
looked upon as his prey the heartiest greeting.

"Goot-mornin', Colonel, goot-mornin'. Ach, vot a rustler you are! No
vonder zat you make much gold. Haf you zold ze pacon yet?"

"Not a cent's worth, uncle. Will you buy?"

"Ach! you laugh at me. I haf no monish, you know I haf no monish. Ze
freight eats up all ze profit."

"Keep that for tenderfeet, Ben," replied Cruickshank roughly. "Freight
on needles won't bring them up to fifty cents apiece, even in Cariboo.
Will you buy or won't you? I've no time to talk."

"Vot is your hurry, Colonel? Ze pacon and ze peans von't shpoil."

The colonel turned to go.

"_Ach, himmel!_" cried the Jew, throwing up his hands deprecatingly.
"How these English Herren are fiery. Colonel, dear Herr Colonel, pe so
goot as to listen."

"Well, what is it? I'll give you five minutes in which to make a bid.
After that I'm off straight to Williams Creek."

"Pacon is cheap zere, Colonel; almost cheaper zan here. Put I vill puy.
Are ve not from of olt be-friended? Vot you zay, twenty-five cents ze
pound?"

"Twenty-five fiddlesticks! Do you think I don't know the market prices?"

But it is not worth while to record all the haggling between Hirsch and
Cruickshank. It was a match between the Jew, cool, crafty, and cringing,
and the Christian (save the mark!), hurried, and full of strange oaths
as become a soldier, "sudden and quick in quarrel."

From the very outset the colonel had one eye on Ben and the other on the
door, and his ears seemed pricked to catch the tramp of men who might be
coming in pursuit. Of course the Jew saw this, and every time the
colonel started at some sudden sound, or reddened and swore at his
obstinate haggling, Ben's ferret-like eyes gleamed with fresh cunning
and increased intelligence.

Like an expert angler he had mastered his fish, and knew it, and meant
now to kill him at his leisure, without risking another struggle. And
yet (to maintain the metaphor) this fisher of men all at once lowered
his point and seemed to let his captive go.

"Vell, colonel, all right. Suppose you give ze ponies in, I give you
your price."

"You're a hungry thief, Ben. The ponies are worth the money; but I am
not going to do any more packing, so take them and be hanged to you."

"Goot. It is a deal zen."

"Yes, if I may keep the pinto. I want a pony to pack my tools and
blankets on."

"Tools. Vot! you go prospecting, eh?"

"Yes. I think so."

"Ach so! By and by you strike it rich. Then you bring your dust to old
Ben--eh, colonel?"

"Maybe. But where are those dollars?"

"How vill you have them, colonel,--in notes or dust?" asked the Jew.

"In dust, of course; those flimsy things would wear out before I could
get them down the Frazer. Besides, I've heard that your notes aren't
always just like other people's, Ben;" and the colonel pushed over a
little pile of dirty "greenbacks."

"Ach, these are goot notes; but the gold is goot too, Colonel. Vill you
veigh it?"

"You bet I will," replied the colonel, making no parade of confidence in
his friend. There was good gold in old Ben's safe, but the tenderfoot
who did not know good gold from bad often got "dust" of the wrong kind.
This Cruickshank knew, so that he was careful to examine the quality of
the dust in the two small canvas bags, and careful, too, in the weighing
of them--trying the scales, and leaving no hole open for fraud to creep
through.

At last even he was satisfied.

"Yes, Ben, that will do--it's good for the money."

"Goot dust, isn't it? very goot dust and full measure. See!" and the old
Jew put it in the scales again. "But, _donner und blitzen_, vot vants ze
sheriff so early?"

The last part of the sentence was jerked out at the top of his voice by
the dealer in gold as he turned excitedly to stare out of the little
window on his left.

"The sheriff! Did you say the sheriff? Give me the gold. Where is he?"

Cruickshank had turned as white as the dead, and his hand shook as if he
had the palsy, but for all that he managed to snatch up the two small
canvas bags from the counter and hide them away in the bosom of his
flannel shirt.

"I zink I zee him go into ze dance-house. But vot is your hurry,
colonel? shtay and vet ze deal. Vot, you von't! Ah vell, ze rye is not
pad." And so saying Mr. Benjamin Hirsch filled a small glass for
himself, and with a wink drank to his departing guest.

Ben Hirsch was certainly right in calling Colonel Cruickshank a rustler,
a Yankee term for a man who does not let the grass grow under his feet.
Half an hour after Ben's cry of "Sheriff" the colonel stole out of
Antler, driving old Job in front of him, with blankets, gold-pan, and
all the rest of a prospector's slender outfit, securely fastened upon
the pony's back.

As soon as he was well out of sight of the camp, the fugitive diverged
from the main trail, and took instead a little-used path, leading direct
over a difficult country to Soda Creek, on the Frazer. Along this he
drove his pony at a speed which made that wall-eyed, cow-hocked
quadruped grunt and groan in piteous fashion. In all his days Job had
never before found a master who could and would get a full day's work
out of him, without giving him a single chance to wander or even knock
his packs off amongst the timber. At last, when the sun had begun to go
west, Cruickshank paused, sat down upon a log, and lit his pipe. As he
smoked and thought, the lines went out of his face, until he almost
looked once more the oily, plausible scoundrel whom we first met in
Victoria.

"Yes," he muttered, "it was a bold game, but I made my bluff stick. Why,
if old Ben knew that I didn't have even a pair to draw to, wouldn't he
'raise Cain?'" And so saying, he put his hand inside his shirt and drew
out the two little bags of gold-dust, weighing them nicely in his hands,
and regarding them as lovingly as a mother would her first-born. For a
minute or two his fingers played with the strings which fastened the
mouth of each sack, but finally thought better of it and put them back
into his pocket without untying them. To this man life was a game of
poker, and for the present he considered that he had risen a winner
though the odds had been against him, and with his winnings in his
pocket he smacked old Job on the quarters, held up his head, and felt
ready for a fresh deal.

And old Ben--what of him? Did he hurry away to secure the pack-ponies
and their loads, or to see what the sheriff wanted at the dance-house?
Not a bit of it. _He_ knew (none better) that the sheriff was away at
Williams Creek, and he knew, too,--he knew enough of human nature to be
sure that Dan Cruickshank would never return to Antler unless he was
brought back against his will. He had sold his packs and his ponies for
two little bags of gold ("of gold, ho, ho!" chuckled the Jew), and even
if he should find anything wrong with the gold he would not dare to come
back to claim his packs.

"I vonder vot Dan has peen up to," mused the son of Israel. "He play ze
carts a leetle too vell for his friends, I know, put it must pe
zomething worse zan zat. Ach vell, it was ver goot zat I knew a leetle
how to conjure;" and still chuckling and muttering to himself, he took
from a shelf just below the counter two small bags similar to those in
Cruickshank's shirt front, and put them tenderly and reverently away in
his safe. _They_ contained good gold-dust.

Those which Cruickshank was carrying away contained a good many things,
the price of innocent blood for instance, but Ben Hirsch would not have
given many dollars for all that they contained. Whilst the colonel was
looking for the sheriff, Ben had substituted bags of copper pyrites for
bags of gold.



CHAPTER XVII.

CHANCE'S GOLD-FEVER RETURNS.


"Well, Steve, what is the news? I can see that you are just bursting
with intelligence. Out with it, little man."

"Bell has struck it rich again. It's a fortune this time, they say."

"Is that all? Poor Bell! He'll be drunk, then, at Victoria the whole of
the winter. I shouldn't be surprised if this second stroke of luck
killed him."

The speakers were our old friends Ned Corbett and Steve Chance, and when
Steve joined him Ned was sitting with his long gum boots tucked under a
table in the Antler dance-house, smoking his evening pipe.

It was nearly a month since Cruickshank had stolen away from Antler, and
since then Ned had recovered all his old strength and vigour.

At first he had brooded incessantly over Cruickshank's escape, but as
the days went by he realized that there was no chance for him, without
knowledge of the country and without funds, against a man like the
colonel, with a fortnight's start of him. Together with one or two
miners to whom he had told his tale he had made an attempt to follow
Cruickshank's tracks, and had succeeded in tracking him and his pony as
far as the main trail to Soda Creek. Here the tracks, which were already
old, became confused with others, and sorely against their will the
pursuers had to give up the chase.

"Cruickshank has got clean away with you this journey, partner, and I
guess you may as well own up to it," was the verdict of one of his
comrades.

And Ned, recognizing the justice of it, threw up the sponge, and owned
himself beaten for the time; but although he said no more about the
claims or the packs or the comrade of whom he had been robbed, he
consoled himself with the thought that life was long and had in it many
chances, and that whenever his chance came, however late, it would find
his hand as strong and as quick to take vengeance as it was to-day.

As soon as his story had become known, and men had seen what manner of
man he was, Ned had found no difficulty in getting employment in the
claims, and, indeed, he had done so well that he had been induced to
send a message to his friends at Williams Creek, in answer to which
Steve and Phon had hastened to join him at Antler. Rampike promised to
come up later on in the fall, but as yet he had plenty to do in his own
claim.

For a full fortnight the three comrades had worked away steadily with
pick and shovel, and now, in spite of all his troubles, Ned was his own
cheery self again, proud of the strength which enabled him to do almost
as much as two other men, and content with the work which kept him
supplied with all the necessaries of life. But if Ned Corbett was
content, his comrades were not. Steve hated the daily labour for daily
wage, and Phon was hardly strong enough for the work, and anxious to go
off prospecting on his own account.

"What a phlegmatic old cuss you are, Ned! Don't you envy Bell a bit?"

"Not I. Why should I? I am strong and well again, thank God. I've plenty
of fresh air and hard work, and I'm earning ten dollars a day--"

"And spending eight. You won't make a fortune that way."

"Who said that I should? Who said that I wanted to? Why, my dear chap,
just think for a moment. If I did make a fortune I should have to stop
at home and invest it and look after it. _Stop at home_, do you hear,
Steve?"

"You'll die a pauper, Ned," asserted Chance solemnly.

"And you, perhaps, a millionaire. Poor old chap! I'm sorry for you. I
am indeed. Well, Lilla, what can I do for you?" and Ned, rising, took
off his hat, as if he had been saluting a duchess.

"The boys want a song, Ned. Will you sing for them?" asked the girl, her
pretty eyes brightening and her cheeks flushing as she took Ned's hand.
Somehow, though Ned had often sought her, he had seen very little of his
gentle nurse since he had become convalescent.

"Bother the boys!" quoth this young man of big muscle and limited
intelligence. "I'm not going to do any work to-night. I have earned
enough money for the day; but," he added quickly as he saw the girl's
look of disappointment, "I'll sing for you, little sister, and you can
give the money to the next dead-beat you nurse back again to life."

"I never nursed any dead-beats," began Lilla.

"Oh no, of course not. Never heard of Ned Corbett, or Pete of Lost
Creek, or any of that crowd, did you, Lilla? Now I'm going to sing;" and
with that he threw back his head, and sang in a full rich baritone a
song of his Canadian lumbering days:--


                    A SONG OF THE AXE.

     When winter winds storm, and the snow-flakes swarm,
       And the forest is soft to our tread;
     When the women folk sit, by their fires fresh lit,
       Oh, ho, for the toque of red!
     With our strong arms bare, it's little we care
       For politics, rates, or tax;
     Let the good steel ring on the forest king--
       Oh, ho, for the swing of the axe!

     Your diamonds may glitter, your rubies flame,
       Our gems are but frozen dew;
     Yet yours grow tame, being always the same,
       Ours every night will renew.
     Let the world rip: tighten your grip,
       Make the blades glitter and shine;
     At it you go, swing to each blow,
       And down with the pride of the pine!

     For the trees, I ween, which have long grown green
       In the light of the sun and the stars,
     Must bend their backs to the lumberer's axe,
       Mere timber and planks and spars!
     Then oh, ho, ho! for the carpet of snow!
       Oh, ho, for the forest of pine!
     Wealth shall be yours, with its business and bores,
       Health and hard labour be mine!


"_Health and hard labour be mine!_" thundered a score of voices, and a
score of strong labour-hardened hands came crashing down upon the rough
deal tables. "Bravo, Ned!" "That's your sort for Cariboo!" "Mate, we'll
wet that song if you please," and a dozen other similar expressions of
approval rewarded Ned for his efforts, but Steve Chance did not go as
far as the rest of the audience.

"A pretty good song, Ned," he said, "with lots of shouting in it, but no
sense."

"Give us a better, little one," replied his friend good-naturedly. "Ah,
Lilla, you are a brick--I beg your pardon, but I don't know the German
for a fairy who brings a thirsty man just what he wants;" and Ned buried
his moustache in a foaming glass of Lager.

"That beats all the champagne and such like trash into fits," he added
with a sigh of satisfaction as he put down the empty glass. "Now, Steve,
beat my song if you can."

"Beat it! No trouble to do that. If the boys don't shout themselves
silly over my chorus I'll take a back seat."

"You wouldn't stay there if you did," laughed Ned; "but drive on, my
boy."

Thus adjured, Steve got up and sang with a spirit and go of which I am
unable to give any adequate idea, the song of--


            THE YANKEE DOLLAR.

     With sword or shovel, pick or pen,
       All strive to win the yellow ore;
     And "bust or boom," our natural doom,
       Is but to love the dollar more.

     _Chorus._

          The Yankee doodle dollar, oh!
          I'm no saint or scholar, oh!
          I only know, that high or low,
          All love the Yankee dollar, oh!

     In miner's ditch some strike it rich,
       And some die in the collar, oh!
     But live or die, succeed or sigh,
       All strive to win the dollar, oh!


"Chorus, gentlemen,--'_The Yankee doodle dollar_ oh!'" sang Chance, and
the whole room rose to him and sang as one man--


     The Yankee doodle dollar, oh!
     I'm no saint or scholar, oh!
     I only know, that high or low,
     All love the Yankee dollar, oh!


There was no question as to Steve's victory. Ned had stirred the hearts
of a few, and pleased all, but Steve had played upon the principal chord
in the heart of Antler, and for weeks the men hummed the empty words and
whistled the frivolous, ranting little air of "_The Yankee doodle
dollar, oh!_" until even its author was sick of it.

"You see, Ned, everyone thinks the same except you," said Chance, when
the applause had somewhat moderated. "Why the deuce are you so
pig-headed? Now that we have saved a few dollars why should we not go
prospecting and make our pile like other people? I'm sick of all this
picking and scratching in other men's claims."

"'Yo mun larn to scrat afore yo peck,'" replied Ned stolidly, quoting a
good old Shropshire proverb; "and 'scratting' for ten dollars a day
doesn't seem to me to be very badly-paid labour."

"You forget, Ned, that this cain't last. How do you mean to live during
the winter?"

"Sufficient unto the day--" began Ned, and then suddenly altering his
tone he added, "What is it that you want me to do, Steve?"

"What do I want you to do? Why, what any other man in Cariboo would do
if he had half your chance. Take Lilla's offer and go and look for
Pete's Creek for her."

"Pete's Creek! Why, my dear Steve, you don't seriously believe in that
cock-and-bull story, do you?"

"Don't you believe Lilla?" retorted Chance.

"Of course I believe Lilla," replied Corbett hotly, "but she only tells
the story as it was told to her."

"By a dying man who knew that he was dying, to a woman who had nursed
him for weeks like a sister! According to you, Pete must have been a
worse liar than Ananias, Ned."

"I didn't say Pete lied either, but Pete may not have been sane when he
died. You know that he had been drinking like a fish before Lilla got
hold of him."

"Yes, and slept out a couple of nights in the snow. I know that. But he
died of pleurisy, not of the jim-jams."

"Well, have your own way, but nothing will make me believe in that
creek. It had too much gold in it," replied Corbett. "And even if I did
believe in it, why should I take Lilla's gold? Hasn't she done enough
for me already?"

"Perhaps. But if you don't get it for her, I guess someone else will
come along and find it for himself."

"Why don't you go for it, Steve, if you believe in it?"

"So I would if Lilla would trust me; but you see Lilla is not spoons on
me, and she is on you."

Corbett flushed to the roots of his yellow hair.

"Don't talk rot, Chance, and leave Lilla's name alone."

"I'm not talking rot," said Chance seriously. "But say, Ned, do you mean
to marry that girl?"

"Marry your grandmother! I don't mean to marry anyone, and no one is
such a fool as to want to marry me."

"All right, Ned, don't lose your temper; but I know, old chap, that you
would not like to get Lilla talked about, and the boys are beginning to
say that Lilla got rid of her heart when you got rid of your fever."

"The boys are a parcel of chattering idiots, whose mouths will get
stopped pretty roughly if they talk like that before me," growled Ned.
"But really, Steve, this is too ridiculous. Fancy anyone wanting to
marry me!" and the speaker looked down with a grin at his mud-spattered,
much-mended pants, passed his hand meditatively over a rough young beard
of three months' growth, and burst out laughing.

Ned Corbett was heart-whole, and he did not see why everyone else should
not be as lucky in that respect as himself.



CHAPTER XVIII.

ON THE COLONEL'S TRAIL AGAIN.


The day after the conversation recorded in the last chapter happened to
be Sunday--a day which at Antler differed very little from any other
day, except that a few tenderfeet, mostly Britishers, struck work on
that day, and indulged in what some of their friends called a "good
square loaf." Ned Corbett was one of these Sunday loafers. Of course
there was no church at Antler, nor any parson except upon very rare
occasions. But Ned had an ear for the anthems which the mountain breezes
are always singing, and an eye for nature's attitude of reverence
towards her Creator.

Every Sunday it was Ned's wont to go out by himself, and lie on a rock
in the sun out of hearing of the noise of the great mining-camp, saying
nothing at all himself, but thinking a good deal, and keeping quite
quiet to hear what nature had to say to him.

As he was coming away from such a loaf as this, he met Lilla wandering
up the banks of a mountain stream, gathering berries and wild flowers.

Ned thought that his little friend had never looked prettier than she
did at that moment--her soft yellow hair blown out by the breeze, her
little figure moving gracefully amongst the boulders, the colour of wild
roses in her cheeks, and a deep strong light in her blue eyes, like the
light of the stars when there is frost in the northern sky.

For a little while he watched her, as she hummed a song amongst the
flowers and added fresh treasures to the already overgrown bouquet in
her hand.

"If she would take a man just as he is, she would make a sweet little
wife for a Cariboo miner," thought the young man; "that is, if he meant
always to remain a Cariboo miner. But, poor child! I'm afraid she'd find
a Shropshire welcome rather chilly even after Cariboo. Ah! well," he
added to himself as he went jumping over the boulders to meet her,
"luckily I don't want a wife, and Lilla doesn't want a husband."

The next moment Lilla and he stood face to face.

"Did I frighten you, Lilla?" he asked, picking up some flowers which the
girl had dropped. "Did you think I was a grizzly?"

"Not so bad as that, Ned. But what do you up here?"

"I'm taking a 'cultus coolee,'" replied he, using the Indian phrase in
use among the miners for a walk which has no object. "You are doing the
same, I fancy. Let us do it together."

"What! you wish to come with me? Well, come then," replied Lilla. "You
can help me carry these."

Ned took the bouquet, and after a while said, "I have been wanting to
have a good talk with you, Lilla, for some time."

"So, Ned! what is it about?" She tried hard to speak in an unconcerned
off-hand way, but in spite of her, her colour rose and then paled, and
her voice had an unnatural ring in it. Ned looked at her. Could there be
anything in what Steve suggested the other night? he asked himself, and
then almost in the same second he repented him of the thought. Ned
Corbett was not one of those men who twist their moustaches
complacently, and conclude that every woman they meet must fall in love
with them.

"I want you to tell me about Pete and his creek again," he said. "Steve
Chance is awfully keen to go prospecting, and to go and look for this
gold-mine of yours."

"And why not, Ned? I wish you would, for my sake."

"I would do a good deal for your sake, Lilla," he answered; "but I can't
believe in this creek, you know."

"Not believe in it! Why not, Ned?"

"There was too much gold in it; the whole story is too much like a fairy
tale. And then, you know, when you took him in, Pete was as penniless as
I was."

"Penniless! What's that?"

"Hadn't a cent to his name, I mean, and you fed him and took care of
him."

"Ach, so. Well, what has that to do with the creek?"

"People who find gold-mines ought not to be dependent upon good little
girls like you for their bread and cheese. It's not natural, you know."

"Ach, now you make me to understand. But you yourself, you don't know
Cariboo ways. Pete had plenty of dust, oh, lots and lots of dust, when
he came down; but, of course, he blew it all in before I saw him."

To anyone not conversant with mining life that "of course" of Lilla's
was delicious. To the steady-going collector of hard-earned copper and
silver it seems anything but a matter of course to "blow in" a fortune
in a fortnight; but then things were not done in an ordinary jog-trot
fashion either in California in '49 or in Cariboo in '62.

"Oh! of course, of course!" returned Ned with a smile which he could not
hide. "I beg your pardon, Lilla. I had forgotten for a moment that I was
in Cariboo, and thought as if I were at home again. Well, and what was
the matter with your beggared Croesus when you found him?"

"If you mean what was the matter with Pete, I have before told you. He
drink too much one night, and then he fall asleep in the snow, and when
he wake in the morning he have the pleurisy, I think you call him."

It was a long sentence for Lilla, who was getting a little bit roused by
the young scoffer at her side; and, moreover, her English was always
best when produced in small quantities.

"And why did they bring him to you?"

"Where else could they take him? The boys can't leave their claims to
nurse sick men, and at night they are too tired to nurse anyone. And
besides--"

"And besides," interrupted her companion, "Lilla is never tired. Oh,
dear, no! Her eyes never want sleep, nor her limbs rest after dancing
with all those roughs on a floor like a ploughed field."

"Don't you call the boys roughs, Ned. They are not rough to me. Of
course I had to nurse old Pete. What are women meant for?"

"Something better than camp-life in Cariboo," replied Corbett warmly;
"but it is just as well for me that you don't think so."

"Well, and so I nursed him," continued the girl, disregarding Ned's last
speech altogether; "and sometimes he told me where he had been, and how
much gold he had found, and at last one day when he knew that he must
die he told me of this creek in Chilcotin with gold in the bed of
it--free gold, coarse gold in nuggets and lumps, and as much as ever you
want of it."

"Why did he not bring down more of it, instead of letting you keep him
as you kept me?" asked the doubter.

"_Ach, himmel!_ Keep you! I didn't keep you. You are too proud, and
will pay for every little thing; but old Pete, he understood Cariboo
ways. To-day you strike it rich and I am stone-broke. Very well. I lend
you a handful of dollars and start you again. You don't need to thank
me. Any gambler would do as much. By and by I strike it even rockier
than you struck it. All right, then you 'ante' up for me. That's
Cariboo."

"Is it?" asked Ned, looking into the eager friendly face of this
exponent of a new commercial creed. "Is that Cariboo? Well, Lilla, I
expect Samaria must be somewhere in Cariboo. But finish your story about
Pete."

"Oh, Pete! Well, Pete just died quietly, and he knew it was coming, and
before it came he pulled out this," and the girl drew from her bosom an
old frayed bill-head which we have seen before, "and gave it to me, and
told me that as soon as I found--Ach, what am I saying? I forget." And
Lilla suddenly brought her story to an abrupt conclusion, with stumbling
tongue and flaming cheeks, for as a fact the old man had told her that
this map of his was the key to much gold, and that when she should have
found a man worthy of her, she was to send him to bring it to her, and
it should be to her for a dowry. But this was not quite what the honest
little hurdy girl cared to tell Ned Corbett at present. However, Ned
never noticed her embarrassment. His eyes were busy with the document in
his hand.

"It seems a good clear map, and looks as if the man who made it was
quite sane," he muttered.

"Sane? What is that--'sane?'" asked Lilla.

"Level-headed" answered Ned shortly.

"You bet he was level-headed, Ned. _Ach, mein freund_, how you doubt! I
tell you there are not many men in Cariboo who would not go to look for
that creek, if I would let them."

Again Ned remembered Steve's words, "She'll only trust you because she
has lost her heart to you."

"Did you ever give anyone a hint as to where the creek was, Lilla?"

"No, never. At least no, I didn't tell him, but one man nearly guessed
once."

"Nearly guessed once?"

"Yes. He said he knew more than I thought and I had better trust him,
and wasn't the creek at the head of the Chilcotin? And I said, 'Well,
which side of the Chilcotin?' And then he smiled, and I felt angry. And
when he said on the right bank I was glad, and I cried 'No, it isn't, I
knew you didn't know.' And then he smiled more, and I saw that I had
told him what he wanted to know. But after all that is not much, is it?"

"Who was the man, Lilla?"

"Colonel--Colonel--ach, I forget, there are so many colonels in
America."

"True, but what was he like?" Ned had a queer fancy to know who this
clever cross-examiner might be.

"A thick dark man, stout and smooth."

"With a lot of rings on his fingers?"

"Yes, always lots of rings. Oh, he was a fine man, and such a dancer!"

"Cruickshank."

"That is it--Cruickshank, Colonel Cruickshank. But how did you know,
Ned?"

"Oh, I have seen him before," replied Corbett quietly.

This was indeed news to him, but he felt that he must be very careful
not to frighten Lilla, to whom oddly enough the name of the man who had
robbed Corbett had never yet been mentioned. That he had been robbed of
course she knew, but by one of those strange accidents which often
happen, she had never heard who had robbed him.

"So that is all you can tell me about the creek is it, Lilla?" said Ned
after a long pause. "Well, if you still wish me to go at the end of this
week, I will go for you; if I find it you shall pay me ten dollars a day
for my work, and Phon and Steve the same; and if not,--well, if not, I
shall have earned a right to teaze you if you believe in such
cock-and-bull stories for the future." And Ned gave Lilla her bouquet
and prepared to leave her, for they had by this time reached the door of
her little cottage.

"Oh no, Ned, that is not so at all, at all. If you don't find it, of
course I pay the cost; and if you do, we go shares in the find."

"As you please, Lilla, but we have got to find the creek first," and so
saying he turned and strode off to his own hut.

There were many reasons now why he should go to look for Pete's Creek,
but the belief in Pete's Creek or the hope of finding it was not amongst
them.

Cruickshank knew something of the whereabouts of the creek, Cruickshank
with his insatiable love of gold; and Ned himself had tracked him
towards Soda Creek, where he must cross the Frazer to get to Chilcotin.

Yes, that was it. The tables were turning at last, and if there was such
a place as Pete's Creek, Ned would find Cruickshank there, and shoot him
like a bear over a carcase.



CHAPTER XIX.

"GOOD-BYE, LILLA."


It was not Ned Corbett's nature to say much about what he felt. Like
most of his countrymen Ned was reserved to a fault, and prided himself
upon an impassive demeanour, suffering failure or achieving success with
the same quiet smile upon his face. The English adage "Don't cry until
you are hurt" had been only a part of the law of his childhood; the rest
of it read according to his teachers: "and then grin and bear it."

But even Steve, who knew Corbett as intimately as one man can know
another, was astounded at the readiness with which, after one wild
effort to grapple with the man who had killed Roberts, Corbett had been
content to settle down quietly to his daily labour in the claims at
Antler.

He could understand that his friend would take his own losses quietly.
Steve, like all Yankees and all true gamblers, was a good loser himself,
and didn't expect to hear a man make a moan over his own misfortunes,
but he had not expected to see Ned abandon his vengeance so readily.

After Lilla's incidental mention of Cruickshank, Steve began to
understand his friend better. His impatience to be on the war-path again
was the real thing; the assumed calmness and content had after all been
but the mannerism of the athlete, who smiles a sweet smile as he waits
whilst the blows rain upon him, for a chance of knocking his man out of
time before his own eyes close and his own strength fails him.

"So! you've only been lying low all this time, old man, and I thought
you had forgotten," said Chance, when Ned told him of his conversation
with Lilla. "Great Scott, I wouldn't care to be Cruickshank!"

"Forgotten!" echoed Corbett. "Do you suppose I am likely to forget that
Roberts risked his life for mine, and that Cruickshank took it--took it
when the old man sat with his back to him, and his six-shooter hanging
in a tree?"

"No, I don't suppose you would forget, Ned. When shall we start? Phon
and myself could be ready to 'pull out' to-morrow."

"That would suit me, Steve, but I am afraid that you and Phon are
embarking on a wild-goose chase. I don't believe in that creek of Pete's
one bit more now than I did before I saw Lilla's map."

"That's all right, Ned; but you see Cruickshank believed in it, and so
do we."

"Yes, Cruickshank believed in it, and in looking for the one we shall
find the other. That is why I am going."

"I know all about that; but as long as we both want to find the same
place, I don't see that it matters a row of beans why we want to find
it," replied Steve. "And mind you," he added, "I would be just as glad
to let a little daylight into Cruickshank as you would."

"Very well, if that is your way of looking at it, we need lose no more
time. You are old enough to know your own business."

"That's what. How about a cayuse?"

"I bought one yesterday for a hundred dollars."

"A hundred dollars! Great Scott, what a price!"

"Yes, it is a good deal, but old Dad wouldn't let the beast go for less.
He calculated it at so much a pound, and told me that if I knew where
to get fresh meat cheaper in Antler I'd better buy it."

"Fresh meat! I like that. Has old Dad taken to selling beef upon the
hoof, then?"

"Seems so. Anyway I had to pay for the bobtail almost as if I were
buying beefsteak by the hundredweight."

"Well, I suppose we cain't help ourselves; we shall only be stone-broke
again. It appears to be a chronic condition with us. Let's go and look
at the brute."

An inspection of the bobtail did not bring much consolation to either
Steve or Ned, for in spite of the smart way in which he had been docked,
he was as ragged and mean-looking a brute as anyone could want to see.
Besides, he was what the up-country folk call "a stud," and anyone who
has ever driven these beasts, knows that they add vices peculiar to
their class to the ordinary vices of the cayuse nature.

"He ain't a picture, but we've got to make the best of him," remarked
Steve. "So if you'll just fix things with Lilla, I'll see about getting
grub and a pack-saddle. We _might_ be ready to start to-night."

This was Steve's view on Tuesday at mid-day. At five o'clock on
Wednesday he was a humbler man, heartily thankful that at last he really
had got together most of the things necessary for one pack-horse. The
last twenty-four hours had been passed, it seemed to him, in scouring
the whole country for pack-saddles, sweat-clothes, cinch-hooks, and all
sort of things, which hitherto (when Cruickshank and Roberts had had
charge of the train) had seemed always at hand as a matter of course.

"Hang me if the cayuse doesn't want more fixing than a Brooklyn belle,"
muttered Steve. "But say, Ned," he added aloud, "do you mean to start
to-night?"

In another two hours it would be comparatively dark in the narrow
canyons through which the trail to Soda Creek ran, and in two hours the
three travellers could not hope to make much of a journey.

"Better wait till to-morrow, boys," remarked an old miner who had been
lending a hand with the packing, trying in vain to show Ned how the
diamond hitch ought to go. "It ain't no manner of use starting out at
this time o' day."

"I would start if it were midnight, Jack," replied Corbett resolutely.
"Once we get under weigh things will go better, but if we stayed over
the night in camp, something would be sure to turn up to waste another
day. Are you ready there, Steve?"

"All set, sonny," replied Steve, giving a final try at the cinch for
form's sake.

"Then just drive on. I am going to get the map from Lilla;" and so
saying he bent his steps towards the dance-house, whilst, one leading
and the other driving, his companions trudged away along the trail to
Soda Creek.

When he reached the dance-house Lilla was waiting for him, and together
the two turned their backs upon Antler and walked slowly away under the
pines.

"So then," said Lilla, "you will really go away to-night."

"Yes, we are really going, Lilla, to look for your golden creek. Don't
you feel as if you were a millionaire already? Chance does, I know, and
has decided to whom he will leave his estate when he dies."

Ned spoke lightly, and laughed as he spoke. He saw that the girl was
depressed, and wanted to cheer her up. But Lilla only gave a little
shiver, though the evening air was far from cold.

"Don't talk of dying, Ned. It is not good to talk of. Men die fast
enough out here." She was thinking, poor little soul! how very near
death that gallant yellow-haired friend of hers had been when she first
saw him, and perhaps death might come near him again whilst she was not
by to watch over him.

Ned looked surprised at her mood, but passed lightly to another subject.

"As you please, Lilla. Where am I to find you when we come back from
Chilcotin?"

"_Das weiss der lieber Gott_," she answered, speaking half to herself.
And then recovering herself she added in a firmer voice, "Either here or
at Kamloops: most likely at Kamloops, if you are not back soon."

"But we shall be back soon. What ails you to-night?"

"It is nothing, Ned; but it seems as if summer had gone soon this year,
and these great mountains will all be white again directly. I don't
think you will get back here this fall."

"Not get back this fall! Why, surely, Lilla, you don't think that we
mean to jump your claims, or make off with your gold?"

"No, no! of course not. I know you don't care for the gold, Ned, like
the other men. You don't care for anything like other men, I think."

"Don't I? Just wait until I come back from Chilcotin and pour buckets of
dust into your lap. See if I won't want my share then?"

"I wonder how long it will be that I must wait, Ned? I think sometimes
that we shall never meet again. Tell me, do you think such atoms as we
are could ever find their way to one another, up _there_? It seems so
hard to lose one's friends for ever."

And the girl looked despairingly up into the great blue vault above
them, wherein even the greatest of the stars are but as golden motes.

"Yes, little sister," answered Ned seriously. "I don't think that such
as you will have much difficulty in finding their way up there."

After this the two were silent for some time, standing on a rise above
Antler, looking out upon the deepening gloom of the evening, Ned's heart
very full of tenderness towards the little woman to whom he owed so
much.

It would have been so easy, Ned could not help thinking, to put his arm
round her and comfort her; but then, would that be a good thing for
either of them? The world was all before them, and the world was not all
Cariboo.

"Come, Lilla," he said at last, "this won't do. The night air is
chilling you. You must run back now. What would the boys say if their
little favourite came back without her smile? By George, they would give
me a short shrift if they thought that it was my fault."

"The boys! Ach, what do the boys care? All women can laugh, and dance,
and sing. One woman is all the same to them as another."

Well as Ned knew his little companion, he had never seen her in this
mood before, and his face betrayed the wonder which her bitterness awoke
in him.

A woman's eyes are quick, even in her trouble, to note the effect of her
words upon anyone she cares for, so that Lilla saw the expression in
Ned's face, and tried hard to rally her courage and laugh her tears
away.

After her fashion the poor little hurdy girl was as proud as any titled
dame on earth, and since Ned had not said that he loved her, she would
try hard to keep her own pitiful little secret to herself.

"Don't look like that, Ned. Don't you know when I am acting. But,
seriously, I am cross to-night. I wanted my gold, and I wanted to keep
my play-fellow too. We have been such good friends--haven't we, Ned?"

It was no good. In spite of her that treacherous voice of hers would
falter and break in a way quite beyond her control. Flight seemed to her
the only chance.

"Ach well, this is folly," she said. "_Auf wiedersehen_, my friend," and
she held out to him both her hands.

It was a dead still evening, and just at that moment the horn of the
pale young moon came up over the fringe of dark pine-trees and lit up
Lilla's sweet face, finding in it a grace and purity of outline which
the daylight overlooked. But even the moonlight could add nothing to the
tenderness of those honest blue eyes, which had grown so dim and misty
in the last few minutes, or to the sweetness of that tender mouth, whose
lips were so pitifully unsteady now.

"_Auf wiedersehen_" Ned repeated after her. "_Auf wiedersehen_,
Lilla,--we shall meet again."

For a while he stood irresolute. What did Shropshire or all the world
indeed matter to him? he asked himself, and in another moment he might
have spoken words which would surely have marred his own life and not
made hers one whit happier.

Luckily just then a wild laugh broke the silence and recalled Ned to
himself. It was only the owl who laughed, but it sufficed. The
dangerous charm of the silence was broken, and pressing the girl's hand
to his lips he dashed away up the trail.

Steve Chance and Phon had made nearly four miles and begun to pitch camp
whilst he was getting that map.



CHAPTER XX.

THE ACCURSED RIVER.


This world is a world of contrasts, in which laughter and tears,
darkness and light, unite to make the varied pattern of our lives. When
Ned Corbett left Lilla standing with tears which would not be denied
upon her white cheeks, he felt as if he should never laugh again, and
the ball in his throat rose as if it would choke him. In spite of the
pace at which he strode through the moonlit forest aisles, his thoughts
dwelt persistently upon the girl he had left behind him, or if they
wandered at all from her, it was only to remind him of that snow-covered
camp in the forest, at which he had taken his last farewell of that
other true friend of his. And yet half an hour after he had wrung poor
Lilla's hands in parting, Ned Corbett stood watching his comrades, his
sides aching with suppressed laughter.

Phon's voice was the first sound to warn Ned that he had almost reached
the camp, but Phon and Steve were both far too absorbed in the problem
before them to notice his approach.

"You sure you no savey tie 'um hitch?" asked the Chinaman, who was
standing with his hand upon the pack-ropes, whilst Chance held the
cayuse by the head.

"No, Phon, I no savey. You savey all right, don't you?"

"I savey one side," replied the Chinaman. "S'pose the ole man throw the
lopes, I catch 'um and fix 'um, but I no savey throw 'um lopes."

"What the devil are we to do then?" asked Chance, looking helplessly at
the pack and its mysterious arrangement of ropes. "If the old man does
not overtake us to-night we can't start before he gets here to-morrow
morning. I wonder what the deuce is keeping him?"

Phon gave a grunt of contempt at his white companion's want of
intelligence. He had a way of looking upon Steve as somewhat of an
ignoramus.

"What keep the ole man? You halo comtax anything, Chance. Young woman
keep him of course. Young woman always keep ole man long time, all same
China. You bet I savey."

"You bet you are a jolly saucy heathen, who wants kicking badly,"
laughed Steve. "But say, if Corbett does not come along, what _are_ you
going to do with the packs?"

"I fix 'um, you see," replied Phon, suddenly brightening again and
taking the pony by the head.

"Now then, you hold him there--hold him tight. He heap bad cayuse;" and
Phon handed the lead-rope to Chance, whilst he himself swarmed nimbly up
a bull-pine under which the pony now stood. A few feet from the ground
(say seven or eight) a bare limb projected over the trail, from which
the Chinaman could just manage to reach the top of the packs, so as to
tie them firmly to the bough upon which he stood.

This done he descended again from his perch, hobbled the pack animal,
and stood back to survey his work.

He had tied up the pony's legs, and tied him up by his packs to a
bull-pine. Things looked fairly safe, but Phon was not content. "You
hold him tight!" he sung out; "s'pose he go now he smash everything." A
minute later Phon had undone the cinch and set the pack-saddle and its
load free from the pony's back, and then picking up a big stake he hit
the unfortunate cayuse a hearty good thump over the quarters, and bade
him "Git, you siwash!"

The result was funny. A general separation ensued, in which--thanks to a
pair of active heels--(horse's) a little blue bundle of Chinese
manufacture went in one direction, a hobbled cayuse went jumping away
like a lame kangaroo in another, while the pack swung in all the mystery
of its diamond hitch intact upon the bough of the bull-pine.

It was a quaint method of off-saddling a pack-pony, but as Phon
explained when he had picked himself up again, it saved the trouble of
fixing the packs next day.

But such scenes as these are of more interest to those to whom packing
is a part of their daily toils than to the average Englishman. The
ordinary traveller puts his luggage in the van, or has it put in for
him, and glides over his journey at the rate of forty miles an hour
without even seeing, very often, what kind of country he is passing
through.

It is quite impossible to travel quite as fast as this through Cariboo
even on paper; but I will make the journey as short as I can, though for
Phon and his friends it was weary work at first, with a pack-horse which
would not be driven and could not be led. When the ordinary lead-rope
had been tried and found useless, Phon slipped a clove-hitch round the
brute's lower jaw, after which he and Corbett together led, throwing all
their weight upon the rope and pulling for all they were worth. It
seemed as if this must move even a mule; but its principal effect upon
the "stud" was to make him sit down upon his quarters in regular
tug-of-war fashion, rolling his eyes hideously, and squealing with rage.
The application of motive power (by means of a thick stick) to his other
end only elicited a display of heels, which whizzed and shot about
Steve's ears until he determined to "quit driving."

After this the steed proceeded some distance of his own accord, and
flattering terms were showered upon him.

"After all he only wanted humouring," Ned said; "horses were just alike
all the world over. Kindness coupled with quiet resolution was all that
was necessary for the management of the most obstinate brute on earth."

So spoke Corbett, after the manner of Englishmen, and the "stud" poked
out his under lip and showed the whites of his eyes. He knew better than
that, and for some time past had had his eye upon a gently sloping bank
covered with young pines and some dead-fall. As he reached this he
tucked in his tail, bucked to see if he could get his pack off, and
failing in that let go with both heels at the man behind him, and then
rolled over and over down the bank until he stuck fast amongst the
fallen timber, where he lay contentedly nibbling the weeds, whilst his
owners took off his packs and made other arrangements for his comfort,
without which he pretended that it was absolutely impossible for him to
get up again.

This sort of thing soon becomes monotonous, and our amateur prospectors
found that though they were doing a good deal of hard work they were not
making two miles an hour. Luckily for all concerned the "stud" died
young, departing from this life on the third day out from Antler, a
victim to the evil effects of about a truss of poison weed which he had
picked up in his frequent intervals for rest by the roadside.

It was with a sigh of sincere relief that Corbett and Steve and Phon
portioned out the pack among them, and said adieu to their dead cayuse.
Whilst he lived they felt that they could not leave behind them an
animal for which they had paid a hundred dollars, but now that he was
dead they were free from such scruples, and proceeded upon their journey
at a considerably increased rate of speed.

Flower-time was past in Cariboo, and the whole forest was full of fruit.
Upon every stony knoll, where the sun's rays were reflected from white
boulders or charred black stumps, there grew innumerable dwarf raspberry
canes, bearing more fruit than leaves. By the side of the trail the
broad-leaved salmon-berry held up its fruit of crimson velvet, just high
enough for a man to pluck it without stooping, and every bush which
Steve and Ned passed was loaded either with the purple of the
huckle-berry or the clear coral red of the bitter soap-berry. Best of
all berries to Ned's mind was that of a little creeper, the fruit of
which resembled a small huckle-berry, and reminded the thirsty palate of
the combined flavours of a pine-apple and a Ribston pippin.

Altogether, what with the fool-hens and the grouse (which were too
careful of their young to care properly for themselves) and the berries,
it was evident to Ned that no man need starve in the forests of Cariboo
in early autumn; but there were broad tracks through the long grass and
traces amongst the ruined bushes of another danger to man's life every
bit as real and as terrible as the danger of starvation. The fruit
season is also the bear season, and the long sharp claw-marks in front
of the track told Corbett that the bears were not all black which used
the trail at night and rustled in the dense bush by day. Though they
never had the luck to meet one, Ned and Steve had their eyes skinned and
their rifles loaded for grizzly every day until they issued from the
forest on to the bare lands above the Frazer.

As they could not get a canoe at Soda Creek they had to tramp down
stream to Chimney Creek, where a few Chinamen were washing for gold.
These men, in return for some trifling gift of stores, took the party
across the river, and so worked upon the mind of their fellow-countryman
with stories of the great "finds" up stream of which they had heard that
his eyes began to glisten with the same feverish light which had filled
them at Lillooet.

The Frazer had a peculiar fascination for Phon, and no wonder, for there
is something about this river unlike all other rivers--something which
it owes neither to its size nor its beauty. The Frazer looks like a
river of hell, if hell has rivers. From where Ned Corbett stood, high up
above the right bank, he could get glimpses of the river's course for
some miles. Everywhere the scene was the same, a yellow turbid flood,
surging savagely along through a deep gully between precipitous mud
bluffs, whose sides stained here and there with metallic colours--vivid
crimson and bright yellow, made them look as if they had been poured
hot and hissing from nature's cauldron, and that so recently that they
had not yet lost the colours of their molten state. The rolling years
are kind to most things, beautifying them with the soft tints of age or
veiling them with gracious foliage, but the banks of the Frazer still
look raw and crude; the gentler things of earth will have nothing to do
with the accursed river, in which millions of struggling salmon rot and
die, while beside its waters little will grow except the bitter sage
bush and the prickly pear.

When Corbett and Chance reached Chimney Creek the fall run of salmon was
at its height, and added, if possible, to the weird ugliness of the
river. From mid-stream to either bank every inch of its surface was
broken by the dorsal fins or broad tails of the travelling fish, while
in the back waters, and under shelter of projecting rocks, they lay in
such thousands that you could see the black wriggling mass from a point
several hundred yards away. From the shingle down below you could if you
chose kill salmon with stones, or catch them with your hands, but you
could not walk without stepping on their putrefying bodies, which while
they still lived and swam took the vivid crimson or sickly yellow of the
Frazer's banks. They looked (these lean leprous fish) as if they had
swallowed the yellow poison of the river, and it was burning their
bodies alive.

And yet like the men their betters they still struggled up and up,
reckless of all the dangers, though out of every hundred which went up
the Frazer not three would ever find their way back again to the strong
wholesome silvery sea. The glutted eagles watched for them, the bears
preyed upon them, Indians speared them; they were too weak almost to
swim; their bodies were rotting whilst they still lived, and yet they
swam on, though their strength was spent and they rolled feebly in a
flood through which, only a few months earlier, they would have shot
straight and strong as arrows fresh loosed from the bow. Gold and
desolation and death, and a river that roared and rattled as if playing
with dead men's bones; a brittle land, where the banks fell in and the
ruined pines lay, still living, but with their heads down and their
roots turned up to the burning sky; a land without flowers, jaundiced
with gold and dry with desire for the fairer things of earth--this is
what Corbett saw, and seeing, he turned away with a shudder.

"My God!" he said, "gold should grow there; nothing else will; even the
fish rot in that hell broth!"

"You aren't polite to Father Frazer, Ned. So I will propitiate him;" and
the Yankee turned to the yellow river, and holding high a silver dollar
he cried, "See here, old river, Steve Chance of N'York is dead broke
except for this, and this he gives to you. Take his all as an offering.
The future he trusts to you."

And so saying Steve sent his last coin spinning out into the gully,
where for a moment it glittered and then sunk and was lost, swallowed up
in the waves of the great river, which holds in her bed more wealth than
has ever been won from nature by the greed and energy of man.



CHAPTER XXI.

PETE'S CREEK.


For an hour Steve and Ned toiled steadily up the yellow banks, bluff
rising above bluff and bench above bench, and all steep and all
crumbling to the tread. The banks of the Frazer may possess the charm of
picturesqueness of a certain kind for the tourist to whom time is no
object, and for whom others work and carry the packs, but they were
hateful as the treadmill and a very path of thorns to the men who toiled
up them carrying a month's provisions on their backs, and wearing
worn-out moccasins upon their swollen, bleeding feet. It was with a sigh
of heartfelt thankfulness that Corbett and Chance topped the last bench,
and looked away to the west over the undulating forest plateau of
Chilcotin. Men know Chilcotin now, or partly know it, as the finest
ranching country west of Calgary, but in the days of which I am writing
it was very little known, and Steve and his friends looked upon the long
reaches and prairies of yellow sun-dried grass, dotted here and there
with patches of pine forest, as sailors might look upon the coast of
some untrodden island. To Steve and Phon this yellow table-land was the
region of fairy gold. It was somewhere here that the yellow stuff which
all men love lay waiting for man to find it. Surely it was something
more than the common everyday sun which made those Chilcotin uplands so
wondrously golden! So thought Steve and Phon.

To Ned all was different. As far as the eye could see a thousand trails
led across the bluffs, gradually fading away in the distance. They were
but cattle trails--the trails of the wild cattle of those
hills--blacktail deer and bighorn sheep, but to Ned they were paths
along which the feet of murder had gone, and his eye rested on the dark
islands of pine, as if he suspected that the man he sought lurked in
their shadow.

"Well, Ned, which is the way? Let's look at the map," said Chance.

Ned produced the map, and together the two men bent over it.

"The trail should run south-west from the top of this ridge, until we
strike what old Pete calls here a 'good-sized chunk of a crik.' That is
our first landmark. 'Bear south-west from the big red bluff,' he
says--and there's the bluff," and Ned pointed to a big red buttress of
mud upon the further bank of the Frazer.

"That's so, Ned, but I can see another big red bluff, and there are any
number of trails leading more or less south-west," replied Chance.

"Well, let's take the biggest," suggested Corbett, and no one having any
better plan to propose, his advice was taken.

For some time all went well. The trail was plain enough for a blind man
to follow, and the walking, after that which they had experienced in the
forest and along the banks of the Frazer, was almost a pleasure to them.
Unfortunately there were a few drawbacks to the pleasures of travel even
in Chilcotin. In Cariboo and up the Frazer the Indians had already
learnt that the white man's rifle could kill nearly as far as a man
could see, and they respected the white men, or feared them, which did
as well. But in Chilcotin the red men were untamed (they are less tamed
still, probably, than any Indians on the Pacific coast), and it was
necessary for Ned and his friends to take care lest they should blunder
unasked into some hunter's camp.

This upon the evening of their first day upon these table-lands they
very nearly did, but as luck would have it, they saw the thin column of
blue smoke winding up from a clump of pines just in time, and slunk away
into the bed of Pete's "good-sized chunk of a crik," where they lay
without a fire until the dawn of the next day.

Luckily for them the nights were still fairly warm as high-land nights
go, but after sundown the air is always fresh upon these high
tablelands, and no one was sorry when the day broke. The expedition,
Steve Chance opined, had ceased to be "a picnic." Food was becoming
somewhat scarce, and already Ned in his capacity of leader had put them
upon rations of one tin cupful of flour per diem, two rashers of bacon,
and a little tea. A cupful of flour means about four good-sized slices
of bread, and although a man can live very well upon two slices of bread
for breakfast and two at dinner, with a rasher of bacon and a little
weak tea at each meal, and nothing between meals except twelve hours'
hard work in the open air, he ought not to be sneered at if he feels a
craving for some little luxury in the way of sugar or butter, or even
another slice of bread.

Every now and then, it is true, something fell to one of the rifles; but
they dared not shoot much for fear of attracting the attention of
wandering Indians, and besides it is astonishing how little game men see
upon the march. You can march or hunt, but it is difficult to both
march and hunt successfully at the same time. On the third day upon the
Chilcotin table-lands, the trail which the prospectors had been
following "played out." For four or five miles it had grown fainter and
fainter, and now the party stood out in the middle of a great sea of
sunburnt grass, with no road before them and no land-marks to guide
them.

"I'll tell you what it is, Steve, we have rather made a mess of this
journey. It seems to me that unless there is something wrong with the
sun we have been bearing too much to the west. It looks as if we were
going a point to the north of west, instead of south-west, as we
intended to do," said Ned after a careful survey of their position.

"Likely enough," assented his companion. "I don't see how a fellow is to
keep his course amongst all these ups and downs. Besides, we followed
the trail."

"Yes, and the trail has played out. I expect it was only a watering
trail, though it is funny that it seems to start out of the middle of
nowhere. Let's steer by the sun and go nearly due south. We must hit off
the Chilcotin in that way."

"What, the Chilcotin river? Yes, that seems a good idea. Lead on,
MacDuff!"

So it was that with his companion's assent Ned turned nearly south, and
hour after hour strode on in silence over the yellow downs, until the
sun had sank below the horizon.

"It's time to camp, Ned," cried Steve, who had fallen a good deal behind
his companions; "and that is rather a snug-looking hollow on our left.
We should be sheltered from that beastly cold night-wind in there. What
do you say?"

"All right, if you must stop," replied Ned, looking forward
regretfully. "But ought we not to make another mile or two before we
camp?"

"You can do what you please, but I cain't crawl another yard, and don't
mean to try to. Bring yourself to an anchor, Ned, and let's have grub."

Of course Ned yielded. It was no good going on alone.

"Say, Ned," cried Steve a few minutes later, "we aren't the first to
camp here. Look at this."

"This" was the carcase of a mule-deer, which lay in the hollow in which
Steve wanted to camp.

"Well, old chap, that spoils your hollow, I'm afraid. It is too high to
be pleasant as a bed-fellow. By Jove, look here!" and stooping, Ned
picked up the empty shell of a Winchester cartridge.

"The fellow who killed that deer has camped right alongside his kill,"
remarked Steve. "See here, he has cut off a joint to carry away with
him;" and Steve pointed to where a whole quarter had evidently been
neatly taken off with a knife. "It's some Indian, I reckon, out
hunting."

"No, that is no Indian's work, Steve. An Indian would have cleaned his
beast, and even if he did not mean to come back for the meat he would
have severed the joints and laid them neatly side by side. It is almost
a part of his religion to treat what he kills with some show of respect.
The man who slept here was a white man."

"Cruickshank?" suggested Steve.

"Yes, I think so," replied Ned quietly. "But he must have been here some
weeks ago."

"Great Scott! then we'll get the brute yet."

"We may, but he has a long start of us, and the grub is getting very
light to carry;" and Ned lifted his little pack and weighed it
thoughtfully. And Ned was right, the man had a long start of them.

From the evening upon which they found the ungralloched stag to the end
of the month Corbett and his friends wandered about day after day
looking for Pete's Creek or Cruickshank, but found neither. They had
reached the Chilcotin of course, and on its banks had been lucky enough
to kill one of a band of sheep, upon which they lived for some days, but
they could find no traces of that stream which, according to the old
miner, flowed over a bed of gold into the river. They had washed pansful
of dirt from a score of good-sized streams, and Phon had let no rill
pass him without peering into it and examining a little of the gravel
over which its waters ran, but so far the gold-seekers had not found
anything which seemed likely to pay even moderate daily wages.

Neither had they found anywhere traces of Cruickshank. Between the dead
stag and the Chilcotin they had come across two or three camps, probably
the camps of the man who had killed that stag, but even Corbett began to
doubt if the man could be a white man. Whoever he was he had worn
moccasins, had had but one pack animal with him, and there were no
scraps of paper, or similar trifles, ever left about the camps to show
that he had carried with him any of the scanty luxuries which even
miners sometimes indulge in. It was odd that he left no Indian message
in his old camps--no wooden pegs driven in by the dead camp-fire, with
their heads bent the way he was going.

But this proved nothing. He might be a white or he might be an Indian.
In either case it looked as if, after hunting on the left bank of the
Chilcotin, he had crossed to the other bank as if making for Empire
Valley, and, knowing as much as he knew about the position of Pete's
Creek, Cruickshank would hardly have been likely to leave the left bank.
Ned began to fear that his quest was as hopeless as Steve's.

It was a chill, dark evening, with the first menace of winter in the
sky, when Ned announced that the grub would not hold out more than
another week.

"We have made it go as far as possible, and of course if we kill
anything we can live on meat 'straight' again for a time, but I think,
Steve, we have hunted this country pretty well for Pete's Creek, and we
may as well give it up," said Ned.

"And how about Cruickshank? Do you think he has cleared out, or do you
think he has never been here?"

"I don't know what to think, but I expect we shall come across old
Rampike on the Frazer, and I shall stop and hunt with him."

That word "hunt" has an ugly sound when the thing to be hunted is a man
like yourself, and Steve looked curiously into Ned's face. Would he
never get tired and give up the chase, this quiet man who looked as if
he had no malice in his nature, and yet stuck to his prey with the
patience of a wolf?

"What do you propose, Ned? Fix things your own way. I am sick of dry
bread and sugarless tea, anyway."

Corbett laughed. He thought to himself that had he been as keen after
the gold as Steve had been, he would hardly have remembered that the tea
had no sugar in it. Phon, to his mind, was a much better stamp of
gold-seeker than his volatile Yankee friend.

"All right! If you leave it to me, I propose that we go down to the
Frazer, following the Chilcotin to its mouth, and prospecting the
sources of all these little streams as we go. You see, so far we have
only been low down near the bed of the Chilcotin. What I propose to do
now, is to keep along the divide where the streams rise. At any rate we
shall see more game up there than down here."

"_Nawitka_ and _hyas sloosh_, as the siwashes say. Any blessed thing you
please, Ned, only let us get out of this before we starve. What do you
say, Phon?"

"Very good, not go yet," replied the Chinaman. "S'pose not find gold
down low, find him high up."

"Phon sticks to his guns better than you do, Steve," remarked Corbett.

"I daresay. A herring-gutted Chinaman may be able to live on air. I
cain't."

But the morrow brought Phon the reward of his faith, and twenty-four
hours from the time when Steve Chance had asked only to be allowed to
"get out of the confounded country by the shortest road," he would not
have left it for ten thousand dollars.

This was how it happened.

About mid-day, the sun being unusually hot, a halt had been called to
smoke the mid-day pipe and rest legs wearied with the steep climb from
the river bed to the crest of the divide.

"Don't you think, Ned, we might be allowed a square inch of damper for
lunch to-day? We are going back now, and I am starving," said Steve.

"All right. Half a damper among the three if you like, but not a
mouthful more."

Even this was more than he had hoped for, so Steve chewed the heavy damp
morsel carefully; not that he distrusted the powers of his digestion,
but because he was anxious to make the most of every crumb of his
scanty repast.

Just below where the three were sitting grew a patch of orange-coloured
Indian pinks. "I guess there's water not far from those flowers,"
remarked Steve, "and I want a drink badly before I light my pipe."

Dry bread is apt to stick in a man's gullet however hungry he may be, so
that the three went down together, and found that, as Steve suspected,
the pinks were growing in a damp spot, from which oozed a tiny rill,
which, as they followed it, grew and grew until the rapidity of its
growth roused their curiosity, and led them on long after they had found
the drinking-place they sought.

All at once it seemed as if the stream had been augmented by water from
some subterranean source, for its volume grew at a bound from that of a
rill to that of a good-sized mountain stream, which gurgled noisily
through the mosses for a few hundred yards, and then plunged through a
cleft in the rocks to reappear, three or four hundred feet below, a dark
rapid mountain-torrent, running between walls of wet black rock.

"It is a queer-looking place, isn't it, Steve? Any fellow might go all
over this country and miss seeing that creek. I wonder if it is worth
while climbing down that place to prospect it?"

But whilst the strongest stood doubting, the weakest of the party had
scrambled like a cat over the rocks, and could now be seen on his knees
by the brink of the dark waters, washing as he had never washed before.
At last the little blue figure sprang to its feet, and waving its arms
wildly, yelled:

"_Chicamon! chicamon!_ Me find him. _Hyóu Chicamon!_" (_anglice_ heaps
of money).

Diphtheria, cholera, the black death itself, rapid though they are in
their spread, and appalling though they are in their strength, are
sluggish and weak compared to the gold fever. In one moment, at that cry
of "chicamon! chicamon!" (money! money!), Chance had recovered from his
fatigue, Corbett had awakened from his dreams of vengeance, and both
together were scrambling recklessly down the rocks to the pool, beside
which Phon was again kneeling, washing the golden dirt.

In spite of his native phlegm and his professed disregard for gold, Ned
Corbett actually jostled his companions in his eagerness to get to the
water; and though his pet pipe dropped from his mouth and broke into a
hundred pieces, he never seemed to know what had happened to him.

When Phon washed his first panful of dirt in Pete's Creek it was broad
noon; when Ned Corbett straightened his back with a sigh and came back
for a moment almost to his senses, it was too dark to see the glittering
specks in their pans any longer.

From noon to dusk they had toiled like galley slaves, without a thought
of time, or fatigue, or hunger, and yet two of these were weak, tired
men, and the third, under ordinary circumstances, really had quite a
beautiful contempt for the sordid dollar.

When Corbett looked at the gleaming yellow stuff, and realized what
power it had suddenly exerted over him, he actually felt afraid of it.
There was something uncanny about it. But there was no longer any doubt
about Pete's Creek. They had struck it this time, and no mistake; and if
there was much "dirt" like that which they had been washing since noon,
a few months of steady work would make all three rich men for life. In
most places which they had seen, the gold had been found in dust: here
it was in flakes and scales, as big as the scales upon the back of a
chub. In most places a return of a few cents to the pan would have been
considered "good enough:" here the return was not in cents but in
dollars, and yet even now what was this which Phon the Chinaman was
saying, his features working as if he were going into an epileptic fit?

"This nothing, nothing at all! You wait till to-mollow. Then we see
gold,--heap gold not all same this, but in _lumps_!"

And he got up and walked about, nodding his head and muttering: "You bet
you sweet life! Heap gold! You bet you sweet life!" whilst the red
firelight flickered over his wizened features, and dwelt in the corners
of his small dark eyes, until he resembled one of those quaint Chinese
devils of whom he stood so much in awe.

As far as Ned and his companions could calculate, their first seven
hours' work had yielded them something like a thousand dollars-worth of
pure gold; and already Ned Corbett almost regretted the price he had
paid for it, as he listened to the eager, crazy chatter of his
companions, and tried in vain to put together the good old pipe which he
had shattered in his rush for that yellow metal, which gleamed evilly,
so Ned thought, from the tin pannikin upon Chance's knee.

There was another thing which Corbett could not forget. It was true that
they had found Pete's Creek and the gold, but there was no trace of
Cruickshank.



CHAPTER XXII.

GOLD BY THE GALLON!


After the finding of Pete's Creek there was no more talk of returning to
the Frazer. In Corbett's camp the reign of gold had begun, so that no
man spoke of anything or thought of anything but the yellow metal. Gold
was a god to all the three of them, and Phon and Chance and Corbett
alike bowed their backs and worshipped, grovelling on their knees and
toiling with pick and pan and rocker all the day long. Only Corbett
rebelled at all against the tyranny of the strange god, and he rebelled
in thought only. Each day, in his heart, he swore should be the last
which he would waste down by the creek, and yet every fresh dawn found
him at his place with the others. Luckily for the gold-seekers, Pete's
Creek was rich in other things besides mere gold. Trout abounded in the
water, and huckle-berries grew thick some little distance down stream;
and in addition to these good things Corbett soon discovered that the
trails which ran thread-like over the face of the cliffs above Pete's
Creek owed their existence to the feet of generations upon generations
of white goats--staid stolid brutes, with humps upon their backs, little
black horns upon their heads, wide frills to their hairy pantaloons, and
beards worn as seafaring men used to wear them, all round their chins
and cheeks.

These were the aborigines of Pete's Creek, and were if anything more
confiding and more easily killed than the trout. Every morning at early
dawn the gold-seekers saw the goats clambering slowly back to the
lairs, in which they hid during the daytime, and just after dark the
rattling stones told them that their neighbours were on their way down
again to the lowlands. Whenever Ned wanted one for the pot, the stalk
was a very simple thing, the goat standing looking at the approaching
gunner with stony indifference, until a bullet rolled him over. Food was
plentiful enough about the creek, and Ned was able to lay aside what
little flour remained, keeping it until the time came when winter should
make a move to some lower camping ground an absolute necessity.

So then the three had nothing to do but to gather up the gold-dust, and
add pile to pile and bag to bag of the precious metal.

All worked with energy, but no one with such tireless patience, such
feverish vigour, as the little Chinaman. Compared to him Chance was a
sluggard, and even Corbett's strength was no match for the ceaseless
activity of this withered, yellow little mortal, whose bones stared
through his skin, and whose eyes seemed to be burning away their
sockets.

The stars as they faded in the morning sky saw Phon come down to work;
the sun at mid-day beat upon his head but could not drive him away from
his rocker; and night found him discontented because the hours in which
man can labour are so few and so short. As long as Phon could see the
"colours" in his pan he stuck to his work, and when he could see no
longer he carried his treasure to camp and kept it within reach of him,
and if possible under the protection of Ned and Ned's rifle.

Even in the night season this slave of gold took no rest. In Victoria in
old days the devils used to come to him, and tell him all manner of
things--when to gamble and when not to gamble, for instance; now they
haunted him, and filled him with fears lest someone else should snatch
his treasure from him.

In spite of the absolute stillness which reigned round the creek, Phon
believed that he was watched day and night, nor could Corbett's rough
rebukes or Chance's chaff shake him in this belief. Twice he woke up,
screaming that someone was taking away the gold, and once he swore
positively that he had seen a face looking at him as he washed the rich
dirt--a face which peered at him from the bushes, and disappeared
without a sound before he could identify it. There were no tracks, so of
course Phon was dreaming; but perhaps, even if there had been anyone
watching from the place at which Phon saw the face, he would not have
left a very distinct track, as the rock just there was as hard and
unimpressionable as adamant.

Corbett, as he watched his servant muttering to himself and glancing
nervously over his shoulder at every wind which stirred in the bush,
felt convinced that the gold had turned his brain. And yet in some
things Phon was sane enough. It happened that there was, in a sudden
bend of the stream, a great boulder, which broke the course of the
water, and sent it boiling and gurgling in two small streams about the
boulder's base. From the very first this boulder fascinated Phon. For
centuries it had stood in the same place, until green things had grown
upon it, and gray lichens had spread over it.

It was a favourite resting-place for the white-breasted dipper on his
way up stream; the fish used to lie in the shelter of it, where their
struggle against the water need not be so severe, or to wait for the
food which was washed off its piers and buttresses: and sometimes even
the deer would come and stand knee-deep in the stream, to rub the velvet
off their horns against its angles.

But Phon the Chinaman had guessed a secret which the old rock had kept
for centuries--a secret which neither the birds nor the fish nor the
deer, nor even those wise white-bearded patriarchs, the goats, had ever
heard a whisper of.

That rock was set in gold, and Phon knew it.

Year by year the pebbles and the gravel and disintegrated rock were
washed lower and lower down the bed of the stream, and all the while the
gold kept sinking and staying, whilst the gravel and sand went on. But
even gold must move, however slowly, in the bed of a rapid stream, and
at last golden sand and flakes and nuggets all came to the bend where
Phon's rock stood. Here the gold stopped. Gravel might rest for a while,
and then rattle on again; pebbles and boulders might be torn away from
their anchorage under the lee of the rock by the eager waters, but gold
never. Once there Phon knew it would stay, clinging to the bottom, and
even working under the rock itself. Knowing this Phon looked at the
rock, and greed and discontent tortured him beyond endurance. He had
already amassed far more gold than he could possibly spend upon the
paltry pleasures he cared for; but he loved the yellow metal for itself,
not for the things it can purchase, and this being so, he proceeded to
match his cunning against the strength of the rock.

First he gathered great piles of quick burning wood from the banks and
piled them upon his victim as if he would offer a sacrifice to mammon,
and this he set fire to, bringing fresh supplies of wood as his fire
burnt low. After a while the rock beneath the fire grew to a white
heat, and then by means of a wooden trough which he had made, Phon
turned a stream of cold water from the creek upon the place where the
fire had been, and these things he continued to do for many days, until
at last the giant yielded to the pigmy, and the great boulder, which for
centuries had withstood the force of the stream in flood-time and the
grinding ice in winter, began to break up and melt away before the
cunning of a wizened, yellow-skinned imp from China.

About this time, and before the rock was finally split up and removed,
Phon suggested that it would be better to try to divert the stream from
its bed at some point just above the rock, so that they might be able to
get at the gold when the boulder had been removed. To do this flumes had
to be made, and axes were in request to hew them out. At the first
mention of axes Steve became uneasy. There had been two axe-heads in the
outfit originally, and he had been intrusted with one of them, and had
lost it.

"I know I had it in the last camp," he asserted.

"Then you had better go back for it; the last camp is only about five
hours' tramp from here. Or if you think that you can't find your way to
it, I will go," remarked Corbett.

"I can find my way all right," replied Chance in an injured tone,
nettled at the implied slur upon his woodcraft; "but do you think it is
worth while going back for it?"

"Certainly. You could no doubt make a hundred dollars here in the time
it will take you to get that axe, but a hundred dollars would not buy us
an axe-head at Pete's Creek."

This argument being unanswerable, Steve took the back track, and after
being away from camp all day, returned about sundown with the missing
axe and an old buckskin glove.

"So you found the axe, I see?" was Corbett's greeting when the two met.

"Yes, I found it; I knew to a dot where I left it. But it was deuced
careless to leave it anyway, wasn't it? By the way, you did not leave
anything behind you in that camp, did you?"

"No, not I. I always go round camp before leaving to look for things. I
only wonder that I did not see your axe."

"Oh, you wouldn't do that, I left it sticking in a cotton-wood tree a
quarter of a mile from camp. But didn't you leave your 'mitts' behind?"

"No, my dear chap. I tell you I don't leave things behind. Here are my
mitts;" and the speaker drew from his pocket a pair of buckskin gloves
much frayed and worn.

"Then who in thunder is the owner of this?" exclaimed Chance, holding up
a single glove very similar in make to those which Corbett wore.

"Your own glove, I expect, Steve, isn't it? I haven't seen you wearing
any lately, and one wants them pretty badly amongst these rocks. You
thought that you had caught me tripping, did you, my boy?" and Ned
laughed heartily at his companion's crest-fallen appearance.

"No, Ned, this isn't mine," replied Steve seriously. "See here, it would
hold both my hands."

"That is odd. Where did you find it, Steve?" and taking the glove in his
hands Ned examined it carefully.

"You can't tell how long it has been out," he muttered, "the chipamuks
or some other little beasts have gnawed the fingers; but the only
wonder is that they haven't destroyed it altogether. Where did you say
you found it?"

"About a quarter of a mile from camp. A bear has been round the camp
since we were there, and I was following his trail for a bit to see what
I could make of it when I came across this."

"Was it a grizzly's or a black bear's track which you followed?"

"I couldn't make out. The ground was hard, and I'm not much good at
tracking. I could hardly be sure that it was a bear's track at all."

"It wasn't a man's track by any chance?"

"Confound it, Ned, I am not such an infernal fool as you seem to think.
Yesterday you suggested that I couldn't find my way to the old camp, and
now you ask me whether I know a bear's track from a man's."

"Don't lose your temper about it, old fellow. A man's track is very like
a bear's, especially if the man wears moccasins and the ground is at all
hard. Of course if you are certain that what you saw were bears' tracks
there's an end of it. After all, this glove may have been where you
found it since last summer. It might have been Pete's perhaps."

And so the matter dropped and the glove was forgotten, for there were
many things to occupy the attention of Ned and Steve in those days; and
as for Phon, he never even heard of the glove, being busy at the time
upon some engineering work in connection with that great boulder of his
at the bend in the stream.

For several days the Chinaman had ceased to wash or dig, all his time
being devoted to preparations for the removal of the boulder, and at
last, one morning, when the gully was full of the pent smoke of his
fires, he was ready for the last act in his great work, and came to
Corbett and Chance for help. On the top of the rock were the ashes of
Phon's fires, and at its feet, where once the waters ran, was dry
ground, while from summit to base the rock itself was split into a
hundred pieces, so small as to offer no serious difficulties to the
united efforts of the three men who wanted to remove them. For centuries
the rock had stood upon a kind of shelf, from which the three men, using
a pine-pole as a lever, pitched one great fragment after another until
the whole of the rock's bed lay bare.

Then for a moment they paused, while the smoke drifted about them, and
the corded veins stood out strangely upon their pale faces. Surely they
were dreaming, or their eyes were tricked by the smoke! Phon had guessed
that the boulder had caught and held some portion of the gold which had
come down the mountain stream in the course of the last few centuries,
but the sight upon which he gazed now was such as even he had only
dreamed of when the opium had possession of him body and soul.

The bed of the boulder was a bed of gold--gold in flakes and lumps and
nuggets; gold in such quantities that as Steve and Ned looked at it a
doubt stole into their minds. Surely, they thought, it cannot be for
this common, ugly stuff, of which there is so much, that men toil and
strive, live and die, and are damned!

[Illustration: "GOLD--GOLD IN FLAKES, AND LUMPS, AND NUGGETS."]

The wet pebbles amongst which the gold lay were twice as beautiful, and
as Ned wiped the perspiration from his brow he thought that a quart of
gold would be but a small price to pay for a quart of honest Bass. But
Phon had no such fancies. With a wild cry, like the cry of a famished
beast, the Chinaman threw himself into the hollow he had cleared,
clawing and scratching at the gold with his long, lean hands until his
nails were all broken and his flesh torn and bleeding.

Nor was Chance far behind Phon in the scramble. Together the two delved
and scratched and picked about the bed-rock, amassing little piles and
stacks of nuggets from the size of a pea to the size of a hen's egg, and
so busy were they and so intent upon their labour that neither of them
noticed Corbett, who after Phon's first wild cry had turned away in
disgust, and now sat solemnly smoking on a log by the camp-fire.

Taking his pipe from his mouth, he blew away a long wreath of fragrant
smoke, and as he watched it dissolve in space his thoughts fashioned
themselves into these strange words:

"Confound your gold anyway! I don't want any more of it in my share of
life's good things."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE HORNET'S NEST.


After the removal of Phon's boulder there was no more talk of washing
with pan or rocker, no more thought of digging or mining. Even Chance
and Phon were content with the quantity of gold which lay ready to their
hands at Pete's Creek. The only trouble was that at Pete's Creek the
yellow stuff was absolutely worthless, and that between Pete's Creek,
where the gold lay, and those cities of men in which gold is of more
value than anything else upon earth, were several hundred miles of wild
country, where a man might be lost in the forest, or drowned in the
river, or starved on the mountain, just like a beggarly _coyoté_, and
that although he was richer than a Rothschild.

Steve had heard of men in Cariboo who had paid others ten dollars a day
to carry their gold-dust for them, and he would gladly have done as much
himself; but, unluckily, the only men within reach of him were as rich
as he was, and wanted help just as badly. So Steve joined Corbett and
Phon, and the three men sat together looking down upon as much wealth as
would buy the life-long labour, aye, the very bodies and souls, of a
hundred ordinary men, and yet they were conscious that it was about even
betting that they would all three die beggars--die starving for want of
a loaf of bread, though each man carried round his waist the price of a
score of royal banquets!

Steve was the first to break the silence. Pointing away over the rolling
forest lands, towards the bed of the Frazer river, he said:

"It looks pretty simple, Ned, and I guess we could get there and back in
a week."

"Do you? You would be a good woodsman if you got to the river in a week,
and a better one if you ever found your way back here at all."

"How's that? You don't mean to say that you think it possible that we
shall lose the creek again now that we have found it?"

"We ought not to, Steve, but that is a bad country to get through and an
easy one to get lost in;" and Corbett's eyes dwelt mistrustingly upon
the dark, dense woods, the deep gullies, the impervious stretches of
_brûlé_, and the choking growth of young pines which lay between the
knoll upon which they sat and the distant benches of the Frazer river.

"Well what had we better do, Ned? If we don't take care we shall get
caught in a cold snap before we know where we are."

"We had better leave here to-morrow morning, I think, Steve, carrying
all the gold we can with us, and make straight for the Frazer. There we
may meet some miners going out for the winter, and if they have not
struck it rich themselves they may be willing to pack the stuff out for
us. If not, we must look for old Rampike and wait for the spring."

"What! and put up with nearly another year of this dog's life with all
_that_ lying there?"

"I'm afraid so, Steve. You can't order a special train from here to New
York though you are a millionaire."

For a little while Steve Chance sat moodily biting at the stem of his
unlit pipe, and then he asked Corbett--

"Are you going to join Rampike for his fall hunt, Ned?"

"Certainly. Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know, only I thought that you might have changed your
mind;" and Chance's eyes wandered round to the pile of gold nuggets over
which Phon kept guard.

"That can make no difference, Steve. I don't want what Cruickshank stole
from me. I want to settle with him for my countryman's life."

"Much good that will do poor old Roberts. But as you please. We are all
mad upon one subject or another. Do you still think that Cruickshank is
somewhere hereabouts?"

"I don't think that he is on this side of the river or we should have
come across his tracks before now, but I fancy he is somewhere in this
Chilcotin country."

"You don't think that that glove could have been his?"

"You said that there were no men's tracks anywhere near it, so I
suppose not."

"That's so; but I've seen some of your tracks since, Ned, which looked
awfully like those bear tracks. I'm hanged if I know whether they were
bear tracks after all!"

"It is a pity you were so positive about them at first then. But it is
too late now in any case. If the tracks were made by Cruickshank he is
far enough from here by now."

Again the conversation ceased for a time, the only sound being the
rattle of Pete's Creek in the dark gorge below.

"It is a pity the goats have all cleared out. Don't you think you could
find one, Ned, before we start?" asked Chance at length.

"No, I'm certain that I could not. We must be content with trout (if
Phon can catch any), and the flour which I saved when we struck the
creek."

"Ah, I had forgotten that. Is there much of it?"

"About half a pound apiece _per diem_ for a week."

"Short commons for a hungry man, especially as the berries are nearly
all gone."

"It _will_ be hungry work for us until we reach the Frazer, but there is
a little goat's meat left and the fish."

"Say, Phon, you think you catch plenty fish by to-morrow?"

"S'pose you come 'long an' help I catch 'em," replied Phon.

"All right, I'll come. How much gold you pack along with you, Phon?"
Steve added as the three went down to the creek to fish.

"Me halo pack any," was Phon's unexpected reply.

"Halo pack any! Why, don't you want any gold?"

"Yes, me want him, but me not pack any. Me not go to-mollow. Me stop
here!"

"Stop here! What, alone! How about the devils?"

Poor Phon glanced nervously over his shoulder. The shadows were growing
deeper and deeper amongst the pine stems, and the trees were creaking
and groaning with a little wind which generally rose about sundown.

"S'pose you want find men carry gold to Victollia, one man go catch 'em.
One man plenty. S'pose two man stop here, that heap good. No one steal
'um gold then," and the speaker pointed to the bags of dust.

"Nonsense, Phon. Who do you suppose would take the gold?"

"Debil take him; debil take him, sure. Debil watch him all the time.
S'pose all go, debil take him quick."

"Well, I'm afraid your friend the devil will take the stuff to-morrow
morning, for to-morrow morning we all leave this place. You had better
pack as much dust as you can carry if you are afraid to leave it."

"No. Me halo pack any. S'pose all go, me stop 'lone."

It was a resolute reply in spite of the man's frightened face, and the
tone of it arrested Ned's attention.

"Have you ever really seen anyone about the camp?" he asked.

"No, me halo see him, me halo see him. Only me know him there. All the
time he go lound an' lound and look at the gold and come closer. Me halo
see him, me feel him looking all the time. Stop here, Misser Ned, stop
here."

"The gold has made you crazy, Phon," said Ned, somewhat contemptuously,
disregarding the piteous appeal in the man's tone and gesture.
"However, if you like to stay, it will do no harm. You can catch plenty
of fish, and we shall be back in a fortnight or so." And then turning to
Steve, Ned added, in a lower tone: "He'll change his mind when he sees
us start, and if he doesn't we cannot drag him through that country
against his will."

That night the three discoverers of Pete's Creek worked as hard to
collect a store of little trout as they had ever worked to gather gold,
and at dawn two of the three stood ready to start on their march to the
Frazer. In spite of all Ned's persuasions Phon remained firm in his
resolution to stay with his treasure. For him the woods were
devil-haunted; articulate voices whispered in every wind; faces of fear
were reflected from every starlit pool; and yet, in spite of all the
terrors which walk at night, Phon refused to leave his gold. In him
greed was stronger even than fear.

"He will be raving mad before we get back," muttered Ned, as he gazed at
the frail blue figure crouching over the camp-fire; "but what can we do?
We can't 'pack' the fellow along with us."

"No, we cain't do that," replied Steve. "Poor beggar! I wouldn't be in
his shoes for all the gold in the creek."

And as he stared in a brown study at the charred stumps and rough white
woodwork in that gloomy canyon, at the broken rock and the dead fires,
Chance began unconsciously to hum the air of "The Old Pack-mule."

"Confound you, Steve," cried Corbett angrily, "stop that! Isn't it bad
enough to hear the winds crooning that air all night, and the waters of
the creek keeping time to it? Shut up, for heaven's sake, and come
along!" and without waiting for an answer Ned turned his back upon the
gold camp and plunged boldly into the woods between it and the Frazer.

It had been arranged that Corbett should go ahead with the rifle, and
that Chance should follow him with an axe. "Any fool can blaze a tree,
but it takes a quick man to roll over a buck on the jump," had been
Steve's verdict, and he had allotted to himself the humbler office.

From the moment they left camp until nightfall, it seemed to Steve that
he and his companion did nothing but step over or crawl under logs of
various sizes and different degrees of slipperiness. To follow the
sinuous course of a mountain stream through a pine-forest may look easy
enough from a distance, but in reality to do so at all closely is almost
impossible.

As for Pete's Creek, it ran through a deep and narrow canyon, the walls
of which were precipitous rocks, along which no man could climb. The bed
of the creek for the most part was choked with great boulders, amongst
which the water broke and foamed, rendering wading impossible; and along
the edges of the canyon up at the top the pines grew so thick, or the
dead-falls were so dense, that it was all Ned could do to keep within
hearing of the creek.

The constant forking of the stream made careful blazing very necessary,
and this took time, and the course of the stream was so tortuous that
they had frequently to walk four miles to gain one in the direction in
which they wanted to go, so that when at last they reached a bare knoll,
from which they could look out over the forest, it seemed to Ned and
Steve that the Frazer valley was no nearer, and the crawling folds of
the great Chilcotin mountains no more distant than they had been at
dawn.

But the folds of the mountains were already full of inky gloom, and it
was evident that a stormy night was close at hand, so that whether they
had made many miles or few upon their way, it was imperatively necessary
to camp at once. Almost before the fire had been lighted night fell, a
night of intense darkness and severe cold, a cold which seemed to be
driven into the tired travellers by a shrill little wind, which got up
and grew and grew until the great pines began to topple down by the
dozen. From time to time one or other of the sleepers would wake with a
shiver and collect fresh fuel for the dying fire, or rearrange the log
which he had laid at his back to keep the wind off; but in spite of
every effort the night was a weary and a sleepless one both for Ned and
Steve, and in the morning, winter, the miner's deadliest foe, had come.

For a month or more yet there might not be any serious snowfall, but the
first flakes of snow were melting upon Corbett's clothes when he got up
for the last time that night and found that the dawn had come. Far away
upon the distant crest of the black mountains at his back, Ned saw the
delicate lace-work of the first snow-storm of the year like a mantilla
upon the head of some stately Spanish beauty.

"By Jove, Steve, we have no time to lose," said Ned. "Look at that!" and
he pointed to the mountains. "If this is going to be an early winter,
Phon is a lost man."

"Lead on, Ned," replied Steve, "I'll follow you as long as my legs will
let me, but if you can find any way of avoiding those dead-falls to-day,
do so. Nature never meant me for a squirrel or a Blondin."

"The only other way if you don't like balancing along these logs is down
there over these boulders, and the water there is thigh-deep in places,
and cold as ice;" and Corbett pointed to the bed of the creek a hundred
feet below.

"Let's try it for a change, Ned, it cain't be worse than this," panted
Steve, who at the moment was crawling on his hands and knees through a
mesh-work of burnt roots and rampikes.

"All right, come along," said Ned, and using their hands more than their
feet, the two men crept down the rock wall of the canyon until they
reached the bed of the creek.

Here things went fairly well with them at first. The water was icy cold,
but their limbs were so bruised and feverish that the cold water was
pleasant to them; and though the boulders over which they had to climb
were slippery and hard to fall against, they were not more slippery and
very little harder than the logs above. After two or three miles of
wading, however, Steve's limbs began to get too numbed with cold to
carry him any further, and a return to dry land became necessary.
Looking up for some feasible way out of the trap into which they had
fallen, Ned at last caught sight of what appeared to be fairly open
country along the edge of the canyon, and of a way up the rock wall
which, though difficult, was not impossible.

"Here we are, Steve," he cried as soon as he saw the opening. "Here's an
open place and a fairly easy way to it. Come along, let's get out of
this freezing creek;" and so saying he went at the rock wall and began
to scramble up like a cat.

Steve was either too tired or too deliberate to follow his friend at
once, and in this instance it was well for him that he was so, for a
second glance showed him a far easier way to the upper edge of the
canyon than the direct route taken by Ned.

Clambering slowly up by the easier way of the two, Steve was surprised
not to find Ned waiting for him when he at length gained the top of the
rocks, and still more surprised when, after waiting for some minutes, he
heard a faint voice below him calling him by name.

"Steve! Steve!" cried the voice.

"What is it, and where are you, Ned?" answered Chance.

"Here, underneath you. Look sharp and lend me a hand, I can't hold on
much longer!"

By Ned's tones his need was urgent, and yet Chance could not get a
glimpse of him anywhere. Dropping on to his knees and crawling to the
edge, Steve leaned over until half his body was beyond the edge of the
cliff. Then he saw his friend, but even then he did not comprehend his
peril. The rock wall at the point at which Ned had tried to scale it
ended in a kind of coping, which now projected over his head; but as if
to make amends for this, a stout little juniper bush offered the climber
a convenient hand-rail by which to swing himself up on to the top. And
yet with the juniper within reach of him, there hung Ned Corbett yelling
for help.

"Why don't you get hold of the bush, Ned, and haul yourself up? I cain't
reach you from here," cried Steve.

"Daren't do it!" came the short answer. "There's a hornet's nest on it!"
and as Ned spoke Steve caught sight of a great pear-shaped structure of
dry mud which hung from the bush over the creek.

"Well, get down and come round my way."

"Can't do it. I can't get back," answered Ned, who, like many another
climber, had managed to draw himself up by his hands to a spot from
which descent was impossible.

At that moment, whilst Steve was devising some kind of extempore ladder
or rope, there was a rattle of falling stones, and a cry: "Look out,
Steve, catch hold of me if you can!" and as the frail hold of his hands
and feet gave way, Ned made a desperate spring and clutched wildly at
the very bough from which that innocent-looking globe of gray mud hung.
The next moment, at the very first oscillation of their home, out rushed
a host of furious-winged warriors straight for Corbett's face. Luckily
for him Steve had clutched him by the wrist, and though the sudden
attack of the hornets upon his eyes made Ned himself let go his hold,
his friend managed to maintain his until, amid a perfect storm of angry
wings and yellow bodies, the two lay together upon the top of the cliff.
If Steve had let go at that moment when the hornets rushed out to war,
Ned Corbett must have fallen back upon the rocks at the bottom of the
canyon, and there would have been an end to all his troubles. As it was
he lay upon the top of the cliffs, and realized that the worst of his
troubles were but beginning.

"Are you much stung, Steve?" he asked.

"You bet I am, Ned. Look! that would hardly go into an eight-and-a-half
lavender kid now," and Steve held out his right hand, which was already
much swollen.

But Ned did not take any notice of it. Instead he pressed his hands
against his eyes and writhed with pain, and when Steve laid his hand on
him he only muttered: "My God! my God! Steve, how will you and Phon ever
find your way out? I am stone blind!"



CHAPTER XXIV.

DROWNING IN THE FOREST.


Perhaps no two men were ever in more desperate plight than were Steve
Chance and Ned Corbett as they lay upon the edge of Pete's Creek canyon
in the Chilcotin country on that 2d of October, 1862.

For a week at least they had been living upon very meagre rations, made
up principally of brook trout and berries; for a day and a half they had
been stumbling hurriedly through one of the densest mountain forests in
British Columbia; and now, when Chance's strength was exhausted and the
grub half gone, Ned the guide and hunter was utterly bereft of sight.

For ten long minutes the two sat silent, then Ned lifted his head in a
helpless dazed way, and Steve saw that both his eyes were completely
closed by the hornets' stings.

"Chance, old chap, this is bad luck, but it will all rub off when it's
dry. There are only two things now for you to choose between, either you
must go on alone and bring help for Phon and myself from the Frazer, or
go back and bring Phon out with you. You and he could catch a fresh
supply of trout up at the pool, enough at any rate to keep body and soul
together."

"And what is to become of you, Ned?"

"Oh, I shall get all right. I must get on as best I can in the dark for
a day or two, and then if you can spare me the rifle, I shall be able to
forage for myself. If you _can_ spare the rifle I can do with half my
share of the grub."

Steve Chance laughed. It was not the time which most men would have
chosen for laughing, but still Steve Chance laughed a quiet dry laugh.
The Yankee didn't like hard times, and didn't pretend to, but he had got
into a corner, and had not the least idea of trying to back out of it.

"Say, Ned, is that what you'd expect an 'old countryman' to do? I guess
not. And if it comes to that, men don't go back on a pal in the new
country any more than they do in the old. If you stay here, I stay with
you. If we get out of this cursed country we get out together, and if we
starve we starve together. Let's quit talking nonsense;" and Chance,
whose spirit was about two sizes too big for his body, got up and busied
himself about making a fire and a rough bed for his sick comrade, as if
he himself had just come out for a pic-nic.

Now you may rail at Fortune, and the jade will only laugh at you: you
may pray to her, and she will turn a deaf ear to your prayers: you may
try to bribe her, and she will swallow your bribes and give you nothing
in return: but if you harden your heart and defy her, in nine cases out
of ten she will turn and caress you.

Thus it was in Steve's case.

He was as it were fighting upon his knees, half dead but cheery still,
and the woman-heart of Fortune turned towards him, and from the time
when he set himself to help his blind comrade things began to mend. In
the first place, when he tried the creek for trout, he found no
difficulty in catching quite a respectable string of fish in a little
over an hour, although for the last two days he and Ned had almost given
up fishing as useless outside Phon's pool. Then on the way back from his
fishing he met a stout old porcupine waddling off to winter quarters.
Stout as he was, the porcupine managed to move along at quite a lively
pace until he reached a pine, up which he went as nimbly as a monkey;
but Steve was ready to do a good deal of climbing to earn a dinner, and
did it (and the porcupine, too, "in the eye").

Thanks to these unhoped-for supplies of fish and fresh meat the two
companions were able to camp and rest for a couple of days, during which
the inflammation in Ned's eyes abated considerably, although he still
remained totally blind, in spite of the rough-and-ready poultices of
chewed rose-leaves constantly prepared for him by Steve.

"Do you feel strong enough to walk, Ned, if I lead you?" asked Steve
after breakfast, on the third morning in the hornet's-nest camp.

"Yes, I'm strong enough, but you can't lead a blind man through this
country."

"Cain't I? I've been looking round a bit, and it's pretty clear ahead of
us. I've caught a good lot of trout now, and if you will carry the rifle
and the axe, Ned, I'll try if I cain't find a way out for both of us."

"And how about blazing the trail?"

"Oh, I reckon we must let that slide. We can go by the creek when we
want to get in again. My blazing don't amount to much so far, anyway."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's no good raising Cain now, old man, because the thing is
done. I said 'any fool could blaze a trail,' and I was wrong; seems as
if I'm a fool who cain't blaze one. Anyway, I blazed all those trees for
the first two days as _they came to me_, not as they passed me, and I
reckon my blazes won't show much from this side of the trees."

A moment's reflection will make the whole significance of Steve's
admission plain even to those who have never seen a blazed tree. In
making a new trail through a thickly-timbered country it is customary to
blaze or chip with the axe a number of trees along the trail, so that
anyone following you has only to look ahead of him and he will see a
succession of chipped trees clearly defining the path.

If the trail is to be a permanent one, the man blazing it chips both
sides of the marked tree, so that a man coming from either end of the
trail can see the blazes. If, however, you only want to enable a friend
or pack-train to follow you, you save time and blaze the trees as you
come up to them, on the side facing you as you advance. This of course
affords no guidance to you if you want to return along your own trail,
and this was exactly what Steve had done. But bad as his mistake was, it
was too late to set it right, and realizing this Ned made light of it,
hoping against hope that whenever his eyes should be opened again he
would be able to recognize the country through which they had passed,
and so find his way back to Phon.

But in his heart Ned never expected to see Phon or the Golden Creek
again. As he trudged along in the darkness, holding on to the end of
Steve's stick, he could hear the refrain of that old song following him;
and though his eyes were shut he could see again both those camps in the
woods, the one in which he had found Roberts dead, and the one in which,
as he now believed, he had left Phon his servant to die.

As a rule Ned's mind was far too busy with the things around him to
indulge in dreams and forebodings, but now that his eyes were shut his
head was full of gloomy fancies and prophesies of evil.

"I can't hear the creek any longer, Steve," he said at length, as he
and his guide paused for breath.

"No, and I'm afraid, old fellow, that you won't hear it again. I've lost
it somehow or other, trying to get round those dead-falls."

"Are you sure that you can't hit it off again?"

"Sure! You bet I'm sure. What do you suppose that we have been going
round and round for the last half hour for? I've tried all I know to
strike it again."

"That's bad, but it can't be helped; steer by the sun now and the wind.
The Frazer is down below us, to our left front."

For an hour leader and led blundered on in silence. Following Ned's
advice Steve took his bearings carefully, and then tried to steer his
course by the sun and the way the wind blew upon his cheek. But in an
hour he was, to use an Americanism, "hopelessly turned round." You
cannot go straight if you want to in the woods unless you have a gang of
men with you to cut a road through live timber and dead-fall alike; you
must diverge here to escape a canyon, there to avoid a labyrinth of
young pines, and even if you try to cut across a dead-fall you will be
obliged to achieve your object by tacking from point to point, just as
the fallen trees happen to lie. When he took his bearings, Steve was
confident that nothing could make him mistake his general direction: a
quarter of an hour later, when he had sunk out of sight of the sun, in a
perfect ocean of young pines, he began to doubt whether his course lay
to his right or to his left. The sun was hidden from him, no wind at all
touched his cheek, and in that hollow amongst the pines he could not
tell even which way the land sloped. He felt like a drowning man over
whom the waves were closing, and in his helplessness he became more and
more confused, until at last he was hardly certain whether the sun rose
in the east or in the west.

To the man who sits quietly at home and reads this it may seem
incredible that a level-headed man, and no mean woodsman as woodsmen go,
should ever entirely lose his head and distrust his memory of the common
things which he has known all his life. And yet in real life this
happens. Men will get so confused as to doubt whether the needle of
their compass points to the north or _from_ the north, and so muddled as
to their landmarks as to be driven to the conclusion that "something has
gone wrong" with the compass, making it no longer reliable.

As for Steve he had lost confidence in everything, and was wandering at
random amongst woods which seemed endless--woods which shut out all life
and stifled all hope, which laid hold of him and his comrade with cruel
half-human hands, stopping and tripping their tired feet and tearing
flesh as well as clothes to ribands.

"Are we getting near the bench country yet, Steve?" asked Ned at length.
"We don't seem to me to be going very straight."

"How can you tell, Ned? Are you beginning to see a little?"

"Devil a bit, but it feels as if we were scrambling along side-hills
instead of going steadily downhill all the time, though I daresay it is
only my fancy. I'm not used to going about with my eyes shut."

"And _I_ am," said Steve bitterly. "That is just what I've been doing
all my life, and now we shall both have to pay for it. We may as well
sit down and die here, Ned. I cain't keep this farce up any longer. I'm
clean turned round and have been all day;" and with a great weary sigh
Steve Chance sank down upon a log and buried his head in his hands. He
was utterly broken down, physically and mentally, by the difficulties of
forest travel.

Even to the hunter these British Columbian forests are full of
difficulties, but to a man like Steve they are more full of dangers than
the angriest ocean. For an hour or two hours, or for half a day, a
patient man may creep and crawl through brush and choking dead-fall,
putting every obstacle aside with gentle temperate hand, and hoping for
light and an open country; but even the most patient temper yields at
last to the persistent buffets of every mean little bough, and the most
enduring strength breaks down when dusk comes and finds the forest
tangle growing thicker at every step.

To Steve Chance every twig which lashed him across the eyes, every log
against which he struck his shins, had become a sentient personal enemy,
whose silence and apathy only made his attacks the harder to bear, until
before the multitude of his enemies and the darkness of the trackless
woods, the young Yankee's strength and courage failed him, and he sat
down ready if need be to die, but too thoroughly exhausted to make
another effort for life. Had there been a ray of hope to cheer him he
would have kept on, but a day's wandering in the dark labyrinths of a
mountain forest, where the winds have built up barriers of fallen pines,
and where the young trees rise in dark green billows above the bodies of
their unburied predecessors, is enough to kill hope in the most buoyant
heart.

"Don't throw up the sponge, Steve," said a voice at his elbow. "We'll
reach the Frazer yet."

The speaker was blind, and though he had never opened his mouth to
complain all through that weary day, be sure that the led man had borne
many a shrewd buffet which his leader had escaped. If the forest was
dark to Steve, it was darker to blind Ned Corbett, but he at any rate
was unbeaten still.

"I think that I shall be able to see a little to-morrow, Steve," he went
on; "and I believe that I can put your head straight now."

"I don't see how even you can do that, Ned," replied Chance
despondently.

"Don't you? Well, let's try. Are there any deer tracks near us?"

"Yes, here's an old one leading right past the log we are sitting on."

"That's good. Now follow that downhill, and if you lose sight of it look
for another and follow that downhill too. The stags may go a long way
round, but it is long odds that they will go at last to water, and all
water in this country leads to the Frazer."

Ned's reasoning seemed so sound to Steve that for a time it inspired him
with fresh energy, and although at nightfall he had not yet reached the
promised stream, he rose again next day with some faint hope to renew
the search.

But the stags of Chilcotin were neither blind nor lame nor tired, so
that a journey which occupied more than a day at the pace at which tired
men travel, was but an afternoon's ramble for them. For the men, their
followers, the end was very near. At mid-day upon the fourth day of
Corbett's blindness, he and Steve were slowly picking their way through
logs and over boulders which seemed to everlastingly repeat themselves,
when Ned felt a jerk at the stick by which Steve led him, and the dry
sal-lal bushes crushed and the stick hung limply in his hand. There was
no one holding on to the other end of it!

"What, Steve, down again?" he cried. "Hold up, old man!" But there was
no answer.

"Steve," he cried again, "are you hurt?" but not even a rustling bush
replied. Whatever was the matter, Steve Chance lay very still.

"Great heavens, he can't be dead!" muttered the poor fellow; and the
horror of the thought made the cold perspiration break out upon his
brow.

"Steve! Steve!" he cried, and falling upon his knees he groped among the
bushes until his hand rested upon his comrade's quiet face. There was no
blood upon either brow or cheek (Ned's questioning hand could tell that
much), so no stone had struck him in his fall, and as he pressed his
hand against Steve's chest a faint fluttering told Ned that life was not
yet extinct. But if not extinct it was at a very low ebb, and when he
had raised his comrade's head and made a rough pillow for it of logs,
Ned Corbett sat down in the silence and in the darkness to wait alone
for death.

He could do no more for Steve. If he wanted water he could not get it,
indeed if he dared to move a yard or two away it was ten to one but that
he would never find his way back again. There was food enough in his
pack for one more slender meal, and probably the food in poor Chance's
pack would never be wanted by him, but when that was gone, unless God
gave him back his sight, strong man though he was, Ned Corbett could
only sit there day by day in the darkness and starve to death. He
wondered whether a death by starvation was painful, whether in such
straits as his it would be unmanly to kiss the cold muzzle of his good
Winchester and then go straight to his Maker and ask Him what he had
done amiss that all these troubles should have come upon him.

But Ned Corbett put the thoughts away from him. Suicide was after all
only a way of sneaking out of danger and away from pain--it was a form
of "funking;" and though ill luck might dog him, and bully him, and
eventually kill him, Ned ground his teeth and swore that it should not
make him "funk."

But it did seem hard to think of Steve's sanguine hopes as they sat in
their tent by Victoria's summer sea, to think of the weary pack-trail to
Williams Creek, the worthless claims, old Roberts' stony face gazing
piteously to heaven, the gold in piles at Pete's Creek, and all the rest
of it; and then to think that their share in the play must end here,
drowned in a forest of pines, lost in the dark and forgotten, whilst
that thief would return to the light and live out his days amongst his
fellow-men in wealth and honour.

Just at this point the bushes at Ned's feet stirred, and a faint voice
murmured:

"Ned--are you there, Ned?"

In a moment Cruickshank was forgotten, and the whole pageant of the
unsuccessful past vanished. Steve lived, that was enough for Ned.

"Yes, old man, of course I am. What is it?"

"Where am I, Ned, and what has happened?"

"You've tumbled down and stunned yourself, I think, Steve; but lie still
a little and you'll come round all right."

"I don't think that's it, old man. I'm not in any pain, but I think
(don't get riled at me)--I think I am going to send in my chips!"

"Nonsense, Steve. Don't make a blessed school-girl of yourself." Corbett
spoke roughly to rouse his comrade to fresh effort, but his own voice
was very husky in spite of himself.

"It's no good, Ned, you cain't get another kick out of me; and it
doesn't much matter, anyway. Do you remember that Indian superstition
about the owls hooting when a chief is going to die?"

"One of poor Rob's yarns, wasn't it?"

"Yes, one of Rob's. There! do you hear the owls now? There must be a
dozen of them at least."

"What rubbish, Steve; and anyway you aren't a chief, and the owls only
hoot for a chief's death."

Chance did not answer, but instead, from somewhere high up in the
mountain forest, came a deep hollow "Whoo, whoo!" answered almost
immediately from the pines just below where the white men lay.

Again and again the cries reverberated through the forest, and Chance
shuddered as he heard the hollow prophecy of death, whilst Corbett, who
had started to his feet, stood straining every muscle and every sense to
catch each note of that weird hooting.

Suddenly a smile spread over his swollen features as he said: "Do you
hear that, Steve?" and at the same moment a sharp "thud, thud" seemed to
come through the forest and stop suddenly at the very edge of the
clearing in which Ned stood, and Steve turning feebly on his elbow saw a
beautiful black and gray face, out of which stared two great eyes, and
above it were ears, long twitching ears, which seemed to drink in every
forest whisper. For a moment Steve saw this, and noted how the shadow of
the fluttering leaves played over the deer's hide, and then there came a
sudden flash of white, and in a few great bounds the apparition
vanished, clearing six-foot logs as if they had been sheep hurdles.

"A mule deer, wasn't it?" asked Ned, who in spite of his blindness
seemed to have understood all that was happening.

"Yes, a mule deer, and a rare big one too. Of course I was too slow and
too weak to get the rifle;" and with a groan Steve sank back upon his
side and shut his eyes again.

"No matter, Steve, the owls will get him, and we shall have our share.
Did you hear that?"

As Ned spoke a rifle-shot woke the mountain echoes, followed by another
and another, each shot lower down the mountain than the one preceding
it.

"Great Scott, how infamously they shoot!" muttered Ned. "The first
fellow wounded him and he isn't down yet. Ah, there--at last!" he added,
as a fourth shot was followed by an owl's cry, differing somewhat from
those which had preceded the advent of the deer.

"What do you mean, Ned?" asked Chance, who had been sitting up watching
and listening open-mouthed to his comrade's soliloquy.

"Mean? Why, Indians, of course. 'Whoo, whoo' means 'where are you?' and
'hè, hè' means 'I've killed, come and help me pack him home;'" and Ned
put his hands to his mouth, and drawing a deep breath sent the deep
sepulchral call-note of the owl echoing through the forest.

"It's life or death, Steve," he remarked; "if the Indians aren't
friendly it's death, but it will be a better death anyway than starving
here in the dark."



CHAPTER XXV.

IN THE CAMP OF THE CHILCOTINS.


As the echoes of Ned's hoot died away amongst the pines, both he and
Steve became conscious that they were no longer alone. Someone else had
entered the clearing, and a pair of human eyes were intently fixed upon
them. This both the white men knew, not by sight or hearing, but by that
other sense for which we have no better name than instinct. They had not
heard a rustle among the leaves, nor had Steve seen so much as a shadow
upon the grass, and yet both men turned simultaneously towards the same
point, and Ned, in spite of his blindness, said "_Clahowyah_" as
confidently as if he held his visitor by the hand.

"_Clahowyah_" (How do?), repeated a deep guttural voice from the shadow
of the pines, and as he spoke a broad-shouldered wiry redskin stepped
softly over the logs to meet the whites. If he always moved as silently
as he moved then, it was no wonder that the listening deer so often
found themselves looking down the barrel of Anahem's Hudson Bay musket
before their great ears had given them any warning of their danger.

"Thank God, we are saved," whispered Ned, as the chief's words reached
him. "He has traded with whites, or he wouldn't speak Chinook. Lead me
up to him."

But Anahem saw the outstretched hand as soon as Chance, and stepping
quickly forward took it.

"_Mika halo nanitch?_" (You don't see?), he asked.

"_Halo!_" replied Ned, and he pointed to his swollen eyelids.

"_Mika comtax_--by and by _skookum nanitch_" (I understand, by and by
you'll see all right), replied the chief, and then turning he repeated
the owl's call twice, and almost immediately a low answer came to him
from the woods above.

Luckily for Steve and Ned, the chief of the Chilcotins had met many
white men when in his early days he had hunted on the Stikeen river, and
all those whom he had met had been servants of a company which has
always kept good faith with its Indian neighbours and employés. The
honesty and fair dealing of the Hudson Bay Company saved the two white
men's lives from Anahem and his tribesmen, as it has saved many a
hundred lives both of redskins and whites since the day when the two
races first met. Anahem knew that a fresh class of whites had lately
come into his country--whites who cared nothing for skins and trading,
but who spent all their time digging and making mud-pies by the river
banks. He knew it because he had heard of them, had seen their strange
canoes upon the Frazer, bottom upwards sometimes; and once he had found
one of their tin cups, with something scratched upon it, hanging to a
pine-tree, underneath which lay a little pile of bones which the
_coyotés_ had cleaned.

Probably these men, he thought, were gold-diggers, and lost as that
other one had been lost, whose bones he had seen; but at any rate they
were both very weak, and one was blind, so for the sake of that great
Company which was honest, Anahem determined to help these men, who,
within half an hour of their first meeting with the chief, lay warm and
at rest within the glow of his camp-fire.

Then it seemed to Steve that their troubles fell away from them like
the forest shadows before the firelight, and it seemed already years ago
since he and Ned had sat down in the bushes to die. Anahem's tribe was
out for its fall hunt, and Ned and Steve had luckily wandered within the
arms of the great drag-net of men, which was still sweeping the
hillsides for game. As they lay by the camp-fire Ned and his companion
could hear the hunters calling to each other; but the net was broken
now, and the cries were the cries of the owl who has killed, not of the
owl who still seeks his quarry.

Here and there high up amongst the woods Steve could see a little column
of smoke, marking the spot where some belated hunter had made up his
mind to pass the night. The fire would serve to cook his food and keep
him warm; and if any friend chose to come and help him home with his
game, the smoke would guide him. But most of the hunters brought back
their game to camp that night, dragging it along the trails, or packing
it on their backs, so that before Steve slept he had seen fifteen
carcases brought in as the result of this one hunt.

He had often wondered in old days, how men who neither ploughed nor
sowed nor kept cattle could manage to live through the long winter
months: now he wondered no longer. The Chilcotins had been in camp for a
week, and there were only six men amongst them who had muskets, and yet
there were four great stacks of raw hides in their camp already--stacks
as high as a man's head, and on every bough within a hundred yards of
the fires were hanging strips and chunks of deers' meat.

The camp reminded Steve of the appearance of a hawthorn bush, in which a
butcher-bird has built its nest,--the whole place was red with raw
meat, and there were piles of soft gray down and hair, three and four
feet high. These were the scrapings of a hundred hides, roughly cleaned
by the Indian women during the week.

In such a camp as Anahem's hunger is an easy thing to cure, and that and
blindness were Ned's chief complaints; and even the blindness yielded in
a day or two to a certain dressing prepared for Ned by the squaws. But
Steve Chance did not recover as easily as Corbett did. The prostration
from which he suffered was too severe to be cured by a long night's rest
and a couple of square meals. At night he lay and tossed in broken
slumbers, and dreams came to him which wearied him more than if he had
never slept. He saw, so he said, the gold-camp every night of his life,
and Phon the only human being in it; and all the while Phon stood in a
flood of gold dust, which rose higher and higher, until it swelled and
broke over him and ran on a yellow heavy flood like the flood of the
Frazer.

Day after day Ned waited and hoped against hope, until the Chilcotins
were ready to strike their camp and go home for the winter. He had
already done his utmost to persuade Anahem to search for Phon, but the
chief took very little notice of him. Either he thought that Ned like
Steve was rambling in his mind, or he did not understand him (for Anahem
spoke very little Chinook, and Ned spoke less), or, and that is probable
too, he did not think it mattered much what became of a Chinaman; and as
to the gold, if it really was there, it would probably wait until the
white men could go and look for it themselves. If Ned would have gone
with him, Anahem would have gone perhaps to look for the creek; but Ned
could not leave Chance whilst he was ill, and Steve would not get well,
so that ended the matter.

There seemed only one course open to Ned, and he prepared to take it.
Anahem had told him as they talked one night over the camp-fire that he
had seen the smoke of a white man's fire coming from a dug-out on the
banks of the Frazer.

"How long ago was that?" asked Ned.

"On my way up here, about the time of the young moon," answered Anahem.

"Then that may be Rampike," muttered Ned; and the next day he got Anahem
to show him the direction in which the dug-out lay.

"Could I get there in two days?" he asked.

"A _skukum_ (strong) Indian could. The sick white man can be there on
the third day at nightfall."

This was enough for Ned. Next morning he bought some meat and dried
salmon from his Indian friends, and guided by Anahem and followed by
Chance he left the camp. If Chance's strength would hold out until they
could reach the dug-out, he could nurse him there at his leisure, and by
and by, when Steve was stronger, Ned and Rampike could go out together
to look for Phon and Cruickshank. It was not impossible after all that
they should find Phon still alive, though fish and roots and the inner
bark of trees would be all that he could get to live upon. But would
Chance's strength hold out? That was the trouble. He was terribly worn
and weak, and his eyes shone feverishly, and he neither slept well nor
eat well in spite of the fresh keen air. As he followed Anahem up a
steep bluff Steve panted and his knees were unsteady, and when the chief
stopped at last upon a bald ridge overlooking the pine-woods, he lay
back upon his light load saying, "It's as well you've stopped, chief,
at last. Another hundred yards, and I should have bucked my pack off."

Anahem looked surprised that even a sick man should complain of such a
trifling hill. An old squaw would have carried two sacks (a hundred
pounds) of flour up it without a murmur, and Steve's pack did not weigh
half that.

"Your bones," he said, smiling rather contemptuously, "white bone, our
bones wild bone," and then turning to Corbett he pointed out to him
where the deep-bellied Frazer roared along in the valley below the
pine-woods, and to one spot upon its banks, where, so he said, was the
white man's dug-out.

"You see," he said, "where the sun will set."

"_Nawitka_" (Certainly), answered Ned.

"Now, look on the Frazer's banks under there where the sun will set, and
you will see one patch all the same, like blood."

"Yes, I see it."

"Now, look to that side of it," and he waved his hand to the left, "and
you will see one great mud-mountain like this;" and with his stick he
drew in the sandy soil at his feet a picture of a great cathedral organ,
with pipes reaching from the river to the sky.

Ned was startled by the strange likeness which the chief's picture bore
to a thing which the chief could never have seen, but he held his peace
and looked for the mud-mountain.

"Yes, chief," he said. "I see a great mountain of mud, but I cannot see
the shape of it from here."

"Not see the shape of him! Ah, my friend not see well yet," said Anahem
pityingly; and though Ned knew very well that his sight was as good as
it had ever been, he said nothing.

He didn't want Anahem to think that wild sight like wild bone was better
than the civilized samples of the same.

"Well, you see the mountain. By and by you come closer and see his
shape. Under that mountain, in the bank on this side the river, stop one
white man. You keep along this trail," and Anahem pointed to the track
upon which they stood, "along the ridge, and by and by it will go
downhill, and on the night of the third day you will see the white man.
Good-bye," and before they knew that he was going the old chief turned,
and like the shifting shadow of a cloud which the winds blow across the
hillside, he moved away and was gone. There was no sound as he went--no
twig snapped, no overall scraped against the bushes. In silence he had
come, and in silence he had gone. For a moment the two with "parted lips
and straining eyes stood gazing where he sank," for indeed it seemed to
them as if the sea of the woods had opened and swallowed up their
friend. Then Chance spoke:

"A creepy old gentleman, Ned; rather like one of Phon's devils."

"A deuced good devil to us, anyway. If we ever find Phon and the gold we
shall owe our good luck to him, as we owe him our lives."

"Yes, I wish he had stopped. I should like to have given him a
'potlatch.'"

"Just as well that you didn't offer him anything. He might have liked
this rifle, but I really doubt whether he knows enough about gold-dust
to make him value that."

"That's what, Ned. But come on and let us get through this beastly
forest to those open benches below;" and Chance made as if he would
burst his way through the barriers of serried pines which intervened
between him and the Frazer valley.

"What, again, Steve?" cried Ned. "Isn't one lesson enough for you? If
you tried that you would be lost again in ten minutes. No more short
cuts for me. I mean to stick to the trail, and you must follow me;" and
so saying Corbett took up his bundle and went ahead at a quiet steady
pace which, in five or six hours, brought Steve to the land of his
desire, where what trees there were were great bull-pines standing far
apart, and giving men lots of room for their feet below and wide
glimpses of heaven above their heads.

As soon as they reached the open country Chance's spirits improved, and
his strength came back with his spirits, but for all that he was still
so weak that the progress which Ned and he made was very slow, and their
provisions were again at a perilously low ebb when they came in sight of
that strange freak of nature, opposite to which dwelt (so they hoped)
their old friend Rampike. The bluff was exactly as Anahem had drawn it:
an organ cast in some Titanic mould, the pipes of it two hundred feet
from base to summit, and stained with all manner of vivid metallic
colours. At its foot was the gray Frazer, and the dull sky of early
winter hung low about its head; but the organ was dumb from all
eternity, unless those were its voices which ignorant men attributed to
the winds and the fretting foaming river.

For awhile the two wanderers stood staring in wonder at this strange
landmark, and then Steve's weary face lit up with a smile and a mist
came over his eyes.

"Ned, as I hope for heaven, there's smoke!" and he stretched out his
arm and pointed to where a thin blue column curled up against the sky.

Ned saw the smoke as clearly as Steve, but in spite of Steve's
entreaties he absolutely refused to press on towards it.

"No, old fellow, we will camp here for a couple of hours, and you must
eat and sleep. That smoke is a long way from here yet, and we may miss
it to-night after all when we get low down amongst those sand-hills."

From where they stood the column of smoke looked within a stone's-throw,
but Corbett knew well how the clear atmosphere of British Columbia can
deceive eyes unused to measure distance amongst her mountains. So in
spite of Steve's protestations the two men camped, and though he did not
know it, Steve ate Ned's lunch, and Ned carried Steve's away in his
pocket in case they should not be able to reach the river by nightfall.
That slender ration in Ned's pocket was the very last food which the two
men possessed, and Ned was already reproaching himself for his rashness
in starting so poorly provided.

"What if after all Rampike should not be at the dug-out, or, if there,
should be himself short of grub?"

Luckily for Steve and Ned it seemed as if fortune had almost spent her
malice upon them, for that evening as they reached the edge of the last
bench above the Frazer, they saw that they had steered a true course.
Right below them, issuing from a little black funnel in the mud-bank
itself, rose the column of smoke, and in the bed of the river, upon a
sand-bar, they could see a man working a cradle.



CHAPTER XXVI.

RAMPIKE'S WINTER QUARTERS.


"Hallo, there! Hallo!" cried Steve as soon as his eyes fell upon the man
and his rocker; but Steve's voice was so pitiably weak and small in a
country where mud-banks are built like mountains, that it did not even
wake an echo.

"Come along, Steve; it's no good shouting for half an hour yet. Look out
for the prickly pears!" said Ned, and so saying he plunged into a little
ravine, whose beggarly barrenness cried aloud to winter to come and hide
it from the face of the sun.

"It's all very well to tell a man to look out for them," answered Steve
in the peevish voice of sickness, "but there is nothing else to step on.
It's all thorns and sharp stones in this confounded country."

"Never mind, stick to it, old chap."

"Just what I am doing, worse luck to it," muttered Steve, trying to tear
himself away from a patch of little cacti upon which he had
inadvertently sat down.

Ned turned and saw Steve's plight, and the white woe-begone face of his
comrade only heightened the comedy of the position. So that there, at
the last gasp, sick and worn-out, these two failures, with their
stomachs empty and their soles full of thorns, stood and laughed until
the tears rolled down their cheeks.

From the next step in the bench which led to the river Ned joined his
deep bass to Steve's, and together they shouted their loudest to attract
the man's attention. In vain. Whoever he was the man worked on, bending
over his rocker, with the gold fever at his heart and the boom of the
great river in his ears.

"It's no good, we must go right down to him," said Ned; and five minutes
later he and Steve stood together upon the bar on which the man was at
work. But so intent was he upon his rocking, or so silent was the
approach of his visitors' bare and bleeding feet over the great
boulders, that it was not until Ned's shadow fell upon him that the
gold-worker was aware of a stranger's presence.

Then quick as thought he sprang to his feet, snatching up a Winchester
as he did so, and covering his men with it before he had time to look
into their faces.

"Stand off!" he roared, "or by 'Mity I'll let light through you!" and
for the moment it seemed a mere toss-up whether he would shoot or not.
But the men he spoke to were as reckless of life as he was. Hardship had
taught them that a human life is not such a wonderfully big stake as the
fat townsmen seem to think.

"You're in a tearing hurry to shoot, ain't you?" asked Steve coolly.
"How would it be if we were to talk first? Don't you know us, Rampike?"

At the first sound of Steve's voice the miner had dropped his rifle into
the hollow of his arm, and now he came forward, and holding out a huge
hairy paw, yellow with river mud, said simply, "Shake."

It was not a very effusive greeting, but men don't "gush" much in the
upper country, and yet that glimpse of a friendly face, and grip of a
friendly hand, acted as a wonderful restorative upon the tired natures
of both Steve and Ned. The sky itself seemed to get clearer and the
mountain air less chill now that they had run against a "pal" once more.

"Wal, sonny, did you strike Pete's Creek?" was old Rampike's first
question after they had all three "shaken some."

"We did so," answered Steve.

"Any 'pay' up there?"

"I should smile," replied the Yankee, using the slang of his country,
and throwing down the belt of dust which he had clung to through all his
wanderings.

"Why, this is free gold!"

"You bet it is; and there is enough for everyone we know and to spare,"
added Steve, "where that came from."

For a minute or two Rampike only turned the gold over and over in his
hands and said nothing. At last he asked:

"Did you git Cruickshank?"

"No, never saw him," answered Ned.

"Praise the Lord you ain't got everything. I ain't sure as I wouldn't
ruther look at him through the back-sights of this here, than find a
crik like yourn;" and the old man passed his hand caressingly along the
barrel of his "44.70."

"But, say, you look mighty hard set. Have you any grub along with you?"

"Not an ounce of flour, and this is the last of our meat;" and so saying
Ned pulled out of his pocket the ration which he had kept for Chance.

"It's pretty lucky that I'm well heeled in the way of provisions, ain't
it, else we'd all starve. Wal, come along up to the 'dug-out;'" and so
saying he picked up his coat and rifle and led up to the bluff, until
all three stood before the door of his winter residence.

Next to the homes of the pre-historic cavemen, and a few rude
stone-heaps in which the Caucasian Ossetes live, the "dug-outs" along
the Frazer river are the most miserable abodes ever fashioned for
themselves by men. And yet these holes in the hill, with doors and roofs
aflush with the hillside, are better adapted to resist the intense cold
of a British Columbian winter than either frame-shack or log-hut.

"Come right in, lads," said Rampike, putting his foot against the planks
which served him for a door, and thus rudely clearing the way for his
visitors into a little dark interior with walls and floor of Frazer
river mud.

A rough table, a solitary chair, and a kind of bench furnished the hovel
somewhat more luxuriously than might have been expected, but unless you
took a deep interest in geology the walls and general surroundings in
Rampike's reception-room were distinctly crude and unpleasant.

If, however, you cared for geology, you could study specimens of the
Frazer river system through the wide chinks between the boards which
walled the room without even leaving your chair. Indeed, there was more
"bed rock," as Rampike called it, than boarding in the composition of
his walls.

But neither geology nor furniture attracted any attention from Steve or
Ned. When they entered the cabin their eyes lit upon two things only,
and it was a good hour before they took any real interest in anything
else. The two centres of attraction were a frying-pan and a billy, round
which all three men knelt and served, making themselves into cooks,
stokers, or bellows, until the billy sang on the hearth and the bacon
hissed in the pan.

Then for a while there was silence, and this story does not begin again
until someone struck a match upon the seat of his pants. I believe it
was Rampike, because, having had more experience than Steve, he could
bolt his food faster. I know that it was not Ned, for he could never
finish his meal until about the end of Steve's first pipe. Steve said it
was because the Englishman eat so much. Ned said that in England men eat
their food, in America they "swallered down their grub." "Swallerin'
down your grub," he said, "was a faster but less satisfactory process
than eating your food." But as I wish to remain upon friendly terms with
both disputants, I cannot enter into this matter.

"Do you reckon to go in again this fall?" asked Rampike, without any
prelude but a puff of tobacco smoke.

"To the creek?" said Ned, reaching across his neighbour for the billy.
"Yes, we must go in, and that soon."

"What's your hurry? Steve here cain't travel, and you're pretty nigh
played out though you are hard; and as for the gold, that'll stay right
there till spring."

"You forget that there were three of us at Antler. Phon is up at the
creek now."

"Phon! What, that Chinee! Is he up at the crik?"

"If he is alive he is," answered Ned. "He may have starved for all I
know."

"Starved! not he; but you'll never see _that_ heathen agen. He'd live on
dirt or nothin' at all, any Chinee can do that; but you bet your life he
ain't up there now. He's just skipped out to Victoria by some other road
with all the dust he can pack along. That's what Phon has done."

"You don't know him, Jim, and you aren't fair to him. No westerner ever
is fair to a Chinaman. Phon will stay by the creek. My only fear is that
we sha'n't be able to find the creek."

"Not find the crik, you say! Why, Ned Corbett, _you_ ain't no bloomin'
tenderfoot in the woods, are you? You ain't likely to forgit your way to
the bank when the whole business belongs to you?"

"Perhaps not, but I've been blind for a week;" and then answering the
inquiry in Rampike's eyes, Ned lighted his pipe and told the whole story
of his own and Steve Chance's wanderings, from the time when they struck
Pete's Creek until their return to the Frazer.

Now and again Rampike broke in upon the thread of the narrative with
some pertinent question, or a comment as forcible as a kick from a mule,
but he managed to keep his pipe going pretty steadily until Ned came to
Steve's feat in "blazing." Then the old man's wrath broke out, and his
pipe even dropped from his mouth. For a moment he looked at Steve in
speechless indignation, and then he expressed himself thus:

"Strike me pink," he said, "ef a real down-easter ain't a bigger born
fool in the woods than any bloomin' Britisher I ever heerd tell on.
That's so."

After this there was a pause, during which Steve snored peacefully, and
old Rampike, having made an exhaustive examination of the bowl of his
pipe, proceeded to refill it with chips from his plug of T. & B.

At length Ned began again:

"You've been looking for the creek yourself, haven't you?"

"No. I stayed right here, making wages on that bar there."

"I wonder who made those camps then which we found along the divide. I
can't think that those were Indian camps;" and Ned told his companion of
the camps which he and Steve had stumbled upon during their search for
Pete's Creek, as well as of that glove found by the bear tracks.

"Bear tracks!" growled Rampike, "not they. A softy who would blaze the
wrong side of a tree wouldn't know bear tracks from the tracks of a
gal's shoe with a French heel to it. Cruickshank's tracks, that's what
_they_ was, and ef you don't see more of 'em before you get your gold
out of Pete's Crik you may call me the biggest liar in Cariboo!"

"You don't mean to say that you think Cruickshank would dare to dog
_us_?"

"Dog _you_! That man would dog the devil for gold."

This was a new idea to Ned. If there was any truth in it, then all
Phon's stories of faces seen in the pool, of eyes which watched the
gold, of figures which rustled ever so lightly over the dry sal-lal on
the canyon's edge, when all save Phon and the night owls slept, all
these stories might be something more than the imaginings of a crazed
Chinaman's brain.

For a while Ned sat silently smoking and looking thoughtfully into the
embers. Then he rose, and knocking the ashes out of his pipe said:

"I am going to look for Phon to-morrow if Steve seems well enough to be
left here. Shall you come?"

"Yes, I reckon I may as well. You cain't hev all the sport, sonny. I'm
ruther partial to gunning myself."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE SEARCH FOR PHON.


For ten days or a fortnight after the conversation recorded in the last
chapter, Rampike and Ned Corbett wandered about the country trying to
"locate" Pete's Creek.

They started, as they had arranged to, upon the very next morning,
leaving Steve Chance with ample provisions, to sleep and eat and rest
himself after the hard times which he had been through, or if he wanted
a little exercise and amusement there was the bar down below the dug-out
upon which he could earn very fair wages by using Rampike's rocker.

From the dug-out to the mouth of the Chilcotin was no great distance,
and Ned felt certain that anyone who knew his way to it could reach the
camp in which he had left Phon in one day from the river's mouth.
Unfortunately neither he nor Rampike knew their way to it, and still
more unfortunately they went the wrong way to work to find it. At the
end of a fortnight they both saw their mistakes, but it was too late to
remedy them. Instead of taking up his own tracks at once and trying to
follow them back through the woods to the creek, Ned had taken Rampike
up the course of the Chilcotin, in the hope that he would be able to
identify Pete's Creek amongst the hundred and one creeks and streams
which emptied themselves into the main river from its right bank.

In this he failed signally, and when the search was over it was somewhat
late to take up the back tracks, which were already faint and partly
obliterated. However, there was nothing else to be done, so Rampike and
Corbett started again, following the tracks step by step until they came
at last to the Chilcotins' camp. Here they found dead fires and dry
bones, and piles upon piles of soft gray fur, and over all these signs
of slaughter more than one track of the inquisitive deer whose kinsmen
had been so ruthlessly butchered all round. Where the principal
camp-fire had stood, was a message written to whomsoever it might
concern, a message written with twelve unpeeled sticks, each about six
inches long, driven into the ground one behind the other, in Indian
file, their tops or heads all bent one way, towards the south.

There were two other sticks, but these were peeled and white, and their
heads bowed towards the Frazer.

Old Rampike touched the sticks with the toe of his moccasin.

"Pretty good writin', I call that," said he; "beats school-teachers'
English to my mind. 'Twelve Injuns gone south, two whites gone down to
the Frazer,' that's what that fellow says, and the piles of fur will
tell you why they were all here, and a squint at them bones will give
you a pretty fair notion when they went away."

So far, no doubt, the records were plain enough. Unfortunately it had
not occurred to the Indian historians to point out from which direction
those two whites had come to them, and a short distance outside the
limits of the Chilcotin camp all trace of them ceased, for winter had
come upon the Chilcotin uplands. The higher Ned went the colder the
weather grew, until at last he felt that he had fairly entered the
domain of the ice king. On the bald hills the yellow grass was hidden,
and on the long pastures the little clumps of pines were powdered and
plumed with snow.

All colour had gone from the landscape. There were no more red flushes
of Indian pinks amongst the sun-dried grass, no more gleamings of
sunlight upon lakes of sapphire blue. All was white, white, dead white,
or a still more lifeless gray where the wind had swept the lakelets and
left the rough ice bare.

In the glare of the winter sun, ice crystals floated instead of the
mites which used to dance in the summer sunshine, and on those gray
blots, which had been lakes where ducks called and shook their dripping
wings, stood now the mud-huts of the musk-rats, and beside them at the
edge of the ice stood their owners, rigid, silent, and watchful, as
everything seemed to be in this silent winter-world. As far as the eye
could see, in heaven or on the earth, there was nothing which lived or
moved except those musk-rats, and you could not tell that they lived
until the ice crunched under your feet. Then they vanished. There was no
sound. You did not see them go, only when you looked again the little
rigid figures were there no longer. Even old Rampike almost shivered as
the biting wind caught him when he topped the ridge, and he drew his
coat together and buttoned it as he turned to Ned.

"It's real winter up here, sonny, and I reckon it will be mighty
lonesome for that heathen of yours by the crik, unless he and
Cruickshank hev jined and gone into partnership. I'm beginning to think
as he has got starved after all."

Ned made no reply. It _was_ horribly lonesome; but if Phon and
Cruickshank had met, Ned didn't think that the Chinaman would care
whether the sun warmed or the winter wind froze him, whether he lay
alone or in the midst of his fellow-men. Ned had a hideously vivid
recollection of another snow scene, and of a certain little black bullet
hole in the nape of a man's neck.

Well, after all, he reflected, death by gunshot might be preferable to a
slow death by starvation and cold, and day by day it became more
abundantly clear that neither Rampike nor Ned would find their way to
Phon that winter.

The snow had changed the whole surface of the country so thoroughly that
even had Ned passed through every inch of it with his eyes open he would
never have recognized it again. There were hollows where before there
had been hills, hills where there had been hollows. The drifting snow
had made a false surface to the land and covered every landmark; and,
moreover, the two searchers began to feel that it would not do to remain
in the uplands any longer, unless they too would be cut off and buried
away from their fellow-men by the tons upon tons of soft feathery stuff
which the skies threatened to pour down upon them every day.

"It's no good talking, Ned, we're beat and we've got to give in. If your
heathen hasn't skipped out some other way he's a corpse, that's just
what he is, and we've no call to risk our skins collecting corpses,"
said Rampike as he sat in the dug-out, to which the two had returned
after nearly three weeks' search for Phon. "The Almighty seems to have a
down on you, my lad, someways, and if one may say so without harm, He
seems to be standin' in with Cruickshank, but you bet He'll straighten
it out by and by. Up to now Cruickshank has won every trick, and you're
jest about broke; but no matter, we'll stay right with him all the
while, and we'll get four kings or a straight flush and bust the beggar
sky-high at the finish: see if we don't. What we've got to do now is
jest to hole up like the bars. Winter's coming right away."

It was a long speech for Rampike, but the occasion was a serious one,
and the old man felt that it would require all the influence which he
could bring to bear to make Ned Corbett accept his defeat, and take some
thought for his own safety.

"What makes you think that winter is so close?" Ned asked.

"Wal, there's a many reasons. The weather has been hardenin' up slowly
all the while, and yesterday I saw the tracks of a little bunch of ewes
along the top of that bench above us. The big-horns are comin' down, and
when they come down you may look out for real winter. You bet."

After this there was silence for a time. Steve and Ned were thinking of
the long account unsettled between themselves and Cruickshank, and a
little too of the weary months during which they must lie dormant, as
Rampike said, "like bears in a hole."

At last there was a clatter on the floor. Jim's pipe had fallen from his
mouth, and the old man was snoring peacefully in that beauty sleep with
which he generally preluded his night's rest.

As he lay there with his coat under his head and his patched flannel
shirt turned up to his elbows, showing a hard sinewy forearm, Jim
Rampike was a type of that strong wild manhood which flooded the West
from '48 to '62, spending its force in a search for gold in spite of
nature and in the face of any odds, and yet utterly careless of the gold
when won.

Let those who will preach upon the sordid motives which drew all that
muscle and pluck to the West; others will remember how freely the miners
squandered that for which they risked so much.

There were no misers amongst the miners of the West; the fortunes they
made were mere counters in a game which they played, not for the stakes
but for the sake of the game itself--for its very dangers and hardships;
and, thanks chiefly to one strong man, who still lives in the country
which owes him so much, their game was played in British Columbia with
less loss of life and less lawlessness than in any other mining centre
in America.

To Jim mining or prospecting was what big game hunting is to richer men.
He had prospected alone for months in the Rockies, he had won big stakes
in California in the great "rushes," and he had starved and toiled,
loafed and squandered in turn, until his hair was as gray as a badger's
coat and his lean frame strong and wiry as a wolf's. When he made a pile
he set himself diligently to "paint the nearest town red." Drinks for
every man and jewellery for every woman he met as long as the dust
lasted was his motto; and if the dust which he had taken months to
gather would not melt quick enough by fairer means, he would smash
costly mirrors, fill champagne glasses only to sweep rows of them down
with his cane until the champagne or the dust was all gone, or else he
would put every cent upon the turn of a card in the hands of a man whom
he knew did not play fair.

In a month at most Jim's spree was over. For that month he had been the
most noticeable fool in a town of noisy roisterers; at the end of it he
was "dead-broke" again and happy. Then without an idea of the
eccentricity either of his own or the gambler's conduct, he would
betake himself to that worthy and borrow from him enough gold to begin
life again; and to the gambler's credit be it said, that he never
refused to grant such a loan, never looked for interest upon it, nor
troubled himself much about the return of the capital. Freely if
dishonestly he came by his gains, freely at any rate he gave; and many a
man owes a good turn to the very men whose delicate sense of touch drew
more gold into their pockets than was ever won by any single miner's
pick.

They are, after all, only symbols for which we all of us spend our
lives, and if the yellow dust led the old man to live the life he loved,
and which suited him, what did it matter? As Ned watched the red
firelight flicker about the strong square jaw, and redden like blood on
the great forearm, he felt that there was at any rate one man in Cariboo
in whom he could unhesitatingly trust.

Before turning over to sleep Ned softly opened the door of the hut and
looked out. The night was clear and bright, so clear that the hills
opposite seemed to have come closer to the hut than they had been by
day. Overhead stars and moon seemed to throb with a strange vitality,
and burn with a cold fire all unlike the faint and far presentment of
stars in an English sky. Nor was the boom of the river, which was as the
accompaniment to every song of nature's changing moods, the only sound
upon the night air. There was a voice somewhere amongst the stars--a
loud clear "Honk, honk!" a cry of unseen armies passing overhead, and
Ned as he listened recognized in the cry of the geese another of
nature's prophecies of winter.

But the cry of the geese and the boom of the river only emphasized the
solitude which reigned around. Nature was alone on the Frazer that
night, except for one great shadowy figure which Ned suddenly became
aware of, moving upon the sand-bar upon which he had first seen Rampike.
For a while Corbett thought that the moon was playing strange freaks
with him, and so thinking he covered his eyes and changed his position.
But no, it was no fancy. From side to side with a slow swinging motion
the great dark bulk lurched silently along. If its tread had been as
heavy as that of a battalion, Ned would not have heard it at that
distance through the roar of the river, but that never occurred to him.
The form gave him the idea of noiseless motion, and besides, at the
second glimpse, he knew the beast that he was watching. The Lord of the
Frazer walked in his own domain.

A moment before the mystery of the night had Ned Corbett in its
clutches, but the sight of the grizzly banished dreams at once, and the
moon a minute later looked down upon another actor in the night's drama,
one who hid his shining rifle barrels beneath his ragged coat, and tried
hard but in vain to still the loud beatings of his heart; for the sight
of so noble a foe stirred the blood of the Shropshireman as fiercely as
the sight of the gold had stirred Phon's sluggish blood. But the hunter
toils in vain quite as often as his brother the gold-seeker, and when
Ned Corbett reached the river bed the bear had gone--gone so silently
and so speedily that but for those huge tracks in one of which both
Ned's feet found room, Corbett would have vowed that what he had seen
was but another shadow of that haunted river bed.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE KING OF THE BIG-HORNS.


"This here's the last day's huntin' as you'll get for quite a while, and
don't you forget it."

The speaker was Rampike, and he spoke with the emphasis of conviction.
Ned Corbett, who stood beside him at the door of the dug-out, seemed
inclined to argue with him, but Rampike did not wait to hear what he had
to say.

"You think," said the old man, "as it ain't partickler cold jest because
the air is dry and there's plenty of sunshine. Wait until you get out of
the sunshine and you'll know more about it. Why, look there at the old
river--she don't close up for nothing."

Ned looked in the direction indicated by Rampike's outstretched hand,
and noticed for the first time that on the yellow flood of the Frazer a
strange white scum had risen, which seemed to gather as it drifted by so
as to almost impede the river's progress in places. This was the
beginning of the ice.

"There'll be a bridge to-morrow, I shouldn't wonder, as you mout drive
cattle over. If you want any more huntin' you'd better get it to-day. We
could do with another sheep or two." And so saying the old man went back
into the cabin.

The air of British Columbia is so dry and the sunlight so bright, that
until the shadows begin to fall or the wind begins to blow, it never
occurs to anybody that the thermometer may have fallen to "ten below."
To Ned Corbett, as he shouldered his rifle and climbed the first hill,
it seemed that the weather was about what you would expect in England in
October, but he changed his mind after he had been for five minutes in a
narrow gully with a northern aspect into which no sunlight came. There
indeed he began to wonder why, in spite of his toil, he earned no
healthy glow such as exercise should bring, and even when he emerged
upon the top of the bench he was almost afraid to open his mouth lest
the bitter cold should creep down his throat and freeze his vitals.

But there was that upon the glittering snow-covered table-land which
diverted his attention from the cold. At first he thought that the herds
of some distant rancher had wandered to the Frazer, and were now feeding
before him in little mobs and bunches of from ten to twenty head. There
were so many beasts in sight, and in the wonderfully clear atmosphere
they looked so large, their dark coats contrasting with the snow upon
which they stood, that it never occurred to Ned that they were sheep.

A second glance, however, revealed the truth, just as a second thought
reminded him that there was no rancher then in British Columbia from
whom these herds could have wandered.

Here and there Ned could see the yellowish-white sterns of a band
feeding from him, or the splendid sweep of a noble pair of horns against
the clear sky. These were no domestic cattle, bred to be butchered, but
a great army of big-horns driven from their mountain haunts by the
advance of winter. For a while Ned lay and looked at them as they
scraped away the snow to get at the sweet sun-dried grasses beneath, and
then he began to consider how best he might win some trophy from them
with which to adorn the hall of that long, low house of his father's
which looked from Shropshire across the hills to Wales.

There were giants amongst them, Ned could see that, and his fingers
itched to pull the trigger at more than one great ram; but the chiefs of
the herd, nine in number, lay like nine gray images of stone in the
middle of a level, park-like expanse, round which the smaller beasts fed
and kept guard. For a long time Corbett lay and looked at the silent
nine, with their heads turned in different directions, as if each had
undertaken to watch one particular quarter for a coming foe. At last one
of the nine rose slowly, and stood looking intently towards Corbett. At
the moment he himself had risen somewhat upon his hands and knees to get
a fairer view of the coveted horns, and possibly at a thousand yards the
ram had seen enough of Ned's cap above the sky-line to make him
suspicious. Had a gray-faced old ewe seen as much she would have given
the alarm, but the ram was bolder or more careless.

For ten minutes Corbett had to remain as he was, his head rigid, and the
spines of a prickly pear running into the palms of his hands. At the end
of that time the ram lowered his head, turned round, and lay down again.
It was only an odd-looking boulder, he thought, after all; but had he
looked ten minutes later the ram would have missed that boulder upon the
sky-line, for Ned Corbett was going at his best pace downhill to a point
from which he thought that he could creep to within two hundred yards of
his prey.

Ned was going at his best pace, because the sun stood so high in the
heavens, that under ordinary circumstances the sheep would have already
been on the move for the timber.

As it was there could not be much time to spare in spite of the
temptations of the new-found pasture, and as Ned's snow-clogged
moccasins kept letting him down upon the hillside, he just lay where he
fell, and, in his own words, "let himself rip" until he reached the
bottom. There he pulled up with a jerk, a somewhat bruised and
breathless person, but utterly reckless of such small matters as bruises
if he could only get up to his point of vantage in time.

Alas for the hopes of mortals! When Ned Corbett had reached the top of
the opposite bank his breath was coming thick and short, and great drops
of perspiration were splashing on to the snow from his brow, but there
was not one single sheep in sight where half an hour before he had seen
five hundred. The white table-land was empty. Ned could have seen a
sparrow on it if there had been one to see, but there was no living
thing there, only across and across it were the tracks of many feet, and
in one place where the rams had been, long plunging tracks, and then, as
it were, a road along which the herd had trotted steadily away to the
timbered gulches above. That stalker's curse, the wind, had brought some
hint of Ned's presence to the watchful beasts, and they had not waited
for anything more.

"Confound the wind!" Ned muttered, "I'll be shot if I can understand how
it happened;" and plucking a few hairs from his yellow head he let them
go, and watched them as they drifted straight back into his face.

"The wind is all right now," he growled. "Well, I've not done with them
yet;" and having made quite sure that the nine chiefs had gone up a
certain gully, he began to make another detour in order to get above
them.

Up and up he went, the snow getting deeper as he climbed higher, and
the trees growing wider apart. Now and again he had to force his way
through a thick place of young pines, where, as his shoulders brushed
against them, the boughs discharged whole avalanches of soft, heavy snow
upon his head, half blinding him for the moment. Once he saw the
sunlight gleam upon what looked like a spear-head low down on the other
side of a pine-hole, but as he looked a big brown ear flickered forward
beside the spear-head, and next moment a great stag had risen, and for
half a second stood looking at the intruder. But Ned let the stag go. He
did not want stags just then, and, besides, in the green timber on the
ridge where he stood there were lots of them, and all large ones. The
little fellows lived lower down, it seemed.

So he pushed on, until all at once the frost got hold of him. In a
moment his heart seemed to stop beating, his knee remained bent in the
very act of climbing over a log, his hands stuck to his sides, and his
eyes stared as if he had seen a ghost. Right below him, not sixteen
paces away, stood the statue of the thing he sought. It could not be a
live beast; it was too still. Only for a second Ned dared to look before
he sank into the snow behind a juniper bush, but in that second he saw
that what he looked on was the statue of an old, old ewe, big almost as
a six-year old ram, and gray with age, her villainously-inquisitive head
turned (luckily for Ned) downhill. For a few seconds the ewe stood
searching the depths of the gully below, and then, without so much as a
glance uphill, tossed her head in the air and walked silently forward
past Corbett's hiding-place. One after another, all at the same sober
pace and all as silent as shadows, ten or a dozen old ewes went by in
the footsteps of the first.

Then there was a little noise--you would not have heard it anywhere
else, but in the silence of the snow it was quite loud--and forty or
fifty ewes and lambs went by, all, even the lambs, looking inquiringly
down into the gully below, but none of them wasting so much as a glance
upon the ground above them. After the lambs had gone by there was a
pause, a break in the stream, and Corbett's heart began to throb louder
than it had any right to. So far he had not even drawn a bead upon the
sheep. Sixty beasts at least had gone by him one after another within
sixteen paces, and he had let them go. He knew well from experience that
the last comers would be the rams, and last of all would come the master
of the flock. There was a kind of knoll just below him, and the first
sight he got of each new-comer was upon this. One after another the
sheep appeared, like figures upon a pedestal, at this spot, stood
awhile, gazed, and then passed on. At last a ram stood there, his great
horns standing out very wide from his head. "Not of much account,"
thought the hunter. "He's a four-year old; maybe fourteen inches round
the butt--not more anyway," and he let him go.

Twice after that Ned raised his rifle and refrained. The biggest had not
come yet. At last he could stand it no longer. How could he tell that
the beauty before him was not the master ram? and if so, in another
second he would be gone. The rifle rang through the mountains, a dozen
blue grouse rattled out of the pines and swung downhill on wide,
motionless wings, the ram toppled right over and went bumping down the
gully out of sight. There was a wild rush of hurrying feet and the thud,
thud of beasts that leapt from rock to rock, and then all was still.
Rushing forward in the direction taken by the herd, Corbett found
himself stopped by a ravine--a deep-cut, uncompromising cleft in the
rock, bare stone on either side, and a sheer fall between of some
hundreds of feet, and from side to side not less than twenty-five to
thirty feet across. Ned stopped dead. This was beyond any man's power,
even with a fair run and a good take-off, and yet every lamb in that
band had jumped it--jumped it clear!

As he stood marvelling at the great leap before him, a stone rattled
down from the other side of the ravine, and raising his eyes Corbett saw
what many a man has sought season after season in vain, a ram, big and
square-built as a mountain pony, with great horns curling close against
his head in a perfect curve, horns which measured at the very least,
eighteen good inches round the butt.

Ned had only a second to look at him in, and even before he could pull
the trigger the ram had turned; but for all that Ned heard the loud
smack of his bullet, and he knew that it was not the rock against which
it had struck.

"Got him right on the shoulder-blade," he muttered, as he started full
of hope to circumnavigate the head of the ravine. It was a long way
round, but Ned got over the ground quickly, and soon found his wounded
beast hobbling slowly away upon three legs. For two solid hours Ned
followed his ram, who, in spite of his wound, could go just fast enough
to keep his pursuer out of range.

Meanwhile the sun was sinking fast, and in spite of himself Ned had to
admit that he must give up the chase. Even for an eighteen-inch head he
dared not risk a night out on these mountains with the thermometer at
ten degrees below zero. "Just one more ridge," he muttered to himself,
"and then I'll give him up;" and so muttering he climbed painfully
through the deep snow to the top of yet one more of those little ridges,
over so many of which he had climbed that day. As his head came over the
sky-line, Ned's heart dropped into his boots, and he felt the sickness
of despair. The ram had vanished. He could see for half a mile in front
of him, but there was no ram. Could it be that after all that weary
tramp, and in spite of all those great splashes of blood, his prey had
gathered fresh strength, and making a final effort had got clean away
from him? For a moment Ned thought that it must be so, but the next his
eye lighted upon what looked like a great gray boulder, a boulder though
which had no snow upon it, and which moved ever so little. Then as he
rushed forward the gray thing staggered to its knees, lurched heavily
forward, and lay still again. A few seconds later Ned Corbett's hands
clutched the solid crown of one who had been a king amongst the high
places of the earth.

But there was no time for rest, much less for exultation. The crimson of
the setting sun was already beginning to flush along the forest floors,
and Ned, as he looked over the country below him, felt his heart grow
sick at the thought that if he returned as he came he could not reach
the hut before dark.

Was there no other way--no short cut? Ned rather thought that there was,
and determined to try it. Instead of going up and down every gully on
the face of the range, he would make for the edge of the divide and
follow it round until he reached a point opposite to his camp, then he
would descend, taking his chance of finding an easy way down. But
before starting on his homeward journey, Ned hacked off the head of his
victim and bound it (a heavy load) upon his own shoulders. If he had to
stop out all night and risk death by frost-bite, he might as well take
with him a souvenir of his hardships should he be lucky enough to
survive them. As for the meat, Rampike and Steve could help him bring
that in, later on. If the _coyotés_ let it alone it would keep well
enough; and Ned thought that a rag, which he had drawn through his rifle
barrels and fastened to the carcase, would keep off the _coyotés_.

Having made his preparations he started, and toiled steadily until he
reached the ridge, where the walking became infinitely easier. Ned had
not much time to look about him, but for all that his eyes were not
shut, and he could not help noticing one valley some distance away in
the opposite direction to his camp. It seemed to him that he had seen
that valley before, but it was far off, and the light was failing.

It was night when Ned reached the dug-out; there was a harsh grinding
sound down in the river bed, and his clothes, which had been wet with
perspiration, were frozen stiff and cold. But as he gazed at his ram's
head, Ned Corbett was content.



CHAPTER XXIX.

PHON'S RETURN.


The day after Ned Corbett's sheep-hunt was too cold even to go and bring
in the carcase. A wind had risen, not much of a wind it is true, but
just enough to drive the cold right through a man like blades of sharp
steel, so that Ned and Steve and Rampike remained in the dug-out,
smoking and trying to keep warm, or from time to time going to the door
to watch the great river gradually yielding to the power of the frost.

The white scum of the day before had grown into blocks and hummocks of
ice, and these came down grinding and roaring through the mist. In one
more night the great Frazer would be fettered for the winter.

In the mist which hung over the freezing waters, everything assumed
unnatural proportions. Rocks loomed out like mountains, bushes like
forest trees, and a sneaking fox looked larger than a grizzly bear.

It was a weird scene, and it held Corbett and his companions fascinated
until the bitterness of the cold drove them back for a few moments to
their fire.

In this way they spent their day until nearly three o'clock, when the
light began to fail, and Corbett, who was at the door, cried to Rampike,
who was inside the hut:

"Great Scott, Jim, come here! What is that?"

"That" to which Corbett's pointing finger called attention was a strange
upright mass of ice, which came riding towards them upon a little floe,
a floe which later on was caught and whirled round and round in a
backwater of the river just below the cabin.

"A tree, ain't it, Steve?" said Jim, appealing to Chance, who had
followed him out. "A tree, I reckon, Ned, as has got wedged in somehow
among the drift."

"Yes, I guess it's a tree," Steve assented. "But what with the mist and
the way the thing dances around, it's mighty hard to tell what it is."

"Well, I'm getting as full of fancies as a woman," said Ned, "but I
could have sworn when I saw it first, that that thing was a man."

"A man? By heaven, it _is_ a man!" yelled Jim. "Look, look!" and with
white, scared face he stared at the thing as it came circling round
again in the endless, meaningless dance of the drift through the mist.

"If it's a man, it is no good standing here," said Corbett quickly.
"Bear a hand to drag him ashore." And snatching a rope from the inside
of the hut, he sprang down the steep bank to the shore, though the faces
of his followers showed plainly enough that, terrible as dead men always
are to the living, there was something about this river-waif which made
him a horror greater even than the dead who die on land.

By some strange chance the body (for it was a body) had got jammed
between two pieces of drift in such a manner that it stood upright,
waist-high above the flood, bowing and curtseying with every movement of
the water, but so coated with ice that, but for its general outline and
a rag of clothing which still fluttered from it, none could have guessed
its nature.

For a moment Corbett feared that it would break out of the backwater,
and be whirled down the stream before he could get his rope over it; but
no, the stream had not done with its plaything yet. The winter would be
a long one, and what matter if this wayfarer by the Frazer tarried even
a day and a night in the backwater? The rocks had stayed there for
hundreds of years. There was no hurry about such things. Round and round
in the same order came the hummocks, a bit of a wrecked canoe on one, on
the next only the wreck of a man. Round and round whirled the long loop
of Corbett's lariat, until the silent rider came bowing past him within
his reach. Then the rope flew out, and the long loop poised and settled
silently about the rider's neck. Quick as thought Ned was jerked upon
his knees, and for a moment it seemed as if the angry river would suck
him in and add him to the number of its ghastly dancers. But Ned was
young and strong and loved life, so that he stayed himself against a
great boulder and called aloud for help.

"Hold on to the rope!" he yelled to his comrade. "The thing fights like
a salmon!"

Do you know what it is to feel the electric thrill which travels all
down your spine when you stick in a good fish? do you know how his every
struggle vibrates along your own nerves, until your heart almost stops
with excitement? If you do, you may be able to picture what those three
men felt as the frozen corpse plunged and struggled on the rope, now
sucked down by the under-tow, now springing beneath the buffets of the
drifting ice. Ned shuddered and felt sick as he braced himself against
its unholy strength; but the Shropshire breed is like the bull-dog's,
once fast in anything it will never let go whilst life lasts; so that in
spite of the river, and the fear which chilled his marrow, Ned persisted
until he drew his ghastly capture hand over hand to shore.

There is something very horrible in the helpless way in which the head
of a drowned man rolls about when you lay him down once more upon dry
land, but even that is not so ghastly as were the actions of the warped
and rigid mummy which Corbett and his friends carried to their cabin.

From the waist up the body was stiff and straight, but below the waist
the legs had been frozen into such strange curves and angles, that when
they laid it down upon the floor the corpse went rolling and bumping
over and over, and then lay rocking to and fro as if it would never be
still. Every gust of wind set it in motion again, and the horror of the
thing grew to such an extent that Ned at last rose, saying:

"I can't stand this, boys; the thing seems to be laughing at us. Let's
fix it in a chair so as to keep it still until morning."

"And what are you going to do with it, then?" asked Chance.

"Bury it, I suppose, Steve. Oughtn't we to?"

"Wal, I don't want to dictate to no man, but ef you're goin' to make a
practice of bringing corpses to this shanty, I quit," remarked Jim, who
had been strongly opposed to robbing the Frazer of its prey from the
first.

"Don't cut up rough, old chap. If your body was going down in that
seething hell of waters, you'd be glad if anyone would drag you ashore
and give you decent burial. Let it bide until to-morrow, Jim, and I'll
bury it myself."

"Very well. That's a go. Now just lend a hand to cinch him on to this
chair for the night, so as he won't be crawlin' around in the dark;" and
old Jim with Ned's assistance fastened the body into a chair which stood
by the rough deal board which served them for a table, and there left
it.

Why is it that, to even the boldest men, the dead are so very terrible?
Is it their inhuman calm, their silence, or the mystery to which they
alone hold the key, that awes and chills the hottest human heart?
Whatever the cause of it, the nameless terror exists, and neither strong
Ned Corbett, nor scoffing Chance, nor hard old Jim were proof against
it. With that _thing_ sitting in their one seat waiting for the morning
to come that it might be buried, all three men crept away into the
furthest corner of their tiny shack, and, trembling at every log which
creaked and sputtered on the hearth, covered their heads with their
blankets and prayed for daylight to come.

But the hours of the night are longer than those of the day. The
lesson-books say that the twenty-four hours are all of the same length,
just sixty minutes of sixty seconds in each, but the lesson-books lie.
Who that has lain awake from midnight till dawn will believe that the
six hours before sunrise are no longer than the six which succeed
sunset? Of course they are longer, but the hours of that one night in
the hillside above the fast-freezing Frazer were the longest since God
made the world.

Down below the listeners could hear the grinding and roaring of the
frozen river, and the shriek of the rising night wind as it tore through
the deep canyons. Now and again a loud report echoed in the stillness as
an ice-crack spread from side to side of some frozen mountain lake, and
all night long there were inarticulate murmurs and groanings of water
prisoned beneath ice, and the long howling of starved wolves amongst the
snow.

The Indians believe that their dead hunters assume the forms of wolves,
and if so, the whole of the dead Chilcotins were out hunting, adding
their hideous voices to those other voices of the night, which had in
them nothing that was familiar, nothing that was in sympathy with man or
man's daily life. It seemed to the sleepless listeners that their own
souls had lost their way and strayed into some waste place, where it was
always winter and always night, and then as they strained their ears so
that they could hear the beat of each others' hearts, a terrible thing
happened.

It was only a chair which creaked, but the creaking of it seemed to
deaden every other sound, and nature herself held her breath to listen.
There it was again! Creak, creak, creak, and a scraping sound upon the
mud floor. Unless the ears of three men had gone crazy with fright, that
grisly visitor of theirs was pushing its chair along the floor as if it
would rise up and be gone. All through the night the noises went on: the
chair creaked, the feet of the dead moved upon the floor, and once in
the dim light of early dawn, one who dared to look for a moment, fancied
that he saw a long lean hand move slowly across the table.

Yet even fear yields at last to sleep, and before the full dawn came
there were four sleepers in that hut,--three who should wake and one who
should sleep on for ever, and all four comrades, who for a little while
had pursued that will-o'-the-wisp, Wealth, together.

For the dead man was Phon!

The ice shroud which had hidden him before had melted in the night, and
the strength of the frost had gone out of his poor dead limbs, and in
the searching white light of the day he lay huddled up on the chair, his
head fallen forward upon the table, and his body a limp mass of faded
blue rags.

Even before Ned raised his head they all knew him, and when Ned pointed
silently to a little dark spot at the nape of the dead man's neck, no
one expressed any surprise.

There had been just such another mark at the nape of dead Robert
Roberts' neck.

"Two!" groaned Rampike. "My God, two of 'em, and we ain't beginning to
get level with him yet!"

Before they saw the corpse upon the previous evening the men had been
sitting, according to their wont, round their rough table smoking and
poring over Chance's old map of British Columbia.

That map was the nearest approach to a book in their possession, and
they often studied it and made yarns about it; but the night of Phon's
arrival all three had bent over it with more than their ordinary
interest, because Ned had told them of his fancy that he had recognized
a certain valley from the main ridge. It was just in front of this map
that the corpse had been placed, when Rampike had cinched it into its
chair for the night.

"I guess we had better clear 'em all away," said the old man after a
pause, and with a comprehensive wave of his hand he indicated the corpse
and the map, the cups and the half-smoked pipes which still littered the
table.

Ned and Steve came to their comrade's assistance, and the three made as
if they would lift Phon from his seat, but at the very first touch all
shrank back, while Chance cried out:

"Look at its hand! Look, look, it is writing!"

Like men in a nightmare the three stood, unable to move or to speak,
whilst that long lean hand which lay upon the map moved slowly along.
Like the finger of a clock, or a shadow upon a dial, it crept along
slowly, slowly, and ever as it went they heard the grating of one long
untrimmed nail against the canvas.

It seemed to the onlookers that the hand took hours to travel across
three inches of the map, and then the limp body gave a lurch and slid
with a soft heavy thud to the ground.

The slight movement caused by Jim's first touch had disturbed the
balance of the body, out of which all the rigid strength of the frost
had now gone, so that the slackened muscles left to themselves shrank up
and collapsed. This was what really happened, but to Rampike and the
rest it seemed that the dead wrote.

"That's jest what he's come for. Thet's the way to Pete's Crik as he's
bin a showin' you, and thet's where you'll find the man as shot him and
old Rob. Bear a hand, we can carry him out now. I guess there ain't no
call for him here any longer." And so saying Rampike took hold of the
corpse, and with Ned's assistance bore it out and laid it down upon the
snow.

Upon the map upon which Phon's dead hand had rested there was a fine wet
line drawn by his nail--a line which led from the very spot where the
dug-out stood upon the bank of the Frazer, to a point upon the right
bank of the Chilcotin, a good deal to the north of the spot at which
Corbett believed that the gold-camp lay.

Steve Chance took a pencil, and whilst the others bore out the body he
marked the line carefully, that it might not dry up and vanish away.
Even as he did so, a wild cry which he knew well came from the bench
above the cabin. It began in a low key, and rose higher and higher until
it was like the wail of a banshee, then it died away sullenly, and Steve
heard Rampike's voice outside the cabin calling to him:

"Come along and lend a hand, Steve. If we don't bury him pretty soon
those blasted wolves will get him."

Steve hurried out, and together the three tried hard to make some sort
of a grave for Phon in the hillside. They might as well have tried to
dig into adamant.

"It ain't no good," growled Rampike at length; "and if you jest bury him
in the snow the wolves'll get him. Not as it matters much."

"We'd better put him back in the Frazer than leave him here," said Ned.

"That's so. He cain't stay in the cabin now as he's thawed out, but I
ain't sure as we can get him back agen into the river."

Jim was right.

The earth which the Chinaman had robbed of its hidden treasure refused
to receive him; the friends he had lived amongst would have none of him,
now that death's seal was upon him; and even the river, which had spewed
him up upon its banks, had now closed its portals against him, so that
it was only after half an hour's hard labour that Chance and Corbett
were able to hew out a hole in the solid ice, through which to send back
its dead to the Frazer.

For one moment Ned Corbett stood with his hat in his hand, looking up to
the sky, wondering whither the spark of life had gone and commending it
to its Creator, and then he pushed the body head first through the hole.
The ice round the spot where the three men stood was clear and still
fairly thin, so that they saw, or thought that they saw, a face pressed
against it for a moment, staring with wild eyes towards the world of the
living, and then the stream caught it and it shot down and was gone.

The man had dreamed all his life of the golden secrets which lay in the
bed of the mighty Frazer. He had looked forward to the days when he
should carry the golden spoils of British Columbia to his own sunny
land; but fate had mastered him, and though his body might roll amongst
those golden sands, and his dead hands touch the heavy nuggets, it would
profit him nothing. The dead have no need of gold!



CHAPTER XXX.

CRUICKSHANK AT LAST!


After the burial of Phon there was no more rest for the men in the
"dug-out." The Frazer was frozen hard, and offered a firm white way by
which the three outcasts might return to some place where there were
warmth and light and the voices of their fellow-men. But none of the
three cared to profit by this way of escape. To them a mist seemed
always to hang over the river, and the voices of the dead came to them
through it; and to Ned Corbett it seemed that day and night one mournful
old tune rang in his ears, and day and night Rampike polished his rifle
and thought of the "pal" he had lost, and the murderer who had escaped
him.

"It ain't no manner of use, Ned," he said one day towards the end of
winter, when the ice was already breaking up. "I know as I might jest as
well stay another month, and then go with you to look for this crik. But
I cain't do it. Somethin' keeps callin' to me to git, and I mean makin'
a start to-morrow whether you and Steve come or stay."

They had been together all through the dreary winter, and had hoped to
go out together in the spring, back to that summer land by the sea from
which they had all come. They were weary for awhile of the rush and
struggle for wealth, and were pining for the smell of the salt waves and
the drowsy lap of the sea upon the shore. They had talked over these
things together when the noonday was dark with falling snow, and now
that spring was at hand they little liked the idea of being parted.

"Hold hard, old man," said Corbett. "Let us see if we can't arrange to
go together. Which way do you think of going?"

"Thar's only one way, the way as _he_ showed us," answered Rampike,
nodding over his shoulder towards the river down which Phon had gone to
his rest.

For a few minutes Corbett made no answer, but sat staring fixedly out of
the little window at the Frazer.

"It's infernal foolishness," he said at last--"infernal foolishness, I
know, and yet I feel as you do, Jim. I shall never rest until I have
tried Phon's way. I'm getting as superstitious as a Siwash."

"Superstitious is a mighty long word, but it don't amount to much.
There's a heap of things happens as you cain't account for."

"Perhaps," assented Ned, and then took up once more Steve's ragged map
of British Columbia, and studied for the hundredth time the course
traced upon it by the dead man's nail.

"It runs south-south-east from here," he said.

"Yes, I know, and that'll be clar up that bluff and on to the divide,
and then over a lot of gulches, I reckon, until we strike the Chilcotin.
It'll be a pretty rough trail, you bet."

"Well, rough or smooth, Jim, if Steve doesn't mind waiting here for us,
I'll come with you and start as soon as you please. What do you say,
Steve?"

Now Steve Chance, as the reader knows, was by nature a decent obliging
fellow, and, moreover, Steve had had all the rough travel that he cared
about for years to come, so he answered readily enough.

"If you'll pass me your word that you'll be back inside of three weeks,
I'll stay. But you don't expect to see Cruickshank, I hope?"

"I know as we shall see him," said Rampike quietly. "Summat tells me as
_his_ time's up."

The very next day Rampike and Corbett started up the bluffs above the
dug-out. Down below them the ice in the Frazer was already beginning to
"run," but the snow on the mountain-sides lay hard and unmelted still,
so that travelling without snowshoes was fatiguing in the last degree.
From the top of the ridge the two men got a good view of the country
through which they had to travel. The mountains, as far as they could
see, followed the course of the Frazer until its junction with the
Chilcotin, where they bent into a kind of elbow; in fact the two rivers
and their attendant mountains formed two sides of a triangle, between
which lay gulches and ravines innumerable, and the base of this triangle
was the course laid out for them by Phon.

"Looks as if that Chinee corpse had bin laughin' at us after all,"
muttered Rampike. "A man would want wings to cross that country."

"Never mind, let's try it, Jim," said Corbett; and together the two men
pressed on, floundering sometimes up to their armpits in the deep snow,
and sometimes finding an easy way where the country at first sight
appeared impassable.

On the third day of their journey, towards evening, they entered a
narrow snow-choked canyon, which seemed to lead through the second main
ridge of mountains to the Chilcotin.

As they entered this canyon Ned Corbett paused and looked searchingly up
and down it, as if looking for some sign to distinguish it from its
fellows.

But he found none. Like a hundred others which they had seen, this
gully was deep and narrow and full of snow. The pines which grew on its
sides seemed only just able to keep their heads above the white flood.
Somewhere far down below, no doubt, there was a creek, which sang and
flashed in the summer sunlight; but it was buried now out of sight by
the snow and gagged by the frost.

"Do you think you know this here place, Ned?" asked Rampike, who had
been watching his comrade's face.

"I _feel_ as if I did, and yet I can't see anything, Jim, that I could
swear to."

"Is that so? Well, it's no matter, because we must stick to this canyon
anyway. It leads out on to the Chilcotin," replied the old man, and so
saying he led on.

After a while he paused.

"Say, Ned, is that a sheep-trail across there on the other side?"

Ned looked hard in the direction indicated, shading his eyes with his
hand to get a better view.

"It looks more like a bear's trail," he replied, "only the bears are all
holed up still."

"It's pretty well used, whatever it is, and I guess we should find it a
sight better travelling there than it is here. Shall we try it?"

As it happened the snow was exceptionally deep where the two men stood,
so that they sank up to their knees at every step. A beaten trail of any
kind would therefore save them an infinite amount of labour.

"Yes, let's," said Ned, with the brusqueness of a man who needs all his
breath for other uses.

To get to the trail Corbett and Rampike had to cross the canyon, and in
places this was almost impossible, both men sinking from time to time
almost out of sight in the snow.

Twice Rampike voted that they should give up the attempt, and twice
Corbett persuaded him to go on.

At last, sweating and trembling with exertion, they got clear of the
worst of the snow and stood upon the edge of the trail.

For a moment no one noticed anything. They were both too tired to use
their eyes even. Then a sudden gleam of triumph flashed into Rampike's
face, and he swore savagely between his teeth, as he was wont to do when
anything moved him deeply. Bending over the trail he scrutinized it
carefully, fingering the soiled snow, and making an impression with his
own foot that he might compare it with the tracks before him.

When he raised his face to Corbett's he had regained all his old
coolness, but there was a cold glitter in his eyes which spoke of
repressed excitement.

"What is it, Jim?" asked Corbett.

"What is it? Don't you see? It's the trail of the bar we've bin' huntin'
this long while, that's what it is. I suppose we'd better toss for the
shot."

The trail was the trail of a man. The moment Corbett looked carefully at
it he saw that; and yet, cold-blooded as it seemed to him afterwards, he
never hesitated for a moment, but when Rampike produced a coin and sent
it spinning into the air, cried "Heads!" with all the eagerness of a boy
tossing for first innings in a cricket match.

"Tails it is! That thar is a lucky coin to me," said Rampike; "that's
why I always pack it around." And so saying he replaced an old English
shilling in his pocket and began examining the lock of his Winchester,
whilst Ned looked anxiously up and down the valley as if he expected
every moment to see their foe come into sight.

"Oh, no fear of his comin' just yet awhile," said Jim, noticing his
comrade's glances. "He went up the canyon about an hour ago, and I don't
reckon as he'll be along this way agen before morning. I wonder what
he's up to, anyway?"

To men like Rampike and Corbett the testimony of the trail upon which
they stood put some facts beyond all dispute. That some man who wore
moccasins used it at least twice a day, and had so used it for a month
past, they knew as certainly as they knew anything. That he had passed
along the trail within the hour they also knew, and that he was
Cruickshank they guessed with a confidence which left no room for doubt.

"I guess, Ned, as this here must be Pete's Crik as we've got into."

"That is what I've been thinking for some time," replied Ned.

"Then that's his trail to the diggings from the river. But what does he
want at the river so often? That licks me."

As Ned had no explanation to offer, the two stood silent for a moment,
until the old man's eyes fell upon the tracks which he and Ned had made
across the canyon.

"If we don't hide those we shall scare our game," he muttered. "Lend a
hand, Ned, to cover some of them up."

"I guess that'll do," he admitted, after half an hour's hard work.
"Looks as if a bar had come across until he smelled them tracks of his
and then turned back agen. Cruickshank 'll never notice, anyway, so we
may as well foller this trail to the river. Step careful into his
tracks, Ned. I'd like to see what he has been at on the river."

These were the last words spoken by either Corbett or Rampike for quite
half an hour, during which they followed one another in Indian file,
stepping carefully into the same footprints, so that to anyone but a
skilled tracker, it would appear at first sight that only one man had
used the trail.

At the end of half an hour they paused. The roaring of a great river was
in their ears, and the grinding of a drift ice.

"That's the Chilcotin," whispered Corbett.

"The Frazer, more like," replied Rampike. "Yes, I thought as much," he
added a moment later as he came round a corner of the bluff round which
the trail ran. "We've struck the junction of them two rivers. This creek
runs in pretty nigh the mouth of the Chilcotin."

Almost whilst he was yet speaking, Corbett caught the speaker by the
belt and dragged him down in the snow at his side.

In spite of the suddenness and roughness of such treatment the old man
uttered no protest. The question he wanted to ask was in his eyes as he
turned his head cautiously and looked into his comrade's face, but with
his lips he made no sound.

Putting his lips to Jim's ear, Ned whispered: "There's a canoe just
below us on the beach, lie still whilst I take a look at it;" and then
he crawled away upon his belly until he could peer from behind a boulder
on the sky-line, at the valley below.

In that valley, between steep banks and piles of great ice-worn
boulders, the last two hundred yards of the Chilcotin river rushed by to
join the Frazer, and amongst these boulders, at the very edge of the
open water, lay a rough Indian canoe.

At the side of the canoe the trail stopped.

"So that's the carcase as we have to watch," said Rampike's voice in
Ned's ear. "There's no need to keep down, lad, he ain't here. Let's go
along the trail and take a look." And so saying Rampike rose and walked
down to the canoe.

The sight which there met his eyes and Ned's struck both men dumb for a
while with wonder.

What they saw was the work of one man, in one winter, without proper
tools, without sufficient food, and with the awful odds against him of
place and weather.

"The devil fights hard for his own," muttered Ned; and indeed it seemed
as if one man, unaided by supernatural powers, could not have
accomplished what this man had done.

Corbett forgot that the greed of gold is almost a supernatural power.
Out of the trunk of a tree, felled by his own hands, the man who dwelt
in this snow-choked canyon had made himself a canoe, his one tool the
blade of his axe. The canoe so built was neither beautiful nor strong,
but it was just strong enough for a fearless man to risk his life in,
and beautiful enough, when it had its cargo on board, to tempt nine men
out of ten to risk their souls to obtain it.

For the cargo of that canoe was the world's desire--the omnipotent,
all-purchasing gold! In a hundred small sacks this cargo was stored
away, each sack made either of deer-skin or the clothes of the man who
made them. He had risked his life and sacrificed the blood of others to
get the yellow dust, and now he gave the very clothes from off his back,
in spite of the bitter winter cold, to make sacks to save it in. As Ned
looked and counted the sacks, and thought of old Roberts and Phon, of
the money wasted and the toil unrewarded, he sighed. For the first time
he regretted that he had lost the toss.

"Wal, come on, Ned," said Rampike, breaking in upon this train of
thought suddenly, "I'm goin' to watch right here. It's mighty lucky as
we came when we did. That fellow means to skip as soon as ever the river
clears."

Ned said nothing, but in silence followed his companion to a lair behind
a great block of gray stone, from which they could look down upon the
trail opposite to them.

"I guess it's safest here, though if the ice breaks up a bit more we
sha'n't be able to get back if we want to," said Rampike; for in order
to reach a position which commanded Cruickshank's trail, Rampike had led
the way across the river, stepping warily across the ice, which was
already split up into great pieces, which ground against each other and
moved slowly with the stream.

"It's not more than a hundred yards, I reckon, and I'll back her to
shoot good that far, even by moonlight," were the last words which
Rampike muttered as he drew a bead upon an imaginary figure on the trail
across the river, and after this silence came and wrapped the two men
round.

All through the gloaming and the night, even until the dawn, there was
only a great gray stone which stood upon one side of the Chilcotin and
looked down upon the trail on the other side.

There was no movement anywhere save the movement of the ice in the river
and of the moon as she rose and sank again in the clear night sky, nor
was there any sound save the grinding of the ice as it broke into
smaller and yet smaller pieces, and was borne along to join the hurtling
mass which was hurrying down the Frazer.

At first the shadows crept out into the valley, and one who was watching
them gripped his rifle hard, and his breath came thick and fast. Again
the moon rose and the shadows fled, and all was white and motionless and
dumb. After this it grew darker again; the moon had gone and a chill
wind made the watchers shiver, and one of them drew a white thread out
of the material of his coat, and doubled it and tied it round the muzzle
of his rifle, so that it made a great knot where the sight was,
serviceable instead of a sight in the half darkness. The wind was cold,
and the watchers' clothes were rigid with frost, but Rampike's fingers
scarcely trembled as he tied that knot, and his face was firm and cold
as ice.

At last there was a sound far away up the canyon. "Crunch crunch, crunch
crunch," it sounded with a regularity unlike any sound in nature. It was
no rolling of the rocks, no creaking of the frozen pines, not even the
tread of any beast of prey. It was the step of a man, and colonel or no
colonel, the man whose tread echoed in that wintry dawn, brought with
him to his doom some traces of that early training which had come to him
from the drill-sergeant. In the streets of a great city a hundred men
may pass and no one hears their tread, or knows that he hears it, and
yet in spite of the roaring of the rivers and the grinding of the ice,
this one man's tread, even in the snow, seemed like the tread of an
army, and the sound of it grew and grew until Corbett knew that the
heavens heard it, and that its vibrations were echoed in hell.

At the last they saw him, this man richer than all other men, this man
yellow with gold and crimson with other men's blood, and what they saw
was a wan, ragged figure, worn to a mere skeleton, its shoulders bent,
plodding heavily along with the last load of yellow dust, stolen from
Pete's Creek, hanging heavily in its hands.

For a moment Corbett doubted if this could really be that same stalwart,
smooth-tongued knave who had jockeyed him out of his dollars for three
useless claims, but a sharp metallic "clink" upon the rock beside him
called him back to himself and reminded him that Rampike had no doubts
even if he had.

Inch by inch Ned saw the long barrel of the Winchester pushed out over
the rock, until it rested firmly, its deadly muzzle dark in the dim
light of dawn.

Slowly Rampike lowered his head until his cheek lay against the cold
metal and his eye trained the weapon upon the man who for gold had not
hesitated to kill two of his fellows.

One more beat of his heart and he too would feel the kiss of the cold
lead and go whither those others had gone.

"My God, I can't do it!--Cruickshank!" cried Corbett, and as he cried
out he sprang to his feet and threw up Rampike's rifle.

"Cruickshank!" the cry startled the silence, so that all nature seemed
to shudder at the sound, and "Cruickshank!" "Cruickshank!" the rocks
repeated until the sound died away amongst the snows at the head of the
canyon.

At the first sound of that cry he whose name it was stopped, and as he
turned to look across the river the white light of dawn came down and
struck him across the face, so that those who looked could see the lines
graven on it by fear and hunger and remorse, and then his hands went
wildly up towards heaven and he fell.

The path which he had trodden so often crossed at this place a sheer
slope of hardened snow, in which he had cut footsteps for himself,
narrow indeed, but sufficient for the safety of a careful man. Until now
he had never slipped or dreamed of slipping, and yet now with that cry
in his ear, with the last load of gold in his hand, with the river
almost clear enough for flight, he slipped and fell. Those who looked
saw only a face full of mad fear, they heard only the clang of the metal
wash-pan, which he wore as miners wear it, at his belt, and then, quick
as the first ray of the dawn shoots across the mountain-side,
Cruickshank shot down that ice-slope, and with a dull heavy plunge, sank
in the ice-choked river.

For minutes, which seemed hours, the two men who lay behind the rock
neither spoke nor moved, only they stared with wide eyes at the empty
trail where he had stood, and the jostling hummocks of ice in the river
amongst which he sank.

"Wal," said Rampike at last, "that's all, and I guess we take the pot."
And he turned to where the canoe full of gold, the price of three men's
lives, lay alone in the gray light of dawn.

Even as he spoke the canoe moved. Some will say that the ice on which it
rested had been sucked away by the rising river, and that so, it slid
down naturally and was borne along with all the other river waifs,--dead
pines and dead men's bodies.

But Rampike, who saw the thing, says that hands like the hands of the
dead laid hold upon it and drew it away.

Then they watched it drift out amongst the ice into the Frazer, and
there for a while the great river played with it, and moaned and laughed
over it by turns, and then it sank, and the gold that was in it, and the
sin which that gold begot, are a portion of the load which the old river
is so glad to lay down as she rushes into the salt sea beyond the
sand-heads at New Westminster.


_L'envoi._

My story is told, and the days which I wrote of have passed away, but
something is still left to remind old-timers of the rush of '62. Pete's
Creek is still yielding a fair return for work done upon it by a
company, whose chairman is our old friend, Steve Chance, but such
pockets as that found under Phon's boulder have never been found again.

As for Ned Corbett, he is a rancher now on those yellow Chilcotin
uplands, and the gold which pleases him best is that left by the sun
upon his miles and miles of sweet mountain grass. If others have more
gold, Ned has all that gold can purchase by the Frazer or elsewhere,
work which he loves, and such health, spirits, and moderate wealth as
should satisfy an honest man.



+---------------------------------------------------+
|Transcriber's note:                                |
|                                                   |
|Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.  |
|                                                   |
+---------------------------------------------------+





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