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Title: Gold-Seeking on the Dalton Trail - Being the Adventures of Two New England Boys in Alaska and - the Northwest Territory
Author: Thompson, Arthur R.
Language: English
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[Illustration: SLEDDING UP THE CHILKAT VALLEY]



                             GOLD-SEEKING

                          ON THE DALTON TRAIL

                     _BEING THE ADVENTURES OF TWO
                      NEW ENGLAND BOYS IN ALASKA
                     AND THE NORTHWEST TERRITORY_


                                  BY

                          ARTHUR R. THOMPSON


                              Illustrated


                BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1900



                          _Copyright, 1900_,

                     BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY


                         _All rights reserved_


      UNIVERSITY PRESS · JOHN WILSON AND SON · CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.



                                  TO

                     My Comrade of Many Camp-Fires

                         DEXTER WADLEIGH LEWIS



                                PREFACE


Among my first passions was that for exploration. The Unknown--that
region of mysteries lying upon the outskirts of commonplace
environment--drew me with a mighty attraction. My earliest
recollections are of wanderings into the domains of the neighbors, and
of excursions--not infrequently in direct contravention to parental
warnings--over fences, stone-walls, and roofs, and into cobwebbed
attics, fragrant hay-lofts, and swaying tree-tops. Of my favorite tree,
a sugar maple, I remember that, so thoroughly did I come to know every
one of its branches, I could climb up or down unhesitatingly with eyes
shut. At that advanced stage of acquaintance, however, it followed
naturally that the mysteriousness, and hence the subtle attractiveness,
of my friend the maple was considerably lessened.

By degrees the boundary line of the unknown was pushed back into
surrounding fields. Wonderful caves were hollowed in sandy banks.
Small pools, to the imaginative eyes of the six-year-old, became
lakes abounding with delightful adventures. The wintry alternations
of freezing and thawing were processes to be observed with closest
attention and never-failing interest. Nature displayed some new charm
with every mood.

There came a day when I looked beyond the fields, when even the river,
sluggish and muddy in summer, a broad, clear torrent in spring, was
known from end to end. Then it was that the range of low mountains--to
me sublime in loftiness--at the western horizon held my fascinated
gaze. To journey thither on foot became ambition's end and aim. This
feat, at first regarded as undoubtedly beyond the powers of man unaided
by horse and carry-all (the thing had once been done in that manner on
the occasion of a picnic), was at length proved possible.

What next? Like Alexander, I sought new worlds. Nothing less than real
camping out could satisfy that hitherto unappeasable longing. This
dream was realized in due season among the mountains of New Hampshire;
but the craving, far from losing its keenness, was whetted. Of late it
has been fed, but never satiated, by wider rovings on land and sea.
Perhaps it is in the blood and can never be eliminated.

Believing that this restlessness, accompanied by the love of
adventure and out-of-door life, is natural to every boy, I have
had in mind particularly in the writing of this narrative those
thousands of boys in our cities who are bound within a restricted,
and it may be unromantic, sphere of activity. To them I have wished
to give a glimpse of trail life, not with a view to increasing their
restlessness,--for I have not veiled discomforts and discouragements in
relating enjoyments,--but to enlarge their horizon,--to give them, in
imagination at least, mountain air and appetites, journeys by lake and
river, and an acquaintance with men and conditions as they now exist
in the great Northwest.

The Dalton trail, last year but little known, may soon become a much
travelled highway. With a United States garrison at Pyramid, and the
village of Klukwan a bone of contention between the governments of this
country and Canada, the region which it traverses is coming more and
more into notice. I would only add that natural features, scenery, and
people, have been described faithfully, however inadequately, and the
story throughout is based upon real happenings. Should any of my young
readers pass over the trail to-day in the footsteps of David and Roly,
they would find, save for possible vandalism of Indians or whites, the
cabins on the North Alsek and in the Kah Sha gorge just as they are
pictured, and they could be sure of a welcome from Lucky, Long Peter,
and Coffee Jack.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                         PAGE

       I. A LETTER FROM ALASKA                                         1

      II. BUYING AN OUTFIT                                             7

     III. FROM SEATTLE TO PYRAMID HARBOR                              18

      IV. THE FIRST CAMP                                              28

       V. THE GREAT NUGGET, AND HOW UNCLE WILL HEARD OF IT            38

      VI. ROLY IS HURT                                                47

     VII. CAMP AT THE CAVE                                            54

    VIII. SLEDDING                                                    60

      IX. KLUKWAN AND THE FORDS                                       69

       X. A PORCUPINE-HUNT AT PLEASANT CAMP                           77

      XI. THE MYSTERIOUS THIRTY-SIX                                   88

     XII. THE SUMMIT OF CHILKAT PASS                                 101

    XIII. DALTON'S POST                                              112

     XIV. FROM THE STIK VILLAGE TO LAKE DASAR-DEE-ASH                120

      XV. STAKING CLAIMS                                             127

     XVI. A CONFLAGRATION                                            135

    XVII. THROUGH THE ICE                                            142

   XVIII. BUILDING THE CABIN                                         149

     XIX. THE FIRST PROSPECT-HOLE                                    157

      XX. ROLY GOES DUCK-HUNTING                                     166

     XXI. LAST DAYS AT PENNOCK'S POST                                175

    XXII. A HARD JOURNEY                                             182

   XXIII. THE LAKE AFFORDS TWO MEALS AND A PERILOUS CROSSING         192

    XXIV. DAVID GETS HIS BEAR-SKIN                                   201

     XXV. MORAN'S CAMP                                               210

    XXVI. HOW THE GREAT NUGGET NEARLY COST THE BRADFORDS DEAR        216

   XXVII. AN INDIAN CREMATION                                        223

  XXVIII. THE PLAGUE OF MOSQUITOES                                   231

    XXIX. LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS                                      238

     XXX. WASHING OUT THE GOLD                                       248

    XXXI. DAVID MAKES A BOAT-JOURNEY                                 256

   XXXII. CHAMPLAIN'S LANDING                                        264

  XXXIII. ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS                                    272

   XXXIV. RAIDED BY A WOLF                                           279

    XXXV. A LONG MARCH, WITH A SURPRISE AT THE END OF IT             289

   XXXVI. HOW DAVID MET THE OFFENDER AND WAS PREVENTED FROM
            SPEAKING HIS MIND                                        297

  XXXVII. HOMEWARD BOUND                                             306

 XXXVIII. A CARIBOU, AND HOW IT WAS KILLED                           314

   XXXIX. DANGERS OF THE SUMMER FORDS                                321

      XL. SUNDAY IN KLUKWAN                                          331

     XLI. THE ROBBERS AT LAST                                        339

    XLII. PYRAMID, SKAGWAY, AND DYEA.--CONCLUSION                    348



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

 SLEDDING UP THE CHILKAT VALLEY                           _Frontispiece_

 PYRAMID HARBOR, PYRAMID MOUNTAIN IN THE DISTANCE                     26

 MAP OF THE DALTON TRAIL                                              28

 A CURIOUS PHENOMENON BESIDE THE TRAIL                                89

 THE CAMP OF THE MYSTERIOUS THIRTY-SIX                                93

 "PRESENTLY SOME LITTLE YELLOW SPECKS WERE UNCOVERED"                131

 CHILDREN OF THE WILDERNESS                                          192

 RAFTING DOWN THE NORTH ALSEK                                        265

 A HERD OF CATTLE.--YUKON DIVIDE IN THE DISTANCE                     267

 FORDING THE KLAHEENA                                                325

 "SALMON BY THE THOUSAND"                                            349



                             GOLD-SEEKING

                                  ON

                           THE DALTON TRAIL



CHAPTER I

A LETTER FROM ALASKA


In a large, old-fashioned dwelling which overlooked from its hillside
perch a beautiful city of Connecticut, the Bradford family was
assembled for the evening meal. It was early in February, and the wind,
which now and then whirled the snowflakes against the window-panes,
made the pretty dining-room seem doubly cozy. But Mrs. Bradford
shivered as she poured the tea.

"Just think of poor Will," she said, "away off in that frozen
wilderness! Oh, if we could only know that he is safe and well!" and
the gentle lady's brown eyes sought her husband's face as if for
reassurance.

Mr. Bradford was a tall, strongly built man of forty-five, with
light-brown hair and mustache, and features that betrayed much care
and responsibility. Upon him as treasurer had fallen a great share
of the burden of bringing a large manufacturing establishment through
two years of financial depression, and his admirable constitution had
weakened under the strain. But now a twinkle came into his gray eyes as
he said, "My dear, I hardly think Will is suffering. At least he wasn't
a month ago."

"Why, how do you know?" asked Mrs. Bradford. "Has he written at last?"

For answer Mr. Bradford drew from the depths of an inside pocket a
number of letters, from which he selected one whose envelope was torn
and travel-stained. It bore a Canadian and an American postage stamp,
as if the sender had been uncertain in which country it would be
mailed, and wished to prepare it against either contingency.

At sight of the foreign stamp Ralph,--or "Roly," as he had been known
ever since a certain playmate had called him "Roly-poly" because of his
plumpness,--aged fifteen, was awake in an instant. Up to that moment
his energies had been entirely absorbed in the laudable business of
dulling a very keen appetite, but it quickly became evident that his
instincts as a stamp collector were even keener. He had paused in the
act of raising a bit of bread to his mouth, and made such a comical
figure with his lips expectantly wide apart that his younger sister
Helen, a little maid of nine, was betrayed into a sudden and violent
fit of laughter, in which, in spite of the superior dignity of eighteen
years, their brother David was compelled to join.

"Yes," said Mr. Bradford, "I received a letter from Will this
afternoon. Suppose I read it aloud." Absolute quiet being magically
restored, he proceeded as follows:--

RAINY HOLLOW, CHILKAT PASS, Jan. 9, 1898.

 DEAR BROTHER CHARLES,--I am storm-bound at this place, and waiting for
 an opportunity to cross the summit, so what better can I do than write
 the letter so long deferred?

 I have been as far west as the Cook Inlet region, and have acquired
 some good coal properties. While there I heard from excellent
 authorities that rich gold placers have been discovered on the Dalton
 trail, which leads from Pyramid Harbor to Dawson City, at a point about
 two hundred miles inland. I thought it best to investigate the truth of
 this rumor, and am now on the way to the designated locality, with an
 Indian guide and dog-team.

 Now, as you know, I was able to take claims for you as well as for
 myself in the Cook Inlet country, by the powers of attorney which you
 sent me, but in the Canadian territory to which I am going the law does
 not allow this, and you can only secure a claim by purchase, or by
 being here in person to take it up.

 I don't suppose you are in a position to buy claims; but it struck
 me, Charles, that it would be a grand good thing if you could leave
 that work of yours awhile and rough it in these mountains. You looked
 worn out when I saw you last, and you need a change. This is a rugged
 country, but a healthful one if a man takes care of himself, and
 nothing would do you more good than to take my advice and come. Why not
 bring the boys along? Too much schooling isn't good for growing lads,
 and they will lose nothing in the long run.

 Come prepared to stay six months. I will write our friend Kingsley at
 Seattle in regard to your outfit, and will send him directions for
 the journey. Start at once, for I think there'll be a rush in this
 direction very soon.

 You'll be surprised to find how comfortable you can be in your tent
 on the snow, even with the mercury below zero. Trust the directions I
 shall send to Kingsley, and I'll guarantee you against the suffering
 you read of, most of which is the result of ignorance and carelessness.

 I send this letter out by an Indian who leaves here to-morrow.

 With love to you all, I am,

 Your brother,

 WILLIAM C. BRADFORD.

"Uncle Will's a brick!" exclaimed Roly, promptly. "Of course we shall
go." Whereupon Helen burst into tears because she was not a boy. David
managed to preserve outward calmness, but his eyes sparkled as he
thought of the wonders he might soon see. As for Mrs. Bradford, she
scarcely knew whether to be sad or glad. She was willing to believe her
enthusiastic brother-in-law would not urge his own relatives to face
unreasonable dangers. But to think of being separated from them half a
year! After all, she could do no better than leave the matter to her
husband.

"Well, Charles," she said quite calmly, "what do you propose to do?"

David and Roly trembled in their seats, while Mr. Bradford regarded
them thoughtfully.

"I am inclined," he said at last, "to think favorably of Will's
proposal, so far as it concerns myself."

At the word "favorably" both boys jumped, but when they heard the last
of the sentence they looked very wretched and crestfallen. They did not
understand the whole of Uncle Will's letter, but there was absolutely
no doubt that he had suggested their coming. David ventured to remind
his father that they were both a year in advance of most boys of their
age in their school-work.

This argument appeared to have weight with Mr. Bradford. He reflected,
too, on the many youthful adventures of his own in the Adirondack
woods, which he had often narrated in their hearing. It was but natural
that they should wish to go. He was bound to admit that they had
studied carefully and well, and had fairly earned an outing. David,
dark-haired and brown-eyed like his mother, had reached the age of
rapid growth. He was shooting up like a weed, and his face was paler
than it should be. Roly was of light complexion, and round and ruddy.
Nothing more could be desired of him in the matter of health, yet his
father knew how keenly he would feel the disappointment if his brother
were permitted to go and he were left behind.

Mr. Bradford looked inquiringly at his wife. "Can you spare them?" he
asked.

It was a hard question. Mrs. Bradford would have preferred to keep the
boys at home, but she had travelled extensively before her marriage,
and knew the value of travel. She was ambitious for her sons and
wished them to have every advantage. But it was not without a flood of
affectionate tears that she consented at last to let them go.

The matter being thus decided, at a sitting, as it were, the evening
was spent in a study of maps and guide-books; and long after they went
to bed the boys lay awake and talked over their good fortune.



CHAPTER II

BUYING AN OUTFIT


In spite of his brother's injunction to hurry, Mr. Bradford was unable
to complete his arrangements until the first of March.

Mrs. Bradford's heart sank as she said "Good-by" to the three, and
watched the train roll away in the distance. Helen, too, was quite awed
by the solemnity of the occasion, but was comforted by the thought that
her Aunt Charlotte was coming in the absence of the rest of the family.

As for the boys, their spirits rose quickly after the sad moments of
parting, it being the pleasant privilege of youth to see only bright
skies ahead, and to leave responsibility to wiser brains. Neither David
nor Roly had been beyond New York, and the next few days were filled
with novel sights and experiences.

How strange it seemed to sit down to one of the little tables in the
dining-car, with its white spread and dainty dishes, and calmly make a
meal while being whirled through the country at sixty miles an hour!

But that was nothing to the sensation of lying in bed in a long,
dimly lighted sleeping-car which seemed to be flying through space.
What a delicious sense of motion! What power and speed the swaying on
the curves betrayed! Now they hear the hollow roar of a bridge, then
presently the deadened sound of the firm ground again; and they know
they are passing through a village when they recognize the clattering
echoes from freight-cars on a siding. And now the electric lights of
a large town gleam through the windows, and the train slows down and
stops. There is a babel of voices, the rumble of a truck along the
platform, the clink of a hammer against the car-wheels, and at last the
distant "All aboard!" and they are off again.

It was a long, long journey, and the boys realized as never before
the length and resources of their country. They crossed the snowy
prairies of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, made a flying change of cars
at Chicago, passed through Wisconsin in a night, and found themselves
at St. Paul on the Mississippi, where, in the course of their rambles
about the city, David petitioned for a camera,--a petition which Mr.
Bradford willingly granted.

They crossed Minnesota that night, and North Dakota with its prairies
and Bad Lands the next day.

At Mandan the boys discovered near the station a taxidermist's shop in
which were finely mounted heads of moose, antelope, and buffalo,--the
latter worth two hundred dollars apiece. Stuffed but very lifelike
foxes looked craftily out from every corner, and gorgeous birds of
various species were perched all about. There were wonderful Indian
relics, too,--bows and arrows, headdresses of feathers, brightly beaded
moccasins, and great clubs of stone with wooden handles.

Through Montana and Idaho the surface of the country was diversified by
the spurs and peaks of the Rocky Mountains, while in Washington they
passed alternately through fertile tracts dotted with ranches, and
barren, sandy plains where only the gray sage-bushes thrived.

As in the Rockies, two engines were required to draw the heavy train
up the slopes of the Cascade Range. Through a whole afternoon the
scenery was of the most beautiful description. They wound about the
forest-covered heights, now through a dark tunnel or a snowshed, now
along the edge of a precipice from which they could see the winding
valley far below and the snow-crowned peaks beyond. The change from the
sandy barrens to the deep snows and rich forests of the mountains was
as refreshing as it was sudden. Darkness was falling over the landscape
when the highest point of the pass was gained. The laborious puffing
and panting of the engines ceased, and the train ran swiftly down the
grades by the simple force of gravitation. Late that evening, after a
brief stop at Tacoma, they rumbled into Seattle,--six days from New
York.

Mr. Kingsley, who had been notified by telegraph of the time of
arrival, awaited the Bradfords on the platform. He shook Mr.
Bradford's hand warmly. They had been chums in their boyhood days, and
many years had passed since they had seen each other. The boys were
then introduced, and he greeted them cordially. He insisted that they
should stay at his home while they were in the city, and led the way to
a carriage, first cautioning Mr. Bradford against pickpockets, of whom
there were many in town at that time.

They were driven rapidly through lighted business streets, then up
several steep hills, and presently the carriage stopped before a
pleasant house, surrounded by a wide lawn with shrubs and shade trees,
some of which were putting forth green buds. Here Mrs. Kingsley and her
daughter Flora, aged fifteen, received the travellers.

David was awakened from a most refreshing slumber next morning by the
songs of birds outside his window. He roused Roly, and together they
jumped up and looked out. Below them to the west lay the city, and
beyond it sparkled the waters of Puget Sound. Beyond the Sound towered
a range of majestic snowy peaks which, they afterward learned, were
the Olympic Mountains. Turning to the south window, they saw in the
southeast the graceful form of Mount Rainier looming over fourteen
thousand feet into the clouds. It was a glorious morning, bright and
balmy.

At the breakfast table Mr. Kingsley said he had received full
directions regarding their needs on the trail, together with a rough
map of the country through which they were to travel. He was a jolly,
red-faced man, and the boys were sorry he was not going to accompany
them. He declared, however, when Mr. Bradford suggested it, that he was
too stout to walk so far, and wouldn't be hired to go until he could
ride in a railroad-car.

The entire day was devoted to the purchase of the outfit. As soon as
breakfast was over, Mr. Bradford and the boys, in company with Mr.
Kingsley, boarded a cable-car, which soon carried them down a hill
so steep that it was only with great difficulty that the passengers,
especially those unaccustomed to the performance, kept themselves from
sliding in a heap to the front of the car. Roly thought the sensation a
good deal like tobogganing, except that they did not go so fast.

There was a liveliness and stir in the crowds which thronged the
business streets, betokening the excitement due to the recent gold
discoveries. Hundreds of roughly dressed men crowded into the
outfitting establishments. Many of them were picturesque in yellow
Mackinaw coats, broad-brimmed felt hats, and knee boots. They came from
every State in the Union, but all had a common purpose, and seemed for
the most part strong, brave, good-tempered fellows, ready to laugh at
hardships and able to overcome all sorts of difficulties.

Entering one of the large stores recommended by Mr. Kingsley, Mr.
Bradford opened negotiations for the necessary clothing, aided by the
list which his brother had prepared. Suits of heavy black Mackinaw were
selected, and as time was precious and fit not important, Mr. Bradford
and David were provided for from the ready-made stock. Roly was just
too small for the smallest suit in the store, but the proprietor
promised to make him a suit of the right material and have it ready in
two days. Stout canvas coats and blue overalls were then selected, and
underwear both heavy and light. Blue flannel shirts, rubber gloves for
the work of panning, heavy woollen caps, stockings and mittens, stout
shoes, and broad-brimmed felt hats were added. Then came rubber boots
reaching to the hips, and rubber "packs" for use with the snow-shoes.
Creepers, consisting of leather soles studded with sharp spikes, for
travel over ice, completed the list of footwear.

Owing to the lateness of the season, it was considered best to take
no furs, and very thick blankets and down quilts were substituted for
sleeping-bags. Two small mosquito-proof tents and one larger tent were
next secured.

The morning's work was completed by the selection of various small
articles such as towels, handkerchiefs, mosquito netting to fit over
their hats, toilet articles, a sewing kit, and dark glasses to protect
the eyes from the glare of the snow. They had brought a partial supply
of these things from home, owing to the forethought of good Mrs.
Bradford.

That afternoon the boys were given their freedom, as they could be of
no assistance to their father in the purchase of the hardware. At Mrs.
Kingsley's suggestion, with Flora for a guide, they took a cable-car to
Lake Washington, east of the city, where a great land-slide had wrecked
many houses.

When they returned it was nearly supper-time. Mr. Bradford had
completed his purchases, and the goods had been delivered at the house.

The boys could hardly wait for supper to be over, so eager were they
to rush out into the storeroom and inspect the new supplies, but at
last they were free to go. There stood three pairs of fine snow-shoes
made in Michigan. Mr. Kingsley slyly remarked that he would like to
be present when they first tried to use them, but when Mr. Bradford
observed that he had already been invited, the jolly gentleman
laughed and said he supposed, if he accepted, he would have to be a
participator in the gymnastics instead of a spectator, which might
interfere with his enjoyment of the occasion.

Mr. Bradford now took from its canvas case a double-barrelled shot-gun
of excellent workmanship and very light weight, which he handed to
David. The latter thought at once of the bear-skin which he had already
resolved to bring back to Flora, to whom he had taken a great fancy.
What a delight it would be to own the beautiful weapon now in his
hands! He had no idea that his father was about to test his sense of
fairness.

"I intend," said Mr. Bradford, "to give this gun to one of you boys.
Now, Dave, which do you think ought to have it?"

David found his desire and his generosity at once engaged in a
struggle. He had asked for a camera and received it. Ought he to have
all the good things? Thanks to his affection for Roly and his strong
sense of right, the struggle was brief.

"I think, sir," he replied after a moment, "that if you believe Roly is
old enough and careful enough, he ought to have it," and to prove his
sincerity he immediately turned the gun over to that delighted youth,
who was no less pleased than Mr. Bradford at this outcome. The latter
stepped to the corner of the room and presently returned, holding
something behind his back.

"Since you have made the right decision," said he, smiling, "I'm very
glad to give you this," and he handed to David a fine rifle.

David could hardly realize his good fortune, but he thanked his father
again and again and expressed his pleasure as well as he was able.

Mrs. Kingsley asked Mr. Bradford if he did not fear they would shoot
themselves or somebody else, to which that gentleman replied that
he should personally instruct them in the use of the weapons, and
take care that they were competent and careful before he allowed them
to hunt by themselves. As for himself, he expected to carry only a
revolver.

Outside the door stood three strong sleds, one about six feet long and
the others two feet shorter, which were to carry their supplies. Then
there were bread-tins, a frying-pan, and aluminum kettles and cups,
very light in weight, and made to nest one within another, thus taking
up the smallest possible space. The plates, forks, and spoons were also
of aluminum; but the knives, which required greater strength and a keen
edge, were of steel. There were three handsome hunting-knives and belts.

As his brother had a portable sheet-iron stove, as well as a whip-saw
and other tools, Mr. Bradford omitted those articles, but thought it
best to provide an axe for himself and hatchets for the boys, some
rope, a shovel, a pick, a gold-pan, compasses, fishing-lines and flies,
and a supply of medicines.

A rainstorm set in on the following day, but the boys were not to be
kept in the house. They visited a shipyard where eighteen light-draught
steamers were in process of construction for the Yukon River. Then at
Roly's suggestion they went down to the wharves, where countless great
sea-gulls flew to and fro, dipping occasionally to pick up stray bits
of food. Here they were just in time to witness the arrival of the
ocean steamer "Walla Walla," from San Francisco, with hundreds of
Klondikers on board,--a motley collection of rough-looking men, and not
a few women. They also saw an antiquated steamer with a very loud bass
whistle and a great stern paddle-wheel which churned up the water at a
furious rate.

While the boys were thus occupied, Mr. Bradford had been busy with the
food supply, and reported at the supper table that he had completed the
work, and the provisions had been sent down to the "Farallon,"--the
steamer which was to carry the little party northward. Being desired
by the boys to make known what sort of fare they might expect on the
trail, he read the list of the articles of food, the amount in each
case being estimated as sufficient for six months.

Mr. Kingsley asked if it was not the rule of the Canadian mounted
police to turn back at the boundary line all persons who did not have a
year's supplies, to which Mr. Bradford replied that such was the case
on the Chilkoot and White Pass trails from Dyea and Skagway, but he
understood that so few miners had yet gone in by the Dalton trail from
Pyramid Harbor through the Chilkat River valley that the police had not
yet established a post upon that trail.

The provisions upon Mr. Bradford's list included bacon, salt pork,
ham, flour, corn meal, rolled oats, beans, rice, crystallized eggs;
evaporated fruits such as apples, peaches, apricots, plums, and
prunes; evaporated vegetables, including potatoes, onions, cabbages,
and soup vegetables; raisins, canned butter, hard-tack, baking powder,
sugar, salt, pepper, concentrated vinegar, mustard, tea, coffee, cocoa,
condensed milk, and beef tablets.

With such a variety the boys felt sure they could live very
comfortably, and were surprised that so many fruits and vegetables, and
even butter and eggs, could be had in such convenient forms.



CHAPTER III

FROM SEATTLE TO PYRAMID HARBOR


Late in the afternoon of the following day, the 9th of March, the
travellers embarked on the "Farallon," commanded by the genial Captain
Roberts. The "Farallon" was not as graceful a vessel as the Eastern
steamers to which the boys were accustomed, but she appeared to be
stanch and seaworthy,--qualities eminently to be desired in view of the
six days' voyage of a thousand miles which lay before her.

Her decks were now thronged with hopeful Klondikers of all ages and
descriptions, the majority men, though there were a few brave women who
preferred roughing it with their husbands to staying behind in physical
comfort, but alone. On the bow temporary stalls had been built for a
score of horses intended for use in the coast towns or on the trails.

As the wharf receded David caught a glimpse of a girlish figure and a
face framed in wavy light hair, among the crowd. Flora saw him at the
same moment and waved her handkerchief. How pretty and winsome she
looked! David vowed then and there to bring her that bear-skin at all
hazards. At last, when he could see her no longer, he turned toward
the stateroom on the upper deck abaft the pilot-house, where his father
was stowing away the brown canvas bags which contained their clothing
and such small articles as they would need on the trail.

We must pass rapidly over the events of the voyage, filled though it
was with experiences quite new to the Bradfords. At Victoria, the
pleasant little capital of British Columbia, situated on the southern
point of Vancouver Island, where the steamer remained half a day, Mr.
Bradford procured two mining licenses which gave himself and David the
right to locate claims in Canadian territory, cut timber, and take game
and fish. These licenses cost ten dollars apiece, and no claim could be
legally staked without one. Poor Roly, not having reached the required
age of eighteen, could take neither license nor claim. This business
completed, they wandered through the city, David securing a picture of
the magnificent Parliament building then just finished.

Two days later, after passing up the sheltered Gulf of Georgia and
crossing the broad, blue expanse of Queen Charlotte's Sound, the
steamer entered a narrow waterway between islands on the west and
the mainland of British Columbia on the east. Here the scenery was
of the most bold and rugged description, reminding the travellers of
the Hudson where it breaks through the Catskills. On either side rose
immense mountain masses, covered below to the water's edge with a
virgin forest of spruce, cedar, and hemlock, while from the bleak,
treeless summits the snow could sometimes be seen blowing into the air
like smoke.

"What a pity," exclaimed Mr. Bradford to David and Roly, as they stood
upon the deck gazing about them in admiration, "that the grandeur and
beauty of this coast are so little known! We've been travelling for
hours through this paradise without seeing a hotel, or a cottage, or
even a log-cabin, and yet I believe it will not be long before tourists
will throng to this region. Now there," said he, pointing to a level
plateau on the top of a forest-covered ridge which rose a hundred feet
above the water,--"there is an ideal site for a hotel. It commands a
view of the strait both north and south, and of the mountains in every
direction. No doubt there is a lake in that hollow beyond it, and the
waterfall yonder is its outlet. I should like to spend a summer right
here."

That evening they emerged into Dixon's Entrance, where the open Pacific
tossed them about for several hours until they came again into the lee
of islands. Morning found them at Saxman, a village of the extreme
southern end of Alaska, where the "Farallon" stopped to take on a
passenger.

At Ketchikan, a few miles beyond, there was a good wharf and a
considerable settlement, and here the Bradfords saw for the first
time a raven, which the boys mistook for a crow. Here, too, they first
beheld an Indian totem-pole,--a great tree-trunk carved into grotesque
shapes of beast and bird, and strange caricatures of the human
countenance, all of which doubtless had a significance relating to the
tribe, family, and achievements of the deceased chieftain whose memory
it perpetuated.

David, with the enthusiasm of an amateur, attempted to photograph this
strange column, but as the day was dark and a damp snow was falling, he
failed to obtain first-rate results.

At ten in the evening the lights of Wrangel, or Fort Wrangel, as it is
often called, being a United States military post, came into view. Late
as it was, the Bradfords decided to go ashore, for this was one of the
larger Alaskan towns. The wharf was unlighted save by the steamer's
lamps, but they picked their way without much difficulty. Most of the
townspeople seemed to have retired, and only the saloons and dance
halls showed signs of life. From these places the travellers heard the
strains of a fiddle, or the worn, hard voice of some poor girl doomed
to sing to a throng of rough men amid the glare of lights and the fumes
of beer and bad tobacco.

There were many evidences that the gold excitement had brought a large
if transient population to Wrangel. New frame buildings were in process
of erection all along what appeared to be the main street, which was,
however, utterly impassable for any kind of wheeled vehicle, being a
deep ditch far below the level of the board walk which skirted it. In
this hollow what little light there was revealed logs, lumber, boats,
and mud, and it was evident that at high tide the water filled it. The
buildings were raised on piles to the level of the future highway.

The Bradfords followed the walk with the utmost caution, for some of
the boards were missing and others were broken, and in the darkness an
ankle might be sprained or a leg fractured by one false step. The boys
took turns in going ahead, the leader warning those behind of holes and
pitfalls.

After proceeding thus gingerly for nearly half a mile and passing
several elaborate totem-poles, they found themselves well out of the
business portion of the town and in the midst of a collection of tents
interspersed with cheap frame structures. Here and there on tents and
houses they could dimly distinguish flaming advertisements of museums
and various catch-penny shows, but none of them were open at that
hour. The board walk seemed to lead no farther, so the three carefully
and slowly retraced their steps to the steamer, where a lively scene
presented itself.

Three incandescent lights backed by a powerful reflector had been
rigged on board to illumine the forward deck and hold, from which
freight was being discharged upon the wharf. Captain Roberts informed
them that one hundred tons of freight were to be left at Wrangel, and a
number of the horses and dogs.

"Ah!" said Roly, "I'm glad some of the horses are to go ashore here.
They haven't had a chance to lie down since we left Seattle."

"No," said David; "and I saw two this morning so tired that they went
to sleep standing up. Their eyes were shut, and their heads kept
drooping, drooping, and then popping up again like Mr. Dobson's when he
goes to sleep in church."

Roly laughed. "I only hope," said he, "the poor brutes will have no
worse time on the trail."

Just as dawn was breaking over the town, the "Farallon" took advantage
of high tide to pass through Wrangel Narrows,--a tortuous channel
between low, wooded shores, where the scenery, though of a subdued
character, was exceedingly beautiful. A bark and a barkentine were
aground in this dangerous passage, though buoys and lighthouses were
plentiful; but the steamer emerged safely in due time into broader
waters, and the day passed without special incident until evening, when
they had passed the latitude of Sitka, the Alaskan capital, on Baranoff
Island to the west.

Not long after supper Mr. Bradford and David were reading in the
stateroom and Roly was sitting on the iron grating, through which a
pleasant warmth arose from the engine-room, when they all heard a
bumping sound and felt the steamer tremble. A second later there came
another bump. Instantly bells rang and the engine stopped, while Roly
jumped from the grating, and running to the bridge peered forward into
the darkness. He could see nothing in that direction, nor could Mr.
Bradford and David, who were quickly beside him; but the next moment
a huge block of ice and several smaller fragments grazed along the
steamer's side, and were dimly illuminated by her lights. Then they
understood what had happened.

"She's hit one o' them small icebergs out o' Glacier Bay," they heard
a man say on the deck below them. "There's many of 'em hereabouts, I'm
told, but they ain't big enough to do damage."

"Not if she hits 'em square," said another voice.

Captain Roberts, however, thought it best to be cautious, especially as
he had just broken the bell-wire and could only communicate with the
engine-room by speaking-tube. He sent a man to the bow of the vessel to
watch for ice, and ordered half-speed ahead.

In a few hours they had reached Juneau. It was so late that the
Bradfords did not leave the ship, but they could see by the lights
that Juneau was larger than Wrangel, and contained not a few wooden
buildings of very respectable size and appearance. It was a mystery
how the town could grow any more, however, except straight up in the
air like New York, for it was surrounded by water on two sides, and on
the others by huge barriers of rock two thousand feet high. Across the
strait a few straggling lights disclosed the location of Douglass City
and the famous Treadwell gold mines.

The following day was mild, but the scenery became more Arctic. The
steamer passed up the long inlet known as the Lynn Canal, on either
side of which rose bold peaks crowned with brilliant snow. Glaciers
flowed through the valleys between them,--great frozen rivers which no
summer sun could melt. Of these, one of the largest and most graceful
was the Davidson glacier on the western side of the strait. Ducks were
seen here in countless numbers. Porpoises rolled and played about the
vessel, and Roly caught sight of a seal which bobbed above the water at
intervals.

As they were now nearing the end of the voyage, Mr. Bradford and the
boys wrote letters to send back by the purser. Early in the afternoon
the course was changed slightly to the west, and the steamer entered
Pyramid Harbor, a beautiful circular sheet of water, flanked on the
south by high mountains. Near its eastern side rose a pointed mound of
pyramidal shape, to which the harbor owed its name.

On the southwest shore, under the shadow of the mountains, lay the
little settlement, prominent in which was an extensive salmon cannery.
In front of the cannery two wharves projected toward the bay,--one
high above the beach, designed for use at high tide; the other a
slender affair, longer and lower.

"There must be very high tides here," said Mr. Bradford, observing the
wharves.

"Yes," answered a tall, brown-whiskered man who stood near. "Twenty
foot, if I ain't mistaken. Reminds me o' the Bay o' Fundy, only there
they gen'rally build only one wharf an' give it two stories."

The boys recognized in the speaker the man whom they had heard
discoursing of icebergs on the previous evening.

"The cannery doesn't seem to be running," observed Mr. Bradford.

"No," replied the other; "I b'lieve they only run it in summer. There
ain't no salmon this time o' year."

Mr. Bradford told David to see that everything was ready for landing,
and to bring the clothing bags out upon the deck. The steamer had
blown her whistle as she entered the harbor, and two men could be seen
walking down toward the end of the lower wharf. Mr. Bradford turned his
field-glass upon them. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of surprise
and handed the glass to Roly.

"Do you know either of those men?" he asked.

"Why," said Roly, after he had scrutinized them a moment, "the second
one looks like--no, it can't be. I declare, though, it does look like
him! Yes, it _is_ Uncle Will! But what a big beard he has!"

[Illustration: PYRAMID HARBOR, PYRAMID MOUNTAIN IN THE DISTANCE]

David, hearing these exclamations, came running out of the stateroom,
and joyfully verified the identification. There could be no doubt that
Uncle Will was there, but what had brought him was more than they could
conjecture.



CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST CAMP


The "Farallon" was slowly and carefully brought to the end of the lower
wharf, though the water was so shallow that her screw stirred up the
mud.

Roly and David signalled with their caps and soon attracted Uncle
Will's attention, and that gentleman waved his arms delightedly the
moment he saw them. Meanwhile the cannery watchman had made fast the
steamer's bow and stern lines, the latter to the piling of the higher
wharf, and the other to a large rock on the beach. A few minutes later
the Bradfords had jumped ashore, and the crew had piled their sleds,
provisions, and belongings of all kinds in a promiscuous heap on the
wharf. They were the only passengers to disembark there, for the Dalton
trail was little used. The "Farallon" presently drew in her lines and
backed away with a parting blast of her whistle, to continue her voyage
a few miles farther up Lynn Canal to the head of navigation, whither
the rest of her passengers were bound, some intending to go to the
Klondike by the White Pass trail from Skagway, and others preferring
the Chilkoot trail from Dyea.

[Illustration]

"I didn't expect to find you here, Will," said Mr. Bradford, as he
warmly grasped his brother's hand, "but I'm all the more glad to see
you."

"And I'm delighted to be here to welcome you, Charles. I'll tell you
how it happened when we have a moment to spare. You've brought the
boys, I see. That's right. They'll enjoy the life, and it'll do them
good. Why, I hardly knew David here, he's grown so tall! We'll soon
have some tan on that pale face of his. As for Roly," and he eyed that
healthy specimen of a boy, "about all he seems to need is hard labor
and a bread-and-water diet."

Roly laughed, for he saw the twinkle in his uncle's eye, and had no
fears that such a course of training would be inflicted,--or at least
the bread-and-water part of it.

"Is that good mother of yours well, Roly, and the little girl?" asked
Uncle Will.

"Yes," said Roly.

"And how about the 'Maine?'" continued his uncle, turning to Mr.
Bradford. "I have just heard that she has been blown up at Havana.
Shall we have a war?"

"I hope not," said Mr. Bradford. "It may happen, but such a contest
wouldn't last long."

Uncle Will was of the same opinion. "And now," said he, taking command
of the little party by the tacit consent of all, since he best knew
what was to be done, "let us throw off our coats and carry these goods
to a place of safety. The tide has turned and will soon cover the end
of this wharf. We must get everything up to the level of the cannery
buildings. This is a country of work,--good hard honest labor, of which
no man need be ashamed."

So saying, he stripped off his outer coat and, throwing it over a post,
picked up a fifty-pound bag of flour and swung it lightly across one
shoulder, calling to his brother to place a second bag on the other.
Having thus obtained his hundred-pound load, he started up the incline
to the cannery. Mr. Bradford now followed him, David swinging up the
second bag to his father's shoulder. David took a single bag, finding
that he could not manage two, and Roly staggered along with another.
On the next trip Mr. Bradford advised Roly to bring a bag of dried
apricots, which was lighter, and thus, each carrying what he could, all
the supplies were at length stowed safely above high-water mark.

"Next," said Uncle Will, as he resumed his coat and wiped the
perspiration from his forehead, "we must have these goods taken over
to my camping-place on the west shore of the harbor. Suppose you boys
stand guard while your father and I see if we can get a boat. All
you'll have to do will be to keep the Indian dogs away from the bacon."

The boys assented to this proposal, and the two men walked away in the
direction of the Indian village, which lay not far from the cannery
toward the harbor's mouth, where the watchman said they might find a
canoe.

They had been gone but a few minutes when several Indian men and boys
approached, dressed in the clothing of civilization, but quite ragged
withal, followed by a number of wolfish dogs, which lost no time in
running up to the pile of provisions as soon as they scented the meat.
David promptly sent a snowball at the largest cur with such good effect
that he beat a hasty retreat, while the others, seeing his flight and
hearing his howls, for the snowball had struck him in the nose, slunk
away and sat down at a respectful distance to await developments.

The Indians now came up and with much curiosity began to inspect the
goods. They seemed to take no offence at the treatment of the dogs,
much to the relief of the boys, who half expected they would consider
it a declaration of hostilities.

"Me Chilkat Indian," said one of the older men, addressing David and
pointing to himself.

David nodded to show that he understood.

"Where you go?" asked the Indian.

David did not know that the place to which they were bound had any
name, but he remembered how his uncle had dated his letter, so he said,
"Rainy Hollow."

"Ugh!" grunted the Indian. "Rainy Hollow there," and he pointed to the
north. "You go get gold?"

"Yes," said David.

"Me go too?"

"I don't know," replied David. "Ask my father." He motioned toward
a large black two-masted canoe which now made its appearance from
the direction of the village. One of the natives and Uncle Will were
paddling, while Mr. Bradford was sitting in the stern and steering.

The Indian turned and scrutinized the craft. "Chief's canoe," said he.
"Him chief's son."

The canoe, which was quite an elaborate affair, built of wood, with a
high projecting prow and stern, was presently brought alongside the
wharf, the end of which was already submerged by the rising tide. The
occupants jumped out, and the Indian tied the painter to the piling.

"Now, boys," shouted Uncle Will, "off with your coats again, and we'll
soon have the goods on board."

They had hardly begun the work when the old Indian approached Uncle
Will and renewed his plea, but the white man shook his head and said,
"Plenty Indian. Long Peter go." Which lingo the old fellow understood
perfectly.

Large as the canoe was, when all the goods were on board, together with
the three men and the boys, it was down nearly to the water's edge.
There was no wind, however, and the course lay near the shore under the
shelter of the mountains.

"There," said Uncle Will, in a tone of relief, as he resumed his
paddle, "now we shall be clear of the dogs. They're a great nuisance
wherever there's an Indian settlement. I've no doubt they would have
kept us awake all night here prowling around the supplies."

"Where are we to camp?" asked David.

"Look along there on the west beach," replied his uncle. "You can see
my tent now. It's about half a mile away."

The boys looked with interest at the spot which was to be their first
camping-place. Behind the tent was a dark spruce forest which spread
back nearly on a level for a short distance, and then mounted the
steep, snowy slopes of the mountains. Before long the canoe grated
against the small stones near the beach, the Indian jumped out
regardless of the water, and carried Uncle Will and then the boys
ashore on his back. Uncle Will went at once to his tent, and soon
reappeared wearing long rubber boots. Mr. Bradford passed the goods
out from the canoe, Uncle Will and the Indian carried them ashore, and
there David and Roly received them and took them up the beach above
the high-tide mark of driftwood and seaweed. When this work had been
accomplished, the Indian was paid and dismissed and was soon paddling
back to the settlement.

"Now, boys," said Mr. Bradford, "do you know how to pitch your tent?"

"No," said David, "but we'd like to try it. I guess we can manage it
after a few trials. Our tent is like Uncle Will's, isn't it?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Bradford. "You can study on that awhile, or watch me
pitch mine."

"There's no need of getting yours out at all, Charles, unless you want
to," put in his brother. "My Indian has his own tent back there in the
woods, and you can bunk with me."

So it was decided that only the boys' tent should be raised, and they
set about it at once, while their father cut some dry spruce boughs on
which to pile the supplies.

On examining their uncle's tent they found that it consisted of two
parts,--the main tent, really a complete tent in itself and rendered
mosquito-proof by having a floor of canvas continuous with the walls,
and an entrance which could be tightly closed by a puckering string;
and, secondly, the fly or extra roof above the tent proper. Ventilation
was obtained by openings covered with mosquito netting at the peak in
front and rear.

The tent stood on the beach between the line of snow and the high-tide
mark. Underneath it, on the stones, was a thick layer of small spruce
boughs. There was no possibility of driving stakes into the stony
ground, and the guy-ropes were tied around a prostrate tree-trunk on
each side, these side logs being about five inches in diameter and
fifteen feet long. There was a straight and slender ridgepole, to
which the roof-ropes were attached, and this ridgepole rested upon
two crotched poles at each end of the tent, set wide apart with the
crotched ends uppermost and interlocked.

After noting all these things, the boys sought out their tent from the
pile of goods and unrolled it to get some idea of its size. They found
that it was much smaller than their uncle's tent and had no walls, the
roof part sloping to the ground and connecting directly with the floor.

"We won't need such long poles as Uncle's tent has," said David, "nor
such heavy side logs either. Suppose you cut a lot of spruce boughs to
put underneath, and I'll cut the poles and logs."

Roly assented at once, and the two set off for the woods with their
hatchets. There was abundance of spruce, but David had considerable
difficulty in finding saplings or bushes which would afford crotched
poles of the proper size. He found it a slow and laborious task, too,
when he attempted to cut down two larger trees for the side or anchor
poles, and was finally obliged to return to the camp for an axe,--a
tool which Mr. Bradford let him have with some misgivings and many
words of caution. Having succeeded in cutting the poles and spruce
boughs, they were obliged to make several trips back and forth before
all the material was brought to the beach, the deep snow greatly
impeding their progress.

As they were starting out for the last time, a tall young Indian, with
cheeks more plump than an Indian's usually are, shuffled along toward
them on snow-shoes, drawing a long sled loaded with wood. He smiled
good-naturedly when he saw them.

"Me Long Peter," said he,--"Chilkat Injun. Go with Mr. B'adford. You go
with Mr. B'adford?"

"Yes," replied David, who concluded that this was the Indian his uncle
had mentioned. So the three returned to camp together.

Savory odors were now wafted about from the camp-fire where Uncle Will
was getting supper, and the boys hastened their work in order to be
ready when he called. They succeeded in untangling the tent-ropes, and
after a few mistakes and frequent examinations of the larger tent,
their own little dwelling was set up near the other, on a soft bed of
fragrant spruce. Then with a piece of soap and a towel from one of the
clothing bags they went down to the water's edge to wash.

Presently Uncle Will shouted, "Muck-muck!" and the boys looked around
inquiringly to see what he meant. "Supper-r!" he called in the same
cheery tone. There was no mistaking the meaning of _that_, and the
little party speedily gathered around the fire, where Uncle Will
informed them that "Muck-muck" was the Indian term for "Something to
eat," and was generally adopted on the trail as a call to meals.

The aluminum plates and cups were handed around, and Uncle Will
distributed crisp bacon and potato and rice, while Mr. Bradford opened
a box of hard-tack. David meanwhile made himself useful by filling the
cups with coffee, and passing the sugar and condensed milk. As for Long
Peter and Roly, finding nothing better to do, they attacked the viands
at once with appetites sharpened by labor.

"I declare!" exclaimed Mr. Bradford, as soon as he too was ready, "I
haven't been so hungry since I was a boy in the Adirondacks. What
memories the smell of that bacon calls up!"

He took a seat on a log which Roly had drawn up before the fire, and
presently called for a second helping.

"That's right, Charles," said his brother. "It does me good to see you
eat like that. Well, well! the boys are ready for more, too. I see I
shall have to fry another mess of bacon. Never mind, though! That means
just so much less to carry on the trail." And their good-natured cook
forthwith cut off half a dozen generous slices with his hunting knife
and soon served them crisp and hot.

When the meal was finished, the dishes washed by Long Peter, and fresh
wood piled on the fire, Uncle Will deftly lighted his pipe with a
glowing ember, then turned to the others, who had comfortably seated
themselves around the crackling logs, and declared his readiness to
explain his presence at Pyramid Harbor.



CHAPTER V

THE GREAT NUGGET, AND HOW UNCLE WILL HEARD OF IT


"Let me see, Charles," he began; "I was at Rainy Hollow when I wrote to
you, wasn't I?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Bradford.

"And I told you of the rumors of rich strikes about two hundred miles
in on this trail?"

"Yes."

"Well, my intention was to go straight to that spot with all possible
speed; but as Robbie Burns puts it,

    'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
     Gang aft a-gley.'

I met with an accident, and it's fortunate that I did, for when I
reached this place yesterday I found that the stories of gold had
leaked out, and already a well equipped party of more than thirty men
had just landed here. To be exact, there are thirty-six of them; and
owing to the absolute secrecy which they maintain regarding their
destination, they are already known as the Mysterious Thirty-six. I
have tried to induce two or three of them to talk, but they declared
they knew no more about their plans than I did. Only their leader
knows where they are going, and what they are to do. Now, I am
perfectly convinced that these men are bound for the very spot I wrote
you about, and we must get ahead of them, if we are to have the pick
of the claims. They are camped now about three miles up the valley,
waiting for a party of Indians who are to help them with their sleds.

"It's fortunate I had to return to the coast, for you might not have
realized the necessity of outstripping them. Besides that, I have
cached most of my goods a hundred and forty miles up the trail, and
come back empty-handed, so for that distance Long Peter and I can help
you with your outfit, and we can give them a good race."

"Won't that be fun?" cried Roly, excitedly. "I should just like to give
them the slip!"

David had a better idea of what it meant. "You won't feel so much like
racing, I guess," said he, "after a few miles of it. But, Uncle," he
added, "did you say you had cashed your goods? You haven't sold out,
have you?"

"Oh, no!" answered Uncle Will. "The word I used was 'cached,' which, in
the language of the trail, signifies that I left my goods temporarily
beside the way. A 'cache,' if we consider the French word 'cacher,'
would mean goods concealed or covered up; but the idea of concealment
is not prominent in the miner's use of the term, and in fact there is
generally no attempt at concealment. It would be death in this country
to be convicted of stealing such supplies, and few Indians or whites
would venture to disturb them."

"I understand now," said David, "and beg pardon for interrupting. And
now what was the accident you mentioned?"

Uncle Will took a few strong puffs on his pipe, and blew the smoke away
in rings meditatively. Presently he proceeded.

"I won't stop to tell you much about my journey, for you will soon pass
over the same ground. Rainy Hollow, where I wrote the letter, is about
sixty miles from here, near the summit of Chilkat Pass. I pushed on
from that point through a grand mountainous country. Day after day I
trudged through snowy valleys and over frozen rivers until I reached
Dalton's trading-post, the location of which, about a hundred and
twenty miles from the coast, you have doubtless noticed on the maps.

"There I rested a day, and fell into conversation with a young German,
Al King by name, who told me he had spent all of last summer in
prospecting on the coast, and had recently explored the region around
Dalton's. He had taken a claim on a stream called Shorty Creek, about
thirty miles away and somewhat to the west of the main trail, and
thought a man could make about ten dollars a day there, working alone;
but I have no doubt, from what he told me of the character of the
gulch, that operations on a larger scale would pay extremely well,
and I resolved to turn aside for a look at the place on my way north.
I convinced myself that he had heard nothing of the rumors which had
brought me into the region, and had not visited the spot to which I was
going, and I thought it best to tell him nothing then, though I hope,
if all goes well, to do him a good turn later.

"After leaving Dalton's Post, we--that is, Long Peter and I--continued
as far as Klukshu Lake, the point at which we were to turn from the
main trail and make a flying trip over to Shorty Creek, which was about
fifteen miles distant by the winter route, I should judge.

"We were cooking our supper among the willows near the foot of the lake
when we heard the sound of a gun toward the north, followed by a cry.
We both jumped up and ran to the shore, in order to get a clear view
up the lake. Half a mile away near the east bank we could see what was
apparently a man lying on the ice, with a smaller person bending over
him, while a dog was running and barking around the two.

"On reaching the place, we found that the prostrate man was a young
Indian of the Stik tribe, whose village lies near Dalton's Post. His
younger brother, a lad of about fourteen, was with him. Long Peter
recognized them both.

"We saw at once that Lucky, the older one, had been shot. As we
afterward learned, he had left his shot-gun standing against a log on
the shore while he went out on the ice to fish. While he was cutting a
hole, the dog upset the gun and discharged it, and poor unlucky Lucky
had received most of the shot below the left knee.

"His small brother, who was called Coffee Jack, was trying to stanch
the flow of blood when we came up, and Lucky was quite coolly giving
directions. I bound a handkerchief tightly about the wound, and we
helped the unfortunate fellow to our camp, where we made him as
comfortable as possible. On the following day, I succeeded in picking
most of the shot out of his leg,--an operation which he bore with true
Indian fortitude. Then came the question of what to do with him.

"Long Peter was for leaving him right there in care of Coffee Jack. You
see, there's not much love lost between the Chilkats and the Stiks. The
two tribes used to be continually at war, for the Chilkats wouldn't
let the Stiks come out to the coast without a fight. And though the
presence of the whites prevents actual war at present, the members of
the rival tribes have very little to say to each other, remembering the
old feud.

"I was quite unwilling, however, to leave Lucky until I had assured
myself that his wound was healing properly, so we remained there
with him a week. At the end of that time, as all went well, I made
preparations to continue on the journey, intending to leave provisions
enough to last the two brothers until they could return to their
village, for they had with them, at the time of the accident, a very
small supply of dried salmon, and that was already consumed.

"There are two log shanties near the foot of Klukshu Lake. One was in
good repair, and the door was fastened with a padlock. I suppose some
white man--Dalton, perhaps--keeps supplies there. The other was open
to any one who cared to enter, and though the roof was gone, the hut
afforded fairly good shelter. Into this hut we carried Lucky, after
repairing the roof as well as we could, and cutting some firewood, for
it was intensely cold. With a good fire blazing in the centre of the
room and Coffee Jack at hand, there was no fear that Lucky would suffer
with cold, even though the mercury froze in the tube, as in fact it did
a little later in my pocket thermometer when I hung it on my tent-pole
one night.

"When all was ready, and Long Peter and I had packed our goods on
our sleds, I went into the hut to say good-by to the brothers. Lucky
beckoned me to come closer. When I had done so, Coffee Jack shut the
door behind me. I thought from their actions that they had something to
say, and didn't wish Long Peter to hear it, which proved to be the case.

"Having made sure that Peter was at a distance, Lucky said in a low
tone, 'You good man. You help me. You give me muck-muck. Now me help
you. Me find big nug--what you call 'em--nuggit--Kah Sha River--big as
my head--four moons. Me show you when snow go away--no find him now.'"

Here Roly interrupted to ask if Lucky's head was as big as four moons.

"Oh, no!" replied Uncle Will, smiling. "He meant that it was four
months ago when he found the big nugget. The only month the Indians
know is the period between one full moon and another, which is about
thirty days.

"After some further conversation with Lucky," continued Uncle Will, "I
made out that he had discovered, not a loose nugget, but what I judge
is a remarkable outcropping of gold ore in the solid rock. He had no
means of breaking out any of the rock, and so had nothing by which
to prove his statements, but I have every reason to believe him. Now
the Kah Sha River is the stream into which Shorty Creek flows, so the
discovery must be in the neighborhood of King's claim. Lucky said that
the snow was very deep in the gorge where the nugget is, and it would
be hidden for two moons. He promised to meet me at the proper season,
and go with me to the spot.

"Long Peter and I then started on our journey; but we had gone only a
short distance toward the lake when, in descending a steep bank, all
the upright supports on one side of my sled gave way, some of them
being split beyond repair, and the iron braces broken. The uprights on
the other side were badly wrenched and weakened at the same time, and
further progress that day was out of the question. We therefore took
everything back to the hut, and cached the goods there. I found it
impossible to repair the sled. It was an old one which I never ought to
have bought, but I was in a hurry when I started into the country, and
took the first one I saw.

"There was nothing to do but return for a strong sled. I could get
none at the trading-post, and so came all the way back, and the more
readily, because I knew it was time you reached here if you were
coming. Long Peter's sled we brought with us, and now I must go over to
Dyea or Skagway and get one for myself. Then we shall be in first-rate
trim."

"Well, boys," said Mr. Bradford, as Uncle Will finished, "it looks as
if we had work ahead, and plenty of it. Better turn in now and get all
the sleep you can."

The boys accordingly rose and departed toward their tent. David crawled
into that small dwelling first, and Roly handed him a rubber blanket,
which he doubled and laid on the canvas floor. Then a down quilt was
similarly folded and placed upon the rubber blanket. The heavy woolen
blankets followed, and finally the other quilt. Into this warm nest the
boys crept, after removing their shoes and coats and rolling the latter
into the form of a pillow. Two minutes later they were sound asleep.



CHAPTER VI

ROLY IS HURT


The camp was early astir. Mr. Bradford examined the thermometer which
he had left outside the tent, and found that it registered twenty-seven
degrees above zero.

"I expected much colder weather here," he remarked, as they were eating
their breakfast of oatmeal, ham, biscuits, and coffee. "We must hurry,
or the snow will melt under our sleds."

"Oh, there's no fear of that yet," said Uncle Will, reassuringly. "You
see, we still get the influence of the Japanese current of the Pacific,
which warms this whole coast. We shall find it colder in the interior.
At the same time, we have a long distance to go, and the warm weather
will be upon us all too soon. Let me see, this is the sixteenth of
March. To-day I must take a sail-boat, and go over to Skagway for a
sled. It's hardly possible that I can return until late to-morrow, with
the best of luck."

"Can we do anything to hasten matters in the mean time?" asked Mr.
Bradford.

"Yes," replied his brother. "To-day you and the boys might take the
axes and hatchets to the cannery and have them ground. It's a great
saving of time and labor to have the edged tools sharp. Long Peter will
look after the camp while you are gone. And to-morrow I advise you to
hire that Indian's canoe again, and take everything but the tents to
the cave about three miles above here. Peter knows where it is. If
the Mysterious Thirty-six are camped there, you can leave the goods a
little this side and cover them with oiled canvas."

Immediately after breakfast, in pursuance of these plans, the whole
party except the Indian, made their way along the beach to the cannery,
where Uncle Will was fortunate enough to secure the services of a
boatman just arrived in his sloop from Chilkat across the harbor. The
breeze was favorable, and the little vessel was presently speeding
along the south shore, soon passing out of sight around the point.

The grinding of the axes occupied an hour or more, after which the
three walked over to the Indian village, where they were given a noisy
welcome by a score of dogs. The houses were rude affairs, built of hewn
boards and logs, but affording much better shelter than the wigwams
which the boys had always associated with Indian life. They had seen
a few wigwams near the railroad in the State of Washington, but here
there were none. In attire, too, these Indians seemed to have copied
the white people. Two or three women who were cooking fish outside
of one of the larger houses, wore neat hoods, dresses and shoes, but
others had greasy red handkerchiefs tied over their heads, and wore
torn moccasins and dilapidated skirts.

"I wonder," said David, "if it is true that the Indian women do all the
work. I have heard so."

"No," answered Mr. Bradford, "the men hunt and fish, and work for the
whites on the trails, but the women do all the domestic drudgery, even
to the cutting of the firewood. The men have rather the best of it,
for they enjoy a variety and are idle about half the time, while the
work of the women never ceases. It's a good deal the same, however,
the world over. I have been in parts of Europe where the wives worked
in the fields, and even dug cellars for new buildings, while their
husbands, I presume, were engaged in the sterner but less wearing
duties of army life. Here comes a poor old drudge now."

The boys looked in the direction indicated, and saw an old squaw
staggering along toward the village, with a heavy spruce log on her
shoulder. She had brought it a quarter of a mile from the hillside back
of the cannery. While they watched her, they saw her slip on a bit of
icy ground and fall, the log fortunately rolling to one side. With one
quick impulse David and Roly ran to help her.

She had risen to her feet as they approached, and was making
ineffectual efforts to raise the log. The boys picked it up in a
twinkling,--it was not much of a load for them,--and having settled it
firmly on their shoulders, they looked inquiringly at the woman, who
appeared much surprised at their action, and indeed seemed to fear that
they were going to make off with their prize. David, however, motioned
to her to go ahead, and gave her to understand that they would follow.
In this manner they reached a small cabin a few rods distant, where the
log was dropped on a pile of chips near the door.

An old Indian sat on a stump beside the house, smoking his pipe
complacently. He had witnessed the whole proceeding, but had not
offered to lift a finger to help his poor old wife, much to the
indignation of the brothers.

Mr. Bradford warmly commended his sons when they returned, adding, "I'm
glad to see you differed from the old native yonder, who was ashamed to
do a woman's work."

"We didn't stop to think much about it," said Roly, "but I guess we
should have helped her just the same if we had."

They returned to camp about noon, and Mr. Bradford prepared the dinner,
as Long Peter was not a competent cook. In the preparation of fish and
game the Chilkat was an expert, but such dainties as hot biscuits,
baked in Uncle Will's Yukon stove, were beyond his powers, and an
omelet of crystallized eggs caused him to open his mouth, not only in
expectation, but in astonishment.

After dinner David and Roly were intending to visit the railroad
excavation, a quarter of a mile beyond the camp, on the northwest shore
of the harbor. A dozen men were cutting through a strip of high land
which crossed the line of the proposed road. The work had been going on
but a few days, during which the trees had been cleared away, and the
snow and earth removed from the underlying rock. It was the intention
of the capitalists, so the cannery watchman had informed the boys, to
extend the railroad clear to Dawson along the line of the Dalton trail,
but he doubted if they would ever complete it, for a rival road was
being constructed from Skagway. The excavation was plainly visible from
the Bradfords' camp.

"Hurry up, Roly," shouted David, who was eager to start. "The workmen
are all in a bunch up there in the hole."

Roly hastily swallowed the remnants of a biscuit, and finished a cup
of tea which he had set in a snowbank to cool. Then he ran down to the
beach where David stood. The workmen were now seen to leave the spot
where they had been collected. They walked rapidly to their shanty,
which stood not far from the hole, and one man who had not started with
the others came running after them.

"I believe they are going to fire a blast," said David, and called his
father and Long Peter to come and see the explosion.

All the workmen had now taken shelter behind their shanty, and they
were none too soon. A great cloud of earth and smoke, mingled with
fragments of rock and timbers, puffed suddenly out from the bank,
followed by a mighty detonation that echoed from peak to peak of the
neighboring mountains. A moment later the Bradfords heard two or three
stones strike around them.

Mr. Bradford instantly realized that, great as the distance was, they
were not out of danger. As he turned to warn the boys, there was a thud
and a cry, and Roly sank to the beach, pressing his hand to his chest.

In a twinkling his father and David were at his side. The poor boy
could not speak, but moaned faintly once or twice. His face was white,
and he hardly seemed to breathe, but retained his consciousness. They
lifted him tenderly and laid him in the large tent, where Mr. Bradford
gave him brandy, felt his pulse, and then unbuttoned the heavy Mackinaw
overcoat, the inner coat, and the underclothing. As he bared the boy's
breast, he could not restrain an exclamation of surprise and pity.
Through all that thick clothing the stone had left its mark,--a great
red bruise on the fair skin, and so great was the swelling that he
feared a rib had been broken. Such happily was not the case, and Mr.
Bradford heaved a sigh of relief as soon as he had satisfied himself
on that point.

"It--it knocked the wind out of me," said Roly, faintly, when at last
he could speak.

"I should think it would have," said Mr. Bradford, with emphasis. "It
would have killed you if it had struck you on the other side or in the
head. Thank God it was no worse!"

Long Peter, who had been poking around on the beach where Roly had
stood, came up to the tent with a fragment of rock, which he handed
to Mr. Bradford. It was the mischief-maker without a doubt. One side
was smoothly rounded, but the other was rough and jagged, showing that
it had been violently broken from the parent rock. It was but half as
large as a man's fist, and Roly found great difficulty in believing
that so small a stone could have dealt such a blow.



CHAPTER VII

CAMP AT THE CAVE


Uncle Will did not return on the following afternoon or evening, and
the watchers attributed his tardiness to contrary winds. All the second
day as well they looked for him in vain. Nor could the little party at
Pyramid Harbor accomplish the work they had planned. Roly was in good
trim again, excepting a very sore chest, but the Indian canoe which had
transported their goods was now on the far side of the harbor, and no
other was to be had. Furthermore, the trail followed the beach, which
was free from snow, and unfit for sledding. There was nothing to do
but wait for Uncle Will and the boat he had hired. In the mean time,
letters were written in the hope of an opportunity of mailing them.

Early on the third morning, they saw the little white sail enter the
harbor's mouth. Breakfast was hurriedly finished, and by the time the
boat's keel grated on the stones the tents were down, dishes packed,
and everything ready for embarkation.

The sloop had a capacious cabin, which took up so much of the available
space that it was found impossible to put more than one sled on board.
She could carry the other supplies, however, and one passenger in
addition to the boatman. Uncle Will invited his brother to be the
passenger, saying that for himself he would be glad of a chance to
stretch his legs on shore.

Mr. Bradford therefore climbed into the boat and seated himself on
a sack of rice, while the others waded into the water in their high
rubber boots, and pushed the heavily laden vessel away from the beach.
Then they took up their march along the water's edge, dragging their
empty sleds after them.

In some places it was possible to take advantage of the snow where the
ground above the beach was level and clear of trees, but for the most
part it was hard travelling, the sleds apparently weighing more and
more as they proceeded. Roly found himself looking around more than
once, under the impression that some one for a joke had added a rock to
his load, but he was always mistaken.

"Whew!" he gasped, as he stopped to wipe the perspiration from his
face. "If an empty sled is so hard to pull over these stones, I don't
see how we are ever going to draw a loaded one."

"It's a good deal easier to draw a loaded sled on the snow-crust," said
Uncle Will, encouragingly, "than it is to overcome the friction of a
light weight here. To-morrow we shall be on the ice, which is even
better than the crust."

"How far are we going to-day?" asked David.

"About three miles. We shall not try to go beyond the cave."

The attention of the boys was attracted by the noise of a waterfall
which they could see imperfectly through the trees. The water dashed
over a perpendicular cliff about one hundred feet high, and was almost
enclosed by a sparkling structure of ice.

All this while the boat was in plain view, sailing on a course parallel
to theirs, at a distance of half a mile. It had now outstripped them,
and Uncle Will said it ought to turn in soon toward the shore. It
became evident before long, however, that the craft was in trouble.
She was well out from the land, but seemed to be stationary. The shore
party, slowly as they moved, now steadily gained on her, and at length
they could see the two occupants standing on the bow and thrusting oars
or poles into the water in different places.

"She's aground!" exclaimed Uncle Will, after a moment's observation;
"and the tide's going out. This is a pretty fix!"

"Can we do anything?" asked David, eager to go to the rescue.

"Oh! we might as well go on to the cave. It's not far now. We'll leave
the sleds there, and then see what can be done. I don't think we can
wade out to the boat yet, for there are two or three channels this side
of her." So on they plodded once more.

The cave was a great hole in the base of a cliff, and would comfortably
contain a score of men, being ten feet high, fifteen feet deep, and
eight feet wide. The boys wondered if it had ever been the haunt of
robbers or pirates,--a fancy which the still smouldering embers of a
camp-fire left by the Mysterious Thirty-six seemed to bear out. Indeed,
Roly examined the interior carefully, half expecting to see the glimmer
of gold coins in the darker crevices, but he found only a piece of
canvas which might have been part of a money-bag. A closer examination
showed that it was plentifully sprinkled with flour, and probably had
never been used for anything more romantic. In all directions the snow
had been trampled hard, and numerous bits of rope, and a tin can or two
which no keen-eyed Indian had yet appropriated, showed how recently the
place had been deserted.

Along the beach was a row of crotched poles, most of them still
upright, where the numerous tents had stood. David pointed these out to
Roly delightedly, observing that poles and spruce boughs in abundance
were ready cut for them.

The receding tide had now uncovered miles of mud flats, and Uncle
Will declared himself ready to try to reach the boat. Long Peter was
left at the cave to cut firewood, but the boys preferred to accompany
their uncle, and started off in high spirits. They advanced with
some difficulty, for the mud was often adhesive, clogging their
boots at every step until they came to sandier stretches. At all the
channels, most of which were easily crossed, although the water was
running swiftly seaward, Uncle Will took the lead, prodding the ground
carefully with a pole as he walked, to guard against quicksands. In
this manner they reached a deep channel a few rods from the stranded
sloop.

Mr. Bradford and the boatman had been watching their progress from the
other side of this channel, to which point they had brought bacon,
hard-tack, and some cooking utensils, in order that dinner might be
prepared as soon as they could cross. This being at last accomplished,
the supplies were distributed among the whole party, and they made
their way to camp.

It was late in the evening when the goods were all snugly stowed in the
cave, the boat having been brought up at high tide. The boatman sailed
away before the water receded, carrying with him a package of letters
which he promised to mail at Chilkat post-office. Hardly had he gone
when a damp snow began to fall, with promise of a disagreeable night.

Roly thought it would be fun to sleep under the rocky roof of the
cavern; but the smoke from the camp-fire persistently filled the place,
and he was obliged to give up the idea. How strange it seemed to the
boys to lie there so comfortably under the blankets in the tent and
hear the snowflakes tap upon the canvas! The fitful gusts that swept
past their frail dwelling threatened to overthrow it, but the anchor
logs were heavy and the tent was strong, and it offered so perfect a
shelter that, had the occupants not heard the wind, they would not have
known it was blowing. They were too wearied with the day's work to
lie long awake, even amid novel surroundings, and soon their regular
breathing gave evidence of the deep, refreshing sleep which follows
out-of-door labor.



CHAPTER VIII

SLEDDING


The following day was Sunday, and they rested in camp.

Saturday night's storm had ceased before daybreak, and fortunately
but an inch of snow had fallen,--not enough to interfere with their
progress. The tents were brushed clean of the feathery flakes early on
Monday morning, before being taken down and folded for the journey.

Breakfast over, Uncle Will declared that no time must be lost in
loading up the sleds. It had been decided that for the first day David
should draw a load of one hundred and seventy-five pounds, and Roly one
hundred and fifty. The remainder was to be evenly distributed between
the three long sleds drawn by Mr. Bradford, Uncle Will, and Long
Peter, each of whom would have about four hundred and fifty pounds.
Such a load could only be drawn where the trail followed ice or level
snow-crust. In soft snow or on hills, Uncle Will said they would have
to take half a load forward and then return for the rest. The boys were
sure they could haul heavier loads than those assigned to them; but
their elders preferred not to overtax their strength, feeling that
growing lads ought not to go to the extreme of exhaustion.

David selected for his load his clothing bag, which weighed fifty
pounds, two fifty-pound sacks of flour, a wide flat box of spices,
and his rifle and snow-shoes. While his uncle showed him how to
distribute the articles to the best advantage, and bind them securely
with a lashing-rope passed through the side loops of the sled and
over and around the load in various directions, Roly proceeded, with
the assurance of youth, to load his sled unaided. He first put on two
twenty-five pound boxes of hard-tack, then his clothing bag and a sack
of flour, followed by his shot-gun and snow-shoes, and tied them all on
as securely as he could. When his uncle had finished his instructions
to David, he was surprised to find Roly's sled already loaded and
lashed.

"There, Uncle Will," said Roly, proudly, as that gentleman approached,
"I've done it alone. You won't have to waste any time on me."

"Ah!" said Uncle Will, "so I see." But Roly did not notice the
amusement in his eyes as he surveyed the work.

"Now, boys," he continued, after a moment, "there's one thing more, and
you can be doing it while the rest of us are lashing our loads. Do you
see those two iron rings just above the forward end of the sled-runner
on the right side?"

"Yes," answered David and Roly.

"Well, they are intended to hold the 'gee-pole' in place. Do you know
what a gee-pole is?"

The boys had never heard of the contrivance in question.

"It is a pole," explained their uncle, "about seven feet long, which
extends forward from the right side of the sled, and serves as an aid
in guiding. If you should try to guide your sled with the drag-rope
alone, you would find that it would swerve on every uneven spot, and
slip sideways on a slope, and dig its nose into the sides of the
trail where the snow is soft; but with your right hand on a firm-set
gee-pole, you will be able to steady your sled and guide it accurately
where the trail is rough or rutty. The sled will answer to the lightest
touch on the gee-pole. You can cut four of the poles in that thicket on
the hillside yonder, and fit them into the rings. I believe Long Peter
has already supplied himself with one."

Roly and David, after several minutes' search, found four straight
saplings of the required length and thickness, and cut them down with
their hatchets. The large ends they trimmed to the right size, and
inserted them through the rings of the sleds, making them firm by
driving chips wedgewise between the iron and the wood.

At eight o'clock all was ready, and the procession started with Long
Peter in the lead. Behind them lay the mud flats, with the shining
water in the distance. Before them to the northward stretched a
broad and level expanse of snow, with here and there a patch of ice
swept clean by the wind. The snow was almost as hard as the ice, and
afforded a good running surface for the sleds. On either side of this
broad valley of the Chilkat rose high, wooded hills, and behind them
glittering peaks from which the snow would not entirely disappear even
in midsummer, so Long Peter informed them.

For this kind of travelling the spiked "creepers" were a necessity,
enabling the feet to obtain a firm hold on the alternate lanes of
ice and icy snow. They were worn beneath the rubber shoe-packs, and
fastened to the feet by leathern thongs.

They had not proceeded far, when they came to a low ridge or bank,
so steep that Uncle Will was obliged to go to the assistance of the
Indian. When the first load had been forced up the incline, the Indian
returned with Uncle Will, and the two pushed up the second sled. Mr.
Bradford and David followed with the third, the former pulling on the
drag-rope, and his son pushing on the rear of the load. David was able
to draw his own light load up the slope without assistance, and Roly
came close behind him.

Unfortunately for Roly, he did not attack the ridge directly but
diagonally, which brought one sled-runner higher than the other. In an
instant over went the sled upon its side.

"What's the matter, Roly?" shouted Uncle Will, who had been watching
from the other side of the bank.

"My sled's upset," answered Roly, ruefully, "and the load is all loose."

"And why should your sled have upset when none of the others did?"

"I suppose it was because I didn't go up the hill straight."

"That's only a part of the reason," said Uncle Will, good-naturedly,
as he came up and scanned the pile. "I expected this very thing. Don't
you see why? You put the cracker boxes, the lightest part of your load,
underneath, and the heavy flour sack and clothing bag above. The whole
affair is top-heavy. And everything is loosened by the fall, because
you did not cinch your lashing-rope. Now let us load up properly. First
put the two bags on the sled, then the boxes on top of them--so. Now
the load doesn't _look_ as well as it did, before, nor seem quite so
capable of maintaining its balance, but you will find that, as a matter
of fact, it will ride much better.

"Pass the lashing-rope over or around each article separately, and
then back and forth over the whole load, cinching it at each side
loop as you pass it through. Now, should your final knot loosen, it
will not affect the whole load, but the boxes on top, and the trouble
can be remedied instantly, the cinches holding the rest of the load
firm all the while. It is not always a waste of time, my lad, to take
instructions when they are first offered, but I wanted you to have a
practical demonstration of the results of poor loading. Now we shall
get along famously."

At noon, when they halted for a luncheon of cold salt pork previously
cooked, hard-tack, and cold, clear water from a spring on the eastern
hill under which they were resting, Uncle Will estimated that they had
covered nine miles,--an excellent morning's work. They had crossed the
Chilkat River once at least, and possibly several times, but as river
and gravel flat were here alike covered with ice and snow, they were
unable to distinguish the one from the other.

"I couldn't eat such a piece of fat pork at home to save my life!"
declared Roly, as he took a huge bite from a generous slice. "It would
make me sick."

"I rather think it would," said David; "but here nothing seems to hurt
us. How good and sweet it tastes! My! but I'm hungry."

"And I too," said Mr. Bradford. "I can feel my old-time strength coming
back with every breath of this air. In a week or two, Will, I shall be
as rugged as you are."

"I've no doubt of it," said his brother; "and your beard is getting a
beautiful start, too. The boys won't be able to tell us apart after a
little."

"Never fear, Uncle," laughed David. "Unless you give up smoking, or
Father begins it, we shall have no difficulty. You and your pipe are
inseparable."

"True enough," said Uncle Will. "My pipe is home and wife and children
to me." He lighted a match, and was soon puffing away with great
satisfaction.

"How far are we to go this afternoon?" inquired Roly, abruptly.

"Are you tired?" asked his uncle, before he answered.

"No," said Roly, stoutly. "I could keep on all day, if the country is
as level as this."

"Well, then," said his uncle, "we'll try to make nine miles more. But
if you get very tired, don't hesitate to say so."

After an hour's rest they proceeded, halting at intervals, as they had
done during the morning. While travelling they were too warm to wear
the Mackinaw coats, and these were thrown across the loads, but at
every halt they were resumed to prevent too rapid cooling. At times
they saw the "creeper" marks of the Mysterious Thirty-six, and Uncle
Will said he felt sure that the large party left the cave on the very
morning of the day they--the Bradfords--had reached it. If that were
the case, he thought they could be overtaken soon, for, as a rule, a
small party could move more rapidly than a large one.

Late in the afternoon, the treeless expanse of the river-bottom became
narrowed by broken ground covered with a forest which encroached from
the west. The trail followed by the Indian led them into the midst of
this forest, taking the course of a small stream which wound through
it. In places, no ice had formed along the bank, and the bottom of the
brook could be seen to consist of a rusty red mud. Long Peter drank
very sparingly of this water, and cautioned the others, saying several
times, "No good, no good."

"Why isn't it good?" asked Roly, to whom the water looked clear enough.

"It may be swamp water," answered his uncle, "or it may be heavily
charged with minerals. Perhaps it would not hurt you, but it is always
best to follow the advice of the natives in such matters. They are
careful to choose only pure streams or springs for drinking purposes,
and this brook appears to be impregnated with bog iron, so probably the
water comes from some stagnant pond."

Soon after five o'clock, when Mr. Bradford and the boys were growing
very weary, and even Uncle Will, who was accustomed to the work, had
admitted that the march was a long one, Long Peter gave a satisfied
grunt and pointed forward. The others looked, and saw a row of
tent-poles on a low bluff. They had reached the spot where the
Thirty-six had spent the previous night.

"Good!" exclaimed Uncle Will. "We've made as long a march as they
did, sure enough, though we haven't come more than seven miles this
afternoon. We will camp right here, and thank the mysterious gentlemen
for the use of their poles and boughs."

On the succeeding day, there was a well-defined trail, much cut up
by the heavy sleds of the party ahead, for the snow was now deep and
rather soft. In spite of the excellent manner in which the three long
sleds were loaded, and the care with which they were drawn, upsets
occurred quite frequently, and even the light loads of Roly and
David sometimes overturned in the deeper ruts. Re-lashing was seldom
necessary, however, thanks to the instructions of Uncle Will.

As the sun mounted higher, the snow became softer, and progress
increasingly difficult. To deviate from the beaten path was to sink
hopelessly, while to remain in it was to encounter hollows and ruts,
from which two men could hardly extricate a single sled. They were
constantly obliged to help each other, and at last Uncle Will gave
orders to wait until the snow hardened again in the afternoon. By
nightfall, they had covered about nine miles, reaching a point opposite
the Indian village of Klukwan, which lay on the eastern bank of the
river. Here again they found a deserted camp.



CHAPTER IX

KLUKWAN AND THE FORDS


The boys had been too thoroughly fatigued to closely observe the
settlement of Klukwan by the waning light of the afternoon, but in the
morning they gazed with interest at the village across the Chilkat. The
shore was lined with canoes of various sorts and sizes, and the river
at this point was free from ice. They could hear the barking of dogs,
and see men, women, and children moving about among the houses, which
extended along the shore in a nearly straight line for a quarter of a
mile. There were, perhaps, a score of buildings in all, most of them
not unlike two-story New England farmhouses, neatly painted and well
preserved.

"You would hardly believe that such a village contains no white
inhabitants, would you?" said Uncle Will, who, with Mr. Bradford, now
joined the boys on the river-bank.

"No," replied David. "How does it happen that the Indians own such good
houses?"

"I'm told," said Uncle Will, "that this was a Russian post before
the United States bought Alaska in 1867. The Russian traders built
the houses; and when the territory was sold, they moved out and
the Chilkats moved in. And not only are the Indians well housed,
but, through the influence of the traders and missionaries, they
have adopted the dress and, to a large extent, the manners of
civilization. One of them even owns a horse and cart, which he drives
across the flats, carrying on a kind of express business between Old
Village--which is the meaning of the Indian word 'Klukwan'--and Pyramid
Harbor."

Roly had been staring at a curious figure directly opposite. It
appeared to represent the head and fore-legs of a frog, surrounded by a
circle of black paint, the whole being portrayed upon several upright
boards which stood side by side.

"What in the world is that thing?" he asked, when his uncle had
finished. "It reminds me of the African dodger at the circus last
summer. A colored man put his head through a hole in a sheet, and if
you hit him you got a cigar,--and I did hit him, but the proprietor
said I was too small to smoke, so he gave me a stick of candy."

The others laughed, and David proposed that Roly should throw a
snowball at the frog, and see what he would get.

"That would hardly do," said Uncle Will, "even if he could throw so
far, for this is no African dodger, but a totem-figure, similar to
those on the totem-poles. The ashes of some Indian of the family which
has the frog as its symbol are entombed in a little house behind those
boards, and Roly would be more likely to get a bullet than a stick of
candy if he injured that image."

On turning back from the river-bank, they found Long Peter looking
intently at a group of people a short distance to the north.

"White people--two men--two women!" he exclaimed, as they approached.

"Women?" repeated Mr. Bradford, incredulously; "this is a queer place
for white women."

"So it is," said Uncle Will. "They must have come from that disabled
steamer, bound for Copper River, which landed her passengers at Pyramid
Harbor a fortnight ago. I met a few of her people on this trail when I
came out to the coast, but didn't see this party. They must have camped
off the regular trail, and have evidently travelled very slowly. I
think they are on this side of the Salmon River, which empties into the
Chilkat opposite the north end of the village."

Uncle Will's theory proved the true one. The Bradfords, having made
everything ready for the day's march, soon covered the short distance
which separated them from the party ahead, which consisted of two young
men, a tall and rather slender young woman, and a matronly person whom
they at first supposed to be the mother of the others. After pleasantly
greeting the new-comers, however, and noting their expression of
surprise and interest, the elder woman took it upon herself to offer an
explanation.

"I don't wonder, gentlemen," said she, "that you are surprised to see
ladies in such a place as this, though I do not doubt there are many
on the more frequented trails. We were bound for Copper River; but our
steamer proved unseaworthy, and was obliged to land her passengers
at Pyramid Harbor. There were rumors of gold on this trail, so we
determined to reach the spot if possible."

"I admire your pluck, madam," said Uncle Will, gallantly.

"But wasn't it a rather rash undertaking?" suggested Mr. Bradford.

"Yes, I admit it was. In fact, we didn't let our friends and neighbors
back in Ohio know what we intended; because if we had, and then failed,
we should be the laughing-stock of our town. All our friends thought we
were making a pleasure trip to the Pacific coast."

"Well, well!" exclaimed Mr. Bradford. "And this is a family party,
then?" and he wondered what his wife would think of making such a trip.

"Yes, practically so. I am Mrs. Shirley. These are my nephews and my
niece."

"And we are all Bradfords, except the Indian," said Mr. Bradford, in
return for this information.

"But how in the world do you manage to move your supplies with only two
men and no Indians or dogs?" asked Uncle Will.

"Oh, my niece and I help with the sleds. We have to make a good many
trips, though, over the same ground, for we have a year's provisions
with us. It is very slow work, especially since one of the boys is
quite disabled. He cut his foot badly with an axe a few days ago."

Uncle Will looked at the bandaged foot, and asked if it had been
properly cared for.

"Yes," replied the young man, "thanks to my aunt."

"Very fortunately," said that lady, "I am a physician, and so was able
to dress the wound. There was a medical man with a large party which
recently passed, who offered his services, but they were not needed."

"And how do you expect to cross this wide river?" asked Mr. Bradford.

"Oh, my uninjured nephew has been carrying the goods over piece-meal.
It is simply a matter of time and perseverance. Three days ago, we
had stopped at the first of those shallow streams which you must have
passed yesterday, when we were overtaken by that numerous company of
white men and Indians. They made light work of the fording, carrying
their sleds over bodily, loads and all, as many men taking hold as
could find room; and when their own loads were across, they generously
came back for ours. Finally a big, strong man whom they called Paul,
took my niece, my injured nephew, and myself over on his back, one
after another,--and they did the same thing for us at the other streams
that day; but before we reached this river they were out of sight."

"Well," said Uncle Will, "we mustn't let them outdo us. It's surely our
turn now, and we shall be very glad to help you, madam."

"Thank you," replied Mrs. Shirley, gratefully. "I am very unwilling
to cause you extra labor and delay, but in our present unfortunate
situation I can not refuse assistance."

Preparations were at once begun for crossing Salmon River. The
Bradfords took from each of their long sleds half its load. Then Long
Peter, facing forward, firmly grasped the front of his sled, while
Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will, one on each side, held to the ends of a
shovel thrust under the forward part above the runners. David and Roly
took the ends of another shovel similarly placed under the rear end,
and the only able-bodied man of the other party, who insisted on doing
his share, grasped the sled from behind. In this manner they lifted
their load, and started down the snowy bank into the water, which was
shallow at first, but grew deeper as they neared the opposite shore.
It was quite necessary that all should keep step, but as they entered
the deeper water David and Roly found it difficult to do this, for
the current was very strong, and almost forced their feet from beneath
them. The icy water surged and bubbled higher and higher against their
rubber boots,--a fact which the boys noticed with some dismay. At
length they entered the lowest part of the channel, where the depth of
the stream was about two feet and a half.

"There!" exclaimed Roly, ruefully, as he took a step forward and braced
himself as well as he could against the current, "the water came into
my boots that time. There it goes again. O-o-h! but it's cold."

"Aren't you glad you came?" said David, provokingly.

"Y-yes," stoutly stammered Roly, who saw that his brother was also wet,
and resolved that he, too, would make light of the wetting. "But I
didn't expect ice-water bathing."

A moment more and they were out of the river and up on the further
bank, where they set down the sled and paused to recover their breath.
The men, being taller and wearing higher boots, had escaped dry-shod,
but the boys felt anything but comfortable.

"Never mind the water, boys," said Uncle Will, cheerfully. "It won't
hurt you to get wet in this country. Pour the water out of your boots,
if there's much in them, for you needn't go back again. Just stay right
here and load up the sleds as fast as we bring them over."

The men swished back through the water, carrying the empty sled for
the other half of its load. In half an hour all the supplies of both
parties had been brought across.

"Now, Mrs. Shirley," said Uncle Will, with a smile, "have you any
preference as to the manner of transportation? I trust I'm as strong as
the kind-hearted Paul."

"I've no doubt of that," replied Mrs. Shirley, with a slight trace of
embarrassment. "But really, if another way could be found, I should
prefer it. You have an unloaded sled on the other side,--could you not
take us over on that?"

"Yes," said Uncle Will, "we can."

The sled was promptly sent for, and upon its arrival Mrs. Shirley
requested her niece to go first. The young woman accordingly seated
herself upon it, grasped the sides firmly, and was borne lightly over
the river by the four men. Her brother went next, and finally her aunt.

The two parties remained together all that day, as there were other
channels to be crossed, and a few miles farther a second great river,
the Klaheena, also flowing into the Chilkat from the west. It was
nightfall before the fording was completed and the way lay clear before
them.



CHAPTER X

A PORCUPINE-HUNT AT PLEASANT CAMP


As the Bradfords were able to travel more rapidly than Mrs. Shirley and
her companions, the two parties separated on the following day. The
trail turned to the west, ascending the gradual incline of the Klaheena
River valley--a valley similar in character to that of the Chilkat--to
a point called Pleasant Camp.

Although the distance from Klukwan to Pleasant Camp was about the
same as that from Pyramid Harbor to Klukwan, they were five days
in covering it, since for much of the way the snow was soft, and
progress correspondingly difficult. There was no more ice to travel
upon, and the snow-crust would not bear them during the warmer part
of the day. In fact, they could seldom walk upon it at all without
their snow-shoes, the use of which the boys learned after a few hours'
practice,--not, however, without some of those gymnastic performances
predicted by the genial Mr. Kingsley.

They crossed one wide but shallow stream by throwing brush into the
water, which raised the sleds enough to keep the loads dry. At another
point a considerable delay was caused by a steep hill which the trail
mounted at one side of the valley in order to avoid a difficult ford.
Uncle Will pointed out a tree at the top of this hill, the bark of
which was worn off in a circle a few feet above the ground, remarking
that the Mysterious Thirty-six had evidently rigged a block and tackle
there, and drawn up their sleds by a long rope. After following a
rough, wooded ridge for perhaps a quarter of a mile, the trail led down
again to the river flats.

Each day brought them nearer the great range of snowy mountains, at the
foot of which lay Pleasant Camp. There they would turn to the right and
cross the mountains, which were in British territory, by the Chilkat
Pass. The boys thought they had never seen a more beautiful valley than
that of the Klaheena. In every direction were glistening peaks, their
bases clothed with green spruce forests, which here and there spread
out over the levels near the river, where they showed a sprinkling of
bare-boughed poplars, willows, and alders.

At one of their camps, where a small stream known as Boulder Creek
flowed into the Klaheena from the north, the weather turned suddenly
cold, with a bitter wind which the huge camp-fire hardly tempered.
It was so cold in the tent that the boys slept in their Mackinaw
coats, which usually they removed and rolled up for pillows. Nestling
deep down into the blankets, they were warm enough, except when one
or the other turned over, disturbing the coverlets, and drawing a
blast of cold air over their necks and shoulders. They did not take
the precaution to pull their caps over their ears, relying on the
protection of the blankets, but unfortunately, while they slept, their
heads became entirely uncovered. Both boys found their ears slightly
frost-bitten and very painful in the morning.

When they attempted to draw on their shoe-packs, which had been left
outside the tent, the leather tops and lacings were frozen so stiffly
that it was necessary to thaw them out before a fire. Mr. Bradford's
pocket thermometer registered three degrees below zero when they crept
out into the crisp morning air and with numb fingers took down the
tents and made ready the sleds.

"This is about as chilly as we shall have it," said Uncle Will, as he
deftly turned the bacon in the frying-pan; "and it's nothing to what I
had on my first trip in. Fifty below is a nice bit colder than three.
It's too late in the season for any more of that, and I'm not sorry. We
shall be unlucky though, if we don't reach the Alsek River before the
ice breaks up, for cross-country travelling in that region is a hard
proposition."

"How far away is the Alsek?" asked David.

"About thirty miles on the other side of the Pass."

"And where do you suppose the mysterious gentlemen are now?"

"Oh, they are doubtless working up toward the summit. If they cross
first, we can hardly hope to catch them, for I have no doubt the Alsek
ice is firm yet, and on that they can move as fast as we can."

"Why is it we haven't overtaken them?" inquired Roly.

"I suspect they don't stop on Sundays as we have."

"Then it's not a fair race," said Roly. "They have an advantage over
us."

"Only an apparent one," observed Mr. Bradford. "They are likely to wear
themselves out with such unremitting labor. We shall see."

Two days later Pleasant Camp was reached, and the sleds were drawn up
from the river flats to the top of a low plateau covered with a fine
forest, mostly of spruce. To the west and north rose the massive white
summits of the Coast Range, like giants guarding the gateways to the
interior.

A small party of Indians who had camped there were about to leave when
the Bradfords arrived. Their household goods, consisting of blankets,
kettles, pans, dried salmon, and a gun or two, were packed upon sleds,
several of which were drawn by small, weak-looking dogs. There was one
very old Indian who drew a light load upon a sled, while his wife, who
was younger and stronger, bore a considerable burden upon her back. Her
face was blackened to protect the skin from the blistering glare of
sun and snow. The only other woman in the party carried on her back
a baby warmly rolled in a blanket. She wore a sort of hood, a skirt
which reached to the knees, and deer-skin leggings and moccasins, and
travelled easily over the drifts on light, narrow snow-shoes of native
manufacture.

When these Indians had disappeared up the mountain trail, Long Peter,
who had cast admiring glances at David's rifle and Roly's shot-gun
whenever the boys had removed them from their cases, came forward with
a tempting proposal.

"You come with me," said he to the boys. "Plenty porc'pine here. Take
guns and snow-shoes. Porc'pine much good."

The boys were on their feet in an instant at the prospect of a
porcupine-hunt. At last they were to have an opportunity to test their
new weapons. But first they must obtain permission to go.

"Aren't you too tired?" asked Mr. Bradford, when they bore down upon
that gentleman.

"Oh, no!" shouted both together.

"Well then, you may go; but I think I'll go with you. I've no doubt
you've listened very carefully to all my instructions, but you'll be
pretty sure to be absent-minded in the excitement of the hunt. Do you
remember the first rule, David?"

"Yes," said David. "Never point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at yourself
or any one else."

"Correct," said Mr. Bradford. "What was the second rule, Roly?"

"Never leave a loaded gun where it can fall down, or be thrown down, or
disturbed in any way."

"Right again. It was a violation of that rule which caused Lucky to
be shot at Klukshu Lake, as your uncle told us. Now, David, the third
rule."

"Unload the gun before climbing over fences, walls, and fallen trees,
or entering thickets, or rough or slippery ground."

"Good," said Mr. Bradford. "That is a rule which is often disregarded,
and neglect of it has caused many accidents. You won't find any fences
here, but there will be plenty of rough ground and fallen timber. The
fourth rule, Roly."

"Let me see," said Roly, biting his lip with vexation as he tried in
vain to recall it. "Oh, yes! I remember it now. Wherever possible, keep
the hammers at half-cock."

"Now," said Mr. Bradford, "if you will bear those few rules in mind,
you need not trouble yourselves about any others at present. Get your
snow-shoes and guns and a few cartridges, and I'll be ready when you
are."

The boys started off with high anticipations a few minutes later, led
by the Indian, and followed by their father. They all wore snow-shoes,
for in the forest back of the camp, where the snow had not alternately
frozen and thawed as it had in the open valley, there was very little
crust over the deep drifts. They wound in and out among the spruces,
the Indian carefully examining the snow for tracks as he shuffled
lightly along at a pace which the others could keep only with the
greatest exertion, for their snow-shoes were heavier and wider than
his, and they were not yet skilled. They had not gone a quarter of a
mile when Long Peter paused at a fresh track which crossed their course
at right angles, and led toward a little gully where there were several
young spruce-trees with thick branches.

"Good," said he, and immediately started on the animal's trail.

Roly became excited at once, and in swerving to the left to follow
the Indian, he forgot to manage his snow-shoes with the care that is
necessary, stepping upon his left snow-shoe with the right one, so that
he could not raise the left foot for the next step. In an instant,
carried forward by his own momentum, he plunged head-first into the
soft, white, yielding drift, which closed over his head and shoulders.

David, who was close behind, struggled in vain to choke a peal of
laughter, and was thankful that Roly was not likely to hear it with his
head in the snow. Long Peter, who had no scruples, laughed long after
Roly had emerged. They all rushed to aid the struggling youngster, who
was so hampered by the big shoes that there seemed no possibility of
his regaining his feet until they were disencumbered. David, after
warning his brother not to kick, quickly loosened the moose-hide thongs
and removed the snow-shoes, which done, the fallen youth picked himself
up, and brushed the snow out of his eyes, mouth, and neck.

"Whew!" he sputtered; "how did I happen to do that?"

"You turned the corner with the wrong foot," said his father. "Where's
your gun?"

The gun was nowhere to be seen until Long Peter fished it up out of the
snow, where it had fallen underneath its owner.

"Is it loaded?" asked Mr. Bradford.

Roly thanked his stars that he could answer "No," and added, "I took
this to be rough ground."

"You were right, Roly," said his father, much pleased. "There was no
need to carry a loaded gun here, for you always have plenty of time
in shooting at this kind of game. You can readily see what kind of an
accident might have happened. Now wipe off the gun as well as you can,
and let's see where this track leads."

They passed down into the gully, where many of the trees had been
stripped of their bark and killed by the little animals. After
following it a few rods, they turned up the farther bank, where the
Indian paused at the foot of a dense spruce. All about the base of the
tree were the porcupine tracks, but they did not appear beyond.

"Porc'pine here," said the red man, circling around the tree and gazing
intently into its bushy top. A moment later he exclaimed, "I see him!
You, Dave, bring rifle here."

David slipped a cartridge into his gun, and looked where the Indian
pointed. He could see a dark body close to the tree-trunk among
the upper branches. As he raised his rifle to his shoulder, he was
surprised to find himself trembling violently.

"Well, well, Dave!" exclaimed his father, noticing his nervousness,
"you've got the buck fever over a porcupine, sure enough. Hadn't you
better let me shoot him?"

"Oh, no! I'm all right," said David, bracing up mentally if not
physically, and pulling the trigger.

A few spruce needles and twigs rattled down as the shot rang out, but
the porcupine was apparently unscathed.

"No good," said Long Peter. "You no hit him."

"You fired too high," observed Mr. Bradford, "and you shut your eyes.
Keep at least one eye open, and be sure it's the one you sight with.
Aim low and don't jerk."

Roly petitioned to be allowed the second shot; but his father, seeing
that David was much chagrined, ruled that he should have another
chance. Carefully observing directions, David fared better at the
second trial. Through the smoke as he fired, he saw the porcupine
come tumbling heavily down from branch to branch till it dropped into
the snow and lay there motionless. It was quite dead, and Long Peter,
with a grunt of satisfaction, took it up gingerly by the feet, taking
care not to be pricked by the sharp quills which bristled all over the
animal's back.

"Hurrah!" cried Roly, "now we shall have fresh meat."

"Yes," said Mr. Bradford, "a porcupine stew will be a welcome change
from bacon,--but we ought to get one more at least. Long Peter here
could eat the whole of this at one sitting without any trouble at all,
eh, Peter?"

The Indian smacked his lips, and his eyes glistened, for the prickly
little animals are considered such a delicacy by the natives, that they
will gorge themselves even to sickness when they have the opportunity.

A second porcupine was treed not far from the first. Roly brought it
down at the first shot,--a feat which would certainly have puffed
him with pride, had he not retained a vivid remembrance of his late
inglorious downfall.

They returned to camp in triumph, and found supper waiting. The
porcupines were thrown into the fire, that the quills might burn
away, Uncle Will remarking that such chickens needed a great deal
of singeing. Long Peter prepared them for the stew, and they were
served up in fine style on the following morning, with rice and soup
vegetables. The meat had a distinct flavor of spruce bark, the food of
the animal; but it was not at all disagreeable, and the stew was voted
an unqualified success.



CHAPTER XI

THE MYSTERIOUS THIRTY-SIX


For nearly a week, the little party struggled with the most difficult
portion of the trail. At Pleasant Camp they had reached an elevation of
about five hundred feet above the sea, but the rise had been so gradual
through the forty-five miles of river valleys that it had hardly been
noticed. From that point, however, it was all mountain work, and they
had to ascend three thousand feet more in about fifteen miles, to gain
the summit of the Chilkat Pass and the high interior plateau. The trail
often led uphill only to lead provokingly down again on the other
side, so that the gain was thrown away, and had to be earned all over
again. Then, too, the snowdrifts increased the roughness of the path.
It was out of the question to move full loads under such conditions,
and half-loads were taken forward a few miles and cached one day, and
the remainder brought up the next. Some of the slopes were so steep
that even the ice-creepers barely gave the sled-pullers a foothold, and
often the sheer weight of the loads dragged them back again and again.

[Illustration: A CURIOUS PHENOMENON BESIDE THE TRAIL]

Under this terrible strain their feet grew sore, and the frequent
dipping of the gee-poles, as the sleds dove into the hollows, gave them
cruelly lame backs. To make matters worse, the tugging on the ropes,
coupled with the usual dampness of their mittens, caused the skin of
their fingers to crack deeply and painfully at the joints. Many times
the sleds overturned, or jammed against stumps and roots. Altogether it
was a severe and thorough training for the boys in patience, endurance,
and perseverance.

"What will become of Mrs. Shirley's party here, I wonder," said Roly,
after a hard day's work.

"If they are wise," replied Uncle Will, "they'll stop at Pleasant Camp.
The two young men can make a dash in for claims when the lame one has
recovered, but those ladies can never stand this kind of work."

David declared that never before had he appreciated the picture in his
room at home, of Napoleon's soldiers dragging cannon over the Alps.
He was quite sure he would groan with genuine sympathy when he saw it
again. In the mean time, in spite of all discomforts, he was daily
securing beautiful and interesting views of mountains and valleys, of
camps and the sledding, and of all the unique phases of his outdoor
life.

At one point, he photographed a curious phenomenon beside the trail.
The stump of a tree bore upon its top a great skull-shaped mass of
snow, while underneath on every side the flakes had been packed
against the bark by the wind, the whole forming a colossal figure of a
human head and neck, which appeared as if carved in purest marble.

Now and then they observed traces of the company ahead. Sometimes it
was a broken gee-pole, again a deserted camping-ground or fireplace,
and frequently bits of rope, empty cracker boxes and tins, or a freshly
"blazed" or notched tree to indicate the trail. But the Thirty-six
themselves were as elusive as if they all wore seven-league boots, and
the Bradfords never caught sight of them during these days, no matter
how hard they worked.

In the forest through which they were travelling, spruce gum of fine
quality could be picked from many of the trees, and the boys found it
useful as a preventive of thirst in a country where open springs were
far between. Often, too, they carried beef tablets in their pockets,
and these served to alleviate hunger as well as thirst,--for so severe
was the work, and so stimulating to the appetite the mountain air, that
they were fairly faint between meals.

Once, while on the march, they were startled by a deep rumbling, which
seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. Uncle Will said that this
was the sound of an avalanche on the high mountains across the Klaheena
valley.

Porcupines were so numerous as to be obtainable as often as needed, but
Roly one day discovered a new kind of game. He espied a large dark bird
sitting on a low branch of a spruce near the trail, and called Uncle
Will's attention to it.

"Ah!" exclaimed the latter, "that's a spruce partridge, and very good
eating. Is your revolver loaded, Charles?"

The guns were packed in their cases on the sleds, but Mr. Bradford's
revolver was loaded and ready. He took careful aim at the partridge and
fired. The bird, not thirty feet away, merely cocked its head to one
side, and calmly eyed the discomfited marksman.

"Missed," said Mr. Bradford. "Suppose you try a shot, Roly. I've been
out of practice too long."

"Yes," said Roly, "let me try. But why didn't the partridge fly away?
They're awfully 'scary' at home."

"This is not the ruffed grouse, or partridge, of New England,"
explained his father, "but a different species. It is often called
the 'fool hen,' because it is so stupid. You might fire a dozen times
without inducing it to fly, and you can go up quite close to it if you
wish. It's more sportsmanlike, though, to give the bird a chance."

Roly accordingly stood where he was, fired, and missed. Uncle Will then
brought down the bird with his revolver, and later, David and Roly
plucked and dressed it, with some assistance from Long Peter, and
cooked it for their supper.

David awoke, one morning, to find his younger brother observing him
with a curious expression in his eyes, the cause of which he was at a
loss to discover.

"What in the world is the matter with your face, Dave?" said Roly, as
soon as he saw that his tent-mate was awake.

"Matter with my face?" repeated David, sleepily. "Why, nothing. What
makes you think so?"

"You don't look a bit natural," said Roly.

"Oh, come!" muttered David. "What are you talking about? I'm all right,
I tell you;" and he gazed drowsily up at the canvas above him, through
which the morning light filtered.

"Oh! you are, are you?" said Roly. "Well, I advise you to look in a
mirror before you go outside, that's all."

But David neglected the warning. His appearance, when he crawled
forth from the tent, was the signal for a loud burst of laughter from
Long Peter, who was making the fire, and this, more than anything
else, convinced the boy that something was really wrong. He retreated
into the tent and consulted a small pocket looking-glass, whereby he
discovered that his countenance was as black as the ace of spades.

"April Fool!" shouted the irrepressible Roly, with great glee, and
dived head-first out of the tent to escape a flying shoe. "My dear
brother, permit me to inform you that this is the First of April." This
last explanatory speech was delivered with telling effect from a safe
distance.

[Illustration: THE CAMP OF THE MYSTERIOUS THIRTY-SIX]

David was at first much vexed, but having washed his face, he joined at
last in the laugh against himself.

Taking the idea from the blackened faces of the Indian women, Roly had
carefully gone over his sleeping brother's face with soot from the
bottom of a kettle. The youngster confessed, however, that, owing to
anxiety lest David should awaken first, his fun had cost him half his
night's sleep. It brought upon him, too, some words of counsel from his
father, who reminded him that practical joking often provoked serious
ill-feeling, and it was only owing to David's good sense that it had
not done so in the present instance.

That day's march was a short one. Early in the afternoon they saw a
thin blue column of smoke rising through the trees ahead, and a few
minutes later, to their unbounded delight, they entered the camp of
the Mysterious Thirty-six, whose tents were scattered through the
grove wherever the snow was level, or a tree or bank afforded shelter.
Such members of the company as they saw greeted them pleasantly, and
congratulated Uncle Will on making so rapid a journey. They could
far better afford to be distanced by the small Bradford party than
the Bradfords by them, and showed no trace of ill-humor. Uncle Will
declared, however, as the Bradfords were pitching their camp in the
edge of the timber, that it was too early to crow yet.

"What place is this?" asked Roly, as he fetched a kettleful of water
from the one open spot in a brook everywhere else buried deep under the
snow.

Uncle Will hung the kettle over the fire and answered, "Rainy Hollow."

"Ah!" exclaimed the boy, with sudden recollection, "this is where you
wrote your letter."

"Yes," said his uncle, "and the place was well named. It storms here
most of the time, consequently the crossing of the summit is usually
difficult and often quite dangerous. We are close to the summit now,
and this is the last of the timber."

"And how far is it across the summit?"

"About twenty miles to the timber on the other side."

After supper the boys paid a visit to the large camp, having a desire
to see how the Mysterious Thirty-six looked and lived. As they entered
the camp the familiar "Muck-muck" was shouted from the entrance of a
large cooking-tent by a jolly, red-faced man, whose general appearance,
together with a big spoon which he waved dramatically above a kettle
of beans, indicated that he was the cook. The call was taken up in
various directions, and repeated to the farthest tents, and presently
white men and Indians appeared from every side and took their places
indiscriminately in a line before the tent. Each carried an aluminum
plate and cup, with knife, fork, and spoon. As fast as they were
served, the men either seated themselves on logs and boxes, or stood
in groups, eating their beans, bacon, and biscuits, and drinking their
hot tea with great relish. The boys saw several sly young Indians
finish their rations almost at a gulp, lick their plates clean, and
immediately re-enter the line, by which trick they received a double
portion, the cook being evidently unable to distinguish them from
new-comers.

When all had been served, a white man approached the tent and asked,
"Do we get a second helping to-night, Jack? I'm as hungry as I was
before. Appetite's just getting whetted."

"No, Si, my boy, there's nothing left. Only one round,--that's the
orders to-night."

"H-m," said Si. "I'll bet those Indians didn't go hungry, though. I saw
one of 'em go back into the line."

"Well," said the cook, "the Cap'n will have to see to it, then. I can't
watch 'em all."

"I suppose not," said Si. "It's a shame, though." He looked around
to satisfy himself that the leader was not within hearing. "I'd have
pitched that Indian into a snowbank if it wasn't directly against
orders. The Cap'n says we're to have no rows with the redskins, or
they'll leave us, so we've got to be sweet an' nice to the rascals. By
the way, Jack, has anybody spoken for that kettle?"

"You're first on that," replied the cook, handing out one of the bean
kettles, in the bottom of which clung some half-burned scrapings. "Get
all the satisfaction you can out of it, old man."

"Trust me for that," said Si, calling to a friend to come and share his
prize.

Several others came up to ask for a second helping, but they were
disappointed,--all except the one who followed Si. He received the
other bean kettle.

"I'm glad we don't have to figure so closely," said David. "It must be
pretty tough to go to bed hungry after a hard day's work."

"That's what it is!" exclaimed a young man who stood near, and
overheard David's remark. "If they doubled our present rations it
wouldn't be too much, considering the work we have to do in these
mountains. I've had only two really satisfying meals since we left
Pyramid Harbor, and those consisted of porcupine stew."

"Why don't they give you more, then?" asked Roly.

"Oh! I suppose it's because we can't carry much food on these sleds,
and what we have must last until June, when pack trains of horses can
bring us more. Would you boys like to look around the camp?"

"Yes, indeed," answered David.

"Well," said their guide, who, as they learned, came from their own
State, "let's have a look at the fireplace."

This was near the cook-tent, and consisted of a circular hollow at
the foot of a tall spruce. At the bottom of the cavity a bright
fire blazed, and several kettles were hung over it by forked sticks
suspended from a horizontal pole, which was supported at each end at
the proper height by a crotched stake.

"There was quite a hole here when we came," said the young man, "and
we enlarged it with our shovels, and deepened it until we reached the
ground. The heat of the fire has made it still larger. You can get a
good idea of the depth of the snow from this hole, for, as you see, the
head of the man who stands in there by the fire doesn't reach within a
foot of the surface. There's about twice as much snow here as there was
in the valley."

They next visited the dwelling tents, which were exactly like the
diminutive tent of David and Roly, each barely accommodating two men;
but here in some cases four men had joined, and by spreading their two
tents and the two flies over a framework of poles, they secured a sort
of canvas hut which was quite roomy, and sheltered the occupants from
the wind on three sides, while a fire of logs before the open fourth
side made the improvised dwelling comfortable and cheerful, and served
also to dry the moccasins, coats, and blankets which had become damp on
the march.

In the distance they now heard some one calling off a list of names.
Their friend listened intently.

"There," said he, with a woful face, "I'm wanted. I suppose it's my
turn on guard to-night."

"Do you have to stand guard?" asked David, with some surprise. "We
never do. What is there to guard against?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," said the young man, replying to the latter
question. "Perhaps our Indians would meddle with the supplies, or it
may be the rule was made in the interest of the cooks, for the last
guard calls them up in the morning. Then, besides, there are generally
beans to be boiled at night, and the guards do that, and, of course,"
he added with a grimace and a smack of the lips, "we have to sample
those beans to know when they are done. That's the one redeeming
feature of guard duty."

The boys laughed, and declared the guards were not to be blamed under
the circumstances.

"How long is your watch?" asked Roly.

"Two hours. We draw lots for choice of watches. There are so many of
us that the turn doesn't come round to the same man oftener than once
a week, but it is pretty hard then to be pulled out of the blankets in
the middle of the night after a long day's labor. Well, I must leave
you. Good-bye!" and he was off to see about the guard duty.

The boys returned to their camp, passing on the way the large tent of
the Indians, who were singing a weird, monotonous native chant, varied
by the occasional insertion of religious hymns which they had picked up
at Haines' Mission. Uncle Will was telling his brother the information
he had gathered in the neighboring camp.

"They arrived here yesterday," he was saying, "so their leader told me,
and to-day they carried part of their goods forward five miles, where
they cached them. The men returned from that trip just before we came.
To-morrow they plan to take another and longer journey, moving their
remaining supplies ten miles and then returning here. That will be a
good twenty-mile march, and it will use them up so that I think they'll
have to rest one day at least. Their leader, who was willing enough to
talk about his present plans, said that as soon as possible after they
had made the second cache, they would take an early start from here,
and try to reach the timber on the other side the same day. You see
they'll have virtually nothing to carry except tents and blankets until
they reach their first cache, which they will pick up, leaving the
second untouched. In other words, they will travel five miles with very
light loads, and then fifteen with half-loads,--twenty miles in all.
They will return from that advanced camp the next day to their second
cache and take that forward."

"I suppose," said Mr. Bradford, "we shall have to employ the same
tactics to some extent. We can't carry forward our whole outfit in one
march."

"That's true," answered his brother. "I think it would be wise to first
carry half-loads ten miles. If the boys give out before we get back,
we'll draw them. I'm convinced that if we're to beat the big party,
we must do it here, and work as we never worked before. One thing I'm
thankful for,--our loads are lighter than theirs, for you see we've
already taken provisions for myself and Long Peter as far as Klukshu
Lake, and we two are now moving a share of yours. Besides, these
fellows have an unusual amount of clothing and other truck in their
clothing bags, and a great deal of heavy hardware. What did you learn
from their Indians, Peter?"

Long Peter smiled and looked wise. "Injuns say they no go to-morrow.
Big snow come. White men no keep together; some get lost. No wood for
fire. But we go if no wind. Me know t'ail [trail]."

This was a long speech for Long Peter, and it meant much. The morrow
would decide the race.



CHAPTER XII

THE SUMMIT OF CHILKAT PASS


The prediction of snow was fulfilled to the letter. When the Bradfords
awoke, they found the air thick with feathery flakes, which came gently
and noiselessly down on tent and tree and drift. Already the green
boughs of the spruces were heavily laden. In Mr. Bradford's thermometer
the mercury stood at twenty-five degrees above zero.

Long Peter noted the direction of the wind, which was so light as
hardly to be perceptible. Then he examined the snowflakes, which were
damp and large, indicating that the cloud currents of the air were not
intensely cold.

"We can go," said he to Uncle Will.

Breakfast hurriedly disposed of, the sleds were loaded with half
the supplies, oiled canvas being bound over the goods to keep them
dry. Uncle Will knew that Long Peter was one of the most experienced
pathfinders in his tribe, and would not undertake the march if he were
not well able to bring them through in safety. By seven o'clock they
were on their way, the Indian leading and treading a path with his
narrow, turned-up snow-shoes. The others followed easily in his track,
all wearing snow-shoes, for otherwise they would have broken through
the thin crust of the old snow, and the sleds would frequently have
been stalled.

As they had camped in the edge of the woods, they were quickly out
of sight of the trees, and traversing a barren, snowy waste which
presented a gentle upward incline. The falling snow cut off the distant
prospect, and in the absence of all landmarks the Indian was guided
solely by the slope of the ground and the direction of the wind. Uncle
Will, however, verified his course from time to time by a small compass.

After travelling thus about a mile, they arrived at the edge of a bank
or bluff, which sloped steeply down to a level space fifty feet below.

"Devil's Slide," said the Indian to Uncle Will, in a tone of
satisfaction.

"Yes," replied the latter. "I remember this place and its curious name
very well."

"I don't see how we are going to get these loads down," said Roly.
"It's awfully steep."

Long Peter, so far as his own sled was concerned, quickly solved that
problem. He drew his load to the edge of the bluff, and then, with
apparent recklessness, threw himself upon it just as it toppled over
the brink. The others held their breath while man and sled went down,
as Roly said afterward, "like greased lightning;" but the runners cut
through the snow at the bottom of the hill, and the outfit brought up
safely.

Mr. Bradford declared that might do for Long Peter, but _he_ didn't
care to risk it. He accordingly let his sled go alone, which it did
gracefully enough until half-way down, when it swerved, upset, and
rolled over and over, the gee-pole finally sticking in the snow and
ending its wild career. It was necessary to repack the whole load.

Uncle Will's sled fared better. As for the boys, they ventured to coast
down as Long Peter had done, and reached the bottom in a whirl of snow
without any mishap.

Near the foot of the slide they entered a narrow ravine,--the bed of a
mountain brook now buried deep under the drifts,--and followed it up
for a mile or two, emerging at length upon an almost level expanse,
which Uncle Will said was one of the highest places on the pass.

"Indeed," said he, "we may as well call this the summit, although for
many miles we shall continue at about this height. There is a shallow
lake in the little hollow ahead, Long Peter tells me, but you wouldn't
guess it to look at this unbroken snow-field."

On their right they could now dimly see, through the falling flakes, an
abrupt mountain peak, whose lower slopes they were already skirting.
Its top was cut into several sharp points like saw-teeth. Uncle Will
informed his friends that it was one of the best landmarks on the pass,
being visible in fair weather for miles in either direction,--in fact,
it was such a steadfast, reliable peak that it had earned the name,
"Mount Stay-there." To the left was a low ridge of rounded hills,
beyond which nothing could be seen in the thick air. It was here
that the Bradfords discovered the first, or five-mile cache of the
Mysterious Thirty-six,--a huge pile of boxes and sacks protected from
the weather by oiled canvas.

Drawing their sleds into the lee of the goods, they seated themselves
for a brief and much needed rest, for both of the boys were complaining
of their backs, and Mr. Bradford suffered considerably in the same way.
Their feet, too, protested with almost equal insistence against the
present journey, coming as it did hard upon the excessive strain of the
preceding week. No one thought of calling himself disabled, however,
and the pain was borne patiently, and for the most part silently. The
soreness in their faces and fingers continued too, but that was a minor
evil.

Roly presently turned his head and listened intently. "What is that
noise?" he asked,--"that clucking which sounds so near? I can't see
anything, though I've heard it several times."

"You'll have to look sharp to see those visitors," answered Uncle
Will. "What you hear is the call of the ptarmigan, a bird which in
summer is brown, but in winter is white as the snow."

"So we're in a ptarmigan country, are we?" said Mr. Bradford. "I
believe that bird is considered quite a delicacy."

"There's nothing finer," said his brother. "We shall have plenty of
ptarmigan from now on."

"What do the birds live on?" asked David. "I don't see anything but
snow here."

His uncle replied that there were places where the wind kept the ground
bare, allowing the birds to pick seeds from the grasses, and buds from
the willows.

"There!" exclaimed Roly, who had been gazing steadily into the storm,
"I see two of them on the little knoll yonder. They're not quite as big
as the spruce partridge."

The boys wished to add them to the larder, but as revolvers were the
only available weapons, and it would not do to stray away from the
party, Mr. Bradford vetoed the proposition, saying that they would
undoubtedly have better opportunities.

"What a funny note they have!" said Roly. "I do believe they are
calling Long Peter. Listen, now. 'Peter, Peter, Peter; come over, come
over.'"

The others agreed that this was a very fair interpretation, and
the Indian exclaimed, "Me come over bime-by; make ptarmigan
sick,"--whereat they were all amused, and for the moment forgot their
pain and discomfort.

It would not do, however, to rest too long, for they were becoming
chilled, and stiff in every joint. With much limping until renewed
exercise had limbered their sore muscles, the little band resumed the
march, making brief halts when their breath gave out on the hills, but
gaining ground the rest of the time slowly but steadily. Long Peter
turned to the left from the base of Mount Stay-there, and for several
miles followed the northeastern slope of a range of low, rounded hills,
descending gradually until he reached the valley of a brook which Uncle
Will said must be one of the sources of the Chilkat, since it flowed to
the south. The brook was buried under the snow for the most part, but
near noon an open place was discovered, to which, with mouths parched
from toil, they all rushed, for there had been no water to drink since
leaving the brook at Rainy Hollow, and eating snow was prohibited,
owing to repeated warnings from the Indian that it would "make sick."
Had it not been for the beef tablets, they would have suffered more
than they did.

Here they ate a cold repast of salt pork and hard-tack, and never did
food taste better than those thick slices of fat meat. The dry, tough
crackers, too, now that there was water in plenty, seemed sweeter than
the sweetest morsel at home. Thus do hunger and hard work transform
the rudest fare.

After the meal, and a half-hour's rest, the snow became increasingly
sticky, clogging beneath their snow-shoes in hard, icy masses, and
making those articles extremely heavy, so that it was necessary to halt
often and rap off the frozen particles. The boys were getting very
tired, and in spite of their light loads were fain, time and again,
to pause for breath and a rest. Hour after hour hardly a word was
spoken, no one having any surplus energy to expend in that way. David
was really more exhausted than Roly, for though the older, he was the
weaker, owing to his rapid growth; but, with an elder brother's pride,
he would have dropped rather than complain first. So for the greater
part of the afternoon he struggled on in silence, scarcely able to
drag one foot after the other, but pluckily dogging his father's sled,
though at last his head swam so that he fairly wavered as he walked.
Poor fellow! he realized, as never before, how light in reality were
the tasks of home and school, which had seemed so often distasteful and
hard. He thought of his mother and Helen by the comfortable fireside,
and then of a bright-haired girl waving her handkerchief to him from
the wharf,--and then he knew no more.

It was a cry from Roly which gave the others the first intimation of
David's collapse. Roly had been close behind him, bringing up the rear
of the procession, and had seen his brother pitch forward like a log
into the snow and lie there motionless. Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will ran
back in alarm, and while the former placed a coat under David's head
and rubbed his forehead with snow, the other, after feeling his pulse,
drew forth a flask of brandy, which he carried for such emergencies,
and poured a little between the boy's lips. It was several minutes
before he opened his eyes and asked where he was, and what was the
matter.

Seeing that he was reviving, the others held a hurried consultation.
It was now about four o'clock. Uncle Will and Long Peter, both of whom
were well fitted to judge, were of the opinion that in spite of many
rests and a snail-like progress, they had fully covered ten miles, as
they had planned to do. The return journey with empty sleds was still
before them, and must be accomplished before nightfall. Long Peter
moreover looked skyward, and shook his head ominously.

"Wind come bime-by," said he. "We stop here--make cache--go back quick.
Too much wind no good!"

"That's just what we've got to do," said Uncle Will, observing the
signs of the storm's increase. "Off with the goods, and don't lose a
minute!"

Boxes and bags were hurriedly loosed from the lashings, and piled in
a high heap, so that the topmost ones would remain visible above the
deepest snow-fall. The cache was then covered with oiled canvas held
in place by boxes, loose ropes were gathered up and fastened upon the
sleds, and all was ready.

Now came the question of what to do with David, who was sitting up,
faint and dazed, but undaunted. He insisted that he could walk in a few
moments, but the others would not hear of it, for no sooner did he try
to rise than he fell back again weak and dizzy. It was decided that he
should lie upon a long sled and be drawn by the three men in turn, at
least for an hour or two, until he recovered more fully.

In this manner, therefore, they started at once to retrace their steps,
Mr. Bradford taking the first turn at drawing his disabled son. The
snowflakes were whirling and driving now before the rising gusts,
and the air felt colder. David was accordingly wrapped in the heavy
coats of the others, he being the only one who could not keep warm by
exercise.

The rest and the ride refreshed him greatly, so that at the open brook
where they had lunched, he declared, after a drink of cold water, that
he would not be drawn any farther. He threw off the coats impatiently,
not forgetting, however, to thank his faithful friends, and standing
up, found himself strong enough to walk. Uncle Will now insisted that
Roly should ride for a while, though that youth, tired as he was, did
not think it necessary, and only yielded with reluctance. So wearied
was he, however, that no sooner had he stretched himself on the sled
than he fell fast asleep, and rode in that manner much farther than he
had intended, the others having no heart to wake him.

The valleys and slopes were comparatively easy to identify and follow
with the aid of Uncle Will's compass, until Mount Stay-there was
reached, but by that time it was between six and seven o'clock, and
darkness was settling down. Meanwhile, the wind had increased, and the
snow was drifting. It was very evident now why the Indians dreaded a
storm on the summit. Terrible indeed would it be, to become confused in
such a place! Here was no hospice of St. Bernard, sending out its men
and dogs to the rescue, but only a howling, uninhabited, frozen waste
for miles.

For a little while yet, the Bradfords were in no danger of losing their
way. It was not difficult to find the head of the ravine which they had
ascended that morning, and it led them straight to the Devil's Slide.
But the last mile from there to camp lay across the bleak, wind-swept
upland. They were never in more need of the compass than now, but,
alas! they could no longer see it.

With great difficulty matches were lighted at intervals, and though
these were invariably blown out directly, they enabled the party to
determine their course. Side by side and close together they walked, in
order that no one might lag behind or be lost in the blinding storm.
It was a wild experience, and one which the boys will never forget, nor
their elders either, for that matter.

Suddenly they heard the Indian exclaim, "Trees!"

They had struck the timber line at last, some distance from their camp,
but presently, having ascertained their whereabouts, they covered the
remaining interval, and with glad hearts flung themselves into the
tents.



CHAPTER XIII

DALTON'S POST


The storm continued all the next day, which was Sunday, and both
parties remained in camp, the Bradfords according to their custom, and
the others because of the weather.

"We stole a good march on them yesterday," said Uncle Will at
breakfast, "and I believe we shall come out ahead. While they are
making their ten-mile cache and returning here, we can make a straight
march and camp on the other side. We shall be just one day ahead of
them then, and I think we can hold that lead. At the same time, we must
not overtax the boys. I would rather lose all the gold in the universe
than injure their health."

The plan suggested by Uncle Will was carried out, and camp was pitched
in due time among the straggling spruces beyond the pass. Nothing
worth mention occurred on that march, save the discovery of a sulphur
spring at a place called Mosquito Flats, and the shooting of several
ptarmigan, from which was concocted a delicious stew with real
dumplings and gravy.

Being far too tired after their long tramp to search for tent-poles
and soft boughs in such an unpromising place, the boys decided not
to raise their tent. Instead they laid it flat upon the snow, spread
the blankets and down quilts upon it, and covered the whole with the
rubber blanket. They turned in soon after supper, curling far under
the coverlets, in which they arranged a small opening for breathing
purposes, and slept warmly and well. What was their surprise, when they
awoke, to find that snow had fallen during the night and covered them,
so that the ptarmigan, seeing only a white mound, were clucking and
calling almost within arm's reach. So tame were these birds that even
when the boys jumped up and shook the snow from their bed, they only
flew to a distance of twenty or thirty feet, where they paused to eye
the strangers curiously.

The Bradfords brought in their cache that day, in spite of violent
snow-squalls which evidently prevented the Thirty-six from making their
final dash across the summit. Thus they gained another day in the race.

They were now at a place called Glacier Camp, near the headwaters
of the Alsek River, which flows first to the north for fifty miles,
then makes a great sweep to the west past Dalton's trading-post and
the village of the Stiks, and finally, turning to the south, cuts
the massive St. Elias Range, and enters the Pacific at Dry Bay. They
were glad to take advantage of the smooth and level surface of this
river, with its alternate patches of ice and firm snow, but there were
considerable stretches where, to avoid the windings of the stream, the
trail took the shortest course through the woods, in spite of soft snow
and the many irregularities of the ground.

For a week they travelled in this manner through the varied scenery
of the Alsek valley, now traversing wide plains, now passing sublime
mountains and frowning cliffs, and meeting with sundry new experiences.
On one occasion they enjoyed the novel sensation of feeling their
high-piled sleds blown merrily over glare ice by a strong south wind.
When this impetuous ally took hold, Roly longed for a pair of skates,
that he might glide easily in front of his sled. As it was, his spiked
ice-creepers dug in at every step, the sled was continually on his
heels, and all the gliding he could do was in his imagination.

David had imprudently neglected to wear his dark snow-glasses, and
the sun being now high and the snow dazzling, he was attacked with
snow-blindness,--a malady no doubt aggravated by the pungent smoke
of the camp-fires. When he sat down to supper one evening, he found
it difficult to keep his eyes open. Prickly pains darted through the
eyeballs, and the vision was seriously impaired. On the following day
he could hardly see to walk, in spite of the glasses which now--too
late--he wore. Fortunately Mr. Bradford had included in the medical
stores an eye-wash for this painful affection, and after two or three
days' treatment the inflammation subsided, and normal vision returned.

Hardly a day passed in which the travellers succeeded in keeping
entirely dry. To go to sleep in wet stockings was the customary thing;
they were sure to dry during the night from the bodily warmth, and no
one thought of taking cold. On one memorable march a damp, clinging
snow fell in enormous flakes, which melted upon their coats, soaked
through, and finally ran down into their shoes, and it required a
roaring fire that night to restore the little company to a fair degree
of comfort.

None too soon they arrived at Dalton's Post, one hundred and twenty
miles from the coast, for signs had not been wanting that the ice was
about to go out of the streams.

How novel it seemed to stand under a roof once more! How delightful
to sit down in a chair beside a roaring stove and bid defiance to the
elements! This little settlement, so far from anywhere in particular,
was a very oasis of civilization.

The storekeeper, Mr. Martin, usually called "Ike," was a small, wiry
man, whose black hair was sprinkled with gray. He was very glad to see
the new-comers, and welcomed them hospitably, inquiring whence they
came and what was the news in the outside world. For months he had
been the only white man at the trading-post, Jack Dalton, the owner,
being absent on a journey to the coast. The advent of prospectors now
and then was the only break in his monotonous existence.

On entering the substantial log store, the boys surveyed the interior
with interest. It was not unlike that of a country store at home,
the shelves being piled high with calicoes and ginghams, shoes,
hats, tin pans, plates, and cups, while from the roof-beams depended
kettles, pails, steel traps, guns, and snow-shoes. Ike informed them
that he kept a small stock of flour, bacon, rice, sugar, and other
provisions, in a storehouse near at hand, and that the establishment
traded principally with the Stik Indians, whose village lay nearly a
mile down-stream to the west. The natives paid for the goods, either
with money earned by packing on the trail, or with the skins of bears,
foxes, and other fur-bearing animals.

"What do you charge for your goods?" asked David, after his father
and uncle had departed to select a camping-place. He had heard of the
exorbitant prices of the Klondike.

"It depends a good deal on supply an' demand, same as anywhere else,"
answered Ike. "But we commonly give the Indians a lower rate than
white men. You see, the Indians are our regular customers, an' it's
for our int'rest to give them the preference. They have to depend on
us entirely for many of the necessaries of life, while white men
should not come in here without bringing what they need. Just now we're
running short o' flour,--wouldn't sell a fifty-pound sack to a white
man for less than twenty-five dollars. There hain't been trade enough
with whites up to this year to make it worth while to carry a big
stock, for, as you probably know by this time, it's a hard job to get
supplies over the summit."

"Have you heard about the big party behind us?" asked Roly.

"Yes, Al King told me about them the other day, when he passed here."

"Will you sell provisions to them?" asked David. "They've been on short
rations right along."

"Not in large amounts. They must look out for themselves. If they
should want a few sweets to munch on, we might let them have raisins at
fifty cents a pound, or candy at one dollar."

"Candy?" repeated Roly, eagerly. "Just let me see some if you please,
Mr. Martin."

The storekeeper laughed, and produced a cheap, mixed grade,--the best
he had, of which luxury the boys bought quite a quantity.

While Roly was describing how the Thirty-six had been distanced on the
summit, two Indian women entered and addressed the storekeeper in the
native language, with which he seemed perfectly familiar. He rose, and
going behind the counter, weighed out some salt, answering meantime a
number of questions which seemed to have reference to the boys, at whom
the women glanced occasionally.

"They wanted to know all about you," said Ike, when his customers had
gone. "They belong to Lucky's family. Your uncle knows Lucky, don't he?"

"Yes," said David. "Uncle Will took care of him when he was shot. Is he
well again?"

"Oh, yes! Off trapping now somewhere in the woods. He's a shrewd one,
that Lucky. Brings in more furs than any other man in the tribe. He's
a tall, wiry chap, with big cheek-bones an' little foxy eyes, an' the
reg'lar Indian virtues an' vices. He's brave, an' he's enduring, an'
a splendid hunter, but he's sly an' lazy. Little Coffee Jack, his
brother, is going to be just like him."

"There's Father calling us," said David, presently. "They probably want
water. Where do you get it, Mr. Martin?"

"You'll find a hole cut in the river ice," answered the storekeeper,
"if you follow the path straight out from the door. You can't miss it.
You want to be careful, though."

Having procured kettles at the camp, the boys easily found the path,
and the hole to which it led. So great was the combined thickness of
snow and ice that the opening was about five feet deep, wide at the
top, but narrowing toward the bottom. A sort of shelf or ledge had
been hacked out about half-way down, upon which the person drawing the
water could stand, and as an additional safeguard a pole had been set
horizontally across the hole. So rapid was the current that the water
did not rise in the hole, but fairly flew beneath it.

"I don't wonder Mr. Martin told us to be careful," said David, with a
shudder. "One slip on that icy ledge, and down you'd go into the dark
water and under the ice in a jiffy."

"Just think," observed Roly, "if Mr. Martin had ever fallen like that
when he was here alone, no one would ever know what had become of him.
The hole would soon get filled up, and his disappearance would be
the kind of a mystery you read about. Probably the Indians would be
suspected."

"Yes," said David, "I've no doubt of it. But now let's get the water.
You stand up here, and I'll do the dipping. You see," he added,
concealing with an air of mock pride the real responsibility he felt,
"superior age makes it my duty to take the post of danger,"--with which
heroic burst he scrambled quickly but carefully down and filled the
kettles without accident, though they were nearly jerked from his hands
by the force of the current. It is safe to say, however, that had Uncle
Will known the dangerous character of the water-hole, which only Long
Peter had visited on his earlier trip, he would have fetched the water
himself.



CHAPTER XIV

FROM THE STIK VILLAGE TO LAKE DASAR-DEE-ASH


The Bradfords passed through the Stik village early the next day, after
leaving letters with the storekeeper to be sent back when opportunity
offered. This Indian settlement consisted of about a dozen houses,
some built of rough logs, others of hewn boards. A few possessed the
luxury of glass windows. Over the door of one of the more pretentious
was nailed a board on which was painted the name of the chief, John Kah
Sha. The Indians, many of whom appeared abjectly dirty and ignorant,
gazed stolidly for the most part at the travellers, but a few nodded
and smiled as they passed, and called away the swarm of curs which
yelped or fawned at their heels.

Beyond the village the trail turned north and left the river valley,
ascending eight hundred feet by a sharp ridge to the top of a great
table-land. The snow had melted from the ridge, and it was necessary to
unpack the sleds and carry up the goods piece-meal,--an operation which
required many trips and the severest labor, and occupied the entire
day.

In the nick of time Lucky appeared with his younger brother, and having
begged to be allowed to accompany the party,--a request which Uncle
Will granted at once,--he fell to work with such energy and good-will
that the boys were inclined to think the storekeeper had erred in
calling him lazy. Coffee Jack, too, struggled with flour sacks nearly
as heavy as himself, and won golden opinions from everybody. The truth
is, an Indian is every whit as ready as a white man to show gratitude
for kindness.

Reaching the brow of the hill breathless and warm after the first
ascent, the Bradfords threw their loads upon the ground and paused to
rest and look back. A wonderful panorama was outspread before them.
Green spruce forests were sprinkled over the snowy surface of the Alsek
valley and its bordering plateaus. Below them lay the Indian village,
while to the east in a clearing rose a column of blue smoke from the
chimney of the trading-post. They could trace the river for many miles
in its great curve to the south, where on the far horizon glittered the
mighty summits of the St. Elias Range. To the southeast, perhaps ten
miles away, loomed a grand cluster of unnamed mountains, and another
to the southwest, while, to perfectly balance the picture, similar
isolated mountain groups appeared over the tree-tops in the northeast
and northwest.

It was here that a trim, long-tailed bird was first observed, whose
plumage was mostly black, and whose note was loud rather than musical.
Uncle Will said it was a magpie, a bird which, in captivity, can be
taught like the parrot to imitate the human voice. Another bird, of
a gray color, made its appearance at dinner-time, and showed a great
fondness for bacon rinds, coming close up to the party to snatch the
coveted morsels. This was the butcher-bird or shrike, very common in
all the northwestern country, and an arrant thief when there is meat in
sight.

Sledding was resumed next morning. The enlistment of Lucky and Coffee
Jack had swelled their number to seven, and without increasing the
loads to be carried added to the working force, so that in spite of the
softness of the snow good progress was made. Lucky had brought an old
sled, cast aside by some prospector; but as it was too weak to carry
a full load, Uncle Will relegated it to Coffee Jack with one hundred
pounds, while Lucky drew the sleds of the others by turns.

The boys soon had occasion to observe the shrewdness of their young
Indian friend. The gee-pole of Coffee Jack's sled broke on a steep
down-grade, and he was obliged to halt for repairs. The Indians
invariably take much pride in their powers as swift, strong packers and
sledders, especially when in the company of white men, and Coffee Jack
was now at his wits' end to maintain his position and keep the young
pale-faces behind him. He rose to the emergency, however.

"You got hatchet?" he asked innocently, as David approached. "Sled
broke."

"Yes," said David, handing over that article and sitting down
good-naturedly on his sled while the Indian boy went to cut a new
pole. He supposed that as soon as Coffee Jack had secured the pole and
driven it into place, he would return the hatchet, without waiting to
re-fasten the drag-rope and lashings, which it had been necessary to
loosen.

This, however, was just what Coffee Jack did not propose to do. Seeing,
as he had hoped would be the case, that David had stopped to wait for
the hatchet, and Roly had stopped rather than make so long a détour out
of the trail through the deep snow, he pretended to need the hatchet
after the pole was in place, giving a rap here and a tap there, and all
the while adroitly fastening the ropes in place again.

But Yankees have a reputation for shrewdness as well as Indians, and
David and Roly were quick to perceive Coffee Jack's trick. While the
Indian boy's back was turned, the two exchanged signals; then David
quietly turned out of the trail, passed Coffee Jack's sled, though only
with considerable difficulty, and came into the trail again, closely
followed by Roly.

Perceiving that his plans were discovered and frustrated, and
realizing that he had met his match, Coffee Jack laughed and
surrendered the hatchet.

During the next few days, while they were ascending the comparatively
narrow valley of Klukshu River, a small stream emptying into the Alsek
above Dalton's Post, winter made his last dying effort. It was now the
middle of April, and the sun was so high that the snow softened greatly
at midday. It had become impossible to make satisfactory progress
except by rising at two o'clock in the morning and starting as soon
as there was light. For three successive nights the mercury sank to
zero, and the air was so keen and frosty that their fingers were nearly
frozen when, in the early dawn-light, they removed their mittens to
loosen the knots of the tent-ropes; yet by noon it was invariably so
warm that the snow was melting and the sleds stuck fast.

The Klukshu River was not so thoroughly ice-bound as the Alsek, and,
already swollen with the melting snows, it had broken its fetters in
many places, so that it was impossible to follow the stream itself.
Twice, however, the trail crossed it,--first from west to east by a jam
of tree-trunks and débris, and then back again by a narrow span of ice
which cracked ominously and threatened to go down-stream, even as they
passed over it.

Here they met Grant Baldwin, Al King's partner,--a young man not much
older than David, who was travelling alone to the coast with a sled
drawn by two dogs.

At length, after many a tussle with hills and willow thickets and
stumps and roots and ruts, all of which seemed in league to oppose
them, the Bradfords reached the lower end of Klukshu Lake, a long but
narrow body of water at the eastern side of a broad valley. Except a
small spot near the outlet, it was covered with ice and snow. Four
miles to the west among others rose a peak so perfectly conical as to
serve for an excellent landmark, while to the northwest and ten miles
away they could see the extensive mountain system in which lay Al
King's claim.

Uncle Will at once examined the cache which he had left in the deserted
Indian shack. Finding it intact and in good condition, he determined
to keep it there for the present, and the whole party pushed on up
the lake, which proved to be about four miles long, curving to the
east at its upper end. Here a long hill was surmounted in the same
manner as at the Stik village, after which a trail through the woods
brought them over a divide to a larger lake called Dasar-dee-ash, whose
outlet, in contrast to that of Klukshu, flowed from the northern end.
This lake was solidly frozen as far as the eye could see, its surface
being a succession of snowy windrows separated by streaks of ice. The
grand mountain chain which they had seen in the distance rose from its
western edge, while the opposite shore sloped gently back in wooded
hills. Mr. Bradford estimated that the lake was fifteen miles long, and
about twelve broad at its widest part.

That evening the Bradfords in council decided that the three Indians
should bring up Uncle Will's cache on the morrow, they, in the mean
time, making a flying visit to Shorty Creek for the purpose of staking
claims. To be sure, the Kah Sha River and all its tributary creeks,
Shorty included, would be buried deep under snow and ice, and claims
would have to be chosen at random, but even this was better than
ignoring a district where gold was known to be. Later, when they had
visited their principal goal, some thirty miles distant, they could
return, hunt for Lucky's big nugget, and see what kind of claims they
had drawn from the Shorty Creek grab-bag.



CHAPTER XV

STAKING CLAIMS


A day's delay was occasioned by a snow-storm, but the second morning
opened bright, and the Indians early departed on their errand. The
Bradfords started soon afterward, crossing a bay of the lake and
making for the western shore at a point near the southern base of the
mountains. A valley, mostly wooded and several miles in width, extended
straight back in that direction; and after following it about six
miles, Uncle Will, who had previously questioned Lucky as to the route,
turned to the right toward a deep gap which now came into view. This
was the gorge of the Kah Sha River,--a stream named after the old chief
of the Stiks.

They had made fairly rapid progress, having brought but one sled with
food for two days, tents, blankets, cooking outfit, two axes, and a
gold-pan. It was necessary, however, to wear snow-shoes the entire
distance. This in itself was fatiguing, and rests were frequent.

Near the mouth of the gorge they came out of the woods into a wide,
clear space, which, later in the season, when the snow was gone, they
found to be due to an immense deposit of stones and gravel thrown
out by the stream through many generations. This open tract led them
directly to the gorge, and presently they passed in between high bluffs
of sand and gravel, which soon gave way in places to abrupt cliffs of
dark, slaty rock several hundred feet in height. The river could be
heard dashing impatiently over its stony bed under huge banks of snow,
which had drifted in upon it to so great a depth that the water could
seldom be seen. It was a wild and wonderful canyon such as the boys had
never dreamed of, and they felt the spirit of adventure rise within
them as they realized that this was a land of gold. Who could tell what
treasures lay at last beneath their feet? They could hardly refrain
from scrutinizing every rock for the gleam of yellow metal. They gazed
long and earnestly at the bare patches of sand on the slopes, till
at length they were obliged to confess that it looked quite like the
barren sand of New England.

Their elders only smiled on perceiving their enthusiasm, warning them,
however, not to go close to the cliffs; and hardly had the word been
spoken when, as if to emphasize the warning, a mass of crumbling rock
fell with a roar just behind them.

Two or three miles of this kind of travelling brought them to Al King's
tent, which stood to the left of the stream on a small level plot. On
the opposite side a rocky wall rose straight from the water's edge a
hundred feet and cut off all view, so that it seemed to the boys a
rather dreary spot. Yet here, as they presently learned, one lone man
had passed the entire winter, with no better shelter than a tent.

This man was the recorder of the district, Tom Moore by name, a
grizzled veteran of many a hard campaign of mining and prospecting. His
tent was near that of Al King. On a tree before it had been nailed a
slab from a box, bearing the inscription, "Recorder, Last Chance Mining
District, T. Moore."

The Bradfords received a hearty welcome from Al King and the recorder,
the latter, by reason of his long exile, taking especial delight in the
sight of new faces. King's fine dog "Bess" was even more demonstrative
in her welcome than the two men, and bounded from one to another of the
little group, licking their hands and receiving their caresses.

In company with Moore and King, who volunteered to guide them, they
passed the mouth of Shorty Creek,--so named from the Indian who
discovered gold there,--a small brook flowing in from the left. Neither
of the guides thought it worth while to stop there, for the best
claims were already taken. They believed that Alder Creek, a larger
tributary above on the same side, now offered the better chance, and
the Bradfords were quite willing to take their advice, since there
appeared no motive for deception. Up Alder Creek they accordingly
went, through a valley wider and less rugged than the Kah Sha gorge
and leading toward a shapely mountain about two miles away, where the
valley divided, that to the right being known as Union Gulch.

Here they found a discovery claim, located the previous year by the
miner who first found gold on that creek. By right of discovery he had
claimed five hundred feet of the valley, or twice the length of an
ordinary claim, and naturally he had chosen what he believed to be the
most promising spot. The stake which marked the upper end of his claim
was the stump of a poplar tree which had been cut off about five feet
from the ground. It stood on the bank of Alder Creek just above its
junction with Union Gulch. For a foot below the top it had been squared
with an axe, and on the smooth white wood was written in pencil,
"Discovery Claim, five hundred feet, down stream. J. Barry, September
4, 1897." There was also a stake which marked the lower end of the
claim.

Uncle Will looked the ground over carefully. Below Union Gulch was a
level expanse of gravel ten feet higher than the stream and covered
with snow except along the edge of the bank. This gravel rested upon
solid rock at about the level of the water. He took the gold-pan and
set out, with Mr. Bradford, the recorder, and King, on a tour of
investigation, bidding the boys cut stakes similar to those on the
discovery claim. David and Roly would have preferred to go with their
elders, but being accustomed to obey orders without question they set
off at once on the less romantic quest for straight young poplars.
Occasionally, however, they paused to watch the gold-seekers down the
valley.

[Illustration: "Presently some little yellow specks were uncovered"]

The stakes having been cut and trimmed, the boys brought them all down
to the discovery claim. They were four in number, sufficient for three
adjoining claims.

"What luck, Uncle Will?" shouted Roly, as they ran to join the others.

"Plenty of colors," answered that gentleman, smiling. "I've no doubt I
could get more if I had brought a shovel. The gravel is frozen so hard
that I can't scrape much together."

"What are colors?" asked David.

"Colors," explained his uncle, "are little thin flakes of gold, as
distinguished from heavier pieces called grains or nuggets. Look in the
pan here, and you'll see what colors are."

In the bottom of the pan lay a small quantity of dark sand, which Uncle
Will told them was called "black sand" and consisted mainly of iron.
Dipping up a little water, he allowed it to wash back and forth over
the black sand, and presently some little yellow specks were uncovered.
These were the colors of gold, which, being relatively heavier than
even the iron, had sifted down to the very bottom.

"Hurrah!" cried Roly, joyfully, as he caught sight of them, adding with
more force than elegance, "that's the stuff!"

David, maturer and less boisterous, was not a whit less pleased. He
expressed a desire to see how the panning was done.

Uncle Will accordingly drew on his rubber gloves to protect his hands
from the icy water, rinsed out the pan, and with some difficulty
scraped together with the head of an axe a panful of dirt and gravel
from the bank as near bed-rock as possible, explaining that the most
gold was found as a rule at the lowest possible point. He carried the
gravel to the edge of the stream, where he allowed the water to flow
in, not too swiftly, upon it. He now rinsed off and threw out the
larger stones, after which he took the pan in both hands and shook it
vigorously for a few seconds with a circular motion, finally letting
the water flow rapidly out, carrying with it some lighter portions of
earth and gravel. Then with his hands he pushed out of the pan the
upper part of its contents to the depth of about half an inch.

Roly was alarmed at once. "Look out, Uncle," said he. "You'll lose some
of the gold, won't you?"

"Not a bit," said Uncle Will, complacently. "When I shook the pan the
gold went down, aided by the water. There isn't a single color in the
top of this gravel now."

So saying, he shook the pan again as before, and pushed off a little
more of the contents, and sometimes he allowed the water to flow in
and out several times, carrying with it on each occasion the lighter
particles. In this way the amount of gravel was gradually reduced, and
in less than ten minutes there remained apparently only a quantity of
black sand and a few pebbles. The latter, Uncle Will deftly removed
with his thumb. Then he proceeded to reduce the amount of black sand,
using greater caution than before, and letting the water flow very
gently in and out.

Presently a yellow speck was uncovered, then another and another, to
the great delight of the boys; and, best of all, a little nugget of the
size of buckshot made its appearance, which Uncle Will said might be
worth fifteen cents.

All this was highly encouraging, for the Bradfords had not counted
on a gold district here when the expedition was planned. It only
remained to set up the stakes and write the names and dates thereon.
As the discovery claim included only the upper end of the bank where
the nugget was found, Uncle Will took two hundred and fifty feet next
below, followed by Mr. Bradford and David in turn. Roly, as we have
said, was under eighteen, and had no license.

"There," said Uncle Will, when all was finished and the stakes firmly
braced with stones, "I believe we've taken the cream of the creek. The
Thirty-six will probably stake the six claims next below, then they
will have to leave the next ten for the Canadian Government and begin
again below that, and so on. There's no telling what would have been
left for us if we hadn't come first."

"That's so," said Tom Moore, with a grin. "I guess ye'd 'a' ben up on
the glacier or down in Dasar-dee-ash Lake."

The party camped that night near the tents of King and the recorder,
the latter entering the claims in due form and collecting ten dollars
per claim, according to law.



CHAPTER XVI

A CONFLAGRATION


When the Bradfords returned to Lake Dasar-dee-ash, they found Lucky,
Long Peter, and Coffee Jack awaiting them with all the supplies. The
course lay across the lake to its outlet, a stream bearing the Indian
name of "Kaska Wulsh," but generally known as the north branch of the
Alsek, since, after flowing north for fifty miles, it turned to the
west and south like the other branch, which it joined many miles below
Dalton's Post.

After a consultation it was decided to cache a part of Mr. Bradford's
supplies, and all of Uncle Will's except certain tools, on the western
shore, within six miles of Kah Sha gorge, for they would eventually
return to look after the Alder Creek claims, and it was, besides,
advisable to lighten the loads and hasten forward before the snow and
ice were gone. Uncle Will accordingly took Lucky and Long Peter and
set out across the bay of the lake with three sled-loads, leaving his
brother and the boys to rest after their labors. Late in the evening he
returned and reported that he had built a strong platform of saplings
high up between three trees and enclosed on all sides. There he had
left the goods covered with oiled canvas, and felt confident that they
would be safe alike from dogs, wild beasts, and stormy weather.

It was now thought best to dismiss Long Peter, since the remaining
thirty-five miles consisted of level lake and river, and furthermore
it was necessary to husband the provisions. The Indian seemed sorry to
part with his white friends, but took the matter good-naturedly, the
more so, perhaps, since he was confident of finding employment with
the Mysterious Thirty-six, who could not be far behind. He left on the
following morning, happy with a present of a fine hunting-knife in
addition to his wages. Uncle Will wished to buy his sled, in order that
Lucky might use it, but Long Peter was unwilling to part with it, and
Lucky was obliged as before to take turns with the sleds of the others
and act as general assistant.

The surface of the lake proved more unfavorable for sledding than was
anticipated. Exposed as they were to the uninterrupted glare of the
sun, the snowy ridges were soft and slushy except at night. To make
matters worse, a north wind blew strongly in their faces. Toward noon
they descried several black specks on the ice to the rearward, which
gained steadily upon them, and were at length seen to be three men,
a sled, and a team of dogs. The men proved to be the leader of the
Thirty-six, a miner named Cannon, and a very tall native known as
Indian Jack, the owner and driver of the dogs.

The "Cap'n," as the leader was called, gave no hint as to his
destination, but Uncle Will surmised that he was going forward to
look over the ground upon which he proposed to locate his men. He was
willing to say, however, that the rest of his party would turn aside to
Kah Sha River, as the Bradfords had done, and that they ought to reach
there in about three days. Several of his men were sick or exhausted,
one was suffering from a sprained ankle, two were snow-blind, another
had been cut with an axe, and still another had blood-poisoning in a
finger. He thought they might lose a day or two from these causes.
Without waiting to talk further, he gave the word to the Indian, who
in turn cried out "Chuck!" to the dogs, and away they went as fast as
they could walk, much faster indeed than the Bradfords could follow.
The Indian guided the sled by the gee-pole, but the dogs did all the
pulling, and tugged vigorously as if they quite enjoyed it,--David
meantime catching a picture of the whole outfit as it went by, with the
Dasar-dee-ash Mountains for a background.

Not more than four miles had been covered when camp was pitched on the
eastern shore that afternoon. As the night promised to be comparatively
warm and fine, Roly proposed to his father that they should make a big
canvas hut with two tents as some of the Thirty-six had done at Rainy
Hollow. Neither Mr. Bradford nor Uncle Will objected to humoring the
boy, and the hut was set up forthwith on a framework of poles, with
the open end to the south away from the wind. The blanket beds of the
four occupants were then laid in place side by side upon spruce boughs
strewn on the snow.

When supper had been disposed of, a roaring fire was built before
the open side of the hut, filling the place with a cheerful warmth
and glow, and the four reclined comfortably on the blankets, telling
stories and watching the curling smoke and crackling flames, until Mr.
Bradford declared that if they did not turn in, they would surely sleep
overtime in the morning, for there was neither cock nor clock to arouse
them here. Something else there was, however, which proved quite as
effectual, and roused them long before daybreak.

Roly was dreaming that he was at home and sitting by the kitchen stove.
Suddenly, he thought, the lids flew off, and the flames rose in a
bright column to the ceiling, while sparks fell all over him and about
the room. He tried to rise and alarm the household, but some strange
power held him fast, and he could neither stir nor cry out. The next
instant he felt a thump in the ribs and awoke with a sense of choking,
to hear his uncle exclaiming excitedly, "Wake up! wake up! everybody!
We're all afire here! Quick, quick, Charley! Take your hat or coat or
anything, and beat down the flames. David, Roly, get out of this in a
hurry!"

The boys grasped the situation in an instant. The wind had turned to
the south while they slept, and a flying spark had set fire to the
canvas over their heads. The dry cloth was now flaming up brightly,
while burning pieces were falling on the blankets. They jumped up,
seized their caps, and fell to work with a will to help their father
and uncle, who were beating away desperately at the blazing side and
roof.

It was quick, breathless work. Not only must they prevent the spread of
the flames overhead, but they must also take care of the bedding and
whatever clothing was in the hut. David, after extinguishing the fire
immediately around him, dropped his cap and pulled both blankets and
clothing in a heap out into the snow, where he spread them all out,
carefully quenched the sparks, and then ran back to the hut, where the
flames were presently brought under control. This was not accomplished,
however, until nearly half the roof and all of one side were gone.

The fire-fighters, panting and exhausted, gazed ruefully at the ruins.
It was too dark now to ascertain the exact amount of the damage, but
there could be no doubt it was very serious. No one, however, was
disposed to cry over spilled milk; and Uncle Will, who had known many
disasters of various sorts in the course of his rough experience,
even laughed grimly and declared that what he regretted most was the
singeing of his beard, of which he had lost fully two inches. Both men
complimented the boys on their efficient work, which contributed to a
large degree toward the saving of the contents of the hut, as well as
that part of the hut itself which remained.

"I believe Lucky and Coffee Jack slept through it all," said Mr.
Bradford, peering through the darkness toward the beach, where the
Indians had pitched their rude tent.

As he spoke, there was a crackling and a flash of light behind the hut.

Not three feet from the rear of the structure rose a tall dead spruce.
Fire from the burning canvas had been communicated to a dry vine
leading into a net-work of small branches at the foot of this tree, and
a tiny flame, silent and unseen, had been stealthily creeping toward
this mass of tinder.

"Down with the hut, boys!" cried Uncle Will, instantly realizing the
new danger. "Quick, before it gets too hot! Never mind the tree,--you
can't put _that_ fire out!"

This last was addressed to Roly, who had promptly attacked the burning
branches with his cap, but only succeeded in tearing that article on
the twigs without much effect on the flames.

Knots were untied with nervous haste, and where they proved refractory
they were cut. That part of the canvas nearest the tree was first
folded over out of harm's way, and soon the whole was loosened and
dragged to a distance, and none too soon. The fire ran up the dry twigs
with startling rapidity and a roar that presently aroused those sound
sleepers, Lucky and Coffee Jack, who came running up in surprise.

The tree quickly became a gigantic torch which lighted up the country
for miles, and sent a dense column of white smoke rolling skyward. By
good luck there were no other trees close enough to be in danger, and
the whole party withdrew to a comfortable distance, as soon as the hut
was safe, to watch the brilliant spectacle. The best part of it was
soon over, for the branches were presently burned away, but portions of
the trunk flamed and smoked for hours. Nobody but the Indians thought
of sleeping any more that night. The boys curled up in their blankets
where they could watch the tree; while Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will,
wrapped in their heavy coats, sat on a log near by,--the former telling
stories of Adirondack fires, the latter, who never seemed to have smoke
enough, puffing away at his pipe.



CHAPTER XVII

THROUGH THE ICE


With daylight it was seen that the tent of David and Roly, which had
formed the western end of the hut, was almost wholly destroyed; but
with the exception of several holes in a corner of the fly, the large
tent had escaped injury. This outcome was fortunate, for an extra small
tent had been provided. As for the bedding, the fine gray blankets were
not harmed in the least, but the down quilts, which had been spread
over them, suffered numerous punctures from the falling sparks, so that
the feathers flew in clouds whenever the quilts were moved, and it was
necessary to sew up the holes before setting out on the day's march.

The outlet of the lake, which they reached at noon, was a stream fifty
feet in width, and passed at first through a swampy region. Here, in
the tall dry marsh-grass, there were pools of open water. Camp was made
on a bluff,--the first high land beyond the swamp. A warm south breeze
blew steadily, and Uncle Will said it was doubtless the wind known in
the Pacific States as the "chinook." It might be expected to continue
without intermission for two or three weeks, and would make a quick
end of the sledding. Already the southern slopes of the hills were
bare, and many of them were green with killikinick, a low plant with
red berries and small evergreen leaves, not unlike those of garden box.

"I'm sorry for our mysterious friends," said Mr. Bradford, as he
finished pitching the large tent. "They'll be stranded on bare ground
pretty soon."

"That's so," said Uncle Will. "They'll cross the lake all right, but
I think the ice will go out of this river in two or three days. We're
none too soon ourselves. Hello! the wild geese have come." He pointed
to a dozen great gray birds, flying in a wedge-shaped flock, and
crying, "Honk! honk!"

"They're coming down," exclaimed Roly, excitedly. "Mayn't I go over
there, Father? I'm sure I could shoot some of them."

"Yes," replied Mr. Bradford; "but I'll go with you, because the ice is
treacherous in the swamp, and, besides, you are not quite expert yet in
the use of the gun."

"Bring us the fattest bird in the flock," shouted Uncle Will, as they
departed; "and we'll have a royal supper." So saying, he fell to
mending the gee-pole of his sled. With David's assistance, the pole was
soon as good as new.

"Now," said Uncle Will, "where's your rifle, Dave?"

"Packed on my sled."

"Go and get it. I saw some ducks in a stretch of open water back here,
and maybe we can do a little hunting on our own account."

This proposal tickled David immensely. He brought the rifle and a
handful of cartridges, and the two set off in a direction not quite
parallel to that taken by Mr. Bradford and Roly. A half-mile walk
brought them in sight of the ducks, five of them, near the icy edge of
a small opening; and by lying flat on the ice, they were able to creep
and slide toward them under cover of a clump of tall reeds. At length
Uncle Will whispered to David to take careful aim at one of them and
fire.

David was already sighting along the gun-barrel--his finger on the
trigger--when the report of Roly's shot-gun rang out behind a small
thicket of willows. The ducks at once took flight, to David's great
disappointment, but at the same moment the geese appeared, flying in a
confused manner directly toward their ambush.

"Quick, Dave, give me the gun," cried Uncle Will.

David instantly passed it over, and wonderingly watched his uncle as he
tossed it up to his shoulder.

"Bang!" went the rifle, and down tumbled a big bird from the centre of
the flock,--as fine a fat goose as ever graced a table. David fairly
danced with delight.

"There!" said Uncle Will, with a merry twinkle in his eye; "I'll wager
that this was the very goose Roly meant to kill."

"Don't you think he shot any, then?" asked David.

"I fancy the chances are he didn't."

And so it proved, when the four hunters reunited and compared notes.
David described his uncle's marksmanship with great enthusiasm, and Mr.
Bradford and Roly were quite ready to admit the brilliance of the feat.

In two places, next morning, the stream, on whose frozen surface they
travelled, broadened into lakelets, where progress over the smooth ice
was rapid and easy, but as soon as these were passed and the stream
narrowed again, difficulties appeared. Water was beginning to flow over
the ice through numerous cracks, and as the day advanced, many openings
had to be avoided. Often the centre of the river was wholly free from
ice, only a narrow strip remaining along each bank. In such cases,
they proceeded with great caution. The banks themselves were usually
impassable, by reason of thickets and trees, and the ice-strips offered
the only highway, but they were tilted at such an angle that the sleds
were constantly slipping sideways toward the water. At the worst spots
the united efforts of the party were required to move each load safely
past.

At length a point was reached, where they seemed absolutely blocked.
The firm ice on one side abruptly ended on a curve of the stream, and
it was necessary to cross to the other side. There was ice in the
centre at this point, but evidently too weak to bear a man's weight.
The boys could see no solution of the problem, except that of retracing
their steps. But the ice in the centre had been weak for a long
distance, and nobody wished to go back over such a weary course on the
slim chance of finding a crossing. It was Mr. Bradford who overcame
this emergency.

"Let us build a brush bridge," suggested he. "I believe it would
distribute our weight, and make the passage safe."

"The very thing," said Uncle Will, approvingly. "Strange I didn't think
of so simple a scheme."

All hands fell to work at once, chopping down willows and alders. Two
strong poplar saplings were laid across the weak ice three feet apart,
and the brush was thrown thickly over them. The Indians tested this
rude bridge, and the others followed, all passing over in safety.

But they were not destined to unbroken good fortune. It was soon
necessary to cross to the east bank again. This time, although there
were three inches of water on the ice in mid-stream, the ice itself
appeared to be reinforced by a second layer which had been thrust
beneath it. Coffee Jack and Lucky examined the situation with care,
then crossed with two sleds. Roly, David, and Mr. Bradford followed
without mishap. Then Uncle Will, the heaviest of the party, attempted
to do likewise; but in the very centre of the river the rotten ice
gave way without a moment's warning, and down went man and sled into
the cold, muddy water. It was deep, too,--so deep that Uncle Will
did not touch the bottom,--and as for the sled, only the tip of the
gee-pole remained above the surface. Fortunately, the current here was
not swift.

"Stand back, boys!" commanded Mr. Bradford, who saw in an instant the
thing to be done. Rushing to the shore, he cut a long willow with one
sweep of his knife, then, running to the edge of the hole, where his
brother had managed to support himself by treading water and grasping
the broken ice-cakes, he held out the end of the branch. Uncle Will
caught this, and was pulled to the edge of the strong shore-ice, where
he was seized by willing hands and drawn forth, his teeth chattering,
but his usual undaunted smile still in evidence as he remarked, "They
s-say it's a good th-thing to keep c-c-cool in case of accident.
N-nobody can say I'm not c-cool!"

This unexpected sally drew a burst of merriment from the boys, who, now
that the danger was over, were quite ready to appreciate the humorous
side of the incident. They admired their uncle more than ever for his
happy way of making light of discomforts.

But the sled and its precious provisions were still in the water, and
no time must be lost in rescuing them. How to do it, was the question.
The gee-pole was too far from the strong ice to be reached. If the thin
ice, against which it rested, were broken, it would probably sink out
of sight altogether.

Lucky finally fished up the drag-rope by means of a long pole, and
thus the sled was drawn toward the shore ice. All now took hold, and
their combined strength sufficed to haul it out of the water. Its load
was quickly unpacked, the sacks of flour were set on end in the sun
to drain and dry, as the dampness had not penetrated more than half
an inch through the canvas, and the contents of the clothing bag were
spread upon a log. A bag of sugar was the only total loss. Meantime,
a huge fire was built on the bank, in the warmth of which Uncle Will
changed his clothing.

Further progress that day was unadvisable, and indeed, Uncle Will
declared that if they had covered seven miles, as he believed was the
case, they were practically at their journey's end.



CHAPTER XVIII

BUILDING THE CABIN


A tour of investigation convinced Mr. Bradford that Frying-Pan Creek,
the stream for which they were searching, flowed into the river from
the right, not a quarter of a mile distant. Lucky was familiar with all
the streams of the region, but he was often unable to identify them
by English names, and, in this instance, the white men were obliged
to base their conclusions on a description of the district previously
given to Uncle Will.

The goods were moved forward overland to a low hill which sloped
gradually to the creek on one side, and fronted the river in a
fifty-foot bluff on the other. Here there was abundance of spruce
timber, much of which, though still standing, had been killed by a
forest fire, and was perfectly seasoned.

Nearly a mile to the west, across the river, was a long granite cliff,
a thousand feet or more in height, which limited the view in that
direction. To the north, as they looked down the valley, they beheld
two mountains fifteen miles away, between which the river flowed. The
western one rose sharply three thousand feet, the other, much greater
in bulk, four thousand. The Indians called these elevations Father and
Son, but the western had come to be known among white men as Mount
Bratnober, while the other was soon to be named Mount Champlain, after
a member of the Thirty-six who climbed it. From Mount Champlain on the
north, a range of lesser peaks extended clear around to the southeast,
bounding the valley on that side, and it was among these mountains
that Frying-Pan Creek had its source, five miles distant. With so many
landmarks, they felt no doubt about their position.

Uncle Will declared that at the earliest moment they must set off to
the headwaters of the creek on a prospecting trip, but to go while ice
and snow remained would hardly be advisable, so long as the Thirty-six
were not in sight. It was therefore decided to begin a log cabin. The
boys, who had always cherished a longing to live in the woods in a
house of their own building, hailed this project with enthusiasm, while
Mr. Bradford observed that they would now appreciate the situation and
circumstances of their ancestors in the wilderness of New England.

First a site must be chosen, dry, level, and sheltered from strong
winds. Several places were examined, but only one of these satisfied
every requirement. It was a small plot of level ground, free from
trees, near the top of the hill where it sloped to the creek. To the
south and west, the hill-top sheltered it, while to the northwest and
north stood tall, dense spruce-trees. Eastward the country was more
open, and creek, valley, and mountains were in plain view. The cabin
was to face in this direction. Its dimensions on the ground were to be
eighteen by twenty feet.

So large a structure would hardly have been planned, had it not been
for the wealth of light, dry timber around them. The weight of green
logs of the required size would have taxed their strength most sorely.

Lucky and Coffee Jack were set at work clearing the ground of snow,
of which but little remained; while Mr. Bradford and his brother took
their axes, and began to fell the straightest of the dead spruces.
The boys trimmed off such branches and stubs as survived. Whenever a
trunk was nearly cut through on one side, the choppers would give the
warning, and, when the way was clear, a few strokes on the other side
brought down the forest giant with a crash.

To drag the logs to the chosen spot was harder and took more time than
the felling. Then the ends had to be notched, so that they would join
perfectly at the corners of the cabin, each log having two feet of
extra length to allow room for the notching.

It was thought the Thirty-six would not arrive before the fourth day,
and the elder Bradfords agreed that it would be wise to drop work on
the cabin on that day, and stake claims along the headwaters of the
creek. But alas for human calculations! About noon of the third day,
voices were heard in the direction of the river, and presently six
of the mysterious party put in an appearance. They were surprised at
finding the Bradfords, who, they supposed, had continued northward.

"Hello!" exclaimed a thick-set man with a reddish beard sprinkled with
gray,--"how are you, gentlemen? We heard your axes, and thought we
should find strangers. You're doing the very thing we've got to do."

"Yes," said Uncle Will, "but how in the world did you get here so soon,
Pennock?"

"Oh! we've been working like slaves to get as far as we could before
the ice went out. It would freeze a little every night, and we would
make a few miles, but in the middle of the day we had to build bridges
every few rods. Half a dozen of our men have broken through first and
last,--sleds too. We left Patterson, Lewis, Colburn, and Whitney, on
the Kah Sha claims, and now we six are ordered to stop here and do some
prospecting. The rest will try 'to go on."

"Ah!" said Uncle Will, much relieved by this last information; "so the
rest are going on? Well, I'm sorry for them. The ice won't last two
days."

"That's true as you live," replied Pennock. "Well, we must get back.
We're camped temporarily just below here. Maybe I'll see you again this
evening."

"All right," answered Uncle Will. "Come up any time."

"I believe," said Mr. Bradford, as soon as the visitors were gone, "he
wants to join forces, at least, in the building of the house."

"I think so too," said Uncle Will. "It wouldn't be a bad idea either.
The cabin is easily big enough for all twelve of us. With their help,
we can finish it in no time. I even think it would be well to work with
them in prospecting, if they are agreeable. Let's see--there are only
nine claims to be taken between us. We ought all to be able to get good
ones, if there are any."

It was accordingly determined that evening, by conference with
Pennock's party, to combine for the present. To prevent disagreements,
the details of the arrangement were drawn up in writing, Pennock
readily engaging to give the Bradfords first choice of claims, for two
reasons,--first, because they were first to arrive, and, second, in
consideration of the work they had already done on the cabin.

Next morning, the Bradfords went to the top of the bluff overlooking
the river, and saw the main body of the Thirty-six, now reduced to
about twenty-five white men, and half a dozen Indians--including Long
Peter--resuming their march. After skirting the shore on a fringe of
ice for some distance, they made a short cut across a narrow tongue of
land, where the snow was entirely gone and the sleds could only be
moved with the severest toil.

"Flesh and blood can't stand that a great while," said Uncle Will;
"especially on short rations. They'll have to abandon their sleds soon,
and carry what they can on their backs. I wish I knew how far those
poor fellows are going."

"They're making a desperate dash for somewhere," said Mr. Bradford,
"and their pluck is certainly admirable. I wish them success with all
my heart."

"And I too," added Uncle Will, emphatically.

Work on the cabin was resumed as soon as possible, and the walls rose
like magic with the increased force of builders. In a few days these
were completed. An opening was sawn in the front for a door, and
smaller ones in each side for windows, the sawn ends of the logs being
held in place by the door-frame and window-frames, which consisted of
small hewn strips of spruce wood nailed in place. The roof was now
constructed of poles laid side by side from the ridge-logs to the
upper logs of the front and rear walls. David and Roly gathered great
quantities of green spruce boughs, which were laid on the top of the
roof-poles. This proved to be a mistake, but in the hurry of building,
nobody thought of it. Later, as soon as these boughs dried, the needles
came rattling down through the cracks upon the slightest provocation,
and were a great nuisance when cooking was in progress. A layer of
damp moss should first have been spread upon the poles, then the
spruce, and finally a thick layer of moss over all. This upper layer
was duly applied, and being soft and spongy, contributed in no small
degree to the waterproof quality of the roof, which was rather more
flat than such a roof should be. As an additional protection against
rain, several tents were spread above the moss, and now the cabin was
complete, except for the "chinking," and interior furnishings.

"Chinking" is the filling of the cracks between the logs. The boys
soon became skilled in this work, and most of it was left for them to
do, while the men were engaged in heavier labors. Small dead spruces,
slender and straight as bean-poles, were first cut down in large
numbers. These were trimmed as nearly as possible to the size and
shape of the cracks, and driven firmly into place with the blows of a
hatchet. Such crevices as still remained were stuffed with moss and
clay.

The door consisted of a light framework of poles, covered with
cheese-cloth, of which Pennock had a supply; and the windows were of
the same material. Though not transparent, it admitted a goodly amount
of light, and promised to keep out insects and the wind.

Within the house, a sheet-iron stove was set up in the opening left for
a fire place, which was then enclosed above and on the sides and rear,
with poles set close together and chinked, an aperture being left for
the stove-pipe. Sleds were so arranged as to form a dining-table and
seats.

The boys had set their hearts on building bunks to sleep in. This
was approved of by their father and uncle, since it was undoubtedly
healthier to be off the ground, and they suggested that two double
bunks be built in the southwest corner, large enough to accommodate the
four. The boys were left to exercise their own ingenuity in this work,
and they succeeded in turning out two very good berths, constructed
wholly of spruce poles, and arranged like those of a steamer's
stateroom. Soft boughs were spread upon the berths, and then the
blankets, in which rude quarters they slept as comfortably as they ever
had at home. The upper berth, too, served David as a shelf, upon which
to develop his photographs.

This nucleus of a city it was voted to call Pennock's Post.

How refreshing it was, as they surveyed the finished product of their
labors, to feel that they had reached their destination, that there
was no exhausting journey to be resumed on the morrow, and that at all
times they could be sure of a warm, dry resting place with a roof over
their heads!



CHAPTER XIX

THE FIRST PROSPECT-HOLE


It was now the first week in May. The snow was entirely gone from the
lowlands, melted by the breath of the chinook. The creek was swollen
to twice its normal size, and had overflowed its banks in many places,
bursting its icy bonds and stranding the ice-cakes high among the
bushes. As for the river, that, too, had freed itself, and its muddy
current was rising inch by inch. On the mountains they could almost see
the snow-line creep higher and higher each day, and soon on the lesser
heights no snow remained except in the gullies, giving to the mountains
a streaked aspect.

Robins and song-sparrows put in an appearance, and ducks were
everywhere. On the very first warm day, bees, flies, and a mosquito or
two were thawed into life, and hummed and buzzed in the sunshine as
if there had never been any winter. In every sandy bluff and bank the
ground-squirrels, beautifully mottled little creatures, came out of
their holes, and sat up on their haunches as stiff as a ramrod, with
their fore-paws demurely folded on their breasts, and sunned themselves
and cast curious glances at their new neighbors.

Purple crocuses blossomed in abundance, and everywhere grass was
growing green and buds were starting. Spring had come!

"What do you think of a prospecting trip?" asked Uncle Will of Pennock,
one morning. "I believe we can sink a shaft now."

"That's a good idea," said Pennock. "The frost ought to be out of the
upper soil by this time. If it isn't, we can thaw it with fire."

"The one thing I don't like about this place," continued Uncle
Will, "is that the creek seems to be deserted. We heard rumors of
extraordinary richness here, and if there's any truth in them, there
ought to be some signs of life hereabouts."

"That's so," admitted Pennock. "It was Cannon who advised the Cap'n
to leave a few men here. He said he sunk a hole last year and found
gold enough to make it worth while to explore more fully. What really
brought our party into this country, though, was a report of a rich
strike up above. That's where the rest of them have gone; but I don't
know just how far it is."

"Well," said Uncle Will, "the stories I heard may have been misleading.
We'll see what there is here anyhow, and take our chances. By the way,
there's another creek to the southeast yonder, where you see that gully
in the mountain. We might send a party there."

To this proposition Pennock assented. Accordingly Mr. Bradford and
Roly, with Large, Nichols, and the two Indians, set off toward the
gully, which was about six miles distant, while Uncle Will, David,
Pennock, Reitz, Adair, and Johnson started for the headwaters of the
creek beside which they had camped,--a journey of four miles. We may as
well follow the fortunes of the latter party.

There was no trail worthy of the name, but once or twice hoof-marks
were discovered, probably made by Cannon's pack horse the previous
season. Sometimes they entered forests of standing spruce and poplar,
either growing or fire-killed, and now it was a district of fallen
trees, where it was almost impossible to advance, from which they
emerged with a sigh of relief into some open grassy meadow near the
stream, where walking was pleasant and easy. Presently they ascended
a clay bluff a hundred feet high, skirting its edge where it was free
from timber. From this vantage ground they could see the snowy peaks
of the Dasar-dee-ash Mountains, thirty miles to the south, on the
other side of which lay the claims they had taken in April. Uncle Will
examined the fine clay of the bluff, and gave it as his opinion that it
would make excellent bricks and pottery.

In an hour and a half, they came to the foot-hills, where the stream
fell noisily over a bed of boulders in a pretty glen. A sharp lookout
was kept, but no signs of Cannon's work were seen. At length it was
decided to sink a hole on the south bank where a bed of gravel had been
deposited by the water. From the nature of the rocks about them, they
concluded that bed-rock was not far below the surface. Picks, shovels,
and a gold-pan had been brought, and the men took turns at the digging.
It was hard work, for many large stones were encountered frozen into
their places, and these could only be pried loose at risk of a bent
pick. When a depth of twelve inches was reached, Pennock filled the
pan with a sample of the gravel, and took it to the stream, while the
others, except Adair, who was swinging the pick, gathered around him,
eager to know the result of the test. Not a color was found, but there
was black sand and in it two small rubies.

The discovery of the rubies did not seem to offset the disappointment
of the men at finding no gold,--a fact at which David wondered, until
his uncle informed him that those gems were quite commonly found in the
Northwest, and such small ones were of little value. David resolved,
however, to look about for himself, and, in a mound of sand thrown up
by ants, he found a dozen or more, some of them a little larger than
the ones in the pan. These he carefully picked out, and put in his
match-box for safe keeping.

Meanwhile, the work in the prospect-hole went steadily on. At a depth
of two feet a small color was found, by which time it was noon, and
work ceased for an hour. By the middle of the afternoon the hole was
three feet and a half deep, and solid rock was gained, though toward
the last so much water entered that digging was difficult, and bailing
had to be resorted to. At the bed-rock, where all their hopes rested,
were found a few insignificant colors,--nothing more.

Uncle Will, usually so cheerful, was quite downcast at this result.
He had heard the rumors of gold from men whom he trusted, and was
obliged to conclude that they had themselves been misled. Indeed, it
seemed to be one of those instances in which a very small tale, by long
travelling and frequent repetition, becomes strangely magnified and
distorted. The Thirty-six had detached few men here because the story,
as they had heard it, had located the wealth in a different place.
Still there might be a good deal of gold on this creek, for a single
hole is usually not enough to determine the character of a gulch. At
least one more shaft must be sunk where the gravel was deeper, before
all hope need be abandoned. Even if worst came to worst, there still
remained the Alder Creek claims, and Lucky's nugget.

It turned out that the other party, under Mr. Bradford, had met with
even less success. Rubies they had found, but not a single color of
gold. However, they had not reached bed-rock at the end of the first
day.

Uncle Will and his companions returned to the cabin a few minutes
before the others. Seated on the ground outside the door, they found an
Indian family, consisting of an old bent squaw, two young women, and a
thin, weak-looking young man. The old squaw, evidently the mother of
the others, waved her arms in token of welcome as soon as she saw the
white men. Then, touching the young man's breast she exclaimed, "Him
sick, you savvy?"

"Sick, is he?" repeated Uncle Will, looking at the pinched features and
wasted frame.

"Sick--yis--you savvy [understand]?" said the squaw.

"Consumption," said Uncle Will to David. "It's very prevalent among
the Indians, and carries off hundreds." Then turning to the old Indian
woman he added, "I savvy,--very bad, very sick. Have some tea?"

"Tea! Yis, yis," answered she, eagerly, for tea is considered a great
luxury by the Indians, and this family, dressed in ragged, cast-off
clothing, seemed too abjectly poor to buy anything at the trading-post.
Indeed, the only food they had was dried salmon, though the man carried
an antiquated shot-gun.

Uncle Will made some tea, and the natives drank it delightedly in the
cabin, which they entered without invitation as soon as the door was
opened.

It must be explained here that the door was fastened by a sliding pole
which ran some distance along the inner side of one of the front logs,
and was held in place by wooden pegs. The pole was shoved across the
door by means of a knife-blade inserted from the outside between two
logs at a crevice left for the purpose five feet from the door. In this
manner the door had been locked that morning when the two parties set
off. Doubtless the Indians had tried the door; but finding it secure,
and seeing no means of opening it, they had not ventured to break in,
but waited for the return of the miners.

Both Uncle Will and Pennock realized the desirability of keeping the
secret of the lock from the visitors, and this they attempted to do
when the door was opened, Uncle Will attracting the attention of the
Indians, while Pennock softly stole up to the crevice and pried back
the bar.

But though the natives did not see the door opened, they intended none
the less to know how it was done, and that was why they so promptly
entered the cabin with the others. However, the white men thought it
best to say nothing, for it might be that they would drink their tea
and go out without noticing the door. Pennock, who was a Colorado man
and had no liking for the "redskins," kept an eye on them from the
moment of their entrance.

The old squaw, after a quick inventory of the contents of the cabin,
glanced furtively toward the door, and at once discovered the long
bar, but she did not know exactly how it was managed. So presently
she shuffled unconcernedly up to the front of the cabin, and, turning
about, faced the centre of the room. To all appearances, she was idly
leaning against the logs, but both Pennock and David noticed that her
hands behind her back were busily fumbling with the bar, and moving it
cautiously back and forth. The "game was up." Knowing the existence of
the bar, and its height from the ground, she would easily discover from
the outside the crevice through which it was controlled.

"The rascally old witch of an Injun!" muttered Pennock through his
teeth; but he knew it was of no use now to make a fuss. He broke out
violently, however, when the visitors were gone and it was discovered
that a nearly empty butter-can outside the house had disappeared with
them.

"They're all sneak-thieves, every one of 'em," he declared angrily;
"and the worst of it is that the old squaw learned the secret of our
lock. I saw her fumbling round. Now we've got to leave somebody here
every time we go away. I'd just like to--!"

This sounded very much like the preface to a dire threat; but Mr.
Bradford, who had arrived some minutes previously, interrupted it by
observing that the Indians would not be likely to take food or clothing.

"No," said Uncle Will. "They'll make off with empty cans, or any
little thing they think won't be missed, but they wouldn't take goods
of value. That's too dangerous in this country. Besides, we've treated
them well, and they're pretty low-down creatures if they steal from us
now."

"All the same," said Pennock, "there was half an inch of good butter in
that can, and I was intending to make a coffee cup of it as soon as it
was empty. They're a shrewd lot, if they are dirty and ignorant. I hope
they've gone for good."

It was a vain hope. A little later, a column of smoke half a mile up
the trail northward showed that they had camped.



CHAPTER XX

ROLY GOES DUCK-HUNTING


For many days, no game of any kind had been secured in abundance, and
Uncle Will, who saw the pork and bacon disappearing too rapidly, cast
about for some means of eking out the supplies. With this end in view,
he prevailed upon his brother to let Roly spend a day in hunting,
knowing full well that nothing would please the lad more. Roly had been
careful with the shot-gun, and had fairly earned this privilege.

The days in that high latitude were now so long that, even at midnight,
there was a twilight glow over the summits of Father and Son in the
north. At three in the morning, it was broad daylight, and Roly, as
he awoke into delightful anticipations, heard the "quack, quack" of
big brown mallards, and the whistling wings of smaller ducks, as they
flew to their feeding grounds. He was out of the bunk in an instant,
and slipping on his jacket and long rubber boots, which, with his cap,
were the only articles needed to complete his attire, he snatched a
hasty breakfast, put a piece of corn-bread in his pocket, and then, gun
in hand, softly opened the cabin door, and stole out into the fresh
morning air. The joy of youth was in his heart, and a sense of freedom
and adventure came with the thought of hunting all alone in that great
wide valley, and made the blood tingle to his finger-tips.

There were ponds and marshes in every direction, but Roly decided to
cross the river and walk southward, for he observed several ducks
flying that way. He therefore made his way down the face of the bluff,
through the sliding sand to the river-bank, where a raft of three logs
had been moored. Loosing this unwieldy craft, he laid the unloaded
gun upon it, then seized the long push-pole, and sprang on board. It
required considerable effort to free the lower end of the raft from the
mud, but finally it swung out into the stream. Roly pushed and paddled
lustily for some moments before he succeeded in urging the heavy affair
to the farther shore, for the current was strong and carried him down
the stream fully two hundred yards. He fastened the raft to a clump
of alders, picked up the gun, and set off up the stream to the south,
keeping a sharp lookout for any kind of game.

After penetrating a tangled thicket, he saw that he was coming out upon
a long, open swamp. There might be ducks here, and he paused to look
carefully at two or three pools which gleamed at some distance. Seeing
nothing, however, he skirted the edge of the swamp to the higher wooded
land beyond, where he was startled by the sudden chattering of a red
squirrel in a spruce over his head. He could have shot the squirrel
easily, but felt it would be unmanly to kill any creature wantonly. The
little animal was too small to have much value as food, and, besides,
cartridges were precious. So he passed on, in the hope of seeing larger
game.

On every sandy bank the ground-squirrels sat, and while they were
larger than the red squirrels, they were very lean after their long
winter sleep. They were plentiful near the cabin, and Roly thought he
could catch them with traps or snares, as soon as they were in better
condition. For the present, therefore, the ground-squirrels were also
left in peace.

Everywhere were traces of rabbits, but no rabbits were to be
seen. Lucky had explained this one day by saying, "Rabbit come
bime-by--plenty rabbit--all gone now,"--which Mr. Bradford interpreted
to mean that the animals migrated from place to place, and at some
seasons would, no doubt, fairly overrun the country, while at other
times they would be very scarce.

At length Roly caught a glimpse of a long, swampy pond between the
trees ahead, and on its smooth surface, near the centre, he could
see three ducks, one small, the others larger and of a dark-brown
color,--doubtless mallards. Hardly had he made this discovery, and
paused to consider how he should approach, when up flew two little
ducks, one variegated, and the other an even brown,--the male and
female,--from a near arm of the pond which had escaped his notice. The
boy trembled, lest the other three should also be alarmed; but they
went on dipping their bills under the water quite unconcernedly, while
the small one occasionally dived.

Near the bank stood a green spruce, the branches of which came thickly
down to the ground on the side toward the water, forming a splendid
cover. Roly thought that if he could only reach this tree, it would
be an easy matter to bag a duck or two, so he started cautiously on
tiptoe, keeping the tree between himself and the birds. But there
were many dry twigs and little bushes in the space over which he had
to pass, and the two mallards--most wary of Alaskan ducks--presently
took alarm at the almost imperceptible crackling on the shore. Up they
flew, quacking loudly, and making a wide sweep in Roly's direction, so
that he felt sure he could have shot one of them on the wing. Indeed,
he would have tried it, had not his father given strict orders to the
contrary. Cartridges were too precious here to be spent on experiments.
Roly had never practised wing-shooting, and his father knew he would
waste a great deal of ammunition before acquiring the knack. Where
sport was the object, not food, and ammunition was plentiful, Mr.
Bradford would have advised his son to shoot only at birds on the wing,
that being more sportsmanlike, and giving the birds a chance. But here
it was simply a matter of food, and every cartridge must count.

Roly, therefore, after one longing look at the now distant mallards,
crept up under the tree, and, kneeling on the moss, took aim through
an opening in the branches at the small duck, which seemed much less
timid than the others, though it had paddled a short distance toward
the farther shore. There was a puff of smoke, and the report rang out
sharply on the still morning air. The duck flopped once or twice, then
lay motionless on the water, on perceiving which, Roly executed an
immediate triumphal war-dance under the tree.

It was now a question whether the pleased youngster could secure his
prize. The wind was too light to blow it ashore, and the longest pole
he could use would not be long enough. The water looked dark and deep,
but at least he would try it; so, pulling up his rubber boots to their
full length, he stepped carefully out into the pond. To his surprise,
he found that the mud on the bottom was solidly frozen, and the water
was nowhere more than two feet deep. The duck was therefore quickly
reached and brought back to the tree, where the young hunter ambushed
himself again to await developments.

He now bethought him of the empty shell in his gun, and had hardly
thrown it out, preparatory to snapping another into place, when two
fine mallards appeared from the southward, and plumped heavily down
upon the water, not thirty feet from his hiding place. Alas that, of
_all_ times, the cartridge should stick at _that_ golden moment! But
stick it did, refusing to go in, or even to come out again. Roly fairly
bit his lips with vexation, and tugged with nervous fingers at the
mechanism of the breech, keeping an eye on the ducks all the while,
and trying to be as quiet as possible. It was all to no purpose. A bit
of dirt had found its way in somewhere, and he had to shake the gun
violently before the cartridge would move. The mallards could not be
expected to turn a deaf ear to this commotion. They raised their heads,
and then with one impulse fluttered up and away, and poor Roly nearly
cried, as the obstinate cartridge slipped easily in, ere the birds were
fairly out of sight.

It was yet early, however, and the lad knew that he had only to wait
patiently, to find another chance. He could occasionally hear the
whistle of wings as a flock flew past, and sometimes he could see the
birds from his covert. He had watched and waited a half hour, when four
ducks settled down at the remote end of the pond. They were out of
range, but soon began to come closer. Two were like those he had first
frightened from the narrow arm of the marsh, small in size, the male
brightly plumaged, the female a smooth brown. It was a male of this
species which he had shot. The other two seemed much larger, but in
other respects almost exactly like their companions. They kept quite
near each other, and splashed or dived unconscious of danger.

Roly watched his opportunity, hoping they would bunch together, so that
he might kill more than one at a shot. He had not long to wait. As they
came in range, the two larger birds and the smaller female were exactly
in line, one beyond another. It was the favorable moment. He aimed at
the middle one and fired.

The small male duck, which had been out of the line, seemed bewildered
rather than frightened by the noise. He dived, came up at a distance,
and paddled away without taking flight. The two larger birds were
instantly killed, while the small female beyond was crippled, and
fluttered around in a circle. Roly felt justified in using another
cartridge at once to put her out of suffering. Then he waded out
and brought in his prizes, the fourth duck having escaped into the
swamp-grass.

He wondered if the others back at the cabin had heard the shots. It was
not unlikely, for they would be stirring by this time. Having seated
himself again, he fell to thinking over the strange life he had been
leading for the past two months, so different from that at home. His
reverie was interrupted by the arrival of a fine mallard, which was
bagged without delay.

No more ducks visited the pond, though he waited until the middle of
the morning, when they ceased flying. He therefore prepared to return.
The legs of the birds were tied together, and they were slung over the
barrel of the gun, which he then raised to his shoulder, and found he
had something of a burden.

But he was destined to carry still more. He had not proceeded far when
he heard the clucking of a ptarmigan in the woods to his left, so
leaving the ducks where he could easily find them, he stole softly in
the direction of the sound. The clucking soon seemed very near,--so
near that he did not dare to go a step farther, for fear of frightening
the bird, but, look as he would, he could see nothing of it. He scanned
the ground for a glimpse of white, forgetting entirely that the
ptarmigan becomes brown when the snow disappears, and was just giving
up in despair when he sighted the bird perched on the dead branch of
a tree across a little glen. And, what was better, there were two in
the tree. Roly manoeuvred till he had the birds in line, and it was
such an easy shot that both fell stone dead at once, amid a shower of
feathers.

"Well done, Roly, my boy!" said Mr. Bradford, heartily, when the
prospectors returned late that afternoon and found Roly's bunch of
birds. "Let's see, here's a mallard, two golden-eyes, two little
butter-balls, and two ptarmigan,--seven birds in all. And how many
shots did you fire?"

"Five," said Roly, with pardonable pride. "There were no large flocks
to fire into, but I meant to make every shot tell."

"Yes," said his father, "and you've done very well, especially for a
beginner."

"And how many did you get, Johnson?" asked Uncle Will. Johnson had been
on a similar errand for the other party.

"Five ducks and a white rabbit," was the reply. "On the whole, Roly has
carried off the honors, for I fired six shots."

So the campers obtained fresh meat, and all were very glad to abstain
awhile from bacon. Both Roly and David went duck-hunting often after
that, and always with good success throughout the migrating season.



CHAPTER XXI

LAST DAYS AT PENNOCK'S POST


The Indian family hung about the premises more or less, hoping, no
doubt, for more tea or another butter-can. They set steel traps in the
neighboring sand-banks, and caught many ground-squirrels, some of which
they offered to the white men for twenty-five cents a pair; but while
ducks, ptarmigan, and occasionally a wild swan or rabbit could be shot,
no one was inclined to buy. David and Roly thought, however, that it
would do no harm to catch ground-squirrels for themselves, and they set
about making snares.

These were simple, and consisted of a strong but slender willow branch,
fixed firmly in the bank high above the hole in a nearly horizontal
position, a stronger stick similarly set between the other and the
hole, and a piece of string with a slip-noose at one end. The other end
of the string was tied to the extremity of the upper willow branch,
which was then bent down until the noose hung over the hole. A small
loop, slipped over the point of the lower stick, held the noose in
position.

All being ready, it was expected that Mr. Squirrel, coming out to take
an airing, would run his head through the noose, carrying it along
with him until the loop slipped from the lower stick, thus releasing
the elastic upper stick, which would jerk poor Mr. Squirrel into the
air, and hang him for no greater fault than his ignorance. The theory
was perfect, but in practice Mr. Squirrel displayed more cleverness
than he had been given credit for. Sometimes he pushed the noose aside,
and again he would slip through it, and though occasionally a snare was
sprung, the denizens of the sand-bank always managed to get away.

The boys therefore decided to try to buy two traps from the Indians;
and one day, when the whole family was present, David gave them to
understand by signs what was wanted. He shut his hands together with a
snap, then held up two fingers. The old squaw quickly nodded her head,
and jabbered some unintelligible gutturals, which might have been taken
for a fit of choking, but it was evident that she was willing to sell
two traps, and on the following day she brought them.

"Probably," said David, as he gave her two fifty-cent pieces, "she is
giving me the oldest and rustiest she has."

"Yes," said Pennock, "you can depend upon that. Better see if they'll
work, before you buy 'em."

The boys therefore snapped them once or twice, to make sure that they
were in order.

"Now," said Roly, "we must get her to show us how to set them in the
holes,"--whereupon he made a number of signs, which she quickly
comprehended. She took the traps to the nearest hole and placed them in
the entrance, covering them with dry grass, so that the animals would
not hesitate to walk over them. The traps proved so old and worn that
very few squirrels were caught at first, but Mr. Bradford doctored them
one day with a file, after which they were quite effective.

Not many days later, the old squaw fell ill, and her consumptive son
and one of her daughters came down in haste to the cabin, in the hope
that the white men would aid them. It chanced that no one was at home
but Pennock, he who most of all detested the Indians.

The young woman, by signs and the few English words she knew, made
known the state of the case, and urged the white man to come in person,
while her brother, with a sweep of the hand toward the east, repeated
the word "gold" over and over. He well knew what white men most covet.
Pennock, however, did not believe the Indian knew any more about gold
than he did. Furthermore, he was not a medical man, and felt that he
could do no good by visiting the patient. But he made out that the
trouble was a cough, and so without more ado he looked over his slender
stock of medicines and picked out a mustard plaster, which he gave to
the young woman, showing her by signs to dampen it and lay it on her
mother's chest. The two Indians appeared genuinely grateful for the
plaster, and offered fifty cents in payment, which of course Pennock
refused. So they went off with light hearts, to try the white man's
remedy.

"Ah!" exclaimed Uncle Will later, when Pennock related what he had
done; "for all your blustering the other day, you've a soft spot under
your waistcoat, I see. That's what I call returning good for evil."

"Maybe it was," said Pennock. "I couldn't refuse the poor wretches."

Whether the mustard plaster proved effective or not, the dwellers in
the cabin never knew, for a day or two later the Indians disappeared,
probably continuing their journey toward Hootchi, a Stik village fifty
miles to the north.

For a time nothing was learned of the fortunes of the large party which
had toiled down the valley in April, beyond the fact that they had not
been able to drag their sleds more than three miles. This news was
brought by one of their number, who said that the sleds and most of the
goods had been cached, and he had been left in charge. The others had
taken from fifty to one hundred and twenty-five pounds, according to
their size and strength, and had pushed ahead.

A few small bands of Indians visited the cabin, but as they came from
the south they had no news of the gold-seekers. With one of these bands
were two dogs of moderate size, staggering under loads of forty and
fifty pounds, while their lazy masters carried absolutely nothing but
the clothes they wore. Another party brought fresh whitefish, which
they bartered for flour and coffee. Four cups of flour and a pound
of coffee were accepted in exchange for seven fish, and both parties
seemed pleased with the bargain.

This incident prompted the Bradford boys to fish in the creek and
river, but they met with no success, and concluded that it was yet too
early. Coffee Jack, however, made a most welcome contribution to the
larder one day, by coming in with his hat full of duck's eggs, which he
had found in a swamp.

At last, on the fifteenth of May, the leader of the Thirty-six returned
with five white men and four Indians. Some of them were so worn with
hunger and fatigue as to be hardly recognizable, and all were utterly
discouraged. Their hopes were dispelled; they had found no gold.

The big party had advanced more than fifty miles with their heavy
loads, and had built two cabins to serve as starting-points for further
explorations. The men who had remained there would have to draw on the
cache near Pennock's Post very soon, and the leader had given them
orders to raft these supplies down the river twenty-five miles to
the point where the stream turned westward from the trail, and there
establish a storehouse. Meanwhile, those with the captain were to go
to the Kah Sha River claims and help the four who had been originally
left there. The captain himself intended to go to Pyramid Harbor with
the Indians, and bring in a fresh supply of provisions on pack horses,
as soon as there was grass enough along the trail for the subsistence
of the animals.

The men were given a hearty supper at Pennock's, for they sorely needed
it. Indeed, they declared it was the first "square meal" they had
enjoyed in two weeks. After a good night's rest and breakfast, they
resumed their journey in better spirits.

Five days later came a startling piece of information. Mr. Bratnober,
a mining man well known on the Dalton trail, with a young man named
Onderdonk and two Indian packers, stopped at the cabin on his way
north. He said that war had broken out between the United States and
Spain in April, and that Admiral Dewey had won a great victory at
Manila.

As may be imagined, this news wrought David and Roly up to the highest
pitch of excitement.

"Just think," said they,--"war for a month, and we didn't know it!"

For a moment, they almost regretted that they had come to such a far
country, and they thought longingly of the stirring times at home.
Their father and uncle were also much moved, and their first impulse
was to drop everything and hasten back,--the one to protect his
family, the other to enter the army or navy. But as they talked the
matter over, they saw there was little likelihood that the Spaniards
could effect a landing on the American coast; and as to Uncle Will's
enlistment, though that would have just suited his roving temperament,
he decided, upon his brother's urgent request, to await fuller
information. All agreed, however, that it would be wise to return at
once to the Kah Sha River, a distance of thirty-five miles.

There were several reasons for this move. The first and most imperative
was the fact that their provisions at Pennock's would last but one
week more. In the second place, they had demonstrated to their entire
satisfaction that there was no gold worth mining in that vicinity, and
the Thirty-six had found none farther north. Thirdly, there certainly
_was_ gold on their Alder Creek claims, and Lucky's nugget was probably
now uncovered. Finally, they would be within thirty miles of Dalton's
Post, and likely to hear more news from incoming prospectors.



CHAPTER XXII

A HARD JOURNEY


Preparations for departure were begun that evening. The Bradfords
overhauled all their belongings, and decided what they would take and
what they would have to leave. There was even less food than they
supposed,--barely enough for three days,--but tents, blankets, cooking
utensils, tools, guns, ammunition, clothing, and various small articles
promised to load them heavily, and it was seen that a part of their
goods must be abandoned.

The sleds, of course, were no longer of any use. Most of the Mackinaw
clothing was now too heavy. The ice-creepers and snow-shoes would not
be needed, and the former were thrown out at once, but David and Roly
could not part with their snow-shoes, which they desired to take home
and hang upon the walls of their room. The rubber shoe-packs were
nearly worn out, and were discarded. David regretfully abandoned the
two steel traps, which were heavy, and not so necessary as some other
things. The down quilts which had served them so well were too bulky
to be taken along, though not of much weight. So they went through the
whole list, retaining this, rejecting that, until they were ready to
make up their packs.

Next morning, Nichols, a Bostonian who usually cooked for Pennock's
party, obligingly prepared breakfast for the Bradfords, who were busily
completing their packing. Large, a tall, gaunt San Diego man,--whose
initials were A. T., so that, as he was fond of pointing out, he was
always "At Large,"--gave them useful hints about binding the packs.
He was a veteran of the Civil War, and remembered his travels with
knapsack and blanket. Reitz and Adair, also from San Diego, and Pennock
and Johnson, assisted in various ways.

After several failures, the boys acquired the knack of making up and
binding a pack. To accomplish this, they first arranged their goods in
the least possible space, and rolled them in tent or blankets,--for
David had the latter, and Roly the tent,--thus forming a flattened
cylindrical bundle. A lash-rope from a sled was wound once lengthwise
and twice widthwise around the pack, the latter windings being about
ten inches apart. The bundle being set on end, a strong canvas
pack-strap two inches wide and three feet long was inserted under the
lower winding at its junction with the lengthwise rope, and the ends
were made fast to the upper winding about ten inches apart, leaving
the two lengths of the strap somewhat loose, so that the packer could
thrust his arms through these loops. Thus the straps passed over his
shoulders and under his armpits. To prevent them from slipping from the
shoulders, they were bound together by a cord passing across the chest.
By means of the long, loose end of the pack-rope, brought over either
shoulder and grasped by the hands, the load could be shifted a little
from time to time if it became painful.

At seven, all was ready, and the Bradfords took leave of their friends
and cast a last look at the little cabin.

"I guess you'll see some of us before long," said Pennock, as he bade
them good-by. "There's no sort of use in our staying here. Remember us
to the boys, and leave us some of the gold."

Uncle Will motioned Lucky and Coffee Jack to lead the way, and off they
started through the open timber to the main trail, which passed but
a few hundred yards from the cabin. The hoofs of horses and cattle,
travelling to Dawson the previous season, had clearly defined it, and
one would have thought it a cow-path in a pasture, had it been in New
England instead of the Northwest Territory. For two miles it was smooth
and hard, and the walking was excellent, except that sometimes a tree
had fallen across the path.

Each of the three men carried a load of seventy-five pounds, though
Lucky would have thought nothing of one hundred and fifty, being
trained to the work from childhood. David had fifty pounds, and Roly
and Coffee Jack forty each.

Before they had gone half a mile, the boys realized that the journey
they had begun would be a severe test of endurance. The pressure of the
straps caused pain in their shoulders, and soon their arms and hands
tingled with the prickly sensation which arises when the blood cannot
circulate freely. They were obliged to avoid sticks and stones with
great care, for a sprain or bruise might easily result from stepping
upon them so heavily. Even Uncle Will, who had done a good deal of
packing, was quite ready to rest when pain compelled the boys to halt.
They secured temporary comfort by seating themselves in front of a
fallen tree so that the packs would rest upon it, and the prickly
sensation in the arms was relieved by loosening the straps a little.
Fortunately all had been well rested and strengthened by their stay at
Pennock's Post, and were fortified to endure both pain and fatigue.
Mr. Bradford was as strong now as his rugged brother. David had grown
muscular, and gained in weight. Roly looked much as usual, but his
muscles were certainly harder than they had ever been at home.

Following the east shore of the river, they came to the mouth of the
creek whose headwaters Mr. Bradford had explored. It was crossed by a
single narrow log twenty feet long, a rude and dangerous bridge for any
one who had not a clear head and steady nerves. The water, six or eight
feet below, was still and deep and muddy. To fall into it with a heavy
pack meant almost certain death, if assistance were not at hand.

Lucky and Coffee Jack, however, crossed unhesitatingly, and Uncle Will
performed the feat without betraying dizziness; but when Mr. Bradford's
turn came, he looked somewhat doubtful, declaring that he had done no
tight-rope walking since his boyhood days, and he feared that if his
head swam, the rest of him would soon be swimming too. On the whole,
he thought it wise to remove his pack and carry it in such manner that
he could drop it if he fell. He then advanced over the log slowly and
cautiously, for its upper surface, hewn level and smooth, was but four
inches wide. The boys carried their packs across in the same manner,
for though they were good at balancing and had no fear of dizziness,
yet to transport a top-heavy, swaying load was very different from
making the passage unencumbered.

Beyond the creek the land was swampy, and travelling more difficult.
They circled one of the small lakes which they had crossed on their
northward march, and came at length to a hill two hundred feet high.
This was climbed slowly and with several pauses, for they found
themselves out of breath the instant they left the level ground, and
the perspiration fairly dripped from their faces. At the top, David
threw himself down before a log with his pack resting upon it, but
Roly thought he could improve on this arrangement by sitting on the
trunk itself and letting the pack come against the great upturned
roots. Unfortunately, in the act of seating himself, he leaned too
far backward, and instantly his load overbalanced him. Over he went
on his back on the other side of the tree, pack down and heels up, to
the amusement of his friends and his own discomfiture, for, try as he
would, he could not move.

"Roly seems to have come to anchor," observed Uncle Will, with a most
provoking twinkle in his eye. He and his brother had seated themselves
at a little distance.

"Yes," said Mr. Bradford, smiling as he contemplated Roly's fruitless
efforts to turn over; "and perhaps it's just as well. We shall know
where to find him."

"I should think you would," said poor Roly, laughing in spite of
himself. "I can't get up till somebody helps me, and I did want to look
at the valley."

"Oh, no!" put in David, with exasperating composure; "the sky is far
prettier. Just see those beautiful white summer clouds sailing along."

"Let them sail if they want to," said the prostrate youth, impatiently.
"I don't care. Have you all conspired against me? Give me your hand,
Dave, you're nearest."

"Oh, I don't know," answered David, without moving. "Do you remember a
certain April Fool's trick, young man?"

"Yes," groaned Roly.

"Don't you think you ought to be punished?"

"Not any more than I am. My pack will punish me enough for twenty
tricks before the day is over."

"True enough, youngster," said David, with swift repentance, as he
thought of his own sore shoulders and the growing pain in his back.
"Here's my hand. You had my forgiveness long ago."

"That's right!" said Mr. Bradford, who had been on the point of
going to Roly's assistance when this dialogue began. "Don't lay up
resentment, my lad."

So Roly came up smiling, and they all took a good look at the valley
of Pennock's Post, the whole length and breadth of which lay spread
before them. There in the blue distance northward were the Father and
Son, with the narrow pass between. Nearer was the granite cliff to the
west of the cabin, and even the sandy bluff that fronted the river was
distinguishable. But the little house was hidden in the forest.

Soon after the march was resumed, a small and beautiful lake was
skirted, lying east of the trail. Beyond it towered a mountain,
upon whose green slope gleamed a white waterfall, while near the
hither shore emerged an islet crowned with trees. Uncle Will looked
particularly at the ice, which had melted away from the margin of this
lake, but still appeared firm in the centre.

"There's about an even chance," said he, "that we can cross
Dasar-dee-ash, instead of going clear around it. We must make the
short cut if possible, for our food is almost gone. I think the ice
will bear us, if we can only get upon it."

With every step, the packs became more painful. Shoulders and hips grew
sore, backs ached, and feet grew lame. It was now necessary to rest
every quarter of a mile. They passed another lake, along whose shores
the trail was rough and swampy. Wooded ridges rose on either side of
them. In some places they found small berries of the previous season,
which, being pleasant to the taste and harmless, were eagerly eaten.

The Indians at length left the trail and turned through a cleft in
the hills in the direction of Lake Dasar-dee-ash, which lay three
miles to the west. Only here and there could the white men distinguish
faint signs of an old path which Lucky and Coffee Jack followed with
wonderful acuteness. On reaching the lake, the Bradfords estimated that
they had carried their loads at least fourteen miles, and it was with a
great sense of relief that they threw their burdens to the ground and
proceeded to pitch the tents with what little energy remained.

At this spot an old Indian and his family were fishing. They were
evidently well known to Lucky and his brother, whom they entertained
that evening with a supper of salmon and whitefish,--a fortunate
circumstance, since the provisions of the Bradfords were running so low
that they barely had enough for themselves.

The second day's march was even more severe than the first. It was
needful to hasten, for the old Indian could spare no fish when the
Bradfords offered to buy, and even Lucky could procure but half a dozen
small ones for himself and Coffee Jack on the journey. Rations were
therefore reduced, for it was plain that it would be well along in the
third day before they could reach Uncle Will's cache, even should it
prove possible to cross upon the ice; while if the crossing should seem
too dangerous, it would require a fourth day to go around by the rough,
wooded south shore.

At the old Indian's camping ground, the outlook was anything but
favorable. It was now the twenty-second of May, and so warm that
the green buds were swelling in every tree. As far as the eye could
see, the ice had retreated from the beach, leaving a strip of open
water from fifty to a hundred feet wide. There was nothing to do but
follow an old trail along the eastern shore in the hope that somewhere
conditions would be more encouraging.

The heavy packs were strapped on once more, and off they tramped
across a wide marsh, now jumping as well as they could from hummock
to hummock, now wading through water knee-deep. Beyond the marsh they
had a bad trail, or no trail at all, for the remainder of the day,
sometimes forcing their way through thickets, sometimes clambering
through a region of fallen timber, where the great trunks were piled
in such intricate confusion that a passage seemed utterly hopeless,
and again crossing a newly burned woodland where dry dust and ashes
lay several inches deep, and rose from beneath their feet in stifling
clouds. A river a hundred feet in width was crossed by a convenient jam
of logs and trees. Late in the afternoon they took to the beach, where
the rough cobblestones offered the lesser evil, and after a mile of
this painful walking came to a little cove where at last was a sight so
welcome that the boys gave a glad shout. A narrow spur of ice was seen,
bridging the strip of blue water.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE LAKE AFFORDS TWO MEALS AND A PERILOUS CROSSING


While the Bradfords were pitching the tents, Lucky set off to try the
ice preparatory to the morrow's attempt to cross. Coffee Jack, instead
of accompanying his brother, made Roly understand that he wanted a line
and a hook.

"Going fishing?" asked Roly, eagerly.

"Yes," said the bright-eyed Indian boy. "Big feesh--yes."

So Roly dove into his pack, which lay unbound on the shore, and
presently produced a fish-line wound around a chip. A small hook was
already attached. Coffee Jack took the line and examined it doubtfully,
as if he feared it might not be strong enough. Young as he was, he
had learned many tricks of hunting, fishing, and woodcraft from his
brother; and as Roly was glad to acquire such knowledge, he watched the
Indian boy carefully.

First about thirty feet of the line were unwound and then doubled, so
as to give a length of fifteen feet for the double line.

[Illustration: CHILDREN OF THE WILDERNESS]

"Cut?" asked Coffee Jack, drawing his finger across it, to represent a
knife.

"Yes," said Roly; "you can cut it."

So Coffee Jack cut the line and handed back to Roly the part he did
not need. He now took one of the small whitefish which he had obtained
from the old Indian that morning, and cut off the rear half of its body
with the tail attached. This he cut open, and trimmed down with his
knife until it resembled a large shiner. The whole hook was then placed
inside the body, and the opening sewed up with a needle and thread
supplied by his friend.

The Indian boy was now ready to set his double line in place.
Accompanied by Roly, who was warned by his father to be extremely
careful, he warily crossed the ice-bridge to the firmer ice beyond.
In places this ice was a foot thick, but it was so honeycombed by the
sun's rays as to be very treacherous. There were numerous openings
of various sizes to be avoided, as well as places where the ice had
been reduced to an unsafe thinness. Coffee Jack walked out to a point
several hundred yards from the beach, having first cut a long pole and
a slender stick, the latter about three feet in length. He selected an
opening in the ice two feet in diameter, the sides of which were thick
and safe to stand upon; and having tied the small stick firmly across
the centre of the pole, so that a foot of it was on one side, and two
feet on the other, he notched the short end and made the line fast to
it. The pole was then set across the hole, and the bait allowed to sink
down through the clear water. It was evident that if a fish swallowed
the bait and attempted to swim away with it, the pole would hold him
prisoner, while the short stick would tip up and announce the capture.
Roly had seen the pole and pointer used in New England, but the idea of
sewing the hook inside of the bait-fish was a novel one.

"Good!" said Coffee Jack, as he contemplated his contrivance a moment,
and then turned back toward the shore. "Big feesh--to-morrow!"

Roly was inclined to wait for developments, but as the call to
"muck-muck" was now heard on the shore, he also withdrew. It was a very
frugal supper which the tired trampers ate, ere they threw themselves
into their tents for a long sound sleep.

The morning broke cool and cloudy. Mists trailed low along the sides
of the Dasar-dee-ash Mountains across the lake, and hid their snowy
summits from view. There was a dampness in the air which betokened
rain, and that quickly.

Roly gave little thought to the weather, however, when he awoke. His
first glance, as he peered from the tent, was directed toward the
little stick away out on the ice, and great was his excitement when he
saw that it was pointing straight up. Without waiting to arouse any
one--not even Coffee Jack, who, he rightly reasoned, cared much for
the fish, but very little for the sport of catching it--he walked as
fast as he dared, out over the surface of the lake. A south wind was
rising, and now and then he felt a drop of rain on his cheek.

How his fingers tingled with anticipation when he grasped the taut
double line! There was certainly something heavy at the end of it.
In another moment the boy could dimly see a great fish coming slowly
toward the surface. Presently it took alarm and struggled to swim away
in various directions. Fearing that the line would be sawn in two
against the icy edges of the hole, Roly hauled in as fast as he could,
hand over hand, and now up came the big fish, and out it flopped upon
the ice, to be hurriedly dragged to a safe distance. As the bait was in
good condition, it was dropped back into the hole.

Roly immediately set out with his prize for the shore, where he raised
the camp by a series of whoops which would have done credit to the
whole Stik tribe. Nobody knew the name of the fish; but Lucky and
Coffee Jack, the moment they caught sight of its long head and body,
and mottled brown and yellow skin, looked disappointed and said, "No
good."

"That may be," said Uncle Will; "but, good or not, we're going to eat
it, for we've precious little else," and he gave it to Coffee Jack to
clean.

When it was cut up and sputtering in the frying-pan, the odor was
certainly appetizing, and the Indians made no objection to receiving
their share in the distribution which followed. The Bradfords found
that the skin was full of a strong--almost rancid--oil, but the flesh,
though rather flavorless, was not bad.

"This reminds me of the candle-fish," said Uncle Will, "which runs up
Alaskan rivers. It's a small fish, the most oily variety known, and
it is said that if you set one on its head, and strike a light to its
tail, it will burn like a candle until consumed."

"Oh, come, Will!" exclaimed Mr. Bradford. "Do you expect us to believe
that?"

"Well," said his brother, "salt and fish generally go together, and
in Alaska even a fish-_story_ must sometimes be taken with a grain of
salt."

"Evidently," said Mr. Bradford.

Exclamations from David and Coffee Jack, who sat facing the lake, now
caused the others to look that way. The little stick was pointing up
again.

Roly dropped everything, and ran out to the hole. Again he felt a heavy
weight, and this time found a gamy customer enough, for the fish darted
violently, around as soon as it was conscious of the tug on the line.
The young fisherman had his hands full, but hauled in as steadily as
he could, and out came the fish at last,--a magnificent six-pound lake
trout. The hook had caught so deeply that it had to be cut out, and the
bait had mostly disappeared, so the line, hook, and fish were brought
ashore together.

"Him good!" said Lucky, as pleased at this capture as he had been
disappointed at the other.

"I should say so!" exclaimed Mr. Bradford. "We shall have a royal
dinner at least, and by supper-time we ought to reach the cache."

"Yes," said Uncle Will; "and the sooner we get across this lake the
better. It's coming on to rain and blow, and the ice may break up.
We've not a minute to lose."

Mr. Bradford looked anxiously out over the storm-swept expanse. "It
would be the height of folly," he declared, "to try to cross that
rotten ice with packs strapped on our backs. We ought to be free to
swim if worst comes to worst. I don't like the looks of things."

"Nor I either," Uncle Will agreed. "I think each of us had better cut
two long poles, fasten his pack near one end of them, and drag it over
the ice. Then, if any one breaks through, his load won't sink him, and
the poles will be handy for his rescue."

This plan was approved by all. Small poplar trees were quickly felled
in the neighboring forest, and their branches lopped off. Two of these
poles being laid flat on the ice about a foot apart, the load was made
fast near one end, and the owner, stepping between them at the other
end, grasped them with his hands. A rope passing loosely across his
shoulders from one pole to the other took a part of the weight. It was
also found advantageous to trim the ends of the poles where they came
in contact with the ice.

All being ready, they started, but progress was slow, both for
caution's sake, and because in the absence of ice-creepers their feet
could obtain little hold upon the slippery surface. Not far out lay a
chain of small islands, around which were stretches of open water, now
lashed into foam by the wind, and lapping hungrily at the weakening
edges of the ice. It was necessary to go between two of these islands
where the ice was not to be depended on, but this dangerous passage
was made in safety, and all breathed more easily when they reached the
firmer ice of the broad, open lake. The rain now fell, or rather drove,
in torrents, and the travellers were wet to the skin. Four miles away
lay the shore they sought, at the southern base of the dark mountain
slopes. At the head of the company went Lucky, his black, narrow eyes,
almost Mongolian in shape, keenly fixed on the ice, and the rude drag
scraping along behind him. Then came Coffee Jack, then Uncle Will with
the lake trout slipping after his load, and finally Roly, David, and
Mr. Bradford. It was hard work,--hard upon hands and arms,--though the
lame backs and shoulders were somewhat relieved by the new mode of
travel.

After an hour and a half, the party approached the southwest shore.
Here the ice became more treacherous. Sometimes they could feel it
settle beneath their feet, as if an upper layer had been pressed down
upon an underlying one. There were many little cavities a few inches
deep and filled with water, at the bottom of which were slender green
plants like seaweed, which seemed to possess the power of melting the
ice immediately around them. Strict orders were given that no one
should approach within thirty feet of another, lest their combined
weight should prove disastrous. And now Lucky stopped and pointed
toward the shore.

"Water!" he exclaimed.

Consternation was depicted on every face.

"It's too true," said Uncle Will, as he made out the dark line all
along the beach. "Looks as if we couldn't get off the ice now we're on
it."

"We've got to get off," declared Mr. Bradford, decisively. "There's
nothing else to do. We can't go back. Very likely the ice-bridge is
gone by this time."

"Can't we chop out an ice-raft?" suggested David, who recalled certain
youthful adventures upon the mill-pond at home.

Uncle Will nodded. "We'll do that very thing," said he, "if we can't
find a crossing. First, however, let us explore a little."

Contrary to all expectation, as they rounded a rocky point, they
discovered beyond it a narrow ice-strip not more than fifty feet wide,
similar to the one they had crossed that morning, but much weaker,
spanning the hundred feet to the beach. One at a time they passed
across in safety and stood at last, with a great sense of thankfulness
and relief, upon the solid ground. And now the rain ceased, and the
cheerful sun broke through the masses of clouds.



CHAPTER XXIV

DAVID GETS HIS BEAR-SKIN


The cache was reached after a half-hour's walk along the pebbly beach,
and as provisions were now plentiful once more, the lake trout was
served for dinner in bountiful style with applesauce, desiccated
potato, and bannocks,--the latter baked in tin plates before an open
fire. The remainder of the day and the night were spent at the cache,
since all were in need of rest, and some changes would have to be made
in the packs before proceeding to Alder Creek.

Not far away two men were encamped with a large outfit. They said they
had come in with sleds and had taken claims on the Kah Sha River; but
by the time they were ready to continue toward Dawson City, the ice of
the lake was too treacherous for heavy sledding, so they had decided to
build a boat. This boat was now finished and lay bottom up on the beach.

It was constructed of spruce boards whip-sawn with great labor from dry
tree-trunks, and was tightly calked with oakum and putty, but lacked
paint because the builders had brought none. They were confident,
however, that the craft would prove water-tight and seaworthy. It was
to carry one mast, and they were making a sail out of the fly of their
tent. It was also provided with seats, rowlocks, and a rudder. By the
time the ice broke up, the two voyagers would be ready to begin their
cruise of over fifty miles by lake and river, to the point where they
must take the trail.

One of the men asked David if he had any map of the region, and David
hunted up a railroad folder which contained a map of Alaska. But on
examining it in the light of his own experience he found many serious
errors. Klukshu Lake, for instance, had been confused with some lake
farther to the east, and appeared under the name of Lake Maud. Its
outlet, instead of flowing from the south end and emptying into the
Alsek just above Dalton's Post, was represented as flowing from the
north end and reaching the Alsek thirty miles below. Then instead
of lying within four miles of Lake Dasar-dee-ash, as he knew to be
the fact, it was placed at least twenty-five miles to the east. Lake
Dasar-dee-ash appeared of a decidedly wrong shape, and its outlet was
made to flow almost directly west, instead of northward, as it did for
many miles. As for all the smaller lakes he had seen, the large stream
flowing into Dasar-dee-ash from the east, which they had crossed on
the jam of logs, and the Kah Sha River and its tributaries, they were
nowhere to be found,--all of which went to show how little was known in
the outside world of the region into which they had penetrated.

David therefore drew a rude but reliable map of the trail, to which he
added from time to time as his travels warranted.

Toward the middle of the afternoon, when the boys had finished cleaning
the rifle and shot-gun, Coffee Jack, who had been roaming through the
woods for no apparent purpose, came running breathlessly into camp,
shouting, "Beer! beer!" and pointing straight behind him.

"Beer?" said Roly, with a laugh. "What in the world does he mean? There
can't be any beer in this neighborhood."

"I'm sure I don't know," said David, much puzzled. "Come here, Coffee.
What have you found?"

"Beer!" repeated the Indian boy, excitedly. Then, seeing that he was
not understood, he gave a low growl and dropped on all fours.

"Bear!" exclaimed the Bradford boys, in one breath, as they jumped to
their feet.

"Yes, beer, beer!" insisted Coffee Jack, unable to improve on his first
pronunciation, but delighted to perceive that they understood him at
last.

David and Roly were in a flurry at once. They felt that not a moment
must be lost or the prey would escape. It is not unlikely they had a
vague idea that their elders would veto a bear-hunt if they knew of
it; at any rate they did not stop to summon their father and uncle
from the beach, but hastily snatched up the guns and some cartridges
and set off through the woods, Coffee Jack leading, armed only with a
hunting-knife. Lucky was absent, having gone with a load of provisions
to Alder Creek.

It must not be supposed that the boys were entirely foolhardy in thus
setting off alone. The Indian knew from experience, and the white boys
from previous inquiry, that the grizzly, the fiercest of bears, which
will attack human beings without provocation, was not known in this
part of the country. What Coffee Jack had seen must have been a black
bear or a cinnamon, the latter being considered by some authorities as
nearly identical with the former. Such a bear, they had heard, always
preferred to run away, and was not much to be dreaded unless cornered
or wounded. With a rifle and a shot-gun they were sure they could
defend themselves effectively.

After forcing their way through thick willow bushes, they came into an
open patch of woods, where Coffee Jack motioned that they were to make
no noise. They were now in view of a bare spur or ridge jutting out
along the lake from the lofty mountains behind. Coffee Jack paused in
the shadow of a tree and examined the open ground ahead with extreme
care, but seeing no sign of the bear he looked up on the ridge. The
others followed his motions, and now at the same instant they all saw a
large dark animal and two smaller ones scrambling up the steep slope.
The old she-bear was cuffing first one cub, then the other, with her
great paws to make them move faster, and butting them along with her
head in a comical manner. The boys noticed that one of the cubs was
dark brown like the mother, while the other was a cinnamon cub.

Coffee Jack rushed across the open space with David and Roly at his
heels, and did not pause until he reached the foot of the slope, from
which point the bears were in range of both guns.

"Shoot little beer," said he, breathlessly, "then ol' beer stop."

"You take the cinnamon, Roly," directed David.

"All right," said Roly. "Blaze away."

The two reports rang out together, and as the smoke rose, the boys'
faces grew very long. All three bears were still going and apparently
untouched. And every moment they were increasing the distance between
themselves and their pursuers.

"We must get closer," cried David, as he charged up the hill, followed
by the others. "Did you take buckshot cartridges, Roly?"

Flashes of recollection, enlightenment, and dismay succeeded one
another in Roly's face.

"No," he admitted in a doleful tone, "I never thought of it at all in
the hurry. I'm afraid I've got nothing but bird-shot." And such proved
to be the case.

"Well, then," said David between breaths, as he struggled over rocks
and logs, "there's no use in your firing except at the very shortest
range, and then only at the cubs. I'm going to try again now."

So saying, he stopped, took careful aim at the brown cub, of which he
had a clear view at that instant, and dropped it in its tracks. The old
bear thereupon turned to see what was the matter with her offspring,
and it was some time before she concluded that the cub could go no
farther. Meanwhile the boys had closed up a part of the distance.

"Here, Roly," said David, taking pity on his younger brother, and
handing him the rifle, "perhaps you'd like a shot at the cinnamon."

But Roly was not accustomed to the rifle, and though the cinnamon,
which had advanced but slowly since the old bear stopped, was not far
distant, he only succeeded in breaking its leg. David supplied another
cartridge, and at the second shot Roly brought down the game.

The old bear now displayed anger and defiance, and sat up on her
haunches with a growl that made the boys look instinctively around
for cover. There was none to be had, however,--not a tree or large
rock to which they could escape. They had but one effective weapon.
Furthermore, they now realized their inexperience as never before, and
almost wished themselves well out of the scrape. It was evident that
the old bear had made up her mind to defend herself and the cubs to the
last extremity. She would be still more dangerous if wounded.

All this passed in an instant through David's mind. As the oldest
of the three, he felt responsible for the safety of his companions.
The battle could not now be avoided. He had no doubt that to retreat
would only bring the enemy upon them at once. In spite of himself, he
trembled with the excitement and danger of the situation. However, his
mind was quickly made up. He remembered a little friend back in Seattle
to whom he had promised a bear-skin. It had seemed easy enough to make
the promise. To fulfil it, now that he was facing the bear, did not
seem quite so simple. But he was no coward.

"Roly," said he, quickly, as he took the rifle, "you and Coffee Jack go
back. You can't help me. Shout as soon as you reach the woods, and I'll
take care of the bear."

"Not much!" declared Roly, promptly and decisively. He had also
been considering the situation, was likewise trembling with nervous
excitement, but had resolved that, come what would, he would stand by
his brother.

David looked at the lad's sturdy figure and saw in his face, usually so
round and smiling, a look of resoluteness which he could not but admire.

"You're the right stuff," said he, quietly. "Here goes."

He raised the rifle to his shoulder just as the bear sat up again, and
aimed at her breast. Unfortunately in his excitement he jerked the
rifle when he pulled the trigger. The ball just grazed the bear's side.

With an angry growl of pain the great beast came down upon all fours
and charged the little group.

"Kneel, Dave!" cried Roly. "It'll steady you."

David dropped on one knee as the bear came on, while Coffee Jack
clutched his knife convulsively.

"Bang!" went the rifle the next instant. Through the smoke they saw the
bear plunge to the earth within a dozen yards of them with a bullet
through her head. The battle was won.

"Well, well, what's all this?" they heard shouted in Mr. Bradford's
voice from the foot of the hill. Presently he and Uncle Will appeared
breathless upon the scene.

"You can see for yourself, sir," said David, pointing to the fallen
game.

"A bear and two cubs, as I'm alive!" exclaimed Uncle Will. "You've done
a good piece of work, boys."

"At close quarters, too!" observed Mr. Bradford. "They must have stood
their ground like Spartans." And nothing would do, after the game was
skinned and the supper of tender bear-cub meat eaten that evening, but
the boys must tell, to the least detail, how the bears were killed.

"All I have to say," said Uncle Will, as he re-lighted his pipe when
they had finished, "is that you deserve great credit for pluck, but
very little for prudence. Next time, my lads, just let us know when you
start out after bears."



CHAPTER XXV

MORAN'S CAMP


It required a week of hard work to transport the contents of the cache
at the lake by frequent trips to the claims ten miles away. The tents
were pitched on the grassy top of the bank from which Uncle Will had
panned the gold in April. In the Kah Sha gorge there yet remained a few
old drifts of snow which dwindled day by day, but under the influence
of the almost incessant sunlight, vegetation was everywhere springing
fresh and green.

There were now seven members of the Thirty-six--no longer
mysterious--encamped in the gorge hardly a mile above its entrance,
under the leadership of Moran, a gray-haired veteran of the Civil
War, who was the only practical miner among them. The rest, like the
majority of men who entered Alaska and the Northwest in the great rush
of 1898, were drawn from other walks of life. One had been a railroad
brakeman, another a railroad clerk, a third an ice-man, a fourth a
travelling salesman, a fifth a farmer, and the sixth a steamboat man.
The occupations represented were still more numerous when Pennock's men
arrived several days behind the Bradfords, Pennock himself having gone
out to the coast. One of these had been a grocer, another a foreman
employed by a gas company, and another a journalist.

Still further accessions were made from time to time, as men were
sent back from the camps beyond Pennock's, till Moran's Camp became
a bustling and populous place. A log cabin was built for a kitchen,
dining-room, and storehouse, and half a dozen tents were set up for
sleeping quarters. This little settlement was situated in a wild and
rugged spot, bounded in front and at the sides by the roaring, foaming
torrent of the Kah Sha River. Directly at the rear rose foot-hills,
and beyond them a high mountain, while from the water's edge across
the stream frowned an enormous perpendicular cliff of dark rock three
hundred feet high, from which not infrequently a mass of crumbling
débris came crashing down. The sun now rose over the mountain to the
east at about nine o'clock and set behind this cliff at four, after
which the gorge was always chill and damp.

The Thirty-six had located their claims along the river and on Alder
Creek. They had found numerous colors of gold in the gravel of the
hillside which they had levelled for the cabin, and operations for
taking out the gold were actively begun. As soon as the cabin was
finished, the men turned to whip-sawing boards from spruce logs,
nailing the boards together in the form of sluice-boxes, and digging
prospect-holes here and there along the streams to find the most
promising spot.

They were still hampered by an insufficiency of food, but as the
captain had sent word that he had bought supplies from several
discouraged prospectors at Dalton's Post, a party of six was detailed
to go to the Post with an Indian guide and bring back as much as they
could carry. They returned six days later, footsore and lame, with
loads of from fifty to eighty pounds. There was no late news of the war
at Dalton's, they said. The Alsek was very high and running at least
ten miles an hour. Ike Martin, the storekeeper, had onions already
sprouted in his little garden-patch, and he had sown some barley. One
of the men told with much relish how he had found enough dandelions for
a "mess o' greens."

This meagre batch of news was eagerly seized upon, the least item
possessing no little interest to men so long shut away from all the
world beyond their own camps. The Bradfords, having heard it all as
they passed the cabin, imparted every scrap faithfully to Moore and
King and the latter's partner Baldwin, who had recently returned, and
so every one in the district soon had the latest information from the
Post.

Early in June the gorge became almost impassable by reason of the
rising waters. The snow in the mountains was melting rapidly, and
every brooklet grew into a flood. To ford the main river was no longer
possible, for the heaviest man would have been swept off his feet in an
instant. All but three of the dozen trees which had been felled across
it at various points were carried away like straws.

One of those which remained was an enormous spruce about ninety feet
long, spanning the stream directly against Moran's Camp. This tree had
been raised at the farther and lighter end, so that it barely touched
the water in mid-stream, and was braced with rocks and logs. At its
heavier end it lay firmly against its own stump. Every precaution had
been taken to insure its safety, for at no point was a bridge more
necessary. Furthermore, it would be no easy matter to find and drag to
the spot another tree so tall. Owing to its great length, this rude
bridge swayed dizzily in the centre, hence a rope was stretched tightly
above it as a hand-rail.

It was with no small dismay that the campers, late one afternoon, saw
a giant tree-trunk as solid as a battering-ram come thumping down the
swollen river. It crunched along over the rocky bed of the stream and
showed no sign of stopping until within a hundred and fifty feet of
the bridge, where it lodged rather insecurely against a shallow. As
it was the habit of this glacial river to rise during the afternoon
and evening with the accumulation of the day's meltings and fall more
or less through the morning, it was tolerably certain that if the big
log stuck through the night it would come no farther. The Thirty-six
watched and waited, and speculated upon the threatened disaster.

About the middle of the evening, when it was still broad daylight and
the mountain summits were yet flushed with the lingering sunbeams, the
log betrayed symptoms of restlessness. It began to roll a little in the
violent current, which steadily rose around it. Then one end swung out,
and at last the great mass was free, launched full tilt against the
very centre of the bridge, which at that point dipped slightly into the
water.

Was there room for it between the bridge and the river-bottom? Could
the long tree-trunk withstand the shock? Were the braces firm on the
opposite shore? These were the questions Moran and his companions
asked themselves, for there could be no doubt that the bridge would be
struck. It was an exciting moment as that great bulk came on, its tons
of sodden wood backed by the impetuous forces of the torrent.

There was a tremendous thump as the opposing masses met. The bridge log
trembled from end to end and all but gave way; but it stood the strain.
The battering-ram had met its match, and seemed to appreciate the fact
as, with a sort of bow to its sturdy antagonist, it ducked beneath,
and after much scraping and bumping swung clear and headed down the
stream, while the bridge-builders drew a deep breath of relief and
turned away to their tents.

The Bradfords had by this time finished the transportation of their
goods from the lake, and fortunately, for there was no passing through
the gorge. When the water was at its normal height there was a passage
on one side or the other, and the stream had to be frequently crossed
by ford or log; but now that the river in many places filled all
the space between its rocky walls, the traveller must needs scale
treacherous slopes of loose gravel where a slip would carry him over
the cliffs and into a river whose waters were icy and whose bed was
not composed of feathers. Sometimes he must toil to the very top of
the precipices to avoid the more dangerous spots. So for some days the
party on Alder Creek lived in seclusion, seeing no one but King, Moore,
and Baldwin, whose tents were well above the worst portions of the
river. They busied themselves by constructing a saw-pit where lumber
could be turned out for sluice-boxes and a rocker, not deeming it
practicable to build a cabin where available trees were so few.



CHAPTER XXVI

HOW THE GREAT NUGGET NEARLY COST THE BRADFORDS DEAR


The lump of gold which Lucky had declared was as big as his head had
not yet been secured, and the likelihood that many prospectors would
come in as soon as the rivers were fordable caused Uncle Will to
undertake this excursion at an early day. The Stik indicated that the
treasure lay in the valley of the Kah Sha River above its junction
with Alder Creek. As the creek was the principal stream above that
point, just as the Missouri River carries far more water than the upper
Mississippi, it seemed probable that there would be little difficulty,
even at this season of flood, in ascending the upper river-valley.

It was a cool, invigorating morning on which the Bradfords began their
quest. The mountains about them wore below the snow-line the soft
green of spring vegetation, while round their summits a few fleecy
clouds vied with the snow in brightness. The Indian boy was left in
charge of the camp,--an arrangement which he accepted without visible
disappointment,--and the gold-hunters proceeded down the brawling
creek, walking with difficulty over loose pebbles of quartz, granite,
and slate. Occasionally Uncle Will picked up a stone and examined it
through a magnifying-glass for traces of the precious metals.

Having reached the river after walking nearly a mile, they turned to
the left up its valley, and soon, owing to the boulders below, were
obliged to clamber along the hillsides. Few trees were to be seen, but
there was a profusion of low bushes and plants on every sunny slope.
Often in shaded places they crossed old snowdrifts which promised to
last the summer through. Lucky led the way, picking the best path by a
sort of instinct.

The hills became more and more precipitous. Great bluffs of gravel
alternated with rocky walls, and often it was difficult to maintain a
foothold. While crossing the face of one of the bluffs, Mr. Bradford
met with an adventure which, as he afterwards declared, almost turned
his hair white. The rest of the party had passed the declivity near its
top by digging their feet and sticks into the soft gravel, while he had
lingered to secure a blue forget-me-not which grew below him.

When he turned to follow the others, they were out of sight around
the shoulder of the hill, and he could see nothing to mark their path
across the bluff. He had descended fifty feet or more, and since there
appeared no reason for scrambling up again, he began to advance at
that level. Perhaps a third of the bluff had been crossed slowly and
carefully when, without warning, he encountered a gravel of different
character. Instead of being soft and loose, it was now compact, firmly
bedded, and so steeply inclined that it offered not the slightest
foothold. The moment Mr. Bradford's foot struck this hard gravel he
slipped and fell, but as he did so he drove his staff firmly into the
slope. By this means he was able to stay himself temporarily.

He now felt carefully about for a support for his feet, but the
crumbling pebbles rolled away with every movement. However, he
discovered a projecting stone which seemed able to bear some weight,
and this relieved the strain upon his hands and arms. And now he
shouted as loudly as possible, hoping that his friends would hear.

It was a perilous situation. Below him for a hundred and fifty feet
the gravel was of the same hard, deceptive consistency. He could
see that it ended abruptly at least fifty feet above the little
stream, and rightly conjectured that this interval was occupied by a
perpendicular precipice of rock. What lay at the bottom he shuddered
to imagine,--boulders, sharp rocks, at best a rough gravel-bed! And
he could move neither hand nor foot; while, as if in mockery of his
plight, the pebbles kept bounding and rattling merrily down the
terrible slope below him, leaping out into space at last as if it were
a pleasant pastime.

Again and again he shouted, and now he was gladdened by an answering
shout, and saw his brother hastening along the bluff above, followed by
Lucky, David, and Roly.

"Quick, Will," he cried; "I can't hold out much longer."

Uncle Will grasped the situation in a twinkling. "Has any one some
twine?" he asked.

"I have," answered David, quickly producing a small ball of it from his
pocket.

"Tie the walking-sticks together, then, and don't lose an instant.
Roly, run to the top of the bluff and see if you can cut a tall
poplar." With these words Uncle Will hastened to work his way down the
face of the bluff toward his brother, while Lucky ran down to the point
where Mr. Bradford had found the flower, and thence followed his course
as far as he could out across the bare gravel. He was able to approach
much nearer the imperilled man than was Uncle Will, who came upon the
hard surface before he had covered half the distance, and could go no
farther.

Indeed, the Indian was within a yard of Mr. Bradford and kicking one
last foothold in the treacherous bank preparatory to reaching out for
him when, to the horror of all, the stone upon which the white man
stood gave way. The sudden wrench tore the stick also from its place.
Having thus lost all support, the unfortunate man at once slipped and
slid and rolled toward the brink of the precipice. He was beyond human
aid. Another moment, and, in spite of his frantic efforts to clutch at
the shelving bank, he dashed over the edge of the rock and passed out
of sight amid a shower of small stones dislodged by his fall.

There is something indescribably frightful in the sight of a strong man
thus powerless to avert his own destruction, and when the victim is a
father or brother the horror is intensified a hundred-fold. Uncle Will
groaned and shut his eyes.

But he was a man of action, and quickly recovering himself he ran back
along the hill with Lucky and David until they could descend to the
stream, up which they made their way with reckless haste. Lucky was
the most nimble; and as he scrambled to the top of a boulder which had
obstructed his view ahead, his usual stolidity gave way to a glad cry.
Mr. Bradford lay at the foot of the cliff upon a great bank of snow.

But he lay there so still and lifeless that the rescuers anxiously
hastened to his side. They were immediately joined by Roly, whose
face was pale with dread. Mr. Bradford had either struck the cliff in
his descent, or had been struck by one of the stones which fell with
him, for blood was flowing from a cut in the forehead, and he was
unconscious. Uncle Will washed the blood from the wound, and wetting
his handkerchief in the cold water of the stream, soon coaxed back the
life.

"Well, Charley," said he, in a tone of intense satisfaction as he saw
his eyes open, "that was the closest call you ever had, but you're
coming through all right." And Mr. Bradford did. He had been stunned
and shaken, but not seriously injured, and after an hour's rest was
able to proceed.

They had not much farther to go. Lucky, who had keenly observed all
landmarks, soon halted in the rocky river-bottom and began to search
carefully among the boulders. A few minutes later he called out, "Big
nuggit here!" and pointed to a sort of knob projecting from a large
rock in the stream. Uncle Will hastened to the spot and saw at a glance
that this knob was an almost solid mass of yellow metal. But he was too
careful a man to accept first appearances, and brought the microscope
to bear.

"Ah!" said he, and his face grew long, "it's fool's gold, after
all,--just a big chunk of iron pyrites."

"Why, it looks just like gold!" declared Roly, coming up. "I never saw
iron of that color."

"Very likely not," said his uncle. "This isn't iron in its pure state,
but combined with sulphur. Look through the microscope and you'll see
that the metal is crystallized. You won't find gold in that shape."

Lucky did not comprehend this explanation, but he read the
disappointment in the faces of the others. To make him understand,
Uncle Will tapped the blade of his knife and said, "Iron--no good,"--a
simple form of expression which the Indian easily interpreted. He too
showed genuine disappointment, for he had intended to do a kindness to
Uncle Will.

"Well," said David, with at least a show of resignation, "I suppose
there's nothing to do but retrace our steps."

"I don't care to retrace all of mine," said Mr. Bradford, whose pale
face wore a smile beneath its bandage.

"Oh!" exclaimed his brother, "but those weren't steps! You didn't take
a single step in the whole two hundred feet! The first fifty you slid,
the next hundred you rolled, and the last fifty you flew, and we won't
ask you to do it over again."

Indeed, they were all so thankful at Mr. Bradford's escape that the
nugget was hardly given a thought, and on the whole it was a happy
party which returned to Alder Creek that evening.



CHAPTER XXVII

AN INDIAN CREMATION


"We're nearly out of sugar and salt," Uncle Will announced a day or two
later.

"The water spoiled a good part of what we had when my sled went through
the ice. Do you feel like taking a walk down to Dalton's, Charles,
while I finish up these sluice-boxes?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Bradford, "and I might take along one of the boys."

So it was decided that Roly and his father should go to the
trading-post with Coffee Jack for guide.

They set out early in the morning to take advantage of the lowest
stage of the river, which, owing to the coolness of the last few days,
had fallen considerably. They were thus enabled to make the fordings
without undue danger, and found themselves in about three hours at the
mouth of the gorge, having stopped but a moment at each of the camps.

Directly opposite them across the valley, which extended, with a
uniform width of about four miles, from Lake Dasar-dee-ash on the east
toward a range of lofty peaks far to the west, loomed a fine cluster
of mountains ribbed with melting snow. By skirting the eastern slopes
of these mountains over a new trail made by prospectors, they would
come upon the Dalton trail at Klukshu Lake, and this was the route
Mr. Bradford preferred, but Coffee Jack was not familiar with it and
desired to follow the old Indian trail to the west of the mountains.
Accordingly, they passed out of the gorge along the great dry gravel
deposit, which they followed in its turn to the right, having first
exchanged their rubber boots, with which they could now dispense, for
the stout shoes which they had slung across their shoulders. The boots
were hung in the forks of a clump of willows, where they could easily
be found on their return.

Mr. Bradford called Roly's attention to the long stretch of treeless
gravel curving to the west.

"It is evident," said he, "that the Kah Sha River once flowed in
this westerly course, but having choked itself up by successive
accumulations of gravel and boulders ejected from the gorge in its
spring floods, it now takes the opposite direction and empties into
Lake Dasar-dee-ash."

"That's something I never should have thought of," said Roly, with
interest, "and it's plain enough, too."

"You can read a good deal of geological history," observed his father,
"by keeping your eyes open and noticing simple things. Every boulder,
cliff, and sand-bank has a story to tell of the forces of ice, flood,
or fire."

At length Coffee Jack left the low ground, which had become swampy,
and followed a line of foot-hills, where the trail could sometimes be
discerned by Mr. Bradford and Roly, but more often not. The young guide
walked silently, with his head bent and his eyes fixed upon the ground.

"No white man would be content with a trail like this," Mr. Bradford
remarked. "The white man blazes the trees and looks up for his signs,
while the Indian relies upon footprints, faint though they may be, and
looks down. I imagine that by their manner of following a trail you
may gain an insight into the characteristics of the two races,--the
one alert, hopeful, business-like, brainy; the other keen of instinct,
easy-going, stealthy, and moody."

"But what signs does Coffee Jack see?" inquired Roly. "There are plenty
of places where I can't see any path, but he goes right along."

"The marks are various," said his father. "It may be that the grass is
matted or less vigorous or of an altered hue where it has been trodden,
or a twig may be broken, or a mouldering tree-trunk rubbed a little,
but I presume that in such a place as this the boy is guided partly by
his knowledge that the trail follows the side of these hills at about
this height."

Coffee Jack discovered footprints of the moose and the caribou
in several places, and took delight in pointing them out to his
companions, whose powers of observation he evidently did not rate very
high. He gave them, too, a glimpse of a large lake to the northwest
which was not on the map.

Late the second afternoon they circled a small lake, swung around the
southern slopes of the mountains on their left, and entered the main
trail on the summit of the great hill above the Stik village. How
changed was the valley of the Alsek since last they looked upon it!
Where before were snow and ice now smiled a landscape of rich green.
Below them clustered the Indian houses in a grassy clearing by the
river. The sound of voices and the barking of dogs came plainly up. It
was difficult to realize that they were not looking on a white man's
village, yet not until they reached the trading-post, now surrounded
with the white tents of incoming prospectors, would they see any
members of their own race.

Ike Martin received them cordially, and after the sugar and salt had
been weighed out he suddenly exclaimed, "By the way, here's something
more for you!" and took from the drawer of an old desk a batch of
letters, which he handed to Mr. Bradford, remarking that an Indian had
brought them in with mail for the Thirty-six.

To say that these were received with delight would be putting it
mildly. The wanderers repaired in haste to their tent, where the
missives from home were eagerly read; and although the latest letter
was just a month old, yet so long had they been exiled that all this
news seemed fresh and recent. At home all were well and in good
spirits. Knowing how anxious her husband and sons would be for accounts
of the war, Mrs. Bradford had sent many clippings from newspapers,
which Mr. Bradford and Roly devoured with hungry eyes, reading and
re-reading them far into the night.

Early next morning, before his father was awake, Roly, acting on a hint
from Ike, stole over to the Klukshu River where it joins the Alsek, and
with red salmon-roe supplied by the obliging storekeeper coaxed forth
half a dozen handsome brook trout. These he supplemented with some of
the fresh dandelion leaves which grew abundantly near the storehouse,
and the three had a most enjoyable breakfast.

"Better stop at the Stik village," advised Ike, as they were preparing
to return. "There's going to be a cremation, and it'll be worth seeing."

So Mr. Bradford, Roly, and Coffee Jack, with their light packs on
their backs, walked leisurely down the trail in company with several
prospectors. Among their companions were the two nephews of Mrs.
Shirley, whom they had assisted at the fords in March.

"So the ladies gave it up, did they?" said Mr. Bradford, in the course
of the conversation.

"Yes," answered one of the young men. "They came as far as Pleasant
Camp, but found it best to stop there while we two went in and located
claims. We've just been out to the coast with them, and now we're going
back to work the claims."

At the village Ike joined them, and others came at intervals until the
entire white population of the trading-post was present. The body to be
burned was that of a young Indian who had died of consumption. Before
the house in which he lay, the natives and the white men assembled and
awaited the appearance of the family, while dogs of all ages, sizes,
and degrees, attracted by the concourse, ran restlessly about the
place, barking or quarrelling as their dispositions prompted.

At length the door opened, and the female relatives of the deceased
issued, both young and old, all bareheaded, and attired in their best,
though faded, calico dresses. They grouped themselves before the door,
and were followed by the men, also evidently dressed in their best.
Some of them had wound bright blue or red ribbons around their dark
felt hats.

The body was borne out of the house on a rude litter covered with a
blanket, and its appearance was the signal for an unearthly chorus of
wails and lamentations from the women, who continued to howl until the
procession was well on its way to the graveyard, the men, meanwhile,
preserving countenances of the most unruffled indifference.

The graveyard was a grassy level containing a row of miniature wooden
houses with glass windows and sloping roofs, which looked for all the
world like children's playhouses. They were raised about three feet
above the ground on stout wooden supports. The storekeeper informed Mr.
Bradford and Roly that the ashes of the dead were deposited in boxes in
these houses.

As the procession reached the cemetery, four rifle-shots were fired
into the air by those about the corpse, which was then placed within a
pyre of dry spruce logs, made ready to receive it. Fire was applied to
the pile, and soon the logs were blazing fiercely.

And now into the midst of the flames, to Roly's great surprise, was
thrown all the property of the dead Indian, including a good rifle and
a watch. However wasteful this custom might appear to the white men,
they could not but respect the feelings which led these poor children
of the wilderness to part with treasures to them so valuable. The dead
man would need his blankets, his rifle, and his watch in the happy
hunting-grounds, and some morsels of food for the journey were not
forgotten.

Meanwhile the women wailed and moaned with the tears streaming down
their dark faces, as they sat upon the turf and watched the curling
smoke and leaping flames. When Mr. Bradford turned away toward the
hill, it was with a feeling that grief is very much the same thing all
the world over.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE PLAGUE OF MOSQUITOES


Having learned that he would find upon a tree near Klukshu Lake
directions for following the new trail to Shorty Creek, as the district
was popularly called, Mr. Bradford determined to return by the Dalton
trail to the lake, as the relief party of the Thirty-six had done. Here
and there along the way they saw traces of the winter's travel. Broken
sleds and gee-poles, stumps of trees, and the ashes of camp-fires
recalled the memory of labors amid the ice and snow which now, in the
heat of summer, seemed like a dream.

Up to this time the mosquitoes had been rather large, but neither
numerous nor aggressive. But now on a sudden came myriads of small
ones, evidently a new crop, voracious, persistent, overwhelming.
They swarmed up from every marsh until their combined singing made a
continuous murmur in the trees, and the travellers, who were without
head-nets, were forced to protect their necks with handkerchiefs, and
their faces with small branches, which they must needs wave to and fro
incessantly.

Camp was pitched near the Klukshu River, where two ancient and
abandoned Indian houses stood, in a level valley mostly free from
trees. The low bushes in the neighborhood allowed the breeze free play,
and it was hoped that here the mosquitoes would be less numerous.
There was no getting away from them entirely, however, and a fire was
speedily built in order that the smoke might aid in discouraging the
pests.

The two houses, which they had noticed as they passed in April, were
constructed of hewn boards gray with age. Such a wealth of ready
fuel in a spot so poor in timber had proved irresistible alike to
prospectors and Indians, and the entire roof of one hut and much of
the roof of the other had gone up in camp-fire smoke. Mr. Bradford was
averse, however, to further despoiling either structure, and directed
Roly and Coffee Jack to gather up only such loose boards and odd pieces
as were lying about on the ground.

While roasting several red squirrels brought down with a revolver, they
were startled by a sudden snort in the bushes near by, followed by a
crackling of twigs as some heavy animal made off precipitately. The
three jumped to their feet and searched through the thicket in that
direction, but could see nothing of the beast which had caused the
alarm. There could be little doubt, however, that it was a bear.

"If we're going to have visitors of that kind," said Mr. Bradford, as
he returned his revolver to his belt, "we'll pitch the tent in one of
the houses. I don't anticipate any trouble, but bears are brimful of
curiosity, and it's just as well to put ourselves and our belongings
out of their reach."

This suggestion pleased Roly, whose imagination, boylike, seized
eagerly upon the idea of converting the better of the two houses into
a fort and barricading it against the enemy. He collected an abundance
of soft shrubbery and spread it upon the floor of the hut, while Mr.
Bradford, keeping a sharp lookout for the unwelcome prowler, cut some
tent-poles on a distant hillside.

When all was ready, the tent was set up within the hut, and, being
mosquito-proof, it promised a complete refuge from at least one foe. A
sufficient number of boards was now appropriated from the other cabin
to cover the portion of the roof above the tent. Then the packs were
brought in, and finally Roly arranged a door of boards. This done, the
fort was declared impregnable, and the tired travellers turned in, well
assured of complete security.

Coffee Jack had brought no tent, and as there was no extra space in
that of his companions, he rolled himself in his blanket, head and all,
till he seemed to invite suffocation, and lay down on a bed of leaves
in a corner of the cabin, where he slept comfortably enough, except
that his breathing was heavy and labored for lack of air.

The mosquitoes were even more numerous next day, and the travellers
were obliged to keep in motion. Flowers were springing up on every
side. There were strawberry blossoms, which awakened great hopes. There
were violets and forget-me-nots and yarrow, and almost touching elbows
with the flowers of spring flamed the autumnal golden-rod, so brief in
that high latitude was the season of warmth.

The Indian boy pointed out with delight a large-leaved plant with a
hollow, juicy stalk, which grew abundantly in shady places, exclaiming,
"Muck-muck! Good! Make strong!" Seeing him eagerly stripping the
stringy fibres from the stalks and eating the soft inner part, Mr.
Bradford and Roly followed his example, and found that the flavor was
of a medicinal sort, but sweet and not unpleasant. The leaves were
shaped somewhat like those of a maple tree, but were of lighter green.
Coffee Jack could give no name to the plant.

"Its flavor reminds me a little of celery," said Roly.

"Yes," said Mr. Bradford; "but in some respects the plant more
resembles rhubarb, and as that is, I believe, a native of Asia, this
may be a variety which has crossed Behring Strait. If the taste were
sour, I should be pretty certain of it."

Camped at the foot of Klukshu Lake on a pleasant knoll east of the
river, they found Reitz and Johnson, two of their friends of Pennock's
Post. Reitz said they were stationed there to catch salmon for the main
party on the Kah Sha River, and from what they could learn from the
natives the fish ought to come up-stream very soon.

A family of Indians were quartered on the low ground west of the river
near the cabin in which the wounded Lucky had been left in the winter.
They also were awaiting the salmon, which constitutes the chief food of
the Alaskan tribes.

"How would you like to spend a week with us, Roly?" asked Reitz, as the
three were about to continue their journey. "You enjoy fishing, don't
you?"

Roly answered that he would like to stay very well, and his father
readily consented. "You can take this tent," said the latter. "It's
only ten miles to Moran's Camp, and I guess you can find your way there
when the week's up."

"Oh, yes!" declared Roly, without hesitation. "I'll get along all
right." He added, as he counted a score of mosquitoes killed at one
slap, "If you get a chance to send my head-net down, I guess I can use
it."

"We'll try to," said Mr. Bradford, as he and the Indian boy re-crossed
the river on a mass of débris.

No sooner had Coffee Jack exchanged a few words with the Indian family
than he fell into a fit of the sulks. He cast more than one fond glance
at a little Indian girl of about his own age, and Mr. Bradford heard
the father of the family repeat the word "potlash" several times. As
this term signifies a feast, it was clear that Coffee Jack had been
invited to dine.

Mr. Bradford had determined to push on a few miles in order to reach
the Kah Sha gorge early next morning before the time of high water. But
when he undertook to find the trail, which was here invisible across a
level deposit of small stones, he found himself baffled.

"Where's the Shorty Creek trail, Coffee Jack?" he asked.

"Shorty Kick t'ail?" said Coffee, with well-feigned innocence. "I
dunno."

Now, Coffee Jack had been uniformly treated with kindness, and was
certain to be so long as he deserved it, but when he said, "I dunno,"
Mr. Bradford had every reason to think he was stretching the truth
and presuming upon his own good-nature. In view of the falsehood he
resolved to teach the boy his duty. It would never do to let him
override the will of his employer.

"You don't know?" repeated Mr. Bradford, with the frown and voice of a
thunder-cloud. "Tell me where that trail is, quick!"

As he said this, he raised his stick so threateningly over Coffee
Jack's head that the boy, fearing instant annihilation, produced the
information with incredible speed.

"Shorty Kick t'ail there," said he, pointing to the edge of a grove of
great balm-of-Gilead trees, to which he led the way without another
word.

At the first stream, perhaps two miles beyond, Coffee Jack declared
that there was no more water for five miles. He had evidently obtained
information regarding the new trail from the Indian at the foot of the
lake, and as Mr. Bradford did not believe the lad would lie again, he
halted for the night. The white man all the while had a tender place in
his heart for the young Indian lover, and when the boy asked permission
to go back, he readily gave it. So Coffee Jack, delighted, ran swiftly
down the trail toward the dusky little maiden and the "potlash."



CHAPTER XXIX

LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS


For several days after Roly's arrival at Klukshu Lake all efforts to
catch fish were unavailing. The weather was now warm and dry, and the
thick, smoky atmosphere indicated an extensive forest fire at no great
distance. The salmon had not appeared, and there was no sign of brook
trout in this part of the Klukshu River, consequently the energies of
the campers were directed toward the lake. A raft was built, by the aid
of which lines were set in deep water near the outlet, the hooks baited
with raw bacon,--but not a fish was caught.

A small party of Canadian mounted police--fine, stalwart
fellows--appeared at this time on their way to Five Finger Rapids,
and the hearts of the exiled fishermen were rejoiced. Their arrival
meant that horses could now come in from the coast, and Reitz and
Johnson began to look eagerly for the first instalment of supplies for
the Thirty-six. Several prospectors with small pack trains followed
the police, and invariably camped on a dry meadow at the foot of the
lake. The tinkle of the bell of the leading horse sometimes floated
up to the knoll where the tents of Roly and his companions stood, and
conjured up memories of pastures far away. Had the prospectors only
known it and cared to take the trouble, they would have found far
better pasturage on the hillsides above the timber line, where the
grasses grew tall and luxuriant.

A happy thought on the part of Roly was the means of solving the
fishing problem. Bacon was evidently worthless as bait, there was not
an angle-worm in the country so far as he knew, and grasshoppers were
seldom seen; but he had noticed shoals of young fish like minnows in
the outlet, and thought that if they could be caught they would make
excellent bait. The others thought so too, and Reitz contrived an
ingenious scoop-net out of a willow branch and some mosquito netting,
which proved very effective.

Roly's week would be up on the following day. It was agreed that in the
morning a supreme effort should be made by the three, and as Moran's
Camp lay directly in his path, Roly volunteered to carry the fish if
they should be successful.

At an early hour he rolled his tent and blankets into a pack and set
off with his friends, who had provided a luncheon and a plentiful
supply of minnows. The main trail followed the east shore, but there
was another along the western which connected about half-way up the
lake with the new trail to Shorty Creek. At the junction of the two
was the tree upon which the directions had been written.

The party passed this tree and continued along the lake, their
objective point being a certain rocky shore where they hoped to find
deep water. Having reached this spot, they lost no time in cutting
slender poles of poplar and attaching the lines. Floats, or bobs, were
made from bits of wood, and the baited hook was allowed to sink ten or
twelve feet.

It was some time before the finny inhabitants of the depths discovered
the tempting morsels thrown out to them, but at last Roly's float began
to tremble in a way that could not be attributed to the wavelets, and
the next instant down it went under the clear water. Now was the time
to strike, and the boy raised his pole with a quick firm jerk.

The fish was securely hooked, and proved both strong and gamy; but as
soon as it tired, it was drawn gradually toward the shore and up near
the surface of the water. It was a four-pound lake trout and a beauty.
Roly landed the prize with the assistance of his friends, and stowed it
safely away in the shade of the rocks in an empty flour sack.

At the very next nibble, however, fortune turned against him. The fish
broke the line and carried away his only hook; and as his companions
had but one hook apiece, he was forced to abandon the sport. Before
the fish stopped biting, the two men had caught four trout, all of
about the same size.

Having lunched, and dressed the fish, the three agreed about two
o'clock that Roly ought to start, especially as the first thunder-storm
of the season was growling and threatening in the mountains to the
east. With fish, tent, and blankets, and David's camera, which he had
carried upon this excursion, he had a load of about thirty pounds,
which Reitz carried for him as far as the guide-tree.

The inscription on the tree was written in pencil on a space freed from
bark, and stated that by holding a course two points north of west for
a mile a clear trail would be found.

"Have you a compass, Roly?" asked Johnson.

"Yes."

"Well, then, strike off here and keep the direction carefully, and you
won't have any trouble. There's a stretch of burnt and fallen timber
where the trail has been wiped out, but beyond that it's a plain path."

"And remember to keep the trout you caught," added Reitz, as he said
good-by.

Roly started off in good spirits. He had his uncle's revolver with him,
but there was little reason to apprehend danger from wild beasts. If
he let them alone, they would be pretty certain to return the favor.
As to finding the way, he knew the general direction in which the
Kah Sha gorge lay, for he could occasionally catch a glimpse of the
Dasar-dee-ash Mountains eight miles to the northwest. Nearer, not more
than two miles away, loomed the familiar Conical Mountain, and to the
right of it another summit, the two forming the northernmost elevations
of an extensive mountain system running far back toward Dalton's Post.

From the directions on the tree the boy conceived the idea that his
route lay between Conical Mountain and its right-hand neighbor, in a
narrow pass which he could see very distinctly. So, without depending
longer on the compass, he fixed his course at once toward this gap,
struggling through a new growth of bushes and stepping over or crawling
under the fallen trees as best he could. A fresh breeze along the lake
had kept away the mosquitoes while he had been on the rocks; but here
it was more sheltered, and the little pests, attracted by the smell of
the fish, swarmed about him and nearly drove him frantic, for he was
still without a head-net and gloves.

An hour of this slow and difficult travel brought him into the growing
forest, and he kept his eyes open for the path. Denser and denser the
woods became until it was hardly possible to force a passage. In a
little swampy glen he found the prints of a bear's great paw on the
moss, but what caused him much more anxiety was the sight, welcome as
it was, of a little brook. Reitz had told him that for nearly five
miles from the guide-tree there was no water on the trail. Yet here was
water! Plainly, then, he had made some error and had lost his way.

Roly was not easily frightened, but the thought of wandering through
that lonely forest longer than was absolutely necessary was anything
but pleasing. To be sure, he would not starve, for he had the fish, but
it was disquieting to be off the trail. He would have liked to sit down
a few minutes to consider the situation, but the mosquitoes would not
let him rest. He could only pause long enough to take a deep draught
from the brook, then on he must go again, and do his reflecting as he
walked.

He now came upon a path fairly well defined, which led, without a
doubt, straight into the pass before him. This was probably the trail
he sought. At any rate, its general direction was assuring, and he
reasoned that it must bring him out on the other side of the mountains
in plain view of the Kah Sha gorge, which he could then reach by
crossing four miles of valley. So he followed the path, which appeared
little used, and presently came to the brow of a high, shelving bank.

The steep side of Conical Mountain, patched with old snow-banks,
towered on his left, while the end mountain of the chain rose to the
right. Before him in the hollow was a level, grassy amphitheatre, on
the farther side of which opened out a narrow passage, also grassy
and treeless. The absolute seclusion of the place made it an admirable
retreat for wild game and, indeed, for robbers, and the imaginative
Roly looked carefully around before he ventured to descend into it.
There was not a living creature to be seen. The path crossed the
circular meadow and followed the narrow pass beyond, and as it was
level, firm, and unobstructed, the boy walked rapidly.

He had proceeded in this way nearly a mile between the slopes of the
two mountains, when he came upon a beautiful lakelet whose placid
waters filled the valley--now somewhat wider--from side to side. In the
shallow water near the shore he could see several small fish basking
just below the surface. As for the trail, it had disappeared, and there
was no trace of it along either side of the water. Indeed, the steep
ridges looked quite impassable, from which he concluded that the path
had been made by Indians or wild game, or both, whose objective point
was the lake. There could be little doubt that he was the first white
person who had penetrated here,--a thought which quite tickled his
fancy, so he photographed the lake in proof of this bit of original
exploration.

He was now obliged to return through the defile, fully convinced that
the new trail passed around the outer mountain. Goaded on by swarms of
mosquitoes and compelled to wave a leafy branch continually across
his heated face, he struck the trail at last, and soon afterward found
a sparkling brook at the foot of a high hill. If this was the water
mentioned by Reitz, he had come only half the direct distance, in spite
of his long, tiresome tramp. He drank, then pressed forward through a
region of bogs and woods, crossed a muddy stream on a log, and set off
across the four miles of valley. Here the walking was good. The gorge
was now plainly in view, and he thought his labors nearly at an end.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of day to ford the Kah Sha. It
had been warm for a week, and the water was high again. Besides, the
stream was now swollen with the meltings of the day. Roly could hear an
ominous roar long before he could see the river.

He encountered it first in the woods, where it spread out into so
many channels that each was comparatively shallow. Some of these he
crossed on logs, and others he waded without getting very wet, but when
he came out upon the open stretch of gravel the outlook was far from
encouraging. Compressed into one or two principal channels and filling
its banks to the brim, the river was thundering madly down from the
gorge. Not a log was in sight, and yet the stream must be crossed three
or four times to reach Moran's Camp.

Roly's heart sank as he gazed on the hurrying torrent, but he resolved
to make the attempt. He therefore returned to the edge of the woods and
cut a stout pole with which to try the depth of the water and brace
himself against the current. His rubber boots, if his father had left
them in the willows, were on the other side of the stream, so it was
useless to think of keeping dry.

Carefully selecting a point where the stream ran in two channels, the
boy waded into the first and smaller of the two. The water came to his
knees, but with the assistance of the pole he crossed in safety. On
trying the other, however, he found the volume of water much greater.
The current almost whirled his feet from beneath him at every step. The
icy water surged higher and higher till it was far above his knees,
and now it was wellnigh impossible to hold the pole firmly down to the
bottom. He felt the stones roll against his feet as the flood swept
them along, and, worst of all, the deepest part was not yet passed. The
bed of the stream shelved plainly down. To go on would be folly. It
was nearly as difficult to go back, but he managed to turn slowly and
dizzily and reach the shore he had just left. Tired and wet, he longed
to rest, but even here his insect tormentors had followed.

There was but one thing to do. He must climb the hills on the side of
the gorge and work his way along at a height of three or four hundred
feet until he could scramble down to the camp. It was a rough ascent
through bushes and over fallen timber, and the boy was utterly spent
when at last he caught a glimpse of the little cabin and the white
tents of the Thirty-six far below.

He had been steadily tramping from two o'clock in the afternoon, and it
was now nine in the evening. But he had obstinately clung to the fish
with which he had been intrusted, knowing how welcome they would be to
the dwellers by the river. It is needless to say that Roly was received
with open arms by Moran and his men, who gave him dry clothes and a
hearty supper, and many compliments on his pluck and perseverance. A
place was cleared for his blanket-bed in one of the tents, and nothing
would do next morning but he must share with his friends a delicious
breakfast of fried trout before setting out for Alder Creek.



CHAPTER XXX

WASHING OUT THE GOLD


"Hello! you've brought us a trout, have you?" cried Uncle Will,
cheerily, as he untied Roly's pack. The boy had succeeded in reaching
Alder Creek during the morning period of low water.

"Yes," said Roly, and related his experiences to the interested group.

"You got along better at this end of the journey than I feared you
would," said his father. "I expected you yesterday, and when I saw how
high the water would be, I went down to the mouth of the gorge to help
you, but there were no signs of you at seven o'clock."

"You must come and see the rocker and sluice-boxes as soon as you're
rested," said David. "We've not been idle here since you went away, I
can tell you."

Accordingly, after dinner Roly, armored at last with head-net and
gloves, went out with David and Uncle Will to inspect the mining
operations at the foot of the bank beside the creek.

We have already described panning, the crudest manner of separating
gold from gravel. The appliances which Uncle Will and his helpers had
now constructed were capable of doing much more work than the pan in a
given time, yet required the expenditure of comparatively little labor.
Uncle Will first called Roly's attention to the rocker, which at that
moment was standing idle at the side of the stream.

"The rocker, or cradle," he explained, "consists of a deep box set upon
rounded rockers so that it can be swayed from side to side. Within the
box are several inclined planes at different heights, covered with
canvas and so arranged that water and gravel flowing down the upper one
will pass from its lower edge through an aperture to the top of the one
below, and from that to the next, until finally the stream issues near
the bottom of the machine. Across these planes at intervals are nailed
small strips of wood called riffles. A sieve is fitted to the top of
the box, its bottom being made of a sheet of tin punched with numerous
holes half an inch in diameter. Now let us see it work."

So saying, he placed the rocker under the end of a wooden trough set in
the bank at a height of three feet. A ditch had been hollowed along the
bank to this trough from a point higher up the stream, and David now
lowered a similar trough into the water at the upper end. This allowed
a stream to come into the ditch from the creek. As soon as the water
began to pour into the sieve of the rocker, Coffee Jack, whom Uncle
Will had summoned, threw into it a shovelful of gravel from the bottom
of the bank.

"Now you see," said Uncle Will, as he gently rocked the machine
from side to side, "the water carries the sand and smaller pebbles,
including the particles of gold, down through those holes and over the
riffles on the inclined planes. The gold is so heavy that it lodges
against the riffles, but the water, swashing from side to side as it
flows down, carries most of the sand and gravel over the riffles and
out at the bottom. The operation is almost instantaneous in the rocker,
and gravel can be shovelled in quite rapidly, whereas it would take
perhaps ten minutes to wash out a very little in a pan. When the sieve
becomes choked, it is lifted up and the stones thrown out."

Coffee Jack shovelled mechanically, as if all this fuss about the
yellow metal were quite beyond his appreciation. In a few minutes Uncle
Will released him and sent him back to help Lucky at the sluice.

"Now we'll take a look at the results," said Uncle Will, as he removed
the sieve, picked out the riffles, which were loosely nailed, and
carefully took up the canvas which covered the inclined planes. All the
sand and gravel which remained upon the canvas he rinsed off into a pan
and proceeded to wash it out at the stream after the usual method of
panning. Roly was delighted to see two little yellow nuggets appear,
besides many small flakes and grains.

"There," said Uncle Will, as he finished, "you see we have here the
yield of several panfuls, and it has taken but a few minutes to
secure it. The rocker is a handy machine to carry from place to place
wherever, by panning, we find the gold most abundant."

"But what would you do without the ditch?"

"We should pour in water from a pail. Now let us examine the
sluice-boxes."

Uncle Will led the way down the stream to the point where Lucky and
Coffee Jack were at work. A second ditch, similar to the first, had
been prepared for the sluicing; and the boxes, three in number, were
set in the lower end of it, each consisting of a bottom board about
twelve feet long and a foot wide, and two side boards of the same
dimensions. The lower end of the first or upper box was reduced in
width sufficiently to allow it to fit into the upper end of the second
box, the latter fitting in like manner into the third, which extended
slightly over the creek. All the boxes were inclined enough so that the
water from the ditch would flow through them quite rapidly. Instead
of transverse riffles, two sets of poles were laid lengthwise in the
bottom of each box, each set having a length of about five and a half
feet and consisting of three poles held an inch apart by pieces of wood
nailed across their ends. Into the upper end of the upper box Lucky
was shovelling gravel, which was immediately swept through the three
boxes by the strong current of water. Coffee Jack, shovel in hand, kept
the larger stones moving when they threatened to choke up the boxes.
At the lower end a stream of muddy water and gravel was constantly
discharged into the creek, the impetuous current of which bore it
instantly away.

"Sluicing," said Uncle Will, "is another step forward in placer--or
gravel--mining, since the sluice will handle more material than even
the rocker. It is the favorite method on a claim of this character."

"And how is the gold caught here?" asked Roly.

"It falls down between the poles, and is held there by its own weight
and the cross-pieces."

"You must have had to do a lot of whip-sawing to make so many boards,"
observed the boy.

"Indeed we did," replied his uncle. "That was the hardest part of the
work. We built a saw-pit--that raised log platform over yonder--and
there we did the sawing, Lucky standing on top of the log and holding
the saw from above, while I was under the platform to guide it on the
down stroke. I rather had the worst of it, for the sawdust came into my
eyes. When your father returned from Dalton's, he took a turn at it,
which gave me time to make the rocker."

"How often do you take the gold out of the sluice-boxes?" asked Roly.

"We may as well clear the boxes now," answered his uncle. "It's three
days since we began operations."

Accordingly, the two Indians were sent off to cut firewood, and Uncle
Will and Mr. Bradford, having despatched David to the head of the
ditch to shut off the water, shovelled out of the boxes the stones and
gravel which had lodged above the poles. Then, removing the poles, they
scraped and washed into a pan at the lower end all which remained.
There was a heaping panful.

Uncle Will washed it out at a quiet eddy of the creek, while the others
gathered around with suppressed excitement, for estimates of the value
of this claim could be based upon the results. Little by little the
gravel was reduced until the black sand and yellow particles alone
remained. A portion of the sand Uncle Will was able to wash away by
careful manipulating, but when he could safely continue the operation
no longer, he brought a magnet into use, which quickly gathered up all
the remaining specks of iron. A goodly mass of yellow metal shone in
the bottom of the pan, which, when weighed, was found to be worth about
sixty dollars. Among the little gold nuggets were discovered two larger
ones of pure native copper. On the surface they were of a greenish hue,
but when whittled with a knife their true character appeared.

"That isn't exactly Klondike richness," said Uncle Will, as he held
up to view the pan and its contents, "but I doubt if we've found the
richest part of this claim. We've been working in what is called bench
gravel on the rim-rock. I wish we could get down to the low bed-rock
near the present channel of the stream. We might find a first-rate
pay-streak there."

"Can't we do it?" asked Roly.

"I fear not. We've tried it, and the Thirty-six have tried it; but the
minute you go below the level of the stream, the water comes through
the loose gravel faster than you can throw it out. For this reason
the Thirty-six are working almost entirely in the gravel along the
hillsides in former channels of the river. They've begun two tunnels
through the gravel on the rim-rock about fifty feet above the present
stream."

"Well," remarked Mr. Bradford, cheerfully, "even if we can't make more
than twenty dollars a day, we can pay a good part of the expenses of
our trip before the end of the season."

"That's true," said his brother. "And, besides, we've only to make
another set of sluice-boxes to double our income. Lucky and Coffee Jack
can work this one profitably, and you and I can take care of another,
while the boys can work with the rocker almost anywhere. I haven't a
doubt that we shall do far better than thousands who are now crowding
over the White and Chilkoot passes. Why, I feel amply repaid for all
my labors by just looking at you, Charles. I never saw you in better
health."

Mr. Bradford laughed and rubbed his arm doubtfully. "Maybe I _look_
well," said he, "but what a place this is for rheumatism! Evenings and
mornings when the air is chill I can hardly move."

"Yes," said Uncle Will, "I can sympathize with you there. I feel it
more or less myself, and I understand that two or three of the big
party are fairly laid up with it. But I don't think we shall carry it
home."



CHAPTER XXXI

DAVID MAKES A BOAT-JOURNEY


Late in June, when the leaves were full-grown and the grass and flowers
luxuriant, there came a storm of rain which turned into a damp snow.
About two inches fell, and remained on the ground several hours. The
hardy vegetation seemed to suffer no injury, and indeed the storm
proved quite a godsend, for it discouraged the mosquitoes, and they
were unable to rally again in such numbers and with such vigor as
before.

By the middle of July the Bradfords had two sluices in operation, and
were taking out from thirty to fifty dollars a day. The Thirty-six were
working with varying success on the hillsides. Their first supply train
of horses had arrived with provisions and the mail, including a few
Seattle newspapers only three weeks old.

About this time the leader of the Thirty-six invited David to join a
small party which he was going to take north on an exploring trip.
He needed a young fellow, he said, to take charge of a cabin at
Champlain's Landing, twenty-five miles north of Pennock's Post, for a
week or two, until one of Moran's men could be spared.

David begged to be allowed to go, since he was not imperatively needed
at Alder Creek, and his father consented, believing that the experience
would be valuable as a training in self-reliance. He warned his son,
however, that he might be very homesick and lonely. As David had never
been homesick in his life, that malady had no terrors for him, and he
declared that he was quite willing to take the risk.

Thus it happened that he found himself one afternoon starting down the
gorge from Moran's Camp in company with the captain, a civil engineer
named Dunn, who had recently arrived, and Greenwood, who had been a
cook in the army. Three others had already set out with horses to make
the journey overland, while the captain's party was to proceed by boat
down Lake Dasar-dee-ash and its outlet river to the Landing. There the
parties would unite and continue the journey by land, leaving David at
the cabin.

At the shore of the lake Paul Champlain was encamped. He was that
member of the Thirty-six who had selected on the north branch of
the Alsek the landing place called by his name, and had built the
storehouse there, while Pennock's party and the Bradfords, on the same
stream, were building Pennock's Post. He was a Michigan man of French
descent, possessing a thorough knowledge of woodcraft and a magnificent
physique. By the captain's directions he had hired and brought up the
boat which had been built near this point earlier in the season.

Hardly had the tents been pitched on a gravelly open space overlooking
the water, when a cold and drenching rainstorm came on. A fire was
kindled with difficulty, around which the shivering party gathered to
cook and eat their evening meal. Rubber blankets and oiled canvas were
pressed into service to protect them from the storm, but there was no
keeping entirely dry in such a downpour. Around the small tent which
had been assigned to David, the ground was so level that the water was
presently standing an inch deep, and only by hastily digging a ditch
was he able to prevent it from being flooded. As it was, he found a
comparatively dry spot along the centre of his blanket-bed when he
crawled in out of the rain, and having rolled up his damp coat for a
pillow, he went to sleep in a twinkling in spite of all discomforts.

By morning the sky cleared, tents were struck, provisions and goods of
all kinds were put aboard the little craft, and soon they were sailing
merrily northward before the wind, the captain at the helm, Champlain
holding the sheet in his hand that he might let it go instantly in
case of a squall, Mr. Dunn on the centre seat, and Greenwood and David
sitting forward near the slender mast. Occasionally they were obliged
to bail, but considering the fact that there was not a drop of paint
on the boat, she was remarkably seaworthy.

It was a glorious morning. A fresh, bracing wind blew from the south.
The cloud-flecked mountains loomed sharp and blue around the lake, and
the great range on the western shore was especially grand and imposing.
David discovered beneath one of its glaciers, several thousand feet
above the lake, what appeared to be a yawning cave as big as a house,
and the captain's glass brought it out more distinctly. Here was a
natural wonder fairly begging to be visited, and right well would David
have liked to explore its mysteries; but time was precious to the
voyagers, and they held their course steadily to the north, crossing
the mouth of a great bay which extended several miles eastward. There
was a similar bay to the west, but the lake narrowed again as they
approached the outlet. At noon they landed for dinner in a little cove,
which they named Shelter Bay, and there, the wind deserting them, they
had recourse to the oars and rowed the short distance to the river,
after which the current assisted them. The water was here so clear that
they could see the fish as they darted away from the shadow of the
oars. Several yellow-legged plover were shot along the banks, but no
attempt was made to bag ducks, as it was their breeding season.

Early in the evening they reached the sandy bluff near Pennock's cabin
and moored the boat to a tree. The cabin was now deserted by human
beings, but when David opened the door a fat ground-squirrel scurried
across the floor and ran out through a hole under the side log. It
seemed too bad that such a stanch dwelling should be given over to
neglect, but such is often the case in a new country. The travellers
did not sleep in it, for the mosquitoes were in possession. They
pitched their insect-proof tents by the side of the river and passed
the night in comfort.

But before they turned in, Champlain and David took trout flies and
lines and sauntered down the stream to try to discover what kind of
fish they had seen. They cut rude willow poles and fished carefully
but in vain until they came to the mouth of Frying-Pan Creek. Here the
current of the brook cleared for a space the now muddy river water, and
Champlain had a rise almost immediately. A few seconds later he landed
a delicately spotted, gamy fish about eight inches long, which he
recognized as a grayling. The sport became exciting at once, and David
soon had half a dozen catches to his credit. When the anglers could
no longer induce a rise, they marched back to camp in triumph with a
handsome string.

The voyage was continued next day. Champlain entertained his companions
with an account of his successful moose-hunt a few weeks previous,
which had relieved the hunger of the northernmost party of the
Thirty-six. Then he told of the difficulties he and others had overcome
in rafting the goods from their great cache and Pennock's Post down
to the Landing. He had shot an otter on one of his journeys along the
stream, but said he had seen hardly a trace of beavers.

The river now became extremely tortuous. Greenwood wondered how
it could make so many loops without tying itself into a knot, and
expressed a decided preference for walking as a means of getting to the
Landing. As he was taking his turn at rowing at that moment, it was
easy to account for his sudden feeling in the matter.

By skilful use of helm and paddle Champlain guided the boat through a
number of rocky stretches in safety, but he was not to be invariably
so successful. David, who had been intently gazing forward, suddenly
shouted a warning. Five or six boulders lay in the stream so nearly
submerged that they could hardly be discerned from a distance, while
others just below the surface betrayed their position only by eddies.
Champlain put all his strength into the paddle, but in that current the
heavy boat could be swerved but little. A dangerous eddy was barely
avoided, but beyond and directly in their path a ragged rock appeared.
How the paddle flashed! And how the rowers struggled! But in a moment
it was evident that the boat must strike.

Crunch! went her side against the rock. She careened as she stopped,
and the current piled up against her, while her passengers fully
expected shipwreck and instinctively measured the distance to the
shore. But the force of the stream, instead of swamping the stout
little craft, swept her past the obstruction, and all breathed freely
once more. By great good fortune not the least damage had been
sustained.

Early in the afternoon they passed between Father and Son, otherwise
known as Mount Champlain and Mount Bratnober respectively. The pass
was about a mile wide, with perpendicular cliffs several thousand feet
high on either side. In this wild place they found the forest recently
burned, and in one spot near the base of Mount Bratnober smoke was
still rising. It was this great conflagration, covering thousands of
acres, which had filled the atmosphere with smoke a few weeks before
and caused the sun to look like a blood-red ball as it sank in the
west. Champlain related how, in company with a Canadian government
surveyor, he had climbed the mountain which had received his name.
He was sure they could have seen Mount St. Elias in the west had not
clouds obscured the view. They noticed a flock of mountain sheep, but
did not get near enough for a shot.

The voyage was presently enlivened by a race with a brood of little
ducks which Mother Mallard had taken out for an airing,--or "watering,"
as David put it. There were a dozen of the little fellows not two
weeks out of the shell, and what a splashing they set up when they
saw the strange, oared craft bearing down upon them! The mother
duck quacked anxiously from the rear of her flotilla and urged the
youngsters forward at the top of their speed, which proved just about
equal to that of the boat.

The little ducks could not fly, and the river was so narrow that at
first they dared not swerve toward either shore, but flapped and
paddled and splashed straight down the river. Not until they became
utterly exhausted did they seek the bank. Then one by one, as a
convenient log or hole appeared, they dropped away from the others and
hid themselves while the terrible monster went by. The old duck paid
not the slightest attention to these stragglers, but continued with
that part of her brood which was still in danger, turning her head from
side to side and talking vigorously in duck language to her terrified
children.

Finally only one duckling remained in the middle of the river, probably
at once the strongest and most foolish of the brood. He did not know
enough to follow the example of his brothers and sisters, but kept
splashing along until he could flee no longer. Then he too sought the
friendly bank. And now, having seen all her brood safely disposed, the
brave mother-bird made use of her wings, rising in a graceful sweep and
turning back up-stream to gather her scattered family.



CHAPTER XXXII

CHAMPLAIN'S LANDING


It was well into the evening, though before sunset, when Champlain
assured his fellow-voyagers that the Landing was near. Soon afterward,
they saw two men appear on the brow of a sandy bluff ahead. These
proved to be Hovey and Herrick, who were in charge of the camp. They
had heard voices and the plash of oars, and had hurried out to see
who was approaching, waving their hats and shouting a welcome as soon
as they recognized their friends. The boat was brought close to the
narrow beach, and the captain, Dunn, and Greenwood disembarked, leaving
Champlain and David to row around to the other side of the bluff, where
the craft could be more securely moored.

David was now accustomed to the interminable windings of the river,
and took it quite as a matter of course that the stream, after flowing
a quarter of a mile to the left or southwest from the bluff, turned
capriciously back to within fifty yards of the spot where the three
had landed. The bluff itself was thus a narrow, high neck of land
connecting a low, wooded point with what we may call the mainland east
of the river.

[Illustration: RAFTING DOWN THE NORTH ALSEK]

With oars and paddle, the crew of two soon rounded the point, and
approached the bluff once more. Here the river turned abruptly
northwest, and in the bay formed by its curve lay a flotilla of log
rafts. To one of these the boat was made fast, and the occupants sprang
ashore and made their way up the slope.

David looked with interest at the place which for a fortnight was to
be his home. The top of the bluff was about thirty feet wide, and
covered with short grass. It was as level as a floor, except along its
southeastern edge, where a ridge of sand six or eight feet high, and
fringed with spruces, offered a natural protection for a cook-tent and
a sleeping-tent. Champlain, who had discovered this spot, took pride in
pointing out to David its advantages.

"It's the finest place in this valley for a camp or a fort," he
declared, with a Frenchman's enthusiasm. "Every time I look at it, I
almost wish there was an Indian war, and I had a good garrison here.
You see, it's defended on three sides by the river, which is too
deep for fording, and can only be crossed with canoes or logs, or
by swimming. From the top of the bluff we have a clear view for an
eighth of a mile both up and down the stream. If the enemy came down
the river, the ridge of sand behind the tents is a natural breastwork
for riflemen; while if they approached from the other direction, the
defenders would simply lie down a little back from the edge of the
bluff on that side, and give them a good peppering."

"And what if they came from the land side?" asked David, who began to
wonder if an attack were within the bounds of possibility.

"We should put a stockade of logs across the neck of land on that
side," answered Champlain. "Already I have built a strong log house.
Come and see it."

He led the way landward from the narrow part of the bluff to a point
about a hundred yards up-stream, where David now beheld the neat little
cabin in which the supplies were stored. It had a door of boards,
evidently constructed from the material of a coffee-box, but there was
no window, either because no more boards were to be had, or because the
cabin was less vulnerable with but a single opening in its heavy walls.
The door was fitted with good hinges and a padlock. Forest enclosed
the cabin, except on the side from which they had come, and toward the
river; and off among the trees wound a path which joined the main trail
about fifty rods away.

"You won't have to fight Indians, my lad," said Champlain, who was
aware that his imaginative talk might cause David some uneasiness; "and
as for bears, you don't seem to mind them much, judging from what I've
heard."

"I think I can take care of the bears," said David.

[Illustration: A HERD OF CATTLE.--YUKON DIVIDE IN THE DISTANCE]

Champlain eyed the lad with evident approval. "I like your pluck," said
he; "but let an old hunter advise you to leave such beasts alone, when
you're not in reach of help. You see, we should never know where to
look for you if you should meet with an accident off in these woods.
Better stick pretty close to the cabin."

On their way back to the cook-tent Champlain pointed out a pile of
saddles and blankets near the embers of a fire.

"Must be a pack train somewhere about," he observed. "I wonder where
the men and horses are. It's too early for ours to be here."

The explanation was quickly forthcoming. A large herd of cattle,
convoyed by five or six horsemen, had arrived on the previous day
on their way to Dawson, and had been halted for a day's rest at the
Landing. The men were now rounding up their charges into an open meadow
half a mile distant, preparatory to an early start in the morning.

"And you'll be very glad they came when you know what you're to have
for supper," added Hovey, with a twinkle in his eye, as he bustled
about the sheet-iron stove in the cook-tent.

"Oh, we live high at this hotel!" Herrick chimed in. "How would fried
liver strike you,--and hot biscuits and butter,--and tea with cream and
sugar,--and a custard by way of dessert?"

"What's this you're talking about?" cried the captain, who had
overheard the last few words. "Cream and custards? I'll believe when I
see and taste!"

"All right, my sceptical friend! Come in. Supper's ready. Muck-muck!"

No second call was needed, for the travellers were ravenous. They
entered the cook-tent at once, and took their places on empty boxes
around a small improvised table.

"Now then," said Hovey, who, with Herrick, had finished supper some
three hours before, and now presided gracefully over the cook-stove in
the interest of the guests, "pass the plates."

These much battered articles of aluminum were promptly presented, and
as promptly filled with the savory contents of the frying-pan, which
proved to be real liver, after all. Herrick meanwhile told how they had
secured it.

It appeared by his narrative that one of the steers had driven a sharp
stick into its foot in such a way as to lame it badly. On noticing
this, he had strongly represented to the cattlemen that it would be
cruel to drive the animal farther, and that they ought to kill it then
and there. Aided by several expressive winks, the cattlemen had seen
the point of his remarks, and having found the two campers pleasant,
sociable fellows, they killed the steer, and made them a present of
a considerable portion of the carcass. The cream and custard were
accounted for by the presence of a milch cow in the herd.

"To-morrow," said Herrick, as he finished his tale, "we shall have
roast beef with brown gravy; and if they can catch the cow, we may get
a drink of milk all around."

"What would the boys at Shorty Creek say, if they heard that?" asked
Greenwood, smacking his lips.

"They'd mutiny," replied Dunn. "But is this the only cattle train that
has come along?"

"No," answered Hovey. "This is the third big one within a couple of
weeks, and they all belong to one man. There have been some smaller
herds, too. Over a thousand head must have gone over this trail this
season, and they're in prime condition. They ought to sell high in
Dawson, for the Yukon steamers can't carry cattle to any great extent,
and there must be thousands of people there by this time."

Next morning, previous to their departure, the cattlemen made an
attempt to milk their solitary cow. Obviously the first thing to do was
to catch the animal, but for some reason she was particularly contrary,
and refused to be either coaxed or coerced. At last one of the men
mounted his horse, and set out with his lariat to lasso the refractory
beast in true cow-boy style. The poor cow, frightened out of her wits
by the shouts and the turmoil, rushed frantically through thickets and
over sand-banks, closely followed by the horseman, who, after several
throws, succeeded in roping her and checking her wild career.

It now looked as if the drink of milk might materialize, but alas for
human expectations! The cow had been wrought up to such a pitch of
excitement by the events of the morning that she could not be made to
stand still, and it was with great difficulty that the milking could
be commenced. The man who essayed this task had all he could attend to
with her kicking and plunging, and finally, losing all patience, he
threw pail, milk, and all at her head, accompanied by something very
like an oath. So faded the dream of the drink of milk.

Hovey and Herrick, who had been informed that they were to take the
boat and a moderate cargo and start for Moran's Camp, where they were
to sign certain papers connected with their claims, now made ready to
depart. They appeared to relish the idea of joining their comrades on
the Kah Sha River, but David thought, as he watched them pull away
against the current, that long before they could hoist their sail on
Lake Dasar-dee-ash, they would wish themselves back at the Landing. The
cattle train started toward Dawson about the same time, and Champlain's
Landing was left to the captain's party.

The following morning he, too, made ready to leave. The horses, which
had now arrived, were loaded with the necessary provisions from the
cache in the cabin, and David was given final directions about the
camp. "Shep," an Indian dog which had accompanied the horses, was left
with him as his sole companion, and then the captain, Champlain, Dunn,
Greenwood, and the three packers bade him good-by and disappeared in
the woods.



CHAPTER XXXIII

ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS


David had not realized what it meant to be alone in the wilderness.
When he had agreed, back in the camp on Alder Creek, to take charge
of a cabin for a fortnight, he had looked upon it as rather a novel
and pleasant undertaking, in spite of his father's warning. Now, as he
watched his friends ride away, and whistled back the dog, who showed
a desire to follow them, it must be confessed that he felt quite
differently about it. But he was a stout-hearted lad, and sensibly
decided that the best way to forget his loneliness was to keep busy.

Fortunately work lay ready to his hand. His predecessors had carried
away their sleeping-tent, but they had shown him in the cabin some
large pieces of canvas which, with a little ingenuity, could be
transformed into quite a comfortable shelter. They had built a raised
bedstead of poles inside their tent, and this structure remained in
place. Above it was a sort of ridgepole, which had supported the tent.
With some difficulty David flung an end of the largest piece of canvas
over this pole, and found, on drawing it into position, that it would
quite reach the ground on both sides and completely cover the bedstead.
Having made the corners fast to small spruces, he set the other pieces
of canvas in place across the rear of the tent; and though they could
not be made to fill the whole space, they contributed materially to
the shelter. Besides, that end was protected by the ridge of sand with
its fringe of trees. The front of the tent was entirely open and faced
northwest upon the beautiful stretch of the river where it flowed away
from the bluff. Beyond, and perhaps ten miles distant, was a long range
of mountains bounding the valley on the north, which Champlain had
said was the Yukon Divide. The waters on its farther slope flowed into
a tributary of the Yukon, while those on the nearer side reached the
Pacific much more directly.

When the tent had been made as snug as possible, David brought heavy
blankets from the cabin and spread them upon the poles of the bedstead.
So interested did he become in arranging his quarters that he quite
forgot that he must get his own supper; and when hunger at length
compelled him to think of the matter, his watch informed him that it
was after six o'clock. By good luck, he found, on examining the larder,
that there were odds and ends of one kind and another sufficient for a
meal.

After supper he cut dry wood for the little stove and piled it in the
cook-tent. Hardly was this done when a thunder-storm, which had been
brewing in the north, drove him into the new tent. The sky grew dark,
the lightning flashed over the northern mountains, the wind arose and
howled in the forest, and the rain beat down on the frail canvas roof.
David lay on his rude couch, with Shep curled up on the ground at his
feet, and watched the storm, and thought, with a longing he had never
known before, of his far-away home in New England,--of his father and
brother and uncle in their camp on Alder Creek,--and more than once,
it is certain, of the fair-haired little girl at Seattle. But at last,
in spite of his loneliness, having carefully arranged his head-net
over his face and settled down among the blankets, he dropped off into
oblivion, and only awakened when the morning sun was smiling warmly
down on the valley.

It was indeed a fine morning. A few gray clouds curled about Mount
Bratnober and Mount Champlain and an unnamed peak to the west.
Red squirrels were scampering and chattering in the trees, a fat
ground-squirrel was sitting up demurely on the point of the bluff like
a small brown statue, birds were singing in all directions, and the
feeling of isolation which had oppressed the solitary youth in the
evening vanished like magic under the bright influence of day.

Having fetched a pail of water from the river, David performed his
toilet, and then set about getting breakfast. He had helped his uncle
more or less and could fry bacon to a turn; but he was rather tired
of bacon, and cast about for some more appetizing dish. Picking up a
can of baking-powder, he read the recipes printed thereon, but without
finding just what he wanted. Then he bethought himself of a rule for
johnny-cakes which Hovey had written out for him. Johnny-cakes would
be an excellent breakfast dish, he said to himself. With the aid of a
few dry twigs a fire was quickly kindled in the little stove, and a
kettle of water set on to heat for coffee and for dish-washing, while
the young cook measured out the flour, corn-meal, crystallized egg,
baking-powder, and salt which were to compose the cakes. When he had
stirred sufficient water into this mixture to moisten it thoroughly, he
greased the frying-pan with a bacon rind, and as soon as it was hot he
ladled out the batter.

How deliciously it sizzled in the pan! He could hardly wait for the
cooking to be done; but at length there were nine nicely browned
johnny-cakes begging to be eaten. A little sugar and water heated on
the stove served for syrup, and canned butter was also at hand. David
found not the slightest difficulty in disposing of the nine cakes, and
thought them by far the best he had ever eaten. They were much too
good for Shep, who was offered some canned corned beef instead; but
to David's surprise, the dog refused to eat the meat and declined all
invitations to join his master at breakfast. Indeed, for nearly a week
Shep would eat nothing; but as he seemed in good condition, David came
to the conclusion that he had found the carcass of the steer which the
cattlemen had killed, and was living by preference on that.

But if the dog would not partake, at least the birds would. They
fluttered fearlessly about the tent--magpies, butcher-birds,
and others--and carried off every stray scrap; while two tiny
song-sparrows, most fearless and friendly of all, actually hopped into
the tent and over his feet and upon the table while he was at meals,
and picked up the crumbs as fast as they fell.

With a little practice David became a competent cook. His johnny-cakes
had turned out so well that he made them every morning. He also had
biscuits, omelets, baked beans, rice, dried fruits and vegetables,
bacon, squirrels, and grayling to choose from, and lived very
comfortably. The biscuits were as successful as the johnny-cakes, with
one notable exception,--that was when he conceived the idea of adding a
pinch of nutmeg spice. All might have gone well had not the cover come
off unexpectedly and allowed half the contents of the can to go into
the batter. When he had removed all the spice he could with a spoon,
there still remained so much that the biscuits turned out a dark pink
color; and as for eating them, it required a pretty strong stomach.

The grayling could sometimes be caught quite plentifully from the
rafts or from the sandy curve on the other side of the bluff. As for
the squirrels, he could not find it in his heart to kill those which
chattered so sociably around his dwelling; so when he needed fresh
meat, he strolled down the trail with Shep and shot squirrels with
which he was in no wise acquainted.

One evening he shot an animal which was swimming in the river. It
proved to be a musk-rat. He remembered reading that some Indian tribes
relish the flesh of this rodent, and, having cooked it experimentally,
he found the meat both wholesome and palatable.

He early set himself to the task of bringing order out of chaos in the
cabin, where boxes and cans of provisions were indiscriminately mixed
with clothing bags and snow-shoes. Cutting down two straight young
trees, he contrived a shelf across the rear of the building upon which
a portion of the goods could be disposed, thus leaving much more room
upon the floor. After the first two or three nights he slept in the
cabin, because the mosquitoes were less troublesome in the comparative
darkness of the building, and also because he felt more secure there
against the larger inhabitants of the forest. Presently he found
himself almost reconciled to this mode of life. He was his own master.
He could go or come with absolute freedom. In the intervals of his
work he could hunt or fish, read or dream, or study nature in the
animal and plant life about him. There was a sort of charm in it, after
all. But as often as evening came around, he heartily wished he might
have some one besides the dog to talk to.

Day after day he saw no human face and heard no voice but his own. If a
regiment had passed on the main trail he might never have known it, had
they gone quietly. How many pack trains actually went by in that lonely
week he never knew. Once he heard a rifle-shot and the bark of a dog,
and running down his own path to the trail, he found fresh hoof-prints,
but the travellers were out of sight. He happened to meet no one on any
of his hunting excursions, nor did any Indian visit him. For seven long
days he was alone.



CHAPTER XXXIV

RAIDED BY A WOLF


The third evening after the departure of the captain's party David was
sitting in the cook-tent watching the last embers of the sunset and the
varying lights and shadows on the river. Shep stood near the edge of
the bluff.

Suddenly the dog's ears pointed forward attentively and his whole body
quivered. It was clear that something unusual had come in sight. No
sooner had David reached the brow of the bluff than he saw the cause of
Shep's excitement. A black animal was lapping the water where the river
curved to the northwest, about three hundred feet distant.

The semi-darkness and the heavy mosquito net over his face prevented
David from seeing clearly, but he instantly formed the conclusion that
it was a dog belonging to some pack train on the neighboring trail, and
whistled to see what it would do.

On hearing the whistle the animal raised its head, gazed a moment at
the two figures on the bluff, resumed its drinking, and then, having
satisfied its thirst, turned and started up the slope. As it did so,
David was conscious that it had a slinking gait unlike that of a dog,
and for the first time he thought how queer it was that Shep had not
offered to run down and make friends with the stranger.

"It's a small black bear," flashed into his mind. Instantly he ran with
all speed to the cabin for the shot-gun, which he kept loaded with
buckshot. The captain's party had carried off the only rifle, and David
was now sorry he had not brought his own. He caught up the shot-gun,
however, and slipping a few extra cartridges into his pocket, ran back
to the bluff where Shep stood guard.

The strange animal had disappeared.

For a moment David was disconcerted. He had not thought the bear could
get away so quickly, nor could he be sure whether it had gone into the
fringe of trees and bushes along the river-bank or continued up the
slope. He hesitated, too, before setting out to attack such an animal
with only a shot-gun for a weapon and a dog of doubtful courage as an
ally. The next instant, however, he had decided to track and kill the
beast if possible, and calling Shep to follow, he hurried down to the
river's sandy brink to examine the tracks by the waning light. He was
quite puzzled at finding that they were almost identical in appearance
with those made by Shep, but at length the truth dawned upon him. He
had to deal, not with a young bear, but with a full-grown wolf!

He now endeavored to make Shep take the scent, but Shep was not trained
to such work and sniffed around indiscriminately without attempting to
follow the animal's trail. There was nothing for it but to track the
wolf himself. He accordingly traced every track as far as it would lead
him. One proceeded from the fringe of bushes to the point where the
animal drank, while another led straight up the face of the bluff. The
latter he followed as far as the sand continued; but the top of the
elevation was grassy, and in the growing darkness the trail was quickly
lost. Keeping his eyes and ears alert for the slightest sound, David
penetrated some distance into the open woods, but without discovering
further signs of the animal. Satisfied that nothing more could be done,
he returned to camp, and took unusual pains to fasten the frail cabin
door securely when he turned in for the night.

Nor was he destined to sleep without an alarm. A noise of rattling
tin awoke him with a start. The interior of the cabin was quite dark,
since, as we have said, there were no windows; but the nights were not
yet without some light, and feeble rays outlined every chink as David
sat up, threw off his mosquito net, and looked around. Again came the
rattle of tin. It evidently proceeded from a pile of empty cans just
outside the cabin. He brought himself to a kneeling posture and pressed
his face close to one of the widest chinks. Presently he distinguished
an animal nosing among the cans and making the noise which had awakened
him. It was Shep. David spoke to the dog, and having seen him walk away
with a somewhat shame-faced air, he settled himself once more among the
blankets and was soon asleep again.

Seven days had passed when the monotony of his existence was broken by
the arrival of strangers. It was in the afternoon that he heard voices
and the sound of horses from the direction of the trail, and a minute
later saw two young fellows ride up, followed by a dozen pack animals.

"Hello!" exclaimed the foremost rider as he saw David, "this place has
changed hands, I guess, since we was here last. How d'you do? Hovey and
Herrick gone away?"

"Yes," answered David. "They left for the Kah Sha River a week ago.
You've been here before?"

"Oh, yes! We're packing back and forth between Pyramid Harbor and Five
Finger Rapids for the owner of these horses. We always like to put up
here for the night, for it's pretty lonesome on this trail."

"That's so," said David, feelingly. He, too, was not a little pleased
at the thought of company, and the more so in the present instance,
because the new-comers were near his own age. The elder was slender,
with dark hair and a rather sparse growth of beard, and might have
been twenty-two or three, while the other was a ruddy, plump lad of
about seventeen.

"My name's Close," said the dark-haired one, as he dismounted and
proceeded to unsaddle his horse. "We're from Wisconsin."

In return for this information David gave his own name and residence.

The Wisconsin boys took the packs from their horses and turned them
loose to graze.

"Now for supper," said Close.

"You'll find a stove and dishes and a table, such as it is, in the
cook-tent yonder," said David, hospitably. "I guess you know your way
around. Just make yourselves at home, and I'll have the fire going in a
jiffy."

It took the strangers but a short time to cook their evening meal, and
as soon as they had finished with the stove David prepared his own
supper, and the three sat down together.

"Can you spare us enough butter for our bread?" asked Close. "We're all
out."

"Yes," said David, passing it over, "help yourself." He knew there were
but two more cans in the cache under his charge, but he felt certain
the captain would wish him to extend such hospitalities as lay in his
power; and he would much rather have gone without butter himself for a
time than deny it to his guests. They, however, had no intention of
trenching on David's slender stock without returning an equivalent.

"You don't seem to have any condensed milk," observed the younger of
the two.

"No," said David. "There isn't a drop. I've looked the whole cache over
for it."

"Well, here! You just take what you want out of our can. We've got milk
if we haven't got butter. Try some of that dried fruit, too."

Having thanked his friends, David inquired if the trail was in good
shape. He was thinking that before long he would be tramping back over
it.

"Yes," answered Close, "most of it's good; but there's some bad bogs
where the horses get mired. Those cattle herds have cut it all to
pieces where the ground is soft. We haven't had much trouble, though."

"No," put in his companion, "when we get started we can go along well
enough. The worst of this packing business is ketching the horses in
the morning. The critters are as sly as foxes. They'll stand so still
in the thickets when they hear you coming that you can go within ten
feet of 'em and never know they're there."

"They keep pretty well together, though," said the other, "and the
tracks are generally plain. Besides, there's a bell on one of them."

"If they were my horses," declared David, "I would bell them all."

"And it wouldn't be a bad idea," said Close, with a laugh.

By David's invitation the Wisconsin boys slept that night on the
bedstead in the tent. They breakfasted early and then set out to round
up their horses, which they accomplished in a couple of hours after
a long tramp through the woods. Having loaded the animals, they bade
David good-by and rode away toward the trail, presently shouting back,
"Better call the dog; he's following the horses."

David whistled Shep back and ordered him to lie down. It was no wonder
he thought every one his master, he had changed owners so often. He now
lay down quietly enough on the ground before the cook-tent and appeared
to have forgotten all about the pack train.

An hour later David finished his wood-chopping and suddenly noticed
that Shep was gone. At first he thought little of the matter, supposing
him to be somewhere in the neighborhood, but when another hour passed
without him, he feared Shep had followed the horses, after all. He
whistled again and again, but no dog came; and now he was perplexed to
know what to do. By this time the pack train was six or eight miles
away. The dog would overtake it easily, but _he_ could not hope to do
so before it halted for the night; and he did not like to leave so long
the property of which he was in charge. The Wisconsin boys might send
the dog back, or, failing in that, they would doubtless deliver him
up to the captain, whom they would probably see before many days. So,
however much he regretted the loss of his only companion, he concluded
to let the matter drop.

A little later, from the sand-ridge back of the tents, he perceived a
column of white smoke above the trees near the river, a quarter of a
mile to the southeast. It indicated the presence of either white men or
Indians on the trail, and Shep might be with them. David lost no time
in locking the cabin door and setting out rapidly in the direction of
the smoke.

On his hunting excursions he had noticed an Indian canoe bottom-up
near that spot, and naturally supposed that the dusky owners had now
arrived. He found, however, that two white men had kindled a fire
against a fallen tree for the purpose of cooking their midday meal.
Their two horses were grazing near by. The strangers were men of middle
age, with thick, grizzled beards and sunbrowned faces. They seemed
surprised to see David, but greeted him pleasantly.

"Camping near here?" they asked.

"Yes," answered David, seating himself sociably; "at Champlain's
Landing."

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed one of the men, "I saw the sign-board on the tree
where your path turns off, but I didn't know any one was there."

"Have you come from Dawson?" asked David.

"Yes; we left there nine days ago."

"Any new strikes?"

"No, none recently; but the people keep swarming in over the other
trails."

"What are they paying in wages?"

"Seven to ten dollars a day."

"I've heard it was very unhealthy there."

"Yes, there's a good deal of scurvy and pneumonia."

"Any starvation last winter?"

"No, but it was a tight squeeze for some of them."

"Does a man stand much chance of a fortune who goes there now?"

"Not if he expects to dig gold. The paying ground is all taken up and a
good deal more. There's a better chance now in trading. In fact, that's
what my partner and I are going into. We've discovered that some things
are mighty scarce in Dawson, and people will pay almost anything for
them, so we're going out to the coast to bring in a stock of goods. We
shall try to be back before cold weather."

David had kept his eyes open for Shep, but seeing nothing of him, he
asked if they had met two young fellows that morning and had noticed a
black and white dog. The men remembered the pack train well enough, but
neither had any recollection of seeing the dog. So David went back to
the Landing more mystified than ever.

With Shep away, he felt instinctively that the wolf would pay him
another visit; nor was he mistaken. That night he slept deeply and
heard no sound, but when he arose and went out to the cook-tent, he
rubbed his eyes in astonishment. Wolf-tracks were everywhere, dishes
were scattered about, a five-pound piece of bacon had disappeared, and
the butter can, which had stood in a pail of water on the top of the
rude sideboard five feet above the ground now lay on the grass, where
the wolf had ineffectually tried to get at the contents. Strange to
say, the pail from which the can had been abstracted stood unmoved in
its accustomed place.

David picked up the scattered utensils and smiled rather grimly to
think how he had slept for two nights in the open, unprotected tent,
exposed to this midnight prowler.



CHAPTER XXXV

A LONG MARCH, WITH A SURPRISE AT THE END OF IT


As the time approached for David to be relieved from duty, he began to
watch for the expected traveller and to conjecture as to who would be
sent. Two weeks had passed since he had left the camp on Alder Creek.
It was now near the end of July.

About noon of the day following the departure of Shep and the midnight
visit of the wolf, as he was cooking his dinner, he saw Davidson,
a young Bostonian, swinging rapidly up the path. The two exchanged
cordial greetings, and David immediately prepared to give his friend a
hearty meal.

"How did you leave the people in the Shorty Creek district?" asked the
young cook when the new-comer had removed his light pack and seated
himself in one of Hovey's rustic chairs.

"Everybody was well when I left," answered Davidson, "except old Tom
Moore, the recorder. He's down with scurvy, but I guess our doctor
will fix him up. They've sent him a lot of dried fruit and vegetables,
and that diet ought to help him. I don't believe he had eaten much but
bacon for a month, and he hardly ever stirred out of his tent. It's no
wonder the scurvy caught him."

"I should think so," said David. And then he asked abruptly, "How long
did it take you to get here, Davidson?"

"Two days and a half from Reitz's tent on Klukshu Lake," was the reply.

"That's quick time. You must be a good walker. I just wish my legs were
as long as yours. How far do you think it is?"

"About sixty-five miles by the trail. You'd better allow three days if
you carry anything."

"I shall have about forty pounds," said David. "The men at Moran's gave
me a list of things they wanted out of their clothing bags, and I sent
all I could by the boat; but in the hurry I couldn't find everything.
Is Reitz catching any salmon yet?"

"Oh, yes; plenty of them. Humphrey is with him now, and they're having
all they can do."

Next morning David gave his friend such directions regarding the cache
as had been given to himself, and surrendered the key of the padlock on
the cabin door. Then he cooked three days' rations of bacon, biscuits,
and rice, to which he added some pieces of jerked beef which Davidson
had brought and kindly offered him. Finally he made up his pack, and
an hour before noon was ready to start on the long, solitary tramp.
If he had stopped to think much about it he might well have shrunk
from so lonely a journey through the wilderness, for he was armed only
with hunting-knife and hatchet, but the thought of getting back to his
friends was uppermost and made him light-hearted; and, besides, if
Davidson had made the journey, he was sure he could.

"Hold on!" exclaimed Davidson, suddenly, as he saw the lad taking up
his pack. "I'm going with you a few miles. I'll carry the pack."

"Oh, no indeed!" said David, whose pride was touched. It seemed almost
effeminate to surrender his burden to one who had hardly yet rested
after a long journey. "I'm perfectly fresh, and you must be tired. It's
mighty kind of you, but I can't let you."

"You don't feel the need of a lift now," said Davidson, kindly, "but
you may at the other end of the day's march. And it's only at this end
that I can help you."

"But surely I can carry that load all day. It isn't heavy,--and it
really belongs to me to take it."

"Then I won't go with you, Dave."

David instantly perceived that if he refused the generous offer of
his friend he would hurt his feelings, and that he ought to yield.
"Well, then," said he, "rather than lose your company, I accept your
conditions, and please don't think me ungrateful."

So Davidson fastened the pack upon his own shoulders, and having
locked the cabin, the two set off down the path to the trail, which
they followed till they had covered about five miles and were near
the entrance to the pass between Mount Bratnober and Mount Champlain.
They now sat down beside a brook, and David proceeded to eat his
dinner, which he insisted his companion should share. This Davidson was
reluctant to do, since he knew the lad would have to calculate closely
to make his food last. He was finally prevailed upon to accept a piece
of bacon and half a biscuit, but would take no more.

"If I were you," said Davidson, "I should divide the journey into three
parts as nearly equal as possible. From the Landing to Pennock's Post
is about twenty-five miles. You'd better try to reach there to-night.
Then it's twenty miles to the river that flows into Dasar-dee-ash from
the east. You'll have to wade it, unless there's somebody there with a
horse. I was lucky enough to find a pack train at the ford. The water
won't come much above your waist."

"H-m!" said David, laconically. "Ice-water, I suppose."

"Very likely. Then on the third day you can make the remaining twenty
miles to Reitz's camp, and go over to Moran's any time you like."

"Thank you, Davidson," said his young friend. "That's just the way I'll
plan to do it."

They parted with mutual good-will, and David, with the pack now on his
own back, soon found himself traversing the recently burned district
within the pass. The mighty cliff of Mount Champlain towered on his
left, while across the river rose the hardly less stupendous crags of
Mount Bratnober. On every side the country was bright with the purple
fireweed, which had sprung up from the ashes as if by magic.

There were scattered patches of forest which the great conflagration
had spared, and in the midst of one of these David was suddenly aware
of a crackling sound ahead. The next instant he caught a whiff of smoke
and saw it rising in a dense cloud through the trees. A few steps more
and he found himself in a shower of sparks which a sudden gust blew
toward him. Forced to beat a precipitate retreat, he made a détour to
the windward of the burning area, from which side he was able to make a
closer examination.

Plainly some careless traveller had allowed his camp-fire to get beyond
his control, or else had neglected to extinguish it when he moved on.
The flames had crept through the moss and communicated with several
dry spruces, which were now blazing fiercely. It was utterly beyond
David's power to check the spread of the flames, but he reflected that
the whole country around had been burned over, and the fire could
not extend past the limits of the oasis-like grove in which it had
originated, so he continued on his journey.

In an open stretch of meadow he came upon a white horse and a mule
grazing contentedly. The animals raised their heads in mute inquiry,
and then resumed their feeding. David looked about for the owners,
but seeing no one, came to the conclusion that these were waifs from
some pack train, and might now be appropriated by any one who could
catch them. It was a great temptation to try. Riding was certainly an
improvement on walking; and if he could not do that without a bridle,
he could at least lead the horse with a bit of rope and make him carry
his pack. On second thought, however, he abandoned the idea. Perhaps
the animals were not lost. The owners might be somewhere in the
neighborhood. If this were the case, and he were seen leading the horse
away, he might be accused of horse-stealing,--a very serious charge on
the trail. It was better to let them alone, and he plodded on.

A little later he caught sight of a black animal among the trees ahead,
and it must be confessed that a lonely, creepy sensation ran up his
back at that moment. He loosened the hatchet in its leather case as
he walked, but soon saw that the beast was not a bear, but a large
black dog which, having even more respect for him than he had felt for
it, turned out of the trail and gave him a wide berth. A few minutes
afterward he met two men with a small pack train, and concluded that
the dog was theirs. The men nodded pleasantly as they passed; they
were the only persons he saw on the trail that day.

By mid-afternoon he found himself getting tired. A great many trees had
fallen across the path, and the labor of stepping over them contributed
materially to his fatigue. There were bogs, too, so cut up by the
passage of horses and cattle that it was difficult for a pedestrian to
cross without becoming stuck fast. Usually, however, a sapling had been
cut down and laid over the ooze, and David crossed all but one of these
rude bridges successfully.

The one exception nearly cost him dear. He made a misstep, and his
right foot slipped into the mud beside the log. The mud and water
offered no support, and the sudden lurch having thrown the weight of
his pack to that side, his foot sank deeper and deeper without reaching
solid ground. By good fortune his other foot was still on the log,
and, better still, there were stout bushes on the other side. These he
grasped desperately as he sank, and by a violent effort restored his
balance and drew himself back upon the log.

In the early evening he waded Frying-Pan Creek and caught the first
welcome glimpse of Pennock's Post. "Now," thought he, "I shall have a
good night's rest in my own bunk,"--for he had brought no tent; so with
a light heart in spite of his weariness, he turned toward the cabin.

But he was doomed to disappointment. What was his astonishment at
finding an enormous padlock and a heavy chain upon the door! And hardly
had he touched the contrivance to determine whether it was locked, when
there was an angry growl and the rattle of a chain within the building,
and he knew by the sound that a fierce dog had sprung toward the door
to oppose his entrance.

If he had been surprised at seeing the padlock, it was nothing to the
burning indignation which now possessed him. He passed around to the
north window. Someone, probably an Indian, had loosened one of the
wooden bars and torn a hole in the cheese-cloth in order to look into
the interior. He took advantage of the rent to do likewise. In the
southeast corner of the cabin he could see a great pile of goods. The
dog, a huge and savage-looking beast, was chained to the corner post of
Pennock's bunk, and there was a dish of water and another of meat on
the floor. David was locked out of his own house, and it was garrisoned
against him.



CHAPTER XXXVI

HOW DAVID MET THE OFFENDER AND WAS PREVENTED FROM SPEAKING HIS MIND


Having satisfied himself that the owner of the cache was not about,
David threw off his pack, and sat down upon it with his back against
the log wall to consider what he would do; and the more he thought
about it, the more his anger rose.

It was the custom on the trail to cache provisions anywhere. Both
Indians and white men respected the unwritten law which held the theft
of food in such a region to be worthy of death. No one but a starving
man or a desperado would violate that law, and there were few such.
Indeed, David had never seen any indication that this chance of loss
was being reckoned with. But here was a man who apparently distrusted
all his fellow-men,--who suspected every traveller on the trail,--who
not only confiscated a cabin for the storage of his goods, but took
contemptible measures to protect his property. David felt instinctively
that he had to deal with as mean, sour, and selfish a person as it had
ever been his lot to meet, and had not the slightest doubt that the
character of the master, as is often the case, could be accurately
surmised from the temper of his dog. The latter still growled and
barked viciously at every sound.

At last he rose and went to the rear of the cabin, thinking to enter by
way of the fireplace. He knew he could easily loosen and remove two or
three of the stakes which had surrounded the stove, and once inside the
cabin, he could sleep in his own bunk, which was situated diagonally
opposite the corner where the dog was chained. But no sooner had he
begun to carry out this plan than the savage animal became furious, and
it was perfectly evident that he would have no rest in the company of
such a brute.

"If I only had my rifle," he groaned.

It is entirely safe to say that with it he would have made an end of
the animal without a moment's hesitation, flung its body into the
creek, and taken possession of the cabin, which his own hands had
helped to build. To be sure, he might kill the dog with the hatchet,
but such butchery was repugnant to him, and he quickly dismissed the
idea. On the whole, it would be best, he decided, to spend the night
under the open sky, where there would be no distractions other than
the wind in the trees and the continual singing of the mosquitoes. So
he picked up his pack, trudged off into the grove of spruces to the
south, and selected a dry, level, sandy spot near the edge of the bluff
which fronted the river. Here he ate a frugal supper, then spread his
blankets on the ground, and so passed the night, though the assiduous
musical insects which swarmed upon his head-net robbed him of nearly
all sleep. After an early breakfast, he resumed his march, fully
resolved, in the event of their meeting, to tell the owner of the cache
exactly what he thought of him.

This part of the trail was familiar, and he walked briskly, only
pausing at the foot of the first small lake to catch two or three
grayling, with which to eke out his scanty rations. These he roasted
before a fire at noon, and, rudely cooked as they were, they proved
very palatable, accompanied by small berries of a bluish color and
black moss-berries, which grew there in abundance.

He had passed the point where in May the Bradfords had left the
main trail to turn toward the lake, when he descried a pack train
approaching across an open meadow. As the caravan came nearer, David
was convinced that he saw before him the owner of the cache and the
canine. At the head of the procession leaped five or six dogs of fierce
aspect. Following them came a round-shouldered old Irishman, riding on
a big gray mule, and behind him was a string of mules loaded with sacks
and boxes.

The dogs set off toward David with a rush, as soon as they saw him, and
it was all their master could do to check them. As it was, David made
sure that his hatchet was free before he encountered the pack, and even
had he brought that weapon into play, he would have been overwhelmed
in a twinkling had not the dogs been in evident fear of the old man.
Having jumped about David noisily, but without offering violence, they
passed on in obedience to a gruff command. The rider of the mule now
drew up and eyed David in silence a moment.

"Where'd ye come from?" he asked, in a rather impertinent tone, as
David thought.

"Champlain's Landing," said David, shortly. He was not in a mood to be
trifled with.

"How far may it be to Pennock's Post?" asked the stranger, still eying
him suspiciously.

"All of fifteen miles," said David.

"Fifteen miles!" exclaimed the man, in anything but a pleasant voice.
"I wouldn't have said 'twas that far,--an' it's there I must be
to-night." Suddenly he glared again at David. "An' where'd ye stay last
night?"

"At Pennock's Post," said David.

"Stayed at Pennock's, did ye?" snarled the old fellow. "Didn't ye find
something there, hey?"

This was just what David had been waiting for. Another moment, and he
would have uncorked the explosive phials of wrath, but hearing a light
footstep he turned, and the next instant, without a single angry word,
set his lips hard.

It was neither fear nor irresolution which occasioned this remarkable
change on David's part, but a delicate, chivalrous sense of the
consideration a man always owes to the gentler sex. On turning his
head, he became aware, for the first time, of the presence of a woman.

She was slender, gray-haired, and gentle-faced. She was neatly dressed
in black, and had been walking behind the pack train. It flashed
through David's mind instantly that this was the old man's wife, and
he was conscious of a feeling of pity. Furthermore, she was the first
white woman he had seen for many months. It was a delight just to look
at her. Quarrel in her presence he could not, nor add one jot to the
burden which he felt sure she must bear as the consort of such a man.

It was the sight of this elderly woman which had sealed his lips, and
now, to the astonishment of her husband, David turned and walked away
without a reply. The woman spoke to him kindly as he passed, and he
touched his cap respectfully. Hardly had he cleared the pack train
before he heard the old man belaboring the mule on which he rode, and
swearing roundly at the other animals. He wondered if the poor wife
would have to walk those fifteen long miles while her husband rode.

Not long afterward he met a second section of the train, in charge of a
tall, broad-shouldered fellow, who evidently preferred not to overtake
his employer.

David pressed on with all possible speed, but since noon his left foot
had been giving him pain, and he now became more crippled with every
step. Whether it was rheumatism or a bruise or strain he did not know,
but by the time he reached the river he was ready to drop.

To his delight, a large tent on the hither bank indicated the presence
of some one at the ford, and he had no doubt he could cross dry-shod
on the morrow. On reaching this tent he was surprised to find no one
within, but, confident that the owner was near, he threw off his pack
with a sigh of relief, and stretched himself wearily on a pile of
canvas coverings.

An hour or more had dragged by when David saw a slender young man, with
a bushy brown beard, leading a bony horse toward the opposite bank of
the river. He mounted at the ford, and, having crossed, took off the
saddle and turned the steed loose.

"How are you?" said the stranger cordially, as he noticed David. "Been
here long?"

"About an hour," answered David. "I thought you wouldn't mind my
resting here."

"Not at all. Make yourself at home. Didn't see anything of a stray mule
round here, did you? I've been hunting that mule all the afternoon, but
I can't find the critter."

"No, I didn't see it."

"I s'pose you met the old man? He owns this outfit here."

"Oh, ho!" exclaimed David. "Is that so?" A sudden light came into his
eyes, and traces of a smile appeared at the corners of his mouth.
"What sort of a man is he?" he asked.

"Well," replied Smith,--he had informed David that such was his name,
and Yonkers, New York, his home,--"he's different from any Irishman
I ever saw. Hasn't any more sense of humor than a cow, and he's the
worst-tempered man in this whole country. Look at that sick horse and
you'll see how he treats his animals, and he don't treat his wife and
us men much better. He's going to winter on a claim of his near Dawson,
and wants me to work for him up there, but I don't know about it. I'd
never have started with him if I'd known him. He hasn't paid me a cent
of wages yet, and I don't believe he intends to."

David saw that he had a friend and sympathizer in Smith.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," said he, "provided you're
willing. I'm going to sleep in the tent to-night. If a man ever owed me
a night's lodging, he's the man." And David told how he had been locked
out of his own house, and cheated out of his rest.

"Well, well!" exclaimed Smith, when he heard the tale. "I just wish
you could have put some lead into that dog. You'd have been perfectly
justified. I guess you're entitled to rather more than a night's
lodging. If the miserly old fellow had left me anything to eat, I'd see
that you had a good supper and breakfast, but he took every scrap of
bacon with him, and I've only flour and coffee to live on till he gets
back."

"I've a pretty good chunk of bacon, but no flour," said David. "We'd
better join forces. I'll contribute the bacon if you'll make some
flapjacks."

Smith gladly assented, so it was not long before David was eating a
supper partly at his own, but largely also at the disagreeable packer's
expense. Doubtless because it is human nature to enjoy levying a just
tax on a mean man, he swallowed those flapjacks and drank that coffee
with peculiar zest.

The meal was no sooner finished than Smith caught sight of the truant
mule on a distant hillside and set off to capture it, while David
spread his blankets within the tent and presently turned in. He slept
soundly till broad daylight, when he awoke with a start and found a
fat ground-squirrel sitting comfortably on his breast, and eying him
complacently. It ran out as soon as he stirred, and then amused itself
by running up the roof of the tent on one side, and sliding down the
other. Altogether it was the most lively ground-squirrel he had seen.

This day was Sunday, and aside from the principle of the thing, David
would have liked to rest on account of his lameness, but circumstances
were against him. It was clearly necessary that he should make an
exception to the usual rule of the Bradfords, and travel throughout
this Sabbath. Smith's stock of food was running as low as his own.
Breakfast over, he himself had only a piece of jerked beef and two
biscuits for a luncheon. His only course was to proceed.

Smith caught and saddled the poor horse, which had been a fine animal,
but was now so weak with overwork, starvation, and sickness that it
could hardly stand. David mounted with misgivings as to whether the
tottering beast had strength to carry him, but they crossed the ford in
safety. Dismounting on the farther bank, he turned the horse back into
the water, and headed him for the point where Smith was standing; then
shouting his thanks and a good-by, he limped off along the trail.

Twenty miles on a foot which could scarcely bear the touch of the
ground! He set his teeth hard and plodded on until the pain compelled
him to sit down for a brief rest. Every mile was earned with suffering.
All day long the struggle continued, and it required all the grit he
possessed to keep him going. Not a person did he see, though he caught
sight of several horses grazing, and heard distant shouts of men who
were probably searching for them. At seven in the evening he threw
himself into Reitz's camp utterly spent.



CHAPTER XXXVII

HOMEWARD BOUND


The condition of David's foot obliged him to remain two days at the
fishing-camp with Reitz and Humphrey, who feasted him royally on
fresh-caught salmon.

Under the teaching of Reitz he soon acquired the knack of using the
long gaff, tipped with an iron hook, with which the fish were caught.
Standing on the bank beside one of the deeper pools of the Klukshu
River, which here was little more than a brook, he would poke about the
bottom with the gaff until it struck against a salmon, when by a quick
and dexterous jerk the fish would be hooked and drawn up out of the
water. Often the salmon were so heavy that they had to be dragged out
rather than lifted, for fear of breaking the pole.

The finest variety was the king salmon, very large and with flesh of
a deep pink tint. Then there was a smaller kind whose flesh was red.
Not infrequently a fish was caught which, in its long journey from the
sea, had been bruised and gashed on the sharp rocks. Such were unfit
for food, but the healthy salmon were split and dressed and hung upon
a frame of poles to dry, a smoky fire being built underneath to promote
the curing and keep the flies from laying their eggs in the meat.

The Stik Indians across the stream caught the salmon not only with the
gaff, but also by a weir of poles which they constructed in the brook.
In this trap hundreds were ensnared, and the natives were able to take
a sufficient number to supply them with food throughout the winter and
spring. One of the Indian women in this family was noticeable for a
spike of wood or bone set in the flesh of her chin by way of ornament.

On the third day David proceeded to Moran's Camp, accompanied by
Humphrey, who carried a load of fresh salmon. Almost the first question
asked of him there was, "Where are Hovey and Herrick?"

"Why," replied David, in astonishment, "I supposed they were here long
ago. It's a little over two weeks since they left Champlain's Landing
in the boat."

This intelligence caused a flutter of alarm in the camp of the
Thirty-six, and a searching party would undoubtedly have been
despatched on the following day had not the missing men turned up
that evening, weather-browned and hungry, with a remarkable tale of
obstacles encountered and overcome. They had been several days in
forcing their heavy boat up the river to the lake, and there they had
met with such continuous head-winds and rough water that progress had
been difficult and dangerous,--often, indeed, impossible. They had
camped for days upon the shore with little to eat, waiting for a chance
to proceed, and were almost despairing when the wind providentially
changed.

"Hurrah!" shouted Roly, when David appeared on Alder Creek. "You're
just in time, Dave. Now we can go out with the next pack train."

David failed to grasp his enthusiastic brother's meaning until later,
for he was immediately surrounded and made to sit down and relate all
his adventures up to that moment. This done, he begged Roly for an
explanation of his remark about going out.

"Why," said Roly, delightedly, "we're all ready to start for home.
Father or Uncle Will can tell you more about the reasons." The boy
seemed as eager to go out of the country as he had once been to come
into it.

"Yes," said Mr. Bradford, corroboratively, "the leader of the
Thirty-six wished to control the whole of the river and its tributary
creeks, and instructed Mr. Scott, his second in command, to make us an
offer for our claims. We thought the offer a fair one, and as we can
not well winter here nor look after our claims another season, we have
accepted his price."

"Good!" said David. "I'm glad to hear it."

Uncle Will added that they had made arrangements to accompany the next
pack train of the Thirty-six when it returned to the coast.

"Do you mean that we shall ride out on horses?" asked David,
incredulously. The thought of such luxurious travelling after his
recent hardships surpassed his wildest dreams.

"No," answered his uncle. "The horses will carry our loads, but it
isn't likely we shall ride except in fording the rivers. I understand
it's extremely perilous to try to cross the Alsek, the Klaheena, and
the Salmon rivers without horses, and several men have been drowned
this season in the attempt. Even horses are sometimes swept away. You
must know that in summer these streams, fed by the melting ice and snow
in the mountains, become swift, muddy torrents of far greater depth and
force than in the winter. Streams which a boy could wade last March
would now give an elephant a tussle. It's most fortunate that we can
have the use of the pack train."

Two days later, on the fifth of August, word came that the horses had
arrived at Moran's and would leave there the following evening on their
return. Several of the animals were brought up to Alder Creek and
loaded with the goods of the Bradfords, who of course had very little
to carry out, compared with what they had brought in, since their
provisions were nearly exhausted and they were to leave their tools and
surplus goods of all kinds with the Thirty-six. Lucky and Coffee Jack
were also to be left behind in the employment of the larger party.

On their way down the river the Bradfords paused at the tent of the
scurvy-stricken Tom Moore to leave him some delicacies and wish him
a speedy recovery. Here also they exchanged farewells with King and
Baldwin.

Not far above Moran's Camp David discovered a gray boulder thickly
studded with fossil trilobites, which he would have liked to present to
the museum at home, but its great weight made its removal impossible.

Having taken leave of the Thirty-six, and of Lucky and Coffee Jack,
who had served them so long and faithfully, the Bradfords followed the
horses to the valley below, where they were to spend the night.

The pack train was in charge of a tall, lean, brown-whiskered man
known as Bud Beagle, and two assistant packers, one of whom, a big,
thick-set, good-natured Missourian, went by the name of Phil. The
other, a gray-haired man named Joyce, had once kept a bookstore in one
of the Eastern States, and now, after a life of varied fortunes, found
himself a packer and cook on the Dalton trail.

Phil made an important find soon after the camping-place was reached.
He came upon some bushes loaded with ripe red currants not far below
the mouth of the gorge, and, having gathered a heaping panful, brought
them to Joyce, who gladly set about making some currant preserve in the
most approved style. He boiled the currants over a hot fire, added an
extravagant amount of sugar, and at length produced the most delicious
mixture imaginable.

As the night was fair, no tents were pitched. The blankets were spread
on the grass under the open sky, and the party would have spent a
comfortable night had not the weather turned frosty. So cold was it
that a skim of ice formed in a pail of water which was left uncovered.

"Gentlemen," said Bud, addressing the elder Bradfords at breakfast,
"if you take my advice, you'll start right away as soon as you've
finished. It'll take us an hour or two to round up and load the horses,
but there's no need for you to wait. It's close on to thirty mile to
Dalton's, and it would be late afore you got there if you was to start
right now."

Accordingly, the Bradfords were on the march before eight o'clock.
They paused for a salmon dinner at Reitz's camp, where the pack train
overtook and passed them, then plodded on again. It was the longest
day's march in their experience, and without special incident save the
meeting with a large herd of cattle and a flock of sheep bound for
Dawson.

Near the trading-post a party of mounted police were building a cabin.
They hospitably invited the tired four in to supper, treating them to
roast mutton, for which the recently passing flock had evidently been
laid under contribution. During the meal Mr. Bratnober strolled in and
entertained them with an account of a long journey to the headwaters of
White River, from which he had just returned. He had been accompanied
by Jack Dalton and a tall native called Indian Jack. Their object
had been to find copper, and they had been successful. Mr. Bratnober
exhibited several rough slabs of the pure metal as big as a man's hand,
and said that he had brought back about thirty pounds of it, and could
have picked up tons if there had been means to carry it. He naturally
would not tell the exact locality where these riches were discovered,
but said it was in a region never before explored by white men. They
had not remained in the copper district as long as they had wished to
do, because of a band of Indians, armed only with bows and arrows, who
had made hostile demonstrations.

From the police the Bradfords learned that Dalton's store had been
robbed of several thousand dollars a few days before, while Ike
Martin was temporarily absent, and that about the same time two
prospectors had been held up by highwaymen on the trail and relieved
of considerable gold dust. Search was being made for the robbers, who
were supposed to be two tough-looking characters who had been seen
around the premises, and Ike Martin had started for Pyramid Harbor to
put the authorities there on the watch. Ike, imprudently, as the police
thought, had taken quite a sum of his own money with him, which he
purposed to send to a Seattle bank.

"Have you any idea who the robbers are?" asked Uncle Will of the police
captain.

"Yes," replied that officer; "we think they are two of 'Soapy' Smith's
gang. The suspicious characters seen here answered the description of
two of 'Soapy's' men."

"And who is 'Soapy' Smith?" asked Mr. Bradford, who had heard the name,
but could not recall in what connection.

"Why," explained the officer, "he's that chap who organized a gang of
toughs at Skagway last winter and terrorized the place. Finally he
insulted the wrong man, and received a quieting dose of lead; after
which the citizens drove his followers out of town, and they scattered
over the various trails."

Uncle Will said nothing, but the boys noticed that he puffed with
unwonted vigor on his pipe and seemed to be thinking deeply. He was,
indeed, thinking that it would be a serious matter to encounter those
two desperadoes in a lonely part of the trail.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

A CARIBOU, AND HOW IT WAS KILLED


A day was spent at Dalton's, as it was found that several horses needed
shoeing, but the following morning the pack train forded the Alsek and
clattered off along the trail, while the Bradfords were ferried over
the swift stream by a Stik Indian in a dug-out,--a canoe which consists
of the trunk of a single large tree hollowed by fire and the axe.

The trail led through the woods, and Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will
agreed that in such a region the little party of four should keep
together, since the two robbers, if they were concealed anywhere in the
neighborhood and still had lawless intentions, would hesitate to waylay
and attack an armed party of twice their numbers. The three packers
were also well armed.

The forest was left behind at noon, and they gladly ascended to the top
of a range of treeless uplands where there was no cover for an enemy.
Here a small pack train of oxen and horses, in charge of five or six
New Englanders, was met. They had seen no suspicious persons since
leaving Pyramid Harbor. When questioned about the fords of the Klaheena
and Salmon rivers, the travellers laughed and pointed to one of their
number whom they called Mr. Green, as being most likely to have a vivid
recollection of his experience.

"Yes," said Mr. Green, good-humoredly, "I shall not soon forget the
ford of the Klaheena. You see, our pack animals are loaded down with
about all they can carry, and I'm no feather-weight. Consequently,
instead of mounting one of the already overburdened beasts, I crossed
the two fords of the Salmon River by wading. The water was cold, but I
didn't mind the wetting much, and took the precaution to hold fast to
the tail of the largest ox. This plan succeeded so well at the first
two fords that when we reached the Klaheena I felt no hesitancy about
crossing in the same manner. I stripped off most of my clothing, took a
firm hold of the tail of the big ox, and we started.

"Well, gentlemen, if you've ever seen a pickerel spoon whirl round
and round when it's dragged behind a boat, you will have some idea of
the motions I described when I struck that deep and rushing current.
I was off my feet in a twinkling and thrashing about in the wildest
manner imaginable; and if I hadn't gripped the tail of that ox with the
strength of desperation, I shouldn't be here to tell about it. Even
the ox was forced down the stream quite a distance, but his heavy load
enabled him to keep his feet, and he hauled me out at last on the
opposite bank, more scared than hurt. But next time, gentlemen, I'm
going to ride."

Mr. Green's droll recital was listened to with much amusement. He now
wiped from his brow the perspiration which his exciting reminiscences
had induced, and added a last item of advice.

"My friends," said he, with a serio-comic expression on his round face,
"don't you try swimming, either. We saw a young fellow do that, and--I
swan! if he didn't go down-stream like a chip. He would reach the shore
time and again and try to get hold of something, but there was nothing
but loose gravel, and it gave way as soon as he touched it, and away
the current would hustle him. It kept that fellow moving for a mile,
and he might be going yet if he hadn't been washed up on a gravel bar."

These tales of the dread Klaheena were anything but reassuring to the
Bradfords; and in the imagination of the boys that river began to
assume the form of a ravening monster. What with mountain torrents and
highwaymen, they felt that they would be the most fortunate of mortals
if they reached the coast in safety. They discovered, as many a brave
man has done, that the terrors of anticipation are often far more
unnerving than a real and present danger.

About the middle of the afternoon they crossed two deep ravines, each
the bed of a noisy brook, and soon afterward found themselves on the
highest ridge of the bleak uplands. It was not thought necessary here
to keep together, and Uncle Will and Roly were fully a quarter of a
mile in advance of Mr. Bradford and David, who had paused to make
pannings at the streams in the ravines.

"Keep a sharp lookout for our pack train," cautioned Uncle Will. "I
think they've camped somewhere here, and we don't want to miss them."

As he spoke, he and Roly were approaching the crest of a low hill.
Suddenly Uncle Will, who was leading, stopped, then threw himself at
full length on the ground.

"Down, Roly, quick!" he whispered. "There's a caribou coming. Don't
make a sound."

Roly dropped instantly, and the two lay there, quiet but excited,
gazing at the crest of the hill not more than forty feet ahead,
Uncle Will meantime drawing his revolver. Roly had no weapon but his
knife, and the only kind of a shot he could take was a snapshot,--for
he happened to be carrying David's camera. Even that might not be
possible, for the sun was almost in line with the game.

Fortunately the wind was blowing from the caribou's direction, and
without scenting danger he trotted briskly along the trail. After
a moment of thrilling suspense the two watchers saw first his
antlers and then his head and body rise above the sky-line, until the
magnificent animal stood full in view. He paused an instant as if to
reconnoitre, which gave Uncle Will his opportunity. The report of the
revolver rang out sharply.

The caribou started, looked about without seeming to discover the two
crouching figures, then circled slowly off to the right as if to get
the scent from the point of danger. Uncle Will fired again and with
better effect, for the caribou stopped and wavered. Meanwhile Roly,
camera in hand, was manoeuvring for a position from which he could
take a picture. Before he had succeeded, a third shot brought the
caribou to his knees. He rose, struggled forward a step or two, then
sank never to rise again. All three bullets had struck him, and it was
found that the first, which appeared to have so little effect, had gone
clear through his body, from front to rear.

"We've got him!" exclaimed Uncle Will, delightedly, as he ran toward
the fallen game. "It's queer for an old hunter like me to have buck
fever, but I had it that time. Did you see my hand tremble, Roly?
Didn't think I could hit the side of a house. Did you get the picture?"

"No," said Roly, "not the one I wanted. The sun was right behind him."

Shouts were now heard, and three men and a horse were seen approaching,
while some distance behind them in a cloud of dust galloped a party of
mounted men. They all arrived on the scene together. The mounted men
proved to be a squad of police in charge of a sergeant and accompanied
by Jack Dalton and an Indian, all bound for Pleasant Camp; while the
three men on foot were Mr. Bradford, David, and Phil. The new-comers
gathered around the caribou and plied the successful hunters with
questions.

"You went clean by our camp," said Phil. "Didn't you see the horses off
to the left of the trail about half a mile back?"

"No," said Uncle Will, "and we looked out for them too."

"I saw you go by," continued Phil, "and shouted, and when you didn't
seem to hear I started after you. Then I heard your shots and saw the
caribou, and concluded you had gone ahead because you had seen the
game, so I went back for a horse."

Uncle Will and Phil set to work to cut up the carcass, first removing
the hide, which the former wished to preserve. A generous portion of
the meat was given to Dalton and the police, who had always shown
unfailing hospitality to the Bradfords; while the Indian received
permission to take certain sinews and cords which are utilized in the
manufacture of the native snow-shoes. The remainder of the dressed
carcass was placed upon Phil's horse and taken back to the camp, where
the cook took charge of it with much rejoicing.

"Venison!" exclaimed the old man, again and again, as if it were too
good to be true. "No more bacon for the rest of this trip! Now we'll
live like kings!"



CHAPTER XXXIX

DANGERS OF THE SUMMER FORDS


Two more days were occupied in ascending the valley of the Alsek to its
headwaters. The trail crossed many tributary streams, through which
our pedestrians were obliged to wade, and twice it was necessary to
cross the Alsek itself. Although the stream was here much narrower and
shallower than at Dalton's Post, its current was still so turbulent
that on each occasion the Bradfords took advantage of the pack train.
Not infrequently they saw the bodies of horses and cattle which had
either become hopelessly mired or had broken a leg among the rocks, and
been shot and abandoned by their owners.

Beyond Rainy Hollow the summer trail was quite independent of the
winter one, and led across a bleak summit now devoid of snow save the
grimy remains of a few old drifts. Here they were startled by a sudden
deep booming and thundering which seemed to proceed from nowhere in
particular. The boys thought it an earthquake, but Uncle Will said he
had no doubt the noise was similar to those they had heard in that
vicinity in March, and was occasioned by a tremendous avalanche or the
disintegration of a glacier on the lofty peaks across the Klaheena.

On the highest point of the pass they met an inbound pack train
belonging to the Thirty-six, in charge of one Paddock.

"Is this the Bradford party?" asked Paddock, as he came up. On being
assured that it was, he continued, "I was on the lookout for you. I
met Bud Beagle's outfit about an hour ago, and he said you was close
behind. I've got some mail for you."

He fumbled in an inner pocket of his coat, which was tied to the pommel
of his saddle, and presently extracted a little bundle of letters,
which he handed to Mr. Bradford.

"Mebbe there ought to be more," he said with a trace of embarrassment,
"but the fact is, we lost a hoss in the Klaheena River. He carried
one o' the mail-bags, besides all our cooking outfit and consid'rable
provisions."

"Lost the horse?" said Mr. Bradford. "How did that happen?"

"Well, you see, sir," explained Paddock, "that hoss got sep'rated from
the others when we crossed the river, and he struck a deep hole. His
load was jest heavy enough so he couldn't swim, and away he went. We
follered along the bank for two good miles, but didn't find him."

After eagerly reading their letters, they descended the steep
mountain-side and soon found themselves at Pleasant Camp, where they
discovered that the mounted police had built two snug log cabins with
real shingled roofs, and a corral for horses; and a roving sutler had
set up a store-tent where one could buy almost anything, though the
articles most in evidence were bad cigars and "tanglefoot" whiskey.

This being the boundary station of the police, they recorded the names
of the Bradfords and the packers, the number of horses in the train,
and various other items. Since the establishment of the station all
incoming travellers had been obliged to pay customs duties at this
point.

There was one person at Pleasant Camp whose arrival a few days before
had awakened no little curiosity. This was a young woman introduced to
the Bradfords by the police sergeant as Miss MacIntosh. She appeared
to possess a fun-loving, yet quiet and ladylike disposition, while her
flashing black eyes revealed unusual determination and spirit. She was
travelling independently, with saddle horse and pack horse, with the
object of reaching Dawson City; but her progress had been so slow and
the season was so far advanced that she had abandoned her original
idea, and was now intent only on reaching Dalton's Post. Owing to
the difficulties and dangers of the way, she had found it advisable
to travel in company with pack trains or the police, and intended to
proceed with the next inbound party. She had many questions to ask
about gold-mining and the Klondike, which gave Uncle Will the clue to
the business upon which she was engaged.

"'I know the breed,' as Kipling says," declared Uncle Will. "I used to
be a reporter myself, and I'll wager Miss MacIntosh is performing this
feat in the interests of some newspaper. She's going to write all about
it when she gets home."

"It's a foolhardy adventure, though," said Mr. Bradford. "I should have
looked for more Scottish caution in the girl."

"On the contrary, Charles, I think she's to be admired for her pluck.
She believes a self-respecting woman may go anywhere without fear,
and if she travels with pack trains or the police, so as not to meet
rascals like those robbers, I'm sure her confidence will be vindicated.
Miners and soldiers and packers may be rough, but they all respect a
lady."

The Bradfords began the descent of the Klaheena valley on the following
morning, keeping to the hillsides on the left through forests far more
varied than those of the interior. This part of the trail had been
extensively improved by men in Dalton's employ, and in place of the
narrow and uneven path over which they had picked their way, they now
gloried in a smooth, hard trail almost wide enough for a wagon. Hills
had been cut through, hollows filled in, small bridges thrown across
several of the brooks, and corduroys of logs laid through every swamp.

[Illustration: FORDING THE KLAHEENA]

At length they came down to the gravel flats and beheld, some distance
below, Bud Beagle and Phil sitting on a log and evidently awaiting
their appearance. Two saddle horses stood near. They had reached the
dreaded ford of the Klaheena.

"We thought you wouldn't care to wade this here river," said Bud, with
a twinkle in his eye, as the four approached.

"Right, Bud," responded Uncle Will; "your thinking apparatus is in
perfect order. I trust you got the pack train over safely."

"Well," said Bud, slipping his quid into the other cheek, "I don't see
no drownded horses anywhere."

With this reassuring remark he mounted, and invited David to climb up
behind him and clasp him tightly about the body,--a performance which
required some agility, owing to the restiveness of the horse. Meanwhile
Roly had scrambled upon the other prancing steed behind Phil, and off
they started, Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will watching their progress
intently. Several side channels not more than a foot in depth were
crossed before the main river was reached, but presently the horses
stood at the edge of the mighty flood.

The stream was not more than two hundred feet wide, but it filled
its gravelly banks to the very brim with an impetuous current so
impregnated with glacial silt that it looked like a mixture of coffee
and milk. It was impossible for the eye to penetrate much more than an
inch beneath the surface, and as the horses stepped cautiously over the
crumbling bank the boys had no idea how deep they would go.

The water proved to be shallow at first, rising only to the knees, but
a moment later the bottom shelved abruptly down, the current surging
higher and higher on the animals' sides till they began to yield before
it, and it became necessary to head them up-stream a little. They
stepped slowly and carefully, picking their footing, yet now and then
stumbling on some unseen boulder. The nearness of the rushing water
made the boys fairly dizzy. But just when it seemed as if they must be
overwhelmed, the river grew shallower, and soon, with much scrambling,
they mounted the bank.

"That wasn't so bad, after all," said Roly, as he slipped to the ground.

"No," said David, "it's easy enough on horseback, but no wonder Mr.
Green performed gymnastics!" And the nervous tension being now relaxed,
they laughed heartily at the recollection.

Bud and Phil turned back and brought over Mr. Bradford and Uncle Will.

"The worst o' these fords," said Bud, as he landed his second
passenger, "is that the river-beds are all the while changing. We may
hit on a good place like this, one day, and the next time we try it
we'll slump into a hole that'll raise the mischief. The bottom drops
out in a single night."

In the next few miles the trail crossed the watershed separating the
valley of the Klaheena from that of the Salmon River, and near the
latter, camp was pitched for the night. On the march thither the horses
were almost thrown into a panic by a bear which went crashing off into
the bushes near the trail, but so precipitately that no one was able to
take a shot.

The two fords of the Salmon River were essayed next morning. The first
was for some distance of the same general character as that of the
Klaheena, but it was necessary to ride with the stream a few hundred
feet to round the base of a high cliff. Near these crags the water
became so deep that it nearly covered the backs of the horses, but
fortunately at that point the current slackened.

The second ford was reached soon afterward. This was not a crossing;
the horses were forced to take to the river-bed because, for a quarter
of a mile, no trail had yet been cut through the dense thickets of the
shore. Here at last our travellers were destined to experience the
treachery of an Alaskan river.

At Uncle Will's suggestion they did not mount behind the riders as
before, but climbed upon the backs of those pack horses which carried
the lightest loads. These horses had no bridles, but as they always
willingly followed the packers, no trouble was anticipated. All being
ready, Bud, Phil, and Joyce rode into the stream with the whole bunch
close behind.

At first the river divided into so many channels that none were deep,
and the cavalcade proceeded merrily down the valley, now high and dry
upon the gravel, now wading a muddy runlet. The packers came at length
to the point where they were to turn back toward the shore. There
remained but one stream to cross, but it was a very considerable one,
formed by the reunion of several channels. Beyond it rose the steep,
curving bank, on which the trail was corduroyed to the water's edge.

As the packers had experienced no difficulty here on their previous
passage, they rode confidently into the water, heading for the trail.
Before they were half-way across they found that the stream had
deepened; and as they neared the shore, first Joyce's little white
mare and then both the other horses were carried off their feet and
compelled to swim, while the rapid current hurried them all down-stream.

"Stop!" shouted Bud to the Bradfords, as soon as he realized the
danger. "Don't try it there!"

But the warning came too late. The pack horses, with one impulse, had
entered the water close behind their leaders, and among the rest those
bearing the Bradfords, who had no effectual means of checking their
steeds or guiding them. In two minutes every horse in the train had
gone beyond his depth and was snorting and floundering in the current,
or vainly trying to gain a foothold on the steep bank, while some of
the more heavily laden ones, including those to which the Bradfords
were clinging, borne down by their loads and the pressure of their
neighbors, sank beneath the surface more than once. Several became
entangled in submerged tree-roots, but cleared themselves. The whole
mass of frightened, splashing, struggling animals was presently going
down the stream as the steeds of the packers had done. In the midst of
this confusion the Bradfords, drenched and helpless, could only hang
desperately to ropes and packs, holding themselves ready, however, at a
moment's notice, to abandon the horses and swim out independently.

In the mean time the packers by shouts and kicks had urged their
animals close to the shore, where they succeeded in dismounting, and
then pulled the exhausted beasts out of the water almost by main
strength. This done, they turned their attention to the pack horses,
grasping the heads of all which came near, and guiding them down to a
point where the bank was lower. Some of them struggled out unaided, and
all were at last brought safely to the solid ground. But blankets,
packs, and men were thoroughly soaked.

"Speakin' of the bottom droppin' out," said Bud, with a dry smile,--the
only dry thing which remained to him,--"this was one o' them cases."



CHAPTER XL

SUNDAY IN KLUKWAN


The Salmon River was crossed on Sunday, the packers wishing to
reach a good feeding-ground in the woods two miles below the Indian
village of Klukwan, and not more than ten miles below their previous
camping-place. This short march was accomplished before noon, and by
dinner-time clothing and blankets had been dried before a huge fire.

The boys thought a visit to Klukwan that afternoon would pass the time
agreeably, so having obtained permission they set off through the woods
toward the gravel flats. They had some doubts as to how they should
cross the Chilkat River, but upon reaching the first channel of that
deep stream they found themselves within hailing distance of the town,
and easily attracted the attention of the red-skinned inhabitants, who
promptly despatched two canoes in their direction. One was manned by a
thin old native whom they had never seen before, while the navigator
of the other proved to be a short, thick-set young Indian known as
Tom Williams, who had been a guide to the Mysterious Thirty-six. Tom
recognized the two lads also and appeared glad to see them. He was a
convert of Haines Mission, and could talk fair English.

"What will you charge to take us across and back?" asked David,
presently.

In the native gutturals Tom consulted the old Indian, and then
answered, "Fifty cents apiece."

This being a reasonable price, as prices run in that country, the
bargain was closed. As the boys were without rubber boots and several
small channels separated them from the canoes on the main stream, the
Indians readily agreed to carry them on their backs to the point of
embarkation.

Once in the village, David and Roly looked about them with interest.
Most of the houses had been erected by the Russians and straggled in
an irregular line along a narrow foot-path, facing the river. Tom
Williams with his wife and family occupied one of the neatest of these
dwellings, and his name appeared prominently painted near the door.
Children and dogs swarmed everywhere.

"There's your African dodger, Roly," said David, as they approached the
curious totem figure which had attracted their attention in March. "We
must have a picture of that." The next instant the click of the shutter
in the camera announced that the prize was secure.

A little farther on, an Indian whose black hair was sprinkled with gray
was sitting on his doorstep. As they approached, he beckoned and made
signs that they might enter the house,--an invitation which they gladly
accepted, since they were curious to see something of the home life of
these natives upon whom civilization had thrust at least its outward
form.

The large living-room into which they were ushered had a bare wooden
floor and contained several chairs, a good stove, a chest of drawers,
and a table at which two women, dressed in gingham, were sewing. One
was evidently the wife of the host, and the other, a plump girl of
about fourteen, his daughter. They looked up as the boys entered, but
said nothing, and indeed no member of the family seemed able to talk
much English.

Ancient chromos of various subjects hung upon the walls, and David
discovered a curious brass plate, about four inches square, bearing a
figure of Saint Peter in relief with a large halo around his head. This
would be an excellent memento of Klukwan, he thought, so turning to the
Indian and pointing to Saint Peter he asked, "How much?"

The Indian understood this simple phrase, consulted his wife and
daughter, and answered, "Four dollars."

This was more than David cared to pay; and as the owners did not seem
very desirous of parting with their patron saint, he pressed the matter
no further.

The incident appeared to remind the Indian that he had another
interesting treasure. Going to the chest of drawers, he took out a
large, time-stained document and spread it before them. It was printed
in Russian, but David easily made out that it was a certificate of
their host's membership in the Greek Church,--the national Church of
Russia. It contained his name, which was utterly unpronounceable, and
at the bottom appeared the signature of the Bishop at Sitka.

Only a brief call was made at the house of this kindly disposed man,
for it was impossible to carry on any conversation. Continuing their
walk, they came upon a group of young fellows seated on the ground
around a checker-board and very much engrossed in that diversion, while
just beyond was a similar group playing some card game which they had
learned from the white men.

Near the end of the village the boys found several old iron cannon
lying on the ground near the path. Evidently they had once been mounted
there by the Russians for defence against the Chilkats. Stirring scenes
no doubt these old pieces had witnessed, but however loudly they had
spoken in times past, they were now mute, telling no tale of pioneer
and savage, of stealthy attack and sturdy defence.

While they examined the cannon, a large sailing canoe had been slowly
coming up the river against the strong current, and now made a landing
near them. The occupants, men, women, and children, came up into the
village, bearing cans full of berries, which seemed to constitute the
cargo.

Perhaps it was the sight of the berries, which looked like New England
huckleberries, or possibly it was the display of loaves of bread in
a window, which aroused a sudden appetite in the boys, and they made
inquiries by signs where they could obtain something to eat. Being
directed to a neighboring house, they knocked on the door, made known
their wants, and were ushered by a tall, bony native into the kitchen,
where they were given seats at a table.

A fat Indian woman whom they took to be the tall man's wife set a
tea-pot on the stove and brought out some old blue crockery,--the first
they had seen in many months. All the while these preparations were
making, a young man was sitting on the floor near the stove with his
back against the wall and his hat down over his eyes, a picture of
unambitious indifference. Whether he was a visitor or a member of the
family, an invalid or only lazy, the boys could not determine.

The tall man and his round spouse now set forth the supper. There was
real yeast bread which had a wonderfully pleasant home-like taste,
there was prune pie, and cake, and tea with sugar and condensed milk,
and canned butter for the bread. For this meal, which they thoroughly
enjoyed and for which they would willingly have paid a larger sum, they
were charged but twenty-five cents apiece.

It was now time to think of returning to camp, and, having hunted
up Tom Williams and his companion, they were soon across the river,
accompanied by a third native, who paddled over apparently out of
curiosity and continued with them across the small channels. David and
the old Indian were now considerably in advance of Roly and Tom, but
when Roly had been carried over what he thought was the last channel,
he paid Tom fifty cents, as he had agreed. No sooner had he done so
than he beheld David being carried over another some distance in
advance.

Tom was a Christian Indian, but he was no more averse to getting the
best of a bargain than some Christian Yankees. He saw his advantage
instantly and made a motion as if to return to his canoe. Roly scented
trouble, but not having a mind to take a wetting when he had come so
far dry-shod and paid for that comfort, he called Tom's attention to
the channel ahead.

"Two bits," said Tom.

Now if there was anything the good-natured Roly hated, it was to
wrangle over a paltry matter like that. He knew quite well that Tom was
consciously taking advantage of the situation, but he preferred to act
as if the Indian might really have misunderstood the original terms. He
rather liked Tom on the whole, and even felt something like admiration
of his shrewdness and unblushing nerve. Besides, he would never see him
again, nor have any more dealings with him. The result was that Roly
paid the twenty-five cents without so much as raising a question. No
sooner, however, had the coin changed hands than the other Indian, who
had been watching the course of events with simulated indifference,
broke into a loud, triumphant laugh,--a laugh which grated harshly on
Roly's ears, for it showed him that neither Indian had really expected
success in so flagrant an extortion, and that instead of regarding him
as a generous friend they doubtless thought him an easy victim. He
heartily wished then that he had stood firmly for the agreement, or,
failing to secure his rights, had taken the wetting.

The question of his proper course in the emergency was discussed pro
and con around the camp-fire that evening, for Roly frankly told
the story. There was very little pro and a great deal of con in the
comments. The packers, who, on general principles, wasted no love on
the Indians, were unanimously of the opinion that Roly should have gone
through fire as well as water, rather than pay one extra penny. David
was guarded in his opinion, since he had narrowly escaped falling into
a similar trap. On the whole, however, he agreed with the packers.
Mr. Bradford, whose sense of parental responsibility was aroused,
emphatically declared that his son should have held strictly by the
agreement. It would make the Indians tricky and overbearing, he said,
if they thought they could outwit the whites so easily. Roly should
have maintained his rights. As for Uncle Will, he seemed highly amused
by the affair, but offered no views on the subject.

Poor Roly, seeing the weight of argument so heavily against him, cast
about desperately for some ground of justification, and fell back at
last upon the Scriptures.

"Doesn't the Bible say," he asked, "'If any man will take away thy
coat, let him have thy cloke also'?"

This defence hugely delighted Uncle Will. "There, Charles," said he,
"you're answered now."

Mr. Bradford laughed. "Well," he responded, "I'll not only consider
myself well answered, but I'll give Roly a gold watch and chain if he
thought of that verse when he paid that quarter."

Honest Roly sighed. "No," he said, "I didn't think of it until this
minute."



CHAPTER XLI

THE ROBBERS AT LAST


Bud announced next morning that if two of the Bradfords would like to
ride that day and were willing to help Phil with the pack train, he and
Joyce would go down the river by canoe, as he had a mind to examine a
likely ledge of rock on the other side of the stream. He had noticed
its appearance, he said, from the trail on his journey in, and thought
it might contain gold-bearing quartz.

This proposition was very welcome to the trampers, and they immediately
drew lots, fortune favoring Mr. Bradford and Roly. Uncle Will and
David accordingly set off on foot directly after breakfast, while Bud
and Joyce departed toward Klukwan, and the other three went into the
woods to find the horses,--a task which proved both long and tedious.
Roly, who had taken an easterly direction, came out upon the open
gravel, where he found plenty of hoof-prints, but no horses. He looked
carefully over the whole broad expanse and listened for the tinkle of
the bell, but in vain, so he turned back into the woods toward the
trail, encountering swamps and thickets which greatly impeded his
progress. Mr. Bradford had no better luck, returning tired and alone.
Phil, with a born packer's instinct, finally discovered the animals in
a swamp in the densest part of the forest, and soon afterward brought
them into camp.

Mr. Bradford and Roly, it must be confessed, were of nearly as little
assistance in loading as they had been in rounding up. They knew
absolutely nothing of the diamond hitch, which every up-to-date packer
uses, and Phil would tolerate no other.

"You just bring up the horses and packs sep'rate," said the latter,
good-naturedly, "and I'll put 'em together."

So one by one the horses were led up. The blankets and pack saddle
were first placed in position, and the canvas band under the breast
tightened until the animal fairly grunted. Then the packs were set in
place on each side of the saddle and secured by many windings of the
cinch-rope, all being finally made fast by the famous hitch, tightened
by the united efforts of Phil and Mr. Bradford.

"There!" exclaimed Phil when the work was done, "now they'll pass
muster."

  "They may buck, they may roll, they may rub agin a tree,
      But their loads will stick like--"

"Like your poet-ree," Roly suggested, after a pause.

"Haw! haw!" laughed the big Missourian. "Yes, that's it. I was going to
say, 'like a bad reputation,' but that wouldn't rhyme. No matter how
well I get started, I'm always floored by the second line."

The pack train was now put in motion, Phil directing his companions
to ride in the rear and keep the animals from lagging. Their way lay
through a wild, mountainous region. There were ascents and descents
so steep that the riders were forced to dismount and lead their
horses with the utmost caution, but wherever the nature of the trail
permitted, the animals were urged to a gallop.

Roly and his father found it no easy matter to do rear-guard duty.
There was a speckled horse called "Pinto" who made it his especial care
to keep them busy. He had started in the van of the train, but, being
a confirmed shirk, had gradually fallen back until there remained only
a meek little white horse between him and the hindmost riders. Having
gained this position, he dropped into a walk at every opportunity and
was soon far behind the other horses, all efforts on the part of the
amateur drivers to reach him with a switch or strap being futile. No
sooner did he see them spurring up than he would jump ahead just out of
reach, while the punishment intended for him--the clever rogue--fell
upon the poor little white horse, whom he would not allow to pass him
on the narrow trail. At the first wide clearing, however, Pinto got
what he deserved, and, being thoroughly convinced that his new masters
would have no trifling, he was as well behaved for the rest of the day
as could be desired.

Now let us follow the fortunes of Uncle Will and David.

While the horses were being rounded up and loaded, the two pedestrians
had obtained a good lead, walking as rapidly as the nature of the
ground permitted, and pausing only to drink at a sparkling brook or
to admire for a moment some scene of unusual beauty. They had covered
several miles, and were ascending a wooded slope on the other side of
which lay a deep and narrow ravine, when David broke a shoe-string and
stopped to tie the ends, his uncle continuing over the crest and into
the hollow beyond.

A moment later, hurrying to catch up, David also mounted the slope, and
had almost reached the top when a gleam of light caught his eye, coming
from the opposite edge of the ravine and a little to the right. Looking
there to discover the cause, he halted abruptly. The sun had glinted
on the barrel of a rifle in the hands of a man who, at that moment
crouched beside a large rock, was facing away from him and motioning
to some one in the woods beyond. The stranger wore fringed buckskin
breeches and a red flannel shirt, and his broad-brimmed felt hat lay on
the ground beside him.

There was something in the appearance and stealthy movements of this
man which at once aroused David's suspicions. Instinctively he threw
himself flat on the ground behind a young spruce which grew on the top
of the bank, at the same time unslinging his rifle and laying it beside
him. As he did so, he watched the gaudy stranger intently through the
branches of the tree and tried to recall the description of the men who
were suspected of robbing Dalton's Post. With every detail which he
could remember, this man tallied exactly.

He glanced also to the bottom of the ravine, where he was amazed to
see his uncle bending over what seemed to be a man's lifeless body.
Startled and wondering, David dared not long avert his eyes from the
opposite bank.

The stranger had turned, and now, kneeling behind the rock, raised his
rifle to the shoulder, pointing it at the stooping figure of Uncle
Will, who was all unconscious of his peril. He did this, however, with
cool deliberation, since he had no idea he was watched.

There could no longer be the slightest doubt that murder had been done
here, and that in another instant Uncle Will would be lying beside the
first victim. David no sooner perceived the outlaw's cowardly intent
than he aimed at the red shirt, and fired. At almost the same instant
the other rifle was discharged, but its aim was spoiled. David had
fired just in time.

Jumping to his feet with an involuntary yell, the lad saw the robber's
rifle fall to the ground and the man sink backward. His confederate,
hitherto unseen, immediately rushed forward, caught him, and dragged
him back out of sight before David had collected himself sufficiently
to fire again. Meantime Uncle Will, in the bottom of the ravine,
startled by the sudden reports on each side of him, drew his revolver
instantly, wondering how it happened that he could have been fired upon
so closely without being even scratched. With the resolute look of a
brave man at bay, he turned first toward one bank, then toward the
other, not knowing how many his enemies were nor where they lurked. He
caught only a glimpse of the robbers, but he saw David plainly enough
as he shouted and leaped to his feet, smoking rifle in hand. The next
moment Uncle Will was at his side.

"Shall we follow them?" cried David, excitedly.

"How many were there?"

"Only two, and I hit one."

But now they heard galloping hoofs, and conjectured that the uninjured
man had lifted his wounded companion upon a horse and was hurrying him
away to avoid capture.

"The birds have flown," said Uncle Will. Then with a quick impulse he
added, "David, you have saved my life. Thanks seem very small at such
a time, yet I must thank you with all my heart for a most prompt and
courageous act. Give me your hand." And the two understood each other
better by that silent, hearty hand-clasp than they could have done with
any number of words.

They now crossed to the other bank, where David picked up the rifle as
a prize of war, and the hat as an additional means of identifying the
robber. Bloodspots showed that the wounded man had been dragged through
the woods a distance of several hundred feet to the trail, where fresh
hoof-marks confirmed the flight.

"Did you recognize that man in the ravine?" asked Uncle Will as they
returned.

"No," answered David. "Do I know him?"

"It's Ike Martin, Dalton's storekeeper."

"Ike Martin!" exclaimed David, in an awe-struck voice. "Is he dead?"

"Yes, with a bullet through his brain."

It was true. They examined the body, and found that poor Ike must have
been instantly killed. His money, watch, and revolver were missing. It
was probable that the crime had been but just committed, the murderers
not having had time to hide the body. Indeed, they both remembered
hearing a distant shot.

Somewhat shaken in nerve, the two sat down to await the pack train.
Upon its arrival a half-hour later, Mr. Bradford, Roly, and Phil were
quickly made acquainted with the events we have narrated, and it was
decided to carry the body of the storekeeper to Dalton's toll-tent a
few miles beyond.

The two toll-gatherers had seen nothing of the robbers, who had
doubtless taken refuge in some mountain fastness away from the trail.
They were not a little alarmed to learn that they had such dangerous
neighbors, and declared that but for David's wounding one of them, the
toll-tent would almost certainly have been their next object of attack.
As it was, there would be time to send the toll-money to Pyramid Harbor
and take all proper precautions. They promised to see that Martin's
body received decent burial.

By nightfall the pack train had clattered down from the mountain trail
to the upper tide-flats, where camp was pitched within eight miles of
the harbor. With his usual predilection for fruit, Phil went off and
picked a quart of marsh-berries. They were of a yellowish-pink color,
and contained a large pit which made the eating of them awkward, but
when boiled with sugar they produced a sauce of very agreeable flavor.

Bud and Joyce had already arrived at the rendezvous. They had but
little to say about the ledge, and the Bradfords could not make up
their minds whether they had been disappointed, or had found good
prospects and wished to keep the matter quiet, though the former
supposition seemed the more probable. The canoeists had heard the
rifle-shots, and the story of the adventure on the trail was related
again for their benefit and discussed around the fire until late in the
evening, David coming in for enough praise to have turned the head of a
less sensible youth. All had a good word for poor Ike, too, for there
was not one present for whom he had not done a good turn.



CHAPTER XLII

PYRAMID, SKAGWAY, AND DYEA.--CONCLUSION


In the morning, when the tide was out, the travellers crossed the long,
level, sandy waste and rounded the northern point of the harbor. There
lay the settlement on the farther shore at the foot of the mountains,
but how changed! Where the Bradfords had pitched their first camp in
March there was now an enormous tent with the word "Hotel" in large
black letters on its roof, while just beyond stood a commodious
frame structure which, upon closer scrutiny, proved to be a stable
for Dalton's pack horses. The cannery was now in full blast, and the
tall iron stacks belched forth columns of black smoke. A full-rigged
ship lay at anchor in the bay. Beyond the Indian village stretched a
row of frame buildings interspersed with tents, containing, as they
soon discovered, a grocery, a storehouse, a post-office and store for
general merchandise, and a saloon. The latter was already demoralizing
the Indians, who in their cups had more than once threatened to
exterminate the whole white population.

Thus, like a mushroom, had sprung into existence the nucleus of the
future city of Pyramid,--for even the name had undergone a change,
growing shorter as the town grew longer.

[Illustration: "Salmon by the thousand"]

At the cannery scores of Chinese laborers, brought from San Francisco
and other coast cities, were busily cutting up and packing the salmon,
which were collected by the thousand from the Indian villages of the
neighborhood by the company's steamer.

A few days later the "Farallon" entered the harbor on her way north,
and the Bradfords embarked, glad of the opportunity of seeing Skagway
and Dyea, then only two years old, both of which were wonderful
examples of American push and enterprise.

Skagway owed its size and importance largely to the fact that the
White Pass trail, at the entrance to which it lay, had been completely
blocked by the rush of Klondikers, who, with pack animals and hundreds
of tons of supplies, had crowded upon it in the previous year without
any knowledge of its difficulties. Balked in their purpose of taking up
claims in the gold-fields, a great number of these people returned and
staked out town lots instead, and built log cabins upon their claims.
Then enterprising merchants of Seattle and Tacoma, hearing of Skagway's
sudden boom, erected wooden storehouses and business buildings, and
sent up complete stocks of merchandise of every description. Saloons,
dance-halls, and theatres sprang up as by magic. Toughs and gamblers
poured in, and United States troops were quartered there to keep the
peace. So the town grew, and mainly for the reason that the original
settlers could not get out of it. Finally, as if to hold their own
against Dyea, whose Chilkoot trail, though rough, had remained all
the while open, the Skagwayans projected and immediately commenced a
railroad which should make their town, after all, the gateway to the
Klondike.

Skagway was almost deserted when the Bradfords arrived, for gold had
been discovered in the Atlin region, distant only a few days' journey,
and a stampede had taken place. They walked through the gravelly
business streets and out into the suburbs, where log cabins alternated
with tents. Several streets, already lined with buildings, were thickly
studded with stumps which the citizens had not yet found time to
remove. Mr. Bradford bought a copy of the Skagway newspaper, in which
he presently discovered among the advertisements an announcement that
the Misses---- would give piano lessons at reasonable prices.

"Look at that!" he exclaimed. "Piano lessons in a place where a little
more than a year ago there was nothing but a saw-mill and a few dirty
Indians."

"Yes," said Uncle Will, "you can get anything here now from a
first-class shave to a parlor stove. Just look in at that fruit-store
window,--peaches and apples and plums, and even roasted peanuts! We're
in civilization again, sure enough. Why, I even noticed a bicycle on
the wharf!"

Dyea, which they visited next day, was similar in most respects to its
sister town. It, too, lay in a narrow valley between rugged mountains
at the head of a deep inlet. Its wharf had not been completed to the
high-tide line, which, owing to the flatness of the ground, was half
a mile or more inland. The town itself was about a mile back from the
landing.

"We shall have to make a flying visit or the tide will cut us off,"
observed Mr. Bradford, as they left the steamer. "It has turned
already."

The sight-seers accordingly made all haste, and, having tramped through
the sandy streets, taken a few pictures, and found the town to be
somewhat smaller than Skagway, they retraced their steps and none too
soon. The water was already flowing around the uncompleted end of the
wharf, but they jumped the rapidly widening stream. A young woman, a
fellow-passenger on the "Farallon," arrived soon after. She was obliged
to wade through, but escaped a serious wetting by walking on her heels.
Ten minutes later the water-line was far up toward the town.

Of the voyage to Seattle, where they learned that Spain had sued for
peace; of how David delighted Flora Kingsley with one of the cub
bear-skins, reserving the large one for his mother and the other for
Helen; of the homeward journey by way of Salt Lake City, where the
boys and their elders--for Uncle Will accompanied them--saw the old
Mormon tabernacle and the great new temple, and floated like corks in
the buoyant brine of the lake,--space forbids an account.

Suffice it to say that all four, bronzed and healthy and happy,
alighted from the train at their home city one beautiful afternoon in
September, and were received with open arms and great rejoicing by Mrs.
Bradford and Helen, who declared that they were bountifully rewarded
for all their anxiety and loneliness by seeing their dear ones come
back so strong and well.

"It has been a wonderful and profitable journey," said Mr. Bradford
that evening, "in more ways than one. We are not millionaires, but we
have gained in health and stored our memories with treasures."

"Yes," put in Uncle Will, "and we've turned out two as fine lads as
there are in the country. If there comes another war, here are soldiers
ready-made."

"Soldierly qualities," said Mrs. Bradford, with a pleased look in her
eyes, "are useful also in peace."


                                THE END



                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE

-Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.





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