Part 1 out of 4
Produced by PG Distributed Proofreaders
Other Jack London Stories
As chosen by
Franklin K. Mathiews
Chief Scout Librarian, Boy Scouts of America
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ALL GOLD CANYON
THE STORY OF KEESH
NAM-BOK THE UNVERACIOUS
THE HOBO AND THE FAIRY
A NOSE FOR THE KING
Boys delight in men who have had adventures, and when they are
privileged to read of such exploits in thrilling story form, that is the
"seventh heaven" for them. Such a "boys' man" was Jack London, whose
whole life was one of stirring action on land and sea. Gifted as a story
teller, he wrote books almost without end. Some of them, "The Call of
the Wild," "The Sea Wolf" and "White Fang," have already been recognized
as fine books for boys. Others, volumes of short stories, contain many
of like interest, possessing the same qualities that have made the other
and longer stories so acceptable as juveniles.
Effort has been made by the editor to bring together in one volume a
number of such stories, not for the reason alone that there might be
another Jack London book for boys, but also in order to add to our
juvenile literature a volume likely "to be chewed and digested," as
Bacon says, a book worthy "to be read whole, and with diligence and
attention." For my belief is that boys read altogether too few of such
books. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say, have too few
opportunities to read such books, because so often we fail to see how
quick in their reading their minds are to grasp the more difficult, and
how keen and competent their conscience to draw the right conclusion
when situations are presented wherein men err so grievously.
It is hoped the stories presented will serve to exercise both the boy's
mind and conscience; that seeing and feeling life and nature as Jack
London saw and felt it--the best and the worst in human nature, with the
Infinite always near and from whom there is no escape--seeing and
feeling such things boys will develop the emotional muscles of the
spirit, have opened up new windows to their imaginations, and withal add
some line or color to their life's ideals.
FRANKLIN K. MATHIEWS, Chief Scout Librarian, Boy Scouts of America.
She had delayed, because of the dew-wet grass, in order to put on her
overshoes, and when she emerged from the house found her waiting husband
absorbed in the wonder of a bursting almond-bud. She sent a questing
glance across the tall grass and in and out among the orchard trees.
"Where's Wolf?" she asked.
"He was here a moment ago." Walt Irvine drew himself away with a jerk
from the metaphysics and poetry of the organic miracle of blossom, and
surveyed the landscape. "He was running a rabbit the last I saw of him."
"Wolf! Wolf! Here, Wolf!" she called, as they left the clearing and took
the trail that led down through the waxen-belled manzanita jungle to
the county road.
Irvine thrust between his lips the little finger of each hand and lent
to her efforts a shrill whistling.
She covered her ears hastily and made a wry grimace.
"My! for a poet, delicately attuned and all the rest of it, you can make
unlovely noises. My eardrums are pierced. You outwhistle----"
"I was about to say a street-arab," she concluded severely.
"Poesy does not prevent one from being practical--at least it doesn't
prevent _me_. Mine is no futility of genius that can't sell gems to the
He assumed a mock extravagance, and went on:
"I am no attic singer, no ballroom warbler. And why? Because I am
practical. Mine is no squalor of song that cannot transmute itself, with
proper exchange value, into a flower-crowned cottage, a sweet
mountain-meadow, a grove of redwoods, an orchard of thirty-seven trees,
one long row of blackberries and two short rows of strawberries, to say
nothing of a quarter of a mile of gurgling brook."
"Oh, that all your song-transmutations were as successful!" she laughed.
"Name one that wasn't."
"Those two beautiful sonnets that you transmuted into the cow that was
accounted the worst milker in the township."
"She was beautiful----" he began.
"But she didn't give milk," Madge interrupted.
"But she _was_ beautiful, now, wasn't she?" he insisted.
"And here's where beauty and utility fall out," was her reply. "And
there's the Wolf!"
From the thicket-covered hillside came a crashing of underbrush, and
then, forty feet above them, on the edge of the sheer wall of rock,
appeared a wolf's head and shoulders. His braced forepaws dislodged a
pebble, and with sharp-pricked ears and peering eyes he watched the fall
of the pebble till it struck at their feet. Then he transferred his gaze
and with open mouth laughed down at them.
"You Wolf, you!" and "You blessed Wolf!" the man and woman called out to
him. The ears flattened back and down at the sound, and the head seemed
to snuggle under the caress of an invisible hand.
They watched him scramble backward into the thicket, then proceeded on
their way. Several minutes later, rounding a turn in the trail where the
descent was less precipitous, he joined them in the midst of a miniature
avalanche of pebbles and loose soil. He was not demonstrative. A pat and
a rub around the ears from the man, and a more prolonged caressing from
the woman, and he was away down the trail in front of them, gliding
effortlessly over the ground in true wolf fashion.
In build and coat and brush he was a huge timber-wolf; but the lie was
given to his wolf-hood by his color and marking. There the dog
unmistakably advertised itself. No wolf was ever colored like him. He
was brown, deep brown, red-brown, an orgy of browns. Back and shoulders
were a warm brown that paled on the sides and underneath to a yellow
that was dingy because of the brown that lingered in it. The white of
the throat and paws and the spots over the eyes was dirty because of the
persistent and ineradicable brown, while the eyes themselves were twin
topazes, golden and brown.
The man and woman loved the dog very much; perhaps this was because it
had been such a task to win his love. It had been no easy matter when he
first drifted in mysteriously out of nowhere to their little mountain
cottage. Footsore and famished, he had killed a rabbit under their very
noses and under their very windows, and then crawled away and slept by
the spring at the foot of the blackberry bushes. When Walt Irvine went
down to inspect the intruder, he was snarled at for his pains, and Madge
likewise was snarled at when she went down to present, as a
peace-offering, a large pan of bread and milk.
A most unsociable dog he proved to be, resenting all their advances,
refusing to let them lay hands on him, menacing them with bared fangs
and bristling hair. Nevertheless he remained, sleeping and resting by
the spring, and eating the food they gave him after they set it down at
a safe distance and retreated. His wretched physical condition explained
why he lingered; and when he had recuperated, after several days'
sojourn, he disappeared.
And this would have been the end of him, so far as Irvine and his wife
were concerned, had not Irvine at that particular time been called away
into the northern part of the state. Biding along on the train, near to
the line between California and Oregon, he chanced to look out of the
window and saw his unsociable guest sliding along the wagon road, brown
and wolfish, tired yet tireless, dust-covered and soiled with two
hundred miles of travel.
Now Irvine was a man of impulse, a poet. He got off the train at the
next station, bought a piece of meat at a butcher shop, and captured the
vagrant on the outskirts of the town. The return trip was made in the
baggage car, and so Wolf came a second time to the mountain cottage.
Here he was tied up for a week and made love to by the man and woman.
But it was very circumspect love-making. Remote and alien as a traveller
from another planet, he snarled down their soft-spoken love-words. He
never barked. In all the time they had him he was never known to bark.
To win him became a problem. Irvine liked problems. He had a metal plate
made, on which was stamped: "Return to Walt Irvine, Glen Ellen, Sonoma
County, California." This was riveted to a collar and strapped about the
dog's neck. Then he was turned loose, and promptly He disappeared. A
day later came a telegram from Mendocino County. In twenty hours he had
made over a hundred miles to the north, and was still going when
He came back by Wells Fargo Express, was tied up three days, and was
loosed on the fourth and lost. This time he gained southern Oregon
before he was caught and returned. Always, as soon as he received his
liberty, he fled away, and always he fled north. He was possessed of an
obsession that drove him north. The homing instinct, Irvine called it,
after he had expended the selling price of a sonnet in getting the
animal back from northern Oregon.
Another time the brown wanderer succeeded in traversing half the length
of California, all of Oregon, and most of Washington, before he was
picked up and returned "Collect." A remarkable thing was the speed with
which he traveled. Fed up and rested, as soon as he was loosed he
devoted all his energy to getting over the ground. On the first day's
run he was known to cover as high as a hundred and fifty miles, and
after that he would average a hundred miles a day until caught. He
always arrived back lean and hungry and savage, and always departed
fresh and vigorous, cleaving his way northward in response to some
prompting of his being that no one could understand.
But at last, after a futile year of flight, he accepted the inevitable
and elected to remain at the cottage where first he had killed the
rabbit and slept by the spring. Even after that, a long time elapsed
before the man and woman succeeded in patting him. It was a great
victory, for they alone were allowed to put hands on him. He was
fastidiously exclusive, and no guest at the cottage ever succeeded in
making up to him. A low growl greeted such approach; if any one had the
hardihood to come nearer, the lips lifted, the naked fangs appeared, and
the growl became a snarl--a snarl so terrible and malignant that it awed
the stoutest of them, as it likewise awed the farmers' dogs that knew
ordinary dog snarling, but had never seen wolf snarling before.
He was without antecedents. His history began with Walt and Madge. He
had come up from the south, but never a clew did they get of the owner
from whom he had evidently fled. Mrs. Johnson, their nearest neighbor
and the one who supplied them with milk, proclaimed him a Klondike dog.
Her brother was burrowing for frozen pay-streaks in that far country,
and so she constituted herself an authority on the subject.
But they did not dispute her. There were the tips of Wolf's ears,
obviously so severely frozen at some time that they would never quite
heal again. Besides, he looked like the photographs of the Alaskan dogs
they saw published in magazines and newspapers. They often speculated
over his past, and tried to conjure up (from what they had read and
heard) what his northland life had been. That the northland still drew
him, they knew; for at night they sometimes heard him crying softly; and
when the north wind blew and the bite of frost was in the air, a great
restlessness would come upon him and he would lift a mournful lament
which they knew to be the long wolf-howl. Yet he never barked. No
provocation was great enough to draw from him that canine cry.
Long discussion they had, during the time of winning him, as to whose
dog he was. Each claimed him, and each proclaimed loudly any expression
of affection made by him. But the man had the better of it at first,
chiefly because he was a man. It was patent that Wolf had had no
experience with women. He did not understand women. Madge's skirts were
something he never quite accepted. The swish of them was enough to set
him a-bristle with suspicion, and on a windy day she could not approach
him at all.
On the other hand, it was Madge who fed him; also it was she who ruled
the kitchen, and it was by her favor, and her favor alone, that he was
permitted to come within that sacred precinct. It was because of these
things that she bade fair to overcome the handicap of her garments. Then
it was that Walt put forth special effort, making it a practice to have
Wolf lie at his feet while he wrote, and, between petting and talking,
losing much time from his work. Walt won in the end, and his victory was
most probably due to the fact that he was a man, though Madge averred
that they would have had another quarter of a mile of gurgling brook,
and at least two west winds sighing through their redwoods, had Walt
properly devoted his energies to song-transmutation and left Wolf alone
to exercise a natural taste and an unbiased judgment.
"It's about time I heard from those triolets," Walt said, after a
silence of five minutes, during which they had swung steadily down the
trail. "There'll be a check at the post office, I know, and we'll
transmute it into beautiful buckwheat flour, a gallon of maple syrup,
and a new pair of overshoes for you."
"And into beautiful milk from Mrs. Johnson's beautiful cow," Madge
added. "To-morrow's the first of the month, you know."
Walt scowled unconsciously; then his face brightened, and he clapped his
hand to his breast pocket.
"Never mind. I have here a nice, beautiful, new cow, the best milker in
"When did you write it?" she demanded eagerly. Then, reproachfully, "And
you never showed it to me."
"I saved it to read to you on the way to the post office, in a spot
remarkably like this one," he answered, indicating, with a wave of his
hand, a dry log on which to sit.
A tiny stream flowed out of a dense fern-brake, slipped down a
mossy-lipped stone, and ran across the path at their feet. From the
valley arose the mellow song of meadow larks, while about them, in and
out, through sunshine and shadow, fluttered great yellow butterflies.
Up from below came another sound that broke in upon Walt reading softly
from his manuscript. It was a crunching of heavy feet, punctuated now
and again by the clattering of a displaced stone. As Walt finished and
looked to his wife for approval, a man came into view around the turn of
the trail. He was bareheaded and sweaty. With a handkerchief in one hand
he mopped his face, while in the other hand he carried a new hat and a
wilted starched collar which he had removed from his neck. He was a
well-built man, and his muscles seemed on the point of bursting out of
the painfully new and ready-made black clothes he wore.
"Warm day," Walt greeted him. Walt believed in country democracy, and
never missed an opportunity to practice it.
The man paused and nodded.
"I guess I ain't used much to the warm," he vouchsafed half
apologetically. "I'm more accustomed to zero weather."
"You don't find any of that in this country," Walt laughed.
"Should say not," the man answered. "An' I ain't here a-lookin' for it
neither. I'm tryin' to find my sister. Mebbe you know where she lives.
Her name's Johnson, Mrs. William Johnson."
"You're not her Klondike brother!" Madge cried, her eyes bright with
interest, "about whom we've heard so much?"
"Yes'm, that's me," he answered modestly. "My name's Miller, Skiff
Miller. I just thought I'd s'prise her."
"You are on the right track then. Only you've come by the footpath."
Madge stood up to direct him, pointing up the canyon a quarter of a
mile. "You see that blasted redwood! Take the little trail turning off
to the right. It's the short cut to her house. You can't miss it."
"Yes'm, thank you, ma'am," he said.
He made tentative efforts to go, but seemed awkwardly rooted to the
spot. He was gazing at her with an open admiration of which he was quite
unconscious, and which was drowning, along with him, in the rising sea
of embarrassment in which he floundered.
"We'd like to hear you tell about the Klondike," Madge said. "Mayn't we
come over some day while you are at your sister's! Or, better yet,
won't you come over and have dinner with us?"
"Yes'm, thank you, ma'am," he mumbled mechanically. Then he caught
himself up and added: "I ain't stoppin' long. I got to be pullin' north
again. I go out on to-night's train. You see, I've got a mail contract
with the government."
When Madge had said that it was too bad, he made another futile effort
to go. But he could not take his eyes from her face. He forgot his
embarrassment in his admiration, and it was her turn to flush and feel
It was at this juncture, when Walt had just decided it was time for him
to be saying something to relieve the strain, that Wolf, who had been
away nosing through the brush, trotted wolf-like into view.
Skiff Miller's abstraction disappeared. The pretty woman before him
passed out of his field of vision. He had eyes only for the dog, and a
great wonder came into his face.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he enunciated slowly and solemnly.
He sat down ponderingly on the log, leaving Madge standing. At the sound
of his voice, Wolf's ears had flattened down, then his mouth had opened
in a laugh. He trotted slowly up to the stranger and first smelled his
hands, then licked them with his tongue.
Skiff Miller patted the dog's head, and slowly and solemnly repeated,
"Well, I'll be hanged!"
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said the next moment, "I was just s'prised some,
that was all."
"We're surprised, too," she answered lightly. "We never saw Wolf make up
to a stranger before."
"Is that what you call him--Wolf?" the man asked.
Madge nodded. "But I can't understand his friendliness toward
you--unless it's because you're from the Klondike. He's a Klondike dog,
"Yes'm," Miller said absently. He lifted one of Wolf's forelegs and
examined the footpads, pressing them and denting them with his thumb.
"Kind of soft," he remarked. "He ain't been on trail for a long time."
"I say," Walt broke in, "it is remarkable the way he lets you handle
Skiff Miller arose, no longer awkward with admiration of Madge, and in
a sharp, businesslike manner asked, "How long have you had him?"
But just then the dog, squirming and rubbing against the newcomer's
legs, opened his mouth and barked. It was an explosive bark, brief and
joyous, but a bark.
"That's a new one on me," Skiff Miller remarked.
Walt and Madge stared at each other. The miracle had happened. Wolf had
"It's the first time he ever barked," Madge said.
"First time I ever heard him, too," Miller volunteered.
Madge smiled at him. The man was evidently a humorist.
"Of course," she said, "since you have only seen him for five minutes."
Skiff Miller looked at her sharply, seeking in her face the guile her
words had led him to suspect.
"I thought you understood," he said slowly. "I thought you'd tumbled to
it from his makin' up to me. He's my dog. His name ain't Wolf. It's
"Oh, Walt!" was Madge's instinctive cry to her husband.
Walt was on the defensive at once.
"How do you know he's your dog?" he demanded.
"Because he is," was the reply.
"Mere assertion," Walt said sharply.
In his slow and pondering way, Skiff Miller looked at him, then asked,
with a nod of his head toward Madge:
"How d'you know she's your wife? You just say, 'Because she is,' and
I'll say it's mere assertion. The dog's mine. I bred 'm an' raised 'm,
an' I guess I ought to know. Look here. I'll prove it to you."
Skiff Miller turned to the dog. "Brown!" His voice rang out sharply, and
at the sound the dog's ears flattened down as to a caress. "Gee!" The
dog made a swinging turn to the right. "Now mush-on!" And the dog ceased
his swing abruptly and started straight ahead, halting obediently at
"I can do it with whistles," Skiff Miller said proudly. "He was my lead
"But you are not going to take him away with you?" Madge asked
The man nodded.
"Back into that awful Klondike world of suffering?"
He nodded and added: "Oh, it ain't so bad as all that. Look at me.
Pretty healthy specimen, ain't I!"
"But the dogs! The terrible hardship, the heart-breaking toil, the
starvation, the frost! Oh, I've read about it and I know."
"I nearly ate him once, over on Little Fish River," Miller volunteered
grimly. "If I hadn't got a moose that day was all that saved 'm."
"I'd have died first!" Madge cried.
"Things is different down here," Miller explained. "You don't have to
eat dogs. You think different just about the time you're all in. You've
never been all in, so you don't know anything about it."
"That's the very point," she argued warmly. "Dogs are not eaten in
California. Why not leave him here? He is happy. He'll never want for
food--you know that. He'll never suffer from cold and hardship. Here all
is softness and gentleness. Neither the human nor nature is savage. He
will never know a whip-lash again. And as for the weather--why, it
never snows here."
"But it's all-fired hot in summer, beggin' your pardon," Skiff Miller
"But you do not answer," Madge continued passionately. "What have you to
offer him in that northland life?"
"Grub, when I've got it, and that's most of the time," came the answer.
"And the rest of the time?"
"And the work?"
"Yes, plenty of work," Miller blurted out impatiently. "Work without
end, an' famine, an' frost, an' all the rest of the miseries--that's
what he'll get when he comes with me. But he likes it. He is used to it.
He knows that life. He was born to it an' brought up to it. An' you
don't know anything about it. You don't know what you're talking about.
That's where the dog belongs, and that's where he'll be happiest."
"The dog doesn't go," Walt announced in a determined voice. "So there is
no need of further discussion."
"What's that?" Skiff Miller demanded, big brows lowering and an
obstinate flush of blood reddening his forehead.
"I said the dog doesn't go, and that settles it. I don't believe he's
your dog. You may have seen him sometime. You may even sometime have
driven him for his owner. But his obeying the ordinary driving commands
of the Alaskan trail is no demonstration that he is yours. Any dog in
Alaska would obey you as he obeyed. Besides, he is undoubtedly a
valuable dog, as dogs go in Alaska, and that is sufficient explanation
of your desire to get possession of him. Anyway, you've got to prove
Skiff Miller, cool and collected, the obstinate flush a trifle deeper on
his forehead, his huge muscles bulging under the black cloth of his
coat, carefully looked the poet up and down as though measuring the
strength of his slenderness.
The Klondiker's face took on a contemptuous expression as he said
finally: "I reckon there's nothin' in sight to prevent me takin' the dog
right here an' now."
Walt's face reddened, and the striking-muscles of his arms and shoulders
seemed to stiffen and grow tense. His wife fluttered apprehensively
into the breach.
"Maybe Mr. Miller is right," she said. "I am afraid that he is. Wolf
does seem to know him, and certainly he answers to the name of 'Brown.'
He made friends with him instantly, and you know that's something he
never did with anybody before. Besides, look at the way he barked. He
was just bursting with joy. Joy over what? Without doubt at finding Mr.
Walt's striking-muscles relaxed, and his shoulders seemed to droop with
"I guess you're right, Madge," he said. "Wolf isn't Wolf, but Brown, and
he must belong to Mr. Miller."
"Perhaps Mr. Miller will sell him," she suggested. "We can buy him."
Skiff Miller shook his head, no longer belligerent, but kindly, quick to
be generous in response to generousness.
"I had five dogs," he said, casting about for the easiest way to temper
his refusal. "He was the leader. They was the crack team of Alaska.
Nothin' could touch 'em. In 1898 I refused five thousand dollars for the
bunch. Dogs was high, then, anyway; but that wasn't what made the fancy
price. It was the team itself. Brown was the best in the team. That
winter I refused twelve hundred for 'm. I didn't sell 'm then, an' I
ain't a-sellin' 'm now. Besides, I think a mighty lot of that dog. I've
been lookin' for 'm for three years. It made me fair sick when I found
he'd been stole--not the value of him, but the--well, I liked 'm so,
that's all. I couldn't believe my eyes when I seen 'm just now. I
thought I was dreamin'. It was too good to be true. Why, I was his
nurse. I put 'm to bed, snug every night. His mother died, and I brought
'm up on condensed milk at two dollars a can when I couldn't afford it
in my own coffee. He never knew any mother but me. He used to suck my
finger regular, the darn little pup--that finger right there!"
And Skiff Miller, too overwrought for speech, held up a forefinger for
them to see.
"That very finger," he managed to articulate, as though it somehow
clinched the proof of ownership and the bond of affection.
He was still gazing at his extended finger when Madge began to speak.
"But the dog," she said. "You haven't considered the dog."
Skiff Miller looked puzzled.
"Have you thought about him?" she asked.
"Don't know what you're drivin' at," was the response.
"Maybe the dog has some choice in the matter," Madge went on. "Maybe he
has his likes and desires. You have not considered him. You give him no
choice. It has never entered your mind that possibly he might prefer
California to Alaska. You consider only what you like. You do with him
as you would with a sack of potatoes or a bale of hay."
This was a new way of looking at it, and Miller was visibly impressed as
he debated it in his mind. Madge took advantage of his indecision.
"If you really love him, what would be happiness to him would be your
happiness also," she urged.
Skiff Miller continued to debate with himself, and Madge stole a glance
of exultation to her husband, who looked back warm approval.
"What do you think?" the Klondiker suddenly demanded.
It was her turn to be puzzled. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"D'ye think he'd sooner stay in California!"
She nodded her head with positiveness. "I am sure of it."
Skiff Miller again debated with himself, though this time aloud, at the
same time running his gaze in a judicial way over the mooted animal.
"He was a good worker. He's done a heap of work for me. He never loafed
on me, an' he was a joe-dandy at hammerin' a raw team into shape. He's
got a head on him. He can do everything but talk. He knows what you say
to him. Look at 'm now. He knows we're talkin' about him."
The dog was lying at Skiff Miller's feet, head close down on paws, ears
erect and listening, and eyes that were quick and eager to follow the
sound of speech as it fell from the lips of first one and then the
"An' there's a lot of work in 'm yet. He's good for years to come. An' I
do like him."
Once or twice after that Skiff Miller opened his mouth and closed it
again without speaking. Finally he said:
"I'll tell you what I'll do. Your remarks, ma'am, has some weight in
them. The dog's worked hard, and maybe he's earned a soft berth an' has
got a right to choose. Anyway, we'll leave it up to him. Whatever he
says, goes. You people stay right here settin' down. I'll say good-by
and walk off casual-like. If he wants to stay, he can stay. If he wants
to come with me, let 'm come. I won't call 'm to come an' don't you call
'm to come back."
He looked with sudden suspicion at Madge, and added, "Only you must play
fair. No persuadin' after my back is turned."
"We'll play fair," Madge began, but Skiff Miller broke in on her
"I know the ways of women," he announced. "Their hearts is soft. When
their hearts is touched they're likely to stack the cards, look at the
bottom of the deck, an' lie--beggin' your pardon, ma'am. I'm only
discoursin' about women in general."
"I don't know how to thank you," Madge quavered.
"I don't see as you've got any call to thank me," he replied. "Brown
ain't decided yet. Now you won't mind if I go away slow! It's no more'n
fair, seein' I'll be out of sight inside a hundred yards."
Madge agreed, and added, "And I promise you faithfully that we won't do
anything to influence him."
"Well, then, I might as well he gettin' along," Skiff Miller said in the
ordinary tones of one departing.
At this change in his voice, Wolf lifted his head quickly, and still
more quickly got to his feet when the man and woman shook hands. He
sprang up on his hind legs, resting his fore paws on her hip and at the
same time licking Skiff Miller's hand. When the latter shook hands with
Walt, Wolf repeated his act, resting his weight on Walt and licking both
"It ain't no picnic, I can tell you that," were the Klondiker's last
words, as he turned and went slowly up the trail.
For the distance of twenty feet Wolf watched him go, himself all
eagerness and expectancy, as though waiting for the man to turn and
retrace his steps. Then, with a quick low whine, Wolf sprang after him,
overtook him, caught his hand between his teeth with reluctant
tenderness, and strove gently to make him pause.
Failing in this, Wolf raced back to where Walt Irvine sat, catching his
coat sleeve in his teeth and trying vainly to drag him after the
Wolf's perturbation began to wax. He desired ubiquity. He wanted to be
in two places at the same time, with the old master and the new, and
steadily the distance between them was increasing. He sprang about
excitedly, making short nervous leaps and twists, now toward one, now
toward the other, in painful indecision, not knowing his own mind,
desiring both and unable to choose, uttering quick sharp whines and
beginning to pant.
He sat down abruptly on his haunches, thrusting his nose upward, the
mouth opening and closing with jerking movements, each time opening
wider. These jerking movements were in unison with the recurrent spasms
that attacked the throat, each spasm severer and more intense than the
preceding one. And in accord with jerks and spasms the larynx began to
vibrate, at first silently, accompanied by the rush of air expelled from
the lungs, then sounding a low, deep note, the lowest in the register of
the human ear. All this was the nervous and muscular preliminary to
But just as the howl was on the verge of bursting from the full throat,
the wide-opened mouth was closed, the paroxysms ceased, and he looked
long and steadily at the retreating man. Suddenly Wolf turned his head,
and over his shoulder just as steadily regarded Walt. The appeal was
unanswered. Not a word nor a sign did the dog receive, no suggestion and
no clew as to what his conduct should be.
A glance ahead to where the old master was nearing the curve of the
trail excited him again. He sprang to his feet with a whine, and then,
struck by a new idea, turned his attention to Madge. Hitherto he had
ignored her, but now, both masters failing him, she alone was left. He
went over to her and snuggled his head in her lap, nudging her arm with
his nose--an old trick of his when begging for favors. He backed away
from her and began writhing and twisting playfully, curvetting and
prancing, half rearing and striking his forepaws to the earth,
struggling with all his body, from the wheedling eyes and flattening
ears to the wagging tail, to express the thought that was in him and
that was denied him utterance.
This, too, he soon abandoned. He was depressed by the coldness of these
humans who had never been cold before. No response could he draw from
them, no help could he get. They did not consider him. They were as
He turned and silently gazed after the old master. Skiff Miller was
rounding the curve. In a moment he would be gone from view. Yet he never
turned his head, plodding straight onward, slowly and methodically, as
though possessed of no interest in what was occurring behind his back.
And in this fashion he went out of view. Wolf waited for him to
reappear. He waited a long minute, silently, quietly, without movement,
as though turned to stone--withal stone quick with eagerness and desire.
He barked once, and waited. Then he turned and trotted back to Walt
Irvine. He sniffed his hand and dropped down heavily at his feet,
watching the trail where it curved emptily from view.
The tiny stream slipping down the mossy-lipped stone seemed suddenly to
increase the volume of its gurgling noise. Save for the meadow larks,
there was no other sound. The great yellow butterflies drifted silently
through the sunshine and lost themselves in the drowsy shadows. Madge
gazed triumphantly at her husband.
A few minutes later Wolf got upon his feet. Decision and deliberation
marked his movements. He did not glance at the man and woman. His eyes
were fixed up the trail. He had made up his mind. They knew it. And they
knew, so far as they were concerned, that the ordeal had just begun.
He broke into a trot, and Madge's lips pursed, forming an avenue for the
caressing sound that it was the will of her to send forth. But the
caressing sound was not made. She was impelled to look at her husband,
and she saw the sternness with which he watched her. The pursed lips
relaxed, and she sighed inaudibly.
Wolf's trot broke into a run. Wider and wider were the leaps he made.
Not once did he turn his head, his wolf's brush standing out straight
behind him. He cut sharply across the curve of the trail and was gone.
I don't think much of Stephen Mackaye any more, though I used to swear
by him. I know that in those days I loved him more than my own brother.
If ever I meet Stephen Mackaye again, I shall not be responsible for my
actions. It passes beyond me that a man with whom I shared food and
blanket, and with whom I mushed over the Chilcoot Trail, should turn out
the way he did. I always sized Steve up as a square man, a kindly
comrade, without an iota of anything vindictive or malicious in his
nature. I shall never trust my judgment in men again. Why, I nursed that
man through typhoid fever; we starved together on the headwaters of the
Stewart; and he saved my life on the Little Salmon. And now, after the
years we were together, all I can say of Stephen Mackaye is that he is
the meanest man I ever knew.
We started for the Klondike in the fall rush of 1897, and we started too
late to get over Chilcoot Pass before the freeze-up. We packed our
outfit on our backs part way over, when the snow began to fly, and then
we had to buy dogs in order to sled it the rest of the way. That was how
we came to get that Spot. Dogs were high, and we paid one hundred and
ten dollars for him. He looked worth it. I say _looked_, because he was
one of the finest appearing dogs I ever saw. He weighed sixty pounds,
and he had all the lines of a good sled animal. We never could make out
his breed. He wasn't husky, nor Malemute, nor Hudson Bay; he looked like
all of them and he didn't look like any of them; and on top of it all he
had some of the white man's dog in him, for on one side, in the thick of
the mixed yellow-brown-red-and-dirty-white that was his prevailing
color, there was a spot of coal-black as big as a water-bucket. That was
why we called him Spot.
He was a good looker all right. When he was in condition his muscles
stood out in bunches all over him. And he was the strongest looking
brute I ever saw in Alaska, also the most intelligent looking. To run
your eyes over him, you'd think he could outpull three dogs of his own
weight. Maybe he could, but I never saw it. His intelligence didn't run
that way. He could steal and forage to perfection; he had an instinct
that was positively grewsome for divining when work was to be done and
for making a sneak accordingly; and for getting lost and not staying
lost he was nothing short of inspired. But when it came to work, the way
that intelligence dribbled out of him and left him a mere clot of
wobbling, stupid jelly would make your heart bleed.
There are times when I think it wasn't stupidity. Maybe, like some men I
know, he was too wise to work. I shouldn't wonder if he put it all over
us with that intelligence of his. Maybe he figured it all out and
decided that a licking now and again and no work was a whole lot better
than work all the time and no licking. He was intelligent enough for
such a computation. I tell you, I've sat and looked into that dog's eyes
till the shivers ran up and down my spine and the marrow crawled like
yeast, what of the intelligence I saw shining out. I can't express
myself about that intelligence. It is beyond mere words. I saw it,
that's all. At times it was like gazing into a human soul, to look into
his eyes; and what I saw there frightened me and started all sorts of
ideas in my own mind of reincarnation and all the rest. I tell you I
sensed something big in that brute's eyes; there was a message there,
but I wasn't big enough myself to catch it. Whatever it was (I know I'm
making a fool of myself)--whatever it was, it baffled me. I can't give
an inkling of what I saw in that brute's eyes; it wasn't light, it
wasn't color; it was something that moved, away back, when the eyes
themselves weren't moving. And I guess I didn't see it move, either; I
only sensed that it moved. It was an expression,--that's what it
was,--and I got an impression of it. No; it was different from a mere
expression; it was more than that. I don't know what it was, but it gave
me a feeling of kinship just the same. Oh, no, not sentimental kinship.
It was, rather, a kinship of equality. Those eyes never pleaded like a
deer's eyes. They challenged. No, it wasn't defiance. It was just a calm
assumption of equality. And I don't think it was deliberate. My belief
is that it was unconscious on his part. It was there because it was
there, and it couldn't help shining out. No, I don't mean shine. It
didn't shine; it _moved_. I know I'm talking rot, but if you'd looked
into that animal's eyes the way I have, you'd understand. Steve was
affected the same way I was. Why, I tried to kill that Spot once--he was
no good for anything; and I fell down on it. I led him out into the
brush, and he came along slow and unwilling. He knew what was going on.
I stopped in a likely place, put my foot on the rope, and pulled my big
Colt's. And that dog sat down and looked at me. I tell you he didn't
plead. He just looked. And I saw all kinds of incomprehensible things
moving, yes, _moving,_ in those eyes of his. I didn't really see them
move; I thought I saw them, for, as I said before, I guess I only sensed
them. And I want to tell you right now that it got beyond me. It was
like killing a man, a conscious, brave man who looked calmly into your
gun as much as to say, "Who's afraid?" Then, too, the message seemed so
near that, instead of pulling the trigger quick, I stopped to see if I
could catch the message. There it was, right before me, glimmering all
around in those eyes of his. And then it was too late. I got scared. I
was trembly all over, and my stomach generated a nervous palpitation
that made me seasick. I just sat down and looked at that dog, and he
looked at me, till I thought I was going crazy. Do you want to know what
I did? I threw down the gun and ran back to camp with the fear of God in
my heart. Steve laughed at me. But I notice that Steve led Spot into the
woods, a week later, for the same purpose, and that Steve came back
alone, and a little later Spot drifted back, too.
At any rate, Spot wouldn't work. We paid a hundred and ten dollars for
him from the bottom of our sack, and he wouldn't work. He wouldn't even
tighten the traces. Steve spoke to him the first time we put him in
harness, and he sort of shivered, that was all. Not an ounce on the
traces. He just stood still and wobbled, like so much jelly. Steve
touched him with the whip. He yelped, but not an ounce. Steve touched
him again, a bit harder, and he howled--the regular long wolf howl. Then
Steve got mad and gave him half a dozen, and I came on the run from the
tent. I told Steve he was brutal with the animal, and we had some
words--the first we'd ever had. He threw the whip down in the snow, and
walked away mad. I picked it up and went to it. That Spot trembled and
wobbled and cowered before ever I swung the lash, and with the first
bite of it he howled like a lost soul. Next he lay down in the snow. I
started the rest of the dogs, and they dragged him along while I threw
the whip into him. He rolled over on his back and bumped along, his four
legs waving in the air, himself howling as though he was going through a
sausage machine. Steve came back and laughed at me, and I apologized for
what I'd said.
There was no getting any work out of that Spot; and to make up for it,
he was the biggest pig-glutton of a dog I ever saw. On top of that, he
was the cleverest thief. There was no circumventing him. Many a
breakfast we went without our bacon because Spot had been there first.
And it was because of him that we nearly starved to death up the
Stewart. He figured out the way to break into our meat-cache, and what
he didn't eat, the rest of the team did. But he was impartial. He stole
from every body. He was a restless dog always very busy snooping around
or going somewhere. And there was never a camp within five miles that he
didn't raid. The worst of it was that they always came back on us to pay
his board bill, which was just, being the law of the land; but it was
mighty hard on us, especially that first winter on the Chilcoot, when we
were busted, paying for whole hams and sides of bacon that we never ate.
He could fight, too, that Spot. He could do anything but work. He never
pulled a pound, but he was the boss of the whole team. The way he made
those dogs stand around was an education. He bullied them, and there was
always one or more of them fresh-marked with his fangs. But he was more
than a bully. He wasn't afraid of anything that walked on four legs; and
I've seen him march, single-handed, into a strange team, without any
provocation whatever, and put the _kibosh_ on the whole outfit. Did I
say he could eat? I caught him eating the whip once. That's straight. He
started in at the lash, and when I caught him he was down to the handle,
and still going.
But he was a good looker. At the end of the first week we sold him for
seventy-five dollars to the Mounted Police. They had experienced
dog-drivers, and we knew that by the time he'd covered the six hundred
miles to Dawson he'd be a good sled-dog. I say we _knew_, for we were
just getting acquainted with that Spot. A little later we were not brash
enough to know anything where he was concerned. A week later we woke up
in the morning to the dangdest dog-fight we'd ever heard. It was that
Spot came back and knocking the team into shape. We ate a pretty
depressing breakfast, I can tell you; but cheered up two hours afterward
when we sold him to an official courier, bound in to Dawson with
government despatches. That Spot was only three days in coming back,
and, as usual, celebrated his arrival with a rough-house.
We spent the winter and spring, after our own outfit was across the
pass, freighting other people's outfits; and we made a fat stake. Also,
we made money out of Spot. If we sold him once, we sold him twenty
times. He always came back, and no one asked for their money. We didn't
want the money. We'd have paid handsomely for any one to take him off
our hands for keeps. We had to get rid of him, and we couldn't give him
away, for that would have been suspicious. But he was such a fine looker
that we never had any difficulty in selling him. "Unbroke," we'd say,
and they'd pay any old price for him. We sold him as low as twenty-five
dollars, and once we got a hundred and fifty for him. That particular
party returned him in person, refused to take his money back, and the
way he abused us was something awful. He said it was cheap at the price
to tell us what he thought of us; and we felt he was so justified that
we never talked back. But to this day I've never quite regained all the
old self-respect that was mine before that man talked to me.
When the ice cleared out of the lakes and river, we put our outfit in a
Lake Bennett boat and started for Dawson. We had a good team of dogs,
and of course we piled them on top the outfit. That Spot was
along--there was no losing him; and a dozen times, the first day, he
knocked one or another of the dogs overboard in the course of fighting
with them. It was close quarters, and he didn't like being crowded.
"What that dog needs is space," Steve said the second day. "Let's
We did, running the boat in at Caribou Crossing for him to jump ashore.
Two of the other dogs, good dogs, followed him; and we lost two whole
days trying to find them. We never saw those two dogs again; but the
quietness and relief we enjoyed made us decide, like the man who refused
his hundred and fifty, that it was cheap at the price. For the first
time in months Steve and I laughed and whistled and sang. We were as
happy as clams. The dark days were over. The nightmare had been lifted.
That Spot was gone.
Three weeks later, one morning, Steve and I were standing on the
river-bank at Dawson. A small boat was just arriving from Lake Bennett.
I saw Steve give a start, and heard him say something that was not nice
and that was not under his breath. Then I looked; and there, in the bow
of the boat, with ears pricked up, sat Spot. Steve and I sneaked
immediately, like beaten curs, like cowards, like absconders from
justice. It was this last that the lieutenant of police thought when he
saw us sneaking. He surmised that there was law-officers in the boat
who were after us. He didn't wait to find out, but kept us in sight,
and in the M. & M. saloon got us in a corner. We had a merry time
explaining, for we refused to go back to the boat and meet Spot; and
finally he held us under guard of another policeman while he went to the
boat. After we got clear of him, we started for the cabin, and when we
arrived, there was that Spot sitting on the stoop waiting for us. Now
how did he know we lived there? There were forty thousand people in
Dawson that summer, and how did he _savve_ our cabin out of all the
cabins? How did he know we were in Dawson, anyway? I leave it to you.
But don't forget what I have said about his intelligence and that
immortal something I have seen glimmering in his eyes.
There was no getting rid of him any more. There were too many people in
Dawson who had bought him up on Chilcoot, and the story got around. Half
a dozen times we put him on board steamboats going down the Yukon; but
he merely went ashore at the first landing and trotted back up the bank.
We couldn't sell him, we couldn't kill him (both Steve and I had tried),
and nobody else was able to kill him. He bore a charmed life. I've seen
him go down in a dog-fight on the main street with fifty dogs on top of
him, and when they were separated, he'd appear on all his four legs,
unharmed, while two of the dogs that had been on top of him would be
I saw him steal a chunk of moose meat from Major Dinwiddie's cache so
heavy that he could just keep one jump ahead of Mrs. Dinwiddie's squaw
cook, who was after him with an axe. As he went up the hill, after the
squaw gave up, Major Dinwiddie himself came out and pumped his
Winchester into the landscape. He emptied his magazine twice, and never
touched that Spot. Then a policeman came along and arrested him for
discharging firearms inside the city limits. Major Dinwiddie paid his
fine, and Steve and I paid him for the moose meat at the rate of a
dollar a pound, bones and all. That was what he paid for it. Meat was
high that year.
I am only telling what I saw with my own eyes. And now I'll tell you
something also. I saw that Spot fall through a water-hole. The ice was
three and a half feet thick, and the current sucked him under like a
straw. Three hundred yards below was the big water-hole used by the
hospital. Spot crawled out of the hospital water-hole, licked off the
water, bit out the ice that had formed between his toes, trotted up the
bank, and whipped a big Newfoundland belonging to the Gold Commissioner.
In the fall of 1898, Steve and I poled up the Yukon on the last water,
bound for Stewart River. We took the dogs along, all except Spot. We
figured we'd been feeding him long enough. He'd cost us more time and
trouble and money and grub than we'd got by selling him on the
Chilcoot--especially grub. So Steve and I tied him down in the cabin and
pulled our freight. We camped that night at the mouth of Indian River,
and Steve and I were pretty facetious over having shaken him. Steve was
a funny fellow, and I was just sitting up in the blankets and laughing
when a tornado hit camp. The way that Spot walked into those dogs and
gave them what-for was hair-raising. Now how did he get loose? It's up
to you. I haven't any theory. And how did he get across the Klondike
River? That's another facer. And anyway, how did he know we had gone up
the Yukon? You see, we went by water, and he couldn't smell our tracks.
Steve and I began to get superstitious about that dog. He got on our
nerves, too; and, between you and me, we were just a mite afraid of him.
The freeze-up came on when we were at the mouth of Henderson Creek, and
we traded him off for two sacks of flour to an outfit that was bound up
White River after copper. Now that whole outfit was lost. Never trace
nor hide nor hair of men, dogs, sleds, or anything was ever found. They
dropped clean out of sight. It became one of the mysteries of the
country. Steve and I plugged away up the Stewart, and six weeks
afterward that Spot crawled into camp. He was a perambulating skeleton,
and could just drag along; but he got there. And what I want to know is
who told him we were up the Stewart? We could have gone a thousand other
places. How did he know? You tell me, and I'll tell you.
No losing him. At the Mayo he started a row with an Indian dog. The buck
who owned the dog took a swing at Spot with an axe, missed him, and
killed his own dog. Talk about magic and turning bullets aside--I, for
one, consider it a blamed sight harder to turn an axe aside with a big
buck at the other end of it. And I saw him do it with my own eyes. That
buck didn't want to kill his own dog. You've got to show me.
I told you about Spot breaking into our meat-cache. It was nearly the
death of us. There wasn't any more meat to be killed and meat was all we
had to live on. The moose had gone back several hundred miles and the
Indians with them. There we were. Spring was on and we had to wait for
the river to break. We got pretty thin before we decided to eat the
dogs, and we decided to eat Spot first. Do you know what that dog did?
He sneaked. Now how did he know our minds were made up to eat him? We
sat up nights laying for him, but he never came back, and we ate the
other dogs. We ate the whole team.
And now for the sequel. You know what it is when a big river breaks up
and a few billion tons of ice go out, jamming and milling and grinding.
Just in the thick of it, when the Stewart went out, rumbling and
roaring, we sighted Spot out in the middle. He'd got caught as he was
trying to cross up above somewhere. Steve and I yelled and shouted and
ran up and down the bank, tossing our hats in the air. Sometimes we'd
stop and hug each other, we were that boisterous, for we saw Spot's
finish. He didn't have a chance in a million. He didn't have any chance
at all. After the ice-run, we got into a canoe and paddled down to the
Yukon, and down the Yukon to Dawson, stopping to feed up for a week at
the cabins at the mouth of Henderson Creek. And as we came in to the
bank at Dawson, there sat that Spot, waiting for us, his ears pricked
up, his tail wagging, his mouth smiling, extending a hearty welcome to
us. Now how did he get out of that ice? How did he know we were coming
to Dawson, to the very hour and minute, to be out there on the bank
waiting for us?
The more I think of that Spot, the more I am convinced that there are
things in this world that go beyond science. On no scientific grounds
can that Spot be explained. It's psychic phenomena, or mysticism, or
something of that sort, I guess, with a lot of Theosophy thrown in. The
Klondike is a good country. I might have been there yet, and become a
millionaire, if it hadn't been for Spot. He got on my nerves. I stood
him for two years all together, and then I guess my stamina broke. It
was the summer of 1899 when I pulled out. I didn't say anything to
Steve. I just sneaked. But I fixed it up all right. I wrote Steve a
note, and enclosed a package of "rough-on-rats," telling him what to do
with it. I was worn down to skin and bone by that Spot, and I was that
nervous that I'd jump and look around when there wasn't anybody within
hailing distance. But it was astonishing the way I recuperated when I
got quit of him. I got back twenty pounds before I arrived in San
Francisco, and by the time I'd crossed the ferry to Oakland I was my old
self again, so that even my wife looked in vain for any change in me.
Steve wrote to me once, and his letter seemed irritated. He took it kind
of hard because I'd left him with Spot. Also, he said he'd used the
"rough-on-rats," per directions, and that there was nothing doing. A
year went by. I was back in the office and prospering in all ways--even
getting a bit fat. And then Steve arrived. He didn't look me up. I read
his name in the steamer list, and wondered why. But I didn't wonder
long. I got up one morning and found that Spot chained to the gatepost
and holding up the milkman. Steve went north to Seattle, I learned, that
very morning. I didn't put on any more weight. My wife made me buy him a
collar and tag, and within an hour he showed his gratitude by killing
her pet Persian cat. There is no getting rid of that Spot. He will be
with me until I die, for he'll never die. My appetite is not so good
since he arrived, and my wife says I am looking peaked. Last night that
Spot got into Mr. Harvey's hen-house (Harvey is my next door neighbor)
and killed nineteen of his fancy-bred chickens. I shall have to pay for
them. My neighbors on the other side quarreled with my wife and then
moved out. Spot was the cause of it. And that is why I am disappointed
in Stephen Mackaye. I had no idea he was so mean a man.
All lines had been cast off, and the _Seattle No. 4_ was pulling slowly
out from the shore. Her decks were piled high with freight and baggage,
and swarmed with a heterogeneous company of Indians, dogs, and
dog-mushers, prospectors, traders, and homeward-bound gold-seekers. A
goodly portion of Dawson was lined up on the bank, saying good-by. As
the gang-plank came in and the steamer nosed into the stream, the clamor
of farewell became deafening. Also, in that eleventh moment, everybody
began to remember final farewell messages and to shout them back and
forth across the widening stretch of water. Louis Bondell, curling his
yellow mustache with one hand and languidly waving the other hand to his
friends on shore, suddenly remembered something and sprang to the rail.
"Oh, Fred!" he bawled. "Oh, Fred!"
The "Fred" desired thrust a strapping pair of shoulders through the
forefront of the crowd on the bank and tried to catch Louis Bondell's
message. The latter grew red in the face with vain vociferation. Still
the water widened between steamboat and shore.
"Hey you, Captain Scott!" he yelled at the pilot-house. "Stop the boat!"
The gongs clanged, and the big stern wheel reversed, then stopped. All
hands on steamboat and on bank took advantage of this respite to
exchange final, new, and imperative farewells. More futile than ever was
Louis Bondell's effort to make himself heard. The _Seattle No. 4_ lost
way and drifted down-stream, and Captain Scott had to go ahead and
reverse a second time. His head disappeared inside the pilot-house,
coming into view a moment later behind a big megaphone.
Now Captain Scott had a remarkable voice, and the "Shut up!" he
launched at the crowd on deck and on shore could have been heard at the
top of Moosehide Mountain and as far as Klondike City. This official
remonstrance from the pilot-house spread a film of silence over the
"Now, what do you want to say?" Captain Scott demanded.
"Tell Fred Churchill--he's on the bank there--tell him to go to
Macdonald. It's in his safe--a small gripsack of mine. Tell him to get
it and bring it out when he comes."
In the silence Captain Scott bellowed the message ashore through the
"You, Fred Churchill, go to Macdonald--in his safe--small
gripsack--belongs to Louis Bondell--important! Bring it out when you
come! Got it?"
Churchill waved his hand in token that he had got it. In truth, had
Macdonald, half a mile away, opened his window, he'd have got it, too.
The tumult of farewell rose again, the gongs clanged, and the _Seattle
No. 4_ went ahead, swung out into the stream, turned on her heel, and
headed down the Yukon, Bondell and Churchill waving farewell and mutual
affection to the last.
That was in midsummer. In the fall of the year, the _W.H. Willis_
started up the Yukon with two hundred homeward-bound pilgrims on board.
Among them was Churchill. In his stateroom, in the middle of a
clothes-bag, was Louis Bondell's grip. It was a small, stout leather
affair, and its weight of forty pounds always made Churchill nervous
when he wandered too far from it. The man in the adjoining stateroom had
a treasure of gold-dust hidden similarly in a clothes-bag, and the pair
of them ultimately arranged to stand watch and watch. While one went
down to eat, the other kept an eye on the two stateroom doors. When
Churchill wanted to take a hand at whist, the other man mounted guard,
and when the other man wanted to relax his soul, Churchill read
four-months'-old newspapers on a camp stool between the two doors.
There were signs of an early winter, and the question that was discussed
from dawn till dark, and far into the dark, was whether they would get
out before the freeze-up or be compelled to abandon the steamboat and
tramp out over the ice. There were irritating delays. Twice the engines
broke down and had to be tinkered up, and each time there were snow
flurries to warn them of the imminence of winter. Nine times the _W.H.
Willis_ essayed to ascend the Five-Finger Rapids with her impaired
machinery, and when she succeeded, she was four days behind her very
liberal schedule. The question that then arose was whether or not the
steamboat _Flora_ would wait for her above the Box Canon. The stretch of
water between the head of the Box Canon and the foot of the White Horse
Rapids was unnavigable for steamboats and passengers were transshipped
at that point, walking around the rapids from one steamboat to the
other. There were no telephones in the country, hence no way of
informing the waiting _Flora_ that the _Willis_ was four days late, but
When the _W.H. Willis_ pulled into White Horse, it was learned that the
_Flora_ had waited three days over the limit, and had departed only a
few hours before. Also, it was learned that she would tie up at Tagish
Post till nine o'clock, Sunday morning. It was then four o'clock
Saturday afternoon. The pilgrims called a meeting. On board was a large
Peterborough canoe, consigned to the police post at the head of Lake
Bennett. They agreed to be responsible for it and to deliver it. Next,
they called for volunteers. Two men were needed to make a race for the
_Flora_. A score of men volunteered on the instant. Among them was
Churchill, such being his nature that he volunteered before he thought
of Bondell's gripsack. When this thought came to him, he began to hope
that he would not be selected; but a man who had made a name as captain
of a college football eleven, as a president of an athletic club, as a
dog-musher and a stampeder in the Yukon, and, moreover, who possessed
such shoulders as he, had no right to avoid the honor. It was thrust
upon him and upon a gigantic German, Nick Antonsen.
While a crowd of the pilgrims, the canoe on their shoulders, started on
a trot over the portage, Churchill ran to his stateroom. He turned the
contents of the clothes-bag on the floor and caught up the grip with the
intention of intrusting it to the man next door. Then the thought smote
him that it was not his grip, and that he had no right to let it out of
his own possession. So he dashed ashore with it and ran up the portage,
changing it often from one hand to the other, and wondering if it really
did not weigh more than forty pounds.
It was half-past four in the afternoon when the two men started. The
current of the Thirty Mile River was so strong that rarely could they
use the paddles. It was out on one bank with a tow-line over the
shoulders stumbling over the rocks, forcing a way through the
underbrush, slipping at times and falling into the water, wading often
up to the knees and waist; and then, when an insurmountable bluff was
encountered, it was into the canoe, out paddles, and a wild and losing
dash across the current to the other bank, in paddles, over the side,
and out tow-line again. It was exhausting work. Antonsen toiled like the
giant he was, uncomplaining, persistent, but driven to his utmost by the
powerful body and indomitable brain of Churchill. They never paused for
rest. It was go, go, and keep on going. A crisp wind blew down the
river, freezing their hands and making it imperative, from time to time,
to beat the blood back into the numb fingers. As night came on, they
were compelled to trust to luck. They fell repeatedly on the untraveled
banks and tore their clothing to shreds in the underbrush they could not
see. Both men were badly scratched and bleeding. A dozen times, in their
wild dashes from bank to bank, they struck snags and were capsized. The
first time this happened, Churchill dived and groped in three feet of
water for the gripsack. He lost half an hour in recovering it, and after
that it was carried securely lashed to the canoe. As long as the canoe
floated it was safe. Antonsen jeered at the grip, and toward morning
began to abuse it; but Churchill vouchsafed no explanations.
Their delays and mischances were endless. On one swift bend, around
which poured a healthy young rapid, they lost two hours, making a score
of attempts and capsizing twice. At this point, on both banks, were
precipitous bluffs, rising out of deep water, and along which they could
neither tow nor pole, while they could not gain with the paddles against
the current. At each attempt they strained to the utmost with the
paddles, and each time, with hearts nigh to bursting from the effort,
they were played out and swept back. They succeeded finally by an
accident. In the swiftest current, near the end of another failure, a
freak of the current sheered the canoe out of Churchill's control and
flung it against the bluff. Churchill made a blind leap at the bluff and
landed in a crevice. Holding on with one hand, he held the swamped canoe
with the other till Antonsen dragged himself out of the water. Then they
pulled the canoe out and rested. A fresh start at this crucial point
took them by. They landed on the bank above and plunged immediately
ashore and into the brush with the tow-line.
Daylight found them far below Tagish Post. At nine o 'clock Sunday
morning they could hear the _Flora_ whistling her departure. And when,
at ten o'clock, they dragged themselves in to the Post, they could just
barely see the _Flora's_ smoke far to the southward. It was a pair of
worn-out tatterdemalions that Captain Jones of the Mounted Police
welcomed and fed, and he afterward averred that they possessed two of
the most tremendous appetites he had ever observed. They lay down and
slept in their wet rags by the stove. At the end of two hours Churchill
got up, carried Bondell's grip, which he had used for a pillow, down to
the canoe, kicked Antonsen awake, and started in pursuit of the _Flora_.
"There's no telling what might happen--machinery break down or
something," was his reply to Captain Jones's expostulations. "I'm going
to catch that steamer and send her back for the boys."
Tagish Lake was white with a fall gale that blew in their teeth. Big,
swinging seas rushed upon the canoe, compelling one man to bail and
leaving one man to paddle. Headway could not be made. They ran along the
shallow shore and went overboard, one man ahead on the tow-line, the
other shoving on the canoe. They fought the gale up to their waists in
the icy water, often up to their necks, often over their heads and
buried by the big, crested waves. There was no rest, never a moment's
pause from the cheerless, heart-breaking battle. That night, at the head
of Tagish Lake, in the thick of a driving snow-squall, they overhauled
the _Flora._ Antonsen. "You go back to White Horse, and snored.
[Transcriber's note: The above is evidently a printer's error.]
Churchill looked like a wild man. His clothes barely clung to him. His
face was iced up and swollen from the protracted effort of twenty-four
hours, while his hands were so swollen that he could not close the
fingers. As for his feet, it was an agony to stand upon them.
The captain of the _Flora_ was loath to go back to White Horse.
Churchill was persistent and imperative; the captain was stubborn. He
pointed out finally that nothing was to be gained by going back, because
the only ocean steamer at Dyea, the _Athenian_, was to sail on Tuesday
morning, and that he could not make the back trip to White Horse and
bring up the stranded pilgrims in time to make the connection.
"What time does the _Athenian_ sail?" Churchill demanded.
"Seven o'clock, Tuesday morning."
"All right," Churchill said, at the same time kicking a tattoo on the
ribs of the snoring Antonsen. "You go back to White Horse. We'll go
ahead and hold the _Athenian_."
Antonsen, stupid with sleep, not yet clothed in his waking mind, was
bundled into the canoe, and did not realize what had happened till he
was drenched with the icy spray of a big sea, and heard Churchill
snarling at him through the darkness:--
"Paddle, can't you! Do you want to be swamped?"
Daylight found them at Caribou Crossing, the wind dying down, and
Antonsen too far gone to dip a paddle. Churchill grounded the canoe on a
quiet beach, where they slept. He took the precaution of twisting his
arm under the weight of his head. Every few minutes the pain of the pent
circulation aroused him, whereupon he would look at his watch and twist
the other arm under his head. At the end of two hours he fought with
Antonsen to rouse him. Then they started. Lake Bennett, thirty miles in
length, was like a mill-pond; but, halfway across, a gale from the south
smote them and turned the water white. Hour after hour they repeated the
struggle on Tagish, over the side, pulling and shoving on the canoe, up
to their waists and necks, and over their heads, in the icy water;
toward the last the good-natured giant played completely out. Churchill
drove him mercilessly; but when he pitched forward and bade fair to
drown in three feet of water, the other dragged him into the canoe.
After that, Churchill fought on alone, arriving at the police post at
the head of Bennett in the early afternoon. He tried to help Antonsen
out of the canoe, but failed. He listened to the exhausted man's heavy
breathing, and envied him when he thought of what he himself had yet to
undergo. Antonsen could lie there and sleep; but he, behind time, must
go on over mighty Chilcoot and down to the sea. The real struggle lay
before him, and he almost regretted the strength that resided in his
frame because of the torment it could inflict upon that frame.
Churchill pulled the canoe up on the beach, seized Bondell's grip, and
started on a limping dog-trot for the police post.
"There's a canoe down there, consigned to you from Dawson," he hurled at
the officer who answered his knock. "And there's a man in it pretty near
dead. Nothing serious; only played out. Take care of him. I've got to
rush. Good-by. Want to catch the _Athenian_."
A mile portage connected Lake Bennett and Lake Linderman, and his last
words he flung back after him as he resumed the trot. It was a very
painful trot, but he clenched his teeth and kept on, forgetting his pain
most of the time in the fervent heat with which he regarded the
gripsack. It was a severe handicap. He swung it from one hand to the
other, and back again. He tucked it under his arm. He threw one hand
over the opposite shoulder, and the bag bumped and pounded on his back
as he ran along. He could scarcely hold it in his bruised and swollen
fingers, and several times he dropped it. Once, in changing from one
hand to the other, it escaped his clutch and fell in front of him,
tripped him up, and threw him violently to the ground.
At the far end of the portage he bought an old set of pack-straps for a
dollar, and in them he swung the grip. Also, he chartered a launch to
run him the six miles to the upper end of Lake Linderman, where he
arrived at four in the afternoon. The _Athenian_ was to sail from Dyea
next morning at seven. Dyea was twenty-eight miles away, and between
towered Chilcoot. He sat down to adjust his foot-gear for the long
climb, and woke up. He had dozed the instant he sat down, though he had
not slept thirty seconds. He was afraid his next doze might be longer,
so he finished fixing his foot-gear standing up. Even then he was
overpowered for a fleeting moment. He experienced the flash of
unconsciousness; becoming aware of it, in midair, as his relaxed body
was sinking to the ground and as he caught himself together, he
stiffened his muscles with a spasmodic wrench, and escaped the fall. The
sudden jerk back to consciousness left him sick and trembling. He beat
his head with the heel of his hand, knocking wakefulness into the numb
Jack Burns's pack-train was starting back light for Crater Lake, and
Churchill was invited to a mule. Burns wanted to put the gripsack on
another animal, but Churchill held on to it, carrying it on his
saddle-pommel. But he dozed, and the grip persisted in dropping off the
pommel, one side or the other, each time wakening him with a sickening
start. Then, in the early darkness, Churchill's mule brushed him against
a projecting branch that laid his cheek open. To cap it, the mule
blundered off the trail and fell, throwing rider and gripsack out upon
the rocks. After that, Churchill walked, or stumbled, rather, over the
apology for a trail, leading the mule. Stray and awful odors, drifting
from each side the trail, told of the horses that had died in the rush
for gold. But he did not mind. He was too sleepy. By the time Long Lake
was reached, however, he had recovered from his sleepiness; and at Deep
Lake he resigned the gripsack to Burns. But thereafter, by the light of
the dim stars, he kept his eyes on Burns. There were not going to be any
accidents with that bag.
At Crater Lake the pack-train went into camp, and Churchill, slinging
the grip on his back, started the steep climb for the summit. For the
first time, on that precipitous wall, he realized how tired he was. He
crept and crawled like a crab, burdened by the weight of his limbs. A
distinct and painful effort of will was required each time he lifted a
foot. An hallucination came to him that he was shod with lead, like a
deep-sea diver, and it was all he could do to resist the desire to reach
down and feel the lead. As for Bondell's gripsack, it was inconceivable
that forty pounds could weigh so much. It pressed him down like a
mountain, and he looked back with unbelief to the year before, when he
had climbed that same pass with a hundred and fifty pounds on his back,
If those loads had weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, then Bondell's
grip weighed five hundred.
The first rise of the divide from Crater Lake was across a small
glacier. Here was a well-defined trail. But above the glacier, which was
also above timber-line, was naught but a chaos of naked rock and
enormous boulders. There was no way of seeing the trail in the darkness,
and he blundered on, paying thrice the ordinary exertion for all that he
accomplished. He won the summit in the thick of howling wind and driving
snow, providentially stumbling upon a small, deserted tent, into which
he crawled. There he found and bolted some ancient fried potatoes and
half a dozen raw eggs.
When the snow ceased and the wind eased down, he began the almost
impossible descent. There was no trail, and he stumbled and blundered,
often finding himself, at the last moment, on the edge of rocky walls
and steep slopes the depth of which he had no way of judging. Part way
down, the stars clouded over again, and in the consequent obscurity he
slipped and rolled and slid for a hundred feet, landing bruised and
bleeding on the bottom of a large shallow hole. From all about him arose
the stench of dead horses. The hole was handy to the trail, and the
packers had made a practice of tumbling into it their broken and dying
animals. The stench overpowered him, making him deathly sick, and as in
a nightmare he scrambled out. Halfway up, he recollected Bondell's
gripsack. It had fallen into the hole with him; the pack-strap had
evidently broken, and he had forgotten it. Back he went into the
pestilential charnel-pit, where he crawled around on hands and knees and
groped for half an hour. Altogether he encountered and counted seventeen
dead horses (and one horse still alive that he shot with his revolver)
before he found Bondell's grip. Looking back upon a life that had not
been without valor and achievement, he unhesitatingly declared to
himself that this return after the grip was the most heroic act he had
ever performed. So heroic was it that he was twice on the verge of
fainting before he crawled out of the hole.
By the time he had descended to the Scales, the steep pitch of Chilcoot
was past, and the way became easier. Not that it was an easy way,
however, in the best of places; but it became a really possible trail,
along which he could have made good time if he had not been worn out, if
he had had light with which to pick his steps, and if it had not been
for Bondell's gripsack. To him, in his exhausted condition, it was the
last straw. Having barely strength to carry himself along, the
additional weight of the grip was sufficient to throw him nearly every
time he tripped or stumbled. And when he escaped tripping, branches
reached out in the darkness, hooked the grip between his shoulders, and
held him back.
His mind was made up that if he missed the _Athenian_ it would be the
fault of the gripsack. In fact, only two things remained in his
consciousness--Bondell's grip and the steamer. He knew only those two
things, and they became identified, in a way, with some stern mission
upon which he had journeyed and toiled for centuries. He walked and
struggled on as in a dream. A part of the dream was his arrival at Sheep
Camp. He stumbled into a saloon, slid his shoulders out of the straps,
and started to deposit the grip at his feet. But it slipped from his
fingers and struck the floor with a heavy thud that was not unnoticed by
two men who were just leaving. Churchill drank a glass of whiskey, told
the barkeeper to call him in ten minutes, and sat down, his feet on the
grip, his head on his knees.
So badly did his misused body stiffen, that when he was called it
required another ten minutes and a second glass of whiskey to unbend his
joints and limber up the muscles.
"Hey! not that way!" the barkeeper shouted, and then went after him and
started him through the darkness toward Canyon City. Some little husk of
inner consciousness told Churchill that the direction was right, and,
still as in a dream, he took the canyon trail. He did not know what
warned him, but after what seemed several centuries of travelling, he
sensed danger and drew his revolver. Still in the dream, he saw two men
step out and heard them halt him. His revolver went off four times, and
he saw the flashes and heard the explosions of their revolvers. Also, he
was aware that he had been hit in the thigh. He saw one man go down,
and, as the other came for him, he smashed him a straight blow with the
heavy revolver full in the face. Then he turned and ran. He came from
the dream shortly afterward, to find himself plunging down the trail at
a limping lope. His first thought was for the gripsack. It was still on
his back. He was convinced that what had happened was a dream till he
felt for his revolver and found it gone. Next he became aware of a sharp
stinging of his thigh, and after investigating, he found his hand warm
with blood. It was a superficial wound, but it was incontestable. He
became wider awake, and kept up the lumbering run to Canyon City.
He found a man, with a team of horses and a wagon, who got out of bed
and harnessed up for twenty dollars. Churchill crawled in on the
wagon-bed and slept, the gripsack still on his back. It was a rough
ride, over water-washed boulders down the Dyea Valley; but he roused
only when the wagon hit the highest places. Any altitude of his body
above the wagon-bed of less than a foot did not faze him. The last mile
was smooth going, and he slept soundly.
He came to in the gray dawn, the driver shaking him savagely and howling
into his ear that the _Athenian_ was gone. Churchill looked blankly at
the deserted harbor.
"There's a smoke over at Skaguay," the man said.
Churchill's eyes were too swollen to see that far, but he said: "It's
she. Get me a boat."
The driver was obliging, and found a skiff and a man to row it for ten
dollars, payment in advance. Churchill paid, and was helped into the
skiff. It was beyond him to get in by himself. It was six miles to
Skaguay, and he had a blissful thought of sleeping those six miles. But
the man did not know how to row, and Churchill took the oars and toiled
for a few more centuries. He never knew six longer and more excruciating
miles. A snappy little breeze blew up the inlet and held him back. He
had a gone feeling at the pit of the stomach, and suffered from
faintness and numbness. At his command, the man took the bailer and
threw salt water into his face.
The _Athenian's_ anchor was up-and-down when they came alongside, and
Churchill was at the end of his last remnant of strength.
"Stop her! Stop her!" he shouted hoarsely. "Important message! Stop
Then he dropped his chin on his chest and slept. "When half a dozen men
started to carry him up the gang-plank, he awoke, reached for the grip,
and clung to it like a drowning man. On deck he became a center of
horror and curiosity. The clothing in which he had left White Horse was
represented by a few rags, and he was as frayed as his clothing. He had
traveled for fifty-five hours at the top notch of endurance. He had
slept six hours in that time, and he was twenty pounds lighter than when
he started. Face and hands and body were scratched and bruised, and he
could scarcely see. He tried to stand up, but failed, sprawling out on
the deck, hanging on to the gripsack, and delivering his message.
"Now, put me to bed," he finished; "I'll eat when I wake up."
They did him honor, carrying him down in his rags and dirt and
depositing him and Bondell's grip in the bridal chamber, which was the
biggest and most luxurious stateroom in the ship. Twice he slept the
clock around, and he had bathed and shaved and eaten and was leaning
over the rail smoking a cigar when the two hundred pilgrims from White
Horse came alongside.
By the time the _Athenian_ arrived in Seattle, Churchill had fully
recuperated, and he went ashore with Bondell's grip in his hand. He
felt proud of that grip. To him it stood for achievement and integrity
and trust. "I've delivered the goods," was the way he expressed these
various high terms to himself. It was early in the evening, and he went
straight to Bondell's home. Louis Bondell was glad to see him, shaking
hands with both hands at the same time and dragging him into the house.
"Oh, thanks, old man; it was good of you to bring it out," Bondell said
when he received the gripsack.
He tossed it carelessly upon a couch, and Churchill noted with an
appreciative eye the rebound of its weight from the springs. Bondell was
volleying him with questions.
"How did you make out? How're the boys! What became of Bill Smithers? Is
Del Bishop still with Pierce? Did he sell my dogs? How did Sulphur
Bottom show up? You're looking fine. What steamer did you come out on?"
To all of which Churchill gave answer, till half an hour had gone by and
the first lull in the conversation had arrived.
"Hadn't you better take a look at it?" he suggested, nodding his head at
"Oh, it's all right," Bondell answered. "Did Mitchell's dump turn out
as much as he expected?"
"I think you'd better look at it," Churchill insisted. "When I deliver a
thing, I want to be satisfied that it's all right. There's always the
chance that somebody might have got into it when I was asleep, or
"It's nothing important, old man," Bondell answered, with a laugh.
"Nothing important," Churchill echoed in a faint, small voice. Then he
spoke with decision: "Louis, what's in that bag? I want to know."
Louis looked at him curiously, then left the room and returned with a
bunch of keys. He inserted his hand and drew out a heavy .44 Colt's
revolver. Next came out a few boxes of ammunition for the revolver and
several boxes of Winchester cartridges.
Churchill took the gripsack and looked into it. Then he turned it upside
down and shook it gently.
"The gun's all rusted," Bondell said. "Must have been out in the rain."
"Yes," Churchill answered. "Too bad it got wet. I guess I was a bit
He got up and went outside. Ten minutes later Louis Bondell went out
and found him on the steps, sitting down, elbows on knees and chin on
hands, gazing steadfastly out into the darkness.
ALL GOLD CANYON
It was the green heart of the canyon, where the walls swerved back from
the rigid plan and relieved their harshness of line by making a little
sheltered nook and filling it to the brim with sweetness and roundness
and softness. Here all things rested. Even the narrow stream ceased its
turbulent down-rush long enough to form a quiet pool. Knee-deep in the
water, with drooping head and half-shut eyes, drowsed a red-coated,
On one side, beginning at the very lip of the pool, was a tiny meadow, a
cool, resilient surface of green that extended to the base of the
frowning wall. Beyond the pool a gentle slope of earth ran up and up to
meet the opposing wall. Fine grass covered the slope--grass that was
spangled with flowers, with here and there patches of color, orange and
purple and golden. Below, the canyon was shut in. There was no view.
The walls leaned together abruptly and the canyon ended in a chaos of
rocks, moss-covered and hidden by a green screen of vines and creepers
and boughs of trees. Up the canyon rose far hills and peaks, the big
foothills, pine-covered and remote. And far beyond, like clouds upon the
border of the sky, towered minarets of white, where the Sierra's eternal
snows flashed austerely the blazes of the sun.
There was no dust in the canyon. The leaves and flowers were clean and
virginal. The grass was young velvet. Over the pool three cottonwoods
sent their snowy fluffs fluttering down the quiet air. On the slope the
blossoms of the wine-wooded manzanita filled the air with springtime
odors, while the leaves, wise with experience, were already beginning
their vertical twist against the coming aridity of summer. In the open
spaces on the slope, beyond the farthest shadow-reach of the manzanita,
poised the mariposa lilies, like so many flights of jewelled moths
suddenly arrested and on the verge of trembling into flight again. Here
and there that woods harlequin, the madrone, permitting itself to be
caught in the act of changing its pea-green trunk to madder-red,
breathed its fragrance into the air from great clusters of waxen bells.
Creamy white were these bells, shaped like lilies-of-the-valley, with
the sweetness of perfume that is of the springtime.
There was not a sigh of wind. The air was drowsy with its weight of
perfume. It was a sweetness that would have been cloying had the air
been heavy and humid. But the air was sharp and thin. It was as
starlight transmuted into atmosphere, shot through and warmed by
sunshine, and flower-drenched with sweetness.
An occasional butterfly drifted in and out through the patches of light
and shade. And from all about rose the low and sleepy hum of mountain
bees--feasting Sybarites that jostled one another good-naturedly at the
board, nor found time for rough discourtesy. So quietly did the little
stream drip and ripple its way through the canyon that it spoke only in
faint and occasional gurgles. The voice of the stream was as a drowsy
whisper, ever interrupted by dozings and silences, ever lifted again in
The motion of all things was a drifting in the heart of the canyon.
Sunshine and butterflies drifted in and out among the trees. The hum of
the bees and the whisper of the stream were a drifting of sound. And the
drifting sound and drifting color seemed to weave together in the making
of a delicate and intangible fabric which was the spirit of the place.
It was a spirit of peace that was not of death, but of smooth-pulsing
life, of quietude that was not silence, of movement that was not action,
of repose that was quick with existence without being violent with
struggle and travail. The spirit of the place was the spirit of the
peace of the living, somnolent with the easement and content of
prosperity, and undisturbed by rumors of far wars.
The red-coated, many-antlered buck acknowledged the lordship of the
spirit of the place and dozed knee-deep in the cool, shaded pool. There
seemed no flies to vex him and he was languid with rest. Sometimes his
ears moved when the stream awoke and whispered; but they moved lazily,
with foreknowledge that it was merely the stream grown garrulous at
discovery that it had slept.
But there came a time when the buck's ears lifted and tensed with swift
eagerness for sound. His head was turned down the canyon. His
sensitive, quivering nostrils scented the air. His eyes could not
pierce the green screen through which the stream rippled away, but to
his ears came the voice of a man. It was a steady, monotonous, singsong
voice. Once the buck heard the harsh clash of metal upon rock. At the
sound he snorted with a sudden start that jerked him through the air
from water to meadow, and his feet sank into the young velvet, while he
pricked his ears and again scented the air. Then he stole across the
tiny meadow, pausing once and again to listen, and faded away out of the
canyon like a wraith, soft-footed and without sound.
The clash of steel-shod soles against the rocks began to be heard, and
the man's voice grew louder. It was raised in a sort of chant and became
distinct with nearness, so that the words could be heard:
"Tu'n around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an' look aroun'
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
'A sound of scrambling accompanied the song, and the spirit of the place
fled away on the heels of the red-coated buck. The green screen was
burst asunder, and a man peered out at the meadow and the pool and the
sloping side-hill. He was a deliberate sort of man. He took in the scene
with one embracing glance, then ran his eyes over the details to verify
the general impression. Then, and not until then, did he open his mouth
in vivid and solemn approval:
"Smoke of life an' snakes of purgatory! Will you just look at that! Wood
an' water an' grass an' a side-hill! A pocket-hunter's delight an' a
cayuse's paradise! Cool green for tired eyes! Pink pills for pale people
ain't in it. A secret pasture for prospectors and a resting-place for
tired burros. It's just booful!"
He was a sandy-complexioned man in whose face geniality and humor seemed
the salient characteristics. It was a mobile face, quick-changing to
inward mood and thought. Thinking was in him a visible process. Ideas
chased across his face like wind-flaws across the surface of a lake. His
hair, sparse and unkempt of growth, was as indeterminate and colorless
as his complexion. It would seem that all the color of his frame had
gone into his eyes, for they were startlingly blue. Also, they were
laughing and merry eyes, within them much of the naivete and wonder of
the child; and yet, in an unassertive way, they contained much of calm
self-reliance and strength of purpose founded upon self-experience and
experience of the world.
From out the screen of vines and creepers he flung ahead of him a
miner's pick and shovel and gold-pan. Then he crawled out himself into
the open. He was clad in faded overalls and black cotton shirt, with
hobnailed brogans on his feet, and on his head a hat whose shapelessness
and stains advertised the rough usage of wind and rain and sun and
camp-smoke. He stood erect, seeing wide-eyed the secrecy of the scene
and sensuously inhaling the warm, sweet breath of the canyon-garden
through nostrils that dilated and quivered with delight. His eyes
narrowed to laughing slits of blue, his face wreathed itself in joy, and
his mouth curled in a smile as he cried aloud:
"Jumping dandelions and happy hollyhocks, but that smells good to me!
Talk about your attar o' roses an' cologne factories! They ain't in it!"
He had the habit of soliloquy. His quick-changing facial expressions
might tell every thought and mood, but the tongue, perforce, ran hard
after, repeating, like a second Boswell.
The man lay down on the lip of the pool and drank long and deep of its
water. "Tastes good to me," he murmured, lifting his head and gazing
across the pool at the side-hill, while he wiped his mouth with the back
of his hand. The side-hill attracted his attention. Still lying on his
stomach, he studied the hill formation long and carefully. It was a
practised eye that traveled up the slope to the crumbling canyon-wall
and back and down again to the edge of the pool. He scrambled to his
feet and favored the side-hill with a second survey.
"Looks good to me," he concluded, picking up his pick and shovel and
He crossed the stream below the pool, stepping agilely from stone to
stone. Where the side-hill touched the water he dug up a shovelful of
dirt and put it into the gold-pan. He squatted down, holding the pan in
his two hands, and partly immersing it in the stream. Then he imparted
to the pan a deft circular motion that sent the water sluicing in and
out through the dirt and gravel. The larger and the lighter particles
worked to the surface, and these, by a skilful dipping movement of the
pan, he spilled out and over the edge. Occasionally, to expedite
matters, he rested the pan and with his fingers raked out the large
pebbles and pieces of rock.
The contents of the pan diminished rapidly until only fine dirt and the
smallest bits of gravel remained. At this stage he began to work very
deliberately and carefully. It was fine washing, and he washed fine and
finer, with a keen scrutiny and delicate and fastidious touch. At last
the pan seemed empty of everything but water; but with a quick
semi-circular flirt that sent the water flying over the shallow rim into
the stream, he disclosed a layer of black sand on the bottom of the pan.
So thin was this layer that it was like a streak of paint. He examined
it closely. In the midst of it was a tiny golden speck. He dribbled a
little water in over the depressed edge of the pan. With a quick flirt
he sent the water sluicing across the bottom, turning the grains of
black sand over and over. A second tiny golden speck rewarded his
The washing had now become very fine--fine beyond all need of ordinary
placer-mining. He worked the black sand, a small portion at a time, up
the shallow rim of the pan. Each small portion he examined sharply, so
that his eyes saw every grain of it before he allowed it to slide over
the edge and away. Jealously, bit by bit, he let the black sand slip
away. A golden speck, no larger than a pin-point, appeared on the rim,
and by his manipulation of the water it returned to the bottom of the
pan. And in such fashion another speck was disclosed, and another. Great
was his care of them. Like a shepherd he herded his flock of golden
specks so that not one should be lost. At last, of the pan of dirt
nothing remained but his golden herd. He counted it, and then, after all
his labor, sent it flying out of the pan with one final swirl of water.
But his blue eyes were shining with desire as he rose to his feet.
"Seven," he muttered aloud, asserting the sum of the specks for which he
had toiled so hard and which he had so wantonly thrown away. "Seven," he
repeated, with the emphasis of one trying to impress a number on his
He stood still a long while, surveying the hillside. In his eyes was a
curiosity, new-aroused and burning. There was an exultance about his
bearing and a keenness like that of a hunting animal catching the fresh
scent of game.
He moved down the stream a few steps and took a second panful of dirt.
Again came the careful washing, the jealous herding of the golden
specks, and the wantonness with which he sent them flying into the
"Five," he muttered, and repeated, "five."
He could not forbear another survey of the hill before filling the pan
farther down the stream. His golden herds diminished. "Four, three, two,
two, one," were his memory tabulations as he moved down the stream. When
but one speck of gold rewarded his washing, he stopped and built a fire
of dry twigs. Into this he thrust the gold-pan and burned it till it was
blue-black. He held up the pan and examined it critically. Then he
nodded approbation. Against such a color-background he could defy the
tiniest yellow speck to elude him.
Still moving down the stream, he panned again. A single speck was his
reward. A third pan contained no gold at all. Not satisfied with this,
he panned three times again, taking his shovels of dirt within a foot of
one another. Each pan proved empty of gold, and the fact, instead of
discouraging him, seemed to give him satisfaction. His elation increased
with each barren washing, until he arose, exclaiming jubilantly:
"If it ain't the real thing, may God knock off my head with sour
Returning to where he had started operations, he began to pan up the
stream. At first his golden herds increased--increased prodigiously.
"Fourteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-six," ran his memory
tabulations. Just above the pool he struck his richest pan--thirty-five
"Almost enough to save," he remarked regretfully as he allowed the water
to sweep them away.
The sun climbed to the top of the sky. The man worked on. Pan by pan, he
went up the stream, the tally of results steadily decreasing.
"It's just booful, the way it peters out," he exulted when a shovelful
of dirt contained no more than a single speck of gold. And when no
specks at all were found in several pans, he straightened up and favored
the hillside with a confident glance.
"Ah, ha! Mr. Pocket!" he cried out, as though to an auditor hidden
somewhere above him beneath the surface of the slope. "Ah, ha! Mr.
Pocket! I'm a-comin', I'm a-comin', an' I'm shorely gwine to get yer!
You heah me, Mr. Pocket? I'm gwine to get yer as shore as punkins ain't
He turned and flung a measuring glance at the sun poised above him in
the azure of the cloudless sky. Then he went down the canyon, following
the line of shovel-holes he had made in filling the pans. He crossed the
stream below the pool and disappeared through the green screen. There
was little opportunity for the spirit of the place to return with its
quietude and repose, for the man's voice, raised in ragtime song, still
dominated the canyon with possession.
After a time, with a greater clashing of steel-shod feet on rock, he
returned. The green screen was tremendously agitated. It surged back and
forth in the throes of a struggle. There was a loud grating and clanging
of metal. The man's voice leaped to a higher pitch and was sharp with
imperativeness. A large body plunged and panted. There was a snapping
and ripping and rending, and amid a shower of falling leaves a horse
burst through the screen. On its back was a pack, and from this trailed
broken vines and torn creepers. The animal gazed with astonished eyes at
the scene into which it had been precipitated, then dropped its head to
the grass and began contentedly to graze. A second horse scrambled into
view, slipping once on the mossy rocks and regaining equilibrium when
its hoofs sank into the yielding surface of the meadow. It was
riderless, though on its back was a high-horned Mexican saddle, scarred
and discolored by long usage.
The man brought up the rear. He threw off pack and saddle, with an eye
to camp location, and gave the animals their freedom to graze. He
unpacked his food and got out frying-pan and coffee-pot. He gathered an
armful of dry wood, and with a few stones made a place for his fire.
"My!" he said, "but I've got an appetite. I could scoff iron-filings an'
horseshoe nails an' thank you kindly, ma'am, for a second helpin'."
He straightened up, and, while he reached for matches in the pocket of
his overalls, his eyes traveled across the pool to the side-hill. His
fingers had clutched the match-box, but they relaxed their hold and the
hand came out empty. The man wavered perceptibly. He looked at his
preparations for cooking and he looked at the hill.
"Guess I'll take another whack at her," he concluded, starting to cross
"They ain't no sense in it, I know," he mumbled apologetically. "But
keepin' grub back an hour ain't go in' to hurt none, I reckon."
A few feet back from his first line of test-pans he started a second
line. The sun dropped down the western sky, the shadows lengthened, but
the man worked on. He began a third line of test-pans. He was
cross-cutting the hillside, line by line, as he ascended. The center of
each line produced the richest pans, while the ends came where no colors
showed in the pan. And as he ascended the hillside the lines grew
perceptibly shorter. The regularity with which their length diminished
served to indicate that somewhere up the slope the last line would be so
short as to have scarcely length at all, and that beyond could come
only a point. The design was growing into an inverted "V." The
converging sides of this "V" marked the boundaries of the gold-bearing
The apex of the "V" was evidently the man's goal. Often he ran his eye
along the converging sides and on up the hill, trying to divine the
apex, the point where the gold-bearing dirt must cease. Here resided
"Mr. Pocket"--for so the man familiarly addressed the imaginary point
above him on the slope, crying out:
"Come down out o' that, Mr. Pocket! Be right smart an' agreeable, an'
"All right," he would add later, in a voice resigned to determination.
"All right, Mr. Pocket. It's plain to me I got to come right up an'
snatch you out bald-headed. An' I'll do it! I'll do it!" he would
threaten still later.
Each pan he carried down to the water to wash, and as he went higher up
the hill the pans grew richer, until he began to save the gold in an
empty baking powder can which he carried carelessly in his hip-pocket.
So engrossed was he in his toil that he did not notice the long twilight
of oncoming night. It was not until he tried vainly to see the gold
colors in the bottom of the pan that he realized the passage of time.
He straightened up abruptly. An expression of whimsical wonderment and
awe overspread his face as he drawled:
"Gosh darn my buttons! if I didn't plumb forget dinner!"
He stumbled across the stream in the darkness and lighted his
long-delayed fire. Flapjacks and bacon and warmed-over beans constituted
his supper. Then he smoked a pipe by the smouldering coals, listening to
the night noises and watching the moonlight stream through the canyon.
After that he unrolled his bed, took off his heavy shoes, and pulled the
blankets up to his chin. His face showed white in the moonlight, like
the face of a corpse. But it was a corpse that knew its resurrection,
for the man rose suddenly on one elbow and gazed across at his hillside.
"Good night, Mr. Pocket," he called sleepily. "Goodnight."
He slept through the early gray of morning until the direct rays of the
sun smote his closed eyelids, when he awoke with a start and looked
about him until he had established the continuity of his existence and
identified his present self with the days previously lived.
To dress, he had merely to buckle on his shoes. He glanced at his
fireplace and at his hillside, wavered, but fought down the temptation
and started the fire.
"Keep yer shirt on, Bill; keep yer shirt on," he admonished himself.
"What's the good of rushin'? No use in gettin' all het up an' sweaty.
Mr. Pocket'll wait for you. He ain't a-runnin' away before you can get
your breakfast. Now, what you want, Bill, is something fresh in yer bill
o' fare. So it's up to you to go an' get it."
He cut a short pole at the water's edge and drew from one of his pockets
a bit of line and a draggled fly that had once been a royal coachman.
"Mebbe they'll bite in the early morning," he muttered, as he made his
first cast into the pool. And a moment later he was gleefully crying:
"What'd I tell you, eh? What'd I tell you?"
He had no reel, nor any inclination to waste time, and by main strength,
and swiftly, he drew out of the water a flashing ten-inch trout. Three
more, caught in rapid succession, furnished his breakfast. When he came
to the stepping-stones on his way to his hillside, he was struck by a
sudden thought, and paused.
"I'd just better take a hike down-stream a ways," he said. "There's no
tellin' who may be snoopin' around."
But he crossed over on the stones, and with a "I really oughter take
that hike," the need of the precaution passed out of his mind and he
fell to work.
At nightfall he straightened up. The small of his back was stiff from
stooping toil, and as he put his hand behind him to soothe the
protesting muscles, he said:
"Now what d'ye think of that? I clean forgot my dinner again! If I don't
watch out, I'll sure be degeneratin' into a two-meal-a-day crank."
"Pockets is the hangedest things I ever see for makin' a man
absent-minded," he communed that night, as he crawled into his blankets.
Nor did he forget to call up the hillside, "Good night, Mr. Pocket! Good
Rising with the sun, and snatching a hasty breakfast, he was early at
work. A fever seemed to be growing in him, nor did the increasing
richness of the test-pans allay this fever. There was a flush in his
cheek other than that made by the heat of the sun, and he was oblivious