Part 2 out of 7
At Selkirk, the old team of dogs, fresh and in condition, were
harnessed, and the same day saw Daylight plodding on, alternating
places at the gee-pole, as a matter of course, with the Le Barge
Indian who had volunteered on the way out. Daylight was two days
behind his schedule, and falling snow and unpacked trail kept him
two days behind all the way to Forty Mile. And here the weather
favored. It was time for a big cold snap, and he gambled on it,
cutting down the weight of grub for dogs and men. The men of
Forty Mile shook their heads ominously, and demanded to know what
he would do if the snow still fell.
"That cold snap's sure got to come," he laughed, and mushed out
on the trail.
A number of sleds had passed back and forth already that winter
between Forty Mile and Circle City, and the trail was well
packed. And the cold snap came and remained, and Circle City was
only two hundred miles away. The Le Barge Indian was a young
man, unlearned yet in his own limitations, and filled with pride.
He took Daylight's pace with joy, and even dreamed, at first,
that he would play the white man out. The first hundred miles he
looked for signs of weakening, and marveled that he saw them not.
Throughout the second hundred miles he observed signs in himself,
and gritted his teeth and kept up. And ever Daylight flew on
and on, running at the gee-pole or resting his spell on top the
flying sled. The last day, clearer and colder than ever, gave
perfect going, and they covered seventy miles. It was ten at
night when they pulled up the earth-bank and flew along the main
street of Circle City; and the young Indian, though it was his
spell to ride, leaped off and ran behind the sled. It was
honorable braggadocio, and despite the fact that he had found his
limitations and was pressing desperately against them, he ran
A crowd filled the Tivoli--the old crowd that had seen Daylight
depart two months before; for this was the night of the sixtieth
day, and opinion was divided as ever as to whether or not he
would compass the achievement. At ten o'clock bets were still
being made, though the odds rose, bet by bet, against his
success. Down in her heart the Virgin believed he had failed,
yet she made a bet of twenty ounces with Charley Bates, against
forty ounces, that Daylight would arrive before midnight.
She it was who heard the first yelps of the dogs.
"Listen!" she cried. "It's Daylight!"
There was a general stampede for the door; but where the double
storm-doors were thrown wide open, the crowd fell back. They
heard the eager whining of dogs, the snap of a dog-whip, and the
voice of Daylight crying encouragement as the weary animals
capped all they had done by dragging the sled in over the wooden
floor. They came in with a rush, and with them rushed in the
frost, a visible vapor of smoking white, through which their
heads and backs showed, as they strained in the harness, till
they had all the seeming of swimming in a river. Behind them, at
the gee-pole, came Daylight, hidden to the knees by the swirling
frost through which he appeared to wade.
He was the same old Daylight, withal lean and tired-looking, and
his black eyes were sparkling and flashing brighter than ever.
His parka of cotton drill hooded him like a monk, and fell in
straight lines to his knees. Grimed and scorched by camp-smoke
and fire, the garment in itself told the story of his trip. A
two-months' beard covered his face; and the beard, in turn, was
matted with the ice of his breathing through the long
His entry was spectacular, melodramatic; and he knew it. It was
his life, and he was living it at the top of his bent. Among his
fellows he was a great man, an Arctic hero. He was proud of the
fact, and it was a high moment for him, fresh from two thousand
miles of trail, to come surging into that bar-room, dogs, sled,
mail, Indian, paraphernalia, and all. He had performed one more
exploit that would make the Yukon ring with his name--he, Burning
Daylight, the king of travelers and dog-mushers.
He experienced a thrill of surprise as the roar of welcome went
up and as every familiar detail of the Tivoli greeted his
vision--the long bar and the array of bottles, the gambling
the big stove, the weigher at the gold-scales, the musicians, the
men and women, the Virgin, Celia, and Nellie, Dan MacDonald,
Bettles, Billy Rawlins, Olaf Henderson, Doc Watson,--all of them.
It was just as he had left it, and in all seeming it might well
the very day he had left. The sixty days of incessant travel
through the white wilderness suddenly telescoped, and had no
existence in time. They were a moment, an incident. He had
plunged out and into them through the wall of silence, and back
through the wall of silence he had plunged, apparently the next
instant, and into the roar and turmoil of the Tivoli.
A glance down at the sled with its canvas mail-bags was necessary
to reassure him of the reality of those sixty days and the two
thousand miles over the ice. As in a dream, he shook the hands
that were thrust out to him. He felt a vast exaltation. Life
was magnificent. He loved it all. A great sense of humanness
and comradeship swept over him. These were all his, his own
kind. It was immense, tremendous. He felt melting in the heart
of him, and he would have liked to shake hands with them all at
once, to gather them to his breast in one mighty embrace.
He drew a deep breath and cried: "The winner pays, and I'm the
winner, ain't I? Surge up, you-all Malemutes and Siwashes, and
name your poison! There's your Dyea mail, straight from Salt
Water, and no hornswogglin about it! Cast the lashings adrift,
you-all, and wade into it!"
A dozen pairs of hands were at the sled-lashings, when the young
Le Barge Indian, bending at the same task, suddenly and limply
straightened up. In his eyes was a great surprise. He stared
about him wildly, for the thing he was undergoing was new to him.
He was profoundly struck by an unguessed limitation. He shook as
with a palsy, and he gave at the knees, slowly sinking down to
fall suddenly across the sled and to know the smashing blow of
darkness across his consciousness.
"Exhaustion," said Daylight. "Take him off and put him to bed,
some of you-all. He's sure a good Indian."
"Daylight's right," was Doc Watson's verdict, a moment later.
"The man's plumb tuckered out."
The mail was taken charge of, the dogs driven away to quarters
and fed, and Bettles struck up the paean of the sassafras root as
they lined up against the long bar to drink and talk and collect
A few minutes later, Daylight was whirling around the
dance-floor, waltzing with the Virgin. He had replaced his parka
with his fur cap and blanket-cloth coat, kicked off his frozen
moccasins, and was dancing in his stocking feet. After wetting
himself to the knees late that afternoon, he had run on without
changing his foot-gear, and to the knees his long German socks
were matted with ice. In the warmth of the room it began to thaw
and to break apart in clinging chunks. These chunks rattled
together as his legs flew around, and every little while they
fell clattering to the floor and were slipped upon by the other
dancers. But everybody forgave Daylight. He, who was one of the
few that made the Law in that far land, who set the ethical pace,
and by conduct gave the standard of right and wrong, was
nevertheless above the Law. He was one of those rare and favored
mortals who can do no wrong. What he did had to be right,
whether others were permitted or not to do the same things. Of
course, such mortals are so favored by virtue of the fact that
they almost always do the right and do it in finer and higher
ways than other men. So Daylight, an elder hero in that young
land and at the same time younger than most of them, moved as a
creature apart, as a man above men, as a man who was greatly man
and all man. And small wonder it was that the Virgin yielded
herself to his arms, as they danced dance after dance, and was
sick at heart at the knowledge that he found nothing in her more
than a good friend and an excellent dancer. Small consolation it
was to know that he had never loved any woman. She was sick with
love of him, and he danced with her as he would dance with any
woman, as he would dance with a man who was a good dancer and
upon whose arm was tied a handkerchief to conventionalize him
into a woman.
One such man Daylight danced with that night. Among frontiersmen
it has always been a test of endurance for one man to whirl
another down; and when Ben Davis, the faro-dealer, a gaudy
bandanna on his arm, got Daylight in a Virginia reel, the fun
began. The reel broke up and all fell back to watch. Around and
around the two men whirled, always in the one direction. Word
was passed on into the big bar-room, and bar and gambling tables
were deserted. Everybody wanted to see, and they packed and
jammed the dance-room. The musicians played on and on, and on
and on the two men whirled. Davis was skilled at the trick, and
on the Yukon he had put many a strong man on his back. But after
a few minutes it was clear that he, and not Daylight, was going.
For a while longer they spun around, and then Daylight suddenly
stood still, released his partner, and stepped back, reeling
himself, and fluttering his hands aimlessly, as if to support
himself against the air. But Davis, a giddy smile of
consternation on his face, gave sideways, turned in an attempt to
recover balance, and pitched headlong to the floor. Still
reeling and staggering and clutching at the air with his hands,
Daylight caught the nearest girl and started on in a waltz.
Again he had done the big thing. Weary from two thousand miles
over the ice and a run that day of seventy miles, he had whirled
a fresh man down, and that man Ben Davis.
Daylight loved the high places, and though few high places there
were in his narrow experience, he had made a point of sitting in
the highest he had ever glimpsed. The great world had never
heard his name, but it was known far and wide in the vast silent
North, by whites and Indians and Eskimos, from Bering Sea to the
Passes, from the head reaches of remotest rivers to the tundra
shore of Point Barrow. Desire for mastery was strong in him, and
it was all one whether wrestling with the elements themselves,
with men, or with luck in a gambling game. It was all a game,
life and its affairs. And he was a gambler to the core. Risk
and chance were meat and drink. True, it was not altogether
blind, for he applied wit and skill and strength; but behind it
all was the everlasting Luck, the thing that at times turned on
its votaries and crushed the wise while it blessed the
fools--Luck, the thing all men sought and dreamed to conquer.
so he. Deep in his life-processes Life itself sang the siren
song of its own majesty, ever a-whisper and urgent, counseling
him that he could achieve more than other men, win out where they
failed, ride to success where they perished. It was the urge of
Life healthy and strong, unaware of frailty and decay, drunken
with sublime complacence, ego-mad, enchanted by its own mighty
And ever in vaguest whisperings and clearest trumpet-calls came
the message that sometime, somewhere, somehow, he would run Luck
down, make himself the master of Luck, and tie it and brand it as
his own. When he played poker, the whisper was of four aces and
royal flushes. When he prospected, it was of gold in the
grass-roots, gold on bed-rock, and gold all the way down. At
the sharpest hazards of trail and river and famine, the message
was that other men might die, but that he would pull through
triumphant. It was the old, old lie of Life fooling itself,
believing itself--immortal and indestructible, bound to achieve
over other lives and win to its heart's desire.
And so, reversing at times, Daylight waltzed off his dizziness
and led the way to the bar. But a united protest went up. His
theory that the winner paid was no longer to be tolerated. It
was contrary to custom and common sense, and while it emphasized
good-fellowship, nevertheless, in the name of good-fellowship it
must cease. The drinks were rightfully on Ben Davis, and Ben
Davis must buy them. Furthermore, all drinks and general treats
that Daylight was guilty of ought to be paid by the house, for
Daylight brought much custom to it whenever he made a night.
Bettles was the spokesman, and his argument, tersely and
offensively vernacular, was unanimously applauded.
Daylight grinned, stepped aside to the roulette-table, and bought
a stack of yellow chips. At the end of ten minutes he weighed in
at the scales, and two thousand dollars in gold-dust was poured
into his own and an extra sack. Luck, a mere flutter of luck,
but it was his. Elation was added to elation. He was living,
and the night was his. He turned upon his well-wishing critics.
"Now the winner sure does pay," he said.
And they surrendered. There was no withstanding Daylight when he
vaulted on the back of life, and rode it bitted and spurred.
At one in the morning he saw Elijah Davis herding Henry Finn and
Joe Hines, the lumber-jack, toward the door. Daylight
"Where are you-all going?" he demanded, attempting to draw them
to the bar.
"Bed," Elijah Davis answered.
He was a lean tobacco-chewing New Englander, the one daring
spirit in his family that had heard and answered the call of the
West shouting through the Mount Desert back odd-lots. "Got to,"
Joe Hines added apologetically. "We're mushing out in the
Daylight still detained them. "Where to? What's the
"No excitement," Elijah explained. "We're just a-goin' to play
your hunch, an' tackle the Upper Country. Don't you want to come
"I sure do," Daylight affirmed.
But the question had been put in fun, and Elijah ignored the
"We're tacklin' the Stewart," he went on. "Al Mayo told me he
seen some likely lookin' bars first time he come down the
Stewart, and we're goin' to sample 'em while the river's froze.
You listen, Daylight, an' mark my words, the time's comin' when
winter diggin's'll be all the go. There'll be men in them days
that'll laugh at our summer stratchin' an' ground-wallerin'."
At that time, winter mining was undreamed of on the Yukon. From
the moss and grass the land was frozen to bed-rock, and frozen
gravel, hard as granite, defied pick and shovel. In the summer
the men stripped the earth down as fast as the sun thawed it.
Then was the time they did their mining. During the winter they
freighted their provisions, went moose-hunting, got all ready for
the summer's work, and then loafed the bleak, dark months through
in the big central camps such as Circle City and Forty Mile.
"Winter diggin's sure comin'," Daylight agreed. "Wait till that
big strike is made up river. Then you-all'll see a new kind of
mining. What's to prevent wood-burning and sinking shafts and
drifting along bed-rock? Won't need to timber. That frozen muck
and gravel'll stand till hell is froze and its mill-tails is
turned to ice-cream. Why, they'll be working pay-streaks a
hundred feet deep in them days that's comin'. I'm sure going
along with you-all, Elijah."
Elijah laughed, gathered his two partners up, and was making a
second attempt to reach the door
"Hold on," Daylight called. "I sure mean it."
The three men turned back suddenly upon him, in their faces
surprise, delight, and incredulity.
"G'wan, you're foolin'," said Finn, the other lumberjack, a
quiet, steady, Wisconsin man.
"There's my dawgs and sled," Daylight answered. "That'll make
teams and halve the loads--though we-all'll have to travel easy
a spell, for them dawgs is sure tired."
The three men were overjoyed, but still a trifle incredulous.
"Now look here," Joe Hines blurted out, "none of your foolin,
Daylight. We mean business. Will you come?"
Daylight extended his hand and shook.
"Then you'd best be gettin' to bed," Elijah advised. "We're
out at six, and four hours' sleep is none so long."
"Mebbe we ought to lay over a day and let him rest up," Finn
Daylight's pride was touched.
"No you don't," he cried. "We all start at six. What time do
you-all want to be called? Five? All right, I'll rouse you-all
"You oughter have some sleep," Elijah counselled gravely. "You
can't go on forever."
Daylight was tired, profoundly tired. Even his iron body
acknowledged weariness. Every muscle was clamoring for bed and
rest, was appalled at continuance of exertion and at thought of
the trail again. All this physical protest welled up into his
brain in a wave of revolt. But deeper down, scornful and
defiant, was Life itself, the essential fire of it, whispering
that all Daylight's fellows were looking on, that now was the
time to pile deed upon deed, to flaunt his strength in the face
of strength. It was merely Life, whispering its ancient lies.
And in league with it was whiskey, with all its consummate
effrontery and vain-glory.
"Mebbe you-all think I ain't weaned yet?" Daylight demanded.
"Why, I ain't had a drink, or a dance, or seen a soul in two
months. You-all get to bed. I'll call you-all at five."
And for the rest of the night he danced on in his stocking feet,
and at five in the morning, rapping thunderously on the door of
his new partners' cabin, he could be heard singing the song that
had given him his name:--
"Burning daylight, you-all Stewart River hunchers! Burning
daylight! Burning daylight! Burning daylight!"
This time the trail was easier. It was better packed, and they
were not carrying mail against time. The day's run was shorter,
and likewise the hours on trail. On his mail run Daylight had
played out three Indians; but his present partners knew that they
must not be played out when they arrived at the Stewart bars, so
they set the slower pace. And under this milder toil, where his
companions nevertheless grew weary, Daylight recuperated and
rested up. At Forty Mile they laid over two days for the sake of
the dogs, and at Sixty Mile Daylight's team was left with the
trader. Unlike Daylight, after the terrible run from Selkirk to
Circle City, they had been unable to recuperate on the back
trail. So the four men pulled on from Sixty Mile with a fresh
team of dogs on Daylight's sled.
The following night they camped in the cluster of islands at the
mouth of the Stewart. Daylight talked town sites, and, though
the others laughed at him, he staked the whole maze of high,
"Just supposing the big strike does come on the Stewart," he
argued. "Mebbe you-all'll be in on it, and then again mebbe
you-all won't. But I sure will. You-all'd better reconsider
and go in with me on it."
But they were stubborn.
"You're as bad as Harper and Joe Ladue," said Joe Hines.
"They're always at that game. You know that big flat jest below
the Klondike and under Moosehide Mountain? Well, the recorder at
Forty Mile was tellin' me they staked that not a month ago--The
Harper & Ladue Town Site. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Elijah and Finn joined him in his laughter; but Daylight was
gravely in earnest.
"There she is!" he cried. "The hunch is working! It's in the
air, I tell you-all! What'd they-all stake the big flat for if
they-all didn't get the hunch? Wish I'd staked it."
The regret in his voice was provocative of a second burst of
"Laugh, you-all, laugh! That's what's the trouble with you-all.
You-all think gold-hunting is the only way to make a stake. But
let me tell you-all that when the big strike sure does come,
you-all'll do a little surface-scratchin' and muck-raking, but
danged little you-all'll have to show for it. You-all laugh at
quicksilver in the riffles and think flour gold was manufactured
by God Almighty for the express purpose of fooling suckers and
chechaquos. Nothing but coarse gold for you-all, that's your
way, not getting half of it out of the ground and losing into the
tailings half of what you-all do get.
"But the men that land big will be them that stake the town
sites, organize the tradin' companies, start the banks--"
Here the explosion of mirth drowned him out. Banks in Alaska!
The idea of it was excruciating.
"Yep, and start the stock exchanges-"
Again they were convulsed. Joe Hines rolled over on his
sleeping-robe, holding his sides.
"And after them will come the big mining sharks that buy whole
creeks where you-all have been scratching like a lot of picayune
hens, and they-all will go to hydraulicking in summer and
steam-thawing in winter--"
Steam-thawing! That was the limit. Daylight was certainly
exceeding himself in his consummate fun-making.
Steam-thawing--when even wood-burning was an untried experiment,
a dream in the air!
"Laugh, dang you, laugh! Why your eyes ain't open yet. You-all
are a bunch of little mewing kittens. I tell you-all if that
strike comes on Klondike, Harper and Ladue will be millionaires.
And if it comes on Stewart, you-all watch the Elam Harnish town
site boom. In them days, when you-all come around makin' poor
mouths..." He heaved a sigh of resignation. "Well, I
suppose I'll have to give you-all a grub-stake or soup, or
something or other."
Daylight had vision. His scope had been rigidly limited, yet
whatever he saw, he saw big. His mind was orderly, his
imagination practical, and he never dreamed idly. When he
superimposed a feverish metropolis on a waste of timbered,
snow-covered flat, he predicated first the gold-strike that made
the city possible, and next he had an eye for steamboat landings,
sawmill and warehouse locations, and all the needs of a
far-northern mining city. But this, in turn, was the mere
setting for something bigger, namely, the play of temperament.
Opportunities swarmed in the streets and buildings and human and
economic relations of the city of his dream. It was a larger
table for gambling. The limit was the sky, with the Southland on
one side and the aurora borealis on the other. The play would be
big, bigger than any Yukoner had ever imagined, and he, Burning
Daylight, would see that he got in on that play.
In the meantime there was naught to show for it but the hunch.
But it was coming. As he would stake his last ounce on a good
poker hand, so he staked his life and effort on the hunch that
the future held in store a big strike on the Upper River. So he
and his three companions, with dogs, and sleds, and snowshoes,
toiled up the frozen breast of the Stewart, toiled on and on
through the white wilderness where the unending stillness was
never broken by the voices of men, the stroke of an ax, or the
distant crack of a rifle. They alone moved through the vast and
frozen quiet, little mites of earth-men, crawling their score of
miles a day, melting the ice that they might have water to drink,
camping in the snow at night, their wolf-dogs curled in
frost-rimed, hairy bunches, their eight snowshoes stuck on end in
the snow beside the sleds.
No signs of other men did they see, though once they passed a
rude poling-boat, cached on a platform by the river bank.
Whoever had cached it had never come back for it; and they
wondered and mushed on. Another time they chanced upon the site
of an Indian village, but the Indians had disappeared;
undoubtedly they were on the higher reaches of the Stewart in
pursuit of the moose-herds. Two hundred miles up from the Yukon,
they came upon what Elijah decided were the bars mentioned by Al
Mayo. A permanent camp was made, their outfit of food cached on
a high platform to keep it from the dogs, and they started work
on the bars, cutting their way down to gravel through the rim of
It was a hard and simple life. Breakfast over, and they were at
work by the first gray light; and when night descended, they did
their cooking and camp-chores, smoked and yarned for a while,
then rolled up in their sleeping-robes, and slept while the
aurora borealis flamed overhead and the stars leaped and danced
in the great cold. Their fare was monotonous: sour-dough bread,
bacon, beans, and an occasional dish of rice cooked along with a
handful of prunes. Fresh meat they failed to obtain. There was
an unwonted absence of animal life. At rare intervals they
chanced upon the trail of a snowshoe rabbit or an ermine; but in
the main it seemed that all life had fled the land. It was a
condition not unknown to them, for in all their experience, at
one time or another, they had travelled one year through a region
teeming with game, where, a year or two or three years later, no
game at all would be found.
Gold they found on the bars, but not in paying quantities.
Elijah, while on a hunt for moose fifty miles away, had panned
the surface gravel of a large creek and found good colors. They
harnessed their dogs, and with light outfits sledded to the
place. Here, and possibly for the first time in the history of
the Yukon, wood-burning, in sinking a shaft, was tried. It was
Daylight's initiative. After clearing away the moss and grass, a
fire of dry spruce was built. Six hours of burning thawed eight
inches of muck. Their picks drove full depth into it, and, when
they had shoveled out, another fire was started. They worked
early and late, excited over the success of the experiment. Six
feet of frozen muck brought them to gravel, likewise frozen.
Here progress was slower. But they learned to handle their fires
better, and were soon able to thaw five and six inches at a
burning. Flour gold was in this gravel, and after two feet it
gave away again to muck. At seventeen feet they struck a thin
streak of gravel, and in it coarse gold, testpans running as high
as six and eight dollars. Unfortunately, this streak of gravel
was not more than an inch thick. Beneath it was more muck,
tangled with the trunks of ancient trees and containing fossil
bones of forgotten monsters. But gold they had found--coarse
gold; and what more likely than that the big deposit would be
found on bed-rock? Down to bed-rock they would go, if it were
forty feet away. They divided into two shifts, working day and
night, on two shafts, and the smoke of their burning rose
It was at this time that they ran short of beans and that Elijah
was despatched to the main camp to bring up more grub. Elijah
was one of the hard-bitten old-time travelers himself. The round
trip was a hundred miles, but he promised to be back on the third
day, one day going light, two days returning heavy. Instead, he
arrived on the night of the second day. They had just gone to
bed when they heard him coming.
"What in hell's the matter now?" Henry Finn demanded, as the
empty sled came into the circle of firelight and as he noted that
Elijah's long, serious face was longer and even more serious.
Joe Hines threw wood on the fire, and the three men, wrapped in
their robes, huddled up close to the warmth. Elijah's whiskered
face was matted with ice, as were his eyebrows, so that, what of
his fur garb, he looked like a New England caricature of Father
"You recollect that big spruce that held up the corner of the
cache next to the river?" Elijah began.
The disaster was quickly told. The big tree, with all the
seeming of hardihood, promising to stand for centuries to come,
had suffered from a hidden decay. In some way its rooted grip on
the earth had weakened. The added burden of the cache and the
winter snow had been too much for it; the balance it had so long
maintained with the forces of its environment had been
overthrown; it had toppled and crashed to the ground, wrecking
the cache and, in turn, overthrowing the balance with environment
that the four men and eleven dogs had been maintaining. Their
supply of grub was gone. The wolverines had got into the wrecked
cache, and what they had not eaten they had destroyed.
"They plumb e't all the bacon and prunes and sugar and dog-food,"
Elijah reported, "and gosh darn my buttons, if they didn't gnaw
open the sacks and scatter the flour and beans and rice from Dan
to Beersheba. I found empty sacks where they'd dragged them a
quarter of a mile away."
Nobody spoke for a long minute. It was nothing less than a
catastrophe, in the dead of an Arctic winter and in a
game-abandoned land, to lose their grub. They were not
panic-stricken, but they were busy looking the situation squarely
in the face and considering. Joe Hines was the first to speak.
"We can pan the snow for the beans and rice... though there
more'n eight or ten pounds of rice left."
"And somebody will have to take a team and pull for Sixty Mile,"
Daylight said next.
"I'll go," said Finn.
They considered a while longer.
"But how are we going to feed the other team and three men till
he gets back?" Hines demanded.
"Only one thing to it," was Elijah's contribution. "You'll have
to take the other team, Joe, and pull up the Stewart till you
find them Indians. Then you come back with a load of meat.
You'll get here long before Henry can make it from Sixty Mile,
and while you're gone there'll only be Daylight and me to feed,
and we'll feed good and small."
"And in the morning we-all'll pull for the cache and pan snow to
find what grub we've got." Daylight lay back, as he spoke, and
rolled in his robe to sleep, then added: "Better turn in for an
early start. Two of you can take the dogs down. Elijah and
me'll skin out on both sides and see if we-all can scare up a
moose on the way down."
No time was lost. Hines and Finn, with the dogs, already on
short rations, were two days in pulling down. At noon of the
third day Elijah arrived, reporting no moose sign. That night
Daylight came in with a similar report. As fast as they arrived,
the men had started careful panning of the snow all around the
cache. It was a large task, for they found stray beans fully a
hundred yards from the cache. One more day all the men toiled.
The result was pitiful, and the four showed their caliber in the
division of the few pounds of food that had been recovered.
Little as it was, the lion's share was left with Daylight and
Elijah. The men who pulled on with the dogs, one up the Stewart
and one down, would come more quickly to grub. The two who
remained would have to last out till the others returned.
Furthermore, while the dogs, on several ounces each of beans a
day, would travel slowly, nevertheless, the men who travelled
with them, on a pinch, would have the dogs themselves to eat.
But the men who remained, when the pinch came, would have no
dogs. It was for this reason that Daylight and Elijah took the
more desperate chance. They could not do less, nor did they care
to do less. The days passed, and the winter began merging
imperceptibly into the Northland spring that comes like a
thunderbolt of suddenness. It was the spring of 1896 that was
preparing. Each day the sun rose farther east of south, remained
longer in the sky, and set farther to the west. March ended and
April began, and Daylight and Elijah, lean and hungry, wondered
what had become of their two comrades. Granting every delay, and
throwing in generous margins for good measure, the time was long
since passed when they should have returned. Without doubt they
had met with disaster. The party had considered the possibility
of disaster for one man, and that had been the principal reason
for despatching the two in different directions. But that
disaster should have come to both of them was the final blow.
In the meantime, hoping against hope, Daylight and Elija eked out
a meagre existence. The thaw had not yet begun, so they were
able to gather the snow about the ruined cache and melt it in
pots and pails and gold pans. Allowed to stand for a while, when
poured off, a thin deposit of slime was found on the bottoms of
the vessels. This was the flour, the infinitesimal trace of it
scattered through thousands of cubic yards of snow. Also, in
this slime occurred at intervals a water-soaked tea-leaf or
coffee-ground, and there were in it fragments of earth and
litter. But the farther they worked away from the site of the
cache, the thinner became the trace of flour, the smaller the
deposit of slime.
Elijah was the older man, and he weakened first, so that he came
to lie up most of the time in his furs. An occasional tree-
squirrel kept them alive. The hunting fell upon Daylight, and it
was hard work. With but thirty rounds of ammunition, he dared
not risk a miss; and, since his rifle was a 45-90, he was
compelled to shoot the small creatures through the head. There
were very few of them, and days went by without seeing one. When
he did see one, he took infinite precautions. He would stalk it
for hours. A score of times, with arms that shook from weakness,
he would draw a sight on the animal and refrain from pulling the
trigger. His inhibition was a thing of iron. He was the master.
Not til absolute certitude was his did he shoot. No matter how
sharp the pangs of hunger and desire for that palpitating morsel
of chattering life, he refused to take the slightest risk of a
miss. He, born gambler, was gambling in the bigger way. His
life was the stake, his cards were the cartridges, and he played
as only a big gambler could play, with infinite precaution, with
infinite consideration. Each shot meant a squirrel, and though
days elapsed between shots, it never changed his method of play.
Of the squirrels, nothing was lost. Even the skins were boiled
to make broth, the bones pounded into fragments that could be
chewed and swallowed. Daylight prospected through the snow, and
found occasional patches of mossberries. At the best,
mossberries were composed practically of seeds and water, with a
tough rind of skin about them; but the berries he found were of
the preceding year, dry and shrivelled, and the nourishment they
contained verged on the minus quality. Scarcely better was the
bark of young saplings, stewed for an hour and swallowed after
April drew toward its close, and spring smote the land. The days
stretched out their length. Under the heat of the sun, the snow
began to melt, while from down under the snow arose the trickling
of tiny streams. For twenty-four hours the Chinook wind blew,
and in that twenty-four hours the snow was diminished fully a
foot in depth. In the late afternoons the melting snow froze
again, so that its surface became ice capable of supporting a
man's weight. Tiny white snow-birds appeared from the south,
lingered a day, and resumed their journey into the north. Once,
high in the air, looking for open water and ahead of the season,
a wedged squadron of wild geese honked northwards. And down by
the river bank a clump of dwarf willows burst into bud. These
young buds, stewed, seemed to posess an encouraging nutrition.
Elijah took heart of hope, though he was cast down again when
Daylight failed to find another clump of willows.
The sap was rising in the trees, and daily the trickle of unseen
streamlets became louder as the frozen land came back to life.
But the river held in its bonds of frost. Winter had been long
months in riveting them, and not in a day were they to be broken,
not even by the thunderbolt of spring. May came, and stray
last-year's mosquitoes, full-grown but harmless, crawled out of
rock crevices and rotten logs. Crickets began to chirp, and more
geese and ducks flew overhead. And still the river held. By May
tenth, the ice of the Stewart, with a great rending and snapping,
tore loose from the banks and rose three feet. But it did not go
down-stream. The lower Yukon, up to where the Stewart flowed
into it, must first break and move on. Until then the ice of the
Stewart could only rise higher and higher on the increasing flood
beneath. When the Yukon would break was problematical. Two
thousand miles away it flowed into Bering Sea, and it was the ice
conditions of Bering Sea that would determine when the Yukon
could rid itself of the millions of tons of ice that cluttered
On the twelfth of May, carrying their sleeping-robes, a pail, an
ax, and the precious rifle, the two men started down the river on
the ice. Their plan was to gain to the cached poling-boat they
had seen, so that at the first open water they could launch it
and drift with the stream to Sixty Mile. In their weak
condition, without food, the going was slow and difficult.
Elijah developed a habit of falling down and being unable to
rise. Daylight gave of his own strength to lift him to his feet,
whereupon the older man would stagger automatically on until he
stumbled and fell again.
On the day they should have reached the boat, Elijah collapsed
utterly. When Daylight raised him, he fell again. Daylight
essayed to walk with him, supporting him, but such was Daylight's
own weakness that they fell together.
Dragging Elijah to the bank, a rude camp was made, and Daylight
started out in search of squirrels. It was at this time that he
likewise developed the falling habit. In the evening he found
his first squirrel, but darkness came on without his getting a
certain shot. With primitive patience he waited till next day,
and then, within the hour, the squirrel was his.
The major portion he fed to Elijah, reserving for himself the
tougher parts and the bones. But such is the chemistry of life,
that this small creature, this trifle of meat that moved, by
being eaten, transmuted to the meat of the men the same power to
move. No longer did the squirrel run up spruce trees, leap from
branch to branch, or cling chattering to giddy perches. Instead,
the same energy that had done these things flowed into the wasted
muscles and reeling wills of the men, making them move--nay,
moving them--till they tottered the several intervening miles to
the cached boat, underneath which they fell together and lay
motionless a long time.
Light as the task would have been for a strong man to lower the
small boat to the ground, it took Daylight hours. And many hours
more, day by day, he dragged himself around it, lying on his side
to calk the gaping seams with moss. Yet, when this was done, the
river still held. Its ice had risen many feet, but would not
start down-stream. And one more task waited, the launching of
the boat when the river ran water to receive it. Vainly Daylight
staggered and stumbled and fell and crept through the snow that
was wet with thaw, or across it when the night's frost still
crusted it beyond the weight of a man, searching for one more
squirrel, striving to achieve one more transmutation of furry
leap and scolding chatter into the lifts and tugs of a man's body
that would hoist the boat over the rim of shore-ice and slide it
down into the stream.
Not till the twentieth of May did the river break. The
down-stream movement began at five in the morning, and already
were the days so long that Daylight sat up and watched the
ice-run. Elijah was too far gone to be interested in the
spectacle. Though vaguely conscious, he lay without movement
while the ice tore by, great cakes of it caroming against the
bank, uprooting trees, and gouging out earth by hundreds of tons.
All about them the land shook and reeled from the shock of these
tremendous collisions. At the end of an hour the run stopped.
Somewhere below it was blocked by a jam. Then the river began to
rise, lifting the ice on its breast till it was higher than the
bank. From behind ever more water bore down, and ever more
millions of tons of ice added their weight to the congestion.
The pressures and stresses became terrific. Huge cakes of ice
were squeezed out till they popped into the air like melon seeds
squeezed from between the thumb and forefinger of a child, while
all along the banks a wall of ice was forced up. When the jam
broke, the noise of grinding and smashing redoubled. For another
hour the run continued. The river fell rapidly. But the wall of
ice on top the bank, and extending down into the falling water,
The tail of the ice-run passed, and for the first time in six
months Daylight saw open water. He knew that the ice had not yet
passed out from the upper reaches of the Stewart, that it lay in
packs and jams in those upper reaches, and that it might break
loose and come down in a second run any time; but the need was
too desperate for him to linger. Elijah was so far gone that he
might pass at any moment. As for himself, he was not sure that
enough strength remained in his wasted muscles to launch the
boat. It was all a gamble. If he waited for the second ice-run,
Elijah would surely die, and most probably himself. If he
succeeded in launching the boat, if he kept ahead of the second
ice-run, if he did not get caught by some of the runs from the
upper Yukon; if luck favored in all these essential particulars,
as well as in a score of minor ones, they would reach Sixty Mile
and be saved, if--and again the if--he had strength enough to
the boat at Sixty Mile and not go by.
He set to work. The wall of ice was five feet above the ground
on which the boat rested. First prospecting for the best
launching-place, he found where a huge cake of ice shelved upward
from the river that ran fifteen feet below to the top of the
wall. This was a score of feet away, and at the end of an hour
he had managed to get the boat that far. He was sick with nausea
from his exertions, and at times it seemed that blindness smote
him, for he could not see, his eyes vexed with spots and points
of light that were as excruciating as diamond-dust, his heart
pounding up in his throat and suffocating him. Elijah betrayed
no interest, did not move nor open his eyes; and Daylight fought
out his battle alone. At last, falling on his knees from the
shock of exertion, he got the boat poised on a secure balance on
top the wall. Crawling on hands and knees, he placed in the boat
his rabbit-skin robe, the rifle, and the pail. He did not bother
with the ax. It meant an additional crawl of twenty feet and
back, and if the need for it should arise he well knew he would
be past all need.
Elijah proved a bigger task than he had anticipated. A few
inches at a time, resting in between, he dragged him over the
ground and up a broken rubble of ice to the side of the boat.
But into the boat he could not get him. Elijah's limp body was
far more difficult to lift and handle than an equal weight of
like dimensions but rigid. Daylight failed to hoist him, for the
body collapsed at the middle like a part-empty sack of corn.
Getting into the boat, Daylight tried vainly to drag his comrade
in after him. The best he could do was to get Elijah's head and
shoulders on top the gunwale. When he released his hold, to
heave from farther down the body, Elijah promptly gave at the
middle and came down on the ice.
In despair, Daylight changed his tactics. He struck the other in
"God Almighty, ain't you-all a man?" he cried. "There! damn
you-all! there! "
At each curse he struck him on the cheeks, the nose, the mouth,
striving, by the shock of the hurt, to bring back the sinking
soul and far-wandering will of the man. The eyes fluttered open.
"Now listen!" he shouted hoarsely. "When I get your head to the
gunwale, hang on! Hear me? Hang on! Bite into it with your
teeth, but HANG ON! "
The eyes fluttered down, but Daylight knew the message had been
received. Again he got the helpless man's head and shoulders on
"Hang on, damn you! Bite in" he shouted, as he shifted his grip
One weak hand slipped off the gunwale, the fingers of the other
hand relaxed, but Elijah obeyed, and his teeth held on. When the
lift came, his face ground forward, and the splintery wood tore
and crushed the skin from nose, lips, and chin; and, face
downward, he slipped on and down to the bottom of the boat till
his limp middle collapsed across the gunwale and his legs hung
down outside. But they were only his legs, and Daylight shoved
them in; after him. Breathing heavily, he turned Elijah over on
his back, and covered him with his robes.
The final task remained--the launching of the boat. This, of
necessity, was the severest of all, for he had been compelled to
load his comrade in aft of the balance. It meant a supreme
effort at lifting. Daylight steeled himself and began.
Something must have snapped, for, though he was unaware of it,
the next he knew he was lying doubled on his stomach across the
sharp stern of the boat. Evidently, and for the first time in
his life, he had fainted. Furthermore, it seemed to him that he
was finished, that he had not one more movement left in him, and
that, strangest of all, he did not care. Visions came to him,
clear-cut and real, and concepts sharp as steel cutting-edges.
He, who all his days had looked on naked Life, had never seen so
much of Life's nakedness before. For the first time he
experienced a doubt of his own glorious personality. For the
moment Life faltered and forgot to lie. After all, he was a
little earth-maggot, just like all the other earth-maggots, like
the squirrel he had eaten, like the other men he had seen fail
and die, like Joe Hines and Henry Finn, who had already failed
and were surely dead, like Elijah lying there uncaring, with his
skinned face, in the bottom of the boat. Daylight's position was
such that from where he lay he could look up river to the bend,
around which, sooner or later, the next ice-run would come. And
as he looked he seemed to see back through the past to a time
when neither white man nor Indian was in the land, and ever he
saw the same Stewart River, winter upon winter, breasted with
ice, and spring upon spring bursting that ice asunder and running
free. And he saw also into an illimitable future, when the last
generations of men were gone from off the face of Alaska, when
he, too, would be gone, and he saw, ever remaining, that river,
freezing and fresheting, and running on and on.
Life was a liar and a cheat. It fooled all creatures. It had
fooled him, Burning Daylight, one of its chiefest and most joyous
exponents. He was nothing--a mere bunch of flesh and nerves and
sensitiveness that crawled in the muck for gold, that dreamed and
aspired and gambled, and that passed and was gone. Only the dead
things remained, the things that were not flesh and nerves and
sensitiveness, the sand and muck and gravel, the stretching
flats, the mountains, the river itself, freezing and breaking,
year by year, down all the years. When all was said and done, it
was a scurvy game. The dice were loaded. Those that died did
not win, and all died. Who won? Not even Life, the
stool-pigeon, the arch-capper for the game--Life, the ever
flourishing graveyard, the everlasting funeral procession.
He drifted back to the immediate present for a moment and noted
that the river still ran wide open, and that a moose-bird,
perched on the bow of the boat, was surveying him impudently.
Then he drifted dreamily back to his meditations.
There was no escaping the end of the game. He was doomed surely
to be out of it all. And what of it? He pondered that question
again and again.
Conventional religion had passed Daylight by. He had lived a
sort of religion in his square dealing and right playing with
other men, and he had not indulged in vain metaphysics about
future life. Death ended all. He had always believed that, and
been unafraid. And at this moment, the boat fifteen feet above
the water and immovable, himself fainting with weakness and
without a particle of strength left in him, he still believed
that death ended all, and he was still unafraid. His views were
too simply and solidly based to be overthrown by the first
squirm, or the last, of death-fearing life.
He had seen men and animals die, and into the field of his
vision, by scores, came such deaths. He saw them over again,
just as he had seen them at the time, and they did not shake him.
What of it? They were dead, and dead long since. They weren't
bothering about it. They weren't lying on their bellies across a
boat and waiting to die. Death was easy--easier than he had ever
imagined; and, now that it was near, the thought of it made him
A new vision came to him. He saw the feverish city of his
dream--the gold metropolis of the North, perched above the Yukon
on a high earth-bank and far-spreading across the flat. He saw
the river steamers tied to the bank and lined against it three
deep; he saw the sawmills working and the long dog-teams, with
double sleds behind, freighting supplies to the diggings. And he
saw, further, the gambling-houses, banks, stock-exchanges, and
all the gear and chips and markers, the chances and
opportunities, of a vastly bigger gambling game than any he had
ever seen. It was sure hell, he thought, with the hunch
a-working and that big strike coming, to be out of it all. Life
thrilled and stirred at the thought and once more began uttering
his ancient lies.
Daylight rolled over and off the boat, leaning against it as he
sat on the ice. He wanted to be in on that strike. And why
shouldn't he? Somewhere in all those wasted muscles of his was
enough strength, if he could gather it all at once, to up-end the
boat and launch it. Quite irrelevantly the idea suggested itself
of buying a share in the Klondike town site from Harper and Joe
Ladue. They would surely sell a third interest cheap. Then, if
the strike came on the Stewart, he would be well in on it with
the Elam Harnish town site; if on the Klondike, he would not be
quite out of it.
In the meantime, he would gather strength. He stretched out on
the ice full length, face downward, and for half an hour he lay
and rested. Then he arose, shook the flashing blindness from his
eyes, and took hold of the boat. He knew his condition
accurately. If the first effort failed, the following efforts
were doomed to fail. He must pull all his rallied strength into
the one effort, and so thoroughly must he put all of it in that
there would be none left for other attempts.
He lifted, and he lifted with the soul of him as well as with the
body, consuming himself, body and spirit, in the effort. The
boat rose. He thought he was going to faint, but he continued to
lift. He felt the boat give, as it started on its downward
slide. With the last shred of his strength he precipitated
himself into it, landing in a sick heap on Elijah's legs. He was
beyond attempting to rise, and as he lay he heard and felt the
boat take the water. By watching the tree-tops he knew it was
whirling. A smashing shock and flying fragments of ice told him
that it had struck the bank. A dozen times it whirled and
struck, and then it floated easily and free.
Daylight came to, and decided he had been asleep. The sun
denoted that several hours had passed. It was early afternoon.
He dragged himself into the stern and sat up. The boat was in
the middle of the stream. The wooded banks, with their
base-lines of flashing ice, were slipping by. Near him floated a
huge, uprooted pine. A freak of the current brought the boat
against it. Crawling forward, he fastened the painter to a root.
The tree, deeper in the water, was travelling faster, and the
painter tautened as the boat took the tow. Then, with a last
giddy look around, wherein he saw the banks tilting and swaying
and the sun swinging in pendulum-sweep across the sky, Daylight
wrapped himself in his rabbit-skin robe, lay down in the bottom,
and fell asleep.
When he awoke, it was dark night. He was lying on his back, and
he could see the stars shining. A subdued murmur of swollen
waters could be heard. A sharp jerk informed him that the boat,
swerving slack into the painter, had been straightened out by the
swifter-moving pine tree. A piece of stray drift-ice thumped
against the boat and grated along its side. Well, the following
jam hadn't caught him yet, was his thought, as he closed his eyes
and slept again.
It was bright day when next he opened his eyes. The sun showed
it to be midday. A glance around at the far-away banks, and he
knew that he was on the mighty Yukon. Sixty Mile could not be
far away. He was abominably weak. His movements were slow,
fumbling, and inaccurate, accompanied by panting and
head-swimming, as he dragged himself into a sitting-up position
in the stern, his rifle beside him. He looked a long time at
Elijah, but could not see whether he breathed or not, and he was
too immeasurably far away to make an investigation.
He fell to dreaming and meditating again, dreams and thoughts
being often broken by sketches of blankness, wherein he neither
slept, nor was unconscious, nor was aware of anything. It seemed
to him more like cogs slipping in his brain. And in this
intermittent way he reviewed the situation. He was still alive,
and most likely would be saved, but how came it that he was not
lying dead across the boat on top the ice-rim? Then he
recollected the great final effort he had made. But why had he
made it? he asked himself. It had not been fear of death. He
had not been afraid, that was sure. Then he remembered the hunch
and the big strike he believed was coming, and he knew that the
spur had been his desire to sit in for a hand at that big game.
And again why? What if he made his million? He would die, just
the same as those that never won more than grub-stakes. Then
again why? But the blank stretches in his thinking process began
to come more frequently, and he surrendered to the delightful
lassitude that was creeping over him.
He roused with a start. Something had whispered in him that he
must awake. Abruptly he saw Sixty Mile, not a hundred feet away.
The current had brought him to the very door. But the same
current was now sweeping him past and on into the down-river
wilderness. No one was in sight. The place might have been
deserted, save for the smoke he saw rising from the kitchen
chimney. He tried to call, but found he had no voice left. An
unearthly guttural hiss alternately rattled and wheezed in his
throat. He fumbled for the rifle, got it to his shoulder, and
pulled the trigger. The recoil of the discharge tore through his
frame, racking it with a thousand agonies. The rifle had fallen
across his knees, and an attempt to lift it to his shoulder
failed. He knew he must be quick, and felt that he was fainting,
so he pulled the trigger of the gun where it lay. This time it
kicked off and overboard. But just before darkness rushed over
him, he saw the kitchen door open, and a woman look out of the
big log house that was dancing a monstrous jig among the trees.
Ten days later, Harper and Joe Ladue arrived at Sixty Mile, and
Daylight, still a trifle weak, but strong enough to obey the
hunch that had come to him, traded a third interest in his
Stewart town site for a third interest in theirs on the Klondike.
They had faith in the Upper Country, and Harper left down-stream,
with a raft-load of supplies, to start a small post at the mouth
of the Klondike.
"Why don't you tackle Indian River, Daylight?" Harper advised, at
parting. "There's whole slathers of creeks and draws draining in
up there, and somewhere gold just crying to be found. That's my
hunch. There's a big strike coming, and Indian River ain't going
to be a million miles away."
"And the place is swarming with moose," Joe Ladue added. "Bob
Henderson's up there somewhere, been there three years now,
swearing something big is going to happen, living off'n straight
moose and prospecting around like a crazy man."
Daylight decided to go Indian River a flutter, as he expressed
it; but Elijah could not be persuaded into accompanying him.
Elijah's soul had been seared by famine, and he was obsessed by
fear of repeating the experience.
"I jest can't bear to separate from grub," he explained. "I know
it's downright foolishness, but I jest can't help it. It's all I
can do to tear myself away from the table when I know I'm full to
bustin' and ain't got storage for another bite. I'm going back
to Circle to camp by a cache until I get cured."
Daylight lingered a few days longer, gathering strength and
arranging his meagre outfit. He planned to go in light, carrying
a pack of seventy-five pounds and making his five dogs pack as
well, Indian fashion, loading them with thirty pounds each.
Depending on the report of Ladue, he intended to follow Bob
Henderson's example and live practically on straight meat. When
Jack Kearns' scow, laden with the sawmill from Lake Linderman,
tied up at Sixty Mile, Daylight bundled his outfit and dogs on
board, turned his town-site application over to Elijah to be
filed, and the same day was landed at the mouth of Indian River.
Forty miles up the river, at what had been described to him as
Quartz Creek, he came upon signs of Bob Henderson's work, and
also at Australia Creek, thirty miles farther on. The weeks came
and went, but Daylight never encountered the other man. However,
he found moose plentiful, and he and his dogs prospered on the
meat diet. He found "pay" that was no more than "wages" on a
dozen surface bars, and from the generous spread of flour gold in
the muck and gravel of a score of creeks, he was more confident
than ever that coarse gold in quantity was waiting to be
unearthed. Often he turned his eyes to the northward ridge of
hills, and pondered if the gold came from them. In the end, he
ascended Dominion Creek to its head, crossed the divide, and came
down on the tributary to the Klondike that was later to be called
Hunker Creek. While on the divide, had he kept the big dome on
his right, he would have come down on the Gold Bottom, so named
by Bob Henderson, whom he would have found at work on it, taking
out the first pay-gold ever panned on the Klondike. Instead,
Daylight continued down Hunker to the Klondike, and on to the
summer fishing camp of the Indians on the Yukon.
Here for a day he camped with Carmack, a squaw-man, and his
Indian brother-in-law, Skookum Jim, bought a boat, and, with his
dogs on board, drifted down the Yukon to Forty Mile. August was
drawing to a close, the days were growing shorter, and winter was
coming on. Still with unbounded faith in his hunch that a strike
was coming in the Upper Country, his plan was to get together a
party of four or five, and, if that was impossible, at least a
partner, and to pole back up the river before the freeze-up to do
winter prospecting. But the men of Forty Mile were without
faith. The diggings to the westward were good enough for them.
Then it was that Carmack, his brother-in-law, Skookum Jim, and
Cultus Charlie, another Indian, arrived in a canoe at Forty Mile,
went straight to the gold commissioner, and recorded three claims
and a discovery claim on Bonanza Creek. After that, in the
Sourdough Saloon, that night, they exhibited coarse gold to the
sceptical crowd. Men grinned and shook their heads. They had
seen the motions of a gold strike gone through before. This was
too patently a scheme of Harper's and Joe Ladue's, trying to
entice prospecting in the vicinity of their town site and trading
post. And who was Carmack? A squaw-man. And who ever heard of
a squaw-man striking anything? And what was Bonanza Creek?
Merely a moose pasture, entering the Klondike just above its
mouth, and known to old-timers as Rabbit Creek. Now if Daylight
or Bob Henderson had recorded claims and shown coarse gold,
they'd known there was something in it. But Carmack, the
squaw-man! And Skookum Jim! And Cultus Charlie! No, no; that
asking too much.
Daylight, too, was sceptical, and this despite his faith in the
Upper Country. Had he not, only a few days before, seen Carmack
loafing with his Indians and with never a thought of prospecting?
But at eleven that night, sitting on the edge of his bunk and
unlacing his moccasins, a thought came to him. He put on his
coat and hat and went back to the Sourdough. Carmack was still
there, flashing his coarse gold in the eyes of an unbelieving
generation. Daylight ranged alongside of him and emptied
Carmack's sack into a blower. This he studied for a long time.
Then, from his own sack, into another blower, he emptied several
ounces of Circle City and Forty Mile gold. Again, for a long
time, he studied and compared. Finally, he pocketed his own
gold, returned Carmack's, and held up his hand for silence.
"Boys, I want to tell you-all something," he said. "She's sure
come--the up-river strike. And I tell you-all, clear and
forcible, this is it. There ain't never been gold like that in a
blower in this country before. It's new gold. It's got more
silver in it. You-all can see it by the color. Carmack's sure
made a strike. Who-all's got faith to come along with me?"
There were no volunteers. Instead, laughter and jeers went up.
"Mebbe you got a town site up there," some one suggested.
"I sure have," was the retort, "and a third interest in Harper
and Ladue's. And I can see my corner lots selling out for more
than your hen-scratching ever turned up on Birch Creek."
"That's all right, Daylight," one Curly Parson interposed
soothingly. "You've got a reputation, and we know you're dead
sure on the square. But you're as likely as any to be mistook on
a flimflam game, such as these loafers is putting up. I ask you
straight: When did Carmack do this here prospecting? You said
yourself he was lying in camp, fishing salmon along with his
Siwash relations, and that was only the other day."
"And Daylight told the truth," Carmack interrupted excitedly.
"And I'm telling the truth, the gospel truth. I wasn't
prospecting. Hadn't no idea of it. But when Daylight pulls out,
the very same day, who drifts in, down river, on a raft-load of
supplies, but Bob Henderson. He'd come out to Sixty Mile,
planning to go back up Indian River and portage the grub across
the divide between Quartz Creek and Gold Bottom-"
"Where in hell's Gold Bottom?" Curly Parsons demanded.
"Over beyond Bonanza that was Rabbit Creek," the squaw-man went
on. "It's a draw of a big creek that runs into the Klondike.
That's the way I went up, but I come back by crossing the divide,
keeping along the crest several miles, and dropping down into
Bonanza. 'Come along with me, Carmack, and get staked,' says Bob
Henderson to me. 'I've hit it this time, on Gold Bottom. I've
took out forty-five ounces already.' And I went along, Skookum
Jim and Cultus Charlie, too. And we all staked on Gold Bottom.
I come back by Bonanza on the chance of finding a moose. Along
down Bonanza we stopped and cooked grub. I went to sleep, and
what does Skookum Jim do but try his hand at prospecting. He'd
been watching Henderson, you see. He goes right slap up to the
foot of a birch tree, first pan, fills it with dirt, and washes
out more'n a dollar coarse gold. Then he wakes me up, and I goes
at it. I got two and a half the first lick. Then I named the
creek 'Bonanza,' staked Discovery, and we come here and
He looked about him anxiously for signs of belief, but found
himself in a circle of incredulous faces--all save Daylight, who
had studied his countenance while he told his story.
"How much is Harper and Ladue givin' you for manufacturing a
stampede?" some one asked.
"They don't know nothing about it," Carmack answered. "I tell
you it's the God Almighty's truth. I washed out three ounces in
"And there's the gold," Daylight said. "I tell you-all boys they
ain't never been gold like that in the blower before. Look at
the color of it."
"A trifle darker," Curly Parson said. "Most likely Carmack's
been carrying a couple of silver dollars along in the same sack.
And what's more, if there's anything in it, why ain't Bob
Henderson smoking along to record?"
"He's up on Gold Bottom," Carmack explained. "We made the strike
A burst of laughter was his reward.
"Who-all'll go pardners with me and pull out in a poling-boat
to-morrow for this here Bonanza?" Daylight asked.
No one volunteered.
"Then who-all'll take a job from me, cash wages in advance, to
pole up a thousand pounds of grub?"
Curly Parsons and another, Pat Monahan, accepted, and, with his
customary speed, Daylight paid them their wages in advance and
arranged the purchase of the supplies, though he emptied his sack
in doing so. He was leaving the Sourdough, when he suddenly
turned back to the bar from the door.
"Got another hunch?" was the query.
"I sure have," he answered. "Flour's sure going to be worth what
a man will pay for it this winter up on the Klondike. Who'll
lend me some money?"
On the instant a score of the men who had declined to accompany
him on the wild-goose chase were crowding about him with
"How much flour do you want?" asked the Alaska Commercial
"About two ton."
The proffered gold-sacks were not withdrawn, though their owners
were guilty of an outrageous burst of merriment.
"What are you going to do with two tons?" the store-keeper
"Son," Daylight made reply, "you-all ain't been in this country
long enough to know all its curves. I'm going to start a
sauerkraut factory and combined dandruff remedy."
He borrowed money right and left, engaging and paying six other
men to bring up the flour in half as many more poling-boats.
Again his sack was empty, and he was heavily in debt.
Curly Parsons bowed his head on the bar with a gesture of
"What gets me," he moaned, "is what you're going to do with it
"I'll tell you-all in simple A, B, C and one, two, three."
Daylight held up one finger and began checking off. "Hunch
number one: a big strike coming in Upper Country. Hunch number
two: Carmack's made it. Hunch number three: ain't no hunch at
all. It's a cinch. If one and two is right, then flour just has
to go sky-high. If I'm riding hunches one and two, I just got to
ride this cinch, which is number three. If I'm right, flour'll
balance gold on the scales this winter. I tell you-all boys,
when you-all got a hunch, play it for all it's worth. What's
luck good for, if you-all ain't to ride it? And when you-all
ride it, ride like hell. I've been years in this country, just
waiting for the right hunch to come along. And here she is.
Well, I'm going to play her, that's all. Good night, you-all;
Still men were without faith in the strike. When Daylight,
with his heavy outfit of flour, arrived at the mouth of the
Klondike, he found the big flat as desolate and tenantless as
ever. Down close by the river, Chief Isaac and his Indians were
camped beside the frames on which they were drying salmon.
Several old-timers were also in camp there. Having finished
their summer work on Ten Mile Creek, they had come down the
Yukon, bound for Circle City. But at Sixty Mile they had learned
of the strike, and stopped off to look over the ground. They had
just returned to their boat when Daylight landed his flour, and
their report was pessimistic.
"Damned moose-pasture," quoth one, Long Jim Harney, pausing to
blow into his tin mug of tea. "Don't you have nothin' to do with
it, Daylight. It's a blamed rotten sell. They're just going
through the motions of a strike. Harper and Ladue's behind it,
and Carmack's the stool-pigeon. Whoever heard of mining a
moose-pasture half a mile between rim-rock and God alone knows
how far to bed-rock!"
Daylight nodded sympathetically, and considered for a space.
"Did you-all pan any?" he asked finally.
"Pan hell!" was the indignant answer. "Think I was born
yesterday! Only a chechaquo'd fool around that pasture long
enough to fill a pan of dirt. You don't catch me at any such
foolishness. One look was enough for me. We're pulling on in
the morning for Circle City. I ain't never had faith in this
Upper Country. Head-reaches of the Tanana is good enough for me
from now on, and mark my words, when the big strike comes, she'll
come down river. Johnny, here, staked a couple of miles below
Discovery, but he don't know no better." Johnny looked
"I just did it for fun," he explained. "I'd give my chance in
the creek for a pound of Star plug."
"I'll go you," Daylight said promptly. "But don't you-all come
squealing if I take twenty or thirty thousand out of it."
Johnny grinned cheerfully.
"Gimme the tobacco," he said.
"Wish I'd staked alongside," Long Jim murmured plaintively.
"It ain't too late," Daylight replied.
"But it's a twenty-mile walk there and back."
"I'll stake it for you to-morrow when I go up," Daylight offered.
"Then you do the same as Johnny. Get the fees from Tim Logan.
He's tending bar in the Sourdough, and he'll lend it to me. Then
fill in your own name, transfer to me, and turn the papers over
"Me, too," chimed in the third old-timer.
And for three pounds of Star plug chewing tobacco, Daylight
bought outright three five-hundred-foot claims on Bonanza. He
could still stake another claim in his own name, the others being
"Must say you're almighty brash with your chewin' tobacco," Long
Jim grinned. "Got a factory somewheres?"
"Nope, but I got a hunch," was the retort, "and I tell you-all
it's cheaper than dirt to ride her at the rate of three plugs for
But an hour later, at his own camp, Joe Ladue strode in, fresh
from Bonanza Creek. At first, non-committal over Carmack's
strike, then, later, dubious, he finally offered Daylight a
hundred dollars for his share in the town site.
"Cash?" Daylight queried.
"Sure. There she is."
So saying, Ladue pulled out his gold-sack. Daylight hefted it
absent-mindedly, and, still absent-mindedly, untied the strings
and ran some of the gold-dust out on his palm. It showed darker
than any dust he had ever seen, with the exception of Carmack's.
He ran the gold back tied the mouth of the sack, and returned it
"I guess you-all need it more'n I do," was Daylight's comment.
"Nope; got plenty more," the other assured him.
"Where that come from?"
Daylight was all innocence as he asked the question, and Ladue
received the question as stolidly as an Indian. Yet for a swift
instant they looked into each other's eyes, and in that instant
an intangible something seemed to flash out from all the body and
spirit of Joe Ladue. And it seemed to Daylight that he had
caught this flash, sensed a secret something in the knowledge and
plans behind the other's eyes.
"You-all know the creek better'n me," Daylight went on. "And if
my share in the town site's worth a hundred to you-all with what
you-all know, it's worth a hundred to me whether I know it or
"I'll give you three hundred," Ladue offered desperately.
"Still the same reasoning. No matter what I don't know, it's
worth to me whatever you-all are willing to pay for it."
Then it was that Joe Ladue shamelessly gave over. He led
Daylight away from the camp and men and told him things in
"She's sure there," he said in conclusion. "I didn't sluice it,
or cradle it. I panned it, all in that sack, yesterday, on the
rim-rock. I tell you, you can shake it out of the grassroots.
And what's on bed-rock down in the bottom of the creek they ain't
no way of tellin'. But she's big, I tell you, big. Keep it
quiet, and locate all you can. It's in spots, but I wouldn't be
none surprised if some of them claims yielded as high as fifty
thousand. The only trouble is that it's spotted."
* * *
A month passed by, and Bonanza Creek remained quiet. A
sprinkling of men had staked; but most of them, after staking,
had gone on down to Forty Mile and Circle City. The few that
possessed sufficient faith to remain were busy building log
cabins against the coming of winter. Carmack and his Indian
relatives were occupied in building a sluice box and getting a
head of water. The work was slow, for they had to saw their
lumber by hand from the standing forest. But farther down
Bonanza were four men who had drifted in from up river, Dan
McGilvary, Dave McKay, Dave Edwards, and Harry Waugh. They were
a quiet party, neither asking nor giving confidences, and they
herded by themselves. But Daylight, who had panned the spotted
rim of Carmack's claim and shaken coarse gold from the
grass-roots, and who had panned the rim at a hundred other places
up and down the length of the creek and found nothing, was
curious to know what lay on bed-rock. He had noted the four
quiet men sinking a shaft close by the stream, and he had heard
their whip-saw going as they made lumber for the sluice boxes.
He did not wait for an invitation, but he was present the first
day they sluiced. And at the end of five hours' shovelling for
one man, he saw them take out thirteen ounces and a half of gold.
It was coarse gold, running from pinheads to a twelve-dollar
nugget, and it had come from off bed-rock. The first fall snow
was flying that day, and the Arctic winter was closing down; but
Daylight had no eyes for the bleak-gray sadness of the dying,
short-lived summer. He saw his vision coming true, and on the
big flat was upreared anew his golden city of the snows. Gold
had been found on bed-rock. That was the big thing. Carmack's
strike was assured. Daylight staked a claim in his own name
adjoining the three he had purchased with his plug tobacco. This
gave him a block of property two thousand feet long and extending
in width from rim-rock to rim-rock.
Returning that night to his camp at the mouth of Klondike, he
found in it Kama, the Indian he had left at Dyea. Kama was
travelling by canoe, bringing in the last mail of the year. In
his possession was some two hundred dollars in gold-dust, which
Daylight immediately borrowed. In return, he arranged to stake a
claim for him, which he was to record when he passed through
Forty Mile. When Kama departed next morning, he carried a number
of letters for Daylight, addressed to all the old-timers down
river, in which they were urged to come up immediately and stake.
Also Kama carried letters of similar import, given him by the
other men on Bonanza.
"It will sure be the gosh-dangdest stampede that ever was,"
Daylight chuckled, as he tried to vision the excited populations
of Forty Mile and Circle City tumbling into poling-boats and
racing the hundreds of miles up the Yukon; for he knew that his
word would be unquestioningly accepted.
With the arrival of the first stampeders, Bonanza Creek woke up,
and thereupon began a long-distance race between unveracity and
truth, wherein, lie no matter how fast, men were continually
overtaken and passed by truth. When men who doubted Carmack's
report of two and a half to the pan, themselves panned two and a
half, they lied and said that they were getting an ounce. And
long ere the lie was fairly on its way, they were getting not one
ounce but five ounces. This they claimed was ten ounces; but
when they filled a pan of dirt to prove the lie, they washed out
twelve ounces. And so it went. They continued valiantly to lie,
but the truth continued to outrun them.
One day in December Daylight filled a pan from bed rock on his
own claim and carried it into his cabin. Here a fire burned and
enabled him to keep water unfrozen in a canvas tank. He squatted
over the tank and began to wash. Earth and gravel seemed to fill
the pan. As he imparted to it a circular movement, the lighter,
coarser particles washed out over the edge. At times he combed
the surface with his fingers, raking out handfuls of gravel. The
contents of the pan diminished. As it drew near to the bottom,
for the purpose of fleeting and tentative examination, he gave
the pan a sudden sloshing movement, emptying it of water. And
the whole bottom showed as if covered with butter. Thus the
yellow gold flashed up as the muddy water was flirted away. It
was gold--gold-dust, coarse gold, nuggets, large nuggets. He was
all alone. He set the pan down for a moment and thought long
thoughts. Then he finished the washing, and weighed the result
in his scales. At the rate of sixteen dollars to the ounce, the
pan had contained seven hundred and odd dollars. It was beyond
anything that even he had dreamed. His fondest anticipation's
had gone no farther than twenty or thirty thousand dollars to a
claim; but here were claims worth half a million each at the
least, even if they were spotted.
He did not go back to work in the shaft that day, nor the next,
nor the next. Instead, capped and mittened, a light stampeding
outfit, including his rabbit skin robe, strapped on his back, he
was out and away on a many-days' tramp over creeks and divides,
inspecting the whole neighboring territory. On each creek he was
entitled to locate one claim, but he was chary in thus
surrendering up his chances. On Hunker Creek only did he stake a
claim. Bonanza Creek he found staked from mouth to source, while
every little draw and pup and gulch that drained into it was
like-wise staked. Little faith was had in these side-streams.
They had been staked by the hundreds of men who had failed to get
in on Bonanza. The most popular of these creeks was Adams. The
one least fancied was Eldorado, which flowed into Bonanza, just
above Karmack's Discovery claim. Even Daylight disliked the
looks of Eldorado; but, still riding his hunch, he bought a half
share in one claim on it for half a sack of flour. A month later
he paid eight hundred dollars for the adjoining claim. Three
months later, enlarging this block of property, he paid forty
thousand for a third claim; and, though it was concealed in the
future, he was destined, not long after, to pay one hundred and
fifty thousand for a fourth claim on the creek that had been the
least liked of all the creeks.
In the meantime, and from the day he washed seven hundred dollars
from a single pan and squatted over it and thought a long
thought, he never again touched hand to pick and shovel. As he
said to Joe Ladue the night of that wonderful washing:-
"Joe, I ain't never going to work hard again. Here's where I
begin to use my brains. I'm going to farm gold. Gold will grow
gold if you-all have the savvee and can get hold of some for
seed. When I seen them seven hundred dollars in the bottom of
the pan, I knew I had the seed at last."
"Where are you going to plant it?" Joe Ladue had asked.
And Daylight, with a wave of his hand, definitely indicated the
whole landscape and the creeks that lay beyond the divides.
"There she is," he said, "and you-all just watch my smoke.
There's millions here for the man who can see them. And I seen
all them millions this afternoon when them seven hundred dollars
peeped up at me from the bottom of the pan and chirruped, 'Well,
if here ain't Burning Daylight come at last.'"
The hero of the Yukon in the younger days before the Carmack
strike, Burning Daylight now became the hero of the strike. The
story of his hunch and how he rode it was told up and down the
land. Certainly he had ridden it far and away beyond the
boldest, for no five of the luckiest held the value in claims
that he held. And, furthermore, he was still riding the hunch,
and with no diminution of daring. The wise ones shook their
heads and prophesied that he would lose every ounce he had won.
He was speculating, they contended, as if the whole country was
made of gold, and no man could win who played a placer strike in
On the other hand, his holdings were reckoned as worth millions,
and there were men so sanguine that they held the man a fool who
coppered any bet Daylight laid. Behind his magnificent
free-handedness and careless disregard for money were hard,
practical judgment, imagination and vision, and the daring of the
big gambler. He foresaw what with his own eyes he had never
seen, and he played to win much or lose all.
 To copper: a term in faro, meaning to play a card to lose.
"There's too much gold here in Bonanza to be just a pocket," he
argued. "It's sure come from a mother-lode somewhere, and other
creeks will show up. You-all keep your eyes on Indian River.
The creeks that drain that side the Klondike watershed are just
as likely to have gold as the creeks that drain this side."
And he backed this opinion to the extent of grub-staking half a
dozen parties of prospectors across the big divide into the
Indian River region. Other men, themselves failing to stake on
lucky creeks, he put to work on his Bonanza claims. And he paid
them well--sixteen dollars a day for an eight-hour shift, and he
ran three shifts. He had grub to start them on, and when, on the
last water, the Bella arrived loaded with provisions, he traded a
warehouse site to Jack Kearns for a supply of grub that lasted
all his men through the winter of 1896. And that winter, when
famine pinched, and flour sold for two dollars a pound, he kept
three shifts of men at work on all four of the Bonanza claims.
Other mine-owners paid fifteen dollars a day to their men; but he
had been the first to put men to work, and from the first he paid
them a full ounce a day. One result was that his were picked
men, and they more than earned their higher pay.
One of his wildest plays took place in the early winter after the
freeze-up. Hundreds of stampeders, after staking on other creeks
than Bonanza, had gone on disgruntled down river to Forty Mile
and Circle City. Daylight mortgaged one of his Bonanza dumps
with the Alaska Commercial Company, and tucked a letter of credit
into his pouch. Then he harnessed his dogs and went down on the
ice at a pace that only he could travel. One Indian down,
another Indian back, and four teams of dogs was his record. And
at Forty Mile and Circle City he bought claims by the score.
Many of these were to prove utterly worthless, but some few of
them were to show up more astoundingly than any on Bonanza. He
bought right and left, paying as low as fifty dollars and as high
as five thousand. This highest one he bought in the Tivoli
Saloon. It was an upper claim on Eldorado, and when he agreed to
the price, Jacob Wilkins, an old-timer just returned from a look
at the moose-pasture, got up and left the room, saying:-
"Daylight, I've known you seven year, and you've always seemed
sensible till now. And now you're just letting them rob you
right and left. That's what it is--robbery. Five thousand for a
claim on that damned moose-pasture is bunco. I just can't stay
in the room and see you buncoed that way."
"I tell you-all," Daylight answered, "Wilkins, Carmack's strike's
so big that we-all can't see it all. It's a lottery. Every
claim I buy is a ticket. And there's sure going to be some
Jacob Wilkins, standing in the open door, sniffed incredulously.
"Now supposing, Wilkins," Daylight went on, "supposing you-all
knew it was going to rain soup. What'd you-all do? Buy spoons,
of course. Well, I'm sure buying spoons. She's going to rain
soup up there on the Klondike, and them that has forks won't be
catching none of it."
But Wilkins here slammed the door behind him, and Daylight broke
off to finish the purchase of the claim.
Back in Dawson, though he remained true to his word and never
touched hand to pick and shovel, he worked as hard as ever in his
life. He had a thousand irons in the fire, and they kept him
busy. Representation work was expensive, and he was compelled to
travel often over the various creeks in order to decide which
claims should lapse and which should be retained. A quartz miner
himself in his early youth, before coming to Alaska, he dreamed
of finding the mother-lode. A placer camp he knew was ephemeral,
while a quartz camp abided, and he kept a score of men in the
quest for months. The mother-lode was never found, and, years
afterward, he estimated that the search for it had cost him fifty
But he was playing big. Heavy as were his expenses, he won more
heavily. He took lays, bought half shares, shared with the men
he grub-staked, and made personal locations. Day and night his
dogs were ready, and he owned the fastest teams; so that when a
stampede to a new discovery was on, it was Burning Daylight to
the fore through the longest, coldest nights till he blazed his
stakes next to Discovery. In one way or another (to say nothing
of the many worthless creeks) he came into possession of
properties on the good creeks, such as Sulphur, Dominion,
Excelsis, Siwash, Cristo, Alhambra, and Doolittle. The thousands
he poured out flowed back in tens of thousands. Forty Mile men
told the story of his two tons of flour, and made calculations of
what it had returned him that ranged from half a million to a
million. One thing was known beyond all doubt, namely, that the
half share in the first Eldorado claim, bought by him for a half
sack of flour, was worth five hundred thousand. On the other
hand, it was told that when Freda, the dancer, arrived from over
the passes in a Peterborough canoe in the midst of a drive of
mush-ice on the Yukon, and when she offered a thousand dollars
for ten sacks and could find no sellers, he sent the flour to her
as a present without ever seeing her. In the same way ten sacks
were sent to the lone Catholic priest who was starting the first
His generosity was lavish. Others called it insane. At a time
when, riding his hunch, he was getting half a million for half a
sack of flour, it was nothing less than insanity to give twenty
whole sacks to a dancing-girl and a priest. But it was his way.
Money was only a marker. It was the game that counted with him.
The possession of millions made little change in him, except that
he played the game more passionately. Temperate as he had always
been, save on rare occasions, now that he had the wherewithal for
unlimited drinks and had daily access to them, he drank even
less. The most radical change lay in that, except when on trail,
he no longer did his own cooking. A broken-down miner lived in
his log cabin with him and now cooked for him. But it was the
same food: bacon, beans, flour, prunes, dried fruits, and rice.
He still dressed as formerly: overalls, German socks, moccasins,
flannel shirt, fur cap, and blanket coat. He did not take up
with cigars, which cost, the cheapest, from half a dollar to a
dollar each. The same Bull Durham and brown-paper cigarette,
hand-rolled, contented him. It was true that he kept more dogs,
and paid enormous prices for them. They were not a luxury, but a
matter of business. He needed speed in his travelling and
stampeding. And by the same token, he hired a cook. He was too
busy to cook for himself, that was all. It was poor business,
playing for millions, to spend time building fires and boiling
Dawson grew rapidly that winter of 1896. Money poured in on
Daylight from the sale of town lots. He promptly invested it
where it would gather more. In fact, he played the dangerous
game of pyramiding, and no more perilous pyramiding than in a
placer camp could be imagined. But he played with his eyes wide
"You-all just wait till the news of this strike reaches the
Outside," he told his old-timer cronies in the Moosehorn Saloon.
"The news won't get out till next spring. Then there's going to
be three rushes. A summer rush of men coming in light; a fall
rush of men with outfits; and a spring rush, the next year after
that, of fifty thousand. You-all won't be able to see the
landscape for chechaquos. Well, there's the summer and fall rush
of 1897 to commence with. What are you-all going to do about
"What are you going to do about it?" a friend demanded.
"Nothing," he answered. "I've sure already done it. I've got a
dozen gangs strung out up the Yukon getting out logs. You-all'll
see their rafts coming down after the river breaks. Cabins!
They sure will be worth what a man can pay for them next fall.
Lumber! It will sure go to top- notch. I've got two sawmills
freighting in over the passes. They'll come down as soon as the
lakes open up. And if you-all are thinking of needing lumber,
I'll make you-all contracts right nowthree hundred dollars a
Corner lots in desirable locations sold that winter for from ten
to thirty thousand dollars. Daylight sent word out over the
trails and passes for the newcomers to bring down log-rafts, and,
as a result, the summer of 1897 saw his sawmills working day and
night, on three shifts, and still he had logs left over with
which to build cabins. These cabins, land included, sold at from
one to several thousand dollars. Two-story log buildings, in the
business part of town, brought him from forty to fifty thousand
dollars apiece. These fresh accretions of capital were
immediately invested in other ventures. He turned gold over and
over, until everything that he touched seemed to turn to gold.
But that first wild winter of Carmack's strike taught Daylight
many things. Despite the prodigality of his nature, he had
poise. He watched the lavish waste of the mushroom millionaires,
and failed quite to understand it. According to his nature and
outlook, it was all very well to toss an ante away in a night's
frolic. That was what he had done the night of the poker-game in
Circle City when he lost fifty thousand--all that he possessed.
But he had looked on that fifty thousand as a mere ante. When it
came to millions, it was different. Such a fortune was a stake,
and was not to be sown on bar-room floors, literally sown, flung
broadcast out of the moosehide sacks by drunken millionaires
who had lost all sense of proportion. There was McMann, who ran
up a single bar-room bill of thirty-eight thousand dollars; and
Jimmie the Rough, who spent one hundred thousand a month for four
months in riotous living, and then fell down drunk in the snow
one March night and was frozen to death; and Swiftwater Bill,
who, after spending three valuable claims in an extravagance of
debauchery, borrowed three thousand dollars with which to leave
the country, and who, out of this sum, because the lady-love that
had jilted him liked eggs, cornered the one hundred and ten dozen
eggs on the Dawson market, paying twenty-four dollars a dozen for
them and promptly feeding them to the wolf-dogs.
Champagne sold at from forty to fifty dollars a quart, and
canned oyster stew at fifteen dollars. Daylight indulged in no
such luxuries. He did not mind treating a bar-room of men to
whiskey at fifty cents a drink, but there was somewhere in his
own extravagant nature a sense of fitness and arithmetic that
revolted against paying fifteen dollars for the contents of an
oyster can. On the other hand, he possibly spent more money in
relieving hard-luck cases than did the wildest of the new
millionaires on insane debauchery. Father Judge, of the
hospital, could have told of far more important donations than
that first ten sacks of flour. And old-timers who came to
Daylight invariably went away relieved according to their need.
But fifty dollars for a quart of fizzy champagne! That was
And yet he still, on occasion, made one of his old-time
hell-roaring nights. But he did so for different reasons.
First, it was expected of him because it had been his way in the
old days. And second, he could afford it. But he no longer
cared quite so much for that form of diversion. He had
developed, in a new way, the taste for power. It had become a
lust with him. By far the wealthiest miner in Alaska, he wanted
to be still wealthier. It was a big game he was playing in, and
he liked it better than any other game. In a way, the part he
played was creative. He was doing something. And at no time,
striking another chord of his nature, could he take the joy in a
million-dollar Eldorado dump that was at all equivalent to the
joy he took in watching his two sawmills working and the big down
river log-rafts swinging into the bank in the big eddy just above
Moosehide Mountain. Gold, even on the scales, was, after all, an
abstraction. It represented things and the power to do. But the
sawmills were the things themselves, concrete and tangible, and
they were things that were a means to the doing of more things.
They were dreams come true, hard and indubitable realizations of
With the summer rush from the Outside came special correspondents
for the big newspapers and magazines, and one and all, using
unlimited space, they wrote Daylight up; so that, so far as the
world was concerned, Daylight loomed the largest figure in
Alaska. Of course, after several months, the world became
interested in the Spanish War, and forgot all about him; but in
the Klondike itself Daylight still remained the most prominent
figure. Passing along the streets of Dawson, all heads turned to
follow him, and in the saloons chechaquos watched him awesomely,
scarcely taking their eyes from him as long as he remained in
their range of vision. Not alone was he the richest man in the
country, but he was Burning Daylight, the pioneer, the man who,
almost in the midst of antiquity of that young land, had crossed
the Chilcoot and drifted down the Yukon to meet those elder
giants, Al Mayo and Jack McQuestion. He was the Burning Daylight
of scores of wild adventures, the man who carried word to the
ice-bound whaling fleet across the tundra wilderness to the
Arctic Sea, who raced the mail from Circle to Salt Water and back
again in sixty days, who saved the whole Tanana tribe from
perishing in the winter of '91--in short, the man who smote the
chechaquos' imaginations more violently than any other dozen men
rolled into one.
He had the fatal facility for self-advertisement. Things he did,
no matter how adventitious or spontaneous, struck the popular
imagination as remarkable. And the latest thing he had done was
always on men's lips, whether it was being first in the
heartbreaking stampede to Danish Creek, in killing the record
baldface grizzly over on Sulphur Creek, or in winning the
single-paddle canoe race on the Queen's Birthday, after being
forced to participate at the last moment by the failure of the
sourdough representative to appear. Thus, one night in the
Moosehorn, he locked horns with Jack Kearns in the long-promised
return game of poker. The sky and eight o'clock in the morning
were made the limits, and at the close of the game Daylight's
winnings were two hundred and thirty thousand dollars. To Jack
Kearns, already a several-times millionaire, this loss was not
vital. But the whole community was thrilled by the size of the
stakes, and each one of the dozen correspondents in the field
sent out a sensational article.
Despite his many sources of revenue, Daylight's pyramiding kept
him pinched for cash throughout the first winter. The
pay-gravel, thawed on bed-rock and hoisted to the surface,
immediately froze again. Thus his dumps, containing several
millions of gold, were inaccessible. Not until the returning sun
thawed the dumps and melted the water to wash them was he able to
handle the gold they contained. And then he found himself with a
surplus of gold, deposited in the two newly organized banks; and
he was promptly besieged by men and groups of men to enlist his
capital in their enterprises.
But he elected to play his own game, and he entered combinations
only when they were generally defensive or offensive. Thus,
though he had paid the highest wages, he joined the Mine-owners'
Association, engineered the fight, and effectually curbed the
growing insubordination of the wage-earners. Times had changed.
The old days were gone forever. This was a new era, and
Daylight, the wealthy mine-owner, was loyal to his class
affiliations. It was true, the old-timers who worked for him, in
order to be saved from the club of the organized owners, were
made foremen over the gang of chechaquos; but this, with
Daylight, was a matter of heart, not head. In his heart he could
not forget the old days, while with his head he played the
economic game according to the latest and most practical methods.
But outside of such group-combinations of exploiters, he refused
to bind himself to any man's game. He was playing a great lone
hand, and he needed all his money for his own backing. The newly
founded stock-exchange interested him keenly. He had never
before seen such an institution, but he was quick to see its
virtues and to utilize it. Most of all, it was gambling, and on
many an occasion not necessary for the advancement of his own
schemes, he, as he called it, went the stock-exchange a flutter,
out of sheer wantonness and fun.
"It sure beats faro," was his comment one day, when, after
keeping the Dawson speculators in a fever for a week by alternate
bulling and bearing, he showed his hand and cleaned up what would
have been a fortune to any other man.
Other men, having made their strike, had headed south for the
States, taking a furlough from the grim Arctic battle. But,
asked when he was going Outside, Daylight always laughed and said
when he had finished playing his hand. He also added that a man
was a fool to quit a game just when a winning hand had been dealt
It was held by the thousands of hero-worshipping chechaquos that
Daylight was a man absolutely without fear. But Bettles and Dan
MacDonald and other sourdoughs shook their heads and laughed as
they mentioned women. And they were right. He had always been
afraid of them from the time, himself a lad of seventeen, when
Queen Anne, of Juneau, made open and ridiculous love to him. For
that matter, he never had known women. Born in a mining-camp
where they were rare and mysterious, having no sisters, his
mother dying while he was an infant, he had never been in contact
with them. True, running away from Queen Anne, he had later
encountered them on the Yukon and cultivated an acquaintance with
them--the pioneer ones who crossed the passes on the trail of the
men who had opened up the first diggings. But no lamb had ever
walked with a wolf in greater fear and trembling than had he
walked with them. It was a matter of masculine pride that he
should walk with them, and he had done so in fair seeming; but
women had remained to him a closed book, and he preferred a game
of solo or seven-up any time.
And now, known as the King of the Klondike, carrying several
other royal titles, such as Eldorado King, Bonanza King, the
Lumber Baron, and the Prince of the Stampeders, not to omit the
proudest appellation of all, namely, the Father of the
Sourdoughs, he was more afraid of women than ever. As never
before they held out their arms to him, and more women were
flocking into the country day by day. It mattered not whether he
sat at dinner in the gold commissioner's house, called for the
drinks in a dancehall, or submitted to an interview from the
woman representative of the New York Sun, one and all of them
held out their arms.
There was one exception, and that was Freda, the girl that
danced, and to whom he had given the flour. She was the only
woman in whose company he felt at ease, for she alone never
reached out her arms. And yet it was from her that he was
destined to receive next to his severest fright. It came about
in the fall of 1897. He was returning from one of his dashes,
this time to inspect Henderson, a creek that entered the Yukon
just below the Stewart. Winter had come on with a rush, and he
fought his way down the Yukon seventy miles in a frail
Peterborough canoe in the midst of a run of mush-ice. Hugging
the rim-ice that had already solidly formed, he shot across the
ice-spewing mouth of the Klondike just in time to see a lone man
dancing excitedly on the rim and pointing into the water. Next,
he saw the fur-clad body of a woman, face under, sinking in the
midst of the driving mush-ice. A lane opening in the swirl of
the current, it was a matter of seconds to drive the canoe to the
spot, reach to the shoulder in the water, and draw the woman
gingerly to the canoe's side. It was Freda. And all might yet
have been well with him, had she not, later, when brought back to
consciousness, blazed at him with angry blue eyes and demanded:
"Why did you? Oh, why did you?"
This worried him. In the nights that followed, instead of
sinking immediately to sleep as was his wont, he lay awake,
visioning her face and that blue blaze of wrath, and conning her
words over and over. They rang with sincerity. The reproach was
genuine. She had meant just what she said. And still he
The next time he encountered her she had turned away from him
angrily and contemptuously. And yet again, she came to him to
beg his pardon, and she dropped a hint of a man somewhere,
sometime,--she said not how,--who had left her with no desire to
live. Her speech was frank, but incoherent, and all he gleaned
from it was that the event, whatever it was, had happened years
before. Also, he gleaned that she had loved the man.
That was the thing--love. It caused the trouble. It was more
terrible than frost or famine. Women were all very well, in
themselves good to look upon and likable; but along came this
thing called love, and they were seared to the bone by it, made
so irrational that one could never guess what they would do next.
This Freda-woman was a splendid creature, full-bodied, beautiful,
and nobody's fool; but love had come along and soured her on the
world, driving her to the Klondike and to suicide so compellingly
that she was made to hate the man that saved her life.
Well, he had escaped love so far, just as he had escaped
smallpox; yet there it was, as contagious as smallpox, and a