To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 10

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Randy and Earl gazed about them in hopeless bewilderment. The outfits belonging to themselves, their uncle, and to Captain Zoss were gone. Who had taken them, and was there any chance of recovery?

"We should have looked after them," said Earl, bitterly. "It was foolishness to leave the stuff, especially after Uncle Foster had warned us."

"I wonder if any of those miners who lost their outfits from the steamer are guilty," said Randy, as they started on another tour of the Juneau wharf. "I remember one fellow with a red beard and a scar on his nose who looked at the stuff rather closely when we came ashore."

"Let us start to make inquiries, Randy. We must get our outfits back. If we don't, Uncle Foster will never forgive us."

"Yes, and we'll be in a pickle besides," groaned the younger brother. "By the look of things in this settlement mining outfits are rather scarce."

"Yes, I heard one man saying that about everything worth having had been gobbled up several weeks ago and the storekeepers were awaiting neAv consignments from San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle."

With anxious hearts they walked around the wharf and along a side road, also piled high with miners' goods and steamer freight. Presently a man joined them. It was Captain Zoss.

"Well, whar's our packs?" he questioned, and looked glum when told of what had occurred. "By the boots, lads, we must find 'em—ain't no two ways about that! Why, to go to the mines without tools would be wuss nor a hen sittin' on a nest without eggs. Been all over the dock, yer say?" He paused an instant. "I'll make a round o' the saloons. If the things was stolen, like as not the thieves would want to git 'em out of sight in quick order, eh?"

He was about to leave them, when they were hailed by a man standing near the entrance to a new store that was going up on the opposite side of the way. It was the doctor who had so kindly come to Fred Dobson's assistance.

"What's up?" he called out. "Looking for your traps? They're all right. I had them brought up here for safe keeping when you went off with the sick lad. I knew they wouldn't be secure down on the wharf. There are half a dozen quarrels on down there over lost and mixed-up baggage."

Randy and Earl felt much relieved, and so did the captain. They ran over to the new store, and sure enough, everything was there in a heap, alongside of the packs owned by the doctor. They thanked the medical man for his kindness, and a short talk followed. The doctor's name was Kenneth Barwaithe, and he was an Englishman who had practised for a year in Victoria. He, too, was bound for the new gold fields, either for mining purposes, or to set himself up in business.

"The hundreds of miners going up there will need doctoring," he explained. "And I am all prepared to dose them with medicine, set a broken leg, amputate an arm, or pull an aching tooth."

"Thar'll be work for you," said Captain Zoss, with a laugh. "But the wust disease up thar will be one ye can't touch nohow."

"Indeed! And what is that?" questioned Kenneth Barwaithe, with interest.

"Starvation," was the solemn reply.

In order to relieve their uncle of further anxiety, Randy and Earl returned to where they had left Mr. Portney. They found him in earnest conversation with Fred Dobson. The face of the squire's son was very red and his eyes were downcast.

"I'll write home at once," they heard Fred say, in a low voice. "I'm glad Earl wrote from San Francisco. My folks will at least know I am alive and well—that is, as well as a fellow can be who was half starved to death," he added ruefully.

"And you ought to go home, lad—it's the proper place for you."

"Well, maybe I will—after I have earned enough around here to take me, Mr. Portney."

Foster Portney's hand was in his pocket, and Earl and Randy saw him hand Fred a ten-dollar bill. "Pay me back whenever you feel rich enough to do so," he said, and the squire's son gave him a ready promise to that effect.

Foster Portney and Captain Zoss had been fortunate enough to secure passage up to Dyea, on a little steamboat, which was to leave early the next day. The craft was a freight boat, but carried passengers whenever she could get them. No time was lost in transferring their goods to this craft, Fred Dobson helping them carry their loads. Doctor Barwaithe had also secured passage in the craft, and soon became one of the party. Later on, matters were talked over by him and the others, and it was agreed that the five should stick together until the Klondike region was reached. The forming of little parties of five or more was popular among those who travelled by the overland route into Alaska. By such means there was less danger of a man getting lost in the mountains, and the preparation of meals along the way was easier, for each man of a party took his turn at feeding the rest, so that only one set of packs had to be unstrapped and packed again, instead of the lot. Besides this, the building and sailing of a boat down the lakes and tlirongh the rapids by one man was next to impossible.

It was very difficult to obtain accommodations at any of the so-styled hotels in Juneau, so all hands encamped for the night on the deck of the freighter, Fred Dobson managing to smuggle himself in with the regular party. In the morning Fred approached the captain of the boat for a situation, but was turned off in language far from fit to transcribe to these pages.

"Got more on board than we want now, boy, so git ashore in a hurry, for we're on the point of sailing," and with a wistful good-by to Randy, Earl, and the others, the squire's son leaped to the dock. Five minutes later the lines were cast off, and the wheezy, overloaded craft started northward on the Lynn Canal.

The distance from Juneau to Dyea is a hundred and eighteen miles, past Berner's Bay and Katsehan River into Chilkoot Inlet and finally up Dyea Inlet. The run for the most part is past gigantic glaciers on one side and mountains covered with snow and ice on the other.

"Gracious, this is a touch of winter and no mistake!" ejaculated Randy, as the steamboat ploughed steadily on her way, and they stood by the rail taking in the desolate sight. "See how those little icebergs sparkle in the sunshine."

"Far off to the west of this canal is the great Muir Glacier," said Foster Portney. "It is the largest glacier in the world. That island which we just passed is Douglas, and there is situated the great Treadwell Mine, one of the richest gold mines heretofore discovered in Alaska."

"Have we got to climb mountains like that?" questioned Earl, as he pointed to the snow-capped summits to the eastward.

"Have we got to climb 'em?" burst in Captain Zoss. "Why, them ain't an ant hill to the ones we're to crawl over, lad. Just wait till we get up into Dyea Inlet, and you'll catch sight o' mountains as will give you the yellow shakes, as the boys call it. Now I don't want to discourage ye," he went on, as he saw Earl take a deep breath. "I want to prepare ye for the wust, that's all. That pass—the Chilkoot—is the wust part o' the whole trip, being about three-quarters of a mile high and betwixt mountains twice that size."

"Well, we can climb three-quarters of a mile, I guess, if the grade isn't too steep," said Randy.

The captain turned away and smiled to himself. He was more than doubtful if the boys would ever get safely over to Lake Linderman, the first of the lakes on the other side of the mountain range.

It was well that they had dressed themselves warmly; for, on account of the sun shining on the glaciers;, the air was filled with a mist which chilled them to the bone. The channel was filled with loose pieces of ice, and ever and anon the steamer would strike a miniature iceberg with a crash which was clearly heard by all on board.

After a few hours of gazing at the monotonous presentation of glaciers and snow-covered hills and mountains, the boys turned their attention to those on board. It was a motley collection of people. Most of the men were Americans, but there was also a fair sprinkling of Canadians, Germans, and half a dozen Indians. The latter were of the Chilkoot tribe, and interested Randy more than anything else. They were a round-faced, stalwart set of fellows, and several of them had bands of black painted across the upper parts of their faces.

"They paint the black around their eyes as a preventive of snow-blindness," explained Foster Portney. "As soon as either of you find your eyes hurting from the glare you had better put on a pair of the smoked goggles."

Dinner on the steamer was served under the rather scanty shelter on the upper deck. But fifteen could be accommodated at once, and as there were over sixty people on board, it took some time to satisfy them all. The fare was principally beef stew, bread, coffee, and rice pudding, but the cold air gave every one a good appetite, and the boys did full justice to all that was offered them.

At turning-in time there was more than one little row, for sleeping accommodations were limited. Berths were at a premium, and had been secured by the more fortunate ones when the steamer had landed at Juneau. Foster Portney gathered his party around him in the shelter of the wheelhouse, on deck, and here they slept huddled together like sheep in a cattle car.

"Not like stopping at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, is it?" said his u&cle to Randy. "But never mind; as soon as we leave Dyea we'll have all the room we want, and more."

"Sleeping like this keeps a fellow warm," said Randy, who felt somehow as if he was out for a lark. But by and by, when somebody passed over him in the dark and slipped on his chest, he did not think it quite so much fun.

However, the night passed quickly enough, and at daybreak all were stirring, for they had reached Dyea Inlet, and a landing was expected before noon. A stiff breeze was blowing, and the Inlet, a long, narrow arm of Chilkoot Inlet and the canal, was filled with angry waves blowing from off shore. Presently the first sight of Dyea was gained, and half an hour later an anchor was dropped, and the voyage so far as the steamer was concerned was over.