To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 11

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Randy and Earl found Dyea but a small settlement. There was one store which had been established for some time, and half a dozen others which had sprung up to accommodate the miners and adventurers who were pouring into the place. The total white population did not number a hundred, but there were a very large number of Indians,—men, women, and children,—all anxious to obtain employment as pack-carriers over the mountains.

The steamer had anchored some distance from the beach, and it was no light work to get the packs ashore in the heavy sea that was running. Four small boats were employed for the purpose, and more than one bundle was lost overboard in making the transfer to land.

"There goes one of my packs!" suddenly sang out Dr. Barwaithe, as a small boat loaded high above the gunwales capsized just as the shore was struck. A wild scramble by the miners was made to recover their goods. The doctor would have gone into the icy water also, but he could not swim.

Several Indians who were watching the scene, rushed up to the medical man. "Get heem fo' one dolla!" said the largest of the redmen, and the doctor made the bargain on the spot. At once the Indian and his helper leaped into the surf and swam toward the pack, which contained the doctor's clothing and bedding, and was becoming rapidly water soaked. They reached the pack as it was about to sink, and after ten minutes of hard work brought it out on the pebbly shore.

By the middle of the afternoon all hands found themselves encamped along the half-dried-up stream back of the settlement. Here there were nearly a hundred tents of miners and prospectors who were not quite ready to attempt the trip over Chilkoot Pass.

The Indian who had rescued the doctor's pack stuck to the medical man for the job of transferring his goods over to Lake Linderman, stating he and his companions would do the work for fifteen cents a pound.

"What do you think of that rate?" asked Dr. Barwaithe of Foster Portney, while Randy and Earl looked on with interest.

"I don't know but that it's fair enough," was the reply.

"But wouldn't it be better to take horses from here and use Indians only over the pass? You know we have about thirteen miles to travel before the pass is reached."

"We had better take the Indians from here," put in Captain Zoss. "Thar's no tellin' if we can git 'em further on, eh?"

"Yes, and we might as well get used to walking it from here, too," added Mr. Portney. "It will do Randy and Earl some good, not but that I imagine they can tramp as well as any of us."

"We've tramped for many a mile through the Maine woods, when we were out hunting," said Randy. "By the way," he went on, " I haven't seen any game yet, outside of a few birds."

The big Indian, who rejoiced in the name of Salmon Head, was waiting for an answer, his squaw and two boys standing close by. The squaw was a tall, thin woman of forty, whose face was painted a greasy black down to the tip of her nose, the balance of her countenance being left its natural color, yellowish red. The boys were sturdy lads of perhaps ten and twelve, as used to carrying heavy burdens as their parents.

The bargain was struck with Salmon Head to have the goods of the entire party packed over from that spot to the shore of Lake Linderman for fifteen cents a pound, the work to be accomplished within the next four days, weather permitting. The boys had expected to carry some of the goods, but at this Foster Portney shook his head.

"You couldn't carry over forty or fifty pounds and maybe not that over the Pass," he said, "and I would rather pay the price and have you reserve your strength. You can each carry a knapsack filled with food, in case you wander from the trail, although don't let this happen if you can possibly avoid it. The best rule, in going over any pass, is to keep at least two other members of the party in sight constantly."

In spite of the close proximity of the snow-capped mountains, the night was a comparatively warm one, and no inconvenience was experienced by the party in their tents. They had two, one belonging to Mr. Portney and the boys, the other being one Captain Zoss and Dr. Barwaithe had purchased at Juneau for mutual comfort. The tents were put up end to end, and being both water and wind tight were almost as good to sleep in as a cabin.

The outfits had been carefully parcelled out to the Indians, Salmon Head carrying a load of over a hundred and twenty-five pounds, his squaw carrying a hundred pounds, and the sons loads of about half that weight. Relatives of these Indians carried the remainder of the loads; for these Chilkoot people, like other redmen, believed in keeping all they could in the family.

Usually the journey to Lake Linderman was made in two stages, the first from Dyea to the entrance to Chilkoot Pass, and the second over the Pass itself and down to the lake, which may fairly be called the southern headwaters of the Yukon River. This course was to be pursued by the present party, and bright and early on the following morning they started out on what was destined to be the most perilous trip of their lives. Captain Zoss went ahead with the Indians, while the boys and their uncle and the doctor kept in a bunch behind.

At the start, the trip was along the bottom of a deep cañon, on either side of which arose mountains and cliffs for the most part covered with snow and ice. Down in this cañon flowed what is called the Dyea River, a mere mountain torrent, dashing over rocks and crags and here and there broadening out into a shallow flow over sand and pebbles. Walking was rough, for at times they had to leap from one great rock to another or else let themselves down, to wade through water and sand up to their knees. The wind had calmed down, yet once in a while it sent upon them a flurry of fine snow from the distant mountain tops.

"We are not getting ahead very fast!" puffed Randy, as he and the others came to a halt on a flat rock to rest. "We've been walking for three hours, and I doubt if we have covered more than five miles."

"I heard at Dyea that the thirteen miles to the entrance to the Pass is considered a good day's journey," said Earl. "I'm rather glad I'm not carrying that load Salmon Head has strapped to his back."

"It would take me a week to get that load up," said Randy. "I can't understand liow those boys get along."

"It's a matter of training," said Foster Portney. "I dare say either of you can cut down a tree in half the time that those Chilkoots can do it."

On they went again, the trail now growing steeper and more barren. A few stunted firs lined the cañon, and here and there could be seen a half-dead vine twisted about the fir branches, and that was all, so far as vegetation went. And this was coming summer time!

"It must be dreariness itself in winter," remarked Earl, to his uncle, as they trudged along side by side. "I never saw anything so desolate, not even in the wildest parts of Maine."

"It is this desolate look which has kept men out of Alaska, Earl. Many have known of there being gold there, but they preferred to remain down in the States, where living, at least, was more certain and congenial. You'll find, my lad, that you will need all your nerve and backbone to withstand what is before you. Perhaps I did wrong in urging you to join me."

"No, you didn't—I'm glad I came, and so is Randy, and we'll get through," answered Earl, hastily. "Oh, look!" he pointed to where a flock of birds were circling far overhead. "Shall I give them a shot?"

"No! no!" cried Foster Portney, hastily. "I forgot to tell you. I arranged with the Indians that no shot should be fired on the trip excepting some one was in trouble and needed assistance. I'll inform the others." And he halted for the others to come up.

Captain Zoss provided the dinner at about one o'clock, all hands taking it easy on some clear rocks in the sunshine. As may be supposed, the fare was a plain one, yet to Randy and Earl nothing had ever tasted better, for climbing and the bracing mountain air gave them enormous appetites. They could have eaten more than was provided but understood that from henceforth until further supplies were assured, rations would be dealt out with a sparing hand.

As soon as the dinner dishes had been cleaned and repacked the journey to Sheep Camp, as the stopping-place was called, was renewed. The trail was now steeper than ever, and more than once the stream of water had to be crossed. Every one was suffering from wet feet, but as all had on several pairs of heavy socks, this did no further damage than to render them cold in their nether limbs. As the trail grew rougher the Indians, who knew every footstep, forged ahead, and the others were allowed to shift for themselves.

It was about the middle of the afternoon that Randy and his uncle were walking one behind the other, with Captain Zoss and Dr. Barwaithe just in the rear. The captain had been relating one of his experiences in mountain climbing in Colorado, to which all had listened with interest. The story was finished, and they were congratulating themselves that the end of the day's tramp was close at hand, when Randy suddenly looked around in alarm.

"Where is Earl?" he asked

"Earl!" exclaimed Mr. Portney. "Why, he is ahead, isn't he?"

"No, he dropped behind, to fix his boot," was the quick reply. "Earl! Earl!"

The cry was repeated, and the others also took it up. Then they waited for an answer, but none came. Earl had disappeared. They waited for five minutes for him to make his reappearance, but he did not come; and then they started on a search for him.