To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 14

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The Portneys, having reached the highest point of Chilkoot Pass, were presently joined by Captain Zoss and Dr. Barwaithe, who had gone through a similar experience to that just described. The doctor had once come very close to losing his footing, and he declared that he would not make the climb again for a million dollars.

They stopped for a few minutes to view the scene from the edge of the cliff. On either side were the still taller mountains, while below them stretched that portion of the Pass just travelled, like a valley of glittering ice, thick with mist and wind-swept snow. An intense silence reigned, broken occasionally by the booming and crunching of some immense glacier in the distance.

"A grand scene, but one not particularly suited to my feelings," said the doctor. "Let us go on."

"Yes; the sooner we git out o' this yere Pass, the better I will be pleased," added the captain. "I've had enough climbin' ter last me two lifetimes, eh?" and he gave a grunt and strode off, and the others followed.

"That is, I believe, the most perilous part of the trip to the gold fields," remarked Foster Portney. "Of course we have still a good bit of rough country to traverse and rapids in the rivers to shoot, but nothing quite so bad as that."

The ice fields from the summit sloped gradually downward to a basin some distance below, called Crater Lake. This little lake was frozen solid from top to bottom and covered with snow. It was hemmed in on three sides by tall mountains, while on the fourth there was a cañon-like opening, where an ice-bound stream led the way over rocks and tiny cliffs to Lake Linderman, at the end of the Pass. Just before reaching the latter lake, they passed several large posts set up close to the trail, which was now once more clearly defined.

"Those are surveyors' posts," said Foster Portney, in reply to a question from Earl. "We have just passed from United States into British territory."

"This, then, is the Northwest Territory," said Earl.

"Yes, my boy; and the entire Klondike region, from Ogilvie to Belle Isle, is in that territory."

As they descended to the lower level of the Pass, the solid ice gave way to rotten ice and slush, in which they frequently sank to their ankles. Here the stream broadened out into several ponds, and finally ended in a wide, marshy expanse, forming the upper end of Lake Linderman. Along the edge of this marsh they picked their way, first, however, stopping for dinner, for the night had passed and the forenoon had been consumed in the journey from Crater Lake. The Indians kept pressing on, and they followed.

It was dark again when they came up at last with their pack-carriers encamped under some timber, which stood on a little bluff not over two hundred feet from the lake. Salmon Head's party had started a rousing fire, and this was a welcome sight, for it made all feel more at home. No time was lost in getting out the cooking utensils and the doctor's stove; and while they were preparing other things, the Indians brought several fish from the lake to be baked.

"I guess we'll get our fill of fish before long," remarked Earl.

"Don't you want any now? " smiled his uncle.

"Want any, Uncle Foster? Indeed I do! Why, I'm so hungry I could almost eat horse meat!" was Earl's earnest reply; and he bustled around with the cups and plates, that they might not be delayed as soon as the coffee, biscuits, and fish were done.

The Indians remained near by all night, and early in the morning a general reckoning-up took place, and the pack-carriers were paid off in gold and silver, not caring to take the paper money which was offered. All had done very well, and Foster Portney, Captain Zoss, and Dr. Barwaithe did not dispute the amounts asked, although they were a trifle high. As soon as they were paid off, the Indians packed up their own articles, but a handful in number, and hurried away in the direction whence they had come.

"Good gracious! are they going right back to Dyea?" exclaimed Randy, in amazement.

"Yes, my lad," was Captain Zoss's answer. "Salmon Head calculates to pilot another lot o' miners over as soon as possible. It's his hayin' time, ye see, an' he intends ter make the most o' it."

At this Earl laughed. "I guess he's not going to let his legs get stiff," he cried. "I'm as stiff as an old mule this morning. What's to do to-day?"

"We'll locate some timber for boat-building," said his uncle, "and get our traps into shape, and then rest. There is no use in killing ourselves all at once. We've got a matter of five hundred miles to journey yet."

"If we go up into the timber, I suppose we can try our hand at shooting something if anything turns up," said Randy.

"Certainly; shoot all the game you can, boys. We'll want it to help eke out our stores."

There were numerous odds and ends to do about the camp, and it was not until after dinner that they started into the timber to select some wood which might be used in boat-building. It was now that the boys' knowledge of timber stood them in good stead; and it took but a short while to pick out a tree which was close-grained and comparatively free from knots. They had brought their axes with them, and had the tree down in short order. Then they lopped off the branches and cut off the top, and left it in the sun to dry out as much as possible before attacking it with their boat-building tools.

This accomplished, Earl and Randy set off, the former with the shot-gun and the other with his pistol, to stir up whatever might be around in the way of game. They followed the edge of the cliff to where it sloped down to the lake shore.

Presently Earl thought he saw something in the brush along the water front, and, taking up a half-decayed stick, he threw it at the spot. At once there was a squawk, and half a dozen wild geese arose in the air. Bang! went the shot-gun, and crack! went Randy's pistol, and three of the geese were seen to throw back their heads and sink.

"We hit 'em!" cried Randy, and ran down, followed by his brother. Two of the fowls were dead, and the other was speedily put out of its misery by Earl with a blow from the gun-stock. They had been cautioned not to waste their ammunition, so had not ventured a second round at the balance of the flock.

"These ought to make good eating," observed Randy, as he picked up the game. "That is, if they don't taste too fishy. Here is my bullet hole, right through the neck. You killed the other two."

With the dead geese over their shoulders, they continued their hunt for game, and presently stirred up a number of wild birds, at which Earl blazed away, bringing down five. The birds were small and hardly worth the trouble of cleaning and cooking, yet they took them along.

"Geese, eh?" exclaimed Captain Zoss, as they entered camp. "Wall, that's not so bad! We kin have a goose pot-pie o' one, and stuff the other with bread an' beans, eh?" All hands agreed this would be an excellent plan, and the boys set about cleaning the game without delay, the captain assisting them at the work.

Toward night they espied a band of Indians coming down the trail with their packs and followed by half a dozen miners, a hardy but not an evil-looking crowd. The miners had left Dyea twenty-four hours later than themselves and had brought with them the material for a flat-bottomed scow, fifteen feet long and four feet wide. The Indians had carried this material over the Pass, but how it had been accomplished was a mystery to the boys and the others.

"Hang me, if I don't reckon they have a secret way o' their own," was Captain Zoss's comment. "They couldn't cart them boards up that steep cliff, nohow!" And Randy and Earl were half inclined to believe the captain's suspicions to be true.

The miners, who went by the name of the Idaho crowd, because they came from that State, encamped next to the doctor's crowd, as they were speedily termed, on account of having a medical man with them, and all became well acquainted before night. The Idaho crowd had just heard of an extra large find being made on Gold Bottom Creek, which flowed into the Klondike River, and they were anxious to get up there without delay, and consequently spent half the night in putting their boat together for an early start on the following morning.

"You're the fust boys I've heerd tell on bound for the gold diggin's," said one of the men to Randy and Earl. "I'm afeard ye'll find it kinder tough luck, for as far ez I kin understand it is tough even on a man. Whar are ye from? Californy?"

"No, from the backwoods of Maine," answered Earl. "And we are used to roughing it."

"Gee shoo! Didn't know the news had struck out so all-fired far ez thet. Wall, if you're from the backwoods, 'tain't likely you'll suffer ez much ez some of the tenderfoots wot's older. Wish ye the best o' luck." And the man turned away to his boat-building again.

Eight o'clock of the following morning found the Idaho crowd on its way down Lake Linderman. In the meantime the boys, Foster Portney, and Captain Zoss had started into the timber with their tools, leaving Dr. Barwaithe to watch camp and bake several days' supply of bread and biscuits, and also to parboil some beans for baking.

The tree selected for cutting up had been allowed to fall over a large flat rock, and now the first work was to prop up the lower end. This done, both ends were sawed off even and a good portion of the bark was scaled off. Then Earl and Randy sharpened up several wedges and tried their hands at splitting up the trunk into a suitable size for whipsawing.

This was no light work, and had they not had a knowledge of woodcraft it would have been next to impossible to do what the lads, aided by their uncle and the captain, accomplished. By nightfall the tree was split and sawed up into more than a dozen slabs, of varying thickness, and these were laid out for working up in the morning.

When the party returned to the edge of the lake they found that three other crowds had come in over the Pass, and there was quite a settlement of tents alongshore. In one of the parties there was a young woman, the wife of a prospector, who had stood the arduous climb nearly as well as any one.

"Hullo, Portney!" suddenly cried a voice to Earl, as he was walking around among the tents. "I didn't know you had got this far."

Earl turned swiftly, and was nearly dumfounded to find himself confronted by Tom Roland, while Jasper Guardley stood but a few feet away.