To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV.


ON TO LAKE BENNETT.


The face of Tom Roland wore a smile, but in his eyes was an anxious look which Earl did not fail to notice as he surveyed the two acquaintances from Basco. The young prospector was much taken aback by this sudden appearance, for he had not dreamed of meeting Roland and Guardley in this out-of-the-way spot.

"Ain't you glad to see a feller from Maine?" went on Roland, as Earl did not speak; and he held out his hand, which the youth took rather coldly. Guardley had come up to shake hands too, but now he did not risk making the offer.

"Are you two bound for the Klondike?" at length asked Earl.

"Of course," was Roland's sharp reply. "What else would we be doing up here?"

"What started you—the fact that we were going?"

"Well, I allow as that had a little to do with it. Earl; but Guardley got a letter from a friend of his who is up there now—a man named Stephens. He said Guardley ought to come up at once, and as he didn't want to go alone, I came along. How are you making out?"

"We are doing very well."

"You and your brother came on with your uncle, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"Any others in the party?"

"Yes; two men."

Tom Roland's eyes dropped for a moment. "Me and Guardley have been havin' rather a hard road of it, all alone," he went on. "We've been thinking of joining forces with somebody."

"Well, our crowd is complete," answered Earl, quickly.

"Then you won't consider taking in two more, providing, of course, we do our share of work and pay our share of the expenses."

"I don't think so, Roland."

"Who is at the head of your party?"

"Nobody in particular; we all work together."

"Maybe you had better speak to the boy's uncle," put in Guardley. "Come on."

He stalked off, and after some slight hesitation Tom Roland followed, with Earl at his side. Foster Portney was found mending a corner of the tent, which had become torn in packing. Randy was beside him and uttered a cry when he beheld the two men from Basco.

"Tom Roland and Jasper Guardley!" he whispered to his uncle. "Those are the fellows we thought got that money on a false identification!"

"Is that so?" returned Foster Portney. "What can Earl be bringing them here for?"

"This is Mr. Portney, I take it," said Guardley, after clearing his throat awkwardly. "I was thinking—"

"He and his friend want to join us," put in Earl. "I told them that our party was complete."

"Hullo, Randy!" broke in Roland, carelessly. "You'd like us to come into your crowd, wouldn't you?"

Randy was staggered at the request, coming so unexpectedly. He glanced at Earl before replying. "No, I guess not," he said.

"Why, what's the matter with you?" cried Roland, half angrily. "We are all Maine folks, and friends ought to stick together, seems to me."

He turned to Foster Portney and introduced himself and Guardley, and stated his case, adding that he and his companion onlY wanted to join some party until Dawson City was reached. Mr. Portney listened quietly, and then turned to Captain Zoss, who stood near.

"I don't believe we want any more in our crowd, do you?"

"I reckon we've got a-plenty," was the captain's answer. "Still, if they are friends to the boys—"

"But they are not," whispered Earl. "And what is more, we consider them doubtful characters."

"Then we don't want 'em, nohow."

"This camp is full," came from inside, where Dr. Barwaithe sat, examining his sore foot, which was neither better nor worse. "That boat we are building won't hold more than five people, along with our outfits."

The faces of both Roland and Guardley grew dark. "All right; if you don't want us, we'll hook fast somewhere else," muttered Roland, and turned on his heel.

"Maybe you'll regret throwing us off some day," came from Guardley, as he passed Earl; and then the two men were lost to sight among the tents up the lake shore.

"Oh, what cheek!" burst from Randy, when they were gone. "I wouldn't have Roland in the party for a farm."

"I'd be afraid of Guardley's stealing everything we had," said Earl. "As if we didn't know his real character, and that he had been up before Judge Dobson lots of times!"

"I reckon they'll stand watching, especially that last cur—from what he said to Randy," said Captain Zoss. "He's got a bad eye, he has, eh?"

All hands slept soundly after their hard day's work in the timber, and it was not until they heard others stirring in the morning that they arose. As he was not working on the boat, Dr. Barwaithe took it upon himself to perform the "household duties," as he expressed it, and soon a well-cooked breakfast was arranged on a rude table Captain Zoss had stuck up. The doctor was an excellent cook, and Foster Portney could not help but ask him whence his knowledge had been derived.

"It's easily explained," said the doctor. "I have an older sister who was once the head of a cooking school in Montreal. She insisted on it that every one should know how to cook, especially a bachelor like myself, and she used to deliver her lectures to me, at home, before delivering them at the school. I believe I was an apt pupil, but I never dreamed at that time of how useful the knowledge would become."

"Which goes for to prove a feller can't know too much," remarked Captain Zoss. "But come on," he added, draining off his big tin cup of coffee, and springing up. "That ere boat ain't going to build itself." And off he hurried for the woods, carrying all of the tools he could carry. In a moment the boys and Foster Portney followed him.

They found the rough slabs of lumber as they had left them, and sticking them up in convenient places, began the task of smoothing them off into boards, working first with their axes and then with the drawing-knife and the plane. It was no light labor, and night was again upon them by the time the boards were ready and hauled to the edge of the lake. After supper Foster Portney brought out a measuring-rule and marked off the different parts of the boat, which was to be a flat-bottom affair, with a blunt stern and rather a long-pointed bow.

Another day at Lake Linderman saw the craft put together, false bottom, seats, and all. It was a clumsy affair, and they were glad that they had enough oakum and pitch along to make her fairly water-tight. The other parties in camp were also boat-building, and the scene in the clear and fairly warm weather was a busy one.

Randy had cut down a small, straight tree for a mast, and this was easily set in place and held by guards running across from one gunwale to another. The yard and the boom of this mast were primitive affairs, to be put up whenever desired.

As soon as the pitch had hardened, preparations for leaving the camp were made. All the goods and tools were packed up into the smallest possible space, and stored on board of the Wild Goose, as Randy had christened the craft, the eatables, clothing, and blankets being placed on top, so as not to be injured by the water which might get in. The last thing to be taken down was the tent, the fly of which was then adjusted for a sail.

"All aboard!" cried Randy, as he leaped into the bow, with Earl behind him. Captain Zoss followed them, to help keep a lookout ahead, while Mr. Portney and Dr. Barwaithe took places in the stern, one to manage the rudder and the other with an oar ready for use, should they run upon a bar or mud-flat.

Lake Linderman is but a few miles long, lying in the midst of snow-clad mountains, similar to those left behind, although not quite so high. At its lower end it connects with Lake Bennett by a short river where are situated the Homan Rapids. These rapids are among the most dangerous encountered in sailing along the headwaters of the Yukon, and are feared more by some miners than are the famous White Horse Rapids, which the party must pass through later on. To avoid the Homan Rapids many miners travelled straight from Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett before stopping to build their boats.

But it was all new territory to our party, for even Foster Portney, in his previous trip to Alaska, had not passed in this direction. A stiff breeze sent them on their way down Lake Linderman, and all expressed themselves as well satisfied with the sailing qualities of the Wild Goose.

"We're coming to the end of the lake," observed Earl, when scarcely an hour had passed. "There is the river, over to the right."

In a few minutes more the sail was lowered, and they came to anchor at the mouth of the river. The water at this point was smooth enough, but some distance
To Alaska for Gold p143.jpg

"The Water was Boiling on Every Side."—Page 125.

ahead could be seen the leaping and swirling whitecaps of the rapids leading to the lake below.

"I reckon we'll have to take a line ashore and haul her through," observed Captain Zoss, after an examination of the situation. "We don't want to run no risk of bein' upsot so early in the game."

This was agreed to, and the captain and Dr, Barwaithe took one line to the left shore and Foster Portney and Randy another to the right, leaving Earl to steer or use the rudder, as might be best.

Some loose ice, floating along the lake shores, had partly choked the stream, but there was a clear place near the centre, and into this the Wild Goose drifted. It was not long before she was caught in the strong current, which sent the ice cakes crunching and banging along her sides and the spray flying up into Earl's face. He had started to use the rudder, but now saw this was useless, and sprang forward with the long oar.

"Steady to the left! Not to the right! Swing her around a bit, you fellows over there! Easy now, easy! Shove off from that rock, Earl! Now then, let her down a few feet! That was a narrow shave, boys! There you go again! Steady now! steady! steady!"

So the cries and directions ran on, as the boat proceeded on her perilous voyage. The water was boiling on every side, and the lines which held the craft were as tight as whipcords. Considerable water had been shipped, and Earl was wet from head to foot. But he kept his place and shoved off, this way and that, with might and main.

"Hold hard!" suddenly shouted Foster Portney. "Look out, Earl; the line is going to break!"

The words were hardly spoken when snap! went the line, the boat end hitting Earl a sharp crack in the neck. Thus released, the Wild Goose swung around and made straight for a series of rocks which all had been working hard to avoid. Should she strike she would become a total wreck, beyond a doubt, and all their outfits would be lost.