To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 19
NEARING THE END OF A LONG JOURNEY.
Both Earl and Randy had heard from the miner Wodley that it was only of late years that prospectors after gold in Alaska had had the daring to shoot the White Horse Rapids, of which even the Indians in their light canoes were afraid. Formerly white men had packed everything, even to their boats, round the dangerous runs of water, a task which to them looked herculean, when they gazed at the tall mountains, and at the crooked trail Wodley pointed out.
After much talking by all hands, it was decided that Wodley's boat should go through first, loaded down only with the mining tools, which would not suffer from getting wet. Wodley was at first going to take the trip alone, leaving his wife and the other miners of the party to join the Portney crowd, but at the last moment Captain Zoss asked to be allowed to take a hand, and the offer was accepted.
The sail was taken from the Buster, as Wodley had named his craft, a heavy-set affair, built to stand some rough usage, and, each armed with an oar and a heavy pole, the two men slioved off from the rocky shore. A few strokes sufficed to send them into the current, and fairly caught, the boat swung around and started on her mad career through the cañon of rocks and water and flying spray.
"She's off!" shouted Earl, and followed by Randy he sped alongshore and up to the edge of the cañon, where he might see what progress was made. But hardly had they reached a convenient spot when the Buster shot along far beneath them, and around a bend, and was hidden from view in the midst of a whirlpool of waters that threatened each instant to ingulf her.
"If she isn't smashed up before she reaches the end of the cañon, then I'll miss my guess!" ejaculated Earl. "My, but how she did spin along!"
"Wodley ought to know what he's doing," answered Randy. "If she is smashed up, I hope he and the captain come out alive."
They returned to where the others had been left, and took up the heavy packs which had been assigned to them. All the things to be carried had been equally divided among the men and the boys, and it was calculated that three trips would be necessary to move the outfits.
That day proved the hardest they had yet experienced, and by the time it was dark both Randy and Earl felt as if their backs were broken and their feet, to use Earl's expression, "walked off." They had carried one-third of their traps to a beautiful spot just at the head of the worst of the White Horse Rapids, which, it may be well to add here, are many miles in extent.
Contrary to the expectation of the boys, Wodley and Captain Zoss had brought the Buster through in safety. They had had only one alarm, just at the end of the cañon proper, when the boat had swung around on a hidden rock and shipped about half a barrel of water. They were wet to the skin, and this, along with the story they told, made Mrs. Wodley insist upon it that her husband allow the other men of the party to bring the Wild Goose through, on the day following.
As Captain Zoss had made the trip once, it was decided that he and Earl should take the next trip, while the others made another tramp over the trail with more of the traps. They encamped at the White Horse Rapids, but started back toward Lake Marsh before sunrise.
"It's easy enough. Earl," said the captain, on embarking on the Wild Goose. "All you've got to do is to keep your wits about you and your eyes on the rocks. Tie the pail fast to the seat, so it won't float away if the boat gives too much of a lurch. If we have to bail any, you had better do it."
They were soon on the way, out of the brightness of the early sunshine into the gloom of the yawning cañon, which seemed to swallow them up. The roar of the waters between the rocks was deafening, and the flying spray sent a shiver through Earl. Yet he stood to his post manfully, realizing that there was no turning back, now that the perilous trip was once begun.
"To the left shore!" roared Captain Zoss, presently, and Earl scarcely heard him. The captain waved his elbow frantically, while using his pole, and Earl saw what was wanted. They were running close to some half-submerged rocks. A vigorous use of the pole, a slight grating which made the youth hold his breath, and that danger at least was past.
But more were ahead, and they grew thicker and thicker as the Wild Goose leaped, turned, and twisted, first in one mad current and then another. Swish! came a huge wave into the craft, nearly taking Earl from his feet. Then, before he could make up his mind whether to begin bailing or not, the boat slid up almost on her stern's end, and most of the water went flying forth. "Now for the left shore, and mind the channel!" roared the captain, once more, and then the oars came into play, and on they bounded through a clear cut in the rocks not over twenty-five feet wide. The cut at an end, the captain threw down his oar with a deep breath of satisfaction.
"The wust on it's over," he announced. "Jest pole her along easy-like now, and we'll be down to camp inside of half an hour."
The strain on the Wild Goose had caused several of the seams to part, but it was decided to do nothing with these until after the worst of the White Horse Rapids had been passed. They must now take their crafts out of water and carry or ride them on rollers to the foot of the falls.
This was a job lasting several days, for both the Wild Goose and the Buster were heavy, and it took all the men in both parties to move one boat at a time. But at last the greatest of the falls was passed, and then it was decided to draw the boats along through what remained, and after another hard day's labor they had the satisfaction of finding themselves free from further obstacles, and encamped midway between Tahkheena River and the head of Lake Labarge. That day was Sunday, and it was spent in perfect rest by all.
Thus far since the snow-squall on Lake Bennett, fine weather had favored them, but now Monday set in cloudy and threatening. As soon as breakfast was over, the Wild Goose was patched up and pitched over, and all of the outfit placed on board. The Buster was already loaded, and with the wind from the westward they tacked down the river and into Lake Labarge, a clear sheet of water, some twenty odd miles in length, and varying from two to four miles in width. About midway from either end of the lake there was an island, and on this rocky shore they were compelled to seek shelter about the middle of the afternoon, for the wind had increased to a good-sized blow, and to sail in such a boat was, consequently, out of the question.
Both the Wild Goose and the Buster had hardly been drawn up out of harm's way than it began to rain. Seeing this, all lost no time in pitching the tents and in building fires to keep warm, for in this section of Alaska a rain even in the summer is sure to make one feel cold. The tents were pegged down with extra care, and this was a good thing, for by nightfall the wind had increased to a hurricane.
The travellers to the gold regions were stormbound at Lake Labarge for two days. It did not rain all this time, but the wind blew too strongly to venture from shore. The time was spent inside the tent and hung rather heavily, although occasionally relieved by a song from the doctor, or a yarn told by Captain Zoss, or Wodley, who, along with his wife, and Crimmins and Johnson, the other two miners, made themselves quite at home with the Portney party.
"The wind has moderated at last!" said Randy, who was the first out on the third morning. "Now let us make the most of the fine weather while it lasts."
The others were more than willing, and the stove and camping outfit were taken down to the Wild Goose without delay. The Wodley party was also stirring, but did not start until some time later on; and the two parties did not see each other again until many a day later.
The journey to the end of Lake Labarge was quickly made, and they entered the thirty-mile watercourse, at that time unnamed, which connects the lake with the Big Salmon and the Lewes rivers. Randy and Earl were in charge, the men taking it easy over their pipes, for the captain was an inveterate smoker, and Mr. Portney and the doctor indulged occasionally in the weed.
A good many miles had been covered, when Earl, happening to glance at his pocket compass, announced that they were sailing almost due southward. "And that can't be right," he said to Randy. "We ought to be headed for the northwest."
"Well, we're on the river all right," answered Randy. Nevertheless, he spoke to his uncle about it, who at once consulted his pocket map.
"I'll tell you what you've done," he announced presently. "Instead of sticking to the river that flows northward, you have turned into the Teslin, which flows to the south. Swing the Wild Goose around at once."
Much crestfallen over their mistake, the boys did as requested. They had to go back nearly four miles, as they calculated, before they saw the opening which had previously escaped their notice. But once right, they found the wind directly in their favor, and with the sail set to its fullest, they bowled along until the Big Salmon was reached, and they swept into the broad waters of the Lewes River.
"And now for the Yukon and the gold regions!" cried Dr. Barwaithe. "How much further have we to go?" he questioned, turning to Foster Portney.
"About three hundred and fifty miles," was the answer. "And with the exception of the Rink and Five Finger rapids, which don't amount to much, so I have heard, we'll have straight sailing. Ten days more ought to see us at Dawson City, ready to stake our claims."