To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 30

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Just one day before their provisions gave out the skies brightened as if by magic and the sun came out warmly. They could scarcely believe their eyes, so sudden was the change. The snow was cleared away from the door, and every one lost no time in rushing out into the fresh air.

"This is living again!" cried Earl. And then he added: "Let us beat down a path to Wompole's cottage and see how he is faring."

The others agreed, and soon they had a trail to the next cabin, where an old Alaskan gold hunter had gone into quarters all by himself. Wompole was also out, and they shook hands. When questioned he said he had run out of everything but beans, dried peas, and some smoked salmon, and he agreed to let them have enough of his stores to last them three days longer.

"Winter is broke up now," he remarked. "An' I reckon thar ain't no doubt but wot ye kin git ter Dawson an' back, if ye try."

"And I shall try," said Foster Portney; and an hour later he and Captain Zoss started off on snowshoes which they had made during their many idle hours. Randy and Earl saw their uncle depart with much anxiety, but did nothing to detain him, for food they must have, and that appeared the only manner in which to obtain it.

"If we could only bring down a bird or something with the gun," said Earl, some time later, and then he climbed the cliff and beat a path to the first belt of timber. But though he thrashed around three hours, not a sign of game was to be discovered anywhere.

The night was cold, but not nearly as much so as other nights had been, and on the following day the mercury when held in the sun actually crawled up to ten degrees above zero. And so it kept gradually becoming warmer, until the snow started to melt and they knew for a certainty that the long and tedious winter was a thing of the past.

It took Foster Portney and Captain Zoss five full days to find their way to Dawson City and back again. The return for the larger portion of the way was made on dog sledges driven by Indians. They had found provisions very scarce and high in price in Dawson City, but had brought back enough to last a month. One of the Indians had also brought provisions for the two miners, this commission having been executed through Mr. Portney, and the next day the miners set off for their own cabin with many sincere thanks for the assistance which had been rendered them.

On the day the provisions came in, they celebrated by having what Dr. Barwaithe called "a round, square meal." To be sure there was nothing but the plainest kind of food, but there was enough, and that was of prime importance.

After this they watched eagerly for the day to come when they might get to work again. A bargain had been struck all around, whereby the doctor and the captain were to work the single sluice box on the upper claim and have four-fifths of the findings, the other fifth going to Foster Portney for keeping them—the contract to hold good so long as the pair were content to remain in the present camp.

"The water is running in the gulch!" was the welcome announcement made by Earl one day, and all went down to see the thin stream, which soon became stronger. The snow was almost gone now, and the sand, gravel, and dirt which was exposed to the sun was quite free from frost. The picks, shovels, and other tools were brought out and cleaned up, and two days later found them at work as during the previous summer. It was marvellous how the seasons changed when once there was a start.

Before the end of the month Mr. Portney made another trip to Dawson City, and this time he took with him both Randy and Earl. They had settled that they should remain in the gulch until the first of August, and now they took back, by Indian carriers, enough provisions to last the camp until that time.

The stop in Dawson lasted two days, and the boys had a chance to walk about the town and see how it had improved. There were now at least twoscore of buildings, and several of them were quite pretentious. At the dock were two steamboats, both nearly free of the ice which had held them fast all winter.

In the town there was much news to be heard of the many wonderful strikes which had been made. Several had taken out over a hundred thousand dollars in dust and nuggets, and were waiting for navigation to open on the Yukon, that they might sail for home with their riches. No one who had accumulated a pile cared to remain in that forsaken country.

Just before they were to start for the gulch, Mr. Portney brought news of Tom Roland. The man had been captured at Circle City two months before, and the gold stolen from Cozzins taken from him. He had escaped from his temporary jail and fled to the mountains, and now his dead body had been found at the foot of a lofty cañon, down which he had most likely tumbled during the snowstorm which was then raging. It was a sad ending to a misspent life, and the boys could not help but shudder as they heard the story. They wondered what had become of Jasper Guardley, but nothing further was ever heard of that cowardly rascal.

By the first of June the gulch was as active as it had ever been during the previous summer, and the mosquitoes and flies were just as numerous and troublesome. No more finds of nuggets of large size were made, but the sluice boxes yielded heavy returns of dust, and all were very well content, and Dr. Barwaithe and Captain Zoss gave up all thoughts of leaving.

"We know what we have here," said the doctor, "and I am convinced that too much prospecting does not pay."

"An' besides, it's something ter be in company which is congenial," added the captain. "Over to the other claim it was nuthin' but fight the whole day long with yer neighbors about stake lines."

By the end of July the sand and gravel taken from the bedrock of Mosquito Hollow gulch had been disposed of, and now a month was given to a general clearing up of the dirt taken from half a dozen little hollows which lay on either side. It was terribly hot again, but the workers took their time over what they did, and often rested during the middle of the day. Three days before the first of September they were done.

"There, that settles it!" cried Foster Portney, as he flung down his shovel. "No more work for me until I have paid a visit to the States."

"Hurrah!" shouted Randy, and he gave his pick a whirl which sent it thirty feet off. "I'm just aching for a sight of civilization."

"And for an old-fashioned meal," added Earl.

Fred's eyes glistened, but he said nothing. He was wondering what sort of a reception he would receive when he got home. He had sent on two letters from the gulch, but no answer had come back and there was no telling if the communications had reached their destination.

The next day was spent in the delightful task of counting up the proceeds of their venture. Of course it was impossible to calculate closely, yet they were conservative in their estimates, and in the end, when their nuggets and dust were turned over to the United States mint in San Francisco, they were not disappointed as to the check received in return.

The upper claim during the time it was worked by Dr. Barwaithe and Captain Zoss in the spring had yielded five thousand dollars. Of this, as per agreement, two thousand dollars went to the doctor, a like sum to the captain, and one thousand dollars to Foster Portney. Added to what they had made previously, the doctor and the captain now held a matter of nine thousand dollars' worth of gold between them. Not a fortune, but still a tidy sum, all things considered.

The Portneys, of course, had fared much better. The total yield of gold to them from start to finish footed up to fifty-two thousand dollars. Of this amount, as we know, one-half went to Earl and Randy, which gave the lads exactly thirteen thousand dollars apiece. Twenty-six thousand dollars was Foster Portney's share, but out of this he had been compelled to spend three thousand clollars in bringing the party up and keeping them, and he would have to spend nearly another thousand in getting them home.

During the early summer of the present year, Earl, Randy, and Foster Portney had held a private talk concerning the amount to be granted to Fred, and it had been decided that he should have an even thousand dollars, one half to come from the two boys' share and the other from their uncle. Fred's fare was also to be paid clear through to Basco. The lad, when told of this decision, said he was more than satisfied, as the amount of work he had been able to do had really been very small on account of frequent attacks of sickness.

"I can't stand the climate," he said. "And I shan't attempt to come up here again. If father will let me, I'll go to college and become a lawyer."

The doctor was going on to Dawson City to give up mining and establish himself in his profession, having become satisfied that he could do better at this than he could in working a claim. But the captain decided to remain where he was.

"I'm bound ter strike it rich some day," he said. "An' I'm goin' ter rustle till I do."

"I certainly hope you strike it rich," said Randy; for the pair were now greater friends than ever.

It was a warm, clear day when the party of five left the gulch, with their faces set toward Dawson City. The Portneys had decided to return to the States by the way of the Yukon and the Pacific Ocean, and a voyage of five thousand miles still lay before them. They carried all their findings with them, and now the question arose,—having found so much gold, would they be able to get it out of this wild country in safety?