To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 8

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"Get up, Randy! Don't you know we are to start for Alaska to-day?" cried Earl, at six o'clock on the following morning. "Come now, turn out."

"Oh my, but I'm tired still! " grumbled Randy, as he stretched himself. Nevertheless, he hopped out of bed a moment later and was dressed almost as soon as his brother. They had barely finished when their uncle came to summon them to breakfast.

"We'll hunt up those tools and then I have a little private business to attend to," announced Foster Portney. "So we must move lively."

Breakfast, the last meal to be eaten in San Francisco, was quickly disposed of, and then followed a half-hour's inspection of various picks, shovels, and gold-washing pans at a hardware store that made a specialty of miners' tools. The boys were greatly interested, and, as Earl said, it made them feel more like prospectors to own a pick and a shovel each. The final bundle was made and shipped to the steamboat dock, and Foster Portney left them.

"Meet me at the dock at eleven o'clock," he said, as he hurried away.

The boys had still several private matters to be settled. Their trunks were to be sold, also some old clothing. At the hotel they obtained the addresses of several dealers in second-hand goods, and they had one of the dealers call and look at the stuff. He offered ten dollars for the lot; and, as they did not see their way to doing better, they accepted his terms, and the goods were removed without delay.

"Let us take a walk around while we have the chance," said Earl. "It is only ten o'clock."

Randy was willing, and off they started up Market Street to the City Hall, and then back and into Montgomery and Kearney streets, taking in all the sights as they went. Almost before they knew it, it was time to go to the wharf.

"We don't want to keep Uncle Foster waiting," said Earl; but when they reached the wharf their uncle was nowhere in sight.

The crowd which had collected to see the gold seekers off was a large one, and more people kept coming every moment. The almost magic name, Klondike, was on every tongue, and there were hundreds who expressed the wish that they were going along.

"Alaska is full of gold!" one man declared. "Full of gold! All you've got to do is to locate it."

"That's just it," said Earl to his brother. "If you can locate it you're all right; if not—" and he finished by a shrug of his broad shoulders.

"You're not sorry we're going, are you?" demanded Randy, quickly.

"Sorry? Not a bit of it. But it doesn't pay to be too sanguine, Randy, my boy."

Quarter of an hour passed, and the jam on the dock began to become uncomfortable. Brawny men predominated, but there were also many others there,—wives to bid good-by to their husbands, girls to wish their lovers good-luck, and children to catch a last embrace from their parents. Many of the women were in tears, and a number of other eyes were moist, and altogether the scene was rather a sober one.

"What can be keeping Uncle Foster?" asked Randy, as the minutes to the time for sailing slipped by. "I don't see him anywhere, do you?"

Earl did not, and he was as anxious as his brother. Back and forth they pushed their way, but without success. Then Earl looked at the silver watch he carried. "Ten minutes to twelve!" he ejaculated.

"Let us go on board and stand where Uncle Foster can see us," suggested Randy, in a tone of voice which was far from steady. Supposing their uncle should not turn up, what should they do? To go alone on that trip seemed out of the question.

Luckily they had their tickets, so getting on board was not difficult. A number of the passengers glanced at them curiously.

"Goin' ter Alaska?" asked one brawny fellow whose face was almost entirely concealed by his tangled beard. "Well, well! Ain't yer most afraid ye'll git done up?"

"We'll try to keep on top," answered Earl. The fellow wished to continue the conversation, but both Earl and Randy were too impatient just then to listen to him, and moved off to another part of the boat.

Five minutes more had passed and an officer was going around shouting: "All ashore that's going! We sail in five minutes!" Those to be left behind began to pass over the gang-plank—it was a hasty handshake and a last good-by on every side. The boys looked at each other doubtfully.

"If he doesn't come—" began Earl, when his quick eye caught sight in the crowd of a hat that he recognized. "Uncle Foster! Uncle Foster Portney! Come on board!" he yelled, at the top of his sturdy lungs.

Mr. Portney, in the jam of people below, heard and looked up. In a moment he had caught sight of his nephews and he shook his hand at them. Soon he was mounting the gang-plank, the last of the passengers to come on board. He was out of breath and gave the boys an odd smile.

"I suppose I gave you a scare," he said. "I didn't mean to be so late, but those business matters took longer than I intended, and then there was a blockade of street cars and I had to walk it. But we're all right now, I reckon," he added, gazing around. "Good-by to San Francisco! When we see her again may our pockets be lined with gold!" And he took off his soft felt hat and waved it at the crowd on shore.

The boat was now swinging clear of the wharf and thousands of hats and handkerchiefs were waving. "There she goes!" "Hurrah for Alaska!" "If you strike it rich, let us know!" "God be with you!" These and a hundred other cries rang out, and they were kept up until the steamer was far out in the stream and on her way up the bay to the Golden Gate.

The run to the Gate did not take long, and by the middle of the afternoon the steamer was standing out boldly into the Pacific Ocean, on her way almost due north. It had been rather muggy, and now a heavy mist set in, and by evening the boys were glad enough to leave the deck and arrange their stateroom. It contained four berths, two for themselves, one for Mr. Portney, and the last for a stranger who was down on the ship's list as Captain Luke Zoss.

"I wonder who Captain Zoss can be?" said Randy to Earl, when the door of the stateroom was suddenly flung open, and the bushy-bearded man who had spoken to them on deck came in. He stared at them in surprise for a second, then burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"Wall! wall! So it's you as are goin' ter be my messmates on this yere trip! " he exclaimed. "All right, lads, glad ter have ye." He held out a brawny hand. "My handle is Luke Zoss, but most of the boys know me as Cap'n Luke. May I be so inquisitive as to ask your names?"

"My name is Earl Portney, and this is my brother Randy," answered Earl. The hearty way of the stranger pleased him, and he was sure he should like Zoss.

"Portney, eh? I used ter know a man by thet name—Foster Portney, o' Colorady."

"Why, he's our uncle, and he is with us!" cried Randy, and just then his uncle came in, and he and Captain Zoss shook hands. They had met in Creede, where Zoss had once been a mining superintendent, and knew each other quite well.

"All bound fer the Klondike!" exclaimed the captain. "Hooray! We're sure to strike it, eh, Portney? I know you wouldn't be a-goin' thar unless gold was to be picked up. Goin' over Chilkoot Pass, I take it." Foster Portney nodded. "Then we might as well stick together, eh? It will be better than pairing off with somebody as might be wuss nor a boss thief, eh? O' course it would!"

Again the captain shook hands. Then he asked the boys where they came from and was pleased to learn they were used to a life in the open air.

"I was a lumberman myself onct—up in Michigan," he said. "But thar wasn't enough excitement, so I gave it up to seek gold and silver. Minin' and prospectin' just suit me—leas'wise so long as the grub holds out. One thing is in our favor—scarcity o' men up in them new gold fields. Now, down in Colorady it's different—all overrun with men, eh, Portney?"

"Yes, we'll have rather an open field," answered Foster Portney. And then followed a long discussion about the new gold fields and what might be expected when Dyea was reached and the terrible climb over the mountains began. The discussion lasted until ten o'clock, and the boys listened with interest and picked up many stray bits of information. Both concluded that the overland trip to the mines would prove every bit as rough and dangerous as they had pictured it.

The distance from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska, is, in round figures, one thousand miles. The Golden Hope was not as large as a regular ocean liner, yet she was a fast boat, and it was expected that she would cover the distance inside of four days. Much, of course, would depend upon the weather encountered, for she was heavily loaded with both passengers and freight. The freight had given even the owners concern, for much of it was piled high on the outer decks.

On the second day out, and some time after Cape Blanco had been sighted through the glass, the sky to the westward began to darken, and the sailors announced an approaching storm. Soon the sun went under a heavy bank of clouds and a stiff breeze sprung up which threw the long, heavy swells of the ocean into millions of white-caps, dancing and skipping on every side as far as eye could reach.

"We are in for it now," was the announcement which went the rounds. Presently it began to rain, and all endeavored to seek the shelter of the cabin, which speedily became crowded to suffocation. The boys, their uncle, and Captain Zoss were in the forward part of the boat, and they saw the course changed, so that the Golden Hope stood out straight to meet the blow.

"We are going to have no fun of this," said Foster Portney, with a grave shake of his head. "If I know anything about matters, that storm will be an extra heavy one." And the events of the next hour proved that he was right.