To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 9

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER IX.


THE FATE OF A STOWAWAY.


"My gracious! We're going to the bottom sure!"

It was Randy who made the observation. The storm had struck the steamer in all its fury, and the pitching of the vessel made it almost impossible for a person to keep his feet. Randy clutched a handrail fastened near by, and Earl did the same; while Mr. Portney and Captain Zoss braced up against a ceiling post. The only thing that kept many from falling was the fact that there was no vacant floor space. "They were in it like sardines in a tin," as Randy expressed it.

"Some of the outside freight is bound to go," remarked Foster Portney, a minute later. "Ah, as I thought—the captain has ordered it cut away. There goes some poor fellows' outfits! Too bad!"

"I hope our stuff isn't among it!" cried Earl. "But they'll be responsible, won't they?"

"Yes, they'll be responsible, Earl. But we don't want their money—we want our goods, for it may be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate the things at Juneau. But I imagine our goods are in the hold."

"Our clothing and provisions are," said Randy. "I saw them put down just before we started. But the tools may be out there."

"If they—" began Captain Zoss, but broke off short as a mighty crash was heard from the rear deck. The crash was followed by the jingle of broken glass and sharp cries of pain and alarm.

There was every evidence of a panic, but the cooler heads restored order, and then it was found that a miner's outfit had caused all the trouble. It had been loosened from the deck, but before it could be thrown overboard a lurch of the steamer had sent it sailing through the air straight through a cabin window. The miner to whom the outfit belonged had been one of those to be most scared by its unceremonious entrance.

For three hours the storm raged in all its fury, and during that time no one but the officers and crew were allowed on deck. Nearly all the outside freight was thrown away, a loss which amounted to several thousand dollars. At last the wind and the rain gradually abated, and by nightfall the Golden Hope was again proceeding on her journey northward.

On the following day they ran by Vancouver Island, and it was calculated that they would reach Juneau by noon of the day following. All were anxious concerning the outfits which had been lost overboard, and the miners and officers tried to make out a list of them. The work proceeded all day, and it was not until nightfall that it was learned positively that the goods belonging to the Portneys and to Captain Zoss were safe.

The first sight of Juneau was rather disappointing to the boys, who had expected to see a much larger place. Juneau is but a small town, lying on the western coast of a peninsula formed by the Lynn Canal and the wide mouth of the Taku River. Directly opposite is Douglas Island. The town lies on a small patch of flat ground, backed up by several high mountains. It is principally a trading centre. The harbor is a fairly good one, and, on account of the rush to the gold fields, the stores were increasing constantly.

As soon as the steamer reached her landing place a wild rush for shore ensued, and then began a hunt for some vessel which might take the party up to Dyea, where the journey by water would, for the present, come to an end. The water up the Lynn Canal, as it is termed, although it is not at all a canal as we know them, and through Dyea Inlet, is shallow, and, consequently, ocean steamers do not go beyond Juneau.

"I'll hunt up passage on some boat," said Foster Portney to the boys. "You remain here and watch our goods. Those fellows who lost their outfits are angry enough, and some of them would like nothing better than to appropriate ours and let us look to the steamboat company for redress."

While he was gone, the task of bringing the goods from the steamer's hold was started, for no one wanted to be delayed in Juneau any longer than was necessary. Randy and Earl watched the work closely, and as soon as their things appeared they claimed them and had the lot transferred to a spot at the end of the rather rotten and shaky dock.

Presently, as they stood waiting for the reappearance of their uncle and Captain Zoss, who had gone with Mr. Portney, they noticed a commotion on board the Golden Hope. A stowaway had been found in the hold of the vessel, and the sailors and stevedores had brought the fellow out more dead than alive.

"Get off of here!" cried the captain of the steamer, in a rage, as he booted the fellow not once, but half a dozen times. "Get out, I say! If we were down in San Francisco I'd have you locked up in a minute. It's a pity I didn't find you out when we were on the trip—I'd a-made you work your passage, and more! Go, before I heave you overboard!"

And with a final kick the stowaway was run off the gang-plank, to fall in a heap on the dock, too weak from the confinement and want of proper food to stand.

"It's Fred Dobson!" ejaculated Randy. "Oh, Earl, look!"

"It is Fred, true enough!" replied Earl, as much surprised as his brother. Forgetful of their outfits for the time being, both ran forward and picked up the son of the squire of Basco. Fred's eyes were closed, his
To Alaska for Gold p089.jpg

"With a Final Kick the Stowaway was run off the Gang-plank."—Page 72.

face was as white as chalk, and they saw at a glance that he had fainted.

"Get some water, Randy," said Earl, as he began to work over the prostrate figure. "I wonder if there is a doctor handy. He looks as if he was half starved to death."

As Randy ran off, a crowd began to collect, a few to sympathize, but the majority to look on merely in curiosity or to make audible comments that it served the boy right, since he had no business to steal a trip.

"Got a crazy notion to go to the gold fields, I reckon," said one bystander. "He ought to be home where his mamma could spank him."

At this there was a coarse laugh, which was quickly hushed when another man, a young fellow of not more than twenty-three, stepped forward, and announced that he was a doctor. He soon succeeded in bringing Fred around.

"He wants something to eat as much as anything," said the newcomer. "There is a restaurant over yonder. Better take him there and get him some soup and stale bread—his stomach isn't strong enough to bear a regular meal."

Randy and Earl thanked the doctor and did as advised, while the crowd gradually melted away to tend to its own affairs. Fred was ravenously hungry, yet he ate with difficulty when the food was set before him.

"I've had nothing to eat for about forty hours," he said, when he felt strong enough to talk. "I spent that four dollars you two gave me in buying provisions, crackers, cheese, and the like, but on the second day out the rats got at the crackers and cheese and ate nearly the whole of them. Then one of my bottles of water was smashed during that storm, and though it was as close as pepper down there I hadn't a mouthful to drink. I thought I was going to die just before they opened the hold and began to remove the cargo."

"But, Fred, what made you do it?" asked Earl, reproachfully. "It was the height of foolishness."

"I'm bound to go to the gold fields. Earl. You two are going there to make a fortune, and why can't I make a fortune, too?"

"Because you are not fit for life out there, that's why. You suffered a good deal in coming this far, but let me tell you that I expect to suffer a good deal more than that before the Klondike River is reached and we have endured the hardships of an Alaskan winter. Supposing you succeed in getting away up in Alaska and are taken sick, who is going to care for you, and how are you going to get back home? Now I don't want to preach, but my advice is, to go back to Basco at once."

"And that's my advice, too, Fred," broke in Randy. "I know you are as old as I am, but you know you never did such work as Earl and I are used to, and some of the experienced miners even laugh at us. If Uncle Foster hadn't known that we were used to hard work out in the open, in midwinter at that, he would never have dreamed of asking us to go with him; he told us so."

Randy and Earl both spoke earnestly, and it was not their fault that what they had to say did not take effect. But Fred Dobson was both wild and reckless, and he shook his head.

"I'm bound to go if I have to walk the rest of the way," he said. "I thought I would strike your uncle again when we reached the place, but if you are so dead set against me I'll not say another word, but try to paddle my own canoe, as the saying is. Of course I'm much obliged for what you did for me in San Francisco and here, and some day I'll make it up to you, see if I don't."

"We don't want you to make it up, Fred; only act sensible and steer for home when you next strike out," said Earl. He was about to go on, when the entrance of his uncle and Captain Zoss into the restaurant caused him to stop.

"Humph! so you've turned up again!" were Foster Portney's words. "I heard there had been a stowaway on board of the Golden Hope. It was the most foolish move you could make, lad." The prospector turned to his youngest nephew. "Randy, where are our outfits?"

"Oh my!" burst out Randy, leaping to his feet. "Earl, we forgot all about them!"

Earl said nothing, but he reached the door of the restaurant almost as quickly as his brother. There was a crowd in the roadway outside, but they quickly forced a passage through, and ran for the steamer dock. A large number of outfits were spread here, there, and everywhere, but the spot where they had left those belonging to their own party was vacant.