Smoke bellew, p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Smoke Bellew, p.1

          
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Smoke Bellew


  Produced by Les Bowler and Paul J. Hollander

  SMOKE BELLEW

  by Jack London

  CONTENTS

  The Taste of the Meat The Meat The Stampede to Squaw Creek Shorty Dreams The Man on the Other Bank The Race for Number Three* The Little Man The Hanging of Cultus George The Mistake of Creation A Flutter in Eggs The Town-Site of Tra-Lee Wonder of Woman

  * Alternate title--The Race for Number One

  I. THE TASTE OF THE MEAT

  In the beginning he was Christopher Bellew. By the time he was atcollege he had become Chris Bellew. Later, in the Bohemian crowd of SanFrancisco, he was called Kit Bellew. And in the end he was known by noother name than Smoke Bellew. And this history of the evolution of hisname is the history of his evolution. Nor would it have happened hadhe not had a fond mother and an iron uncle, and had he not received aletter from Gillet Bellamy.

  "I have just seen a copy of The Billow," Gillet wrote from Paris. "Ofcourse O'Hara will succeed with it. But he's missing some tricks." Herefollowed details in the improvement of the budding society weekly. "Godown and see him. Let him think they're your own suggestions. Don't lethim know they're from me. If you do, he'll make me Paris correspondent,which I can't afford, because I'm getting real money for my stuff fromthe big magazines. Above all, don't forget to make him fire that dubwho's doing the musical and art criticism. Another thing. San Franciscohas always had a literature of her own. But she hasn't any now. Tell himto kick around and get some gink to turn out a live serial, and to putinto it the real romance and glamour and colour of San Francisco."

  And down to the office of The Billow went Kit Bellew faithfully toinstruct. O'Hara listened. O'Hara debated. O'Hara agreed. O'Hara firedthe dub who wrote criticisms. Further, O'Hara had a way with him--thevery way that was feared by Gillet in distant Paris. When O'Hara wantedanything, no friend could deny him. He was sweetly and compellinglyirresistible. Before Kit Bellew could escape from the office, he hadbecome an associate editor, had agreed to write weekly columns ofcriticism till some decent pen was found, and had pledged himself towrite a weekly instalment of ten thousand words on the San Franciscoserial--and all this without pay. The Billow wasn't paying yet, O'Haraexplained; and just as convincingly had he exposited that there was onlyone man in San Francisco capable of writing the serial and that man KitBellew.

  "Oh, Lord, I'm the gink!" Kit had groaned to himself afterward on thenarrow stairway.

  And thereat had begun his servitude to O'Hara and the insatiable columnsof The Billow. Week after week he held down an office chair, stood offcreditors, wrangled with printers, and turned out twenty-five thousandwords of all sorts. Nor did his labours lighten. The Billow wasambitious. It went in for illustration. The processes were expensive.It never had any money to pay Kit Bellew, and by the same token it wasunable to pay for any additions to the office staff.

  "This is what comes of being a good fellow," Kit grumbled one day.

  "Thank God for good fellows then," O'Hara cried, with tears in his eyesas he gripped Kit's hand. "You're all that's saved me, Kit. But for youI'd have gone bust. Just a little longer, old man, and things will beeasier."

  "Never," was Kit's plaint. "I see my fate clearly. I shall be herealways."

  A little later he thought he saw his way out. Watching his chance, inO'Hara's presence, he fell over a chair. A few minutes afterwards hebumped into the corner of the desk, and, with fumbling fingers, capsizeda paste pot.

  "Out late?" O'Hara queried.

  Kit brushed his eyes with his hands and peered about him anxiouslybefore replying.

  "No, it's not that. It's my eyes. They seem to be going back on me,that's all."

  For several days he continued to fall over and bump into the officefurniture. But O'Hara's heart was not softened.

  "I tell you what, Kit," he said one day, "you've got to see an oculist.There's Doctor Hassdapple. He's a crackerjack. And it won't cost youanything. We can get it for advertizing. I'll see him myself."

  And, true to his word, he dispatched Kit to the oculist.

  "There's nothing the matter with your eyes," was the doctor's verdict,after a lengthy examination. "In fact, your eyes are magnificent--a pairin a million."

  "Don't tell O'Hara," Kit pleaded. "And give me a pair of black glasses."

  The result of this was that O'Hara sympathized and talked glowingly ofthe time when The Billow would be on its feet.

  Luckily for Kit Bellew, he had his own income. Small it was, comparedwith some, yet it was large enough to enable him to belong to severalclubs and maintain a studio in the Latin Quarter. In point of fact,since his associate-editorship, his expenses had decreased prodigiously.He had no time to spend money. He never saw the studio any more, norentertained the local Bohemians with his famous chafing-dish suppers.Yet he was always broke, for The Billow, in perennial distress, absorbedhis cash as well as his brains. There were the illustrators, whoperiodically refused to illustrate, the printers, who periodicallyrefused to print, and the office-boy, who frequently refused toofficiate. At such times O'Hara looked at Kit, and Kit did the rest.

  When the steamship Excelsior arrived from Alaska, bringing the newsof the Klondike strike that set the country mad, Kit made a purelyfrivolous proposition.

  "Look here, O'Hara," he said. "This gold rush is going to be big--thedays of '49 over again. Suppose I cover it for The Billow? I'll pay myown expenses."

  O'Hara shook his head.

  "Can't spare you from the office, Kit. Then there's that serial.Besides, I saw Jackson not an hour ago. He's starting for the Klondiketo-morrow, and he's agreed to send a weekly letter and photos. Iwouldn't let him get away till he promised. And the beauty of it is,that it doesn't cost us anything."

  The next Kit heard of the Klondike was when he dropped into the clubthat afternoon, and, in an alcove off the library, encountered hisuncle.

  "Hello, avuncular relative," Kit greeted, sliding into a leather chairand spreading out his legs. "Won't you join me?"

  He ordered a cocktail, but the uncle contented himself with the thinnative claret he invariably drank. He glanced with irritated disapprovalat the cocktail, and on to his nephew's face. Kit saw a lecturegathering.

  "I've only a minute," he announced hastily. "I've got to run and take inthat Keith exhibition at Ellery's and do half a column on it."

  "What's the matter with you?" the other demanded. "You're pale. You're awreck."

  Kit's only answer was a groan.

  "I'll have the pleasure of burying you, I can see that."

  Kit shook his head sadly.

  "No destroying worm, thank you. Cremation for mine."

  John Bellew came of the old hard and hardy stock that had crossed theplains by ox-team in the fifties, and in him was this same hardness andthe hardness of a childhood spent in the conquering of a new land.

  "You're not living right, Christopher. I'm ashamed of you."

  "Primrose path, eh?" Kit chuckled.

  The older man shrugged his shoulders.

  "Shake not your gory locks at me, avuncular. I wish it were the primrosepath. But that's all cut out. I have no time."

  "Then what in--?"

  "Overwork."

  John Bellew laughed harshly and incredulously.

  "Honest."

  Again came the laughter.

  "Men are the products of their environment," Kit proclaimed, pointing atthe other's glass. "Your mirth is thin and bitter as your drink."

  "Overwork!" was the sneer. "You never earned a cent in your life."

  "You bet I have--only I never got it. I'm earning five hundred a weekright now, and doing four men's work."

  "Pictures that won't sell? Or--er--fancy work of some sort? Can youswim?"

  "I used to."

  "Sit a horse?"

  "I have essayed that adventure."

  John Bellew snorted his disgust. "I'm glad your father didn't live tosee you in all the glory of your gracelessness," he said. "Your fatherwas a man, every inch of him. Do you get it? A man. I think he'd havewhaled all this musical and artistic tom foolery out of you."

  "Alas! these degenerate days," Kit sighed.

  "I could understand it, and tolerate it," the other went on savagely,"if you succeeded at it. You've never earned a cent in your life, nordone a tap of man's work."

  "Etchings, and pictures, and fans," Kit contributed unsoothingly.

  "You're a dabbler and a failure. What pictures have you painted? Dinkywater-colours and nightmare posters. You've never had one exhibited,even here in San Francisco--"

  "Ah, you forget. There is one in the jinks room of this very club."

  "A gross cartoon. Music? Your dear fool of a mother spent hundredson lessons. You've dabbled and failed. You've never even earneda five-dollar piece by accompanying some one at a concert. Yoursongs?--rag-time rot that's never printed and that's sung only by a packof fake Bohemians."

  "I had a book published once--those sonnets, you remember," Kitinterposed meekly.

  "What did it cost you?"

  "Only a couple of hundred."

  "Any other achievements?"

  "I had a forest play acted at the summer jinks."

  "What did you get for it?"

  "Glory."

  "And you used to swim, and you have essayed to sit a horse!" John Bellewset his glass down with unnecessary violence. "What earthly good areyou anyway? You were well put up, yet even at university you didn't playfootball. You didn't row. You didn't--"

  "I boxed and fenced--some."

  "When did you box last?"

  "Not since, but I was considered an excellent judge of time anddistance, only I was--er--"

  "Go on."

  "Considered desultory."

  "Lazy, you mean."

  "I always imagined it was an euphemism."

  "My father, sir, your grandfather, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man with ablow of his fist when he was sixty-nine years old."

  "The man?"

  "No, your--you graceless scamp! But you'll never kill a mosquito atsixty-nine."

  "The times have changed, oh, my avuncular! They send men to prison forhomicide now."

  "Your father rode one hundred and eighty-five miles, without sleeping,and killed three horses."

  "Had he lived to-day, he'd have snored over the course in a Pullman."

  The older man was on the verge of choking with wrath, but swallowed itdown and managed to articulate:

  "How old are you?"

  "I have reason to believe--"

  "I know. Twenty-seven. You finished college at twenty-two. You'vedabbled and played and frilled for five years. Before God and man, ofwhat use are you? When I was your age I had one suit of underclothes. Iwas riding with the cattle in Coluso. I was hard as rocks, and I couldsleep on a rock. I lived on jerked beef and bear-meat. I am a betterman physically right now than you are. You weigh about one hundred andsixty-five. I can throw you right now, or thrash you with my fists."

  "It doesn't take a physical prodigy to mop up cocktails or pink tea,"Kit murmured deprecatingly. "Don't you see, my avuncular, the times havechanged. Besides, I wasn't brought up right. My dear fool of a mother--"

  John Bellew started angrily.

  "--As you described her, was too good to me; kept me in cotton wool andall the rest. Now, if when I was a youngster I had taken some of thoseintensely masculine vacations you go in for--I wonder why you didn'tinvite me sometimes? You took Hal and Robbie all over the Sierras and onthat Mexico trip."

  "I guess you were too Lord-Fauntleroyish."

  "Your fault, avuncular, and my dear--er--mother's. How was I to knowthe hard? I was only a chee-ild. What was there left but etchings andpictures and fans? Was it my fault that I never had to sweat?"

  The older man looked at his nephew with unconcealed disgust. He had nopatience with levity from the lips of softness.

  "Well, I'm going to take another one of those what-you-call masculinevacations. Suppose I asked you to come along?"

  "Rather belated, I must say. Where is it?"

  "Hal and Robert are going in to Klondike, and I'm going to see themacross the Pass and down to the Lakes, then return--"

  He got no further, for the young man had sprung forward and gripped hishand.

  "My preserver!"

  John Bellew was immediately suspicious. He had not dreamed theinvitation would be accepted.

  "You don't mean it?" he said.

  "When do we start?"

  "It will be a hard trip. You'll be in the way."

  "No, I won't. I'll work. I've learned to work since I went on TheBillow."

  "Each man has to take a year's supplies in with him. There'll be such ajam the Indian packers won't be able to handle it. Hal and Robert willhave to pack their outfits across themselves. That's what I'm goingalong for--to help them pack. If you come you'll have to do the same."

  "Watch me."

  "You can't pack," was the objection.

  "When do we start?"

  "To-morrow."

  "You needn't take it to yourself that your lecture on the hard has doneit," Kit said, at parting. "I just had to get away, somewhere, anywhere,from O'Hara."

  "Who is O'Hara? A Jap?"

  "No; he's an Irishman, and a slave-driver, and my best friend. He's theeditor and proprietor and all-round big squeeze of The Billow. What hesays goes. He can make ghosts walk."

  That night Kit Bellew wrote a note to O'Hara. "It's only a severalweeks' vacation," he explained. "You'll have to get some gink to dopeout instalments for that serial. Sorry, old man, but my health demandsit. I'll kick in twice as hard when I get back."

  Kit Bellew landed through the madness of the Dyea beach, congested withthousand-pound outfits of thousands of men. This immense mass of luggageand food, flung ashore in mountains by the steamers, was beginningslowly to dribble up the Dyea Valley and across Chilkoot. It was aportage of twenty-eight miles, and could be accomplished only on thebacks of men. Despite the fact that the Indian packers had jumped thefreight from eight cents a pound to forty, they were swamped with thework, and it was plain that winter would catch the major portion of theoutfits on the wrong side of the divide.

  Tenderest of the tenderfeet was Kit. Like many hundreds of others hecarried a big revolver swung on a cartridge-belt. Of this, his uncle,filled with memories of old lawless days, was likewise guilty. But KitBellew was romantic. He was fascinated by the froth and sparkle of thegold rush, and viewed its life and movement with an artist's eye. Hedid not take it seriously. As he said on the steamer, it was not hisfuneral. He was merely on a vacation, and intended to peep over the topof the pass for a "look see" and then to return.

  Leaving his party on the sand to wait for the putting ashore of thefreight, he strolled up the beach toward the old trading-post. Hedid not swagger, though he noticed that many of the be-revolveredindividuals did. A strapping, six-foot Indian passed him, carrying anunusually large pack. Kit swung in behind, admiring the splendid calvesof the man, and the grace and ease with which he moved along under hisburden. The Indian dropped his pack on the scales in front of the post,and Kit joined the group of admiring gold-rushers who surrounded him.The pack weighed one hundred and twenty-five pounds, which fact wasuttered back and forth in tones of awe. It was going some, Kit decided,and he wondered if he could lift such a weight, much less walk off withit.

  "Going to Lake Linderman with it, old man?" he asked.

  The Indian, swelling with pride, grunted an affirmative.

  "How much you make that one pack?"

  "Fifty dollar."

  Here Kit slid out of the conversation. A young woman, standing inthe doorway, had caught his eye. Unlike other women landing from thesteamers, she was neither short-skirted nor bloomer-clad. She wasdressed as any woman travelling anywhere would be dressed. What struckhim was the justness of her being there, a feeling that somehow shebelonged. Moreover, she was young and pretty. The bright beauty andcolour of her oval face held him, and he looked over-long--looked tillshe resented, and her own eyes, long-lashed and dark, met his in coolsurvey.

  From his face they travelled in evident amusement down to the bigrevolver at his thigh. Then her eyes came back to his, and in them wasamused contempt. It struck him like a blow. She turned to the man besideher and indicated Kit. The man glanced him over with the same amusedcontempt.

  "Chechako," the girl said.

  The man, who looked like a tramp in his cheap overalls and dilapidatedwoollen jacket, grinned dryly, and Kit felt withered, though he knew notwhy. But anyway she was an unusually pretty girl, he decided, as the twomoved off. He noted the way of her walk, and recorded the judgment thathe would recognize it over the lapse of a thousand years.

  "Did you see that man with the girl?" Kit's neighbor asked himexcitedly. "Know who he is?"

  Kit shook his head.

  "Cariboo Charley. He was just pointed out to me. He struck it big onKlondike. Old-timer. Been on the Yukon a dozen years. He's just comeout."

  "What's 'chechako' mean?" Kit asked.

  "You're one; I'm one," was the answer.

  "Maybe I am, but you've got to search me. What does it mean?"

  "Tenderfoot."

  On his way back to the beach, Kit turned the phrase over and over. Itrankled to be called tenderfoot by a slender chit of a woman.

  Going into a corner among the heaps of freight, his mind still filledwith the vision of the Indian with the redoubtable pack, Kit essayedto learn his own strength. He picked out a sack of flour which he knewweighed an even hundred pounds. He stepped astride it, reached down,and strove to get it on his shoulder. His first conclusion was that onehundred pounds were real heavy. His next was that his back was weak. Histhird was an oath, and it occurred at the end of five futile minutes,when he collapsed on top of the burden with which he was wrestling. Hemopped his forehead, and across a heap of grub-sacks saw John Bellewgazing at him, wintry amusement in his eyes.

  "God!" proclaimed that apostle of the hard. "Out of our loins has come arace of weaklings. When I was sixteen I toyed with things like that."

  "You forget, avuncular," Kit retorted, "that I wasn't raised onbear-meat."

  "And I'll toy with it when I'm sixty."

  "You've got to show me."

  John Bellew did. He was forty-eight, but he bent over the sack, applieda tentative, shifting grip that balanced it, and, with a quick heave,stood erect, the somersaulted sack of flour on his shoulder.

  "Knack, my boy, knack--and a spine."

  Kit took off his hat reverently.

  "You're a wonder, avuncular, a shining wonder. D'ye think I can learnthe knack?"

  John Bellew shrugged his shoulders. "You'll be hitting the back trailbefore we get started."

  "Never you fear," Kit groaned. "There's O'Hara, the roaring lion, downthere. I'm not going back till I have to."

  Kit's first pack was a success. Up to Finnegan's Crossing they hadmanaged to get Indians to carry the twenty-five-hundred-pound outfit.From that point their own backs must do the work. They planned to moveforward at the rate of a mile a day. It looked easy--on paper. SinceJohn Bellew was to stay in camp and do the cooking, he would be unableto make more than an occasional pack; so to each of the three young menfell the task of carrying eight hundred pounds one mile each day. Ifthey made fifty-pound packs, it meant a daily walk of sixteen milesloaded and of fifteen miles light--"Because we don't back-trip the lasttime," Kit explained the pleasant discovery. Eighty-pound packs meantnineteen miles travel each day; and hundred-pound packs meant onlyfifteen miles.

  "I don't like walking," said Kit. "Therefore I shall carry one hundredpounds." He caught the grin of incredulity on his uncle's face, andadded hastily: "Of course I shall work up to it. A fellow's got to learnthe ropes and tricks. I'll start with fifty."

  He did, and ambled gaily along the trail. He dropped the sack at thenext camp-site and ambled back. It was easier than he had thought. Buttwo miles had rubbed off the velvet of his strength and exposed theunderlying softness. His second pack was sixty-five pounds. It was moredifficult, and he no longer ambled. Several times, following the customof all packers, he sat down on the ground, resting the pack behind himon a rock or stump. With the third pack he became bold. He fastened thestraps to a ninety-five-pound sack of beans and started. At the end of ahundred yards he felt that he must collapse. He sat down and mopped hisface.

  "Short hauls and short rests," he muttered. "That's the trick."

  Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he struggled tohis feet for another short haul the pack became undeniably heavier.He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed from him. Before he hadcovered a quarter of a mile he stripped off his woollen shirt and hungit on a tree. A little later he discarded his hat. At the end of half amile he decided he was finished. He had never exerted himself so in hislife, and he knew that he was finished. As he sat and panted, his gazefell upon the big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.

  "Ten pounds of junk!" he sneered, as he unbuckled it.

  He did not bother to hang it on a tree, but flung it into the underbush.And as the steady tide of packers flowed by him, up trail and down,he noted that the other tenderfeet were beginning to shed theirshooting-irons.

  His short hauls decreased. At times a hundred feet was all he couldstagger, and then the ominous pounding of his heart against his eardrumsand the sickening totteriness of his knees compelled him to rest. Andhis rests grew longer. But his mind was busy. It was a twenty-eight-mileportage, which represented as many days, and this, by all accounts, wasthe easiest part of it. "Wait till you get to Chilkoot," others told himas they rested and talked, "where you climb with hands and feet."

  "They ain't going to be no Chilkoot," was his answer. "Not for me. Longbefore that I'll be at peace in my little couch beneath the moss."

  A slip and a violent, wrenching effort at recovery frightened him. Hefelt that everything inside him had been torn asunder.

  "If ever I fall down with this on my back, I'm a goner," he told anotherpacker.

  "That's nothing," came the answer. "Wait till you hit the Canyon.You'll have to cross a raging torrent on a sixty-foot pine-tree. Noguide-ropes, nothing, and the water boiling at the sag of the log toyour knees. If you fall with a pack on your back, there's no getting outof the straps. You just stay there and drown."

  "Sounds good to me," he retorted; and out of the depths of hisexhaustion he almost meant it.

  "They drown three or four a day there," the man assured him. "I helpedfish a German out of there. He had four thousand in greenbacks on him."

  "Cheerful, I must say," said Kit, battling his way to his feet andtottering on.

  He and the sack of beans became a perambulating tragedy. It reminded himof the old man of the sea who sat on Sinbad's neck. And this was one ofthose intensely masculine vacations, he meditated. Compared with it, theservitude to O'Hara was sweet. Again and again he was nearly seduced bythe thought of abandoning the sack of beans in the brush and of sneakingaround the camp to the beach and catching a steamer for civilization.

  But he didn't. Somewhere in him was the strain of the hard, and herepeated over and over to himself that what other men could do, hecould. It became a nightmare chant, and he gibbered it to those thatpassed him on the trail. At other times, resting, he watched and enviedthe stolid, mule-footed Indians that plodded by under heavier packs.They never seemed to rest, but went on and on with a steadiness andcertitude that were to him appalling.

  He sat and cursed--he had no breath for it when under way--and foughtthe temptation to sneak back to San Francisco. Before the mile packwas ended he ceased cursing and took to crying. The tears were tears ofexhaustion and of disgust with self. If ever a man was a wreck, hewas. As the end of the pack came in sight, he strained himself indesperation, gained the camp-site, and pitched forward on his face, thebeans on his back. It did not kill him, but he lay for fifteen minutesbefore he could summon sufficient shreds of strength to release himselffrom the straps. Then he became deathly sick, and was so found byRobbie, who had similar troubles of his own. It was this sickness ofRobbie that braced Kit up.

  "What other men can do, we can do," Kit told Robbie, though down in hisheart he wondered whether or not he was bluffing.

  "And I am twenty-seven years old and a man," he privately assuredhimself many times in the days that followed. There was need for it. Atthe end of a week, though he had succeeded in moving his eight hundredpounds forward a mile a day, he had lost fifteen pounds of his ownweight. His face was lean and haggard. All resilience had gone outof his body and mind. He no longer walked, but plodded. And on theback-trips, travelling light, his feet dragged almost as much as when hewas loaded.

  He had become a work animal. He fell asleep over his food, and his sleepwas heavy and beastly, save when he was aroused, screaming with agony,by the cramps in his legs. Every part of him ached. He tramped on rawblisters; yet even this was easier than the fearful bruising his feetreceived on the water-rounded rocks of the Dyea Flats, across which thetrail led for two miles. These two miles represented thirty-eight milesof travelling. He washed his face once a day. His nails, torn and brokenand afflicted with hangnails, were never cleaned. His shoulders andchest, galled by the pack-straps, made him think, and for the first timewith understanding, of the horses he had seen on city streets.

  One ordeal that nearly destroyed him at first had been the food. Theextraordinary amount of work demanded extraordinary stoking, and hisstomach was unaccustomed to great quantities of bacon and of the coarse,highly poisonous brown beans. As a result, his stomach went back on him,and for several days the pain and irritation of it and of starvationnearly broke him down. And then came the day of joy when he could eatlike a ravenous animal, and, wolf-eyed, ask for more.

  When they had moved the outfit across the foot-logs at the mouth of theCanyon, they made a change in their plans. Word had come across the Passthat at Lake Linderman the last available trees for building boats werebeing cut. The two cousins, with tools, whipsaw, blankets, and grubon their backs, went on, leaving Kit and his uncle to hustle along theoutfit. John Bellew now shared the cooking with Kit, and both packedshoulder to shoulder. Time was flying, and on the peaks the first snowwas falling. To be caught on the wrong side of the Pass meant a delay ofnearly a year. The older man put his iron back under a hundred pounds.Kit was shocked, but he gritted his teeth and fastened his own straps toa hundred pounds. It hurt, but he had learned the knack, and his body,purged of all softness and fat, was beginning to harden up with leanand bitter muscle. Also, he observed and devised. He took note of thehead-straps worn by the Indians and manufactured one for himself, whichhe used in addition to the shoulder-straps. It made things easier, sothat he began the practice of piling any light, cumbersome piece ofluggage on top. Thus, he was soon able to bend along with a hundredpounds in the straps, fifteen or twenty more lying loosely on top of thepack and against his neck, an axe or a pair of oars in one hand, and inthe other the nested cooking-pails of the camp.

  But work as they would, the toil increased. The trail grew more rugged;their packs grew heavier; and each day saw the snow-line dropping downthe mountains, while freight jumped to sixty cents. No word came fromthe cousins beyond, so they knew they must be at work chopping down thestanding trees and whipsawing them into boat-planks. John Bellew grewanxious. Capturing a bunch of Indians back-tripping from Lake Linderman,he persuaded them to put their straps on the outfit. They charged thirtycents a pound to carry it to the summit of Chilkoot, and it nearly brokehim. As it was, some four hundred pounds of clothes-bags and camp outfitwere not handled. He remained behind to move it along, dispatching Kitwith the Indians. At the summit Kit was to remain, slowly moving histon until overtaken by the four hundred pounds with which his uncleguaranteed to catch him.

  Kit plodded along the trail with his Indian packers. In recognition ofthe fact that it was to be a long pack, straight to the top of Chilkoot,his own load was only eighty pounds. The Indians plodded under theirloads, but it was a quicker gait than he had practised. Yet he felt noapprehension, and by now had come to deem himself almost the equal of anIndian.

  At the end of a quarter of a mile he desired to rest. But the Indianskept on. He stayed with them, and kept his place in the line. At thehalf-mile he was convinced that he was incapable of another step, yet hegritted his teeth, kept his place, and at the end of the mile was amazedthat he was still alive. Then, in some strange way, came the thingcalled second wind, and the next mile was almost easier than the first.The third mile nearly killed him, but, though half delirious with painand fatigue, he never whimpered. And then, when he felt he must surelyfaint, came the rest. Instead of sitting in the straps, as was thecustom of the white packers, the Indians slipped out of the shoulder-and head-straps and lay at ease, talking and smoking. A full half-hourpassed before they made another start. To Kit's surprise he foundhimself a fresh man, and "long hauls and long rests" became his newestmotto.

  The pitch of Chilkoot was all he had heard of it, and many were theoccasions when he climbed with hands as well as feet. But when hereached the crest of the divide in the thick of a driving snow-squall,it was in the company of his Indians, and his secret pride was that hehad come through with them and never squealed and never lagged. To bealmost as good as an Indian was a new ambition to cherish.

  When he had paid off the Indians and seen them depart, a stormy darknesswas falling, and he was left alone, a thousand feet above timber-line,on the backbone of a mountain. Wet to the waist, famished and exhausted,he would have given a year's income for a fire and a cup of coffee.Instead, he ate half a dozen cold flapjacks and crawled into the foldsof the partly unrolled tent. As he dozed off he had time for only onefleeting thought, and he grinned with vicious pleasure at the pictureof John Bellew in the days to follow, masculinely back-tripping his fourhundred pounds up Chilcoot. As for himself, even though burdened withtwo thousand pounds, he was bound down the hill.

  In the morning, stiff from his labours and numb with the frost, herolled out of the canvas, ate a couple of pounds of uncooked bacon,buckled the straps on a hundred pounds, and went down the rocky way.Several hundred yards beneath, the trail led across a small glacier anddown to Crater Lake. Other men packed across the glacier. All that dayhe dropped his packs at the glacier's upper edge, and, by virtue of theshortness of the pack, he put his straps on one hundred and fifty poundseach load. His astonishment at being able to do it never abated. For twodollars he bought from an Indian three leathery sea-biscuits, and out ofthese, and a huge quantity of raw bacon, made several meals. Unwashed,unwarmed, his clothing wet with sweat, he slept another night in thecanvas.

  In the early morning he spread a tarpaulin on the ice, loaded it withthree-quarters of a ton, and started to pull. Where the pitch of theglacier accelerated, his load likewise accelerated, overran him, scoopedhim in on top, and ran away with him.

  A hundred packers, bending under their loads, stopped to watch him. Heyelled frantic warnings, and those in his path stumbled and staggeredclear. Below, on the lower edge of the glacier, was pitched a smalltent, which seemed leaping toward him, so rapidly did it grow larger. Heleft the beaten track where the packers' trail swerved to the left,and struck a patch of fresh snow. This arose about him in frosty smoke,while it reduced his speed. He saw the tent the instant he struck it,carrying away the corner guys, bursting in the front flaps, and fetchingup inside, still on top of the tarpaulin and in the midst of hisgrub-sacks. The tent rocked drunkenly, and in the frosty vapour he foundhimself face to face with a startled young woman who was sitting up inher blankets--the very one who had called him a tenderfoot at Dyea.

  "Did you see my smoke?" he queried cheerfully.

  She regarded him with disapproval.

  "Talk about your magic carpets!" he went on.

  "Do you mind removing that sack from my foot?" she said coldly.

  He looked, and lifted his weight quickly.

  "It wasn't a sack. It was my elbow. Pardon me."

  The information did not perturb her, and her coolness was a challenge.

  "It was a mercy you did not overturn the stove," she said.

  He followed her glance and saw a sheet-iron stove and a coffee-pot,attended by a young squaw. He sniffed the coffee and looked back to thegirl.

  "I'm a chechako," he said.

  Her bored expression told him that he was stating the obvious. But hewas unabashed.

  "I've shed my shooting-irons," he added.

  Then she recognized him, and her eyes lighted. "I never thought you'dget this far," she informed him.

  Again, and greedily, he sniffed the air. "As I live, coffee!" He turnedand directly addressed her: "I'll give you my little finger--cut itright off now; I'll do anything; I'll be your slave for a year and a dayor any other old time, if you'll give me a cup out of that pot."

  And over the coffee he gave his name and learned hers--Joy Gastell.Also, he learned that she was an old-timer in the country. She had beenborn in a trading-post on the Great Slave, and as a child had crossedthe Rockies with her father and come down to the Yukon. She was goingin, she said, with her father, who had been delayed by business inSeattle, and who had then been wrecked on the ill-fated Chanter andcarried back to Puget Sound by the rescuing steamer.

  In view of the fact that she was still in her blankets, he did notmake it a long conversation, and, heroically declining a second cup ofcoffee, he removed himself and his heaped and shifted baggage from hertent. Further, he took several conclusions away with him: she had afetching name and fetching eyes; could not be more than twenty, ortwenty-one or -two; her father must be French; she had a will of her ownand temperament to burn; and she had been educated elsewhere than on thefrontier.

  Over the ice-scoured rocks and above the timber-line, the trail ranaround Crater Lake and gained the rocky defile that led toward HappyCamp and the first scrub-pines. To pack his heavy outfit around wouldtake days of heart-breaking toil. On the lake was a canvas boat employedin freighting. Two trips with it, in two hours, would see him and histon across. But he was broke, and the ferryman charged forty dollars aton.

  "You've got a gold-mine, my friend, in that dinky boat," Kit said to theferryman. "Do you want another gold-mine?"

  "Show me," was the answer.

  "I'll sell it to you for the price of ferrying my outfit. It's an idea,not patented, and you can jump the deal as soon as I tell you it. Areyou game?"

  The ferryman said he was, and Kit liked his looks.

  "Very well. You see that glacier. Take a pick-axe and wade into it. In aday you can have a decent groove from top to bottom. See the point? TheChilkoot and Crater Lake Consolidated Chute Corporation, Limited. Youcan charge fifty cents a hundred, get a hundred tons a day, and have nowork to do but collect the coin."

  Two hours later, Kit's ton was across the lake, and he had gained threedays on himself. And when John Bellew overtook him, he was well alongtoward Deep Lake, another volcanic pit filled with glacial water.

  The last pack, from Long Lake to Linderman, was three miles, andthe trail, if trail it could be called, rose up over a thousand-foothogback, dropped down a scramble of slippery rocks, and crossed a widestretch of swamp. John Bellew remonstrated when he saw Kit arise with ahundred pounds in the straps and pick up a fifty-pound sack of flour andplace it on top of the pack against the back of his neck.

  "Come on, you chunk of the hard," Kit retorted. "Kick in on yourbear-meat fodder and your one suit of underclothes."

  But John Bellew shook his head. "I'm afraid I'm getting old,Christopher."

  "You're only forty-eight. Do you realize that my grandfather, sir,your father, old Isaac Bellew, killed a man with his fist when he wassixty-nine years old?"

  John Bellew grinned and swallowed his medicine.

  "Avuncular, I want to tell you something important. I was raised a LordFauntleroy, but I can outpack you, outwalk you, put you on your back, orlick you with my fists right now."

  John Bellew thrust out his hand and spoke solemnly. "Christopher, myboy, I believe you can do it. I believe you can do it with that packon your back at the same time. You've made good, boy, though it's toounthinkable to believe."

  Kit made the round trip of the last pack four times a day, which is tosay that he daily covered twenty-four miles of mountain climbing, twelvemiles of it under one hundred and fifty pounds. He was proud, hard, andtired, but in splendid physical condition. He ate and slept as he hadnever eaten and slept in his life, and as the end of the work came insight, he was almost half sorry.

  One problem bothered him. He had learned that he could fall with ahundred-weight on his back and survive; but he was confident, if he fellwith that additional fifty pounds across the back of his neck, that itwould break it clean. Each trail through the swamp was quickly churnedbottomless by the thousands of packers, who were compelled continuallyto make new trails. It was while pioneering such a new trail, that hesolved the problem of the extra fifty.

  The soft, lush surface gave way under him; he floundered, and pitchedforward on his face. The fifty pounds crushed his face in the mud andwent clear without snapping his neck. With the remaining hundred poundson his back, he arose on hands and knees. But he got no farther. One armsank to the shoulder, pillowing his cheek in the slush. As he drewthis arm clear, the other sank to the shoulder. In this position it wasimpossible to slip the straps, and the hundred-weight on his back wouldnot let him rise. On hands and knees, sinking first one arm and then theother, he made an effort to crawl to where the small sack of flour hadfallen. But he exhausted himself without advancing, and so churned andbroke the grass surface, that a tiny pool of water began to form inperilous proximity to his mouth and nose.

  He tried to throw himself on his back with the pack underneath, but thisresulted in sinking both arms to the shoulders and gave him a foretasteof drowning. With exquisite patience, he slowly withdrew one sucking armand then the other and rested them flat on the surface for the supportof his chin. Then he began to call for help. After a time he heard thesound of feet sucking through the mud as some one advanced from behind.

  "Lend a hand, friend," he said. "Throw out a life-line or something."

  It was a woman's voice that answered, and he recognized it.

  "If you'll unbuckle the straps I can get up."

  The hundred pounds rolled into the mud with a soggy noise, and he slowlygained his feet.

  "A pretty predicament," Miss Gastell laughed, at sight of hismud-covered face.

  "Not at all," he replied airily. "My favourite physical-exercise stunt.Try it some time. It's great for the pectoral muscles and the spine."

  He wiped his face, flinging the slush from his hand with a snappy jerk.

  "Oh!" she cried in recognition. "It's Mr.--ah--Mr. Smoke Bellew."

  "I thank you gravely for your timely rescue and for that name," heanswered. "I have been doubly baptized. Henceforth I shall insist alwayson being called Smoke Bellew. It is a strong name, and not withoutsignificance."

  He paused, and then voice and expression became suddenly fierce.

  "Do you know what I'm going to do?" he demanded. "I'm going back to theStates. I am going to get married. I am going to raise a large familyof children. And then, as the evening shadows fall, I shall gather thosechildren about me and relate the sufferings and hardships I endured onthe Chilkoot Trail. And if they don't cry--I repeat, if they don't cry,I'll lambaste the stuffing out of them."

  The arctic winter came down apace. Snow that had come to stay lay sixinches on the ground, and the ice was forming in quiet ponds, despitethe fierce gales that blew. It was in the late afternoon, during a lullin such a gale, that Kit and John Bellew helped the cousins load theboat and watched it disappear down the lake in a snow-squall.

  "And now a night's sleep and an early start in the morning," saidJohn Bellew. "If we aren't storm-bound at the summit we'll make Dyeato-morrow night, and if we have luck in catching a steamer we'll be inSan Francisco in a week."

  "Enjoyed your vacation?" Kit asked absently.

  Their camp for that last night at Linderman was a melancholy remnant.Everything of use, including the tent, had been taken by the cousins. Atattered tarpaulin, stretched as a wind-break, partially sheltered themfrom the driving snow. Supper they cooked on an open fire in a couple ofbattered and discarded camp utensils. All that was left them were theirblankets, and food for several meals.

  From the moment of the departure of the boat, Kit had become absent andrestless. His uncle noticed his condition, and attributed it to the factthat the end of the hard toil had come. Only once during supper did Kitspeak.

  "Avuncular," he said, relevant of nothing, "after this, I wish you'dcall me Smoke. I've made some smoke on this trail, haven't I?"

  A few minutes later he wandered away in the direction of the village oftents that sheltered the gold-rushers who were still packing or buildingtheir boats. He was gone several hours, and when he returned and slippedinto his blankets John Bellew was asleep.

  In the darkness of a gale-driven morning, Kit crawled out, built a firein his stocking feet, by which he thawed out his frozen shoes, thenboiled coffee and fried bacon. It was a chilly, miserable meal. As soonas it was finished, they strapped their blankets. As John Bellew turnedto lead the way toward the Chilcoot Trail, Kit held out his hand.

  "Good-bye, avuncular," he said.

  John Bellew looked at him and swore in his surprise.

  "Don't forget, my name's Smoke," Kit chided.

  "But what are you going to do?"

  Kit waved his hand in a general direction northward over thestorm-lashed lake.

  "What's the good of turning back after getting this far?" he asked."Besides, I've got my taste of meat, and I like it. I'm going on."

  "You're broke," protested John Bellew. "You have no outfit."

  "I've got a job. Behold your nephew, Christopher Smoke Bellew! He's gota job! He's a gentleman's man! He's got a job at a hundred and fiftyper month and grub. He's going down to Dawson with a couple of dudesand another gentleman's man--camp-cook, boatman, and general all-aroundhustler. And O'Hara and The Billow can go to the devil. Good-bye."

  But John Bellew was dazed, and could only mutter: "I don't understand."

  "They say the baldface grizzlies are thick in the Yukon Basin," Kitexplained. "Well, I've got only one suit of underclothes, and I'm goingafter the bear-meat, that's all."

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment