VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Other Chapters or Short Stories

The Taste Of The Meat

The Stampede To Squaw Creek

Shorty Dreams

The Man On The Other Bank

The Race For Number One

The Man On The Other Bank

From: Smoke Bellew


It was before Smoke Bellew staked the farcical town-site of Tra-Lee,
made the historic corner of eggs that nearly broke Swiftwater Bill's
bank account, or won the dog-team race down the Yukon for an even
million dollars, that he and Shorty parted company on the Upper
Klondike. Shorty's task was to return down the Klondike to Dawson
to record some claims they had staked.

Smoke, with the dog-team, turned south. His quest was Surprise Lake
and the mythical Two Cabins. His traverse was to cut the headwaters
of the Indian River and cross the unknown region over the mountains
to the Stewart River. Here, somewhere, rumour persisted, was
Surprise Lake, surrounded by jagged mountains and glaciers, its
bottom paved with raw gold. Old-timers, it was said, whose very
names were forgotten in the forests of earlier years, had dived in
the ice-waters of Surprise Lake and fetched lump-gold to the surface
in both hands. At different times, parties of old-timers had
penetrated the forbidding fastness and sampled the lake's golden
bottom. But the water was too cold. Some died in the water, being
pulled up dead. Others died of consumption. And one who had gone
down never did come up. All survivors had planned to return and
drain the lake, yet none had ever gone back. Disaster always
happened. One man fell into an air-hole below Forty Mile; another
was killed and eaten by his dogs; a third was crushed by a falling
tree. And so the tale ran. Surprise Lake was a hoodoo; its
location was unremembered; and the gold still paved its undrained

Two Cabins, no less mythical, was more definitely located. 'Five
sleeps,' up the McQuestion River from the Stewart, stood two ancient
cabins. So ancient were they that they must have been built before
ever the first known gold-hunter had entered the Yukon Basin.
Wandering moose-hunters, whom even Smoke had met and talked with,
claimed to have found the two cabins in the old days, but to have
sought vainly for the mine which those early adventurers must have

"I wish you was goin' with me," Shorty said wistfully, at parting.
"Just because you got the Indian bug ain't no reason for to go
pokin' into trouble. They's no gettin' away from it, that's loco
country you're bound for. The hoodoo's sure on it, from the first
flip to the last call, judgin' from all you an' me has hearn tell
about it."

"It's all right, Shorty. I'll make the round trip and be back in
Dawson in six weeks. The Yukon trail is packed, and the first
hundred miles or so of the Stewart ought to be packed. Old-timers
from Henderson have told me a number of outfits went up last fall
after the freeze-up. When I strike their trail I ought to hit her
up forty or fifty miles a day. I'm likely to be back inside a
month, once I get across."

"Yes, once you get acrost. But it's the gettin' acrost that worries
me. Well, so long, Smoke. Keep your eyes open for that hoodoo,
that's all. An' don't be ashamed to turn back if you don't kill any


A week later, Smoke found himself among the jumbled ranges south of
Indian River. On the divide from the Klondike he had abandoned the
sled and packed his wolf-dogs. The six big huskies each carried
fifty pounds, and on his own back was an equal burden. Through the
soft snow he led the way, packing it down under his snow-shoes, and
behind, in single file, toiled the dogs.

He loved the life, the deep arctic winter, the silent wilderness,
the unending snow-surface unpressed by the foot of any man. About
him towered icy peaks unnamed and uncharted. No hunter's camp-
smoke, rising in the still air of the valleys, ever caught his eye.
He, alone, moved through the brooding quiet of the untravelled
wastes; nor was he oppressed by the solitude. He loved it all, the
day's toil, the bickering wolf-dogs, the making of the camp in the
long twilight, the leaping stars overhead and the flaming pageant of
the aurora borealis.

Especially he loved his camp at the end of the day, and in it he saw
a picture which he ever yearned to paint and which he knew he would
never forget--a beaten place in the snow, where burned his fire; his
bed, a couple of rabbit-skin robes spread on fresh-chopped spruce-
boughs; his shelter, a stretched strip of canvas that caught and
threw back the heat of the fire; the blackened coffee-pot and pail
resting on a length of log, the moccasins propped on sticks to dry,
the snow-shoes up-ended in the snow; and across the fire the wolf-
dogs snuggling to it for the warmth, wistful and eager, furry and
frost-rimed, with bushy tails curled protectingly over their feet;
and all about, pressed backward but a space, the wall of encircling

At such times San Francisco, The Billow, and O'Hara seemed very far
away, lost in a remote past, shadows of dreams that had never
happened. He found it hard to believe that he had known any other
life than this of the wild, and harder still was it for him to
reconcile himself to the fact that he had once dabbled and dawdled
in the Bohemian drift of city life. Alone, with no one to talk to,
he thought much, and deeply, and simply. He was appalled by the
wastage of his city years, by the cheapness, now, of the
philosophies of the schools and books, of the clever cynicism of the
studio and editorial room, of the cant of the business men in their
clubs. They knew neither food nor sleep, nor health; nor could they
ever possibly know the sting of real appetite, the goodly ache of
fatigue, nor the rush of mad strong blood that bit like wine through
all one's body as work was done.

And all the time this fine, wise, Spartan North Land had been here,
and he had never known. What puzzled him was, that, with such
intrinsic fitness, he had never heard the slightest calling whisper,
had not himself gone forth to seek. But this, too, he solved in

"Look here, Yellow-face, I've got it clear!"

The dog addressed lifted first one fore-foot and then the other with
quick, appeasing movements, curled his bush of a tail about them
again, and laughed across the fire.

"Herbert Spencer was nearly forty before he caught the vision of his
greatest efficiency and desire. I'm none so slow. I didn't have to
wait till I was thirty to catch mine. Right here is my efficiency
and desire. Almost, Yellow Face, do I wish I had been born a wolf-
boy and been brother all my days to you and yours."

For days he wandered through a chaos of canyons and divides which
did not yield themselves to any rational topographical plan. It was
as if they had been flung there by some cosmic joker. In vain he
sought for a creek or feeder that flowed truly south toward the
McQuestion and the Stewart. Then came a mountain storm that blew a
blizzard across the riff-raff of high and shallow divides. Above
timber-line, fireless, for two days, he struggled blindly to find
lower levels. On the second day he came out upon the rim of an
enormous palisade. So thickly drove the snow that he could not see
the base of the wall, nor dared he attempt the descent. He rolled
himself in his robes and huddled the dogs about him in the depths of
a snow-drift, but did not permit himself to sleep.

In the morning, the storm spent, he crawled out to investigate. A
quarter of a mile beneath him, beyond all mistake, lay a frozen,
snow-covered lake. About it, on every side, rose jagged peaks. It
answered the description. Blindly, he had found Surprise Lake.

"Well-named," he muttered, an hour later, as he came out upon its
margin. A clump of aged spruce was the only woods. On his way to
it, he stumbled upon three graves, snow-buried, but marked by hand-
hewn head-posts and undecipherable writing. On the edge of the
woods was a small ramshackle cabin. He pulled the latch and
entered. In a corner, on what had once been a bed of spruce-boughs,
still wrapped in mangy furs, that had rotted to fragments, lay a
skeleton. The last visitor to Surprise Lake, was Smoke's
conclusion, as he picked up a lump of gold as large as his doubled
fist. Beside the lump was a pepper-can filled with nuggets of the
size of walnuts, rough-surfaced, showing no signs of wash.

So true had the tale run, that Smoke accepted without question that
the source of the gold was the lake's bottom. Under many feet of
ice and inaccessible, there was nothing to be done, and at mid-day,
from the rim of the palisade, he took a farewell look back and down
at his find.

"It's all right, Mr Lake," he said. "You just keep right on staying
there. I'm coming back to drain you--if that hoodoo doesn't catch
me. I don't know how I got here, but I'll know by the way I go


In a little valley, beside a frozen stream and under beneficent
spruce trees, he built a fire four days later. Somewhere in that
white anarchy he left behind him, was Surprise Lake--somewhere, he
knew not where; for a hundred hours of driftage and struggle through
blinding driving snow, had concealed his course from him, and he
knew not in what direction lay BEHIND. It was as if he had just
emerged from a nightmare. He was not sure that four days or a week
had passed. He had slept with the dogs, fought across a forgotten
number of shallow divides, followed the windings of weird canyons
that ended in pockets, and twice had managed to make a fire and thaw
out frozen moose-meat. And here he was, well-fed and well-camped.
The storm had passed, and it had turned clear and cold. The lay of
the land had again become rational. The creek he was on was natural
in appearance, and trended as it should toward the southwest. But
Surprise Lake was as lost to him as it had been to all its seekers
in the past.

Half a day's journey down the creek brought him to the valley of a
larger stream which he decided was the McQuestion. Here he shot a
moose, and once again each wolf-dog carried a full fifty-pound pack
of meat. As he turned down the McQuestion, he came upon a sled-
trail. The late snows had drifted over, but underneath, it was
well-packed by travel. His conclusion was that two camps had been
established on the McQuestion, and that this was the connecting
trail. Evidently, Two Cabins had been found and it was the lower
camp, so he headed down the stream.

It was forty below zero when he camped that night, and he fell
asleep wondering who were the men who had rediscovered the Two
Cabins, and if he would fetch it next day. At the first hint of
dawn he was under way, easily following the half-obliterated trail
and packing the recent snow with his webbed shoes so that the dogs
should not wallow.

And then it came, the unexpected, leaping out upon him on a bend of
the river. It seemed to him that he heard and felt simultaneously.
The crack of the rifle came from the right, and the bullet, tearing
through and across the shoulders of his drill parka and woollen
coat, pivoted him half around with the shock of its impact. He
staggered on his twisted snow-shoes to recover balance, and heard a
second crack of the rifle. This time it was a clean miss. He did
not wait for more, but plunged across the snow for the sheltering
trees of the bank a hundred feet away. Again and again the rifle
cracked, and he was unpleasantly aware of a trickle of warm moisture
down his back.

He climbed the bank, the dogs floundering behind, and dodged in
among the trees and brush. Slipping out of his snow-shoes, he
wallowed forward at full length and peered cautiously out. Nothing
was to be seen. Whoever had shot at him was lying quiet among the
trees of the opposite bank.

"If something doesn't happen pretty soon," he muttered at the end of
half an hour, "I'll have to sneak away and build a fire or freeze my
feet. Yellow Face, what'd you do, lying in the frost with
circulation getting slack and a man trying to plug you?"

He crawled back a few yards, packed down the snow, danced a jig that
sent the blood back into his feet, and managed to endure another
half hour. Then, from down the river, he heard the unmistakable
jingle of dog-bells. Peering out, he saw a sled round the bend.
Only one man was with it, straining at the gee-pole and urging the
dogs along. The effect on Smoke was one of shock, for it was the
first human he had seen since he parted from Shorty three weeks
before. His next thought was of the potential murderer concealed on
the opposite bank.

Without exposing himself, Smoke whistled warningly. The man did not
hear, and came on rapidly. Again, and more sharply, Smoke whistled.
The man whoa'd his dogs, stopped, and had turned and faced Smoke
when the rifle cracked. The instant afterwards, Smoke fired into
the wood in the direction of the sound. The man on the river had
been struck by the first shot. The shock of the high velocity
bullet staggered him. He stumbled awkwardly to the sled, half-
falling, and pulled a rifle out from under the lashings. As he
strove to raise it to his shoulder, he crumpled at the waist and
sank down slowly to a sitting posture on the sled. Then, abruptly,
as the gun went off aimlessly, he pitched backward and across a
corner of the sled-load, so that Smoke could see only his legs and

From below came more jingling bells. The man did not move. Around
the bend swung three sleds, accompanied by half a dozen men. Smoke
cried warningly, but they had seen the condition of the first sled,
and they dashed on to it. No shots came from the other bank, and
Smoke, calling his dogs to follow, emerged into the open. There
were exclamations from the men, and two of them, flinging off the
mittens of their right hands, levelled their rifles at him.

"Come on, you red-handed murderer, you," one of them, a black-
bearded man, commanded, "an' jest pitch that gun of yourn in the

Smoke hesitated, then dropped his rifle and came up to them.

"Go through him, Louis, an' take his weapons," the black-bearded man

Louis, a French-Canadian voyageur, Smoke decided, as were four of
the others, obeyed. His search revealed only Smoke's hunting knife,
which was appropriated.

"Now, what have you got to say for yourself, Stranger, before I
shoot you dead?" the black-bearded man demanded.

"That you're making a mistake if you think I killed that man," Smoke

A cry came from one of the voyageurs. He had quested along the
trail and found Smoke's tracks where he had left it to take refuge
on the bank. The man explained the nature of his find.

"What'd you kill Joe Kinade for?" he of the black beard asked.

"I tell you I didn't--" Smoke began.

"Aw, what's the good of talkin'. We got you red-handed. Right up
there's where you left the trail when you heard him comin'. You
laid among the trees an' bushwhacked him. A short shot. You
couldn't a-missed. Pierre, go an' get that gun he dropped."

"You might let me tell what happened," Smoke objected.

"You shut up," the man snarled at him. "I reckon your gun'll tell
the story."

All the men examined Smoke's rifle, ejecting and counting the
cartridges, and examining the barrel at muzzle and breech.

"One shot," Blackbeard concluded.

Pierre, with nostrils that quivered and distended like a deer's,
sniffed at the breech.

"Him one fresh shot," he said.

"The bullet entered his back," Smoke said. "He was facing me when
he was shot. You see, it came from the other bank."

Blackbeard considered this proposition for a scant second, and shook
his head.

"Nope. It won't do. Turn him around to face the other bank--that's
how you whopped him in the back. Some of you boys run up an' down
the trail and see if you can see any tracks making for the other

Their report was, that on that side the snow was unbroken. Not even
a snow-shoe rabbit had crossed it. Blackbeard, bending over the
dead man, straightened up, with a woolly, furry wad in his hand.
Shredding this, he found imbedded in the centre the bullet which had
perforated the body. Its nose was spread to the size of a half-
dollar, its butt-end, steel-jacketed, was undamaged. He compared it
with a cartridge from Smoke's belt.

"That's plain enough evidence, Stranger, to satisfy a blind man.
It's soft-nosed an' steel-jacketed; yourn is soft-nosed and steel-
jacketed. It's thirty-thirty; yourn is thirty-thirty. It's
manufactured by the J. and T. Arms Company; yourn is manufactured by
the J. and T. Arms Company. Now you come along an' we'll go over to
the bank an' see jest how you done it."

"I was bushwhacked myself," Smoke said. "Look at the hole in my

While Blackbeard examined it, one of the voyageurs threw open the
breech of the dead man's gun. It was patent to all that it had been
fired once. The empty cartridge was still in the chamber.

"A damn shame poor Joe didn't get you," Blackbeard said bitterly.
"But he did pretty well with a hole like that in him. Come on,

"Search the other bank first," Smoke urged.

"You shut up an' come on, an' let the facts do the talkin'."

They left the trail at the same spot he had, and followed it on up
the bank and in among the trees.

"Him dance that place keep him feet warm," Louis pointed out. "That
place him crawl on belly. That place him put one elbow w'en him

"And by God there's the empty cartridge he had done it with!" was
Blackbeard's discovery. "Boys, there's only one thing to do--"

"You might ask me how I came to fire that shot," Smoke interrupted.

"An' I might knock your teeth into your gullet if you butt in again.
You can answer them questions later on. Now, boys, we're decent an'
law-abidin', an' we got to handle this right an' regular. How far
do you reckon we've come, Pierre?"

"Twenty mile I t'ink for sure."

"All right. We'll cache the outfit an' run him an' poor Joe back to
Two Cabins. I reckon we've seen an' can testify to what'll stretch
his neck."


It was three hours after dark when the dead man, Smoke, and his
captors arrived at Two Cabins. By the starlight, Smoke could make
out a dozen or more recently built cabins snuggling about a larger
and older cabin on a flat by the river bank. Thrust inside this
older cabin, he found it tenanted by a young giant of a man, his
wife, and an old blind man. The woman, whom her husband called
'Lucy,' was herself a strapping creature of the frontier type. The
old man, as Smoke learned afterwards, had been a trapper on the
Stewart for years, and had gone finally blind the winter before.
The camp of Two Cabins, he was also to learn, had been made the
previous fall by a dozen men who arrived in half as many poling-
boats loaded with provisions. Here they had found the blind
trapper, on the site of Two Cabins, and about his cabin they had
built their own. Later arrivals, mushing up the ice with dog-teams,
had tripled the population. There was plenty of meat in camp, and
good low-pay dirt had been discovered and was being worked.

In five minutes, all the men of Two cabins were jammed into the
room. Smoke, shoved off into a corner, ignored and scowled at, his
hands and feet tied with thongs of moosehide, looked on. Thirty-
eight men he counted, a wild and husky crew, all frontiersmen of the
States or voyageurs from Upper Canada. His captors told the tale
over and over, each the centre of an excited and wrathful group.
There were mutterings of "Lynch him now--why wait?" And, once, a
big Irishman was restrained only by force from rushing upon the
helpless prisoner and giving him a beating.

It was while counting the men that Smoke caught sight of a familiar
face. It was Breck, the man whose boat Smoke had run through the
rapids. He wondered why the other did not come and speak to him,
but himself gave no sign of recognition. Later, when with shielded
face Breck passed him a significant wink, Smoke understood.

Blackbeard, whom Smoke heard called Eli Harding, ended the
discussion as to whether or not the prisoner should be immediately

"Hold on," Harding roared. "Keep your shirts on. That man belongs
to me. I caught him an' I brought him here. D'ye think I brought
him all the way here to be lynched? Not on your life. I could a-
done that myself when I found him. I brought him here for a fair
an' impartial trial, an' by God, a fair an' impartial trial he's
goin' to get. He's tied up safe an' sound. Chuck him in a bunk
till morning, an' we'll hold the trial right here."


Smoke woke up. A draught, that possessed all the rigidity of an
icicle, was boring into the front of his shoulder as he lay on his
side facing the wall. When he had been tied into the bunk there had
been no such draught, and now the outside air, driving into the
heated atmosphere of the cabin with the pressure of fifty below
zero, was sufficient advertizement that some one from without had
pulled away the moss-chinking between the logs. He squirmed as far
as his bonds would permit, then craned his neck forward until his
lips just managed to reach the crack.

"Who is it?" he whispered.

"Breck," came the answer. "Be careful you don't make a noise. I'm
going to pass a knife in to you."

"No good," Smoke said. "I couldn't use it. My hands are tied
behind me and made fast to the leg of the bunk. Besides, you
couldn't get a knife through that crack. But something must be
done. Those fellows are of a temper to hang me, and, of course, you
know I didn't kill that man."

"It wasn't necessary to mention it, Smoke. And if you did you had
your reasons. Which isn't the point at all. I want to get you out
of this. It's a tough bunch of men here. You've seen them.
They're shut off from the world, and they make and enforce their own
law--by miner's meeting, you know. They handled two men already--
both grub-thieves. One they hiked from camp without an ounce of
grub and no matches. He made about forty miles and lasted a couple
of days before he froze stiff. Two weeks ago they hiked the second
man. They gave him his choice: no grub, or ten lashes for each
day's ration. He stood for forty lashes before he fainted. And now
they've got you, and every last one is convinced you killed Kinade."

"The man who killed Kinade, shot at me, too. His bullet broke the
skin on my shoulder. Get them to delay the trial till some one goes
up and searches the bank where the murderer hid."

"No use. They take the evidence of Harding and the five Frenchmen
with him. Besides, they haven't had a hanging yet, and they're keen
for it. You see, things have been pretty monotonous. They haven't
located anything big, and they got tired of hunting for Surprise
Lake. They did some stampeding the first part of the winter, but
they've got over that now. Scurvy is beginning to show up amongst
them, too, and they're just ripe for excitement."

"And it looks like I'll furnish it," was Smoke's comment. "Say,
Breck, how did you ever fall in with such a God-forsaken bunch?"

"After I got the claims at Squaw Creek opened up and some men to
working, I came up here by way of the Stewart, hunting for Two
Cabins. They'd beaten me to it, so I've been higher up the Stewart.
Just got back yesterday out of grub."

"Find anything?"

"Nothing much. But I think I've got a hydraulic proposition that'll
work big when the country's opened up. It's that, or a gold-

"Hold on," Smoke interrupted. "Wait a minute. Let me think."

He was very much aware of the snores of the sleepers as he pursued
the idea that had flashed into his mind.

"Say, Breck, have they opened up the meat-packs my dogs carried?"

"A couple. I was watching. They put them in Harding's cache."

"Did they find anything?"


"Good. You've got to get into the brown canvas pack that's patched
with moosehide. You'll find a few pounds of lumpy gold. You've
never seen gold like it in the country, nor has anybody else.
Here's what you've got to do. Listen."

A quarter of an hour later, fully instructed and complaining that
his toes were freezing, Breck went away. Smoke, his own nose and
one cheek frosted by proximity to the chink, rubbed them against the
blankets for half an hour before the blaze and bite of the returning
blood assured him of the safety of his flesh.


"My mind's made up right now. There ain't no doubt but what he
killed Kinade. We heard the whole thing last night. What's the
good of goin' over it again? I vote guilty."

In such fashion, Smoke's trial began. The speaker, a loose-jointed,
hard-rock man from Colorado, manifested irritation and disgust when
Harding set his suggestion aside, demanded the proceedings should be
regular, and nominated one, Shunk Wilson, for judge and chairman of
the meeting. The population of Two Cabins constituted the jury,
though, after some discussion, the woman, Lucy, was denied the right
to vote on Smoke's guilt or innocence.

While this was going on, Smoke, jammed into a corner on a bunk,
overheard a whispered conversation between Breck and a miner.

"You haven't fifty pounds of flour you'll sell?" Breck queried.

"You ain't got the dust to pay the price I'm askin'," was the reply.

"I'll give you two hundred."

The man shook his head.

"Three hundred. Three-fifty."

At four hundred, the man nodded, and said: "Come on over to my
cabin an' weigh out the dust."

The two squeezed their way to the door, and slipped out. After a
few minutes Breck returned alone.

Harding was testifying, when Smoke saw the door shoved open
slightly, and in the crack appear the face of the man who had sold
the flour. He was grimacing and beckoning emphatically to one
inside, who arose from near the stove and started to work toward the

"Where are you goin', Sam?" Shunk Wilson demanded.

"I'll be back in a jiffy," Sam explained. "I jes' got to go."

Smoke was permitted to question the witnesses, and he was in the
middle of the cross-examination of Harding, when from without came
the whining of dogs in harness, and the grind and churn of sled-
runners. Somebody near the door peeped out.

"It's Sam an' his pardner an' a dog-team hell-bent down the trail
for Stewart River," the man reported.

Nobody spoke for a long half-minute, but men glanced significantly
at one another, and a general restlessness pervaded the packed room.
Out of the corner of his eye, Smoke caught a glimpse of Breck, Lucy,
and her husband whispering together.

"Come on, you," Shunk Wilson said gruffly to Smoke. "Cut this
questionin' short. We know what you're tryin' to prove--that the
other bank wasn't searched. The witness admits it. We admit it.
It wasn't necessary. No tracks led to that bank. The snow wasn't

"There was a man on the other bank just the same," Smoke insisted.

"That's too thin for skatin', young man. There ain't many of us on
the McQuestion, an' we got every man accounted for."

"Who was the man you hiked out of camp two weeks ago?" Smoke asked.

"Alonzo Miramar. He was a Mexican. What's that grub-thief got to
do with it?"

"Nothing, except that you haven't accounted for HIM, Mr Judge."

"He went down the river, not up."

"How do you know where he went?"

"Saw him start."

"And that's all you know of what became of him?"

"No, it ain't, young man. I know, we all know, he had four day's
grub an' no gun to shoot meat with. If he didn't make the
settlement on the Yukon he'd croaked long before this."

"I suppose you've got all the guns in this part of the country
accounted for, too," Smoke observed pointedly.

Shunk Wilson was angry.

"You'd think I was the prisoner the way you slam questions into me.
Come on with the next witness. Where's French Louis?"

While French Louis was shoving forward, Lucy opened the door.

"Where you goin'?" Shunk Wilson shouted.

"I reckon I don't have to stay," she answered defiantly. "I ain't
got no vote, an' besides my cabin's so jammed up I can't breathe."

In a few minutes her husband followed. The closing of the door was
the first warning the judge received of it.

"Who was that?" he interrupted Pierre's narrative to ask.

"Bill Peabody," somebody spoke up. "Said he wanted to ask his wife
something and was coming right back."

Instead of Bill, it was Lucy who re-entered, took off her furs, and
resumed her place by the stove.

"I reckon we don't need to hear the rest of the witnesses," was
Shunk Wilson's decision, when Pierre had finished. "We know they
only can testify to the same facts we've already heard. Say,
Sorensen, you go an' bring Bill Peabody back. We'll be votin' a
verdict pretty short. Now, Stranger, you can get up an' say your
say concernin' what happened. In the meantime we'll just be savin'
delay by passin' around the two rifles, the ammunition, an' the
bullets that done the killin'."

Midway in his story of how he had arrived in that part of the
country, and at the point in his narrative where he described his
own ambush and how he had fled to the bank, Smoke was interrupted by
the indignant Shunk Wilson.

"Young man, what sense is there in you testifyin' that way? You're
just takin' up valuable time. Of course you got the right to lie to
save your neck, but we ain't goin' to stand for such foolishness.
The rifle, the ammunition, the bullet that killed Joe Kinade is
against you--What's that? Open the door, somebody!"

The frost rushed in, taking form and substance in the heat of the
room, while through the open door came the whining of dogs that
decreased rapidly with distance.

"It's Sorensen an' Peabody," some one cried, "a-throwin' the whip
into the dawgs an' headin' down river!"

"Now, what the hell--!" Shunk Wilson paused, with dropped jaw, and
glared at Lucy. "I reckon you can explain, Mrs Peabody."

She tossed her head and compressed her lips, and Shunk Wilson's
wrathful and suspicious gaze passed on and rested on Breck.

"An' I reckon that new-comer you've ben chinning with could explain
if HE had a mind to."

Breck, now very uncomfortable, found all eyes centred on him.

"Sam was chewing the rag with him, too, before he hit out," some one

"Look here, Mr Breck," Shunk Wilson continued. "You've ben
interruptin' proceedings, and you got to explain the meanin' of it.
What was you chinnin' about?"

Breck cleared his throat timidly and replied. "I was just trying to
buy some grub."

"What with?"

"Dust, of course."

"Where'd you get it?"

Breck did not answer.

"He's ben snoopin' around up the Stewart," a man volunteered. "I
run across his camp a week ago when I was huntin'. An' I want to
tell you he was almighty secretious about it."

"The dust didn't come from there," Breck said. "That's only a low-
grade hydraulic proposition."

"Bring your poke here an' let's see your dust," Wilson commanded.

"I tell you it didn't come from there."

"Let's see it just the same."

Breck made as if to refuse, but all about him were menacing faces.
Reluctantly, he fumbled in his coat pocket. In the act of drawing
forth a pepper can, it rattled against what was evidently a hard

"Fetch it all out!" Shunk Wilson thundered.

And out came the big nugget, first-size, yellow as no gold any
onlooker had ever seen. Shunk Wilson gasped. Half a dozen,
catching one glimpse, made a break for the door. They reached it at
the same moment, and, with cursing and scuffling, jammed and pivoted
through. The judge emptied the contents of the pepper can on the
table, and the sight of the rough lump-gold sent half a dozen more
toward the door.

"Where are you goin'?" Eli Harding asked, as Shunk started to

"For my dogs, of course."

"Ain't you goin' to hang him?"

"It'd take too much time right now. He'll keep till we get back, so
I reckon this court is adjourned. This ain't no place for

Harding hesitated. He glanced savagely at Smoke, saw Pierre
beckoning to Louis from the doorway, took one last look at the lump-
gold on the table, and decided.

"No use you tryin' to get away," he flung back over his shoulder.
"Besides, I'm goin' to borrow your dogs."

"What is it--another one of them blamed stampedes?" the old blind
trapper asked in a queer and petulant falsetto, as the cries of men
and dogs and the grind of the sleds swept the silence of the room.

"It sure is," Lucy answered. "An' I never seen gold like it. Feel
that, old man."

She put the big nugget in his hand. He was but slightly interested.

"It was a good fur-country," he complained, "before them danged
miners come in an' scared back the game."

The door opened, and Breck entered.

"Well," he said, "we four are all that are left in camp. It's forty
miles to the Stewart by the cut-off I broke, and the fastest of them
can't make the round trip in less than five or six days. But it's
time you pulled out, Smoke, just the same."

Breck drew his hunting knife across the other's bonds, and glanced
at the woman.

"I hope you don't object?" he said, with significant politeness.

"If there's goin' to be any shootin'," the blind man broke out, "I
wish somebody'd take me to another cabin first."

"Go on, an' don't mind me," Lucy answered. "If I ain't good enough
to hang a man, I ain't good enough to hold him."

Smoke stood up, rubbing his wrists where the thongs had impeded the

"I've got a pack all ready for you," Breck said. "Ten days' grub,
blankets, matches, tobacco, an axe, and a rifle."

"Go to it," Lucy encouraged. "Hit the high places, Stranger. Beat
it as fast as God'll let you."

"I'm going to have a square meal before I start," Smoke said. "And
when I start it will be up the McQuestion, not down. I want you to
go along with me, Breck. We're going to search that other bank for
the man that really did the killing."

"If you'll listen to me, you'll head down for the Stewart and the
Yukon," Breck objected. "When this gang gets back from my low-grade
hydraulic proposition, it will be seeing red."

Smoke laughed and shook his head.

"I can't jump this country, Breck. I've got interests here. I've
got to stay and make good. I don't care whether you believe me or
not, but I've found Surprise Lake. That's where that gold came
from. Besides, they took my dogs, and I've got to wait to get them
back. Also, I know what I'm about. There was a man hidden on that
bank. He came pretty close to emptying his magazine at me."

Half an hour afterward, with a big plate of moose-steak before him
and a big mug of coffee at his lips, Smoke half-started up from his
seat. He had heard the sounds first. Lucy threw open the door.

"Hello, Spike; hello, Methody," she greeted the two frost-rimed men
who were bending over the burden on their sled.

"We just come down from Upper Camp," one said, as the pair staggered
into the room with a fur-wrapped object which they handled with
exceeding gentleness. "An' this is what we found by the way. He's
all in, I guess."

"Put him in the near bunk there," Lucy said. She bent over and
pulled back the furs, disclosing a face composed principally of
large, staring, black eyes, and of skin, dark and scabbed by
repeated frost-bite, tightly stretched across the bones.

"If it ain't Alonzo!" she cried. "You pore, starved devil!"

"That's the man on the other bank," Smoke said in an undertone to

"We found it raidin' a cache that Harding must a-made," one of the
men was explaining. "He was eatin' raw flour an' frozen bacon, an'
when we got 'm he was cryin' an' squealin' like a hawk. Look at
him! He's all starved, an' most of him frozen. He'll kick at any

. . . . .

Half an hour later, when the furs had been drawn over the face of
the still form in the bunk, Smoke turned to Lucy.

"If you don't mind, Mrs Peabody, I'll have another whack at that
steak. Make it thick and not so well done."

Next: The Race For Number One

Previous: Shorty Dreams

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 424