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A Tale of Dawson Days

by Samuel Alexander White
Author of "The Making of Louis Lazergtu," "The Azoic Law," etc.

"BOYS, boys, throw them cards to Heligoland and come on! It's a new strike!"

To Eric Sark, lounging in the Northern Light saloon, pipe in mouth and one shoulder planted against the wall as he absently viewed the pretentious faro games scattered about in the middle of the place, the words gasped in an excited whisper came faintly through the board partition against which he leaned and which separated the main room from a smaller and private room at the back.

In that private room Sark knew that "Casino" Charlie, "Ante" Baker, "Slim" Sullivan and "Alabama" Ben were sitting in at skylimit poker. Also Sark knew the voice of the man who had rushed in and interrupted them as that of VGunboat" Kane, and he shot a swift glance at his partner Bassett, to see if Tom had overheard.

Lolling a few feet distant against the same partition, Tom Bassett betrayed his knowledge by no startled movement, but the momentary flash in his eyes told Sark that he was wise. Bassett scrutinized for one keen second the faro players at the tables in the middle of the room, fearful lest they too had overheard, but even as he looked, he realized that his fears were unfounded, that the distance was too great for the faint whisper to carry to them.

His eyes came back to Sark's.

"Eric," he spoke up abruptly, "I've figgered out the drift on that upper-tier claim of ours on Adams Hill. Listen! Here's how we'll work it—or, hold on, I'll draw it for you!"

Producing a pencil, Bassett faced about on the board partition and began to sketch imaginary designs. Sark, standing attentive at has elbow, nodded and sprayed the smoke about. Yet the eyes of neither man were upon the Adams Hill designs. With nice discrimination Tom had selected for his drawings a pair of wide boards with a crack between, and through the crack the partners glimpsed the interior of the private room.

There in the middle of the floor posed Gunboat Kane in tense entreaty, his body bent at the hips, his legs spread wide, one hand beckoning his four friends to come on, the other hand pointing imperiously through the doorway in the approximate direction of the new strike. And at the poker table, half out of their chairs, with their cards and chips recklessly jumbled together before them, Casino, Ante, Slim and Alabama listened open-mouthed, wide-eyed, to Gunboat's frantic announcement.

"Fresno Creek!" whispered Gunboat, fighting air. "Halpune struck it. Recorded just as the recordin'-office closed, and the news won't be out till mornin'. In Dawson and out again, like a jumpin'-jack, Halpune was, but he stopped long enough to show me samples. Coarse gold, boys, and flat! Savvy that? Four-dollar pans, he says. Savvy that, I say? It's big. It's mountainous big. Come on, you muffled mummies, come on!"

"Hold on, Gunboat," Sark and Bassett heard Casino command. "Don't be fool enough to run out of the Northern Light and down the street. You'll give the whole plagued proposition away. We get to act slow on this but not waste any time in actin'. That's the play. Stroll out, boys, by ones and twos, lightin' pipes and cigars kind of careless as you go. I'll come last, and I'll leave the light burnin' here and turn the key silent in the door. Locked in, you savvy? Everybody'll think that the game's still on. Nobody'll know we're gone till we're staked on Fresno!"

CASINO waved his comrades out, turned up the oil-lamp on the wall so that it blazed brighter and followed through the doorway. In spite of his precautions with the key, Tom and Eric heard it grate in the lock as Casino slipped by the back route out of the Northern Light. "Thar's whar he fools himself," chuckled Bassett in an undertone. "We know', and we'll sure make urgent use of our knowledge. But foller Casino's cue, Eric, and eschew the dash. Walk funereally slow and whistle the Dead March in Saul. Now," raising his voice incisively and tapping the pseudo designs with an air of finality, "we'll go back to our cabin, pardner, put this on paper and scale out the measurements of the same. What do you say?"

All right," agreed Sark, casting a last calculating glance at Tom's hieroglyphics. It looks good to me."

So the two turned down the smoky interior of the Northern Light between the crowded faro, roulette and poker tables, pausing quite naturally here and there to watch for a second the dealers dealing "bank," to note the number of the pocket into which the spinning ivory ball dropped or to see four aces or a royal flush sweep a glutted jack-pot. They passed nods and fleeting jokes with many men of their acquaintance who, for all they knew, might presently be racing at their heels, and finally lounged sedately out of the front doorway.

But once outside in the twilight night of Spring, sedateness utterly vanished, and the partners raced straight for the riverbank.

"We gotta be mighty sprightly, Eric," confided Bassett as they ran. "Fresno Creek ain't very far away from Dawson,— only about fourteen miles or so. If the news gets spread, there'll be one rampant rush. And it won't be a long, survival-of-the-fittest stampede with leather lungs and iron legs winnin' out. It'll be a scrumptious sprint. The hundred-yard man with the spiked soles'll bring home the beans. Pardner, kin you run fourteen miles at one splurge without gettin' spiflication of the system?"

"I can if you can," declared Sark. "But I'd sooner pole it than sprint it. Aren't you going by the Yukon River?"

"Nope, the land trail's shorter. We'll make it rapider. Casino and his bunch is certain strides ahead of us now. That's the way they'll go, sure, down the Yukon, and we'll take a cut-off and beat——"

Bassett did not finish his sentence, for the foremost of five running figures, swinging out of one of the side streets of the waterfront, collided breast to breast with him. Tom staggered sidewise, doing a crawl stroke in the atmosphere to recover his balance and at the same time spouting trenchant phrases denouncing the other's stupidity.

"Shut up, Tom!" admonished Sark. "This is no time to air yourself like that. You've got a bellow like the trump of doom, and you'll rout out all Dawson's living and dead. Shut up, I say!"

"You ain't—got hit!" puffed Tom. "Ask —the other feller—whar's the—fire?"

The other man referred to had likewise recoiled. He came forward again, rubbing his shoulder and breathing strange epigrams, very softly spoken, into the fog.

"I agree with your partner, stranger," he complained. "You ain't got no call to clamor aloud and make a fuss over an accident. You were runnin' like you might have been biddin' the police good-by yourself. Where in tarnation you both goin' so fast?"

SARK caught something familiar in the tone, and he stepped close to scan the speaker's face and the faces of the other four.

"Hello, Casino!" he greeted. "Hello, Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama! The same salute to you. Where in thunder you going so fast?"

"We were chasin' one of my dogs," explained Casino hastily. "The brute swiped a big chunk of bacon. You seen him?"

"No," returned Eric dryly. "What kind of dog?"

"Malemut," Casino blurted. "A lop-eared malemut with a yellow mane and trace-galls on his flanks."

"Never saw a hair of him," Sark reasserted. "But we'll sure help you find him."

"No, no, don't bother, boys! I got enough help to bag him now. He must have scooted down along the riverbank. We'll just sneak after him till we get him cornered."

"All right, then, but Tom and I'll just amble along behind and see the fun."

"Don't! Don't, I say!" Casino vehemently objected, shaking warning hands. "Don't you do it, boys. You'll stampede the beggar, and we'll never recover our grub."

"Oh, we ain't goin' close enough for that, Casino!" put in Bassett. "We'll stay here at the water's edge and wait while you scout along the bank."

As Tom spoke, he and Eric were persistently following in spite of Casino's gestured refusals of their company.

Casino stopped and stared at them suspiciously. Then he wheeled and ran headlong for the river.

"They're wise!" he yelled at his friends. "Run, men, run!"

After him lurched his four comrades, and after them pounded Sark and Bassett. And as they rushed along they heard the thud of other running feet down Dawson's river streets and along the Yukon bank itself.

"Told you you'd rout out the whole city! reproached Sark. "Your bellowing's spread the news."

"Huh!" Tom grunted. "As if it wasn't spread before! Ever see a stampede everybody wasn't in on? If they're not in at the head they're in at the tail and squeezin' up the middle. Every man thinks he's the only one as knows. He snickers to himself that he's got a dead-sealed secret padlocked in his lonely breast, but when it comes to the lightin'-out point, they's others at the same stunt, swarms of 'em, jumpin' out of the grass like skeeters in Jooly. Jist look at the roisterin' riverbank thar and se...

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