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STOLEN THUNDER
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 see if I'm not right!"

SARK raised his eyes as he sprinted and saw the shore ahead lined with men pulling poling-boats off the muck. Other men were already afloat, moving like phantoms in the haze as they worked their crafts, while beyond these, so far out as to be invisible, the creak of oars and the splash of poles told of more boats in the lead of the race.



"Halpune's a pal of Gunboat's, and he's put Gunboat wise, ain't he?" chuckled Bassett harshly. "O' course, Gunboat thought as he was the only man and that the news wouldn't circulate till mornin'. But how many did Halpune put wise before he graduated Gunboat? Only a few dozen! That ain't many. Oh, no! Wonder if any of 'em's confiscated our boat? Lucky, we are, pardner. Here she is, all splattered and defiled with the mucky mukluks of Casino's bunch clamberin' out over her to launch their own. Yes, that's their boat, that last one. It laid beside ours. But never mind, we'll jist beat 'em acrost for that. Shove her out in their track."

The groove where Casino's craft had been dragged out showed deep and oozy in the mud. Sark and Bassett wiggled their own boat over into it and launched off. It was June high-water on the Yukon, and, swollen with the floods of big tributaries such as the Klondike, the Sixtymile, the Stewart, the White and the Pelly, the river was running strong.

Some of the leading boats could be heard through the haze, speeding down with the swift current towards Fresno Creek, which flowed into the Yukon some fourteen miles below Dawson, but these were ones whose early start assured them time enough to get in on the creek by the water route.

The men in the later-launched boats had no good chance of overtaking the leading ones, and they apparently knew it. They did not risk everything on the attempt. They were heading across towards the west bank of the Yukon where the trail from Dawson City to Glacier Creek, up in the Sixtymile country, began.

The route by land was shorter than the route by water, and in case Fresno should be staked well up to the head when they arrived, they would not be compelled to waste time traveling the whole creek length before grabbing some ground. This was the plan of the partners, and they could now see that this was the plan of Casino also.

"Give up his dash down-stream!" commented Bassett, staring after Casino's craft which was moving faster than theirs. "Seen thar was too many ahead, and I'll be bludgeoned if he ain't goin' to beat us acrost at that! How's he doin' it, Eric?"

"Oars, I guess," Sark enlightened. "Oars as well as the poles. Our oars, too, Tom, if anybody should float down the river and ask you! I left them in our boat this morning."

"The sartorial skunk! That's Casino for you. If he hadn't 'a' had poles, even, he'd 'a' apologetically appropriated ours, and we could 'a' paddled with our hands. Look at Casino and Company puttin' on speed, hittin' one hundred and thirty-six or tharabouts to the minnit. But jist wait till we thump the trail, Eric. We'll show 'em what a combined cross-country hurdle and obstacle race is. We'll jerk Casino and his crooked cronies along so fast that their heels'll be back on Quebec Creek when their heads is up on Fresno. Go to it, pardner. Put a grouch into your pole!"

"I'm putting all I've got into it," complained Sark, "but this vessel poles like Noah's Ark. She's waterlogged, Tom; that's what makes her drive so hard. I'm afraid we'll have to be getting a new boat this Spring."

"Huh! New boat? What was she but a new boat when I bought her off Durslane in the Fall?"

"But she's waterlogged all the same. You've got eyes, haven't you? Bottom must be punky. The water's nearly up to my ankles here in the bow."

Yes, and it's over my ankles here in the stern. But I il swear the bottom was sound when I bought her. Mebbe the sun opened her seams some. Wait till I feel a bit!"

Tom stooped and plunged his arm up to the elbow in the muddy water, scraping his fingers over the boat's bottom.

"Malice aforethought!" he exploded. "Cuts, Eric, ax cuts and a belt-ax by the size of 'em. Thar's some more of Casino!"

"The beggar! Does he want to drown us?"

"Oh, no danger of that! They's just dinky leetle chinks. Not enough to swamp and destroy us, but jist enough to filter in a half-ton of water while we're crossin' and impede us like a boat-load of lead."

"The beggar, I say! We'll move across about as fast as a hearse."

"No we won't either. Pole back, pardner, and we'll git another boat."

THEY dug in their poles with all their strength, brought the boat to a stop and then drove it madly back towards the east bank of the Yukon. The river was a mile wide at this point. The partners were only an eighth of a mile out, and they were not long reaching the shore.

They did not stop to pull up their craft but leaped as soon as it struck the shallows. The water splashed them to the waist, and the mud threatened to mire them completely, yet other boats afloat or in the act of getting afloat from the bank paid them no attention. The minds of the owners took cognizance of nothing but the stampede, so Sark and Bassett floundered out unaided and gained the muck-trampled shore.



"The pernicious parasite!" gritted Sark, anathematizing Casino while he slapped the water from his thighs. "He knew there was no chance of his leading the land race to Fresno if we were in at the start, so he cut off our competition back of the ears and left us cold at the post. We'll never catch him now, Tom."

"Mebbe not," doubted Bassett, squinting wryly at the mist which hid the mile-distant west bank, "but we'll make a tenacious try for it. Stay here till I beg, borrer or steal somethin' that floats!"

Like a wallowing hippopotamus, Tom ploughed down the muddy bank, casting covetous eyes on many a craft whose owners ominously warned him off, until finally he ran into a Swede 'longshoreman disembarking part of the cargo of a grounded river steamer from a boat the size of a scow.

"Here, Ole, I want that boat," Bassett informed. "I'm goin' acrost the Yukon. Twenty-five dollars is the hire. Hurry up, throw out them boxes and bundles!"

The Swede 'longshoreman who had no interest in stampedes gazed at him ox-like.

"Ay tank, Ay ban batter have fifty," he boosted.

"You usurer! But I'm the goat this trip. I kin't afford to kick. Fifty it is, Ole. Git a twist on. Eric, hey, hustle here! Help us stevedore this stuff."

Out into the mud the boxes and bundles flew in a reckless deluge. The unwieldy boat, the size of a scow, was warped around and poked clear of the shallows. Its long sweeps came into play, and after fifteen minutes of straining and heaving on the part of all three men, the craft reached the farther shore. It rode in on the whirl of an eddy, swung around, stove two small belated poling-boats just about to land, stuck its nose fast in the bank and spilled Sark and Bassett ashore over its bow.

"I dunno how you'll ever git back, Ole, with this flood runnin'," was Tom's farewell. "But if you kin't, why, tail in on the stampede. Yon cargo'll keep all right."

THEIR mishap had lost the partners a great deal of time. The main rush -was miles ahead of them. Only the stragglers were here at the rear. But their feet once upon the well-known Glacier Creek trail, Tom and Eric proceeded to make up lost time. In the first two miles they caught and passed a dozen of these stragglers as if they were standing still. After that the partners ran practically alone, and up to the end of the first hour when they crossed the headwaters of Quebec Creek they saw no more stampeders.

"Casino's certainly hikin' 'em along," observed Bassett, as he and Sark paused a few moments at Quebec Creek to breathe themselves. "The bunch is runnin' mighty compact, or we'd 'a' caught a dozen or so of 'em. He knows we're in no ways what you'd call quitters, so he's tokin' no chances. He's hittin' only the high spots and never lookin' 'round."

"That's just what w'e've got to do, too," puffed Sark. "We've covered the first seventy-five yards of your hundred-yard sprint, Tom. The home stretch of the last twenty-five yards is ahead of us now. You got your second wind?"

"Sure! And I'm keepin' my third in my pocket. Go ahead. If we don't tag somebody soon, I'll hang up my racin' mukluks and leave the Klondike trails alone."

Fresh from their brief rest, they dashed on through the dank Spring air. The Glacier Creek trail roughly followed the low divide lying between Swede Creek and the Yukon River. Valleys flooded with hill water stretched away on either hand. Wedges of wild fowl drove over the watery wastes. Flowers, new-sprung from the snows, raised their blossoms by the trail-side, and animal life scurried in the underbrush, but these attributes of Spring did not smite on the consciousness of the men. Their minds were focused on Fresno.

They sped viciously, blindly, reeking in a sweat bath, flinging ridge and valley, bluff and gulch, scrub timber and niggerhead swamp behind. They passed the dwindling upper reaches of another small stream beyond Quebec Creek, and a couple of miles beyond that struck the extreme tip of Fresno.

Now the wisdom of following the land route became apparent, for Fresno Creek, although its main trend was almost due west, curved south before reaching the Glacier Creek trail, paralleled it for some distance and met it half-way back to Quebec Creek. It was as if while the stampede was racing for the creek, the creek was twisting back to meet the stampede.

AS THEY plunged down the Fresno bench-ground at a jarring run, the partners felt the disappointed qualms of the stampeder who arrives too late. Here there was little mist. Fires blazed down all the length of the valley, and fires at the head meant that the creek was located from the mouth up. In the creek itself poling-boats splashed along, and clamor dinned out on the shores.



"Staked to the pearly sky-line, Eric!" groaned Bassett lugubriously. "Thar's the highest claim right below us. Casino, the whelp, put us outa the runnin' with so simple a tool as a belt-ax."

"Yes, and when I find him, Tom, I'll take his belt-ax out of his belt and sink it m his perverted scalp," Sark threatened.

"You'll have some hunt then. He's likely staked down about the mouth, and he'll be back in Dawson recordin' before you git to him. But what's wrong with that geezer below us? What's he punchin the atmosphere full of holes for?"

"Driving his stakes, isn't he?"

"No. By thunder, he's wavin' on us! That means open ground yet. Quick! Buck-jump it, pardner, or we'll lose out. Some galoot'll roll over the ridge and beat us to it."

In ten-foot leaps the pair bounded down the hillside on to the creek claim of the man who was beckoning them.

"Casino!" barked Sark, glaring at the man's face revealed by the fire's glow.

"Sure! I was scared you wouldn't see or hear me and go past. There's a thousand feet left above me. Kick in sudden, boys. It's the last."

"God bless you, Casino!" sighed Sark. "You benign, repentant beggar. I forgive you, belt-ax and all."

"Oh, you didn't need to worry yourselves hoary-headed over that little stunt!" grinned Casino. "I heard a duffer say once at the Omar Opery in Dawson that all was fair in love and war. I can go him one better and add stampedes. I knew you two had the grit and gumption to lead the land race if I let you. So I didn't let you. Savvy? But poverizin' little good it did me, after all. You see where I'm planted!"

"What happened to you?" asked Tom. "Why ain't you staked away down-creek?"

"You know that northerly feeder of Quebec Creek? Well, what did we do in the mist but take it for a pup of Fresno and go pikin' down her! Lost four miles before we plumped on to our mistake and cut across the ridges. Lost four miles and the chance to stake next Discovery! But there's no use lamentin'. Me and my friends are lucky to get in at all, and you're just as lucky. Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama are below me, and you'd better whack in. Excuse me for not helpin' you, boys, but I can't move off my claim till you get staked, for fear some one jumps it."

"What's your number there?" asked Bassett.

"Twenty-Three Above, it's supposed to be."

"It's Halpune's strike, ain't it?"

"Yes, four-dollar pans! But mebbe that's hot air."

"Where'd Halpune stake?" demanded Sark, driving stakes in the ground next Casino's

"About half way down. The claims run to Twenty-Four Below at Fresno's mouth I hear. So you boys must sure be pretty, plumb on the truth when you count yours Good luck to you, boys, and glad you got in, even if I did take a swipe at you on the way. That's all in the game. Mebbe next stampede there is I'll be the one to get a jolt from you."

LAUGHING in friendly fashion, Casino, now that his uppermost boundary bordering on Sark's lower one was safe, strode down through the scrub on his claim to hold communication with Ante and Gunboat below him and gather the latest news. Sark went on with his staking, pacing off five hundred feet, which gave the location of his upper stakes and Bassett's lower ones.

"Not such a greedy gink arter all," commented Tom, as they whittled smooth the faces of their corner stakes to receive the numbers. "He might 'a' tried to blanket these two claims. Wonder if the creek'll run rich, Eric?"

"I hardly think it," calculated Sark, "and I'm not banking on it. In the first place I don't for a minute believe that four-dollar pan guff. That's always the cry. Twenty-five cent pans grow into four-and five-dollar pans mighty' quick when there's a rush on.

"I don't see Halpune swaggering 'round anywhere. He's a gambler like Casino, and if he'd have struck it that big, he'd be snooping around, up-creek and down, buying all the cheap claims he could get his claws on. And in the second place, if the creek shows up anything in placer. I'll take my oath it'll prove patchy. Fact is, partner, Fresno never did look to me like a placer proposition. What's more, it looks to me just like what it always did. It looks like a quartz proposition. Just cast your eye over that ridge back of us, Tom, and see if it doesn't."

"By thunder, you're right, Eric!" exclaimed Bassett, running a speculative eye over the broken, ragged contour of the ridge. "That's quartz formation sure. The flamelight shows the outcrops. Mebbe we've had all our sprintin' for nothin'."

"Don't know, Tom, but we'll soon see. You 'tend to your corner stake, and we'll sink a hole on the common line of the two claims and prove them up together. It shouldn't take long. By the dip of the creek bank it's shallow bedrock here. I know Fresno. I've prospected it before. Bedrock's not very deep any place, and just where I stand I'll bet it's not over ten or twelve feet down. You go and finish your staking and then come and help me scrape."



THE Spring rains and floods had left the ground soft and mucky. Sark found little difficulty in sinking a prospect hole with a rude wooden shovel carved out of a willow slab with his hunting-knife. When he was down three feet Bassett came back from the staking and aided him by digging with a long pole used like a crowbar. They went down another three feet, and Eric's wooden shovel gritted into gravel.

"Got it?" asked Tom.

"Yes, I knew it was shallow bed-rock. There must be a fine thick pay-streak hereabouts, that is, if there is any pay in it."

"We'll possess that knowledge in a minnit, pardner. We ain't got any pan to sample, but here, fill my hat."

Tom handed down to Sark a nice, new Stetson, with which he had adorned himself at the coming of Spring, and Eric without qualm or scruple loaded it up with handfuls of the dirty gravel. He shoved the hat up to Tom and clambered out after it, his face and clothes plastered with the sticky overburden. Together they went down to the creek edge. Eric twisted a few dried willow branches into a heap and touched a match to them for a better light than the semi-luminous Yukon night afforded, while Bassett dipped the hat carefully into the shore ripples of the stream.

With a slow, circular motion Tom washed out the light muck so that it floated away, discoloring more deeply the already mired creek water. By degrees he wore down the hatful—the new Stetson bravely upholding its reputation as waterproof—until he had only the desired residue left. Then with a twist of the wrist he flirted the remaining water out and showed up a smattering of black sand speckled with shining yellow grains across the bottom of the hat.

"Thunderation—pay!" ejaculated Sark, as the firelight gleamed on the yellow grains. "Rich pay, Tom!"

"Sure," nodded Bassett, scraping together the little heap of golden particles. "Two dollars, Eric, if they's a speck. A two-dollar pan, bonafide and indisputable. We've got it arter all our doubtin'."

"And I lose, Tom. My judgment's poor. It's something more than a quartz proposition. Wonder if Halpune's sample ran as high?"

"It certainly didn't, or he'd 'a' bin out buyin'. That's our game, Eric. We got a foundation to go on. and we sure gotta clean up the creek. My claim's Twenty-Five Above. Casino says the string runs to Twenty-Four Below at the mouth. That, with Discovery, is fifty claims altogether. We own two already. We'll buy the hull remainin' forty-eight and make twenty-five million dollars in one night."

"But remember it hasn't changed its looks; it still looks quartzy," reminded Sark, his innate caution getting the better of his enthusiasm. "And even if it is all placer, it might prove patchy."

"Pah! Things ain't very' patchy whar two-dollar pans is panned first crack. Even if it should be, it'll average up. Look at our two claims! Worth half a million dollars apiece if they're worth an ounce. The other'll average up to that figger on the basis of this hat. If some slump under, others'll produce over.

"Twenty-five million dollars, Eric, is the value of this valley, and we kin buy it for a hundred thousand. Don't the opportunity smite you blind and give you a gone feelin' in the pit of your stomach? It does me. But we gotta shake our nerves together and act abrupt or prices'll go up. I hear Casino and his friends talkin' down yonder now. He's comin' back. He mustn't come on our claim. We must meet him on his own ground. Shuffle yourself and help me dump the muck back into the prospeck hole."

BASSETT crammed his wet Stetson, still containing the gold sample, out of sight into his pocket, kicked the willow smudge into the creek and ran with Sark to the hole. Hastily they shoveled back the overburden, tramped it smoothly down and hurried along the creek limits to meet Casino crossing the boundary of his and Ante's claim.

"Finish stakin', boys?" Casino greeted.

"Yes, all plumb, lines and stakes in plain sight," Bassett told him. "And we also panned a sample."

"Haw! Haw!" laughed Casino. "That s a good one. How'd you get to bed-rock so sudden? Dive?"

"We also panned a sample," repeated Bassett imperturbably. "I come out flatfooted and tell you so, Casino. But mind, I'm not tellin' you what kind of sample, good or bad. We sampled. Thar's the point. So don't you say in the days to come that we made a secret prospeck and acted underhand without due diffusion of our knowledge. We sampled, I say, and we're out to buy."



"Then take care you don't get stung," cautioned Casino promptly. "I just found out somethin'. Ante tells me the word's come up that Halpune's four-dollar pans contained twenty cents. What do you know about that? I think we're in bad, boys. I wish I'd never started on this stampede. I've blunted my belt-ax on your boat-bottom and jiggled my heart down into my stomach all for nothin'."

"Jist the same, since Eric and me's here, we're takin' a gambler's chance," Tom announced. "We're goin' to buy some claims, in fact every claim that's for sale. Your claim for sale, Casino?"

"Sure, if you want it bad, but don't you make a bluff with me about the creek bein' worth while. I've seen you at the gamblin' game before. I've seen you buy whole creeks that you never sampled at all, dozens of them, and I'd make a blatant bet that you never squared yourselves on anyone of them. You haven't had time to sample anyway. And where are your shovels? You sure didn't get a chance to bring them with you-. What did you dig your prospect hole with—your hands? What did you pan your sample with—your boot? Bah! You can't bamboozle me. You hadn't a tarnation tool with you. Why, Tom, you haven't even a hat!"

"Never mind that, Casino. What's your claim worth?"

"Well, my friends down there, Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama, just said haphazard that it might be worth fifteen hundred dollars as a suburban lot. Mighty scornful they were of its resident propensities."

"We'll give you twelve hundred," offered Bassett.

"Then I'll take two thousand," grinned Casino cunningly. "Mebbe you fellows know mcre'n I think. So I'll just play safe. You can have it as I state without me sinkm' shovel in it. Two thousand dollars net!"

And Casino stuck to his figure despite Bassett's haggling until Tom, handicapped by the necessity of quick action, had to yield.

"All right, two thousand it is, but Gunboat, Ante, Alabama and Slim has all got to sell at the same price," stipulated Tom. "They don't boost me no more."

"Oh, two thousand'll tickle them most crazy!" smiled Casino. "I know that by their remarks about suburban properties. They ain't much for the simple life, those guys. I'll just hail -Ante to summon them all up."

INSIDE of twenty minutes Sark and Bassett had bought the five claims, and the bills of sale were made over. These bills of sale had a monetary as well as a documentary value and, though scribbled with pencil on scraps of paper, each was sound as a bond and good for two thousand dollars in Dawson City. Using this same class of currency', the partners then went down the creek on the same mission. The sale of claims Twenty-Three, Twenty-Two, Twenty-One, Twenty and Nineteen Above hastened the sale of the others. It set the pace and the price. By morning the partners had purchased everything in sight, clear to Fresno's mouth.

Halpune was the only man who succeeded in holding them up, but the fact that he finally sold Discovery, a thousand foot claim, and One Below Discovery, which as the discoverer he was privileged by law to locate, for five thousand dollars each, showed Tom and Eric how inflated was the four-dollar pan report. Nevertheless their own two-dollar pan loomed large on their financial horizon, and they cheerfully paid.

"Now," gloated Tom at dawn, "we own the creek. Twenty-five million dollars it's worth, and it cost us only one hundred and two thousand dollars. You're the hardiest member of the firm, Eric, and it's up to you to go to Dawson and record. You kin borrer a boat from some of the vendors and go up the Yukon. I'll borror another and row back to our claims. I'm tired walkin'. And thar I'll steal an hour's sleep, hire a hand and git through that pay-streak while you're gone. We'll know how thick it is when you come back. You'd better bring Tagish Jim and a dozen or a dozen and a half of the Chilcats with you to prove up the rest of the holdin's. Tilings'll sure assume gigantic proportions here, and we'll need that many at the start. Whether we'll need more remains to be seen."

That evening at the hour of dark, although since the endless day was now on the Yukon there was no real dark, Eric Sark poled back up the Fresno on his return trip from Dawson. In his poling-boat, working with him, was the Chilcat foreman, Tagish Jim, and behind in more poling-boats were sixteen more Chilcats, sun-smoked, huge-muscled men, giants of the open, fit engines of toil to tear up the stubborn creek limits and wrest from the golden gravels Bassett's twenty-five million dollars.

The boats were beached on Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five Above. The Chilcats leaped swiftly out and began to kindle a long, oval fire in the fashion they had learned of white men whereon to cook their evening meal. Sark looked around for his partner and discovered him smoking quietly on the edge of the prospect hole which was now enlarged to the proportions of a shaft.



"What depth's bed-rock, Tom?" was his first anxious question.

"Twelve feet," Basset answered.

"Pay-streak's six feet thick, then? How's it panning now?"

"Jist the same."

"Fine! Glad to hear that, partner. I been a little worried, you know. I made something of a discovery in Dawson, a discovery I didn't somehow like, Tom!"

Bassett twisted around on the edge of the shaft, took his pipe from his lips and gazed fixedly at Sark.

"What was it?" he demanded.

"You remember what we heard through the crack in the wall in the Northern Light? We heard Gunboat tell the rest that Halpune had recorded just as the recording-office closed. Today's the twelfth. That was yesterday, the eleventh. Well, the mining records don't say so. I looked when I recorded what we bought, and when I came to get the transfer of Halpune's, I found he had recorded his Discovery and One Below Discovery on the tenth."

"He did, eh?" mused Bassett. "Then that fits in with a discovery I've made myself. I've found out, Eric, that the date on the location notices on every claim we've bought is June the tenth."

"Tarnation, Tom! I was suspicious as soon as I saw it. Only I thought there might have been some mistake. But the date of Halpune's recording and the date on the notices sure can't both be mistakes. There's only one thing that can mean."

"Only one thing, pardner. Them claims was all measured out and staked the day before the stampede started. Casino's the man as did it. You didn't notice anythin' pecooliar about the names of the claim owners did you, when you was gittin' things fixed up?"

"I noticed that they were all Casino's close friends, every hard-bitten beggar of them. That struck me as rather funny, too."

"It was part of the plan, Eric. Casino's worked a colossal come-on, and we fell for it. I'll tell you of another discovery I made while you was gone. I discovered that the claims we staked was salted. Salted on the boundary line jist whar two pardners would nacherally sink their prospeck hole."

"Salted, Tom? But there you're wrong. There you sure touch my pride. No man can sell me ground that's been dug before without me knowing it. I'll take my altar oath that nobody had put shovel into the muck of that prospect hole before mine. I'm always on my guard against that trick. The stuff we panned was there by nature."

"No, it wasn't, neither. It was planted."

"But wouldn't somebody have to dig to plant it?"

"Nope, they tunneled from the river."

"Yes, and it full of water! I guess not!"

"They tunneled before thar was any water," Bassett calmly explained. "Tunneled when it was frozen. Now do you savvy? The pay-streak we struck wasn't no pay-streak at all. It was gravel shoveled in thar and sowed with a few ounces of Fortymile or Sixtymile or Stewart River gold. I've got it all in my pocket, and I know whereof I speak. But if you're anyway doubtful, come and have a look at the shaft."

BASSETT plucked a burning stick from the Chilcats' fire for a torch and lighted the way. He thrust the torch into the open shaft whose black mouth yawned with a twelve-foot yawn, and Eric climbed down on the rude pole ladder, made of a small tree trunk with many limb crotches, to look. At the level of his head he saw what was beyond denial the old workings of a tunnel driven in from the Fresno's bed. The fact that it was so low down suggested that it had been driven in time of frost, and the settling of the oozing earth, leaving a gap at the tunnel roof, supplied the proof.

"It sure was a pippin of a plan, Tom," admired Eric, climbing out again, "and a well-matured pippin at that."

"Yep," agreed Bassett, "so ripe it was rotten to the core. Casino's some conscientious artist, eh? Jist made one slip. Forgot to date the location notices one day ahead. You see, he must 'a' prepared this salt not long before the ice-run and cooked up the stampede to suit. His game's a lot like checkers, pardner. When the play's through, you kin look back and see the moves you didn't see before.

"Casino chose his ground, chose the man to make the strike and chose the members to compose the rush. Then he had Halpune record, and watched for a chance to spring the discovery stuff on us. If the chance hadn't 'a' come in the Northern Light, it would 'a' come in the Moosehorn or the Polaris, or- down by some bushes on the river bank or out behind a bale of goods on the steamer landin', jist wherever we happened to be and opportunities looked good. But the wherever turned out to be the Northern Light.

"Casino knowed blame well whar we was loungin', and he knowed blame well we could hear and see through that crack. Hence the tableau they put on. But it was well acted, Eric, we got to admit that. It makes me laugh when I think of it. It was thunderin' well acted."



"Oh yes, Tom, and so was the collision stunt in the street and the waterlogged boat on the Yukon River! There were no blackflies on that."

"No sir, it was all in the program, a comedy in four acts and I dunno how many scenes. All arranged, even to the two last, claims saved for us!"

Mightn't Casino have got slipped up there? Mightn't a couple of outsiders—for you know there were outsiders vainly tailing in on the stampede—have pounced on that ground?"

"Don't you ever dream it, pardner. No outsider could 'a' got that. Casino and his four pals next him would 'a' shifted the stakes of the five claims so as to blanket that one thousand feet and reserve it till we showed up. Thar's no use prevaricatin' or equivocatin' about it to ourselves. We was the ones destined to buy, and we bravely bought. My respeck for that geezer Casino's increasin' every day, Eric. He's rnore'n a conscientious artist. He's a deep student of human nature. He was aware of our frailties and our love of lucre. He knowed as sure as the Yukon Summer's back agin that we'd buy the creek if we struck any kind of showin'. He seen us do it many a time, and he knowed we'd do it once too often."

"Well, we've gone and done it once too often," chuckled Sark mirthlessly. "And Casino's pocketed the money. Wonder what he paid each man to run in the salted stampede?"

"Twenty-five dollars and the fun of it," hazarded Tom. "Mebbe fifty dollars at the outside."

"Call it fifty, then. That would be forty-six men to pay, not counting himself. Twenty-three hundred dollars to pay out, and he got one hundred and two thousand in. He's made a haul of only ninety-nine thousand, seven hundred dollars. That's not much, Tom."

"Not much, Eric. And we ain't paid much for them suburban lots. Only the said one hundred and two thousand. That's not what you'd call prodigal. It's only moderate. But listen! The play ain't completed. The checkers is done, all right, and we've lost our last king, but the checkerboard's one as you turn over to play a different game on the other side. It's our throw now. Come back with me on to this precipitous ridge behind our claims. I've still got another discovery I ain't uncovered yet. I wanta show it to you."

TOM stamped out the torch and strode off through the half-gloom. Sark followed him over ragged timber growth and rough boulders up on to the steep of the hill. There Bassett paused, scanning the top of the ridge and feeling with his fingers for one of the prominent outcrops which they both had noticed the night before from the creek limits. He found the place he sought, kicked some dirt away and flashed the flame of a sulphur match upon the rock face.

"Look!" he urged. "You vowed the creek seemed quartzy. What do you thinka that?"

Sark stared through the brief flame-flare, and his eyes strained and became fixed. In the circle of faint illumination there showed a wide quartz vein, three feet across, its seams plastered with gleaming gold.

"By the spooks of the sundowns!" gasped Sark, his breath catching in his throat with a sharp click. "That's a ledge to Live and die on, Tom. Have you staked her?"

"No. I waited till you come with the Chilcats. I ain't no man to move contrary to the law. You and me had already staked claims on this creek. What kind-a claims nobody could say if the matter popped up for jurisdiction. Because the hull thing was a salt, you see. We couldn't prove placer or pay-streak. And you sure kin't stake twice on the same creek. So if our Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five Above happened to be rooled on as quartz, our stakin' on this ledge would be void, and we'd lose the hull thing.

"Casino and the rest of his bunch is in the same box. They're celebratin' at his camp over thar and dunno anythin' about it, but they soon will know. Then you'll see donned sackcloth and ashes, hear lamentation and gnash in' of teeth and mebbe stop a few thro wed stones with your ribs, Eric. They won't like it a leetle bit when they see the Chilcats occupy in' ground on our behalf."

"Don't let the beggars know it's done at all! I wouldn't, if I'd made the discovery. Casino's been so sufferin' smart. Just have Tagish Jim and the rest sneak along the ridge and locate these on the side."

"Kin't be done, partner," Tom pointed out. "It's too light. Thar's no dark at night now. It's only twilight, and a mighty radiant twilight at that, jist like a dawn that's goin' to break all the time but never quite pulls it off. You kin see birds on that ridge from Casino's camp, and Casino certainly won't miss spottin' them six-foot Chilcats. He ain't no ways short-sighted."

"You want to kind of rub it into him, eh Tom?"



"That's what I want to do. Rub it in with sandpaper and turpentine for an astringent. He'll git a touch of his own liniment, and we'll see how he likes it. Come on back to the fire, and I'll put Tagish Jim wise concernin' what he's to do."

As Tom came up and beckoned, Tagish Jim arose from his men about the oval of red coals.

"What um want now?" he grinned.

"Quartz claims, Tagish," Bassett explained tersely. "That ridge. You savvy? Send the men to stake from the mouth of Fresno up. The lower ones kin go in boats. The middle ones kin run down. The upper ones kin walk. I want 'era all to stake at one time, within about an hour, and git back here as soon as they stake. You stake the last claim, here at the head, yourself. Git me?"

"Get all right," grunted Tagish, his eyes lighting at the chance of some action so soon. "Want um claims measured well?" "Yours, 1 do. The rest'll do roughed out. Fifteen hundred feet square. Five hundred steps. The seventeen of you'll fill the string. Eric and me grubstake you. Savvy? You stake for us. Now start 'em out, quick."

TAGISH JIM moved silently to the fire, explained to his men what was required of them and told them off to row, run or walk. The ones who would stake half way down at once trotted across the creek limits. Sark helped those who were to go down to the mouth of Fresno push off their boats and drift away. Then he followed the remainder who, with Bassett at their head giving further directions to Tagish Jim, were climbing the ridge.

"Tagish, you go ahead and stake this," directed Tom, when they reached the top. "Eric and me dassen't put a finger in it. We have staked somethin' down thar. We dunno whether it's a quartz claim, placer claim or dredgin' limit, but we're lawabidin' men, and we live up to the letter of the minin' regulations. You're runnin' the hull show, and if anybody happens along jist tell 'em so. That ground under your feet is worth twelve thousand dollars if its worth a disfigured cent. You kin drive your Discovery stake right thar whar that outcrop is."

Methodically Tagish Jim went about the business. First of all he drove his Discover}' stake at the spot Bassett indicated. Then he paced off seven hundred and fifty feet along the ledge on each side of the Discovery post and at these points drove posts numbers one and two.

At right angles to the line between posts one and two and beginning at the posts themselves, he paced the distance to the boundary of the already staked claims on the creek limits. This distance w'as not great, because the limits commenced to slope almost from the Fresno's brink with a sharp incline to strike the ridge which formed the bench ground. It was only one hundred and eighty feet. The rest of the quartz claim lay upon the other side of the location line. But there was no need to pace that. It was a simple matter of subtraction. So Tagish went back and with a stub of a pencil scrawled the inscriptions on his stakes.

The inscription upon the first post he had driven read:

DISCOVERY POST

That upon number one and two posts was:

Quartz Claim—Tagish Jim—June 12th 1320—180

The figures 1320 represented the number of feet lying to the left of the location line, the figures 1S0 the number lying to the right. Thus, although the claim had no stable boundaries, Tagish Jim held in his own incontestable right a plot of ground containing fifty-one and two-thirds acres, a square plot in dimensions, though corrugated as to surface.

Sitting smoking upon a huge outjutting boulder on the ridge, Sark and Bassett watched Tagish complete the staking. When the Chilcat had inscribed, he took his ax and began to blaze more open his location line. Below him another Chilcat was working at the same thing, and below that one, dim in the hazy distance and moving like gnomes on the face of the ridge, other Chilcats staked other claims.

"The hour's about up," announced Sark, glancing at his watch. "They ought to be all on the job now. Wonder how long it'll be before Casino sees them?"

"He has seen 'em," declared Tom who had been keeping an ear trained on the creek limits. "Hear that rumpus in the scrub? He's cornin' on the jump."

IN A moment the partners could see several figures rushing up from Casino's camp where all the members of the salted stampede were holding a jovial session. Casino himself was in the lead, with Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama straining after him, stumbling over rocks, logs, stumps and crashing through patches of dense undergrowth.

"Hey you," yelled Casino, catching sight of Sark and Bassett and panting up to them. "What in tarnation's afoot? Chilcat after Chilcat slips by us down-stream, and Chilcat after Chilcat runs by us over our claims, makin' for yon ridge. They're workin' there now, a whole string of them, like as if they were stakin'. What's in the air?"



"Ask Tagish Jim, thar," suggested Bassett. "We're not doin' this. He is."

"What's up, Tagish?" demanded Casino, shouting at the Chilcat who was hewing about a hundred yards down his location line.

"Quartz!" grunted Tagish phlegmatically and without turning from his work.

"Quartz!" Casino echoed. "Then I was right. I thought in my own mind the cursed creek looked more like quartz than placer. Didn't you, Sark? Didn't you, Bassett?"

"We sure did," the partners agreed.

"And what kind of showin* has the Chilcat got? Where's his discovery stake?"

"Right back of you thar, behind that outcrop. Wait. It's a fair showin'. I'll flash it up for you." Bassett stepped across, kicked the loose dirt off the quartz ledge and flared a match over the bared vein.

"Thunderation!" screeched Casino. "Fair showin'! It'll run four hundred dollars to the ton. Look at it, boys, seams of gold half an inch wide."

Up behind Casino, leaning over his back and shoulders, lying affectionately upon his neck, crowded his four comrades. So magnificent was the showing that it left them well-nigh dumb. They could gasp nothing coherent of comment or description. They could only breathe forth unintelligible monosyllabic imprecations and stare wide-eyed at the ledge.

"Stake boys, stake, fast as flesh and blood'll let you," Casino exhorted, heaving the quartette off his back. "I'm goin' in next Tagish."

"No, you ain't, Casino," differed Bassett, catching him by the arm and whirling him about in his first stride. "That ground next Tagish is staked."

"Tell me where I'll stake, then," implored Casino frantically. "Where'd you stake yourself?"

"I ain't staked. I had already staked on this creek, and by that action I surrendered my rights. So did Eric. So did you and Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama."

"W-what? That vein there spillin' over splendiferous with gold and reachin' clean to the creek mouth by the run of the ridge, and we can't stake it?"

"No. If it could 'a' bin staked by a former staker on Fresno, I sure would 'a' done it this afternoon."

"Oh! It's your discovery is it?" snarled Casino, a cold gleam of dawning understanding lighting his features. "You found this nice Little mint this afternoon?"

"Sure," nodded Bassett, "huntin' a tree trunk for a shaft ladder. It looked good on top of the two-dollar pan find, so I froze on to it."

"That was mighty considerate of you, wasn't it?" Casino gritted menacingly. "Kicked dirt over it and kept it under cover till your partner got back from Dawson City with the bunch of Chilcats. Free men, them Chilcats, as hadn't surrendered their rights on Fresno, and they could stake where they plagued well pleased. They're workin' for you. It ain't no use you denvin' that you've grubstaked them on this stunt. A chechako could see that. Am I right?"

"I ain't goin' to tell you whether you're right or wrong or merely uncertain," returned Tom surlily. "It's none of your bizness anyway. Them Chilcats have staked the hull vein clean to the mouth of Fresno, seventeen claims in a string. The claims is air-tight. Thar's no use in your jawin', Casino. You may as well shut your mouth and go back to your jubilant camp."

"Not on your blasted tin-types! You think you can file seventeen quartz claims on end* and hog the whole thing, but you've made a bad misplay. Tagish Jim, you come here a minute!"

"You go to blim-blammed blazes!" retorted Tagish who was now a hundred and fifty yards down the location line. "You not my boss. Me not come when you call."

"Tagish!" commanded Bassett, albeit there was a chuckle in the command. "You come here."

AT ONCE the Chilcat dropped his ax and strode back to the group on the ledge.

"Tom my boss," he insolently grinned at the enraged Casino. "Me come when um call."

Casino glared and gulped—

"You workin' for Sark and Bassett, ain't you?"

"Sure," the Chilcat admitted.

"Told you where to stake, didn't they?"

"Sure."

"Grubstaked you, didn't they? And own half your winnings, don't they?"

"Sure."

"All right, that'll do for you. You can go back to your a* and the horny-handed toil you seem to love so well. I've asked you all I want to know. The rest of my palaver concerns your employers only."

He wheeled on Sark and Bassett.

"You heard that hard-shelled heathen's admissions? Well, so did Ante, Gunboat, Slim and Alabama. They're my witnesses. And if we took the matter to court and got a rulin' on it, just as sure as there's gold in that ledge, the court would view your action as subterfuge in the face of your surrendered rights and throw' them seventeen claims open to relocation. But law and courts are slow. I'm for quick action. Now I ain't at all hoggish like you fellows, and I don't ask you to throw any of them claims open like the court would. All I ask you to do is to sell us a half share in them seventeen."



"Bluff!" sneerc-d Bassett. "You know the court wouldn't do any sich tiling. They couldn't. We stand within the law. So you try to play safe by buy in' a half share in our ground. But I tell you out loud, distinctly and with clear enunciation, Casino, that we ain't sellin'. Git me? We —ain't—sellin'!"

"You will sell!" bellowed Casino, w-rathfully shaking his fist under Tom's nose. "We'll make you sell."

"Go on and make, then," challenged Tom, arising with Sark from the boulder. "Go on and make us. If Eric and me kin't trim the five of you, I'll bur)' my pick and shovel and quit the Y'ukon in dishonor and disgrace."

"Mebbe you can trim the five of us, but you sure can't trim the forty-seven of us," Casino sent back. "Tbcrc's forty-two men at my camp yet."

He stepped to the edge of the bench ground and emitted a howl for help that caused the rest of his comrades to suspend their celebration at the camp and scramble up the slope to his aid.

"What's wrong, Casino?" demanded Halpune, foremost of the forty-two.

"These ginks have found a quartz vein three feet wide and almost solid gold. They're gettin' the Chilcats to stake, and usurpin' the whole thing."

A violent roar went up from the crowd at the announcement. It surged up to engulf Casino, and Sark and Bassett suddenly found themselves ringed in by forty-seven half-drunken men, festering for trouble and ready to do Casino's wildest bidding.

"Will you sell?" shouted Casino through the general clamor of the mob.

"Not by a drastic sight!" Sark roared at him, his blood leaping at the nearness of the fray. "Back to back, Tom. We'll die game."

"You dodderin' fools!" Casino grated. "We don't want to kill you. But we sure will unless you give in this minute. Sell! Sell, I say, or we'll hammer you to pulp and throw the mess in the creek."

"Come on and hammer, then," invited Sark. "There'll be a few of you mashed along with us."

INSTANTLY the ugly ring closed in. But Tom and Eric had scarcely landed the first two blows when the hurtling body of Tagish Jim, jumping off the boulder above, launched through the ring.

"Wait," commanded the Chilcat. He pushed back the foremost attackers. His native stoicism had fallen from him, and his words leaped out vociferously. "Me own um claim. All um Chilcats own um claims. We sell. We don't want see um bosses killed. We sell. But we sell whole claims. No shares. Me speak for um all. Me foreman."

"Good! Better than ever!" exulted Casino, clawing his way through his comrades toward Tagish Jim and pulling out some paper from his pocket. "Here, I'll write bills of sale for the seventeen. You sign. How much do you want?"

"Don't you sell, Tagish! Don't you sell!" warned both Sark and Bassett.

They tried to lurch forward but could not make progress, for in the moment of confusion caused by Tagish Jim's jump into the ring a half-dozen antagonists had seized the arms and legs of each, fettering theii action and smothering Tom's and Eric's struggles by sheer weight.

"Don't you sell, Tagish! Don't you sell!" they reiterated, even in their futile essay at freedom.

"Me got to sell," explained Tagish deprecatingly. "Me don't, they kill you. Me know. Dawson toughs. Drunk on hootch. Me sell, all right."

"How much, Tagish?" howled Casino impatiently.

"Twelve thousand a claim!" quoted Tagish. "Mebbe um not enough. But um what Tom guessed little while ago."

"Too steep!" whispered Ante and Gunboat to Casino.

"No, no," Casino whispered back, scribbling feverishly. "It runs four hundred or over to the ton. I'll swear it. Thirty tons would pay for one claim. I'll fix that figure, for fear he has another think and goes higher. Bassett's a bad guesser. So—" turning to Tagish—"here's your bills of sale. Twelve thousand a claim. And here's half your amount in the bills of sale Sark and Bassett paid me and the rest. One hundred and two thousand you savvy, Tagish? The same comin' to you yet. I'll get the bunch to write it off. You go on and sign."

IN SPITE of shouted protests from Sark and Basset, Tagish Jim signed. Casino paid over to the Chilcat the forty-seven bills of sale, totaling in value one hundred and two thousand dollars, which he had gotten from the partners for the string of Fresno creek claims and called on his comrades to sign for the amount of the remainder. Jubilantly they did so, adding their signatures to seventeen bills of sale for the quartz claims to the tune of six thousand dollars each, and the instant the transaction was closed, Sark's and Bassett's captors released them.



Tagish Jim stepped up to Tom with an apologetic, almost cringing, manner and presented him with the forty-seven bills of sale Tom had originally paid out to Casino.

"Here um your share um grubstake," he intimated sheepishly.

Bassett shoved the bills of sale into his pocket and glared at Tagish without a word as the latter went forward to distribute the proper portion to the other Chilcats who were observed coming back in a body from their staking and ambling up the slope.

"Six thousand bill um sale each um you and me; Casino buy all um claims," he told them and they accepted with amazed grins.

"But the transaction ain't valid. Casino!" stormed Bassett, raising his voice to high heaven in the anger of defeat. "If them Chilcats had 'a' got back five minnits sooner, thar wouldn't 'a' bin any transaction at all. Thar'd 'A' bin a geri'rul massacre, and you and your bunch would 'a' bin qualify in' right now for engraved epitaphs.

"Still, beware of flatterin' yourself that you win by the small margin of five minnits. You don't. On course, you forty-seven'll try to perjure me down, but I have here eighteen responsible witnesses to prove that them documents, the bills of sale for seventeen quartz claims on end on Fresno Creek were obtained by threat, under compulsion, through application of force and extortion and intimidation while Sark and me was held incapable and in durance vile.

"I warn you that you and forty-six others constrained us against our will and robbed us of a quartz ledge three feet wide, twenty-five thousand, five hundred feet long, runnin' in your own words four hundred dollars to the ton. Now the hull bunch of you jist let them terms and figgers sink into your dissipated consciousnesses. You'll hear 'em agin. For I'll sure take this case to the highest courts and prove my contention!"

"Like blazes you will!" laughed Casino. "You can't prove anythin' anyway. And even if you can, we'll have a smelter built and the stuff smelted down before you get judgment. Courts are slow. As for me, I'm for quick action. Halpune, give me your pick!"

Halpune handed him the pick which with the foresight of one accustomed to trouble he had grasped at Casino's first yell for aid and carried with him up onto the ridge.

"We'll just knock out some of the stuff and make a rough assay ourselves," Casino proposed, swinging the pick. "It runs that rich."

THE steel split off a big fragment of the quartz with the first blow. Casino picked it up and scratched at the splendid seams. The splendid seams came off in his hand.

"Leaf gold, Eric!" whispered Bassett in the pregnant hush. "I had a hull pocketbook full of the foil, and I tamped her into the seams on that ledge this afternoon!"

"You Shakespearean super, Tom, you ought to be on the stage!" exclaimed Sark, with a great laugh of revelation. "And you ought to take Tagish Jim with you. I see now you primed him while going ul» the bench land."

Casino looked up at Eric's laugh.

He looked down again at the stuffin his hand.

"Leaf gold!" he yelled in disgust, and whirled on Sark and Bassett with upraised pick. "You planted the treacherous, worthless stuff and sold me a salt!"

"I ain't sold you anythin'," snickered Tom, keeping a wary eye upon the pick. "Every man here knows I fought dead aginst sell in' to the last. You forced the Chilcats to sell to you. And they're the only ones as benefited by the deal. You've made 'em a present of six thousand dollars apiece. Eric and me git back what you skinned us outa by hikin' us forth on a fixed stampede, plankin' us down on two salted claims prepared beforehand and enticin' us to buy up Fresno Creek.

"Saltin's a game amateurs like you shouldn't play at, Casino. You're sure to git pickled in the end. You've got a dose of your own medicine, and you alone kin tell how it tastes. Now jist inform us if it tickles your palate. The odds ain't all on your side this fightin' minnit. They's nineteen of us at present aginst forty-seven of you, and my private opinion is that we kin strew the Fresno Valley with your mangled remains. You got any views on the subjeck? You desirin' any special brand of trouble. If you ain't, put down that pick!"

Casino glared malevolently at the phalanx of Chilcats backing Sark and Bassett under Tagish Jim's direction.

Each man stood six feet. Each was muscled like a grizzly and endowed with a grizzly's strength. Each had a disconcerting pair of black eyes which flashed sardonically at Casino through the half gloom, betokening contempt, mingled with the high hope of a conflict.



Casino saw their swarthy hands tightened on the helves of the axes they carried and their lithe frames all set for the spring, and wisdom triumphed over his malevolence. He dropped the pick.

"I'm not desirin' any special brand of trouble; I'm a man of peace!" be decided, and motioned his forty-six recruits on the downward path to camp.