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The Trail of the Goldseekers Part 23

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The goldseekers are still seeking. I withdrew, but they went on. In the warmth and security of my study, surrounded by the peace and comfort of my native Coolly, I thought of them as they went toiling over the trail, still toward the north. It was easy for me to imagine their daily life. The Manchester boys and Burton, my partner, left Glenora with ten horses and more than two thousand pounds of supplies.

Twice each day this immense load had to be handled; sometimes in order to rest and graze the ponies, every sack and box had to be taken down and lifted up to their las.h.i.+ngs again four times each day.

This meant toil. It meant also constant worry and care while the train was in motion. Three times each day a campfire was built and coffee and beans prepared.

However, the weather continued fair, my partner wrote me, and they arrived at Teslin Lake in September, after being a month on the road, and there set about building a boat to carry them down the river.

Here the horses were sold, and I know it must have been a sad moment for Burton to say good-by to his faithful brutes. But there was no help for it. There was no more thought of going to the head-waters of the Pelly and no more use for the horses. Indeed, the gold-hunters abandoned all thought of the Nisutlin and the Hotalinqua. They were fairly in the grasp of the tremendous current which seemed to get ever swifter as it approached the mouth of the Klondike River. They were mad to reach the pool wherein all the rest of the world was fis.h.i.+ng. Nothing less would satisfy them.



At last they cast loose from the sh.o.r.e and started down the river, straight into the north. Each hour, each mile, became a menace. Day by day they drifted while the spitting snows fell hissing into the cold water, and ice formed around the keel of the boat at night. They pa.s.sed men camped and panning dirt, but continued resolute, halting only "to pa.s.s the good word."

It grew cold with appalling rapidity and the sun fell away to the south with desolating speed. The skies darkened and lowered as the days shortened. All signs of life except those of other argonauts disappeared. The river filled with drifting ice, and each night landing became more difficult.

At last the winter came. The river closed up like an iron trap, and before they knew it they were caught in the jam of ice and fighting for their lives. They landed on a wooded island after a desperate struggle and went into camp with the thermometer thirty below zero.

But what of that? They were now in the gold belt. After six months of incessant toil, of hope deferred, they were at last on the spot toward which they had struggled.

All around them was the overflow from the Klondike. Their desire to go farther was checked. They had reached the counter current--the back-water--and were satisfied.

Leaving to others the task of building a permanent camp, my st.u.r.dy partner, a couple of days later, started prospecting in company with two others whom he had selected to represent the other outfit. The thermometer was fifty-six degrees below zero, and yet for seven days, with less than six hours' sleep, without a tent, those devoted idiots hunted the sands of a near-by creek for gold, and really staked claims.

On the way back one of the men grew sleepy and would have lain down to die except for the vigorous treatment of Burton, who mauled him and dragged him about and rubbed him with snow until his blood began to circulate once more. In attempting to walk on the river, which was again in motion, Burton fell through, wetting one leg above the knee.

It was still more than thirty degrees below zero, but what of that?

He merely kept going.

They reached the bank opposite the camp late on the seventh day, but were unable to cross the moving ice. For the eighth night they "danced around the fire as usual," not daring to sleep for fear of freezing. They literally frosted on one side while scorching at the fire on the other, turning like so many roasting pigs before the blaze. The river solidified during the night and they crossed to the camp to eat and sleep in safety.

A couple of weeks later they determined to move down the river to a new stampede in Thistle Creek. Once more these indomitable souls left their warm cabin, took up their beds and nearly two thousand pounds of outfit and toiled down the river still farther into the terrible north. The chronicle of this trip by Burton is of mathematical brevity: "On 20th concluded to move. Took four days.

Very cold. Ther. down to 45 below. Froze one toe. Got claim--now building cabin. Expect to begin singeing in a few days."

The toil, the suffering, the monotonous food, the lack of fire, he did not dwell upon, but singeing, that is to say burning down through the eternally frozen ground, was to begin at once. To singe a hole into the soil ten or fifteen feet deep in the midst of the sunless seventy of the arctic circle is no light task, but these men will do it; if hardihood and honest toil are of any avail they will all share in the precious sand whose s.h.i.+ne has lured them through all the dark days of the long trail, calling with such power that nothing could stay them or turn them aside.

If they fail, well--

This out of all will remain, They have lived and have tossed.

So much of the game will be gain, Though the gold of the dice has been lost.

HERE THE TRAIL ENDS

Here the trail ends--Here by a river So swifter, and darker, and colder Than any we crossed on our long, long way.

Steady, Dan, steady. Ho, there, my dapple, You first from the saddle shall slip and be free.

Now go, you are clear from command of a master; Go wade in the gra.s.ses, go munch at the grain.

I love you, my faithful, but all is now over; Ended the comrades.h.i.+p held 'twixt us twain.

I go to the river and the wide lands beyond it, You go to the pasture, and death claims us all.

_For here the trail ends!_

_Here the trail ends!_ Draw near with the broncos.

Slip the hitch, loose the cinches, Slide the saw-bucks away from each worn, weary back.

We are done with the axe, the camp, and the kettle; Strike hand to each cayuse and send him away.

Let them go where the roses and gra.s.ses are growing, To the meadows that slope to the warm western sea.

No more shall they serve us; no more shall they suffer The sting of the lash, the heat of the day.

Soon they will go to a winterless haven, To the haven of beasts where none may enslave.

_For here the trail ends_.

_Here the trail ends._ Never again shall the far-s.h.i.+ning mountains allure us, No more shall the icy mad torrents appall.

Fold up the sling ropes, coil down the cinches, Cache the saddles, and put the brown bridles away.

Not one of the roses of Navajo silver, Not even a spur shall we save from the rust.

Put away the worn tent-cloth, let the red people have it; We are done with all shelter, we are done with the gun.

Not so much as a pine branch, not even a willow Shall swing in the air 'twixt us and our G.o.d.

Naked and lone we cross the wide ferry, Bare to the cold, the dark and the rain.

_For here the trail ends._

_Here the trail ends._ Here by the landing I wait the last boat, the slow silent one.

We each go alone--no man with another, Each into the gloom of the swift black flood-- Boys, it is hard, but here we must scatter; The gray boatman waits, and I--I go first.

All is dark over there where the dim boat is rocking-- But that is no matter! No man need to fear; For clearly we're told the powers that lead us Shall govern the game to the end of the day.

_Good-by--here the trail ends!_

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