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"That's right! Laugh! But it's built right up on your own pet theory
of erosion and changed riverbeds. And I didn't pocket among the
Mexicans two years for nothin'. Where d'you s'pose this Eldorado gold
came from? - rough, and no signs of washin'? Eh? There's where you
need your spectacles. Books have made you short-sighted. But never
mind how. 'Tisn't exactly pockets, neither, but I know what I'm
spelling about. I ain't been keepin' tab on traces for my health. I
can tell you mining sharps more about the lay of Eldorado Creek in one
minute than you could figure out in a month of Sundays. But never
mind, no offence. You lay over with me till to-morrow, and you can buy
a ranch 'longside of mine, sure." "Well, all right. I can rest up and
look over my notes while you're hunting your ancient river-bed."

"Didn't I tell you it was a hunch?" Del reproachfully demanded.

"And haven't I agreed to stop over? What more do you want?"

"To give you a fruit ranch, that's what! Just to go with me and nose
round a bit, that's all."

"I do not want any of your impossible fruit ranches. I'm tired and
worried; can't you leave me alone? I think I am more than fair when I
humor you to the extent of stopping over. You may waste your time
nosing around, but I shall stay in camp. Understand?"

"Burn my body, but you're grateful! By the Jumpin' Methuselah, I'll
quit my job in two minutes if you don't fire me. Me a-layin' 'wake
nights and workin' up my theory, and calculatin' on lettin' you in, and
you a-snorin' and Frona-this and Frona-that - "

"That'll do! Stop it!"

"The hell it will! If I didn't know more about gold-mining than you do
about courtin' - "

Corliss sprang at him, but Del dodged to one side and put up his fists.
Then he ducked a wild right and left swing and side-stepped his way
into firmer footing on the hard trail.

"Hold on a moment," he cried, as Corliss made to come at him again.
"Just a second. If I lick you, will you come up the hillside with me?"

"Yes."

"And if I don't, you can fire me. That's fair. Come on."

Vance had no show whatever, as Del well knew, who played with him,
feinting, attacking, retreating, dazzling, and disappearing every now
and again out of his field of vision in a most exasperating way. As
Vance speedily discovered, he possessed very little correlation between
mind and body, and the next thing he discovered was that he was lying
in the snow and slowly coming back to his senses.

"How - how did you do it?" he stammered to the pocket-miner, who had his
head on his knee and was rubbing his forehead with snow.

"Oh, you'll do!" Del laughed, helping him limply to his feet. "You're
the right stuff. I'll show you some time. You've got lots to learn
yet what you won't find in books. But not now. We've got to wade in
and make camp, then you're comin' up the hill with me."

"Hee! hee!" he chuckled later, as they fitted the pipe of the Yukon
stove. "Slow sighted and short. Couldn't follow me, eh? But I'll
show you some time, oh, I'll show you all right, all right!"

"Grab an axe an' come on," he commanded when the camp was completed.

He led the way up Eldorado, borrowed a pick, shovel, and pan at a
cabin, and headed up among the benches near the mouth of French Creek.
Vance, though feeling somewhat sore, was laughing at himself by this
time and enjoying the situation. He exaggerated the humility with
which he walked at the heel of his conqueror, while the extravagant
servility which marked his obedience to his hired man made that
individual grin.

"You'll do. You've got the makin's in you!" Del threw down the tools
and scanned the run of the snow-surface carefully. "Here, take the
axe, shinny up the hill, and lug me down some _skookum_ dry wood."

By the time Corliss returned with the last load of wood, the
pocket-miner had cleared away the snow and moss in divers spots, and
formed, in general design, a rude cross.

"Cuttin' her both ways," he explained. "Mebbe I'll hit her here, or
over there, or up above; but if there's anything in the hunch, this is
the place. Bedrock dips in above, and it's deep there and most likely
richer, but too much work. This is the rim of the bench. Can't be
more'n a couple of feet down. All we want is indications; afterwards
we can tap in from the side."

As he talked, he started fires here and there on the uncovered spaces.
"But look here, Corliss, I want you to mind this ain't pocketin'. This
is just plain ordinary 'prentice work; but pocketin'" - he straightened
up his back and spoke reverently - "but pocketin' is the deepest science
and the finest art. Delicate to a hair's-breadth, hand and eye true
and steady as steel. When you've got to burn your pan blue-black twice
a day, and out of a shovelful of gravel wash down to the one wee speck
of flour gold, - why, that's washin', that's what it is. Tell you what,
I'd sooner follow a pocket than eat."

"And you would sooner fight than do either." Bishop stopped to
consider. He weighed himself with care equal to that of retaining the
one wee speck of flour gold. "No, I wouldn't, neither. I'd take
pocketin' in mine every time. It's as bad as dope; Corliss, sure. If
it once gets a-hold of you, you're a goner. You'll never shake it.
Look at me! And talk about pipe-dreams; they can't burn a candle
'longside of it."

He walked over and kicked one of the fires apart. Then he lifted the
pick, and the steel point drove in and stopped with a metallic clang,
as though brought up by solid cement.

"Ain't thawed two inches," he muttered, stooping down and groping with
his fingers in the wet muck. The blades of last year's grass had been
burned away, but he managed to gather up and tear away a handful of the
roots.

"Hell!"

"What's the matter?" Corliss asked.

"Hell!" he repeated in a passionless way, knocking the dirt-covered
roots against the pan.

Corliss went over and stooped to closer inspection. "Hold on!" he
cried, picking up two or three grimy bits of dirt and rubbing them with
his fingers. A bright yellow flashed forth.

"Hell!" the pocket-miner reiterated tonelessly. "First rattle out the
box. Begins at the grass roots and goes all the way down."

Head turned to the side and up, eyes closed, nostrils distended and
quivering, he rose suddenly to his feet and sniffed the air. Corliss
looked up wonderingly.

"Huh!" the pocket-miner grunted. Then he drew a deep breath. "Can't
you smell them oranges?"




CHAPTER XVI

The stampede to French Hill was on by the beginning of Christmas week.
Corliss and Bishop had been in no hurry to record for they looked the
ground over carefully before blazing their stakes, and let a few close
friends into the secret, - Harney, Welse, Trethaway, a Dutch _chechaquo_
who had forfeited both feet to the frost, a couple of the mounted
police, an old pal with whom Del had prospected through the Black Hills
Country, the washerwoman at the Forks, and last, and notably, Lucile.
Corliss was responsible for her getting in on the lay, and he drove and
marked her stakes himself, though it fell to the colonel to deliver the
invitation to her to come and be rich.

In accordance with the custom of the country, those thus benefited
offered to sign over half-interests to the two discoverers. Corliss
would not tolerate the proposition. Del was similarly minded, though
swayed by no ethical reasons. He had enough as it stood. "Got my
fruit ranch paid for, double the size I was calculatin' on," he
explained; "and if I had any more, I wouldn't know what to do with it,
sure."

After the strike, Corliss took it upon himself as a matter of course to
look about for another man; but when he brought a keen-eyed Californian
into camp, Del was duly wroth.

"Not on your life," he stormed.

"But you are rich now," Vance answered, "and have no need to work."

"Rich, hell!" the pocket-miner rejoined. "Accordin' to covenant, you
can't fire me; and I'm goin' to hold the job down as long as my sweet
will'll let me. Savve?"

On Friday morning, early, all interested parties appeared before the
Gold Commissioner to record their claims. The news went abroad
immediately. In five minutes the first stampeders were hitting the
trail. At the end of half an hour the town was afoot. To prevent
mistakes on their property, - jumping, moving of stakes, and mutilation
of notices, - Vance and Del, after promptly recording, started to
return. But with the government seal attached to their holdings, they
took it leisurely, the stampeders sliding past them in a steady stream.
Midway, Del chanced to look behind. St. Vincent was in sight, footing
it at a lively pace, the regulation stampeding pack on his shoulders.
The trail made a sharp bend at that place, and with the exception of
the three of them no one was in sight.

"Don't speak to me. Don't recognize me," Del cautioned sharply, as he
spoke, buttoning his nose-strap across his face, which served to quite
hide his identity. "There's a water-hole over there. Get down on your
belly and make a blind at gettin' a drink. Then go on by your lonely
to the claims; I've business of my own to handle. And for the love of
your bother don't say a word to me or to the skunk. Don't let 'm see
your face."

Corliss obeyed wonderingly, stepping aside from the beaten path, lying
down in the snow, and dipping into the water-hole with an empty
condensed milk-can. Bishop bent on one knee and stooped as though
fastening his moccasin. Just as St. Vincent came up with him he
finished tying the knot, and started forward with the feverish haste of
a man trying to make up for lost time.

"I say, hold on, my man," the correspondent called out to him.

Bishop shot a hurried glance at him and pressed on. St. Vincent broke
into a run till they were side by side again.

"Is this the way - "

"To the benches of French Hill?" Del snapped him short. "Betcher your
life. That's the way I'm headin'. So long."

He ploughed forward at a tremendous rate, and the correspondent,
half-running, swung in behind with the evident intention of taking the
pace. Corliss, still in the dark, lifted his head and watched them go;
but when he saw the pocket-miner swerve abruptly to the right and take
the trail up Adams Creek, the light dawned upon him and he laughed
softly to himself.

Late that night Del arrived in camp on Eldorado exhausted but jubilant.

"Didn't do a thing to him," he cried before he was half inside the
tent-flaps. "Gimme a bite to eat" (grabbing at the teapot and running
a hot flood down his throat), - "cookin'-fat, slush, old moccasins,
candle-ends, anything!"

Then he collapsed upon the blankets and fell to rubbing his stiff
leg-muscles while Corliss fried bacon and dished up the beans.

"What about 'm?" he exulted between mouthfuls. "Well, you can stack
your chips that he didn't get in on the French Hill benches. _How far
is it, my man_?" (in the well-mimicked, patronizing tones of St.
Vincent). "_How far is it_?" with the patronage left out. "_How far
to French Hill_?" weakly. "_How far do you think it is_?" very weakly,
with a tremolo which hinted of repressed tears. "_How far_ - "

The pocket-miner burst into roars of laughter, which were choked by a
misdirected flood of tea, and which left him coughing and speechless.

"Where'd I leave 'm?" when he had recovered. "Over on the divide to
Indian River, winded, plum-beaten, done for. Just about able to crawl
into the nearest camp, and that's about all. I've covered fifty stiff
miles myself, so here's for bed. Good-night. Don't call me in the
mornin'."

He turned into the blankets all-standing, and as he dozed off Vance
could hear him muttering, "_How far is it, my man_? _I say, how far is
it_?"


Regarding Lucile, Corliss was disappointed. "I confess I cannot
understand her," he said to Colonel Trethaway. "I thought her bench
claim would make her independent of the Opera House."

"You can't get a dump out in a day," the colonel interposed.

"But you can mortgage the dirt in the ground when it prospects as hers
does. Yet I took that into consideration, and offered to advance her a
few thousand, non-interest bearing, and she declined. Said she didn't
need it, - in fact, was really grateful; thanked me, and said that any
time I was short to come and see her."

Trethaway smiled and played with his watch-chain. "What would you?
Life, even here, certainly means more to you and me than a bit of grub,
a piece of blanket, and a Yukon stove. She is as gregarious as the
rest of us, and probably a little more so. Suppose you cut her off
from the Opera House, - what then? May she go up to the Barracks and
consort with the captain's lady, make social calls on Mrs. Schoville,
or chum with Frona? Don't you see? Will you escort her, in daylight,
down the public street?"

"Will you?" Vance demanded.

"Ay," the colonel replied, unhesitatingly, "and with pleasure."

"And so will I; but - " He paused and gazed gloomily into the fire.
"But see how she is going on with St. Vincent. As thick as thieves
they are, and always together."

"Puzzles me," Trethaway admitted. "I can grasp St. Vincent's side of
it. Many irons in the fire, and Lucile owns a bench claim on the
second tier of French Hill. Mark me, Corliss, we can tell infallibly
the day that Frona consents to go to his bed and board, - if she ever
does consent."

"And that will be?"

"The day St. Vincent breaks with Lucile."

Corliss pondered, and the colonel went on.

"But I can't grasp Lucile's side of it. What she can see in St.
Vincent - "

"Her taste is no worse than - than that of the rest of the women," Vance
broke in hotly. "I am sure that - "

"Frona could not display poor taste, eh?" Corliss turned on his heel
and walked out, and left Colonel Trethaway smiling grimly.

Vance Corliss never knew how many people, directly and indirectly, had
his cause at heart that Christmas week. Two men strove in particular,
one for him and one for the sake of Frona. Pete Whipple, an old-timer
in the land, possessed an Eldorado claim directly beneath French Hill,
also a woman of the country for a wife, - a swarthy _breed_, not over
pretty, whose Indian mother had mated with a Russian fur-trader some
thirty years before at Kutlik on the Great Delta. Bishop went down one
Sunday morning to yarn away an hour or so with Whipple, but found the
wife alone in the cabin. She talked a bastard English gibberish which
was an anguish to hear, so the pocket-miner resolved to smoke a pipe
and depart without rudeness. But he got her tongue wagging, and to
such an extent that he stopped and smoked many pipes, and whenever she
lagged, urged her on again. He grunted and chuckled and swore in
undertones while he listened, punctuating her narrative regularly with
_hells_! which adequately expressed the many shades of interest he felt.

In the midst of it, the woman fished an ancient leather-bound volume,
all scarred and marred, from the bottom of a dilapidated chest, and
thereafter it lay on the table between them. Though it remained
unopened, she constantly referred to it by look and gesture, and each
time she did so a greedy light blazed in Bishop's eyes. At the end,
when she could say no more and had repeated herself from two to half a
dozen times, he pulled out his sack. Mrs. Whipple set up the gold
scales and placed the weights, which he counterbalanced with a hundred
dollars' worth of dust. Then he departed up the hill to the tent,
hugging the purchase closely, and broke in on Corliss, who sat in the
blankets mending moccasins.

"I'll fix 'm yet," Del remarked casually, at the same time patting the
book and throwing it down on the bed.

Corliss looked up inquiringly and opened it. The paper was yellow with
age and rotten from the weather-wear of trail, while the text was
printed in Russian. "I didn't know you were a Russian scholar, Del,"
he quizzed. "But I can't read a line of it."

"Neither can I, more's the pity; nor does Whipple's woman savve the
lingo. I got it from her. But her old man - he was full Russian, you
know - he used to read it aloud to her. But she knows what she knows
and what her old man knew, and so do I."

"And what do the three of you know?"

"Oh, that's tellin'," Bishop answered, coyly. "But you wait and watch
my smoke, and when you see it risin', you'll know, too."


Matt McCarthy came in over the ice Christmas week, summed up the
situation so far as Frona and St. Vincent were concerned, and did not
like it. Dave Harney furnished him with full information, to which he
added that obtained from Lucile, with whom he was on good terms.
Perhaps it was because he received the full benefit of the sum of their
prejudice; but no matter how, he at any rate answered roll-call with
those who looked upon the correspondent with disfavor. It was
impossible for them to tell why they did not approve of the man, but
somehow St. Vincent was never much of a success with men. This, in
turn, might have been due to the fact that he shone so resplendently
with women as to cast his fellows in eclipse; for otherwise, in his
intercourse with men, he was all that a man could wish. There was
nothing domineering or over-riding about him, while he manifested a
good fellowship at least equal to their own.

Yet, having withheld his judgment after listening to Lucile and Harney,
Matt McCarthy speedily reached a verdict upon spending an hour with St.
Vincent at Jacob Welse's, - and this in face of the fact that what
Lucile had said had been invalidated by Matt's learning of her intimacy
with the man in question. Strong of friendship, quick of heart and
hand, Matt did not let the grass grow under his feet. "'Tis I'll be
takin' a social fling meself, as befits a mimber iv the noble Eldorado
Dynasty," he explained, and went up the hill to a whist party in Dave
Harney's cabin. To himself he added, "An' belike, if Satan takes his
eye off his own, I'll put it to that young cub iv his."

But more than once during the evening he discovered himself challenging
his own judgment. Probe as he would with his innocent wit, Matt found
himself baffled. St. Vincent certainly rang true. Simple,
light-hearted, unaffected, joking and being joked in all good-nature,
thoroughly democratic. Matt failed to catch the faintest echo of
insincerity.

"May the dogs walk on me grave," he communed with himself while
studying a hand which suffered from a plethora of trumps. "Is it the
years are tellin', puttin' the frost in me veins and chillin' the
blood? A likely lad, an' is it for me to misjudge because his is
a-takin' way with the ladies? Just because the swate creatures smile
on the lad an' flutter warm at the sight iv him? Bright eyes and brave
men! 'Tis the way they have iv lovin' valor. They're shuddered an'
shocked at the cruel an' bloody dades iv war, yet who so quick do they
lose their hearts to as the brave butcher-bye iv a sodger? Why not?
The lad's done brave things, and the girls give him the warm soft
smile. Small reason, that, for me to be callin' him the devil's own
cub. Out upon ye, Matt McCarthy, for a crusty old sour-dough, with
vitals frozen an' summer gone from yer heart! 'Tis an ossification
ye've become! But bide a wee, Matt, bide a wee," he supplemented.
"Wait till ye've felt the fale iv his flesh."


The opportunity came shortly, when St. Vincent, with Frona opposite,
swept in the full thirteen tricks.

"A rampse!" Matt cried. "Vincent, me lad, a rampse! Yer hand on it,
me brave!"

It was a stout grip, neither warm nor clammy, but Matt shook his head
dubiously. "What's the good iv botherin'?" he muttered to himself as
he shuffled the cards for the next deal. "Ye old fool! Find out first
how Frona darlin' stands, an' if it's pat she is, thin 'tis time for
doin'."

"Oh, McCarthy's all hunky," Dave Harney assured them later on, coming
to the rescue of St. Vincent, who was getting the rough side of the
Irishman's wit. The evening was over and the company was putting on
its wraps and mittens. "Didn't tell you 'bout his visit to the
cathedral, did he, when he was on the Outside? Well, it was suthin'
like this, ez he was explainin' it to me. He went to the cathedral
durin' service, an' took in the priests and choir-boys in their
surplices, - _parkas_, he called 'em, - an' watched the burnin' of the
holy incense. 'An' do ye know, Dave, he sez to me, 'they got in an'
made a smudge, and there wa'n't a darned mosquito in sight.'"

"True, ivery word iv it." Matt unblushingly fathered Harney's yarn.
"An' did ye niver hear tell iv the time Dave an' me got drunk on
condensed milk?"

"Oh! Horrors!" cried Mrs. Schoville. "But how? Do tell us."

"'Twas durin' the time iv the candle famine at Forty Mile. Cold snap
on, an' Dave slides into me shack to pass the time o' day, and glues
his eyes on me case iv condensed milk. 'How'd ye like a sip iv Moran's
good whiskey?' he sez, eyin' the case iv milk the while. I confiss me
mouth went wet at the naked thought iv it. 'But what's the use iv
likin'?' sez I, with me sack bulgin' with emptiness.' 'Candles worth
tin dollars the dozen,' sez he, 'a dollar apiece. Will ye give six
cans iv milk for a bottle iv the old stuff?' 'How'll ye do it?' sez I.
'Trust me,' sez he. 'Give me the cans. 'Tis cold out iv doors, an'
I've a pair iv candle-moulds.'

"An' it's the sacred truth I'm tellin' ye all, an' if ye run across
Bill Moran he'll back me word; for what does Dave Harney do but lug off
me six cans, freeze the milk into his candle-moulds, an' trade them in
to bill Moran for a bottle iv tanglefoot!"

As soon as he could be heard through the laughter, Harney raised his
voice. "It's true, as McCarthy tells, but he's only told you the half.
Can't you guess the rest, Matt?"

Matt shook his head.

"Bein' short on milk myself, an' not over much sugar, I doctored three
of your cans with water, which went to make the candles. An' by the
bye, I had milk in my coffee for a month to come."

"It's on me, Dave," McCarthy admitted. "'Tis only that yer me host, or
I'd be shockin' the ladies with yer nortorious disgraces. But I'll
lave ye live this time, Dave. Come, spade the partin' guests; we must
be movin'."

"No ye don't, ye young laddy-buck," he interposed, as St. Vincent
started to take Frona down the hill, "'Tis her foster-daddy sees her
home this night."

McCarthy laughed in his silent way and offered his arm to Frona, while
St. Vincent joined in the laugh against himself, dropped back, and
joined Miss Mortimer and Baron Courbertin.

"What's this I'm hearin' about you an' Vincent?" Matt bluntly asked as
soon as they had drawn apart from the others.

He looked at her with his keen gray eyes, but she returned the look
quite as keenly.

"How should I know what you have been hearing?" she countered.

"Whin the talk goes round iv a maid an' a man, the one pretty an' the
other not unhandsome, both young an' neither married, does it 'token
aught but the one thing?"

"Yes?"

"An' the one thing the greatest thing in all the world."

"Well?" Frona was the least bit angry, and did not feel inclined to
help him.

"Marriage, iv course," he blurted out. "'Tis said it looks that way
with the pair of ye."

"But is it said that it _is_ that way?"

"Isn't the looks iv it enough ?" he demanded.

"No; and you are old enough to know better. Mr. St. Vincent and I - we
enjoy each other as friends, that is all. But suppose it is as you
say, what of it?"

"Well," McCarthy deliberated, "there's other talk goes round, 'Tis
said Vincent is over-thick with a jade down in the town - Lucile, they
speak iv her."

"All of which signifies?"

She waited, and McCarthy watched her dumbly.

"I know Lucile, and I like her," Frona continued, filling the gap of
his silence, and ostentatiously manoeuvring to help him on. "Do you
know her? Don't you like her?"

Matt started to speak, cleared his throat, and halted. At last, in
desperation, he blurted out, "For two cents, Frona, I'd lay ye acrost
me knee."

She laughed. "You don't dare. I'm not running barelegged at Dyea."

"Now don't be tasin'," he blarneyed.

"I'm not teasing. Don't you like her? - Lucile?"

"An' what iv it?" he challenged, brazenly.

"Just what I asked, - what of it?"

"Thin I'll tell ye in plain words from a man old enough to be yer
father. 'Tis undacent, damnably undacent, for a man to kape company
with a good young girl - "

"Thank you," she laughed, dropping a courtesy. Then she added, half in


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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 10 of 20)