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   Chapter 1 SAM MORGAN'S BOY

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 13101

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Connie Morgan, or as he is affectionately called by the big, bearded men of the Yukon, Sam Morgan's boy, now owns one of the crack dog teams of Alaska. For Connie has set his heart upon winning the great Alaska Sweepstakes-the grandest and most exciting race in all the world, a race that crowds both driver and dogs to the very last measure of endurance, sagacity, and skill.

But that is another story. For Connie also owns what is probably the most ludicrous and ill-assorted three-dog team ever assembled; and he is never so happy as when jogging slowly over the trail behind old Boris, Mutt, and Slasher.

No sourdough in his right senses would give fifty dollars for the three, but Sam Morgan's boy would gladly sacrifice his whole team of thousand-dollar dogs to save any one of them. For it was the fine courage and loyalty of this misfit team that enabled him to beat out the Ten Bow stampede and file on "One Below Discovery," next to Waseche Bill, the big sourdough who is his partner-and who loves him as Sam Morgan loved him before he crossed the Big Divide.

Sam Morgan was among those who went to Alaska in the first days of the great gold rush. Like Peg's father in the play, Sam Morgan could do anything but make money. So when the news came of gold-bright, yellow gold lying loose on the floors of creeks up among the snows of the Arctic-Sam Morgan bid his wife and boy good-bye at the door of the little cottage in a ten-carat town of a middle State and fared forth to win riches.

The man loved his wife and son with all the love of his rugged nature, and for their sakes cheerfully endured the perils and hardships of the long trails without a murmur. But in spite of his dogged persistence and unflagging toil he never made a strike. He was in the van of a dozen stampedes-stampedes that made millionaires out of some men and stark corpses out of others-but somehow his claims never panned out.

Unlucky, men called him. And his name became a byword for ill-luck throughout the length and breadth of the Northland.

"She's a Sam Morgan," men would say, as they turned in disappointment from an empty hole driven deep into frozen gravel, and would wearily hit the trail to sink other shafts in other gulches.

So Sam Morgan's luck became a proverb in the North. But Sam Morgan, himself, men loved. He was known among the meat-eaters as a man whose word was as good as other men's bonds, and his cheery smile made long trails less long. It was told in the camps that on one occasion, during a blizzard, he divided his last piece of bacon with a half-starved Indian, and then, carrying the man on his back, made eighteen miles through the storm to the shelter of a prospector's cabin.

His word became law in the settling of disputes. And to this day it is told on the trails how he followed "British Kronk," who struck it rich on the Black Horn, and abandoned his wife, leaving her starving in the cabin where she would surely have died had not Sam Morgan happened along and found her; and of how, after eight hundred miles of winter trail, he came upon him in Candle, and of the great man-fight that took place there on the hard-packed snow; of the tight clamp of the square jaw, and the terrible gleam of the grey eyes as, bare fisted, he made the huge man beg for mercy; and of how he took the man back, single-handed and without authority of law, clear to Fort Yukon, and forced him to recognize the woman and turn over to her a share of his gold.

It is not the bragging swashbucklers, the self-styled "bad men," who win the respect of the rough men upon the edges of the world. It is the silent, smiling men who stand for justice and a square deal-and who carry the courage of their convictions in their two fists.

Of these things men tell in gruff tones, to the accompaniment of hearty fist-bangs of approval. With lowered voices they tell the story of "Sam Morgan's Stumble," as the sharp elbow is called where the Ragged Falls trail bends sharply around a shoulder of naked rock, with a sheer drop of five hundred feet to the boulder-strewn floor of the creek bed. "Just Sam Morgan's luck," they whisper. "The only place on the whole hundred and fifty miles of the Ragged Falls trail where a man could come to harm-right there he steps on a piece of loose ice and stumbles head first into the canyon. He sure played in tough luck, Sam Morgan did. But he was a man!"

When the letters from the North ceased coming, Sam Morgan's wife sickened and died.

"Jest nach'lly pined away a-waitin' fer word from Sam," the neighbours said. And when fifteen-year-old Connie returned to the empty cottage from the bleak little cemetery on the outskirts of the village, he sat far into the night and thought things over.

In the morning he counted the few dollars he had managed to save by doing odd jobs about the village, and placing them carefully in his pocket, together with a few trinkets that had belonged to his mother, left the cottage and started in search of Sam Morgan. He locked the door and laid the key under the mat, just where he knew his father would look for it should he return before he found him.

Connie told nobody of his plans, said no good-byes, but with a stout heart and a strange lump in his throat, passed quietly out of the familiar village and resolutely turned his face toward the great white North.

Thus is was that a small boy stepped off the last boat into Anvik that fall and mingled unnoticed among the boisterous men who crowded the shore. As the boat swung out into the current, the men left the river and entered the wide, low door of the trading post.

Dick Colton paused in his examination of the pile of freight, and noticing for the first time the forlorn little figure who stood watching the departing boat, sauntered over and spoke:

"Hello, sonny, where you bound?"

The boy turned and gravely faced the smiling man. "I've come to find my father," he answered.

"Where is your father?"

"He is here-somewhere."

"Here? In Anvik, you mean?"

"In Alaska."

The man uttered a low whistle. The smile was gone from his face, and he noted the threadbare cloth overcoat, and the bare legs showing through the ragged holes in the boy's stockings.

"What is your father's name, boy?"

"Sam Morgan."

At the name the man started and an exclamation escaped his lips.

"Do you know him?" The boy's face was eager with expectation, and the man found the steadfast gaze of the blue eyes disconcerting.

"Just you wait here, son, for a minute,

while I run up to the store. Maybe some of the boys know him." And he turned and hurried toward the long, low building into which the men had disappeared.

"Boys!" he cried, bursting in on them, "there is a kid out here. Came in on the boat. He is hunting for his dad." The men ceased their talk and looked at the speaker with interest. "And, Heaven help us, it's Sam Morgan's boy!"

"Sam Morgan's boy! Sam Morgan's boy!" In all parts of the room men repeated the words and stared uneasily into each other's faces.

"He has got to be told," said Dick, with a shake of the head. "You tell him, Pete. I couldn't do it."

"Me neither. Here you, Waseche Bill, you tell him."

"I cain't do it, boys. Honest I cain't. You tell him." Thus each man urged his neighbour, and in the midst of their half-spoken sentences the door opened and the boy entered. An awkward hush fell upon them-the fifty rough, fur-clad men whose bearded faces stared at him from the gloom of the long, dark room-and the one small boy who stared back with undisguised interest. The silence became painful, and at length someone spoke:

"So you're Sam Morgan's boy?" the man asked, advancing and offering a great hairy hand. The boy took the hand and bore the pain of the mighty grip without flinching.

"Yes, sir," he answered. "Do you know him-my father?"

"Sure I know him! Do I know Sam Morgan? Well, I just guess I do know him! There ain't a man 'tween here an' Dawson don't know Sam Morgan!" Others crowded about and welcomed the boy with rude kindness.

"Is my father here, in Anvik?" the boy asked of the man called Pete.

"No, kid, he ain't here-in Anvik. Say, Waseche, where is Sam Morgan at? Do you know?" Thus Pete shifted the responsibility. But Waseche Bill, a long, lank Kentuckian, was equal to the occasion.

"Why, yes, Sam Mo'gan, he's up above, somewhe's," with a sweep of his arm in the direction of the headwaters of the great river.

"That's right," others added, "Sam Morgan's up above."

"When can I go to him?" asked the boy, and again the men looked at each other helplessly.

"The's a bunch of us goin' up Hesitation way in a day or two, an' yo' c'n go 'long of us. Sam's cabin's at Hesitation. But yo' cain't go 'long in that rig," he added, eyeing the threadbare overcoat and ragged stockings.

"Oh! That's all right. I'll buy some warm clothes. I've got money. Eight dollars!" exclaimed the boy, proudly producing a worn leather pocketbook in which were a few tightly wadded bills.

Eight dollars! In Alaska! And yet not a man laughed. Waseche Bill placed his hand on the boy's shoulder and smiled:

"Well, now, sonny, that's a right sma't lot o' money, back in the States, but it don't stack up very high in Alaska." He noticed the look of disappointment with which the boy eyed his hoard, and hastened to proceed: "But don't yo' fret none. It's lucky yo' chanced 'long heah, 'cause I happen to be owin' Sam Mo'gan a hund'ed, an' it's right handy fo' to pay it now." Hardly had he ceased speaking when Dick Colton stepped forward:

"I owe Sam fifty." "An' me!" "An' me, too!" "An' me, I'd most forgot it!" The others had taken their cue, and it seemed to the bewildered boy as though these men owed his father all the money in the world.

"But I don't understand," he gasped. "Is father rich? Has he made a strike, at last?"

"No, son," answered Dick, "your father is not rich-in gold. He never made a strike. In fact, he is counted the most unlucky man in the North-in some ways." He turned his head. "But just the same, boy, there's not a man in Alaska but owes Sam Morgan more than he can pay."

"Tell me about him," cried the boy, his eyes alight. "Did my father do some great thing?" The silence was broken by old Scotty McCollough:

"Na', laddie, Sam Morgan never done no great thing. He di' na' ha' to. He was great!" And by the emphasis which the bluff old Scotchman placed upon the word "was," of a sudden the boy knew!

"My father is dead!" he moaned, and buried his face in his hands, while the men looked on in silent sympathy. Only for a moment did the boy remain so, then the little shoulders stiffened under the thin overcoat, the hands dropped to his side and clenched, and the square jaw set firm-as Sam Morgan's had set, that day he faced big "British Kronk" on the snow-packed street of Candle. As the boy faced the men of the North, he spoke, and his voice trembled.

"I will stay in Alaska," he said, "and dig for the gold my father never found. I think he would have liked it so." Suddenly the low-ceilinged room rang with cheers and the boy was lifted bodily onto the shoulders of the big men.

"You bet, he'd liked it!" yelled the man called Pete.

"Yo'r Sam Mo'gan's boy all right-jest solid grit clean through. It looks f'om heah like Sam's luck has tu'ned at last!" cried Waseche Bill.

Two days later, when he hit the long trail for Hesitation, in company with Waseche Bill, Dick Colton, and Scotty McCollough, Sam Morgan's boy was clad from parka hood to mukluks in the most approved gear of the Northland.

He learned quickly the tricks of the trail, the harnessing and handling of dogs, the choosing of camps, and the hasty preparation of meals; and in the evenings, as they sat close about the camp fire, he never tired of listening as the men told him of his father. His heart swelled with pride, and in his breast grew a great longing to follow in the footsteps of this man, and to hold the place in the affections of the big, rough men of the White Country that his father had held.

All along the trail men grasped him by the hand. He made new friends at every camp. And so it was that Sam Morgan's boy became the pride of the Yukon.

At Hesitation he moved into his father's cabin, and went to work for Scotty McCollough, who was the storekeeper. Many a man went out of his way to trade with Scotty that he might boast in other camps that he knew Sam Morgan's boy.

One day Waseche Bill took him out on the Ragged Falls trail where, at the foot of the precipice, his father lay buried. The two stood long at the side of the snow-covered mound, at the head of which stood a little wooden cross with its simple legend burned deep by the men who were his friends:

SAM MORGAN

ALASKA

The man laid a kindly hand on the boy's shoulder:

"Notice, son, it don't say Hesitation, nor Circle, nor Dawson-but just Alaska. It takes a mighty big man to fill that there description in this country," and the man brushed away a tear of which he was not ashamed.

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