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   Chapter 2 THE TEN BOW STAMPEDE

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 12730

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


With the passing of the winter Connie found himself the proud possessor of a three-dog team. Shortly after the trip to "Sam Morgan's Stumble," Waseche Bill disappeared into the north on a solitary prospecting trip. Before he left he presented Connie with old Boris, a Hudson Bay dog famed in his day as the wisest trail dog on the Yukon, and in spite of his years, a lead dog whose sagacity was almost uncanny.

"He's been a great dog, son, but he's gettin' too old fo' the long trails. I aimed to keep him 'til he died, but I know yo'll use him right. Just keep old Boris in the lead and he'll learn yo' mo' trail knowledge than I could-or any otheh man." Thus Waseche Bill took leave of the boy and swung out into the trail with a younger dog in the lead. Old Boris stood with drooping tail beside his new master, and as the sled disappeared over the bank and swept out onto the ice of the river, as if in realization that for him the trail days were over, he threw back his shaggy head and with his muzzle pointing toward the aurora-shot sky, sent a long, bell-like howl of protest quavering into the chill air.

Later, a passing prospector presented Connie with Mutt, a slow, heavily built dog, good-natured and clumsy, who knew only how to throw his great weight against the collar and pull until his footing gave way.

The third dog of the team was Slasher, a gaunt, untamed malamute, red-eyed and vicious-a throwback to the wolf. His former owner, tired of fighting him over the trails, was on the point of shooting him when Connie interceded, and offered to buy him.

"Why, son, he'd eat ye alive!" said the man; "an' if harm was to come to Sam Morgan's boy through fault of a man-eatin' wolf-dog which same he'd got off o' me, why, this here Alaska land 'ud be too small to hold me. No, son, I guess we'll jest put him out o' the way o' harmin' folks." But the boy persisted, and to the unspeakable amazement of the man, walked up and loosened the heavy leather muzzle.

White fangs an inch long gleamed wickedly as the boy patted his head, but the vicious, ripping slash which the onlookers expected did not follow. The crouching dog glared furtively, with back curled lips-suspicious. Here was something he did not understand-this man-brute of small size who approached him bare-handed and without a club. So he glared red-eyed, alert for some new trick of torture. But nothing happened, and presently from the pocket of his parka this strange man-brute drew a piece of smoked fish which the dog accepted from his bare fingers with a lightning-like click of polished fangs, but the fingers did not jerk away in fear even though the fangs closed together a scant inch from their ends.

A piece of ham rind followed the fish and the small man-brute reached down and flung the hated muzzle far out into the snow, and with it the collar and the thong lash.

The wolf-dog rose for the first time in his life unfettered. He shook himself and surveyed the astonished group of men. The stiff, coarse hair along his spine stood erect and he uttered a low throaty growl of defiance; then he turned and stalked toward the boy, planting his feet deliberately and stiffly after the manner of dogs whose temper quivers on a hair-trigger. Guns were loosened in the holsters of the men, but the boy smiled and extended his hand toward the dog, which advanced, the very personification of savage hate.

The men gasped as the pointed muzzle touched the small bared hand and a long, red tongue shot out and licked the fingers. At the sound, the dog placed himself before the boy and glared at them, and then quietly followed Connie to the corral at the rear of the log store.

"He's yours, son," exclaimed the prospector, as the boy joined them. "No, I won't take no pay for him. You saved his life, an' he b'longs to you-only be careful. Don't never take your eyes off him. I don't trust no malamute, let alone that there Slasher dog."

With the lengthening of the days the Northland began to feel the approach of spring. Snow melted on the more exposed mountain slopes, and now and then the trails softened, so that men camped at midday.

Connie found time to take short excursions with his team up the neighbouring gulches, occasionally spending the night in the cabin of some prospector.

He was beginning to regard himself as a "sure enough sourdough" now, and could talk quite wisely of cradles and rockers, of sluices and riffles, and pay dirt and bed rock.

Then, one day when the store was full of miners and prospectors awaiting the mail, Waseche Bill burst into the room with the story of his big strike on Ten Bow. Instantly pandemonium broke loose. Men in a frenzy of excitement threw their outfits onto sleds and swung the dogs onto the ice trail of the river, struggling and fighting for place.

McDougall, with his mail team of ten fast malamutes, bet a thousand dollars he would beat out Dutch Henry's crack Hudson Bays. Men came down from the hills and joined the stampede, and by evening a hundred dog teams were on the trail.

During the excitement, Waseche Bill sought out Connie and drew him to one side:

"Listen, son," whispered Waseche, speaking hurriedly, and to the point, "git in on this, d'yo heah? Quick now, git out yo' dogs an' hit the trail. Old Boris'll take yo' theh. The's always one mo' pull in a good dog, an' he'll unde'stand. I've been wo'kin' Ten Bow fo' six months, an' he knows the sho't-cut. Keep up yo' nerve, an' follow that dog. He'll swing off up Little Rampa't, an' the othe's will keep to the big riveh-but it's the long way 'round. It's only 'bout eighty mile by the sho't-cut, an' a good two hund'ed by the riveh. I come down the long way so's to have a smooth trail fo' my new lead dog. The other's a rough trail, over ridges an' acrost gulches, up hill an' down, but yo' c'n make it! Boris, he'll see yo' through. An' when yo' strike Ten Bow-yo'll know it, 'cause it's the only valley that shows red rock-swing no'th 'til yo' come to a big split rock, an' theh yo'll find my stakes.

"Now, listen! My claim'll be Discovery." The man lowered his voice yet more: "An' yo' stake out One Below Discovery-below, mind. 'Cause she's a sho' winneh, an' togetheh we'll have the cream o' the gulch-me an' yo' will."

Many outfits passed Connie on the trail; the men laughing and joking, good-n

aturedly urged the boy onward. He only laughed in return, as he encouraged his ill-matched team-Big Mutt plunging against the collar, Slasher pulling wide with the long jumps of the wolf-dog, and old Boris with lowered head, in the easy lope of the born leader. Mile after mile they covered on the smooth trail of the river, and it seemed to the boy as if every outfit in Alaska had passed him in the race. But he urged the dogs onward, for the fever was in his blood-and like his father before him, he was answering the call of gold.

Suddenly, without a moment's hesitation, old Boris swerved from the trail and headed for the narrow cleft between two towering walls of rock, which was the mouth of Little Rampart. On and on they mushed, following the creek bed which wound crookedly between its precipitous sides.

Again old Boris swerved. This time it was to head up a steep, narrow pass leading into the hills. Connie had his hands full at the gee-pole, for it was dark now-not the black darkness of the States, but the sparkling, star-lit dark of the aurora land.

He camped at midnight on a flat plateau near the top of a high divide. Morning found him again on the trail. He begrudged every minute of inaction, for well he knew the fame of McDougall's mail dogs, and Dutch Henry's Hudson Bays. It turned warmer. The snow slumped under foot, and he lost two hours at midday, waiting for the stiffening chill of the lengthening shadows.

On the third day it snowed. Not the fierce, cutting snow of the fall and winter, but large, feathery flakes, that lay soft and deep on the crust and piled up in front of the sled. That night he camped early, for both boy and dogs were weary with the trail-strain.

During the night the snow stopped falling and the wind rose, driving it into huge drifts. Progress was slow now and every foot of the trail was hard-earned. Old Boris picked his way among boulders and drifts with the wisdom of long practice. Slasher settled down to a steady pull, and Big Mutt threw himself into the collar and fairly lifted the sled through the loose snow. Toward noon they slanted into a wide valley, and the tired eyes of the boy brightened as they saw the bold outcropping of red rock. Then immediately they grew serious, and he urged the dogs to greater effort, for, far down the valley, dotting the white expanse of snow, were many moving black specks.

Old Boris turned toward the north, and the boy saw the huge split rock a mile away. He was travelling ahead of the dogs now, throwing his weight onto the babiche rope, his wide snowshoes breaking the trail. In spite of his efforts the pace was dishearteningly slow. Every few minutes he glanced back, and each time the black specks appeared larger and more distinct. He could make out men and sleds, and he knew by the long string of dogs that the first outfit was McDougall's.

"Hi! Hi! Mush you! Mush you!" faintly the sound was borne to his ears, and he knew that McDougall was gaining fast-he had already broken into Connie's own freshly made trail. The dogs heard it, too, and with cocked ears plunged blindly ahead.

The split rock loomed tantalizingly near, and the boy thanked his stars that he had prepared his stakes beforehand. He loosened them from the back of the sled and, ax in hand, ploughed ahead through the loose snow. His racket struck something hard and he pitched forward-it was one of Waseche Bill's stakes.

Feverishly he scrambled to his feet and drove in his own stakes, following Waseche's directions. With a final blow of his ax, he turned to face McDougall, who stared at him wide-eyed.

"You dang little scamp!" he roared. "You dang little sourdough!" And as he staked out number Two Below Discovery, the hillsides echoed back his laughter.

Other men came. Soon the valley of the Ten Bow was staked with claims running into the forties, both above and below Discovery. But the great prize of all was One Below, and it stood marked by the stakes of Sam Morgan's boy.

That night the valley of the Ten Bow was dotted with a hundred camp fires, and the air rang with snatches of rude song and loud laughter.

Men passed from fire to fire and Connie Morgan's name was on every tongue.

"The little scamp!" men laughed; "cut straight through the hills with them old discarded dogs, an' beat us to it!" "Now, what d'ye know 'bout that?" "If Sam Morgan c'd lived to seen it he'd be'n the tickledest man in the world!" "Poor old Sam-looks like his luck's turned at last!"

From the surrounding gloom a man stepped into the light of a large camp-fire near which Connie Morgan was seated talking with a group of prospectors. He was a little, rat-like man, with a pinched, weasel face and little black eyes that shone beadlike from between lashless lids.

"This Number One claim, boys, it ain't legal. It's staked by a boy. I'm a lawyer, an' I know. He's a minor, an' he can't hold no claim!" He spoke hurriedly, and eyed the men for signs of approval; then he advanced toward Connie, shaking a long, bony finger.

"You ain't twenty-one," he squeaked, "an' I command you to vacate this claim in the name of the law!" From the boy's side came a low growl. There was a flash of grey in the firelight, and the wolf-dog was at the man's throat, bearing him backward into the snow.

The boy was on his feet in an instant, pulling at the dog and beating him off. Luckily for the man his throat was protected by the heavy parka hood, and he sustained no real damage. He arose whimpering with fright.

The other men were on their feet now, and one of them knocked the revolver from the hand of the cowering man as he aimed it at the growling Slasher.

Big McDougall stepped forward, and, grasping the man by the shoulder, spun him around with a jerk.

"Look a here, you reptile! Kin ye guess what that dog 'ud of done to ye, an' it hadn't be'n fer the kid? Well, fer my part he c'd gone ahead an' done it as it was. But, seein' he didn't, just ye listen to me! What he would done won't be a patchin' to what I will do to ye, if ever ye open yer head about that there claim ag'in. An' that ain't all. There's a hundred men in this gulch-good men-sourdoughs, ev'ry one-an' the kid beat us all fair an' square. An', law or no law, we're right here to see that Sam Morgan's boy does hold down that claim! An' don't ye fergit it!"

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