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   Chapter 3 THE NEW CAMP

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 10061

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The fame of Ten Bow travelled to far reaches, and because in the gold country men are fascinated by prosperity, even though it is the prosperity of others, the shortening days brought many new faces into the mining camp of Ten Bow. Notwithstanding the fact that every square foot of the valley was staked, gaunt men, whose hollow eyes and depleted outfits spoke failure, mushed in from the hills, knowing that here cordwood must be chopped, windlasses cranked, and fires kept going, and preferring the certainty of high wages at day labour to the uncertainty of a new strike in unscarred valleys.

It was six months since Waseche Bill had burst into Scotty McCollough's store at Hesitation with the news of his great strike in the red rock valley to the southward-news that spread like wildfire through the camp and sent two hundred men over the trail in a frenzied rush for gold.

It was a race long to be remembered in the Northland-the Ten Bow stampede. It is told to this day on the trails, by bearded tillicums amid roars of bull-throated laughter and deep man-growls of approval, how the race was won by a boy-a slight, wiry, fifteen-year-old chechako who, scorning the broad river trail with its hundred rushing dog teams, struck straight through the hill with a misfit three-dog outfit, and staked "One Below Discovery" under the very noses of Big McDougall and his mail team of gaunt malamutes, and Dutch Henry with his Hudson Bays.

From the glacier-studded seaboard to the great white death barriers beyond the Yukon, wherever men forgathered, the fame of Connie Morgan, and old Boris, Mutt, and Slasher, passed from bearded lip to bearded lip, and the rough hearts of big, trail-toughened prospectors swelled with pride at the mention of his name. Only, in the big white country, he is never called Connie Morgan, but Sam Morgan's boy; for Sam Morgan was Alaska's-big, quiet Sam Morgan, who never made a "strike," but stood for a square deal and the right of things as they are. And, as they loved Sam Morgan, these men loved Sam Morgan's boy. For it had been told in the hills how Dick Colton found him, ill-clad and ragged, forlornly watching the wheezy little Yukon steamer swing out into the stream at Anvik, whence he had come in search of his father. And how, when he learned that Sam Morgan had crossed the Big Divide, he bravely clenched his little fists, choked back the hot tears, and told the big men of the North, as he faced them there, that he would stay in Alaska and dig for the gold his father never found.

The Ten Bow stampede depopulated Hesitation, and the new camp of Ten Bow sprang up in a day, two hundred miles to the southward. A camp of tents and igloos it was, for in the mad scramble for gold men do not stop to build substantial cabins, but improvise makeshift shelters from the bitter cold of the long nights, out of whatever material is at hand. For the Ten Bow strike came late in the season and, knowing that soon the water from the melting snows would drive them from their claims, men worked feverishly in the black-mouthed shafts that dotted the valley, and at night chopped cordwood and kept the fires blazing that thawed out the gravel for the morrow's digging. When the break-up came men abandoned the shafts and, with rude cradles and sluices, and deep gold pans, set to work on the frozen gravel of the dumps.

And then it was men realized the richness of the Ten Bow strike. Not since the days of Sand Creek and the Klondike had gravel yielded such store of the precious metal. As they cleaned up the riffles they laughed and talked wildly of wealth undreamed; for the small dumps, representing a scant sixty days' digging, panned out more gold than any man in Ten Bow had ever taken out in a year-more than most men had taken out in many years of disheartening, bone-racking toil.

During the long days of the short summer, while the cold waters of Ten Bow rushed northward toward the Yukon, log cabins replaced the tents and igloos, and by the end of August Ten Bow assumed an air of stability which its prosperity warranted. Scotty McCollough freighted his goods from Hesitation and soon presided over a brand new log store, which varied in no whit nor particular from the other log stores of other camps.

Those were wonderful days for Connie Morgan. Days during which the vague, half-formed impressions of youth were recast in a rough mould by association with the bearded men who treated him as an equal. He learned their likes and dislikes, their joys and sorrows, their shortcomings and virtues, and in the learning, he came instinctively to look under the surface and gauge men by their true worth-which is so rarely the great world's measure of men. And, under the unconscious tutelage of these men, was laid the foundation for the uncompromising sense of right and justice which was to become the underlying principle of the hand-hammered character of the man who would one day help shape the destiny of Alaska, and safeguard her people from the outr

eaching greed of monopoly.

Daily the boy worked shoulder to shoulder with his partner, Waseche Bill, the man who had presented him with old Boris, and whispered of the short-cut through the hills which had enabled him to beat out the Ten Bow stampede.

Now, the building of cabins is not easy work. Getting out logs, notching their ends, and rolling them into place, one above another, is a man's job. And many were the pretexts and fictions by which the men of Ten Bow contrived to relieve Connie of the heavier work in the building of his home.

"Sonny," said Big McDougall one day, loafing casually over from the adjoining claim where his own cabin was nearing completion, "swar to gudeness, my back's like to bust wi' stoopin' over yon chinkin'. C'u'dn't ye jist slip over to my place an' spell the auld mon off a bit. I'm mos' petered out." So Connie obligingly departed and, as he rammed in the moss and daubed it with mud, peered through a crack and smiled knowingly as he watched the "petered out" man heaving and straining by the side of Waseche Bill in the setting of a log. And the next day it was Dutch Henry who removed the short pipe from his mouth and called from his doorway:

"Hey, kid! Them dawgs o' mine is gittin' plumb scan'lous fat an' lazy. Seems like ef they don't git a workin' out they'll spile on me complete. Looks like I never fin' no time to fool with 'em. Now, ef you c'd make out to take 'em down the trail today, I'd sure take it mighty kind of ye." And when Connie returned to the camp it was to find Dutch Henry helping Waseche Bill in the rope-rolling of a roof log. And so it went each day until the cabin stood complete under its dirt roof. Some one or another of the big-hearted miners, with a sly wink at Waseche Bill, invented a light job which would take the boy from the claim and then took his place, grinning happily.

But Connie Morgan understood, and because he loved these men, kept his own counsel, and the big men never knew that the small, serious-eyed boy saw through their deception.

At last the cabin was finished and the boy took a keen delight in helping his big partner in the building of the furniture. Two bunks, a table, three or four chairs, and a wash bench-rude but serviceable-were fashioned from light saplings and packing case boards, brought up from Scotty's store. In the new camps lumber is scarce, and the canny Scotchman realized a tidy sum from the sale of his empty boxes.

In the shortening days men returned to the diggings and sloshed about in the wet gravel, cleaning up as they went; for before long, the freezing of the water would compel them to throw the gravel onto dumps to be worked out the following spring.

The partners hired a man to help with the heavier work and Connie busied himself with the hundred and one odd jobs about the claims and cabin. He became a wonderful cook, and Waseche Bill, returning from the diggings, always found a hot meal of well-prepared food awaiting his ravenous appetite, while the men of other cabins returned tired and wet to growl and grumble over the cooking of their grub.

Late in September the creek froze. Blizzard after whirling blizzard followed upon the heels of a heavy snowfall, and the Northland lay white and cold in the grip of the long winter. Ten Bow was a humming hive of activity. Windlasses creaked in the thin, frosty air, to the half-muffled cries of "haul away" which floated upward from the depths of the shafts, and the hillsides rang with the stroke of axes and the long crash of falling trees. By night the red flare of a hundred fires lighted the snow for miles and seemed reflected in the aurora-shot sky; and with each added bucketful, the dumps grew larger and showed black and ugly against the white snow of the valley.

To conform to the mining laws the partners sank a shaft on each claim, working them alternately, and the experienced eye of Waseche Bill told him that the gravel he daily shovelled into the bucket was fabulously rich in gold.

And then, one day, at a depth of ten feet, Waseche Bill's pick struck against something hard. He struck again and the steel rang loudly in the cistern-like shaft. With his shovel he scraped away the thin covering of loose gravel which was deepest where his claim joined Connie's.

That evening the boy wondered at the silence of his big partner, who devoured his beans and bacon and sourdough bread, and washed them down with great draughts of black coffee. But he spoke no word, and after supper helped Connie with the dishes and then, filling his pipe, tilted his chair against the log wall and smoked, apparently engrossed in deep thought. At the table, Connie, poring over the contents of a year-old illustrated magazine, from time to time cast furtive glances toward the man and wondered at his strange silence. After a while the boy laid the magazine aside, drew the bootjack from beneath the bunk, pulled off his small boots, and with a sleepy "good-night, pardner," rolled snugly into his blankets.

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