FICTION

The Trail of ’98

Robert W. Service July 1 1911
FICTION

The Trail of ’98

Robert W. Service July 1 1911

The Trail of ’98

Robert W. Service

Author of “The Songs of a Sourdough” and “Ballads of a Cheechako.”

BOOK IV

Registered in accordance with the Copyright Act by Robert W. Service Canadian serial rights owned by The MacLean Publishing Co.

He burned a hole in the frozen muck; He scratched the icy mould;

And there in six-foot dirt he struck A sack or so of gold.

He burned a hole in the Decalogue, And then it came about—

For Fortune’s only a lousy rogue— His “pocket” petered out.

And lo! it was but a year all told,

When there in the shadow grim,

But six feet deep in the icy mould,

They burned a hole for him.

—“The Yukoner.”

THE VORTEX

CHAPTER I

"NO, no, I’m all right. Really I am. Please leave me alone. You want me to laugh? Ha! Ha! There! Is that all right now?”

“No, it isn’t all right. It’s very far from all right, my boy; and this is where you and your little uncle here are going to have a real heart to heart talk.”

It was in the big cabin on Gold Hill, and the Prodigal was addressing me. He went on:

“Now, look here, kid. when it comes to expressing my feelings, I’m in the kindergarten class ; when it comes to handing out the high-toned dope I drop my cue every time ; but when I’m needed to do the solid pardner stunt then you don’t need to holler for me—I’m there. Well, I’m giving you a straight line of talk. Ever since

the start I’ve taken a strong notion to you. You’ve always been ace-high with me, and there never will come the day when you can’t eat on my meal-ticket. We tackled the Trail of Trouble together. You were always wanting to lift the heavy end of the log, and when the God of Cussedness was doing his best to rasp a man down to his yellow streak, you showed up white all through. Say, kid, we’ve been in tight places together ; we’ve been stacked up against hard times together: and now I’ll be gol-darned if I’m going to stand by and see you go downhill, while the devil oils the bearings.”

“Oh, I’m all right,” I protested.

“Yes, you’re all right,” he echoed grimly. “In an impersonation of an ‘all-right’ man it’s the hook for yours. I’ve seen ‘all-right’ men like you hitting the hurry trail for the boneyard before now. You’re ‘all-right’ ! Why, for the last two hours you’ve been sitting with that ‘just-breakthe-news-to-mother’ expression of yours, and paying no more heed to my cheerful brand of conversation than if I had been a measly four-flusher. You don’t eat more than a sick sparrow, and often you don’t bat an eye all night. You’re looking worse than the devil in a gale of wind. You’ve lost your grip, my boy. You don’t care whether school keeps or not. In fact, if it wasn’t for your folks, you’d as lief take a short cut across the Great Divide.”

“You’re going it a little strong, old man.”

“Oh no, I’m not. You know you’re sick of everything. Feel as if life’s a sort of penitentiary, and you’ve just got to do time. You don’t expect to get any more fun out of it. Look at me. Every day’s my sunshine day. If the sky’s blue 1 like it; if it’s grey I like it just as well. I never worry. What’s the use? Yesterday’s a dead one; to-morrow’s always tomorrow. All we’ve got’s the ‘now,’ and it’s up to us to live it for all we’re worth. You can use up more human steam to the square inch in worrying than you can to the square yard in hard work. Eliminate worry and you’ve got the only system.”

“It’s all very well for you to preach,” I said ; “you forget I’ve been a pretty sick man.”

“That’s no nursemaid’s dream. You almost cashed in. Typhoid’s a serious proposition at the best; but when.you take a crazy streak on top of it, make a midnight getaway from the sick-ward and land up on the Slide looking as if you’d been run through a threshing machine, well, you’re sure letting death get a short option on you. And you gave up. You didn’t want to fight. You shirked, but your youth and constitution fought for you. They healed your wounds, they soothed your ravings, they cooled your fever. They were a great team, and they pulled you through. Seems as if they’d pulled you through a knot-hole, but thev were on to their job. And you weren’t one bit grateful—seemed to think they had no business to butt in.”

“My hurts are more than physical.” “Yes, I know ; there was that girl. You seemed to have a notion that was the only girl on God’s green brush-pile. As I camped there by your bedside listening to your ravings, and getting a strangle-hold on you when you took it into your head to get funny, you blabbed out the whole yarn. Oh, sonny, why didn’t you tell your uncle? Why didn’t you put me wise? I could have given you the right steer. Have you ever known me handle a job I couldn’t make good at? I’m a whole matrimonial bureau rolled into one. I’d have had you prancing to the tune of the wedding march before now. But you kept mum as a mummy. Wouldn’t even tell your old pard. Now you’ve lost her.”

“Yes, I’ve lost her.”

“Did you ever see her after you came out of the hospital?”

“Once, once, only. It was the first day. I was as thin as a rail, as white as the pillow from which I had just raised my head. Death’s reprieve was written all over me. I dragged along wearily, leaning on a stick. I was thinking of her, thinking, thinking always. As I scanned the faces of the crowds that thronged the streets, I thought only of her face. Then suddenly she was before me. She looked like a ghost, poor little thing; and for a fluttering moment we stared at each other, she and I, two wan, weariful ghosts.” “Yes, what did she say?”

“Say ! she said nothing. She just looked at me. Her face was cold as ice. She looked at me as if she wanted to pity me. Then into her eyes there came a shadow of bitterness, of bitterness and despair such as might gloom the eyes of a lost soul. It unnerved me. It seemed as if she was regarding me almost with horror, as if I were a sort of a leper. As I stood there, I thought she was going to faint. She seemed to sway a moment. Then she drew a great, gasping breath, and turning on her heel she was gone.”

“She cut you?”

“Yes, cut me dead, old fellow. And my only thought was of love for her, eternal love. But I’ll never forget the look on her face as she turned away. It was as if I had lashed her with a whip. My God !”

“And you’ve never seen her since?” “No, never. That was enough, wasn’t it? She didn’t want to speak to me any more, never wanted to set eyes on me any more. I went back to the ward; then, in a little, I came on here. My body was living, but my heart was dead. It will never live again.”

“Oh, rot! You mustn’t let the thing down you like that. It’s going to kill you in the end. Buck up! Be a man! If you don’t care to live for yourself, live for others. Anyway, it’s likely all for the best. Maybe love had you locoed. Mavbe she wasn’t really good. See now how she lives openly with Locasto. They call her the Madonna; they say she looks more like a virgin-martyr than the mistress of a dissolute man.”

I rose and looked at him, conscious that my face was all twisted with the pain of the thought.

“Look here,” I said, “never did God put the breath of life into a better girl. There’s been foul play. I know that girl better than any one in the world, and if every living being were to tell me she wasn’t good I would tell them they lied, they lied. I would burn at the stake upholding that girl.”

“Then why did she turn you down so cruelly?”

“I don’t know; I can’t understand it. I know so little about women. I have not wavered a moment. To-day in my loneliness and heartbreak I care and hunger for her more than ever. She’s always here, right here in my head, and no power can drive her out. Let them say of her what they will, I would marry her to-morrow . It’s killing me. I’ve aged ten years in the last few months. Oh, if I only could forget.”

He looked at me thoughtfully.

“I say, old man, do you ever hear from your old lady?”

“Every mail.”

“You’ve often told me of your home. Say! just give us a mental frame-up of it,”

“Glengyle? Yes. I can see the old place now, as plainly as a picture: the green, dimpling hills all speckled with sheep; the grey house nestling snugly in a grove of birch; the wild water of the burn leaping from black pool to pool, just mad with the joy of life; the midges dancing over the water in the still sunshine, and the trout jumping for them—oh it’s the bonny, bonny place. You -would think so, too. You would like it, tramping knee-deep in the heather, to see the moorcock rise whirring at your feet; you would like to set sail with the fisher folk after the silver herring. It would make you feel good to see the calm faces of the shepherds, the peace in the eyes of the women. Ay, that was the best of it all, the Rest of it, the calm of it. I was pretty happy in those days.”

“You were happy—then why not go back? That’s your proper play; go back to your Mother. She wants you. You’re pretty well heeled now. A little money goes a long way over there. You can count on thirty thousand. You’ll be comfort-

able; you’ll devote yourself to the old lady; you’ll be happy again. Time’s a regular steam-roller when it comes to smoothing out the rough spots in the past. You’ll forget it all, this place, this girl. It’ll all seem like the after effects of a midnight Welsh rabbit. You’ve got mental indigestion. I hate to see you go. I’m really sorry to lose you; but it’s your only salvation, so go, go!”

Never had I thought of it before Home! how sweet the word seemed. Mother! yes, Mother would comfort me as no one else could. She would understand. Mother and Garry! A sudden craving came over me to see them again. Maybe with them I could find relief from this awful agony of heart, this thing that I could scarce bear to think of, yet never ceased to think of. Home! that was the solution of it all. Ah me! I would go home.

“Yes,” I said, “I can’t go too soon; I’ll start to-morrow.”

So I rose and proceeded to gather together my few belongings. In the early morning I would start out. No use prolonging the business of my going. I would say good-bye to those two partners of mine, with a grip of the hand, a tear in the eye, a husky : “Take care of yourself.” That would be all. Likely I would never see them again.

Jim came in and sat down quietly. The old man had been very silent of late. Putting on his spectacles, he took out his wellworn Bible and opened it. Back in Dawson there was a man whom he hated with the hate that only death can end, but for the peace of his soul he strove to conquer it. The hate slumbered, yet at times it stirred, and into the old man’s eyes there came the tiger-look that had once made him a force and a fear. Woe betide his enemy if that tiger ever woke.

“I’ve been a-thinkin’ out a scheme,” said Jim suddenly, “an’ I’m a-going to put all of that twenty-five thousand of mine back into the ground. You know us old miners are gamblers to the end. It’s not the gold, but the gettin’ of it, It’s the excitement, the hope, the anticipation of one’s luck that counts. We’re fighters, an’ we’ve just got to keep on fightin’. We can’t quit. There’s the ground, and there’s the precious metals it’s a-tryin’ to hold back on us. It’s up to us to get them

out. It’s for the good of humanity. The miner an’ the farmer rob no one. They just get down to that old ground an’ coax it an’ beat it an’ bully it till it gives up. They’re working for the good of humanity—the farmer an’ the miner.” The old man paused sententiously.

“Well, I can’t quit this minin’ business. I’ve just got to go on so long’s I’ve got health and strength; an’ I’m a-goin’ to shove all I’ve got once more into the muck. I stand to make a big pile, or lose my wad.”

“What’s your scheme, Jim?”

“It’s just this: I’m goin’ to install a

hydraulic plant on my Ophir Creek claim. I’ve got a great notion of that claim. It’s with water. There’s a little stream runs down the hill, an’ the hill’s steep right there. There’s one hundred feet of fall, an’ in Spring a mighty powerful bunch of water comes a-tumblin’ down. Well, I’m goin’ to dam it up above, bring it down a flume, hitch on a little giant, an7 turn it loose to rip an’ tear at that there ground. I’m goin’ to begin a new era in Klondike minin’.”

“Bully for you, Jim.”

“The values are there in the ground, an’ I’m sick of the old slow way of gettin’ them out. This looks mighty good to me. Anyway, I’m a-goin’ to give it a trial. It’s just the start of things; you’ll see others will follow suit. The individual miner’s got to go; it’s only a matter of time. Some day you’ll see this whole country worked over by them big power dredges they’ve got down in Californy. You mark my words, boys; the old-fashioned miner’s got to go.”

“What are you goin’ to do?”

“Well, I’ve written out for piping an’ a monitor, an’ next Spring I hope I’ll have the plant in workin’ order. The stuff’s on the way now. Hullo I Come in !”

The visitors were Mervin and Hewson on their way to Dawson. These two men had been successful beyond their dreams. It was just like finding money, the way fortune had pushed it in front of their noses. They were offensively prosperous; they reeked of success.

In both of them a great change had taken place, a change only too typical of the gold-camp. They seemed to have thawed out; they were irrepressibly genial; yet instead of that restraint that had

formerly distinguished them, there was a grafted quality of weakness, of flaccidity, of surrender to the enervating vices of the town.

Mervin was remarkably thin. Dark hollows circled his eyes, and a curious nervousness twisted his mouth. He was “a terror for the women,” they said. He lavished his money on them faster than he made it. He was vastly more companionable than formerly, but somehow you felt his virility, his fighting force had gone.

In Hewson the change was even more marked. Those iron muscles had couched themselves in easy flesh; his cheeks sagged; his eyes were bloodshot and untidy. Nevertheless he was more of a good fellow, talked rather vauntingly of his wealth, and affected a patronizing manner. He was worth probably two hundred thousand, and he drank a bottle of brandy a day.

In the case of these two men, as in the case of a thousand others in the goldcamp, it seemed as if easy, unhoped-for affluence was to prove their undoing. On the trail they had been supreme; in fen or forest, on peak or plain, they were men among men, fighting with nature savagely, exultantly. But when the fight was over their arms rested, their muscles relaxed, they yielded to sensuous pleasures. It seemed as if to them victory really meant defeat.

As I went on with my packing I paid but little heeed to their talk. What mattered it to me now, this babble of dumps and dust, of claims and clean-ups? I was going to thrust it all behind me, blot it clean out of my memory, begin my life anew. It would be a larger, more luminous life. I would live for others. Home! Mother! again how exquisitely my heart glowed at the thought of them.

Then all at once I pricked up my ears. They were talking of the town, of the men and women who were making it famous (or rather infamous) when suddenly they spoke the name of Locasto.

“He’s gone off,” Mervin was saying; “gone off on a big stampede. He got pretty thick with some of the Peel River Indians, and found they knew of a ledge of high-grade, free-milling quartz somewhere out there in the Land Back of Beyond. He had a sample of it, and you

could just see the gold shining all through it. It was great stuff. Jack Locasto’s the last man to turn down a chance like that. He’s the worst gambler in the Northland, and no amount of wealth will ever satisfy him. So he’s off with an Indian and one companion, that little Irish satellite of his. Pat Doogan. They have six months’ grub. They’ll be away all winter.” “What’s become of that girl of his?” asked Hewson, “the last one he’s been living with? You remember she came in on the boat with us. Poor little kid! Blast that man anyway. He’s not content with women of his own kind, he’s got to get his clutches on the best of them. That was a good little girl before he got after her. If she was a friend of mine I’d put a bullet in his ugly heart.”

Hewson growled like a wrathful bear, but Mervin smiled his cvnical smile.

“Oh, you mean the Madonna,” he said ; “why, she’s gone on the dance-halls.” They continued to talk of other things, but I did not hear them any more. I was in a trance, and I only aroused when they rose to go.

“Better say good-bye to the kid here.” said the Prodigal; “he’s going to the old country to-morrow.”

“No, I’m not,” I answered sullenly; “I’m just going as far as Dawson.”

He stared and expostulated, but my mind was made up. I would fight, fight to the last.

CHAPTER n.

Berna on the dance halls—words cannot convey all that this simple phrase meant to me. For two months I had been living in a dull apathy of pain, but this news galvanized me into immediate action.

For although there were many degrees of dance-hall depravity, at the best it meant a brand of ineffaceable shame. She had lived with Locasto, had been recognised as his mistress — that was bad enough ; but the other—to be at the mercy of all, to be classed with the harpies that preyed on the Man with the Poke, the

vampires of the gold-camp. Berna-

Oh, it was unspeakable! The thought maddened me. The needle-point of suffering that for weeks had been boring into my brain seemed to have pierced its core at last.

When the Prodigal expostulated with me I laughed—a bitter, mirthless laugh.

“I’m going to Dawson,” I said, “and if it was hell itself, I’d go there for that girl. I don’t care what any one thinks. Home, society, honor itself, let them all go; they don’t matter now. I was a fool to think I could ever give her up, a fool. Now I know that as long as there’s life and strength in my body, I’ll fight for her. Oh, I’m not the sentimentalist I was six months ago. I’ve lived since then. I can hold my own now. I can meet men on their own level. I can fight, I can win. I don’t care any more, after what I’ve gone through. I don’t set any particular value on my life. I’ll throw it away as recklesly as the best of them. I’m going to have a fierce fight for that girl, and if I lose there’ll be no more ‘me’ left to fight. Don’t try to reason with me. Reason be damned! I’m going to Dawson, and a hundred men couldn’t hold me.”

“You seem to have some new stunts in your repertoire,” he said, looking at me curiously; “you’ve got me guessing. Some times I think you’re a candidate for the dippy-house; then again I think you’re on to yourself. There’s a grim set to your mouth and a hard look in vour eyes that I didn’t use to see. Maybe you can hold up your end. Well, anyway, if you will go I wish you good luck.”

So, bidding good-bye to the big cabin, with my two partners looking ruefully after me, I struck off down the Bonanza. It was mid-October. A bitter wind chilled me to the marrow. Once more the land lay stark beneath its coverlet of snow, and the sky was wan and ominous. I traveled fast, for a painful anxiety gripped me, so that I scarce took notice of the improved trail, of the increased activity, of the heaps of tailings built up with brush till they looked like walls of a fortification. All I thought of was Dawson and Berna.

How curious it was, this strange new strength, this indifference to self, to physical suffering, to danger, to public opinion! I thought only of the girl. I would make her marry me. I cared nothing for what had happened to her. I might be a pariah, an outcast for the rest of my days; at least I would save her, shield her, cherish her. The thought uplifted me, exalted me. I had suffered be-

yond expression. I had rearranged my set of ideas; my concept of life, of human nature had broadened and deepened. What did it matter if physically they had wronged her? Was not the pure, virgin soul of her beyond their reach?

I was just in time to see the last boat go out. Already the river was “throwing ice,” and every day the jagged edges of it crept further towards mid-stream. An immense and melancholy mob stood on the wharf as the little steamer backed off into the channel. There were uproarious souls on board, and many women of the town screaming farewells to their friends. On the boat all was excited, extravagant joy; on the wharf, a sorry attempt at resignation.

The last boat! they watched her as her stern paddle churned the freezing water; they watched her forge her slow way through the ever-thickening ice-flakes ; they watched her in the far distance battling with the Klondike curent; then, sad and despondent, they turned away to their lonely cabins. Never had their exile seemed so bitter. A few more days and the river would close tight as a drum. The long, long night would fall on them, and for nigh on eight weary months they would be cut off from the outside world.

Yet soon, very soon, a mood of reconciliation would set in. They would begin to make the best of things. To feed that great Octopus, the town, the miners would flock in from the creeks with treasure hoarded up in baking-powder tins; the dance-halls and gambling-places would absorb them ; the gaiety would go on full swing, and there would seem but Jittle change in the glittering abandon of the gold-camp. As I paced its sidewalks once more I marvelled at its growth. New streets had been made; the stores boasted expensive fittings and gloried in costly goods; in the bar-rooms were splendid mirrors and ornate wood work; the restaurants offered European delicacies; all was on a new scale of extravagance, of garish display, of insolent wealth.

Everywhere the man with the fat “poke” was in evidence. He came into town unshorn, wild-looking, often raggedly clad, yet always with the same wistful hunger in his eyes. You saw that look, and it took you back to the dark and dirt and drudgery of the claim, the mirthless

months of toil, the crude cabin with its sugar barrel of ice behind the door, its grease light dimly burning, its rancid smell of stale food. You saw him lying smoking his strong pipe, looking at that can of nuggets on the rough shelf, and dreaming of what it would mean to him —out there where the lights glittered and the gramophones blared. Surely, if patience, endurance, if grim, unswerving purpose, if sullen, desperate toil deserved a reward, this man had a peckful of pleasure for his due.

And always, that hungry, wistful look. The women with the painted cheeks knew that look; the black-jack boosters knew it; the barkeeper with his knock-out drops knew it. They waited for him; he was their “meat.”

Yet in a few days your wild and wooly man is transformed, and no longer does your sympathy go out towards him. Shaven and shorn, clad in silken underwear, with patent leather shoes, and a suit in New York style, you absolutely fail to recognize him as your friend of the moccasins and mackinaw coat. He is smoking a dollar Larango, he has half a dozen whiskies “under his belt,” and later on he has a “date” with a lady singer of the Pavilion Theatre. He is having a “whale” of a good time, he tells you ; you wonder how long he will last.

Not for long. Sham and short and sweet it is. He is brought up with a jerk, and the Dago Queen, for whom he has bought so much wine at twentv dollars a bottle, has no recognition for him in her flashing eves. He has been “taken down the line,” “trimmed to a finish” by an artist in the business. Ruefully he turns his poke inside out—not a “color.” He cannot even command the price of a penitential three-fingers of rye. Such is one of the commonest phases of life in the gold-camp.

As I strolled the streets I saw many a familiar face. Mosher I saw. He had grown verv fat, and was talking to a diminutive woman with heavy blond hair (she must have weighed about ninetv-five pounds, I think.) They went off together.

A knife-edged wind was sweeping down from the north, and men in bulging coonskin coats filled un the sidewalks. At the Aurora corner I came across the Jam-

wagon. He was wearing a jacket of summer flannels, and, as if to suggest extra warmth, he had turned up its narrow collar. In his trembling fingers he held an emaciated cigarette, which he inhaled avidly. He looked wretched, pinched with hunger, peaked with cold, but he straightened up when he saw me into a semblance of well-being. Then, in a little, he sagged forward, and his eyes went dull and abject. It was a business of the utmost delicacy to induce him to accept a small loan. I knew it would only plunge him more deeply into the mire; but I could not bear to see him suffer.

I went into the Parisian Restaurant. It was more glittering, more raffish, more clamant of the tenderloin than ever. There were men waiters in the conventional garb of waiterdom, and there was Madam, harder looking and more vulturish. You wondered if such a woman could have a soul, and what was the end and aim of her being. There she sat, a creature of rapacity and sordid lust. I marched up to her and asked abruptly :

“Where’s Berna?”

She gave a violent start. There was a quality of fear in her bold eyes. Then she laughed, a hard, jarring laugh.

“In the T’voli,” she said.

Strange again ! Now that the worst had come to pass, and I had suffered all that it was in my power to suffer, this new sense of strength and mastery had come to me. It seemed as if some of the iron spirit of the land had gotten into my blood, a grim, insolent spirit that made me fearless ; at times a cold cynical spirit, a spirit of rebellion, of anarchy, or aggression. The greatest evil had befallen me. Life could do no more to harm me. I had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

I cared for no man. I despised them, and, to back me in my bitterness, I had twentyfive thousand dollars in the bank.

I was still weak from my illness and my long mush had wearied me, so I went into a saloon and called for drinks. I felt the raw whisky burn my throat. I tingled from head to foot with a strange, pleasing warmth. Suddenly the bar, with its protecting rod of brass, seemed to me a very desirable place, bright, warm suggestive of comfort and good-fellowship. How agreeably every one was smiling! Indeed, some were laughing for sheer joy.

A big, merry-hearted miner called for another round, and I joined in.

Where was that bitter feeling now? Where that morbid pain at my heart? As I drank it all seemed to pass away. Magical change ! What a fool I was ! What was there to make such a fuss about? Take life easy. Laugh alike at the good and bad of it. It was all a farce anywav. What would it matter a hundred years from now? Why were we put into this world to be tortured? I, for one, would protest. I would writhe no more in the strait-jacket of existence. Here was es cape, heartsease, happiness—here in this bottled impishness. Again I drank.

What a rotten world it all was! But I had no hand in the making of it, and it wasn’t my task to improve it. I was going to get the best I could out of it Eat, drink, and be merry, that was the last word of philosophy. Others seemed to be able to extract all kinds of happiness from things as they are, so why not I? In any case, here was the solution of my troubles. Better to die happily drunk than miserably sober. I was not drinking from weakness. Oh no! I was drinking with deliberate intent to kill pain.

How wonderfully strong I felt! I smashed my clenched fist against the bar. My knuckles w*ere bruised and bleeding, but I felt no pain. I was so light of foot,

I imagined I could jump over the counter. I ached to fight some one. Then a1! at once came the thought of Berna. It came with tragical suddenness, with poignant force. Intensely it smote me as never before. I could have burst into maudlin tears.

“What’s the matter, Slim?” asked a mouldy manikin, affectionately hanging on to my arm.

Disgustedly I looked at him.

“Take your filthy paws off me,” I said.

His jaw dropped and he stared at me. Then, before he could draw on his fund of profanity, I burst through the throng and made for the door.

I was drunk, deplorably drunk, and I was bound for the Tivoli.

CHAPTER III

I wish it to be understood that I make no excuses for myself at this particular stage of mv chronicle. I am only conscious of a desire to tell the truth. ” Many

of the stronger-minded will no doubt condemn me; many of those inclined to a rigid system of morality will be disgusted with me; but, however it may be, I will write plainly and without reserve.

When I reeled out of the Grubstake Saloon I was in a peculiar state of exaltation. No longer was I conscious of the rasping cold, and it seemed to me I could have couched me in the deep snow as cosily as in a bed of down. Surpassingly brilliant were the lights. They seemed to convey to me a portentous wink. They twinkled with jovial cheer. What a desirable place the world was, after all!

With an ebullient sense of eloquence of extravagant oratory, I longed for a sympathetic ear. An altruistic emotion pervaded me. Who would suspect, thought I, as I walked a little too circumspectly amid the throng, that my heart was aglow, that I was tensing my muscles in the pri le of their fitness, that my brain was a bewildering kaleidoscope of thoughts and images?

Gramophones were braying in every conceivable key. Brazen women were leering at me. Pot-bellied men regarded nie furtively. Alluringly the gambling-dens and dancing-dives invited me. The town was a giant spider drawing in its prev, and I was the prey, it seemed. Others there were in plenty, men with the eager, wistful eyes; but who was there so eager and wistful as I? And I didn’t care anv more. Strike up the music ! On with the dance! Only one life have we to liv«?. Ah! there was the Tivoli.

To the right as I entered was a palatial bar set off with burnished brass, bevelled mirrors am! glittering, vari-colored pyramids of costly liqueurs. Up to the bar men were bellying, and the bartenders in white jackets were mixing drinks with masterly dexterity. It was a motley crowd. There were men in broadcloth and fine linen, men in blue shirts an 1 mud-stiffened overalls, grey-bearded elders and beardless boys. It was a noisy crowd laughing, brawling, shouting, singing. Here was the foam of life, with never a hint of the muddy sediment underneath To the left I had a view of the gambling-room, a glimpse of green tables, of spinning balls, of cool men, with shades over their eyes, impassively dealing. There were huge wheels of fortune, keno

tables, crap outfits, faro layouts, and above all, the dainty, fascinating roulette Everything was in full swing. Mine^3 with flushed faces and a wild excitement in their eyes, were plunging recklessly; others, calm, alert, anxious, were playing cautiously. Here and there were the fevered faces of women. Gold coins were stacked on the tables, while a man with a pair of scales was weighing dust from the teixdered pokes.

In front of me was a double swing-door painted in white and gold, and, pushing through this, for the first time I found myself in a Dawson dance-hall.

I remember being struck by the gorgeousness of it, its glitter and its glow. Who would have expected, up in this bleak-visaged North, to find such a fairyland of a place? It was painted in white and gold, and set off by clusters of bunched lights. There was much elaborate scroll-work and ornate decoration. Down each side, raised about ten feet from the floor, and supported on gilt pillars, were little private boxes hung with curtains of heliotrope silk. At the further end of the hall was a stage, and here a vaudeville performance was going on.

I sat down on a seat at the very back of the audience. Before me were row after row of heads, mostly rough, rugged and unwashed. Their faces were eage”, rapt as those of children. They were enjoying, with the deep satisfaction of men who for many a weary month had been breathing the free, unbranded air of the Wild. The sensuous odor of patchouli was strangely pleasant to them ; the sight of a woman was thrillingly sweet; the sound of a song was ravishing. Looking at many of those toil-grooved faces one could see that there was no harm in their hearts. They were honest, uncouth, simple; they were just like children, the children of the Wild.

A woman of generous physique was singing in a shrill, nasal voice a pathetic ballad. She sang without expression, bringing her hands with monotonous gestures, alternately to her breast. Her squat, matronly figure, beef from the heels up, looked singularly absurd in her short skirt. Her face was excessively over-painted, her mouth good-naturedly large, and her eyes out of their slit-like lids leered at the audience.

“Ain’t she great?” said a tall beanpole of a man on my right, as she finished off with a round of applause. “There’s some class to her work.”

He looked at me in a confidential way, and his pale-blue eyes were full of rapturous appreciation. Then he did something that surprised me. He tugged open his poke and, dipping into it, he produced a big nugget. Twisting this in a scrap of paper, he rose up, long, lean and awkward, and with careful aim he threw it ou the stage.

“Here ye are, Lulu,” he piped in his shrill voice. The woman, turning in her exit, picked up the offering, gave her admirer a wide, gold-toothed smile, and threw him an emphatic kiss. As the man sat down I could see his mouth twisting with excitement, and his watery blue eyes snapped with pleasure.

“By heck,” he said, “she’s great, ain't she? Many’s the bottle of wine I’ve opened for that there girl. Guess she’ll be glad when she hears old Henry’s in town again. Henry’s my name, Hardpan Henry they call me, an’ I’ve got a claim on Hunker. Many’s the wallopin’ poke have I tote I into town an’ blowed in on that there girl An’ I just guess this one’ll go the same gait. Well, says I, what’s the odds? I’m havin’a good time for my money. When it’s gone there’s lots more in the ground. It ain’t got no legs. It can’t run away.”

He chuckled and hefted his poke in a horny hand. There was a flutter of the heliotrope curtains, and the face of Lulu, peeping over the plush edge of a box, smiled bewitchingly upon him. With another delighted chuckle the old man went to join her.

“Darned old fool,” said a young man on my left. He looked as if his veins were chuckful of health; his skin was as clear as a girl’s, his eye honest and fearless. He was dressed in mackinaw, and wore a fur cap with drooping ear-flaps.

“He’s the greatest mark in the country,” the Youth went on. “He’s got no more brains than God gave geese. All the girls are on to him. Before he can turn round that old bat up there will have him trimmed to a finish. He’ll be doing flip-flaps, and singing ‘ ’Way Down on the Suwanne. River’ standing on his head. Then the girl will pry him loose from h-s poke, and to-morrow he’ll start off up the

creek, teetering and swearing he’s had a dooce of a good time. He’s the easiest thing on earth.”

The youth paused to look on a new singer. She was a soubrette, trim, dainty and confident. She wore a blond wig, and her eyes in their pits of black were alluringly bright. Paint was lavished on her face in violent dabs of rose and white, an 1 the inevitable gold teeth gleamed in her smile. She wore a black dress trimmed with sequins, stockings of black, a black velvet band around her slim neck. She was greeted with much applause, and she began to sing in a fairly sweet voice.

“That’s Nellie Lestrange,” said the youth. “She’s a great rustler — Touchthe-button-Nell, they call her. They say that when she gets a jay into a box, it’s all day with him. She’s such a nifty wine-winner fhe end of her thumb’s calloused pressing the button for fresh bottles.”

Touch-the-button Nell was singing a comic ditty of a convivial order. She put into it much vivacity, appealing to the audience to join in the chorus with a pleading, “Now all together, boys.” She had tripping steps and dainty kicks that went well with the melody. When sbe went off half a dozen men rose in their places, and aimed nuggets at her. She captured them, then, with a final saucy flounce of her skirt, made her smiling exit.

“By Gosh!” said the youth, “I wonder these fellows haven’t got more savvy. You wouldn’t catch vie chucking away an ounce on one of those fairies. No, sir! Nothing doing! I’ve got a five-thousanddollar poke in the bank, and to-morrow I’ll be on my way outside with a draft for every cent of it. A certain little farm ’way back in Vermont looks pretty good to me, and a little girl that don’t know the use of face powder, bless her. She’s waiting for me.”

The excitement of the liquor had died away in me, and what with the heat and smoke of the place, I was becoming very drowsy. I was almost dozing off to sleep when some one touched me on the arm. It was a negro waiter I had seen dodging in and out of the boxes, and known as the Black Prince.

“Dev’s a lady up’n de box wants to speak with yuh, sah,” he said politely.

“Who is it?” I asked in surprise.

“Miss Labelle, sah, Miss Birdie Libelle.”

I started. Who in the Klondike had not heard of Birdie Labelle, the eldest of the three sisters, who married Stillwater Willie? A thought flashed through me that she could tell me something of Boriiâ

“All right,” I said; “I’ll come.”

I followed him upstairs, and in a mo ment I was ushered into the presence of the famous soubrette.

“Hullo, kid!” she exclaimed, “sit down. I saw you in the audience and kind-a took a notion to your face. How d’ye do?”

She extended a heavily bejewelled hand. She was plump, pleasant-looking, with a piquant smile and flaxen hair. I ordered the waiter to bring her a bottle of wine.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” I said tentatively.

“Yes, I guess so,” she answered. “Most folks have up here. It’s a sort ot reflected glory. I guess if it hadn’t been for Bill I’d never have got into the limelight at all.”

She sipped her champagne thoughtfully*

“I came in here in ’97, and it was then I met Bill. He was there with the coin all right. We got hitched up pretty quick but he was such a mut I soon got sick of him. Then I got skating round with another guy. Well, an egg famine came along. There wa§ only nine hundred samples of hen fruit in town, and one store had a corner on them. I went down to buy some. Lord! how I wanted them eggs. I kept thinking how I’d have them done, shipwrecked, two on a raft or sunny side up, when who should come along bW Bill. He sees what I want, and quick as a flash what does he do but buy up the whole bunch at a dollar a-piece! 'Now,’ says he to me, 'if you want eggs for breakfast just come home where you belong.’

“Well, say, I was just dying for them eggs, so I conies to my milk like a lady. I goes home with Bill.”

She shook her head sadly, and once more I filled up her glass.

She prattled on with many a gracious smile, and I ordered another bottle of

wine. In the next box I could hear the squeaky ^ laugh of Hard-pan Henry, and the teasing tones of his inamorata. The visits of the Black Prince to this box with fresh bottles had been fast and furious, and at last I heard the woman cry in a querulous voice: “Say, that black man

coming in so often gives me a pain. Why don’t you order a case?”

Then the man broke in with his senile laugh :

“All right, Lulu, whatever you say goes. Say, Prince, tote along a case, will you?”

Surely, thought I, there’s no fool like an old fool.

A little girl was singing, a little, winsome girl with a sweet childish voice, and an innocent face. How terribly out of place she looked in that palace of sin. She sang a simple, old-world song, fuii of homely pathos and gentle feeling. As she sang she looked down on those furrowed faces, and I saw that many eyes were dimmed with tears. The rough men listened in rapt silence as the childish treble rang out:

“Darling, I am growing old ;

Silver threads among the gold

Shine upon my brow to-day;

Life is fading fast away.”

Then from behind the scenes a pure alto joined in and the two voices, blending in exquisite harmony, went on:

“But, my darling, you will be, will be,

Always young and fair to me.

“Yes, my darling, you will be

“Always young and fair to me.”

As the last echo died away the audience rose as one man, and a shower of nuggets pelted on the stage. Here was something that touched their hearts, stirred in them strange memories of tenderness, brought before them half-forgotten scenes of fireside happiness.

“It’s a shame to let that kid work in the halls,” said Miss Labelle. There were tears in her eyes, too, and she hurriedly blinked them away.

Then the curtain fell. Men were clearing the floor for the dance, so, bidding the lady adieu, I went downstairs.

{To be Continued.)