All lines had been cast off, and the _Seattle No. 4_ was pulling slowly
out from the shore. Her decks were piled high with freight and baggage,
and swarmed with a heterogeneous company of Indians, dogs, and
dog-mushers, prospectors, traders, and homeward-bound gold-seekers. A
goodly portion of Dawson was lined up on the bank, saying good-by. As
the gang-plank came in and the steamer nosed into the stream, the clamor
of farewell became deafening. Also, in that eleventh moment, everybody
began to remember final farewell messages and to shout them back and
forth across the widening stretch of water. Louis Bondell, curling his
yellow mustache with one hand and languidly waving the other hand to his
friends on shore, suddenly remembered something and sprang to the rail.
"Oh, Fred!" he bawled. "Oh, Fred!"
The "Fred" desired thrust a strapping pair of shoulders through the
forefront of the crowd on the bank and tried to catch Louis Bondell's
message. The latter grew red in the face with vain vociferation. Still
the water widened between steamboat and shore.
"Hey you, Captain Scott!" he yelled at the pilot-house. "Stop the boat!"
The gongs clanged, and the big stern wheel reversed, then stopped. All
hands on steamboat and on bank took advantage of this respite to
exchange final, new, and imperative farewells. More futile than ever was
Louis Bondell's effort to make himself heard. The _Seattle No. 4_ lost
way and drifted down-stream, and Captain Scott had to go ahead and
reverse a second time. His head disappeared inside the pilot-house,
coming into view a moment later behind a big megaphone.
Now Captain Scott had a remarkable voice, and the "Shut up!" he
launched at the crowd on deck and on shore could have been heard at the
top of Moosehide Mountain and as far as Klondike City. This official
remonstrance from the pilot-house spread a film of silence over the
"Now, what do you want to say?" Captain Scott demanded.
"Tell Fred Churchill--he's on the bank there--tell him to go to
Macdonald. It's in his safe--a small gripsack of mine. Tell him to get
it and bring it out when he comes."
In the silence Captain Scott bellowed the message ashore through the
"You, Fred Churchill, go to Macdonald--in his safe--small
gripsack--belongs to Louis Bondell--important! Bring it out when you
come! Got it?"
Churchill waved his hand in token that he had got it. In truth, had
Macdonald, half a mile away, opened his window, he'd have got it, too.
The tumult of farewell rose again, the gongs clanged, and the _Seattle
No. 4_ went ahead, swung out into the stream, turned on her heel, and
headed down the Yukon, Bondell and Churchill waving farewell and mutual
affection to the last.
That was in midsummer. In the fall of the year, the _W.H. Willis_
started up the Yukon with two hundred homeward-bound pilgrims on board.
Among them was Churchill. In his stateroom, in the middle of a
clothes-bag, was Louis Bondell's grip. It was a small, stout leather
affair, and its weight of forty pounds always made Churchill nervous
when he wandered too far from it. The man in the adjoining stateroom had
a treasure of gold-dust hidden similarly in a clothes-bag, and the pair
of them ultimately arranged to stand watch and watch. While one went
down to eat, the other kept an eye on the two stateroom doors. When
Churchill wanted to take a hand at whist, the other man mounted guard,
and when the other man wanted to relax his soul, Churchill read
four-months'-old newspapers on a camp stool between the two doors.
There were signs of an early winter, and the question that was discussed
from dawn till dark, and far into the dark, was whether they would get
out before the freeze-up or be compelled to abandon the steamboat and
tramp out over the ice. There were irritating delays. Twice the engines
broke down and had to be tinkered up, and each time there were snow
flurries to warn them of the imminence of winter. Nine times the _W.H.
Willis_ essayed to ascend the Five-Finger Rapids with her impaired
machinery, and when she succeeded, she was four days behind her very
liberal schedule. The question that then arose was whether or not the
steamboat _Flora_ would wait for her above the Box Caņon. The stretch of
water between the head of the Box Caņon and the foot of the White Horse
Rapids was unnavigable for steamboats and passengers were transshipped
at that point, walking around the rapids from one steamboat to the
other. There were no telephones in the country, hence no way of
informing the waiting _Flora_ that the _Willis_ was four days late, but
When the _W.H. Willis_ pulled into White Horse, it was learned that the
_Flora_ had waited three days over the limit, and had departed only a
few hours before. Also, it was learned that she would tie up at Tagish
Post till nine o'clock, Sunday morning. It was then four o'clock
Saturday afternoon. The pilgrims called a meeting. On board was a large
Peterborough canoe, consigned to the police post at the head of Lake
Bennett. They agreed to be responsible for it and to deliver it. Next,
they called for volunteers. Two men were needed to make a race for the
_Flora_. A score of men volunteered on the instant. Among them was
Churchill, such being his nature that he volunteered before he thought
of Bondell's gripsack. When this thought came to him, he began to hope
that he would not be selected; but a man who had made a name as captain
of a college football eleven, as a president of an athletic club, as a
dog-musher and a stampeder in the Yukon, and, moreover, who possessed
such shoulders as he, had no right to avoid the honor. It was thrust
upon him and upon a gigantic German, Nick Antonsen.
While a crowd of the pilgrims, the canoe on their shoulders, started on
a trot over the portage, Churchill ran to his stateroom. He turned the
contents of the clothes-bag on the floor and caught up the grip with the
intention of intrusting it to the man next door. Then the thought smote
him that it was not his grip, and that he had no right to let it out of
his own possession. So he dashed ashore with it and ran up the portage,
changing it often from one hand to the other, and wondering if it really
did not weigh more than forty pounds.
It was half-past four in the afternoon when the two men started. The
current of the Thirty Mile River was so strong that rarely could they
use the paddles. It was out on one bank with a tow-line over the
shoulders stumbling over the rocks, forcing a way through the
underbrush, slipping at times and falling into the water, wading often
up to the knees and waist; and then, when an insurmountable bluff was
encountered, it was into the canoe, out paddles, and a wild and losing
dash across the current to the other bank, in paddles, over the side,
and out tow-line again. It was exhausting work. Antonsen toiled like the
giant he was, uncomplaining, persistent, but driven to his utmost by the
powerful body and indomitable brain of Churchill. They never paused for
rest. It was go, go, and keep on going. A crisp wind blew down the
river, freezing their hands and making it imperative, from time to time,
to beat the blood back into the numb fingers. As night came on, they
were compelled to trust to luck. They fell repeatedly on the untraveled
banks and tore their clothing to shreds in the underbrush they could not
see. Both men were badly scratched and bleeding. A dozen times, in their
wild dashes from bank to bank, they struck snags and were capsized. The
first time this happened, Churchill dived and groped in three feet of
water for the gripsack. He lost half an hour in recovering it, and after
that it was carried securely lashed to the canoe. As long as the canoe
floated it was safe. Antonsen jeered at the grip, and toward morning
began to abuse it; but Churchill vouchsafed no explanations.
Their delays and mischances were endless. On one swift bend, around
which poured a healthy young rapid, they lost two hours, making a score
of attempts and capsizing twice. At this point, on both banks, were
precipitous bluffs, rising out of deep water, and along which they could
neither tow nor pole, while they could not gain with the paddles against
the current. At each attempt they strained to the utmost with the
paddles, and each time, with hearts nigh to bursting from the effort,
they were played out and swept back. They succeeded finally by an
accident. In the swiftest current, near the end of another failure, a
freak of the current sheered the canoe out of Churchill's control and
flung it against the bluff. Churchill made a blind leap at the bluff and
landed in a crevice. Holding on with one hand, he held the swamped canoe
with the other till Antonsen dragged himself out of the water. Then they
pulled the canoe out and rested. A fresh start at this crucial point
took them by. They landed on the bank above and plunged immediately
ashore and into the brush with the tow-line.
Daylight found them far below Tagish Post. At nine o 'clock Sunday
morning they could hear the _Flora_ whistling her departure. And when,
at ten o'clock, they dragged themselves in to the Post, they could just
barely see the _Flora's_ smoke far to the southward. It was a pair of
worn-out tatterdemalions that Captain Jones of the Mounted Police
welcomed and fed, and he afterward averred that they possessed two of
the most tremendous appetites he had ever observed. They lay down and
slept in their wet rags by the stove. At the end of two hours Churchill
got up, carried Bondell's grip, which he had used for a pillow, down to
the canoe, kicked Antonsen awake, and started in pursuit of the _Flora_.
"There's no telling what might happen--machinery break down or
something," was his reply to Captain Jones's expostulations. "I'm going
to catch that steamer and send her back for the boys."
Tagish Lake was white with a fall gale that blew in their teeth. Big,
swinging seas rushed upon the canoe, compelling one man to bail and
leaving one man to paddle. Headway could not be made. They ran along the
shallow shore and went overboard, one man ahead on the tow-line, the
other shoving on the canoe. They fought the gale up to their waists in
the icy water, often up to their necks, often over their heads and
buried by the big, crested waves. There was no rest, never a moment's
pause from the cheerless, heart-breaking battle. That night, at the head
of Tagish Lake, in the thick of a driving snow-squall, they overhauled
the _Flora._ Antonsen. "You go back to White Horse, and snored.
[Transcriber's note: The above is evidently a printer's error.]
Churchill looked like a wild man. His clothes barely clung to him. His
face was iced up and swollen from the protracted effort of twenty-four
hours, while his hands were so swollen that he could not close the
fingers. As for his feet, it was an agony to stand upon them.
The captain of the _Flora_ was loath to go back to White Horse.
Churchill was persistent and imperative; the captain was stubborn. He
pointed out finally that nothing was to be gained by going back, because
the only ocean steamer at Dyea, the _Athenian_, was to sail on Tuesday
morning, and that he could not make the back trip to White Horse and
bring up the stranded pilgrims in time to make the connection.
"What time does the _Athenian_ sail?" Churchill demanded.
"Seven o'clock, Tuesday morning."
"All right," Churchill said, at the same time kicking a tattoo on the
ribs of the snoring Antonsen. "You go back to White Horse. We'll go
ahead and hold the _Athenian_."
Antonsen, stupid with sleep, not yet clothed in his waking mind, was
bundled into the canoe, and did not realize what had happened till he
was drenched with the icy spray of a big sea, and heard Churchill
snarling at him through the darkness:--
"Paddle, can't you! Do you want to be swamped?"
Daylight found them at Caribou Crossing, the wind dying down, and
Antonsen too far gone to dip a paddle. Churchill grounded the canoe on a
quiet beach, where they slept. He took the precaution of twisting his
arm under the weight of his head. Every few minutes the pain of the pent
circulation aroused him, whereupon he would look at his watch and twist
the other arm under his head. At the end of two hours he fought with
Antonsen to rouse him. Then they started. Lake Bennett, thirty miles in
length, was like a mill-pond; but, halfway across, a gale from the south
smote them and turned the water white. Hour after hour they repeated the
struggle on Tagish, over the side, pulling and shoving on the canoe, up
to their waists and necks, and over their heads, in the icy water;
toward the last the good-natured giant played completely out. Churchill
drove him mercilessly; but when he pitched forward and bade fair to
drown in three feet of water, the other dragged him into the canoe.
After that, Churchill fought on alone, arriving at the police post at
the head of Bennett in the early afternoon. He tried to help Antonsen
out of the canoe, but failed. He listened to the exhausted man's heavy
breathing, and envied him when he thought of what he himself had yet to
undergo. Antonsen could lie there and sleep; but he, behind time, must
go on over mighty Chilcoot and down to the sea. The real struggle lay
before him, and he almost regretted the strength that resided in his
frame because of the torment it could inflict upon that frame.
Churchill pulled the canoe up on the beach, seized Bondell's grip, and
started on a limping dog-trot for the police post.
"There's a canoe down there, consigned to you from Dawson," he hurled at
the officer who answered his knock. "And there's a man in it pretty near
dead. Nothing serious; only played out. Take care of him. I've got to
rush. Good-by. Want to catch the _Athenian_."
A mile portage connected Lake Bennett and Lake Linderman, and his last
words he flung back after him as he resumed the trot. It was a very
painful trot, but he clenched his teeth and kept on, forgetting his pain
most of the time in the fervent heat with which he regarded the
gripsack. It was a severe handicap. He swung it from one hand to the
other, and back again. He tucked it under his arm. He threw one hand
over the opposite shoulder, and the bag bumped and pounded on his back
as he ran along. He could scarcely hold it in his bruised and swollen
fingers, and several times he dropped it. Once, in changing from one
hand to the other, it escaped his clutch and fell in front of him,
tripped him up, and threw him violently to the ground.
At the far end of the portage he bought an old set of pack-straps for a
dollar, and in them he swung the grip. Also, he chartered a launch to
run him the six miles to the upper end of Lake Linderman, where he
arrived at four in the afternoon. The _Athenian_ was to sail from Dyea
next morning at seven. Dyea was twenty-eight miles away, and between
towered Chilcoot. He sat down to adjust his foot-gear for the long
climb, and woke up. He had dozed the instant he sat down, though he had
not slept thirty seconds. He was afraid his next doze might be longer,
so he finished fixing his foot-gear standing up. Even then he was
overpowered for a fleeting moment. He experienced the flash of
unconsciousness; becoming aware of it, in midair, as his relaxed body
was sinking to the ground and as he caught himself together, he
stiffened his muscles with a spasmodic wrench, and escaped the fall. The
sudden jerk back to consciousness left him sick and trembling. He beat
his head with the heel of his hand, knocking wakefulness into the numb
Jack Burns's pack-train was starting back light for Crater Lake, and
Churchill was invited to a mule. Burns wanted to put the gripsack on
another animal, but Churchill held on to it, carrying it on his
saddle-pommel. But he dozed, and the grip persisted in dropping off the
pommel, one side or the other, each time wakening him with a sickening
start. Then, in the early darkness, Churchill's mule brushed him against
a projecting branch that laid his cheek open. To cap it, the mule
blundered off the trail and fell, throwing rider and gripsack out upon
the rocks. After that, Churchill walked, or stumbled, rather, over the
apology for a trail, leading the mule. Stray and awful odors, drifting
from each side the trail, told of the horses that had died in the rush
for gold. But he did not mind. He was too sleepy. By the time Long Lake
was reached, however, he had recovered from his sleepiness; and at Deep
Lake he resigned the gripsack to Burns. But thereafter, by the light of
the dim stars, he kept his eyes on Burns. There were not going to be any
accidents with that bag.
At Crater Lake the pack-train went into camp, and Churchill, slinging
the grip on his back, started the steep climb for the summit. For the
first time, on that precipitous wall, he realized how tired he was. He
crept and crawled like a crab, burdened by the weight of his limbs. A
distinct and painful effort of will was required each time he lifted a
foot. An hallucination came to him that he was shod with lead, like a
deep-sea diver, and it was all he could do to resist the desire to reach
down and feel the lead. As for Bondell's gripsack, it was inconceivable
that forty pounds could weigh so much. It pressed him down like a
mountain, and he looked back with unbelief to the year before, when he
had climbed that same pass with a hundred and fifty pounds on his back,
If those loads had weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, then Bondell's
grip weighed five hundred.
The first rise of the divide from Crater Lake was across a small
glacier. Here was a well-defined trail. But above the glacier, which was
also above timber-line, was naught but a chaos of naked rock and
enormous boulders. There was no way of seeing the trail in the darkness,
and he blundered on, paying thrice the ordinary exertion for all that he
accomplished. He won the summit in the thick of howling wind and driving
snow, providentially stumbling upon a small, deserted tent, into which
he crawled. There he found and bolted some ancient fried potatoes and
half a dozen raw eggs.
When the snow ceased and the wind eased down, he began the almost
impossible descent. There was no trail, and he stumbled and blundered,
often finding himself, at the last moment, on the edge of rocky walls
and steep slopes the depth of which he had no way of judging. Part way
down, the stars clouded over again, and in the consequent obscurity he
slipped and rolled and slid for a hundred feet, landing bruised and
bleeding on the bottom of a large shallow hole. From all about him arose
the stench of dead horses. The hole was handy to the trail, and the
packers had made a practice of tumbling into it their broken and dying
animals. The stench overpowered him, making him deathly sick, and as in
a nightmare he scrambled out. Halfway up, he recollected Bondell's
gripsack. It had fallen into the hole with him; the pack-strap had
evidently broken, and he had forgotten it. Back he went into the
pestilential charnel-pit, where he crawled around on hands and knees and
groped for half an hour. Altogether he encountered and counted seventeen
dead horses (and one horse still alive that he shot with his revolver)
before he found Bondell's grip. Looking back upon a life that had not
been without valor and achievement, he unhesitatingly declared to
himself that this return after the grip was the most heroic act he had
ever performed. So heroic was it that he was twice on the verge of
fainting before he crawled out of the hole.
By the time he had descended to the Scales, the steep pitch of Chilcoot
was past, and the way became easier. Not that it was an easy way,
however, in the best of places; but it became a really possible trail,
along which he could have made good time if he had not been worn out, if
he had had light with which to pick his steps, and if it had not been
for Bondell's gripsack. To him, in his exhausted condition, it was the
last straw. Having barely strength to carry himself along, the
additional weight of the grip was sufficient to throw him nearly every
time he tripped or stumbled. And when he escaped tripping, branches
reached out in the darkness, hooked the grip between his shoulders, and
held him back.
His mind was made up that if he missed the _Athenian_ it would be the
fault of the gripsack. In fact, only two things remained in his
consciousness--Bondell's grip and the steamer. He knew only those two
things, and they became identified, in a way, with some stern mission
upon which he had journeyed and toiled for centuries. He walked and
struggled on as in a dream. A part of the dream was his arrival at Sheep
Camp. He stumbled into a saloon, slid his shoulders out of the straps,
and started to deposit the grip at his feet. But it slipped from his
fingers and struck the floor with a heavy thud that was not unnoticed by
two men who were just leaving. Churchill drank a glass of whiskey, told
the barkeeper to call him in ten minutes, and sat down, his feet on the
grip, his head on his knees.
So badly did his misused body stiffen, that when he was called it
required another ten minutes and a second glass of whiskey to unbend his
joints and limber up the muscles.
"Hey! not that way!" the barkeeper shouted, and then went after him and
started him through the darkness toward Canyon City. Some little husk of
inner consciousness told Churchill that the direction was right, and,
still as in a dream, he took the canyon trail. He did not know what
warned him, but after what seemed several centuries of travelling, he
sensed danger and drew his revolver. Still in the dream, he saw two men
step out and heard them halt him. His revolver went off four times, and
he saw the flashes and heard the explosions of their revolvers. Also, he
was aware that he had been hit in the thigh. He saw one man go down,
and, as the other came for him, he smashed him a straight blow with the
heavy revolver full in the face. Then he turned and ran. He came from
the dream shortly afterward, to find himself plunging down the trail at
a limping lope. His first thought was for the gripsack. It was still on
his back. He was convinced that what had happened was a dream till he
felt for his revolver and found it gone. Next he became aware of a sharp
stinging of his thigh, and after investigating, he found his hand warm
with blood. It was a superficial wound, but it was incontestable. He
became wider awake, and kept up the lumbering run to Canyon City.
He found a man, with a team of horses and a wagon, who got out of bed
and harnessed up for twenty dollars. Churchill crawled in on the
wagon-bed and slept, the gripsack still on his back. It was a rough
ride, over water-washed boulders down the Dyea Valley; but he roused
only when the wagon hit the highest places. Any altitude of his body
above the wagon-bed of less than a foot did not faze him. The last mile
was smooth going, and he slept soundly.
He came to in the gray dawn, the driver shaking him savagely and howling
into his ear that the _Athenian_ was gone. Churchill looked blankly at
the deserted harbor.
"There's a smoke over at Skaguay," the man said.
Churchill's eyes were too swollen to see that far, but he said: "It's
she. Get me a boat."
The driver was obliging, and found a skiff and a man to row it for ten
dollars, payment in advance. Churchill paid, and was helped into the
skiff. It was beyond him to get in by himself. It was six miles to
Skaguay, and he had a blissful thought of sleeping those six miles. But
the man did not know how to row, and Churchill took the oars and toiled
for a few more centuries. He never knew six longer and more excruciating
miles. A snappy little breeze blew up the inlet and held him back. He
had a gone feeling at the pit of the stomach, and suffered from
faintness and numbness. At his command, the man took the bailer and
threw salt water into his face.
The _Athenian's_ anchor was up-and-down when they came alongside, and
Churchill was at the end of his last remnant of strength.
"Stop her! Stop her!" he shouted hoarsely. "Important message! Stop
Then he dropped his chin on his chest and slept. "When half a dozen men
started to carry him up the gang-plank, he awoke, reached for the grip,
and clung to it like a drowning man. On deck he became a center of
horror and curiosity. The clothing in which he had left White Horse was
represented by a few rags, and he was as frayed as his clothing. He had
traveled for fifty-five hours at the top notch of endurance. He had
slept six hours in that time, and he was twenty pounds lighter than when
he started. Face and hands and body were scratched and bruised, and he
could scarcely see. He tried to stand up, but failed, sprawling out on
the deck, hanging on to the gripsack, and delivering his message.
"Now, put me to bed," he finished; "I'll eat when I wake up."
They did him honor, carrying him down in his rags and dirt and
depositing him and Bondell's grip in the bridal chamber, which was the
biggest and most luxurious stateroom in the ship. Twice he slept the
clock around, and he had bathed and shaved and eaten and was leaning
over the rail smoking a cigar when the two hundred pilgrims from White
Horse came alongside.
By the time the _Athenian_ arrived in Seattle, Churchill had fully
recuperated, and he went ashore with Bondell's grip in his hand. He
felt proud of that grip. To him it stood for achievement and integrity
and trust. "I've delivered the goods," was the way he expressed these
various high terms to himself. It was early in the evening, and he went
straight to Bondell's home. Louis Bondell was glad to see him, shaking
hands with both hands at the same time and dragging him into the house.
"Oh, thanks, old man; it was good of you to bring it out," Bondell said
when he received the gripsack.
He tossed it carelessly upon a couch, and Churchill noted with an
appreciative eye the rebound of its weight from the springs. Bondell was
volleying him with questions.
"How did you make out? How're the boys! What became of Bill Smithers? Is
Del Bishop still with Pierce? Did he sell my dogs? How did Sulphur
Bottom show up? You're looking fine. What steamer did you come out on?"
To all of which Churchill gave answer, till half an hour had gone by and
the first lull in the conversation had arrived.
"Hadn't you better take a look at it?" he suggested, nodding his head at
"Oh, it's all right," Bondell answered. "Did Mitchell's dump turn out
as much as he expected?"
"I think you'd better look at it," Churchill insisted. "When I deliver a
thing, I want to be satisfied that it's all right. There's always the
chance that somebody might have got into it when I was asleep, or
"It's nothing important, old man," Bondell answered, with a laugh.
"Nothing important," Churchill echoed in a faint, small voice. Then he
spoke with decision: "Louis, what's in that bag? I want to know."
Louis looked at him curiously, then left the room and returned with a
bunch of keys. He inserted his hand and drew out a heavy .44 Colt's
revolver. Next came out a few boxes of ammunition for the revolver and
several boxes of Winchester cartridges.
Churchill took the gripsack and looked into it. Then he turned it upside
down and shook it gently.
"The gun's all rusted," Bondell said. "Must have been out in the rain."
"Yes," Churchill answered. "Too bad it got wet. I guess I was a bit
He got up and went outside. Ten minutes later Louis Bondell went out
and found him on the steps, sitting down, elbows on knees and chin on
hands, gazing steadfastly out into the darkness.