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A Day's lodging

Short Stories

A Curious Fragment

A Day's lodging

A Nose for the king

A Piece of Steak

A Wicked Woman

All Gold Canyon

Brown Wolf

Created He Them

Four Horses and a Sailor

Just Meat

Love of life

Make Westing

Nam-Bok the Unveracious

Negore, the coward

Nothing That Ever Came to Anything

Semper Idem

Small-Boat Sailing

That Dead Men Rise Up Never

That spot

The "Francis Spaight"

The Apostate

The Chinago

The Heathen

The Hobo and the Fairy

The Human Drift

The story of Keesh

The Sun-Dog Trail

The Unexpected

The white man's way

Trust

When God Laughs

Yellow Handkerchief







It was the gosh-dangdest stampede I ever seen. A thousand dog-
teams hittin' the ice. You couldn't see 'm fer smoke. Two white
men an' a Swede froze to death that night, an' there was a dozen
busted their lungs. But didn't I see with my own eyes the bottom
of the water-hole? It was yellow with gold like a mustard-plaster.
That's why I staked the Yukon for a minin' claim. That's what made
the stampede. An' then there was nothin' to it. That's what I
said - NOTHIN' to it. An' I ain't got over guessin' yet. -
NARRATIVE OF SHORTY.


JOHN MESSNER clung with mittened hand to the bucking gee-pole and
held the sled in the trail. With the other mittened hand he rubbed
his cheeks and nose. He rubbed his cheeks and nose every little
while. In point of fact, he rarely ceased from rubbing them, and
sometimes, as their numbness increased, he rubbed fiercely. His
forehead was covered by the visor of his fur cap, the flaps of
which went over his ears. The rest of his face was protected by a
thick beard, golden-brown under its coating of frost.

Behind him churned a heavily loaded Yukon sled, and before him
toiled a string of five dogs. The rope by which they dragged the
sled rubbed against the side of Messner's leg. When the dogs swung
on a bend in the trail, he stepped over the rope. There were many
bends, and he was compelled to step over it often. Sometimes he
tripped on the rope, or stumbled, and at all times he was awkward,
betraying a weariness so great that the sled now and again ran upon
his heels.

When he came to a straight piece of trail, where the sled could get
along for a moment without guidance, he let go the gee-pole and
batted his right hand sharply upon the hard wood. He found it
difficult to keep up the circulation in that hand. But while he
pounded the one hand, he never ceased from rubbing his nose and
cheeks with the other.

"It's too cold to travel, anyway," he said. He spoke aloud, after
the manner of men who are much by themselves. "Only a fool would
travel at such a temperature. If it isn't eighty below, it's
because it's seventy-nine."

He pulled out his watch, and after some fumbling got it back into
the breast pocket of his thick woollen jacket. Then he surveyed
the heavens and ran his eye along the white sky-line to the south.

"Twelve o'clock," he mumbled, "A clear sky, and no sun."

He plodded on silently for ten minutes, and then, as though there
had been no lapse in his speech, he added:

"And no ground covered, and it's too cold to travel."

Suddenly he yelled "Whoa!" at the dogs, and stopped. He seemed in
a wild panic over his right hand, and proceeded to hammer it
furiously against the gee-pole.

"You - poor - devils!" he addressed the dogs, which had dropped
down heavily on the ice to rest. His was a broken, jerky
utterance, caused by the violence with which he hammered his numb
hand upon the wood. "What have you done anyway that a two-legged
other animal should come along, break you to harness, curb all your
natural proclivities, and make slave-beasts out of you?"

He rubbed his nose, not reflectively, but savagely, in order to
drive the blood into it, and urged the dogs to their work again.
He travelled on the frozen surface of a great river. Behind him it
stretched away in a mighty curve of many miles, losing itself in a
fantastic jumble of mountains, snow-covered and silent. Ahead of
him the river split into many channels to accommodate the freight
of islands it carried on its breast. These islands were silent and
white. No animals nor humming insects broke the silence. No birds
flew in the chill air. There was no sound of man, no mark of the
handiwork of man. The world slept, and it was like the sleep of
death.

John Messner seemed succumbing to the apathy of it all. The frost
was benumbing his spirit. He plodded on with bowed head,
unobservant, mechanically rubbing nose and cheeks, and batting his
steering hand against the gee-pole in the straight trail-stretches.

But the dogs were observant, and suddenly they stopped, turning
their heads and looking back at their master out of eyes that were
wistful and questioning. Their eyelashes were frosted white, as
were their muzzles, and they had all the seeming of decrepit old
age, what of the frost-rime and exhaustion.

The man was about to urge them on, when he checked himself, roused
up with an effort, and looked around. The dogs had stopped beside
a water-hole, not a fissure, but a hole man-made, chopped
laboriously with an axe through three and a half feet of ice. A
thick skin of new ice showed that it had not been used for some
time. Messner glanced about him. The dogs were already pointing
the way, each wistful and hoary muzzle turned toward the dim snow-
path that left the main river trail and climbed the bank of the
island.

"All right, you sore-footed brutes," he said. "I'll investigate.
You're not a bit more anxious to quit than I am."

He climbed the bank and disappeared. The dogs did not lie down,
but on their feet eagerly waited his return. He came back to them,
took a hauling-rope from the front of the sled, and put it around
his shoulders. Then he GEE'D the dogs to the right and put them at
the bank on the run. It was a stiff pull, but their weariness fell
from them as they crouched low to the snow, whining with eagerness
and gladness as they struggled upward to the last ounce of effort
in their bodies. When a dog slipped or faltered, the one behind
nipped his hind quarters. The man shouted encouragement and
threats, and threw all his weight on the hauling-rope.

They cleared the bank with a rush, swung to the left, and dashed up
to a small log cabin. It was a deserted cabin of a single room,
eight feet by ten on the inside. Messner unharnessed the animals,
unloaded his sled and took possession. The last chance wayfarer
had left a supply of firewood. Messner set up his light sheet-iron
stove and starred a fire. He put five sun-cured salmon into the
oven to thaw out for the dogs, and from the water-hole filled his
coffee-pot and cooking-pail.

While waiting for the water to boil, he held his face over the
stove. The moisture from his breath had collected on his beard and
frozen into a great mass of ice, and this he proceeded to thaw out.
As it melted and dropped upon the stove it sizzled and rose about
him in steam. He helped the process with his fingers, working
loose small ice-chunks that fell rattling to the floor.

A wild outcry from the dogs without did not take him from his task.
He heard the wolfish snarling and yelping of strange dogs and the
sound of voices. A knock came on the door.

"Come in," Messner called, in a voice muffled because at the
moment he was sucking loose a fragment of ice from its anchorage on
his upper lip.

The door opened, and, gazing out of his cloud of steam, he saw a
man and a woman pausing on the threshold.

"Come in," he said peremptorily, "and shut the door!"

Peering through the steam, he could make out but little of their
personal appearance. The nose and cheek strap worn by the woman
and the trail-wrappings about her head allowed only a pair of black
eyes to be seen. The man was dark-eyed and smooth-shaven all
except his mustache, which was so iced up as to hide his mouth.

"We just wanted to know if there is any other cabin around here,"
he said, at the same time glancing over the unfurnished state of
the room. "We thought this cabin was empty."

"It isn't my cabin," Messner answered. "I just found it a few
minutes ago. Come right in and camp. Plenty of room, and you
won't need your stove. There's room for all."

At the sound of his voice the woman peered at him with quick
curiousness.

"Get your things off," her companion said to her. "I'll unhitch
and get the water so we can start cooking."

Messner took the thawed salmon outside and fed his dogs. He had to
guard them against the second team of dogs, and when he had
reČntered the cabin the other man had unpacked the sled and fetched
water. Messner's pot was boiling. He threw in the coffee, settled
it with half a cup of cold water, and took the pot from the stove.
He thawed some sour-dough biscuits in the oven, at the same time
heating a pot of beans he had boiled the night before and that had
ridden frozen on the sled all morning.

Removing his utensils from the stove, so as to give the newcomers a
chance to cook, he proceeded to take his meal from the top of his
grub-box, himself sitting on his bed-roll. Between mouthfuls he
talked trail and dogs with the man, who, with head over the stove,
was thawing the ice from his mustache. There were two bunks in the
cabin, and into one of them, when he had cleared his lip, the
stranger tossed his bed-roll.

"We'll sleep here," he said, "unless you prefer this bunk. You're
the first comer and you have first choice, you know."

"That's all right," Messner answered. "One bunk's just as good as
the other."

He spread his own bedding in the second bunk, and sat down on the
edge. The stranger thrust a physician's small travelling case
under his blankets at one end to serve for a pillow.

"Doctor?" Messner asked.

"Yes," came the answer, "but I assure you I didn't come into the
Klondike to practise."

The woman busied herself with cooking, while the man sliced bacon
and fired the stove. The light in the cabin was dim, filtering
through in a small window made of onion-skin writing paper and
oiled with bacon grease, so that John Messner could not make out
very well what the woman looked like. Not that he tried. He
seemed to have no interest in her. But she glanced curiously from
time to time into the dark corner where he sat.

"Oh, it's a great life," the doctor proclaimed enthusiastically,
pausing from sharpening his knife on the stovepipe. "What I like
about it is the struggle, the endeavor with one's own hands, the
primitiveness of it, the realness."

"The temperature is real enough," Messner laughed.

"Do you know how cold it actually is?" the doctor demanded.

The other shook his head.

"Well, I'll tell you. Seventy-four below zero by spirit
thermometer on the sled."

"That's one hundred and six below freezing point - too cold for
travelling, eh?"

"Practically suicide," was the doctor's verdict. "One exerts
himself. He breathes heavily, taking into his lungs the frost
itself. It chills his lungs, freezes the edges of the tissues. He
gets a dry, hacking cough as the dead tissue sloughs away, and dies
the following summer of pneumonia, wondering what it's all about.
I'll stay in this cabin for a week, unless the thermometer rises at
least to fifty below."

"I say, Tess," he said, the next moment, "don't you think that
coffee's boiled long enough!"

At the sound of the woman's name, John Messner became suddenly
alert. He looked at her quickly, while across his face shot a
haunting expression, the ghost of some buried misery achieving
swift resurrection. But the next moment, and by an effort of will,
the ghost was laid again. His face was as placid as before, though
he was still alert, dissatisfied with what the feeble light had
shown him of the woman's face.

Automatically, her first act had been to set the coffee-pot back.
It was not until she had done this that she glanced at Messner.
But already he had composed himself. She saw only a man sitting on
the edge of the bunk and incuriously studying the toes of his
moccasins. But, as she turned casually to go about her cooking, he
shot another swift look at her, and she, glancing as swiftly back,
caught his look. He shifted on past her to the doctor, though the
slightest smile curled his lip in appreciation of the way she had
trapped him.

She drew a candle from the grub-box and lighted it. One look at
her illuminated face was enough for Messner. In the small cabin
the widest limit was only a matter of several steps, and the next
moment she was alongside of him. She deliberately held the candle
close to his face and stared at him out of eyes wide with fear and
recognition. He smiled quietly back at her.

"What are you looking for, Tess?" the doctor called.

"Hairpins," she replied, passing on and rummaging in a clothes-bag
on the bunk.

They served their meal on their grub-box, sitting on Messner's
grub-box and facing him. He had stretched out on his bunk to rest,
lying on his side, his head on his arm. In the close quarters it
was as though the three were together at table.

"What part of the States do you come from?" Messner asked.

"San Francisco," answered the doctor. "I've been in here two
years, though."

"I hail from California myself," was Messner's announcement.

The woman looked at him appealingly, but he smiled and went on:

"Berkeley, you know."

The other man was becoming interested.

"U. C.?" he asked.

"Yes, Class of '86."

"I meant faculty," the doctor explained. "You remind me of the
type."

"Sorry to hear you say so," Messner smiled back. "I'd prefer being
taken for a prospector or a dog-musher."

"I don't think he looks any more like a professor than you do a
doctor," the woman broke in.

"Thank you," said Messner. Then, turning to her companion, "By the
way, Doctor, what is your name, if I may ask?"

"Haythorne, if you'll take my word for it. I gave up cards with
civilization."

"And Mrs. Haythorne," Messner smiled and bowed.

She flashed a look at him that was more anger than appeal.

Haythorne was about to ask the other's name. His mouth had opened
to form the question when Messner cut him off.

"Come to think of it, Doctor, you may possibly be able to satisfy
my curiosity. There was a sort of scandal in faculty circles some
two or three years ago. The wife of one of the English professors
- er, if you will pardon me, Mrs. Haythorne - disappeared with some
San Francisco doctor, I understood, though his name does not just
now come to my lips. Do you remember the incident?"

Haythorne nodded his head. "Made quite a stir at the time. His
name was Womble - Graham Womble. He had a magnificent practice. I
knew him somewhat."

"Well, what I was trying to get at was what had become of them. I
was wondering if you had heard. They left no trace, hide nor
hair."

"He covered his tracks cunningly." Haythorne cleared his throat.
"There was rumor that they went to the South Seas - were lost on a
trading schooner in a typhoon, or something like that."

"I never heard that," Messner said. "You remember the case, Mrs.
Haythorne?"

"Perfectly," she answered, in a voice the control of which was in
amazing contrast to the anger that blazed in the face she turned
aside so that Haythorne might not see.

The latter was again on the verge of asking his name, when Messner
remarked:

"This Dr. Womble, I've heard he was very handsome, and - er - quite
a success, so to say, with the ladies."

"Well, if he was, he finished himself off by that affair,"
Haythorne grumbled.

"And the woman was a termagant - at least so I've been told. It
was generally accepted in Berkeley that she made life - er - not
exactly paradise for her husband."

"I never heard that," Haythorne rejoined. "In San Francisco the
talk was all the other way."

"Woman sort of a martyr, eh? - crucified on the cross of
matrimony?"

The doctor nodded. Messner's gray eyes were mildly curious as he
went on:

"That was to be expected - two sides to the shield. Living in
Berkeley I only got the one side. She was a great deal in San
Francisco, it seems."

"Some coffee, please," Haythorne said.

The woman refilled his mug, at the same time breaking into light
laughter.

"You're gossiping like a pair of beldames," she chided them.

"It's so interesting," Messner smiled at her, then returned to the
doctor. "The husband seems then to have had a not very savory
reputation in San Francisco?"

"On the contrary, he was a moral prig," Haythorne blurted out, with
apparently undue warmth. "He was a little scholastic shrimp
without a drop of red blood in his body."

"Did you know him?"

"Never laid eyes on him. I never knocked about in university
circles."

"One side of the shield again," Messner said, with an air of
weighing the matter judicially. While he did not amount to much,
it is true - that is, physically - I'd hardly say he was as bad as
all that. He did take an active interest in student athletics.
And he had some talent. He once wrote a Nativity play that brought
him quite a bit of local appreciation. I have heard, also, that he
was slated for the head of the English department, only the affair
happened and he resigned and went away. It quite broke his career,
or so it seemed. At any rate, on our side the shield, it was
considered a knock-out blow to him. It was thought he cared a
great deal for his wife."

Haythorne, finishing his mug of coffee, grunted uninterestedly and
lighted his pipe.

"It was fortunate they had no children," Messner continued.

But Haythorne, with a glance at the stove, pulled on his cap and
mittens.

"I'm going out to get some wood," he said. "Then I can take off my
moccasins and he comfortable."

The door slammed behind him. For a long minute there was silence.
The man continued in the same position on the bed. The woman sat
on the grub-box, facing him.

"What are you going to do?" she asked abruptly.

Messner looked at her with lazy indecision. "What do you think I
ought to do? Nothing scenic, I hope. You see I am stiff and
trail-sore, and this bunk is so restful."

She gnawed her lower lip and fumed dumbly.

"But - " she began vehemently, then clenched her hands and stopped.

"I hope you don't want me to kill Mr. -er - Haythorne," he said
gently, almost pleadingly. "It would be most distressing, and, I
assure you, really it is unnecessary."

"But you must do something," she cried.

"On the contrary, it is quite conceivable that I do not have to do
anything."

"You would stay here?"

He nodded.

She glanced desperately around the cabin and at the bed unrolled on
the other bunk. "Night is coming on. You can't stop here. You
can't! I tell you, you simply can't!"

"Of course I can. I might remind you that I found this cabin first
and that you are my guests."

Again her eyes travelled around the room, and the terror in them
leaped up at sight of the other bunk.

"Then we'll have to go," she announced decisively.

"Impossible. You have a dry, hacking cough - the sort Mr. - er -
Haythorne so aptly described. You've already slightly chilled your
lungs. Besides, he is a physician and knows. He would never
permit it."

"Then what are you going to do?" she demanded again, with a tense,
quiet utterance that boded an outbreak.

Messner regarded her in a way that was almost paternal, what of the
profundity of pity and patience with which he contrived to suffuse
it.

"My dear Theresa, as I told you before, I don't know. I really
haven't thought about it."

"Oh! You drive me mad!" She sprang to her feet, wringing her
hands in impotent wrath. "You never used to be this way."

"I used to be all softness and gentleness," he nodded concurrence.
"Was that why you left me?"

"You are so different, so dreadfully calm. You frighten me. I
feel you have something terrible planned all the while. But
whatever you do, don't do anything rash. Don't get excited - "

"I don't get excited any more," he interrupted. "Not since you
went away."

"You have improved - remarkably," she retorted.

He smiled acknowledgment. "While I am thinking about what I shall
do, I'll tell you what you will have to do - tell Mr. - er -
Haythorne who I am. It may make our stay in this cabin more - may
I say, sociable?"

"Why have you followed me into this frightful country?" she asked
irrelevantly.

"Don't think I came here looking for you, Theresa. Your vanity
shall not be tickled by any such misapprehension. Our meeting is
wholly fortuitous. I broke with the life academic and I had to go
somewhere. To be honest, I came into the Klondike because I
thought it the place you were least liable to be in."

There was a fumbling at the latch, then the door swung in and
Haythorne entered with an armful of firewood. At the first
warning, Theresa began casually to clear away the dishes.
Haythorne went out again after more wood.

"Why didn't you introduce us?" Messner queried.

"I'll tell him," she replied, with a toss of her head. "Don't
think I'm afraid."

"I never knew you to be afraid, very much, of anything."

"And I'm not afraid of confession, either," she said, with
softening face and voice.

"In your case, I fear, confession is exploitation by indirection,
profit-making by ruse, self-aggrandizement at the expense of God."

"Don't be literary," she pouted, with growing tenderness. "I never
did like epigrammatic discussion. Besides, I'm not afraid to ask
you to forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive, Theresa. I really should thank you.
True, at first I suffered; and then, with all the graciousness of
spring, it dawned upon me that I was happy, very happy. It was a
most amazing discovery."

"But what if I should return to you?" she asked.

"I should" (he looked at her whimsically), "be greatly perturbed."

"I am your wife. You know you have never got a divorce."

"I see," he meditated. "I have been careless. It will be one of
the first things I attend to."

She came over to his side, resting her hand on his arm. "You don't
want me, John?" Her voice was soft and caressing, her hand rested
like a lure. "If I told you I had made a mistake? If I told you
that I was very unhappy? - and I am. And I did make a mistake."

Fear began to grow on Messner. He felt himself wilting under the
lightly laid hand. The situation was slipping away from him, all
his beautiful calmness was going. She looked at him with melting
eyes, and he, too, seemed all dew and melting. He felt himself on
the edge of an abyss, powerless to withstand the force that was
drawing him over.

"I am coming back to you, John. I am coming back to-day . . .
now."

As in a nightmare, he strove under the hand. While she talked, he
seemed to hear, rippling softly, the song of the Lorelei. It was
as though, somewhere, a piano were playing and the actual notes
were impinging on his ear-drums.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet, thrust her from him as her arms
attempted to clasp him, and retreated backward to the door. He was
in a panic.

"I'll do something desperate!" he cried.

"I warned you not to get excited." She laughed mockingly, and went
about washing the dishes. "Nobody wants you. I was just playing
with you. I am happier where I am."

But Messner did not believe. He remembered her facility in
changing front. She had changed front now. It was exploitation by
indirection. She was not happy with the other man. She had
discovered her mistake. The flame of his ego flared up at the
thought. She wanted to come back to him, which was the one thing
he did not want. Unwittingly, his hand rattled the door-latch.

"Don't run away," she laughed. "I won't bite you."

"I am not running away," he replied with child-like defiance, at
the same time pulling on his mittens. "I'm only going to get some
water."

He gathered the empty pails and cooking pots together and opened
the door. He looked back at her.

"Don't forget you're to tell Mr. - er - Haythorne who I am."

Messner broke the skin that had formed on the water-hole within the
hour, and filled his pails. But he did not return immediately to
the cabin. Leaving the pails standing in the trail, he walked up
and down, rapidly, to keep from freezing, for the frost bit into
the flesh like fire. His beard was white with his frozen breath
when the perplexed and frowning brows relaxed and decision came
into his face. He had made up his mind to his course of action,
and his frigid lips and cheeks crackled into a chuckle over it.
The pails were already skinned over with young ice when he picked
them up and made for the cabin.

When he entered he found the other man waiting, standing near the
stove, a certain stiff awkwardness and indecision in his manner.
Messner set down his water-pails.

"Glad to meet you, Graham Womble," he said in conventional tones,
as though acknowledging an introduction.

Messner did not offer his hand. Womble stirred uneasily, feeling
for the other the hatred one is prone to feel for one he has
wronged.

"And so you're the chap," Messner said in marvelling accents.
"Well, well. You see, I really am glad to meet you. I have been -
er - curious to know what Theresa found in you - where, I may say,
the attraction lay. Well, well."

And he looked the other up and down as a man would look a horse up
and down.

"I know how you must feel about me," Womble began.

"Don't mention it," Messner broke in with exaggerated cordiality of
voice and manner. "Never mind that. What I want to know is how do
you find her? Up to expectations? Has she worn well? Life been
all a happy dream ever since?"

"Don't be silly," Theresa interjected.

"I can't help being natural," Messner complained.

"You can be expedient at the same time, and practical," Womble said
sharply. "What we want to know is what are you going to do?"

Messner made a well-feigned gesture of helplessness. "I really
don't know. It is one of those impossible situations against which
there can be no provision."

"All three of us cannot remain the night in this cabin."

Messner nodded affirmation.

"Then somebody must get out."

"That also is incontrovertible," Messner agreed. "When three
bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time, one must get
out."

"And you're that one," Womble announced grimly. "It's a ten-mile
pull to the next camp, but you can make it all right."

"And that's the first flaw in your reasoning," the other objected.
"Why, necessarily, should I be the one to get out? I found this
cabin first."

"But Tess can't get out," Womble explained. "Her lungs are already
slightly chilled."

"I agree with you. She can't venture ten miles of frost. By all
means she must remain."

"Then it is as I said," Womble announced with finality.

Messner cleared his throat. "Your lungs are all right, aren't
they?"

"Yes, but what of it?"

Again the other cleared his throat and spoke with painstaking and
judicial slowness. "Why, I may say, nothing of it, except, ah,
according to your own reasoning, there is nothing to prevent your
getting out, hitting the frost, so to speak, for a matter of ten
miles. You can make it all right."

Womble looked with quick suspicion at Theresa and caught in her
eyes a glint of pleased surprise.

"Well?" he demanded of her.

She hesitated, and a surge of anger darkened his face. He turned
upon Messner.

"Enough of this. You can't stop here."

"Yes, I can."

"I won't let you." Womble squared his shoulders. "I'm running
things."

"I'll stay anyway," the other persisted.

"I'll put you out."

"I'll come back."

Womble stopped a moment to steady his voice and control himself.
Then he spoke slowly, in a low, tense voice.

"Look here, Messner, if you refuse to get out, I'll thrash you.
This isn't California. I'll beat you to a jelly with my two
fists."

Messner shrugged his shoulders. "If you do, I'll call a miners'
meeting and see you strung up to the nearest tree. As you said,
this is not California. They're a simple folk, these miners, and
all I'll have to do will be to show them the marks of the beating,
tell them the truth about you, and present my claim for my wife."

The woman attempted to speak, but Womble turned upon her fiercely.

"You keep out of this," he cried.

In marked contrast was Messner's "Please don't intrude, Theresa."

What of her anger and pent feelings, her lungs were irritated into
the dry, hacking cough, and with blood-suffused face and one hand
clenched against her chest, she waited for the paroxysm to pass.

Womble looked gloomily at her, noting her cough.

"Something must be done," he said. "Yet her lungs can't stand the
exposure. She can't travel till the temperature rises. And I'm
not going to give her up."

Messner hemmed, cleared his throat, and hemmed again, semi-
apologetically, and said, "I need some money."

Contempt showed instantly in Womble's face. At last, beneath him
in vileness, had the other sunk himself.

"You've got a fat sack of dust," Messner went on. "I saw you
unload it from the sled."

"How much do you want?" Womble demanded, with a contempt in his
voice equal to that in his face.

"I made an estimate of the sack, and I - ah - should say it weighed
about twenty pounds. What do you say we call it four thousand?"

"But it's all I've got, man!" Womble cried out.

"You've got her," the other said soothingly. "She must be worth
it. Think what I'm giving up. Surely it is a reasonable price."

"All right." Womble rushed across the floor to the gold-sack.
"Can't put this deal through too quick for me, you - you little
worm!"

"Now, there you err," was the smiling rejoinder. "As a matter of
ethics isn't the man who gives a bribe as bad as the man who takes
a bribe? The receiver is as bad as the thief, you know; and you
needn't console yourself with any fictitious moral superiority
concerning this little deal."

"To hell with your ethics!" the other burst out. "Come here and
watch the weighing of this dust. I might cheat you."

And the woman, leaning against the bunk, raging and impotent,
watched herself weighed out in yellow dust and nuggets in the
scales erected on the grub-box. The scales were small, making
necessary many weighings, and Messner with precise care verified
each weighing.

"There's too much silver in it," he remarked as he tied up the
gold-sack. "I don't think it will run quite sixteen to the ounce.
You got a trifle the better of me, Womble."

He handled the sack lovingly, and with due appreciation of its
preciousness carried it out to his sled.

Returning, he gathered his pots and pans together, packed his grub-
box, and rolled up his bed. When the sled was lashed and the
complaining dogs harnessed, he returned into the cabin for his
mittens.

"Good-by, Tess," he said, standing at the open door.

She turned on him, struggling for speech but too frantic to word
the passion that burned in her.

"Good-by, Tess," he repeated gently.

"Beast!" she managed to articulate.

She turned and tottered to the bunk, flinging herself face down
upon it, sobbing: "You beasts! You beasts!"

John Messner closed the door softly behind him, and, as he started
the dogs, looked back at the cabin with a great relief in his face.
At the bottom of the bank, beside the water-hole, he halted the
sled. He worked the sack of gold out between the lashings and
carried it to the water-hole. Already a new skin of ice had
formed. This he broke with his fist. Untying the knotted mouth
with his teeth, he emptied the contents of the sack into the water.
The river was shallow at that point, and two feet beneath the
surface he could see the bottom dull-yellow in the fading light.
At the sight of it, he spat into the hole.

He started the dogs along the Yukon trail. Whining spiritlessly,
they were reluctant to work. Clinging to the gee-pole with his
right band and with his left rubbing cheeks and nose, he stumbled
over the rope as the dogs swung on a bend.

"Mush-on, you poor, sore-footed brutes!" he cried. "That's it,
mush-on!"




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