Against the Wind

Variations on a Theme

 I write this preamble to the following story for a reason. I recently posted a story entitled Hank and Me that had a dead guy in a cabin filled with gold. Guess what? There’s a dead guy in this story and he is also found in a cabin filled with gold. But please hear me out. I wrote the bulk of my short stories about seven years ago. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. I did not imagine they would ever see the light of day. I did not have a blog at the time and my first novel had yet to be written.

This story came about because one day I was tooling down the road listening to an oldies station on the radio and up comes Against the Wind by Bob Seger. A few miles later, on comes North to Alaska by Johnny Horton. That was all I needed. When I got home, I banged out this story never thinking of the Hank and Me story. They are two completely different stories. The only overlap is the dead geezer and his gold.

One last thing: There is a twist at the end of this story. It is not self-evident. Only the most astute among you will get the irony. To those that do, I offer a prize of an all-expense-paid weekend with the famous Danny the Dog. Of course, by “all-expense-paid,” I mean you will have to pay the expenses, but Danny is worth it.

Now, here is my story:

Against the Wind

I had been running against the wind most of my life. My mother died in childbirth. My father was shot and killed when he accidentally bumped into a drunk in the Alhambra Bar on New Year’s Day of 1886. I was ten years old at the time, and having no siblings or other relations, that left me on my own. For the next ten years, I cadged a living any way I could. Mostly sweeping out saloons and cleaning spittoons. I fed myself from the free lunch tables and slept in back rooms. Finally, I got a job that paid me in cash and gave me a small room of my own to live in. At twenty years of age, I was working as the night bellhop at the Hayden in San Francisco. But I was still running against the wind. My name is George Pratt, and this is my story.

The night was 16 August 1896. It was a cool night; the fog had just rolled in off the bay, and I was holding down the fort for the night clerk. He was a laudanum user and had gone into the office, as he did every night, to catch his forty winks. That’s how I came to be behind the desk when a man I had never seen before came through the front door. He was a big man, about six feet four inches tall, with broad shoulders. His hair was the color of corn—his eyes sky-blue. He was carrying a small valise. Walking directly to the desk, he said, “Evening, sonny. I’d like a room.”

I thought it odd that he would address me in such a manner because he seemed only a few years older than me. Later, I learned he was thirty-two, but in his bearing and in his manner, he was many years my senior.

“I’m sorry, sir; I’m only the bellboy. If you will excuse me, I’ll go fetch the desk clerk.”

“Don’t bother. Here, take my grip. I’ll do the formalities later. Right now, I’m looking for a little action. Can you recommend a place where a man can get a decent drink and find himself a half-way honest game of poker?”

Reaching out to take his bag, I answered his query, “If you’re looking for a gentleman’s game of poker, then I can’t help you. All I know is the Barbary Coast. I’ve worked in every saloon down there. If you like, I can recommend one or two where you won’t get shanghaied, and you won’t go blind from the liquor, but as far as the games go, you’ll have to determine for yourself if they’re honest or not. Some are, some aren’t.”

He smiled and said, “I’m Samuel McCord. My friends call me Sam.”

“I’m George, George Pratt.”

“Well, George Pratt, seeing as how I’m new in town, and you know your way around better than me, why not accompany me? You’ll be my guide.”

He didn’t look like he needed a guide. Sam looked like he could take care of himself. However, I only said, “I’m sorry sir, but I’m working and I can’t leave the premises.”

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “I’m going north to Alaska Territory. My ship leaves in three days and I don’t intend to sleep until I’m out to sea. I only wanted a room to freshen up in between bouts of drinkin’ and gamblin’. And because I have only three days, I don’t want to waste my time going to the wrong bucket of blood. What do they pay you for sittin’ around all night?”

Normally, if someone asked me a question like that, I’d tell him that it was none of his concern what I was paid. But for some reason—why, I don’t know—I answered him. “I’m paid two dollars a week with room and board and any tips I may garner.”

Looking around the small lobby, he said, “Don’t reckon you make a fortune in tips working nights.” He then flicked something in my direction. I caught it in mid-air. It was a twenty-dollar gold piece! “I don’t think I’ll need to freshen up after all. Hell, it’s only three days and I’ve got a long time on the ship to rest up. Hand me back my bag, George, and if you’re coming, let’s go. If not, tell me how to find this Barbary Coast.”

I was dumbstruck to say the least. If I left, I’d lose the best job I’d ever had. But there was something about Sam McCord that made me want to be around him. And that was a feeling I hadn’t had since my father died. I said, “Give me a minute to get out of this uniform and I’d be honored to show you some of the better buckets of blood on the Coast.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that wind I’d been running against all of my life slackened at that moment.

Sam wasn’t interested in the whores of the Coast. At one point when I was in my cups, I pointed to a particularly attractive whore and asked him if he might be interested. He looked over at her, then to me. He had a funny look on his face. At the time we were standing at the bar of the Alhambra, it was our second day of non-stop drinking and he was taking a break from a game. Well, Sam had this faraway look and said nothing for a few moments. Then he straightened and looked me dead in the eyes. “Yes, George, a man has his needs. If you want her, I’ll buy her for you, but for me, no. My flower is planted in the ground.” There was a sad countenance about him when he said that. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew enough not to say any more, except to decline his kind offer. It wasn’t until much later that I learned his wife, whose name was Maria, had died in childbirth a few years back; the baby was stillborn.

For three days we made the rounds. Sam drank and played poker. I drank and watched him play poker. At noon of the third day, we were sitting at a table in The Bella Union on Pacific Street. “You’ve been good luck for me,” said Sam as he counted his winnings. “I’m glad you came along.”

I had stopped drinking hours earlier and was relatively sober, but I was awfully tired. Yawning, I told him it had been my pleasure. It was then that he shoved a stack of bills and some gold coins across the table toward me, saying, “Here’s your ten percent.”

I must have looked surprised because that is exactly how I felt. When I made no move to pick up the money, he said, “Go ahead, take it. You’ve earned it. You watched my back for three days, and you’ve been a good drinkin’ partner. There’s a thousand dollars there; it’ll be a good grub stake for you. I know I cost you your job at the hotel, not to mention a roof over your head.”

Hesitantly, I reached for the money. It was more money than I had ever envisioned possessing in my entire life. Hell, it was more money than I had even seen in my entire life. I didn’t count it. I folded the paper and put it in my shirt pocket, the coins went into my pants pockets. I looked at Sam and simply said, “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, George. But may I ask you what you plan to do now?”

“First of all, I’m getting me a room at the best hotel in town, and I plan on sleeping for three days.”

Sam laughed and then grew quiet. It was obvious he was thinking something over in his mind. Finally he said, “A thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it won’t last long staying in fancy hotels. Why don’t you come to Alaska with me? You’ve got enough for your passage and to outfit. You’ll need some warm clothes, but that’s all. It’s a new country up there. A place where a man can make his fortune if he’s the right kind of man, and I think you are.” During the course of our carousing, I had told him about being on my own and making my own way since I was ten.

Then he continued, “I’m catching The City of Pueblo at the tide. She stops at Seattle where I’m outfitting, and then on to Victoria where I’m taking the Queen to Juneau. I’m going looking for gold. There’s been a few small strikes over the years, and I figure where there’s smoke, there’s gotta be fire. Even if I don’t strike it rich, it’ll be an adventure of a lifetime. So what do you say, are you in or out?”

I didn’t hesitate. “I’m in!”

“Good. Go pack some clothes and meet me at the wharf in an hour.”

Three hours later, we were passing through the Golden Gate and heading north … north to Alaska. And for the first time in my life, the wind was at my back.

We slept for the first twelve hours in a shared cabin. After that, we enjoyed the sea, the salt air, and the view of the California and Oregon coasts as we made our way north. In Seattle, we bought the things we would need for prospecting: shovels, pick axes, a portable stove, a tent, and things of that sort. Sam had said they would be a tenth of the cost of what we would pay up in Alaska. We also bought some warm clothes, but Sam wanted to wait until Alaska to buy the furs and such we’d need to survive the winter. “They’ll have what we need up there. And it will be a better quality than anything we can get here,” said Sam.

Two days later, we transferred to the Queen, and three days after that, we were standing on a dock in Juneau. “Well, what now?” I asked.

“We get the lay of the land,” was the answer. “And the best way to do that is in a saloon. Let’s go and see what the ‘old ladies’ have to say.” By old ladies, Sam meant the men who hung out in saloons and gossiped the day away.

We found a place to store our things and made our way down Stewart Street. The first place we came to was called The Moose. It had a fine rack of antlers nailed above the entrance.

We went inside, ambled to the bar, and Sam named our poison. With drinks in hand and our feet upon the brass rail, we surveyed the room. Off to the right, at the faro table, stood a gent with garters on his sleeves, dealing to the few men who stood around the table—to our left, a table with six men sitting at it, playing poker. And at the bar, besides Sam and me, were three men studying the contents of their glasses, not saying a word.

Sam looked at me and hoisted his glass, saying, “To gold!”

That got the attention of two of our three bar companions. They turned to us at the word “gold,” but then went back to contemplating the liquid in their glasses. The third man paid us no mind at all. Sam winked at me and downed his whiskey. I followed suit.

After the barkeep refilled our glasses, Sam told him to leave the bottle and flicked a ten-dollar gold piece onto the bar, saying, “Keep the change.” Picking up the coin, the barkeep said, “Yes, sir! You need anything else, just let me know.”

After we finished our second drink, Sam turned to the man closest to him and said, “My partner and I just got into town and we’d be honored if you’d let us buy you a drink.” The man smiled and told Sam that was right neighborly of him. Sam extended the offer to the other two men at the bar. The one who showed no interest at the word gold said nothing. He placed a coin on the bar and left without looking in our direction. The other man accepted Sam’s offer of libation and said, “Don’t pay no never mind to Charley, he just ain’t sociable.”

The speaker was named Ed Mulroney. The other man’s name was Jess Tapper. And by the time the bottle was half gone, we were all fast friends. By then we had moved to a table and they were telling us tall tales of the north. They had both been in Alaska many years and had traveled throughout the territory. They too had come seeking their fortunes, but somewhere along the way the dream had faded. Now they were happy to cadge a few free drinks at The Moose.

Eventually Sam steered the conversation to the topic we were interested in. “George and me came up here to see if we could find a little gold. Any advice you gents could give us would be mighty appreciated.”

Mulroney held his empty glass and looked from it to the bottle a few times before Sam caught on. “Help yourself, Ed, and pour one for Jess.”

After the niceties had been attended to, Mulroney looked to Tapper and shook his head. Then he said, “You boys seem like nice folk. The best advice me and Jess here can give you is to go back from where you came. This here is a hard country and winter will be on us soon. You chekekos (new comers) don’t know what you’ll be up against. Ain’t that right, Jess?”

“If you say so, Ed, but I think we oughta let them make their own mistakes, like we did. And who knows? Maybe they’ll get lucky.”

After a moment, Mulroney smiled and said, “I think you’re right, Jess.” To Sam and me he said, “What do you want to know?”

Sam asked where they would go if they were seeking gold. “To the Bank of San Francisco,” answered Mulroney. But then he said he was just funnin’. “Well,” he dawdled, “there was a strike back in ’78 by a man named Holt. And then in ’85, someone hit pay dirt on the Stewart River, and in ’93, a couple of half-breeds made out pretty good up by Circle City. But the gold played out fast. There ain’t none in that neck of the woods no more.” Sam and I looked to one another, and then Sam asked where those places were.

“They’re up the Yukon River. But I’m a tellin’ ya, there ain’t no more gold.”

Sam emptied the bottle into our glasses and we drank the last of the whiskey. “If a man was dumb or crazy enough to go traipsing into that land, how would he get there?” asked Sam.

Both men shook their heads and Jess Tapper said, “Go to Skagway. From there, anyone can point you in the right direction.” Sam laid a ten-dollar gold piece on the table and told Tapper and Mulroney to get another bottle on us. We left two very happy men sitting in The Moose.

When we were outside, I asked Sam if we were going to Skagway. “Hell, George, I got me a feeling. There’s gold up there; maybe not where the strikes were, but above. Gold is heavy and it flows downward. It has to start from somewhere, and you and me, partner, are going to find that ‘somewhere’! ”

The next two days went by fast. I followed Sam around and tried to stay out of his way as he completed our outfit. Then we found a man with a small steam-driven boat that could hardly accommodate us and our outfit, but he got us the eighty-six miles up to Skagway in under twenty-four hours.

Skagway was a revelation to me. Never had I envisioned a town so lawless and corrupt. The unofficial mayor was one Soapy Smith. I liked him immediately, but Sam told me he wasn’t to be trusted. He had a feeling. Sam was always having a feeling about one thing or another. And you know what? He was usually right. He told me that a con man’s stock in trade was making you like him so he could get close enough to you to steal the gold fillings out of your mouth. And then you’d thank him for doing so. It goes without saying that we gave Soapy Smith a wide berth.

We found out that the strikes we had heard about took place about four or five hundred miles to the north of Skagway, along the Yukon River (Yukon is Chilkoot Indian talk for Great River). We were told that we’d have to get to Lake Bennett, thirty-fives miles to the north, through White Pass, and once there build ourselves a boat to make the five-hundred-mile journey into the Yukon Territory. Sam digested the information for a moment and then said, “Reckon we’ll need us a whipsaw.” So we went out and bought us one. The whipsaw was to fell trees and plank them for our boat.

By now our outfit was substantial and we hadn’t even bought the flour and bacon and such that we’d need to get us through a Yukon winter. I told Sam that we could each carry a hundred pounds or so. But how on earth were we going to get the five or six hundred pounds of our outfit to Lake Bennett?

“Simple,” said Sam, “We’ll carry as much as we can to the lake, then cache it and come back for another load. It shouldn’t take us more than three, four trips.”

“Four trips!” I said. “At seventy miles roundtrip for each!”

“So, where do you have to be that you can’t spend the time?” asked Sam.

“I don’t have to be anywhere. But winter’s comin’ on and I was just wondering if we’ll have the time before the river freezes.”

“This is the way I figure it, George. We’ve got a week left in August and then maybe two months before the river freezes. If we get moving, then we can get to where we want to be by the time the first snow hits.”

Sam was a force to be reckoned with, so I shrugged and told him that he was in charge and that I was just following along behind. That stopped him in his tracks. He turned to me, put a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. “George, you’re my partner. You may be a little wet behind the ears, but I wouldn’t have partnered up with you in the first place if I didn’t know I could count on you in a pinch. We’ve got us a long winter ahead, and if we make it through to spring will depend on us relying and trusting in one another. Just remember we’re equal partners for good or bad. You may be following my lead now, but before this is all over, you’ll pull my bacon out of the fire more than once. Now come with me, we’ve got to buy us a couple of guns if we want fresh meat this winter.” As I said, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Later that day, after we had bought us two rifles and enough ammunition to start a small war, the flour, bacon and beans, and some dried fruit to ward off scurvy, we were sitting in our hotel room tying up our outfit into manageable lots that could be carried on our backs when Sam said, “It’s gonna be a long hike tomorrow, so I think we should go downstairs for a drink or two. And anyway, we’re gonna need a couple of bottles to get us through the winter.” A couple of bottles to get us through the winter. The way Sam drank, a couple of bottles wouldn’t get us through the first day!

We were billeted in Soapy Smith’s place, a saloon with a few rooms over it. It was called The Dead Horse Saloon. We went downstairs and took up our usual stance—feet on the rail, elbows on the bar. We were both in a contemplative mood, thinking about tomorrow’s trek, so there wasn’t much talk between us. Instead, I looked around the room until my gaze fell upon a familiar sight. Over in the corner behind the bar was a boy cleaning spittoons. His back was to me and he looked as I must have looked when I was cleaning spittoons, except he wore a rag on his head. Seeing as how I was on my third shot, I thought I’d go over and discuss the finer points of cuspidor polishing.

Taking my glass with me, I walked down to that end of the bar and asked, “Need some help?” thinking I was being funny. Well, I got the shock of my life when he turned around because he wasn’t a he, he was a she! Wearing boy’s clothes and with her hair hidden by the dust rag, it was hard to tell from the back, but when she turned to me, I saw the most beautiful girl in the world, at least to me. And that was in spite of the black smudge on her nose. She was my age, maybe a year or two younger. Then she looked up to me from her kneeling position and answered, “Yes, if you don’t mind, I could use some help. I have a cotillion to go to.”

I didn’t know what to make of that. But then she smiled, and I fell in love.

I started to say something, but she cut me off. “Please, Mr. Smith will be angry if you distract me from my work.”

My thought at the moment was “Damn Mr. Smith,” but instead of giving voice to the thought, I said, “Can we talk when you’re finished? I used to do the same thing.”

That was a stupid thing to say. But I wanted to get to know this goddess of the spittoons. And if I could have thought of something more intelligent to say, I assure you I would have done so.

“It’s not my habit to mix with Mr. Smith’s clientele.”

“The hell with Mr. Smith! I want to talk to you, but I’m leaving for the Yukon tomorrow at first light, so it has to be tonight. Now, tell me what time I can meet you and where.”

She smiled and said, “Such a forceful gentleman. How can a girl refuse such a gallant offer?” Returning to her duties and with her back to me, she continued in a soft voice, “I’ll be out back in an hour eating my supper. If you happen by, maybe I’ll deign to speak with you.” She laughed and I fell in love all over again.

When I was back standing next to Sam, I realized that I had neglected to ask the goddess her name. But no matter, I was going to see her in an hour. Sam said he was gonna play a little poker and that he would see me up in the room later. I thought of reminding him of the seventy-mile walk we were going to take the next day, but then thought better of it and held my tongue. I poured myself another shot (Sam always had the barkeep leave the bottle) and waited for an hour to drag by.

Somehow the hour did pass. I took myself outside and walked around to the back. There she was, sitting on a box with a plate on her lap and a fork in her hand. She had taken off the dust rag and her hair, now that I could see it, was long and dark. It was black as the ace of spades and her blue eyes sparkled that much more because of it.

I walked up to her and asked what name she went by. “My name is Jenny Bligh, what do they call you?”

“I’m George Pratt and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jenny Bligh.”

She told me I made her nervous standing over her and for me to grab a box and sit down. Which I did. She didn’t have much time, but in the time she did have, I learned her story; in some respects, it was very similar to mine.

She had come to Alaska with her father about a year ago. Her mother had run off with a notions drummer a few years earlier, and her father, a sharecropper, believed it was because of the hardscrabble life they led. So he decided to seek his fortune in the new land that was Alaska. When they hit Skagway, her father left her in the care of Soapy Smith, thinking he was an honorable man; he didn’t want her to go through the hardship of spending a winter in the wild.

As soon as her father left for the Yukon, Soapy started making advances on her. When Jenny rebuffed him, he told her that if she wanted to eat and have a roof over her head, she’d have to work for it. Then he gave her the most menial jobs he could think of, hoping that she would come to him for relief. When I heard that, I thought of going up to the room and getting my new gun and confronting Mister Soapy Smith. But I didn’t, I stayed to hear the rest of her story.

About six months earlier, a trapper had come into town with word that he had found a man frozen to death a couple of hundred miles up the Yukon. Seems he had fallen through the ice up to his waist and had frozen solid before he could get out of the water. (At seventy below, your spit freezes before it can hit the ground.) The trapper said the man looked like a statue with his arms reaching out in an eternal effort to extricate himself from the ice.

He went through the man’s kit looking for things of value and came across a picture of Jenny. One day, while in The Dead Horse telling his story and showing the picture to his drinking companions, Jenny walked in. He recognized her right away, and that is how Jenny learned of her father’s fate. Well, she had no one, and no place to go, so she stayed working for Smith. She told me it was either that or become a lady of the night.

I shouted, “No! Don’t even think that.” That’s when she told me she had to go back to work and stood, preparing to go inside.

I couldn’t let her go without saying something—something to give her hope and something to save her for me. It took all the courage I had in me, but I blurted out, “Jenny, I love you and I’m going to be rich … no, don’t say anything, let me finish. I want to marry you, and I promise I’ll give you the life of a fine lady. But I’ll understand if you can’t wait, I’ve cleaned enough spittoons in my day to know what you’re going through. Tomorrow, me and my partner head north and we’ll be back and forth for the next few days while we get our outfit to Lake Bennett. But after that, I’ll be gone until the ice melts in the spring. When it does, I’ll come to you and take you far from this accursed town.” Without another word, I turned and left her standing there, with her fork and plate in one hand and a smile on her face.

The next day, Sam and I set out for Lake Bennett with one-hundred-pound packs on our backs. I only got a mile before I had to stop and rest. Sam didn’t notice I wasn’t right behind him and kept walking, and I was too tired and winded to call out after him. He probably went fifty yards before he noticed my absence. Turning back in my direction, he yelled, “I know it’s tough, but you’ll get used to it. Rest awhile, and I’ll come back to give you a hand after I drop this pack up the trail a bit.”

Well, that was about the only thing in the world that could have gotten me to my feet. I was going to carry my own weight even if it killed me. After that, I noticed Sam slowed his stride so that I could keep up with him. Because of my slowness, we made only nine miles that day. But, after a good night’s rest and a big breakfast of bacon and beans, I got my second wind and kept up with Sam most of the day. However, I still had to stop numerous times to rest, and every time I did so, Sam stopped with me. Once, I apologized for slowing him down and he said, “Don’t be foolish. I told you we was in no hurry. We got time before the Yukon ices up, and besides, who says I don’t need the rest as much as anybody?” He added, “You’ll get the hang of it. I think by the time we’re haulin’ our third load, you’ll be waiting for me to catch up with you.”

When I heard “third load,” I groaned to myself, adjusted the pack straps (they were cutting into my shoulders), stood and said, “Let’s go. I can’t wait for that third load!” Around four o’clock that afternoon I started to flag. At that point, Sam said we should stop for the night because he reckoned White Pass was right up ahead and it would be best to traverse it when we were fresh.

The next morning at the pass, we had to walk over sharp rocks that tore our boots, and there were mud holes to be avoided if we didn’t want to be swallowed up whole. And then there was the place where the trail was only two feet wide with a five hundred foot drop-off if we weren’t careful. The whole way across the pass, all I could do was think of Jenny Bligh.

It took us the better part of three days to get to the lake, and by then the sun was going down. We weren’t about to go back over White Pass in the dark, so we made camp and spent the night where we were. We didn’t bother to put up the tent because we didn’t want to undo our outfit; we had it bundled to cache, so we laid out two blankets and tried to sleep. I say “tried” because the damn mosquitoes would not leave us alone. When I was back in San Francisco, I never thought of mosquitoes, but in Alaska, in the summer, that is all that occupies your mind. And the mosquitoes up there, like the land itself, are big.

Without the packs on our backs, we made it back to Skagway in ten hours. And the first thing I did was search out Jenny. She wasn’t working in the saloon, but the barkeep told me she had a small room off the kitchen and told me how to find it.

I knocked on her door and when she opened it, I was happy that she smiled when she saw me. I wanted to rush in and kiss her; however, I refrained from doing so. I started to walk in, but she said, “It would not be proper for you to be in my room. Why don’t we go for a walk?”

While I was hiking the trail, I’d thought of all the things I would tell her when I got back to Skagway, but now my tongue was tied and I couldn’t utter a word. We walked in silence until Jenny said, “How was the trek? And what did you think of White Pass? I’ve overheard many stories about men and animals that died trying to cross it.”

“White Pass wasn’t so bad. What was bad were the damn mosquitoes. Oh, I’m sorry. I reckon I’m not proper company for a fine lady like yourself. I never should have used that word to describe the mosquitoes.”

She gave me a queer look and then tilted her head back and laughed. “I’ve heard worse from my father, and I hear much worse every night in the saloon.”

That tore it! I took her by the hand and said, “Come with me.” We were on Broadway Street and I marched her up to a boarding house I’d noticed when we hit town. Right inside we went and I asked for the lady who ran the place. Shortly, an elderly woman emerged from upstairs and asked what we wanted.

Releasing Jenny’s hand I said, “This girl will be boarding with you until spring and I will pay her board in advance.”

The lady was stout and had a kind face. She looked from me to Jenny and then back to me and smiled. “You’re lucky, I’ve got a room, but even if I didn’t, I’d find a place for her. I know young love when I see it.” Both Jenny and I blushed.

Jenny looked at me and said, “I can take care of myself … and I don’t need a man to pay my way.”

“Sure you can take care of yourself, but you’re going to be my wife and no future wife of mine is going to clean spittoons if I’ve got anything to say about it!”

The lady, whose named was Mrs. Bellew, said she’d show us the room. After seeing it, and thinking it suitable for Jenny, I paid eight months board which covered Jenny until May. By then, I expected to be back in Skagway a rich man. On the way out, I told Mrs. Bellew that Jenny would be glad to help out around the house so as to keep busy. To her credit, Jenny said she’d be more than happy to pitch in.

On the way back to The Dead Horse, Jenny had a pensive look on her face and said not a word. It kind of made me uncomfortable, so I had to ask. “Is it because I didn’t propose properly? Or is it you don’t want to marry me?”

She suddenly stopped walking and turned to me.

“George, I am honored and humbled that you want me for your wife. I can think of nothing finer than being married to you. And I promise I’ll make you a good wife, rich or poor. I know I can’t stop you from seeking your fortune, but I want you to know I’d love you if we both had to clean spittoons until our dotage.”

“Excuse me. Did you just say that you loved me?”

“Of course I did. You don’t think I’d marry a man I didn’t love?”

“Then why the gloomy look?”

“Well, it’s just that I don’t know how Mr. Smith is going to take my leaving.”

I took a moment before I said, “Leave Mr. Smith to me. He won’t give you any trouble.” We then continued on our way to The Dead Horse. When we reached her room, I told her to pack her things and go get settled in at Mrs. Bellew’s, and that I would meet her there presently.

I still had a few dollars in my poke, so I set out to buy myself a pistol. For what I had in mind, a rifle wouldn’t do. I have never handled a gun before, pistol or rifle. But I figured they couldn’t be that hard to operate. I’d seen many a shooting on the Coast. Besides, if I did things right, I wouldn’t have to pull the trigger.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to leave The Dead Horse to find what I was after. Some old sourdough who didn’t have much luck at the roulette wheel was going from person to person trying to sell an old Colt .45. When he approached me, I asked him if it was loaded. In way of an answer, he spun the chambers to show me that five of them contained bullets. The chamber under the hammer was kept empty for safety reasons. We concluded our business and he returned to the roulette table. I went in search of Mr. Soapy Smith.

I found Smith across the street at the Elkhorn Saloon and Dance Hall. He was speaking with two gentlemen and when I asked if I might speak with him alone about a business matter, he smiled and winked at the men (I wasn’t supposed to see the wink) and said he’d speak with me outside.

When we were standing on the boardwalk, I told him it was too public a place and suggested that the adjacent alleyway would be better suited to discuss our business. Of course, he readily agreed. After all, to him I was a greenhorn sucker just ripe for the picking.

As soon as we were in the alley, I whipped out the revolver and stuck it up under his chin and said, “Miss Jenny Bligh has left your employ. If you see her walking down the street, you cross to the other side. You say nothing to her. I’m leaving town for a while and when I come back, if I hear that you’ve been within one hundred feet of her, I’ll kill you. Do you understand?”

He was a little man, he barely came up to my chin, and he was shaking pretty bad about then, but when he didn’t answer me right away, I shoved the barrel of the gun deeper into his flesh and said, “Maybe I’ll just kill you now, it’ll save me the trouble of having to do it later.”

Then he found his voice. “No! Please! If I see her coming I’ll run the other way. You won’t have no trouble from me.”

“I don’t mind trouble from you, but she better not have any. And if she is suffering from even a cold or a hangnail when I return, I’ll think it was your doing and I’ll kill you slow. Got it?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good. Now get out outta my sight while you’re still vertical.”

That, I hoped, took care of Soapy Smith. I went to see Jenny to make sure she was settled in. I told her I had to catch some shuteye—we were leaving in the morning for a return trip to Lake Bennett and that I would see her when Sam and I came back for our last load. Kissing her on the cheek, I left her standing at the door of her new digs.

Sam and I got an early start the next morning. My pack was not so formidable this go-round; I think the thought of Jenny helped. Sam noticed something in my manner and asked, “Where were you last night? You got in pretty late; I thought you’d be all tuckered out after the last three days.”

I wasn’t about to tell anyone about Jenny just yet. I wanted to keep her to myself for the time being. So I said, “I went out to buy me a pistol, thought we might need it.”

Sam rejoined with a wink and a smile, “Yeah, I see it sticking in your belt. But you were gone an awful long time just to buy a gun.”

We made Lake Bennett in less than two days this time. After a short rest, we headed back and made Skagway in under fifteen hours. We would have made it in less time but, at White Pass, we had to wait for daylight.

Sam wanted to grab our kits and start off right away. But I tried to entice him into staying overnight, telling him we should get rip-roarin’ drunk because it would be our last chance for quite a while. Of course, I only wanted to stay over to be with Jenny, but I felt I couldn’t tell Sam that.

Sam surprised me by saying, “Why don’t I get rip-roarin’ drunk and you go and see Jenny.” How he knew, I’ll never know, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Never keep anything from your partner.

I ran to the bath house and paid my twenty-five cents for the use of some bath water that had only been used once. Then I went to see my Jenny. We had dinner at the Elkhorn and we talked of things to come. When I left her, I gave her all that was left in my poke, about ninety dollars, and told her I’d see her in the spring. Before I turned to go, she kissed me on the mouth. That kiss kept me going through some mighty dark days; I can sure tell you that.

This time we made Lake Bennett in under twenty-four hours. We then proceeded to make our boat.

A whip saw is also called a pit saw because when you’re planking lumber, a pit is dug and the log is rolled over it. One man is in the pit and one man stands on top. The saw cuts only one way, downward. The man in the pit pulls the saw toward himself and the man on top pulls it back up. Because the man in the pit gets sawdust in his eyes and mouth, Sam and I alternated positions every half hour.

It took us a week to build the boat. She was twenty-two feet long and had a beam of six feet. She was sturdy and would hold us and our outfit with a little room to spare. When we finished filling the seams with pitch that we had boiled out of spruce gum, Sam said, “She’s a fine vessel and she ought to have a name that befits her. What do you think, George? Would you like to proffer a name?”

“Jenny,” I said without hesitation.

“Sounds good, George, then Jenny it is. The good ship Jenny. May God protect her … and all those that sail on her.” Then he took a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and unfolded it onto the bottom of the boat.

“Come around here,” said Sam.

When I got to his side of the boat, I looked down and saw a hand-drawn map. “Whatcha got there, Sam?”

“It’s a map of where we’re going. I had an old-timer draw it for me last night while you were … um … busy. Now see here,” he said pointing to a spot on the map, “this is where we’re at. When we leave the lake, we’ll be on the Yukon River, which will take us northwest and get us above those previous strikes. This other line is the Klondike River, and this spot here where the two rivers meet is Dawson City. It’s a small burg. Maybe two hundred people, but it’s the closest civilization to where we’ll be, and it’s where we’ll have to go to file our claims when we hit pay dirt.”

He went on. “See where the two X’s are along the river? Well, those are the two rapids we have to traverse. The old-timer said if the first one didn’t kill us, the second one was sure to do the job. The first rapids go through a place called Miles Canyon, and the second place is called White Horse Rapids.”

Seeing the quizzical look on my face, he asked, “What’s the matter? The rapids got you spooked?”

“No, it’s not that. I was just wondering if the old-timer was maybe pulling your leg when he told you about the rapids. Maybe they’re not so bad.”

Sam was thoughtful for a moment, then he said, “I don’t know how rough they’ll be, but I did ask him if anyone ever made it through, and he said sure, but more didn’t make it than did. So I figure if a man can ride those damn rapids without being smashed up and drowned, then we’re just the two fellas to do it. Now give me a hand turning this boat right side up. Let’s get her loaded and get going.”

After we got her into the water, we loaded our outfit, and with me at the front, Sam pushed us out into the lake and climbed in. We had made two crude oars, and now we used them to send us north to the Yukon River. Once on the Yukon, we flowed north at about six miles an hour. We only used the oars to avoid the numerous sandbars that dotted the river.

On the sixth day, we heard rushing water up ahead. The sound was so fierce that we paddled to the north shore, left the boat tied to a tree, and walked until we came to Miles Canyon.

I was astonished at the site before us. The river funneled into a narrow gorge, which accelerated the force of the water considerably. The precipitous walls went up to the sky and there was no shore upon which to land if things went wrong. The rapids themselves were the devil incarnate; no boat could make that passage.

“Sam,” said I, “I sure don’t look forward to packing our outfit the rest of the way, but I can’t see how we can get through there in one piece.”

Sam didn’t answer me right away. He stood there looking at the raging water like he was studying it, which made me nervous. Finally, he turned to me and said, “Let’s make camp and give this some thought.”

“What’s there to think about? If we go into that canyon, we’ll be smashed into one of those rock walls.”

“Just the same, George, let’s make camp. I want to study the situation.”

I shrugged my shoulders and started for the boat, but got only a few steps when I noticed Sam was still standing there as though mesmerized. Leaving him as he was, I went and fetched the boat, walking her to a place just before the river picked up speed.

I figured Sam was still entranced with the rapids, so I set up camp by myself. When I finished and Sam still didn’t show, I went looking for him. He wasn’t where I had left him, so I shouted his name. Then I realized I was being foolish. He couldn’t hear me over the water’s roar unless he was standing right next to me. Shrugging my shoulders once again, I went back to camp and built a fire. The coffee was just about ready when Sam walked up.

“Where you been, partner? I couldn’t find you.”

“I went up to the rim of the canyon to get a good look-see at the whole shebang. And I’ll tell you something, George; I think we can make it. That coffee smells good, how about a cup?”

After I poured the coffee, I asked Sam to explain himself.

“I was up above it, and I watched the flow of the river. Of course, we have to stay dead center, but I think we can do it if we use one of the oars as a rudder. We can attach it to the back, and one of us will steer and the other one will be at the front to fend us off if we get too close to one of the walls.”

As he finished speaking, I slowly shook my head from side to side and said, “Sam McCord, if you ain’t the livin’ end. But you’re my partner and I’ll be proud to go down those rapids with you, even though I don’t think we have a chance in hell.” Sam smiled and told me we should eat something because, if he was going to drown, he wanted to do it on a full stomach.

Two hours later, we had eaten and readied our rudder. Because Sam was bigger, he would steer. It would take a lot of strength to hold the swing arm in that churning water. I would be at the front, ready and waiting if needed. We still had a few hours of daylight left, so we decided to go for broke before sanity reasserted itself and we scrapped the whole thing.

I walked the boat out until I was waist deep. Saying a silent prayer, I pushed off and climbed on board. Sam was letting the current take us to mid-stream. I was shaking—maybe because I was wet from the cold water or maybe I was just plain scared, I know not which. But tremble I did. And I felt that old wind I’d been running against all my life start blowing again—gale force—directly into my face.

The speed of the water picked up as Sam steered us right for the middle of the funnel. As we neared the mouth of the gorge, the boat started rocking to and forth and it got dark. The sun was too low to shed light over those high cliffs. In twilight, we entered Miles Canyon and sped to what I was sure would be our doom.

When we entered the gorge I was standing, but within seconds, I found myself sitting on my backside, thrown there by the turbulence of the river. I tried standing, but could not gain purchase and stayed down on my knees, one hand holding the oar and the other gripping the side of the boat. I was holding on for dear life. Just then the boat dipped into the water and I thought we were going straight down, but then she rebounded and flew into the air. Of course, I was now thoroughly drenched. I hazarded a look back at Sam and he was standing, legs spread, working the rudder for all he was worth. There was no use in trying to converse with him, the roar of the water precluded all conversation.

I turned back just in time to see the front of the boat falling into a valley of water, we—the front of the boat and I—went under, and if I hadn’t had a firm grip, I’d have been gone for sure. When she came back out of the water, she turned and we were heading sideways. In fear, I looked to Sam who was swinging the rudder in a futile attempt to get us straightened out. Then we hit another valley with the resultant mayhem, and swung in a half circle. We were now heading at an alarming rate of speed for the south rock wall!

There was nothing Sam could do, and I knew we had breathed our last, but I wanted to go down fighting. Somehow I had managed to hold on to the oar through the tempest. I stood, feet apart, and watched that damn wall of rock rush right at me. At the last moment, when the boat was less than three feet from destruction, I extended the oar and pushed off from the wall. The oar cracked in half, but my effort was enough to get us caught in another current that pulled us away from the rock and brought us to the middle of the torrent once again.

By now we were pointed in the right direction and I chanced a look back at Sam. He stood there soaking wet—he had a big smile on his face. He waved to me and started working the rudder. When we were in calm waters, Sam steered us to the bank, jumped off, and pushed us onto the shore, wedging the boat on sand.

We looked like two drowned rats, but drowned rats with big smiles on their faces … and alive! I started to get off the boat, but Sam said to wait a minute. He got back on and headed for his pack. As he undid the ties, he said, “I don’t know about you, partner, but I could sure use a drink.”

Shaking the water from my hair, I replied, “You and me both, Sam!”

We two thoroughly-wet prospectors got ourselves absolutely inebriated. We finished off the bottle around sunset, and rather than make camp, we got out our blankets and covered ourselves in a futile attempt to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I don’t know about Sam, but I slept the sleep of The Just lying on the wooden and wet floor of the good ship Jenny.

We decided not to replace the oar we lost the previous day. Instead, we made ourselves a full swing arm and attached it to the back our boat. It would be easier to keep Jenny in the middle of the river that way.

We neared White Horse two days later, as the sun was hitting the western horizon. This time we decided to just keep going. We figured we’d either sleep in our tent that night or on the bottom of the fast moving and cold Yukon River.

They call it White Horse for a reason. The rapids also funnel like Miles Canyon, but there are no rock walls. Instead there are large boulders on both sides that drive the water to the center. And in the center are more boulders that agitate the water into a white froth. That is the white mane of the horse. And if we were to traverse White Horse Rapids, we would have to ride his mane or be smashed against the rocks.

We entered White Horse on an even keel. Sam and me were at the back, holding on to the swing arm. It would take the two of us to keep her steered right. But right away things went wrong. Try as we might, we could not steer her where we wanted to go. Within seconds of hitting the mane, we were sideways and heading for the biggest boulder I think I ever did see. We bounced off it with only a minor hole in the side. But it was all right, it was above the water line. By then, Sam and I knew there would be no controlling her. We still held on to the swing arm, but only to keep from being pitched into the water. Then we were sucked into a swirling whirlpool between two groups of boulders. We circled it twice and somehow managed to steer out of it and back onto the mane on the third go-round. And by the grace of God we hit no more boulders. Before we knew it, we were out of the maelstrom and gently floating backwards up the Yukon. I turned to Sam and said, “You’re looking at a mighty lucky man. For a while there, I thought I’d never see my Jenny again.”

“George, we’re both just plumb lucky sons-of-bitches. White Horse aged me years. Now, let’s try to get this tub turned around and make for shore. This ought to be our last night before we hit Dawson.” Sam wasn’t that far off. It was just before dark of the second day that we came to the bend in the river that showed us Dawson City.

We edged the boat onto the shore, made sure she was secure, and retrieved a change of clothes out of our kits. We were wet up to our waists. We went up the incline and headed for town.

The first establishment we came to was the Red Dog Saloon. Without hesitation we went inside. Sam ordered a bottle of rye from the barkeep and asked for the use of a room where we could change our clothes.

“Privy’s out back,” said the barkeep in a truculent manner.

Sam looked at the man with a strange countenance, and for a moment I thought we’d have some trouble. But Sam eventually smiled and said, “Thanks, friend.” To me he said, “You go and get into some dry clothes. I want to sample this here rye first.”

By the time I returned, Sam had put a dent in the bottle and was in a more congenial frame of mind. I told him that the privy was his anytime he wanted it, but Sam was happy imbibing his whiskey. He said that standing next to the stove had dried him out considerably.

“Well, partner, the first leg of our adventure is over. Now all we’ve gotta do is find that mountain of gold,” said Sam as he hoisted his glass. At that moment, all I could think of was food, but because my poke was empty, I didn’t say anything.

After my second shot, and feeling ashamed, I said to Sam, “My poke’s empty and I can’t pay my share. I should have said something before, but I wanted a drink as much as you.”

Sam looked at me with a queer look. Shook his head and said, “George, you are my partner and I am your partner. That leagues us. I’ve still got my winnings from San Francisco plus the stake I started out with. After we hit the bonanza, if you feel so inclined, then we’ll settle up. Hell, just so we don’t have this conversation again, take this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. Separating them in half, he flung down a stack and said, “Now, until we’re millionaires or until I see you in perdition, let’s never mention money again!”

I stood there flummoxed. I didn’t make a move toward the bills. Sam, with an exasperated look, picked up the money and shoved it in my shirt pocket, saying, “If I hear one more word from you, partner or no partner, I’ll …” He trailed off, smiled at me, and said we should get something to eat, that as long as we were in civilization, we might as well enjoy ourselves because it was going to be a long winter.

Two things took place at that moment. The first was that I knew if the time ever came, I would gladly give my life for Sam McCord. The other was, I turned to the barkeep and asked for two steaks and all the fixin’s.

“All we got are caribou steaks.”

“A steak is a steak.”

He nodded and padded off towards the kitchen.

Sam wasn’t in an eating mood. He sat at the table with his steak before him, but the bottle held his attention, not the food. Looking about the room, he observed the clientele was rather sparse. I hadn’t noticed, but he was right, the place was downright empty. The gaming tables were shut down, and besides us, there were only three other patrons in the joint.

Sam observed, “It’s dark out now, you’d think some of the people in this one-horse town would be flocking in for the gay nightlife.”

He was being sarcastic … but still … where were the people?

Just then the door flew open and an old-timer came in along with a good portion of frigid air. To no one in particular, he stated, “It’s gonna snow tonight, I can feel it in my bones. It’s getting mighty cold out there.” After his pronouncement, he shuffled to the bar and ordered a whiskey.

The barkeep, while wiping a glass, gave him some words instead. “You know the boss said no more credit until your bill’s paid. Sorry, White Water.”

Sam and I overheard the exchange and Sam winked at me before calling out, “Hey, White Water, join us for a drink?”

At the mention of his name, the man turned and squinted in our direction. “You speaking to me?”

“I sure am, if your name’s White Water,” responded Sam.

The man came over to our table, stuck out his hand to Sam, and said, “I don’t reckon I know you, but the name’s Buford Cage. I’m called White Water because I was the first white man to go through Miles Canyon and the White Horse. Leastwise, the first to go through and come out in one piece.”

Sam shook his hand, and pointing in my direction, he said, “My partner, George Pratt. We’ve just come up the Yukon and did the rapids ourselves.”

White Water took a seat at our table, after asking the barkeep for a glass.

We talked around things for a while until we got down to brass tacks. Sam started things off by asking White Water where he’d go if he were looking for gold. White Water threw back his head and let out with a prodigious laugh. When the laughing had subsided a bit, he said, “I knew you boys were shave tails and new in town, but ain’t you heard?”

“Heard what?” I wanted to know.

Looking aggrieved, White Water said, “The find on Rabbit Creek. That’s why the town is empty. All them fools are out chasing I don’t know what. A month ago, when George Cormack come in with a nugget as big as his thumb and filed a claim, this town was as hot as a whorehouse on nickel night.”

Of course, we wanted to know where Rabbit Creek was located and duly asked.

While pouring himself a healthy shot, White Water said. “I’d let it slide, gents. George Cormack is also known as ‘Lying George.’ I put no stock in anything he says. But I cain’t say the same for the rest of the fools in this here town.”

Now, here is something I didn’t know at the time, but learned of later. On the 16th of August, the very day I met Sam McCord, three men—George Cormack, Skookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie—were out salmon fishing and wandered down creek to a claim held by a man by the name of Henderson. Henderson, not liking strangers, and especially Indian strangers (Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie were Chilkoot Indians), told the interlopers that they were not welcomed and for them to vamoose. The three went down a little ways and crossed over to another creek, Rabbit Creek, and set up camp. While washing out a dinner pan, one of them (the history is a little cloudy as to who) found the thumb-sized nugget, thus setting off the last, and some say the greatest, gold rush in history, the Klondike Gold Rush. However, the rush would not start for almost a year. It would take that long for word to reach the outside world. And here were Jim and me, at the right place, and at the right time. That old wind was now pushing me from behind something fierce!

So, where was I? Oh yes. White Water was just telling us that there “weren’t no gold in the Klondike.” But Sam and I knew better. How we knew I can’t rightly say, but we were there to find our fortunes … me for Jenny, Sam for his own reasons.

After pouring a shot into White Water’s glass, Sam drew the map from his pocket and spread it out on the table. “Maybe you’re right, and there ain’t no gold, but why don’t you show us where Rabbit Creek is situated anyway?”

White Water took a pull from his glass and said, “So, you’re going to Rabbit Creek no matter what a geezer like me says?”

“No,” answered Sam, “we want to know where not to go.”

Looking down at the map, White Water said, “Your map ain’t much on detail, but Rabbit Creek is right about here.” His finger lay between the Yukon and Klondike Rivers.

Looking over to me, Sam said, “We’re goin’ north, north of that place—too many people to suit me. Is that alright with you, partner?”

“Whatever you say, partner.”

“I’ve been thinking,” interjected White Water, “there was this one geezer, oh about ten years back. Ed … Ed something was his name. Now let me think a minute. Collins! That’s it, Ed Collins! Well, he would come to town every spring with a bag full of nuggets. No dust for him, nuggets only. And the strange thing was that he never filed a claim. He said he just picked them up while crossing streams and creeks. Most folks didn’t believe him, and some tried to follow him when he headed out at the end of summer. But they got nowhere. Old Ed was a crafty one. He’d just wander north and south, east and west, until the last of the followers gave up and came back to Dawson. Then we wouldn’t see hide nor hair of him until spring. And then one spring he didn’t show at all. Never did find out what happened to him.”

At this point in his narrative, White Water halted to pour himself another shot. After making short work of it, he continued, “The reason I mention it is that we all thought his stompin’ grounds was up in the neck of the woods you gents are headin’.” Sam and I looked at each other, but said nothing.

By now the bottle was down to its dregs, but there were still things to find out and questions to be asked. One of the things I wanted to know was how the hell we were going to get our outfit twenty or fifty miles out of Dawson. Were we going to have to do it in stages like we did at Skagway?

White Water came through with an answer: “You can git some Indians to do your haulin’ for you. That’s what the ones without horses or mules did when they all skedaddled up to Rabbit Creek. The Indians charge by the pound and the mile. Each one can pack a hundred pounds like you and me can carry a whiskey bottle. Damndest thing I ever saw.”

Now there was only one question left to be asked, and Sam did the honors. “Tell me,” said Sam, “how did this town get built? I mean the liquor we’re drinking, that piano over there, they didn’t come down the Yukon and through the rapids.”

As always, White Water had a ready answer. “No, they didn’t. They came up the Yukon.” He went on to explain that the Yukon empties into the sea. And every spring when the ice melts, a steamer comes up river. And then, during the length of the summer, two or three others will call.

We thanked White Water for his information, left The Red Dog, and headed for our boat. White Water had been right, it was snowing. On the way down, I asked Sam why he was interested in how Dawson got built. “Because we’re going to need a way to transport our gold once we find it. Gold’s heavy. Maybe we can get some Indians to haul it to Dawson, but getting it back to the states is another matter.”

Of course, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I was mighty pleased I had Big Sam McCord as my partner.

We figured if we were going to spend a winter in the Klondike where the temperature can go down to seventy below (that’s one hundred and two degrees below freezing!) it wouldn’t hurt us none to spend the night on our boat. After all, it was only a brisk twenty-nine degrees when we left The Red Dog. So we slept huddled in our sleeping skins that night, the night of our first snow.

The next morning, we got going before daylight and went looking for Indians to haul our outfit. After a few hours of asking around, we came across a Tutchone Indian by the name of Kaska Pete. He told us he could round up some of his relations and get us to where we wanted to go, but first of all he wanted to see our outfit.

When we got to the boat, he poked into our bundles and hefted a few. Finally he said, “Twenty cents a pound and twenty cents a mile for me. For the others, you pay them seventeen cents and three cents to me. We will need five more men. Do we leave from here?”

We told him we were taking the boat to where the Klondike and Yukon meet, but we didn’t know how long it would take to get there.

“It will take you one sleep (day). You will be there this time on the morrow. How you pay, in gold or paper?”

Sam answered for the both of us, “Paper.”

Pete nodded his acceptance and departed.

Seeing as how we hadn’t eaten anything yet, and it was getting on to noon, we went back to town and had a big, fine meal and then set out to find our fortunes.

We floated northwest until just before dark. It was still cold, but it had not snowed again, and being played out, we slept on the boat rather than set up a camp.

The Indians were waiting for us the next day right at the bend in the Yukon where it meets the Klondike. Pete didn’t bother to introduce us to the other Indians. He told us that they did not speak our language. Instead, he barked out orders and the men got to work off-loading our gear. As they did so, Pete asked where we intended to go.

“Northwest of here,” said Sam.

“How far?” asked Pete.

“I don’t rightly know,” said Sam, “but I’ll know when we get there.”

Pete shrugged and hefted his pack. Sam and I did likewise, and with Sam leading the way, with me right behind, we set out.

For three days we traveled to the north and west. At night it was cold—it was now the middle of October—but the mosquitoes were no more, so the chilly weather was welcomed. At mid-day of the third day, we came to the base of a mountain and Sam said, “This is the place.”

I wanted to ask him why this particular locale, but we had to pay off the Indians and send them on their way. After they had departed, I asked Sam, “Why here?” He didn’t answer me right away. He said we had to set up camp, but later, around the fire that night, he opened up. He told me of his wife and how she had died; that they had no children and how he was at loose ends. Then about a year after his wife died, he had a dream.

“You know how dreams are, George. At first I didn’t pay it no mind. But I couldn’t get it out of my head and it bothered me. Then I had the same dream a second time. In the dream I went to San Francisco, met a man, and he and I went to Alaska and found a mountain of gold. The mountain in my dream was this one,” he said, pointing to the mountain before us.

“How’d you know to come to this place?”

“Something in my head said just keep going northwest. I told you what you wanted to know, but now I think we ought to turn in. Tomorrow we start the search.”

I thought it was crazy to go through all we had gone through just because of a dream, but I was happy to be out of San Francisco. I was also happy to have met Sam McCord and become his partner. I fell asleep that night looking at the blue-green northern lights dance across the Alaskan sky.

There were three small creeks in the vicinity of where we were camped. The next morning, after a breakfast of bacon and pan biscuits, we went panning for gold. Panning is cold, wet work. Your legs hurt, your arms and shoulders ache, your neck throbs; but all that is forgotten when you see that yellow sand at the bottom of your pan.

Sam wanted to try all three creeks even though we were gathering dust with every panful of gravel at the first creek. After half an