| SMOKE BELLEW, by Jack london.
Kit Bellew landed through the madness of the Dyea beach, congested
with thousand-pound outfits of thousands of men. This immense mass
of luggage and food, flung ashore in mountains by the steamers, was
beginning slowly to dribble up the Dyea Valley and across Chilkoot.
It was a portage of twenty-eight miles, and could be accomplished
only on the backs of men. Despite the fact that the Indian packers
had jumped the freight from eight cents a pound to forty, they were
swamped with the work, and it was plain that winter would catch the
major portion of the outfits on the wrong side of the divide.
Tenderest of the tenderfeet was Kit. Like many hundreds of others
he carried a big revolver swung on a cartridge-belt. Of this, his
uncle, filled with memories of old lawless days, was likewise
guilty. But Kit Bellew was romantic. He was fascinated by the
froth and sparkle of the gold rush, and viewed its life and movement
with an artist's eye. He did not take it seriously. As he said on
the steamer, it was not his funeral. He was merely on a vacation,
and intended to peep over the top of the pass for a "look see" and
then to return.
Leaving his party on the sand to wait for the putting ashore of the
freight, he strolled up the beach toward the old trading-post. He
did not swagger, though he noticed that many of the be-revolvered
individuals did. A strapping, six-foot Indian passed him, carrying
an unusually large pack. Kit swung in behind, admiring the splendid
calves of the man, and the grace and ease with which he moved along
under his burden. The Indian dropped his pack on the scales in
front of the post, and Kit joined the group of admiring gold-rushers
who surrounded him. The pack weighed one hundred and twenty-five
pounds, which fact was uttered back and forth in tones of awe. It
was going some, Kit decided, and he wondered if he could lift such a
weight, much less walk off with it.
"Going to Lake Linderman with it, old man?" he asked.
The Indian, swelling with pride, grunted an affirmative.
"How much you make that one pack?"
Here Kit slid out of the conversation. A young woman, standing in
the doorway, had caught his eye. Unlike other women landing from
the steamers, she was neither short-skirted nor bloomer-clad. She
was dressed as any woman travelling anywhere would be dressed.
What struck him was the justness of her being there, a feeling that
somehow she belonged. Moreover, she was young and pretty. The
bright beauty and colour of her oval face held him, and he looked
over-long--looked till she resented, and her own eyes, long-lashed
and dark, met his in cool survey.
From his face they travelled in evident amusement down to the big
revolver at his thigh. Then her eyes came back to his, and in them
was amused contempt. It struck him like a blow. She turned to the
man beside her and indicated Kit. The man glanced him over with the
same amused contempt.
"Chechako," the girl said.
The man, who looked like a tramp in his cheap overalls and
dilapidated woollen jacket, grinned dryly, and Kit felt withered,
though he knew not why. But anyway she was an unusually pretty
girl, he decided, as the two moved off. He noted the way of her
walk, and recorded the judgment that he would recognize it over the
lapse of a thousand years.
"Did you see that man with the girl?" Kit's neighbor asked him
excitedly. "Know who he is?"
Kit shook his head.
"Cariboo Charley. He was just pointed out to me. He struck it big
on Klondike. Old-timer. Been on the Yukon a dozen years. He's
just come out."
"What's 'chechako' mean?" Kit asked.
"You're one; I'm one," was the answer.
"Maybe I am, but you've got to search me. What does it mean?"
On his way back to the beach, Kit turned the phrase over and over.
It rankled to be called tenderfoot by a slender chit of a woman.
Going into a corner among the heaps of freight, his mind still
filled with the vision of the Indian with the redoubtable pack, Kit
essayed to learn his own strength. He picked out a sack of flour
which he knew weighed an even hundred pounds. He stepped astride
it, reached down, and strove to get it on his shoulder. His first
conclusion was that one hundred pounds were real heavy. His next
was that his back was weak. His third was an oath, and it occurred
at the end of five futile minutes, when he collapsed on top of the
burden with which he was wrestling. He mopped his forehead, and
across a heap of grub-sacks saw John Bellew gazing at him, wintry
amusement in his eyes.
"God!" proclaimed that apostle of the hard. "Out of our loins has
come a race of weaklings. When I was sixteen I toyed with things
"You forget, avuncular," Kit retorted, "that I wasn't raised on
"And I'll toy with it when I'm sixty."
"You've got to show me."
John Bellew did. He was forty-eight, but he bent over the sack,
applied a tentative, shifting grip that balanced it, and, with a
quick heave, stood erect, the somersaulted sack of flour on his
"Knack, my boy, knack--and a spine."
Kit took off his hat reverently.
"You're a wonder, avuncular, a shining wonder. D'ye think I can
learn the knack?"
John Bellew shrugged his shoulders. "You'll be hitting the back
trail before we get started."
"Never you fear," Kit groaned. "There's O'Hara, the roaring lion,
down there. I'm not going back till I have to."
Kit's first pack was a success. Up to Finnegan's Crossing they had
managed to get Indians to carry the twenty-five-hundred-pound
outfit. From that point their own backs must do the work. They
planned to move forward at the rate of a mile a day. It looked
easy--on paper. Since John Bellew was to stay in camp and do the
cooking, he would be unable to make more than an occasional pack;
so to each of the three young men fell the task of carrying eight
hundred pounds one mile each day. If they made fifty-pound packs,
it meant a daily walk of sixteen miles loaded and of fifteen miles
light--"Because we don't back-trip the last time," Kit explained the
pleasant discovery. Eighty-pound packs meant nineteen miles travel
each day; and hundred-pound packs meant only fifteen miles.
"I don't like walking," said Kit. "Therefore I shall carry one
hundred pounds." He caught the grin of incredulity on his uncle's
face, and added hastily: "Of course I shall work up to it. A
fellow's got to learn the ropes and tricks. I'll start with fifty."
He did, and ambled gaily along the trail. He dropped the sack at
the next camp-site and ambled back. It was easier than he had
thought. But two miles had rubbed off the velvet of his strength
and exposed the underlying softness. His second pack was sixty-five
pounds. It was more difficult, and he no longer ambled. Several
times, following the custom of all packers, he sat down on the
ground, resting the pack behind him on a rock or stump. With the
third pack he became bold. He fastened the straps to a
ninety-five-pound sack of beans and started. At the end of a
hundred yards he felt that he must collapse. He sat down and mopped
"Short hauls and short rests," he muttered. "That's the trick."
Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he
struggled to his feet for another short haul the pack became
undeniably heavier. He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed
from him. Before he had covered a quarter of a mile he stripped off
his woollen shirt and hung it on a tree. A little later he
discarded his hat. At the end of half a mile he decided he was
finished. He had never exerted himself so in his life, and he knew
that he was finished. As he sat and panted, his gaze fell upon the
big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.
"Ten pounds of junk!" he sneered, as he unbuckled it.
He did not bother to hang it on a tree, but flung it into the
underbush. And as the steady tide of packers flowed by him, up
trail and down, he noted that the other tenderfeet were beginning
to shed their shooting-irons.
His short hauls decreased. At times a hundred feet was all he could
stagger, and then the ominous pounding of his heart against his
eardrums and the sickening totteriness of his knees compelled him to
rest. And his rests grew longer. But his mind was busy. It was a
twenty-eight-mile portage, which represented as many days, and this,
by all accounts, was the easiest part of it. "Wait till you get to
Chilkoot," others told him as they rested and talked, "where you
climb with hands and feet."
"They ain't going to be no Chilkoot," was his answer. "Not for me.
Long before that I'll be at peace in my little couch beneath the
A slip and a violent, wrenching effort at recovery frightened him.
He felt that everything inside him had been torn asunder.
"If ever I fall down with this on my back, I'm a goner," he told
"That's nothing," came the answer. "Wait till you hit the Canyon.
You'll have to cross a raging torrent on a sixty-foot pine-tree. No
guide-ropes, nothing, and the water boiling at the sag of the log to
your knees. If you fall with a pack on your back, there's no
getting out of the straps. You just stay there and drown."
"Sounds good to me," he retorted; and out of the depths of his
exhaustion he almost meant it.
"They drown three or four a day there," the man assured him. "I
helped fish a German out of there. He had four thousand in
greenbacks on him."
"Cheerful, I must say," said Kit, battling his way to his feet and
He and the sack of beans became a perambulating tragedy. It
reminded him of the old man of the sea who sat on Sinbad's neck.
And this was one of those intensely masculine vacations, he
meditated. Compared with it, the servitude to O'Hara was sweet.
Again and again he was nearly seduced by the thought of abandoning
the sack of beans in the brush and of sneaking around the camp to
the beach and catching a steamer for civilization.Next chapter |
SMOKE BELLEW, by Jack london. But he didn't. Somewhere in him was the strain of the hard, and he Over the ice-scoured rocks and above the timber-line, the trail ran Kit grinned to himself and went on. This was what he must expect to Next day the gale still blew. Lake Linderman was no more than a Several miles below they ran in to the bank, and all four walked Kit looked at him, and waited. The last night ashore was spent between the mouths of the White When Smoke entered the little cabin on the hillside back of Dawson, Often they thought they had reached the lead, but always they A trail did run up the creek, but so slight was it that they Shorty returned along the creek bed and climbed the bank to them. "I "Are you playing a system?" Smoke asked, at the end of ten minutes, "It's real," Smoke hammered his point home. "Surely." And all the time this fine, wise, Spartan Northland had been here, "Search the other bank first," Smoke urged. "Who was the man you hiked out of camp two weeks ago?" Smoke asked. "I can buy the dogs. But--er--aren't you afraid this is gambling?" Leaping down the bank beyond the glutted passage, he gained the He dropped behind very slowly, though when the last relay station was The valley Smoke was descending gradually widened after the fashion of "Well, here's the gold that will take you to Paris," Smoke assured Holding the few pounds of strain necessary for Smoke with his left Smoke kept himself warm by kicking a channel through the rim with the "They'll sure eat us if we don't. They look hungry enough for it. Cultus George, a big strapping Circle City Indian, leaned distantly "Wait," Smoke commanded. "Tie his hands. We don't want him Quite dark it was when Smoke's snow-shoe tripped him over a body. He Smoke followed him in. "But how was I to know?" "Just trying to remember something, Shorty." "Sure. I know that, too. Slavovitch's restaurant has most of them. "Go on," Smoke requested. "That's fair," Smoke added. "Money back for the bad ones, Wild Water. "It's all right," Smoke said cheerfully. "Keep your shirt on an' let "Did you see his face?" Shorty raved. "He was almost bustin' to keep "Five thousand." "Who are your friends?" Smoke asked. "Where's the stampede?" "An' this is it?" "But there's nothing doing, I tell you," Smoke said sharply. "But suppose I did want to vote twelve hundred shares," Wild Water was Before midday, traveling down a broad stream, past snow-buried willows Smoke could only mumble phrases that were awkwardly reminiscent of his Smoke shook his head. "I am a harsh, cruel man," Snass went on. "Yet the law is the law, Glancing back at McCan, in the rear, Labiskwee spoke in an undertone "There be three suns," McCan muttered hoarsely, reeling as he clung to "It is summer in the lower valleys," said Labiskwee. "Soon it will be
(Friday, 25 September, 2020.)