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CHAPTER XXIII.


GOOD LUCK AND BAD.


As the captain wanted to save every grain of gold in the pan, he washed very carefully, and it was fully five minutes before the last of the sand and dirt was disposed of and they could come to a calculation as to the value of the yellow metal left.

For gold there was, true enough, shining brightly before their eyes—and there was more than this, too, for some of it was of a blackish color. The others could not believe in the value of this until Foster Portney assured them that he had frequently heard of black gold being turned up in the Yukon district.

"Half an ounce at least," was the verdict arrived at by both the captain and Mr. Portney; "and that's eight dollars."

"Then we had better stay, hadn't we?" said Earl.

"Why, of course, Earl; you didn't expect to do much better than that, unless you struck nuggets."

"One fellow over to Gold Bottom said he was taking out a hundred dollars to the panful," put in Randy.

"Fairy stories, my lad," answered the captain. "A claim as will turn out eight dollars to the pan is mighty good—as good as I'm a-lookin' fer just now."

"And we haven't gone very far into this gulch," put in the doctor. "It maybe better further up."

"And it may be worse," said Foster Portney, "although I'm inclined to think it will be better. We had best stake out our claims without delay."

This was readily agreed to, and before they went back to the tents they had staked out three claims, one for each of the men. Earl might have taken up a claim, too, being just old enough, but the three covered all the ground which the party thought of any account. Each claim was five hundred feet long and the upper one covered both gulches, which was an excellent thing, as it would give them a fair amount of water by which to do their washing. The posts firmly planted and marked, they walked slowly back to camp, talking over the prospects and mapping out their future work.

It was decided to move the tents to a more convenient locality, and a spot was readily found at a point above where the two gulches joined, or rather where the one gulch split into two. The transfer to this new home-spot was made the next day by Earl, Randy, and the doctor, Mr. Portney and the captain going back to uncover several other portions of the claims, to ascertain, if possible, just what their values might be.

The next week was a busy one. The camp removed and put into comfortable shape, the next work was to dam up the gulch where the pocket had been found, so that all the water might flow through Mosquito Hollow, as the doctor had facetiously dubbed the new diggings,—a name that stuck to it. This work was done by Randy and Dr. Barwaithe, while Earl joined the captain and his uncle in burning down the brush and getting rid of the tundra.

Before turning the water from Prosper Gulch into Mosquito Hollow, Foster Portney advised sinking several holes along the latter gulch, that any gold washed along by the flow would be caught. The captain put these down, and then came the long labor of cleaning the sand and dirt from the bedrock below. As it would have taken all summer to clean out the entire bottom of the gulch, only the deeper part was attacked and here a runway for the water was made, a foot to two feet wide.

The water had just been turned along Mosquito Hollow and washing begun when a party of prospectors from Forty Mile Post came along and espied the claims. They at once wished to know the particulars of the find made, and, assured that there was gold there, one of the men lost no time in putting up his stakes below them, while two others went above. Inside of a week after this the Hollow boasted of eight claims, and a little settlement sprung up at the Fork, as the miners named the spot where the Portney crowd had located.

"We'll have a town here before the summer is over," said Earl; but he was not sorry to have company, especially as the newcomers were all hail-fellows-well-met and apparently honest to the core. Among them was a young lawyer from Dakota, and he and Dr. Barwaithe soon became the warmest of friends.

The short Alaska summer was now reaching its height, and flowers and berries were growing everywhere in the wildest profusion, while during the middle of the day the sun beat down so fiercely that they were often compelled to seek the shade for hours at a time.

"My gracious, the Hollow is like a pepper box! " said Randy one day, as he came into camp with his shirt wet through with perspiration. "Not a breath of air stirring."

"And the hotter it is, the worse the flies are," added Earl. "I declare, they seem to bother me more than even the mosquitoes."

Usually it cooled off toward seven or eight o'clock, even though the sun still shone well up in the sky, but this night proved as warm as the day had been, and most of the party went to sleep outdoors, unable to stand it inside of the close tents. Outside, they had to wind their heads and necks in mosquito netting and cover up their hands, to keep from being pestered to death. It was the most uncomfortable twenty-four hours they had yet put in.

"The old Harry take Alaska!" burst out Dr. Barwaithe, finally. One mosquito had alighted on his nose, and two others on his neck. "It's worth all the gold you can get, and more, too, to stand these impudent pests. Oh!" And making half a dozen wild slashes he finally scrambled up and ran around the tents to throw his tormentors off.

The captain was suffering from a slight attack of scurvy, brought on by eating so much salt food. The doctor had given him some medicine, but this did little good, and the captain was getting into a bad way when one of the old miners, who had just come in, came to his aid.

"Eat tomatoes, cap'n," he said. "Best thing on airth fer scurvy. Bill Watson wuz down with it wust way an' nuthin' helped him but tomatoes. He eat 'most a bushel o' 'em, an' they made a new man o' him. Eat tomatoes."

"Tomatoes may be very good," said the doctor. "They are a very strong, green vegetable, you know. You might try them."

And the captain did try them, first using up some of the cans brought along, and then buying a quart of fresh tomatoes at Dawson City, for two dollars. Sure enough, the tomatoes helped wonderfully, and about a week later the scurvy left him.

Nearly a month had now passed since the party had located at Mosquito Hollow, and in that time they had taken out three small nuggets worth probably fifty dollars apiece, and a little short of a hundred and fifty ounces of gold dust. Counting the gold dust as worth sixteen dollars an ounce, this gave them, in round figures, twenty-five hundred dollars for their labor.

"Twenty-five hundred dollars!" said Earl. "That's a good deal more than we could earn at home."

Captain Zoss gave a deep sigh and shook his head. "I ain't satisfied," he said. "I didn't come up to Alaska to work fer no five hundred a month. I'm goin' elsewhar fer luck."

"You won't stay here? " asked Randy, quickly. He had begun to like the captain very much.

"No, lad; I'm yere to make a fortune or nuthin'. I quit the hollow ter-morrow."

"Well, you have that right, captain, although I'm sorry to see you go," said Foster Portney.

"Which means thet you an' the boys stay," answered the captain, quickly. "I'm sorry ye won't go with me. I want ter try Hunker Creek."

"I think I'll stay," said Foster Portney, quietly. "I'll give the gulch a few weeks longer, for the way I look at it we're making wages and have the chance to make a strike. What do you say, boys?"

Randy was in for following the captain, but a look from Earl made him change the words on the end of his tongue. "I'll do as you think best, Uncle Foster."

"And so will I," said Earl.

Then they looked at the doctor, who was kicking the toe of his boot against the tent pole in speculative way. It was several seconds before the medical man spoke.

"I—I think I'll go with the captain," he said finally. "Not but that I hate to part company," he added hastily. "But I came up here to make a big hit, and if I wanted to work for what we've been making here, I could get it easier by going into Dawson City and hanging out my shingle—you all know that. I hope we part the best of friends."

"We will," said Foster Portney. "We'll divide our gold as per agreement, and also the outfits."

"And I'll give you my share of this gulch free," said the captain, and the doctor said the same.

Of this, however, Foster Portney would not hear. He insisted on paying each of them a hundred dollars, and drawing up regular papers, which were signed in the presence of two of the outside miners. On the day following the doctor and the captain packed up their traps, hired four Indians to help them, and set off, first however, giving Mr. Portney and each of the boys a hearty handshake. In a few minutes they were out of sight.

"And now to work the Hollow for all it is worth," said Foster Portney, when they were left alone. "And remember, from henceforth, whatever we turn up belongs to us and to nobody else."