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CHAPTER XXIV.


AN UNLOOKED-FOR ARRIVAL.


Although the boys missed Dr. Barwaithe and Captain Zoss greatly, there was much of satisfaction in the thought that their uncle had expressed; namely, that henceforth whatever was taken out of the three claims on Mosquito Hollow gulch would belong to them and to nobody else.

"Of course, we can't expect to do as much work as was done before," was the way Earl reasoned. "But we are just as liable as ever to make a big strike."

During the following week the weather turned off somewhat cooler, and this made work easier and more rapid. All three went at it with a will, and the six days brought in six hundred dollars in dust.

"That's a hundred and fifty apiece for us, Earl," said Randy, after figuring up. "It beats lumbering down in Maine all hollow, doesn't it?"

"I'll tell you better after we've gone through a winter up here, Randy. From all accounts the weather is something awful, and we've got to stand it, for getting away is out of the question after the first of September."

"Well, let's not anticipate trouble. I guess Uncle will see that we are as well provided for as possible," answered Randy, who could think of nothing but the gold dust brought in daily.

So far they had done all their washing with hand pans. Foster Portney had tried to obtain a cradle, or a "Long Tom," but had failed. Now he announced his intention to go over to the saw-mill at Dawson and buy the necessary boards for several sluice boxes. He left on Friday, stating he would probably not return before Monday or Tuesday.

The week had brought a number of newcomers to the vicinity, who had staked claims on other gulches within a radius of half a mile. Some of these late arrivals had come over the mountain pass, while the majority had taken the longer route up the Pacific Ocean and the Yukon. The Fork seemed to be a favorite camping ground, and there were times when as many as a score of tents were pitched there.

One of the newcomers was from Hunker Creek, and he brought news of the doctor and the captain. The pair had staked two claims some distance above Discovery and were doing fairly well, although they had by no means struck it as rich as anticipated.

It was on Saturday evening, when Randy and Earl were busy washing out some of their underwear—for they of course had to play their own washerwoman—that news was brought to them that there was a young fellow down at a camp below who had expressed a desire that Randy or Earl come to see him.

"He ain't give no name, but he's a slim-built chap an' don't look like he was cut out fer roughing it," said the messenger. "He's half sick, and he was grub-struck when me and my pard picked him up."

"A slim-built chap—" began Randy, when Earl broke in: "It's Fred Dobson, the crazy fool!"

"Fred! " cried Randy. He turned to the messenger and asked the miner to give him a better description of the boy; but this was not forthcoming, and he hurried off with the man, leaving Earl in charge of the tent.

The camp below was quarter of a mile away, over a hill thick with blackberry bushes. But something like a trail had been tramped down from the Fork, and it did not take the two long to cover the distance. They had just come over the hill in sight of several tents when Randy beheld somebody get up from a seat on a fallen log and totter toward him.

"Randy Portney!" It was Fred Dobson's voice, but so thin and hollow Randy scarcely recognized it. "Oh, how glad I am to see somebody I know!"

"Fred! How in the world did you get up here!" burst out Randy. He took the hand of the squire's son, and led the way back to the seat. "How thin and pale you look! I thought you had gone back to Basco!"

Fred heaved a deep sigh. Then he looked Randy full in the face for a moment. His eyes were moist, and he tried in vain to keep back the tears. But it was impossible, and throwing his head on Randy's shoulder, he wept like a child.

The tears touched Randy to the heart, and he caught the thin hands and pressed them warmly. "Never mind, Fred," he said. "Now you are up here I'll do what I can for you. So let up and tell me your story."

It was several minutes before Fred could do this. "I came up by the way of the Chilkoot Pass," he said, when he felt able to speak. "I joined a party I met in Juneau, a crowd of men from Chicago, and they promised to see me through if I would do my share of work. But the work was too hard for me, and they treated me like a dog, and at Baker's Creek they kicked me out of camp and compelled me to shift for myself."

"How long ago was this?"

"A week ago. Since that time I've been knocking around from pillar to post, looking for something I could do, so as to earn at least enough to eat. I did get one job in Dawson City washing dishes in the restaurant, but even there the food the boss wanted me to eat was more than I could stand, as it was nothing but leavings."

"And when did you hear of us?"

"Yesterday. I struck a miner named Wodley and he gave me your directions. Oh, Randy, what a fool I was to come to Alaska! If only I had taken your advice and gone back to Basco!" And it was only by an effort that Fred Dobson kept himself from crying anew. He felt miserable, weak, and hungry, had had scarcely a kind word for weeks, and was on the point of giving up in despair.

"Do your parents know where you are?" asked Randy, after another pause.

"Yes, I wrote to them just before leaving Juneau—I couldn't think of going so far away without doing that."

"Well, that was at least one sensible move, Fred." Randy thought for a moment. "Our camp is about half a mile from here, over that hill. Can you walk that far?"

"Oh, yes. Randy; I can walk a good way now I've found a friend." Fred, arose as quickly as he could. "Are you and your friends all together yet?"

"No; there are only my uncle, Earl, and myself now."

The two were soon on the journey over the hill. Fred was still rather shaky, and Randy gave him his arm to help him at the difficult places. When they reached camp. Earl had all the washing out and everything tidied up.

"So it is you, Fred?" he said, as he held out his hand. "I thought you back in Basco by this time."

"I only wish I was! I made the biggest mistake of my life when I ran away, so there! and I don't care who knows it!" And Fred threw himself on a bench in front of the tent.

"If there is any of that bean soup left, you had better give Fred some," said Randy, with a knowing glance which did not escape Earl. "And I'm going to fry some of the fish I caught over in the river last night."

Half an hour later the wanderer was sitting down to as appetizing a supper as he had tasted since leaving the States. While he ate he told his story in detail, to which Randy and Earl listened with much interest. That Fred had had a hard time of it there could be no doubt; and that he had learned a lesson he would never forget was also apparent.

"If there was only some way of getting home, I'd start to-morrow," he said. "But I'm up here now, and I've got to do for myself—somehow." He looked wistfully at Earl and Randy. "Do you think I could make some kind of a deal with your uncle to keep me? I know I am not as strong and hardy as you, but I can do something, and I won't look for any pay."

"I don't know what uncle will say," said Earl. "He has gone to Dawson, and won't be back before Monday or Tuesday. I guess you can stay here till that time."

"Yes; and if he won't take you in, I'll help you some," added Randy. "We've been more fortunate than you."

Fred was curious to know how they had made out, and Earl and Randy told him. He was amazed to think they had done so well; and his face brightened a good deal when he remembered how Randy had said he would help him.

Sunday was spent in camp. Fred, who was completely tired out, slept the greater part of the day, although at meal times, weak as he was, he insisted on washing the dishes and the pots and kettles, just to show that he was in earnest about working. This made Earl and Randy smile to themselves.

"Think of Fred washing dishes like that at home," whispered Earl to his brother. "If only the squire could see him now, I guess he'd almost forgive him for running away!"

On Monday the two brothers went to work as usual in the Hollow. Fred followed them over and was much interested in their labors. Once he tried shovelling up the sand and dirt, but Earl told him he had better take it easy and get back his strength; and then he walked back to the tent, to spend the balance of the day in mending his clothing, which was sadly in need of repairs. When the boys came back, he had supper ready for them, and never had they had a meal in camp that was better cooked.

"Cooking was the one thing I learned coming up here," Fred explained. "There was a negro in the party who had been a chef in a Chicago hotel; and he was the one soul in the crowd that treated me half decently."

"Perhaps uncle will retain you as cook," said Randy, mischievously, and then he stopped short, for he did not wish to hurt Fred's feelings. The supper passed off pleasantly, and Fred announced that he felt a hundred times better than the day previous.

It was around ten o'clock, and the sun had just set over the mountains to the westward, leaving the Hollow in an uncertain, pale-blue light, which would last until sunrise at four, when a messenger on muleback dashed along the trail from Gold Bottom. "Thar's a lynchin' goin' on down to Smedley's!" he yelled, as he sped by. "They've caught a sneak thief by the name o' Guardley, an' they're goin' ter make him do er dance on nuthin'. Better be gittin' down thar, if ye want ter see justice done!"