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CHAPTER VI.


PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE.


"Randy Portney!" came from the lips of the boy addressed, as he turned to stare at the person who had called out his name. "And Earl, too! Where—where did you come from?"

"From Basco, of course," returned Randy. "How did you get away out here?"

"I—I came out on a train from Chicago," stammered Fred Dobson, but he did not add that the train had been a freight, and that the stolen ride had been both uncomfortable and full of peril.

"We met your father in Boston," put in Earl. "He said if we should ever run across you to tell you to come home."

"I'm not going back," was the reply of the squire's son. "I came out here to make my fortune."

"I'm afraid you'll find it rather hard work," ventured Randy, and he glanced at Fred's shabby suit. Around Basco the youth had dressed better than any one else.

"I've been playing in hard luck lately," was the slangy reply. "But say, what are you two fellows doing out here?"

"We came on to join our uncle," said Randy. "He is going to take us to Alaska with him."

"Alaska! To those new gold fields a fellow reads about in the daily papers?"

"Yes."

"I'd like to go there myself," said the runaway, readily.

"It costs a good deal of money to go, Fred," remarked Earl. He rather liked the squire's son, in spite of his wild ways. "A fellow must take along a year's provisions."

"So I've heard. I wonder if I couldn't work my way up on one of the boats."

"I wouldn't advise you to go," said Randy. "Why, you are not used to hard work, and they say work up there is of the hardest kind."

"Oh, I can work if I have to. Where is your uncle?"

"He's stopping at this hotel." Randy turned to Earl. "Let us see if Uncle Foster is in, and we can talk to Fred some time later."

This was decided upon, and the squire's son walked off, promising to be back in a few hours.

"He puts on a pretty good face, but I fancy he is homesick, nevertheless," remarked Earl, as he and Randy made their way to the hotel office. They were just about to ask for their uncle when a hand was laid on Earl's shoulder.

"Earl! Randy! How are you, my boys! Just as fresh and hearty as when I saw you last. And how both of you are growing! Why, Earl, you are almost a man! I'm glad to see you, yes, I am!" And Foster Portney beamed at both from a pair of brown eyes set in a round, ruddy face, which was half covered with a long beard. He was a large and rugged man, and his open manner had made him many friends.

"What a beard you've got, Uncle Foster!" were Randy's first words, as he winced at the close grip Foster Portney gave his hand. "You look like all the rest of the Westerners around here!"

"I'm glad we had no trouble in finding you," put in Earl, whose hand also tingled from the grip given it. He remembered now that his uncle had always been considered an unusually strong man. "I know he'll stand the Alaskan climate well enough, even if we don't," he thought.

"Didn't have any trouble getting here, did you?" questioned Foster Portney. "Your message came on time? "

"We had a little set-back in Boston," answered Earl, and told of the trouble about the money. His uncle listened with a sober look on his broad face.

"That was too bad, truly, lads. But it's the loss of that firm of bankers and brokers. They ought to have been sure of the identification. And you think the thieves were two men named Roland and Guardley? They must be thorough rascals."

"We are not sure," broke in Randy, hastily. "It only looks that way."

"I see." Foster Portney mused for a moment. "Well, we can't lose time in trying to investigate. I was hoping you two boys would turn up to-day or tomorrow. Day after to-morrow a boat sails for Juneau, and if I rustle around I think I can secure passage for ourselves and our traps. If we don't catch this boat, we'll have to wait two weeks, or else take a train for Portland and wait ten days."

"But we haven't a thing. Uncle Foster," cried Randy. "That is, outside of our clothing, which is in our trunks, on check at the railroad station."

"And that clothing, for the most part, will have to be left behind, Randy. For a country like Alaska one must be differently dressed than here. Each of you will have to have a suit of furs and plenty of flannels and all that sort of thing."

"And where shall we get them?"

"There is a regular outfitting store not far from here. But the first thing to be done, now you have turned up, is to secure those passage tickets to Juneau. The Alaskan fever is setting in strong here, and we'll not be alone on our trip over Chilkoot Pass and along the headwaters of the Yukon."

"I'm in the dark about this trip, I must confess," said Earl. "Where is this pass you mention, and where is the Klondike Creek, or River?"

"I'll show you the route to-night, boys, on a map just issued by our government, the best map out so far. But come along to that steamboat office, or we'll get left."

Five minutes later saw the boys and their uncle on a street car which ran close to the dock at which the steamboat lay, taking in her cargo, which consisted mainly of the outfits of miners and prospectors. The boat, which was named the Golden Hope, had been chartered especially for this trip, and a temporary shipping office had been established close at hand. Around this office was congregated a motley collection of men, all eager to obtain passage to Juneau as cheaply as it could be had.

Through this crowd Foster Portney shoved his way, with Randy and Earl close behind him. It was some minutes before they could get to the ticket office.

"I want three tickets," said Mr. Portney. "How much freight will you carry on them?"

"Six hundred pounds, and not a pound more for anybody," was the quick reply.

"And when do you sail?"

"Wednesday, at twelve o'clock sharp. What are the names? We don't want any mix-up in this rush."

The names were put down, and the money for the passage paid over, and with their tickets in their pockets the three struggled to get out of the crowd, which was growing more dense every minute. Close at hand was a big bill-board on which was posted a large circular headed in big black letters:—

THE GOLD FIELDS OF ALASKA!

Direct Route via Juneau and Over Chilkoot Pass!
Now is the Time to Go and Stake Your Claim!


"That circular is enough to set almost any one crazy," said Earl, as he read it over. "Well, I hope we strike a bonanza."

"The reports are very encouraging," replied Foster Portney, who, in spite of his usual cool headedness had the gold fever nearly as badly as any one in San Francisco. "You see," he went on, "the sooner we get there the better: for we won't have much time left after arriving before the long and terribly cold winter sets in."

Earl had imagined that the six hundred pounds of freight must be divided between the three, but soon learned that six hundred pounds was the limit for each person.

"We'll never carry that much, will we?" he queried. "Why, how are we going to get all that stuff over the pass you mentioned?"

"We'll get Indians to pack it over. They'll charge twenty or thirty cents a pound, but it's the best that can be done. Some hire pack mules and dog teams, but my experience has been that Indians are the most reliable."

Dinner was now had, and then the three proceeded to the outfitting store Foster Portney had previously mentioned. On the way their uncle asked the boys what they had in their trunks, that nothing not needed might be purchased.

Two hours were spent in buying clothing, and both Earl and Randy thought their uncle would never get done adding to the pile. First came a dozen suits of flannel underwear, and with them a dozen pairs of heavy socks and half a dozen of light ones. Then came two suits of woollen clothing, strongly made and with large pockets, two pairs of strong shoes and a pair of arctics, and two pairs of walrus-hide boots—heavy, it is true, but strong as iron. Finally came a suit of furs and two caps, each with a guard which could be pulled down to the neck, leaving only two holes for the eyes.

"I reckon you've got handkerchiefs and such extras," said Mr. Portney. "So now all you want, so far as wearing is concerned, is a few pairs of smoked glasses, to prevent snow-blindness."

The general outfitter was also able to supply these, and he suggested they take along about ten yards of mosquito netting.

"Mosquito netting!" cried Randy. "What for?"

"During the short summer mosquitoes are exceedingly thick in Alaska," said his uncle; and made the purchase suggested.

It was now getting late, and Foster Portney said they had best wait until the following morning before buying the camping-out things, bedding, and other necessities. "I'll make a careful list to-night," he added.

They returned to the Palace Hotel, where Randy and Earl found Fred Dobson awaiting them.

"Say!" was the greeting of the squire's son. "Is half of Basco moving out to San Francisco?"

"What do you mean?" questioned Earl, with a puzzled look.

"Why, I was down at the railroad station about an hour ago, and I saw a train come in from Chicago with Tom Roland and Jasper Guardley on board."