Read Books Online, for Free
|The Stampede To Squaw Creek||Jack London|
|Page 2 of 11||
"See that pack on his back, Smoke? The graveyard's sure a long ways off when the mourners got to pack their blankets."
By the time they reached the main street a hundred men were in line behind them, and while they sought in the deceptive starlight for the trail that dipped down the bank to the river, more men could be heard arriving. Shorty slipped and shot down the thirty-foot chute into the soft snow. Smoke followed, knocking him over as he was rising to his feet.
"I found it first," he gurgled, taking off his mittens to shake the snow out of the gauntlets.
The next moment they were scrambling wildly out of the way of the hurtling bodies of those that followed. At the time of the freeze-up, a jam had occurred at this point, and cakes of ice were up-ended in snow-covered confusion. After several hard falls, Smoke drew out his candle and lighted it. Those in the rear hailed it with acclaim. In the windless air it burned easily, and he led the way more quickly.
"It's a sure stampede," Shorty decided. "Or might all them be sleep-walkers?"
"We're at the head of the procession at any rate," was Smoke's answer.
"Oh, I don't know. Mebbe that's a firefly ahead there. Mebbe they're all fireflies--that one, an' that one. Look at 'em. Believe me, they is whole strings of processions ahead."
It was a mile across the jams to the west bank of the Yukon, and candles flickered the full length of the twisting trail. Behind them, clear to the top of the bank they had descended, were more candles.
"Say, Smoke, this ain't no stampede. It's a exode-us. They must be a thousand men ahead of us an' ten thousand behind. Now, you listen to your uncle. My medicine's good. When I get a hunch it's sure right. An' we're in wrong on this stampede. Let's turn back an' hit the sleep."
"You'd better save your breath if you intend to keep up," Smoke retorted gruffly.
"Huh! My legs is short, but I slog along slack at the knees an' don't worry my muscles none, an' I can sure walk every piker here off the ice."
And Smoke knew he was right, for he had long since learned his comrade's phenomenal walking powers.
"I've been holding back to give you a chance," Smoke jeered.
"An' I'm plum troddin' on your heels. If you can't do better, let me go ahead and set pace."
Smoke quickened, and was soon at the rear of the nearest bunch of stampeders.
"Hike along, you, Smoke," the other urged. "Walk over them unburied dead. This ain't no funeral. Hit the frost like you was goin' somewheres."
Smoke counted eight men and two women in this party, and before the way across the jam-ice was won, he and Shorty had passed another party twenty strong. Within a few feet of the west bank, the trail swerved to the south, emerging from the jam upon smooth ice. The ice, however, was buried under several feet of fine snow. Through this the sled-trail ran, a narrow ribbon of packed footing barely two feet in width. On either side one sank to his knees and deeper in the snow. The stampeders they overtook were reluctant to give way, and often Smoke and Shorty had to plunge into the deep snow, and by supreme efforts flounder past.
|Who's On Your Reading List?
Read Classic Books Online for Free at
Page by Page Books.TM
Home | More Books | About Us | Copyright 2004