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|The Stampede To Squaw Creek||Jack London|
|Page 7 of 11||
"Can't we do something?" Smoke asked.
Louis Gastell shook his head.
"She can stake two claims as well as one. I'll crawl over to the bank, start a fire, and bandage my ankle. I'll be all right. Go on, Joy. Stake ours above the Discovery claim; it's richer higher up."
"Here's some birch bark," Smoke said, dividing his supply equally. "We'll take care of your daughter."
Louis Gastell laughed harshly.
"Thank you just the same," he said. "But she can take care of herself. Follow her and watch her."
"Do you mind if I lead?" she asked Smoke, as she headed on. "I know this country better than you."
"Lead on," Smoke answered gallantly, "though I agree with you it's a darned shame all us chechaquos are going to beat that Sea Lion bunch to it. Isn't there some way to shake them?"
She shook her head.
"We can't hide our trail, and they'll follow it like sheep."
After a quarter of a mile, she turned sharply to the west. Smoke noticed that they were going through unpacked snow, but neither he nor Shorty observed that the dim trail they had been on still led south. Had they witnessed the subsequent procedure of Louis Gastell, the history of the Klondike would have been written differently; for they would have seen that old-timer, no longer limping, running with his nose to the trail like a hound, following them. Also, they would have seen him trample and widen the turn they had made to the west. And, finally, they would have seen him keep on the old dim trail that still led south.
A trail did run up the creek, but so slight was it that they continually lost it in the darkness. After a quarter of an hour, Joy Gastell was willing to drop into the rear and let the two men take turns in breaking a way through the snow. This slowness of the leaders enabled the whole stampede to catch up, and when daylight came, at nine o'clock, as far back as they could see was an unbroken line of men. Joy's dark eyes sparkled at the sight.
"How long since we started up the creek?" she asked.
"Fully two hours," Smoke answered.
"And two hours back makes four," she laughed. "The stampede from Sea Lion is saved."
A faint suspicion crossed Smoke's mind, and he stopped and confronted her.
"I don't understand," he said.
"You don't. Then I'll tell you. This is Norway Creek. Squaw Creek is the next to the south."
Smoke was for the moment, speechless.
"You did it on purpose?" Shorty demanded.
"I did it to give the old-timers a chance."
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