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|The Stampede To Squaw Creek||Jack London|
|Page 5 of 11||
Shorty lifted one ear-flap and bent to the iced lips.
"Nary breathe," he reported.
"Nor heart-beat," said Smoke.
He mittened his hand and beat it violently for a minute before exposing it to the frost to strike a match. It was an old man, incontestably dead. In the moment of illumination, they saw a long grey beard, massed with ice to the nose, cheeks that were white with frost, and closed eyes with frost-rimmed lashes frozen together. Then the match went out.
"Come on," Shorty said, rubbing his ear. "We can't do nothing for the old geezer. An' I've sure frosted my ear. Now all the blamed skin'll peel off and it'll be sore for a week."
A few minutes later, when a flaming ribbon spilled pulsating fire over the heavens, they saw on the ice a quarter of a mile ahead two forms. Beyond, for a mile, nothing moved.
"They're leading the procession," Smoke said, as darkness fell again. "Come on, let's get them."
At the end of half an hour, not yet having overtaken the two in front, Shorty broke into a run.
"If we catch 'em we'll never pass 'em," he panted. "Lord, what a pace they're hittin'. Dollars to doughnuts they're no chechaquos. They're the real sour-dough variety, you can stack on that."
Smoke was leading when they finally caught up, and he was glad to ease to a walk at their heels. Almost immediately he got the impression that the one nearer him was a woman. How this impression came, he could not tell. Hooded and furred, the dark form was as any form; yet there was a haunting sense of familiarity about it. He waited for the next flame of the aurora, and by its light saw the smallness of the moccasined feet. But he saw more--the walk; and knew it for the unmistakable walk he had once resolved never to forget.
"She's a sure goer," Shorty confided hoarsely. "I'll bet it's an Indian."
"How do you do, Miss Gastell," Smoke addressed.
"How do you do," she answered, with a turn of the head and a quick glance. "It's too dark to see. Who are you?"
She laughed in the frost, and he was certain it was the prettiest laughter he had ever heard.
"And have you married and raised all those children you were telling me about?" Before he could retort, she went on. "How many chechaquos are there behind?"
"Several thousand, I imagine. We passed over three hundred. And they weren't wasting any time."
"It's the old story," she said bitterly. "The new-comers get in on the rich creeks, and the old-timers who dared and suffered and made this country, get nothing. Old-timers made this discovery on Squaw Creek--how it leaked out is the mystery--and they sent word up to all the old-timers on Sea Lion. But it's ten miles farther than Dawson, and when they arrive they'll find the creek staked to the skyline by the Dawson chechaquos. It isn't right, it isn't fair, such perversity of luck."
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