A Day's Lodging by Jack London
It was the gosh-dangdest stampede I ever
seen. A thousand dog-teams hittin’ the ice. You
couldn’t see ’m fer smoke. Two white men
an’ a Swede froze to death that night, an’ there was
a dozen busted their lungs. But didn’t I see with my
own eyes the bottom of the water-hole? It was yellow with
gold like a mustard-plaster. That’s why I staked the
Yukon for a minin’ claim. That’s what made the
stampede. An’ then there was nothin’ to
it. That’s what I said—NOTHIN’ to
it. An’ I ain’t got over guessin’
yet.—Narrative of Shorty.
John Messner clung with mittened hand to the bucking gee-pole
and held the sled in the trail. With the other mittened
hand he rubbed his cheeks and nose. He rubbed his cheeks
and nose every little while. In point of fact, he rarely
ceased from rubbing them, and sometimes, as their numbness
increased, he rubbed fiercely. His forehead was covered by
the visor of his fur cap, the flaps of which went over his
ears. The rest of his face was protected by a thick beard,
golden-brown under its coating of frost.
Behind him churned a heavily loaded Yukon sled, and before him
toiled a string of five dogs. The rope by which they
dragged the sled rubbed against the side of Messner’s
leg. When the dogs swung on a bend in the trail, he stepped
over the rope. There were many bends, and he was compelled
to step over it often. Sometimes he tripped on the rope, or
stumbled, and at all times he was awkward, betraying a weariness
so great that the sled now and again ran upon his heels.
When he came to a straight piece of trail, where the sled
could get along for a moment without guidance, he let go the
gee-pole and batted his right hand sharply upon the hard
wood. He found it difficult to keep up the circulation in
that hand. But while he pounded the one hand, he never
ceased from rubbing his nose and cheeks with the other.
“It’s too cold to travel, anyway,” he
said. He spoke aloud, after the manner of men who are much
by themselves. “Only a fool would travel at such a
temperature. If it isn’t eighty below, it’s
because it’s seventy-nine.”
He pulled out his watch, and after some fumbling got it back
into the breast pocket of his thick woollen jacket. Then he
surveyed the heavens and ran his eye along the white sky-line to
“Twelve o’clock,” he mumbled, “A clear
sky, and no sun.”
He plodded on silently for ten minutes, and then, as though
there had been no lapse in his speech, he added:
“And no ground covered, and it’s too cold to
Suddenly he yelled “Whoa!” at the dogs, and
stopped. He seemed in a wild panic over his right hand, and
proceeded to hammer it furiously against the gee-pole.
“You—poor—devils!” he addressed the
dogs, which had dropped down heavily on the ice to rest.
His was a broken, jerky utterance, caused by the violence with
which he hammered his numb hand upon the wood. “What
have you done anyway that a two-legged other animal should come
along, break you to harness, curb all your natural proclivities,
and make slave-beasts out of you?”
He rubbed his nose, not reflectively, but savagely, in order
to drive the blood into it, and urged the dogs to their work
again. He travelled on the frozen surface of a great
river. Behind him it stretched away in a mighty curve of
many miles, losing itself in a fantastic jumble of mountains,
snow-covered and silent. Ahead of him the river split into
many channels to accommodate the freight of islands it carried on
its breast. These islands were silent and white. No
animals nor humming insects broke the silence. No birds
flew in the chill air. There was no sound of man, no mark
of the handiwork of man. The world slept, and it was like
the sleep of death.
John Messner seemed succumbing to the apathy of it all.
The frost was benumbing his spirit. He plodded on with
bowed head, unobservant, mechanically rubbing nose and cheeks,
and batting his steering hand against the gee-pole in the
But the dogs were observant, and suddenly they stopped,
turning their heads and looking back at their master out of eyes
that were wistful and questioning. Their eyelashes were
frosted white, as were their muzzles, and they had all the
seeming of decrepit old age, what of the frost-rime and
The man was about to urge them on, when he checked himself,
roused up with an effort, and looked around. The dogs had
stopped beside a water-hole, not a fissure, but a hole man-made,
chopped laboriously with an axe through three and a half feet of
ice. A thick skin of new ice showed that it had not been
used for some time. Messner glanced about him. The
dogs were already pointing the way, each wistful and hoary muzzle
turned toward the dim snow-path that left the main river trail
and climbed the bank of the island.
“All right, you sore-footed brutes,” he
said. “I’ll investigate. You’re not
a bit more anxious to quit than I am.”
He climbed the bank and disappeared. The dogs did not
lie down, but on their feet eagerly waited his return. He
came back to them, took a hauling-rope from the front of the
sled, and put it around his shoulders. Then he
gee’d the dogs to the right and put them at the bank
on the run. It was a stiff pull, but their weariness fell
from them as they crouched low to the snow, whining with
eagerness and gladness as they struggled upward to the last ounce
of effort in their bodies. When a dog slipped or faltered,
the one behind nipped his hind quarters. The man shouted
encouragement and threats, and threw all his weight on the
They cleared the bank with a rush, swung to the left, and
dashed up to a small log cabin. It was a deserted cabin of
a single room, eight feet by ten on the inside. Messner
unharnessed the animals, unloaded his sled and took
possession. The last chance wayfarer had left a supply of
firewood. Messner set up his light sheet-iron stove and
starred a fire. He put five sun-cured salmon into the oven
to thaw out for the dogs, and from the water-hole filled his
coffee-pot and cooking-pail.
While waiting for the water to boil, he held his face over the
stove. The moisture from his breath had collected on his
beard and frozen into a great mass of ice, and this he proceeded
to thaw out. As it melted and dropped upon the stove it
sizzled and rose about him in steam. He helped the process
with his fingers, working loose small ice-chunks that fell
rattling to the floor.
A wild outcry from the dogs without did not take him from his
task. He heard the wolfish snarling and yelping of strange
dogs and the sound of voices. A knock came on the door.
“Come in,” Messner called, in a voice muffled
because at the moment he was sucking loose a fragment of ice from
its anchorage on his upper lip.
The door opened, and, gazing out of his cloud of steam, he saw
a man and a woman pausing on the threshold.
“Come in,” he said peremptorily, “and shut
Peering through the steam, he could make out but little of
their personal appearance. The nose and cheek strap worn by
the woman and the trail-wrappings about her head allowed only a
pair of black eyes to be seen. The man was dark-eyed and
smooth-shaven all except his mustache, which was so iced up as to
hide his mouth.
“We just wanted to know if there is any other cabin
around here,” he said, at the same time glancing over the
unfurnished state of the room. “We thought this cabin
“It isn’t my cabin,” Messner answered.
“I just found it a few minutes ago. Come right in and
camp. Plenty of room, and you won’t need your
stove. There’s room for all.”
At the sound of his voice the woman peered at him with quick
“Get your things off,” her companion said to
her. “I’ll unhitch and get the water so we can
Messner took the thawed salmon outside and fed his dogs.
He had to guard them against the second team of dogs, and when he
had reëntered the cabin the other man had unpacked the sled
and fetched water. Messner’s pot was boiling.
He threw in the coffee, settled it with half a cup of cold water,
and took the pot from the stove. He thawed some sour-dough
biscuits in the oven, at the same time heating a pot of beans he
had boiled the night before and that had ridden frozen on the
sled all morning.
Removing his utensils from the stove, so as to give the
newcomers a chance to cook, he proceeded to take his meal from
the top of his grub-box, himself sitting on his bed-roll.
Between mouthfuls he talked trail and dogs with the man, who,
with head over the stove, was thawing the ice from his
mustache. There were two bunks in the cabin, and into one
of them, when he had cleared his lip, the stranger tossed his
“We’ll sleep here,” he said, “unless
you prefer this bunk. You’re the first comer and you
have first choice, you know.”
“That’s all right,” Messner answered.
“One bunk’s just as good as the other.”
He spread his own bedding in the second bunk, and sat down on
the edge. The stranger thrust a physician’s small
travelling case under his blankets at one end to serve for a
“Doctor?” Messner asked.
“Yes,” came the answer, “but I assure you I
didn’t come into the Klondike to practise.”
The woman busied herself with cooking, while the man sliced
bacon and fired the stove. The light in the cabin was dim,
filtering through in a small window made of onion-skin writing
paper and oiled with bacon grease, so that John Messner could not
make out very well what the woman looked like. Not that he
tried. He seemed to have no interest in her. But she
glanced curiously from time to time into the dark corner where he
“Oh, it’s a great life,” the doctor
proclaimed enthusiastically, pausing from sharpening his knife on
the stovepipe. “What I like about it is the struggle,
the endeavor with one’s own hands, the primitiveness of it,
“The temperature is real enough,” Messner
“Do you know how cold it actually is?” the doctor
The other shook his head.
“Well, I’ll tell you. Seventy-four below
zero by spirit thermometer on the sled.”
“That’s one hundred and six below freezing
point—too cold for travelling, eh?”
“Practically suicide,” was the doctor’s
verdict. “One exerts himself. He breathes
heavily, taking into his lungs the frost itself. It chills
his lungs, freezes the edges of the tissues. He gets a dry,
hacking cough as the dead tissue sloughs away, and dies the
following summer of pneumonia, wondering what it’s all
about. I’ll stay in this cabin for a week, unless the
thermometer rises at least to fifty below.”
“I say, Tess,” he said, the next moment,
“don’t you think that coffee’s boiled long
At the sound of the woman’s name, John Messner became
suddenly alert. He looked at her quickly, while across his
face shot a haunting expression, the ghost of some buried misery
achieving swift resurrection. But the next moment, and by
an effort of will, the ghost was laid again. His face was
as placid as before, though he was still alert, dissatisfied with
what the feeble light had shown him of the woman’s
Automatically, her first act had been to set the coffee-pot
back. It was not until she had done this that she glanced
at Messner. But already he had composed himself. She
saw only a man sitting on the edge of the bunk and incuriously
studying the toes of his moccasins. But, as she turned
casually to go about her cooking, he shot another swift look at
her, and she, glancing as swiftly back, caught his look. He
shifted on past her to the doctor, though the slightest smile
curled his lip in appreciation of the way she had trapped
She drew a candle from the grub-box and lighted it. One
look at her illuminated face was enough for Messner. In the
small cabin the widest limit was only a matter of several steps,
and the next moment she was alongside of him. She
deliberately held the candle close to his face and stared at him
out of eyes wide with fear and recognition. He smiled
quietly back at her.
“What are you looking for, Tess?” the doctor
“Hairpins,” she replied, passing on and rummaging
in a clothes-bag on the bunk.
They served their meal on their grub-box, sitting on
Messner’s grub-box and facing him. He had stretched
out on his bunk to rest, lying on his side, his head on his
arm. In the close quarters it was as though the three were
together at table.
“What part of the States do you come from?”
“San Francisco,” answered the doctor.
“I’ve been in here two years, though.”
“I hail from California myself,” was
The woman looked at him appealingly, but he smiled and went
“Berkeley, you know.”
The other man was becoming interested.
“U. C.?” he asked.
“Yes, Class of ’86.”
“I meant faculty,” the doctor explained.
“You remind me of the type.”
“Sorry to hear you say so,” Messner smiled
back. “I’d prefer being taken for a prospector
or a dog-musher.”
“I don’t think he looks any more like a professor
than you do a doctor,” the woman broke in.
“Thank you,” said Messner. Then, turning to
her companion, “By the way, Doctor, what is your name, if I
“Haythorne, if you’ll take my word for it. I
gave up cards with civilization.”
“And Mrs. Haythorne,” Messner smiled and
She flashed a look at him that was more anger than appeal.
Haythorne was about to ask the other’s name. His
mouth had opened to form the question when Messner cut him
“Come to think of it, Doctor, you may possibly be able
to satisfy my curiosity. There was a sort of scandal in
faculty circles some two or three years ago. The wife of
one of the English professors—er, if you will pardon me,
Mrs. Haythorne—disappeared with some San Francisco doctor,
I understood, though his name does not just now come to my
lips. Do you remember the incident?”
Haythorne nodded his head. “Made quite a stir at
the time. His name was Womble—Graham Womble. He
had a magnificent practice. I knew him somewhat.”
“Well, what I was trying to get at was what had become
of them. I was wondering if you had heard. They left
no trace, hide nor hair.”
“He covered his tracks cunningly.” Haythorne
cleared his throat. “There was rumor that they went
to the South Seas—were lost on a trading schooner in a
typhoon, or something like that.”
“I never heard that,” Messner said.
“You remember the case, Mrs. Haythorne?”
“Perfectly,” she answered, in a voice the control
of which was in amazing contrast to the anger that blazed in the
face she turned aside so that Haythorne might not see.
The latter was again on the verge of asking his name, when
“This Dr. Womble, I’ve heard he was very handsome,
and—er—quite a success, so to say, with the
“Well, if he was, he finished himself off by that
affair,” Haythorne grumbled.
“And the woman was a termagant—at least so
I’ve been told. It was generally accepted in Berkeley
that she made life—er—not exactly paradise for her
“I never heard that,” Haythorne rejoined.
“In San Francisco the talk was all the other
“Woman sort of a martyr, eh?—crucified on the
cross of matrimony?”
The doctor nodded. Messner’s gray eyes were mildly
curious as he went on:
“That was to be expected—two sides to the
shield. Living in Berkeley I only got the one side.
She was a great deal in San Francisco, it seems.”
“Some coffee, please,” Haythorne said.
The woman refilled his mug, at the same time breaking into
“You’re gossiping like a pair of beldames,”
she chided them.
“It’s so interesting,” Messner smiled at
her, then returned to the doctor. “The husband seems
then to have had a not very savory reputation in San
“On the contrary, he was a moral prig,” Haythorne
blurted out, with apparently undue warmth. “He was a
little scholastic shrimp without a drop of red blood in his
“Did you know him?”
“Never laid eyes on him. I never knocked about in
“One side of the shield again,” Messner said, with
an air of weighing the matter judicially. “While he
did not amount to much, it is true—that is,
physically—I’d hardly say he was as bad as all
that. He did take an active interest in student
athletics. And he had some talent. He once wrote a
Nativity play that brought him quite a bit of local
appreciation. I have heard, also, that he was slated for
the head of the English department, only the affair happened and
he resigned and went away. It quite broke his career, or so
it seemed. At any rate, on our side the shield, it was
considered a knock-out blow to him. It was thought he cared
a great deal for his wife.”
Haythorne, finishing his mug of coffee, grunted uninterestedly
and lighted his pipe.
“It was fortunate they had no children,” Messner
But Haythorne, with a glance at the stove, pulled on his cap
“I’m going out to get some wood,” he
said. “Then I can take off my moccasins and he
The door slammed behind him. For a long minute there was
silence. The man continued in the same position on the
bed. The woman sat on the grub-box, facing him.
“What are you going to do?” she asked
Messner looked at her with lazy indecision. “What
do you think I ought to do? Nothing scenic, I hope.
You see I am stiff and trail-sore, and this bunk is so
She gnawed her lower lip and fumed dumbly.
“But—” she began vehemently, then clenched
her hands and stopped.
“I hope you don’t want me to kill
Mr.—er—Haythorne,” he said gently, almost
pleadingly. “It would be most distressing, and, I
assure you, really it is unnecessary.”
“But you must do something,” she cried.
“On the contrary, it is quite conceivable that I do not
have to do anything.”
“You would stay here?”
She glanced desperately around the cabin and at the bed
unrolled on the other bunk. “Night is coming
on. You can’t stop here. You can’t!
I tell you, you simply can’t!”
“Of course I can. I might remind you that I found
this cabin first and that you are my guests.”
Again her eyes travelled around the room, and the terror in
them leaped up at sight of the other bunk.
“Then we’ll have to go,” she announced
“Impossible. You have a dry, hacking
cough—the sort Mr.—er—Haythorne so aptly
described. You’ve already slightly chilled your
lungs. Besides, he is a physician and knows. He would
never permit it.”
“Then what are you going to do?” she demanded
again, with a tense, quiet utterance that boded an outbreak.
Messner regarded her in a way that was almost paternal, what
of the profundity of pity and patience with which he contrived to
“My dear Theresa, as I told you before, I don’t
know. I really haven’t thought about it.”
“Oh! You drive me mad!” She sprang to
her feet, wringing her hands in impotent wrath. “You
never used to be this way.”
“I used to be all softness and gentleness,” he
nodded concurrence. “Was that why you left
“You are so different, so dreadfully calm. You
frighten me. I feel you have something terrible planned all
the while. But whatever you do, don’t do anything
rash. Don’t get excited—”
“I don’t get excited any more,” he
interrupted. “Not since you went away.”
“You have improved—remarkably,” she
He smiled acknowledgment. “While I am thinking
about what I shall do, I’ll tell you what you will have to
do—tell Mr.—er—Haythorne who I am. It may
make our stay in this cabin more—may I say,
“Why have you followed me into this frightful
country?” she asked irrelevantly.
“Don’t think I came here looking for you,
Theresa. Your vanity shall not be tickled by any such
misapprehension. Our meeting is wholly fortuitous. I
broke with the life academic and I had to go somewhere. To
be honest, I came into the Klondike because I thought it the
place you were least liable to be in.”
There was a fumbling at the latch, then the door swung in and
Haythorne entered with an armful of firewood. At the first
warning, Theresa began casually to clear away the dishes.
Haythorne went out again after more wood.
“Why didn’t you introduce us?” Messner
“I’ll tell him,” she replied, with a toss of
her head. “Don’t think I’m
“I never knew you to be afraid, very much, of
“And I’m not afraid of confession, either,”
she said, with softening face and voice.
“In your case, I fear, confession is exploitation by
indirection, profit-making by ruse, self-aggrandizement at the
expense of God.”
“Don’t be literary,” she pouted, with
growing tenderness. “I never did like epigrammatic
discussion. Besides, I’m not afraid to ask you to
“There is nothing to forgive, Theresa. I really
should thank you. True, at first I suffered; and then, with
all the graciousness of spring, it dawned upon me that I was
happy, very happy. It was a most amazing
“But what if I should return to you?” she
“I should” (he looked at her whimsically),
“be greatly perturbed.”
“I am your wife. You know you have never got a
“I see,” he meditated. “I have been
careless. It will be one of the first things I attend
She came over to his side, resting her hand on his arm.
“You don’t want me, John?” Her voice was
soft and caressing, her hand rested like a lure. “If
I told you I had made a mistake? If I told you that I was
very unhappy?—and I am. And I did make a
Fear began to grow on Messner. He felt himself wilting
under the lightly laid hand. The situation was slipping
away from him, all his beautiful calmness was going. She
looked at him with melting eyes, and he, too, seemed all dew and
melting. He felt himself on the edge of an abyss, powerless
to withstand the force that was drawing him over.
“I am coming back to you, John. I am coming back
to-day . . . now.”
As in a nightmare, he strove under the hand. While she
talked, he seemed to hear, rippling softly, the song of the
Lorelei. It was as though, somewhere, a piano were playing
and the actual notes were impinging on his ear-drums.
Suddenly he sprang to his feet, thrust her from him as her
arms attempted to clasp him, and retreated backward to the
door. He was in a panic.
“I’ll do something desperate!” he cried.
“I warned you not to get excited.” She
laughed mockingly, and went about washing the dishes.
“Nobody wants you. I was just playing with you.
I am happier where I am.”
But Messner did not believe. He remembered her facility
in changing front. She had changed front now. It was
exploitation by indirection. She was not happy with the
other man. She had discovered her mistake. The flame
of his ego flared up at the thought. She wanted to come
back to him, which was the one thing he did not want.
Unwittingly, his hand rattled the door-latch.
“Don’t run away,” she laughed.
“I won’t bite you.”
“I am not running away,” he replied with
child-like defiance, at the same time pulling on his
mittens. “I’m only going to get some
He gathered the empty pails and cooking pots together and
opened the door. He looked back at her.
“Don’t forget you’re to tell
Mr.—er—Haythorne who I am.”
Messner broke the skin that had formed on the water-hole
within the hour, and filled his pails. But he did not
return immediately to the cabin. Leaving the pails standing
in the trail, he walked up and down, rapidly, to keep from
freezing, for the frost bit into the flesh like fire. His
beard was white with his frozen breath when the perplexed and
frowning brows relaxed and decision came into his face. He
had made up his mind to his course of action, and his frigid lips
and cheeks crackled into a chuckle over it. The pails were
already skinned over with young ice when he picked them up and
made for the cabin.
When he entered he found the other man waiting, standing near
the stove, a certain stiff awkwardness and indecision in his
manner. Messner set down his water-pails.
“Glad to meet you, Graham Womble,” he said in
conventional tones, as though acknowledging an introduction.
Messner did not offer his hand. Womble stirred uneasily,
feeling for the other the hatred one is prone to feel for one he
“And so you’re the chap,” Messner said in
marvelling accents. “Well, well. You see, I
really am glad to meet you. I have
been—er—curious to know what Theresa found in
you—where, I may say, the attraction lay. Well,
And he looked the other up and down as a man would look a
horse up and down.
“I know how you must feel about me,” Womble
“Don’t mention it,” Messner broke in with
exaggerated cordiality of voice and manner. “Never
mind that. What I want to know is how do you find
her? Up to expectations? Has she worn well?
Life been all a happy dream ever since?”
“Don’t be silly,” Theresa interjected.
“I can’t help being natural,” Messner
“You can be expedient at the same time, and
practical,” Womble said sharply. “What we want
to know is what are you going to do?”
Messner made a well-feigned gesture of helplessness.
“I really don’t know. It is one of those
impossible situations against which there can be no
“All three of us cannot remain the night in this
Messner nodded affirmation.
“Then somebody must get out.”
“That also is incontrovertible,” Messner
agreed. “When three bodies cannot occupy the same
space at the same time, one must get out.”
“And you’re that one,” Womble announced
grimly. “It’s a ten-mile pull to the next camp,
but you can make it all right.”
“And that’s the first flaw in your
reasoning,” the other objected. “Why,
necessarily, should I be the one to get out? I found this
“But Tess can’t get out,” Womble
explained. “Her lungs are already slightly
“I agree with you. She can’t venture ten
miles of frost. By all means she must remain.”
“Then it is as I said,” Womble announced with
Messner cleared his throat. “Your lungs are all
right, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but what of it?”
Again the other cleared his throat and spoke with painstaking
and judicial slowness. “Why, I may say, nothing of
it, except, ah, according to your own reasoning, there is nothing
to prevent your getting out, hitting the frost, so to speak, for
a matter of ten miles. You can make it all
Womble looked with quick suspicion at Theresa and caught in
her eyes a glint of pleased surprise.
“Well?” he demanded of her.
She hesitated, and a surge of anger darkened his face.
He turned upon Messner.
“Enough of this. You can’t stop
“Yes, I can.”
“I won’t let you.” Womble squared his
shoulders. “I’m running things.”
“I’ll stay anyway,” the other persisted.
“I’ll put you out.”
“I’ll come back.”
Womble stopped a moment to steady his voice and control
himself. Then he spoke slowly, in a low, tense voice.
“Look here, Messner, if you refuse to get out,
I’ll thrash you. This isn’t California.
I’ll beat you to a jelly with my two fists.”
Messner shrugged his shoulders. “If you do,
I’ll call a miners’ meeting and see you strung up to
the nearest tree. As you said, this is not
California. They’re a simple folk, these miners, and
all I’ll have to do will be to show them the marks of the
beating, tell them the truth about you, and present my claim for
The woman attempted to speak, but Womble turned upon her
“You keep out of this,” he cried.
In marked contrast was Messner’s “Please
don’t intrude, Theresa.”
What of her anger and pent feelings, her lungs were irritated
into the dry, hacking cough, and with blood-suffused face and one
hand clenched against her chest, she waited for the paroxysm to
Womble looked gloomily at her, noting her cough.
“Something must be done,” he said.
“Yet her lungs can’t stand the exposure. She
can’t travel till the temperature rises. And
I’m not going to give her up.”
Messner hemmed, cleared his throat, and hemmed again,
semi-apologetically, and said, “I need some
Contempt showed instantly in Womble’s face. At
last, beneath him in vileness, had the other sunk himself.
“You’ve got a fat sack of dust,” Messner
went on. “I saw you unload it from the
“How much do you want?” Womble demanded, with a
contempt in his voice equal to that in his face.
“I made an estimate of the sack, and
I—ah—should say it weighed about twenty pounds.
What do you say we call it four thousand?”
“But it’s all I’ve got, man!” Womble
“You’ve got her,” the other said
soothingly. “She must be worth it. Think what
I’m giving up. Surely it is a reasonable
“All right.” Womble rushed across the floor
to the gold-sack. “Can’t put this deal through
too quick for me, you—you little worm!”
“Now, there you err,” was the smiling
rejoinder. “As a matter of ethics isn’t the man
who gives a bribe as bad as the man who takes a bribe? The
receiver is as bad as the thief, you know; and you needn’t
console yourself with any fictitious moral superiority concerning
this little deal.”
“To hell with your ethics!” the other burst
out. “Come here and watch the weighing of this
dust. I might cheat you.”
And the woman, leaning against the bunk, raging and impotent,
watched herself weighed out in yellow dust and nuggets in the
scales erected on the grub-box. The scales were small,
making necessary many weighings, and Messner with precise care
verified each weighing.
“There’s too much silver in it,” he remarked
as he tied up the gold-sack. “I don’t think it
will run quite sixteen to the ounce. You got a trifle the
better of me, Womble.”
He handled the sack lovingly, and with due appreciation of its
preciousness carried it out to his sled.
Returning, he gathered his pots and pans together, packed his
grub-box, and rolled up his bed. When the sled was lashed
and the complaining dogs harnessed, he returned into the cabin
for his mittens.
“Good-by, Tess,” he said, standing at the open
She turned on him, struggling for speech but too frantic to
word the passion that burned in her.
“Good-by, Tess,” he repeated gently.
“Beast!” she managed to articulate.
She turned and tottered to the bunk, flinging herself face
down upon it, sobbing: “You beasts! You
John Messner closed the door softly behind him, and, as he
started the dogs, looked back at the cabin with a great relief in
his face. At the bottom of the bank, beside the water-hole,
he halted the sled. He worked the sack of gold out between
the lashings and carried it to the water-hole. Already a
new skin of ice had formed. This he broke with his
fist. Untying the knotted mouth with his teeth, he emptied
the contents of the sack into the water. The river was
shallow at that point, and two feet beneath the surface he could
see the bottom dull-yellow in the fading light. At the
sight of it, he spat into the hole.
He started the dogs along the Yukon trail. Whining
spiritlessly, they were reluctant to work. Clinging to the
gee-pole with his right band and with his left rubbing cheeks and
nose, he stumbled over the rope as the dogs swung on a bend.
“Mush-on, you poor, sore-footed brutes!” he
cried. “That’s it, mush-on!”