“But,” said Salaman, “there are few things more mysterious than its whereabouts or why it should be where it is. Don’t talk to me about mining experts—we’ve had ’em here. But who can explain the mystery of Minook? There are six claims in all this country that pay to work. The pay begins in No. 5; before that, nothing. Just up yonder, above No. 10, the pay-streak pinches out. No mortal knows why. A whole winter’s toiling and moiling, and thousands of dollars put into the ground, haven’t produced an ounce of gold above that claim or below No. 5. I tell you it’s an awful gamble. Hunter Creek, Hoosier, Bear, Big Minook, I You, Quail, Alder, Mike Hess, Little Nell—the whole blessed country, rivers, creeks, pups, and all, staked for a radius of forty miles just because there’s gold here, where we’re standing.”
“You don’t mean there’s nothing left!”
“Nothing within forty miles that somebody hasn’t either staked or made money by abandoning.”
“It’s money in your pocket pretty nearly every time you don’t take up a claim. Why, on Hunter alone they’ve spent twenty thousand dollars this winter.”
“And how much have they taken out?”
With index-finger and thumb Salaman made an “O,” and looked shrewdly through it.
“It’s an awful gamble,” he repeated solemnly.
“It doesn’t seem possible there’s nothing left,” reiterated the Boy, incredulous of such evil luck.
“Oh, I’m not saying you may not make something by getting on some other fellow’s property, if you’ve a mind to pay for it. But you’d better not take anything on trust. I wouldn’t trust my own mother in Alaska. Something in the air here that breeds lies. You can’t believe anybody, yourself included.” He laughed, stooped, and picked a little nugget out of the dump. “You’ll have the same man tell you an entirely different story about the same matter within an hour. Exaggeration is in the air. The best man becomes infected. You lie, he lies, they all lie. Lots of people go crazy in Alaska every year—various causes, but it’s chiefly from believing their own lies.”
They returned to Rampart.
It was decidedly inconvenient, considering the state of their finances, to have thrown away that five hundred dollars on McGinty. They messed with Keith, and paid their two-thirds of the household expenses; but Dawson prices reigned, and it was plain there were no Dawson prizes.
“Well,” said the Colonel in the morning, “we’ve got to live somehow till the ice goes out.” The Boy sat thinking. The Colonel went on: “And we can’t go to Dawson cleaned out. No tellin’ whether there are any proper banks there or whether my Louisville instructions got through. Of course, we’ve got the dogs yet.”
“Don’t care how soon we sell Red and Spot.”
After breakfast the Boy tied Nig up securely behind Keith’s shack, and followed the Colonel about with a harassed and watchful air.