As the Oklahoma steams nearer, the town blossoms into flags; a great murmur increases to a clamour; people come swarming down to the water-front, waving Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes as well——What does it all mean? A cannon booms, guns are fired, and as the Oklahoma swings into the bank a band begins to play; a cheer goes up from fifteen thousand throats: “Hurrah for the first steamer!”
The Oklahoma has opened the Klondyke season of 1898!
They got their effects off the boat, and pitched the old tent up on the Moosehide; then followed days full to overflowing, breathless, fevered, yet without result beyond a general stringing up of nerves. The special spell of Dawson was upon them all—the surface aliveness, the inner deadness, the sense of being cut off from all the rest of the world, as isolated as a man is in a dream, with no past, no future, only a fantastic, intensely vivid Now. This was the summer climate of the Klondyke. The Colonel, the Boy, and Captain Rainey maintained the illusion of prosecuting their affairs by frequenting the offices, stores, and particularly saloons, where buyers and sellers most did congregate. Frequent mention was made of a certain valuable piece of property.
Where was it?
“Down yonder at Minook;” and then nobody cared a straw.
It was true there was widespread dissatisfaction with the Klondyke. Everyone agreed it had been overdone. It would support one-quarter of the people already here, and tens of thousands on their way! “Say Klondyke, and instantly your soberest man goes mad; say anything else, and he goes deaf.”
Minook was a good camp, but it had the disadvantage of lying outside the magic district. The madness would, of course, not last, but meanwhile the time went by, and the people poured in day and night. Six great steamers full came up from the Lower River, and still the small craft kept on flocking like coveys of sea-fowl through the Upper Lakes, each party saying, “The crowd is behind.”
On the 14th of June a toy whistle sounded shrill above the town, and in puffed a Liliputian “steel-hull” steamer that had actually come “on her own” through the canon and shot the White Horse Rapids. A steamer from the Upper River! after that, others. Two were wrecked, but who minded? And still the people pouring in, and still that cry, “The crowd’s behind!” and still the clamour for quicker, ampler means of transport to the North, no matter what it cost. The one consideration “to get there,” and to get there “quickly,” brought most of the horde by the Canadian route; yet, as against the two ocean steamers—all-sufficient the year before to meet the five river boats at St. Michael’s—now, by the All-American route alone, twenty ocean steamers and forty-seven river boats, double-deckers, some two hundred and twenty-five feet long, and every one crowded to the guards with people coming to the Klondyke.
Meanwhile, many of those already there were wondering why they came and how they could get home. In the tons of “mail matter” for Dawson, stranded at Skaguay, must be those “instructions” from the Colonel’s bank, at home, to the Canadian Bank of Commerce, Dawson City. He agreed with the Boy that if—very soon now—they had not disposed of the Minook property, they would go to the mines.