“Oh, I’m comin’ back soon’s I get a grub-stake.”
“I ain’t,” said another with a dazed expression—a Klondyker carrying home his frying-pan, the one thing, apparently, saved out of the wreck.
“You think you ain’t comin’ back? Just wait! Once you’ve lived up here, the Outside ain’t good enough fur yer.”
“Right!” said an old Forty-miler, “you can try it; but Lord! how you’ll miss this goll-darn Yukon.”
Among the hundreds running about, talking, bustling, hauling heterogeneous luggage, sending last letters, doing last deals, a score of women either going by this boat or saying good-bye to those who were; and Potts, the O’Flynns, and Mac waiting to hand over Kaviak to Sister Winifred.
The Boy at the open window above, staring down on the tatterdemalion throng, remembered his first meeting with the Big Chimney men as the Washington City steamed out of San Francisco’s Golden Gate a year and a month before.
Of course, even in default of finding millions, something stirring might have happened, something heroic, rewarding to the spirit, if no other how; but (his own special revelation blurred, swamped for the moment in the common wreck) he said to himself that nothing of the sort had befallen the Big Chimney men any more than to the whipped and bankrupt crew struggling down there on the wharf. They simply had failed—all alike. And yet there was between them and the common failures of the world one abiding difference: these had greatly dared. As long as the meanest in that crowd drew breath and held to memory, so long might he remember the brave and terrible days of the Klondyke Rush, and that he had borne in it his heavy share. No share in any mine save that—the knowledge that he was not among the vast majority who sit dully to the end beside what things they were born to—the earnings of other men, the savings of other women, afraid to go seeking after better lest they lose the good they have. They had failed, but it could never be said of a Klondyker that he had not tried. He might, in truth, look down upon the smug majority that smiles at unusual endeavour, unless success excuses, crowns it. No one there, after all, so poor but he had one possession treasured among kings. And he had risked it. What could a man do more?
“Goo’-bye? Boat Canada way no go till Thursday.”
“Thursday, yes,” he said absently, eyes still on the American ship.
“Then why you say goo’-bye to-day?”
“Lot to do. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
Her creamy face was suddenly alight, but not with gratitude.
“Oh, yes, all right here,” she said haughtily. “I not like much the Boston men—King George men best.” It was so her sore heart abjured her country. For among the natives of the Klondyke white history stops where it began when George the Third was King. “I think”—she shot sideways a shrewd look—“I think I marry a King George man.”