“And I’m sort of sorry I shot him up for it. I am, for a fact.”
“You killed him?”
“Not quite. I clipped one ear off as a reminder, down in Chink Holleran’s place. Mighty sorry. Didn’t think then how decent it was of him to buy me a ticket to Nome. I just let go in the heat of the moment. He did me a favor in cleanin’ me, Alan. He did, so help me! You don’t realize how free an’ easy an’ beautiful everything is until you’re busted.”
Smiling, his odd face almost boyish behind its ambush of hair, he saw the grim look in Alan’s eyes and about his jaws. He caught hold of the other’s arm and shook it.
“Alan, I mean it!” he declared. “That’s why I think money is a fool thing. It ain’t spendin’ money that makes me happy. It’s findin’ it—the gold in the mountains—that makes the blood run fast through my gizzard. After I’ve found it, I can’t find any use for it in particular. I want to go broke. If I didn’t, I’d get lazy and fat, an’ some newfangled doctor would operate on me, and I’d die. They’re doing a lot of that operatin’ down in Frisco, Alan. One day I had a pain, and they wanted to cut out something from inside me. Think what can happen to a man when he’s got money!”
“You mean all that, Stampede?”
“On my life, I do. I’m just aching for the open skies, Alan. The mountains. And the yellow stuff that’s going to be my playmate till I die. Somebody’ll grub-stake me in Nome.”
“They won’t,” said Alan suddenly. “Not if I can help it. Stampede, I want you. I want you with me up under the Endicott Mountains. I’ve got ten thousand reindeer up there. It’s No Man’s Land, and we can do as we please in it. I’m not after gold. I want another sort of thing. But I’ve fancied the Endicott ranges are full of that yellow playmate of yours. It’s a new country. You’ve never seen it. God only knows what you may find. Will you come?”
The humorous twinkle had gone out of Stampede’s eyes. He was staring at Alan.
“Will I come? Alan, will a cub nurse its mother? Try me. Ask me. Say it all over ag’in.”
The two men gripped hands. Smiling, Alan nodded to the east. The last of the fog was clearing swiftly. The tips of the cragged Alaskan ranges rose up against the blue of a cloudless sky, and the morning sun was flashing in rose and gold at their snowy peaks. Stampede also nodded. Speech was unnecessary. They both understood, and the thrill of the life they loved passed from one to the other in the grip of their hands.