“One of them cussed bums,” he explained. “That’s why they hurried on ahead of us, Alan. She says this Fourth of July celebration is going to mean a lot for Alaska. Wonder what she means?”
“I wonder,” said Alan.
Half an hour more of the tundra and they came to what Alan had named Ghost Kloof, a deep and jagged scar in the face of the earth, running down from the foothills of the mountains. It was a sinister thing, and in the depths lay abysmal darkness as they descended a rocky path worn smooth by reindeer and caribou hoofs. At the bottom, a hundred feet below the twilight of the plains, Alan dropped on his knees beside a little spring that he groped for among the stones, and as he drank he could hear the weird whispering and gurgling of water up and down the kloof, choked and smothered in the moss of the rock walls and eternally dripping from the crevices. Then he saw Stampede’s face in the glow of another match, and the little man’s eyes were staring into the black chasm that reached for miles up into the mountains.
“Alan, you’ve been up this gorge?”
“It’s a favorite runway for the lynx and big brown bears that kill our fawns,” replied Alan. “I hunt alone, Stampede. The place is supposed to be haunted, you know. Ghost Kloof, I call it, and no Eskimo will enter it. The bones of dead men lie up there.”
“Never prospected it?” persisted Stampede.
Alan heard the other’s grunt of disgust.
“You’re reindeer-crazy,” he grumbled. “There’s gold in this canyon. Twice I’ve found it where there were dead men’s bones. They bring me good luck.”
“But these were Eskimos. They didn’t come for gold.”
“I know it. The Boss settled that for me. When she heard what was the matter with this place, she made me take her into it. Nerve? Say, I’m telling you there wasn’t any of it left out of her when she was born!” He was silent for a moment, and then added: “When we came to that dripping, slimy rock with the big yellow skull layin’ there like a poison toadstool, she didn’t screech and pull back, but just gave a little gasp and stared at it hard, and her fingers pinched my arm until it hurt. It was a devilish-looking thing, yellow as a sick orange and soppy with the drip of the wet moss over it. I wanted to blow it to pieces, and I guess I would if she hadn’t put a hand on my gun. An’ with a funny little smile she says: ’Don’t do it, Stampede. It makes me think of someone I know—and I wouldn’t want you to shoot him.’ Darned funny thing to say, wasn’t it? Made her think of someone she knew! Now, who the devil could look like a rotten skull?”