– Quite lucky, eh?
– The truth.
– How much were you doing in the pan ?
– Hmm, two thousand to two thousand and five …
– Of course!
– It’s an affair.
– Sure …
– And are you worth?
The other responds quietly:
– A million dollars. At least I think so.
An admiring whistle passes between the teeth of the interlocutor, who takes his friend by the shoulders and shakes him, loyally recognizing:
– You are a happy boy and I congratulate you.
The other laughs and says:
– I am.
The Bighorn Lode is this spring’s adventure. Bighorn, a merry colossus, to whom fortune owes this revenge. Was he not among the pioneers, those who, on foot, with luggage on their backs, crossed the dreaded pass and who were the first to trace a trail on the unspoiled snow?
He was eighteen then. Today forty. For twenty-two years he had been trying his luck. He has it now, total. And we rejoice.
The wheel turns, the number is out, it’s the jackpot! So much the better. Hurray! for Bighorn.
There is no room for jealousy in the hard heart of the Yukoners .
Bighorn is the King of Last Chance , a good-natured king who has remained the friend of his subjects. Especially as a royalty, it is celebrated.
We drank for three days at the Willow Branch , at his expense, that’s obvious. And when I say three days, I mean three times twenty-four hours, because there is no more night in the Yukon. The light has taken possession of the polar lands and its control is absolute. We work, we eat, we drink (we mainly drink), we go to bed, we sleep, we wake up with the day …
And all this lingering clarity added to the effort given irritates the bodies, and the atmosphere of the saloon suffers.
There is a crowd in both rooms. The poker games come alive, accompanied by the inevitable mechanical piano which tirelessly grinds tunes for fierce dancers.
With the paddle steamers descended the dancing-girls and a swarm of boys who were waiting for spring to try their luck.
The cries are heard, mingled with the shrill laughter of the women; the word “dollar” dominates.
– Thousand dollars.
– A “pot” of fifteen hundred dollars.
-… a few dollars.
– A great business … a hundred dollars. It’s given.
– Five dollars, please , to buy me a ribbon.
And the owner’s voice becomes hoarse:
– Get a partner, one dollar, one dollar!
He stamps his feet at his counter, he claps his hands, stops to serve, then starts yelling again:
– Get a partner, one dollar, one dollar.
Because it costs a dollar to fox-trot with “an opera maid”.
They came from everywhere, from Dawson, Skagway, Juneau, all over the coast and even from California.
They dance, chewing gum, and the boys clumsily trample the floor with their heavy boots.
They turn, looking blissful, happy to be alive, without seeing that an expert hand is exploring their pocket.
Hurricane is among the most rabid. He paid twenty dollars for the night. One-step , waltz, polka, fox-trot, everything is good for him as long as the dance trains him. He gets intoxicated with movement and noise until his brain is like an empty box.
Billikins wanders, melancholy, among the dancers; his bowler hat, pulled up to his ears, lets gray locks pass through; he drags his moccasins, the thongs of which hang down as usual.
Here and there he grabs a whiskey, a gin, a cocktail, a brandy, Billikins, eclectic, accepts and absorbs everything; heavy drunkenness invades him, but the more drunk he is, the darker his face is; wrinkles pull the gloomy face.
Between two quadrilles we drink.
– You would like?
The girl asks:
– I would like an egg cocktail.
– All right , that’s a possible thing.
We bring the two glasses with the traditional cherry and the no less traditional blowtorch. The dancing-girl , with her mouth full of hearts, sucks the straw with the look of a greedy pussy. After several gulps, she stops, runs her tongue over her lips.
– What is your name?
– My name is Hurricane. And you?
– Me, I’m Doll.
Hurricane screams. With a punch, he pushes back the table, which capsizes, dragging the broken glasses. There is a clamor in the room.
– What’s the matter?
– He is a mad.
Crazy! The boy gives this impression to everyone. He leaves, jostling the couples, hitting the tables, followed by the curses of the players.
The frightened girl has crossed her silk kerchief over her breast and, stupid on her bench, round eyes, ruminating jaws, she chews her gum.
But the incident was so minor that it was quickly forgotten.
– There are a hundred dollars …
– With fifty more.
The voice yelped:
– Get a partner, one dollar, one dollar.
And, to accompany his invitation, the bartender waves a doorbell frantically.
– Dollars… dollars… dollars…
The word goes from all corners of the room; it is the master who enslaves everything to his whim, souls and bodies. For him we struggle, for him we dance, for him we play, for him we die.
The metal came out of the frozen earth virgin, but as soon as it saw the light of day it bowed men down. Lump of gold? No: little thing that glitters and burns your fingers.
The song of gold fills both rooms of the Willow Branch saloon ; but the plank partitions are too close together; she goes out and runs on the rapids to bring her hope and despair to all those in the Yukon Territory who have become her passionate servants.
Hurricane hides his distress in his hut made of assembled logs. He closes his eyes, clenched his fists over his ears. In vain: eyes closed, he sees a persistent image. With his ears plugged, he hears a voice chanting the adored syllable: “Doll … Doll … Doll”.
The spring breeze brings him, with frenzied music, the clamors of the happy boys who, for their part, only ask life for immediate things.
– Thousand dollars.
– With five cents.
– One dollar… one dollar…
The chorus is hammered by a metallic noise, as if an immense hand were waving a bag where the gold coins were jingling.
It was on that day that Bighorn was found dead, in his room, Bighorn who had toiled twenty-two years on all the placers of Alaska and who died of congestion, at the same hour when he was worth a million. of dollars.
Beyond 65 ° north latitude, what can be the state of mind of a boy haunted by the worry of a tiny thing that is thousands of kilometers south, towards the California coast? The images follow one another like the unfolding of a cinematographic film where reason has no place. Evil worries cloud the mind and jealousy rises like a sphinx at the top of the head which it envelops in its dark wings.
Under the veneer of civilization, jealousy is, in the hearts of men, the rise of primitive instinct.
Education, decorum, science of attitudes, hypocrisy of gesture, laws of safeguard and repression, complicated framework of texts for the defense of society, tangle of paragraphs, Tables of men erected in front of the Tables of God.
The Code and the Bible, interpretation of the first wills, concern for what is good, punishment for what is bad. This is why at the origin of civilizations we find the balance. Balance where Osiris weighs the souls of the Good and the Bad. Yes, but there is the sword of the law which will make the sentence more sophisticated. The sword is of brass like that of Brennus, and one weighs with false weight on all the steps of the Temple.
Society envelops man in an inextricable network. It’s a spider’s web. One hands it, another takes it. Uses and customs. Love and self-esteem. Dol and vol. Violence too. For the same fact, contrary decision. Error here, truth there.
Today arrested, tried, condemned, executed “in the name of the Law”; tomorrow, exalted – but not risen – in the name of an identical law.
Men, because they are men, wanted to work in their image. They created “in the manner of …” To govern, to stupefy, to squeeze, to chastise, to punish crowds, yes; feelings, no.
Each time that man found himself in front of a force of nature, he became himself again, that is to say the ancestral beast which fought to live and perpetuate itself.
Since the first deer slaughtered, there has been law and force.
– I killed him, he’s mine.
– It’s okay, defend your prey. You have your fists. I have my stick.
– I discuss.
– I knock yourself out.
Possession brings jealousy and since the beginning of the centuries the battle has been tough, the weapons have changed – not always – and the fighters stand against each other, tough faces, murderous eyes, the quivering Wood Beast reappears . There is no longer any convention which holds, education or instruction which plays, there is only a blind force which manifests itself with primitive means.
Hurricane-dog moans, then his wet gaze falls on his master.
– Well! you no longer think about it, let’s see, you’ve had your head in your hands for hours, there’s no reason. Time goes by, don’t stay that way, and even if you alone were involved, the importance would be less. And U.S? You don’t seem to suspect that my companions and I are crying out for famine. A quarter of a fish each since this morning is not much for huskies and siwashes. We don’t work, it’s true, but we have a stomach all the same. Say, old man, if you left your lamentations there?
And Hurricane-dog kicks his master’s knees with his head, who flatters the growling beast with his hand.
– Yes, it’s good to be scratched, especially behind the ears, but, for now, listen to the hullabaloo of friends. They do, eh! a hell of a music. I tell you: a quarter of salmon since this morning. It is far away, I assure you. Come on, come on.
And Hurricane-dog goes from the door to his master. He comes back, he leaves, sits on his hindquarters, looks.
Finally, it has been understood. The man stands up. It is a success which one underlines by two very clear barks, to which answer the long howls of the pack.
Work is the soul of solitude. The mash made and distributed, we must think of the thousand daily chores which, in Alaska, take an important place.
Here, you have to rely on yourself. If you want to lie down, on the trail , you have to build a shelter. If you want to eat, you have your rifle and the safety of your eye. In the camp, the resources are better, but still nothing should be exaggerated. We have the comfort we give ourselves.
The store sells canned food, flour, corn, coffee, tea, what do I know? From the Indians, you can buy fish. But the machine for making tea, for cooking corn, was not invented, and the fish will not fry on its own in the pan.
Shake up, Hurricane, my boy. In addition, spring is not eternal and the dumps are waiting for the payroll to be washed.
In Frisco, we may have time to make the pretty heart and the transfixed lover. Here, not!
What do you say about this salmon? Famous, I suspected. And that corn cake? A rich idea from Gregory Land, isn’t it? Is it crisp to the bite, and golden! A real Christmas cake . Without the poor, we eat everything. And the aroma of this coffee, exquisite, my word, exquisite: our nostrils are tickled. You don’t drink the same even at Old poodle dog , the French restaurant on Bush Street , in Frisco.
This scotch whiskey would be enough to reconcile you with life!
Come on, I like you better that way, comrade. On the way.
And Hurricane, whistling, steadily throws his ore into the sluice-box where the water runs silently.
It carries the gravel and the earth and, as gold is eighteen times heavier than water, tonight, with rubber blades, it will collect the payroll from the wooden edges , the price of its labor.
And his joy is greater at having his thoughts put to sleep by fatigue than at feeling, in his bag of skin, his fortune increased by a few hundred dollars.
He returns with a freer heart and, on the path that leads to his wooden house, he sings, while Hurricane-dog runs around him and participates in the joy of his master by yapping.
When the song is over, the boy speaks to the animal:
– Jump, Hurricane, life is good. I’m talking about the life of dogs, because the rest of us… but that’s none of your business. These are human things and we, the so-called superior beings, have to hide our feelings. You are happy, so you bark, you roll onto your back, waving your paws. Ah! old brother, I envy you.
“No, don’t believe that. I’m not going to start over. I don’t have the talent to play the Jérémie. Wow there! Jump, higher, go ahead. A race both? I don’t mind. One, two, three, forward. ”
Hurricane and his dog hurtle down the steep slope and stop together at the bottom of the hill. At the crossroads, the trail is divided: on the left Last-Chance , on the right the path that leads to the Yankee border.
– Peace, Hurricane, let’s be serious. What would they think of us if we we saw. You see, I kept, in spite of myself, the respect of consideration! Monsieur “What will we say? »Visited me. But I swear to you, here, I swear from the bottom of my heart that I do not care… We are here at home. The others, pffutt, like this pebble, you see.
And, with his foot, he chases away the rolling stone which Hurricane-chien catches and brings.
– You’re a good dog. I love you ; the other, you know, the other, well! I don’t care.
“Why are you turning your face askance and blinking?” You do not believe me. I’m sure you don’t believe me. I repeat that I don’t care …
“Come on, come on. Here, that bully Billikins came home. Bet he’s drunk, our friend!
“Don’t bet, you would lose!” ”
Hurricane pushes open the door. Billikins is slumped on a crate. He’s not moving.
– Of course! he sleeps, I told you. Drunk, dead drunk! Hey there …
Billikins turns his head at the noise. So he was not sleeping. So he’s not … But yes, oh! but if he is, to such an extent that Billikins becomes absorbed in contemplating a magazine that he cannot understand since he has never been able to read.
But you have to believe that the thing interests him, because, seriously, he turns the pages one by one, after having wet his thumb as a child would.
There are scenes that captivate him, others are negligible. Oh! Oh! this one is terrifying. A hunter who wrestles with a bison: these white men are sometimes brave as Crees.
And these women, too bad they are so ugly. Their eyes are too big, their lips too outlined, and their hair, what a funny idea to make them stand on end like that! So there isn’t seal oil to grease them in that country?
– Hello, fellow!
Hurricane bends down and snatches the magazine from the frightened Indian. A figure spreads provocatively in the middle of the page, with the title: ” A new star “, and for the caption: ” Miss Dolly Moore, the creator of an Artist’s Life , the film which has just obtained a dazzling success. “