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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBurning Daylight - PART I - Chapter XI
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Burning Daylight - PART I - Chapter XI Post by :hschager Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :732

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Burning Daylight - PART I - Chapter XI

The hero of the Yukon in the younger days before the Carmack
strike, Burning Daylight now became the hero of the strike. The
story of his hunch and how he rode it was told up and down the
land. Certainly he had ridden it far and away beyond the
boldest, for no five of the luckiest held the value in claims
that he held. And, furthermore, he was still riding the hunch,
and with no diminution of daring. The wise ones shook their
heads and prophesied that he would lose every ounce he had won.
He was speculating, they contended, as if the whole country was
made of gold, and no man could win who played a placer strike in
that fashion.

On the other hand, his holdings were reckoned as worth millions,
and there were men so sanguine that they held the man a fool who
coppered(6) any bet Daylight laid. Behind his magnificent
free-handedness and careless disregard for money were hard,
practical judgment, imagination and vision, and the daring of the
big gambler. He foresaw what with his own eyes he had never
seen, and he played to win much or lose all.

(6) To copper: a term in faro, meaning to play a card to lose.

"There's too much gold here in Bonanza to be just a pocket," he
argued. "It's sure come from a mother-lode somewhere, and other
creeks will show up. You-all keep your eyes on Indian River.
The creeks that drain that side the Klondike watershed are just
as likely to have gold as the creeks that drain this side."

And he backed this opinion to the extent of grub-staking half a
dozen parties of prospectors across the big divide into the
Indian River region. Other men, themselves failing to stake on
lucky creeks, he put to work on his Bonanza claims. And he paid
them well--sixteen dollars a day for an eight-hour shift, and he
ran three shifts. He had grub to start them on, and when, on the
last water, the Bella arrived loaded with provisions, he traded a
warehouse site to Jack Kearns for a supply of grub that lasted
all his men through the winter of 1896. And that winter, when
famine pinched, and flour sold for two dollars a pound, he kept
three shifts of men at work on all four of the Bonanza claims.
Other mine-owners paid fifteen dollars a day to their men; but he
had been the first to put men to work, and from the first he paid
them a full ounce a day. One result was that his were picked
men, and they more than earned their higher pay.

One of his wildest plays took place in the early winter after the
freeze-up. Hundreds of stampeders, after staking on other creeks
than Bonanza, had gone on disgruntled down river to Forty Mile
and Circle City. Daylight mortgaged one of his Bonanza dumps
with the Alaska Commercial Company, and tucked a letter of credit
into his pouch. Then he harnessed his dogs and went down on the
ice at a pace that only he could travel. One Indian down,
another Indian back, and four teams of dogs was his record. And
at Forty Mile and Circle City he bought claims by the score.
Many of these were to prove utterly worthless, but some few of
them were to show up more astoundingly than any on Bonanza. He
bought right and left, paying as low as fifty dollars and as high
as five thousand. This highest one he bought in the Tivoli
Saloon. It was an upper claim on Eldorado, and when he agreed to
the price, Jacob Wilkins, an old-timer just returned from a look
at the moose-pasture, got up and left the room, saying:-

"Daylight, I've known you seven year, and you've always seemed
sensible till now. And now you're just letting them rob you
right and left. That's what it is--robbery. Five thousand for a
claim on that damned moose-pasture is bunco. I just can't stay
in the room and see you buncoed that way."

"I tell you-all," Daylight answered, "Wilkins, Carmack's strike's
so big that we-all can't see it all. It's a lottery. Every
claim I buy is a ticket. And there's sure going to be some
capital prizes."

Jacob Wilkins, standing in the open door, sniffed incredulously.

"Now supposing, Wilkins," Daylight went on, "supposing you-all
knew it was going to rain soup. What'd you-all do? Buy spoons,
of course. Well, I'm sure buying spoons. She's going to rain
soup up there on the Klondike, and them that has forks won't be
catching none of it."

But Wilkins here slammed the door behind him, and Daylight broke
off to finish the purchase of the claim.

Back in Dawson, though he remained true to his word and never
touched hand to pick and shovel, he worked as hard as ever in his
life. He had a thousand irons in the fire, and they kept him
busy. Representation work was expensive, and he was compelled to
travel often over the various creeks in order to decide which
claims should lapse and which should be retained. A quartz miner
himself in his early youth, before coming to Alaska, he dreamed
of finding the mother-lode. A placer camp he knew was ephemeral,
while a quartz camp abided, and he kept a score of men in the
quest for months. The mother-lode was never found, and, years
afterward, he estimated that the search for it had cost him fifty
thousand dollars.

But he was playing big. Heavy as were his expenses, he won more
heavily. He took lays, bought half shares, shared with the men
he grub-staked, and made personal locations. Day and night his
dogs were ready, and he owned the fastest teams; so that when a
stampede to a new discovery was on, it was Burning Daylight to
the fore through the longest, coldest nights till he blazed his
stakes next to Discovery. In one way or another (to say nothing
of the many worthless creeks) he came into possession of
properties on the good creeks, such as Sulphur, Dominion,
Excelsis, Siwash, Cristo, Alhambra, and Doolittle. The thousands
he poured out flowed back in tens of thousands. Forty Mile men
told the story of his two tons of flour, and made calculations of
what it had returned him that ranged from half a million to a
million. One thing was known beyond all doubt, namely, that the
half share in the first Eldorado claim, bought by him for a half
sack of flour, was worth five hundred thousand. On the other
hand, it was told that when Freda, the dancer, arrived from over
the passes in a Peterborough canoe in the midst of a drive of
mush-ice on the Yukon, and when she offered a thousand dollars
for ten sacks and could find no sellers, he sent the flour to her
as a present without ever seeing her. In the same way ten sacks
were sent to the lone Catholic priest who was starting the first
hospital.

His generosity was lavish. Others called it insane. At a time
when, riding his hunch, he was getting half a million for half a
sack of flour, it was nothing less than insanity to give twenty
whole sacks to a dancing-girl and a priest. But it was his way.
Money was only a marker. It was the game that counted with him.
The possession of millions made little change in him, except that
he played the game more passionately. Temperate as he had always
been, save on rare occasions, now that he had the wherewithal for
unlimited drinks and had daily access to them, he drank even
less. The most radical change lay in that, except when on trail,
he no longer did his own cooking. A broken-down miner lived in
his log cabin with him and now cooked for him. But it was the
same food: bacon, beans, flour, prunes, dried fruits, and rice.
He still dressed as formerly: overalls, German socks, moccasins,
flannel shirt, fur cap, and blanket coat. He did not take up
with cigars, which cost, the cheapest, from half a dollar to a
dollar each. The same Bull Durham and brown-paper cigarette,
hand-rolled, contented him. It was true that he kept more dogs,
and paid enormous prices for them. They were not a luxury, but a
matter of business. He needed speed in his travelling and
stampeding. And by the same token, he hired a cook. He was too
busy to cook for himself, that was all. It was poor business,
playing for millions, to spend time building fires and boiling
water.

Dawson grew rapidly that winter of 1896. Money poured in on
Daylight from the sale of town lots. He promptly invested it
where it would gather more. In fact, he played the dangerous
game of pyramiding, and no more perilous pyramiding than in a
placer camp could be imagined. But he played with his eyes wide
open.

"You-all just wait till the news of this strike reaches the
Outside," he told his old-timer cronies in the Moosehorn Saloon.
"The news won't get out till next spring. Then there's going to
be three rushes. A summer rush of men coming in light; a fall
rush of men with outfits; and a spring rush, the next year after
that, of fifty thousand. You-all won't be able to see the
landscape for chechaquos. Well, there's the summer and fall rush
of 1897 to commence with. What are you-all going to do about
it?"

"What are you going to do about it?" a friend demanded.

"Nothing," he answered. "I've sure already done it. I've got a
dozen gangs strung out up the Yukon getting out logs. You-all'll
see their rafts coming down after the river breaks. Cabins!
They sure will be worth what a man can pay for them next fall.
Lumber! It will sure go to top- notch. I've got two sawmills
freighting in over the passes. They'll come down as soon as the
lakes open up. And if you-all are thinking of needing lumber,
I'll make you-all contracts right nowthree hundred dollars a
thousand, undressed."

Corner lots in desirable locations sold that winter for from ten
to thirty thousand dollars. Daylight sent word out over the
trails and passes for the newcomers to bring down log-rafts, and,
as a result, the summer of 1897 saw his sawmills working day and
night, on three shifts, and still he had logs left over with
which to build cabins. These cabins, land included, sold at from
one to several thousand dollars. Two-story log buildings, in the
business part of town, brought him from forty to fifty thousand
dollars apiece. These fresh accretions of capital were
immediately invested in other ventures. He turned gold over and
over, until everything that he touched seemed to turn to gold.

But that first wild winter of Carmack's strike taught Daylight
many things. Despite the prodigality of his nature, he had
poise. He watched the lavish waste of the mushroom millionaires,
and failed quite to understand it. According to his nature and
outlook, it was all very well to toss an ante away in a night's
frolic. That was what he had done the night of the poker-game in
Circle City when he lost fifty thousand--all that he possessed.
But he had looked on that fifty thousand as a mere ante. When it
came to millions, it was different. Such a fortune was a stake,
and was not to be sown on bar-room floors, literally sown, flung
broadcast out of the moosehide sacks by drunken millionaires
who had lost all sense of proportion. There was McMann, who ran
up a single bar-room bill of thirty-eight thousand dollars; and
Jimmie the Rough, who spent one hundred thousand a month for four
months in riotous living, and then fell down drunk in the snow
one March night and was frozen to death; and Swiftwater Bill,
who, after spending three valuable claims in an extravagance of
debauchery, borrowed three thousand dollars with which to leave
the country, and who, out of this sum, because the lady-love that
had jilted him liked eggs, cornered the one hundred and ten dozen
eggs on the Dawson market, paying twenty-four dollars a dozen for
them and promptly feeding them to the wolf-dogs.

Champagne sold at from forty to fifty dollars a quart, and
canned oyster stew at fifteen dollars. Daylight indulged in no
such luxuries. He did not mind treating a bar-room of men to
whiskey at fifty cents a drink, but there was somewhere in his
own extravagant nature a sense of fitness and arithmetic that
revolted against paying fifteen dollars for the contents of an
oyster can. On the other hand, he possibly spent more money in
relieving hard-luck cases than did the wildest of the new
millionaires on insane debauchery. Father Judge, of the
hospital, could have told of far more important donations than
that first ten sacks of flour. And old-timers who came to
Daylight invariably went away relieved according to their need.
But fifty dollars for a quart of fizzy champagne! That was
appalling.

And yet he still, on occasion, made one of his old-time
hell-roaring nights. But he did so for different reasons.
First, it was expected of him because it had been his way in the
old days. And second, he could afford it. But he no longer
cared quite so much for that form of diversion. He had
developed, in a new way, the taste for power. It had become a
lust with him. By far the wealthiest miner in Alaska, he wanted
to be still wealthier. It was a big game he was playing in, and
he liked it better than any other game. In a way, the part he
played was creative. He was doing something. And at no time,
striking another chord of his nature, could he take the joy in a
million-dollar Eldorado dump that was at all equivalent to the
joy he took in watching his two sawmills working and the big down
river log-rafts swinging into the bank in the big eddy just above
Moosehide Mountain. Gold, even on the scales, was, after all, an
abstraction. It represented things and the power to do. But the
sawmills were the things themselves, concrete and tangible, and
they were things that were a means to the doing of more things.
They were dreams come true, hard and indubitable realizations of
fairy gossamers.

With the summer rush from the Outside came special correspondents
for the big newspapers and magazines, and one and all, using
unlimited space, they wrote Daylight up; so that, so far as the
world was concerned, Daylight loomed the largest figure in
Alaska. Of course, after several months, the world became
interested in the Spanish War, and forgot all about him; but in
the Klondike itself Daylight still remained the most prominent
figure. Passing along the streets of Dawson, all heads turned to
follow him, and in the saloons chechaquos watched him awesomely,
scarcely taking their eyes from him as long as he remained in
their range of vision. Not alone was he the richest man in the
country, but he was Burning Daylight, the pioneer, the man who,
almost in the midst of antiquity of that young land, had crossed
the Chilcoot and drifted down the Yukon to meet those elder
giants, Al Mayo and Jack McQuestion. He was the Burning Daylight
of scores of wild adventures, the man who carried word to the
ice-bound whaling fleet across the tundra wilderness to the
Arctic Sea, who raced the mail from Circle to Salt Water and back
again in sixty days, who saved the whole Tanana tribe from
perishing in the winter of '91--in short, the man who smote the
chechaquos' imaginations more violently than any other dozen men
rolled into one.

He had the fatal facility for self-advertisement. Things he did,
no matter how adventitious or spontaneous, struck the popular
imagination as remarkable. And the latest thing he had done was
always on men's lips, whether it was being first in the
heartbreaking stampede to Danish Creek, in killing the record
baldface grizzly over on Sulphur Creek, or in winning the
single-paddle canoe race on the Queen's Birthday, after being
forced to participate at the last moment by the failure of the
sourdough representative to appear. Thus, one night in the
Moosehorn, he locked horns with Jack Kearns in the long-promised
return game of poker. The sky and eight o'clock in the morning
were made the limits, and at the close of the game Daylight's
winnings were two hundred and thirty thousand dollars. To Jack
Kearns, already a several-times millionaire, this loss was not
vital. But the whole community was thrilled by the size of the
stakes, and each one of the dozen correspondents in the field
sent out a sensational article.

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Burning Daylight - PART I - Chapter XII Burning Daylight - PART I - Chapter XII

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Despite his many sources of revenue, Daylight's pyramiding kepthim pinched for cash throughout the first winter. Thepay-gravel, thawed on bed-rock and hoisted to the surface,immediately froze again. Thus his dumps, containing severalmillions of gold, were inaccessible. Not until the returning sunthawed the dumps and melted the water to wash them was he able tohandle the gold they contained. And then he found himself with asurplus of gold, deposited in the two newly organized banks; andhe was promptly besieged by men and groups of men to enlist hiscapital in their enterprises.But he elected to play his own game,
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Still men were without faith in the strike. When Daylight,with his heavy outfit of flour, arrived at the mouth of theKlondike, he found the big flat as desolate and tenantless asever. Down close by the river, Chief Isaac and his Indians werecamped beside the frames on which they were drying salmon. Several old-timers were also in camp there. Having finishedtheir summer work on Ten Mile Creek, they had come down theYukon, bound for Circle City. But at Sixty Mile they had learnedof the strike, and stopped off to look over the ground. They hadjust returned to
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