The bright and yellow full moon drifted
slowly upward. The sun had just set at nine in
the evening, casting a warm and beautiful glow over
all the lonely landscape, for it was the most dreary
spot in all the dreary wilderness through which the
mighty Yukon passes.
The steamer had tied up for wood,
and now the brawny stevedores with blackened hands
and arms were pitching it to the deck.
To the passengers, of whom there were
a goodly number, time hung heavily, and the younger
ones had proposed a dance. Musical instruments
were not numerous, but such as there were, were brought
out, and two non-professionals with an accordion and
a banjo, were doing their very best.
A small number of sober ones were
to be seen on deck pacing restlessly back and forth,
for the ruthless mosquito was distinctly on evidence,
and threatened to outgeneral the quiet ones, if not
the orchestra and the hilarious dancers.
On the upper deck, a lady, clad in
warm cloak and thick veil, walked tirelessly to and
fro. A big stump-tailed dog of the Malemute tribe
at times followed at her heels, but when she had patted
his head and spoken kindly to him he appeared satisfied,
and lay down again with his head between his paws.
Then sounds from the dancers below, the shrill laughter
of the women mingled with the strum of the banjo and
the wheezy accordion seemed to disturb the dog’s
slumber, and he would again pace up and down at the
At times there would come a lull in
the tumult, and the click of the glasses or crash
of a fallen pitcher would make a variety of entertainment
for the lady and her dog on the upper deck; but the
short and dusky midnight was well passed before the
dancing ceased and partial quiet and order were restored.
Two figures remained near the stern
of the boat. One, a young woman with a profusion
of long auburn hair, the other a man with flushed face
and thick breath.
“I cannot tell now which one
it will be,” said the girl coquettishly, “but
if you wait you will see.”
“No more waitin’ in it,”
he growled. “I have waited long enough,
and too long, and you must choose between us now.
You know we will soon be at ‘Five Fingers,’
and you must be good or they may get you,” with
a wicked leer and clutch at her arm calculated to
startle her as she carelessly sat on the deck rail.
“I’m not afraid of ‘Five
Fingers’ or any other fingers, and I’m
not afraid of your two hands either,” making
her muscles very tense, and sitting rigidly upright,
“and you can’t scare me a bit; I’ll
do as I like, so there!”
By this time the moon shone high above
the tops of the tall slender pines, and spread its
soft light over all the swift and swirling waters.
To the west, the hills faded first from green to blue,
then to purple, and lastly to black, silhouetted as
they were against the quiet sky.
The swift flowing current pushed the
waters up among the weeds and bushes along the river’s
edge and the loose rocks were washed quite smooth.
Now and then might be heard the bark of a wood-chopper’s
dog stationed outside his master’s cabin, and
the steady thud of the steamer never stopped.
At two o’clock it was growing light again, and
still the young man pleaded with the girl on the deck.
She was stubborn and silent.
Swiftly now the boat neared the “Five
Fingers.” Only a few miles remained before
the huge boulders forming the narrow and tortuous
channels called the “Five Fingers” would
be reached, and the face of the pilot was stern.
It was a most dangerous piece of water and many boats
had already been wrecked at this point.
Suddenly above the noise of the waters
and the steamer’s regular breathing there arose
on the quiet air a shrill shriek at the stern of the
The lady on the upper deck had retired.
The captain was sleeping off his too frequent potations,
and only the pilot on the lookout knew that the scream
came from a woman; but it was not repeated.
The pilot’s assistant was off
watch, and his own duty lay at the wheel; so it happened
that a guilty man who had been standing by the deck
rail crept silently, unnoticed, and now thoroughly
sobered, to his stateroom.
His companion was nowhere to be seen.
A small steamer following next day
in the wake of the first boat, came to Five Finger
“See the pretty red seaweed
on the rocks, mamma,” cried a little boy, pointing
to the low ledge on the bank of the east channel.
Those who looked in the direction
indicated by the boy saw, as the steamer crept carefully
up to the whirlpool, a woman’s white face in
the water, above which streamed a mass of long auburn
hair, caught firmly on the rocks.
Standing by the side of his pilot,
the captain’s keen eye caught sight of the head
“It’s only Dolly Duncan,”
he said, with a shrug of his shoulders. “No
one else has such hair; but it’s no great loss
anyway; there are many more of such as she, you know.”