Last Chance , a miners’ camp between Canadian Alaska and Yankee Alaska.
Last Chance , necessary stage – half and half – on the trail which, from Forty Miles, crosses the border towards Eagle.
Who is the boy that fate has brought here to try his last chance?
Was he at the end of his rope or just a good player? His peak struck the rock, and the flanks of Ogilvie-Range gave gold to his sentence.
At Last Chance “the land pays”, so James W. Blackfoot’s saloon is very busy.
It has triple row of bottles behind the mahogany counter – a counter that James W. Blackfoot brought at great expense from Vancouver – a luxury what! The Master of alcohol attentions to its customers that leads roughly, as becomes the keeper of a bar that has established his business past the 63 th degree of latitude north.
If he sells his whiskey for a high price? Of course. Shouldn’t we pay for the mechanical piano which, for hours, grinds disheveled or sentimental tunes? Foxtrots to please the Anglo-Saxons, “Santa Lucia” or “Do you know the country” for the Latins.
James W. Blackfoot gives unhappy players a little gold to pay off their debts, for a few dollars in interest, of course. Nothing for nothing and good deals are our business!
Tonight, the two saloon rooms are celebrating: Andrew Fallingtown brought back with a pickaxe a nugget which, put on the scales, marked an English pound.
Last Chance! It sprinkles. We drink at Andrew Fallingtown’s expense.
A drunk, this fellow , but such a good guy. His last chance is never the last; if he plays, he wins; if he buys a claim that does not return , eight days later he washes for 150 dollars of gold. And what an imagination too! He has been at the Klondyke since heroic times, he has participated in all the beautiful shots. He was there during the Bonanza, he collected a million dollars in pay.
If he kept them? To others! The gold that we find slides between the fingers like the water of sluice-boxes !
It was he who sent the boys working for him at sixteen dollars a day, grab all the extra-dry the saloons of Dawson; the companions having carried out this mission of confidence, Andrew Fallingtown took a bath of Champagne.
After that, the messengers were allowed to drink the liquid. What they did not deprive themselves of, it is said, because we still keep in Alaska the memory of this memorable soulography.
The million dollars melted like snow in the sun. Andrew Fallingtown walked north. For now, he is celebrating his “last chance”.
The mechanical piano does not stop. The dancing-girls do not manage to satisfy the customers. One dollar the waltz tour – on behalf of James W. Blackfoot of course; also devoted miners, handkerchiefs tied to their arms, perform the office of cavalry.
In the other room, those who are not interested in dancing are having a hell of a game; the pharo has a few followers, but poker is leading the way. There are five thousand dollar “pots”. Each piece of cardboard bears a number not less than 100 and the player’s signature. When the game is over, the boxes are exchanged for gold dust or paper dollars.
With both feet on the table, his head haloed in smoke, the pipe between his teeth, Gregory Land is blissfully savoring the hour ahead.
Hurricane becomes absorbed in reading a two month old newspaper.
Both are more isolated in this tumultuous room than if they were alone in the plain or the woods.
Suddenly Gregory goes down one leg, then another leg; he then gets up with a jerk of his back and, his eyes fixed, his face outstretched, he gets lost in the examination of an object which attracts his attention to such an extent that he seems hypnotized.
Two minutes pass. The postman takes off his pipe and puts it out with his thumb.
The case seems important. The eyebrows come closer, two parallel folds cross the forehead. Devil! it does not go well. It is also the opinion of Gregory who swears between teeth.
He gets up and, taking advantage of the absence of James W. Blackfoot, who has gone to bring to their senses two bad scoundrels who were bumping into each other in the game room, he slips behind the counter and examines a racquet among the hanging rackets. where a name is engraved with a knife.
James W. Blackfoot returns and sees the postman quietly leaving the place. The tenant turns scarlet, his neck becomes congested. The veins protrude like ropes. The bull will charge.
But Gregory Land is not an apprentice who is criticized, nor an elder on whom one imposes his will. Gregory Land is known to all, loved by all. He does not have an enemy throughout the Yukon Territory, whether Yankee or Canadian.
Gregory is the man who carries the news and sustains hope. What is better, he is a comrade with whose arm and purse we never appeal in vain.
James W. Blackfoot softens, he offers:
– A whiskey?
– Whiskey and gin, half and half .
The host pours himself a swig. The two men raise their glass to eye level, then empty it in one gulp.
The postman remains leaning on the counter.
– Is that yours?
With his chin, he points to the lined up rackets. In a tone of indifference, the boss replies:
JW Blackfoot ready for the small week, it is known; so he accompanies his answer with a laugh that shakes his shoulders.
Gregory, out of politeness, laughs his rusty laugh, then, after giving the man a friendly pat, slowly steps back to his seat.
Once seated, he takes out of his pocket the wallet of the poor fellow who ended his luck in the ravines of Hell’s Mount .
He examines some papers, then a twitch pulls his mouth.
– Hello, boy!
Hurricane, absorbed in reading, does not respond.
Hurricane looks up, his gaze meeting the steel gray eyes of the postman whose lips barely move when he says:
– Pretend to read your newspaper and for God do not miss a word of mine.
He speaks to her in a low voice, quickly, very quickly; not a fold of his face moves, his resolution is arrested, he has all his composure.
He finishes :
– You got it right, so be careful with your eye, eh! boy!
Hurricane gets up. Gregory calls him back.
– You know you can leave your skin there?
Hurricane shrugs his shoulders. That question! of course, he knows it, but does it matter?
So Gregory, a hand on the young man’s shoulder, stares him straight in the eyes and simply says:
– You are a dear individual.
Hurricane went to stand against the door. No one can enter or leave. He has both hands behind his back, his palms resting on the doors.
Gregory gives him a look:
– So let’s go.
Gregory knows how to give an order. In a thunderous voice, he utters such a cry that the dancers stop turning; the players, card in hand, hesitate to bring it down.
– Boys… says Gregory.
– What, what is it?
– A drunkard.
– Take it off.
– Let him be put to bed.
– The peace.
– To hell!
The arrests intersect.
– No, it’s Gregory Land.
– The postman?
– Devil, then this is serious.
– Shut up.
– Your faces, you guys, we don’t get along.
– Boys, boys , proclaims the postmaster who, to give more scope to his voice, is mounted on a table.
There is silence.
– Are you all here? In the room over there, nobody? Dick, my old brother, stop the mechanical piano.
All surround the postman.
– Thanks boy. Do you want to close the door? Good. Stay there, Dick, Jim and you. Patrick, sit next to Dick, Boby, old chap , you will suffice at the window. Are you all there? So listen to me.
In groups, the miners form a circle; the dancers have thrown a shawl over their shoulders, they embrace their riders. All necks are stretched towards the man.
And the man speaks.
– Excuse me, I disturbed you in your pleasure, yes, excuse me. Now, who has left the camp for eight days?
– For eight days?
– Sure, he’s crazy!
– That’s why he’s calling us …
A laugh passes which spreads from row to row.
– Shut up, orders the postman.
In his energetic way, we see that there is nothing to laugh about.
– I repeat: who left the camp for eight days?
James W. Blackfoot scratches his scalp with his index finger, as if thinking.
– Let’s see… there is… Cumberland who left for Eagle.
– Where is Cumberland?
– To Eagle, probably.
– Good after?
– There are… Ralph C. Ward and Grégoire La Tulette who went to prospect on the northeast slope of the Ogilvies.
– You say Ralph C. Ward and Grégoire La Tulette?
– Yes. That’s all.
– That’s all? Well. Hold on, boys. Who can update me on Ned F. Glewood?
Peaceful, James W. Blackfoot replies:
– Glewood? He is far away, if he is still running, he left us six days ago.
– Fortune made, interrupted a miner.
When the laughter wanes, Gregory announces:
– Ned F. Glewood no longer runs, he sleeps in the ravines of Hell’s Mount , with a bullet in the head.
– Huh?… What?… What is he saying?… Glewood who left full of life? Come on, is he dead?… It’s crazy… An accident?… But you can’t hear, you are told that he has a bullet in the head.
– Enough, Gregory orders.
All are silent, calming their emotion.
– The murderer is here, assures the postman. And with his finger outstretched, he adds:
– Here are the snowshoes of the dead man. Look, we can see on the outside, engraved with a knife, the name in capitals: NED F. GLEWOOD.
All want to see.
“Back,” James W. Blackfoot orders. No one behind my counter. Back and up.
The bull holds a browning with each fist.
The postman, mockingly, intervenes:
– You are sensitive, friend Blackfoot. Keep your cool. No one thinks of you. We don’t want it at your caisse.
Grumbling, the keeper lowers his weapons.
– I haven’t left my counter, have I, you guys?
Affirmations are raining down.
– Who is it that tells you the opposite? Gregory says.
– Show the snowshoes …
Willy-nilly, the bar owner is forced to pick up the rackets that the crowd rushes to examine.
A voice slips into the postman’s ear:
– Pipo Malatesta left to take the track of a cariboo. He was absent for two days. He came home the day before yesterday, exhausted, he slept twenty hours.
So Gregory Land claims:
– Who is Pipo Malatesta?
In response, a young boy, a revolver in his hand, rushes forward, screaming:
– Place, place the rest of you.
Without further ado, he shoots the pile. Two cries, two men fall.
– The door, Gregory warns. Warning!
Pipo turns and shoots, Gregory bends down, the bullet is lost in the plank wall.
Suddenly, night falls; someone cut off the power. In the room, it is an indescribable tumult: we shout, we trample, we fight. The dry click of bullets whips the air. The shrill voices of women mingle with the groans of the dying.
Gregory’s organ dominates:
– Stay at your posts, boys!
At the counter, fierce struggle. Bottles and glasses tumble and shatter.
And the light reappears, at the same time as we hear Gregory Land:
– I am truly sorry to have accommodated you in this way. Yes, I’m very sorry.
This speech is addressed to James W. Blackfoot who has his skull properly opened. At his side, scattered, the remains of a bottle.
Placid, the postmaster continues:
– Also why the hell did you turn it off? Were you so afraid of the light? Very, very sorry.
Two men lie inanimate, around whom we hasten, while the cowards painfully come out from under the benches where they have taken refuge.
Despite the situation, there are laughs and jokes.
Three women are injured, one seriously; folded in half, her hands on her stomach, she moaned softly, softly.
Bobby at his window, Dick, Jim and Patrick didn’t move an inch.
In a corner, Hurricane holds Malatesta at bay, who, hands in the air, knees bent, waits. At his feet, a revolver widowed with all its bullets.
“Alright, dear boy, bring him in,” Gregory says.
Hurricane, placidly, puts the browning on his belt, his hand falls on the shoulder of the man he drags to the middle of the bar.
– What are the three oldest here? asks the postman.
Three minors come out of line. A tribunal is improvised.
– The Presidency? No thanks. I’m just a witness, said the Postmaster.
The trial is well conducted. Moreover, the accused confesses. He’s an Italian, handsome as a girl. Eighteen, maybe twenty, he has black curly hair; he’s a new guy who hasn’t wasted his time in the creeks ; skilled at playing and strumming the guitar, he never left the saloon .
– A chechaquo like you does not know how to cut a track, intervenes harshly Gregory.
Pipo Malatesta laughs; with a nod of his head, he points to the counter.
– The other one there.
And Pipo eats the piece. He says it all. The blow set up by J.-W. Blackfoot, the preparations, the cut trail , the wait in the snow, the sledge jump, the miner’s death, the theft, the return, the shared dollars. Blackfoot has the biggest share. Here.
The crowd has sudden anger. Indignation erupts like a storm.
Without Gregory Land, we would complete James W. Blackfoot on the spot. He leans over the man, examines the wound, pouted and said:
– Pig’s head is hard, it will come back.
We wash the wound with whiskey. Bobby regrets:
– If it is not unfortunate, spoil such a good thing!