Trust by Jack London
All lines had been cast off, and the Seattle No. 4 was pulling slowly
out from the shore. Her decks were piled high with freight and
baggage, and swarmed with a heterogeneous company of Indians, dogs,
and dog-mushers, prospectors, traders, and homeward-bound gold-
seekers. A goodly portion of Dawson was lined up on the bank, saying
good-bye. As the gang-plank came in and the steamer nosed into the
stream, the clamour of farewell became deafening. Also, in that
eleventh moment, everybody began to remember final farewell messages
and to shout them back and forth across the widening stretch of
water. Louis Bondell, curling his yellow moustache with one hand and
languidly waving the other hand to his friends on shore, suddenly
remembered something and sprang to the rail.
"Oh, Fred!" he bawled. "Oh, Fred!
The "Fred" desired thrust a strapping pair of shoulders through the
forefront of the crowd on the bank and tried to catch Louis Bondell's
message. The latter grew red in the face with vain vociferation.
Still the water widened between steamboat and shore.
"Hey, you, Captain Scott!" he yelled at the pilot-house. "Stop the
The gongs clanged, and the big stern wheel reversed, then stopped.
All hands on steamboat and on bank took advantage of this respite to
exchange final, new, and imperative farewells. More futile than ever
was Louis Bondell's effort to make himself heard. The Seattle No. 4
lost way and drifted down-stream, and Captain Scott had to go ahead
and reverse a second time. His head disappeared inside the pilot-
house, coming into view a moment later behind a big megaphone.
Now Captain Scott had a remarkable voice, and the "Shut up!" he
launched at the crowd on deck and on shore could have been heard at
the top of Moosehide Mountain and as far as Klondike City. This
official remonstrance from the pilot-house spread a film of silence
over the tumult.
"Now, what do you want to say?" Captain Scott demanded.
"Tell Fred Churchill--he's on the bank there--tell him to go to
Macdonald. It's in his safe--a small gripsack of mine. Tell him to
get it and bring it out when he comes."
In the silence Captain Scott bellowed the message ashore through the
"You, Fred Churchill, go to Macdonald--in his safe--small gripsack--
belongs to Louis Bondell--important! Bring it out when you come!
Churchill waved his hand in token that he had got it. In truth, had
Macdonald, half a mile away, opened his window, he'd have got it,
too. The tumult of farewell rose again, the gongs clanged, and the
Seattle No. 4 went ahead, swung out into the stream, turned on her
heel, and headed down the Yukon, Bondell and Churchill waving
farewell and mutual affection to the last.
That was in midsummer. In the fall of the year, the W. H. Willis
started up the Yukon with two hundred homeward-bound pilgrims on
board. Among them was Churchill. In his state-room, in the middle
of a clothes-bag, was Louis Bondell's grip. It was a small, stout
leather affair, and its weight of forty pounds always made Churchill
nervous when he wandered too far from it. The man in the adjoining
state-room had a treasure of gold-dust hidden similarly in a clothes-
bag, and the pair of them ultimately arranged to stand watch and
watch. While one went down to eat, the other kept an eye on the two
state-room doors. When Churchill wanted to take a hand at whist, the
other man mounted guard, and when the other man wanted to relax his
soul, Churchill read four-months' old newspapers on a camp stool
between the two doors.
There were signs of an early winter, and the question that was
discussed from dawn till dark, and far into the dark, was whether
they would get out before the freeze-up or be compelled to abandon
the steamboat and tramp out over the ice. There were irritating
delays. Twice the engines broke down and had to be tinkered up, and
each time there were snow flurries to warn them of the imminence of
winter. Nine times the W. H. Willis essayed to ascend the Five-
Finger Rapids with her impaired machinery, and when she succeeded,
she was four days behind her very liberal schedule. The question
that then arose was whether or not the steamboat Flora would wait for
her above the Box Canon. The stretch of water between the head of
the Box Canon and the foot of the White Horse Rapids was unnavigable
for steamboats, and passengers were transhipped at that point,
walking around the rapids from one steamboat to the other. There
were no telephones in the country, hence no way of informing the
waiting Flora that the Willis was four days late, but coming.
When the W. H. Willis pulled into White Horse, it was learned that
the Flora had waited three days over the limit, and had departed only
a few hours before. Also, it was learned that she would tie up at
Tagish Post till nine o'clock, Sunday morning. It was then four
o'clock, Saturday afternoon. The pilgrims called a meeting. On
board was a large Peterborough canoe, consigned to the police post at
the head of Lake Bennett. They agreed to be responsible for it and
to deliver it. Next, they called for volunteers. Two men were
needed to make a race for the Flora. A score of men volunteered on
the instant. Among them was Churchill, such being his nature that he
volunteered before he thought of Bondell's gripsack. When this
thought came to him, he began to hope that he would not be selected;
but a man who had made a name as captain of a college football
eleven, as a president of an athletic club, as a dog-musher and a
stampeder in the Yukon, and, moreover, who possessed such shoulders
as he, had no right to avoid the honour. It was thrust upon him and
upon a gigantic German, Nick Antonsen.
While a crowd of the pilgrims, the canoe on their shoulders, started
on a trot over the portage, Churchill ran to his state-room. He
turned the contents of the clothes-bag on the floor and caught up the
grip, with the intention of entrusting it to the man next door. Then
the thought smote him that it was not his grip, and that he had no
right to let it out of his possession. So he dashed ashore with it
and ran up the portage changing it often from one hand to the other,
and wondering if it really did not weigh more than forty pounds.
It was half-past four in the afternoon when the two men started. The
current of the Thirty Mile River was so strong that rarely could they
use the paddles. It was out on one bank with a tow-line over the
shoulders, stumbling over the rocks, forcing a way through the
underbrush, slipping at times and falling into the water, wading
often up to the knees and waist; and then, when an insurmountable
bluff was encountered, it was into the canoe, out paddles, and a wild
and losing dash across the current to the other bank, in paddles,
over the side, and out tow-line again. It was exhausting work.
Antonsen toiled like the giant he was, uncomplaining, persistent, but
driven to his utmost by the powerful body and indomitable brain of
Churchill. They never paused for rest. It was go, go, and keep on
going. A crisp wind blew down the river, freezing their hands and
making it imperative, from time to time, to beat the blood back into
the numbed fingers.
As night came on, they were compelled to trust to luck. They fell
repeatedly on the untravelled banks and tore their clothing to sheds
in the underbrush they could not see. Both men were badly scratched
and bleeding. A dozen times, in their wild dashes from bank to bank,
they struck snags and were capsized. The first time this happened,
Churchill dived and groped in three feet of water for the gripsack.
He lost half an hour in recovering it, and after that it was carried
securely lashed to the canoe. As long as the canoe floated it was
safe. Antonsen jeered at the grip, and toward morning began to curse
it; but Churchill vouchsafed no explanations.
Their delays and mischances were endless. On one swift bend, around
which poured a healthy young rapid, they lost two hours, making a
score of attempts and capsizing twice. At this point, on both banks,
were precipitous bluffs, rising out of deep water, and along which
they could neither tow nor pole, while they could not gain with the
paddles against the current. At each attempt they strained to the
utmost with the paddles, and each time, with heads nigh to bursting
from the effort, they were played out and swept back. They succeeded
finally by an accident. In the swiftest current, near the end of
another failure, a freak of the current sheered the canoe out of
Churchill's control and flung it against the bluff. Churchill made a
blind leap at the bluff and landed in a crevice. Holding on with one
hand, he held the swamped canoe with the other till Antonsen dragged
himself out of the water. Then they pulled the canoe out and rested.
A fresh start at this crucial point took them by. They landed on the
bank above and plunged immediately ashore and into the brush with the
Daylight found them far below Tagish Post. At nine o'clock Sunday
morning they could hear the Flora whistling her departure. And when,
at ten o'clock, they dragged themselves in to the Post, they could
barely see the Flora's smoke far to the southward. It was a pair of
worn-out tatterdemalions that Captain Jones of the Mounted Police
welcomed and fed, and he afterward averred that they possessed two of
the most tremendous appetites he had ever observed. They lay down
and slept in their wet rags by the stove. At the end of two hours
Churchill got up, carried Bondell's grip, which he had used for a
pillow, down to the canoe, kicked Antonsen awake, and started in
pursuit of the Flora.
"There's no telling what might happen--machinery break down, or
something," was his reply to Captain Jones's expostulations. "I'm
going to catch that steamer and send her back for the boys."
Tagish Lake was white with a fall gale that blew in their teeth.
Big, swinging seas rushed upon the canoe, compelling one man to bale
and leaving one man to paddle. Headway could not be made. They ran
along the shallow shore and went overboard, one man ahead on the tow-
line, the other shoving on the canoe. They fought the gale up to
their waists in the icy water, often up to their necks, often over
their heads and buried by the big, crested waves. There was no rest,
never a moment's pause from the cheerless, heart-breaking battle.
That night, at the head of Tagish Lake, in the thick of a driving
snow-squall, they overhauled the Flora. Antonsen fell on board, lay
where he had fallen, and snored. Churchill looked like a wild man.
His clothes barely clung to him. His face was iced up and swollen
from the protracted effort of twenty-four hours, while his hands were
so swollen that he could not close the fingers. As for his feet, it
was an agony to stand upon them.
The captain of the Flora was loth to go back to White Horse.
Churchill was persistent and imperative; the captain was stubborn.
He pointed out finally that nothing was to be gained by going back,
because the only ocean steamer at Dyea, the Athenian, was to sail on
Tuesday morning, and that he could not make the back trip to White
Horse and bring up the stranded pilgrims in time to make the
"What time does the Athenian sail?" Churchill demanded.
"Seven o'clock, Tuesday morning."
"All right," Churchill said, at the same time kicking a tattoo on the
ribs of the snoring Antonsen. "You go back to White Home. We'll go
ahead and hold the Athenian."
Antonsen, stupid with sleep, not yet clothed in his waking mind, was
bundled into the canoe, and did not realize what had happened till he
was drenched with the icy spray of a big sea, and heard Churchill
snarling at him through the darkness:-
"Paddle, can't you! Do you want to be swamped?"
Daylight found them at Caribou Crossing, the wind dying down, and
Antonsen too far gone to dip a paddle. Churchill grounded the canoe
on a quiet beach, where they slept. He took the precaution of
twisting his arm under the weight of his head. Every few minutes the
pain of the pent circulation aroused him, whereupon he would look at
his watch and twist the other arm under his head. At the end of two
hours he fought with Antonsen to rouse him. Then they started. Lake
Bennett, thirty miles in length, was like a millpond; but, half way
across, a gale from the south smote them and turned the water white.
Hour after hour they repeated the struggle on Tagish, over the side,
pulling and shoving on the canoe, up to their waists and necks, and
over their heads, in the icy water; toward the last the good-natured
giant played completely out. Churchill drove him mercilessly; but
when he pitched forward and bade fair to drown in three feet of
water, the other dragged him into the canoe. After that, Churchill
fought on alone, arriving at the police post at the head of Bennett
in the early afternoon. He tried to help Antonsen out of the canoe,
but failed. He listened to the exhausted man's heavy breathing, and
envied him when he thought of what he himself had yet to undergo.
Antonsen could lie there and sleep; but he, behind time, must go on
over mighty Chilcoot and down to the sea. The real struggle lay
before him, and he almost regretted the strength that resided in his
frame because of the torment it could inflict upon that frame.
Churchill pulled the canoe up on the beach, seized Bondell's grip,
and started on a limping dog-trot for the police post.
"There's a canoe down there, consigned to you from Dawson," he hurled
at the officer who answered his knock. "And there's a man in it
pretty near dead. Nothing serious; only played out. Take care of
him. I've got to rush. Good-bye. Want to catch the Athenian."
A mile portage connected Lake Bennett and Lake Linderman, and his
last words he flung back after him as he resumed the trot. It was a
very painful trot, but he clenched his teeth and kept on, forgetting
his pain most of the time in the fervent heat with which he regarded
the gripsack. It was a severe handicap. He swung it from one hand
to the other, and back again. He tucked it under his arm. He threw
one hand over the opposite shoulder, and the bag bumped and pounded
on his back as he ran along. He could scarcely hold it in his
bruised and swollen fingers, and several times he dropped it. Once,
in changing from one hand to the other, it escaped his clutch and
fell in front of him, tripped him up, and threw him violently to the
At the far end of the portage he bought an old set of pack-straps for
a dollar, and in them he swung the grip. Also, he chartered a launch
to run him the six miles to the upper end of Lake Linderman, where he
arrived at four in the afternoon. The Athenian was to sail from Dyea
next morning at seven. Dyea was twenty-eight miles away, and between
towered Chilcoot. He sat down to adjust his foot-gear for the long
climb, and woke up. He had dozed the instant he sat down, though he
had not slept thirty seconds. He was afraid his next doze might be
longer, so he finished fixing his foot-gear standing up. Even then
he was overpowered for a fleeting moment. He experienced the flash
of unconsciousness; becoming aware of it, in mid-air, as his relaxed
body was sinking to the ground and as he caught himself together, he
stiffened his muscles with a spasmodic wrench, and escaped the fall.
The sudden jerk back to consciousness left him sick and trembling.
He beat his head with the heel of his hand, knocking wakefulness into
the numbed brain.
Jack Burns's pack-train was starting back light for Crater Lake, and
Churchill was invited to a mule. Burns wanted to put the gripsack on
another animal, but Churchill held on to it, carrying it on his
saddle-pommel. But he dozed, and the grip persisted in dropping off
the pommel, one side or the other, each time wakening him with a
sickening start. Then, in the early darkness, Churchill's mule
brushed him against a projecting branch that laid his cheek open. To
cap it, the mule blundered off the trail and fell, throwing rider and
gripsack out upon the rocks. After that, Churchill walked, or
stumbled rather, over the apology for a trail, leading the mule.
Stray and awful odours, drifting from each side of the trail, told of
the horses that had died in the rush for gold. But he did not mind.
He was too sleepy. By the time Long Lake was reached, however, he
had recovered from his sleepiness; and at Deep Lake he resigned the
gripsack to Burns. But thereafter, by the light of the dim stars, he
kept his eyes on Burns. There were not going to be any accidents
with that bag.
At Crater Lake, the pack-train went into camp, and Churchill,
slinging the grip on his back, started the steep climb for the
summit. For the first time, on that precipitous wall, he realized
how tired he was. He crept and crawled like a crab, burdened by the
weight of his limbs. A distinct and painful effort of will was
required each time he lifted a foot. An hallucination came to him
that he was shod with lead, like a deep-sea diver, and it was all he
could do to resist the desire to reach down and feel the lead. As
for Bondell's gripsack, it was inconceivable that forty pounds could
weigh so much. It pressed him down like a mountain, and he looked
back with unbelief to the year before, when he had climbed that same
pass with a hundred and fifty pounds on his back. If those loads had
weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, then Bondell's grip weighed five
The first rise of the divide from Crater Lake was across a small
glacier. Here was a well-defined trail. But above the glacier,
which was also above timber-line, was naught but a chaos of naked
rock and enormous boulders. There was no way of seeing the trail in
the darkness, and he blundered on, paying thrice the ordinary
exertion for all that he accomplished. He won the summit in the
thick of howling wind and driving snow, providentially stumbling upon
a small, deserted tent, into which he crawled. There he found and
bolted some ancient fried potatoes and half a dozen raw eggs.
When the snow ceased and the wind eased down, he began the almost
impossible descent. There was no trail, and he stumbled and
blundered, often finding himself, at the last moment, on the edge of
rocky walls and steep slopes the depth of which he had no way of
judging. Part way down, the stars clouded over again, and in the
consequent obscurity he slipped and rolled and slid for a hundred
feet, landing bruised and bleeding on the bottom of a large shallow
hole. From all about him arose the stench of dead horses. The hole
was handy to the trail, and the packers had made a practice of
tumbling into it their broken and dying animals. The stench
overpowered him, making him deadly sick, and as in a nightmare he
scrambled out. Half-way up, he recollected Bondell's gripsack. It
had fallen into the hole with him; the pack-strap had evidently
broken, and he had forgotten it. Back he went into the pestilential
charnel-pit, where he crawled around on hands and knees and groped
for half an hour. Altogether he encountered and counted seventeen
dead horses (and one horse still alive that he shot with his
revolver) before he found Bondell's grip. Looking back upon a life
that had not been without valour and achievement, he unhesitatingly
declared to himself that this return after the grip was the most
heroic act he had ever performed. So heroic was it that he was twice
on the verge of fainting before he crawled out of the hole.
By the time he had descended to the Scales, the steep pitch of
Chilcoot was past, and the way became easier. Not that it was an
easy way, however, in the best of places; but it became a really
possible trail, along which he could have made good time if he had
not been worn out, if he had had light with which to pick his steps,
and if it had not been for Bondell's gripsack. To him, in his
exhausted condition, it was the last straw. Having barely strength
to carry himself along, the additional weight of the grip was
sufficient to throw him nearly every time he tripped or stumbled.
And when he escaped tripping, branches reached out in the darkness,
hooked the grip between his shoulders, and held him back.
His mind was made up that if he missed the Athenian it would be the
fault of the gripsack. In fact, only two things remained in his
consciousness--Bondell's grip and the steamer. He knew only those
two things, and they became identified, in a way, with some stern
mission upon which he had journeyed and toiled for centuries. He
walked and struggled on as in a dream. As part of the dream was his
arrival at Sheep Camp. He stumbled into a saloon, slid his shoulders
out of the straps, and started to deposit the grip at his feet. But
it slipped from his fingers and struck the floor with a heavy thud
that was not unnoticed by two men who were just leaving. Churchill
drank a glass of whisky, told the barkeeper to call him in ten
minutes, and sat down, his feet on the grip, his head on his knees.
So badly did his misused body stiffen, that when he was called it
required another ten minutes and a second glass of whisky to unbend
his joints and limber up the muscles.
"Hey not that way!" the barkeeper shouted, and then went after him
and started him through the darkness toward Canyon City. Some little
husk of inner consciousness told Churchill that the direction was
right, and, still as in a dream, he took the canon trail. He did not
know what warned him, but after what seemed several centuries of
travelling, he sensed danger and drew his revolver. Still in the
dream, he saw two men step out and heard them halt him. His revolver
went off four times, and he saw the flashes and heard the explosions
of their revolvers. Also, he was aware that he had been hit in the
thigh. He saw one man go down, and, as the other came for him, he
smashed him a straight blow with the heavy revolver full in the face.
Then he turned and ran. He came from the dream shortly afterward, to
find himself plunging down the trail at a limping lope. His first
thought was for the gripsack. It was still on his back. He was
convinced that what had happened was a dream till he felt for his
revolver and found it gone. Next he became aware of a sharp stinging
of his thigh, and after investigating, he found his hand warm with
blood. It was a superficial wound, but it was incontestable. He
became wider awake, and kept up the lumbering run to Canyon City.
He found a man, with a team of horses and a wagon, who got out of bed
and harnessed up for twenty dollars. Churchill crawled in on the
wagon-bed and slept, the gripsack still on his back. It was a rough
ride, over water-washed boulders down the Dyea Valley; but he roused
only when the wagon hit the highest places. Any altitude of his body
above the wagon-bed of less than a foot did not faze him. The last
mile was smooth going, and he slept soundly.
He came to in the grey dawn, the driver shaking him savagely and
howling into his ear that the Athenian was gone. Churchill looked
blankly at the deserted harbour.
"There's a smoke over at Skaguay," the man said.
Churchill's eyes were too swollen to see that far, but he said:
"It's she. Get me a boat."
The driver was obliging and found a skiff, and a man to row it for
ten dollars, payment in advance. Churchill paid, and was helped into
the skiff. It was beyond him to get in by himself. It was six miles
to Skaguay, and he had a blissful thought of sleeping those six
miles. But the man did not know how to row, and Churchill took the
oars and toiled for a few more centuries. He never knew six longer
and more excruciating miles. A snappy little breeze blew up the
inlet and held him back. He had a gone feeling at the pit of the
stomach, and suffered from faintness and numbness. At his command,
the man took the baler and threw salt water into his face.
The Athenian's anchor was up-and-down when they came alongside, and
Churchill was at the end of his last remnant of strength.
"Stop her! Stop her!" he shouted hoarsely.
"Important message! Stop her!"
Then he dropped his chin on his chest and slept. When half a dozen
men started to carry him up the gang-plank, he awoke, reached for the
grip, and clung to it like a drowning man.
On deck he became a centre of horror and curiosity. The clothing in
which he had left White Horse was represented by a few rags, and he
was as frayed as his clothing. He had travelled for fifty-five hours
at the top notch of endurance. He had slept six hours in that time,
and he was twenty pounds lighter than when he started. Face and
hands and body were scratched and bruised, and he could scarcely see.
He tried to stand up, but failed, sprawling out on the deck, hanging
on to the gripsack, and delivering his message.
"Now, put me to bed," he finished; "I'll eat when I wake up."
They did him honour, carrying him down in his rags and dirt and
depositing him and Bondell's grip in the bridal chamber, which was
the biggest and most luxurious state-room in the ship. Twice he
slept the clock around, and he had bathed and shaved and eaten and
was leaning over the rail smoking a cigar when the two hundred
pilgrims from White Horse came alongside.
By the time the Athenian arrived in Seattle, Churchill had fully
recuperated, and he went ashore with Bondell's grip in his hand. He
felt proud of that grip. To him it stood for achievement and
integrity and trust. "I've delivered the goods," was the way he
expressed these various high terms to himself. It was early in the
evening, and he went straight to Bondell's home. Louis Bondell was
glad to see him, shaking hands with both hands at the same time and
dragging him into the house.
"Oh, thanks, old man; it was good of you to bring it out," Bondell
said when he received the gripsack.
He tossed it carelessly upon a couch, and Churchill noted with an
appreciative eye the rebound of its weight from the springs. Bondell
was volleying him with questions.
"How did you make out? How're the boys? What became of Bill
Smithers? Is Del Bishop still with Pierce? Did he sell my dogs?
How did Sulphur Bottom show up? You're looking fine. What steamer
did you come out on?"
To all of which Churchill gave answer, till half an hour had gone by
and the first lull in the conversation had arrived.
"Hadn't you better take a look at it?" he suggested, nodding his head
at the gripsack
"Oh, it's all right," Bondell answered. "Did Mitchell's dump turn
out as much as he expected?"
"I think you'd better look at it," Churchill insisted. "When I
deliver a thing, I want to be satisfied that it's all right. There's
always the chance that somebody might have got into it when I was
asleep, or something."
"It's nothing important, old man," Bondell answered, with a laugh.
"Nothing important," Churchill echoed in a faint, small voice. Then
he spoke with decision: "Louis, what's in that bag? I want to
Louis looked at him curiously, then left the room and returned with a
bunch of keys. He inserted his hand and drew out a heavy Colt's
revolver. Next came out a few boxes of ammunition for the revolver
and several boxes of Winchester cartridges.
Churchill took the gripsack and looked into it. Then he turned it
upside down and shook it gently.
"The gun's all rusted," Bondell said. "Must have been out in the
"Yes," Churchill answered. "Too bad it got wet. I guess I was a bit
He got up and went outside. Ten minutes later Louis Bondell went out
and found him on the steps, sitting down, elbows on knees and chin on
hands, gazing steadfastly out into the darkness.