Mystery at Chilkoot Passby Barbara Steiner
Gold fever sweeps the country as a twelve-year-old aspiring writer travels to the Yukon with her family and best friend, fighting natural disasters and a clever thief
After traveling from San Francisco by steam ship, Hetty McKinley, her best friend, Alma, and their families prepare for the five-hundred-mile trek north to the gold fields of the Yukon./b>… See more details below
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Gold fever sweeps the country as a twelve-year-old aspiring writer travels to the Yukon with her family and best friend, fighting natural disasters and a clever thief
After traveling from San Francisco by steam ship, Hetty McKinley, her best friend, Alma, and their families prepare for the five-hundred-mile trek north to the gold fields of the Yukon. It’s only September, but the Arctic Circle is already frigid.
As the two families, along with hundreds of other prospectors, camp out for the night near the outpost of Dyea, Hetty catches a glimpse of the legendary Chilkoot Pass, the narrow gap through which they’ll cross Alaska into Canada. But the next morning, Alma’s mother discovers that all their money is gone! A few days later, Hetty’s cherished locket, containing a photograph of her dead mother, disappears.
More thefts soon follow, but these are the least of their problems. Soon, the group is battling typhoid, blizzards, and a terrifying avalanche. Will Hetty and her family and friends survive their journey to the top of the world?
This ebook includes a historical afterword.
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Mystery at Chilkoot Pass
By Barbara Steiner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Barbara Steiner
All rights reserved.
"Papa!" Hetty McKinley screamed as a rush of people crowded the rope ladders, sending her sprawling on the deck. The steamer rode low in the water, so her father simply picked her up and lowered her over the rail of the ship onto a smaller, flat-bottomed boat he called a scow. She landed with a thud, glanced around, then called back to him, "We're nowhere near shore, Papa."
"Just steady yourself and hang on," Papa shouted.
Hetty's Uncle Donall dropped her best friend, Alma Vasquez, beside her like a sack of potatoes. Alma grabbed Hetty's hand and squeezed her brown eyes tight as the boat rocked.
"Look, Alma, your mother is climbing down that rope." Hetty watched as the plump Maria Vasquez turned loose of the knotted rope and landed beside them. Both girls grabbed her hands to steady her.
"Oh, my goodness, I never dreamed I could do that. But I didn't want us to be separated." Alma's mother laughed instead of being scared like Hetty and Alma as the scow rocked on the choppy waves.
"Here comes a crate, Hetty," Papa yelled. He tried to lower the box slowly, but it fell at Hetty's feet and broke open.
Other passengers from the steamer jumped onto the scow, bumping and pushing Hetty and Alma. In the sea around them, horses snorted and dogs swam for shore. Goats, mules, and oxen splashed and struggled toward the beach, at least a mile away. Sailors threw boxes and trunks from the steamer. Some missed the scow, splashed into the icy water, and sank. Hetty hoped none of those supplies were theirs.
Papa swung over the rail and dropped, light on his feet. Uncle Donall rigged a rope system and lowered more of their provisions into Papa's arms.
"Help me, Hetty, Alma." Mrs. Vasquez was trying to gather supplies around her. The scow was riding so low that water had begun to run over their feet. Moments later, the scow, towed by men in a rowboat, moved away from the steamer they'd traveled on for a week from San Francisco.
"I'll stay here with the rest of our things, Glen," Uncle Donall shouted to Papa. "Come back for another load when the scow returns."
More than half of their supplies were still on the steamer. Hetty, in the endless hours of the trip north, had calculated that they had brought four thousand pounds. Enough to last until next summer—as long as it would take them to make it to Dawson and the goldfields of the Yukon, five hundred miles to the north.
A chilly wind whipped Hetty's dark hair into her face. She pulled it back with both hands so she could look around as the scow moved toward shore. What she saw made her mouth fall open. Mountains, dusted with snow, split the pale blue sky. Ahead was Dyea beach, but there was no wharf, no one to help them unload. They had to help themselves, as did the thousands of other passengers who spilled over each other in their eagerness to find gold.
Dyea, which they'd heard was a boomtown, appeared to be only a few wooden buildings huddled together in the distance. Hetty scanned the rugged horizon beyond, but she couldn't make out Chilkoot Pass, the narrow gap through which they'd cross the mountains from Alaska into Canada. The idea of walking seventeen miles through the mountains to Chilkoot Pass, hauling all their supplies, overwhelmed her imagination. Once they crossed the pass, Hetty knew, they still had to walk down the mountain to Lake Lindeman, set up camp for the winter, and build a boat. Next spring, they would travel along lakes and rivers the rest of the way to Dawson.
Papa touched Hetty's shoulder, bringing her out of her thoughts. He pointed to where many scows were landing. "Looks like we'll unload right at the water's edge. Take whatever you can carry up to dry ground, beyond reach of the tide. One of you girls must guard our supplies up there while the other helps Maria haul the rest. I'll go back to the ship to help Donall."
"Is it safe, Glen, to leave one of the girls alone?" Maria Vasquez asked. She frowned and shaded her eyes from the weak sunshine.
"I think so. We have no choice. Don't talk to anyone, Hetty."
The scow thumped aground. Papa and the other passengers began to unload boxes and crates. Mrs. Vasquez lifted her small trunk. Hetty stumbled in the wet sand as she stepped off the scow, but she and Alma together grabbed a twenty-five-pound bag of oatmeal and ran for higher ground. Saturated with water, the bag was twice as heavy as it should have been. As Mrs. Vasquez and Alma ran back for another load, Hetty stood guard and watched the tide rising, waves rolling in like a hungry monster heading for their food.
"Your turn, Hetty," Alma said when she returned with another load. "I'll guard. I need to rest."
Hetty dashed back toward the water and lifted a slab of bacon and a bag of dried apricots. She slipped on the muddied sand. A boy about her age grabbed her arm and steadied her. He grinned and hurried on.
When it was her turn to guard again, Hetty leaned on a crate to ease her aching muscles and stared at the scurrying people around her. Down near the water, supplies were piled into mountains. Tents, frying pans, sheet-iron stoves, luggage, bales of hay, coils of rope, shovels, and goldpans—everyone had similar things. Everyone had read the supply lists in the San Francisco Call. They had spent their life savings making sure they bought every item. Everything they owned was stacked right here. People scrambled over and between the piles like rats or mice, looking for crates, barrels, or trunks labeled with their names. Hetty saw one man climb on a hill of unclaimed provisions and start to call out names— "Carter, Simmons, Redcliffe." He tossed bags and boxes into waiting arms.
Dogs barked. A goat seemed to laugh at the frenzy around them, but maybe she was scared or needed to be milked. The air filled with gulls, screeching and diving for loose scraps of food.
Hetty saw Alma scramble through the crowd, carrying a big tin of tea. "There are more people on this beach than in the entire city of San Francisco, Alma."
Alma giggled. "Stop exaggerating, Hetty. I agree there must be thousands of people here, but—Look, isn't that Mr. Parker?" Alma pointed to a man they'd met on the steamer. He was sitting closer to the water on a tent roll, crying.
"You watch our things, Alma. When Papa said not to talk to anyone, he meant a stranger. I'm going to see what's wrong." Hetty ran to the giant man. She and Alma had been afraid of Amos Parker at first. He was nearly seven feet tall and looked fierce until they got to know him. "Mr. Parker, what's the matter?"
Mr. Parker looked up and wiped his eyes. "I've lost everything, Hetty. All two thousand pounds."
He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his dirty red shirt. "Those blasted sailors threw everything off the steamer without a care. What wasn't lost in the water is either broken or wet."
"Are you sure it's all ruined? As soon as Papa gets back, we'll help you carry things to higher ground." Hetty was exhausted, but if Mr. Parker needed help, she would work some more.
"It's too late. Too late. I'll have to go home, although the journey's just starting, although we've just set foot in Alaska. No prospecting for gold for me." Tears ran into Mr. Parker's black beard. Hetty had rarely seen a grown man cry, and certainly not one as huge as Amos Parker.
With a heavy heart, but knowing there was nothing she could do, she ran back to Alma and explained Mr. Parker's dilemma. Wind started to blow, and Hetty bounced to stay warm. The sun was a huge, sparkling dinner plate, but the air was crisp and cold, signaling the coming fall.
It was already the twenty-second of September, 1897. Papa had wanted to get an earlier start, but all the ships had been booked. From the moment that prospectors stepped off a steamer in San Francisco Bay last July shouting, "Gold, we've found gold in the Yukon!" everyone had wanted to sail north to seek his fortune. Hetty had heard stories about people dropping everything to rush north, mad with gold fever. Bank tellers abandoned their jobs, leaving people standing in line at the counters. Waiters in restaurants left diners at tables without their meals.
Hetty had turned twelve on the day in August when Papa announced they were going to the Yukon to search for gold. Alma had turned twelve the day they'd left San Francisco. What a birthday present!
Hetty rubbed the locket hanging on a chain around her neck, the locket her mother had given her for her eighth birthday. It held the only picture Hetty had of her mother. Would Mama have liked coming on this trip?
Just then Mrs. Vasquez reappeared, a bag of beans on one shoulder, a bag of cornmeal on the other. She laid both at Alma's feet. "Girls, this is the last of our first load. But the scow is back. Glen is unloading more now. Hetty, you stay here. Alma, come help Glen and me."
Hetty wanted to go find Papa, but she knew she had to stand watch. People who had lost everything might decide they could steal supplies that lay unclaimed.
She looked behind her and saw new white tents springing up beside the thousands already pitched near the town of Dyea. A tent city Hetty thought. A tent city, flags flying, filled with people eager to look for gold.
It took hours to get the rest of their supplies off the steamer onto the scow, to move them off the scow onto the beach, and then to relay their things up the beach to dry ground. From there they had to carry everything again to where they would pitch their tent for the night. Hetty realized this was what they'd have to do again and again to climb up and over the mountain.
By the time the last load was carried to the campsite, her arms ached and her dress was muddy. She wanted to lie down and sleep for hours, but it was only late afternoon and there was still work to do if they were going to start hiking tomorrow. She and Alma leaned on a stack of flour bags. Hetty sighed and looked around.
A flag she had spotted from the beach turned out to be someone's red long underwear. She nudged Alma and pointed, and both girls laughed.
Hetty, Alma, and Papa set up two canvas tents, one for the men and one for the women. Mrs. Vasquez, her face pale with exhaustion, got a fire started, brewed a pot of coffee, and set a pan of water to boil.
"Where is Uncle Donall?" Hetty asked as they pounded the last tent stake into the ground.
"I imagine he's had enough of hard work." Mrs. Vasquez's brown eyes were anxious as she looked over their supplies.
"You think it's all here, Mama?" Alma asked.
"I can't begin to say until I take inventory. Glen, half your goods are wet."
"The last load got soaked by the rising tide. I'm afraid it's ruined." Papa never looked at Hetty as he took out a pipe and tamped it full of tobacco. With a groan, he sat down beside the fire.
"If our food is wet, Papa, will we have to go back home?" Hetty asked.
Papa shook his head. Hetty couldn't tell whether he was saying no, or he didn't know, or he was just too tired to make a decision.
The familiar smell of Papa's pipe blended with smoke from their fire. All around them, campfires crackled and bacon sizzled, sending a tantalizing smell skyward. Dogs barked. Somewhere a fiddler played a merry tune. A current of excitement from the tent city circled Hetty, and the feeling was catching. Hetty's heart beat a little faster, and she collapsed beside Alma on a log they had pulled up near the fire.
They couldn't go back now! At first, Hetty hadn't wanted to run off to the Yukon to hunt for gold. But they'd come this far already—and what if they could pick up gold nuggets the size of potatoes? What if they could go back to California as rich as all the snooty people on Nob Hill? What if she could have all the dresses she wanted and go to fancy parties? What if she and Papa could buy a house with a dozen rooms and indoor bathrooms?
After Mama died, they'd had to sell their small house to pay doctor bills, and Papa had seemed content to live in a couple of rented rooms. Hetty had the big room, but in one corner was their tiny kitchen and a dining table. Her bed was partitioned off with a curtain, giving her a little privacy. But if they had a house, she could have a room of her own. And a desk, her very own desk.
Hetty wanted more than anything else to be a writer. Not a newspaper reporter like Papa, but a writer of novels, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. When she had been arguing with Papa, saying that she wouldn't come on this trip, he had told her, "Writers are always curious about what is happening around them. Writers go looking for adventures and stories. The Klondike gold rush is going to be the story of the century, Hetty."
Wouldn't the joke be on her if Papa was right? Hetty smiled, thinking she'd be glad to apologize to Papa. She looked up to see the boy who had helped her on the beach walk by. With him was another boy who was bigger and taller. Hetty caught the older boy's eye and he smiled back at her. But his was not a friendly smile. He looked smug, as if he had read all her thoughts and was laughing at her foolish daydreaming. Hetty watched as the pair faded into the growing darkness, then quickly forgot them.
"Oh, my Lord, no, no, no!" The sound of sobbing followed Mrs. Vasquez's words.
Hetty turned around to see that Mrs. Vasquez had gone inside the tent.
"Mama, what's wrong?" Alma jumped up and rushed inside with Hetty and Papa right behind her.
"My purse, my little red pouch—All my money, all the money I have in the whole world is gone!"
As Hetty's eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the tent, she saw that Mrs. Vasquez had collapsed beside her trunk of personal possessions. The trunk was open, its contents spilling out.
"I thought I got off the boat wearing it around my neck, tucked into my blouse, but just a few moments ago I realized it was gone. Then I thought maybe I had taken it off and hidden it in my trunk. But it's not there, and it's not around my neck."
Mrs. Vasquez started to cry again. Hetty had never seen Mrs. Vasquez so upset. But just like the giant, Amos Parker, Mrs. Vasquez sobbed and tears ran down her face. "We can't go on, Alma. We don't have the money to go on. Our adventure, our chance to be rich, is spoiled. And all through my carelessness."
Alma sank down beside her mother and hugged her. Hetty felt hot tears slide down her own cheeks.CHAPTER 2
THE TENT RESTAURANT
Hetty sat on one side of Mrs. Vasquez, and Alma sat on the other, hugging her. Hetty looked at Papa. His beard was scraggly and wild. His green eyes had deep, smoky circles underneath. Hetty wondered if her own looked so empty and discouraged.
"We can't go home, Papa, we just can't. And we can't go on alone. I could never leave Alma behind."
"You're right, Hetty." Papa ran his fingers through his curly black hair. "You and Alma are like sisters, and Mrs. Vasquez has been a wonderful friend to our family. We all made the decision together to come. Whatever we decide to do, we're sticking together."
Mrs. Vasquez searched in the pocket of her voluminous red skirt until she found a handkerchief. She dried her eyes. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and cleared her throat. "I'm too tired to think about this any more tonight. Things always look better in the morning."
Hetty didn't see how anything could improve overnight, unless Mrs. Vasquez found her money. They were quiet over dinner. Then they unpacked their blankets, rolled them out into beds, and got ready for their first night on Alaskan soil.
The next morning, while they were cooking breakfast, Colin Brandauer of the Northwest Mounted Police came by their tent. They had met the young Mountie on the steamer. He was one of twenty Mounties who were being sent into Alaska and Canada to help the Klondikers. Hetty wondered if he'd heard about someone taking Mrs. Vasquez's money.
"Good morning, Mrs. Vasquez, Hetty, Alma. Did you get off the steamer without mishap?" The Mountie stood tall and proud in his red coat, blue breeches with a stripe down each side, and shiny black boots.
"I'm afraid not," Mrs. Vasquez answered. "My purse disappeared. I've lost all my money."
Colin Brandauer shook his head. "That's a shame. Unfortunately, with all the confusion on the beach, theft is not uncommon. And there's not much law enforcement in Dyea. What do you plan to do? You need cash to make it through the winter in the Yukon." The Mountie looked at Mrs. Vasquez, then at Alma and Hetty. "This is a very difficult trip, and only the strongest and best-prepared people, the ones who can overcome adversity, are going to make it to Dawson."
"Are you saying we can't do it, Mr. Brandauer?" Hetty asked. "Make it to Dawson?"
"Please call me Colin, Hetty. You're the same age as my sister, and 'Mr. Brandauer' sounds like my father." He smiled at Hetty, then raised his eyebrows. "Are you a person who gives up easily?"
"I am not." What Hetty didn't say was, Just let someone tell me I can't do something. Her middle name was Stubborn.
"Overnight, I thought of a plan, Colin," Mrs. Vasquez said. "I'd be glad for your opinion on whether it will work. I see many hungry men out here without their wives to cook for them. I'm a very good cook.
Excerpted from Mystery at Chilkoot Pass by Barbara Steiner. Copyright © 2010 Barbara Steiner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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