Excerpts from "Two Women in the Klondike"
by Mary E. Hitchcock
The Tent Disappoints
Although this is mainland, we call it "our island," because it seems to us, as though we are leading a Robinson Crusoe life. We went on an exploring expedition this afternoon and our imaginary boundary lines are an eighth of a mile on either side, consisting on the left of a poultry-yard and small slaughtering establishment, from which the odor was so unpleasant that we hastily retraced our steps; on the right, a rivulet or creek coming down from the mountain-side which supplies us with drinking water. As walking over this boggy ground is ruinous to shoes, we have decided to imitate the neighbors and wear either muck-a-lucks or rubber boots. We were greeted pleasantly from each cabin, where the miners are taking their summer's rest after a hard winter's work. Returned to find Dr. H---- waiting to pay us a visit; he had brought photographs of his cabin, and talked of the friends we had in common in Japan. M----, who had been shopping for us in Dawson, brought us rice, ropes, buckets, and numerous other little things needed, which it had been quite impossible for us to obtain. He joined us at dinner, and how we did enjoy that moose-steak! After dinner the rain came down in torrents.
For two days we have been waiting for the man who superintended the erection of our tent, as the poles are entirely too short, causing it to sag, and now we are punished for his neglect, as the sagging forms everywhere pockets which hold water and allow it to drip through as does the fruit-juice from a jelly bag. There are twenty-four big pockets, and innumerable smaller ones, so we rush from one to the other, raising the canvas with sticks, to hear the water drop with a thud on the ground outside. Edith and I have both grown tired of swinging in hammocks and want something more stationary, so Isaacs, with the assistance of our neighbors, cut down some trees, made them into four bedstead-legs, which they drove solidly into the ground, nailed across these side-poles, and then pieces for the head and foot. The frame being finished, a double thickness of burlap was tightly stretched across it, and this was Edith's bed, upon which her hammock and mattress were placed; a similar one was then constructed for me and finished by 11 P.M., and it was still too light for a candle. Isaac had had an unusually hard day's work, but had been unwilling to leave until he had made us thoroughly comfortable. The "boys" had divided their time between rendering him assistance and entertaining us. Mr. A---- gave us his experiences in crossing the Chilkoot Pass to which we listened intently, wondering weather we should be able to screw up our courage to the point of attempting so difficult a feat. He said that, like many another, he had quarreled with his partner and made the usual division of the tent in half, the boat in twain, and even divided the stove. All night long the rain continued, but we, tightly wrapped in blankets in our fine new beds, thought of the old song,
"Oh 't is sweet to lie at even
On the lowly cottage bed,
And to hear the rain-drops patter
On the roof-top overhead."
'T would have been sweeter except for the fact that our fifty-pound sack of flour, and all our worldly goods were lying on the ground, and we wondered whether they would be ruined by the dampness.
Tuesday, August 2d
Not enough sun to dry anything, but it is a blessing that the rain has ceased, and we are praying to be protected from rheumatic pains, for dampness reigns supreme this morning. It was quite ten before we were able to have breakfast, but that is an hour earlier than any of our neighbors, who are seldom about before noon. Isaacs prepared us a delicious breakfast, and we are thankful for such a perfect oil-stove, which is always ready at a moment's notice for cooking of any kind; we had nice fresh salmon taken from our Klondike refrigerator, which, by the way, I have not yet described. By digging from one and a half to two feet underground, one strikes ice, so we have a large subterranean ditch in the kitchen corner of the tent, in which we place boxes containing meat, fish, or whatever one would preserve on ice at home.
Mr. O---- and Mr. J--- paid a friendly call to ask if we wished to be rowed over to town, but we were so very busy unpacking and decorating our tent, that we had to depend upon them to bring us back a roast for dinner. Isaacs busied himself making a couple of benches for our table; chopping trees, and breaking boxes, from which he made us shelves and a couple of stools. 'T was 'three o'clock before we knew it. Isaacs prepared soup from a "beef-stock powder," while Edith made the most delicious scalloped tomatoes. We partook of these dishes and hot biscuit with keen relish, while our cook, being such a hard worker, got the remains of the moose-meat of the day previous, with some "evaporated" potatoes.
At four o'clock, Dr. H---- brought two most attractive young Englishwomen, who had come from Dawson to have tea with him. They had "come in" over the Chilkoot Pass. One had crossed the summit, suspended in a basket, one thousand feet above sea level. Naturally we were deeply interested in their descriptions. Mrs. F---- had lived in Victoria, B.C., and knew many of my friends there, so the visit seemed all too short.
Wednesday, August 3d.
Another rainy day! Consequently, no stampede, as one would sink beyond the knee at each step. Isaacs was late, so Edith made some of her delicious biscuit and broiled some bacon, while I attended to the dining-room and fed and watered the many pets. Just as we had finished, our man Friday entered, in time to do full justice to the remnants of our repast, although, as we had furnished him on the previous day with a month's "grub," the agreement was that he was to do all his cooking and his eating in his own tent. So fearful were we, however, of losing our cook, butler, boatman, and Jack-of-all-trades, that we dared not enter a protest. We had lines stretched across the rear of the tent, and prepared to empty the trunks, which were covered from mold from having been stored in damp quarters while coming up the Yukon. We found many of our gowns ruined beyond redemption, or in such a condition that it would be impossible to wear them again at home; but the Alaska Commercial Company has the reputation of being just and honorable, so the loss will perhaps be made good to us on our return to San Francisco . . .
. . .Friday, August 5th
At the wharf we found Isaacs, but no boat, someone had borrowed it, and there was none for us to hire. After applying to a young man in a fine-looking Peterboro' and being courteously but decidedly refused on the ground that the boat belonged, to an official, Mrs. B---- asked as one having Masonic rights, and before we had time to breathe the boat was ours. On reaching the other side, what a sight met our gaze! I felt as one who had been evicted for non-payment of rent. Our tent was flat on the ground, our furniture and house-hold goods, books, magazines, music, even my beloved diary, were scattered all over the ground, while the two carpenters, aided by our kindly neighbors, were pulling at the tent, ropes, and tackle with all their force. Having breakfasted at ten or later, we had gone to town without luncheon, consequently were in a starving condition. Our neighbors invited us to partake of their hospitality, but as each one has a limited supply of provisions, we felt some delicacy about accepting, and said our tent would be ready in a few moments. . .
. . .10 P.M., and everyone is still working at this mammoth tent. Our neighbor, Mrs. T----, insisted upon Edith's sharing her supper with her, and invited me also so cordially that to accept a bit of nice hot buttered toast was the least I could do, while Mrs. B---- exclaimed, "I'm jealous, as you refused to dine with me." The pigeons are causing the greatest amount of trouble. Although the cote is filled with seed, the bag of grain and water on top of their boxes, and everything arranged to tempt them, nothing will induce them to leave the tent; they were driven out of it only to reappear on the top, and there they sat clinging to the ridge, refusing to fly. As the tent was lifted and lowered, they were off one moment to be back the next, and, finally, as it was gradually tightened into place, and someone stood at the door to keep them away while the furniture was being brought in, down they came through the small hole through which the poles pass, lighting on everything-beds, blankets, music-box, even on the stove. A few were caught and held prisoners in the cote by a curtain which was tacked up, but the others fought hard to remain, and remain they did, much to our disgust, as they are now so tame that they light on the bed in the morning to beg for food.
Such a scene of destruction!--the shelves down, kitchen utensils on the ground, ribbons, ties, toilet-articles, no end of small things trampled under foot, and our beautiful tent badly torn in two places! To say that we were discouraged puts it very mildly, particularly after being told that to make the tent perfect, and so that it would not leak, we should be obliged to purchase, or have made, tackle and rings, and have the entire thing dropped again with the same moving out of furniture. As we expect to "go out" in about three weeks, we decided to accept the situation and get along as best we can. Some of our hard-working assistants remained to partake of a little beef-soup, a bit of salmon, some potatoes, and cake.