Burning Daylight

Burning Daylight

by Jack London

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Overview

No other writer before or since has been able to capture the awe-inspiring ferocity of the Western American landscape like Jack London. This fictionalized account of the Yukon gold rush offers painstakingly researched historical insights and plenty of fast-paced action.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780965954402
Publisher: Jack London Museum
Publication date: 01/28/1997
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author


Jack London (1876–1916) was a world-famous author, journalist, and activist. His books include The Call of the Wild and White Fang.Eric Heyne is professor of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is the editor of Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature on the American Frontier.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

IT WAS A quiet night in the Tivoli. At the bar, which ranged along one side of the large chinked-log room, leaned half a dozen men, two of whom were discussing the relative merits of spruce tea and lime juice as remedies for scurvy. They argued with an air of depression and with intervals of morose silence. The other men scarcely heeded them. In a row, against the opposite wall, were the gambling games. The crap table was deserted. One lone man was playing at the faro table. The roulette-ball was not even spinning, and the gamekeeper stood by the roaring, red-hot stove, talking with the young, dark-eyed woman, comely of face and figure, who was known from Juneau to Fort Yukon as the Virgin. Three men sat in at stud poker, but they played with small chips and without enthusiasm, while there were no onlookers. On the floor of the dancing room, which opened out at the rear, three couples were waltzing drearily to the strains of a violin and a piano.

Circle City was not deserted, nor was money tight. The miners were in from Moosehide Creek and the other diggings to the west, the summer washing had been good, and the men's pouches were heavy with dust and nuggets. The Klondike had not yet been discovered, nor had the miners of the Yukon learned the possibilities of deep digging and wood-firing. No work was done in the winter, and they made a practice of hibernating in the large camps like Circle City during the long Arctic night. Time was heavy on their hands, their pouches were well filled, and the only social diversion to be found was in the saloons. Yet the Tivoli was practically deserted, and the Virgin, standing by the stove, yawned with uncovered mouth and said to Charley Bates: —

"If something don't happen soon, I'm goin' to bed. What's the matter with the camp, anyway? Everybody dead?"

Bates did not even trouble to reply, but went on moodily rolling a cigarette. Dan MacDonald, pioneer saloonman and gambler on the upper Yukon, owner and proprietor of the Tivoli and all its games, wandered forlornly across the great vacant space of floor and joined the two at the stove.

"Anybody dead?" the Virgin asked him.

"Looks like it," was the answer.

"Then it must be the whole camp," she said with an air of finality and with another yawn.

MacDonald grinned and nodded, and opened his mouth to speak, when the front door swung wide and a man appeared in the light. A rush of frost, turned to vapor by the heat of the room, swirled about him to his knees and poured on across the floor, growing thinner and thinner, and perishing a dozen feet from the stove. Taking the wisp broom from its nail inside the door, the newcomer brushed the snow from his moccasins and high German socks. He would have appeared a large man had not a huge French-Canadian stepped up to him from the bar and gripped his hand.

"Hello, Daylight!" was his greeting. "By Gar, you good for sore eyes!"

"Hello, Louis, when did you-all blow in?" returned the newcomer. "Come up and have a drink and tell us all about Bone Creek. Why, dog-gone you-all, shake again. Where's that pardner of yours? I'm looking for him."

Another huge man detached himself from the bar to shake hands. Olaf Henderson and French Louis, partners together on Bone Creek, were the two largest men in the country, and though they were but half a head taller than the newcomer, between them he was dwarfed completely.

"Hello, Olaf, you're my meat, savvee that," said the one called Daylight. "Tomorrow's my birthday, and I'm going to put you-all on your back — savvee? And you, too, Louis. I can put you-all on your back on my birthday — savvee? Come up and drink, Olaf, and I'll tell you-all about it."

The arrival of the newcomer seemed to send a flood of warmth through the place. "It's Burning Daylight," the Virgin cried, the first to recognize him as he came into the light. Charley Bates' tight features relaxed at the sight, and MacDonald went over and joined the three at the bar. With the advent of Burning Daylight the whole place became suddenly brighter and cheerier. The barkeepers were active. Voices were raised. Somebody laughed. And when the fiddler, peering into the front room, remarked to the pianist, "It's Burning Daylight," the waltz time perceptibly quickened, and the dancers, catching the contagion, began to whirl about as if they really enjoyed it. It was known to them of old time that nothing languished when Burning Daylight was around.

He turned from the bar and saw the woman by the stove and the eager look of welcome she extended him.

"Hello, Virgin, old girl," he called. "Hello, Charley. What's the matter with you-all? Why wear faces like that when coffins cost only three ounces? Come up, you-all, and drink. Come up, you unburied dead, an' name your poison. Come up, everybody. This is my night, and I'm going to ride it. Tomorrow I'm thirty, and then I'll be an old man. It's the last fling of youth. Are you-all with me? Surge along, then. Surge along.

"Hold on there, Davis," he called to the faro dealer, who had shoved his chair back from the table. "I'm going you one flutter to see whether you-all drink with me or we-all drink with you."

Pulling a heavy sack of gold dust from his coat pocket, he dropped it on the high card.

"Fifty," he said.

The faro dealer slipped two cards. The high card won. He scribbled the amount on a pad, and the weigher at the bar balanced fifty dollars' worth of dust in the gold scales and poured it into Burning Daylight's sack. The waltz in the back room being finished, the three couples, followed by the fiddler and the pianist and heading for the bar, caught Daylight's eye.

"Surge along, you-all!" he cried. "Surge along and name it. This is my night, and it ain't a night that comes frequent. Surge up, you Siwashes and Salmon-eaters. It's my night, I tell you-all —" "A blame mangy night," Charley Bates interpolated.

"You're right, my son," Burning Daylight went on gayly. "A mangy night, but it's my night, you see. I'm the mangy old he-wolf. Listen to me howl."

And howl he did, like a lone gray timber wolf, till the Virgin thrust her pretty fingers in her ears and shivered. A minute later she was whirled away in his arms to the dancing floor, where, along with the other three women and their partners, a rollicking Virginia reel was soon in progress. Men and women danced in moccasins, and the place was soon a-roar, Burning Daylight the center of it and the animating spark, with quip and jest and rough merriment rousing them out of the slough of despond in which he had found them.

The atmosphere of the place changed with his coming. He seemed to fill it with his tremendous vitality. Men who entered from the street felt it immediately, and in response to their queries the barkeepers nodded at the back room, and said comprehensively, "Burning Daylight's on the tear." And the men who entered remained, and kept the barkeepers busy. The gamblers took heart of life, and soon the tables were filled, the click of chips and whir of the roulette ball rising monotonously and imperiously above the hoarse rumble of men's voices and their oaths and heavy laughs.

Few men knew Elam Harnish by any other name than Burning Daylight, the name which had been given him in the early days in the land because of his habit of routing his comrades out of their blankets with the complaint that daylight was burning. Of the pioneers in that far Arctic wilderness, where all men were pioneers, he was reckoned among the oldest. Men like Al Mayo and Jack McQuestion antedated him; but they had entered the land by crossing the Rockies from the Hudson Bay country to the east. He, however, had been the pioneer over the Chilcoot and Chilcat passes. In the spring of 1883, twelve years before, a stripling of eighteen, he had crossed over the Chilcoot with five comrades. In the fall he had crossed back with one. Four had perished by mischance in the bleak, uncharted vastness. And for twelve years Elam Harnish had continued to grope for gold among the shadows of the Circle.

And no man had groped so obstinately nor so enduringly. He had grown up with the land. He knew no other land. Civilization was a dream of some previous life. Camps like Forty Mile and Circle City were to him metropolises. And not alone had he grown up with the land, for, raw as it was, he had helped to make it. He had made history and geography, and those that followed wrote of his traverses and charted the trails his feet had broken.

Heroes are seldom given to hero worship, but among those of that young land, young as he was, he was accounted an elder hero. In point of time he was before them. In point of deed he was beyond them. In point of endurance it was acknowledged that he could kill the hardiest of them. Furthermore, he was accounted a nervy man, a square man, and a white man.

In all lands where life is a hazard lightly played with and lightly flung aside, men turn, almost automatically, to gambling for diversion and relaxation. In the Yukon men gambled their lives for gold, and those that won gold from the ground gambled for it with one another. Nor was Elam Harnish an exception. He was a man's man primarily, and the instinct in him to play the game of life was strong. Environment had determined what form that game should take. He was born on an Iowa farm, and his father had emigrated to eastern Oregon, in which mining country Elam's boyhood was lived. He had known nothing but hard knocks for big stakes. Pluck and endurance counted in the game, but the great god Chance dealt the cards. Honest work for sure but meager returns did not count. A man played big. He risked everything for everything, and anything less than everything meant that he was a loser. So, for twelve Yukon years, Elam Harnish had been a loser. True, on Moosehide Creek the past summer he had taken out twenty thousand dollars, and what was left in the ground was twenty thousand more. But, as he himself proclaimed, that was no more than getting his ante back. He had ante'd his life for a dozen years, and forty thousand was a small pot for such a stake — the price of a drink and a dance at the Tivoli, of a winter's flutter at Circle City, and a grubstake for the year to come.

The men of the Yukon reversed the old maxim till it read: hard come, easy go. At the end of the reel, Elam Harnish called the house up to drink again. Drinks were a dollar apiece, gold rated at sixteen dollars an ounce; there were thirty in the house that accepted his invitation, and between every dance the house was Elam's guest. This was his night, and nobody was to be allowed to pay for anything. Not that Elam Harnish was a drinking man. Whiskey meant little to him. He was too vital and robust, too untroubled in mind and body, to incline to the slavery of alcohol. He spent months at a time on trail and river when he drank nothing stronger than coffee, while he had gone a year at a time without even coffee. But he was gregarious, and since the sole social expression of the Yukon was the saloon, he expressed himself that way. When he was a lad in the mining camps of the West, men had always done that. To him it was the proper way for a man to express himself socially. He knew no other way.

He was a striking figure of a man, despite his garb being similar to that of all the men in the Tivoli. Soft-tanned moccasins of moosehide, beaded in Indian designs, covered his feet. His trousers were ordinary overalls, his coat was made from a blanket. Long-gauntleted leather mittens, lined with wool, hung by his side. They were connected, in the Yukon fashion, by a leather thong passed around the neck and across the shoulders. On his head was a fur cap, the earflaps raised and the tying cords dangling. His face, lean and slightly long, with the suggestion of hollows under the cheekbones, seemed almost Indian. The burnt skin and keen dark eyes contributed to this effect, though the bronze of the skin and the eyes themselves were essentially those of a white man. He looked older than thirty, and yet, smooth-shaven and without wrinkles, he was almost boyish. This impression of age was based on no tangible evidence. It came from the abstracter facts of the man, from what he had endured and survived, which was far beyond that of ordinary men. He had lived life naked and tensely, and something of all this smoldered in his eyes, vibrated in his voice, and seemed forever a-whisper on his lips.

The lips themselves were thin, and prone to close tightly over the even, white teeth. But their harshness was retrieved by the upward curl at the corners of his mouth. This curl gave to him sweetness, as the minute puckers at the corners of the eyes gave him laughter. These necessary graces saved him from a nature that was essentially savage and that otherwise would have been cruel and bitter. The nose was lean, full-nostriled, and delicate, and of a size to fit the face; while the high forehead, as if to atone for its narrowness, was splendidly domed and symmetrical. In line with the Indian effect was his hair, very straight and very black, with a gloss to it that only health could give.

"Burning Daylight's burning candlelight," laughed Dan MacDonald, as an outburst of exclamations and merriment came from the dancers.

"An' he iss der boy to do it, eh, Louis?" said Olaf Henderson.

"Yes, by Gar! you bet on dat," said French Louis. "Dat boy is all gold —"

"And when God Almighty washes Daylight's soul out on the last big sluicin' day," MacDonald interrupted, "why, God Almighty'll have to shovel gravel along with him into the sluice boxes."

"Dot iss goot," Olaf Henderson muttered, regarding the gambler with profound admiration.

"Ver' good," affirmed French Louis. "I t'ink we take a drink on dat one time, eh?"

CHAPTER 2

IT WAS TWO in the morning when the dancers, bent on getting something to eat, adjourned the dancing for half an hour. And it was at this moment that Jack Kearns suggested poker. Jack Kearns was a big, bluff-featured man, who, along with Bettles, had made the disastrous attempt to found a post on the head reaches of the Koyokuk, far inside the Arctic Circle. After that, Kearns had fallen back on his posts at Forty Mile and Sixty Mile and changed the direction of his ventures by sending out to the States for a small sawmill and a river steamer. The former was even then being sledded across Chilcoot Pass by Indians and dogs, and would come down the Yukon in the early summer after the ice run. Later in the summer, when Bering Sea and the mouth of the Yukon cleared of ice, the steamer, put together at St. Michaels, was to be expected up the river loaded to the guards with supplies.

Jack Kearns suggested poker. French Louis, Dan MacDonald, and Hal Campbell (who had made a strike on Moosehide), all three of whom were not dancing because there were not girls enough to go around, inclined to the suggestion. They were looking for a fifth man when Burning Daylight emerged from the rear room, the Virgin on his arm, the train of dancers in his wake. In response to the hail of the poker players, he came over to their table in the corner.

"Want you to sit in," said Campbell. "How's your luck?"

"I sure got it tonight," Burning Daylight answered with enthusiasm, and at the same time felt the Virgin press his arm warningly. She wanted him for the dancing. "I sure got my luck with me, but I'd sooner dance. I ain't hankerin' to take the money away from you-all."

Nobody urged. They took his refusal as final, and the Virgin was pressing his arm to turn him away in pursuit of the supper seekers, when he experienced a change of heart. It was not that he did not want to dance, nor that he wanted to hurt her; but that insistent pressure on his arm put his free man-nature in revolt. The thought in his mind was that he did not want any woman running him. Himself a favorite with women, nevertheless they did not bulk big with him. They were toys, playthings, part of the relaxation from the bigger game of life. He met women along with the whiskey and gambling, and from observation he had found that it was far easier to break away from the drink and the cards than from a woman once the man was properly entangled.

(Continues…)


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Burning Daylight 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have long been a fan of Jack London. I started with Call of the Wild and have read many of his books. However, I believe that this novel is the penacle of his writing career. It spiraling downfall of a man caught in the grip of the gold rush and his subsequent salvation by a young woman who reminds him that money isn't everything. It is a gripping story. I couldn't put the book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd very much like to join the clan, Name: Longclaw Marks: black fur with grayish paws, and long daggerlike front claws bright green eyes Personality: aloof very kind and helpful until provoked, then becomes capricious. I do not force mate.
manirul01 More than 1 year ago
Excellent
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While to me, this story was a bit slow, some of it was funny. Daylight so often reminded me of the character played by Arnold S. in the comedy "The Villain" (opposite Ann-Margret and Kirk Douglas) ... but I liked the guy and his astuteness, fairness, etc., in business dealings, hard work, hard play, easy come, easy go ... and his naivete when it came to women! This one's a keeper.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Stop! Please!" She cried out in her sleep.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its really cold lets go back to camp silverstreack
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*walks in swallowing her mouse quickly* hey umm you havent seen frostpaw, my apprentice, lately have you?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Then you will have to talk to my deputy because he is looking for the two other clans" I meowed strongly and confident
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tommorrow is my birthday
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ran after the mouse. Redfur meowed, "thg res.1."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What do you mean arent we at res13
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sound good to me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mosskit looked around and poked the nest. She moved on to the next res
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*comes paddin in slowly breathing heavily the falls to the ground infront of everycat bleeding out slowly a trail of blood is visible behind him*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Next book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dawnstar, meet me in my den, outside of camp. ~&xi&nu&epsilon&pi&iota&pi<_>g&fnof&Iota&alpha&sect<_>h &#9825