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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER V THE FIRST SUSPICIONS
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 Trails of mist floated among the pines that stretched their ragged1 branches across the swollen2 river. Though there had been rain in abundance, it flowed crystal clear out of the trackless wilderness3 of rock and forest that rolls north from the Lake of Shadows toward Hudson Bay. This rugged4 belt, which extends from Ottawa River to the fertile prairie, had until very recent days been regarded as valueless to man, except for the purpose of trapping fur-bearing animals. The pines are, for the most part, too small for milling, and there is little soil among the curiously5 rounded rocks. Moreover, the agents of the Hudson Bay Company, which long held dominion6 over the Canadian wilds, did not encourage the intrusion of adventurous7 settlers into their fur preserves. At last, however, the discovery that there were valuable minerals in the rocks was made, and hardy8 treasure-seekers braved the rigors9 of the North.  
Andrew and Carnally knelt in the bottom of their canoe, plying10 the paddle, while a big half-breed stood upright, using an iron-shod pole when the nature of the bottom permitted it. The stream ran strong against them; they were wet, and had laboriously11 forced a passage between big boulders12, up rapids, and a few slacker reaches, since early morning. A fine drizzle13 obscured their view, but so far as they could see, the prospect14 was far from cheerful. Ahead, stony[Pg 47] ledges15 broke the froth-streaked surface of the flood; the pines were green by the waterside, growing with vigor16 where they could find a hold among the rocks, but farther back they were small and tangled17, leaning athwart each other, stripped of half their branches. Some had been blackened by fire, and there were unsightly avenues of tottering18 charred19 logs. The picture was dreary20 and desolate21.
"Isn't it getting time for supper?" Andrew asked as they rounded a bend in the river.
"Not quite. Besides, there's a Mappin camp not far ahead, and if we can make it we'll be saved some trouble."
Andrew nodded, for he had discovered that cooking supper and arranging a shelter for the night is a tiresome22 business when one is wet and worn out by a long day's journey.
"Then we'd better go on. I suppose Mappin's boys are road-making?"
"Yes," said Carnally. "Transport is going to be one of the Company's biggest expenses. Though the river is available it pays to cut out the worst of the portages. Packing ore over a mile or two of slippery rock costs money, and the river makes a big bend full of rapids a little higher up."
"I remember now. The road is to go straight across by the old fur-trade traverse, and when it's finished we'll put wagons23 on. From the looks of the country it will be an undertaking24."
"Sure!" agreed Carnally. "Still, if you get it done at a reasonable figure, it ought to pay."
"It has struck me that we're giving a good deal of work to Mappin. Ever since we left the landing we have come across his men."
[Pg 48]"It's usual to put jobs you're unable to attend to into a contractor25's hands," Carnally replied.
The men were now on more friendly terms, but Andrew had noticed that his companion was generally content with answering questions and seldom made a suggestion. Moreover, he had an idea that Carnally was quietly studying him. The man's attitude was puzzling, but he thought he would in due time find an explanation.
They paddled on for another half-hour, and then a sharp report rang out of the mist ahead. It was followed by a succession of heavy crashes that might have been made by falling rock, and Carnally turned the canoe's head toward the bank.
"Giant-powder," he explained. "The camp's near by, and the boys haven't quit for supper yet."
On landing, they left the half-breed to look after the canoe, while they followed a narrow track through a belt of dismal26 tottering pines. A low log-building stood in a clearing and beyond it the new road led up a ravine with rocky slopes. In one place they had been violently rent, for the ground was strewn with great fragments, over which a cloud of dust still floated. A group of men stood a short distance away, as if afraid to approach nearer, and their attitude suggested that something unusual was going on. As Andrew hurried toward them, two more appeared, staggering out of the dust and vapor27 in a curious drunken manner and dragging along a third. His limpness and the slack way his arms hung down were unpleasantly suggestive.
"What's happened? Has he been hit by a stone?" Andrew asked the nearest man; but the tall, light-haired fellow shook his head as if he did not understand.
Andrew questioned another, with no better success,[Pg 49] and then noticed two others moving cautiously toward the dust and smoke. Their care seemed uncalled for, as the explosion had already occurred; but it was obvious that somebody was lying in need of assistance among the stones brought down by the shot, and Andrew ran forward.
Plunging28 into the dust he noticed that it had an acrid29 smell, and a moment later he felt dizzy. Then he was conscious of an intolerable headache and a feeling of nausea30. He could hardly see; he was losing control of his limbs; but he struggled on and, overtaking the others, helped to drag out an unconscious man. Then he sat down, gasping31, and found it difficult to prevent himself from slipping off the stone.
"I'm sorry," said Carnally, coming up at that moment. "I stopped behind to talk to one of the boys and as I didn't know what you were doing I couldn't warn you. You'll feel better presently."
"What is it?" Andrew asked. "What knocked me and the other fellows over?"
"Giant-powder gas. Some kinds are worse than others, though they're all poisonous. Sit quiet while it works off."
After a while Andrew's head got clearer and the pain less severe, and then Carnally took him to the log-building, where supper was ready. Finding him a seat at the end of a long table, he handed him a pannikin of strong tea. Andrew felt better when he had drunk it, and he began to look about.
The building was a wretched, decrepit32 hovel. The logs were small and sagged33 in the middle; one could hardly stand up in the room; and the rain that had run in through the leaking roof stood in pools on the earthen floor. The bunks34 consisted of two split-board[Pg 50] ledges against the walls, littered with dirty, damp blankets and miry clothing which filled the place with a sour, unpleasant smell. The long table which ran up the middle of the one room was crowded with unkempt men, eating voraciously35 and talking in what Andrew presently recognized as Norwegian, though he thought he caught a word or two of German occasionally. A very neat Chinaman laid a plate before him; but, hungry as he had been before he breathed the powder fumes36, he revolted from the food. The greasy37 pork smelt38 rancid; the potatoes were rotten.
"I couldn't eat this if I were feeling fit," he said disgustedly.
Carnally called the Chinaman, who took the plate away and substituted a piece of pie and one or two desiccated apricots. This was better, and Andrew ate a little, although he suspected that there was something wrong with the lard used in the pie, and the fruit was small and worm-eaten.
"Let's get out," he said. "I don't think I'm dainty, but this place is too much for me."
Leaving the building, they sat down at the foot of a rock which kept the drizzle off them. Andrew breathed the clean fragrance39 of the pines with delight.
"This is a great improvement," he declared. "Will you tell Lucien to pitch our tent where there's shelter?"
"As you wish," said Carnally. "I had figured on our sleeping and getting breakfast in the shack40."
"Heavens, no!"
Andrew lighted his pipe.
"I've recovered enough to feel curious. How did the accident happen? The men who use it must know that the fumes of giant-powder are dangerous; why didn't they wait?"
[Pg 51]"It might be better if I let the man responsible explain."
Carnally beckoned41 the foreman.
"Mr. Allinson wants to know why you didn't keep the boys back until the fumes had cleared."
"I gave them about the usual time; but it looks as if I'd cut it too fine. Guess the damp and there being no wind stopped the gas from getting away. Besides, we're not using a high-grade powder."
"But if there was any doubt, couldn't you have given them another few minutes?" Andrew asked.
The foreman smiled.
"I had to hold up a dozen men while that shot was fired, and the rain has kept us back lately. Now a boss contractor knows how many yards of dirt a man can move in a day and how much rock you ought to shift with a stick of giant-powder. It's easy figuring how far the road should be pushed ahead for the money spent, and I've got to keep up to schedule."
Andrew studied the man. He looked hard, capable of getting the most out of his subordinates, but not brutal42.
"Then no allowances are made?" he suggested.
"No, sir; not on a Mappin job. You have to put through the work or get!"
He left them and Andrew turned to Carnally.
"Is the shack these fellows live in better or worse than the average?" he asked.
"Worse. The boys are often quite comfortably fixed43."
"What about the food?"
"You can judge for yourself," Carnally drawled. "It's the meanest hash I ever struck; and you want to remember it's no fault of the cook's. The stuff is[Pg 52] mighty44 bad when a Chinaman can't dish it up fit to eat."
"Are the men boarded free?"
"Not much! They pay about six dollars a week; and it's enough. Now, as a rule, an employer doesn't look for a profit on the grub; taking camps all round, the boys get pretty good value for their money."
"Then it looks as if this one were an exception," said Andrew. "Why do they employ so many Scandinavians?"
"They get them cheap: catch them newly landed, anxious for a job, before they find out what they ought to have. A dollar looks big after a kroner. That's my notion, but we'll see if it's right." He called a Canadian workman. "What would you fix a road-maker's wages at, Jim?"
"You ought to know. A good chopper and shoveler would get up to two-fifty, so long as he was west of cleared Ontario."
"Two dollars and a-half a day," Carnally repeated to Andrew in emphasis, and addressed the man again: "What are you making now?"
"Dollar, seventy-five. I was cleaned out when I took the job. These blamed Dutchmen get one-fifty. The Mappin crowd's the meanest I've ever been up against."
"That leaves them three dollars a week for clothing and all expenses," Andrew observed, when the workman went away. "Considering what things cost in Canada, it isn't a great deal. Mappin seems a hard master. Do you know anything about him?"
"He's a smart man," said Carnally with a smile. "I met him for the first time when I hired out with your Company, but I heard that he hadn't a dollar a few[Pg 53] years ago." He paused and added: "In fact, I've wondered where he got the capital to finance this job."
When they moved off to the camp which the half-breed had pitched, Andrew sat thoughtfully smoking outside the tent while the mist gathered thicker about the dripping pines and the roar of the river rang in his ears. He had been unfavorably impressed by Mappin, and had since learned that he treated his workmen with marked injustice45; indeed, he had suffered in person from the fellow's greed. Andrew felt that a Company of which he was a director ought not to make a profit by trickery and oppression; but that was taking something for granted, for he had not ascertained46 that the Rain Bluff47 Company received the benefit. He must reserve the question for future consideration. Moreover, he had been struck by the manner in which Carnally had explained how the contractor conducted his business. He had called in outsiders to check his statements, and allowed them to supply the most damaging particulars. It had been done with some skill. Andrew felt that Carnally was anxious that he should learn the truth about Mappin, though his object was far from clear.
Then he began to think about Carnally. He had learned in South Africa that the man had courage and keen intelligence; and that he was to be trusted. Though fond of the vernacular48, his intonation49 was clean; he had good manners; and there were signs that he had enjoyed an excellent education.
"Jake," he said at last, "is there any reason why the Company shouldn't do its own transport work?"
"I don't know of any. You would have to let Mappin get through with his contracts first."
[Pg 54]"Of course. What I mean is, could we do it as cheaply as he does and pay regulation wages?"
"It would take some figuring to answer that. Speaking without the book, you ought to do the work at the contractor's prices and have a profit. He must make one; and you can buy plant and tools on as good terms as he can."
"That's obvious. Then, on the whole, it ought to pay the Company?"
"What do you mean by the Company?"
"Well, the shareholders50."
"It might pay—them," said Carnally with suggestive emphasis.
Andrew smoked his pipe out before he answered.
"I'll consider it when I've a little more to go on. It strikes me that I'm learning things. And now I think I'll get to sleep; my head's aching."
He lay down on a bed of spruce twigs51 and soon sank into restful slumber52, but Carnally sat a while in the tent door, watching the dark river roll by. Allinson evidently meant to make him his confidential53 adviser54, and he felt his responsibility.

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