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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER IX AMONG THE ICE
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 Graham was sitting on the veranda1 of his house at the Landing after supper one evening when Andrew joined him. The veranda was broad, and covered with mosquito-netting, and furnished with a table and one or two chairs; the wooden house was small but pretty. In front a plot of grass, kept green throughout the hot summer by an automatic sprinkler, ran, unfenced, to the edge of the dusty road. Across this a belt of blackened fir stumps3 stretched back to the stacks of lumber4 by the sawmill, and beyond that the lake lay shining in the evening light.  
A window was open and Andrew could hear a girl singing. A rattle5 of crockery which suggested that Mrs. Graham was busy with domestic duties also reached him now and then; and a lad who had greeted him pleasantly as he passed sat on the nearest fir stump2 talking with a companion. Graham seemed to indicate it all with a movement of his pipe as he turned to Andrew.
"My world, Mr. Allinson," he said. "A happy one, but narrow."
"I feel inclined to envy you," Andrew replied.
"I am to be envied; I admit it with gratitude6." Graham glanced half wistfully at a map on the table. "For all that, I remember the wide spaces up yonder now and then."
[Pg 90]"If I were in your place, I wouldn't study that map too much."
"Ah! It isn't an amusement that I often indulge in; but sometimes, when I've spent a week making up trumpery7 lumber bills or getting in five-dollar accounts, I find it a solace8 to recall what I used to do. However, I've inconsistently practised prudent9 self-denial in other ways. There was a moose head—a beast I shot—I took off its stand and gave to the Institute; an old pair of snowshoes that hung above the mantel I gave my boy. He said they were very poor things and sadly out of date."
Andrew glanced at the map and noticed the lines penciled across it. He felt that he was not acting10 considerately in tempting11 Graham, but he could not resist.
"Those marks show the marches you have made?" he asked.
Graham laid his finger on the map, moving it from spot to spot.
"Yes. I don't need a diary; I can see it all again. We started here one winter and made three hundred miles on half rations12, with wind and snow ahead all the way. There we camped three days in a blizzard13 among a clump14 of willows15, while the snow piled up six feet deep to lee of us. I made this line through a country new to me; two hundred miles over soft snow, with the dogs playing out and the timber wolves on my trail for the last few days. This lake ends in a big muskeg, and we snagged our canoe there one fall. As she'd ripped her bilge open, we left her and spent a day and a half floundering through two or three feet of water and tall reeds, and carrying loads of sixty pounds." He paused and indicated a line that[Pg 91] broke off abruptly16 in a wide bare space. "The lode17 lies south of here, and I believe I'm the only survivor18 of the few who knew of it. One half-breed was drowned in a rapid, another lost in a blizzard; the agent, so I heard afterward19, left the factory to visit some Indians three or four miles off and they found him next day in a snowdrift, frozen to death."
"A grim country," Andrew said thoughtfully, "One to make a man afraid, and yet——"
Graham laughed, rather harshly.
"Yes; I think you know! Well, I'm glad that for twenty years I've mastered the longing20 and kept my head. Now, however, my children have made a fair start, with prospects21 of going farther than I have done, and my responsibility is lightening. A winter up there would satisfy me—I'm afraid it would be all I could stand now—and though it's still out of the question, I've a feeling that a way may be found before I grow too old."
He rolled up the map resolutely22 and laid it aside, and soon afterward Mrs. Graham's voice reached them.
"Bring Mr. Allinson in. It's getting chilly23."
Andrew rose and followed Graham into his sitting-room24. It was very small and there were signs of economy in its appointments, but it had a homelike charm. Two or three sketches25 in color which showed some talent hung on the varnished26 board walls. The lamp, though obviously cheap, was of artistic27 design; the rug on the stained floor and the hangings were of harmonious28 hue29. Mrs. Graham, a little, faded woman with a cheerful air, sat sewing at a table, and opposite her a girl was busy with some papers. Both greeted Andrew cordially, and a few minutes later the[Pg 92] young man he had seen outside came in with a humorous tale he had heard.
He was a handsome lad, quicker of speech and more assertive30 than his father, and the girl, who now and then made a remark, had a decided31 air. Though Graham would occasionally talk without reserve, he was as a rule quiet and dreamy. It was not from him that his children had acquired a trace of the somewhat aggressive smartness which characterizes the inhabitants of the new western cities: he had more in common with the silent dwellers32 in the lonely wilds. These are, for the most part, sentimentalists of a kind; loving the wilderness33, not for what can be made out of it, and untouched by the materialistic34 ideas of the towns, where the business chance is the chief thing sought. Their gifts become most manifest when the ice breaks up on the rivers across which they must get the dog-sleds, and when all the powers of mind and body are taxed to traverse the frozen waste before starvation cuts short the march. It struck Andrew that Graham, dressed in shabby clothes, listening good-humoredly while his children talked, had somehow the look of a captive eagle, conscious of crippled wings, though the simile35 was a bad one because there was no predatory fierceness in him.
"One of you might shut the door," said Mrs. Graham. "The nights are getting colder fast; we'll soon have to light the basement heater." She turned to Andrew. "This is a hard country in winter. I've seen the thermometer stand a week at fifty below."
"Don't be scared, Mr. Allinson," laughed the lad, as he closed the door. "It's not often too fierce, and in a place like the Landing there's generally something going on. Will the frost interfere36 with your mining?"
[Pg 93]"Not underground," said Andrew. "I understand that nothing can be done on the surface, but we expect to send off a good lot of ore for experimental reduction in the next week or two. Then we'll have something to base our plans on."
"Mappin's going to handle the transport, I guess. That man's surely on to a soft thing. I s'pose you know he's making his pile out of the Rain Bluff37?"
Mrs. Graham glanced at her son in rebuke38.
"I don't think you should talk to Mr. Allinson in that manner, Jim. He's a good deal older and more experienced than you are."
"Your ideas are out of date, Mother; we've grown ahead of them. Mr. Allinson doesn't look as if he minded. Anyway, he doesn't know as much as I do about the Canadian contractor39." He turned to Andrew. "Do you like it up yonder?"
"Yes," Andrew answered good-humoredly; "I like the work better than anything I remember having done."
"A matter of taste. Now, I can't see much amusement in rolling rocks about or standing40 in wet slickers in a dark pit watching the boys punch the drills."
"Mr. Allinson is not doing it for amusement," said his mother.
"Well, money isn't often made that way. You don't get rich by knowing how to use the hammer and giant-powder."
"I believe that's true," Andrew responded with a smile.
"A sure thing! Money is made by sitting tight in your office and hiring other fellows to do the rough work. They break up the rocks and cut the milling logs; you take the profit. It's business, first and last, for mine!"
[Pg 94]"Then it's fortunate there are people with different views," his sister interposed. "If nobody were willing to live in the logging camps all winter and go prospecting41 in the bush, you would be badly off."
"But so long as there are people who like doing that kind of thing, we're glad to let them."
"This is a favorite pose of his," the girl explained to Andrew. "It's the latest fashion among the boys; they're afraid of being thought altruistic42."
"Now that everything is controlled by mergers43 and they make all we need so dear, one is forced to be practical," Mrs. Graham remarked feelingly. "For all that, it jars on me to hear our young people talk as they do."
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