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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER XV THE SILVER LODE
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 A half-breed stood on the river bank beside his dog-team while Andrew handed Carnally the packs from the sled. It was late in the afternoon, the valley was swept by driving snow, and the men's hands were so numbed1 that they found it difficult to strap2 on their heavy loads. The ice was several feet in thickness on the deeper pools, but the stream ran strong along the opposite shore, and its frozen surface was rough, and broken in places by pools of inky water.  
"It would save some trouble if we made our caches among these boulders," Graham suggested.
"That's so," agreed Carnally. "Still I guess it would be safer on the other side, where we'll strike it sooner coming back. It's wise to take no chances in this country."
They were loaded at last, and the gorge3 looked very desolate4 when the half-breed vanished with his dogs beyond the summit of the bank. He was not a man of much conversational5 powers, but they had found his company pleasant in the grim solitudes6. Andrew had hired him at an outlying Hudson Bay factory, where he had had no trouble in obtaining food. The fur trade was languishing7 thereabout, and prospectors10 for timber and minerals were made welcome. The Scot in charge of the lonely post had, however, no dogs for sale, though[Pg 155] he engaged to transport a limited quantity of provisions to a point which one of the company's half-breeds, despatched on another errand, would pass with his team.
Andrew considered Carnally's caution well justified11. Their supply of food was scanty12, and the journey attended by risks enough; but he could sympathize with Graham. It was snowing hard, the wind was rising, and there was no sign of a camping-place in all the desolation. They had gone a long way since sunrise, and were too tired to think of lengthening13 the journey by looking for a better place to cross the river. They went forward, carefully avoiding the hummocks14, and winding16 around the larger cracks. Andrew was too occupied in picking his way to notice that Graham had fallen some distance behind; but when he had skirted a tall hummock15, a sharp cry reached him, and he stopped in alarm. He could see nothing except a stretch of rugged17 ice and a high white bank fading into the driving snow. Their companion had disappeared.
"Guess he was straight behind us!" cried Carnally, as they turned back, running.
Andrew fell over a block of ice, but he was up in a moment, for the cry came again, and when they had passed a black pool he saw what seemed to be the head and shoulders of a man projecting from a fissure18. He sprang across a dangerous crack and as he ran he saw Graham's face turned toward him, with a strained, tense look. Carnally was a pace or two in front and had seized Graham's arm when Andrew came up and grasped his collar. They dragged him out of the crevice20 and set him, gasping21 breathlessly, on the ice, with the water running from one of his moccasins.
"You were only just in time," he said after a moment or two. "There was snow across the crack and it[Pg 156] broke under me. Couldn't crawl out, with my pack dragging me down."
"It's blamed unfortunate you got your moccasin wet," Carnally remarked. "It ought to come off right away, but we haven't another. Think the water has got through?"
"I'm afraid it has; the back seam opened up a bit yesterday. But my feet are so cold I can hardly feel."
"If Mappin hadn't played that trick on us, you'd have a sound dry pair to put on. But you want to keep moving, and it's getting dark."
They crossed the ice without further misadventure, toiled23 up a steep bank where short brush that impeded24 them badly rose out of the snow, and an hour afterward25 found a hollow among the rocks sheltered by a few junipers and tottering26 firs. Carnally loosed the load from his aching shoulders and threw it down with relief.
"It's that hog27 Mappin's fault we're packing a pile of unnecessary weight along," he said. "I'm looking forward to a talk with him when I get back."
He set to work, hacking28 rotten branches from a leaning fir, while Andrew scraped away the snow and built a wall of it between them and the wind. Graham lighted a fire, filled the kettle with snow, and spread branches and twigs29 to lay their blankets on. It took time, and Andrew knew of no labor30 so irksome as making camp after an exhausting march; but no pains could be spared if they wished to sleep without freezing. At last they gathered about a crackling fire which threw an uncertain light upon their faces, and Carnally cooked a frugal31 supper.
"I guess we could eat more, but it wouldn't be prudent," he said as he shared out the food. "Your lode32's about a hundred miles off yet, isn't it, Graham?"
[Pg 157]"Yes, as near as I can calculate."
"Call it six days; a fortnight anyhow before we get back here, and that won't allow much time for thawing33 out and shot-firing. Then we'll have to reach our first cache before the grub runs out. It's going to be a blamed tight fit."
Andrew consumed his portion and glanced regretfully at the empty frying-pan. Then, for fatigue34 had soured his temper, he broke out:
"I'd like to have the brute35 who cut our rations36 short up here to-night! Blast his greed! It's an infamous37 thing that a man should make money by starving his fellow creatures!"
"They seem to consider it legitimate38 in the cities," said Graham dryly. "We have mergers39 controlling almost everything we eat and drink, and men get rich by bull deals in the wheat pits. However, your sentiments are not exactly new. What do you think, Jake? I haven't heard you on politics."
Carnally grinned.
"As it looks as if I'm going to be hungry, I'm a hard-shelled grit—something like your Radicals," he explained to Andrew. "But if I thought we could get a good one, I'd prefer being governed by an emperor. So far as my experience goes, one live man can run things much better than a crowd, and it's a poor mine or railroad boss who can't beat a board of directors."
"That's so," Graham assented40. "They're most capable when they let one of them drive the lot. But there's the trouble that you might get the wrong kind of emperor. It's hard to tell a good man until he gets to work."
"Sure!" agreed Carnally. "If you're not pleased with the Laurier gang, you can fire them out, and then[Pg 158] you might not find the other crowd much better. But if a bad emperor meant to stay with it, you'd have to use dynamite41."
The others laughed, but Andrew, awkwardly filling his pipe with numbed fingers, looked serious. There was a truth in his companion's remarks that touched him personally. It was undoubtedly42 difficult to get rid of an able man entrusted43 with power which he abused. To attack him might imply the break-up of the organization which had appointed him; one might have to use destructive methods, and Andrew wished to build up the Rain Bluff44 Company, not pull it down. For all that, Leonard must be stripped of the authority he had wrongly used, though the task would be extremely troublesome. With one or two unimportant exceptions, he enjoyed the confidence of the Allinson family, as well as the support of the directors; and Andrew knew what his relatives thought of him. In the first place, however, he must find the lode, and he was glad to think it lay within a week's march from camp.
"Have you got that wet moccasin off yet?" Carnally asked Graham.
Graham confessed that he had been too tired and hungry to remember it, and after drawing it off with some trouble he spent a while in chafing45 his foot, which he afterward wrapped in a blanket. Then while the men sat silent a long howl came faintly down the bitter breeze.
"A timber wolf," said Carnally. "I saw some tracks this morning and the half-breed told me they'd had a number of the big gray fellows near the factory. They get pretty bold when there's no caribou46 about, and it's unlucky we haven't struck any caribou. It would help out the grub."
[Pg 159]"Three men with a camp-fire going are safe enough," said Graham.
"Oh, yes," Carnally assented. "Still, a timber wolf is a beast I've no kind of use for in winter."
They lay down soon afterward, but Andrew heard the wolves again before he went to sleep. He was very cold when he awakened47 the next morning and found Carnally busy about the fire. There was no wind, the smoke went straight up, and the snow stretched back from the camp, glistening48 a faint silvery gray. The firs were very black but indistinct in the growing light.
"Get a move on; we should have been off long ago," Carnally said; and Andrew, rising with cramped49 limbs and sore shoulders, awkwardly set about rolling up his pack.
He shivered as he did so. The cold bit through him, his mittened50 hands would hardly bend, but he strapped51 up his bundle and helped Graham to put on his frozen moccasin. They were careful to hang up their footwear in a warm place at night, but the fire had sunk while they slept. Then they ate a hurried meal and struck out into the white wilderness52 as the light grew stronger. They made, by estimation, eighteen miles by nightfall, finding a creek53 and one or two small lakes over which traveling was easy, but most of the way led across hillocks of rounded rock and through tangles54 of tottering pines, where snow-shoes could not be used. Some of the trees had been partly burned, and others were slanted55 and distorted by the savage56 winds.
Toward the end of the march Graham dragged behind, and when they made camp he spent some time rubbing his foot.
"It feels dead," he told them. "I'm afraid I got it nipped a bit, but I don't think it's bad."
[Pg 160]"See that you get your moccasin properly dry to-night," Carnally warned him.
The next morning he felt lame22 and the country was rougher, but they made thirty miles in two days, and set out again on the third dawn with thick snow dr............
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