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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER XVII THE GAP IN THE RIDGE
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 The scanty1 supper was finished before the three men held a council.  
"We'll have another search in the morning, but you can take it for granted that there's no cache here," Carnally said grimly.
"Could Mappin have made a mistake about the place?" Graham suggested.
"No, sir! That's a sure thing. But wait a minute. I think I see!" Carnally lighted his pipe before he resumed: "Now, you want to remember that we're up against a clever man. He didn't mean us to find the food but he'd see that there was a chance of our getting through without it and try to fix things so Allinson wouldn't have much ground for making trouble. So he sent the supplies up."
"Then where are they?" Andrew broke in.
"Let me finish. I guess there was nobody else about when you told him where to make the cache?"
Andrew nodded, and Carnally went on:
"You said the east Whitefish, and he sent the truck to the west fork. It's a point where one might go wrong, and he'll claim that he misunderstood you and you didn't make your instructions clear."
"I believe you're right!" Andrew had a savage2 glitter in his eyes. "But the brute's cold-blooded cunning is devilish! He meant to starve us to death because I threatened his contract!"
[Pg 176]"That's not all. Mappin's dirt mean, but I guess he has a stronger count against you."
"Ah!" said Andrew sharply, as a light dawned on him. "I wonder whether you have hit the mark?"
In spite of the peril3 to which he was exposed he felt a thrill of satisfaction. It looked as if Mappin, whom he suspected of seeking Geraldine's favor, had some ground for believing him a successful rival. Perhaps the girl had inadvertently betrayed a preference for him. Mappin would not be driven into a risky4 course by impulse; he must have believed his jealousy5 well-founded. This was comforting; but Andrew had now to consider how he and his comrades were to escape from their difficulties.
"Couldn't we get across to the west fork?" he suggested.
"We'll try," said Carnally. "It's a rough bit of country."
"Very rough," Graham agreed. "A low range with steep rock on this side runs through it. I've no doubt Mappin knew that when he decided6 to make the cache on the other fork."
"Then suppose we can't get over?"
Carnally looked thoughtful.
"If that's so, we'll push on for the second cache."
They looked at him in astonishment7 and he smiled. "The cache is there—somewhere about the neck you told him of—though I guess he'll have had it put where we won't find it easily. Anyhow, it will have to be found and, when it comes to bush work, my head's as good as Mappin's."
Andrew made a gesture of assent8. Apart from his knowledge of the wilds, Carnally had shown a power of close and accurate reasoning which had surprised him.[Pg 177] Indeed, Andrew was inclined to think him a match for Mappin all round, and was glad of it, because there was no doubt that he needed a keen-witted supporter.
"There's another thing," Carnally remarked presently "Has it struck you that Hathersage may have given the hog10 a hint?"
Andrew flushed.
"No," he said sternly. "It's unthinkable! I can't discuss the point."
"Oh, well," acquiesced11 Carnally. "Now that we've decided what to do, we'd better get to sleep. We have to look for a way across the range the first thing to-morrow."
At noon the next day Andrew stood, breathless, half-way up a gully filled with hard snow. Walls of ice-glazed12 rock shut it in, but it led straight up the face of a towering crag toward an opening high above. Andrew carried a thick, sharp-pointed13 stick with which he had laboriously14 broken holes for his feet, because soft moccasins are treacherous16 things on a steep snow-slope. He and Carnally had spent half an hour over the ascent17, and Andrew, looking up with a sinking heart, thought it would take them as long to reach the summit, provided they could avoid slipping, which was doubtful.
The gully lay in shadow, a long, deep rent, widening toward the bottom, in which the snow gleamed a soft blue-gray, though a ray of sunlight struck the beetling18 crag so that it flashed with steely brightness. Here and there a spur of rock broke the smooth surface and offered a resting-place, but some of the spaces between them seemed dangerously precipitous. Andrew, worn with hunger and fatigue19, frowned at the sight.
"This looked the quickest way up and we haven't[Pg 178] much time to lose," he said. "I'll feel very savage if we don't get a clear view from the top."
"You'll get that," replied Carnally, finding a precarious20 seat near by. "Whether you'll see a way through the rocks on the other side or not is another matter, and I'm doubtful. Better get a move on, hadn't you?"
Andrew placed his foot in a hole he had made, but the snow broke as he rested on it, and he slipped down several yards before the stick brought him up. He shuddered21 as he glanced below, for it struck him that had he slid a little farther he would not have stopped until he reached the bottom.
"This is an abominable22 slope," he exclaimed. "I've been on worse in Switzerland, but I had an ice-ax and wasn't half starved then. However, we'll have another try."
He got up twenty yards, clawing at the snow, and then stopped for breath, glancing ruefully at his mittens23, which showed signs of wearing through.
"It means frost-bitten hands if these things give out, and they won't stand much more," he said. "The worst of it is that you think we'll find we have wasted our labor15 when we get to the top. I believe I could feel cheerful if I could see Mappin crawling up after us."
"Mappin has more sense. He stays in his office, which is how money is made. You don't, as a rule, get much for doing this kind of thing. Still, he has to take some chances, and one he didn't size up right is going back on him. When I'm feeling tired and hungry I like to think of my meeting with that man."
"When you're feeling tired and hungry!" Andrew exclaimed. "I feel both all the time!"
[Pg 179]"Well," returned Carnally, "what can you expect? If you will make trouble instead of letting things alone, you must take the consequences. Now, if you had been a sensible man and not worried about shareholders24 you have never seen, you might have been sitting down to your lunch at home. Think of it! A nice warm room, a butler, or somebody of the kind, bringing you a menu as long as your hand. Put you there right now, and you'd take the whole lot. Say, what do you have as a rule?"
"Stop!" said Andrew. "It won't bear thinking of! I know what I'll get for supper, and that's an inch or two of flinty bannock, burned black outside."
It was surface jesting and forced upon them, because they would not face the tragic25 possibilities of the situation before it was necessary. It was easier to do what could be done with a laugh. Still, they had not laughed much lately, until the imminence26 of disaster braced27 them to it.
Changing places now and then to relieve the leader of the work of breaking footholds, they reached the summit, and Andrew's heart sank as he gazed at the landscape which stretched away before him. The air was clear, bright sunshine glittered on the high rocks, but the snow in the shadow was steeped in ethereal blue; dark spruces broke the gleaming surface with a delicate intricacy of outline. The scene had a wild grandeur28, but from Andrew's point of view it was inexpressibly discouraging. They had laboriously scaled the first and largest rampart, but beyond it lay a series of lower ridges30 with rugged31 and almost precipitous sides. The hollows, so far as he could see, were filled with spruce muskeg—the small rotting trees falling across each other with underbrush pushing up[Pg 180] between. To traverse these places would be a very difficult matter.
"It looks pretty bad," he said slowly. "Mappin knew his business when he had the cache made on the wrong side of the range."
"He's smart," Carnally agreed. "A hard man to beat, and you want to use a full-sized club when you stand up to him; but I guess he'd go down if he got the right knock-out."
Andrew, tired and hungry, failed to see how the decisive blow could be given: there did not seem to be much probability of his ever coming to close quarters with his enemy. So far as his brief experience went, injustice32 was singularly hard to vanquish33 and the reformer's path rough.
"Couldn't we work around the hills to the other fork?" he asked.
"The grub would run out before we got there."
"I suppose we couldn't push straight across, leaving Graham until we came back?"
"We might, if we had time enough. I believe there's forty miles of this broken country. Look at it!"
Andrew had already done so, and it had daunted34 him. He remembered that they had been since sunrise reaching the top of the first ridge29.
"Then what must be done?"
"My advice is to look for the second cache."
They turned back, following the crest35 until they found an easier but longer way down. Graham glanced at them sharply when they reached the camp, and guessed the truth, though Andrew tried to smile.
"Leave me behind," he urged.
"No," said Andrew firmly; "not while we have strength enough to haul the sled. There's no more[Pg 181] to be said on that point. We're going on together to the gap in the long ridge."
"When do you mean to start?"
"Right now!" Carnally broke in. "Get the camp truck rolled up. We'll have mighty36 keen appetites before we make the cache."
In quarter of an hour they crossed the creek37 and toiled38 up a broken slope, and when they gained the top Andrew looked back at the island with a grim smile.
"Yesterday afternoon I came up that river at four miles an hour, looking forward to my supper like an epicure39. Now I'm glad to see the last of the place.&qu............
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