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HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER XXIX THE JUMPERS
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 The sun was rising when Joe Thorpe made a hasty breakfast with his two companions in their camp beside the lode1. He was a logger by profession, though he had an extensive experience in prospecting2 for timber-rights and minerals. Big Joe was known as an honest man; that was why Frobisher had selected him to stake off a claim, and he had arrived late on the previous night after a forced march.  
"We ought to have a clear day or two before the first of the crowd that's following us comes in, but that's all," he said. "We want to get our prospecting done and the best locations picked before the rush begins, and we'll start as soon as you've finished."
"I'll be through in a minute," said one of the others with his mouth full. "It's a pretty fair deal Frobisher made with us and he's not the man to go back on one."
"That's more than I'd say of Mappin," remarked the third of the party. "He's in this somehow, isn't he? What was it Carnally said to you when we were getting ready to start, Joe?"
"Told me to watch out for the Mappin crowd. It seems Mappin's put Scaith, who made the trouble over the Newark timber-rights, on to the job. The fellow's a crook3, and two of the others have been mixed up in jumping rows. Now we like Carnally, and he allowed he was on to a good thing in the Allinson claims. Any[Pg 305]how, Watkins, you've had enough for one man. Let up on the pork and bring along the drill."
They set to work, and it was late in the afternoon when, stripped to shirt and trousers and dripping with perspiration4, Joe stopped for a few moments to look about. Thirty feet behind him the creek5 swirled6 furiously around a rocky head, the steep face of which was fumed7 and scarred by giant-powder. A stake was driven into the crest8 of the promontory9, another could be seen a short distance back, and straggling jack-pines and spruces followed the edge of the bank. The ground had been disturbed all round and was strewn with piles of soil and stones.
"I guess the Allinson outfit10 know their business," he observed. "It looks a curious way to pitch a claim, but if you come to figure out the thing, it gives them the best frontage they could get. This corner post's just where I'd have put it. If they'd located it a bit to the right, it would have swung their line off the richest stuff. There's no room for us here on pay dirt: we'll move higher up."
He took a few steps forward but stopped suddenly at a sharp crash followed by a puff11 of vapor12 that curled up among the rocks ahead. Great fragments leaped out of it, and Joe ran for his life as one large piece that turned over as it sped came toward him. It fell short with a heavy thud and he swung around angrily.
"What in thunder are you firing two sticks for where you weren't told?" he cried.
"Watkins likes a big charge," grinned his companion. "He's surely rough on giant-powder."
The third man came toward them and explained.
"That blamed Allinson corner post shoves us back, and I wanted to see if we could squeeze in a block[Pg 306] beside them and keep on the ore, though I guess there's not much use in it. If I was a jumper, I'd shift that stake."
"You can't do it!" Joe replied promptly13. "We're acting14 square! But when the fumes15 have cleared, we'll look at what you've got."
The examination confirmed his opinion that they were shut out by the Allinson claim, which must be respected, and they moved farther up the lode. It was dusk when they stopped work, and they spent the following morning digging holes and firing shots before deciding on their locations. These they roughly marked with piles of stones, but there were distances to be carefully measured and bearings verified before their stakes were driven, and while they were getting dinner another party arrived. The men were ragged16 and weary, and the appearance of several was far from prepossessing.
"There's Scaith and Nepigon Jim," Watkins exclaimed. "Brought four other fellows with them. They're a tough-looking crowd."
The newcomers lighted a fire, and while they prepared a meal their leader strolled across to the other camp. He was a short, wiry man, with keen eyes.
"Well, Joe," he said, "you've been over the ground; what's it like?"
"Pretty good," Joe answered. "The Allinson gang got first pick and we've had the next, but there's plenty pay dirt left. I suppose you're up here for Mappin? You want to keep off our blocks."
"Sure we will," said the other genially17. "We'll take a look round after grub and see where we can begin. You got away from the Landing mighty18 smart."
[Pg 307]"We wanted to keep ahead of the crowd. I suppose the boys were getting ready when you left?"
"They were quitting work all round the settlement; one or two outfits19 would get off soon after us. We made pretty good time over the Allinson trail. But I guess our dinner's ready."
He moved away and Joe turned to his companions with a meaning glance.
"That's a man who'll want some watching," he warned them.
During the afternoon he and the others drove in their stakes, and there was apparently20 nothing to prevent their return to record the claims, but Joe declared that he was tired and they would not get far enough before dark to make it worth while to start. Accordingly, they lounged in camp while the newcomers wandered about the neighborhood, testing the ground. It struck Joe as suspicious that they seemed to find it necessary to cross the Allinson claims very frequently. Toward evening the sky grew overcast21 and rain began to fall, but Joe's camp was sheltered, and when it grew cold after supper they made a bigger fire.
"Some of the boys from the settlement should get through by morning, and they're a straight crowd," Joe said. "We'll take the trail first thing after breakfast."
A raw wind sprang up, the rain got heavier, and dusk fell early; but when the others went to sleep Joe sat up a while. He had done what he had been sent to do and would receive a good reward for it, besides retaining an interest in the claims when Frobisher took them over after the development work had been done. The thought of it excited him, but after a while he laid his blanket in a hollow and went to sleep.
[Pg 308]It was, however, not sound sleep, for every now and then he opened his eyes, and at last raised himself to a sitting position and looked about. The fire had burned very low, so that its light did not dazzle him, and he could see the shadowy trunks that ran up into the gloom. Heavy drops fell among the red embers, the wind wailed22 dolefully about the branches, and he could hear the rain beat upon the stones. Though it was darker than usual, the sky was visible and rocks and trees stood out black against the surrounding obscurity. Knowing that he had a long march before him, Joe felt irritated because of his restlessness; but as he did not feel at all sleepy he lighted his pipe and began to think of his return journey.
Presently Scaith's camp-fire caught his eye. It was burning brightly, which seemed to indicate that the party had sat up very late or that somebody had risen and thrown on fresh fuel. This struck him as curious, and he watched the flickering23 glow. Before he had smoked out his pipe he imagined that he saw a blurred24 figure among the smoke. It vanished, though he did not think the fellow had left the camp. He sat for a few minutes, pondering the matter. Although they had given him no reason for doing so, he suspected Scaith's party and felt uneasy, wishing that the night were clearer. Large objects were faintly distinguishable, but Joe did not think he could see a man except at a very short distance, and the wind among the spruce tops would prevent his hearing footsteps. It was raining very hard, trickles25 of water ran down the trunks, and cold draughts26 eddied27 about him. He would be more comfortable lying down under his blanket but he was troubled by vague suspicions and felt that he must keep watch.
[Pg 309]At last he got up and picked his way toward the newly staked claims. The ground was rough and he fell over a heap of stones, but he reflected that the darkness which prevented his seeing............
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