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The Men Of Forty Mile-by Jack London- Novel and Ebooks

Novel Name: The Men Of Forty Mile

Written by:Jack London

Category:Children, fiction, short novel, Classics

Page 1:

hen Big Jim Belden ventured the apparently innocuous proposition that mush-ice was ‘rather pecooliar,’ he little dreamed of what it would lead to.

Neither did Lon McFane, when he affirmed that anchor-ice was even more so; nor did Bettles, as he instantly disagreed, declaring the very existence of such a form to be a bugaboo.

‘An’ ye’d be tellin’ me this,’ cried Lon, ‘after the years ye’ve spint in the land! An’ we atin’ out the same pot this many’s the day!’ ‘But the thing’s agin reasin,’ insisted Bettles.

‘Look you, water’s warmer than ice-‘ ‘An’ little the difference, once ye break through.’

‘Still it’s warmer, because it ain’t froze. An’ you say it freezes on the bottom?’ ‘Only the anchor-ice, David, only the anchor-ice. An’ have ye niver drifted along, the water clear as glass, whin suddin, belike a cloud over the sun, the mushy-ice comes bubblin’ up an’ up till from bank to bank an’ bind to bind it’s drapin’ the river like a first snowfall?’ ‘Unh, hunh! more’n once when I took a doze at the steering-oar. But it allus come out the nighest side-channel, an’ not bubblin’ up an’ up.’ ‘But with niver a wink at the helm?’

‘No; nor you. It’s agin reason. I’ll leave it to any man!’ Bettles appealed to the circle about the stove, but the fight was on between himself and Lon McFane.

‘Reason or no reason, it’s the truth I’m tellin’ ye. Last fall, a year gone, ’twas Sitka Charley and meself saw the sight, droppin’ down the riffle ye’ll remember below Fort Reliance. An’ regular fall weather it was–the glint o’ the sun on the golden larch an’ the quakin’ aspens; an’ the glister of light on ivery ripple; an’ beyand, the winter an’ the blue haze of the North comin’ down hand in hand. It’s well ye know the same, with a fringe to the river an’ the ice formin’ thick in the eddies–an’ a snap an’ sparkle to the air, an’ ye a- feelin’ it through all yer blood, atakin’ new lease of life with ivery suck of it. ‘Tis then, me boy, the world grows small an’ the wandtherlust lays ye by the heels.

‘But it’s meself as wandthers. As I was sayin’, we a-paddlin’, with niver a sign of ice, barrin’ that by the eddies, when the Injun lifts his paddle an’ sings out, “Lon McFane!

Look ye below!” So have I heard, but niver thought to see! As ye know, Sitka Charley, like meself, niver drew first breath in the land; so the sight was new. Then we drifted, with a head over ayther side, peerin’ down through the sparkly water. For the world like the days I spint with the pearlers, watchin’ the coral banks a-growin’ the same as so many gardens under the sea.

There it was, the anchor-ice, clingin’ an’ clusterin’ to ivery rock, after the manner of the white coral.

‘But the best of the sight was to come. Just after clearin’ the tail of the riffle, the water turns quick the color of milk, an’ the top of it in wee circles, as when the graylin’ rise in the spring, or there’s a splatter of wet from the sky. ‘Twas the anchor-ice comin’ up. To the right, to the lift, as far as iver a man cud see, the water was covered with the same.

An’ like so much porridge it was, slickin’ along the bark of the canoe, stickin’ like glue to the paddles. It’s many’s the time I shot the self-same riffle before, and it’s many’s the time after, but niver a wink of the same have I seen. ‘Twas the sight of a lifetime.’ ‘Do tell!’ dryly commented Bettles. ‘D’ye think I’d b’lieve such a yarn? I’d ruther say the glister of light’d gone to your eyes, and the snap of the air to your tongue.’ ”Twas me own eyes that beheld it, an’ if Sitka Charley was here, he’d be the lad to back me.’ ‘But facts is facts, an’ they ain’t no gettin’ round ’em. It ain’t in the nature of things for the water furtherest away from the air to freeze first.’ ‘But me own eyes-‘ ‘Don’t git het up over it,’ admonished Bettles, as the quick Celtic anger began to mount.

‘Then yer not after belavin’ me?’ ‘Sence you’re so blamed forehanded about it, no; I’d b’lieve nature first, and facts.’

‘Is it the lie ye’d be givin’ me?’ threatened Lon. ‘Ye’d better be askin’ that Siwash wife of yours. I’ll lave it to her, for the truth I spake.’ Bettles flared up in sudden wrath. The Irishman had unwittingly wounded him; for his wife was the half-breed daughter of a Russian fur-trader, married to him in the Greek Mission of Nulato, a thousand miles or so down the Yukon, thus being of much higher caste than the common Siwash, or native, wife. It was a mere Northland nuance, which none but the Northland adventurer may understand.

‘I reckon you kin take it that way,’ was his deliberate affirmation.

The next instant Lon McFane had stretched him on the floor, the circle was broken up, and half a dozen men had stepped between.

Bettles came to his feet, wiping the blood from his mouth. ‘It hain’t new, this takin’ and payin’ of blows, and don’t you never think but that this will be squared.’ ‘An’ niver in me life did I take the lie from mortal man,’ was the retort courteous. ‘An’ it’s an avil day I’ll not be to hand, waitin’ an’ willin’ to help ye lift yer debts, barrin’ no manner of way.’

‘Still got that 38-55?’ Lon nodded.

‘But you’d better git a more likely caliber. Mine’ll rip holes through you the size of walnuts.’

‘Niver fear; it’s me own slugs smell their way with soft noses, an’ they’ll spread like flapjacks against the coming out beyand. An’ when’ll I have the pleasure of waitin’ on ye? The waterhole’s a strikin’ locality.’ ”Tain’t bad. Jest be there in an hour, and you won’t set long on my coming.’ Both men mittened and left the Post, their ears closed to the remonstrances of their comrades. It was such a little thing; yet with such men, little things, nourished by quick tempers and stubborn natures, soon blossomed into big things.

Besides, the art of burning to bedrock still lay in the womb of the future, and the men of Forty-Mile, shut in by the long Arctic winter, grew high-stomached with overeating and enforced idleness, and became as irritable as do the bees in the fall of the year when the hives are overstocked with honey.

There was no law in the land. The mounted police was also a thing of the future. Each man measured an offense, and meted out the punishment inasmuch as it affected himself.

Rarely had combined action been necessary, and never in all the dreary history of the camp had the eighth article of the Decalogue been violated.

Big Jim Belden called an impromptu meeting. Scruff Mackenzie was placed as temporary chairman, and a messenger dispatched to solicit Father Roubeau’s good offices. Their position was paradoxical, and they knew it. By the right of might could they interfere to prevent the duel; yet such action, while in direct line with their wishes, went counter to their opinions. While their rough-hewn, obsolete ethics recognized the individual prerogative of wiping out blow with blow, they could not bear to think of two good comrades, such as Bettles and McFane, meeting in deadly battle. Deeming the man who would not fight on provocation a dastard, when brought to the test it seemed wrong that he should fight.

But a scurry of moccasins and loud cries, rounded off with a pistol-shot, interrupted the discussion. Then the storm-doors opened and Malemute Kid entered, a smoking Colt’s in his hand, and a merry light in his eye.

‘I got him.’ He replaced the empty shell, and added, ‘Your dog, Scruff.’ ‘Yellow Fang?’

Mackenzie asked.

‘No; the lop-eared one.’ ‘The devil! Nothing the matter with him.’ ‘Come out and take a look.’ ‘That’s all right after all. Buess he’s got ’em, too. Yellow Fang came back this morning and took a chunk out of him, and came near to making a widower of me.

Made a rush for Zarinska, but she whisked her skirts in his face and escaped with the loss of the same and a good roll in the snow. Then he took to the woods again.

Filed in: Children, Classics, Fiction, Jack London, Short Novel, Short Stories

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