Partners of the Out-Trail - Harold Bindloss - ebook

Partners of the Out-Trail ebook

Harold Bindloss

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Life in British Columbia is primitive, and Jim sometimes felt that he had to fight against the insidious influence of wildlife. He studied at McGill to begin his professional career. However, poverty did not prevent him from traveling, what he liked most to do. Jim was thin with confidence in his eyes. He had to go a lot more to make a new dream come true.

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Liczba stron: 439

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Contents

PART I

THE LINESMAN

I. THE BROKEN WIRE

II. IN THE SNOW

III. THE THIRD PARTNER

IV. ON THE TRAIL

V. CARRIE'S WEAK MOMENT

VI. ROLLING STONES

VII. A COUNCIL

VIII. JIM KEEPS WATCH

IX. AN HONEST ANTAGONIST

X. THE RAPID

XI. A CONFIDENTIAL TALK

XII. FIRE

XIII. JIM'S LUCK TURNS

XIV. THE RECKONING

PART II

THE LANDOWNER

I. JIM COMES HOME

II. JIM'S GUESTS

III. MORDAUNT PONDERS

IV. AN OLD MAN'S CAPRICE

V. SHANKS' DABBIN

VI. THE THORN HEDGE

VII. THE FENCING WIRE

VIII. JIM'S RELAPSE

IX. JIM IS LEFT OUT

X. BERNARD PONDERS

XI. EVELYN'S ADVENTURE

XII. THE SHOOTING PUNT

XIII. MORDAUNT'S REPULSE

XIV. FOOTSTEPS IN THE SAND

XV. JIM'S ENLIGHTENMENT

XVI. EVELYN'S RESOLUTION FAILS

XVII. DICK'S ACCUSATION

XVIII. JIM'S RELEASE

PART I

THE LINESMAN

CHAPTER I

THE BROKEN WIRE

Winter had begun and snow blew about the lonely telegraph shack where Jim Dearham studied an old French romance. He read rather by way of mental discipline than for enjoyment, and partly with the object of keeping himself awake. Life is primitive in the British Columbian bush and Jim sometimes felt he must fight against the insidious influence of the wilds. Although he had chosen the latter when the cities palled, he had studied at McGill, with a view of embarking on a professional career. Want of money was the main obstacle, but love of adventure had counted for much. His adventures had been numerous since he left the university, and he now and then tried to remind himself that he was civilized.

Outside the shack, the stiff dark pines rolled back to the frozen North where a new city fed the mining camps. Jim had been up there and had found some gold, besides a copper vein, but when he got his patent for the latter his funds ran out and he returned to the South and followed a number of occupations. Some were monotonous and some exciting. None paid him well. Now his clothes were old and mended with patches cut from cotton flour-bags; his skin was browned by wind and frost. He was thin and muscular, and his eyes had something of the inscrutable calm that marks the Indian’s, but the old French romance and one or two other books hinted at cultivated taste. As a matter of fact, Jim was afraid of getting like an Indian. Life in the wilds was good, but one ran some risks.

The shack was built of logs, notched where they crossed at the corners and caulked with moss. There was a stone chimney, and a big wood fire snapped on the hearth. Jim sat close to the blaze in a deerhide chair, with his old skin coat hung over the back to keep off the stinging draughts. He could see the telegraph instrument. His and his comrade’s duty was to watch it day and night, because theirs was a bad section and accidents happened. Jake had gone hunting and since the gale outside was freshening Jim wondered why he stopped so long.

After a time Jim put down his book and mused. By comparison with the ragged tents in which he had lived in the northern barrens, the shack was comfortable. Axes and tools for mending the line stood in a corner; old clothes, slickers, and long boots that must be mended occupied another. A good supply of provisions was stowed on some shelves; a rifle and a shotgun hung on the wall. He had all a man needed in the woods and admitted that he was lucky to have so much, but the rudeness of his surroundings sometimes jarred. This was strange, because he had never known luxury. He wondered whether he had inherited his dislike for ugliness, and the instincts of which he was now and then vaguely conscious. It was possible, for his father, who died when Jim was young, had come from the Old Country.

Then he dwelt with languid enjoyment upon something that happened when he was a waiter at a fashionable restaurant at Montreal. A party of English tourists came in one day for lunch. Jim remembered the scene well: the spacious room with the sunshine on the pillars and the reflections on glass and silver; the flies about the tables, the monotonous throb of the electric fan, and the strangers looking for a place. There were two men, one older than the other, and a girl. Jim had often pictured her since, and always with a curious satisfaction. It was not that she was beautiful, although her face was finely molded and her movements were graceful. It was her delicate fastidiousness and the hint one got of refinement and cultivation. Although she smiled now and then, Jim remembered her calm and the tranquillity of her voice. He had not met a girl like that before, but she went away with the others, one of whom gave him a dollar, and it was ridiculous to imagine he would see her again.

This, however, was not important and he got up and went to the telegraph instrument. He called the next station and was satisfied when he got an answer. Some Government messages that must not be delayed were to be sent North and the line was working well. Jim went back to his chair and soon afterwards leaned forward, listening. He heard the wind in the pine-tops and the thud of snow, shaken from the tossing branches, on the roof. That was all, but he had trained his senses in the woods until they worked unconsciously. Somebody was coming and he knew it was not Jake.

A minute or two afterwards he heard steps in the snow. The steps were heavy, as if the men were tired. Somebody knocked and Jim opened the door. Two men came in and throwing down their packs shook the snow from their ragged furs. Their boots were broken, their leggins badly worn, and their faces were pinched with cold.

“I don’t suppose you’ll turn us out. It’s what our packers call pretty fierce to-night,” one remarked.

“Certainly not,” said Jim. “Come right up to the fire. How did you make the shack?”

The strangers advanced and Jim hid his surprise, although they were the men whose lunch he had served at the Montreal restaurant. He had learned in the wilds something of the Indian’s reserve.

“We hit the wire at dusk,” one replied. “We had been climbing with a party of the Canadian Alpine Club, and stopped among the high ranges longer than we meant. In fact, the snow rather surprised us. The others had gone before we started and we had a rough time coming South.”

“You didn’t make it without packers,” said Jim, who knew they were English.

“We left the boys some distance back. There was not much shelter at the camp and although they were satisfied, we resolved to follow the line and try to find a shack. The boys will, no doubt, arrive in the morning.”

Jim nodded, because a line was cut through the forest for the telegraph wires.

“You ran some risk. If you camped at sundown, it’s a while since you had supper. I can give you coffee and a hot bannock.”

He put the kettle on the fire and when the meal was over studied his guests as they lighted their pipes. One was about thirty years old, and in spite of his ragged clothes, Jim thought him a man with cultivated tastes and wide experience. The other was young and looked frank. He had a refined, intelligent face and was like the girl whom Jim had seen at the restaurant; she was, perhaps, a relation. For a time the strangers talked about their journey and then one looked at Jim rather hard.

“Haven’t I seen you before?”

Jim smiled. “At Cibbley’s as you go to the new post-office at Montreal.”

“Oh, yes! It was a very well-served lunch,” said the other and picked up the French romance. “A curious book, but rather fine in parts. Do you understand the fellow?”

“On the whole. I like him; you feel he has a grip. Still he’s puzzling now and then.”

“These French’ writers are puzzling; always trying to work off an epigram,” the younger man remarked. “However, I suppose there’s as much French as English spoken at Montreal and Quebec.”

“Not French like this,” the other said with a smile. “I doubt if an up-to-date boulevardier would own it for his mother’s tongue. You would be surprised if you heard our Cumberland farmers use Chaucer’s English.”

“I don’t know; they go back beyond him now and then. When they count their sheep I imagine they talk like Alfred or Canute. But suppose you give us an example of ancient French.”

The older man opened the book and after turning a number of pages read a passage with taste and feeling. Then he looked at Jim.

“He’s primitive; our thoughts run in another groove. But I daresay there’s something archaic about Quebec French and you perhaps know the latter. Have I struck the right note?”

“Hit it first time! Anyhow, you’ve got my notion of what he meant,” Jim replied. Then he paused and added thoughtfully: “But I don’t know if we’re as different as you think. In the North, men get back to primitive things.”

The other nodded. “It’s possible. One certainly gets a primitive hunger and learns something about bodily needs.”

Jim lighted his pipe and mused. He had not talked to cultivated people since he left McGill. He felt rather moved and quietly excited; the strange thing was, their English voices and manner were not new. In a way, it was ridiculous, but he felt as if he had known them, or others of their kind, before.

“You are from the Old Country and your friend seems to know Cumberland,” he said. “Do you know Langrigg Hall?”

He thought the older man gave him a keen glance, but next moment his face was inscrutable and with a little gesture of satisfaction he stretched his legs to the fire. His companion, however, looked interested.

“Why, yes,” said the latter. “But there are a number of Langriggs in the North of England.”

“At the place I mean there is a marsh.”

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