“Tell you what we’ll do; we’ll shake for it.”
“That suits me,” said the second man, turning, as he spoke, to the Indian that was mending snow-shoes in a corner of the cabin. “Here, you Billebedam, take a run down to Oleson’s cabin like a good fellow, and tell him we want to borrow his dice box.”
This sudden request in the midst of a council on wages of men, wood, and grub surprised Billebedam. Besides, it was early in the day, and he had never known white men of the calibre of Pentfield and Hutchinson to dice and play till the day’s work was done. But his face was impassive as a Yukon Indian’s should be, as he pulled on his mittens and went out the door.
Though eight o’clock, it was still dark outside, and the cabin was lighted by a tallow candle thrust into an empty whisky bottle. It stood on the pine-board table in the middle of a disarray of dirty tin dishes. Tallow from innumerable candles had dripped down the long neck of the bottle and hardened into a miniature glacier. The small room, which composed the entire cabin, was as badly littered as the table; while at one end, against the wall, were two bunks, one above the other, with the blankets turned down just as the two men had crawled out in the morning.
Lawrence Pentfield and Corry Hutchinson were millionaires, though they did not look it. There seemed nothing unusual about them, while they would have passed muster as fair specimens of lumbermen in any Michigan camp. But outside, in the darkness, where holes yawned in the ground, were many men engaged in windlassing muck and gravel and gold from the bottoms of the holes where other men received fifteen dollars per day for scraping it from off the bedrock. Each day thousands of dollars’ worth of gold were scraped from bedrock and windlassed to the surface, and it all belonged to Pentfield and Hutchinson, who took their rank among the richest kings of Bonanza.
Pentfield broke the silence that followed on Billebedam’s departure by heaping the dirty plates higher on the table and drumming a tattoo on the cleared space with his knuckles. Hutchinson snuffed the smoky candle and reflectively rubbed the soot from the wick between thumb and forefinger.
“By Jove, I wish we could both go out!” he abruptly exclaimed. “That would settle it all.”
Pentfield looked at him darkly.
“If it weren’t for your cursed obstinacy, it’d be settled anyway. All you have to do is get up and go. I’ll look after things, and next year I can go out.”
“Why should I go? I’ve no one waiting for me–”
“Your people,” Pentfield broke in roughly.
“Like you have,” Hutchinson went on. “A girl, I mean, and you know it.”
Pentfield shrugged his shoulders gloomily. “She can wait, I guess.”
“But she’s been waiting two years now.”
“And another won’t age her beyond recognition.”
“That’d be three years. Think of it, old man, three years in this end of the earth, this falling-off place for the damned!” Hutchinson threw up his arm in an almost articulate groan.
He was several years younger than his partner, not more than twenty-six, and there was a certain wistfulness in his face that comes into the faces of men when they yearn vainly for the things they have been long denied. This same wistfulness was in Pentfield’s face, and the groan of it was articulate in the heave of his shoulders.
“I dreamed last night I was in Zinkand’s,” he said. “The music playing, glasses clinking, voices humming, women laughing, and I was ordering eggs–yes, sir, eggs, fried and boiled and poached and scrambled, and in all sorts of ways, and downing them as fast as they arrived.”
“I’d have ordered salads and green things,” Hutchinson criticized hungrily, “with a big, rare, Porterhouse, and young onions and radishes,–the kind your teeth sink into with a crunch.”