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The Men Of Forty Mile
by [?]

When 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, a-takin’ 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.