Partners of the Out-Trail

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Excerpt 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....
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