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|The Meat||Jack London|
|Page 2 of 3||
There was a long minute of silence. Shorty was the first to speak.
"Come on," he said. "We might as well tackle it. My feet'll get cold if I stay here any longer."
"We'll smoke some," Kit grinned at him.
"And you'll sure earn your name," was the rejoinder. Shorty turned to their employers. "Comin'?" he queried.
Perhaps the roar of the water prevented them from hearing the invitation.
Shorty and Kit tramped back through a foot of snow to the head of the rapids and cast off the boat. Kit was divided between two impressions: one, of the caliber of his comrade, which served as a spur to him; the other, likewise a spur, was the knowledge that old Isaac Bellew, and all the other Bellews, had done things like this in their westward march of empire. What they had done, he could do. It was the meat, the strong meat, and he knew, as never before, that it required strong men to eat such meat.
"You've sure got to keep the top of the ridge," Shorty shouted at him, the plug tobacco lifting to his mouth, as the boat quickened in the quickening current and took the head of the rapids.
Kit nodded, swayed his strength and weight tentatively on the steering oar, and headed the boat for the plunge.
Several minutes later, half-swamped and lying against the bank in the eddy below the White Horse, Shorty spat out a mouthful of tobacco juice and shook Kit's hand.
"Meat! Meat!" Shorty chanted. "We eat it raw! We eat it alive!"
At the top of the bank they met Breck. His wife stood at a little distance. Kit shook his hand.
"I'm afraid your boat can't make it," he said. "It is smaller than ours and a bit cranky."
The man pulled out a row of bills.
"I'll give you each a hundred if you run it through."
Kit looked out and up the tossing Mane of the White Horse. A long, gray twilight was falling, it was turning colder, and the landscape seemed taking on a savage bleakness.
"It ain't that," Shorty was saying. "We don't want your money. Wouldn't touch it nohow. But my pardner is the real meat with boats, and when he says yourn ain't safe I reckon he knows what he's talkin' about."
Kit nodded affirmation, and chanced to glance at Mrs Breck. Her eyes were fixed upon him, and he knew that if ever he had seen prayer in a woman's eyes he was seeing it then. Shorty followed his gaze and saw what he saw. They looked at each other in confusion and did not speak. Moved by the common impulse, they nodded to each other and turned to the trail that led to the head of the rapids. They had not gone a hundred yards when they met Stine and Sprague coming down.
"Where are you going?" the latter demanded.
"To fetch that other boat through," Shorty answered.
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