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0100_005E The Stampede To Squaw Creek Jack London

Chapter III.

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"Why don't you kick in an' get excited?" he demanded. "We got our pile right here, unless you're stickin' up your nose at two-hundred-dollar pans."

Smoke took a swallow of coffee before replying.

"Shorty, why are our two claims here like the Panama Canal?"

"What's the answer?"

"Well, the eastern entrance of the Panama Canal is west of the western entrance, that's all."

"Go on," Shorty said. "I ain't seen the joke yet."

"In short, Shorty, you staked our two claims on a big horseshoe bend."

Shorty set the gold pan down in the snow and stood up.

"Go on," he repeated.

"The upper stake of twenty-eight is ten feet below the lower stake of twenty-seven."

"You mean we ain't got nothin', Smoke?"

"Worse than that; we've got ten feet less than nothing."

Shorty departed down the bank on the run. Five minutes later he returned. In response to Joy's look, he nodded. Without speech, he went over to a log and sat down to gaze steadily at the snow in front of his moccasins.

"We might as well break camp and start back for Dawson," Smoke said, beginning to fold the blankets.

"I am sorry, Smoke," Joy said. "It's all my fault."

"It's all right," he answered. "All in the day's work, you know."

"But it's my fault, wholly mine," she persisted. "Dad's staked for me down near Discovery, I know. I'll give you my claim."

He shook his head.

"Shorty," she pleaded.

Shorty shook his head and began to laugh. It was a colossal laugh. Chuckles and muffled explosions yielded to hearty roars.

"It ain't hysterics," he explained, "I sure get powerful amused at times, an' this is one of them."

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His gaze chanced to fall on the gold pan. He walked over and gravely kicked it, scattering the gold over the landscape.

"It ain't ourn," he said. "It belongs to the geezer I backed up five hundred feet last night. An' what gets me is four hundred an' ninety of them feet was to the good . . . his good. Come on, Smoke. Let's start the hike to Dawson. Though if you're hankerin' to kill me I won't lift a finger to prevent."

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