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|The Red One||Jack London|
Like Argus of the Ancient Times
|Page 6 of 19||
"Stick around and cook us something for dinner," Charles, on his next load in and noting the effects of the old man's handiness, told Tarwater.
And Tarwater cooked a dinner that was a dinner, washed the dishes, had real pork and beans for supper, and bread baked in a frying-pan that was so delectable than the three partners nearly foundered themselves on it. Supper dishes washed, he cut shavings and kindling for a quick and certain breakfast fire, showed Anson a trick with foot-gear that was invaluable to any hiker, sang his "Like Argus of the Ancient Times," and told them of the great emigration across the Plains in Forty-nine.
"My goodness, the first cheerful and hearty-like camp since we hit the beach," Big Bill remarked as he knocked out his pipe and began pulling off his shoes for bed.
"Kind of made things easy, boys, eh?" Tarwater queried genially.
All nodded. "Well, then, I got a proposition, boys. You can take it or leave it, but just listen kindly to it. You're in a hurry to get in before the freeze-up. Half the time is wasted over the cooking by one of you that he might be puttin' in packin' outfit. If I do the cookin' for you, you all'll get on that much faster. Also, the cookin' 'll be better, and that'll make you pack better. And I can pack quite a bit myself in between times, quite a bit, yes, sir, quite a bit."
Big Bill and Anson were just beginning to nod their heads in agreement, when Charles stopped them.
"What do you expect of us in return?" he demanded of the old man.
"Oh, I leave it up to the boys."
"That ain't business," Charles reprimanded sharply. "You made the proposition. Now finish it."
"Well, it's this way - "
"You expect us to feed you all winter, eh?" Charles interrupted.
"No, siree, I don't. All I reckon is a passage to Klondike in your boat would be mighty square of you."
"You haven't an ounce of grub, old man. You'll starve to death when you get there."
"I've been feedin' some long time pretty successful," Old Tarwater replied, a whimsical light in his eyes. "I'm seventy, and ain't starved to death never yet."
"Will you sign a paper to the effect that you shift for yourself as soon as you get to Dawson?" the business one demanded.
"Oh, sure," was the response.
Again Charles checked his two partners' expressions of satisfaction with the arrangement.
"One other thing, old man. We're a party of four, and we all have a vote on questions like this. Young Liverpool is ahead with the main outfit. He's got a say so, and he isn't here to say it."
"What kind of a party might he be?" Tarwater inquired.
"He's a rough-neck sailor, and he's got a quick, bad temper."
"Some turbulent," Anson contributed.
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