“Don’t speak to me. Don’t recognize me,” Del cautioned sharply, as he spoke, buttoning his nose-strap across his face, which served to quite hide his identity. “There’s a water-hole over there. Get down on your belly and make a blind at gettin’ a drink. Then go on by your lonely to the claims; I’ve business of my own to handle. And for the love of your bother don’t say a word to me or to the skunk. Don’t let ’m see your face.”
Corliss obeyed wonderingly, stepping aside from the beaten path, lying down in the snow, and dipping into the water-hole with an empty condensed milk-can. Bishop bent on one knee and stooped as though fastening his moccasin. Just as St. Vincent came up with him he finished tying the knot, and started forward with the feverish haste of a man trying to make up for lost time.
“I say, hold on, my man,” the correspondent called out to him.
Bishop shot a hurried glance at him and pressed on. St. Vincent broke into a run till they were side by side again.
“Is this the way—”
“To the benches of French Hill?” Del snapped him short. “Betcher your life. That’s the way I’m headin’. So long.”
He ploughed forward at a tremendous rate, and the correspondent, half-running, swung in behind with the evident intention of taking the pace. Corliss, still in the dark, lifted his head and watched them go; but when he saw the pocket-miner swerve abruptly to the right and take the trail up Adams Creek, the light dawned upon him and he laughed softly to himself.
Late that night Del arrived in camp on Eldorado exhausted but jubilant.
“Didn’t do a thing to him,” he cried before he was half inside the tent-flaps. “Gimme a bite to eat” (grabbing at the teapot and running a hot flood down his throat),—“cookin’-fat, slush, old moccasins, candle-ends, anything!”
Then he collapsed upon the blankets and fell to rubbing his stiff leg-muscles while Corliss fried bacon and dished up the beans.
“What about ’m?” he exulted between mouthfuls. “Well, you can stack your chips that he didn’t get in on the French Hill benches. How far is it, my man?” (in the well-mimicked, patronizing tones of St. Vincent). “How far is it?” with the patronage left out. “How far to French Hill?” weakly. “How far do you think it is?” very weakly, with a tremolo which hinted of repressed tears. “How far—”
The pocket-miner burst into roars of laughter, which were choked by a misdirected flood of tea, and which left him coughing and speechless.
“Where’d I leave ’m?” when he had recovered. “Over on the divide to Indian River, winded, plum-beaten, done for. Just about able to crawl into the nearest camp, and that’s about all. I’ve covered fifty stiff miles myself, so here’s for bed. Good-night. Don’t call me in the mornin’.”
He turned into the blankets all-standing, and as he dozed off Vance could hear him muttering, “How far is it, my man? I say, how far is it?”