When Big Jim Belden ventured the apparently innocuous proposition that mush-ice was 'rather pecooliar,' he little dreamed of what it would lead to. Neither did Lon McFane, when he affirmed that anchor-ice was even more so; nor did Bettles, as he instantly disagreed, declaring the very existence of such a form to be a bugaboo.
'An' ye'd be tellin' me this,' cried Lon, 'after the years ye've spirit in the land! An' we atin' out the same pot this many's the day!'
'But the thing's agin reason,' insisted Bettles. 'Look you, water's warmer than ice'--
'An' little the difference, once ye break through.'
'Still it's warmer, because it ain't froze. An' you say it freezes on the bottom?'
'Only the anchor-ice, David, only the anchor-ice. An' have ye niver drifted along, the water clear as glass, whin suddin, belike a cloud over the sun, the mushy ice comes bubblin' up an' up, till from bank to bank an' bind to bind it's drapin' the river like a first snowfall?'
'Unh hunh! more'n once when I took a doze at the steering-oar. But it allus come out the nighest side-channel, an' not bubblin' up an' up.'
'But with niver a wink at the helm?'
'No; nor you. It's agin reason. I'll leave it to any man!'
Bettles appealed to the circle about the stove, but the fight was on between himself and Lon McFane.
'Reason or no reason, it's the truth I'm tellin' ye. Last fall, a year gone, 'twas Sitka Charley* and meself saw the sight, droppin' down the riffle ye'll remember below Fort Reliance.* An' regular fall weather it was,--the glint o' the sun on the golden larch an' the quakin' aspens; an' the glister of light on ivery ripple; an' beyand, the winter an' the blue haze of the North comin' down hand in hand. It's well ye know the same, with a fringe to the river an' the ice formin' thick in the eddies,--an' a snap an' sparkle to the air, an' ye