“You’re very well fixed here,” said Benham, rising and looking round with condescension; “but men like you oughtn’t to try to live without real bread. No one can live and work on baking-powder.”
There was a general movement to the door, of which Benham was the centre.
“I tell you a lump of sour dough, kept over to raise the next batch, is worth more in this country than a pocket full of gold.”
“I’ll give you twenty-eight for that musk-rat coat,” said Mac.
Benham turned, stared back at him a moment, and then laughed.
“Oh, well, I suppose I can get another made for Rainey before the first boat goes down.”
“Then is it on account o’ the bread,” the Colonel was saying, “that the old-timer calls himself a Sour-dough?”
“All on account o’ the bread.”
They crowded out after Benham.
“Coming?” The Boy, who was last, held the door open. Mac shook his head.
It wasn’t one of the bitter nights; they’d get down yonder, and talk by the fire, till he went in and disturbed them. That was all he had wanted. For Mac was the only one who had noticed that Kaviak had waked up. He was lying as still as a mouse.
Alone with him at last, Mac kept his eyes religiously turned away, sat down by the fire, and watched the sparks. By-and-by a head was put up over the board of the lower bunk. Mac saw it, but sat quite still.
He meant to answer the appeal, half cleared his throat, but his voice felt rusty; it wouldn’t turn out a word.
Kaviak climbed timidly, shakily out, and stood in the middle of the floor in his bare feet.
He came a little nearer till the small feet sank into the rough brown curls of the buffalo. The child stooped to pick up his wooden cricket, wavered, and was about to fall. Mac shot out a hand, steadied him an instant without looking, and then set the cricket in front of the fire. He thereupon averted his face, and sat as before with folded arms. He hadn’t deliberately meant to make Kaviak be the first to “show his hand” after all that had happened, but something had taken hold of him and made him behave as he hadn’t dreamed of behaving. It was, perhaps, a fear of playing the fool as much as a determination to see how much ground he’d lost with the youngster.
The child was observing him with an almost feverish intensity. With eyes fixed upon the wooden face to find out how far he might venture, shakily he dragged the cricket from where Mac placed it, closer, closer, and as no terrible change in the unmoved face warned him to desist, he pulled it into its usual evening position between Mac’s right foot and the fireplace. He sank down with a sigh of relief, as one who finishes a journey long and perilous. The fire crackled and the sparks flew gaily. Kaviak sat there in the red glow, dressed only in a shirt, staring with incredulous, mournful eyes at the Farva who had—