“But we’ll have a high old time, and if the bill o’ fare is a little ... restricted, there’s nothin’ to prevent our programme of toasts, songs, and miscellaneous contributions from bein’ rich and varied.”
“And one thing we can get, even up here”—the Colonel was looking at Kaviak—“and that’s a little Christmas-tree.”
“Y-yes,” said Potts, “you can get a little tree, but you can’t get the smallest kind of a little thing to hang on it.”
“Sh!” said the Boy, “it must be a surprise.”
And he took steps that it should be, for he began stealing away Kaviak’s few cherished possessions—his amulet, his top from under the bunk, his boats from out the water-bucket, wherewith to mitigate the barrenness of the Yukon tree, and to provide a pleasant surprise for the Esquimer who mourned his playthings as gone for ever. Of an evening now, after sleep had settled on Kaviak’s watchful eyes, the Boy worked at a pair of little snow-shoes, helped out by a ball of sinew he had got from Nicholas. Mac bethought him of the valuable combination of zoological and biblical instruction that might be conveyed by means of a Noah’s Ark. He sat up late the last nights before the 25th, whittling, chipping, pegging in legs, sharpening beaks, and inking eyes, that the more important animals might be ready for the Deluge by Christmas.
The Colonel made the ark, and O’Flynn took up a collection to defray the expense of the little new mucklucks he had ordered from Nicholas. They were to come “sure by Christmas Eve,” and O’Flynn was in what he called “a froightful fanteeg” as the short day of the 24th wore towards night, and never a sign of the one-eyed Pymeut. Half a dozen times O’Flynn had gone beyond the stockade to find out if he wasn’t in sight, and finally came back looking intensely disgusted, bringing a couple of white travellers who had arrived from the opposite direction; very cold, one of them deaf, and with frost-bitten feet, and both so tired they could hardly speak. Of course, they were made as comfortable as was possible, the frozen one rubbed with snow and bandaged, and both given bacon and corn-bread and hot tea.
“You oughtn’t to let yourself get into a state like this,” said Mac, thinking ruefully of these strangers’ obvious inability to travel for a day or two, and of the Christmas dinner, to which Benham alone had been bidden, by a great stretch of hospitality.
“That’s all very well,” said the stranger, who shouted when he talked at all, “but how’s a man to know his feet are going to freeze?”
“Ye see, sorr,” O’Flynn explained absent-mindedly, “Misther MacCann didn’t know yer pardner was deaf.”
This point of view seemed to thaw some of the frost out of the two wayfarers. They confided that they were Salmon P. Hardy and Bill Schiff, fellow-passengers in the Merwin, “locked in the ice down below,” and they’d mined side by side back in the States at Cripple Creek. “Yes, sir, and sailed for the Klondyke from Seattle last July.” And now at Christmas they were hoping that, with luck, they might reach the new Minook Diggings, seven hundred miles this side of the Klondyke, before the spring rush. During this recital O’Flynn kept rolling his eyes absently.