For the rest, the carefully-selected pack on the sled contained the marmot-skin, woollen blankets, a change of flannels apiece, a couple of sweaters, a Norfolk jacket, and several changes of foot-gear. This last item was dwelt on earnestly by all. “Keep your feet dry,” John Dillon had said, “and leave the rest to God Almighty.” They were taking barely two weeks’ rations, and a certain amount of stuff to trade with the up-river Indians, when their supplies should be gone. They carried a kettle, an axe, some quinine, a box of the carbolic ointment all miners use for foot-soreness, O’Flynn’s whisky, and two rifles and ammunition. In spite of having eliminated many things that most travellers would count essential, they found their load came to a little over two hundred pounds. But every day would lessen it, they told each other with a laugh, and with an inward misgiving, lest the lightening should come all too quickly.
They had seen in camp that winter so much of the frailty of human temper that, although full of faith by now in each other’s native sense and fairness, they left nothing to a haphazard division of labour. They parcelled out the work of the day with absolute impartiality. To each man so many hours of going ahead to break trail, if the snow was soft, while the other dragged the sled; or else while one pulled in front, the other pushed from behind, in regular shifts by the watch, turn and turn about. The Colonel had cooked all winter, so it was the Boy’s turn at that—the Colonel’s to decide the best place to camp, because it was his affair to find seasoned wood for fuel, his to build the fire in the snow on green logs laid close together—his to chop enough wood to cook breakfast the next morning. All this they had arranged before they left the Big Chimney.
That they did not cover more ground that first day was a pure chance, not likely to recur, due to an unavoidable loss of time at Pymeut.
Knowing the fascination that place exercised over his companion, the Colonel called a halt about seven miles off from the Big Chimney, that they might quickly despatch a little cold luncheon they carried in their pockets, and push on without a break till supper.
“We’ve got no time to waste at Pymeut,” observes the Colonel significantly.
“I ain’t achin’ to stop at Pymeut,” says his pardner with a superior air, standing up, as he swallowed his last mouthful of cold bacon and corn-bread, and cheerfully surveyed the waste. “Who says it’s cold, even if the wind is up? And the track’s bully. But see here, Colonel, you mustn’t go thinkin’ it’s smooth glare-ice, like this, all the way.”
“Oh, I was figurin’ that it would be.” But the Boy paid no heed to the irony.
“And it’s a custom o’ the country to get the wind in your face, as a rule, whichever way you go.”
“Well, I’m not complainin’ as yet.”
“Reckon you needn’t if you’re blown like dandelion-down all the way to Minook. Gee! the wind’s stronger! Say, Colonel, let’s rig a sail.”