The Colonel suddenly put his head out from under the marmot-skin to say discontentedly, “What you sittin’ up for?”
“Oh ... for instance!” But aside from the pertness of the answer, already it was dimly recognised as an offence for one to stay up longer than the other.
“Can’t think how it is,” the Colonel growled, “that you don’t see that their principle is wrong. Through and through mediaeval, through and through despotic. They make a virtue of weakness, a fetich of vested authority. And it isn’t American authority, either.”
The Boy waited for him to quiet down. “What’s the first rule,” demanded the Colonel, half sitting up, “of the most powerful Catholic Order? Blind obedience to an old gentleman over in Italy.”
“I said last night, you know,” the Boy put in quite meekly, “that it all seemed very un-American.”
“Huh! Glad you can see that much.” The Colonel drove his huge fist at the provision-bag, as though to beat the stiffnecked beans into a feathery yielding. “Blind submission don’t come easy to most Americans. The Great Republic was built upon revolt;” and he pulled the covers over his head.
“I know, I know. We jaw an awful lot about freedom and about what’s American. There’s plenty o’ free speech in America and plenty o’ machinery, but there’s a great deal o’ human nature, too, I guess.” The Boy looked out of the corner of his eye at the blanketed back of his big friend. “And maybe there’ll always be some people who—who think there’s something in the New Testament notion o’ sacrifice and service.”
The Colonel rolled like an angry leviathan, and came to the surface to blow. But the Boy dashed on, with a fearful joy in his own temerity. “The difference between us, Colonel, is that I’m an unbeliever, and I know it, and you’re a cantankerous old heathen, and you don’t know it.” The Colonel sat suddenly bolt upright. “Needn’t look at me like that. You’re as bad as anybody—rather worse. Why are you here? Dazzled and lured by the great gold craze. An’ you’re not even poor. You want more gold. You’ve got a home to stay in; but you weren’t satisfied, not even in the fat lands down below.”
“Well,” said the Colonel solemnly, blinking at the fire, “I hope I’m a Christian, but as to bein’ satisfied—”
“Church of England can’t manage it, hey?”
“Church of England’s got nothing to do with it. It’s a question o’ character. Satisfied! We’re little enough, God knows, but we’re too big for that.”
The Boy stood up, back to the fire, eyes on the hilltops whitening in the starlight.
“Perhaps—not—all of us.”
“Yes, sah, all of us.” The Colonel lifted his head with a fierce look of most un-Christian pride. Behind him the hills, leaving the struggling little wood far down the slope, went up and up into dimness, reaching to the near-by stars, and looking down to the far-off camp fire by the great ice-river’s edge.