He struggled to his feet with a roar like a wounded bull, lunging heavily forward as the Boy eluded him, and he would have pounded the young fellow out of existence in no time had he stood his ground. That was exactly what the Boy didn’t mean to do—he was always just a little way on in front; but as the Colonel’s half-insane rage cooled, and he slowed down a bit, the Boy was at him again like some imp of Satan. Sound and lithe and quick-handed as he was, he was no match for the Colonel at his best. But the Colonel couldn’t see well, and his brain was on fire. He’d kill that young devil, and then he’d lie down and sleep again.
Meanwhile Aurora mounted the high heavens; from a great corona in the zenith all the sky was hung with banners, and the snow was stained as if with blood. The Boy looked over his shoulder, and saw the huge figure of his friend, bearing down upon him, with his discoloured face rage-distorted, and murder in his tortured eyes. A moment’s sense of the monstrous spectacle fell so poignant upon the Boy, that he felt dimly he must have been full half his life running this race with death, followed by a maniac bent on murder, in a world whose winter was strangely lit with the leaping fires of hell.
At last, on there in front, the cliff! Below it, the sharp bend in the river, and although he couldn’t see it yet, behind the cliff the forest, and a little hand-sled bearing the means of life.
The Colonel was down again, but it wasn’t safe to go near him just yet. The Boy ran on, unpacked the sled, and went, axe in hand, along the margin of the wood. Never before was a fire made so quickly. Then, with the flask, back to the Colonel, almost as sound asleep as before.
The Boy never could recall much about the hours that followed. There was nobody to help, so it must have been he who somehow got the Colonel to the fire, got him to swallow some food, plastered his wounded face over with the carbolic ointment, and got him into bed, for in the morning all this was seen to have been done.
They stayed in camp that day to “rest up,” and the Boy shot a rabbit. The Colonel was coming round; the rest, or the ointment, or the tea-leaf poultice, had been good for snowblindness. The generous reserve of strength in his magnificent physique was quick to announce itself. He was still “frightfully bunged up,” but “I think we’ll push on to-morrow,” he said that night, as he sat by the fire smoking before turning in.
“Right you are!” said the Boy, who was mending the sled-runner. Neither had referred to that encounter on the river-ice, that had ended in bringing the Colonel where there was succour. Nothing was said, then or for long after, in the way of deliberate recognition that the Boy had saved his life. It wasn’t necessary; they understood each other.