But in the evening, after the Boy had finished mending the sled, it occurred to him he must also mend the Colonel before they went to bed. He got out the box of ointment and bespread the strips of torn handkerchief.
“Don’t know as I need that to-night,” says the Colonel. “Musn’t waste ointment.” But the Boy brought the bandages round to the Colonel’s side of the fire. For an instant they looked at each other by the flickering light, and the Colonel laid his hand on the Boy’s arm. His eyes looked worse for the moment, and began to water. He turned away brusquely, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe on a log.
“What in hell made you think of it?”
“Ask me an easy one,” says the Boy. “But I know what the Jesuit Fathers would say.”
“Jesuits and George Warren! Humph! precious little we’d agree about.”
“You would about this. It flashed over me when I looked back and saw you peltin’ after me.”
“Small wonder I made for you! I’m not findin’ fault, but what on earth put it into your head to go at me with your fists like that?”
“You’ll never prove it by me. But when I saw you comin’ at me like a mad bull, I thought to myself, thinks I, the Colonel and the Jesuits, they’d both of ’em say this was a direct answer to prayer.”
“L’humanite a commence tout entiere par le crime .... C’etait le vieux nourricier des hommes des cavernes.”—ANATOLE FRANCE.
An old story now, these days of silent plodding through the driving snow.
But if outward conditions lacked variety, not so their cumulative effect upon poor human nature. A change was going on in the travellers that will little commend them to the sentimentalist.
“I’ve come to think a snow-storm’s all right to travel in, all right to sleep in,” said the Colonel one morning; “but to cook in, eat in, make or break camp in—it’s the devil’s champion invention.” For three days they had worked like galley-slaves, and yet covered less than ten miles a day. “And you never get rested,” the Colonel went on; “I get up as tired as I go to bed.” Again the Boy only nodded. His body, if not his temper, had got broken into the trail, but for a talkative person he had in these days strangely little to say. It became manifest that, in the long run, the Colonel would suffer the most physically; but his young companion, having less patience and more ambition, more sheer untamed vitality in him, would suffer the most in spirit. Every sense in him was becoming numbed, save the gnawing in his stomach, and that other, even more acute ache, queer compound of fatigue and anger. These two sensations swallowed up all else, and seemed to grow by what they fed on.
The loaded sled was a nightmare. It weighed a thousand tons. The very first afternoon out from Anvik, when in the desperate hauling and tugging that rescued it from a bottomless snow-drift, the lashing slipped, the load loosened, tumbled off, and rolled open, the Colonel stood quite still and swore till his half-frozen blood circulated freely again. When it came to repacking, he considered in detail the items that made up the intolerable weight, and fell to wondering which of them they could do without.