The second day out from Anvik they had decided that it was absurd, after all, to lug about so much tinware. They left a little saucepan and the extra kettle at that camp. The idea, so potent at Anvik, of having a tea-kettle in reserve—well, the notion lost weight, and the kettle seemed to gain.
Two pairs of boots and some flannels marked the next stopping-place.
On the following day, when the Boy’s rifle kept slipping and making a brake to hold back the sled, “I reckon you’ll have to plant that rifle o’ yours in the next big drift,” said the Colonel; “one’s all we need, anyway.”
“One’s all you need, and one’s all I need,” answered the Boy stiffly.
But it wasn’t easy to see immediate need for either. Never was country so bare of game, they thought, not considering how little they hunted, and how more and more every faculty, every sense, was absorbed in the bare going forward.
The next time the Colonel said something about the uselessness of carrying two guns, the Boy flared up: “If you object to guns, leave yours.”
This was a new tone for the Boy to use to the Colonel.
“Don’t you think we’d better hold on to the best one?”
Now the Boy couldn’t deny that the Colonel’s was the better, but none the less he had a great affection for his own old 44 Marlin, and the Colonel shouldn’t assume that he had the right to dictate. This attitude of the “wise elder” seemed out of place on the trail.
“A gun’s a necessity. I haven’t brought along any whim-whams.”
“Well, it wasn’t me that went loadin’ up at Anvik with fool thermometers and things.”
“Thermometer! Why, it doesn’t weigh—”
“Weighs something, and it’s something to pack; frozen half the time, too. And when it isn’t, what’s the good of havin’ it hammered into us how near we are to freezin’ to death.” But it annoyed him to think how very little in argument a thermometer weighed against a rifle.
They said no more that day about lightening the load, but with a double motive they made enormous inroads upon their provisions.
A morning came when the Colonel, packing hurriedly in the biting cold, forgot to shove his pardner’s gun into its accustomed place.
The Boy, returning from trail-breaking to the river, kicked at the butt to draw attention to the omission. The Colonel flung down the end of the ice-coated rope he had lashed the load with, and, “Pack it yourself,” says he.
The Boy let the rifle lie. But all day long he felt the loss of it heavy on his heart, and no reconciling lightness in the sled.
The Colonel began to have qualms about the double rations they were using. It was only the seventeenth night after turning their backs on the Big Chimney, as the Colonel tipped the pan, pouring out half the boiled beans into his pardner’s plate, “That’s the last o’ the strawberries! Don’t go expectin’ any more,” says he.