The old squaw coughed and wiped her eyes. The children coughed in their sleep.
The dogs outside were howling like human beings put to torture. But the sound no longer had power to freeze the blood of the trail-men.
The Colonel merely damned them. The Boy lifted his head, and listened for Nig’s note. The battle raged nearer; a great scampering went by the tent.
A scuffling and snuffing round the bottom of the tent. The Boy, on a sudden impulse, reached out and lifted the flap.
“Got your bandage on? Come here.”
Nig brisked in with the air of one having very little time to waste.
“Lord! I should think you’d be glad to lie down. I am. Let’s see your paw. Here, come over to the light.” He stepped very carefully over the feet of the other inhabitants till he reached the old woman’s corner. Nig, following calmly, walked on prostrate bodies till he reached his friend.
“Now, your paw, pardner. F-ith! Bad, ain’t it?” he appealed to the toothless squaw. Her best friend could not have said her wizened regard was exactly sympathetic, but it was attentive. She seemed intelligent as well as kind.
“Look here,” whispered the Boy, “let that muckluck string o’ mine alone.” He drew it away, and dropped it between his knees. “Haven’t you got something or other to make some shoes for Nig? Hein?” He pantomimed, but she only stared. “Like this.” He pulled out his knife, and cut off the end of one leg of his “shaps,” and gathered it gently round Nig’s nearest foot. “Little dog-boots. See? Give you some bully tabak if you’ll do that for Nig. Hein?”
She nodded at last, and made a queer wheezy sound, whether friendly laughing or pure scorn, the Boy wasn’t sure. But she set about the task.
“Come ’long, Nig,” he whispered. “You just see if I don’t shoe my little horse.” And he sneaked back to bed, comfortable in the assurance that the Colonel was asleep. Nig came walking after his friend straight over people’s heads.
One of the children sat up and whimpered. The Colonel growled sleepily.
“You black devil!” admonished the Boy under his breath. “Look what you’re about. Come here, sir.” He pushed the devil down between the sleeping-bag and the nearest baby.
The Colonel gave a distinct grunt of disapproval, and then, “Keepin’ that brute in here?”
“He’s a lot cleaner than our two-legged friends,” said the Boy sharply, as if answering an insult.
“Right,” said the Colonel with conviction.
His pardner was instantly mollified. “If you wake another baby, you’ll get a lickin’,” he said genially to the dog; and then he stretched out his feet till they reached Nig’s back, and a feeling of great comfort came over the Boy.
“Say, Colonel,” he yawned luxuriously, “did you know that—a—to-night—when Nig flared up, did you know you’d trodden on his paw?”