“Despair lies down and grovels,
With evil, casts the burden of its lot.
This Age climbs earth.
—To challenge heaven.
—Not less The lower deeps.
It laughs at Happiness.”
Everybody on Bonanza knew that the Colonel had left off struggling to get out of his bed to go to work, had left off calling for his pardner. Quite in his right senses again, he could take in Maudie’s explanation that the Boy was gone to Dawson, probably to get something for the Colonel to eat. For the Doctor was a crank and wouldn’t let the sick man have his beans and bacon, forbade him even such a delicacy as fresh pork, though the Buckeyes nobly offered to slaughter one of their newly-acquired pigs, the first that ever rooted in Bonanza refuse, and more a terror to the passing Indian than any bear or wolf.
“But the Boy’s a long time,” the Colonel would say wistfully.
Before this quieter phase set in, Maudie had sent into Dawson for Potts, O’Flynn and Mac, that they might distract the Colonel’s mind from the pardner she knew could not return. But O’Flynn, having married the girl at the Moosehorn Cafe, had excuse of ancient validity for not coming; Potts was busy breaking the faro bank, and Mac was waiting till an overdue Lower River steamer should arrive.
Nicholas of Pymeut had gone back as pilot of the Weare, but Princess Muckluck was still about, now with Skookum Bill, son of the local chief, now alone, trudging up and down Bonanza like one looking for something lost. The Colonel heard her voice outside the tent and had her in.
“You goin’ to marry Skookum Bill, as they say?”
Muckluck only laughed, but the Indian hung about waiting the Princess’s pleasure.
“When your pardner come back?” she would indiscreetly ask the Colonel. “Why he goes to Dawson?” And every few hours she would return: “Why he stay so long?”
At last Maudie took her outside and told her.
Muckluck gaped, sat down a minute, and rocked her body back and forth with hidden face, got up and called sharply: “Skookum!”
They took the trail for town. Potts said, when he passed them, they were going as if the devil were at their heels—wouldn’t even stop to say how the Colonel was. So Potts had come to see for himself—and to bring the Colonel some letters just arrived.
Mac was close behind ... but the Boy? No-no. They wouldn’t let anybody see him; and Potts shook his head.
“Well, you can come in,” said Maudie, “if you keep your head shut about the Boy.”
The Colonel was lying flat, with that unfaltering ceiling-gaze of the sick. Now his vision dropped to the level of faces at the door. “Hello!” But as they advanced he looked behind them anxiously. Only Mac—no, Kaviak at his heels! and the sick man’s disappointment lightened to a smile. He would have held out a hand, but Maudie stopped him. She took the little fellow’s fingers and laid them on the Colonel’s.