In spite of the shortness of the days, Father Wills’s suggestion was being carried out with a gratifying success. Already manifest were the advantages of the stockade, running at a foot’s distance round the cabin to the height of the eaves, made of spruce saplings not even lopped of their short bushy branches, but planted close together, after burning the ground cleared of snow. A second visitation of mild weather, and a further two days’ thaw, made the Colonel determine to fill in the space between the spruce stockade and the cabin with “burnt-out” soil closely packed down and well tramped in. It was generally conceded, as the winter wore on, that to this contrivance of the “earthwork” belonged a good half of the credit of the Big Cabin, and its renown as being the warmest spot on the lower river that terrible memorable year of the Klondyke Rush.
The evergreen wall with the big stone chimney shouldering itself up to look out upon the frozen highway, became a conspicuous feature in the landscape, welcome as the weeks went on to many an eye wearied with long looking for shelter, and blinded by the snow-whitened waste.
An exception to what became a rule was, of all men, Nicholas. When the stockade was half done, the Prince and an equerry appeared on the horizon, with the second team the camp had seen, the driver much concerned to steer clear of the softened snow and keep to that part of the river ice windswept and firm, if roughest of all. Nicholas regarded the stockade with a cold and beady eye.
No, he hadn’t time to look at it. He had promised to “mush.” He wasn’t even hungry.
It did little credit to his heart, but he seemed more in haste to leave his new friends than the least friendly of them would have expected.
“Oh, wait a sec.,” urged the deeply disappointed Boy. “I wanted awf’ly to see how your sled is made. It’s better ’n Father Wills’.”
“Humph!” grunted Nicholas scornfully; “him no got Innuit sled.”
“Mac and I are goin’ to try soon’s the stockade’s done—”
“Goo’-bye,” interrupted Nicholas.
But the Boy paid no attention to the word of farewell. He knelt down in the snow and examined the sled carefully.
“Spruce runners,” he called out to Mac, “and—jee! they’re shod with ivory! Jee! fastened with sinew and wooden pegs. Hey?”—looking up incredulously at Nicholas—“not a nail in the whole shebang, eh?”
“Nail?” says Nicholas. “Huh, no nail!” as contemptuously as though the Boy had said “bread-crumbs.”
“Well, she’s a daisy! When you comin’ back?”
“Comin’ pretty quick; goin’ pretty quick. Goo’-bye! Mush!” shouted Nicholas to his companion, and the dogs got up off their haunches.
But the Boy only laughed at Nicholas’s struggles to get started. He hung on to the loaded sled, examining, praising, while the dogs, after the merest affectation of trying to make a start, looked round at him over their loose collars and grinned contentedly.