Even with the plague and Brother Paul raging at the mission—even with everyone preoccupied by the claims of dead and dying, the Boy would have been glad to prolong his stay had it not been for “nagging” thoughts of the Colonel. As it was, with the mercury rapidly rising and the wind fallen, he got the Pymeuts on the trail next day at noon, spent what was left of the night at the Kachime, and set off for camp early the following day. He arrived something of a wreck, and with an enormous respect for the Yukon trail.
It did him good to sight the big chimney, and still more to see the big Colonel putting on his snow-shoes near the bottom of the hill, where the cabin trail met the river trail. When the Boss o’ the camp looked up and saw the prodigal coming along, rather groggy on his legs, he just stood still a moment. Then he kicked off his web-feet, turned back a few paces uphill, and sat down on a spruce stump, folded his arms, and waited. Was it the knapsack on his back that bowed him so?
But the Colonel didn’t look up till the Boy got quite near, chanting in his tuneless voice:
on a swee’ p’tater vine,
Swee’ p’tater vine, swee’ p’tater vine—’”
“What’s the matter, hey, Colonel? Sorry as all that to see me back?”
“Reckon it’s the kind o’ sorrah I can bear,” said the Colonel. “We thought you were dead.”
“You ought t’ known me better. Were you just sendin’ out a rescue-party of one?”
The Colonel nodded. “That party would have started before, but I cut my foot with the axe the day you left. Where have you been, in the name o’ the nation?”
“Pymeut an’ Holy Cross.”
“Holy Cross? Holy Moses! You?”
“Yes; and do you know, one thing I saw there gave me a serious nervous shock.”
“That don’t surprise me. What was it?”
“Sheets. When I came to go to bed—a real bed, Colonel, on legs—I found I was expected to sleep between sheets, and I just about fainted.”
“That the only shock you had?”
“No, I had several. I saw an angel. I tell you straight, Colonel—you can bank on what I’m sayin’—that Jesuit outfit’s all right.”
“Oh, you think so?” The rejoinder came a little sharply.
“Yes, sir, I just do. I think I’d be bigoted not to admit it.”
“So, you’ll be thick as peas in a pod with the priests now?”
“Well, I’m the one that can afford to be. They won’t convert me! And, from my point o’ view, it don’t matter what a man is s’ long’s he’s a decent fella.”
The Colonel’s only answer was to plunge obliquely uphill.
“Say, Boss, wait for me.”
The Colonel looked back. The Boy was holding on to a scrub willow that put up wiry twigs above the snow.
“Feel as if I’d never get up the last rungs o’ this darn ice-ladder!”