Tom grinned. “While I was eatin’ the stew, I thought I could stand sleepin’ there even if I gagged at the eats, and while I was tryin’ to sleep, I made up my mind if I had to choose one it would be the stew. Next time we’re wrastlin’ with a blizzard, we’ll know enough to be thankful for our mercies. We’ll be able to figure it might be a lot worse.”
That afternoon they killed a caribou and got much-needed fresh meat for themselves and the dogs. Unfortunately, while carrying the hind-quarters to the sled, Beresford slipped and strained a tendon in the left leg. He did not notice it much at the time, but after an hour’s travel the pain increased. He found it difficult to keep pace with the dogs.
They were traversing a ten-mile lake. Morse proposed that they camp as soon as they reached the edge of it.
“Better get on the sled and ride till then,” he added.
Beresford shook his head. “No, I’ll carry on all right. Got to grin and bear it. The sled’s overloaded anyhow. You trot along and I’ll tag. Time you’ve got the fires built and all the work done, I’ll loaf into camp.”
Tom made no further protest. “All right. Take it easy. I’ll unload and run back for you.”
The Montanan found a good camp-site, dumped the supplies, and left Cuffy as a guard. With the other dogs he drove back and met the officer. Beresford was still limping doggedly forward. Every step sent a shoot of pain through him, but he set his teeth and kept moving.
None the less he was glad to see the empty sled. He tumbled on and let the others do the work.
At camp he scraped the snow away with a shoe while Morse cut spruce boughs and chopped wood for the fire.
Beresford suffered a good deal from his knee that night. He did not sleep much, and when day came it was plain he could not travel. The camp-site was a good one. There was plenty of wood, and the shape of the draw in which they were located was a protection from the cold wind. The dogs would be no worse for a day or two of rest. The travelers decided to remain here as long as might be necessary.
Tom went hunting. He brought back a bag of four ptarmigan late in the afternoon. Fried, they were delicious. The dogs stood round in a half-circle and caught the bones tossed to them. Crunch— crunch—crunch. The bones no longer were. The dogs, heads cocked on one side, waited expectantly for more tender tidbits.
“Saw deer tracks. To-morrow I’ll have a try for one,” Morse said.
The lame man hobbled down to the lake next day, broke the ice, and fished for jack pike. He took back to camp with him all he could carry.
On the fourth day his knee was so much improved that he was able to travel slowly. They were glad to see that night the lights of Fort Desolation, as one of the Mounted had dubbed the post on account of its loneliness.