And there was silence until the guide cried:—
“Here’s our camp, boys. I’ll bet you’re glad to see it. I must get the kettle, and cruise off for water. ’Tain’t likely I’ll trust one of you fellers after last night. But you can hustle round and build the camp-fire while I’m gone.”
Herb had a shrewd motive in this. He knew that there is nothing which will cure the blues in a camper, if he is touched by that affliction, rare in forest life, like the building of his fire, watching the little flames creep from the dull, dead wood, to roar and soar aloft in gold-red pennons of good cheer.
The result proved his wisdom. When he returned in a very short time from that ever-to-be-famous spring, with his brimming kettle, he found a glorious fire, and three tired but cheerful fellows watching it, its reflection playing like a jack-o’-lantern in each pair of eyes.
“Now I’ll have supper ready in a jiffy,” he said. “I guess you boys feel like eating one another. Jerusha! we never touched our snack—nary a crumb of it.”
In the strange happenings and chaotic feelings of the day, hunger, together with the bread and pork for satisfying it which Herb had carried up the mountain, were forgotten until now.
“Never mind! We’ll make up for it. Only hurry up!” pleaded Dol. “We’re like bears, we’re so hungry.”
“Like bears! You’re a sight more like calves with their mouths open, waiting for something to swallow,” answered Herb, his eyes flashing impudence, while, with an energy apparently no less brisk than when he started out in the morning, he rushed his preparations for supper.
“Say I’m like a Sukey, and I’ll go for you!” roared Dol, a gurgling laugh breaking from him, the first which had been heard since the four struggled through that tangle on Katahdin to a sight of the old camp.
Once or twice during supper the mirth, which had been frozen in each camper’s breast by a sight of the drifted wreck of a human life, warmed again spasmodically. Herb did his manly best to fan its flame, though his heart was still pinched by a feeling of double loss.
Later in the evening, when the party were huddling close to the camp-fire, he lifted his right hand and looked at it blankly.
“My!” he gasped, “but it will feel awful queer and empty without Old Blazes. That rifle was a reg’lar corker, boys. I was saving up for three years to buy it. An’ it never went back on me. Times when I’ve gone far off hunting, and had nary a chance to speak to a human for weeks, I’d get to talking to it like as if ’twas a living thing. When I wasn’t afeard of scaring game, I’d fire a round to make it answer back and drive away lonesomeness. Folks might ha’ thought I was loony, only there was none to see. Well, it’s smashed to chips now, ’long with the old camp.”
“What awfully selfish jackasses we were, to skip off with our own rifles, and never think of yours, or that you couldn’t save it, carrying that poor fellow! I feel like kicking myself,” said Cyrus, sharp vexation in his voice. “But that slide business sprang on us so quickly. The sudden rumbling, rattling, and pounding jumbled a fellow’s wits. I scarcely understood what was up, even when we were scooting for our lives.”