“If—” wheezed Brokaw.
“If we had a fire,” continued Billy. “We could warm ourselves, an’ make the Indian’s shack easy, couldn’t we?”
Brokaw did not answer. He had turned toward the creek when one of Billy’s pulseless hands fell heavily on his arm.
“Look here, Brokaw.”
Brokaw turned. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“I guess mebby you’re a man, Brokaw,” said Billy quietly. “You’ve done what you thought was your duty. You’ve kept your word to th’ law, an’ I believe you’ll keep your word with me. If I say the word that’ll save us now will you go back to headquarters an’ report me dead?” For a full half minute their eyes did not waver.
Then Brokaw said:
Billy dropped his hand. It was Brokaw’s hand that fell on his arm now.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “In ten years I ain’t run out the white flag once. It’s something that ain’t known in the service. There ain’t a coward in it, or a man who’s afraid to die. But I’ll play you square. I’ll wait until we’re both on our feet, again, and then I’ll give you twenty-four hours the start of me.”
Billy was smiling now. His hand reached out. Brokaw’s met it, and the two joined in a grip that their numb fingers scarcely felt.
“Do you know,” said Billy softly, “there’s been somethin’ runnin’ in my head ever since we left the burning cabin. It’s something my mother taught me: ‘Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.’ I’m a d—– fool, ain’t I? But I’m goin’ to try the experiment, Brokaw, an’ see what comes of it. I could drop in a snowdrift an’ let you go on—to die. Then I could save myself. But I’m going to take your word—an’ do the other thing. I’ve got A match.”
“Just one. I remember dropping it in my pants pocket yesterday when I was out on the trail. It’s in this pocket. Your hand is in better shape than mine. Get it.”
Life had leaped into Brokaw’s face. He thrust his hand into Billy’s pocket, staring at him as he fumbled, as if fearing that he had lied. When he drew his hand out the match was between his fingers.
“Ah!” he whispered excitedly.
“Don’t get nervous,” warned Billy. “It’s the only one.”
Brokaw’s eyes were searching the low timber along the shore. “There’s a birch tree,” he cried. “Hold it—while I gather a pile of bark!”
He gave the match to Billy, and staggered through the snow to the bank. Strip after strip of the loose bark he tore from the tree. Then he gathered it in a heap in the shelter of a low-hanging spruce, and added dry sticks, and still more bark, to it. When it was ready he stood with his hands in his pockets, and looked at Billy.
“If we had a stone, an’ a piece of paper—” he began.
Billy thrust a hand that felt like lifeless lead inside his shirt, and fumbled in a pocket he had made there. Brokaw watched him with red, eager eyes. The hand reappeared, and in it was the buckskin wrapped photograph he had seen the night before, Billy took off the buckskin. About the picture there was a bit of tissue paper. He gave this and the match to Brokaw.