The Trail of the Meat

Darkspruceforestfrownedoneithersidethefrozenwaterway.Thetreeshadbeenstrippedbyarecentwindoftheirwhitecoveringoffrost,andtheyseemedtoleantowardseachother,blackandominous,inthefadinglight.Avastsilencereignedovertheland.Thelanditselfwasadesolation,lifeless,withoutmovement,soloneandcoldthatthespiritofitwasnoteventhatofsadness.Therewasahintinitoflaughter,butofalaughtermoreterriblethananysadnessalaughterthatwasmirthlessasthesmileofthesphinx,alaughtercoldasthefrostandpartakingofthegrimnessofinfallibility.Itwasthemasterfulandincommunicablewisdomofeternitylaughingatthefutilityoflifeandtheeffortoflife.ItwastheWild,thesavage,frozen-heartedNorthlandWild.

Buttherewaslife,abroadinthelandanddefiant.Downthefrozenwaterwaytoiledastringofwolfishdogs.Theirbristlyfurwasrimedwithfrost.Theirbreathfrozeintheairasitlefttheirmouths,spoutingforthinspumesofvapourthatsettleduponthehairoftheirbodiesandformedintocrystalsoffrost.Leatherharnesswasonthedogs,andleathertracesattachedthemtoasledwhichdraggedalongbehind.Thesledwaswithoutrunners.Itwasmadeofstoutbirch-bark,anditsfullsurfacerestedonthesnow.Thefrontendofthesledwasturnedup,likeascroll,inordertoforcedownandundertheboreofsoftsnowthatsurgedlikeawavebeforeit.Onthesled,securelylashed,wasalongandnarrowoblongbox.Therewereotherthingsonthesledblankets,anaxe,andacoffee-potandfrying-pan;butprominent,occupyingmostofthespace,wasthelongandnarrowoblongbox.

Inadvanceofthedogs,onwidesnowshoes,toiledaman.Attherearofthesledtoiledasecondman.Onthesled,inthebox,layathirdmanwhosetoilwasoveramanwhomtheWildhadconqueredandbeatendownuntilhewouldnevermovenorstruggleagain.

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