The Trail of the Meat

Darkspruceforestfrownedoneithersidethefrozenwaterway. Thetreeshadbeenstrippedbyarecentwindoftheirwhitecoveringoffrost, andtheyseemedtoleantowardseachother,blackandominous,inthefadinglight. Avastsilencereignedovertheland. Thelanditselfwasadesolation,lifeless,withoutmovement, soloneandcoldthatthespiritofitwasnoteventhatofsadness. Therewasahintinitoflaughter,butofalaughtermoreterriblethananysadness alaughterthatwasmirthlessasthesmileofthesphinx,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,layathirdmanwhosetoilwasover amanwhomtheWildhadconquered andbeatendownuntilhewouldnevermovenorstruggleagain. 

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