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But at front and rear, unawed and indomitable, toiled the two men who
were not yet dead. Their bodies were covered with fur and soft-tanned
leather. Eyelashes and cheeks and lips were so coated with the crystals
from their frozen breath that their faces were not discernible. This
gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world
at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men,
penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny
adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the
might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of
They travelled on without speech, saving their breath for the work of
their bodies. On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a
tangible presence. It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of
deep water affect the body of the diver. It crushed them with the weight
of unending vastness and unalterable decree. It crushed them into the
remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices
from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue
self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and
small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom
amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.
An hour went by, and a second hour. The pale light of the short sunless
day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry arose on the still air.
It soared upward with a swift rush, till it reached its topmost note,
where it persisted, palpitant and tense, and then slowly died away. It
might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a
certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness. The front man turned his
head until his eyes met the eyes of the man behind. And then, across the
narrow oblong box, each nodded to the other.
A second cry arose, piercing the silence with needle-like shrillness.
Both men located the sound. It was to the rear, somewhere in the snow
expanse they had just traversed. A third and answering cry arose, also
to the rear and to the left of the second cry.
"They're after us, Bill," said the man at the front.
His voice sounded hoarse and unreal, and he had spoken with apparent
"Meat is scarce," answered his comrade. "I ain't seen a rabbit sign for
Thereafter they spoke no more, though their ears were keen for the
hunting-cries that continued to rise behind them.
At the fall of darkness they swung the dogs into a cluster of spruce
trees on the edge of the waterway and made a camp. The coffin, at the
side of the fire, served for seat and table. The wolf-dogs, clustered on
the far side of the fire, snarled and bickered among themselves, but
evinced no inclination to stray off into the darkness.
"Seems to me, Henry, they're stayin' remarkable close to camp," Bill
Henry, squatting over the fire and settling the pot of coffee with a
piece of ice, nodded. Nor did he speak till he had taken his seat on the
coffin and begun to eat.
"They know where their hides is safe," he said. "They'd sooner eat grub
than be grub. They're pretty wise, them dogs."
Bill shook his head. "Oh, I don't know."
His comrade looked at him curiously. "First time I ever heard you say
anything about their not bein' wise."
"Henry," said the other, munching with deliberation the beans he was
eating, "did you happen to notice the way them dogs kicked up when I was
"They did cut up more'n usual," Henry acknowledged.
"How many dogs 've we got, Henry?"
"Well, Henry . . . " Bill stopped for a moment, in order that his words
might gain greater significance. "As I was sayin', Henry, we've got six
dogs. I took six fish out of the bag. I gave one fish to each dog, an',
Henry, I was one fish short."
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