IN A FAR COUNTRY
When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget
many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as
are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old
ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes
by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped. To those who have the
protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even
be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to
the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment
is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new
restrictions which they do not understand. This chafing is bound to
act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.
It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove
to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely
The man who turns his back upon the comforts of an elder civilization,
to face the savage youth, the primordial simplicity of the North,
may estimate success at an inverse ratio to the quantity and quality
of his hopelessly fixed habits. He will soon discover, if he be a
fit candidate, that the material habits are the less important. The
exchange of such things as a dainty menu for rough fare, of the stiff
leather shoe for the soft, shapeless moccasin, of the feather bed
for a couch in the snow, is after all a very easy matter. But his
pinch will come in learning properly to shape his mind's attitude
toward all things, and especially toward his fellow man. For the courtesies
of ordinary life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and
tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great price--true
comradeship. He must not say 'thank you'; he must mean it without
opening his mouth, and prove it by responding in kind. In short, he
must substitute the deed for the word, the spirit for the letter.
When the world rang with the tale of Arctic gold, and the lure of
the North gripped the heartstrings of men, Carter Weatherbee threw
up his snug clerkship, turned the half of his savings over to his
wife, and with the remainder bought an outfit. There was no romance
in his nature--the bondage of commerce had crushed all that; he was
simply tired of the ceaseless grind, and wished to risk great hazards
in view of corresponding returns. Like many another fool, disdaining
the old trails used by the Northland pioneers for a score of years,
he hurried to Edmonton in the spring of the year; and there, unluckily
for his soul's welfare, he allied himself with a party of men.
There was nothing unusual about this party, except its plans. Even
its goal, like that of all the other parties, was the Klondike. But
the route it had mapped out to attain that goal took away the breath
of the hardiest native, born and bred to the vicissitudes of the Northwest.
Even Jacques Baptiste, born of a Chippewa woman and a renegade voyageur
(having raised his first whimpers in a deerskin lodge north of the
sixty-fifth parallel, and had the same hushed by blissful sucks of
raw tallow), was surprised. Though he sold his services to them and
agreed to travel even to the never-opening ice, he shook his head
ominously whenever his advice was asked.
Percy Cuthfert's evil star must have been in the ascendant, for he,
too, joined this company of argonauts. He was an ordinary man, with
a bank account as deep as his culture, which is saying a good deal.
He had no reason to embark on such a venture--no reason in the world
save that he suffered from an abnormal development of sentimentality.
He mistook this for the true spirit of romance and adventure. Many
another man has done the like, and made as fatal a mistake.
The first break-up of spring found the party following the ice-run
of Elk River. It was an imposing fleet, for the outfit was large,
and they were accompanied by a disreputable contingent of half-breed
voyageurs with their women and children. Day in and day out, they
labored with the bateaux and canoes, fought mosquitoes and other kindred
pests, or sweated and swore at the portages. Severe toil like this
lays a man naked to the very roots of his soul, and ere Lake Athabasca
was lost in the south, each member of the party had hoisted his true
The two shirks and chronic grumblers were Carter Weatherbee and Percy
Cuthfert. The whole party complained less of its aches and pains than
did either of them. Not once did they volunteer for the thousand and
one petty duties of the camp. A bucket of water to be brought, an
extra armful of wood to be chopped, the dishes to be washed and wiped,
a search to be made through the outfit for some suddenly indispensable
article--and these two effete scions of civilization discovered sprains
or blisters requiring instant attention.
They were the first to turn in at night, with score of tasks yet undone;
the last to turn out in the morning, when the start should be in readiness
before the breakfast was begun.
They were the first to fall to at mealtime, the last to have a hand
in the cooking; the first to dive for a slim delicacy, the last to
discover they had added to their own another man's share. If they
toiled at the oars, they slyly cut the water at each stroke and allowed
the boat's momentum to float up the blade. They thought nobody noticed;
but their comrades swore under their breaths and grew to hate them,
while Jacques Baptiste sneered openly and damned them from morning
till night. But Jacques Baptiste was no gentleman.
At the Great Slave, Hudson Bay dogs were purchased, and the fleet
sank to the guards with its added burden of dried fish and pemican.
Then canoe and bateau answered to the swift current of the Mackenzie,
and they plunged into the Great Barren Ground. Every likely-looking
'feeder' was prospected, but the elusive 'pay-dirt' danced ever to
the north. At the Great Bear, overcome by the common dread of the
Unknown Lands, their voyageurs began to desert, and Fort of Good Hope
saw the last and bravest bending to the towlines as they bucked the
current down which they had so treacherously glided.
Jacques Baptiste alone remained. Had he not sworn to travel even to
the never-opening ice? The lying charts, compiled in main from hearsay,
were now constantly consulted.
And they felt the need of hurry, for the sun had already passed its
northern solstice and was leading the winter south again. Skirting
the shores of the bay, where the Mackenzie disembogues into the Arctic
Ocean, they entered the mouth of the Little Peel River. Then began
the arduous up-stream toil, and the two Incapables fared worse than
ever. Towline and pole, paddle and tumpline, rapids and portages--such
tortures served to give the one a deep disgust for great hazards,
and printed for the other a fiery text on the true romance of adventure.
One day they waxed mutinous, and being vilely cursed by Jacques Baptiste,
turned, as worms sometimes will. But the half-breed thrashed the twain,
and sent them, bruised and bleeding, about their work. It was the
first time either had been manhandled.
Abandoning their river craft at the headwaters of the Little Peel,
they consumed the rest of the summer in the great portage over the
Mackenzie watershed to the West Rat. This little stream fed the Porcupine,
which in turn joined the Yukon where that mighty highway of the North
countermarches on the Arctic Circle.
But they had lost in the race with winter, and one day they tied their
rafts to the thick eddy-ice and hurried their goods ashore. That night
the river jammed and broke several times; the following morning it
had fallen asleep for good. 'We can't be more'n four hundred miles
from the Yukon,' concluded Sloper, multiplying his thumb nails by
the scale of the map. The council, in which the two Incapables had
whined to excellent disadvantage, was drawing to a close.
'Hudson Bay Post, long time ago. No use um now.' Jacques Baptiste's
father had made the trip for the Fur Company in the old days, incidentally
marking the trail with a couple of frozen toes.
Sufferin' cracky!' cried another of the party. 'No whites?' 'Nary
white,' Sloper sententiously affirmed; 'but it's only five hundred
more up the Yukon to Dawson. Call it a rough thousand from here.'
Weatherbee and Cuthfert groaned in chorus.
'How long'll that take, Baptiste?' The half-breed figured for a moment.
'Workum like hell, no man play out, tentwenty--forty--fifty days.
Um babies come' (designating the Incapables), 'no can tell. Mebbe
when hell freeze over; mebbe not then.' The manufacture of snowshoes
and moccasins ceased. Somebody called the name of an absent member,
who came out of an ancient cabin at the edge of the campfire and joined
them. The cabin was one of the many mysteries which lurk in the vast
recesses of the North. Built when and by whom, no man could tell.
Two graves in the open, piled high with stones, perhaps contained
the secret of those early wanderers. But whose hand had piled the
stones? The moment had come. Jacques Baptiste paused in the fitting
of a harness and pinned the struggling dog in the snow. The cook made
mute protest for delay, threw a handful of bacon into a noisy pot
of beans, then came to attention. Sloper rose to his feet. His body
was a ludicrous contrast to the healthy physiques of the Incapables.
Yellow and weak, fleeing from a South American fever-hole, he had
not broken his flight across the zones, and was still able to toil
with men. His weight was probably ninety pounds, with the heavy hunting
knife thrown in, and his grizzled hair told of a prime which had ceased
to be. The fresh young muscles of either Weatherbee or Cuthfert were
equal to ten times the endeavor of his; yet he could walk them into
the earth in a day's journey. And all this day he had whipped his
stronger comrades into venturing a thousand miles of the stiffest
hardship man can conceive. He was the incarnation of the unrest of
his race, and the old Teutonic stubbornness, dashed with the quick
grasp and action of the Yankee, held the flesh in the bondage of the
'All those in favor of going on with the dogs as soon as the ice sets,
say ay.' 'Ay!' rang out eight voices--voices destined to string a
trail of oaths along many a hundred miles of pain.
'Contrary minded?' 'No!' For the first time the Incapables were united
without some compromise of personal interests.
'And what are you going to do about it?' Weatherbee added belligerently.
'Majority rule! Majority rule!' clamored the rest of the party.
'I know the expedition is liable to fall through if you don't come,'
Sloper replied sweetly; 'but I guess, if we try real hard, we can
manage to do without you.
What do you say, boys?' The sentiment was cheered to the echo.
'But I say, you know,' Cuthfert ventured apprehensively; 'what's a
chap like me to do?'
'Ain't you coming with us.' 'No--o.' 'Then do as you damn well please.
We won't have nothing to say.' 'Kind o' calkilate yuh might settle
it with that canoodlin' pardner of yourn,' suggested a heavy-going
Westerner from the Dakotas, at the same time pointing out Weatherbee.
'He'll be shore to ask yuh what yur a-goin' to do when it comes to
cookin' an' gatherin' the wood.' 'Then we'll consider it all arranged,'
'We'll pull out tomorrow, if we camp within five miles--just to get
everything in running order and remember if we've forgotten anything.'
The sleds groaned by on their steel- shod runners, and the dogs strained
low in the harnesses in which they were born to die.
Jacques Baptiste paused by the side of Sloper to get a last glimpse
of the cabin. The smoke curled up pathetically from the Yukon stovepipe.
The two Incapables were watching them from the doorway.
Sloper laid his hand on the other's shoulder.
'Jacques Baptiste, did you ever hear of the Kilkenny cats?' The half-breed
shook his head.
'Well, my friend and good comrade, the Kilkenny cats fought till neither
hide, nor hair, nor yowl, was left. You understand?--till nothing
was left. Very good.
Now, these two men don't like work. They'll be all alone in that cabin
all wintera mighty long, dark winter. Kilkenny cats--well?' The Frenchman
in Baptiste shrugged his shoulders, but the Indian in him was silent.
Nevertheless, it was an eloquent shrug, pregnant with prophecy. Things
prospered in the little cabin at first. The rough badinage of their
comrades had made Weatherbee and Cuthfert conscious of the mutual
responsibility which had devolved upon them; besides, there was not
so much work after all for two healthy men. And the removal of the
cruel whiphand, or in other words the bulldozing half-breed, had brought
with it a joyous reaction. At first, each strove to outdo the other,
and they performed petty tasks with an unction which would have opened
the eyes of their comrades who were now wearing out bodies and souls
on the Long Trail.
All care was banished. The forest, which shouldered in upon them from
three sides, was an inexhaustible woodyard. A few yards from their
door slept the Porcupine, and a hole through its winter robe formed
a bubbling spring of water, crystal clear and painfully cold. But
they soon grew to find fault with even that. The hole would persist
in freezing up, and thus gave them many a miserable hour of ice-chopping.
The unknown builders of the cabin had extended the sidelogs so as
to support a cache at the rear. In this was stored the bulk of the
Food there was, without stint, for three times the men who were fated
to live upon it. But the most of it was the kind which built up brawn
and sinew, but did not tickle the palate.
True, there was sugar in plenty for two ordinary men; but these two
were little else than children. They early discovered the virtues
of hot water judiciously saturated with sugar, and they prodigally
swam their flapjacks and soaked their crusts in the rich, white syrup.
Then coffee and tea, and especially the dried fruits, made disastrous
inroads upon it. The first words they had were over the sugar question.
And it is a really serious thing when two men, wholly dependent upon
each other for company, begin to quarrel.
Weatherbee loved to discourse blatantly on politics, while Cuthfert,
who had been prone to clip his coupons and let the commonwealth jog
on as best it might, either ignored the subject or delivered himself
of startling epigrams. But the clerk was too obtuse to appreciate
the clever shaping of thought, and this waste of ammunition irritated
He had been used to blinding people by his brilliancy, and it worked
him quite a hardship, this loss of an audience. He felt personally
aggrieved and unconsciously held his muttonhead companion responsible
Save existence, they had nothing in common--came in touch on no single
Weatherbee was a clerk who had known naught but clerking all his life;
Cuthfert was a master of arts, a dabbler in oils, and had written
not a little. The one was a lower-class man who considered himself
a gentleman, and the other was a gentleman who knew himself to be
such. From this it may be remarked that a man can be a gentleman without
possessing the first instinct of true comradeship. The clerk was as
sensuous as the other was aesthetic, and his love adventures, told
at great length and chiefly coined from his imagination, affected
the supersensitive master of arts in the same way as so many whiffs
of sewer gas. He deemed the clerk a filthy, uncultured brute, whose
place was in the muck with the swine, and told him so; and he was
reciprocally informed that he was a milk-andwater sissy and a cad.
Weatherbee could not have defined 'cad' for his life; but it satisfied
its purpose, which after all seems the main point in life.
Weatherbee flatted every third note and sang such songs as 'The Boston
Burglar' and 'the Handsome Cabin Boy,' for hours at a time, while
Cuthfert wept with rage, till he could stand it no longer and fled
into the outer cold. But there was no escape. The intense frost could
not be endured for long at a time, and the little cabin crowded them--beds,
stove, table, and all--into a space of ten by twelve. The very presence
of either became a personal affront to the other, and they lapsed
into sullen silences which increased in length and strength as the
days went by. Occasionally, the flash of an eye or the curl of a lip
got the better of them, though they strove to wholly ignore each other
during these mute periods.
And a great wonder sprang up in the breast of each, as to how God
had ever come to create the other.
With little to do, time became an intolerable burden to them. This
naturally made them still lazier. They sank into a physical lethargy
which there was no escaping, and which made them rebel at the performance
of the smallest chore. One morning when it was his turn to cook the
common breakfast, Weatherbee rolled out of his blankets, and to the
snoring of his companion, lighted first the slush lamp and then the
fire. The kettles were frozen hard, and there was no water in the
cabin with which to wash. But he did not mind that. Waiting for it
to thaw, he sliced the bacon and plunged into the hateful task of
bread-making. Cuthfert had been slyly watching through his half-closed
Consequently there was a scene, in which they fervently blessed each
other, and agreed, henceforth, that each do his own cooking. A week
later, Cuthfert neglected his morning ablutions, but none the less
complacently ate the meal which he had cooked. Weatherbee grinned.
After that the foolish custom of washing passed out of their lives.
As the sugar-pile and other little luxuries dwindled, they began to
be afraid they were not getting their proper shares, and in order
that they might not be robbed, they fell to gorging themselves. The
luxuries suffered in this gluttonous contest, as did also the men.
In the absence of fresh vegetables and exercise, their blood became
impoverished, and a loathsome, purplish rash crept over their bodies.
Yet they refused to heed the warning.
Next, their muscles and joints began to swell, the flesh turning black,
while their mouths, gums, and lips took on the color of rich cream.
Instead of being drawn together by their misery, each gloated over
the other's symptoms as the scurvy took its course.
They lost all regard for personal appearance, and for that matter,
common decency. The cabin became a pigpen, and never once were the
beds made or fresh pine boughs laid underneath. Yet they could not
keep to their blankets, as they would have wished; for the frost was
inexorable, and the fire box consumed much fuel. The hair of their
heads and faces grew long and shaggy, while their garments would have
disgusted a ragpicker. But they did not care. They were sick, and
there was no one to see; besides, it was very painful to move about.
To all this was added a new trouble--the Fear of the North. This Fear
was the joint child of the Great Cold and the Great Silence, and was
born in the darkness of December, when the sun dipped below the horizon
for good. It affected them according to their natures.
Weatherbee fell prey to the grosser superstitions, and did his best
to resurrect the spirits which slept in the forgotten graves. It was
a fascinating thing, and in his dreams they came to him from out of
the cold, and snuggled into his blankets, and told him of their toils
and troubles ere they died. He shrank away from the clammy contact
as they drew closer and twined their frozen limbs about him, and when
they whispered in his ear of things to come, the cabin rang with his
frightened shrieks. Cuthfert did not understand- for they no longer
spoke--and when thus awakened he invariably grabbed for his revolver.
Then he would sit up in bed, shivering nervously, with the weapon
trained on the unconscious dreamer. Cuthfert deemed the man going
mad, and so came to fear for his life.
His own malady assumed a less concrete form. The mysterious artisan
who had laid the cabin, log by log, had pegged a wind-vane to the
ridgepole. Cuthfert noticed it always pointed south, and one day,
irritated by its steadfastness of purpose, he turned it toward the
east. He watched eagerly, but never a breath came by to disturb it.
Then he turned the vane to the north, swearing never again to touch
it till the wind did blow. But the air frightened him with its unearthly
calm, and he often rose in the middle of the night to see if the vane
had veered--ten degrees would have satisfied him. But no, it poised
above him as unchangeable as fate.
His imagination ran riot, till it became to him a fetish. Sometimes
he followed the path it pointed across the dismal dominions, and allowed
his soul to become saturated with the Fear. He dwelt upon the unseen
and the unknown till the burden of eternity appeared to be crushing
him. Everything in the Northland had that crushing effect--the absence
of life and motion; the darkness; the infinite peace of the brooding
land; the ghastly silence, which made the echo of each heartbeat a
sacrilege; the solemn forest which seemed to guard an awful, inexpressible
something, which neither word nor thought could compass.
The world he had so recently left, with its busy nations and great
enterprises, seemed very far away. Recollections occasionally obtruded--recollections
of marts and galleries and crowded thoroughfares, of evening dress
and social functions, of good men and dear women he had known--but
they were dim memories of a life he had lived long centuries agone,
on some other planet. This phantasm was the Reality. Standing beneath
the wind- vane, his eyes fixed on the polar skies, he could not bring
himself to realize that the Southland really existed, that at that
very moment it was a-roar with life and action.
There was no Southland, no men being born of women, no giving and
taking in marriage.
Beyond his bleak skyline there stretched vast solitudes, and beyond
these still vaster solitudes.
There were no lands of sunshine, heavy with the perfume of flowers.
Such things were only old dreams of paradise. The sunlands of the
West and the spicelands of the East, the smiling Arcadias and blissful
Islands of the Blest--ha! ha! His laughter split the void and shocked
him with its unwonted sound. There was no sun.
This was the Universe, dead and cold and dark, and he its only citizen.
Weatherbee? At such moments Weatherbee did not count. He was a Caliban,
a monstrous phantom, fettered to him for untold ages, the penalty
of some forgotten crime.
He lived with Death among the dead, emasculated by the sense of his
own insignificance, crushed by the passive mastery of the slumbering
ages. The magnitude of all things appalled him. Everything partook
of the superlative save himself--the perfect cessation of wind and
motion, the immensity of the snow-covered wildness, the height of
the sky and the depth of the silence. That wind-vaneif it would only
move. If a thunderbolt would fall, or the forest flare up in flame.
The rolling up of the heavens as a scroll, the crash of Doom--anything,
anything! But no, nothing moved; the Silence crowded in, and the Fear
of the North laid icy fingers on his heart.
Once, like another Crusoe, by the edge of the river he came upon a
track--the faint tracery of a snowshoe rabbit on the delicate snow-crust.
It was a revelation.
There was life in the Northland. He would follow it, look upon it,
gloat over it.
He forgot his swollen muscles, plunging through the deep snow in an
ecstasy of anticipation. The forest swallowed him up, and the brief
midday twilight vanished; but he pursued his quest till exhausted
nature asserted itself and laid him helpless in the snow.
There he groaned and cursed his folly, and knew the track to be the
fancy of his brain; and late that night he dragged himself into the
cabin on hands and knees, his cheeks frozen and a strange numbness
about his feet. Weatherbee grinned malevolently, but made no offer
to help him. He thrust needles into his toes and thawed them out by
the stove. A week later mortification set in.
But the clerk had his own troubles. The dead men came out of their
graves more frequently now, and rarely left him, waking or sleeping.
He grew to wait and dread their coming, never passing the twin cairns
without a shudder. One night they came to him in his sleep and led
him forth to an appointed task. Frightened into inarticulate horror,
he awoke between the heaps of stones and fled wildly to the cabin.
But he had lain there for some time, for his feet and cheeks were
Sometimes he became frantic at their insistent presence, and danced
about the cabin, cutting the empty air with an axe, and smashing everything
During these ghostly encounters, Cuthfert huddled into his blankets
and followed the madman about with a cocked revolver, ready to shoot
him if he came too near.
But, recovering from one of these spells, the clerk noticed the weapon
trained upon him.
His suspicions were aroused, and thenceforth he, too, lived in fear
of his life. They watched each other closely after that, and faced
about in startled fright whenever either passed behind the other's
back. The apprehensiveness became a mania which controlled them even
in their sleep. Through mutual fear they tacitly let the slush-lamp
burn all night, and saw to a plentiful supply of bacon-grease before
retiring. The slightest movement on the part of one was sufficient
to arouse the other, and many a still watch their gazes countered
as they shook beneath their blankets with fingers on the trigger-
What with the Fear of the North, the mental strain, and the ravages
of the disease, they lost all semblance of humanity, taking on the
appearance of wild beasts, hunted and desperate. Their cheeks and
noses, as an aftermath of the freezing, had turned black.
Their frozen toes had begun to drop away at the first and second joints.
Every movement brought pain, but the fire box was insatiable, wringing
a ransom of torture from their miserable bodies. Day in, day out,
it demanded its food--a veritable pound of flesh--and they dragged
themselves into the forest to chop wood on their knees. Once, crawling
thus in search of dry sticks, unknown to each other they entered a
thicket from opposite sides.
Suddenly, without warning, two peering death's-heads confronted each
other. Suffering had so transformed them that recognition was impossible.
They sprang to their feet, shrieking with terror, and dashed away
on their mangled stumps; and falling at the cabin's door, they clawed
and scratched like demons till they discovered their mistake.
Occasionally they lapsed normal, and during one of these sane intervals,
the chief bone of contention, the sugar, had been divided equally
between them. They guarded their separate sacks, stored up in the
cache, with jealous eyes; for there were but a few cupfuls left, and
they were totally devoid of faith in each other.
But one day Cuthfert made a mistake. Hardly able to move, sick with
pain, with his head swimming and eyes blinded, he crept into the cache,
sugar canister in hand, and mistook Weatherbee's sack for his own.
January had been born but a few days when this occurred. The sun had
some time since passed its lowest southern declination, and at meridian
now threw flaunting streaks of yellow light upon the northern sky.
On the day following his mistake with the sugarbag, Cuthfert found
himself feeling better, both in body and in spirit. As noontime drew
near and the day brightened, he dragged himself outside to feast on
the evanescent glow, which was to him an earnest of the sun's future
intentions. Weatherbee was also feeling somewhat better, and crawled
out beside him. They propped themselves in the snow beneath the moveless
windvane, and waited.
The stillness of death was about them. In other climes, when nature
falls into such moods, there is a subdued air of expectancy, a waiting
for some small voice to take up the broken strain. Not so in the North.
The two men had lived seeming eons in this ghostly peace.
They could remember no song of the past; they could conjure no song
of the future. This unearthly calm had always been--the tranquil silence
Their eyes were fixed upon the north. Unseen, behind their backs,
behind the towering mountains to the south, the sun swept toward the
zenith of another sky than theirs. Sole spectators of the mighty canvas,
they watched the false dawn slowly grow. A faint flame began to glow
and smoulder. It deepened in intensity, ringing the changes of reddish-
yellow, purple, and saffron. So bright did it become that Cuthfert
thought the sun must surely be behind it--a miracle, the sun rising
in the north! Suddenly, without warning and without fading, the canvas
was swept clean. There was no color in the sky. The light had gone
out of the day.
They caught their breaths in half-sobs. But lo! the air was aglint
with particles of scintillating frost, and there, to the north, the
wind-vane lay in vague outline of the snow.
A shadow! A shadow! It was exactly midday. They jerked their heads
hurriedly to the south. A golden rim peeped over the mountain's snowy
shoulder, smiled upon them an instant, then dipped from sight again.
There were tears in their eyes as they sought each other. A strange
softening came over them. They felt irresistibly drawn toward each
other. The sun was coming back again. It would be with them tomorrow,
and the next day, and the next.
And it would stay longer every visit, and a time would come when it
would ride their heaven day and night, never once dropping below the
skyline. There would be no night.
The ice-locked winter would be broken; the winds would blow and the
forests answer; the land would bathe in the blessed sunshine, and
Hand in hand, they would quit this horrid dream and journey back to
the Southland. They lurched blindly forward, and their hands met--their
poor maimed hands, swollen and distorted beneath their mittens.
But the promise was destined to remain unfulfilled. The Northland
is the Northland, and men work out their souls by strange rules, which
other men, who have not journeyed into far countries, cannot come
An hour later, Cuthfert put a pan of bread into the oven, and fell
to speculating on what the surgeons could do with his feet when he
got back. Home did not seem so very far away now. Weatherbee was rummaging
in the cache. Of a sudden, he raised a whirlwind of blasphemy, which
in turn ceased with startling abruptness. The other man had robbed
his sugar-sack. Still, things might have happened differently, had
not the two dead men come out from under the stones and hushed the
hot words in his throat. They led him quite gently from the cache,
which he forgot to close. That consummation was reached; that something
they had whispered to him in his dreams was about to happen. They
guided him gently, very gently, to the woodpile, where they put the
axe in his hands.
Then they helped him shove open the cabin door, and he felt sure they
shut it after him- at least he heard it slam and the latch fall sharply
into place. And he knew they were waiting just without, waiting for
him to do his task.
'Carter! I say, Carter!' Percy Cuthfert was frightened at the look
on the clerk's face, and he made haste to put the table between them.
Carter Weatherbee followed, without haste and without enthusiasm.
There was neither pity nor passion in his face, but rather the patient,
stolid look of one who has certain work to do and goes about it methodically.
'I say, what's the matter?'
The clerk dodged back, cutting off his retreat to the door, but never
opening his mouth.
'I say, Carter, I say; let's talk. There's a good chap.' The master
of arts was thinking rapidly, now, shaping a skillful flank movement
on the bed where his Smith & Wesson lay. Keeping his eyes on the
madman, he rolled backward on the bunk, at the same time clutching
'Carter!' The powder flashed full in Weatherbee's face, but he swung
his weapon and leaped forward. The axe bit deeply at the base of the
spine, and Percy Cuthfert felt all consciousness of his lower limbs
leave him. Then the clerk fell heavily upon him, clutching him by
the throat with feeble fingers. The sharp bite of the axe had caused
Cuthfert to drop the pistol, and as his lungs panted for release,
he fumbled aimlessly for it among the blankets. Then he remembered.
He slid a hand up the clerk's belt to the sheath-knife; and they drew
very close to each other in that last clinch.
Percy Cuthfert felt his strength leave him. The lower portion of his
body was useless, The inert weight of Weatherbee crushed him--crushed
him and pinned him there like a bear under a trap. The cabin became
filled with a familiar odor, and he knew the bread to be burning.
Yet what did it matter? He would never need it. And there were all
of six cupfuls of sugar in the cache--if he had foreseen this he would
not have been so saving the last several days. Would the wind-vane
ever move? Why not' Had he not seen the sun today? He would go and
see. No; it was impossible to move. He had not thought the clerk so
heavy a man.
How quickly the cabin cooled! The fire must be out. The cold was forcing
It must be below zero already, and the ice creeping up the inside
of the door. He could not see it, but his past experience enabled
him to gauge its progress by the cabin's temperature. The lower hinge
must be white ere now. Would the tale of this ever reach the world?
How would his friends take it? They would read it over their coffee,
most likely, and talk it over at the clubs. He could see them very
clearly, 'Poor Old Cuthfert,'
they murmured; 'not such a bad sort of a chap, after all.' He smiled
at their eulogies, and passed on in search of a Turkish bath. It was
the same old crowd upon the streets.
Strange, they did not notice his moosehide moccasins and tattered
German socks! He would take a cab. And after the bath a shave would
not be bad. No; he would eat first.
Steak, and potatoes, and green things how fresh it all was! And what
was that? Squares of honey, streaming liquid amber! But why did they
bring so much? Ha! ha! he could never eat it all.
Shine! Why certainly. He put his foot on the box. The bootblack looked
curiously up at him, and he remembered his moosehide moccasins and
went away hastily.
Hark! The wind-vane must be surely spinning. No; a mere singing in
That was all--a mere singing. The ice must have passed the latch by
now. More likely the upper hinge was covered. Between the moss-chinked
roof-poles, little points of frost began to appear. How slowly they
grew! No; not so slowly. There was a new one, and there another. Two--three--four;
they were coming too fast to count. There were two growing together.
And there, a third had joined them.
Why, there were no more spots. They had run together and formed a
Well, he would have company. If Gabriel ever broke the silence of
the North, they would stand together, hand in hand, before the great
White Throne. And God would judge them, God would judge them!
Then Percy Cuthfert closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.
(First published in Overland Monthly, Vol. 33, June, 1899).
Jack London (1876-1916):
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In a far Country
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What Life Means to Me
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