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The Trail Of The Meat
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been
stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean
towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over
the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold
that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a
laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the
sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was
the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and
the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen- hearted Northland Wild.
But there WAS life, abroad in the land and defiant. Down the frozen waterway toiled a
string of wolfish dogs. Their bristly fur was rimed with frost. Their breath froze in the air
as it left their mouths, spouting forth in spumes of vapour that settled upon the hair of
their bodies and formed into crystals of frost. Leather harness was on the dogs, and
leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged along behind. The sled was without
runners. It was made of stout birch-bark, and its full surface rested on the snow. The front
end of the sled was turned up, like a scroll, in order to force down and under the bore of
soft snow that surged like a wave before it. On the sled, securely lashed, was a long and
narrow oblong box. There were other things on the sled - blankets, an axe, and a coffee-
pot and frying-pan; but prominent, occupying most of the space, was the long and narrow
oblong box.
In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a
second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, - a man whom
the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.
It is not the way of the Wild to like movement. Life is an offence to it, for life is
movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement. It freezes the water to
prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their
mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into
submission man - man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum
that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement.
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 space.