In the novel, a group of shipwrecked sailors are stranded on an uninhabited island for months. The book documents their struggle to survive and how they change over time as they fight against starvation, natural predators, isolationism, and mental stresses. London expertly captures the struggles people face while living in adverse conditions without modern-day amenities such as food or water.,
“In a Far Country” is a short story by Jack London. The story was originally published in the magazine “Outing” in 1902, and later in 1903. It tells of an American adventurer who travels to the Arctic on a whaling ship. Read more in detail here: jack london.
Editor’s note: I revealed my daily work routines and practices this week, including a ritual I employ to prepare my mind for writing. I write the opening two paragraphs of Jack London’s “In a Far Country” by hand as part of that practice. Some of you have inquired as to why I do so, as well as why I picked this specific passage. In this piece, I described why and how this technique, known as copywork, exists. To explain why I chose “In a Far Country,” it’s because it’s by far my favorite of Jack London’s short tales. I was absolutely enthralled by both its entertaining, powerful language — London’s characteristic — and its message when I first read it. It emphasizes the value of adaptability, attitude, and mental toughness, as well as the genuine nature of romance and adventure, as well as that essential foundation of manhood: camaraderie and the desire to carry one’s own weight in a group of guys. It’s a fantastic book, and I hope you like it just as much as I do.
“A gentleman does not have to have the initial impulse of real comradeship to be a gentleman.”
“A Long Way Away”
Jack London’s work
When a man travels to a distant area, he must be prepared to forget much of the things he has learned and to adopt the practices that are inherent in life in the new land; he must reject old ideas and gods, and he must often reverse the very norms that have governed his behavior before. The novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure for those who have the adaptable faculty; however, for those who have become hardened to the ruts in which they were born, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and spirit under the new restrictions that they do not understand. This chafing is compelled to act and respond, resulting in a variety of ills and catastrophes. It is preferable for a guy who cannot adjust to the new rhythm to return to his home country; if he waits too long, he will undoubtedly die.
The number and quality of a man’s hopelessly entrenched habits may be inversely proportional to the quantity and quality of his hopelessly fixed habits when he turns his back on the luxuries of an older civilisation to confront the savage youth, the primal simplicity of the North. If he is a good candidate, he will quickly learn that material habits aren’t as significant as they formerly were. After all, switching from a delicate menu to a hearty meal, from a rigid leather shoe to a soft, shapeless moccasin, from a feather bed to a snowy sofa is a simple affair. His pinch, on the other hand, will come from knowing how to correctly construct his mind’s attitude toward all things, particularly toward his fellow man. He must replace unselfishness, patience, and tolerance for the courtesies of everyday life. Only in this way, and only in this way, will he be able to get that priceless gem: real comradeship. He must not only say “thank you,” but must mean it and demonstrate it by responding in like. In other words, he must replace the word with the action and the letter with the spirit.
When the news of Arctic gold reached the rest of the globe, Carter Weatherbee quit his secure clerkship, gave half of his funds to his wife, and spent the rest on a new outfit. There was no romanticism in his character; capitalism had crushed it all; he was just bored of the never-ending grind and intended to take enormous risks in exchange for matching rewards. He hastened to Edmonton in the spring of the year, disdaining the ancient paths followed by the Northland pioneers for a score of years, and there, unfortunately for his soul’s wellbeing, he joined himself with a band of men.
Except for its intentions, there was nothing unique about this celebration. Its objective, like all other parties’, was to reach the Klondike. However, the path it had charted to achieve that aim stole the breath out even the most hardy of natives, born and bred to the Northwest’s vicissitudes. Even Jacques Baptiste, the son of a Chippewa mother and a renegade voyageur (who had his first whimpers hushed by joyful licks of raw tallow north of the sixty-fifth parallel), was taken aback. He offered his services to them and volunteered to go even to the never-opening ice, but whenever his advise was sought, he shook his head ominously.
Percy Cuthfert’s wicked star must have been rising, for he joined this band of argonauts as well. He was a regular guy with a bank account that matched his culture, which is saying a lot. He had no cause to do so — no reason in the world, except that he was suffering from an unnatural growth of sentimentality. He mistaken this for the truly romantic and adventurous attitude. Many others have made the same error and died as a result.
The group was following the ice-run of Elk River during the first break-up of spring. The fleet was impressive, since the group was enormous, and they were joined by a shady contingent of half-breed voyageurs, women, and children. They worked with the bateaux and boats every day, battled mosquitoes and other bugs, and sweated and cursed at the portages. Severe toil like this strips a man’s soul bare, and by the time Lake Athabasca was lost in the south, each member of the group had proudly shown his real colors.
Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert were the two shirks and persistent grumblers. The whole group complained less about their aches and pains than each of them did. They never offered to help with the camp’s thousand and one small chores. A bucket of water had to be brought, an extra armful of wood had to be chopped, the dishes had to be washed and wiped, a search of the outfit for some suddenly indispensable article had to be made, — and these two effete scions of civilization discovered sprains or blisters that required immediate attention. They were the first to go to bed at night, with a long list of jobs to do, and the last to go in the morning, when the start should be ready before breakfast was served. They were the first to arrive at mealtime, but the last to assist in the preparation; the first to dive for a slender delicacy, but the last to learn they had added another man’s portion to their own. They stealthily slashed the water with each stroke and enabled the boat’s momentum to float up the blade if they worked at the oars. They believed no one was paying attention, but their companions cursed under their breath and came to despise them, while Jacques Baptiste scoffed openly and cursed them from dawn to night. Jacques Baptiste, on the other hand, was not a gentleman.
Hudson Bay dogs were acquired at the Great Slave, and the fleet sunk to the guards with the increased load of dried fish and pemmican. Then, in response to the Mackenzie’s rapid current, the canoe and bateau fell into the Great Barren Ground. The illusive “pay-dirt” danced ever to the north, despite the prospecting of every likely-looking “feeder.” Their voyageurs started to desert at the Great Bear, overwhelmed by the common fear of the Unknown Lands, and the last and bravest were seen bending to the tow-lines as they bucked the stream down which they had so treacherously slipped. Only Jacques Baptiste remained. Hadn’t he promised to go all the way to the never-opening ice?
The lying charts, which were mostly based on hearsay, were now often referenced. They felt compelled to act quickly since the sun had already crossed its northern solstice and was already guiding the winter south. They approached the entrance of the Little Peel River by skirting the bay’s borders, where the Mackenzie River disembogues into the Arctic Ocean. Then came the tough up-stream labor, which the two Incapables fared much worse as before. Tow-line and pole, paddle and tump-line, rapids and portages — such torments instilled in one a strong aversion to big dangers, while printing a burning text on the genuine romance of adventure in the other. They became mutinous one day, and after being vilely cursed by Jacques Baptiste, they changed, as worms often do. The half-breed, on the other hand, pummeled the two and sent them on their way, battered and bleeding. It was the first time any of them had been abused.
They spent the remainder of the summer on the huge portage through the Mackenzie watershed to the West Rat, abandoning their river craft at the Little Peel’s headwaters. This little stream supplied the Porcupine, which then joined the Yukon near the Arctic Circle, where the enormous roadway of the North countermarches. However, they had lost the winter race, and one day they lashed their rafts to the thick eddy-ice and rushed their cargo ashore. The river jammed and broke numerous times that night; the next morning, it had finally gone asleep.
“We can’t be more than 400 miles from the Yukon,” Sloper reasoned, multiplying his thumb nails by the map’s scale. The council was coming to an end, and the two Incapables had moaned to their detriment. “A long time ago, the Hudson Bay Post.” “It’s pointless right now.” In the past, Jacques Baptiste’s father had made the journey for the Fur Company, marking the way with a pair of frozen toes.
Another member of the group said, “Sufferin’ cracky!” “Are there no whites?”
“There’s no white,” Sloper said solemnly, “but it’s only five hundred miles up the Yukon to Dawson.” From here, call it a thousand.”
In unison, Weatherbee and Cuthfert moaned.
“How long do you think it’ll take, Baptiste?”
For a little while, the half-breed considered his options. “Workum as if it were hell, no one play out, ten — twenty — forty — fifty days.” “Um babies arrive,” (referring to the Incapables), “no one knows.” Maybe when hell freezes over, but maybe not.”
Snowshoes and moccasins were no longer made. Someone yelled out the name of an absent member, who emerged from an old cottage near the campfire to join them. The hut was one of several mysteries that lingered in the far reaches of the Arctic. No one knows when or by whom it was built. Two open graves, heaped high with stones, may have held the mystery of those early explorers. Whose hand, however, had placed the stones?
The time has finally arrived. Jacques Baptiste took a break from harness fitting and pinned the straining dog in the snow. The chef made a quiet complaint for the delay, then dropped a handful of bacon into a rumbling pot of beans. Sloper pushed himself up to his feet. His physique was a comical contrast to the Incapables’ healthy bodies. He had not halted his escape through the zones, and was still able to toil with men, although being yellow and frail, escaping from a South American fever-hole. His grizzled hair testified of a prime that had passed him by, and his weight was probably ninety pounds with the big hunting-knife added in. Weatherbee or Cuthfert’s fresh young muscles were equivalent to ten times his effort, yet he could walk them into the dirt in a day’s voyage. And he’d been whipping his tougher companions into a thousand kilometers of the worst suffering imaginable all day. He was the embodiment of his race’s disquiet, and the old Teutonic intransigence, shattered by the Yankee’s fast grab and action, kept the physical bound to the soul.
“Aye, all those in favor of continuing with the dogs as soon as the ice forms.”
“Ay!” exclaimed eight voices, vowing to leave a trail of swears through hundreds of miles of agony.
“Are you a contrarian?”
“No!” For the first time, the Incapables were able to come together without compromising their own interests.
“And what are your plans for dealing with it?” Weatherbee retorted angrily.
“The majority has the last say!” The remainder of the party chanted, “Majority rule!”
“I know the mission is doomed if you don’t show up,” Sloper said softly, “but I think if we work very hard, we can survive without you.” “How about it, boys?”
To the echo’s delight, the emotion was echoed.
“But, you know,” Cuthfert hesitantly ventured, “what’s a gentleman like me to do?”
“Aren’t you joining us?”
“Then go ahead and do anything you want. We’re not going to say nothing.”
“Kind o’ calkilate yuh should settle it with that canoodlin’ pardner of yourn,” offered a hard-driving Dakotan while pointing to Weatherbee. “He’ll be on his way to ask you what you’re going to do about cooking and gathering wood.”
“Then we’ll consider everything set,” Sloper said. “If we camp within five miles, we’ll leave tomorrow to get everything in working condition and remember if we’ve forgotten anything.”
The dogs strained low in the harnesses in which they were born to die as the sleds moaned past on their steel-shod runners. Jacques Baptiste came to a halt at the side of Sloper to get one final look of the cottage. The smoke from the Yukon stove-pipe curled up in a pitiful manner. From the doorway, the two Incapables were observing them.
Sloper placed his hand on the shoulder of the other.
“Have you ever heard of the Kilkenny cats, Jacques Baptiste?”
With a shake of his head, the half-breed expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation.
“Well, my buddy and my comrade, the Kilkenny cats battled until there was no more hide, fur, or yowl.” Do you get it? — till there was nothing left. Excellent. These two gentlemen despise working. They aren’t going to work. That is something we are aware of. They’ll be all alone in that cabin for the whole winter, which will be a long and dismal one. “Kilkenny cats, huh?”
Baptiste’s French side shrugged his shoulders, while his Indian side remained mute. Nonetheless, it was an eloquent shrug, full of foreshadowing.
At first, everything seemed to be going well in the little cottage. Weatherbee and Cuthfert had become aware of the shared obligation that had descended upon them as a result of their companions’ brutal badinage; after all, there wasn’t much work for two healthy guys. And the abolition of the harsh whip-hand, or in other words, the bulldozing half-breed, had elicited a joyful response. At first, they tried to outdo each other, and they did menial jobs with an unction that would have opened the eyes of their colleagues on the Long Trail, who were now wearing out their bodies and spirits.
All concern was extinguished. The forest, which hemmed them in on three sides, was a never-ending woodyard. The Porcupine slept a few yards from their door, and a hole in its winter cloak generated a boiling spring of crystal clear, excruciatingly cold water. But they quickly found fault with it as well. The hole would continue to freeze over, resulting in many hours of ice-chopping misery. The cabin’s unknown builders had extended the side-logs to support a cache at the back. The majority of the party’s supplies were kept here. There was enough food for three times the number of guys who were destined to live on it. The majority of food, though, was of the kind that built up brawn and sinew without tickling the palette. True, there was enough of sugar for two average guys, but these two were little more than kids. They found the benefits of hot water carefully saturated with sugar early on, and they swam their flapjacks and bathed their crusts in the rich, white syrup in prodigious amounts. Then came coffee and tea, and particularly dried fruits, which wreaked havoc on it. The first conversation they had was about sugar. And it’s a major matter when two guys who are completely reliant on one other for companionship start fighting.
Weatherbee enjoyed brazenly discussing politics, but Cuthfert, who preferred to clip his coupons and let the commonwealth run its course, either ignored the matter or provided striking epigrams. Cuthfert was upset by this waste of firepower since the clerk was too stupid to comprehend the skillful molding of ideas. He’d been used to dazzling people with his brilliance, and the lack of an audience was a major setback for him. He felt personally harmed and subconsciously blamed his mutton-head partner for it.
They had nothing in common but their existence, and they couldn’t agree on anything. Weatherbee was a clerk who had spent his whole life doing nothing but clerking; Cuthfert was an artist who dabbled in paints and had written a bit. The one was a gentleman who thought he was a gentleman, while the other was a gentleman who knew he was one. It may be deduced from this that a gentleman can exist without having the initial impulse of real comradeship. The clerk was as sensual as the other was artistic, and his love stories, which he related in great detail and mostly concocted from his imagination, had the same effect on the supersensitive master of arts as numerous whiffs of sewage gas. He told the clerk he was a dirty, uncultured animal who belonged in the mud with the pigs, and he was told he was a milk-and-water sissy and a cad in return. Weatherbee’s life could not have been described by the word “cad,” but it served its goal, which appears to be the essential aim in life.
Weatherbee flattened every third note and sung songs like “The Boston Burglar” and “The Handsome Cabin Boy” for hours at a time, while Cuthfert raged and fled into the cold. However, there was no way out. The extreme cold could not be tolerated for lengthy periods of time, so the little hut crammed them all — beds, stove, table, and everything — into a ten-by-twelve-foot area. The very presence of one of them became a personal insult to the other, and they retreated into gloomy silences that grew in length and intensity as the days passed. They tried to ignore each other during these silence intervals, but the flicker of an eye or the twist of a lip occasionally got the better of them. And in each of their hearts, a huge amazement arose as to how God had ever come to make the other.
With so little to do, they found time to be an unbearable burden. They were even more sedentary as a result of this. They went into a bodily stupor from which they could not recover and which caused them to revolt at even the simplest tasks. When it was his time to prepare the communal meal, Weatherbee rolled out of his covers and, to his companion’s sleeping, lit the slush-lamp first, then the fire. The kettles were frozen solid, and there was no way to wash them since there was no water in the cabin. But it didn’t bother him. While he waited for it to defrost, he cut the bacon and began the dreaded job of bread-making. Cuthfert had been peering through his half-closed lids, sneakily observing. As a result, there was a scene in which they sincerely blessed one other and decided to do their own cooking from now on. Cuthfert skipped his morning ablutions a week later, but ate the food he had prepared without complaint. Weatherbee had a smile on his face. The silly ritual of washing then vanished from their life.
As the sugar-pile and other little pleasures disappeared, they were concerned that they were not receiving their fair share, and in order to avoid being robbed, they started to overeat. The comforts, as well as the soldiers, suffered in this gluttonous competition. Their blood got depleted in the lack of fresh vegetables and exercise, and a revolting reddish rash spread over their bodies. Despite this, they chose to ignore the warning. Then their muscles and joints swelled, the skin becoming black, and their jaws, gums, and lips became a beautiful cream hue. As the scurvy progressed, instead of being brought together by their agony, each gloated over the other’s symptoms.
They had lost all respect for personal appearance, as well as ordinary decency. The cottage was turned into a pigpen, and the beds were never made or new pine boughs set under them. The frost was relentless, and the fire box burned a lot of fuel, so they couldn’t stay in their covers as long as they would have liked. Their hair grew long and shaggy on their heads and faces, and their clothes would have appalled a ragpicker. They, on the other hand, were unconcerned. They were unwell, and there was no one to see them; also, moving about was very uncomfortable.
All of this was compounded by a new problem: the Fear of the North. This Fear was the offspring of the Great Cold and the Great Silence, and it was born in the gloom of December, when the sun sank below the southern horizon for the last time. It had an impact on them based on their personalities. Weatherbee succumbed to the most heinous beliefs, attempting to awaken the ghosts that lay dormant in the forgotten tombs. It was a fascinating phenomenon, and they came to him out of the cold in his dreams, nestled into his covers, and told him about their toils and tribulations before they died. As they got closer and twined their icy limbs around him, he cringed away from the clammy touch, and as they whispered in his ear of horrors to come, the cabin reverberated with his terrified shrieks. Cuthfert didn’t understand since they hadn’t spoken in a long time, and whenever he was startled, he instinctively reached for his gun. Then he’d sit up in bed, anxiously shaking, and point the pistol at the unconscious dreamer. Cuthfert feared for his life since he thought the guy was going insane.
His personal ailment took on a more abstract aspect. A wind-vane had been nailed to the ridge-pole by the unknown craftsman who had built the cabin log by log. Cuthfert saw it constantly pointed south and, frustrated by its unwavering commitment, he shifted it to the east one day. He waited with bated breath, but there was never a breath to break the silence. Then he switched the vane to the north, pledging not to touch it again until the wind had picked up. However, the air’s otherworldly serenity terrified him, and he often awoke in the middle of the night to check whether the vane had deviated — 10 degrees would have sufficed. But no, it loomed above him, immutable as destiny. His imagination raced wild till it became a fetich for him. He sometimes followed the direction it suggested through the desolate lands, allowing his soul to get drenched with the Fear. He pondered the unknown and unseen until the weight of eternity seemed to be crushing him. The lack of life and action; the darkness; the immeasurable serenity of the brooding country; the horrible quiet, which made the echo of each heartbeat a sacrilege; the somber forest, which appeared to protect some awful, inexpressible entity that neither word nor idea could comprehend.
The world he had just left, with its bustling countries and massive corporations, seemed a long way away. Recollections of marts, galleries, and packed thoroughfares, of evening attire and social gatherings, of decent men and loving ladies he had known sometimes obtruded, but these were vague memories of a life he had lived many millennia before, on another planet. The Reality was this illusion. Standing under the wind-vane, his gaze set on the polar sky, he couldn’t force himself to acknowledge that the Southland did exist, and that it was a-roaring with life and movement at that precise time. There was no Southland, no men born of women, and no marriage giving and taking. There were huge solitudes beyond his gloomy skyline, and even more vast solitudes beyond them. There were no sunny areas filled with the scent of flowers. Such fantasies were little more than ancient paradise fantasies. The beaming Arcadias and lovely Islands of the Blest, — ha! ha! His chuckle shattered the silence and surprised him with its unexpected tone. The sun was not shining. He was the lone citizen of the Universe, which was lifeless, cold, and black. Weatherbee? Weatherbee didn’t matter in such situations. He was a Caliban, a horrible ghost who had been bound to him for infinite eons as a punishment for some forgotten act.
He dwelt among the dead with Death, emasculated by his own insignificance and crushed by the slumbering centuries’ passive domination. The enormity of everything astounded him. Except for himself, everything was superlative: the complete cessation of wind and motion, the vastness of the snow-covered wilderness, the height of the sky, and the depth of the stillness. If only that wind-vane would just move. If a thunderbolt struck, or if the forest caught fire. Anything, anything! The skies rolling out like a scroll, Doom’s collapse — anything! But nothing moved; the Silence engulfed him, and the North’s Fear pressed its cold fingers on his heart.
Like another Crusoe, he stumbled upon a trail along the river’s side, a faint tracery of a snowshoe rabbit on the fragile snow-crust. It was a real eye-opener. In the Northland, there was still life. He’d follow it, admire it, and brag about it. In his thrill of anticipation, he forgot about his inflamed muscles and plunged into the thick snow. The forest swallowed him up, and the little noon twilight passed; but he persisted in his search until exhaustion overtook him and he was left powerless in the snow. He sighed and cursed his stupidity there, knowing the trail was only a figment of his imagination, and dragged himself inside the cabin on his hands and knees late that night, his cheeks freezing and his feet stiff. Weatherbee gave him a menacing look but made no effort to assist him. He pierced his toes with needles and thawed them over the stove. A week later, embarrassment crept in.
The clerk, on the other hand, was having his own problems. The dead men emerged from their graves more regularly now, and he was seldom disturbed, whether he was awake or asleep. He became used to anticipating and dreading their arrival, shuddering as he passed the twin cairns. They appeared to him in his sleep one night and took him to his assigned assignment. He awakened in the midst of the mounds of stones, terrified and fleeing furiously to the cabin. His feet and face were similarly frozen, indicating that he had been there for some time.
At times, he grew enraged by their constant presence and danced about the cabin, chopping the air with an axe and shattering everything in his grasp. Cuthfert crouched in his covers during these eerie meetings and followed the maniac about with a primed handgun, ready to kill him if he got too close. The clerk, however, was recuperating from one of these spells when he spotted the weapon aimed on him. His suspicions were aroused, and he lived in constant anxiety for the rest of his life. Following that, they kept a careful eye on each other and turned around in surprised panic whenever one of them passed behind the other’s back. This fear turned into a craze that kept them awake even while they were sleeping. They left the slush-lamp burn all night due to mutual anxiety, and made sure there was enough of bacon grease before sleeping. Many a still watch had their gazes countered as they trembled under their covers with fingers on the trigger-guards, and many a still watch had their gazes countered as they shook beneath their blankets with fingers on the trigger-guards.
They lost all semblance of humanity as a result of the Fear of the North, mental strain, and disease’s ravages, and took on the look of wild creatures, harried and desperate. As a result of the freezing, their faces and nostrils had become black. At the first and second joints, their frozen toes had started to sag. Every movement was excruciating, but the fire box was insatiable, extracting a ransom of agony from their wretched bodies. It wanted its sustenance on a daily basis — a pound of flesh — and they dragged themselves into the forest on their knees to cut wood. Unbeknownst to one other, they crawled into a thicket from opposing sides in quest of dry sticks. Two staring death’s-heads suddenly approached each other without notice. Suffering had changed them so much that it was difficult to recognize them. They sprang to their feet, screeching with panic, and sprinted away on their damaged stumps, clawing and scratching like monsters at the cabin door until they realized their folly.
They would sometimes revert to normal, and during one of these sane periods, the main point of dispute, sugar, had been evenly shared between them. They jealously guarded their individual bags, which were placed in the cache; there were just a few cupfuls left, and they had lost all confidence in each other. Cuthfert, on the other hand, committed a blunder one day. He slipped inside the cache, sugar canister in hand, unable to move, sick with agony, his head spinning and his eyes blurred, and confused Weatherbee’s bag for his own.
When this happened, January had only been alive for a few days. The sun had just reached its lowest southern declination and was now casting flaunting lines of golden light across the northern sky at meridian. Cuthfert felt better the next day, both physically and mentally, after his sugar-bag blunder. As the day lightened and noon approached, he dragged himself outdoors to bask in the ephemeral brightness, which he saw as a foreshadowing of the sun’s future intentions. Weatherbee, who had been feeling a little better, climbed out next him. They waited, propped up in the snow under the motionless wind-vane.
They were surrounded by the silence of death. When nature is in such a mood in other parts of the world, there is a muted air of suspense, as if waiting for some little voice to pick up the broken chord. In the north, however, this is not the case. In this eerie stillness, the two men had seemed to exist for ages. They couldn’t recall any songs from the past, and they couldn’t conjure up any songs from the future. This heavenly quiet has always been, — eternity’s peaceful solitude.
Their gaze was drawn to the north. The sun rushed toward the zenith of another sky than theirs, unseen, behind their backs, behind the towering mountains to the south. They stood alone in front of the big canvas, watching the false morning slowly develop. A tiny flame started to smolder and flare. It intensified, circling the shifts in reddish-yellow, purple, and saffron hues. Cuthfert assumed the sun was behind it since it was so brilliant – a miracle, the sun rising in the north! The canvas was suddenly scrubbed clear, without warning or fading. The sky was devoid of color. The sun had set and the day’s brightness had faded. They let out half-sobs as they gathered their breath. But, behold! The wind-vane lay in a faint form on the snow to the north, and the air was a-glint with particles of sparkling frost. There’s a shadow! There’s a shadow! It was precisely 12 p.m. They hastily pulled their heads to the south. A golden rim peered over the mountain’s white shoulder, grinned at them for a split second, then vanished.
As they searched for one other, tears welled up in their eyes. They experienced a peculiar softness. They were compelled to be near one other. The sun was shining brightly once again. It would be with them tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. And with each visit, it would remain longer, until the day came when it might sail their paradise all day and night, never dipping below the horizon. There would be no such thing as darkness. The ice-bound winter would be broken; the winds would blow and the woods would respond; the country would be bathed in the beautiful sunlight, and life would spring to life. They’d leave this dreadful nightmare together in hand and return to the Southland. Their terrible injured hands, bloated and misshapen under their gloves, collided as they rushed blindly onward.
But the promise was never going to be fulfilled. The Northland is the Northland, and men sort out their souls according to peculiar laws that other men who have not been to other lands cannot comprehend.
Cuthfert placed a pan of bread in the oven and began speculating on what the doctors could do with his feet when he returned an hour later. Home didn’t seem that far away anymore. Weatherbee was looking through the cache. He suddenly created a tornado of profanity, which then abruptly ended. His sugar bag had been stolen by the other guy. Even then, things could have turned out differently if the two dead men hadn’t emerged from behind the stones and silenced the raging words in his throat. They carefully took him away from the stash, which he had forgotten to seal. That they had achieved culmination; that what they had hinted at in his fantasies was going to happen. They led him to the woodpile carefully, very gently, and placed the axe in his hands. They then assisted him in pushing open the cabin door, and he believed they closed it behind him — at least he heard it smash and the lock snap into place. And he knew they were right outside, waiting for him to do his job.
“Carter! Carter, I say!”
Percy Cuthfert was startled by the clerk’s expression and moved quickly to place the table between them.
Carter Weatherbee trailed after, oblivious to the fact that he was being followed. His expression was neither sympathy nor passion, but rather the calm, stolid expression of someone who has a task to do and goes about it methodically.
“What’s the problem, I say?”
The clerk retreated, but never opened his lips, cutting off his escape to the door.
“I say, Carter, let’s chat,” I say. There’s a decent guy.”
The master of arts was now forming a deft flank movement on the bed where his Smith & Wesson was lying. He slid backward on the cot while gripping the revolver, keeping his eyes on the crazy.
Weatherbee swung his weapon and sprang forward as the powder flashed directly in his face. The axe slashed deep into Percy Cuthfert’s spine, causing him to lose consciousness in his lower limbs. The clerk then swooped down on him, grabbing him by the neck with weak fingers. Cuthfert had dropped the gun due to the axe’s severe bite, and while his lungs panted for air, he felt blindly amid the blankets for it. Then he recalled something. In that last clinch, he slipped a hand up the clerk’s belt to the sheath-knife, and they got extremely near to one other.
Percy Cuthfert felt his stamina ebbing. His lower body was completely unusable. Weatherbee’s inert weight crushed him — crushed him and trapped him there like a bear caught in a snare. The cabin began to smell familiar, and he realized the bread was on fire. But what difference did it make? He’d never need it. And there were only six cupfuls of sugar in the cache; if he’d known, he wouldn’t have been so frugal the previous few days. Was the wind-vane ever going to move? It might possibly be deviating right now. What’s to stop you? Isn’t it true that he hadn’t seen the sun today? He was going to investigate. No, I couldn’t move since it was impossible. He hadn’t expected the clerk to be that large.
What a difference a few minutes made in the cabin’s temperature! The fire must be extinguished. The cold was pushing its way in. It’s probably minus zero outside, and ice is forming on the inside of the door. He couldn’t see it, but he could tell how far it had progressed by the temperature in the cabin. The bottom hinge must be completely white at this point. Would the story of this ever make it to the rest of the world? What would his buddies say about it? They’d probably read it over their coffee and discuss it in the clubs. He had a clear view of them. “Poor Old Cuthfert,” they mumbled; “after all, he’s not such a terrible kind of person.” He grinned as he listened to their eulogies before leaving in quest of a Turkish bath. On the streets, it was the same old throng. Strangely, his moosehide moccasins and worn German socks went unnoticed! He was going to take a taxi. And a shave after the bath would be nice. No, he was going to eat first. Everything was really fresh, including the steak, potatoes, and greens. And what was it, exactly? Honey squares dripping with liquid amber! But what was the point of bringing so much? He’d never be able to finish it. Shine! Without a doubt. He stepped on the box with his foot. When the bootblack peered up at him, he recalled his moosehide moccasins and dashed away.
Hark! It’s safe to assume that the wind-vane is rotating. No, it was only a song in his ears. That was all there was to it – just singing. By now, the ice must have gotten past the clasp. The top hinge was most likely hidden. Little frost spots started to emerge between the moss-chinked roof-poles. They grew so slowly! No, not at such a sluggish pace. A new one appeared, followed by another. They were coming too rapidly to count. Two, three, four. There were two of them, and they were growing together. A third had joined them there. There were no more available places, after all. They’d collided and created a sheet.
He’d have company, at the very least. They would stand hand in hand before the great White Throne if Gabriel ever broke the quiet of the North. And God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God,
Percy Cuthfert then closed his eyes and fell asleep.