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 To Build a Fire

by Jack London


"He was quick and alert in the things of life, but
only in the things, and not in the significances."


DAY HAD BROKEN cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray,
when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed
the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led
eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank,
and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself
by looking at his watch. It was nine o'clock. There was no sun
nor hind of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was
a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the
face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that
was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man.
He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had
seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before
that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky line
and dip immediately from view.

The man flung a look back along the way he had come. The
Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top
of this ice were as many feet of snow. It was all pure white,
rolling in gentle undulations where the ice jams of the freeze-up
had formed. North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was
unbroken white, save for a dark hairline that curved and twisted
from around the spruce-covered island to the south, and that
curved and twisted away into the north, where it disappeared
behind another spruce-covered island. This dark hairline was the
trail---the main trail--that led south five hundred miles to the
Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy
miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to
Nulato, and finally to St. Michael, on Bearing Sea, a thousand
miles and half a thousand more.

But all this---the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail,
the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the
strangeness and weirdness of it all--made no impression on the
man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer
in the land, a "chechaquo", and this was his first winter. The
trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was
quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things,
and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant
eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being
cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to
meditate upon his frailty in general, able only to live within
certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did
not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's
place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite
of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of
mittens, ear flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty
degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below
zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a
thought that never entered his head.

As he turned to go, he spat speculatively. There was a
sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And
again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle
crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the
snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it
was colder than fifty below--how much colder he did not know. But
the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on
the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already.
They had come over across the divide from the Indian Creek
country, while he had come the roundabout way to take a look at
the possibility of getting out logs in the spring from the
islands in the Yukon. He would be in to camp by six o'clock; a
bit after dark, it ws true, but the boys would be there, a fire
would be going, and a hot supper would be ready. As for lunch, he
pressed his hand against the protruding bundle under his jacket.
It was also under his shirt, wrapped up in a handkerchief and
lying against the naked skin. It was the only way to keep the
biscuits from freezing. He smiled agreeably to himself as he
thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon
grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon.

He plunged in among the big spruce trees. The trail was
faint. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed
over, and he was glad he was without a sled, travelling light. In
fact, he carried nothing but the lunch wrapped in the
handkerchief. He was surprised, however, at the cold. It
certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numb nose and
cheekbones with his mittened hand. He was a warm-whiskered man,
but the hair on his face did not protect the high cheekbones and
the eager nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty

At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the
proper wolf dog, gray-coated and without any visible or
temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The
animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was
no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than
was told to the man by the man's judgement. In reality, it was
not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty
below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero. Since
the freezing point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one
hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained. The dog did not know
anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no
sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in
the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a
vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink
along at the man's heels, and that made it question eagerly every
unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp
or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had
learned fire and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow
and cuddle its warmth away from the air

The frozen moisture of its (i.e. the dog's) breathing had
settled on its fur in a fine powder of frost, and especially were
its jowls, muzzle, and eyelashes whitened by its crystalled
breath. The man's red beard and mustache were likewise frosted,
but more solidly, the deposit taking the form of ice and
increasing with every warm, moist breath he exhaled. Also, the
man was chewing tobacco and the muzzle of ice held his lips so
rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the
juice. The result was that a crystal beard of the color and
solidity of amber was increasing its length on his chin. If he
fell down it would shatter itself, like glass, into brittle
fragments. But he did not mind the appendage. It was the penalty
all tobacco chewers paid in that country, and he had been out
before in two cold snaps. they had not been so cold as this, he
knew, but by the spirit thermometer at Sixty Mile he knew they
had registered at fifty below and at fifty-five.

He held on through the level stretch of woods for several
miles, crossed a wide flat of nigger heads, and dropped down a
bank to the frozen bed of a small stream. This was Henderson
Creek, and he knew he was ten miles from the forks. He looked at
his watch. It was ten o'clock. He was making four miles an hour,
and he calculated that he would arrive at the forks at half-past
twelve. He decided to celebrate that event by eating his lunch

The dog dropped in again at his heels, with a tail drooping
discouragement, as the man sung along the creek bed. The furrow
of the old sled trail was plainly visible, but a dozen inches of
snow covered the marks of the last runners. In a month no man had
come up or down that silent creek. The man held steadily on. He
was not much given to thinking, and just then particularly he had
nothing to think about save that he would eat lunch at the forks
and that at six o'clock he would be in camp with the boys. There
was nobody to talk to; and, had there been, speech would have
been impossible because of the ice muzzle on his mouth. so he
continued monotonously to chew tobacco and to increase the length
of his amber beard.

Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was
very cold and that he had never experienced such cold. As he
walked along he rubbed his cheekbones and nose with the back of
his mittened hand. He did this automatically, now and again
changing hands. But, rub as he would, the instant he stopped his
cheekbones went numb, and the following instant the end of his
nose went numb. He was sure to frost his cheeks; he knew that,
and experienced a pang of regret that he had not devised a nose
strap of the sort Bud wore in cold snaps. Such a strap passed
across the cheeks, as well, and saved them. But it didn't matter
much, after all. What were frosted cheeks? a bit painful, that
was all; they were never serious.

Empty as the man's mind was of thoughts, he was keenly
observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves
and bends and timber jams, and always he sharply noted where he
placed his feet. Once, coming around a bend, he shied abruptly,
like a startled horse, curved away from the place where he had
been walking, and retreated several paces back along the trail.
The creek he knew was frozen clear to the bottom---no creek could
contain water in that arctic winter--but he knew also that there
were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along
under the snow and on top the ice of the creek. He knew that the
coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise
their danger. They were traps. They hid pools of water under the
snow that might be three inches deep, or three feet. Sometimes a
skin of ice half an inch thick covered them, and in turn was
covered by the snow. Sometimes there were alternate layers of
water and ice skin, so that when one broke through he kept on
breaking through for a while, sometimes wetting himself to the

That was why he had shied in such panic. He had felt the
give under his feet and heard the crackle of a snow-hidden ice
skin. And to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble
and danger. At the very least it meant delay, for he would be
forced to stop and build a fire, and under its protection to bare
his feet while he dried his socks and moccasins. He stood and
studied the creek bed and its banks, and decided that the flow of
water came from the right. He reflected awhile, rubbing his nose
and cheeks, then skirted to the left, stepping gingerly and
testing the footing for each step. Once clear of the danger, he
took a fresh chew of tobacco and swung along at his four-mile
gait. Continuing with Jack London's "To Build A Fire". the danger
of falling through the ice has become a factor.

In the course of the next two hours he came upon several
similar traps. Usually the snow above the hidden pools had a
sunken, candied appearance that advertised the danger. Once
again, however, he had a close call; and once, suspecting danger,
he compelled the dog to go on in front. The dog did not want to
go. It hung back until the man shoved it forward, and then it
went quickly across the white, unbroken surface. Suddenly it
broke through, floundered to one side, and got away to firmer
footing. It had wet its forefeet and legs, and almost immediately
the water that clung to it turned to ice. It made quick efforts
to lick the ice off its legs, then dropped down in the snow and
began to bite out the ice that had formed between the toes. This
was a matter of instinct. To permit the ice to remain would mean
sore feet. It did not know this. It merely obeyed the mysterious
prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being. But the
man knew, having achieved a judgement on the subject, and he
removed the mitten from his right hand and helped tear out the
ice particles. He did not expose his fingers more than a minute,
and was astonished at the swift numbness that smote them. It
certainly was cold. He pulled on the mitten hastily, and beat the
hand savagely across his chest.

At twelve o'clock the day was at its brightest. Yet the sun
was too far south on its winter journey to clear the horizon. The
bulge of the earth intervened between it and Henderson Creek,
where the man walked under a clear sky at noon and cast no
shadow. At half-past twelve, to the minute, he arrived at the
forks of the creek. He was pleased at the speed he had made. If
he kept it up, he would certainly be with the boys by six. He
unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch. The
action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet in that
brief moment the numbness laid hold of his exposed fingers. He
did not put the mitten on, but, instead, struck the fingers a
dozen sharp smashes against his leg. Then he sat down on a snow-
covered log to eat. The sting that followed upon the striking of
his fingers against his leg ceased so quickly that he was
startled. He had had no chance to take a bit of biscuit. He
struck the fingers repeatedly and returned them to the mitten,
baring the other hand for the purpose of eating. He tried to take
a mouthful, but the ice muzzle prevented. He had forgotten to
build a fire and thaw out. He chuckled at his foolishness, and as
he chuckled he noted that the stinging which had first come to
his toes when he sat down was already passing away. He wondered
whether the toes were warm or numb. He moved them inside the
moccasins and decided that they were numb.

He pulled the mitten on hurriedly and stood up. He was a bit
frightened. He stamped up and down until the stinging returned to
his feet. It certainly was cold, was his thought. That man from
Sulpher Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it
sometimes got in the country. And he had laughed at him at the
time! That showed one must not be too sure of things. There was
no mistake about it, it *was* cold. He strode up and down,
stamping his feet and threshing his arms, until reassured by the
returning warmth. Then he got out matches and proceeded to make a
fire. >From the undergrowth, where high water of the previous
spring had lodged a supply of seasoned twigs, he got his
firewood. Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a
roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in
the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the
cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the
fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away
to escape being singed.

When the man had finished, he filled his pipe and took his
comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens,
settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took
the creek trail up the left fork. The dog was disappointed and
yearned back toward the fire. The man did not know cold. Possibly
all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of
real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing
point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had
inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk
abroad in such fearful cold. It was the time to lie snug in a
hole in the snow and wait for a curtain of cloud to be drawn
across the face of outer space whence this cold came. On the
other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the
man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only
caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash
and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip
lash. So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension
to the man. It was not concerned in the welfare of the man; it
was for its own sake that it yearned back toward the fire. But
the man whistled, and spoke to it with the sound of whip lashes,
and the dog swung in at the man's heels and followed after.

The man took a chew of tobacco and proceeded to start a new
amber beard. Also, his moist breath quickly powdered with white
his mustache, eyebrows, and lashes. There did not seem to be so
many springs on the left fork of the Henderson, and for half an
hour the man saw no signs of any. And then it happened. At a
place where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow
seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through. It
was not deep. He wet himself halfway to the knees before he
floundered out to the firm crust.

He was angry, and cursed his luck aloud. He had hoped to get
into camp with the boys at six o'clock, and this would delay him
an hour, for he would have to build a fire and dry out his
footgear. This was imperative at that low temperature--for he
knew that much; and he turned aside to the bank, which he
climbed. On top, tangled in the underbrush about the trunks of
several small spruce trees, was a high water deposit of dry
firewood--sticks and twigs, principally, but also larger portions
of seasoned branches and fine, dry, last year's grasses. He threw
down several large pieces on top of the snow. This served for a
foundation and prevented the young flame from drowning itself in
the snow it otherwise would melt. The flame he got by touching a
match to a small shred of birch bark that he took from his
pocket. This burned even more readily than paper. Placing it on
the foundation, he fed the young flame with wisps of dry grass
and with the tiniest dry twigs.

He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger.
Gradually, as the flame grew stronger, he increased the size of
the twigs with which he fed it. He squatted in the snow, pulling
the twigs out from their entanglement in the brush and feeding
directly to the flame. He knew there must be no failure. When it
is seventy-five below zero, a man must not fail in his first
attempt to build a fire---that is, if his feet are wet. If his
feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for half a
mile and restore his circulation. But the circulation of wet and
freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-
five below. No matter how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze
the harder.

All this the man knew. The old-timer on Sulphur Creek had
told him about it the previous fall, and now he was appreciating
the advice. Already all sensation had gone out of his feet. To
build the fire he had been forced to remove his mittens, and the
fingers had quickly gone numb. His pace of four miles an hour had
kept his heart pumping blood to the surface of his body and to
all the extremities. But the instant he stopped, the action of
the pump eased down. The cold of space smote the unprotected tip
of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip, received
the full force of the blow. the blood of his body recoiled before
it. The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted
to hide away and cover itself up from the fearful cold. So long
as he walked four miles an hour, he pumped that blood, willy-
nilly, to the surface; but now it ebbed away and sank down into
the recesses of his body. The extremities were the first to feel
its absence. His wet feet froze the faster, and his exposed
fingers numbed the faster, though they had not yet begun to
freeze. Nose and cheeks were already freezing, while the skin of
all his body chilled as it lost its blood.

But he was safe. Toes and nose and cheeks would be only
touched by the frost, for the fire was beginning to burn with
strength. He was feeding it with twigs the size of his finger. In
another minute he would be able to feed it with branches the size
of his wrist, and then he could remove his wet footgear, and,
while it dried, he could keep his naked feet warm by the fire,
rubbing them at first, of course, with snow. The fire was a
success. He was safe. He remembered the advice of the old-timer
on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious
in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the
Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the
accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old-
timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man
had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who
was a man could travel alone. But it was surprising, the rapidity
with which his cheeks and nose were freezing. And he had not
thought his fingers could go lifeless in so short a time.
Lifeless they were, for he could scarcely make them move together
to grip a twig, and they seemed remote from his body and from
him. When he touched a twig, he had to look and see whether or
not he had hold of it. The wires were pretty well down between
him and his finger ends.

All of which counted for little. There was the fire,
snapping and crackling and promising life with every dancing
flame. He started to untie his moccasins. They were coated with
ice; the thick German socks were like sheaths of iron halfway to
the knees; and the moccasin strings were like rods of steel all
twisted and knotted as by some conflagration. For a moment he
tugged with his numb fingers, then, realizing the folly of it, he
drew his sheath knife.

But before he could cut the strings, it happened. It was his
own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the
fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open.
But it had been easier to pull the twigs from the brush and drop
them directly on the fire. Now the tree under which he had done
this carried a weight of snow on its boughs. No wind had blown
for weeks, and each bough was fully freighted. Each time he had
pulled on a twig he had communicated a slight agitation to the
tree--an imperceptible agitation, so far as he was concerned, but
an agitation sufficient to bring about the disaster. High up in
the tree one bough capsized its load of snow. This fell on the
boughs beneath, capsizing them. This process continued, spreading
out and involving the whole tree. It grew like an avalanche, and
it descended without warning upon the man and the fire, and the
fire was blotted out! Where it had burned was a mantle of fresh
and disordered snow.

The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his
own sentence of death. For a moment he sat and stared at the spot
where the fire had been. Then he grew very calm. Perhaps the old-
timer on Sulphur Creek was right. If he had only had a trail mate
he would have been in no danger now. The trail mate could have
built the fire. Well, it was up to him to build a fire over
again, and this second time there must be no failure. Even if he
succeeded, he would most likely lose some toes. His feet must be
badly frozen by now, and there would be some time before the
second fire was ready.

Such were his thoughts, but he did not sit and think them.
He was busy all the time they were passing through his mind. He
made a new foundation for a fire, this time in the open, where no
treacherous tree could blot it out. Next he gathered dry grasses
and tiny twigs from the high water flotsam. He could not bring
his fingers together to pull them out, but he was able to gather
them by the handful. In this way he got many rotten twigs and
bits of green moss that were undesirable, but it was the best he
could do. He worked methodically, even collecting an armful of
the larger branches to be used later when the fire gathered
strength. And all the while the dog sat and watched him, a
certain yearning wistfulness in its eyes, for it looked upon him
as the fire provider, and the fire was slow in coming.

When all was ready, the man reached in his pocket for a
second piece of birch bark. He knew the bark was there, and,
though he could not feel it with his fingers, he could hear its
crisp rustling as he fumbled for it. Try as he would, he could
not clutch hold of it. And all the time, in his consciousness,
was the knowledge that each instant his feet were freezing. This
thought tended to put him in a panic, but he fought against it
and kept calm. He pulled on his mittens with his teeth, and
thrashed his arms back and forth, beating his hands with all his
might against his sides. He did this sitting down, and he stood
up to do it; and all the while the dog sat in the snow, its wolf
brush of a tail curled around warmly over its forefeet, its sharp
wolf ears pricked forward intently as it watched the man. And the
man, as he beat and threshed with his arms and hands, felt a
great surge of envy as he regarded the creature that was warm and
secure in its natural covering.

After a time he was aware of the first faraway signals of
sensation in his beaten fingers. The faint tingling grew stronger
till it evolved into a stinging ache that was excruciating, but
which the man hailed with satisfaction. He stripped the mitten
from his right hand and fetched forth the birch bark. The exposed
fingers were quickly going numb again. Next he brought out his
bunch of sulphur matches. But the tremendous cold had already
driven the life out of his fingers. In his effort to separate one
match from the others, the whole bunch fell in the snow. He tried
to pick it out of the snow, but failed. The dead fingers could
neither touch nor clutch. He was very careful. He drove the
thought of his freezing feet, and nose, and cheeks, out of his
mind, devoting his whole soul to the matches. He watched, using
the sense of vision in place of that of touch, and when he saw
his fingers on each side the bunch, he closed them--that is, he
willed to close them, for the wires were down, and the fingers
did not obey. He pulled the mitten on the right hand, and beat it
fiercely against his knee. Then, with both mittened hands, he
scooped the bunch of matches, along with much snow, into his lap.
Yet he was no better off.

After some manipulation he managed to get the bunch between
the heels of his mittened hands. In this fashion he carried it to
his mouth. The ice crackled and snapped when by a violent effort
he opened his mouth. He drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper
lip out of the way, and scraped the bunch with his upper teeth in
order to separate a match. He succeeded in getting one, which he
dropped on his lap. He was no better off. He could not pick it
up. Then he devised a way. He picked it up in his teeth and
scratched it on his leg. Twenty times he scratched before he
succeeded in lighting it. As if flamed he held it with his teeth
to the birch bark. But the burning brimstone went up his nostrils
and into his lungs, causing him to cough spasmodically. The match
fell into the snow and went out.

The old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right, he thought in the
moment of controlled despair that ensued: after fifty below, a
man should travel with a partner. He beat his hands, but failed
in exciting any sensation. Suddenly he bared both hands, removing
the mittens with his teeth. He caught the whole bunch between the
heels of his hands. His arm muscles not being frozen enabled him
to press the hand heels tightly against the matches. Then he
scratched the bunch along his leg. It flared into flame, seventy
sulphur matches at once! There was no wind to blow them out. He
kept his head to one side to escape the strangling fumes, and
held the blazing bundle to the birch bark. As he so held it, he
became aware of sensation in his hand. His flesh ws burning. He
could smell it. Deep down below the surface he could feel it. The
sensation developed into pain that grew acute. And still he
endured it, holding the flame of the matches clumsily to the bark
that would not light readily because his own burning hands were
in the way, absorbing most of the flame.

At last, when he could endure no more, he jerked his hands
apart. The blazing matches fell sizzling into the snow, but the
birch bark was alight. He began laying dry grasses and the
tiniest twigs on the flame. He could not pick and choose, for he
had to lift the fuel between the heels of his hands. Small pieces
of rotten wood and green moss clung to the twigs, and he bit them
off as well as he could with his teeth. He cherished the flame
carefully and awkwardly. It meant life , and it must not perish.
The withdrawal of blood from the surface of his body now made him
begin to shiver, and he grew more awkward. A large piece of green
moss fell squarely on the little fire. He tried to poke it with
his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far, and
he disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses
and tiny twigs separating and scattering. He tried to poke them
together again, but in spite of the tenseness of the effort, his
shivering got away with him, and the twigs were hopelessly
scattered. Each twig gushed a puff of smoke and went out. The
fire provider had failed. As he looked apathetically about him,
his eyes chanced on the dog, sitting across the ruins of the fire
from him, in the snow, making restless, hunching movements,
slightly lifting one forefoot and then the other, shifting its
weight back and forth on them with wistful eagerness.

The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He
remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed
a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved. He
would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the
numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. He
spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice was a
strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never
known the man to speak in such a way before. something was the
matter, and its suspicious nature sensed danger-it knew not what
danger, but somewhere, somehow, in its brain arose an
apprehension of the man. It flattened its ears down at the sound
of the man's voice, and its restless, hunching movements and
liftings and shiftings of its forefeet became more pronounced;
but it would not come to the man. He got on his hands and knees
and crawled toward the dog. This unusual posture again excited
suspicion, and the animal sidled mincingly away.

The man sat up in the snow for a moment and struggled for
calmness. Then he pulled on his mittens, by means of his teeth,
and got upon his feet. He glanced down at first in order to
assure himself that he was really standing up, for the absence of
sensation in his feet left him unrelated to the earth. His erect
position in itself started to drive the webs of suspicion from
the dog's mind; and when he spoke peremptorily, with the sound of
whip lashes in his voice, the dog rendered its customary
allegiance and came to him. As it came within reaching distance,
the man lost his control. His arms flashed out to the dog, and he
experienced genuine surprise when he discovered that his hands
could not clutch, that there was neither bend nor feeling in the
fingers. He had forgotten for the moment that they were frozen
and that they were freezing more and more. All this happened
quickly, and before the animal could get away, he encircled its
body with his arms. He sat down in the snow, and in this fashion
held the dog, while it snarled and whined and struggled.

But it was all he could do, hold its body encircled in his
arms and sit there. He realized that he could not kill the dog.
There was no way to do it. With his helpless hands he could
neither draw nor hold his sheath knife nor throttle the animal.
He released it, and it plunged wildly away, with tail between its
legs, and still snarling. It halted forty feet away surveyed him
curiously, with ears sharply pricked forward.

The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them,
and found them hanging on the ends of his arms. It struck him as
curious that one should have to use his eyes in order to find out
where his hands were. He began threshing his arms back and forth,
beating the mittened hands against his sides. He did this for
five minutes, violently, and his heart pumped enough blood up to
the surface to put a stop to his shivering. But no sensation was
aroused in his hands. He had an impression that they hung like
weights on the ends of his arms, but when he tried to run the
impression down, he could not find it.

A certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him.
This fear quickly became poignant as he realized that it was no
longer a mere matter of freezing his fingers and toes, or of
losing his hands and feet, but that it was a matter of life and
death with the chances against him. This threw him into a panic,
and he turned and ran up the creek bed along the old, dim trail.
The dog joined in behind and kept up with him. He ran blindly,
without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his

Slowly, as he plowed and floundered through the snow, he
began to see things again--the banks of the creek, the old timber
jams, the leafless aspens, and the sky. the running made him feel
better. He did not shiver. Maybe, if he ran on, his feet would
thaw out; and, anyway, if he ran far enough, he would reach camp
and the boys. Without doubt he would lose some fingers and toes
and some of his face; but the boys would take care of him, and
save the rest of him when he got there. And at the same time
there was another thought in his mind that said he would never
get to the camp and the boys; that it was too many miles away,
that the freezing had too great a start on him, and that he would
soon be stiff and dead. This thought he kept in the background
and refused to consider. Sometimes it pushed itself forward and
demanded to be heard, but he thrust it back and strove to think
of other things.

It struck him as curious that he could run at all on feet so
frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth and
took the weight of his body. He seemed to himself to skim along
above the surface, and to have no connection with the earth.
Somewhere he had once seen a winged Mercury, and he wondered if
Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over the earth.

His theory of running until he reached camp and the boys had
one flaw in it; he lacked the endurance. Several times he
stumbled, and finally he tottered, crumpled up, and fell. When he
tried to rise, he failed. He must sit and rest, he decided, and
next time he would merely walk and keep on going. As he sat and
regained his breath, he noted that he was feeling quite warm and
comfortable. He was not shivering, and it even seemed that a warm
glow had come to his chest and trunk. And yet, when he touched
his nose or cheeks, there was no sensation. Running would not
thaw them out. Nor would it thaw out his hands and feet. Then the
thought came to him that the frozen portions of his body must be
extending. He tried to keep this thought down, to forget it, to
think of something else; he was aware of the panicky feeling that
it caused, and he was afraid of the panic. But the thought
asserted itself, and persisted, until it produced a vision of his
body totally frozen. This was too much, and he made another wild
run along the trail. Once he slowed down to a walk, but the
thought of the freezing extending itself made him run again.

And all the time the dog ran with him, at his heels. When he
fell down a second time, it curled its tail over its forefeet and
sat in front of him, facing him, curiously eager and intent. The
warmth and security of the animal angered him, and he cursed it
till it flattened down its ears appeasingly. This time the
shivering came more quickly upon the man. He was losing his
battle with the frost. It was creeping into his body from all
sides. The thought of it drove him on, but he ran no more than a
hundred feet, when he staggered and pitched headlong. It was his
last panic. When he had recovered his breath and control, he sat
up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death
with dignity. However, the conception did not come to him in such
terms. His idea of it was that he had been making a fool of
himself, running around like a chicken with its head cut off--
such was the simile that occurred to him. Well, he was bound to
freeze anyway, and he might as well take it decently. With this
new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness.
A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like
taking an anesthetic. Freezing was not so bad a people thought.
There were lots worse ways to die.

He pictured the boys finding his body next day. Suddenly he
found himself with them, coming along the trail and looking for
himself. And, still with them, he came around a turn in the trail
and found himself lying in the snow. He did not belong with
himself any more, for even then he was out of himself, standing
with the boys and looking at himself in the snow. It certainly
was cold, was his thought. When he got back to the States he
could tell the folks what real cold was. He drifted on from this
to a vision of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek. He could see him
quite clearly, warm and comfortable, and smoking a pipe.

Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most
comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known. The dog sat
facing and waiting. The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow
twilight. There were no signs of a fire to be made, and, besides,
never in the dog's experience had it known a man to sit like that
in the snow and make no fire. As the twilight drew on, its eager
yearning for the fire mastered it, and with a great lifting and
shifting of forefeet, it whined softly, then flattened out its
ears down in anticipation of being chidden by the man. But the
man remained silent. Later the dog whined loudly. And still later
it crept close to the man and caught the scent of death. This
made the animal bristle and back away. A little longer it
delayed, howling under the stars that leaped and danced and shone
brightly in the cold sky. Then it turned and trotted up the trail
in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food
providers and fire providers.



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