For perhaps the first time in his life Howland felt the spirit of romance, of adventure, of sympathy for the picturesque and the unknown surging through his veins. A billion stars glowed like yellow, passionless eyes in the polar cold of the skies. Behind him, white in its sinuous twisting through the snow-smothered wilderness, lay the icy Saskatchewan, with a few scattered lights visible where Prince Albert, the last outpost of civilization, came down to the river half a mile away.
But it was into the North that Howland looked. From the top of the great ridge which he had climbed he gazed steadily into the white gloom which reached for a thousand miles from where he stood to the Arctic Sea. Faintly in the grim silence of the winter night there came to his ears the soft hissing sound of the aurora borealis as it played in its age-old song over the dome of the earth, and as he watched the cold flashes shooting like pale arrows through the distant sky and listened to its whispering music of unending loneliness and mystery, there came on him a strange feeling that it was beckoning to him and calling to him—telling him that up there very near to the end of the earth lay all that he had dreamed of and hoped for since he had grown old enough to begin the shaping of a destiny of his own.
He shivered as the cold nipped at his blood, and lighted a fresh cigar, half-turning to shield himself from a wind that was growing out of the east. As the match flared in the cup of his hands for an instant there came from the black gloom of the balsam and spruce at his feet a wailing, hungerful cry that brought a startled breath from his lips. It was a cry such as Indian dogs make about the tepees of masters who are newly dead. He had never heard such a cry before, and yet he knew that it was a wolf’s. It impressed him with an awe which was new to him and he stood as motionless as the trees about him until, from out the gray night-gloom to the west, there came an answering cry, and then, from far to the north, still another.
“Sounds as though I’d better go back to town,” he said to himself, speaking aloud. “By George, but it’s lonely!”
He descended the ridge, walked rapidly over the hard crust of the snow across the Saskatchewan, and assured himself that he felt considerably easier when the lights of Prince Albert gleamed a few hundred yards ahead of him.
Jack Howland was a Chicago man, which means that he was a hustler, and not overburdened with sentiment. For fifteen of his thirty-one years he had been hustling. Since he could easily remember, he had possessed to a large measure but one ambition and one hope. With a persistence which had left him peculiarly a stranger to the more frivolous and human sides of life he had worked toward the achievement of this ambition, and to-night, because that achievement was very near