It had snowed during the night, but toward morning it had grown cold; now the sled-runners complained and the load dragged heavily. Folsom, who had been heaving at the handle-bars all the way up the Dexter Creek hill, halted his dogs at the crest and dropped upon the sled, only too glad of a breathing spell. His forehead was wet with sweat; when it began to freeze in his eyebrows he removed his mittens and wiped away the drops, then watched them congeal upon his fingers. Yes, it was all of thirty below, and a bad morning to hit the trail, but—Folsom’s face set itself—better thirty below in the open than the frigid atmosphere of an unhappy home.
Harkness, who had led the way up the hill, plodded onward for a time before discovering that his companion had paused; then, through the ring of hoar frost around his parka hood, he called back:
“I’ll hike down to the road-house and warm up.”
Folsom made no answer, he did not even turn his head. Taciturnity was becoming a habit with him, and already he was beginning to dislike his new partner. For that matter he disliked everybody this morning.
Below him lay the level tundra, merging indistinguishably with the white anchor-ice of Behring Sea; beyond that a long black streak of open water, underscoring the sky as if to emphasize the significance of that empty horizon, a horizon which for many months would remain unsmudged by smoke. To Folsom it seemed that the distant stretch of dark water was like a prison wall, barring the outside world from him and the other fools who had elected to stay “inside.”
Fools? Yes; they were all fools!
Folsom was a “sour-dough.” He had seen the pranks that Alaskan winters play with men and women, he had watched the alteration in minds and morals made by the Arctic isolation, and he had considered himself proof against the malice that rides the north wind—the mischief that comes with the winter nights. He had dared to put faith in his perfect happiness, thinking himself different from other men and Lois superior to other wives, wherefore he now called himself a fool!
Sprawled beside the shore, five miles away, was Nome, its ugliness of corrugated iron, rough boards, and tar paper somewhat softened by the distance. From the jumble of roofs he picked out one and centered his attention upon it. It was his roof—or had been. He wondered, with a sudden flare of wrathful indignation, if Lois would remember that fact during his absence. But he banished this evil thought. Lois had pride, there was nothing common about her; he could not believe that she would affront the proprieties. It was to spare that very pride of hers, even more than his own, that he had undertaken this adventure to the Kobuk; and now, as he looked back upon Nome, he told himself that he was acting handsomely in totally eliminating himself, thus allowing her time and freedom in which to learn her heart. He hoped that before his return she would have chosen between him and the other man.