“Yes, you haven’t the mentality. Sometime you’ll use up your physical resources and go to pieces like a burned wick.”
Pierre was greatly amused. His yellow teeth shone, and he gave vent to violent mirth as, following the thought, he pictured a naked mind wandering over the hills with the quicksilver at sixty degrees.
“Did you ever see a six-day race? Of course not; you barbarians haven’t sunk to the level of our dissolute East, where we joy in Roman spectacles, but if you had you’d see it’s will that wins; it’s the man that eats his soul by inches. The educated soldier stands the campaign best. You run too much to muscle—you’re not balanced.”
“I t’ink mebbe you’ll ’ave chance for show ’im, thees stout will of yours. She’s goin’ be long ‘mush’ troo the mountains, plentee snow, plentee cold.”
Although Pierre’s ridicule was galling, Willard felt the charm of the morning too strongly to admit of anger or to argue his pet theory.
The sun, brilliant and cold, lent a paradoxical cheerfulness to the desolation, and, though never a sign of life broke the stillness around them, the beauty of the scintillant, gleaming mountains, distinct as cameos, that guarded the bay, appealed to him with the strange attraction of the Arctics; that attraction that calls and calls insistently, till men forsake God’s country for its mystery.
He breathed the biting air cleaned by leagues of lifeless barrens and voids of crackling frost till he ached with the exhilaration of a perfect morning on the Circle.
Also before him undulated the grandest string of dogs the Coast had known. Seven there were, tall and grey, with tails like plumes, whom none but Pierre could lay hand upon, fierce and fearless as their master. He drove with the killing cruelty of a stampeder, and they loved him.
“You say you have grub cached at the old Indian hut on the Good Hope?” questioned Willard.
“Sure! Five poun’ bacon, leetle flour and rice. I cache one gum-boot too, ha! Good thing for make fire queeck, eh?”
“You bet; an old rubber boot comes handy when it’s too cold to make shavings.”
Leaving the coast, they ascended a deep and tortuous river where the snow lay thick and soft. One man on snow-shoes broke trail for the dogs till they reached the foothills. It was hard work, but infinitely preferable to that which followed, for now they came into a dangerous stretch of overflows. The stream, frozen to its bed, clogged the passage of the spring water beneath, forcing it up through cracks till it spread over the solid ice, forming pools and sheets covered with treacherous ice-skins. Wet feet are fatal to man and beast, and they made laborious detours, wallowing trails through tangled willows waist deep in the snow smother, or clinging precariously to the overhanging bluffs. As they reached the river’s source the sky blackened suddenly, and great clouds of snow rushed over the bleak hills, boiling down into the valley with a furious draught. They flung up their flimsy tent, only to have it flattened by the force of the gale that cut like well-honed steel. Frozen spots leaped out white on their faces, while their hands stiffened ere they could fasten the guy strings.