“Man! man! don’t curse your God. This is bad enough as it is. Cover up. Quick!”
Although apparently unmindful of his presence, the other crawled back muttering.
As the dim morning greyed the smother they rose and fought their way downward toward the valley. Long since they had lost their griping hunger, and now held only an apathetic indifference to food, with a cringing dread of the cold and a stubborn sense of their extreme necessity.
They fell many times, but gradually drew themselves more under control, the exercise suscitating them, as they staggered downward, blinded and buffeted, their only hope the road-house.
Willard marvelled dully at the change in Pierre. His face had shrivelled to blackened freezes stretched upon a bony substructure, and lighted by feverish, glittering, black, black eyes. It seemed to him that his own lagging body had long since failed, and that his aching, naked soul wandered stiffly through the endless day. As night approached Pierre stopped frequently, propping himself with legs far apart; sometimes he laughed. Invariably this horrible sound shocked Willard into a keener sense of the surroundings, and it grew to irritate him, for the Frenchman’s mental wanderings increased with the darkness. What made him rouse one with his awful laughter? These spells of walking insensibility were pleasanter far. At last the big man fell. To Willard’s mechanical endeavours to help he spoke sleepily, but with the sanity of a man under great stress.
“Dat no good. I’m goin’ freeze right ’ere—freeze stiff as ’ell. Au revoir.”
“Get up!” Willard kicked him weakly, then sat upon the prostrate man as his own faculties went wandering.
Eventually he roused, and digging into the snow buried the other, first covering his face with the ample parka hood. Then he struck down the valley. In one lucid spell he found he had followed a sled trail, which was blown clear and distinct by the wind that had now almost died away.
Occasionally his mind grew clear, and his pains beat in upon him till he grew furious at the life in him which refused to end, which forced him ever through this gauntlet of misery. More often he was conscious only of a vague and terrible extremity outside of himself that goaded him forever forward. Anon he strained to recollect his destination. His features had set in an implacable grimace of physical torture—like a runner in the fury of a finish—till the frost hardened them so. At times he fell heavily, face downward, and at length upon the trail, lying so till that omnipresent coercion that had frozen in his brain drove him forward.
He heard his own voice maundering through lifeless lips like that of a stranger: “The man that can eat his soul will win, Pierre.”
Sometimes he cried like a child and slaver ran from his open mouth, freezing at his breast. One of his hands was going dead. He stripped the left mitten off and drew it laboriously over the right. One he would save at least, even though he lost the other. He looked at the bare member dully, and he could not tell that the cold had eased till the bitterness was nearly out of the air. He laboured with the fitful spurts of a machine run down.