Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey, 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 hint 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 skyline 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 hair-line 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 hair-line 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 Bering
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 new-comer 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 as a creature of temperature, and
upon man's 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 on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again.