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The Way of the Strong

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
It was a grim, gray day; a day which plainly told of the passing of late fall across the border line of the fierce northern winter. Six inches of snow had fallen during the night, and the leaden overcast of the sky threatened many more inches yet to fall. Five great sled dogs crouched in their harness, with quarters tucked under them and forelegs outspread. They were waiting the long familiar command to "mush"; an order they had not heard since the previous winter. Their brief summer leisure had passed, lost beneath the white pall which told of weary toil awaiting them in the immediate future. Unlike the humans with whom they were associated, however, the coming winter held no terrors for them. It was the normal condition under which the sled dog performed its life's work. The load on the sled was nearing completion. The tough-looking, keen-eyed man bestowed his chattels with a care and skill which told of long experience, and a profound knowledge of the country through which he had to travel. Silently he passed back and forth between the sled and the weather-battered shelter which had been his home for more than three years. His moccasined feet gave out no sound; his voice was silent under the purpose which occupied all his thought. He was leaving the desert heart of the Yukon to face the perils of the winter trail. He was about to embark for the storm-riven shores of the Alaskan coast. A young woman stood silently by, watching his labors with the voiceless interest of those who live the drear life of silent places. Her interest was consuming, as her handsome brown eyes told. Her strong, young heart was full of a profound envy; and a sort of despairing longing came near to filling her eyes with unaccustomed tears. The terrors of this man's journey would have been small enough for her if only she could get out of this wilderness of desolation to which she had willingly condemned herself. Her heart ached, and her despair grew as she watched. But she knew only too well that her limitless prison was of her own seeking, as was her sharing of the sordid lot of the man she had elected to follow. More than that she knew that the sentence she had passed upon herself carried with it the terror of coming motherhood in the midst of this desolate world, far from the reach of help, far from the companionship of her sex. At last the man paused, surveying his work. He tested the raw-hide bonds which held his load; he glanced at the space still left clear in the sled, with measuring eye, and stood raking at his beard with powerful, unclean fingers. It was this pause that drove the woman's crowding feelings to sudden speech.