To Build a Fire
This is an Anglish Wordwork.of To Build a Fire by Jack London. This reading is made of words only of Old English and otherwise unknown springs. It keeps the early Latin borrowing of ‘mile’ and name-words such as ‘tobacco’ and ‘Mercury’. by
Day had broken cold and grey,cold and grey, when the man aside from the main Yukon and climbed the high earth- , where a dim and little- led eastward through the fat timberland. It was a steep , and he for breath at the top, the to himself by looking at his watch. It was . There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the . It was a day, and yet there seemed a over the of things, a gloom that made the day dark, and that was to the of sun. This did not worry the man. He was the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must before that , south, would but peep above the and dip from .
The mana 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 white, in where the ice-jams of the freeze-up had . North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, for a dark hairline that and twisted from the - to the south, and that and twisted away into the north, where it behind another - . This dark hairline was the – the main – that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot , Dyea, and saltwater; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, at lastly to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and a half thousand more.
But all this – the, far-reaching hairline , the of sun from the , the cold, and the and weirdness of it all – made no on the man. It was not he was long to it. He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The with him was that he was without . He was quick and in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the . Fifty below meant eighty of frost. Such him as being cold and , and that was all. It did not lead him to upon his as a of , and upon man’s , only to live within narrow of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the field of and man’s in the . Fifty below stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be by the of , earflaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty below was to him fifty below . That there should by anything more to it than that was a thought that never his head.
As heto go on, he spat . There was a sharp, crackle that startled him. He spat . And , in the , before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below, spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle crackled in the . , it was colder than fifty below – how much colder he did not know. But the did not . He was bound for the old on the left fork of Henderson , where the boys were already. had come the from the Indian land, while he had come the way to a look at the of out logs in the spring from the in the Yukon. He would be in to by ; a bit after dark, it was true, but the boys would be there, a fire would be going, and a hot would be ready. As for , he his hand the bundle under his . It was also under his shirt, wrapped up in a and lying naked . It was the only way to keep the from freezing. He to himself as he thought of those , each cut open and sopped in , and each a cut of .
Hein among the . The was . A foot of snow had fallen since the last had over, and he was glad he was without a , lightly. In , he nothing but the wrapped in the . He was , however, at the cold. It was cold, he , as he rubbed his numbed nose and cheekbones with his hand. He was a warm-whiskered man, but the hair on his did not the high cheekbones and the nose that thrust itself into the frosty .
At the man’s heelsa dog, a husky, the wolfdog, grey- and without any or from its brother, the wild wolf. The was from the cold. It knew that it was no time for . Its told a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s . In , it was not colder than fifty below ; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below . Since the freezing- is thirty-two above , it meant that one hundred and seven of frost . The dog did not know anything about . in its brain there was no sharp of a of cold such as was in the man’s brain. But the had its . It a but that it and made it slink along at the man’s heels, and that made it every unwonted of the man as if him to go into or to seek shelter somewhere and build a fire. The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the .
The frozenof its breathing had settled on its in a of frost, and were its jowls, and eyelashes whitened by its breath. The man’s red beard and were likewise frosted, but more , the taking the of ice and with every warm, breath he . Also, the man was chewing tobacco, and the of ice held his lips so that he his chin when he the . The was that a beard of the and of was its length on his chin. If he fell down it would shatter itself, like glass, into . But he did not mind the . It was the all tobacco-chewers in that , and he had been out before in two cold snaps. They had not been so cold as this, he knew, but by the at Sixty Mile he knew they had been at fifty below and at fifty-five.
He held on through thestretch of woods for miles, a wide flat of , and dropped down a to the frozen bed of a small stream. This was Henderson , and he knew he was ten miles from the forks. It was . He was making four miles a , and he that he would at the forks at half- twelve. He to that by eating his there.
The dog dropped inat his heels, with a tail , as the man swung along the -bed. The furrow of the old was , but of snow the marks of the last runners. In a month no man had come up or down that . The man held steadily on. He was not much to thinking, and then he had nothing to think about that he would eat at the forks and that at he would be in with the boys. There was nobody to talk to and, had there been, speech would have been of the ice- on his mouth. So, he to chew tobacco and to the length of his beard.
Once in a while the thoughtthat it was cold and that he had never such cold. As he walked along, he rubbed his cheekbones and nose with the back of his hand. He did this , now and hands. But rub as he would, the he stopped his cheekbones went numb, and the following the end of his nose went numb. He was to frost his cheeks; he knew that, and a pang of that he had not a nose- of the Bud wore in cold snaps. Such a the cheeks, as well, and them. But it didn’t much, after all. What were frosted cheeks? A bit , that was all; they were never .
Empty as the man’s mind was of thoughts, he was keenly, and he the shifts in the , the and bends and timber-jams, and always he sharply where he his feet. Once, coming a bend, he shied , like a startled horse, away from the where he had been walking, and along the . The he knew was frozen to the bottom – no could water in that winter – but he knew also that there were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along under the snow and on top the ice of the . He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their . They were traps. They hid pools of water under the snow that might be three deep, or three feet. Sometimes a of ice half thick them, and , was by the snow. Sometimes there were of water and ice- , so that when one broke through he kept on breaking through for a while, sometimes wetting himself to the waist.
That was why he had shied in such. He had felt the under his feet and heard the crackle of a snow-hidden ice- . And to his feet wet in such a meant and . At the least it meant , for he would be to stop and build a fire, and under its to bare his feet while he dried his socks and moccasins. He stood and the -bed and its , and that the flow of water came from the right. He a while, rubbing his nose and cheeks, then to the left, stepping and the footing for each step. Once of the , he a fresh chew of tobacco and swung along at his four-mile .
In theof the next two he came upon traps. the snow above the hidden pools had a sunken, that the . Once , however, he had a ; and once, , he the dog to go on . The dog did not want to go. It hung back until the man shoved it forward, and then it went quickly over the white, unbroken . it broke through, to one side, and away to footing. It had wet its forefeet and , and almost the water that clung to it to ice. It made quick to lick the ice off its , then dropped down in the snow and to bite out the ice that had between the toes. This was a of . To the ice to would mean sore feet. It did not know this. It only the that arose from the deep of its being. But the man knew, having on the , and he the from his right hand and helped tear out the ice- . He did not his fingers more than a , and was at the swift numbness that smote them. It was cold. He pulled on the , and beat the hand his .
Atthe day was at its brightest. Yet the sun was too far south on its winter to the . The of the earth between it and Henderson , where the man walked under a at and no shadow. At half- twelve, to the , he at the forks of the . He was at the speed he had made. If he kept it up, he would be with the boys by six. He his and shirt and drew forth his . The no more than a of a , yet in that the numbness laid hold of the fingers. He did not put the on, but, instead, struck the fingers sharp smashes his . Then he sat down on a snow- log to eat. The sting that followed upon the striking of his fingers his so quickly that he was startled, he had had no to a bite of . He struck the fingers and them to the , baring the other hand for the of eating. He to a mouthful, but the ice- . He had to build a fire and thaw out. He chuckled at his , and as he chuckled he the numbness creeping into the fingers. Also, he that the stinging which had first come to his toes when he sat down was already away. He wondered whether the toes were warm or numbed. He them inside the moccasins and that they were numbed.
He pulled theon hurriedly and stood up. He was a bit frightened. He stamped up and down until the stinging into the feet. It was cold, was his thought. That man from Sulphur had spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes in the . And he had laughed at him at the time! That showed one must not be too things. There was no about it, it was cold. He strode up and down, stamping his feet and threshing his arms, until by the warmth. Then he out and to make a fire. From the undergrowth, where high water of the spring had a of twigs, he his firewood. Working carefully from a small , he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his and in the of which he ate his . For the the cold of was outwitted. The dog in the fire, stretching out enough for warmth and far enough away to being singed.
When the man had, he filled his and took his time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his , settled the ear-flaps of his cap about his ears, and the up the left fork. The dog was and yearned back toward the fire. This man did not know cold. all the of his had been of cold, of cold, of cold one hundred and seven below freezing- . But the dog knew; all its knew, and it had the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold. It was the time to lie snug in a hole in the snow and for a of cloud to be drawn the of whence this cold came. On the other hand, there was no keen between the dog and the man. The one was the of the other, and the only it had ever were the of the whip-lash and of harsh and throat- that threatened the whip-lash. So the dog made no to its to the man. It was not in the welfare of the man; it was for its own sake that it yearned back toward the fire. But the man whistled, and spoke to it with the of whip-lashes, and the dog swung in at the man's heels and followed after.
The mana chew of tobacco and to start a new beard. Also, his breath quickly with white his , eyebrows, and lashes. There did not seem to be so many springs on the left fork of the Henderson, and for half the man saw no of any. And then it . At a where there were no , where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to beneath, the man broke through. It was not deep. He wetted himself half-way to the knees before he out to the .
He was, and his luck aloud. He had hoped to into with the boys at , and this would , for he would have to build a fire and dry out his foot- . This was at that low – he knew that much; and he aside to the , which he climbed. On top, in the about the of small , was a high-water of dry firewood – sticks and twigs , but also of and , dry, last-year's grasses. He threw down on top of the snow. This for a and the young from drowning itself in the snow it otherwise would melt. The he by a to a small shred of birch-bark that he from his . This burned even more readily than . it on the , he fed the young with wisps of dry grass and with the tiniest dry twigs.
He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his. , as the grew stronger, he the of the twigs with which he fed it. He in the snow, pulling the twigs out from their in the and feeding to the . He knew there must be no . When it is seventy-five below , a man must not in his first to build a fire – that is, if his feet are wet. If his feet are dry, and he , he can run along the for half a mile and his . But the of wet and freezing feet cannot be by running when it is seventy-five below. No how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze the harder.
All this the man knew. The old-timer on Sulphurhad told him about it the fall, and now he was the . Already all had gone out of his feet. To build the fire he had been to his , and the fingers had quickly gone numb. His of four miles had kept his heart pumping blood to the of his body and to all the . But the he stopped, the of the pump down. The cold of smote the tip of the , and he, being on that tip, the full of the blow. The blood of his body before it. The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted to hide away and itself up from the fearful cold. So long as he walked four miles , he pumped that blood, willy-nilly, to the ; but now it ebbed away and sank down into the of his body. The were the first to feel its . His wet feet froze the faster, and his fingers numbed the faster, though they had not yet to freeze. Nose and cheeks were already freezing, while the of all his body chilled as it lost its blood.
But he was. Toes and nose and cheeks would be only by the frost, for the fire was to burn with strength. He was feeding it with twigs the of his finger. In another he would be to feed it with the of his wrist, and then he could his wet foot- , and, while it dried, he could keep his naked feet warm by the fire, rubbing them at first, , with snow. The fire was a . He was . He the of the old-timer on Sulphur , and . The old-timer had been in laying down the that no man must alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the ; he was alone; and he had himself. Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could alone. But it was , the with which his cheeks and nose were freezing. And he had not thought his fingers could go lifeless in so short a time. Lifeless they were, for he could make them together to grip a twig, and they seemed from his body and from him. When he a twig, he had to look and see whether or not he had hold of it. The wires were pretty well down between him and his finger-ends.
All of whichfor little. There was the fire, snapping and crackling and life with every . He started to untie his moccasins. They were with ice; the thick socks were like sheaths of iron half-way to the knees; and the mocassin strings were like rods of steel all twisted and knotted as by some . For a he tugged with his numbed fingers, then, the of it, he drew his sheath-knife.
But before he could cut the strings, it. It was his own or, rather, his . He should not have built the fire under the tree. He should have built it in the open. But it had been to pull the twigs from the and drop them on the fire. Now the tree under which he had done this a weight of snow on its boughs. No wind had blown for weeks, and each bough was fully . Each time he had pulled a twig he had a slight to the tree – an , so far as he was , but to bring about the . High up in the tree one bough its load of snow. This fell on the boughs beneath, them. This , spreading out and the whole tree. It grew like , and it without warning upon the man and the fire, and the fire was out! Where it had burned was a of fresh and snow.
The man was. It was as though he had heard his own of death. For a he sat and stared at the spot where the fire had been. Then he grew calm. the old-timer on Sulphur was right. If he had only had a - he would have been in no now. The - could have built the fire. Well, it was up to him to build the fire over , and this time there must be no . Even if he , he would most likely lose some toes. His feet must be badly frozen by now, and there would be some time before the fire was ready.
Such were his thoughts, but he did not sit and think them. He was busy all the time they werethrough his mind, he made a new for a fire, this time in the open; where no tree could it out. Next, he gathered dry grasses and tiny twigs from the high-water . He could not bring his fingers together to pull them out, but he was to gather them by the handful. In this way he many rotten twigs and bits of green moss that were , but it was the best he could do. He worked , even an armful of the to be later when the fire gathered strength. And all the while the dog sat and watched him, a yearning wistfulness in its eyes, for it looked upon him as the fire- , and the fire was slow in coming.
When all was ready, the man reached in hisfor of birch-bark. He knew the bark was there, and, though he could not feel it with his fingers, he could hear its crisp rustling as he fumbled for it. as he would, he could not clutch hold of it. And all the time, in his , was the knowledge that each his feet were freezing. This thought to put him in a , but he fought it and kept calm. He pulled on his with his teeth, and threshed his arms back and forth, beating his hands with all his might his sides. He did this sitting down, and he stood up to do it; and all the while the dog sat in the snow, its wolf- of a tail curled warmly over its forefeet, its sharp wolf-ears pricked forward as it watched the man. And the man as he beat and threshed with his arms and hands, felt a great of as he the that was warm and in its .
After a time he was aware of the first far-awayof in his beaten fingers. The tingling grew stronger till it into a stinging ache that was , but which the man with . He stripped the from his right hand and fetched forth the birch-bark. The fingers were quickly going numb . Next he brought out his of . But the cold had already driven the life out of his fingers. In his to one from the others, the whole fell in the snow. He to pick it out of the snow, but . The dead fingers could neither nor clutch. He was careful. He drove the thought of his freezing feet; and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, his whole soul to the . He watched, the of in of that of , and when he saw his fingers on each side the , he them – that is, he willed to them, for the wires were drawn, and the fingers did not . He pulled the on the right hand, and beat it his knee. Then, with both hands, he the of , along with much snow, into his lap. Yet he was no better off.
After somehe to the between the heels of his hands. In this he it to his mouth. The ice crackled and snapped when by a he opened his mouth. He drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper lip out of the way, and the with his upper teeth in order to a . He in one, which he dropped on his lap. He was no better off. He could not pick it up. Then he a way. He picked it up in his teeth and it on his . Twenty times he before he in lighting it. As it he held it with his teeth to the birch-bark. But the burning brimstone went up his nostrils and into his lungs, cough . The fell into the snow and went out.
The old-timer on Sulphurwas right, he thought in the of that : after fifty below, a man should with a . He beat his hands, but in any . he bared both hands, the with his teeth. He the whole between the heels of his hands. His arm- not being frozen him to the hand-heels tightly the . Then he the along his . It flared into , seventy at once! There was no wind to blow them out. He kept his head to one side to the , and held the blazing to the birch-bark. As he so held it, he became aware of in his hand. His flesh was burning. He could smell it. Deep down below the he could feel it. The into that grew . And still he it, holding the of the to the bark that would not light readily his own burning hands were in the way, most of the .
At last, when he couldno more, he jerked his hands . The blazing fell sizzling into the snow, but the birch-bark was alight. He laying dry grasses and the tiniest twigs on the . He could not pick and choose, for he had to lift the between the heels of his hands. Small of rotten wood and green moss clung to the twigs, and he bit them off as well as he could with his teeth. He the carefully and . It meant life, and it must not . The withdrawal of blood from the of his body now made him to shiver, and he grew more . A of green moss fell on the little fire. He to poke it out with his fingers, but his shivering made him poke too far, and he the of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny twigs and . He to poke them together , but in spite of the of the , his shivering away with him, and the twigs were hopelessly . Each twig gushed a puff of smoke and went out. The fire- had . As he looked about him, his eyes on the dog, sitting the of the fire from him, in the snow, making restless, hunching , slightly lifting one forefoot and then the other, shifting its weight back and forth on them with wistful .
The sight of the dog put a wildinto his head. He the tale of the man, in a blizzard, who killed a steer and inside the , and so was . He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. He spoke to the dog, it to him; but in his was a of fear that frightened the , who had never known the man to speak in such way before. Something was , and its – it knew not what but somewhere, somehow, in its brain arose of the man. It flattened its ears down at the of the man's , and its restless, hunching and the liftings and shiftings of its forefeet became more but it would not come to the man. He on his hands and knees and toward the dog. This , and the sidled away.
The man sat up in the snow for aand for calmness. Then he pulled on his , by means of his teeth, and upon his feet. He down at first to himself that he was standing up, for the of in his feet left him to the earth. His in itself started to drive the webs of from the dog's mind; and when he spoke , with the of whip-lashes in his voice, the dog its and came to him. As it came within reaching , the man lost his . His arms flashed out to the dog, and he when he that his hands could not clutch, that there was neither bend nor feeling in the fingers. He had for the that they were frozen and that they were freezing more and more. All this quickly, and before the could away, he its body with his arms. He sat down in the snow, and in this held the dog, while it snarled and whined and .
But it was all he could do, hold its bodyin his arms and sit there. He that he could not kill the dog. There was no way to do it. With his helpless hands he could neither draw nor hold his sheath-knife nor throttle the . He it, and it wildly away, with tail between its legs, and still snarling. It forty feet away and him , with ears sharply pricked forward. The man looked down at his hands to them, and found them hanging on the ends of his arms. It struck him as that one should have to use his eyes to find out where his hands were. He threshing his arms back and forth, beating the hands his sides. He did this for five , , and his heart pumped enough blood up to the to put a stop to his shivering. But no was in the hands. He had an that they hung like weights on the ends of his arms, but when he to run the down, he could not find it.
Afear of death, dull and , came to him. This fear quickly became as he that it was no longer a of freezing his fingers and toes, or of losing his hands and feet, but that it was a of life and death with the against him. This threw him into a , and he and ran up the -bed along the old, dim . The dog in behind and kept up with him. He ran blindly, without , in fear such as he had never known in his life. Slowly, as he ploughed and through the snow, he to see things again – the of the , the old timber-jams, the leafless aspens, and the . The running made him feel better. He did not shiver. Maybe, if he ran on, his feet would thaw out; and, anyway, if he ran far enough, he would reach and the boys. Without he would lose some fingers and toes and some of his ; but the boys would care of him, and the of him when he there. And at the same time there was another thought in his mind that said he would never to the camp and the boys; that it was too many miles away, that the freezing had too great a start on him, and that he would soon be stiff and dead. This thought he kept in the background and to . Sometimes it itself forward and to be heard, but he thrust it back and to think of other things.
It struck him asthat he could run at all on feet so frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth and the weight of his body. He seemed to himself to along above the and to have no with the earth. Somewhere he had once seen a winged Mercury, and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when over the earth.
Hisof running until he reached and the boys had one in it: he lacked the . times he , and he , crumpled up, and fell. When he to rise, he . He must sit and rest, he , and next time he would walk and keep on going. As he sat and his breath, he that he was feeling warm and . He was not shivering, and it even seemed that a warm glow had come to his and . And yet, when he his nose or cheeks, there was no . Running would not thaw them out. Nor would it thaw out his hands and feet. Then the thought came to him that the frozen of his body must be . He to keep this thought down, to it, to think of something else; he was aware of the feeling that it , and he was of the . But the thought itself, and , until it a of his body frozen. This was too much, and he made another wild run along the . Once he slowed down to a walk, but the thought of the freezing itself made him run again.
And all the time the dog ran with him, at his heels. When he fell downtime, it curled its tail over its forefeet and sat in front of him him and . The warmth and of the him, and he it till it flattened down its ears . This time the shivering came more quickly upon the man. He was losing in his with the frost. It was creeping into his body from all sides. The thought of it drove him on, but he ran no more than a hundred feet, when he and headlong. It was his last . When he had his breath and , he sat up and in his mind the of meeting death with . However, the did not come to him in such . His of it was that he had been making a of himself, running like a chicken with its head cut off – such was the that to him. Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it . With this new-found of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good , he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like . Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to .
Hethe boys finding his body next day. he found himself with them, coming along the and looking for himself. And, still with them, he came a in the and found himself lying in the snow. He did not belong with himself anymore, for even then he was out of himself, standing with the boys and looking at himself in the snow. It was cold, was his thought. When he back to the States he could tell the folks what cold was. He drifted on from this to a of the old-timer on Sulphur . He could see him , warm and , and smoking a .
"You were right, old hoss; you were right," the man mumbled to the old-timer of Sulphur.
Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the mostand sleep he had ever known. The dog sat him and . The day drew to in a long, slow twilight. There were no of a fire to be made, and, besides, never in the dog's had it known a man to sit like that in the snow and make no fire. As the twilight drew on, its yearning for the fire it, and with a great lifting and shifting of forefeet, it whined softly, then flattened its ears down in of being chidden by the man. But the man . Later, the dog whined loudly. And still later it crept to the man and the of death. This made the bristle and back away. A little longer it , howling under the stars that leaped and and shone brightly in the cold . Then it and up the in the of the it knew, where were the other food- and fire- .