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Polaris of the Snows   By: (1880-1932)

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by Charles B. Stilson

All Story Weekly

December 18, 1915 January 1, 1916

"North! North! To the north, Polaris. Tell the world ah, tell them boy The north! The north! You must go, Polaris!"

Throwing the covers from his low couch, the old man arose and stood, a giant, tottering figure. Higher and higher he towered. He tossed his arms high, his features became convulsed; his eyes glazed. In his throat the rising tide of dissolution choked his voice to a hoarse rattle. He swayed.

With a last desperate rallying of his failing powers he extended his right arm and pointed to the north. Then he fell, as a tree falls, quivered, and was still.

His companion bent over the pallet, and with light, sure fingers closed his eyes. In all the world he knew, Polaris never had seen a human being die. In all the world he now was utterly alone!

He sat down at the foot of the cot, and for many minutes gazed steadily at the wall with fixed, unseeing eyes. A sputtering little lamp, which stood on a table in the center of the room, flickered and went out. The flames of the fireplace played strange tricks in the strange room. In their uncertain glare, the features of the dead man seemed to writhe uncannily.

Garments and hangings of the skins of beasts stirred in the wavering shadows, as though the ghosts of their one time tenants were struggling to reassert their dominion. At the one door and the lone window the wind whispered, fretted, and shrieked. Snow as fine and hard as the sands of the sea rasped across the panes. Somewhere without a dog howled the long, throaty ululation of the wolf breed. Another joined in, and another, until a full score of canine voices wailed a weird requiem.

Unheeding, the living man sat as still as the dead.

Once, twice, thrice, a little clock struck a halting, uncertain stroke. When the fourth hour was passed it rattled crazily and stopped. The fire died away to embers; the embers paled to ashes. As though they were aware that something had gone awry, the dogs never ceased their baying. The wind rose higher and higher, and assailed the house with repeated shocks. Pale gray and changeless day that lay across a sea of snows peered furtively through the windows.

At length the watcher relaxed his silent vigil. He arose, cast off his coat of white furs, stepped to the wall of the room opposite to the door, and shoved back a heavy wooden panel. A dark aperture was disclosed. He disappeared and came forth presently, carrying several large chunks of what appeared to be crumbling black rock.

He threw them on the dying fire, where they snapped briskly, caught fire, and flamed brightly. They were coal.

From a platform above the fireplace he dragged down a portion of the skinned carcass of a walrus. With the long, heavy bladed knife from his belt he cut it into strips. Laden with the meat, he opened the door and went out into the dim day.

The house was set against the side of a cliff of solid, black, lusterless coal. A compact stockade of great boulders enclosed the front of the dwelling. From the back of the building, along the base of the cliff, ran a low shed of timber slabs, from which sounded the howling and worrying of the dogs.

As Polaris entered the stockade the clamor was redoubled. The rude plank at the front of the shed, which was its door, was shaken repeatedly as heavy bodies were hurled against it.

Kicking an accumulation of loose snow away from the door, the man took from its racks the bar which made it fast and let it drop forward. A reek of steam floated from its opening. A shaggy head was thrust forth, followed immediately by a great, gray body, which shot out as if propelled from a catapult.

Catching in its jaws the strip of flesh which the man dangled in front of the doorway, the brute dashed across the stockade and crouched against the wall, tearing at the meat. Dog after dog piled pell mell through the doorway, until at least twenty five grizzled animals were distributed about the enclosure, bolting their meal of walrus flesh... Continue reading book >>

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