The quartz vein is thinning, it tends to descend towards the earth, a sign that it is becoming impoverished.
The trials, moreover, are less successful. Some gold facets still shine in the pan , but the metal is less rich.
Hurricane gave his effort. He is at the end of his rope. Fatigue takes him for no reason. So he sits down on the dumps , takes his head in his hands and absorbs himself in inactive contemplation.
Loneliness gnaws at the hearts of young men. He has, of course, the company of the other boys, but he feels isolated among them, having, by taste, no tendency for the game or for drunkenness.
And the-beast-which-trots-in-the-brains-of-those-who-live-alone begins a tireless round.
Crack, crack, crack, crack , it’s me who takes possession of your thought. From now on, I will live with you as a guest whom nothing can drive away.
Are you laughing, you have a song on your lips, are you happy? Crack, crack, crack, crack , here I am, relax your lips, stop your song, I am the misfortune and I am the shadow. People are dear to you, so come on! They forgot you long ago.
Are you working? The beautiful joke. Back up, if that is your fancy, poor boy , the city over there, thousands of miles away, do not be bothered by your bravery.
Gold is flowing there more than here, and no one, with a dollar between their fingers, thinks for a moment of the fate of those who toil in hard labor to create this gold, maker of glory, dispenser of joys which are in cash.
Crack, crack, crack , I scratch, scratch, scratch, I go around in circles in the narrow cage of your brain. May they flee from ideas forever, white birds! I am black, all black; spirit of darkness, I weave a dark web in which all thought is caught.
Do you want to put your pain to sleep? Ah! no, not that… I walk my antennas on your dreams and nightmares arise at my call, crack, crack, crack …
Gregory Land should be there. Indeed, it is already ten weeks since he left Last Chance . Should he be back? That’s my opinion, but he won’t come. He won’t come any more. No, he didn’t stay in Dawson, he left town, he is God knows where? To hell with it, maybe.
Come on, reason, boy, he’s a skilful track runner, he knows all the passes; if it has not happened, it is because it will never happen.
Was he carrying letters?
Ah! is that what interests you, letters? The big deal, news from the civilized world. First of all, since you care so much about this world, why did you leave it? What are you doing here?
Crazy, who trust you in the virtue of a woman.
Do you see her, this woman? She is young, she is beautiful. A doll? Exactly, but a doll has only sound for its brain.
Are you here for her? I said it well, you are a fool. You loved her? So why did you abandon her? What imprudence, to live far from the woman you love!
Dolls are made to be cuddled, they stretch out their arms to be pampered. If we abandon them, other children will pass by who will play with them.
Crack, crack, crack , I’m still here, you know, I’m not leaving. I’m eating the best of you. Why are you running your hand over your forehead? Do you think you’re gonna chase me away like an unwelcome beast? I am not outside, but inside.
You would have to bang your forehead on the granite, your head would split open like a ripe fruit, and I would be the last to leave your home. My home. It is better, leave your forehead in peace, your hands are useless. Why are they compressing your heart?
“My body hurts its beautiful soul”, plague! Dear boy, you are proud. So beautiful as that, your soul? Come on, show her, lay her bare. Show off your qualities, parade. I listen. Get on a trestle. How? ‘Or’ What? you thought it was a pedestal? A trestle, I tell you, a few boards assembled hastily. If you dance, it collapses. It doesn’t matter, show, show, all the same, the puppet of life.
You say: “I am young, I am strength, I am omnipotence, I am the Master. ”
The master? Ah! no, I stop you, you are my servant.
You are the lion, I am the gnat. Roar, spread your claws, uncover your fangs, bristle your mane. I prick your eye, you cry; the nose, you grimace. See how little you are.
You are only a man, that is to say a beast that suffers not only in its flesh, but in its intelligence.
Instinct? You don’t have one. Go alone in the forest, seek the stars in the sky, question the bizarre inventions of your mind; the trail is no longer indicated, find it without the help of your dogs.
If Gregory Land is lost, if he got out of his way, then the letters will be gone with him?
Parbleu! it is the obvious. Among these letters, was there a letter that you expected? I know it too. Look at your selfishness. There are hundreds of letters, they don’t matter much to you, you only think of the one that bears your name.
Let’s see, let’s see, don’t get moved by the writing, the frenzied capital letters. A little crazy, Doll, you know …
Despite the long stay in the leather bag, you claim to recognize its scent. My compliments. Your sense of smell is subtle. You kiss the pages, the words intoxicate you. Poet, go! Gargle with lies, hollow meat of the mind.
Do not get mad! But yes, she is lying because she is a woman.
You have a doll “like no other”. So much the better. On which department did you choose it in store? On what model is it created? She said, “Love me! Darling! She is a very beautiful person. But if, very beautiful, you do not doubt it, I hope. You’re hesitating? Come on, take it out, for the twentieth time, out of your pocket. Between the pages of the notebook, here it is. She has fuzzy hair despite the ribbon, her eyes are laughing, her mouth is a casket of flesh. She has mocking dimples, a witty nose.
Turn the page. It is there again, the flexible waist under the sweater; a woolen cap hides her still rebellious hair, frizzies pass to the temples. His frail wrists hold the butt. The line is happy. Here, here, who is this beautiful boy? His partner? His cousin? You believe that, you. His cousin! Let me laugh.
Go fast. Here she is, laughing on the sands of Long Beach ; there, she is on horseback under the thousand-year-old sequoias of Santa Barbara. It is she again, a farmer for a laugh, leaning against the wooden fence; a grass in the mouth, it flatters the white muzzle of the cow. Country table. Too bad it is “already seen”.
Turn around, friend. A group? Where is she? Ah! yes, there it is. Here, she leans on the shoulder of this boy whom you insist on calling his cousin. Have you never noticed? But yes, look. It’s the same, the golfer from earlier .
Don’t tear: what’s the point? a picture! Come back to the first one, detail it, let’s start again: the hazy hair, the laughing eyes… you hadn’t noticed this claw under your eyes and this voluntary crease on both sides of the cheek. So you hadn’t seen anything? There is something cruel about that face. Do not hide the inscription with your thumb, because there is something written, right? I am not indiscreet, keep “your dear little thing”.
Doubt is in you, doubt is the cockroach’s brother. And the cockroach, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, the beast that gnaws, the beast that kills. I am in your brain like a worm in a fruit. I will eat the fruit. It will fall to the ground with a soft thud.
But before, the madness, which awaits, will come… You will break your doll, you will put out its eyes, you will break its teeth, you will dislocate its limbs. Nothing will remain but scattered rags with a little bran. And you will be alone, all alone, like today. Alone, do you understand? … Alone, without love, without friend.
So I will take you.
– Hello, Billikins.
The Indian walks forward, his gait staggering, his eyelids heavy. The camp sounded all night long with the lamentations of the funeral ceremony. According to custom, the parents of the dead child erected a pole on top of which were hung presents. But the presents today are no longer arrows, harpoons, knives, animal remains: the new world is represented by the whiskey of civilization.
And lady, whiskey, for Indian brains! …
There were young men who beat each other, dogs beaten: the cries mingled with the prayers.
In a year from now, the formula will be recited again for those who, being drunk, were surprised by the cold that night.
Billikins has taken his share, a generous share, but he knows that you mustn’t fall on the way if you want to wake up in the morning.
He made his way to Hurricane’s hut and collapsed into a corner where he fell asleep, mingling his snores with the snores of the stove.
– Hello, Billikins!
The Indian stands up; mechanically, he thrusts his fist into his hat which he tries to bring back to its original form. He combs his hair; the dented melon lets through flat, lamentable wicks. Hurricane laughs.
With his tongue sticky, his lips muddy, Billikins is looking for a sentence, a word that does not come. Then, seeing his companion laughing, he also laughs with a laugh which loosens his gums and shows his teeth in crenellations.
– Hello, boy.
Painfully, he articulates:
– Hel-lo …
– Quite cold, eh? Have you seen?
No, he didn’t see. How do you expect him to see, he was three feet from the foyer.
– The thermometer went down 18 degrees.
Billikins whistles admiringly which Hurricane takes for doubt.
– Do you think I’m kidding? Here, 49 under zero. It’s something.
Billikins literally doesn’t care. He has a sick mouth, his stomach is not upright, there is wood in the hut, we will not have to go out to stuff the stove … So the Indian drapes himself, very dignified, in his blanket and ‘squatted by the stove, his hands tied at his shins.
Hurricane kicked him to the rear.
What, what is it? Hurricane goes mad. But no, the boy is serious.
– Get up, son, come on, get up, let’s go.
Huh? We leave! Where? The mad beast bit him. Didn’t he say there was 49 under zero? He doesn’t want to work, I guess. The earth is too hard, the pick would shatter like glass.
Hurricane responds to his thought:
– We’re not going on the claim . We leave. Harness the dogs.
And, with a nudge, he pushes the stunned Indian in front of him.
The air revives Billikins. He opens his mouth two or three times like a fish thrown on the grass; he has a shiver that shakes his carcass, then, with the fatalism of his race, he immediately recovers.
The dogs bark, seeing the men. They jump, leap, roll on the ground; the barks are heard, the hoarse bark of the bastards, the clear bark of the huskies. Hurricane-dog scratches his master’s knees with his paws.
– Peace, yes, we’re leaving.
The men hold the harnesses in their hands. The animals understand. We will leave the camp, run on the trail . The beautiful windfall! And each one, with the sense of hierarchy that is specific to Alaskan dogs, comes to stand in the place assigned to him, stretching his back to the harness that is his.
So try by chance to put Chappy’s harness on Hurricane, you’ll hear that music, and what a beating, damn it!
– Are you ready?
– Good, Ehooô, boys …
– It has no importance. Tea for us, fish for the animals.
If that is enough for the white man, it must satisfy the pride created, and the whistle of the Indian cuts off the limpid atmosphere and gives ardor to the dogs.
The two men run behind the sled. Billikins is at the helm.
– Cut to the right. Take the river, the trail is good.
– No, the ascent.
The cold is intense. Thousands of needles dig under the skin. The men have raised the hood of their parka , but at times, without stopping their run, they rub their cheeks violently to avoid the frost. Under their mittens, the fingers are stiff, the joints creak.
On the bank of the river, trees and rocks bear traces of frost, the bark shattered, the stones split.
Do you know what it’s like to have a cold in the lungs? To be cold in oneself, in oneself; to have, under the tanned skin, under the drawn skin, a carcass which trembles, the blood which stops, the heart which an invisible hand grips; the beast that lives in the wrist and in the temples breathes imperceptibly, ready to die.
And yet we go, because the human machine is something admirably constructed; one goes, while the vertigo makes circles in the memory, that the track is a curve, the horizon a circumference of which the crew is the center.
Seven dogs? But no, there are fourteen, twenty, fifty! The trees parade like poor extras in a poor theater. It is always the same who pass. They are the crowd, at least we have the illusion.
The Yukon, walled under four feet of ice, is no longer twelve hundred meters: it is divided into several branches; the two arms outstretched one would touch the banks.
The dogs go. The sled slides, the skates cut the icy road and squeal. A hoarse whistle comes from Billikins chest: it is the Indian breathing.
The jaws are so contracted that the blade of a knife would not pass between the teeth.
And we go because we have the will to go.
Stop! With an ax, Billikins cuts the quarters of seals which the animals bite into with the sound of walnuts which are broken. The tea purrs in the kettle. The damp wood produces a pungent smoke that makes the Indian cough. Standing on a height that overlooks the Yukon, Hurricane questions the trail that takes place as far as the eye can see.
The landscape is frozen in its polar splendor. Nothing is moving on the horizon. The man persists in watching for the improbable coming until the hour when twilight descends and, with it, immediately, a gloomy starless night.