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The Silver Horde

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The trail to Kalvik leads down from the northward mountains over the tundra which flanks the tide flats, then creeps out upon the salt ice of the river and across to the village. It boasts no travel in summer, but by winter an occasional toil-worn traveller may be seen issuing forth from the Great Country beyond, bound for the open water; while once in thirty days the mail-team whirls out of the forest to the south, pauses one night to leave word of the world, and then is swallowed up in the silent hills. Kalvik, to be sure, is not much of a place, being hidden away from the main-travelled routes to the interior and wholly unknown except to those interested in the fisheries.

A Greek church, a Russian school with a cassocked priest presiding, and, about a hundred houses, beside the cannery buildings, make up the village. At first glance these canneries might convey the impression of a considerable city, for there are ten plants, in all, scattered along several miles of the river-bank; but in winter they stand empty and still, their great roofs drummed upon by the fierce Arctic storms, their high stacks pointing skyward like long, frozen fingers black with frost. There are the natives, of course, but they do not count, concealed as they are in burrows. No one knows their number, not even the priest who gathers toll from them.

Early one December afternoon there entered upon this trail from the timberless hills far away to the northward a weary team of six dogs, driven by two men. It had been snowing since dawn, and the dim sled-tracks were hidden beneath a six-inch fluff which rendered progress difficult and called the whip into cruel service. A gray smother sifted down sluggishly, shutting out hill and horizon, blending sky and landscape into a blurred monotone, playing strange pranks with the eye that grew tired trying to pierce it.

The travellers had been plodding sullenly, hour after hour, dispirited by the weight of the storm, which bore them down like some impalpable, resistless burden. There was no reality in earth, air, or sky. Their vision was rested by no spot of color save themselves, apparently swimming through an endless, formless atmosphere of gray.

"Fingerless" Fraser broke trail, but to Boyd Emerson, who drove, he seemed to be a sort of dancing doll, bobbing and swaying grotesquely, as if suspended by invisible wires. At times, it seemed to the driver's whimsical fancy as if each of them trod a measure in the centre of a colorless universe, something after the fashion of goldfish floating in a globe.

Fraser pulled up without warning and instantly the dogs stopped, straightway beginning to soothe their trail-worn pads and to strip the ice-pellets from between their toes. But the "wheelers" were too tired to make the effort, so Emerson went forward and performed the task for them, while Fraser floundered back and sank to a sitting posture on the sled.

"Whew!" he exclaimed, "this is sure tough....