Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.

Revised by: Combat Arms BBS

                              P.O. Box 913
                       Portland, Oregon 97207-0913
                          Voice: (503) 223-3160
                           BBS: (503) 221-1777
                              Fido 1:105/68
                            February 20, 1993

                             TO BUILD A FIRE
                               Jack London

           "He was quick and alert in the things of life, but
    only in the things, and not in the significances."

         DAY HAD BROKEN cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray,
    when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed
    the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led
    eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was a steep bank,
    and he paused for breath at the top, excusing the act to himself
    by looking at his watch. It was nine o'clock. There was no sun
    nor hind of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was
    a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the
    face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that
    was due to the absence of sun. This fact did not worry the man.
    He was used to the lack of sun. It had been days since he had
    seen the sun, and he knew that a few more days must pass before
    that cheerful orb, due south, would just peep above the sky line
    and dip immediately from view.

         The man flung a 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 pure white,
    rolling in gentle undulations where the ice jams of the freeze-up
    had formed. North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was
    unbroken white, save for a dark hairline that curved and twisted
    from around the spruce-covered island to the south, and that
    curved and twisted away into the north, where it disappeared
    behind another spruce-covered island. This dark hairline was the
    trail---the main trail--that led south five hundred miles to the
    Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy
    miles to Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to
    Nulato, and finally to St. Michael, on Bearing Sea, a thousand
    miles and half a thousand more.

         But all this---the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail,
    the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the
    strangeness and weirdness of it all--made no impression on the
    man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer
    in the land, a "chechaquo", and this was his first winter. The
    trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was
    quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things,
    and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant
    eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being
    cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to
    meditate upon his frailty in general, able only to live within
    certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did
    not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's
    place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite
    of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of
    mittens, ear flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty
    degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below
    zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a
    thought that never entered his head.

         As he turned to go, he spat speculatively. There was a
    sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And
    again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle
    crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the
    snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it
    was colder than fifty below--how much colder he did not know. But
    the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on
    the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already.
    They had come over across the divide from the Indian Creek
    country, while he had come the roundabout way to take a look at
    the possibility of getting out logs in the spring from the
    islands in the Yukon. He would be in to camp by six o'clock; a
    bit after dark, it ws true, but the boys would be there, a fire
    would be going, and a hot supper would be ready. As for lunch, he
    pressed his hand against the protruding bundle under his jacket.
    It was also under his shirt, wrapped up in a handkerchief and
    lying against the naked skin. It was the only way to keep the
    biscuits from freezing. He smiled agreeably to himself as he
    thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon
    grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon.

         He plunged in among the big spruce trees. The trail was
    faint. A foot of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed
    over, and he was glad he was without a sled, travelling light. In
    fact, he carried nothing but the lunch wrapped in the
    handkerchief. He was surprised, however, at the cold. It
    certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numb nose and
    cheekbones with his mittened hand. He was a warm-whiskered man,
    but the hair on his face did not protect the high cheekbones and
    the eager nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty

         At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the
    proper wolf dog, gray-coated and without any visible or
    temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The
    animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was
    no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than
    was told to the man by the man's judgement. In reality, it was
    not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty
    below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero. Since
    the freezing point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one
    hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained. The dog did not know
    anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no
    sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in
    the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct. It experienced a
    vague but menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink
    along at the man's heels, and that made it question eagerly every
    unwonted movement of the man as if expecting him to go into camp
    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 air

         The frozen moisture of its (i.e. the dog's) breathing had
    settled on its fur in a fine powder of frost, and especially were
    its jowls, muzzle, and eyelashes whitened by its crystalled
    breath. The man's red beard and mustache were likewise frosted,
    but more solidly, the deposit taking the form of ice and
    increasing with every warm, moist breath he exhaled. Also, the
    man was chewing tobacco and the muzzle of ice held his lips so
    rigidly that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the
    juice. The result was that a crystal beard of the color and
    solidity of amber was increasing its length on his chin. If he
    fell down it would shatter itself, like glass, into brittle
    fragments. But he did not mind the appendage. It was the penalty
    all tobacco chewers paid in that country, and he had been out
    before in two cold snaps. they had not been so cold as this, he
    knew, but by the spirit thermometer at Sixty Mile he knew they
    had registered at fifty below and at fifty-five.

         He held on through the level stretch of woods for several
    miles, crossed a wide flat of nigger heads, and dropped down a
    bank to the frozen bed of a small stream. This was Henderson
    Creek, and he knew he was ten miles from the forks. He looked at
    his watch. It was ten o'clock. He was making four miles an hour,
    and he calculated that he would arrive at the forks at half-past
    twelve. He decided to celebrate that event by eating his lunch

         The dog dropped in again at his heels, with a tail drooping
    discouragement, as the man sung along the creek bed. The furrow
    of the old sled trail was plainly visible, but a dozen inches of
    snow covered the marks of the last runners. In a month no man had
    come up or down that silent creek. The man held steadily on. He
    was not much given to thinking, and just then particularly he had
    nothing to think about save that he would eat lunch at the forks
    and that at six o'clock he would be in camp with the boys. There
    was nobody to talk to; and, had there been, speech would have
    been impossible because of the ice muzzle on his mouth. so he
    continued monotonously to chew tobacco and to increase the length
    of his amber beard.

         Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was
    very cold and that he had never experienced such cold. As he
    walked along he rubbed his cheekbones and nose with the back of
    his mittened hand. He did this automatically, now and again
    changing hands. But, rub as he would, the instant he stopped his
    cheekbones went numb, and the following instant the end of his
    nose went numb. He was sure to frost his cheeks; he knew that,
    and experienced a pang of regret that he had not devised a nose
    strap of the sort Bud wore in cold snaps. Such a strap passed
    across the cheeks, as well, and saved them. But it didn't matter
    much, after all. What were frosted cheeks? a bit painful, that
    was all; they were never serious.

         Empty as the man's mind was of thoughts, he was keenly
    observant, and he noticed the changes in the creek, the curves
    and bends and timber jams, and always he sharply noted where he
    placed his feet. Once, coming around a bend, he shied abruptly,
    like a startled horse, curved away from the place where he had
    been walking, and retreated several paces back along the trail.
    The creek he knew was frozen clear to the bottom---no creek could
    contain water in that arctic 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 creek. He knew that the
    coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise
    their danger. They were traps. They hid pools of water under the
    snow that might be three inches deep, or three feet. Sometimes a
    skin of ice half an inch thick covered them, and in turn was
    covered by the snow. Sometimes there were alternate layers of
    water and ice skin, so that when one broke through he kept on
    breaking through for a while, sometimes wetting himself to the

         That was why he had shied in such panic. He had felt the
    give under his feet and heard the crackle of a snow-hidden ice
    skin. And to get his feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble
    and danger. At the very least it meant delay, for he would be
    forced to stop and build a fire, and under its protection to bare
    his feet while he dried his socks and moccasins. He stood and
    studied the creek bed and its banks, and decided that the flow of
    water came from the right. He reflected awhile, rubbing his nose
    and cheeks, then skirted to the left, stepping gingerly and
    testing the footing for each step. Once clear of the danger, he
    took a fresh chew of tobacco and swung along at his four-mile
    gait. Continuing with Jack London's "To Build A Fire". the danger
    of falling through the ice has become a factor.

         In the course of the next two hours he came upon several
    similar traps. Usually the snow above the hidden pools had a
    sunken, candied appearance that advertised the danger. Once
    again, however, he had a close call; and once, suspecting danger,
    he compelled the dog to go on in front. The dog did not want to
    go. It hung back until the man shoved it forward, and then it
    went quickly across the white, unbroken surface. Suddenly it
    broke through, floundered to one side, and got away to firmer
    footing. It had wet its forefeet and legs, and almost immediately
    the water that clung to it turned to ice. It made quick efforts
    to lick the ice off its legs, then dropped down in the snow and
    began to bite out the ice that had formed between the toes. This
    was a matter of instinct. To permit the ice to remain would mean
    sore feet. It did not know this. It merely obeyed the mysterious
    prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its being. But the
    man knew, having achieved a judgement on the subject, and he
    removed the mitten from his right hand and helped tear out the
    ice particles. He did not expose his fingers more than a minute,
    and was astonished at the swift numbness that smote them. It
    certainly was cold. He pulled on the mitten hastily, and beat the
    hand savagely across his chest.

         At twelve o'clock the day was at its brightest. Yet the sun
    was too far south on its winter journey to clear the horizon. The
    bulge of the earth intervened between it and Henderson Creek,
    where the man walked under a clear sky at noon and cast no
    shadow. At half-past twelve, to the minute, he arrived at the
    forks of the creek. He was pleased at the speed he had made. If
    he kept it up, he would certainly be with the boys by six. He
    unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch. The
    action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet in that
    brief moment the numbness laid hold of his exposed fingers. He
    did not put the mitten on, but, instead, struck the fingers a
    dozen sharp smashes against his leg. Then he sat down on a snow-
    covered log to eat. The sting that followed upon the striking of
    his fingers against his leg ceased so quickly that he was
    startled. He had had no chance to take a bit of biscuit. He
    struck the fingers repeatedly and returned them to the mitten,
    baring the other hand for the purpose of eating. He tried to take
    a mouthful, but the ice muzzle prevented. He had forgotten to
    build a fire and thaw out. He chuckled at his foolishness, and as
    he chuckled he noted that the stinging which had first come to
    his toes when he sat down was already passing away. He wondered
    whether the toes were warm or numb. He moved them inside the
    moccasins and decided that they were numb.

         He pulled the mitten on hurriedly and stood up. He was a bit
    frightened. He stamped up and down until the stinging returned to
    his feet. It certainly was cold, was his thought. That man from
    Sulpher Creek had spoken the truth when telling how cold it
    sometimes got in the country. And he had laughed at him at the
    time! That showed one must not be too sure of things. There was
    no mistake about it, it *was* cold. He strode up and down,
    stamping his feet and threshing his arms, until reassured by the
    returning warmth. Then he got out matches and proceeded to make a
    fire. >From the undergrowth, where high water of the previous
    spring had lodged a supply of seasoned twigs, he got his
    firewood. Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a
    roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in
    the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the
    cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the
    fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away
    to escape being singed.

         When the man had finished, he filled his pipe and took his
    comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens,
    settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took
    the creek trail up the left fork. The dog was disappointed and
    yearned back toward the fire. The man did not know cold. Possibly
    all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of
    real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing
    point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had
    inherited 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 wait for a curtain of cloud to be drawn
    across the face of outer space whence this cold came. On the
    other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the
    man. The one was the toil slave of the other, and the only
    caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip lash
    and of harsh and menacing throat sounds that threatened the whip
    lash. So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension
    to the man. It was not concerned 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 sound of whip lashes,
    and the dog swung in at the man's heels and followed after.

         The man took a chew of tobacco and proceeded to start a new
    amber beard. Also, his moist breath quickly powdered with white
    his mustache, eyebrows, and lashes. There did not seem to be so
    many springs on the left fork of the Henderson, and for half an
    hour the man saw no signs of any. And then it happened. At a
    place where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow
    seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through. It
    was not deep. He wet himself halfway to the knees before he
    floundered out to the firm crust.

         He was angry, and cursed his luck aloud. He had hoped to get
    into camp with the boys at six o'clock, and this would delay him
    an hour, for he would have to build a fire and dry out his
    footgear. This was imperative at that low temperature--for he
    knew that much; and he turned aside to the bank, which he
    climbed. On top, tangled in the underbrush about the trunks of
    several small spruce trees, was a high water deposit of dry
    firewood--sticks and twigs, principally, but also larger portions
    of seasoned branches and fine, dry, last year's grasses. He threw
    down several large pieces on top of the snow. This served for a
    foundation and prevented the young flame from drowning itself in
    the snow it otherwise would melt. The flame he got by touching a
    match to a small shred of birch bark that he took from his
    pocket. This burned even more readily than paper. Placing it on
    the foundation, he fed the young flame with wisps of dry grass
    and with the tiniest dry twigs.

         He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger.
    Gradually, as the flame grew stronger, he increased the size of
    the twigs with which he fed it. He squatted in the snow, pulling
    the twigs out from their entanglement in the brush and feeding
    directly to the flame. He knew there must be no failure. When it
    is seventy-five below zero, a man must not fail in his first
    attempt to build a fire---that is, if his feet are wet. If his
    feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for half a
    mile and restore his circulation. But the circulation of wet and
    freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-
    five below. No matter how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze
    the harder.


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