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生火·To Build a Fire(Jack London 杰克·伦敦)英汉双语

To Build a Fire

by Jack London


Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey, 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 hint 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 hair-line 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 hair-line 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 Bering 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 new-comer 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 as a creature of temperature, and upon man's 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 on, 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 possibilities 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 was 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 numbed nose and cheek-bones with his mittened hand. He was a warm-whiskered man, but the hair on his face did not protect the high cheek-bones and the eager nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty air.

At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, grey-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 judgment. 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 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 moustache 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 colour 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 been 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 there.

The dog dropped in again at his heels, with a tail drooping discouragement, as the man swung 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 cheek-bones 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 cheek-bones 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 waist.

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.

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 judgment 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 the 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 bite 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 the numbness creeping into the exposed fingers. Also, 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 numbed. He moved them inside the moccasins and decided that they were numbed.

He pulled the mitten on hurriedly and stood up. He was a bit frightened. He stamped up and down until the stinging returned into the feet. It certainly was cold, was his thought. That man from Sulphur 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. This 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 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 moustache, 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 wetted himself half-way 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 foot-gear. This was imperative at that low temperature--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.

All this the man knew. The old-timer on Sulphur Creek had told him about it the previous fall, and now he was appreciating the advice. Already all sensation had gone out of his feet. To build the fire he had been forced to remove his mittens, and the fingers had quickly gone numb. His pace of four miles an hour had kept his heart pumping blood to the surface of his body and to all the extremities. But the instant he stopped, the action of the pump eased down. The cold of space smote the unprotected tip of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip, received the full force of the blow. The blood of his body recoiled before it. The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted to hide away and cover itself up from the fearful cold. So long as he walked four miles an hour, he pumped that blood, willy-nilly, to the surface; but now it ebbed away and sank down into the recesses of his body. The extremities were the first to feel its absence. His wet feet froze the faster, and his exposed fingers numbed the faster, though they had not yet begun to freeze. Nose and cheeks were already freezing, while the skin of all his body chilled as it lost its blood.

But he was safe. Toes and nose and cheeks would be only touched by the frost, for the fire was beginning to burn with strength. He was feeding it with twigs the size of his finger. In another minute he would be able to feed it with branches the size of his wrist, and then he could remove his wet foot-gear, and, while it dried, he could keep his naked feet warm by the fire, rubbing them at first, of course, with snow. The fire was a success. He was safe. He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved 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 travel alone. But it was surprising, the rapidity 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 scarcely make them move together to grip a twig, and they seemed remote from his body and from him. When he touched 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 which counted for little. There was the fire, snapping and crackling and promising life with every dancing flame. He started to untie his moccasins. They were coated with ice; the thick German 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 conflagration. For a moment he tugged with his numbed fingers, then, realizing the folly of it, he drew his sheath-knife.

But before he could cut the strings, it happened. It was his own fault or, rather, his mistake. He should not have built the fire under the spruce tree. He should have built it in the open. But it had been easier to pull the twigs from the brush and drop them directly on the fire. Now the tree under which he had done this carried a weight of snow on its boughs. No wind had blown for weeks, and each bough was fully freighted. Each time he had pulled a twig he had communicated a slight agitation to the tree--an imperceptible agitation, so far as he was concerned, but an agitation sufficient to bring about the disaster. High up in the tree one bough capsized its load of snow. This fell on the boughs beneath, capsizing them. This process continued, spreading out and involving the whole tree. It grew like an avalanche, and it descended without warning upon the man and the fire, and the fire was blotted out! Where it had burned was a mantle of fresh and disordered snow.

The man was shocked. It was as though he had just heard his own sentence of death. For a moment he sat and stared at the spot where the fire had been. Then he grew very calm. Perhaps the old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right. If he had only had a trail-mate he would have been in no danger now. The trail-mate could have built the fire. Well, it was up to him to build the fire over again, and this second time there must be no failure. Even if he succeeded, he would most likely lose some toes. His feet must be badly frozen by now, and there would be some time before the second fire was ready.

Such were his thoughts, but he did not sit and think them. He was busy all the time they were passing through his mind, he made a new foundation for a fire, this time in the open; where no treacherous tree could blot it out. Next, he gathered dry grasses and tiny twigs from the high-water flotsam. He could not bring his fingers together to pull them out, but he was able to gather them by the handful. In this way he got many rotten twigs and bits of green moss that were undesirable, but it was the best he could do. He worked methodically, even collecting an armful of the larger branches to be used later when the fire gathered strength. And all the while the dog sat and watched him, a certain yearning wistfulness in its eyes, for it looked upon him as the fire-provider, and the fire was slow in coming.

When all was ready, the man reached in his pocket for a second piece 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. Try as he would, he could not clutch hold of it. And all the time, in his consciousness, was the knowledge that each instant his feet were freezing. This thought tended to put him in a panic, but he fought against it and kept calm. He pulled on his mittens with his teeth, and threshed his arms back and forth, beating his hands with all his might against 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-brush of a tail curled around warmly over its forefeet, its sharp wolf-ears pricked forward intently as it watched the man. And the man as he beat and threshed with his arms and hands, felt a great surge of envy as he regarded the creature that was warm and secure in its natural covering.

After a time he was aware of the first far-away signals of sensation in his beaten fingers. The faint tingling grew stronger till it evolved into a stinging ache that was excruciating, but which the man hailed with satisfaction. He stripped the mitten from his right hand and fetched forth the birch-bark. The exposed fingers were quickly going numb again. Next he brought out his bunch of sulphur matches. But the tremendous cold had already driven the life out of his fingers. In his effort to separate one match from the others, the whole bunch fell in the snow. He tried to pick it out of the snow, but failed. The dead fingers could neither touch nor clutch. He was very careful. He drove the thought of his freezing feet; and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, devoting his whole soul to the matches. He watched, using the sense of vision in place of that of touch, and when he saw his fingers on each side the bunch, he closed them--that is, he willed to close them, for the wires were drawn, and the fingers did not obey. He pulled the mitten on the right hand, and beat it fiercely against his knee. Then, with both mittened hands, he scooped the bunch of matches, along with much snow, into his lap. Yet he was no better off.

After some manipulation he managed to get the bunch between the heels of his mittened hands. In this fashion he carried it to his mouth. The ice crackled and snapped when by a violent effort he opened his mouth. He drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper lip out of the way, and scraped the bunch with his upper teeth in order to separate a match. He succeeded in getting one, which he dropped on his lap. He was no better off. He could not pick it up. Then he devised a way. He picked it up in his teeth and scratched it on his leg. Twenty times he scratched before he succeeded in lighting it. As it flamed he held it with his teeth to the birch-bark. But the burning brimstone went up his nostrils and into his lungs, causing him to cough spasmodically. The match fell into the snow and went out.

The old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right, he thought in the moment of controlled despair that ensued: after fifty below, a man should travel with a partner. He beat his hands, but failed in exciting any sensation. Suddenly he bared both hands, removing the mittens with his teeth. He caught the whole bunch between the heels of his hands. His arm-muscles not being frozen enabled him to press the hand-heels tightly against the matches. Then he scratched the bunch along his leg. It flared into flame, seventy sulphur matches at once! There was no wind to blow them out. He kept his head to one side to escape the strangling fumes, and held the blazing bunch to the birch-bark. As he so held it, he became aware of sensation in his hand. His flesh was burning. He could smell it. Deep down below the surface he could feel it. The sensation developed into pain that grew acute. And still he endured it, holding the flame of the matches clumsily to the bark that would not light readily because his own burning hands were in the way, absorbing most of the flame.

At last, when he could endure no more, he jerked his hands apart. The blazing matches fell sizzling into the snow, but the birch-bark was alight. He began laying dry grasses and the tiniest twigs on the flame. He could not pick and choose, for he had to lift the fuel between the heels of his hands. Small pieces of rotten wood and green moss clung to the twigs, and he bit them off as well as he could with his teeth. He cherished the flame carefully and awkwardly. It meant life, and it must not perish. The withdrawal of blood from the surface of his body now made him begin to shiver, and he grew more awkward. A large piece of green moss fell squarely on the little fire. He tried to poke it out with his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far, and he disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny twigs separating and scattering. He tried to poke them together again, but in spite of the tenseness of the effort, his shivering got away with him, and the twigs were hopelessly scattered. Each twig gushed a puff of smoke and went out. The fire-provider had failed. As he looked apathetically about him, his eyes chanced on the dog, sitting across the ruins of the fire from him, in the snow, making restless, hunching movements, slightly lifting one forefoot and then the other, shifting its weight back and forth on them with wistful eagerness.

The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved. 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, calling it to him; but in his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before. Something was the matter, and its suspicious nature sensed danger,--it knew not what danger but somewhere, somehow, in its brain arose an apprehension of the man. It flattened its ears down at the sound of the man's voice, and its restless, hunching movements and the liftings and shiftings of its forefeet became more pronounced but it would not come to the man. He got on his hands and knees and crawled toward the dog. This unusual posture again excited suspicion, and the animal sidled mincingly away.

The man sat up in the snow for a moment and struggled for calmness. Then he pulled on his mittens, by means of his teeth, and got upon his feet. He glanced down at first in order to assure himself that he was really standing up, for the absence of sensation in his feet left him unrelated to the earth. His erect position in itself started to drive the webs of suspicion from the dog's mind; and when he spoke peremptorily, with the sound of whip-lashes in his voice, the dog rendered its customary allegiance and came to him. As it came within reaching distance, the man lost his control. His arms flashed out to the dog, and he experienced genuine surprise when he discovered that his hands could not clutch, that there was neither bend nor feeling in the lingers. He had forgotten for the moment that they were frozen and that they were freezing more and more. All this happened quickly, and before the animal could get away, he encircled its body with his arms. He sat down in the snow, and in this fashion held the dog, while it snarled and whined and struggled.

But it was all he could do, hold its body encircled in his arms and sit there. He realized 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 animal. He released it, and it plunged wildly away, with tail between its legs, and still snarling. It halted forty feet away and surveyed him curiously, with ears sharply pricked forward. The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them, and found them hanging on the ends of his arms. It struck him as curious that one should have to use his eyes in order to find out where his hands were. He began threshing his arms back and forth, beating the mittened hands against his sides. He did this for five minutes, violently, and his heart pumped enough blood up to the surface to put a stop to his shivering. But no sensation was aroused in the hands. He had an impression that they hung like weights on the ends of his arms, but when he tried to run the impression down, he could not find it.

A certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him. This fear quickly became poignant as he realized that it was no longer a mere matter of freezing his fingers and toes, or of losing his hands and feet, but that it was a matter of life and death with the chances against him. This threw him into a panic, and he turned and ran up the creek-bed along the old, dim trail. The dog joined in behind and kept up with him. He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life. Slowly, as he ploughed and floundered through the snow, he began to see things again--the banks of the creek, the old timber-jams, the leafless aspens, and the sky. 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 camp and the boys. Without doubt he would lose some fingers and toes and some of his face; but the boys would take care of him, and save the rest of him when he got there. And at the same time there was another thought in his mind that said he would never get 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 refused to consider. Sometimes it pushed itself forward and demanded to be heard, but he thrust it back and strove to think of other things.

It struck him as curious that he could run at all on feet so frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth and took the weight of his body. He seemed to himself to skim along above the surface and to have no connection with the earth. Somewhere he had once seen a winged Mercury, and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over the earth.

His theory of running until he reached camp and the boys had one flaw in it: he lacked the endurance. Several times he stumbled, and finally he tottered, crumpled up, and fell. When he tried to rise, he failed. He must sit and rest, he decided, and next time he would merely walk and keep on going. As he sat and regained his breath, he noted that he was feeling quite warm and comfortable. He was not shivering, and it even seemed that a warm glow had come to his chest and trunk. And yet, when he touched his nose or cheeks, there was no sensation. Running would not thaw them out. Nor would it thaw out his hands and feet. Then the thought came to him that the frozen portions of his body must be extending. He tried to keep this thought down, to forget it, to think of something else; he was aware of the panicky feeling that it caused, and he was afraid of the panic. But the thought asserted itself, and persisted, until it produced a vision of his body totally frozen. This was too much, and he made another wild run along the trail. Once he slowed down to a walk, but the thought of the freezing extending itself made him run again.

And all the time the dog ran with him, at his heels. When he fell down a second time, it curled its tail over its forefeet and sat in front of him facing him curiously eager and intent. The warmth and security of the animal angered him, and he cursed it till it flattened down its ears appeasingly. This time the shivering came more quickly upon the man. He was losing in his battle 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 staggered and pitched headlong. It was his last panic. When he had recovered his breath and control, he sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity. However, the conception did not come to him in such terms. His idea of it was that he had been making a fool of himself, running around like a chicken with its head cut off--such was the simile that occurred to him. Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it decently. With this new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like taking an anaesthetic. Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die.

He pictured the boys finding his body next day. Suddenly he found himself with them, coming along the trail and looking for himself. And, still with them, he came around a turn in the trail and found himself lying in the snow. He did not belong with himself any more, for even then he was out of himself, standing with the boys and looking at himself in the snow. It certainly was cold, was his thought. When he got back to the States he could tell the folks what real cold was. He drifted on from this to a vision of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek. He could see him quite clearly, warm and comfortable, and smoking a pipe.

"You were right, old hoss; you were right," the man mumbled to the old-timer of Sulphur Creek.

Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known. The dog sat facing him and waiting. The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight. There were no signs of a fire to be made, and, besides, never in the dog's experience had it known a man to sit like that in the snow and make no fire. As the twilight drew on, its eager yearning for the fire mastered it, and with a great lifting and shifting of forefeet, it whined softly, then flattened its ears down in anticipation of being chidden by the man. But the man remained silent. Later, the dog whined loudly. And still later it crept close to the man and caught the scent of death. This made the animal bristle and back away. A little longer it delayed, howling under the stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky. Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers.

 

中文译文


天气又阴又冷,他离开了育空河主道,爬上了高高的河堤,看见一条模糊的、人迹罕至的小径穿过茂密的云杉森林,延伸至东部地区。河堤陡峭,他爬到顶部停下来喘了口气,顺便看了下手表。现在是早晨9点钟,尽管天空中没有一片云彩,连一点点太阳的影子都没有。这虽说是个大晴天,但所有物体的表面都好像蒙上了一层黑幕,有一种难以捉摸的黑暗把白天变成了黑夜,而这都归因于天上没有太阳。这些倒不让他担心。他已经习惯了没有太阳的日子。上次看见太阳已经是好几天前的事了,他知道还要再过几天才能看到那令人振奋的星球。在南方尽头,地平线已经隐约可见,或者不过是在视线之外的一点点的地方。

他回头沿着走过的路望去,一英里宽的育空河隐藏在三尺厚的冰下。冰面上覆盖了几尺厚的积雪。到处是白茫茫的一片,封冻的冰面被挤压出一条温柔的曲线,此起彼伏。不管往北还是往南,视力所及之处,全是白茫茫的一片。只有一条头发丝一样的线,弯弯曲曲的从南边的一座被冰雪覆盖的岛屿蜿蜒至北方,消失在另一座冰雪覆盖的岛屿的后面。这条黑线就是那条路 那条主干道 它向南延伸50里到其库特隘口、代亚和盐湖,向北延伸70里到道森,继续走1000里就到了奴拉图,最终通向白令海边的圣迈克尔 不过,那还得走1500多里。

但是,所有的这一切 那神秘、遥远的头发丝般的道路、没有太阳的天空、刺骨的寒风以及随之而来的陌生和古怪的感觉,都没能对他产生影响。并不是因为他长期生活在这种环境下,已经适应了,他只是个新来的,这也是他在此地度过的第一个冬天。他的问题在于缺乏想象力。因为他只对活着的生物反应敏锐警觉,但也只限于活物本身,而不是看意义层面。零下50 就是华氏冰点下80 。这种情况也只是让他感觉像得了感冒,身体不舒服而已。这并没有让他想到自己是个恒温动物,这是人类所具有的、一个无法克服的缺陷 只能在很有限的温度区间内生存,他想不到这是人类在宇宙中的地位。要抵御持续零下50 的严寒和冰冻带来的伤害,必须要有手套、耳套、温暖的鹿皮靴和厚厚的袜子。零下50 对他来说就只是零下50 。这对他意味着什么,他却从未想过。

他继续行走,随意吐了口痰,却被一种尖锐、爆裂的劈啪声震惊了。他又吐了一口。然后又试了一次,在空气中,在痰落到雪地上之前,就爆裂了。他知道零下50 的时候痰落在地上时才爆开,而现在,它还在空中的时候就爆开了。不用说,气温已经低于零下50 了,至于温度到底有多低,他也不知道。但温度不是问题。他的目的地是亨德森港附近的营地,朋友们正在那里等他。他们已经越过了一条叫“印第安小溪”的小河,他却在兜圈子,四下里寻找利用溪流从育空河中的小岛上运出这些木料的可能性。他希望在6点钟,也就是天刚黑的时候赶回营地,是真的,朋友们应该都在那里,点着篝火,准备好了热腾腾的晚饭。他伸手摸了下外套内一个凸出的包裹,包裹放在衬衫的里面,用一个手帕包着,紧贴着皮肤。这是唯一使饼干不被冻住的方法。他得意于自己的这种做法,每每想到这些饼干,想到大片大片的烤肉,而且每一片都浸透着油脂,他就笑得合不拢嘴。

他钻进了这片杉树林。道路很模糊。最后一辆雪橇经过后又下了一英尺厚的雪。他很庆幸自己没有雪橇,可以轻装上路。事实上,除了手帕里包着的午饭,他什么都没带。这样的寒冷多少令他感到一些惊讶。他戴着手套,搓了一下冻僵的鼻子和脸,心想确实很冷。虽然他是个大胡子,但这些毛保护不了他高高的颧骨,也保护不了如挑衅一般伸进冰冷空气中的鼻子。

他身后跟着一条狗,一条庞大的野狗,是狼和狗的混血品种,灰色的毛,无论从外形还是脾性,它与它的野狼兄弟几乎没有区别。它对这种极端寒冷的天气很沮丧,明白这是没有止境的旅行。它的本能比人类的判断更能告诉它真相。事实上,气温并不是只比零下50 低一点点,而是比零下60 还低,甚至比零下70 还低,达到了零下75 。因为凝固点是零上32 ,那就意味着现在是华氏温度冰点下108 。狗对温度没有概念,脑子中也不像人类那样对严寒天气有一个明确的认识。但野兽有它们的直觉,它感到一种隐隐约约的威胁,这种直觉驱使着它,让它跟在他的后面。在每个不寻常的时刻,这种想法就更加的强烈,它期望他能回到营房或是找到一个庇护所或是生一堆火。狗知道火是什么东西,它也想要一堆火,否则的话只能在雪的下面挖一个洞穴,躲在里面保暖。

它呼出的湿气在皮毛的表面凝结成了冰霜,尤其是下巴、鼻子和眼皮都变成了白色。那个男人的红色胡子也冻住了,他呼出的温暖潮湿的气体不断地凝结成冰,导致胡子冻得越来越结实。他正嚼着烟草,脸上的冰将嘴唇变得僵硬,以至于在吐口水的时候弄得下巴上满是唾液。结果,下巴上冻住的琥珀胡子越来越长。如果不小心摔倒,胡子会像玻璃一样伤到自己,然后变成碎片。但他并不介意。他把这看成是对全国的烟草爱好者的一种惩罚,之前的两次寒潮中,他都已经体会到了。但那两次都没有这次寒冷,他知道,因为他曾在一个叫做“六十里”的地方看到了温度的测量结果,一次是零下50 ,一次是零下55 。

在树林中,他继续往前走,跨过一片平坦的黑土地,来到了一条叫“印第安小溪”的小河边,他知道这里距离营地只有10里。手表显示现在是10点钟,他一小时走了4英里。根据这个行进速度,他预计自己在12点半的时候就能够赶到岔口。他决定在那里吃顿午饭,稍微庆祝一下。

他蹒跚地沿着被雪覆盖的冰面前进,而那只狗还在他的后边跟着,沮丧地耷拉着尾巴。路上雪橇留下的辙印清晰可见,但那几尺厚的雪已经把最后一个通行者的脚印覆盖了。这一个月来,没有人从这条小河经过。他继续行走,除了在岔口吃午饭和六点钟的时候他应该在营地和朋友们在一起之外,脑子里什么都不想。连个说话的人都没有,甚至根本无法说话,因为下巴上已经结了一层硬邦邦的冰块。因而他继续单调地嚼着烟草,以延长他的琥珀胡子。

有一段时间,他的脑子里也不断出现天气太冷的念头。他从未经历过这么糟糕的天气,一边走,一边用戴着手套的手搓着脸和鼻子。他不自觉地重复这样的动作,搓搓换一只手,再搓搓,再换一只手,但他必须不停地搓,因为只要一停下来,脸和鼻子就冻得失去了知觉。他肯定自己的脸蛋已经冻伤了。现在他真是满肚子的悔恨:在这种极度寒冷的天气里怎么就没带一条鼻套呢。如果有一条鼻套的话,就可以把鼻子和脸包裹起来,不至于被冻伤。不过,没有也没关系,毕竟,冻脸就是有点疼而已,就是这些,没什么大不了的。

他的脑子里空空的,什么都不想,但还是很敏锐地观察着前方的冰面。他注意到了冰面的变化以及那些弯道和拐角。他知道踩在什么地方才会比较安全。有时,遇到一个弯道,他会突然避开,像一匹受惊的马,然后绕开他刚才走过的地方,沿着河道往回走一段。他知道这条小河已经被冻透了 在这样的严冬里,河里是不应该有水流动的 但是,他也知道这里有泉水不断地从山边涌出,沿着冰冻的河面,在雪的下面流动。他知道即便是最冷的天气也没有办法把那些泉水冻住,这样就非常危险。因为它们就是个陷阱,在雪的下面形成小水洼,浅的有三英寸深,深的能达到三英尺。有的时候,这些水洼表面的冰层有半英尺厚,上面覆盖着雪,有的水洼的冰层只是薄薄的几层,一旦有人踩上去,就会不断地陷下去,一直没到腰部。

这就是为什么他惊慌地躲闪。他能感觉到冰面下流动的水,能听见雪面下冰碎裂的声响。这么冷的天气,如果打湿了鞋,是很麻烦、也很危险的事,因为这样的话,至少也得停下来生火,光着脚在火边烤干袜子和靴子,耽搁一些时间。他站定后,研究了一下河床和河岸,确定水是从右边流过来的。随即搓了搓鼻子和面颊,沉思了片刻,然后小心翼翼地走向左边,轻轻地迈着步子,每走一步都先试探一下。每接触一次危险,他就狠嚼一口烟草,摇晃着,向每小时4英里的目标努力。

接下来的两小时里,他也遇到了相似的陷阱。通常,水洼上面的雪都是凹下去的,这样的一个表象能帮助他辨认危险。不过有一次,他差点就踩到了陷阱。还有一次,他怀疑前面有危险,就让狗在前面探路。但狗一直退缩不前,最后还是他自己冒险前进,狗也迅速地跟着它,穿越这片白色的、看似坚实的冰面。突然,冰面破了,狼狗掉进水里,它挣扎着,爬上一个结实的地方。它的前腿和爪子全湿了,可以说是一瞬间,水就变成了冰。它立即咬掉了腿上的冰块,然后躺在雪地上继续咬掉在脚趾间的冰块。它是凭直觉这么做的。如果让冰留在脚上,就意味着脚会剧烈的疼痛,而它并不知道这些,只是遵循自己内心唤起的一种无名冲动,但男人知道。考虑了一下当前的情况,他摘下手套擦拭了一下眼角,以防止眼泪冻成冰块,但是他没有想到这些动作耗时还不到1分钟,他的手就已经开始被冻得麻木了,实在是太冷了,他赶紧戴上手套,右手疯狂地捶着自己的胸部。

天最亮的时刻是12点,但太阳还在地平线以下,在遥远的南方进行着它的冬日旅行。这样的地理原因使得太阳照射不到哈德森湾,在这里,他在午后晴朗的天空下行走,却没有影子。12点半的时候,他准时到达了哈德森湾的岔口。他对自己的行进速度感到很满意。照这个速度下去,六点钟的时候肯定能和朋友们汇合了。他解开外套和衬衫,然后拿出面包和肉,准备吃午饭。这些动作耗时不过20秒,但他的手指已经开始被冻住了。他并没有立即戴上手套,而是用力在腿上拍打着自己的手指,直到感觉到刺痛。然后,坐在一个被雪覆盖的木头上开始吃饭。他很惊讶手拍击大腿时产生的疼痛感消失得如此之快。他甚至没来得及咬一口饼干。他不停地拍手,然后戴上手套,腾出一只手来吃饭。当想吃上一大口时,他却发现冻硬的下巴让他张不开嘴。他笑自己怎么没想到先生一堆火,这时他突然意识到裸露的手指变得麻木。另外走路时那个最先疼痛的脚趾在他坐下后也不疼了。他好奇脚趾是暖和过来了还是冻得麻木了,就在靴子里来回摩擦自己的脚,然后发现脚趾也冻僵了。

他迅速戴上手套,站起来,有点害怕,不停地跺着脚,直到脚趾又感觉到疼痛。实在太冷了!他想。一个硫磺湾的人曾经告诉过他这个国家的寒冷程度,正如他所说的那样,而当时他居然还取笑那个人。看来人不能对什么事都太肯定了。毋庸置疑,天气实在太冷了。他不停跺脚、拍手,直到又感受到了温暖,然后把火柴拿出来准备生火。他从灌木丛中找了一些木柴 这是去年春天发大水时长起来的,经过谨慎地努力,火终于燃烧起来了。这时,脸上的冰块也烤化了,他在火边吃掉了饼干。此时此刻,寒冷被击退了。那条狗满意地在火旁一个适当的地方躺下,舒展着身体享受这样的温暖,并不担心会被烧到。

吃过午餐,他舒服地抽上一袋烟,然后戴上手套,调整了一下帽子上的耳罩,牢牢地护住耳朵。享受了片刻的温暖后,他沿着冰河的支流继续前进。那条狗冲着火堆叫了一阵后恋恋不舍地离开了。这个人不知道寒冷,可能他祖上的每一代人都对冷没什么意识,不管多冷,哪怕是华氏零下107 ,他们也感觉不到。但是狗知道,它所有的祖先都知道,它从它们那里也知道了这一点。它还知道这么冷的天气不适于在外面到处行走。当这样的寒冷袭来的时候,应该在雪地上挖一个洞,躲在里面,直到有大片的云挡住这片清冷的天空才能出来。不过,那条狗和人之间并没有亲密的感情,

它只是给人干活的一个奴隶,而它得到的宠爱,仅仅是皮鞭的抽打和喝斥的声音。所以狗也并不想把自己的想法告诉那个人,它才不关心那个男人的死活,它冲着火堆叫也只是为了自己的缘故。但是那个男人却冲着它吹口哨,边挥着皮鞭边大声吼着,狗只好乖乖地跟在他的后面。

他嚼了一口烟叶,又开始给自己打造新的琥珀胡子。很快,他呼出的湿气就在胡子、眉毛和眼睫毛上结成了冰霜。哈德森湾的支流左岸看起来没有那么多的泉水流过。半小时了,他都没看到有水洼的迹象。就在这时,意外发生了,在一个看上去雪比较结实的地方,冰面破了,他掉到了水里,水并不深,但是一直湿到了膝盖。他迅速挣扎到一个结实的地面上。

这让他很恼火,诅咒着这样的坏运气。这次意外会耽搁他到达营地的时间。现在他不得不再次生火,花一个小时的时间来烤干自己的衣服和鞋子。在如此寒冷的天气里,这是极危险的 他非常清楚这一点,迅速爬到了岸上。在坡顶的灌木丛中、低矮树木的枝干上,纠缠的枝条是春天的残留物 干燥的木柴;而更重要的是,有大片的碎木片和去年干燥的草类。他把一些大的木头放在树下的雪地上,防止融化的雪水把火浇灭,然后用火柴划燃了从兜里掏出的一小片白桦皮,这种东西甚至比纸更好引燃,把它放在木头上,最后放一些干的草和枝条在上面。

他知道自己现在的处境很危险,所以做得特别小心仔细。慢慢地,火势变得大一些,再添一些大的木头,火烧得更旺。他蹲在雪地上,不停地往火中填加从灌木丛中扯下的干草和木头。他知道自己只能成功不能失败,当处在零下75 的严寒中,一个打湿了脚的人在第一次尝试生火的时候决不能失败。如果他的脚是干的,生火失败了,他还能沿着雪地跑个半英里来恢复血液循环,保持身体各个部位的温度。但是一只湿透的冻僵的脚无法在零下75 的低温中靠跑步来保持血液的流通。不管他跑得多快,脚只会冻得越发僵硬。

这一切他都知道。那个硫磺湾的老者在秋天的时候曾警告过他,现在对他来说特别受用。他的脚已经完全失去知觉了。为了生起火,他必须把手套摘掉,但手指也很快麻木了。每小时4英里的行进速度可以使他的心脏将血液输送到身体的每一部分,但现在停下来,严寒让他的血液减缓了流动。寒冷袭击了地球上这个毫无防卫的角落,而他,身处此地,正承受着寒冷的全部冲击。他身体中的血液畏缩了,这血液是有生命的,像那条狗一样,也想把自己藏起来避开这可怕的寒冷。当他以每小时4英里的速度行进时,血液被心脏这个大泵输送到身体的表面。而现在,血液退缩了,躲在他身体的最深处。他开始感到自己的四肢仿佛不存在了,湿透的脚冻得越来越死,露出的手也很快麻木了,尽管它们还没有完全冻僵。鼻子和脸也失去了知觉,全身上下都在发抖,好像没有血液了。

但他仍是安全的。脚趾、鼻子和脸也只是接触了一下寒冷,因为这时火堆已经变旺了。他把手指般粗的细枝填到火里,不一会儿,又把手腕那么粗的树枝放进去了。那时他就可以把湿靴子和袜子脱下来,并在烤干鞋袜的同时,光着脚在火边取暖,当然得先用雪搓一下脚。火成功地烧起来了,他现在也安全了。回想起在硫磺湾遇到的老者。那位老者告诉他,没人可以在零下50 的严寒天气中独自旅行。但是现在他做到了。他独自一人,还遇到了意外。他升起了一堆火,拯救了自己。他笑着想,那些老头们全都是娘们,至少其中一部分是。一个男人所要做的就是保持头脑冷静,能做到这一点就不会出什么事。只要是真正的男人,就可以独自旅行。但出乎意料的是,他的脸和鼻子这么快就冻僵了。他也没想到在这么短的时间里手指就僵死了,完全不听使唤,连拿起小树枝都做不到,好像它们已经不在身上了。当触摸到一根树枝时,他必须看着才能确定自己是否拿住了,他却亲眼看到树枝从他的指尖滑落。

管不了那么多了!火在燃烧,跳动的火苗,伴随着啪啪的声响,以优美的姿态舞出生命的希望。他开始解开他的鹿皮靴,靴子上全部都是冰,厚实的德国产的袜子硬得像铁打的刀鞘箍在他的膝盖下边。鞋带像是火灾后扭曲交织在一起的钢条。一开始,他用麻木的手使劲拽,后来,他意识到这根本是白费力气,于是拔出了刀。

不过还没等到他割断鞋带,坏事就发生了。这是他的失误或者说是一个大错误。他不应该在树下生火的,而应该在空地上生火,尽管这样更容易从树上扯下一些枝条来生火用。现在,他头顶的树枝上已经压满了积雪,有一个星期没刮风了,树枝也到了承受的极限。每一次从树上扯下一根枝条,对树来说,都是一次轻微的摇动。尽管他只是轻轻地动了一下小树,但是这足以引发一次“枝条雪崩”。树梢上积雪落在了下面的树枝上,树枝上的积雪又落在了下面的树枝上,就这样像滚雪球一样,在没有任何预兆的情况下,一大团雪掉了下来,火被压灭了。刚才还燃烧的火堆顿时变成了一摊碎雪。

他被惊呆了,坐在地上呆呆地看着火被压灭的地方,仿佛刚刚听到了对自己的死亡宣判似的。但他很快就镇定下来。也许老人家是对的,如果有另外一个人和他在一起,他就不会处于如此危险的境地了。伙伴会帮他把火升起来。但是现在只能靠自己来生火,这次绝对不能失败。即便是成功了,他也很可能会失去几个脚趾。现在,他的脚一定冻坏了,然而,还需要一段时间才能生起第二堆火。

这样的观念在脑海中一闪而过,他忙碌着,根本来不及坐在那里慢慢细想。他收集了更多的木片,这一次是在空地上,不会有雪从树枝上掉下对其构成威胁。然后,他又从洪水后的沉积中收集了一些干草和小树枝。他没有办法用手指把它们拿起来,但可以一次握住一把。通过这样的方式他弄到了一点腐烂的树枝和一些苔藓,虽然不够用,但他已经尽了最大努力。他有条不紊地做着准备工作,甚至收集到了胳膊那么粗的大树枝以备火旺时使用。狗一直卧在一边看着他,眼里闪着一种强烈的渴望,它把他看成了一个可以提供火的人,但这火迟迟生不起来。

一切准备就绪,他把手伸向兜里去摸第二片白桦树皮。他知道它在哪里,虽然他的手感觉不到,但是当他的手碰到白桦树皮时发出的声响,他就能听到。他尽了最大的努力,但还是抓不住那片白桦树皮。这段时间,他的脚冻得越来越僵硬。这让他有点恐慌,但他还是尽量控制住并冷静了下来。他用嘴把手套戴好,前后甩了甩胳膊,用自己的全部力气用手在胸口上拍打。他开始坐着拍,然后又站着拍。整个过程中,狗还是一动不动地卧在一旁看着他,像狼一样的大尾巴盘起来暖暖地护住了前爪,狼一般的耳朵朝前探着,好像在看着这个男人。而这个男人,在敲拳头、甩胳膊的时候,对那个畜生天生长着一身温暖安全的皮毛感到无比的羡慕。

过了一会儿,他的手指有了一点知觉,微弱的疼痛慢慢地变成了一种剧烈的疼痛。他感觉差不多了,然后摘掉右手的手套,把手伸到口袋里面去拿那片白桦皮。但是极度的寒冷,让他的手很快又失去了知觉。接着,他拿出了一把火柴,而这时手指失去了活动能力。他想从中抽出一根来,却把所有的火柴都弄掉到雪地上。他试着去捡,但是根本捡不起来。冻僵的手指既摸不到也抓不住。他想到了自己冻僵的脚、鼻子和脸,小心地将全部注意力集中到火柴上。他看着,试图用视力代替感觉,他把手指移到火柴边,然后用力握住 马上就要握住它们了。可是,随着火柴的滑落,他发现自己的手指一点都不听使唤。他又戴上了手套,再次把手在膝盖上使劲拍打。然后戴着手套把掉在雪地上的火柴连同周围的碎雪一起捧起来,放到了兜里。他只能做到这样了。

经过一番努力,他用两个手掌底部夹着一把火柴,放到嘴边。他用力张开嘴,脸上的冰发出
了碎裂的声响。他收起下颌,抬起上唇,想用牙齿抽出一根火柴来。终于,他成功地抽出了一根,故意掉在衣兜上。他只能做到这样。他无法把火柴捡起来。然后他想到了一个办法,用牙齿把火柴咬住,在大腿上摩擦,大约划了20次,火柴就着了。他衔着这根点燃的火柴去引燃白桦皮,但燃烧的硫磺气体窜进了他的鼻孔,钻到了他的肺里,引起他不住的咳嗽。结果火柴掉到了雪地上,熄灭了。

那位老者的话是对的,绝望再一次让他想到了这点:零下50 的天气里确实应该结伴而行。他又一次击打双手,却没有一点感觉了。突然,他用牙齿把手套都脱掉,露出双手,然后用双掌夹着这一束火柴,由于他的胳膊还没有冻僵,还能够紧紧地夹住火柴,在腿上划。点燃了,70支火柴一下子全点燃了,因为没有风,所以它们不会被吹灭,他把脸扭向一边以避开这令人窒息的浓烟,然后用这些火柴去点燃白桦皮。他这样拿着火柴,手上又有了知觉,他闻到了自己的手被烧焦的气味,然后感觉到了疼痛,他忍着疼痛,笨拙地夹着燃烧的火柴去点白桦皮,却没法引燃,因为他的手掌挡住了大部分的火焰。

最后,他实在忍受不了,手猛地抽搐一下,燃烧着的火柴都掉在了雪地上,一股青烟升起,火柴熄灭了。但是白桦皮点燃了。他开始把干草和小树枝放到火苗上。他没法捡也不能挑,只能用两只手掌夹住一些燃料填到火里。一些小片的朽木和夹杂在树枝间的苔藓,他都用嘴将它们挑出来,小心翼翼而又笨拙地呵护着这一小团火。因为它意味着生命,绝不能熄灭。体表缺乏血液循环使他开始发抖,也让他变得更加笨拙。有一大片苔藓正好砸在了那一小团火上。他想用手指把它拨开,可颤抖的手拨得太过,破坏了这一团小火的核心,那些点燃的枝叶分散开来。他试图把它们聚在一起,虽然他小心地努力着,但他颤抖的手还是出卖了他,烧着的小树枝还是各自分散着,每个小树枝在冒出一缕青烟后,熄灭了。生火又一次失败。他无奈地抬起头,目光投向了那条狗。它正坐在离熄灭的火堆的附近,在雪地里扭动着身躯,身体向后仰着,依次抬起两只前爪。看着看着,他的脑子里闪出了一个残忍的想法,他有了一个主意。

他想起了一个故事:一个人被困在暴风雪里,杀死了一头牛,钻进牛肚子里取暖,然后才保住了一条命。他想:自己也可以把狗杀了,然后将手放到狗温暖的身体里面,手指重新恢复知觉的时候,可以再升火。想到这里,他便想把狗叫过来,但他的声音中带着一种莫名的恐惧让狗感到害怕,它从来没有听到过主人这样叫它,狗多疑的天性使它从他的声音中听到了危险,也不知道具体是什么,反正能感觉到不对劲,便对那人产生了警惕,往后退了退,不肯过来。它垂下耳朵不去听男人对它的使唤,但身体更加焦躁不安,它不打算到男人那里去。那人跪在雪地上,用膝盖和手的力量爬向那条狗,这个不寻常的举动更加可疑,狗飞快地跑开了。

他在雪地里坐了一会儿,努力让自己冷静下来,然后用牙齿戴上了手套。他站起来,并向下看,确认自己确实站起来了,失去知觉的脚让他感觉自己与地面失去了联系。他站立的姿势让狗慢慢消除了疑虑,当他说话的时候,又开始变得强硬起来。他用那惯用的语调冲狗吆喝,狗很顺从地走了过来。当狗走到他可以接触到的距离时,男人失去了控制。他张开胳膊向狗扑去,却发现自己的手指根本没有知觉,不能弯曲,连抓的动作都不能做,他还是吃了一惊。他一时忘了自己的手被冻僵了,而且一直处于这种状态。所有这一切都发生在一瞬间,在那个畜生跑开之前,他已经用胳膊抱住了狗。他坐到雪地上,就这样抱着狗,而这时,狗也在不停地咆哮着、呜咽着、挣扎着。

但他也只能做到这样,抱着狗在雪地上坐着。他发现自己根本杀不了这只狗,没有办法。他那没用的双手既不能拔出刀,也拿不住刀,更别说掐死这条狗了。他松开胳膊,狗立即跑开了,夹着尾巴,咆哮着。它跑到距离男人4英尺的地方停了下来,好奇地打量着这个男人,竖起尖尖的耳朵向前探着。男人低头看着自己的双手以确定它们的位置,发现它们只是在胳膊的末端挂着而已。这让他蹦出个奇怪的念头,人应该用眼睛来确定手的位置。他开始猛烈地前后甩动胳膊,用手拍自己的大腿,一直做了5分钟。这使他的心脏泵出了足够多的血液运到体表。他暂时停止了颤抖,但手还是没有一点知觉。他的脑海中突然出现了一个画面:手像重物一样,挂在胳膊的两端。他极力想忘掉这一幕,却没法做到。

一种对死亡的恐惧、麻木和压抑感向他袭来。这种恐惧使他深刻认识到,这不再是冻掉几个手指、脚趾,或是失去手和脚的事情了,而是性命攸关的大事了。他陷入了恐慌,跳起来开始沿着古老的河床往前跑。狗跟在后面,很快就追上了他。他疯狂地跑着,没有目的。在他的生命中,从未有过这种恐惧。渐渐地,他在雪地中蹒跚着,挣扎着,踉跄着,他又看到了一些东西 河岸、树林、光秃秃的山杨树和天空。奔跑让他感觉好了一些,也不再颤抖了,也许奔跑可以让脚暖和过来。如果他跑得足够远,还可能跑到营地。毫无疑问,他肯定会失去一部分手指和脚趾,还有脸的一部分,但是朋友们会照顾他、救他。此时,他脑海中的另一个想法却说:“你到不了营地了,那太远了,你会很快冻僵、死去。”有时,这个念头会强烈袭来,他都会努力地驱散这个念头,尽量去想些别的事情。

奔跑的时候,他好几次都没有感觉到自己的脚和地面相碰,这种感觉很奇怪。他感觉自己仿佛在地面上滑翔,并没有接触到地面。他记得曾在哪里看见过长着翅膀的神使墨丘里。他想,也许墨丘里在掠过地面的时候可能跟他的感觉一样吧。

他想不停地跑到营地的想法是行不通的,他没有那么大的耐力。好几次,他都失足摔倒,最后只能蹒跚地坚持着,然后倒下。他想站起来,但是失败了,于是他决定休息一会儿。接下来,他只能走,而且是不停地走。他坐在雪地上调整呼吸的时候,觉得很温暖、很舒适,他注意到自己不再发抖,好像是有一股暖流温暖了他的胸膛和整个身体。他已经无法感觉到自己的鼻子、手指、脚。突然,他意识到身体冻僵的部分正在扩张,他尽量不去想它,忘掉它,想些其他事情。但这种想法还是引起了恐慌,他害怕这种恐慌。这种想法在慢慢地扩大,以至于男人在隐约中似乎看到了自己冻僵的身体。太可怕了,他又起来开始沿着河道奔跑。一旦他停下来,这种想法就会促使他开始奔跑。

狗也一直紧跟在他的后面跑。当他第二次摔倒的时候,它就蹲在他的前面,卷曲着尾巴盖在前爪上,面对着他,好奇地打量着他。那畜生的温暖和安全让他生气,他便大骂那个畜生,直到它耷拉下耳朵。这时,他抖得更厉害了。在与寒潮的对抗中,他失败了。寒冷正在全面入侵他的身体。这种想法还能够促使他站起来,可是跑不过100步,就又摔倒了。这是他最后一次惊慌了。他调整了一下呼吸,慢慢平静下来。他意识到自己就要死了,但死亡这个概念并不是这样单纯地出现在他的脑海中,而是构成了一副可笑的画面,他想象着自己就像是一只砍掉头的鸡,没命地奔跑。好吧,就这样了,他决定像个男人那样接受一切。睡着死去,也不错,就像是吃了麻醉药一样,冻死并不像人们想象得那么糟糕,世界上还有很多比这更糟糕的死亡方式。

他想象着第二天朋友们找到他尸体时的情形。突然他发现自己也跟朋友们在一起,顺着河道寻找自己的尸体。然后和他们一起在雪下找到了他的尸体。他不再属于自己了,从那时起,他就离开了自己,站在朋友们中间,看着雪中自己的尸体。确实冷啊,他想。当他回到城里的时候,就可以跟朋友们讲什么是真正的寒冷。他又想到了那个老人。他能清晰地看到老人的模样,暖和、舒服地抽着一支雪茄。

“你说得对,老兄,你说得对。”他喃喃地对老人说,仿佛老人就在眼前。

他闭上眼睛,进入了生平最舒适的梦乡。狗就坐在他对面,等着他起来。短暂的白天就要被漫长的黑夜取代了,却没有一点火的影子,它从来没见过一个人那样在雪地上坐着却不生火。天色越来越暗,对火的强烈的渴望驱使着它。它扑腾着前爪小声地呜咽着,耷拉着耳朵不想听他的喝斥。但他还是一动不动,最后,狗靠近了他,闻到了死亡的气息。它扭过头,向着黑夜中寒冷的星空发出了一声悠长而又深沉的嚎叫。然后,它掉过头,朝着它所知道的营地的方向跑去,因为它知道那里有食物和火的提供者。

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