broom leaving it almost clear of snow

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He went back for his dogs, and turned up the Elkhorn. The trail at first was not very bad, and he made a good pace; but after the first two miles it worsened, and he struck an abundance of soft snow, presenting an absolutely virgin surface. This made the going very hard  , and he marched ahead of his labouring dogs, packing the snow with the great webbed shoes of the North, lifting each foot clear almost perpendicularly, then planting it down to harden the surface for his canine team. Three miles or so he made, in spite of the cold, sweating like a bull, and then he reached a place where the wind had swept the ice like a broom leaving it almost clear of snow.

He examined the frozen surface, and after a little search found the marks of sled-runners on the ice. He searched further, but found nothing save these twin scars running parallel to one another. But one sled had passed that way, and he was sure that he was on the right track. A smile of satisfaction came on his lean face, and seating himself  , on the sled he swung forward at a rattling pace.

The short day was coming to a close when the leading dog yelped suddenly, and with his followers began to manifest signs of canine excitement. Roger Bracknell himself sniffed the keen air. There was a fire somewhere, for the unmistakable odour of burning resinous wood reached his nostrils. He stepped off the sled, and hanging on to the gee-pole tried to check the pace of his team. His efforts however, were in vain. The dogs bent their heads to the ice and threw themselves against the collars, hurrying forward, as they had not hurried[83] all day. They too smelt the burning pinewood, and to them it signified not merely human habitation, but freedom from the traces, and the frozen salmon which constituted their evening meal.

The corporal, finding his endeavours to restrain them vain, prepared for eventualities. Hanging on to the sled with one hand, with the other he unfastened the holster wherein he carried his service pistol. He did not know what to expect. That aromatic odour might come from an Indian tepee, from the hut of some lonely prospecting party, or from the camp of the man he was following; in any case it was as well to be prepared.

The leading dog yelped again , and the others responded in joyful chorus. The team swung suddenly towards the left bank, up a slight incline towards a clearing in the wood. Out of the gathering gloom a faint glow appeared, and then the shadowy outline of a hut. The glow was from a frosted parchment window, and the hut was the typical miner’s cabin of the North. Corporal Bracknell smiled and dropped his hand from the pistol-holster, finding the look of the place altogether reassuring. The dogs came to a standstill on the packed snow in front of the cabin, yelping delight, and whip in hand Bracknell waited, listening. If there were dogs at the cabin they might be expected to charge the new-comers, who fastened in the traces would be heavily handicapped. The charge he waited for did not come. There was no challenging answer to the yelping of his own team, and apparently the owner of the cabin was without dogs, or if he owned a team it was absent from[84] home. This fact further reassured him and threw him still more off his guard. He stepped forward to the door of the cabin and rapped upon it with the butt-end of his dog-whip.






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