He was Huck Finn, the celebrated lawman. In his day, back when the frontier was still wild, he had tracked men through fiery deserts, up impassable mountain trails, and into places no sane man would venture. He’d been shot at and wounded; his blood had marked his back trail. Once, in the Sonora Desert, he went without water for an agonizing four days and had almost died of thirst. But he had always traced his man and brought him back to face justice, or if the hombre put up a fight—buried him where he had found him. However, he was younger in those days. Time had not taken as much a toll on him as it does on some men. But all men slow down with age, and yes, even Huck Finn.
He walked the valley as in a dream. He would halt his forward movement every five steps. And standing knee-deep in the snow, swaying back and forth like a sapling in the wind, he would wait for his life-force to return. He had set that measure for himself. Five steps at a time. No more, and certainly no less.
Bright, frustrated with the slow pace, ran up ahead and then back to urge his master on. Huck smiled at the dog and thought, Good boy. Keep me going, don’t let me stand still for too long. So much depends on me—and on you, old friend.
He lost track of time and before he knew it, it was dark, though his situation was not entirely dire. There was sufficient light from the stars and the borealis to allow him to find wood enough for a small fire. He had to attend to his feet. They were like blocks of ice and almost as white as the snow that he crouched in. Another few hours and they would have started to turn black. After vigorously rubbing them with snow for a hour, the feeling started to come back. As the painful tingling moved from his ankles to his toes, he moved his feet nearer to the fire. Then he had to deal with his blackened and scarred face.
Will I ever feel warm again?
With blood once again flowing to all parts of his body, he took a moment to raise his gaunt eyes to the heavens to take in the wonder of God in the form of the aurora borealis. He was not a religious man. He hadn’t had much truck with God over the years, but on that night he said his first prayer in many a year. He prayed that he might live to get to Jass’ cabin. He had no concern for himself. He had to live for Molly and John. If not for the thoughts of them, he would have lain down in the snow a long time ago and fallen off to his final, blessed sleep.
When Bright had finished his last ration of bird and weasel bones, Huck stood up, and on pure willpower, he plodded on—he trudged on—to the west . . . always to the west.