Against a still and dark forest in the frozen and desolate Northland, two men mush a sled towards McGurry, carrying a "long and narrow, oblong box." Within the coffin are the remains of a man "beaten down" by the Wild. The two men, Bill and Henry, struggle against the cold, but drive their sled dogs onward through the snow as the sunlight fades.
Bill and Henry's movement against the still and cold Northland highlights the thin contrast between life and death in the wild. The coffin is a reminder that death is a constant threat and highlights the fragility of life in the wilderness.
A howl rises in the air, alerting Bill and Henry to the wolf pack that trails them. They round up their dogs and make camp, secluding themselves in a cluster of spruce trees. Bill notices that a piece of fish has gone missing. He has six dogs, but only fed five. Bill believes that he saw a wolf carry off some fish, but Henry thinks he's just seeing things.
The pack of wolves that follow Bill and Henry embody the threatening nature of the wild. That a wolf might be in their midst intensifies this threatening aspect, but also suggests that this wolf is also attracted to man, his dogs, and his food.
Bill and Henry muse over the death of the man in the oblong box, an aristocratic type, Lord Alfred, who had no business venturing into the Northland. The men and their dogs grow anxious as the night darkens, the wolves' howls intensify, and their eyes, like "live coals," gleam in the forest's blackness. The dogs circle nervously around the fire, while Bill regrets only having three cartridges of ammunition left for his gun.
Lord Alfred's death emphasizes the merciless nature of the wild. It will kill those, like Lord Alfred, who are unfit to survive in its midst. The threat of nature intensifies as darkness falls, as "civilization" must face what it cannot see. That Bill only has a few bullets highlights man's few defenses against nature's wrath.
Bill and Henry go to sleep, but Bill is restless, perplexed by why the dogs didn't attack the wolf who stole the fish. In the middle of the night, he counts seven dogs again. In the morning, Bill counts only five dogs. Fatty has gone missing, likely eaten by the wolves. Bill is not surprised, concluding that "there was somethin' wrong with Fatty, anyway."
Fatty's disappearance and death underlines a central tenet of life in the wild: those who are not fit to live in the Northland will not survive. Bill's comment suggests that Fatty is a defective creature. Therefore his death is not surprising.