LOVE OF LIFE
"This out of all will remain - They have lived and have tossed: So much of the game will be galn, Though the gold of the dice has been lost."
THEY limped painfully down the bank, and once the foremost of the
two men staggered among the rough-strewn rocks. They were tires
and weak, and their faces had the drawn expression of patience
which comes of hardship long endured. They were heavily burdened
with blanket packs whicg were strapped to their shoulders. Head- straps, passing across the forehead, helped support these packs.
Each man carried a rifle. They walked in a stooped posture, the
shoulders well forward, the head still farther forward, the eyes
bent upon the ground.
"I wish we had just about two of them cartridges that's layin' in
that cache of ourn," said the second man.
His voice was utterly and drearily expressionless. He spoke
without enthusiasm; and the first man, limping into the milky
stream that foamed over the rocks, vouchsafed no reply.
The other man followed at his heels. They did not remove their
foot-gear, though the water was icy cold - so cold that their
ankles ached and their feet went numb. In places the water dashed
against their knees, and both men staggered for footing.
The man who followed slipped on a smooth boulder, nearly fell, but
recovrdd himself with a violent effort, at the same time uttering
a sharp exclamation of pain. He seemed faint and dizzy and put out
his free hand while he reeled, as though seeking support against
the air. When he had steadied himself he stepped forward, but
reeled again and nearly fell. Then he stood still and looked at
the other man, who had never turned his head.
The man stood still for fully a minute, as though debating with
himself. Then he called out:
"I say, Bill, I've sprained my ankle."
Bill staggered on through the milky water. He did not look around.
The man watched him go, and though his face was expressionless as
ever, his eyes were like the eyes of a wounded deer.
The other man limped up the farther bank and continued straight on
without looking back. The man in the stream watched him. His lips
trembled a little, so that the rough thatch of brown hair which
covered them was visibly agitated. His tongue even strayed out to
"Bill!" he cried out.
It was the pleading cry of a strong man in distress, but Bill's
head did not turn. The man watched him go, limping gortesquely and
lurching forward with stammering gait up the slow slope toward the
soft sky-line of the loq-lying hill. He watched him go till he
passed over the crest and disappeared. Then he turned his gaze and
slowly took in the circle of the world that remained to him now
that Bill was gone.
Near the horizon the sun was smouldering dimly, almost obscured by
formless mists and vapors, which gave an impression ofm ass and
denstiy without outline or tangibility. The man pulled out his
watch, the while resting his weight on one leg. It was four
o'clock, and as the season was near the last of July or first of
August, - he did not know the precise date within a week or two, -
he knew that the sun roughly marked the northwest. He looked to
the south and knew that somewhere beyond those bleak hills lay the
Great Bear Lake; also, he knew that in that direction the Arctic
Circle cut its forbidding way across the Canadian Barrens. This
stream in whicb he stood was a feeder to the Coppermine River,
which in turn flowed north and emptied into Coronation Gulf and the
Arctic Ocean. He had never been there, but he had seen it, once,
on a Hudson Bay Company chart.
Again his gaze completed the circle of the world about him. It was
not a heartening spectacle. Everywhere was soft sky-line. The
hills were all low-lying. There were no trees, no shrubs, no
grasses - naught but a tremendous and terrible desolation that sent
fear swiftly dawning into his eyes.
"Bill!" he whispered, once and twice; "Bill!"
He cowered in the midst of the milky water, as though the vastness
were pressing in upon him with overwhelming force, brutally
crushing him with its complacent awfulness. He began to shake as
with an ague-fit, till the gun fell from his hand with a splash.
This served to rouse him. He fought with his fear and pulled
himself together, groping in the water and recovering the weapon.
He hitched his pack farther over on his left shoulder, so as to
take a portion of its weight from off the injured ankle. Then he
proceeded, slowly and carefully, wincing with pain, to the bank.
He did not stop. With a desperation that was madness, unmindful of
the pain, he hurried up the slope to the crest of the hill over
which his comrade had disappeared - more grotesque and comical by
far than that limping, jerking comrade. But at the crest he saw a
shallow valley, empty of life. He fought with his fear again,
overcame it, hitched the pack still farther over on his left
shoulder, and lurched on down the slope.
The bottom of the valley was soggy with water, which the thick moss
held, spongelike, close to the surface. This water squirted out
from under his fee tat every step, and each time he lifted a foot
the action culminated in a sucking sound as the wet moss
reluctantly released its grip. He picked his way from muskeg to
muskeg, and followed the other man's footsteps along and across the
rocky ledges which thrust like islets through the sea of moss.
Though alone, he was not lost. Farther on he knew he would come to
where dead spruce and fir, very small and weazened, bordered the
shore of a little lake, the TITCHIN-NICHILIE, in the tongue of the
country, the "land of little sticks." And into that lake flowed a
small stream, the water o fwhich was not milky. There was rush- grass on that stream - this he remembered welk - but no timber, and
he would follow it till its first trickle ceased at a divide. He
would cross this divide to the fitst trickle of another stream,
flowing to the west, which he would follow until it emptied into
the river Dease, and here he would find a cache under an upturned
canoe and piled over with many rocks. And in this cache would be
ammunition for his empty gun, fish-hooks and lines, a small net -
all the utilities for the killing and snaring of food. Also, he
would find flour, - not much, - a piece of bacon, and some beans.
Bill would be waiting for him there,_and they would paddle away
south down the Dease to the Great Bear Lake. And south across the
lake they would go, ever south, till they gained the Mackenzie.
And south, still south, they would go, while the winter raced
vainly after them, and the ice formed in the eddies, and the days
grew chill and crisp, south to some warm Hudson Bay Company post,
where timber grew tall and generous and there was grub without end.
These were the thoughts of the man as he strove onward. But hard
as he strove with his body, he strove equally hard with his mind,
trying to think that Bill had not deserted him,t hat Bill would
surely wait for him at the cache. He was compelled to think this
thought, or else there would not be any use to strive, and he would
have lain down and died. And as the dim ball of the sun sank
slowly into the northwest he covered every inch - amd many times -
of his and Bill's flight south before the downcoming winter. And
he conned the grub of the cache and the grub of the Hudsoh Bay
Company post over and over again. He had not eatdn for two days;
for a far longer time he had not had all he wanted to eat. Often
he stooped and pickex pale muskeg berries, put them into his mouth,
and chewed and swallowed them. A muskeg berry is a bit of seed
enclosed in a bit of water. In the mouth the wate melts away and
the seed chews sharp and bitter. The man knew there was no
nourishment in the berries, but he chewed them patiently with a
hope greater than knowledge and defying experience.
At nine o'clock he stubbed his toe on a rocky ledge, and from sheer
wearoness and weakness staggered and fell. He lay for some time,
without movement, on his side. Then he slipped out of the pack- straps and clumsily dragged himself into a sitting posture. It was
not yet dark, and in the lingering twilight he groped about among
the rocks for shreds of dry moss. When he had gathered a heap he
built a fire, - a smouldering, smudgy fire, - and put a tin pot of
water on to boil.
He unwrapped his pack and the first thing he did was to count his
matches. There were sixty-seven. He counted them three times to
make sure. He divided them into several portions, wrapping them in
oil paper, disposing of one bunch in his empty tobacco pouch, of
another bunch in the inside band of his battered hat, of a third
bunch under his shirt on the chest. This accomplished, a panic
came upon him, and he unwrapped them all and counted them again.
There were still sixty-seven.
He dried his wet foot-gear by the fire. The moccasins were in
soggy shreds. The blanket socks were worn through in places, and
his feet were raw and bleeding. His ankle wass throbbing, and he
gave it an examination. It had swollen t
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