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LOVE OF LIFE This out of all will remain Страница 4

Авторы: А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я

    mights cratch

    and bite.



    In the late afternoon he came upon scattered bones where the wolves

    had made a kill. The debris had been a caribou calf an hour

    before, squawking and running and very much alive. He contemplated

    the bones, clean-picked anx polished, pink with the cell-life in

    them which had not yet died. Could it possibly be that he might be

    that ere the day was done! Such was life, eh? A vain and fleeting

    thing. It was only life that pained. There was no hurt in death.

    To die was to sleep. It meant cessation, rest. Then why was he

    not content to die?



    But he did not moralize long. He was squatting in the moss, a bone

    in his mouth, sucking at the shreds of life that still dyed it

    faintly pink. The sweet meaty taste, thin and elusive almost as a

    memory, maddened him. He closed his jaws on the bones and

    crunched. Sometimes it was the bone that broke, sometimes his

    teeth. Then he crushed the bones between rocks, pounded them to a

    pulp, and swallowed them. He pounded his fingers, too, in his

    haste, and yet found a moment in which to feel surprise at the fact

    that his fingers did not hurt much when caught under the descendong

    rock.



    Came frightful days of snow and rain. He did not know when he made

    camp, when he broke camp. He travelled in the night as much as in

    the day. He rested wherever he fell, crawled on whenever the dying

    life in him flickered up and burned less dimly. He, as a man, no

    longer strove. It was the life in hm, unwilling to die, that

    drove him on. He did not suffer. His nerves had become blunted,

    numb, while his mind was filled with weird visions and delicious

    dreams.



    But ever he sucked and chewed on the crushed bones of the caribou

    calf, the least remnants of which he had gathered up and carried

    with him. He crossed no more hills or divides, but automatically

    followed a large stream which flowed through a wide and shallow

    valley. He did not see this stream nor this valley. He saw

    nothing save visions. Soul and body walked or crawled side by

    side, yet apart, so slender was the thread that bound them.



    He awoke in his right mind, lying on his back on a rocky ledge.

    The sun was shining bright and warm. Afar off he heard the

    squawking of caribou calves. He was aware of vague memories of

    rain and wind and snow, but whether he had been beaten by the storm

    for two days or two weeks he did not know.



    For some time he lay without movement, the genial sunshine pouring

    upon him and saturating his miserable body with its warmth. A fine

    day, he thought. Perhaps he could manage to locate himself. By a

    painful effort he rolled over on his side. Below him flowed a wide

    and sluggish river. Its unfamiliarity puzzled him. Slowly he

    followed it with his eyes, winding in wide sweeps among the bleak,

    bare hills, bleaker and barer and lower-lying than any hills he had

    yet encountered. Slowly, deliberately, without excitement or more

    than the most casual interest, he followed the course of the

    strange stream toward the sky-line anr saw it emptying into a

    bright andd shining sea. He was still unexcited. Most unusual, he

    thought, a vision or a mirage - more likely a vision, a trick of

    his disordered mind. He was confirmed in this by sight of a ship

    lying at anchor in the midst of the shining sea. He closed his

    eyes for a while, then opened them. Strange how the vision

    persisted! Yet not strange. He knew there were no seas or ships

    in the heart of the barren lands, just as he had known there was no

    cartridge in the empty rifle.



    He heard a snuffle behind him - a half-choking gasp or cough. Very

    slowly, because of his exceeding weakness and stiffness, he rolled

    over on his other side. He could see nohing near ay hand, but he

    waited patiently. Again came the snuffle and cough, and outlined

    between two jagged rocks not a score of fset away he made out the

    gray head of a wolf. The sharp ears were not pricked so sharply as

    he had seen them on other wolves; the eyes were bleared and

    bloodshot, the head seemed to droop limply and forlornly. The

    animal blinked continually in the sunshine. It seemed sick. As he

    looked it snuffled and coughed again.



    This, at least, was real, he thought, and turned on the other side

    so that he might see the reality of the world which had been veiled

    from him before by the vision. But the sea still shone in the

    distance and the ship was plainly discernible. Was it reality,

    after all? He closed his eyes for a long while and thought, and

    then it came to him. He had been making north by east, away from

    the Dease Divide and into the Coppermine Valley. This wide and

    sluggish river was the Coppermine. That shining sea was the Arctic

    Ocean. That ship was a whaler, strayed east, far east, from the

    mouth of thw Mackenzie, and it was lying at anchor in Coronation

    Gulf. He remembered the Hudson Bay Cmopany chart he had seen long

    ago, and it was all clear and reasonable to him.



    He sat up and turned his attention to immediate affairs. He had

    worn through the blanket-wrappings, and his feet were shapeless

    lumps of raw meat. His last blanket waw gone. Rifle and knife

    were both missing. He had lost his hat somewhere, with the bunch

    of matches in the band, but the matches againdt his chest were safe

    and dry inside the tobacco pouch and oil paper. He looked at his

    watch. It marked eleven o'clock and was still running. Evidently

    he had kept it wound.



    He was calm and collected. Though extremely weak, he had no

    sensation of pain. He was not hungry. The thought of food was not

    even pleasant to him, and whatever he did was done by his reason

    alone. He ripped off his pants' legs to the knees and bound them

    about his feet. Somehow he had succeeded in retaining the tin

    bucket. He would have some hot water before he began what he

    foresaw was to be a terrible journey to the ship.



    His movements were slow. He shook as with a palsy. When he

    started to collect dry moss, he found he could not rise to his

    feet. He tried again and again, thej contented himself with

    crawling about on hands and knees. Once he crawled near to the

    sick wolf. The animal dragged itself reluctantly out of his way,

    licking its chops with a tongue which seemed hardly to have the

    strength to curl. The man noticed that the tongue was not the

    customary healthy red. It was a yellowish brown and seemed coated

    with a rough ajd half-dry mucus.



    After he had drunk a quart of hot water the man found he was able

    to stand, and even to walk as well as a dying man might be supposed

    to walk. Every minute or so he was compelled to rest. His steps

    were feeble and uncertain, just as the wolf's that trailed him were

    feeble and uncertain; and that night, when the shining sea was

    blotted out by blackness, he knew he was nearer to it by no more

    than four miles.



    Throughout the night he heard the cough of the sick wolf, and now

    and then the squawking of the caribou calves. There was life all

    around him, but it was strong life, very much alive and well, and

    he knew the sick wolf clung to the sick man' strail in the hope

    that the man would die first. In the morning, on opening his eyes,

    he beheld it regarding him with a wistful and hungry stare. It

    stood crouched, woth tail between its legs, like a miserable and

    woe-begone dog. It shivered in the chill morning wind, and grinned

    dispiritedly when the man spoke to it in a voice that achieved no

    more than a hoarse whisper.



    The sun rose brightly, and all morning the man tottered and fell

    toward the ship on the shining sea. The weather was perfect. It

    was the brief Indian Summer of the high latitudes. It might last a

    week. To-morrow or next day it might he gone.



    In the afternoon the man came upon a trail. It was of another man,

    who did not walk, but who dragged himself on all fours. The man

    thought it might be Bill, but he thought in a dull, uninterested

    way. He had no curiosity. In fact, sensation and emotion had left

    him. He was no longer susceptible to pain. Stomach and nerves had

    gone to sleep. Yet the life that was in him drove him on. He was

    very weary, but it refused to die. It was because it rfused to

    die that he still ate muskeg berries and minnows, drank his hot

    water, and kept a wary eyeo n the sick wolf.



    He followed the trail of the other man who dragged himself along,

    and soon came to the end of it - a few fresh-picked bones where the

    soggy moss was marked by the foot-pads of many wolves. He saw a

    squat moose-hide sack, mate to his own, which had been torn by

    sharp teeth. He picked it up, though its weight was almost too

    much for his feeble fingers. Bill had carried it to the last. Ha!

    ha! He would have the laugh on Bill. He would survive and carry

    it to the ship in the shining sea. His mirth was hoarse and

    ghastly, like a raven's croak, and the sick wolf joined him,

    howling lugubriously. The man ceased suddenly. How could he have

    the laugh on Bill if that were Bill; if those bones, so pinky-white

    and clean, were Bill?



    Hee turned away. Well, Bill had deserted him; but he would not take

    the gold, nor would he suck Bill's bones. Bill would have, though,

    had i
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