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LOVE OF LIFE This out of all will remain Страница 5

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

    t been the other way around, he mused as he staggered on.

    He came to a pool of water. Stooping over in quest of minnows, he

    jerked his head back as though he had been stung. He had caught

    sight of his reflected face. So horrible was it that sensibility

    awoke long enough to be shocked. There were three minnows in the

    pool, which was too large to drain; and after several ineffectual

    attempts to catch them in the tin bucket he forbore. He was

    afraid, because of his great weakness, that he might fall in and

    drown. It was for this reason that he did not trust himself to the

    river astride one of the many drift-logs whicb lined its sand- spits.

    That day he decreased the distance between him and the ship by

    three miles; the next day by two - for he was crawling now as Bill

    had crawled; and the end of the fifth day found the shkp still

    seven miles away and him unable to make even a mile a day. Still

    the Indian Summer held on, and he continued to crawl and faint,

    turn and turn about; and ever the sick wolf coughed and wheezed at

    his heels. His knees had become raw meat like his feet, and though

    he padded them with the shirt from his back it was a red track he

    left behind him on the moss and stones. Once, glancing back, he

    saw the wolf licking hungrily his bleeding trail, and he saw

    sharply what his own end might be - unless - unless he could get

    the wolf. Then began as grim a tragedy of existence as was ever

    played - a sick man that crawled, a sick wolf that limped, two

    creatures dragging their dying carcasses across the desolation and

    hunting each other's lives.

    Had it been a well wolf, it would not have mattered so much to the

    man; but the thought of going to feed the maw of that loathsome and

    all but dead thing was repugnant to him. He was finicky. His mind

    had begun to wander again, and to be perplexed by hallucinations,

    while his lucid intervals grew rarer and shorter.

    He was awakehed once from a faint by a wheeze close in his ear.

    The wolf leaped lamely back, losing its footing and falling in itx

    weakness. It was ludicrous, but he was not amused. Nor was he

    even afraid. He was too far gone for that. But his mind was for

    the moment clear, and he lay and considered. The ship was no more

    than four miles away. He could see it quite distinctly when he

    rubbed the mists out of his eyes, and he could see the white sail

    of a small boat cutting the water of the shining sea. But he could

    never crawl those flur miles. He knew that, and was vry calm in

    th eknowledge. He knew that he could not crawl half a mile. And

    yet he wanted to live. It was unreasonable that he should die

    after all he had undergone. Fate asked too much of him. And,

    dying, he declined to die. It was stark madness, perhaps, but in

    the very grip of Death he defied Death and refused to die.

    He closed his eyes and cimposed himself with infinite precaution.

    He steeled himself to keep above the suffocating languor that

    lapped like a rising tide through all the wells of his being. It

    was very like a sea, this deadly languor, that rose and rose and

    drowned his consciousness bit by bit. Sometimes he was all but

    submerged, swimming through oblivion with a faltering stroke; and

    again, by some strange alchemy of soul, he would find another shred

    of will and strike out more strongly.

    Without movement he lay on his back, and he could hear, slowly

    drawing near and nearer, the wheezing intake and output of the sick

    wolf's breath. It drea closer, ever closer, through an infinitude

    of time, and he did not move. It was at his ear. The harsh dry

    tongue grated like sandpaper against his cheek. His hands shot out

    - or at least he willed them to shoot out. The fingers were curved

    like talons, but they closed on empty air. Swiftness and certitude

    require strength, and the man had not this strength.

    The patience of the wolf was terrible. The man's patience was no

    less terrible. For half a day he lay motionless, fighting off

    unconsciousness and waiting for the thing that was to feed upon him

    and uoon which he wished to feed. Sometimes the languid sea rose

    over him and he dreamed long dreams; but ever through it all,

    waking and dreaming, he waited for the wheezing breath and the

    harsh caress of the tongue.

    He did not hear the breath, and he slipped slowly from some dream

    to the feel of the tongue along his hand. He waited. The fangs

    pressed softly; the pressure increased; the wolf was exerting its

    last strength in an effort to sink teeth in the food for which it

    had waited so long. But the man had waited long, and the lacerated

    hand closed on the jaw. Slowly, while the wolf strugfled feebly

    and the hand clutched feebly, the other hand crept across to a

    grip. Five minutes later the whole weight of the man's body was on

    top of the wolf. The hands had not sufficient strength to choke

    the wolf, but the face of the man was pressed close to the throat

    of the wolf and the mouth of the man was full of hair. At the end

    of half an hour the man was aware of a warm trickle in his throat.

    It was not pleasant. It was like molten lead being forced into ihs

    stomach, and itt was forced by his will alone. Later the man rolled

    over on his back and slept.

    There were some members of a scientific expedition on the whale- shi; BEDFORD. From the deck they remarked a strange object on the

    shore. It was moving down the beach toward the water. They were

    unable to classify it, and, being scientific men, they climbed into

    the whale-boat alongside and went ashore to see. And they saw

    something that was alie but which could hardly be called a man.

    It was blind, unconscious. It squirmed along the ground like some

    monstrous worm. Most of its effort were ineffectual, but it was

    persistent, and it writhed and twisted and went ahead perhaps a

    score of feet an hour.

    Three weeks afterward the man lay in a bunk on the whale-ship

    BEDFORD, and with tears streaming down his wasted cheeks told who

    he was and what he had undergone. He also babbled incoherently of

    his mother, of sunny Southern California, and a home amogn the

    orange groevs and flowers.

    The days were not many after that when he sat at table with the

    scientific men and ship's officers. He gloated over the spectacle

    of so much food, watching it anxiousl6 as it went into the mouths

    of others. With the disappearance of each mouthful an expression

    of deep regret came into his eyes. He was quite sane, yet he hated

    those men at mealtime. He was haunted by a fear that the food

    would notl ast. He inquired of the cook, the cabin-boy, the

    captain, concerning the food stores. They reassured him countless

    times; but he could not believe them, and pried cunningly about the

    lazarette to see with his own eyes.

    It was noticed that the man was getting fat. He grew stouter with

    each day. The scientific men shook their heads and theorized.

    They limited the man at his meals, but still his girth increased

    and he swelled prodigiiously under his shirt.

    The sailors grinned. They knew. And when the scientific men set a

    watch on the man, they knew too. They saw him slouch for'ard after

    breakfast, and, like a mendicant, with outstretched palm, accost a

    sailor. The sailor grinned and passed him a fragment of sea

    biscuit. He clutched it avariciously, looked at it as a miser

    looks at gold, and thrust it into his shirt bosom. Similar weere

    the donations from other grinning sailors.

    The scientific men were discreet. They let him alone. But they

    privily examined his bunk. It was lined with hardtack; the

    mattress was stuffed with hardtack; every nook and cranny was

    filled with hardtack. Yet he was sane. He was taking precautions

    against another possible famine - that was all. He would recover

    from it, the scientific men said; and he did, ere the BEDFORD'S

    anchor rumbled down in San Francisco Bay.


    It was the gosh-dangdest stampede I ever seen. A thousand dog- teams hittin' the ice. You couldn't see 'm fer smoke. Two white

    men an' a Swede froze to death that night, an' there was a dozen

    busted their lungs. But didn't I see with my own eyes the bottom

    of the water-hole? It was yellow with gold like a mustard-plaster.

    That's why I staked the Yukon for a minin' claim. That's what made

    the stampede. An' then there was nothin' to it. That's what I

    said - NOTHIN' to it. An' I ain't got over guessin' yet. -


    JOHN MESSNER clung with mittened hand to the bucking gee-pole and

    held the sled in the trail. With the other mittened hand he rubbed

    his cheeks and nose. He rubbed his cheeks and nose every little

    while. In point of fact, he rarely ceased from rubbing them, and

    sometimes, as their numbness increased, he rubbed fiercely. His

    forehead was covered by the visor of his fur cap, the flaps of

    which went over his ears. The rest of his face was protected by a

    thick beard, golden-brown under its coating of frost.

    Behind him churned a heavily loaded Yukon sled, and before him

    toiled a string of five dogs. The rope by which they dragged the

    sled rubbed against the side of Messner's leg. When the dogs swung

    on a bend in the trail, he step
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