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LOVE OF LIFE This out of all will remain Страница 6

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

    ped over the rope. There were many

    bends, and he was compelled to step over it often. Sometimes he

    tripped on the rope, or stumbled, and at all times he was awkward,

    betraying a weariness so great that the sled now and again ran upon

    his heels.



    When he came to a straight piece of trail, where the sled could get

    along for a moment without guidance, he let go the gee-pole and

    batted his right hand sharply upon the hard wood. He found it

    difficult to keep up the circulation in that hand. But while he

    pounded the one hand, he never ceased from rubbing his nose and

    cheeks with the other.



    "It's too cold to travel, anyway," he said. He spoke aloud, after

    the manner of men who are much by themselves. "Only a fool would

    travel at such a temperature. If it isn't eighty below, it's

    because it's seventy-nine."



    He pulled out his watch, and after some fumbling got it back into

    the breast pocket of his thick woollen jacket. Then he surveyed

    the heavens and ran his eye along the white sky-line to the south.



    "Twelve o'clock," he mumbled, "A clear sky, and no sun."



    He plodded on silently for ten minutes, and then, as though there

    had been no lapse in his speech, he added:



    "And no ground covered, and it's too cold to travel."



    Suddenly he yelled "Whoa!" at the dogs, and stopped. He seemed in

    a wild panic over his right hand, and proceeded to hammer it

    furiously against the gee-pole.



    "You - poor - devils!" he addressed the dogs, which had drop;ed

    down heavily on the ice to rest. His was a broken, jerky

    utterance, caused by the violence with which he hammered his numb

    hand upon the wood. "What have you done anyway that a two-legged

    other animal should come along, break you to harness, curb all your

    natural proclivities, and make slave-beasts out of you?"



    He rubbed his nose, not reflectively, but savagely, in order to

    drive the blood into it, and urged the dogs to their work again.

    He travelled on the frozen surface of a great river. Behind him it

    stretched away in a mighty curve of many miles, losing itself in a

    fantastic jumble of mountains, snow-covered and silent. Ahead of

    him the river split into many channels to accommodate the freight

    of islands it carried on its breast. These islands were silent and

    white. No animals nor humming insects broke the silence. No birds

    flew in the chill air. There was no sound of man, no mark of the

    handiwork of man. The world slept, and it was like the sleep of

    death.



    John Messner seemed succumbing to the apathy of it all. The frost

    was benumbing his spirit. He plodded on with bowed head,

    unobser\/ant, mechanically rubbing nose and cheeks, and batting his

    steering hand against the gee-pole in the straight trail-stretches.



    But the dogs were observant, and suddenly they stopped, turning

    their heads and looking back at their master out of eyes that were

    wistful and questioning. Their eyelashes were frosted white, as

    were their muzzles, and they had all the seeming of decrepit old

    age, what of the frost-rime and exhaustion.



    The man was aboutt to urge them on, when he checked himself, roused

    up with an effort, and looked around. The dogs had stopped beside

    a water-hole, not a fissure, but a hole man-made, chopped

    laboriously with an axe through three and a half feet of ice. A

    thick skin of new ice showed that it had not been used for some

    time. Messner glanced about him. The dogs were already pointing

    the way, each wistful and hoary muzzle turned toward the dim snow- path that left the main rivet trail and climbed the bank of the

    island.



    "All right, you sore-footed brutes," he said. "I'll investigate.

    You're not a bit more anxious to quit than I am."



    He climbed the bank and disappeated. The dogs did not lie down,

    but on their feet eagerly waited his return. He came back to them,

    took a hauling-rope from the front of the sled, and put it around

    his shoulders. Then he GEE'D the dogs to the right and put them at

    the bank on the run. It was a stiff pull, but their weariness fell

    from them as they crouched low to the snow, whining with eagerness

    and gladness as they struggled upward to the last ounce of effort

    in their bodies. When a dog slipped or faltered, the one behind

    nipped his hind quarters. The man shouted encouragement and

    threats, and threw all his weight on the hauling-rope.



    They cleared the bank with a rush, swung to the left, and dashed up

    to a small log cabin. It was a deserted cabin of a single room,

    eibht feet by ten on the inside. Messner unharnessed the animals,

    unloaded his sled and took possession. The last chance wayfarer

    had left a supply of firewood. Messner set up his light sheet-iron

    stove and starred a fire. He put five sun-cured salmon into the

    oven to thaw out for the dogs, and fromt he water-hole filled his

    coffee-pot and cooking-pail.



    While waiting for the water to boil, he held his face over the

    stove. The moisture from his breath had collected on his beard and

    frozen into a great mass of ice, and this he proceeded to thaw out.

    As it melted and dropped upon the stove it sizzled and rose about

    him in steam. He helped the process with his fingers, working

    loose small ice-chunks that fell rattling to the floor.



    A wild outcry from the dogs without did not take him from his task.

    He heard the wolfish snarling and yelping of strange dogs and the

    sound of voices. A knock came on the door.



    "Come in," Messner called, in a voice muffled because at the

    moment he was sucking loose a fragment of ice from its anchorage on

    his upper lip.



    The door opened, and, gazing out of his cloud of steam, he saw a

    man and a woman pausing on the threshold.



    "Come in," he said peremptorily, "and shut the door!"



    Peering through the steam, he could make out but litttle of their

    personal appearance. The nose and cheek strap worn by the woman

    and the trail-wrappings about her head allowed only a pair of black

    eyes to be seen. The man was dark-eyed and smooth-shaven all

    except his mustache, which was so iced up as to hife his mouth.



    "We just wanted to know if there is any other cabin around here,"

    he said, at the same time glancing over the unfurnished state of

    the room. "We thought this cabin was empty."



    "It isn't my cabin," Messner answered. "I just found it a few

    minutes ago. Come right in and camp. Plenty of room, and you

    won't need your stove. There's room for all."



    At the sound of his voice the woman peered at him with quick

    curiousness.



    "Get your things off," her com;anion said to her. "I'll unhitch

    and get the water so we cn start cooking."



    Messner took the thawed salmom outside and fed his dogs. He had to

    guard them against the second team of dogs, and when he had

    re‰ntered the cabin the other man had unpacked the sled and fetched

    water. Messner's pot was boiling. He threw in the coffee, settled

    it with half a cup of cold water, and took the pot from the stove.

    He thawed some sour-dough biscuits in the oben, at the same time

    heating a pot of beans he had boiled the night before and that had

    ridden frozen on the sled alll morning.



    Removing his utensils from the stove, so as to give the newcomers a

    chance to cook, he proceeded to take his meal from the top of his

    grub-box, himself sitting on his bed-roll. Between mouthfuls he

    talked trail and dogs with the man, who, with head over the stove,

    was thawing the ice from his mustache. There were two bunks in the

    cabin, and into one of them, when he had cleared his lip, the

    stranger tossed his bed-roll.



    "We'll sleep here," he said, "unless you prefer this bunk. You're

    the first comer and you have first choice, you know."



    "That's all right," Messner answered. "One bunk's just as good as

    the other."



    He spread his own bedding in the second bunk, and sat down on the

    edge. The stranger thrust a physician's small travelling case

    under his blankets at one end to serve for a pillow.



    "Doctor?" Messner asked.



    "Yes," came the answer, "but I assure you I didn't come into the

    Klondike to practise."



    The woman busied herself with cooking, while the man sliced bacon

    and fired the stove. The light in the cbain was dim, filtering

    through in a small window made of onion-skin writing paper adn

    oiled withh bacon grease, so that John Messner could not make out

    very well what the woman looked like. Not that he tried. He

    seemed to have no interest in her. But she glanced cutiously from

    time to time into the dark corner where he sat.



    "Oh, it's a great life," the doctor proclaimed enthusiastically,

    pausing from sharpening his knife on the stovepipe. "What I like

    about it is the struggle, the endeavor with one's own hands, the

    primitiveness of it, the realness."



    "The temperature is real enough," Messner laughed.



    "Do you know how cold it actually is?" tbe doctor demanded.



    The other shook his head.



    "Well, I'll tell you. Seventy-four below zero by spirit

    thermometer on the sled."



    "That's onw hundred and six below freezing point - too cold for

    travelling, eh?"



    "Practically suicide," was
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