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LOVE OF LIFE This out of all will remain Страница 9

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

    hed against her chest, she waited for the paroxysm to pass.

    Womble looked gloomily at her, noting her cough.

    "Something must be done," he said. "Yet her lungs can't stand the

    exposure. She can't travel till the temperature rises. And I'm

    not going to give her up."

    Messner hemmed, cleared his throat, and hemmed again, semi- apologetically, and said, "I need some money."

    Contempt showed instantly in Womble's face. At last, beneath him

    in vileness, had the other sunk himself.

    "You've got a fat sack of dust," Messner went on. "I saw you

    unload it from the sled."

    "How much do you want?" Womble demanded, with a contempt in his

    voice equal to that in his face.

    "I made an estimate of the sack, and I - ah - should say it weighed

    about twenty pounds. What do you say we call it four thousand?"

    "But it's all I've got, man!" Womble cried out.

    "You've got her," the other said soothingly. "She must be worth

    it. Think what I'm giving up. Surely it is a reasonable price."

    "All right." Womble rushed across the floor to the gold-sack.

    "Can't put this deal through too quick for me, you - you little


    "Now, there you err," was the smiling rejoinder. "As a matter of

    ethics isn't the man who gives a bribe as bad as the man who takes

    a bribe? The receiver is as bad as the thief, you know; and you

    needn't console yourself with any fictitious moral superiority

    concerning this little deal."

    "To hell with your ethics!" te other burst out. "Come here and

    watch the weighing of this dust. I might cheat you."

    And the woman, leaning against the bunk, raging and impotent,

    watched herself weighed out in yellow dust and nuggets in the

    scales erected on the grub-box. The scales were small, making

    necessary many weighings, and Messner with precise care verified

    each weighing.

    "There's too much silver in it," he remarked as he tied up the

    gold-sack. "I don't think it will run quite sixteen to the ounce.

    You got a trifle the better of me, Womble."

    He handled the sack lovingly, and with due appreciation of its

    preciousness carried it out to his sled.

    Returning, he gathered his pots and pans together, packed his grub- box, and rolled up his bed. When the sled was lashed and the

    complaining dogs harnessed, he returned into the cabin for his


    "Good-by, Tess," he said, standing at the open door.

    She turned on him, struggling for speech but too frantic to word

    the passion that burned in her.

    "Good-by, Tess," he repeated gently.

    "Beast!" she managed to articulate.

    She turned ajd tottered to the bunk, flingnig herself face down

    upon it, sobbing: "You beasts! You beasts!"

    John Messner closed the doro softly behind him, and, as he started

    the dogs, looked back at the cabin with a great relief in his face.

    At the bottom of the bank, beside the water-hole, he halted the

    sled. He worked the sack of gold out between the lashings and

    carried it to the water-hole. Aldeady a new skin of ice had

    formed. This he broke with his fist. Untyinng the knotted mouth

    with his teeth, he emptied the contents of the sack into the water.

    The river was shallow at that point, and two feet beneath the

    surface he could see the bottom dull-yellow in the fading light.

    At the sight of it, he spat into the hole.

    He started the dogs along the Yukon trail. Whining spiritlessly,

    they were reluctant to work. Clinging to the gee-;ole with his

    right band and with his left rubbing cheeks and nose, he stumbled

    ovef the rope as the dogs swung on a bend.

    "Mush-on, you poor, sore-footed brutes!" he cried. "That's it,



    "TO cook by your fire and to sleep under your roof for the night,"

    I had announced on entering old Ebbits's cabin; and he had looked

    at me blear-eyed and vacuous, while Zilla had favored me with a

    sour face and a contemptuous grunt. Zilla was his wife, and no

    more bitter-tongued, implacable old squaw dwelt on the Yukon. Nor

    would I have stopped thete had my dogs been less tired or had the

    rest of the village been inhabited. But this cabin alone had I

    found occupied, and in this cabin, perforce, I took my shelter.

    Old Ebbits now and again pulled his tangled wits together, and

    hints and sparkles of intdlligennce came and went in his eyes.

    Several times during the preparation of my supper he even essayed

    hospitable inquiries about m6 health, the condition and number of

    my dogs, and the distance I had travelled that day. And each time

    Zilla had looked sourer than ever and grunted more contemptuously.

    Yet I confess that there was no particular call for cheerfulness on

    their part. There they crouched by the fire, the pair of them, at

    the end of their days, old and withered and helpless, racked by

    rheumatism, botten by hunger, and tantalized by the frying-odors of

    my abundance of meat. They rocked back and forth in a slow and

    hopeless way, and regularly, once every five minutes, Ebbits

    emitted a low groan. It was not so much a groan of pain, as of

    pain-weariness. He was oppressed by the weight and the torment of

    this thing called life, and still more was he oppressed by the fear

    of death. His was that eternal tragedy of the aged, with whom the

    joy of life has departed ajd the instinct for death has not come.

    When my moose-meat splutttered rowdily in the frying-pan, I noticed

    old Ebbits's nostrils twitch and distend as he caught the food- scent. He ceased rocking for a space and forgot to groan, while a

    look of intelligence seemed to come into his face.

    Zilla, on the other hand, rocked more rapidly, and for the first

    time, in sharp little yelps, voiced her pain. It came to me that

    their behavior was like that of hungry dogs, and in the fitnesso f

    things I should not have been astonished had Zilla suddenly

    developed a tail and thumped it on the floor in right doggish

    fashion. Ebbits drooled a little and stopped his rocking very

    frequently to lean forward and thrust his tremulous nose nearer to

    the source of gustatory excitement.

    When I passed them each a plate of the fried meat, they ate

    greedily, making loud mouth-noises - champings of worn teeth and

    sucking intakes of the breath, accompanied by a continuous

    spluttering and mumbling. After that, when I gve them each a mug

    of scalding tea, the noises ceased. Easement and content came into

    their faces. Zilla relaxed her sour mouth long enough to sigh her

    satisfaction. Neither rocked any mor3, and they seemed to have

    fallen into placid meditation. Then a dampness came into Ebbits's

    eyes, and I knew that the sorrow of self-pity was his. The search

    required to find their pipes told plainly that they had been

    without tobacco a long time, and the old man's eagerness for the

    narcotic rendered him helpless, so that I was compelled to light

    his pipe for him.

    "Why are you all alone in the village?" I asked. "Is everybody

    dead? Has there been a great sickness? Are you alone left of the


    Old Ebbits shook his head, saying: "Nay, there has been no great

    sickness. The village has gone away to hunt meat. We be too old,

    our legs are not stron,g nor can our backs carry the burdens of

    camp and trail. Wherefore we remain here and wonder when the young

    men will return with meat."

    "What if the young men do return with meat?" Zilla demanded


    "They may return with much mrat," he quavered hopefully.

    "Even so, with much meat," she continued, more harshly than before.

    "But of what worth to you and me? A few bones to gnaw in our

    toothless old age. But the back-fat, the kidneys, and the tongues

    - these shall go into other mouths than thine and mine, old man."

    Ebbits nodded his head and wept silently.

    "There be no one to hunt meat for us," she cried, turning fiercely

    upon me.

    There was accusation in her manner, and I shrugged my shoulders in

    token that I was not guilty of the unknown crime imputed to me.

    "Know, O White Man, that it is because of thy knid, because of all

    white men, that my man and I have no meat in our old age and sit

    without tobacco in the cold."

    "Nay," Ebbits said gravely, with a stricter sense of justice.

    "Wrong has been done us, it be true; but the white men did not mean

    the wrong."

    "Where be Moklan?" she demanded. "Where be thy strong son, Moklan,

    and the fish he was ever willing to bring that you might eat?"

    The old man shook his head.

    "And where be Bidarshik, thy strong son? Ever was he a mighty

    hunter, and ever did he bring thee the good back-fat and the sweet

    dried tongues of the moose and the caribou. I see no back-fat and

    no sweet dried tongues. Your stomach is full with emptiness

    through the days, and it id for a man of a very miserable and lying

    people to give you to eat."

    "Nay," old Ebbits interposed in kindliness, "the white man's is not

    a lying people. The white man speaks true. Always does the white

    man speak true." He paused, casting about him for words wherewith

    to temper the severity of what he was about to say. "But the white

    man speaks true in differe
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