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LOVE OF LIFE.
BY JACK LONDON.
"This out of all will remain,
They have lived and have tossed,
Though the gold of the dice has been lost."
They limped painfully down The man who followed slipped the bank, and once the fore on a smooth boulder, nearly most of the two inen staggered fell, but recovered himself with among the rough-strewn rocks. a violent effort, at the same They were tired and weak, and time uttering a sharp exclamatheir faces had the drawn ex- tion of pain. He seemed faint pression of patience which and dizzy, and put out his free comes of hardship long en- hand, while he reeled as though dured. They were heavily seeking support against the air. burdened with blanket packs When he had steadied himself which were strapped to their he stepped forward, but reeled shoulders. Head-straps pass- again and nearly fell. Then ing across the forehead helped he stood still and looked at to support these packs. Each
Each the other man, who had never man carried
They turned his head. walked in a stooping posture, The man stood still for fully the shoulders well forward, the a minute, as though debating head still farther forward, the with himself. Then he called eyes bent upon the ground. out
“I wish we had just about “I say, Bill, I've sprained two of them cartridges that's my ankle.” layin' in that cache of ourn, Bill staggered on through said the second man.
the milky water. He did not His voice was utterly and look round. The man watched drearily expressionless. He him go, and though his face spoke
without enthusiasm. was expressionless as ever, his But the first man, limping eyes were like the eyes of a into the milky stream that wounded deer waiting the final foamed over the rocks, vouch- slaughter. safed no reply.
The other man limped up the The other man followed at farther bank and continued his heels. They did not re- straight on without looking move their footgear though the back. The man in the stream water was icy cold,-so cold watched him. His lips trembled that their ankles ached and a little, so that the rough thatch their feet went numb. In of brown hair which covered places the water dashed against them was visibly agitated. their knees, and both men stag- His tongue even strayed out gered for footing.
to moisten them.
“Bill !” he cried out.
him. It was not a heartening It was the pleading cry of spectacle. Everywhere a strong man in distress, but soft sky-line. The hills were Bill's head did not turn. The all low-lying. There were no man watched him go, limping trees, no shrubs, no grasses, grotesquely and lurching for- naught but a tremendous and ward with stammering gait terrible desolation that sent up the slope toward the soft fear swiftly dawning into his sky-line of the low-lying hill. eyes. He watched him go till he “Bill!” he whispered, once, passed over the crest and dis- and twice—“Bill!" appeared. Then he turned his He cowered in the midst of gaze and slowly took in the the milky water as though circle of the world that re the vastness were pressing in mained to him, now that Bill upon him with overwhelming was gone.
force, brutally crushing him Near the horizon the sun was with its complacent awfulness. smouldering dimly, almost ob- He began to shake, as with an scured by formless mists and ague-fit, till the gun fell from vapours which gave an im- his hand with a splash. This pression of mass and density served to
him. He without outline or tangibility. fought with his fear and pulled The man pulled out his watch, himself together, groping in the while resting his weight the water and recovering the one leg.
Нө hitched his o'clock, and as the season was pack farther over on his left near the last of July or first shoulder, so as to take a porof August, -he did not know tion of its weight from off the the precise date within a week injured ankle. Then he proor two,-he knew that the sun ceeded, slowly and carefully, roughly marked the north-west. wincing with pain, to the He looked to the south and bank. knew that somewhere beyond He did not stop.
With a those bleak hills lay the Great desperation that was madness, Bear Lake; also, he knew that unmindful of the pain, he in that direction the Arctic hurried up the slope to the Circle cut its forbidding way crest of the hill over which across the Canadian Barrens. his comrade had disappearedThis stream in which he stood more grotesque and comical by was a feeder to the Copper- far than that limping, jerking mine River, which, in turn, comrade. But at the crest he flowed north and emptied into saw a shallow valley, empty Coronation Gulf and the Arctic of life. He fought with his Ocean. He had never been fear again, overcame it, hitched there, but he had seen it once the pack still farther over on on a Hudson Bay Company his left shoulder, and lurched chart.
on down the slope. Again his gaze completed The bottom of the valley was the circle of the world about soggy with water, which the
thick moss held, sponge-like, Dease to the Great Bear Lake. close to the surface. This And south across the lake they water squirted out from under would go, ever south, till they his feet at every step, and gained the Mackenzie. And each time he lifted a foot the south, still south, they would action culminated in a sucking go, — while the winter raced sound as the wet moss reluct- vainly after them, and the antly released its grip. He ice formed in the eddies, and picked his way from muskeg the days grew chill and crisp,to muskeg, and followed the south to some warm Hudson Bay other man's footsteps along Company post, where timber and across the rocky ledges grew tall and generous and which thrust like islets through there was grub without end. the sea of moss.
These were the thoughts of Though alone, he was not the man as he strove onward. lost. Farther on he knew he But hard as he strove with his would come to where dead body, he strove equally hard spruce and fir, very small and with his mind, trying to think shrivelled, bordered the shore that Bill had not deserted him, of a little lake, the tit-chin- that Bill would surely wait for nichilie in the tongue of the him at the cache.
He was country, the “land of little compelled to think this thought, sticks.' And into that lake or else there would not be any flowed a small stream, the use to strive, and he would water of which was not milky. have lain down and died. And There was rush-grass on that as the dim ball of the sun sank stream,--this he remembered slowly into the north-northwell,—but no timber, and he west, he covered every inch, would follow it till its first and many times, of his and trickle ceased at a divide. He Bill's flight south before the would cross this divide to the down-coming winter. first trickle of another stream conned the grub of the cache flowing to the west, which he and the grub of the Hudson would follow until it emptied Bay Company post over and into the river Dease; and here over again, this man, for he he would find a cache, under was very hungry. He had an upturned canoe and piled not eaten for two days; for a over with many rocks. And far longer time he had not had in this cache would be am- all he wanted to eat. Often munition for his empty gun, he stooped and picked pale fish-hooks and lines, a small muskeg-berries, put them into net-all the utilities for the his mouth, and chewed and killing and snaring of food. swallowed them. A muskegAlso, he would find flour,--not berry is a bit of seed enclosed much, a piece of bacon, and in a bit of water. In the some beans.
mouth the water melts away Bill would be waiting for and the seed chews sharp and him there, and they would bitter. The man knew there paddle away south, down the was no nourishment in the
VOL. CLXXVIII. —NO. MLXXXII.
berries, but he chewed them and bound the ankle tightly. patiently, with a hope greater He tore other strips and bound than knowledge and defying them about his feet to serve experience.
for both moccasins and socks. At nine o'clock he stubbed Then he drank the pot of his toe on a rocky ledge, and water, steaming hot, wound from sheer weariness and weak- his watch, and crawled between ness staggered and fell. He his blankets. lay for some time, without He slept like a dead man. movement, on his side. Then The brief darkness around midhe slipped out of the pack- night came and went. The straps and clumsily dragged sun arose in the north-northhimself into a sitting posture. east—at least, the day dawned It was not yet dark, and in in that quarter, for the sun the lingering twilight he groped was hidden by grey clouds. about among the rocks for At six o'clock he awoke, shreds of dry moss. When he quietly, lying on his back. He had gathered a heap he built gazed straight up into the a fire,-a smouldering, smudgy grey sky and knew that he fire,-and put a tin pot of was hungry. As he rolled water on to boil.
on his elbow he was He unwrapped his pack, and startled by a loud snort, and the first thing he did was to saw a bull caribou regarding count his matches. There him with alert curiosity. The were sixty-seven. He counted animal was not more than them three times to make sure. fifty feet away, and instantly He divided them into several into the man's mind leaped portions, wrapping them in oil the vision and the savour of paper, disposing of one bunch a caribou steak sizzling and in his empty tobacco - pouch, frying over a fire. Mechanicof another bunch in the inside ally he reached for the empty band of his battered hat, of a gun, drew a bead, and pulled third bunch under his shirt on the trigger. The bull snorted the chest. This accomplished, and leaped away, his hoofs a panic came upon him, and rattling and clattering as he he unwrapped them all and fled across the ledges. counted them again. There The man cursed and flung were still sixty-seven.
the empty gun from him. He He dried his wet foot-gear groaned aloud as he started by the fire. The moccasins to drag himself to his feet. It were in sodden shreds. The was a slow and arduous task. blanket socks
like rusty through in places, and his feet hinges. They worked harshly were raw and bleeding. His in their sockets, with much ankle was throbbing, and he friction, and each bending or gave it an examination. It unbending was accomplished had swollen to the size of his only through a sheer exertion knee. He tore a long strip of will. When he finally gained from one of his two blankets his feet, another minute or so
was consumed in straightening eat muskeg-berries. His ankle up so that he could stand erect had stiffened, his limp was as a man should stand.
more pronounced; but the pain He crawled up a small knoll of it was as nothing compared and surveyed the prospect. with the pain of his stomach. There were no trees, no bushes, The hunger pangs were sharp. nothing but a grey sea of moss They gnawed and gnawed until scarcely diversified by grey he could not keep his mind rocks, grey-coloured lakelets, steady on the course he must and grey streamlets. The sky pursue to gain the land of was grey. There was no sun little sticks. The muskegor hint of sun. He had no berries did not allay this gnawidea of north, and he had for- ing, while they made his tongue gotten the way he had come and the roof of his mouth sore to this spot the night before. with their irritating bite. But he was not lost. He He came upon a valley where knew that. Soon he would rock ptarmigan rose on whirrcome to the land of the little ing wings from the ledges and sticks. He felt that it lay off muskegs. “Ker-ker-ker” to the left, somewhere, not far, was the cry they made. He possibly just over the next low threw stones at them, but could hill.
not hit them. He placed his He went back to put his pack on the ground and stalked pack into shape for travelling. them as a cat stalks a sparrow. He assured himself of the ex- The sharp rocks cut through the istence of his three separate legs of his pants till his knees parcels of matches, though he left a trail of blood. But the did not stop to count them. hurt was lost in the hurt of But he did linger, debating his hunger. He squirmed over over a squat moose-hide sack. the wet moss, saturating his It was not large. He could clothes and chilling his body, hide it under his two hands. but he was not aware of it, so He knew that it weighed fifteen great was his fever for food. pounds, -as much as all the rest And always the ptarmigan rose of the pack,—and it worried whirring before him, till their him. He finally set it to one “ker — ker -- ker” became a side and proceeded to roll the mock to him, and he cursed pack. Ho paused to gaze at them and cried aloud at them the squat moose-hide sack. He with their own cry. picked it up hastily, with a Once he crawled upon one defiant glance about him, as that must have been asleep. though the desolation were He did not see it till it shot up trying to rob him of it; and in his face from its rocky nook. when he arose to his feet to He made a clutch as startled stagger on into the day it was as was the rise of the ptarincluded in the pack on his migan, and there remained in back.
his hand three tail - feathers. He bore away to the left, As he watched its flight he stopping now and again to hated it as though it had done