« AnteriorContinuar »
him some terrible wrong. Then north. He looked into every he returned and shouldered his pool of water vainly, until, as pack.
the long twilight came on, he As the day wore along he discovered a solitary fish, the came into valleys or swales size of a minnow, in such a where game was more plenti- pool. He plunged his arm in ful. A band of caribou passed up to the shoulder, but it eluded by, twenty and odd animals, him. He reached forit with both tantalisingly within rifle range. hands, and stirred up the milky He felt a wild desire to run mud at the bottom. In his exafter them, a certitude that he citement he fell in, wetting could run them down. A black himself to the waist. Then fox came toward him carrying the water was too muddy to a ptarmigan in his mouth. The admit of his seeing the fish, man shouted. It was a fearful and he was compelled to wait cry, but the fox, leaping away until the sediment had settled. in fright, did not drop the The pursuit was renewed till ptarmigan.
the water was again muddied. Late in the afternoon he fol. But he could not wait. He lowed a stream, milky with unstrapped the tin bucket and lime, which ran through sparse began to bale the pool. He patches of rush-grass. Grasp- baled wildly at first, splashing ing these rushes firmly near himself and flinging the water the root, he pulled up what so short a distance that it ran resembled a young onion-sprout back into the pool. He worked no larger than a shingle-nail. more carefully, striving to be It was tender, and his teeth cool, though his heart was sank into it with a crunch that pounding against his chest and promised deliciously of food. his hands were trembling. At But its fibres were tough. It the end of half an hour the was composed of stringy fila- pool was nearly dry, not ments, saturated with water cupful of water remained, and like the berries, and devoid of there was no fish. He found a nourishment. But he threw hidden crevice among the stones off his pack and went into the through which it had escaped rush-grass on hands and knees, to the adjoining and larger pool crunching and munching like -a pool which he could not some bovine creature.
empty in a night and a day. He was very weary, and Had he known of the crevice often wished to rest—to lie he could have closed it with a down and sleep; but he was rock at the beginning, and the continually driven on, not so fish would have been his. much by his desire to gain the Thus he thought, and crumland of little sticks as by his pled up and sank down upon hunger. He searched small the wet earth. At first he ponds for frogs, and dug up the cried softly, to himself, then earth with his nails for worms, he cried loudly, to the pitithough he knew that neither less desolation that ringed frogs nor worms existed so far him around; and for a long
time after he was shaken by through the wet snow to the great dry sobs.
watery muskeg - berries, and He built a fire and warmed went by feel as he pulled up himself by drinking quarts of the rush - grass by the roots. hot water, and made camp on But it was tasteless stuff and a rocky ledge in the same did not satisfy. He found a fashion he had the night be- weed that tasted sour, and he fore. The last thing he did ate all he could find of it, was to see that his matches which was not much, for it were
dry and to wind his was a creeping growth, easily watch. The blankets were wet hidden under the
several inches and clammy. His ankle pulsed of snow. with pain. But he knew only He had no fire that night, that he hungry, and nor hot water, and crawled through his restless sleep he under his blanket to sleep the dreamed of feasts and banquets broken hunger-sleep. The snow and of food served and spread turned into a cold rain. He in all imaginable ways.
awakened many times to feel He awoke, chilled and sick. it falling on his upturned face. There was no sun. The grey Day came—a grey day and no of earth and sky had become sun. It had ceased raining. deeper, more profound. A raw The keenness of his hunger had wind was blowing, and the departed. Sensibility, so far first flurries of
as concerned the yearning for whitening the hill-tops. The food, had been exhausted. air about him thickened and There was a dull, heavy ache grew white while he made a in his stomach, but it did not fire and boiled more water. It bother him so much. He was was wet snow, half rain, and more rational, and once more the flakes were large. At first he was chiefly interested in the they melted as soon as they land of little sticks and the came in contact with the earth, cache by the river Dease. but more ever fell, covering the He ripped the remnant of ground, putting out the fire, one of his blankets into strips spoiling his supply of moss-fuel
. and bound his bleeding feet. This was the signal for him Also, he re-cinched the injured to strapon his pack and ankle and prepared himself for stumble onward, he knew not a day of travel. When he where. He was not concerned came to his pack he paused with the land of little sticks, long over the squat moose-hide nor with Bill and the cache sack, but in the end it went under the upturned canoe by with him. the river Dease. He was mas- The snow had melted under tered by the verb “to eat.” the rain, and only the hill-tops He was hunger-mad. He took showed white. The sun came no heed of the course he pur- out, and he succeeded in locatsued, so long as that course ing the points of the compass, led him through the swale though he knew now that he bottoms. He felt his way was lost. Perhaps, in his prev
ious days' wanderings, he had more than ten miles that day, edged away too far to the left. and the next day, travelling He now bore off to the right to whenever his heart permitted counteract the possible devia- him, he covered no more than tion from his true course. five miles. But his stomach
Though the hunger pangs did not give him the slightest were no longer so exquisite, he uneasiness.
It had gone to realised that he was weak. He sleep. He was in a strange was compelled to pause for country, too, and the caribou frequent rests when he at- were growing more plentiful, tacked the muskeg-berries and also the wolves. Often their rush-grass patches. His tongue yelps drifted across the desolafelt dry and large, as though tion, and once he saw three of covered with fine hairy them slinking away before his growth, and it tasted bitter path. in his mouth. His heart gave
Another night, and in the him a great deal of trouble. morning, being more rational, When he had travelled a few he untied the leather string minutes it would begin a re- that fastened the squat moosemorseless thump, thump, thump, hide sack.
From its open and then leap up and away in mouth poured a yellow stream a painful flutter of beats that of coarse gold-dust and nuggets. choked him and made him go He roughly divided the gold in faint and dizzy.
halves, caching one half on a In the middle of the day he prominent ledge, wrapped in a found two minnows in a large piece of blanket, and returning pool. It was impossible to bale the other half to the sack. He it, but he was calmer now and also began to use strips of the managed to catch them in his one remaining blanket for his tin bucket. They were no feet. He still clung to his gun, longer than his little finger, for there were cartridges in but he was not particularly that cache by the river Dease. hungry. The dull ache in his This was a day of fog, and stomach had been growing this day hunger awoke in him duller and fainter. It seemed again. He
was very weak, almost that his stomach was and was afflicted with a giddidozing He ate the fish raw, ness which at times blinded masticating with painstaking him.
no uncommon care, for the eating was a pure thing now to stumble and act of reason. While he had fall; and stumbling once, he no desire to eat, he knew that fell squarely into a ptarmigan he must eat to live.
nest. There were four newlyIn the evening he caught hatched chicks, a day old, little three more minnows, eating specks of pulsating life, no two and saving the third for more than a mouthful, and he breakfast. The sun had dried ate them, ravenously, thrust. stray shreds of moss, and he ing them alive into his mouth was able to warm himself with and crunching them like egghot water. He had not covered shells between his teeth. The
mother ptarmigan beat about then he rolled over on his side, him with great outcry. He used wound his watch, and lay there his gun as a club with which until morning. to knock her over, but she Another day of fog. Half dodged out of reach. He threw of his last blanket had gone stones at her, and with one into foot-wrappings. He failed chance shot broke a wing. to pick up Bill's trail. It did Then she fluttered away, run
not matter. His hunger was ning, trailing the broken wing, driving him too compellingly, with him in pursuit.
only . . . only he wondered The little chicks had no more if Bill, too, were lost. By midthan whetted his appetite. He day the irk of his pack became hopped and bobbed clumsily too oppressive. Again he along on his injured ankle, divided the gold, this time throwing stones and screaming merely spilling half of it on hoarsely at times; at other the ground. În the afternoon times hopping and bobbing he threw the rest of it away, silently along, picking himself there remaining to him only up grimly and patiently when the half-blanket, the tin bucket, he fell, or rubbing his eyes with and the rifle. his hand when the giddiness A hallucination began to threatened to overpower him. trouble him. He felt confident The chase led him
that one cartridge remained to swampy ground in the bottom him. It was in the chamber of of the valley, and he came the rifle, and he had overlooked upon footprints in the moss. it. On the other hand, he knew They were not his own, - he all the time that the chamber could see that. They must be was empty. But the halluciBill's. But he could not stop, nation persisted. He fought it for the mother ptarmigan was off for hours, then threw his running on. He would catch rifle open and was confronted her first, then he would return with emptiness.
The disapand investigate.
pointment was as bitter as He exhausted the mother though he had really expected ptarmigan ; but he exhausted to find the cartridge. himself. She lay panting on He plodded on for half an her side. He lay panting on hour, when the hallucination his side, a dozen feet away, arose again. Again he fought unable to crawl to her. And it, and still it persisted, till for as he recovered, she recovered, very relief he opened his rifle fluttering out of reach as his to unconvince himself. At hungry hand went out to her times his mind wandered The chase was resumed. Night farther afield, and he plodded settled down, and she escaped. on, a mere automaton, strange He stumbled from weakness conceits and whimsicalities and pitched headforemost on gnawing at his brain like his face, cutting his cheek, his worms. But these excursions pack upon his back. He did out of the real were of brief not move for a long while; duration, for ever the pangs
of the hunger-bite called him the courage of the cornered back. He was jerked back rat. He, too, growled — sav. abruptly, once, from such an agely, terribly, voicing the excursion, by a sight that fear that is to life germane, caused him nearly to faint. and that lies twisted about He reeled and swayed, dodder- life's deepest roots. ing like a drunken man to keep The bear edged away to one from falling. Before him stood side, growling menacingly, hima horse. A horse! He could self appalled by this mysterious not believe his eyes. A thick creature that appeared upright mist was in them, intershot and unafraid. But the man with sparkling points of light. did not move. He stood like He rubbed his eyes savagely to a statue till the danger was clear his vision, and beheld, past, when he yielded to a fit not a horse, but a great brown of trembling and sank down bear. The animal was study- into the wet moss. ing him with bellicose curiosity. He pulled himself together
The man had brought his and went on, afraid now in a gun half way to his shoulder
new way. It was not the fear before he realised. He lowered that he should die passively it, and drew his hunting-knife from lack of food, but that from its beaded sheath at his he should be destroyed viohip. Before him was meat and lently before starvation had life. He ran his thumb along exhausted the last particle of the edge of his knife. It was the endeavour in him that sharp; the point was sharp. made toward surviving. There He would fling himself upon were the wolves. Back and the bear and kill it. But his forth across the desolation heart began its warning thump, drifted their howls, weaving thump, thump. Then followed the very air into a fabric of the wild upward leap and menace that was so tangible tattoo of flutters, the pressing that he found himself, arms as of an iron band about his in the air, pressing it back forehead, the creeping of the from him as it might be the dizziness into his brain.
walls of a wind-blown tent. His desperate courage was
Now and again the wolves, evicted by a great surge of in packs of two and three, fear. In his weakness, what crossed his path.
But they if the animal attacked him ! sheered clear of him. They He drew himself up to his were not in sufficient numbers ; most imposing stature, grip- and, besides, they were huntping the knife and staring ing the caribou, which did not hard at the bear, The bear battle, while this strange creaadvanced clumsily a couple of ture that walked erect might steps, reared up, and gave
scratch and bite. vent to a tentative growl. If In the late afternoon he came the man ran, he would run upon scattered bones where the after him. But the man did wolves had made a kill. The not run. He was animated débris had been a caribou calf now with the courage of fear, an hour before, squawking and