"This out of all will remain -
They have lived and have tossed:
So much of the game will be gain,
Though the gold of the dice has been lost."
THEY limped painfully down the bank, and once the foremost of the
two men staggered among the rough-strewn rocks. They were tired
and weak, and their faces had the drawn expression of patience
which comes of hardship long endured. They were heavily burdened
with blanket packs which were strapped to their shoulders. Head-
straps, passing across the forehead, helped support these packs.
Each man carried a rifle. They walked in a stooped posture, the
shoulders well forward, the head still farther forward, the eyes
bent upon the ground.
"I wish we had just about two of them cartridges that's layin' in
that cache of ourn," said the second man.
His voice was utterly and drearily expressionless. He spoke
without enthusiasm; and the first man, limping into the milky
stream that foamed over the rocks, vouchsafed no reply.
The other man followed at his heels. They did not remove their
foot-gear, though the water was icy cold - so cold that their
ankles ached and their feet went numb. In places the water dashed
against their knees, and both men staggered for footing.
The man who followed slipped on a smooth boulder, nearly fell, but
recovered himself with a violent effort, at the same time uttering
a sharp exclamation of pain. He seemed faint and dizzy and put out
his free hand while he reeled, as though seeking support against
the air. When he had steadied himself he stepped forward, but
reeled again and nearly fell. Then he stood still and looked at
the other man, who had never turned his head.
The man stood still for fully a minute, as though debating with
himself. Then he called out:
"I say, Bill, I've sprained my ankle."
Bill staggered on through the milky water. He did not look around.
The man watched him go, and though his face was expressionless as
ever, his eyes were like the eyes of a wounded deer.
The other man limped up the farther bank and continued straight on
without looking back. The man in the stream watched him. His lips
trembled a little, so that the rough thatch of brown hair which
covered them was visibly agitated. His tongue even strayed out to
"Bill!" he cried out.
It was the pleading cry of a strong man in distress, but Bill's
head did not turn. The man watched him go, limping grotesquely and
lurching forward with stammering gait up the slow slope toward the
soft sky-line of the low-lying hill. He watched him go till he
passed over the crest and disappeared. Then he turned his gaze and
slowly took in the circle of the world that remained to him now
that Bill was gone.
Near the horizon the sun was smouldering dimly, almost obscured by
formless mists and vapors, which gave an impression of mass and
density without outline or tangibility. The man pulled out his
watch, the while resting his weight on one leg. It was four
o'clock, and as the season was near the last of July or first of
August, - he did not know the precise date within a week or two, -
he knew that the sun roughly marked the northwest. He looked to
the south and knew that somewhere beyond those bleak hills lay the
Great Bear Lake; also, he knew that in that direction the Arctic
Circle cut its forbidding way across the Canadian Barrens. This
stream in which he stood was a feeder to the Coppermine River,
which in turn flowed north and emptied into Coronation Gulf and the
Arctic Ocean. He had never been there, but he had seen it, once,
on a Hudson Bay Company chart.
Again his gaze completed the circle of the world about him. It was
not a heartening spectacle. Everywhere was soft sky-line. The
hills were all low-lying. There were no trees, no shrubs, no
grasses - naught but a tremendous and terrible desolation that sent
fear swiftly dawning into his eyes.
"Bill!" he whispered, once and twice; "Bill!"
He cowered in the midst of the milky water, as though the vastness
were pressing in upon him with overwhelming force, brutally
crushing him with its complacent awfulness. He began to shake as
with an ague-fit, till the gun fell from his hand with a splash.
This served to rouse him. He fought with his fear and pulled
himself together, groping in the water and recovering the weapon.
He hitched his pack farther over on his left shoulder, so as to
take a portion of its weight from off the injured ankle. Then he
proceeded, slowly and carefully, wincing with pain, to the bank.
He did not stop. With a desperation that was madness, unmindful of
the pain, he hurried up the slope to the crest of the hill over
which his comrade had disappeared - more grotesque and comical by
far than that limping, jerking comrade. But at the crest he saw a
shallow valley, empty of life. He fought with his fear again,
overcame it, hitched the pack still farther over on his left
shoulder, and lurched on down the slope.
The bottom of the valley was soggy with water, which the thick moss
held, spongelike, close to the surface. This water squirted out
from under his feet at every step, and each time he lifted a foot
the action culminated in a sucking sound as the wet moss
reluctantly released its grip. He picked his way from muskeg to
muskeg, and followed the other man's footsteps along and across the
rocky ledges which thrust like islets through the sea of moss.
Though alone, he was not lost. Farther on he knew he would come to
where dead spruce and fir, very small and weazened, bordered the
shore of a little lake, the TITCHIN-NICHILIE, in the tongue of the
country, the "land of little sticks." And into that lake flowed a
small stream, the water of which was not milky. There was rush-
grass on that stream - this he remembered well - but no timber, and
he would follow it till its first trickle ceased at a divide. He
would cross this divide to the first trickle of another stream,
flowing to the west, which he would follow until it emptied into
the river Dease, and here he would find a cache under an upturned
canoe and piled over with many rocks. And in this cache would be
ammunition for his empty gun, fish-hooks and lines, a small net -
all the utilities for the killing and snaring of food. Also, he
would find flour, - not much, - a piece of bacon, and some beans.
Bill would be waiting for him there, and they would paddle away
south down the Dease to the Great Bear Lake. And south across the
lake they would go, ever south, till they gained the Mackenzie.
And south, still south, they would go, while the winter raced
vainly after them, and the ice formed in the eddies, and the days
grew chill and crisp, south to some warm Hudson Bay Company post,
where timber grew tall and generous and there was grub without end.
These were the thoughts of the man as he strove onward. But hard
as he strove with his body, he strove equally hard with his mind,
trying to think that Bill had not deserted him, that Bill would
surely wait for him at the cache. He was compelled to think this
thought, or else there would not be any use to strive, and he would
have lain down and died. And as the dim ball of the sun sank
slowly into the northwest he covered every inch - and many times -
of his and Bill's flight south before the downcoming winter. And
he conned the grub of the cache and the grub of the Hudson Bay
Company post over and over again. He had not eaten for two days;
for a far longer time he had not had all he wanted to eat. Often
he stooped and picked pale muskeg berries, put them into his mouth,
and chewed and swallowed them. A muskeg berry is a bit of seed
enclosed in a bit of water. In the mouth the water melts away and
the seed chews sharp and bitter. The man knew there was no
nourishment in the berries, but he chewed them patiently with a
hope greater than knowledge and defying experience.
At nine o'clock he stubbed his toe on a rocky ledge, and from sheer
weariness and weakness staggered and fell. He lay for some time,
without movement, on his side. Then he slipped out of the pack-
straps and clumsily dragged himself into a sitting posture. It was
not yet dark, and in the lingering twilight he groped about among
the rocks for shreds of dry moss. When he had gathered a heap he
built a fire, - a smouldering, smudgy fire, - and put a tin pot of
water on to boil.
He unwrapped his pack and the first thing he did was to count his
matches. There were sixty-seven. He counted them three times to
make sure. He divided them into several portions, wrapping them in
oil paper, disposing of one bunch in his empty tobacco pouch, of
another bunch in the inside band of his battered hat, of a third
bunch under his shirt on the chest. This accomplished, a panic
came upon him, and he unwrapped them all and counted them again.
There were still sixty-seven.
He dried his wet foot-gear by the fire. The moccasins were in
soggy shreds. The blanket socks were worn through in places, and
his feet were raw and bleeding. His ankle was throbbing, and he
gave it an examination. It had swollen to the size of his knee.
He tore a long strip from one of his two blankets and bound the
ankle tightly. He tore other strips and bound them about his feet
to serve for both moccasins and socks. Then he drank the pot of
water, steaming hot, wound his watch, and crawled between his
He slept like a dead man. The brief darkness around midnight came
and went. The sun arose in the northeast - at least the day dawned
in that quarter, for the sun was hidden by gray clouds.
At six o'clock he awoke, quietly lying on his back. He gazed
straight up into the gray sky and knew that he was hungry. As he
rolled over on his elbow he was startled by a loud snort, and saw a
bull caribou regarding him with alert curiosity. The animal was
not mere than fifty feet away, and instantly into the man's mind
leaped the vision and the savor of a caribou steak sizzling and
frying over a fire. Mechanically he reached for the empty gun,
drew a bead, and pulled the trigger. The bull snorted and leaped
away, his hoofs rattling and clattering as he fled across the
The man cursed and flung the empty gun from him. He groaned aloud
as he started to drag himself to his feet. It was a slow and
His joints were like rusty hinges. They worked harshly in their
sockets, with much friction, and each bending or unbending was
accomplished only through a sheer exertion of will. When he
finally gained his feet, another minute or so was consumed in
straightening up, so that he could stand erect as a man should
He crawled up a small knoll and surveyed the prospect. There were
no trees, no bushes, nothing but a gray sea of moss scarcely
diversified by gray rocks, gray lakelets, and gray streamlets. The
sky was gray. There was no sun nor hint of sun. He had no idea of
north, and he had forgotten the way he had come to this spot the
night before. But he was not lost. He knew that. Soon he would
come to the land of the little sticks. He felt that it lay off to
the left somewhere, not far - possibly just over the next low hill.
He went back to put his pack into shape for travelling. He assured
himself of the existence of his three separate parcels of matches,
though he did not stop to count them. But he did linger, debating,
over a squat moose-hide sack. It was not large. He could hide it
under his two hands. He knew that it weighed fifteen pounds, - as
much as all the rest of the pack, - and it worried him. He finally
set it to one side and proceeded to roll the pack. He paused to
gaze at the squat moose-hide sack. He picked it up hastily with a
defiant glance about him, as though the desolation were trying to
rob him of it; and when he rose to his feet to stagger on into the
day, it was included in the pack on his back.
He bore away to the left, stopping now and again to eat muskeg
berries. His ankle had stiffened, his limp was more pronounced,
but the pain of it was as nothing compared with the pain of his
stomach. The hunger pangs were sharp. They gnawed and gnawed
until he could not keep his mind steady on the course he must
pursue to gain the land of little sticks. The muskeg berries did
not allay this gnawing, while they made his tongue and the roof of
his mouth sore with their irritating bite.
He came upon a valley where rock ptarmigan rose on whirring wings
from the ledges and muskegs. Ker - ker - ker was the cry they
made. He threw stones at them, but could not hit them. He placed
his pack on the ground and stalked them as a cat stalks a sparrow.
The sharp rocks cut through his pants' legs till his knees left a
trail of blood; but the hurt was lost in the hurt of his hunger.
He squirmed over the wet moss, saturating his clothes and chilling
his body; but he was not aware of it, so great was his fever for
food. And always the ptarmigan rose, whirring, before him, till
their ker - ker - ker became a mock to him, and he cursed them and
cried aloud at them with their own cry.
Once he crawled upon one that must have been asleep. He did not
see it till it shot up in his face from its rocky nook. He made a
clutch as startled as was the rise of the ptarmigan, and there
remained in his hand three tail-feathers. As he watched its flight
he hated it, as though it had done him some terrible wrong. Then
he returned and shouldered his pack.
As the day wore along he came into valleys or swales where game was
more plentiful. A band of caribou passed by, twenty and odd
animals, tantalizingly within rifle range. He felt a wild desire
to run after them, a certitude that he could run them down. A
black fox came toward him, carrying a ptarmigan in his mouth. The
man shouted. It was a fearful cry, but the fox, leaping away in
fright, did not drop the ptarmigan.
Late in the afternoon he followed a stream, milky with lime, which
ran through sparse patches of rush-grass. Grasping these rushes
firmly near the root, he pulled up what resembled a young onion-
sprout no larger than a shingle-nail. It was tender, and his teeth
sank into it with a crunch that promised deliciously of food. But
its fibers were tough. It was composed of stringy filaments
saturated with water, like the berries, and devoid of nourishment.
He threw off his pack and went into the rush-grass on hands and
knees, crunching and munching, like some bovine creature.
He was very weary and often wished to rest - to lie down and sleep;
but he was continually driven on - not so much by his desire to
gain the land of little sticks as by his hunger. He searched
little ponds for frogs and dug up the earth with his nails for
worms, though he knew in spite that neither frogs nor worms existed
so far north.
He looked into every pool of water vainly, until, as the long
twilight came on, he discovered a solitary fish, the size of a
minnow, in such a pool. He plunged his arm in up to the shoulder,
but it eluded him. He reached for it with both hands and stirred
up the milky mud at the bottom. In his excitement he fell in,
wetting himself to the waist. Then the water was too muddy to
admit of his seeing the fish, and he was compelled to wait until
the sediment had settled.
The pursuit was renewed, till the water was again muddied. But he
could not wait. He unstrapped the tin bucket and began to bale the
pool. He baled wildly at first, splashing himself and flinging the
water so short a distance that it ran back into the pool. He
worked more carefully, striving to be cool, though his heart was
pounding against his chest and his hands were trembling. At the
end of half an hour the pool was nearly dry. Not a cupful of water
remained. And there was no fish. He found a hidden crevice among
the stones through which it had escaped to the adjoining and larger
pool - a pool which he could not empty in a night and a day. Had
he known of the crevice, he could have closed it with a rock at the
beginning and the fish would have been his.
Thus he thought, and crumpled up and sank down upon the wet earth.
At first he cried softly to himself, then he cried loudly to the
pitiless desolation that ringed him around; and for a long time
after he was shaken by great dry sobs.
He built a fire and warmed himself by drinking quarts of hot water,
and made camp on a rocky ledge in the same fashion he had the night
before. The last thing he did was to see that his matches were dry
and to wind his watch. The blankets were wet and clammy. His
ankle pulsed with pain. But he knew only that he was hungry, and
through his restless sleep he dreamed of feasts and banquets and of
food served and spread in all imaginable ways.
He awoke chilled and sick. There was no sun. The gray of earth
and sky had become deeper, more profound. A raw wind was blowing,
and the first flurries of snow were whitening the hilltops. The
air about him thickened and grew white while he made a fire and
boiled more water. It was wet snow, half rain, and the flakes were
large and soggy. At first they melted as soon as they came in
contact with the earth, but ever more fell, covering the ground,
putting out the fire, spoiling his supply of moss-fuel.
This was a signal for him to strap on his pack and stumble onward,
he knew not where. He was not concerned with the land of little
sticks, nor with Bill and the cache under the upturned canoe by the
river Dease. He was mastered by the verb "to eat." He was hunger-
mad. He took no heed of the course he pursued, so long as that
course led him through the swale bottoms. He felt his way through
the wet snow to the watery muskeg berries, and went by feel as he
pulled up the rush-grass by the roots. But it was tasteless stuff
and did not satisfy. He found a weed that tasted sour and he ate
all he could find of it, which was not much, for it was a creeping
growth, easily hidden under the several inches of snow.
He had no fire that night, nor hot water, and crawled under his
blanket to sleep the broken hunger-sleep. The snow turned into a
cold rain. He awakened many times to feel it falling on his
upturned face. Day came - a gray day and no sun. It had ceased
raining. The keenness of his hunger had departed. Sensibility, as
far as concerned the yearning for food, had been exhausted. There
was a dull, heavy ache in his stomach, but it did not bother him so
much. He was more rational, and once more he was chiefly
interested in the land of little sticks and the cache by the river
He ripped the remnant of one of his blankets into strips and bound
his bleeding feet. Also, he recinched the injured ankle and
prepared himself for a day of travel. When he came to his pack, he
paused long over the squat moose-hide sack, but in the end it went
The snow had melted under the rain, and only the hilltops showed
white. The sun came out, and he succeeded in locating the points
of the compass, though he knew now that he was lost. Perhaps, in
his previous days' wanderings, he had edged away too far to the
left. He now bore off to the right to counteract the possible
deviation from his true course.
Though the hunger pangs were no longer so exquisite, he realized
that he was weak. He was compelled to pause for frequent rests,
when he attacked the muskeg berries and rush-grass patches. His
tongue felt dry and large, as though covered with a fine hairy
growth, and it tasted bitter in his mouth. His heart gave him a
great deal of trouble. When he had travelled a few minutes it
would begin a remorseless thump, thump, thump, and then leap up and
away in a painful flutter of beats that choked him and made him go
faint and dizzy.
In the middle of the day he found two minnows in a large pool. It
was impossible to bale it, but he was calmer now and managed to
catch them in his tin bucket. They were no longer than his little
finger, but he was not particularly hungry. The dull ache in his
stomach had been growing duller and fainter. It seemed almost that
his stomach was dozing. He ate the fish raw, masticating with
painstaking care, for the eating was an act of pure reason. While
he had no desire to eat, he knew that he must eat to live.
In the evening he caught three more minnows, eating two and saving
the third for breakfast. The sun had dried stray shreds of moss,
and he was able to warm himself with hot water. He had not covered
more than ten miles that day; and the next day, travelling whenever
his heart permitted him, he covered no more than five miles. But
his stomach did not give him the slightest uneasiness. It had gone
to sleep. He was in a strange country, too, and the caribou were
growing more plentiful, also the wolves. Often their yelps drifted
across the desolation, and once he saw three of them slinking away
before his path.
Another night; and in the morning, being more rational, he untied
the leather string that fastened the squat moose-hide sack. From
its open mouth poured a yellow stream of coarse gold-dust and
nuggets. He roughly divided the gold in halves, caching one half
on a prominent ledge, wrapped in a piece of blanket, and returning
the other half to the sack. He also began to use strips of the one
remaining blanket for his feet. He still clung to his gun, for
there were cartridges in that cache by the river Dease.
This was a day of fog, and this day hunger awoke in him again. He
was very weak and was afflicted with a giddiness which at times
blinded him. It was no uncommon thing now for him to stumble and
fall; and stumbling once, he fell squarely into a ptarmigan nest.
There were four newly hatched chicks, a day old - little specks of
pulsating life no more than a mouthful; and he ate them ravenously,
thrusting them alive into his mouth and crunching them like egg-
shells between his teeth. The mother ptarmigan beat about him with
great outcry. He used his gun as a club with which to knock her
over, but she dodged out of reach. He threw stones at her and with
one chance shot broke a wing. Then she fluttered away, running,
trailing the broken wing, with him in pursuit.
The little chicks had no more than whetted his appetite. He hopped
and bobbed clumsily along on his injured ankle, throwing stones and
screaming hoarsely at times; at other times hopping and bobbing
silently along, picking himself up grimly and patiently when he
fell, or rubbing his eyes with his hand when the giddiness
threatened to overpower him.
The chase led him across swampy ground in the bottom of the valley,
and he came upon footprints in the soggy moss. They were not his
own - he could see that. They must be Bill's. But he could not
stop, for the mother ptarmigan was running on. He would catch her
first, then he would return and investigate.
He exhausted the mother ptarmigan; but he exhausted himself. She
lay panting on her side. He lay panting on his side, a dozen feet
away, unable to crawl to her. And as he recovered she recovered,
fluttering out of reach as his hungry hand went out to her. The
chase was resumed. Night settled down and she escaped. He
stumbled from weakness and pitched head foremost on his face,
cutting his cheek, his pack upon his back. He did not move for a
long while; then he rolled over on his side, wound his watch, and
lay there until morning.
Another day of fog. Half of his last blanket had gone into foot-
wrappings. He failed to pick up Bill's trail. It did not matter.
His hunger was driving him too compellingly - only - only he
wondered if Bill, too, were lost. By midday the irk of his pack
became too oppressive. Again he divided the gold, this time merely
spilling half of it on the ground. In the afternoon he threw the
rest of it away, there remaining to him only the half-blanket, the
tin bucket, and the rifle.
An hallucination began to trouble him. He felt confident that one
cartridge remained to him. It was in the chamber of the rifle and
he had overlooked it. On the other hand, he knew all the time that
the chamber was empty. But the hallucination persisted. He fought
it off for hours, then threw his rifle open and was confronted with
emptiness. The disappointment was as bitter as though he had
really expected to find the cartridge.
He plodded on for half an hour, when the hallucination arose again.
Again he fought it, and still it persisted, till for very relief he
opened his rifle to unconvince himself. At times his mind wandered
farther afield, and he plodded on, a mere automaton, strange
conceits and whimsicalities gnawing at his brain like worms. But
these excursions out of the real were of brief duration, for ever
the pangs of the hunger-bite called him back. He was jerked back
abruptly once from such an excursion by a sight that caused him
nearly to faint. He reeled and swayed, doddering like a drunken
man to keep from falling. Before him stood a horse. A horse! He
could not believe his eyes. A thick mist was in them, intershot
with sparkling points of light. He rubbed his eyes savagely to
clear his vision, and beheld, not a horse, but a great brown bear.
The animal was studying him with bellicose curiosity.
The man had brought his gun halfway to his shoulder before he
realized. He lowered it and drew his hunting-knife from its beaded
sheath at his hip. Before him was meat and life. He ran his thumb
along the edge of his knife. It was sharp. The point was sharp.
He would fling himself upon the bear and kill it. But his heart
began its warning thump, thump, thump. Then followed the wild
upward leap and tattoo of flutters, the pressing as of an iron band
about his forehead, the creeping of the dizziness into his brain.
His desperate courage was evicted by a great surge of fear. In his
weakness, what if the animal attacked him? He drew himself up to
his most imposing stature, gripping the knife and staring hard at
the bear. The bear advanced clumsily a couple of steps, reared up,
and gave vent to a tentative growl. If the man ran, he would run
after him; but the man did not run. He was animated now with the
courage of fear. He, too, growled, savagely, terribly, voicing the
fear that is to life germane and that lies twisted about life's
The bear edged away to one side, growling menacingly, himself
appalled by this mysterious creature that appeared upright and
unafraid. But the man did not move. He stood like a statue till
the danger was past, when he yielded to a fit of trembling and sank
down into the wet moss.
He pulled himself together and went on, afraid now in a new way.
It was not the fear that he should die passively from lack of food,
but that he should be destroyed violently before starvation had
exhausted the last particle of the endeavor in him that made toward
surviving. There were the wolves. Back and forth across the
desolation drifted their howls, weaving the very air into a fabric
of menace that was so tangible that he found himself, arms in the
air, pressing it back from him as it might be the walls of a wind-
Now and again the wolves, in packs of two and three, crossed his
path. But they sheered clear of him. They were not in sufficient
numbers, and besides they were hunting the caribou, which did not
battle, while this strange creature that walked erect might scratch
In the late afternoon he came upon scattered bones where the wolves
had made a kill. The debris had been a caribou calf an hour
before, squawking and running and very much alive. He contemplated
the bones, clean-picked and polished, pink with the cell-life in
them which had not yet died. Could it possibly be that he might be
that ere the day was done! Such was life, eh? A vain and fleeting
thing. It was only life that pained. There was no hurt in death.
To die was to sleep. It meant cessation, rest. Then why was he
not content to die?
But he did not moralize long. He was squatting in the moss, a bone
in his mouth, sucking at the shreds of life that still dyed it
faintly pink. The sweet meaty taste, thin and elusive almost as a
memory, maddened him. He closed his jaws on the bones and
crunched. Sometimes it was the bone that broke, sometimes his
teeth. Then he crushed the bones between rocks, pounded them to a
pulp, and swallowed them. He pounded his fingers, too, in his
haste, and yet found a moment in which to feel surprise at the fact
that his fingers did not hurt much when caught under the descending
Came frightful days of snow and rain. He did not know when he made
camp, when he broke camp. He travelled in the night as much as in
the day. He rested wherever he fell, crawled on whenever the dying
life in him flickered up and burned less dimly. He, as a man, no
longer strove. It was the life in him, unwilling to die, that
drove him on. He did not suffer. His nerves had become blunted,
numb, while his mind was filled with weird visions and delicious
But ever he sucked and chewed on the crushed bones of the caribou
calf, the least remnants of which he had gathered up and carried
with him. He crossed no more hills or divides, but automatically
followed a large stream which flowed through a wide and shallow
valley. He did not see this stream nor this valley. He saw
nothing save visions. Soul and body walked or crawled side by
side, yet apart, so slender was the thread that bound them.
He awoke in his right mind, lying on his back on a rocky ledge.
The sun was shining bright and warm. Afar off he heard the
squawking of caribou calves. He was aware of vague memories of
rain and wind and snow, but whether he had been beaten by the storm
for two days or two weeks he did not know.
For some time he lay without movement, the genial sunshine pouring
upon him and saturating his miserable body with its warmth. A fine
day, he thought. Perhaps he could manage to locate himself. By a
painful effort he rolled over on his side. Below him flowed a wide
and sluggish river. Its unfamiliarity puzzled him. Slowly he
followed it with his eyes, winding in wide sweeps among the bleak,
bare hills, bleaker and barer and lower-lying than any hills he had
yet encountered. Slowly, deliberately, without excitement or more
than the most casual interest, he followed the course of the
strange stream toward the sky-line and saw it emptying into a
bright and shining sea. He was still unexcited. Most unusual, he
thought, a vision or a mirage - more likely a vision, a trick of
his disordered mind. He was confirmed in this by sight of a ship
lying at anchor in the midst of the shining sea. He closed his
eyes for a while, then opened them. Strange how the vision
persisted! Yet not strange. He knew there were no seas or ships
in the heart of the barren lands, just as he had known there was no
cartridge in the empty rifle.
He heard a snuffle behind him - a half-choking gasp or cough. Very
slowly, because of his exceeding weakness and stiffness, he rolled
over on his other side. He could see nothing near at hand, but he
waited patiently. Again came the snuffle and cough, and outlined
between two jagged rocks not a score of feet away he made out the
gray head of a wolf. The sharp ears were not pricked so sharply as
he had seen them on other wolves; the eyes were bleared and
bloodshot, the head seemed to droop limply and forlornly. The
animal blinked continually in the sunshine. It seemed sick. As he
looked it snuffled and coughed again.
This, at least, was real, he thought, and turned on the other side
so that he might see the reality of the world which had been veiled
from him before by the vision. But the sea still shone in the
distance and the ship was plainly discernible. Was it reality,
after all? He closed his eyes for a long while and thought, and
then it came to him. He had been making north by east, away from
the Dease Divide and into the Coppermine Valley. This wide and
sluggish river was the Coppermine. That shining sea was the Arctic
Ocean. That ship was a whaler, strayed east, far east, from the
mouth of the Mackenzie, and it was lying at anchor in Coronation
Gulf. He remembered the Hudson Bay Company chart he had seen long
ago, and it was all clear and reasonable to him.
He sat up and turned his attention to immediate affairs. He had
worn through the blanket-wrappings, and his feet were shapeless
lumps of raw meat. His last blanket was gone. Rifle and knife
were both missing. He had lost his hat somewhere, with the bunch
of matches in the band, but the matches against his chest were safe
and dry inside the tobacco pouch and oil paper. He looked at his
watch. It marked eleven o'clock and was still running. Evidently
he had kept it wound.
He was calm and collected. Though extremely weak, he had no
sensation of pain. He was not hungry. The thought of food was not
even pleasant to him, and whatever he did was done by his reason
alone. He ripped off his pants' legs to the knees and bound them
about his feet. Somehow he had succeeded in retaining the tin
bucket. He would have some hot water before he began what he
foresaw was to be a terrible journey to the ship.
His movements were slow. He shook as with a palsy. When he
started to collect dry moss, he found he could not rise to his
feet. He tried again and again, then contented himself with
crawling about on hands and knees. Once he crawled near to the
sick wolf. The animal dragged itself reluctantly out of his way,
licking its chops with a tongue which seemed hardly to have the
strength to curl. The man noticed that the tongue was not the
customary healthy red. It was a yellowish brown and seemed coated
with a rough and half-dry mucus.
After he had drunk a quart of hot water the man found he was able
to stand, and even to walk as well as a dying man might be supposed
to walk. Every minute or so he was compelled to rest. His steps
were feeble and uncertain, just as the wolf's that trailed him were
feeble and uncertain; and that night, when the shining sea was
blotted out by blackness, he knew he was nearer to it by no more
than four miles.
Throughout the night he heard the cough of the sick wolf, and now
and then the squawking of the caribou calves. There was life all
around him, but it was strong life, very much alive and well, and
he knew the sick wolf clung to the sick man's trail in the hope
that the man would die first. In the morning, on opening his eyes,
he beheld it regarding him with a wistful and hungry stare. It
stood crouched, with tail between its legs, like a miserable and
woe-begone dog. It shivered in the chill morning wind, and grinned
dispiritedly when the man spoke to it in a voice that achieved no
more than a hoarse whisper.
The sun rose brightly, and all morning the man tottered and fell
toward the ship on the shining sea. The weather was perfect. It
was the brief Indian Summer of the high latitudes. It might last a
week. To-morrow or next day it might he gone.
In the afternoon the man came upon a trail. It was of another man,
who did not walk, but who dragged himself on all fours. The man
thought it might be Bill, but he thought in a dull, uninterested
way. He had no curiosity. In fact, sensation and emotion had left
him. He was no longer susceptible to pain. Stomach and nerves had
gone to sleep. Yet the life that was in him drove him on. He was
very weary, but it refused to die. It was because it refused to
die that he still ate muskeg berries and minnows, drank his hot
water, and kept a wary eye on the sick wolf.
He followed the trail of the other man who dragged himself along,
and soon came to the end of it - a few fresh-picked bones where the
soggy moss was marked by the foot-pads of many wolves. He saw a
squat moose-hide sack, mate to his own, which had been torn by
sharp teeth. He picked it up, though its weight was almost too
much for his feeble fingers. Bill had carried it to the last. Ha!
ha! He would have the laugh on Bill. He would survive and carry
it to the ship in the shining sea. His mirth was hoarse and
ghastly, like a raven's croak, and the sick wolf joined him,
howling lugubriously. The man ceased suddenly. How could he have
the laugh on Bill if that were Bill; if those bones, so pinky-white
and clean, were Bill?
He turned away. Well, Bill had deserted him; but he would not take
the gold, nor would he suck Bill's bones. Bill would have, though,
had it 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 which lined its sand-
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 ship 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 awakened once from a faint by a wheeze close in his ear.
The wolf leaped lamely back, losing its footing and falling in its
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 four miles. He knew that, and was very calm in
the knowledge. 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 composed 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 drew 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 upon 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 struggled 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 his
stomach, and it 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-
ship 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 alive but which could hardly be called a man.
It was blind, unconscious. It squirmed along the ground like some
monstrous worm. Most of its efforts 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 among the
orange groves 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 anxiously 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 not last. 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 prodigiously 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 were
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.