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.
"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."
“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 moisten them.
“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 blankets.
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 ledges.
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 arduous task.
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 stand.
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 Dease.
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 with him.
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 deepest roots.
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- blown tent.
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 and bite.
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 rock.
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 dreams.
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- spits.
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.
一切，总算剩下了这一点—— 他们经历了生活的困苦颠连； 能做到这种地步也就是胜利， 尽管他们输掉了赌博的本钱。他们两个一瘸一拐地，吃力地走下河岸，有一次，走在前面的那个还在乱石中间失足摇晃了一下。他们又累又乏，因为长期忍受苦难，脸上都带着愁眉苦脸、咬牙苦熬的表情。他们肩上捆着用毯子包起来的沉重包袱。总算那条勒在额头上的皮带还得力，帮着吊住了包袱。他们每人拿着一支来复枪。他们弯着腰走路，肩膀冲向前面，而脑袋冲得更前，眼睛总是瞅着地面。 “我们藏在地窖里的那些子弹，我们身边要有两三发就好了，”走在后面的那个人说道。 他的声调，阴沉沉的，干巴巴的，完全没有感情。他冷冷地说着这些话；前面的那个只顾一瘸一拐地向流过岩石、激起一片泡沫的白茫茫的小河里走去，一句话也不回答。 后面的那个紧跟着他。他们两个都没有脱掉鞋袜，虽然河水冰冷——冷得他们脚腕子疼痛，两脚麻木。每逢走到河水冲击着他们膝盖的地方，两个人都摇摇晃晃地站不稳跟在后面的那个在一块光滑的圆石头上滑了一下，差一点没摔倒，但是，他猛力一挣，站稳了，同时痛苦地尖叫了一声。他仿佛有点头昏眼花，一面摇晃着，一面伸出那只闲着的手，好象打算扶着空中的什么东西。站稳之后，他再向前走去，不料又摇晃了一下，几乎摔倒。于是，他就站着不动，瞧着前面那个一直没有回过头的人。 他这样一动不动地足足站了一分钟，好象心里在说服自己一样。接着，他就叫了起来：“喂，比尔，我扭伤脚腕子啦。” 比尔在白茫茫的河水里一摇一晃地走着。他没有回头。 后面那个人瞅着他这样走去；脸上虽然照旧没有表情，眼睛里却流露着跟一头受伤的鹿一样的神色。 前面那个人一瘸一拐，登上对面的河岸，头也不回，只顾向前走去，河里的人眼睁睁地瞧着。他的嘴唇有点发抖，因此，他嘴上那丛乱棕似的胡子也在明显地抖动。他甚至不知不觉地伸出舌头来舐舐嘴唇。 “比尔！”他大声地喊着。 这是一个坚强的人在患难中求援的喊声，但比尔并没有回头。他的伙伴干瞧着他，只见他古里古怪地一瘸一拐地走着，跌跌冲冲地前进，摇摇晃晃地登上一片不陡的斜坡，向矮山头上不十分明亮的天际走去。他一直瞧着他跨过山头，消失了踪影。于是他掉转眼光，慢慢扫过比尔走后留给他的那一圈世界。 靠近地平线的太阳，象一团快要熄灭的火球，几乎被那些混混沌沌的浓雾同蒸气遮没了，让你觉得它好象是什么密密团团，然而轮廓模糊、不可捉摸的东西。这个人单腿立着休息，掏出了他的表，现在是四点钟，在这种七月底或者八月初的季节里——他说不出一两个星期之内的确切的日期——他知道太阳大约是在西北方。他瞧了瞧南面，知道在那些荒凉的小山后面就是大熊湖；同时，他还知道在那个方向，北极圈的禁区界线深入到加拿大冻土地带之内。他所站的地方，是铜矿河的一条支流，铜矿河本身则向北流去，通向加冕湾和北冰洋。他从来没到过那儿，但是，有一次，他在赫德森湾公司的地图上曾经瞧见过那地方。 他把周围那一圈世界重新扫了一遍。这是一片叫人看了发愁的景象。到处都是模糊的天际线。小山全是那么低低的。没有树，没有灌木，没有草——什么都没有，只有一片辽阔可怕的荒野，迅速地使他两眼露出了恐惧神色。 “比尔！”他悄悄地、一次又一次地喊道：“比尔！” 他在白茫茫的水里畏缩着，好象这片广大的世界正在用压倒一切的力量挤压着他，正在残忍地摆出得意的威风来摧毁他。他象发疟子似地抖了起来，连手里的枪都哗喇一声落到水里。这一声总算把他惊醒了。他和恐惧斗争着，尽力鼓起精神，在水里摸索，找到了枪。他把包袱向左肩挪动了一下，以便减轻扭伤的脚腕子的负担。接着，他就慢慢地，小心谨慎地，疼得闪闪缩缩地向河岸走去。 他一步也没有停。他象发疯似地拼着命，不顾疼痛，匆匆登上斜坡，走向他的伙伴失去踪影的那个山头——比起那个瘸着腿，一瘸一拐的伙伴来，他的样子更显得古怪可笑。可是到了山头，只看见一片死沉沉的，寸草不生的浅谷。他又和恐惧斗争着，克服了它，把包袱再往左肩挪了挪，蹒跚地走下山坡。 谷底一片潮湿，浓厚的苔藓，象海绵一样，紧贴在水面上。他走一步，水就从他脚底下溅射出来，他每次一提起脚，就会引起一种吧咂吧咂的声音，因为潮湿的苔藓总是吸住他的脚，不肯放松。他挑着好路，从一块沼地走到另一块沼地，并且顺着比尔的脚印，走过一堆一堆的、象突出在这片苔藓海里的小岛一样的岩石。 他虽然孤零零的一个人，却没有迷路。他知道，再往前去，就会走到一个小湖旁边，那儿有许多极小极细的枯死的枞树，当地的人把那儿叫作“提青尼其利”——意思是“小棍子地”。而且，还有一条小溪通到湖里，溪水不是白茫茫的。 溪上有灯心草——这一点他记得很清楚——但是没有树木，他可以沿着这条小溪一直走到水源尽头的分水岭。他会翻过这道分水岭，走到另一条小溪的源头，这条溪是向西流的，他可以顺着水流走到它注入狄斯河的地方，那里，在一条翻了的独木船下面可以找到一个小坑，坑上面堆着许多石头。这个坑里有他那支空枪所需要的子弹，还有钓钩、钓丝和一张小鱼网——打猎钓鱼求食的一切工具。同时，他还会找到面粉——并不多——此外还有一块腌猪肉同一些豆子。 比尔会在那里等他的，他们会顺着狄斯河向南划到大熊湖。接着，他们就会在湖里朝南方划，一直朝南，直到麦肯齐河。到了那里，他们还要朝着南方，继续朝南方走去，那么冬天就怎么也赶不上他们了。让湍流结冰吧，让天气变得更凛冽吧，他们会向南走到一个暖和的赫德森湾公司的站头，那儿不仅树木长得高大茂盛，吃的东西也多得不得了。 这个人一路向前挣扎的时候，脑子里就是这样想的。他不仅苦苦地拼着体力，也同样苦苦地绞着脑汁，他尽力想着比尔并没有抛弃他，想着比尔一定会在藏东西的地方等他。 他不得不这样想，不然，他就用不着这样拼命，他早就会躺下来死掉了。当那团模糊的象圆球一样的太阳慢慢向西北方沉下去的时候，他一再盘算着在冬天追上他和比尔之前，他们向南逃去的每一寸路。他反复地想着地窖里和赫德森湾公司站头上的吃的东西。他已经两天没吃东西了；至于没有吃到他想吃的东西的日子，那就更不止两天了。他常常弯下腰，摘起沼地上那种灰白色的浆果，把它们放到口里，嚼几嚼，然后吞下去。这种沼地浆果只有一小粒种籽，外面包着一点浆水。一进口，水就化了，种籽又辣又苦。他知道这种浆果并没有养份，但是他仍然抱着一种不顾道理，不顾经验教训的希望，耐心地嚼着它们。 走到九点钟，他在一块岩石上绊了一下，因为极端疲倦和衰弱，他摇晃了一下就栽倒了。他侧着身子、一动也不动地躺了一会。接着，他从捆包袱的皮带当中脱出身子，笨拙地挣扎起来勉强坐着。这时候，天还没有完全黑，他借着留连不散的暮色，在乱石中间摸索着，想找到一些干枯的苔藓。后来，他收集了一堆，就升起一蓬火——一蓬不旺的，冒着黑烟的火——并且放了一白铁罐子水在上面煮着。 他打开包袱，第一件事就是数数他的火柴。一共六十六根。为了弄清楚，他数了三遍。他把它们分成几份，用油纸包起来，一份放在他的空烟草袋里，一份放在他的破帽子的帽圈里，最后一份放在贴胸的衬衫里面。做完以后，他忽然感到一阵恐慌，于是把它们完全拿出来打开，重新数过。 仍然是六十六根。 他在火边烘着潮湿的鞋袜。鹿皮鞋已经成了湿透的碎片。毡袜子有好多地方都磨穿了，两只脚皮开肉绽，都在流血。一只脚腕子胀得血管直跳，他检查了一下。它已经肿得和膝盖一样粗了。他一共有两条毯子，他从其中的一条撕下一长条，把脚腕子捆紧。此外，他又撕下几条，裹在脚上，代替鹿皮鞋和袜子。接着，他喝完那罐滚烫的水，上好表的发条，就爬进两条毯子当中。 他睡得跟死人一样。午夜前后的短暂的黑暗来而复去。 太阳从东北方升了起来——至少也得说那个方向出现了曙光，因为太阳给乌云遮住了。 六点钟的时候，他醒了过来，静静地仰面躺着。他仰视着灰色的天空，知道肚子饿了。当他撑住胳膊肘翻身的时候，一种很大的呼噜声把他吓了一跳，他看见了一只公鹿，它正在用机警好奇的眼光瞧着他。这个牲畜离他不过五十尺光景，他脑子里立刻出现了鹿肉排在火上烤得咝咝响的情景和滋味。他无意识地抓起了那支空枪，瞄好准星，扣了一下扳机。公鹿哼了一下，一跳就跑开了，只听见它奔过山岩时蹄子得得乱响的声音。 这个人骂了一句，扔掉那支空枪。他一面拖着身体站起来，一面大声地哼哼。这是一件很慢、很吃力的事。他的关节都象生了锈的铰链。它们在骨臼里的动作很迟钝，阻力很大，一屈一伸都得咬着牙才能办到。最后，两条腿总算站住了，但又花了一分钟左右的工夫才挺起腰，让他能够象一个人那样站得笔直。 他慢腾腾地登上一个小丘，看了看周围的地形。既没有树木，也没有小树丛，什么都没有，只看到一望无际的灰色苔藓，偶尔有点灰色的岩石，几片灰色的小湖，几条灰色的小溪，算是一点变化点缀。天空是灰色的。没有太阳，也没有太阳的影子。他不知道哪儿是北方，他已经忘掉了昨天晚上他是怎样取道走到这里的。不过他并没有迷失方向。 这他是知道的。不久他就会走到那块“小棍子地”。他觉得它就在左面的什么地方，而且不远——可能翻过下一座小山头就到了。 于是他就回到原地，打好包袱，准备动身。他摸清楚了那三包分别放开的火柴还在，虽然没有停下来再数数。不过，他仍然踌躇了一下，在那儿一个劲地盘算，这次是为了一个厚实的鹿皮口袋。袋子并不大。他可以用两只手把它完全遮没。他知道它有十五磅重——相当于包袱里其他东西的总和——这个口袋使他发愁。最后，他把它放在一边，开始卷包袱。可是，卷了一会，他又停下手，盯着那个鹿皮口袋。他匆忙地把它抓到手里，用一种反抗的眼光瞧瞧周围，仿佛这片荒原要把它抢走似的；等到他站起来，摇摇晃晃地开始这一天的路程的时候，这个口袋仍然包在他背后的包袱里。 他转向左面走着，不时停下来吃沼地上的浆果。扭伤的脚腕子已经僵了，他比以前跛得更明显，但是，比起肚子里的痛苦，脚疼就算不了什么。饥饿的疼痛是剧烈的。它们一阵一阵地发作，好象在啃着他的胃，疼得他不能把思想集中在到“小棍子地”必须走的路线上。沼地上的浆果并不能减轻这种剧痛，那种刺激性的味道反而使他的舌头和口腔热辣辣的。 他走到了一个山谷，那儿有许多松鸡从岩石和沼地里呼呼地拍着翅膀飞起来。它们发出一种“咯儿-咯儿-咯儿”的叫声。他拿石子打它们，但是打不中。他把包袱放在地上，象猫捉麻雀一样地偷偷走过去。锋利的岩石穿过他的裤子，划破了他的腿，直到膝盖流出的血在地面上留下一道血迹；但是在饥饿的痛苦中，这种痛苦也算不了什么。他在潮湿的苔藓上爬着，弄得衣服湿透，身上发冷；可是这些他都没有觉得，因为他想吃东西的念头那么强烈。而那一群松鸡却总是在他面前飞起来，呼呼地转，到后来，它们那种“咯儿-咯儿-咯儿”的叫声简直变成了对他的嘲笑，于是他就咒骂它们，随着它们的叫声对它们大叫起来。 有一次，他爬到了一定是睡着了的一只松鸡旁边。他一直没有瞧见，直到它从岩石的角落里冲着他的脸窜起来，他才发现。他象那只松鸡起飞一样惊慌，抓了一把，只捞到了三根尾巴上的羽毛。当他瞅着它飞走的时候，他心里非常恨它，好象它做了什么对不起他的事。随后他回到原地，背起包袱。 时光渐渐消逝，他走进了连绵的山谷，或者说是沼地，这些地方的野物比较多。一群驯鹿走了过去，大约有二十多头，都呆在可望而不可即的来复枪的射程以内。他心里有一种发狂似的、想追赶它们的念头，而且相信自己一定能追上去捉住它们。一只黑狐狸朝他走了过来，嘴里叼着一只松鸡。这个人喊了一声。这是一种可怕的喊声，那只狐狸吓跑了，可是没有丢下松鸡。 傍晚时，他顺着一条小河走去，由于含着石灰而变成乳白色的河水从稀疏的灯心草丛里流过去。他紧紧抓注这些灯心草的根部，拔起一种好象嫩葱芽，只有木瓦上的钉子那么大的东西。这东西很嫩，他的牙齿咬进去，会发出一种咯吱咯吱的声音，仿佛味道很好。但是它的纤维却不容易嚼。 它是由一丝丝的充满了水份的纤维组成的：跟浆果一样，完全没有养份。他丢开包袱，爬到灯心草丛里，象牛似的大咬大嚼起来。他非常疲倦，总希望能歇一会——躺下来睡个觉；可是他又不得不继续挣扎前进——不过，这并不一定是因为他急于要赶到“小棍子地”，多半还是饥饿在逼着他。他在小水坑里找青蛙，或者用指甲挖土找小虫，虽然他也知道，在这么远的北方，是既没有青蛙也没有小虫的。 他瞧遍了每上个水坑，都没有用，最后，到了漫漫的暮色袭来的时候，他才发现一个水坑里有一条独一无二的、象鲦鱼般的小鱼。他把胳膊伸下水去，一直没到肩头，但是它又溜开了。于是他用双手去捉，把池底的乳白色泥浆全搅浑了。正在紧张的关头，他掉到了坑里，半身都浸湿了。现在，水太浑了，看不清鱼在哪儿，他只好等着，等泥浆沉淀下去。 他又捉起来，直到水又搅浑了。可是他等不及了，便解下身上的白铁罐子，把坑里的水舀出去；起初，他发狂一样地舀着，把水溅到自己身上，同时，固为泼出去的水距离太近，水又流到坑里。后来，他就更小心地舀着，尽量让自己冷静一点，虽然他的心跳得很厉害，手在发抖。这样过了半小时，坑里的水差不多舀光了。剩下来的连一杯也不到。 可是，并没有什么鱼；他这才发现石头里面有一条暗缝，那条鱼已经从那里钻到了旁边一个相连的大坑——坑里的水他一天一夜也舀不干。如果他早知道有这个暗缝，他一开始就会把它堵死，那条鱼也就归他所有了。他这样想着，四肢无力地倒在潮湿的地上。起初，他只是轻轻地哭，过了一会，他就对着把他团团围住的无情的荒原号陶大哭；后来，他又大声抽噎了好久。 他升起一蓬火，喝了几罐热水让自己暖和暖和、并且照昨天晚上那样在一块岩石上露宿。最后他检查了一下火柴是不是干燥，并且上好表的发条，毯子又湿又冷，脚腕子疼得在悸动。可是他只有饿的感觉，在不安的睡眠里，他梦见了一桌桌酒席和一次次宴会，以及各种各样的摆在桌上的食物。 醒来时，他又冷又不舒服。天上没有太阳。灰蒙蒙的大地和天空变得愈来愈阴沉昏暗。一阵刺骨的寒风刮了起来，初雪铺白了山顶。他周围的空气愈来愈浓，成了白茫茫一片，这时，他已经升起火，又烧了一罐开水。天上下的一半是雨，一半是雪，雪花又大又潮。起初，一落到地面就融化了，但后来越下越多，盖满了地面，淋熄了火，糟蹋了他那些当作燃料的干苔藓。 这是一个警告，他得背起包袱，一瘸一拐地向前走；至于到哪儿去，他可不知道。他既不关心小棍子地，也不关心比尔和狄斯河边那条翻过来的独木舟下的地窖。他完全给“吃”这个词儿管住了。他饿疯了。他根本不管他走的是什么路，只要能走出这个谷底就成。他在湿雪里摸索着，走到湿漉漉的沼地浆果那儿，接着又一面连根拔着灯心草，一面试探着前进。不过这东西既没有味，又不能把肚子填饱。 后来，他发现了一种带酸味的野草，就把找到的都吃了下去，可是找到的并不多，因为它是一种蔓生植物，很容易给几寸深的雪埋没。那天晚上他既没有火，也没有热水，他就钻在毯子里睡觉，而且常常饿醒。这时，雪已经变成了冰冷的雨。他觉得雨落在他仰着的脸上，给淋醒了好多次。天亮了——又是灰蒙蒙的一天，没有太阳。雨已经停了。刀绞一样的饥饿感觉也消失了。他已经丧失了想吃食物的感觉。他只觉得胃里隐隐作痛，但并不使他过分难过。他的脑子已经比较清醒，他又一心一意地想着“小棍子地”和狄斯河边的地窖了。 他把撕剩的那条毯子扯成一条条的，裹好那双鲜血淋淋的脚。同时把受伤的脚腕子重新捆紧，为这一天的旅行做好准备。等到收拾包袱的时候，他对着那个厚实的鹿皮口袋想了很久，但最后还是把它随身带着。 雪已经给雨水淋化了，只有山头还是白的。太阳出来了，他总算能够定出罗盘的方位来了，虽然他知道现在他已经迷了路。在前两天的游荡中，他也许走得过分偏左了。因此，他为了校正，就朝右面走，以便走上正确的路程。 现在，虽然饿的痛苦已经不再那么敏锐，他却感到了虚弱。他在摘那种沼地上的浆果，或者拔灯心草的时候，常常不得不停下来休息一会。他觉得他的舌头很干燥，很大，好象上面长满了细毛，含在嘴里发苦。他的心脏给他添了很多麻烦。他每走几分钟，心里就会猛烈地怦怦地跳一阵，然后变成一种痛苦的一起一落的迅速猛跳，逼得他透不过气，只觉得头昏眼花。 中午时分，他在一个大水坑里发现了两条鲦鱼。把坑里的水舀干是不可能的，但是现在他比较镇静，就想法子用白铁罐子把它们捞起来。它们只有他的小指头那么长，但是他现在并不觉得特别饿。胃里的隐痛已经愈来愈麻木，愈来愈不觉得了。他的胃几乎象睡着了似的。他把鱼生吃下去，费劲地咀嚼着，因为吃东西已成了纯粹出于理智的动作。他虽然并不想吃，但是他知道，为了活下去，他必须吃。 黄昏时候，他又捉到了三条鲦鱼，他吃掉两条，留下一条作第二天的早饭。太阳已经晒干了零星散漫的苔藓，他能够烧点热水让自己暖和暖和了。这一天，他走了不到十哩路；第二天，只要心脏许可，他就往前走，只走了五哩多地。但是胃里却没有一点不舒服的感觉。它已经睡着了。 现在，他到了一个陌生的地带，驯鹿愈来愈多，狼也多起来了。荒原里常常传出狼嗥的声音，有一次，他还瞧见了三只狼在他前面的路上穿过。 又过了一夜；早晨，因为头脑比较清醒，他就解开系着那厚实的鹿皮口袋的皮绳，从袋口倒出一股黄澄澄的粗金沙和金块。他把这些金子分成了大致相等的两堆，一堆包在一块毯子里，在一块突出的岩石上藏好，把另外那堆仍旧装到口袋里。同时，他又从剩下的那条毯子上撕下几条，用来裹脚。他仍然舍不得他的枪，因为狄斯河边的地窖里有子弹。 这是一个下雾的日子，这一天，他又有了饿的感觉。他的身体非常虚弱，他一阵一阵地晕得什么都看不见。现在，对他来说，一绊就摔跤已经不是稀罕事了；有一次，他给绊了一跤，正好摔到一个松鸡窝里。那里面有四只刚孵出的小松鸡，出世才一天光景——那些活蹦乱跳的小生命只够吃一口；他狼吞虎咽，把它们活活塞到嘴里，象嚼蛋壳似地吃起来，母松鸡大吵大叫地在他周围扑来扑去。他把枪当作棍子来打它，可是它闪开了。他投石子打它，碰巧打伤了它的一个翅膀。松鸡拍击着受伤的翅膀逃开了，他就在后面追赶。 那几只小鸡只引起了他的胃口。他拖着那只受伤的脚腕子，一瘸一拐，跌跌冲冲地追下去，时而对它扔石子，时而粗声吆喝；有时候，他只是一瘸一拐，不声不响地追着，摔倒了就咬着牙、耐心地爬起来，或者在头晕得支持不住的时候用手揉揉眼睛。 这么一追，竟然穿过了谷底的沼地，发现了潮湿苔癣上的一些脚樱。这不是他自己的脚营，他看得出来。一定是比尔的。不过他不能停下，因为母松鸡正在向前跑。他得先把它捉住，然后回来察看。 母松鸡给追得精疲力尽；可是他自己也累坏了。它歪着身子倒在地上喘个不停，他也歪着倒在地上喘个不停，只隔着十来尺，然而没有力气爬过去。等到他恢复过来，它也恢复过来了，他的饿手才伸过去，它就扑着翅膀，逃到了他抓不到的地方。这场追赶就这样继续下去。天黑了，它终于逃掉了。由于浑身软弱无力绊了一跤，头重脚轻地栽下去，划破了脸，包袱压在背上。他一动不动地过了好久，后来才翻过身，侧着躺在地上，上好表，在那儿一直躺到早晨。 又是一个下雾的日子。他剩下的那条毯子已经有一半做了包脚布。他没有找到比尔的踪迹。可是没有关系。饿逼得他太厉害了——不过——不过他又想，是不是比尔也迷了路。走到中午的时候，累赘的包袱压得他受不了。于是他重新把金子分开，但这一次只把其中的一半倒在地上。到了下午，他把剩下来的那一点也扔掉了，现在，他只有半条毯子、那个白铁罐子和那支枪。 一种幻觉开始折磨他。他觉得有十足的把握，他还剩下一粒子弹。它就在枪膛里，而他一直没有想起。可是另一方面，他也始终明自，枪膛里是空的。但这种幻觉总是萦回不散。他斗争了几个钟头，想摆脱这种幻觉，后来他就打开枪，结果面对着空枪膛。这样的失望非常痛苦，仿佛他真的希望会找到那粒子弹似的。 经过半个钟头的跋涉之后，这种幻觉又出现了。他于是又跟它斗争，而它又缠住他不放，直到为了摆脱它，他又打开枪膛打消自己的念头。有时候，他越想越远，只好一面凭本能自动向前跋涉，一面让种种奇怪的念头和狂想，象蛀虫一样地啃他的脑髓。但是这类脱离现实的逻思大都维持不了多久，因为饥饿的痛苦总会把他刺醒。有一次，正在这样瞎想的时候，他忽然猛地惊醒过来，看到一个几乎叫他昏倒的东西。他象酒醉一样地晃荡着，好让自己不致跌倒。在他面前站着一匹马。一匹马！他简直不能相信自己的眼睛。他觉得眼前一片漆黑，霎时间金星乱迸。他狼狠地揉着眼睛，让自己瞧瞧清楚，原来它并不是马，而是一头大棕熊。这个畜生正在用一种好战的好奇眼光仔细察看着他。 这个人举枪上肩，把枪举起一半，就记起来。他放下枪，从屁般后面的镶珠刀鞘里拔出猎刀。他面前是肉和生命。他用大拇指试试刀刃。刀刃很锋利。刀尖也很锋利。 他本来会扑到熊身上，把它杀了的。可是他的心却开始了那种警告性的猛跳。接着又向上猛顶，迅速跳动，头象给铁箍箍紧了似的，脑子里渐渐感到一阵昏迷。 他的不顾一切的勇气已经给一阵汹涌起伏的恐惧驱散了。处在这样衰弱的境况中，如果那个畜生攻击他，怎么办？ 他只好尽力摆出极其威风的样子，握紧猎刀，狠命地盯着那头熊。它笨拙地向前挪了两步，站直了，发出试探性的咆哮。 如果这个人逃跑，它就追上去；不过这个人并没有逃跑。现在，由于恐惧而产生的勇气已经使他振奋起来。同样地，他也在咆哮，而且声音非常凶野，非常可怕，发出那种生死攸关、紧紧地缠着生命的根基的恐惧。 那头熊慢慢向旁边挪动了一下，发出威胁的咆哮，连它自己也给这个站得笔直、毫不害怕的神秘动物吓住了。可是这个人仍旧不动。他象石像一样地站着，直到危险过去，他才猛然哆嗦了一阵，倒在潮湿的苔藓里。 他重新振作起来，继续前进，心里又产生了一种新的恐惧。这不是害怕他会束手无策地死于断粮的恐惧，而是害怕饥饿还没有耗尽他的最后一点求生力，他已经给凶残地摧毁了。这地方的狼很多。狼嗥的声音在荒原上飘来飘去，在空中交织成一片危险的罗网，好象伸手就可以摸到，吓得他不由举起双手，把它向后推去，仿佛它是给风刮紧了的帐篷。 那些狼，时常三三两两地从他前面走过。但是都避着他。一则因为它们为数不多，此外，它们要找的是不会搏斗的驯鹿，而这个直立走路的奇怪动物却可能既会抓又会咬。 傍晚时他碰到了许多零乱的骨头，说明狼在这儿咬死过一头野兽。这些残骨在一个钟头以前还是一头小驯鹿，一面尖叫，一面飞奔，非常活跃。他端详着这些骨头，它们已经给啃得精光发亮，其中只有一部份还没有死去的细胞泛着粉红色。难道在天黑之前，他也可能变成这个样子吗？生命就是这样吗，呃？真是一种空虚的、转瞬即逝的东西。只有活着才感到痛苦。死并没有什么难过。死就等于睡觉。它意味着结束，休息。那么，为什么他不甘心死呢？ 但是，他对这些大道理想得并不长久。他蹲在苔藓地上，嘴里衔着一根骨头，吮吸着仍然使骨头微微泛红的残余生命。甜蜜蜜的肉味，跟回忆一样隐隐约约，不可捉摸，却引得他要发疯。他咬紧骨头，使劲地嚼。有时他咬碎了一点骨头，有时却咬碎了自己的牙，于是他就用岩石来砸骨头，把它捣成了酱，然后吞到肚里。匆忙之中，有时也砸到自己的指头，使他一时感到惊奇的是，石头砸了他的指头他并不觉得很痛。 接着下了几天可怕的雨雪。他不知道什么时候露宿，什么时候收拾行李。他白天黑夜都在赶路。他摔倒在哪里就在哪里休息，一到垂危的生命火花闪烁起来，微微燃烧的时候，就慢慢向前走。他已经不再象人那样挣扎了。逼着他向前走的，是他的生命，因为它不愿意死。他也不再痛苦了。他的神经已经变得迟钝麻木，他的脑子里则充满了怪异的幻象和美妙的梦境。 不过，他老是吮吸着，咀嚼着那只小驯鹿的碎骨头，这是他收集起来随身带着的一点残屑。他不再翻山越岭了，只是自动地顺着一条流过一片宽阔的浅谷的溪水走去。可是他既没有看见溪流，也没有看到山谷。他只看到幻象。他的灵魂和肉体虽然在并排向前走，向前爬，但它们是分开的，它们之间的联系已经非常微弱。 有一天，他醒过来，神智清楚地仰卧在一块岩石上。太阳明朗暖和。他听到远处有一群小驯鹿尖叫的声音。他只隐隐约约地记得下过雨，刮过风，落过雪，至于他究竟被暴风雨吹打了两天或者两个星期，那他就不知道了。 他一动不动地躺了好一会，温和的太阳照在他身上，使他那受苦受难的身体充满了暖意。这是一个晴天，他想道。 也许，他可以想办法确定自己的方位。他痛苦地使劲偏过身子；下面是一条流得很慢的很宽的河。他觉得这条河很陌生，真使他奇怪。他慢慢地顺着河望去，宽广的河湾婉蜒在许多光秃秃的小荒山之间，比他往日碰到的任何小山都显得更光秃，更荒凉，更低矮。他于是慢慢地，从容地，毫不激动地，或者至多也是抱着一种极偶然的兴致，顺着这条奇怪的河流的方向，向天际望去，只看到它注入一片明亮光辉的大海。他仍然不激动。太奇怪了，他想道，这是幻象吧，也许是海市蜃楼吧——多半是幻象，是他的错乱的神经搞出来的把戏。后来，他又看到光亮的大海上停泊着一只大船，就更加相信这是幻象。他眼睛闭了一会再睁开。奇怪，这种幻象竟会这样地经久不散！然而并不奇怪，他知道，在荒原中心绝不会有什么大海，大船，正象他知道他的空枪里没有子弹一样。 他听到背后有一种吸鼻子的声音——仿佛喘不出气或者咳嗽的声音。由于身体极端虚弱和僵硬，他极慢极慢地翻一个身。他看不出附近有什么东西，但是他耐心地等着。 又听到了吸鼻子和咳嗽的声音，离他不到二十尺远的两块岩石之间，他隐约看到一只灰狼的头。那双尖耳朵并不象别的狼那样竖得笔挺；它的眼睛昏暗无光，布满血丝；脑袋好象无力地、苦恼地耷拉着。这个畜生不断地在太阳光里霎眼。它好象有玻正当他瞧着它的时候，它又发出了吸鼻子和咳嗽的声音。 至少，这总是真的，他一面想，一面又翻过身，以便瞧见先前给幻象遮住的现实世界。可是，远处仍旧是一片光辉的大海，那条船仍然清晰可见。难道这是真的吗？他闭着眼睛，想了好一会，毕竟想出来了。他一直在向北偏东走，他已经离开狄斯分水岭，走到了铜矿谷。这条流得很慢的宽广的河就是铜矿河。那片光辉的大海是北冰洋。那条船是一艘捕鲸船，本来应该驶往麦肯齐河口，可是偏了东，太偏东了，目前停泊在加冕湾里。他记起了很久以前他看到的那张赫德森湾公司的地图，现在，对他来说，这完全是清清楚楚，入情入理的。 他坐起来，想着切身的事情。裹在脚上的毯子已经磨穿了，他的脚破得没有一处好肉。最后一条毯子已经用完了。枪和猎刀也不见了。帽子不知在什么地方丢了，帽圈里那小包火柴也一块丢了，不过，贴胸放在烟草袋里的那包用油纸包着的火柴还在，而且是干的。他瞧了一下表。时针指着十一点，表仍然在走。很清楚，他一直没有忘了上表。 他很冷静，很沉着。虽然身体衰弱已极，但是并没有痛苦的感觉。他一点也不饿。甚至想到食物也不会产生快感。 现在，他无论做什么，都只凭理智。他齐膝盖撕下了两截裤腿，用来裹脚。他总算还保住了那个白铁罐子。他打算先喝点热水，然后再开始向船走去，他已经料到这是一段可怕的路程。 他的动作很慢。他好象半身不遂地哆嗦着。等到他预备去收集干苔的时候，他才发现自己已经站不起来了。他试了又试，后来只好死了这条心，他用手和膝盖支着爬来爬去。有一次，他爬到了那只病狼附近。那个畜生，一面很不情愿地避开他，一面用那条好象连弯一下的力气都没有的舌头舐着自己的牙床。这个人注意到它的舌头并不是通常那种健康的红色，而是一种暗黄色，好象蒙着一层粗糙的、半干的粘膜。 这个人喝下热水之后，觉得自己可以站起来了，甚至还可以象想象中一个快死的人那样走路了。他每走一两分钟，就不得不停下来休息一会。他的步子软弱无力，很不稳，就象跟在他后面的那只狼一样又软又不稳；这天晚上，等到黑夜笼罩了光辉的大海的时候，他知道他和大海之间的距离只缩短了不到四哩。 这一夜，他总是听到那只病狼咳嗽的声音，有时候，他又听到了一群小驯鹿的叫声。他周围全是生命，不过那是强壮的生命，非常活跃而健康的生命，同时他也知道，那只病狼所以要紧跟着他这个病人，是希望他先死。早晨，他一挣开眼睛就看到这个畜生正用一种如饥似渴的眼光瞪着他。它夹着尾巴蹲在那儿，好象一条可怜的倒楣的狗。早晨的寒风吹得它直哆嗦，每逢这个人对它勉强发出一种低声咕噜似的吆喝，它就无精打采地呲着牙。 太阳亮堂堂地升了起来，这一早晨，他一直在绊绊跌跌地，朝着光辉的海洋上的那条船走。天气好极了。这是高纬度地方的那种短暂的晚秋。它可能连续一个星期。也许明后天就会结束。 下午，这个人发现了一些痕迹，那是另外一个人留下的，他不是走，而是爬的。他认为可能是比尔，不过他只是漠不关心地想想罢了。他并没有什么好奇心。事实上，他早已失去了兴致和热情。他已经不再感到痛苦了。他的胃和神经都睡着了。但是内在的生命却逼着他前进。他非常疲倦，然而他的生命却不愿死去。正因为生命不愿死，他才仍然要吃沼地上的浆果和鲦鱼，喝热水，一直提防着那只病狼。 他跟着那个挣扎前进的人的痕迹向前走去，不久就走到了尽头——潮湿的苔藓上摊着几根才啃光的骨头，附近还有许多狼的脚樱他发现了一个跟他自己的那个一模一样的厚实的鹿皮口袋，但已经给尖利的牙齿咬破了。他那无力的手已经拿不动这样沉重的袋子了，可是他到底把它提起来了。比尔至死都带着它。哈哈！他可以嘲笑比尔了。 他可以活下去，把它带到光辉的海洋里那条船上。他的笑声粗厉可怕，跟乌鸦的怪叫一样，而那条病狼也随着他，一阵阵地惨嗥。突然间，他不笑了。如果这真是比尔的骸骨，他怎么能嘲笑比尔呢；如果这些有红有白，啃得精光的骨头，真是比尔的话？ 他转身走开了。不错，比尔抛弃了他；但是他不愿意拿走那袋金子，也不愿意吮吸比尔的骨头。不过，如果事情掉个头的话，比尔也许会做得出来的，他一面摇摇晃晃地前进，一面暗暗想着这些情形。 他走到了一个水坑旁边。就在他弯下腰找鲦鱼的时候，他猛然仰起头，好象给戳了一下。他瞧见了自己反映在水里的险。脸色之可怕，竟然使他一时恢复了知觉，感到震惊了。这个坑里有三条鲦鱼，可是坑太大，不好舀；他用白铁罐子去捉，试了几次都不成，后来他就不再试了。他怕自己会由于极度虚弱，跌进去淹死。而且，也正是因为这一层，他才没有跨上沿着沙洲并排漂去的木头，让河水带着他走。 这一天，他和那条船之间的距离缩短了三哩；第二天，又缩短了两哩——因为现在他是跟比尔先前一样地在爬；到了第五天末尾，他发现那条船离开他仍然有七哩，而他每天连一哩也爬不到了。幸亏天气仍然继续放晴，他于是继续爬行，继续晕倒，辗转不停地爬；而那头狼也始终跟在他后面，不断地咳嗽和哮喘。他的膝盖已经和他的脚一样鲜血淋漓，尽管他撕下了身上的衬衫来垫膝盖，他背后的苔藓和岩石上仍然留下了一路血渍。有一次，他回头看见病狼正饿得发慌地舐着他的血渍、他不由得清清楚楚地看出了自己可能遭到的结局——除非——除非他干掉这只狼。于是，—幕从来没有演出过的残酷的求生悲剧就开始了——病人一路爬着，病狼一路跛行着，两个生灵就这样在荒原里拖着垂死的躯壳，相互猎取着对方的生命。 如果这是一条健康的狼，那末，他觉得倒也没有多大关系；可是，一想到自己要喂这么一只令人作呕、只剩下一口气的狼，他就觉得非常厌恶。他就是这样吹毛求疵。现在，他脑子里又开始胡思乱想，又给幻象弄得迷迷糊糊，而神智清楚的时候也愈来愈少，愈来愈短。 有一次，他从昏迷中给一种贴着他耳朵喘息的声音惊醒了。那只狼一跛一跛地跳回去，它因为身体虚弱，一失足摔了一跤。样子可笑极了，可是他一点也不觉得有趣。他甚至也不害怕。他已经到了这一步，根本谈不到那些。不过，这一会，他的头脑却很清醒，于是他躺在那儿，仔细地考虑。 那条船离他不过四哩路，他把眼睛擦净之后，可以很清楚地看到它；同时，他还看出了一条在光辉的大海里破浪前进的小船的白帆。可是，无论如何他也爬不完这四哩路。这一点，他是知道的，而且知道以后，他还非常镇静。他知道他连半哩路也爬不了。不过，他仍然要活下去。在经历了千辛万苦之后，他居然会死掉，那未免太不合理了。命运对他实在太苛刻了，然而，尽管奄奄一息，他还是不情愿死。也许，这种想法完全是发疯，不过，就是到了死神的铁掌里，他仍然要反抗它，不肯死。 他闭上眼睛，极其小心地让自己镇静下去。疲倦象涨潮一样，从他身体的各处涌上来，但是他刚强地打起精神，绝不让这种令人窒息的疲倦把他淹没。这种要命的疲倦，很象一片大海，一涨再涨，一点一点地淹没他的意识。有时候，他几乎完全给淹没了，他只能用无力的双手划着，漂游过那黑茫茫的一片；可是，有时候，他又会凭着一种奇怪的心灵作用，另外找到一丝毅力，更坚强地划着。 他一动不动地仰面躺着，现在，他能够听到病狼一呼一吸地喘着气，慢慢地向他逼近。它愈来愈近，总是在向他逼近，好象经过了无穷的时间，但是他始终不动。它已经到了他耳边。那条粗糙的干舌头正象砂纸一样地磨擦着他的两腮。他那两只手一下子伸了出来——或者，至少也是他凭着毅力要它们伸出来的。他的指头弯得象鹰爪一样，可是抓了个空。敏捷和准确是需要力气的，他没有这种力气。 那只狼的耐心真是可怕。这个人的耐心也一样可怕。 这一天，有一半时间他一直躺着不动，尽力和昏迷斗争，等着那个要把他吃掉、而他也希望能吃掉的东西。有时候，疲倦的浪潮涌上来，淹没了他，他会做起很长的梦；然而在整个过程中，不论醒着或是做梦，他都在等着那种喘息和那条粗糙的舌头来舐他。 他并没有听到这种喘息，他只是从梦里慢慢苏醒过来，觉得有条舌头在顺着他的一只手舐去。他静静地等着。狼牙轻轻地扣在他手上了；扣紧了；狼正在尽最后一点力量把牙齿咬进它等了很久的东西里面。可是这个人也等了很久，那只给咬破了的手也抓住了狼的牙床。于是，慢慢地，就在狼无力地挣扎着，他的手无力地掐着的时候，他的另一只手已经慢慢摸过来，一下把狼抓祝五分钟之后，这个人已经把全身的重量都压在狼的身上。他的手的力量虽然还不足以把狼掐死，可是他的脸已经紧紧地压住了狼的咽喉，嘴里已经满是狼毛。半小时后，这个人感到一小股暖和的液体慢馒流进他的喉咙。这东西并不好吃，就象硬灌到他胃里的铅液，而且是纯粹凭着意志硬灌下去的。后来，这个人翻了一个身，仰面睡着了。 捕鲸船“白德福号”上，有几个科学考察队的人员。他们从甲板上望见岸上有一个奇怪的东西。它正在向沙滩下面的水面挪动。他们没法分清它是哪一类动物，但是，因为他们都是研究科学的人，他们就乘了船旁边的一条捕鲸艇，到岸上去察看。接着，他们发现了一个活着的动物，可是很难把它称作人。它已经瞎了，失去了知觉。它就象一条大虫子在地上蠕动着前进。它用的力气大半都不起作用，但是它老不停，它一面摇晃，一面向前扭动，照它这样，一点钟大概可以爬上二十尺。 三星期以后，这个人躺在捕鲸船“白德福号”的一个铺位上，眼泪顺着他的削瘦的面颊往下淌，他说出他是谁和他经过的一切。同时，他又含含糊糊地、不连贯地谈到了他的母亲，谈到了阳光灿烂的南加利福尼亚，以及桔树和花丛中的他的家园。 没过几天，他就跟那些科学家和船员坐在一张桌子旁边吃饭了，他馋得不得了地望着面前这么多好吃的东西，焦急地瞧着它溜进别人口里。每逢别人咽下一口的时候，他眼睛里就会流露出一种深深惋惜的表情。他的神志非常清醒，可是，每逢吃饭的时候，他免不了要恨这些人。他给恐惧缠住了，他老怕粮食维持不了多久。他向厨子，船舱里的服务员和船长打听食物的贮藏量。他们对他保证了无数次，但是他仍然不相信，仍然会狡猾地溜到贮藏室附近亲自窥探。 看起来，这个人正在发胖。他每天都会胖一点。那批研究科学的人都摇着头，提出他们的理论。他们限制了这个人的饭量，可是他的腰围仍然在加大，身体胖得惊人。 水手们都咧着嘴笑。他们心里有数。等到这批科学家派人来监视他的时候，他们也知道了。他们看到他在早饭以后萎靡不振地走着，而且会象叫化子似地，向一个水手伸出手。那个水手笑了笑，递给他一块硬面包，他贪婪地把它拿住，象守财奴瞅着金子般地瞅着它，然后把它塞到衬衫里面。别的咧着嘴笑的水手也送给他同样的礼品。 这些研究科学的人很谨慎。他们随他去。但是他们常常暗暗检查他的床铺。那上面摆着一排排的硬面包，褥子也给硬面包塞得满满的；每一个角落里都塞满了硬面包。然而他的神志非常清醒。他是在防备可能发生的另一次饥荒——就是这么回事。研究科学的人说，他会恢复常态的；事实也是如此，“白德福号”的铁锚还没有在旧金山湾里隆隆地抛下去，他就正常了。 comments powered by Disqus