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ARIZONA NIGHTS (part1,chapter13)

2006-08-28 22:00


    The Old Timer's voice broke a little. We had leisure to notice that even the drip from the eaves had ceased. A faint, diffused light vouchsafed us dim outlines of sprawling figures and tumbled bedding. Far in the distance outside a wolf yelped.

    We could do nothing for him except shelter him from the sun, and wet his forehead with sea-water; nor could we think clearly for ourselves as long as the spark of life lingered in him. His chest rose and fell regularly, but with long pauses between. When the sun was overhead he suddenly opened his eyes. "Fellows," said he, "it's beautiful over there; the grass is so green, and the water so cool; I am tired of marching, and I reckon I'll cross over and camp." Then he died. We scooped out a shallow hole above tide-mark, and laid him in it, and piled over him stones from the wash. Then we went back to the beach, very solemn, to talk it over. "Now, boys," said I, "there seems to me just one thing to do, and that is to pike out for water as fast as we can." "Where?" asked Denton. "Well," I argued, "I don't believe there's any water about this bay. Maybe there was when that chart was made. It was a long time ago. And any way, the old pirate was a sailor, and no plainsman, and maybe he mistook rainwater for a spring. We've looked around this end of the bay. The chances are we'd use up two or three days exploring around the other, and then wouldn't be as well off as we are right now." "Which way?" asked Denton again, mighty brief. "Well," said I, "there's one thing I've always noticed in case of folks held up by the desert: they generally go wandering about here and there looking for water until they die not far from where they got lost. And usually they've covered a heap of actual distance." "That's so," agreed Denton. "Now, I've always figured that it would be a good deal better to start right out for some particular place, even if it's ten thousand miles away. A man is just as likely to strike water going in a straight line as he is going in a circle; and then, besides, he's getting somewhere." "Correct," said Denton, "So," I finished, "I reckon we'd better follow the coast south and try to get to Mollyhay." "How far is that?" asked Schwartz. "I don't rightly know. But somewheres between three and five hundred miles, at a guess." At that he fell to glowering and grooming with himself, brooding over what a hard time it was going to be. That is the way with a German. First off he's plumb scared at the prospect of suffering anything, and would rather die right off than take long chances. After he gets into the swing of it, he behaves as well as any man.

    "We took stock of what we had to depend on. The total assets proved to be just three pairs of legs. A pot of coffee had been on the fire, but that villain had kicked it over when he left. The kettle of beans was there, but somehow we got the notion they might have been poisoned, so we left them. I don't know now why we were so foolish——if poison was his game, he'd have tried it before——but at that time it seemed reasonable enough. Perhaps the horror of the morning's work, and the sight of the brittle-brown mountains, and the ghastly yellow glare of the sun, and the blue waves racing by outside, and the big strong wind that blew through us so hard that it seemed to blow empty our souls, had turned our judgment. Anyway, we left a full meal there in the beanpot. So without any further delay we set off up the ridge I had started to cross that morning. Schwartz lagged, sulky as a muley cow, but we managed to keep him with us. At the top of the ridge we took our bearings for the next deep bay. Already we had made up our minds to stick to the sea-coast, both on account of the lower country over which to travel and the off chance of falling in with a fishing vessel. Schwartz muttered something about its being too far even to the next bay, and wanted to sit down on a rock. Denton didn't say anything, but he jerked Schwartz up by the collar so fiercely that the German gave it over and came along. We dropped down into the gully, stumbled over the boulder wash, and began to toil in the ankle-deep sand of a little sage-brush flat this side of the next ascent. Schwartz followed steadily enough now, but had fallen forty or fifty feet behind. This was a nuisance, as we bad to keep turning to see if he still kept up.

    Suddenly he seemed to disappear. Denton and I hurried back to find him on his hands and knees behind a sagebrush, clawing away at the sand like mad. "Can't be water on this flat," said Denton; "he must have gone crazy." "What's the matter, Schwartz?" I asked. For answer he moved a little to one side, showing beneath his knee one corner of a wooden box sticking above the sand. At this we dropped beside him, and in five minutes had uncovered the whole of the chest. It was not very large, and was locked. A rock from the wash fixed that, however. We threw back the lid. It was full to the brim of gold coins, thrown in loose, nigh two bushels of them. "The treasure!" I cried. There it was, sure enough, or some of it. We looked the rest through, but found nothing but the gold coins. The altar ornaments and jewels were lacking. "Probably buried in another box or so," said Denton. Schwartz wanted to dig around a little. "No good," said I. "We've got our work cut out for us as it is." Denton backed me up. We were both old hands at the business, had each in our time suffered the "cottonmouth" thirst, and the memory of it outweighed any desire for treasure. But Schwartz was money-mad. Left to himself he would have staid on that sand flat to perish, as certainly as had poor Billy. We had fairly to force him away, and then succeeded only because we let him fill all his pockets to bulging with the coins. As we moved up the next rise, he kept looking back and uttering little moans against the crime of leaving it. Luckily for us it was winter. We shouldn't have lasted six hours at this time of year. As it was, the sun was hot against the shale and the little stones of those cussed hills. We plodded along until late afternoon, toiling up one hill and down another, only to repeat immediately. Towards sundown we made the second bay, where we plunged into the sea, clothes and all, and were greatly refreshed. I suppose a man absorbs a good deal that way. Anyhow, it always seemed to help. We were now pretty hungry, and, as we walked along the shore, we began to look for turtles or shellfish, or anything else that might come handy. There was nothing. Schwartz wanted to stop for a night's rest, but Denton and I knew better than that. "Look here, Schwartz," said Denton, "you don't realise you're entered against time in this race——and that you're a damn fool to carry all that weight in your clothes."

    So we dragged along all night. It was weird enough, I can tell you. The moon shone cold and white over that dead, dry country. Hot whiffs rose from the baked stones and hillsides. Shadows lay under the stones like animals crouching. When we came to the edge of a silvery hill we dropped off into pitchy blackness. There we stumbled over boulders for a minute or so, and began to climb the steep shale on the other side. This was fearful work. The top seemed always miles away. By morning we didn't seem to have made much of anywhere. The same old hollow-looking mountains with the sharp edges stuck up in about the same old places. We had got over being very hungry, and, though we were pretty dry, we didn't really suffer yet from thirst. About this time Denton ran across some fishhook cactus, which we cut up and chewed. They have a sticky wet sort of inside, which doesn't quench your thirst any, but helps to keep you from drying up and blowing away.

    All that day we plugged along as per usual. It was main hard work, and we got to that state where things are disagreeable, but mechanical. Strange to say, Schwartz kept in the lead. It seemed to me at the time that he was using more energy than the occasion called for——just as man runs faster before he comes to the giving-out point. However, the hours went by, and he didn't seem to get any more tired than the rest of us. We kept a sharp lookout for anything to eat, but there was nothing but lizards and horned toads. Later we'd have been glad of them, but by that time we'd got out of their district. Night came. Just at sundown we took another wallow in the surf, and chewed some more fishhook cactus. When the moon came up we went on. I'm not going to tell you how dead beat we got. We were pretty tough and strong, for all of us had been used to hard living, but after the third day without anything to eat and no water to drink, it came to be pretty hard going. It got to the point where we had to have some REASON for getting out besides just keeping alive. A man would sometimes rather die than keep alive, anyway, if it came only to that.

    But I know I made up my mind I was going to get out so I could smash up that Anderson, and I reckon Denton had the same idea.

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