Белый клык / White Fang
Адаптация текста, составление комментариев, упражнений и словаря Д. А. Демидовой
© Д. А. Демидова, адаптация текста, комментарии, упражнения, словарь
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Chapter I. The Trail of the Meat
Dark forest was on both sides of the waterway. The trees had been damaged by a recent wind and seemed to lean on each other. Silence ruled over the land. The land itself was lifeless, so lonely and cold that it was not even sad. There was laughter in it, but laughter more terrible than any sadness. It was the masterful wisdom of eternity laughing at the uselessness of life. It was the frozen-hearted Northland Wild.
But there was life. Down the frozen waterway ran a string of dogs. Their fur was in frost. Their breath froze in the air. Leather harness was on the dogs, and leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged behind. On the sled there was a long and narrow oblong box. There were other things – blankets, an axe, a coffee-pot and a frying-pan; but the long and narrow oblong box occupied the most space.
Before the dogs, on wide snowshoes, walked a man. Behind the sled walked a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose walk was over, – a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten. Life is an offence to the Wild, because life is movement; and the Wild wants to destroy movement. It freezes the water; it drives the sap out of the trees; and most terribly of all it treats man – man who is the most active of life.
But before and after the dogs walked the two men who were not yet dead. Their bodies were covered with fur and leather; eyelashes, cheeks and lips were covered with the crystals from their frozen breath; so they looked like undertakers at the funeral of some ghost. But they were men, going through the land of silence, adventurers on colossal adventure.
They travelled on without speaking to save their breath. On every side was the pressing silence. It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver. It pressed all the false self-values of the human soul out of them, like juices from the grape. They felt small, having little wisdom against the great blind elements.
An hour went by, and a second hour. The light of the short sunless day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry sounded on the air and then slowly died away. There was anger and hunger in it. The front man turned his head and his eyes met the eyes of the man behind. And then, across the narrow oblong box, they nodded to each other.
There was a second cry, somewhere behind. A third and answering cry sounded in the air.
“They’re after us, Bill,” said the man at the front.
“There’s little meat,” answered his comrade. “I haven’t seen a rabbit for days.”
They spoke no more, but listened attentively.
When it became dark they took the dogs into a cluster of trees and made a camp. The coffin served for seat and table. The dogs clustered on the far side of the fire, snarled among themselves, but didn’t go into the darkness.
“Seems to me, they’re staying remarkably close to camp,” Bill said.
His companion nodded, then took his seat on the coffin and began to eat.
“Henry, did you notice how the dogs behaved when I was feeding them?”
“They played more than usual.”
“How many dogs have we got, Henry?”
“Well, Henry…” Bill stopped for a moment, in order to sound more significant. “As I was saying, I took six fish out of the bag. I gave one fish to each dog, and, Henry, I was one fish short.”
“You counted wrong.”
“We’ve got six dogs. I took out six fish. One Ear didn’t get a fish. I came back to the bag afterward and got him his fish.”
“We’ve only got six dogs,” Henry said.
“Then there were seven of them that got fish.”
Henry stopped eating to count the dogs.
“There’s only six now,” he said.
“I saw the other one run off. I saw seven.”
Henry looked at him and said, “I’ll be very glad when this trip is over.”
“What do you mean?”
“But I saw its tracks on the snow. I can show them to you.”
Henry didn’t reply at once. He had a final cup of coffee and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Then you think it was one of them?”
“I think you’re mistaken,” Henry said.
“Henry…” he paused. “Henry, I was thinking he was much luckier than you and me.” He pointed at the box on which they sat, “When we die, we’ll be lucky if we get enough stones over our bodies to keep the dogs off of us.”
“But we don’t have people, money and all the rest, like him. Long-distance funerals is something we can’t afford.”
“What worries me, Henry, is why a chap like this, who is a kind of lord in his own country, comes to the end of the earth.”
“Yes, he might have lived to old age if he’d stayed at home.”
Bill opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. Instead, he pointed towards the wall of darkness that pressed about them from every side. Nothing could be seen there but a pair of eyes gleaming like coals. Henry indicated with his head a second pair, and a third. A circle of the gleaming eyes was around their camp.
The unrest of the dogs was increasing. One of them came too close to the fire and yelped with pain and fright. The circle of eyes withdraw a bit, but it appeared again when the dogs became quiet.
“Henry, it’s a misfortune to be out of ammunition.”
Bill had finished his pipe and was helping his companion to spread the bed of fur and blanket.
“How many cartridges did you leave?” Henry asked.
“Three. And I wish it was three hundred!”
He shook his fist angrily at the gleaming eyes, and put his moccasins before the fire.
“And I wish it was not so cold” he went on. “It has been fifty below zero for two weeks now. And I wish I’d never started on this trip, Henry. I don’t like it. And I wish the trip was over, and you and I were sitting by the fire in Fort McGurry and playing cards.”
Henry grunted and crawled into bed. Then he was woken by his comrade’s voice.
“Say, Henry, that other one that came in and got a fish – why didn’t the dogs bite it? That’s what’s bothering me.”
“You’re bothering too much, Bill. Just shut up now, and go to sleep. You have a stomach ache, that’s what’s bothering you.”
The men slept, breathing heavily, side by side, under the one covering. The fire died down, and the gleaming eyes drew closer. The dogs kept together in fear. Once their noise became so loud that Bill woke up. He got out of bed carefully and threw more wood on the fire. The circle of eyes drew back. He glanced at the dogs, then rubbed his eyes and looked at them again. Then he crawled back into the blankets.
“Henry,” he said. “Oh, Henry.”
Henry groaned, “What’s wrong now?”
“Nothing, only there’s seven of them again. I just counted.”
Henry grunted again and fell asleep.
In the morning it was he who awoke first and woke up his companion. It was still dark, though it was already six o’clock; and Henry started preparing breakfast, while Bill rolled the blankets and made the sled ready.
“Say, Henry,” he asked suddenly, “how many dogs did you say we had?”
“Wrong,” Bill said triumphantly.
“No, five; one’s gone.”
“The hell!” Henry cried in anger, left the cooking and went to count the dogs.
“You’re right, Bill,” he concluded. “Fatty’s gone. They just swallowed him alive, damn them!”
“He always was a fool dog.”
“But not fool enough to commit suicide. I bet none of the others would do it.”
“Couldn’t drive them away from the fire with a club,” Bill agreed. “I always thought there was something wrong with Fatty anyway.”
And this was the epitaph of a dead dog on the Northland trail, and it was longer than the epitaphs of many other dogs, many other men.
Chapter II. The She-Wolf
After breakfast the men set off again. Fiercely sad cries called through the darkness to one another and answered back. Daylight came at nine o’clock. At midday the sky to the south warmed to rose-colour, but it soon faded. After the grey light of day faded as well, the Arctic night descended upon the land.
As darkness came, the hunting-cries around them drew closer – so close that the dogs had occasional periods of panic. It was getting on men’s nerves.
Henry was cooking supper when he heard the sound of a blow, an exclamation from Bill, and a cry of pain from dogs. He straightened up in time to see a dim silhouette running into the dark. Then he saw Bill, standing among the dogs, in one hand a club, in the other the tail and part of the body of a salmon.
“I got half of it,” he announced; “but it got the other half. Did you hear it squeal?”
“What did it look like?”
“Couldn’t see. But it had four legs and a mouth and hair and looked like any dog.”
“Must be a tame wolf, I reckon.”
“Damn! It must be tame, whatever it is, if it is coming here at feeding time.”
That night, when supper was finished and they sat on the oblong box and smoked, the circle of gleaming eyes drew in even closer than before.
“I wish they’d go away and leave us alone,” Bill said.
For a quarter of an hour they sat on in silence, Henry staring at the fire, and Bill at the circle of eyes that burned in the darkness.
“I wish we were going into McGurry right now,” he began again.
“Shut up your wishing,” Henry said angrily. “Your have a stomach ache. That’s what’s bothering you. Take a spoonful of sody, and you’ll be a more pleasant company.”
In the morning Henry was awakened by Bill’s swearing. He saw his comrade standing among the dogs, his arms raised and his face angry.
“Hello!” Henry called. “What’s up now?”
“I tell you yes.”
Henry came to the dogs, counted them with care, and then joined his partner in cursing the Wild that had robbed them of another dog.
“Frog was our strongest dog,” Bill said finally.
“And he was no fool,” Henry added.
And so it was the second epitaph in two days.
The next day was a repetition of the days that had gone before. All was silent in the world but the cries of their pursuers.
“There, that’ll fix you, fool creatures,” Bill said with satisfaction that night. He tied the dogs, after the Indian method, with sticks. About the neck of each dog was a leather thong. To this he had tied a stick four or five feet in length. The other end of the stick, in turn, was attached to a stake in the ground.
Henry nodded his head approvingly, “They all will be here in the morning.”
“If one of them disappears, I’ll go without my coffee,” said Bill.
“They just know we have nothing to kill them with,” Henry remarked at bed-time, indicating the circle of eyes that surrounded them. “If we could put a couple of shots into them, they’d be more respectful. They come closer every night,” and then he suddenly whispered: “Look at that, Bill.”
A doglike animal went stealthily in the firelight. Its attention was fixed on the dogs. One Ear strained the full length of the stick toward the intruder.
“That fool One Ear doesn’t seem scared,” Bill said in a low tone.
“It’s a she-wolf. She’s dangerous. She draws out the dog and eats him up.”
“Henry, I’m thinking,” Bill announced, “I’m thinking that is the one I hit with the club.”
“It must be.”
“And I want to remark,” Bill went on, “that that animal’s familiarity with campfires is suspicious and immoral.”
“It knows more than a self-respecting wolf ought to know,” Henry agreed. “A wolf that comes at the dogs’ feeding time has had experience.”
“If I get a chance, that wolf will be just meat. We can’t afford to lose any more animals.”
“But you’ve only got three cartridges,” Henry objected.
“I’ll wait for a dead shot.”
In the morning Henry renewed the fire and cooked breakfast to the accompaniment of his partner’s snoring.
“You were sleeping just so comfortably,” Henry told him, as he called him out for breakfast. “I hadn’t the heart to wake you.”
Bill began to eat sleepily. He noticed that his cup was empty, but the pot was beyond his arm’s length and beside Henry.
“You don’t get coffee,” Henry announced.
“Has it run out?”
“Aren’t you thinking it’ll hurt my digestion?”
“Then explain yourself,” Bill said angrily.
Bill slowly turned his head and counted the dogs.
“One Ear, the damned dog! Just because he couldn’t free himself, he freed Spanker.”
“Well, Spanker’s troubles are over anyway; I guess he’s digested by this time,” was Henry’s epitaph on this, the latest lost dog. “Have some coffee, Bill.”
“No. I said I wouldn’t drink it if any dog is missing, and I won’t.”
And he ate a dry breakfast with curses at One Ear for the trick he had played.
“I’ll tie them up out of reach of each other tonight,” Bill said, as they started off again.
They had travelled little more than a hundred yards, when Henry, who was in front, picked up something from the ground.
“Maybe you’ll need that,” he said.
It was all that was left of Spanker – the stick with which he had been tied.
“They ate him all,” Bill announced. “They’re damn hungry, Henry. I’m not feeling special enthusiastic.”
“You’re unwell, that’s what’s the matter with you,” Henry dogmatised. “What you need is quinine.”
Bill disagreed with the diagnosis, and didn’t say anything.
The day was like all the days. It was just after the sun’s attempt to appear, that Bill took the rifle and said:
“You go on, Henry, but I’m going to see what I can see.”
“You’d better go after the sled. You’ve only got three cartridges, and nobody knows what might happen.”
“Who’s croaking now?”
Henry said nothing, and toiled on alone, though often he looked back. An hour later, Bill arrived.
“I’ve seen some of them. They’re very thin. They hadn’t had food for weeks, I think, save the meat of Fatty and Frog and Spanker. They’ll be going mad, yet, and then watch out.”
A few minutes later, Henry, who was now travelling behind the sled, gave a warning whistle. Bill turned and looked, then stopped the dogs. Behind them trotted a furry form. Its nose was to the trail. When they stopped, it stopped, too, and watched them.
“It’s the she-wolf,” Bill said.
The animal trotted forward a few steps, and then, after a pause, a few more steps, and then a few more. It looked at them in a strangely wistful way, like a dog; but there was none of the dog’s affection. It was hungry and cruel.
It was large for a wolf and had a true wolf-coat. The main colour was grey, with a red– dish hue – a hue that appeared and disappeared, like an illusion of the vision, now grey, really grey, and then again showing some redness of colour.
“Looks like a big husky sled-dog,” Bill commented. “Hello, you husky!” he shouted, “Come here, you whatever-your-name-is.”
The animal showed no fear. For it they were meat, and it was hungry; and it would like to go in and eat them.
“Look here, Henry,” Bill said, “We’ve got three cartridges. But it’s a dead shot. Couldn’t miss it. It’s got away with three of our dogs, and we must put a stop to it. What do you say?”
Henry nodded. Bill cautiously took the gun. The gun was on the way to his shoulder, but it never got there. For in that instant the she-wolf jumped sidewise from the trail and disappeared.
The two men looked at each other. Henry whistled.
“I might have known it,” Bill said as he replaced the gun. “Of course a wolf that knows enough to come with the dogs at feeding time, would know all about guns. I tell you, Henry, that creature’s the cause of all our trouble. We would have six dogs instead of three, if it wasn’t because of her. And, Henry, I’m going to get her. She’s too smart to be shot in the open. But I’ll get her as sure as my name is Bill.”
They camped early that night. Three dogs could not go so fast nor for so long hours as could six, and they were showing unmistakable signs of weariness. And the men went early to bed, after Bill had made sure that the dogs were tied out of reach of one another.
But the wolves were growing bolder, and the men woke more than once from their sleep. So near did the wolves approach, that the dogs became mad with terror, and it was necessary to keep the fire burning.
“They’re going to get us, Henry,” Bill remarked.
“You’re half eaten when you’re saying such things, Bill, so shut up your croaking.”
Henry rolled over angrily on his side, but Bill said nothing. Usually he was easily angered by sharp words. Henry thought long over it before he went to sleep: “There’s no doubt Bill’s not well. I’ll have to cheer him up tomorrow.”
Chapter III. The Hunger Cry
They had lost no dogs during the night, and Bill seemed to have forgotten his troubles when, at midday, they came to a bad piece of trail. It was an awkward mix-up. The sled was upside down and stuck between a tree-trunk and a huge rock, and they had to unharness the dogs. The two men were bent over the sled and trying to right it, when Henry observed One Ear going away.
“Here, you, One Ear!” he cried.
But One Ear was already running across the snow. And there, on their back track, was the she-wolf waiting for him.
At first One Ear was cautious and dubious. She seemed to smile at him, showing her teeth in a welcoming rather than a menacing way. She moved toward him a few steps and stopped. One Ear came nearer, his tail and ears in the air, his head high. He tried to sniff noses with her, but she retreated playfully. Every advance on his part was accompanied by a corresponding retreat on her part. Step by step she was leading him away from the security of his human companionship. Once he turned his head and looked back at the sled, at his team-mates, and at the two men who were calling to him, but the she-wolf sniffed noses with him for an instant, and then continued her playful retreat.
In the meantime, Bill remembered of the rifle. But it was stuck beneath the overturned sled, and by the time Henry had helped him to right the load, One Ear and the she-wolf were too close together and the distance too great to risk a shot.
Too late One Ear realized his mistake. Suddenly, the two men saw him turn and start to run back toward them. Then they saw a dozen wolves around. The she-wolf’s playfulness disappeared. With a snarl she sprang upon One Ear. His retreat was cut off, so he changed his course, trying to circle around. More wolves were appearing every moment and joining the chase. The she-wolf was one leap behind One Ear.
“Where are you going?” Henry asked Bill and tried to stop him.
“I won’t stand it. They won’t get any more of our dogs.”
Henry remained behind after Bill had gone. He judged One Ear’s case to be hopeless. He could not break the circle of his pursuers.
Henry sat on the sled. And too quickly, far more quickly than he had expected, it happened. He heard a shot, then two more shots, and he knew that Bill’s ammunition was gone. Then he heard a great outcry of snarls. He recognised One Ear’s yell of pain and terror, and he heard a wolf-cry of an injured animal. And that was all. The snarls ceased. Silence fell down again on the lonely land.
He sat for a long while upon the sled. There was no need for him to go and see what had happened. He knew it as though it had taken place before his eyes. Once, he roused with a start and quickly got the axe out from the sled. But for some time longer he sat and brooded, the two remaining dogs crouching and trembling at his feet.
At last he arose wearily, as though all the determination had gone out of his body, and fastened the dogs to the sled. He passed a rope over his shoulder, and pulled with the dogs. He did not go far. At the first hint of darkness he made a camp and prepared a generous supply of firewood. He fed the dogs, cooked and ate his supper, and made his bed close to the fire.
But he could not enjoy that bed. The wolves were around him and the fire, in a narrow circle, and he saw them plainly: lying down, sitting up, crawling forward on their bellies, or going around. They even slept. Here and there he could see one curled up in the snow like a dog, taking the sleep that he could not now afford.
He kept the fire blazing, because he knew that it alone was between the flesh of his body and their hungry fangs. His two dogs stayed close by him, one on either side, whimpering and snarling desperately. Bit by bit, an inch at a time, with here a wolf bellying forward, and there a wolf bellying forward, the circle narrowed until the man started taking brands from the fire and throwing them into the brutes.
Morning found him tired and worn. He cooked breakfast in the darkness, and at nine o’clock, when the wolves drew back, he started doing what he had planned through the night. He made a wooden scaffold and fixed it high up to the trunks of trees. With the use of a rope, and with the aid of the dogs, he put the coffin to the top of the scaffold.
“They got Bill, and they may get me, but they’ll never get you, young man,” he said, addressing the dead body in the coffin.
Then he took the trail with the lightened sled. Dogs were willing to pull, for they, too, knew that safety was in Fort McGurry. The wolves were now more open in their pursuit. They were very lean – so lean that Henry wondered how they still kept their feet.
He did not dare travel after dark. In grey daylight and dim twilight he prepared an enormous supply of fire-wood.
With night came horror. Not only were the starving wolves growing bolder, but lack of sleep was telling upon Henry. He dozed, crouching by the fire, the blankets about his shoulders, the axe between his knees, and on either side a dog pressing close against him. He awoke once and saw in front of him, not a dozen feet away, a big grey wolf, one of the largest of the pack. The brute deliberately stretched himself, like a lazy dog, looking upon him as if, in truth, he were just a delayed meal that was soon to be eaten.
The wolves reminded Henry of children gathered around a table and waiting for the permission to begin to eat. And he was the food they were to eat! He wondered how and when the meal would begin.
He grew suddenly fond of his body, of his flesh that worked so fine. Then he looked fearfully at the wolf-circle drawn around him: this wonderful body of his was no more than much meat, to be torn by their hungry fangs, like the moose or the rabbit.
He came out of a doze to see the red-hued she-wolf before him. The two dogs were whimpering and snarling at his feet, but she took no notice of them. She was looking at the man, and for some time he returned her look. There was nothing scary about her. She just looked at him with a great wistfulness of hunger. He was the food, and the sight of him excited her. Her mouth opened, the saliva dropped down in anticipation.
A spasm of fear went through him. He reached for a brand to throw at her, but before his fingers had closed on it, she sprang back into safety. He glanced at the hand that held the brand, and in the same instant he seemed to see a vision of those same fingers being crushed and torn by the white teeth of the she-wolf. Never before had he been so fond of his body.
All night, with burning brands, he fought off the hungry pack. Morning came, but for the first time the light of day did not frighten the wolves. The man waited in vain for them to go. They remained in a circle about him and his fire, showing an arrogance of possession that shook his courage.
He made one desperate attempt to go on the trail. But the moment he left the fire, the boldest wolf leaped for him. He saved himself by springing back, the jaws snapping together six inches from his leg.
The night was a repetition of the night before, save that the need for sleep was too great. The snarling of his dogs was losing its efficacy. Once he suddenly awoke to see the she-wolf was less than a yard from him. Mechanically, without letting go of it, he thrust a brand into her open mouth. She sprang away, yelling with pain.
Before he dozed again, he tied a burning pine-knot to his right hand. His eyes were closed only a few minutes when the flame on his flesh awakened him. Every time he was thus awakened he drove back the wolves with flying brands, checked the fire, and rearranged the pine-knot on his hand. All worked well, but once he tied the pine-knot badly. As his eyes closed it fell away from his hand.
He dreamed. It seemed to him that he was in Fort McGurry. It was warm and comfortable, and he was playing cards with the Factor. Also, it seemed to him that the fort was besieged by wolves. They were howling at the gates, and sometimes he and the Factor paused from the game to listen and laugh at them. And suddenly the door was burst open. He could see the wolves coming into the big living-room. They were leaping straight for him and the Factor. Their howling now followed him everywhere.
And then he awoke to find the howling real. The wolves were all about him and upon him. The teeth of one had closed upon his arm. Instinctively he leaped into the fire, and as he leaped, he felt the sharp teeth that tore through the flesh of his leg. Then there began a fire fight. His mittens temporarily protected his hands, and he threw burning coals into the air in all directions, until the campfire looked like a volcano. But it could not last long. The heat was becoming unbearable to his feet. With a burning brand in each hand, he sprang to the edge of the fire. The wolves had been driven back, and many of them stepped on the fallen coals, crying with pain.
The man thrust his brands at the nearest of his enemies, then thrust his mittens and legs into the snow to cool them. His two dogs were missing, and he well knew that they had served as a course in the meal which had begun days before with Fatty, and the last course of which would likely be himself in the days to follow.
“You haven’t got me yet!” he cried, shaking his fist at the hungry beasts; and at the sound of his voice the whole circle was agitated, and the she-wolf came close to him and watched him with hungry wistfulness.
Henry extended the fire into a large circle and crouched inside it. The whole pack came closer to see what had become of him. They could not cross the fire, and they now settled down in a close-drawn circle, like dogs, blinking and yawning and stretching their lean bodies in the warmth. Then the she-wolf sat down, pointed her nose at a star, and began to howl. One by one the wolves joined her, till the whole pack was howling.
Dawn came, and daylight. The fire was burning low. The fuel had run out, and there was need to get more. The man could not step out of the circle of fire or drive the wolves back. As he gave up and sat inside his circle, a wolf leaped for him, missed, and landed with all four feet in the coals. It cried out with terror, at the same time snarling, and jumped back to cool its paws in the snow.
The man sat down on his blankets. His shoulders relaxed and drooped, his head was on his knees: he had given up the struggle. Now and again he raised his head and watched the fire dying. The circle of flame and coals was breaking into segments with openings in between.
“I guess you can come and get me any time,” he said. “Anyway, I’m going to sleep.”
Once he awakened, and in an opening in the circle, he saw the she-wolf gazing at him.
Again he awakened, a little later, though it seemed hours to him. A mysterious change had taken place. He could not understand at first. Then he discovered it. The wolves were gone. Only the traces on the snow showed how closely they had come.
There were cries of men and sounds of sleds and harnesses, and the whimpering of dogs. Four sleds with half a dozen men approached the man who crouched in the centre of the dying fire. They were shaking him into consciousness. He looked at them like a drunken man and said sleepily:
“Red she-wolf… Come in with the dogs at feeding time… First she ate the dog-food… Then she ate the dogs… And after that she ate Bill…”
“Where’s Lord Alfred?” one of the men shouted in his ear, shaking him roughly.
He shook his head slowly. “No, she didn’t eat him… He’s in a tree at the last camp.”
“And in a box,” Henry jerked his shoulder away from the grip of his questioner. “Leave alone… Good night, everybody.”
His eyes closed. And even as they put him down upon the blankets his snores sounded in the frosty air.
But there was another sound: a far and faint cry of the hungry wolf-pack as it took the trail of other meat.