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! il 12 GOODWIN'S WEEKLY.
ty If By JACK LONDON
''I , L
Mr E was a young man, not more than twenty
four or Ave, and lie might have sat his horse
, with the careless grace of his youth had ho not
been so catlike and tense. His black eyes roved
I everywhere, catching the movements of twigs
and branches where small birds hopped, questing
! ever onward through the changing vistas of trees
1 and brush, and returning always to the clumps
1 of undergrowth on either side. And as he
watched, so did ho listen, though he rode on In
silence, save for the boom of heavy guns from
far to the west. This had been sounding monot
onously in his ears for hours, and only its cessa
tion would have aroused his notice. For he had
business closer to hand. Across his saddle-bow
was balanced a carbine.
So tensely was he strung that a bunch of quail,
exploding into flight from under his horse's nose,
1 ' startled him to such an extent that automatically,
I instantly, he had reined in and fetched the carbine
I halfway to his shoulder. He grinned sheepishly,
recovered himself, and rode on. So tense was he,
' so bent upon the work he had to do, that the
sweat stung his eyes unwiped, and unheeded rolled
down his nose, and spattered his saddle pommel.
The band of his cavalryman's hat was fresh-stained
with sweat. The roan horse under him was like
wise wet. Even the birds and squirrels did not
s dare the sun, but sheltered in shady hiding-places
' among the trees.
Man and horse were littered with leaves and
dusted with yellow pollen, for the open was ven
tured no more than was compulsory. They kept
) the brush and trees, and invariably the man halted
, and peered out before crossing a dry glade, or
f a naked stretch of upland pasturlngs. He worked
always to the north, though his way was devious,
i , and it was from the north that he seemed most
( to apprehend that for which he was looking. He
was no coward, but his. courage was only that of
the average civilized man, and he was looking to
i "live, not die.
I , I Up a small hillside ho followed a cowpath
I ' through such dense scrub that he was forced to
dismount and lead his horse. But when the path
' swung around to the west, he abandoned it, and
( headed to the north again along the oak-covered
i top of the ridge.
j The ridge ended in a steep descent so steep
I that he zigzagged back and forth across the face
! of the slope, sliding and stumbling among the
v dead leaves and matted vines, and keeping a
'! " watchful eye on the horse above, that threatened
. to fall down upon him. The sweat ran from him,
' and the pollen-dust, settling pungently in mouth
I and nostrils, increased his thirst. Try as he
I f would, nevertheless the descent was noisy, and
j frequently he stopped, panting in the dry heat,
, and listening for any warning from beneath.
At the bottom he came out on a flat so dense
i ly forested that he could not make out its extent.
' I Here the character of the woods changed, and ho
' I was able to remount. Instead of the twisted hill-
rl i side oaks, tall straight trees, big-trunked and pros-
LJL- perous, rose from the damp, fat soil. Only here
mm and there were thickets, easily avoided, while he
fni . encountered winding, park-like glades, where the
' 1 1 cattle had pastured in the days before the war had
M run them off.
I His progrss was more rapid now, as he came
jgj down into the valley, and at the end of half-an-
Jm hour he halted at an ancient rail fence on the
IB edge of a clearing. He did not like the opennes3
j of it, yet his path lay across to the fringe of trees
u tliat marked the banks of the stream. It was a
' ' mere quarter of a mile across that open, but the
I thought of venturing out in it was "epugnant. A
rifle, a score of them, a thousand, might lurk in
that fringe by the stream and he the naked mark.
Twice he essayed to start, and twice he
paused. He was appalled by his own loneliness.
The pulse of war that beat from the west sug
gested the companionship of battling thousands;
here was naught but silence, and himself, and pos
sible death-dealing bullets from a myriad am
bushes. And yet his task was to find what he
feared to find. He must go on, and on, till some
where, some time", he encountered another man, or
other men, from the other Bide, scouting, as he
was scouting, to make report, as he must make re
port, of having come in touch.
Changing his mind, he skirted inside the woods
for a distance, and again peeped forth. This time,
in the middle of the clearing, he saw a small
farm house. There was no signs of life. No
smoke curled from the chimney, not a barnyard
fowl clucked or strutted. The kitchen door stood
open, and he gazed so long and hard into the black
aperture that it seemed almost that a farmer's
wife must emerge at any moment.
He licked the pollen and dust from his dry
lips, stiffened himself, mind and body, and rode
out into the blazing sunshine. Nothing stirred.
Ho went on past the house, and approached the
wall of trees and bushes by the river's bank.
One thought persisted maddeningly. It was of
the crash in his body of a high-velocity bullet. It
made him feel very fragile and defenseless, and
he crouched lower in the saddle.
Tethering his horse in the edge of the wood,
he continued a hundred yards on foot, till he
came to the stream. Twenty feet wide it was,
without perceptible current, cool and inviting,
and he was very thirsty. But he waited inside
his screen of leafage, his eyes fixed on the screen
on the opposite side. To make the wait endur
able, he sat down, his carbine resting on his
knees. The minutes passed, and slowly his tense
ness relaxed. At last he decided there was no
danger; but, just as he prepared to part the
bushes and bend down to the water, a movement
among the opposite bushes caught his eye.
It might be a bird. But he waited. Again
there was an agitation of the bushes, and then,
so suddenly that it almost startled a cry from
him, the bushes parted and a face pdered out.
It was a face covered with several weeks' growth
of ginger-colored beard. The eyes were blue
and wide apart, with laughter-wrinkles in the
corners, that showed despite the tired and anxious
expression of the whole face.
All this he could see with microscopic clear
ness, for the distance was no more than twenty
feet. And all this he saw in such brief time
that he saw it as he lifted his carbine to his
shoulder. He glanced along the sights, and
knew that he was gazing upon a man who was
as good as dead. It was impossible to miss at
such point-blank range.
But he did not shoot. Slowly he lowered
the carbine and watched. A hand, clutching a
water bottle, became visible, and the ginger
beard went downward to fill the bottle. He
could hear the gurgle of the water. Then arm
and bottle and ginger beard disappeared be
liand the closing bushes. A long time he waited,
then, with thirst unslaked, he crept back to his
horse, rode slowly across the sun-washed clear
ing, and passed into the shelter of the woods be
Another day, hot and breathless. A deserted
farm house, large, with many outbuildings and
an orchard, standing in a clearing. 'From the
woods, on a roan horse, carbine across pommel,
rode the young man with the quick black eyeB.
He breathed with relief as he gained the house.
That a fight had taken place earlier in the
season was evident. Clips and empty cartridges
tarnished with verdigris, lay on the ground,
which, while wet, had been torn up by the hoofs
of horses. Hard by the kitchen garden weie
graves, tagged and numbered. From the ouk
tree by the kitchen door, in tattered, weather- I
beaten garments, hung the bodies of two men. j
The faces, shriveled and defaced, bore no like- J
ness to the faces of men. The roan horse snort-
ed beneath them, and the rider caressed and j
soothed it, and tied it farther away. j
Entering the house, he found the interior a j
wreck. He trod on empty cartridges as he
walked from room to room to reconnoitre from
the windows. Men had camped and slept every
where, and, on the floor of one room, he came j
upon stains unmistakable where the wounded had
been laid down.
Again outside, he led the horse around behind
the barn, and invaded the orchard. A dozen
trees were burdened with ripe apples. He filled
his pockets, eating while he picked. Then a
thought came to him, and he glanced at the sun,
calculating the time of his return to camp. He
pulled off his shirt, tying the sleeves and making
a bag. This he proceeded to fill with apples.
As he was about to mount his horse, the ani
mal suddenly pricked up its ears. The man,
too, listened, and heard, faintly, the thud of hoofs j
on soft earth. He crept to the corner of the j
barn and peered out. A dozen mounted men, j
strung out loosely, approaching from the opposite
side of the clearing, were only a matter of a J
hundred yards or so away. They rode on tothe
house. Some dismounted, while others remained j
in the saddle, as an earnest that their stay would j
be short. They seemed to be holding a council,
for he could hear them talking excidedly in the
detested tongue of the alien invader. The time
passed, but they seemed unable to reach a de- .
cision. He put the carbine away in its boot,
mounted, and waited impatiently, balancing the
shirt of apples on the pommel.
He heard footsteps approaching, and drove
his spurs so fiercely into the roan as to force
a surprised groan from the animal as it leaped
forward. At the corner of the barn he saw the
intruder, a mere boy of nineteen or twenty, for
all his uniform, jump back to escape being run
down. At the same moment the roan swerved,
and its rider caught a glimpse of the aroused
men by the house. Some were springing from
their horses, and he could see the rifles going
to their shoulders. He passed the kitchen door,
and the dried corpses swinging in the shade,
compelling his foes to run around the front of
the house. A rifle cracked, and a second, but
he was going fast, leaning forward, low -in the
saddle, one hand, clutching the shirt of apples,
the other guiding the horse.
The top bar of the fence was four feet high,
but he knew his roan, and leaped it at full
career to the accompaniment of several scattered
shots. Eight hundred yards away were the
woods, and the roan was covering the distance
with hungry strides. Every man was now firing.
They were pumping their guns so rapidly that
he no longer heard individual shots. A bullet
went through his hat, but he was unaware,
though he did know when another tore through
the apples on the pommel. And he winced and
ducked even lower when a third bullet, fired low,
struck a stone between his horse's legs, and
rlcochetted off through the air, buzzing and hum
ming like some incredible insect.
The shots died down as the magazines were
(Continued on page 38.)