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 day found the ship still seven mailes 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 paddled 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 awaken 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 more than four miles away. He could see it quite distinctly when he rubbed the mists out of his eyes. 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 infinitude if time, and did not move. It was 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 longs 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 too 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 was on top of the wolf. The hands han not sufficient strength to choke the wolf, but the face of the man was pressed colse 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 some thing that was alive but which could hardlu 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 writhed and twisted and went ahead perhaps a score of feet an hour.
Three weeks afterward the man lay in bunk on the whale－ship beford, 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 southen california, and a home among the orange groves and flowers.