SO ROBERT BROCKTON decided to die.
With hands careful and methodic he put away the test tubes, retorts and chemicals cluttered on the laboratory table, and walked from the little room out upon the upper veranda of his home reared high on the brow of Point Grey hill. Before him n a great crescent stretched a panorama rare md beautiful, a combination unusual of sea md city, mountains and great woods, a
:wenty mile sweep from the lighthouse of Point Atkinson the homes of the wealthy on Shaughnessy Heights. U his feet, a good fifty yards of drop below, lapped the vater of the calm Pacific, here called Burrard Inlet. Jpon the Inlet’s other side, some seven miles away, he low, slow-sloping mountains forever dipped their eet into the brine. The range, heavy-wooded to its -ery base, stretched an almost perfect half circle from Joint Atkinson to the harbor’s end, forming amphiheatre Brobdingnagian, in which was laid the Canadian eaport city of Vancouver, raising its house roofs, lusiness blocks and warehouses on hills and in dales nee densely forested with fir and cedar monarchs enturies old.
And standing now, here on his wide veranda under he glory and the blaze of mid-July afternoon. Robert Irockton far-ranged his eyes. The water sparkled under he unbroken rays of hot sun floating i sky of deepest blue. Around him ly the scattered dwellings of the rburb of Point Grey; and beyond, irther along the much indented, ow-curving shoreline, and reaching ack up the gradual slopes, the rown roofs of Kitsilano suburb, oser in to the city proper: and syond this again the heart of the ew metropolis making the skyline ■rrated with its jumble of various chitecture, much of which now oming a little blur.ed through the Iphur-colored smoke from the omes of the tall columned blowers
the many mills along False Creek stuary, where screaming saws with ood dust and small trimmings kept e blowers fed, these vestal fires of dustry forever burning. Through e yellow haze a few of the huge hidings still showed clearly to his es—the brown baronial pile of the fote! Vancouver, like some castle G with its turrets and its towers.
battlemented roof; the high white Gong of the Birk’s Building, and i,e Standard Bank, the latter roof ¡orned with figures carved like for a Pantagruel; and the ('me of the World tower glowing rlly above its octagonal form of fc,)wn.
As he looked upon this city, for f.ny years his home, Robert Brockpondered his decision made a I nute ago, one come unexpectedly t him, twenty years a scientific tier.
Gere before him lay a city, a place b , recent-sprung, its beginning only ajnatter of three decades before, its r 1 growth but of the last ten years.
he thought; men were always b;lding cities; Thebes, Babylon,
IGeveh, Carthage, Tyre and Ascamen had built; and they we gone—foundations and their finders buried deep beneath the diris and the dust of following cilizations forever coming on. As tly had passed, so would this place
This Robert Brockton knew. But the coming and going of cities, civilizations and the men who created them, held a place in his mind only momentary of duration, a sort of association of ideas, as he stood gazing long upon the view flung far and splendid before him. He wanted to know what lay beyond this realm of sentient conception.
TWO days previously, as a part of a scientific seeking, he had succeeded in his little laboratory in producing life by artificial means; a low form of it, true, yet still life. For twenty years before he had been digging and delving, perpetually searching for knowledge along various lines. As a boy of twenty-two graduating from college he had been gripped by an intellectual curiosity of the why and wherefore of himself and all the universe
about him. Aided by a small fortune, wrested for him by a hard-headed business-man father from the timber resources of the Pacific coast, Robert Brockton had been able then to begin and for the twenty following years give wide range to his hungry mind, unhampered by any distracting work or worry in gaining a living, which problem has held back so many scientists before him.
For twenty years he had worked; through reading, study, experiment and travel explored the universe about him. Chemistry, biology, metaphysics, and many other highways and byways of knowledge he had trod. The works of Darwin, Huxley, of Kant and Hume, and Spencer, Scotus Erigena, Plato, Locke, and Freud, and a score of other master minds, ancient and modern, he had scanned long and carefully. He had travelled to far lands and seen strange people and things of nature. In his laboratory high here on Point Grey hill he had conducted various experiments with that indefatigable energy, that patience, that untiring perseverance of the truly scientific mind.
Within him the longings of late youth had increased from a spark to a steady fire by the time early manhood was reached, and from this period on kept growing stronger and fiercer till his desire for knowledge was an all-engrossing thing, an obsession. Step by step, mental
process by mental process, he had marched on, theorizing, conjecturing, experimenting, establishing facts, always seeking, yet never seeing where his search was leading; never seeing, for all the clearness of his mental vision, his keen powers of analysis. Then suddenly to-day as he worked among his test tubes, retorts and chemicals, verifying for the dozenth time the truth of his power to produce life, it had come like a searing flash that this bringing into being of matter animate by means that were artificial was not what he wanted—he wanted the answer to life; the answer to the riddle of the universe; desired to see what lay beyond the Everlasting No which stood back of the door of death. And in that minute realization came that all his study, his experimenting, all his reading of the philosophers, scientists and other learned ones was effort futile and wasted. Those master minds could tell him nothing! All the countless and weighty tomes they had written, over which eager-eyed he had pored long and carefully brought him nowhere. His mind was as empty of the answer to the riddle as on that first day when slimy and squirming he became an earthborn thing and raised hK voice in screaming lamentation at he knew not what.
Fast following upon the realization that the answer to the riddle of life lay only by way of the door of death, Robert Brockton was mastered by the intensity of his scientific seeking; a supreme urge, an irresistible impulsing—that same which moves mystics, fakirs and fanatics to work torture on their bodies to purify their souls—in one fleeting second emancipated him from every absolute law that rules the average mind, from every categorical imperative, from every reason for remaining alive.
So Robert Brockton decided to die. The veranda was long and wide,
the size of the deck of a small excursion steamer. Up and down it Robert Brockton fell to pacing, deep in thought. The tide had just turned to run in, and from the long flat below him now came its sounding, at first a faint susurrons murmur, soft as little breeze through the alder clump across the way, then quickly rising to a long churning dashing as the line of infant breakers white, chased loudly shouting shoreward.
A S HE walked there came to him, by some strange freakish twist of his subconscious mind, memory of some lines of Oscar Wilde, a favorite poet of his, but the lines hie had not realized till now had remained with him:
, .and, when all is said,
Death is too rude, too obvious a key To solve one single secret in a life’s
Spurred by these words, something within him woke and voiced a protest: “You will die eventually, and then will know the answer to the riddle. Why not wait?”
But Robert Brockton, scientist, brooked no delay. The protesting ordinary human side of him he heeded but a moment; then his scientific mind was filled again with throbbing thoughts of anticipation. “Soon I shall know!” his scientific self exulted.
The problem presented some little difficulty, for, despite his conception of immediate world leave taking, Robert Brockton wras not forgetful of earthly business. His father had died soon after his birth. Upon the fortune he had left,
Robert Brockton and his mother had lived until the present. But their needs, or rather Robert’s, had been greater than the interest from their capital, causing them year by year to draw upon the principal, until two years previously only three thousand dollars remained.
This Robert Brockton had kept untouched by contributing a series of scientific articles to one of the large magazines, and delivering lectures on biology three times a week at the local university, which had brought in some two thousand dollars annually, a sum sufficient for his mother’s simple needs and his own, recently lightened by the inexpensive nature of the research work he had been engaged upon.
His articles had been well received. The editor had just the week before written asking for more; a publisher had expressed a willingness to bring out in book form the series already printed in the magazine, offering one thousand dollars for the right and royalty of ten per cent. The idea of writing further articles as recently requested Robert Brockton now banished, as their preparation would demand too much time. To the publisher, how'ever, he decided to write an acceptance that very night, assigning the payment and all royalties to his mother. Her birthday was soon. Even if the book did not sell, the purchase price and the remaining money in the bank would place at her disposal four thousand dollars. Then there was his life insurance of five thousand more. He had taken it out many years before, just previous to embarking on a dangerous expedition to central Borneo. This was made out to his mother, so, in all, at his death she would have nine thousand dollars cash. The great white house perched high on Point Grey hill, and the half acre of ground around it was also hers. And she was sixty-five years old, a simple-living and homey body.
Robert Brockton nodded vigorously, a habit peculiar when satisfied with some particular line of thought. Certainly nine thousand dollars was more than enough to keep her comfortable at her rate of living, even if she attained to the hundred mark of years.
But though thus easily was his mother’s physical welfare assured, there was still a difficult obstacle to be considered: she was deeply religious fn a quiet, unostentatious way, a tolerant woman who read her Bible, attended the nearest Baptist church every Sunday evening, and found strength and consolation in orthodox beliefs that had been taught to her in childhood.' And though there was not in the sacred hook she read so often any lines outright condemning suicide, Robert Brockton now' remembered how great her feeling was against it. To her it was an unpardonable sin. Often in the past she had spoken upon the subject to him at times when locally some poor mortal had taken this way out, or on occasion when the papers had been full of the self-destruction of some person of world wide fame. Usually so tolerant, this gentle old lady then waxed angry, and with verdict prolix did condemn all people giving w'ay to such action.
'"TWENTY years of scientific seeking had swept
A Robert Brockton away from all religious beliefs. Busy with other matters to him more interesting, he had thought little of matters spiritual; had gradually assumed that attitude of: “If there is a God, alright; if
there is not, it doesn’t matter.” And gone on with his work. But Robert Brockton loved his mother. Her deeply rooted horror of suicide now filled his mind; and though this in no way changed his determination of seeking death to satisfy at once his scientific seeking of what lay beyond, it fathered in him the idea of dissimulation—suicide he must, but in such way no man
would ever dream of giving his death that name; instead, would see an accidental happening only, something due to causes natural and unavoidable.
Quickly the solution came—the sea, its waters lapping the foot of the hill fifty yards below and two hundred feet distant. Every day, at least once, and sometimes twice when the high tides were in keeping with his leisure, he ran down the steep board wralk to the water, attired only in his bathing suit, and plunged in and swam for ten or twenty minutes; then, refreshed, dashed at fast pace up the hill home again.
As a boy he had mastered the art of swimming, and during the thirty odd years following he had been much in the water, acquiring such a proficiency that once during one of his scientific explorations in the South Seas he had drawn admiring comment from some natives, themselves the greatest swimmers of the race of man. Yet even the finest of swimmers can be drowned through the agency of a cramp, against which even the strongest is not immune.
Thus Robert Brockton pondered and made his plan.
AT TWENTY minutes past eight in the evening following the making of his resolve, Robert Brockton, attired only in bathing suit and light slippers, the latter a protection against the rough board walk leading to the sea, came down the stairs from the upper floor of his house and stepped out upon the lower veranda.
By skilful landscape gardening the hillside ground about the house, now perfect of lawn and shrubbery dotted, had been made level. A city roadway, running parallel with the beach, had been cut through the lower section of the hill just where the grounds ended, making necessary cement walls ten feet high to keep the earth from slipping into the thoroughfare. Thus the surface of the lawn was this height above the street. To reach the street from the front of the house a row of thirty steps sharp of incline had been put by cutting deeply through the grounds. Cement walls, similar to those paralleling the streets, had been raised on either side of the steps, their height growing rapidly from one foot above the first step of the stairs at the house level till they reared some twelve feet above the bottom one lying level with the street. Down these Robert Brockton now began descending, his tread the unlooking and careless one of long familiarity with the surroundings. But suddenly as his right foot touched the surface of the third step it struck a newly-come obstruction. He went toppling
downward. Instinctively, with motion mechanical, his arms shot out, the fingers prehensile, clutching, caught the vine-like stalk of the climbing rose bush which lined the wall. And this, stout and strong, held firm. One fierce wrench upon his shoulder sockets, one moment of his body dangling clear in space, and then his feet came to rest on a step a dozen below the treacherous one.
For a full two minutes he stood picking from his hands the painful rose prickles. Then, ascending the steps, he sought the reason for his fall. Across the cement surface of the third step a clean break now showed about two inches from the outer edge. The surface in the middle of the step had sunken nearly an inch into the earth beneath, leaving the narrow remaining portion of a projection liable to trip any person going down. The man stood eyeing the broken surface in surprise, for such break could not come from undermining of the earth below by any burrowing animal, as such spot could not be reached; too, all the surface water was taken care of by a well arranged system of drains. But then he reflected, sometimes drains got stopped up.
“Must warn mother,” he muttered, and he turned back. He found her in the kitchen critically examining the yeast she had set a little while before, for though she kept one maid, Mary Brockton belonged to the old school of housekeepers, and still insisted on doing her own cooking. As he turned to leave after advising her of his discovery, she said: “Alright, I’ll remember. And I’ll remind you of it to-morrow, for you will surely forget, you’re so absentminded.” She said this last in the tone of fond indulgence mothers use when referring to the lapses of well loved ones.
HE NODDED and hurried out. As he again
descended the steps he avoided with cautious feet the treacherous third one. Half way down the stairs a queer thought came to him. Halting and half turning his head, he looked upward to that third step, then downward to the very bottom one, measuring the distance and declivity with calculating eye. Certainly but for his clutching the climbing rose he would have hurtled clear to the bottom and broken his neck. He smiled grimly as this now dawned upon him ; then went on faster to the board walk below, and on to where a few yards further an intersecting one led down to the beach.
The water had reached the high tide mark and was just turning to go out when he arrived at the shore. Taking off his shoes, he placed them on the sand where quickly they would catch any searching eye, then with a rush and dive plunged beneath the ocean’s surface. With powerful overhand strokes, his strong arms curved boomerang-like as they dipped into the brine, Robert Brockton swam out into the Inlet. The sun, a dead red ball, hung low above the water far out to sea. Across Crown Mountain one lonely little wispy cloud was drifting, and before him the water stretched away faintly, shaking like leaded glass stained dully red and gently in commotion. On and on he swam with that fish-ease that comes to man only from a life-time of experience with the ocean. Presently turning on his back, he floated, and felt how that outward surging tide was racing him along. How wonderful thus to die! to lie inert here on the bosom of old mother ocean and be carried out and out gently, so gently on the slow-heaving swells! For a moment he ceased floating, and, treading water, turned his face to' the shore, now fully half a mile away. There, highlooming on the hill, his home reared its square white bulk, the windows reflecting red the day’s last rays, retreating phalanxed spearsmen of the sun. He fixed his eye on one window—his mother’s. And for a moment vague regret, strange, poignant, but yet not sorrow, filled him, drifting now forever from that dear woman and that happy home out into the void and the dark of an unknown eternity. But in the succeeding minute this ache fled before the high, strong flaming of the scientific fire burning within him. As the water surged around him, lushing him ever faster out toward the gulf and the open ocean, a joyous ecstasy came to him, a vast exultation setting every nerve to thrilling. Soon now his mind would sense new perceptions, or be forever blank; and the hope of the first was worth the risk of the second.
Again he swam, with long, even strokes—out, out, ever out. The red sun embraced the sea. Slowly it was sliced away to a glowing igloo of fire. Then this too was gone, and twilight’s trailing garments dressed the face of the water with veiling gloom, through which, here and there, very few and far between, tiny red glows showed faintly, close to the ocean’s surface, the buoy lights on the outer end of the drift nets of the salmon fishermen gathering their nightly harvest from the so fecund deep.
Presently, directly ahead, the low-looming bulk of a gill-net fishing boat showed. Robert Brockton realized his danger, for there was still sufficient light to make
visible his bobbing head, and such sight would bring the fishermen quick to save. He was still fresh, quite untired by his mile of swim with the outgoing tide. But now faced with the possibility of being picked up, he decided to hasten on the end, one previously leisurely intended through exhaustion.
Dexterous of immersion as a seal, he flashed under; with eyes wide open went swimming down. Down, down; down through the weird crepuscular light of the ocean, growing ever fainter he forced his way down with strokes made powerful by a life-time of practice. Ten, twenty, thirty feet he attained easily; but fast the pressure grew, till at the forty foot mark Robert Brockton was halted, and all his striving was necessary to fight the upward bearing of the water.
SWAYED by the might of his desire to find the riddle’s answer, he now strove desperately, with herculean downward driving strokes to maintain this position.
The pressure made loud roaring in his head, and formed the water into seeming plates of steel, slowly crushing in his chest. The enervated blood sent forth wild cry for reviving oxygen. His starting eyes saw in the under water dusk bright lights and darting spots strange and foreign to the reality of the place where all was gloom. Agonies unknown, never befoie even distantly approached by the pain forty years of living had inflicted, agonies unknown, excruciating torture, flaming phalanxes of needles pressing, pneumatic hammers driving, mountain weights greatly crushing—these and a hundred lesser wracking sensations Robert Brockton suffered. Yet enduring, still held his position; Antaeus-like drew ever increasing strength of resistance from his scientific resolve.
But suddenly at last something snapped within his head. Cold reason gave way to wild terror. His great brain, so strong of rule, till the minute forcing his body to endure sufferings more than ordinarily possible, lost control, and instinctive impulse took command, the atavie animal will-to-be, the yea-tolife, the everlasting cling and urge to existence, that hungry spark embodied in every sentient thing from the moneron and amoeba to the race of man.
Up, up, his hands, fast growing feeble, sent the body with frantic strokes born of the cosmic terror of the goal of death. His head emerged.
Lungs that, had twice taken water gulped their natural element in reviving quantities. At the surface— the primal element in him still in command—the man floated with the unconscious naturalness and ease of experience. From close by there arose a shout. Silence. Then the grate of oars in rowlocks. Robert Brockton heard the sound. An undertow had carried him back almost to the boat he had endeavored to elude. His eyes sought and found it thirty feet away, bulking vague, amorphous on the night-blurred sea.
And the Robert Brockton that was now in command cried out hoarsely.
The weary arms of him dipped and rose, dipped and rose in strokes pathetic in their weakness, yet forward moving his body toward the boat, while the heart of him sang exultingly the atavie song of the yeato-be, the triumphant paean of the will-to-live, that universal spark so mysterious and so fiercely urgent in all earthborn things.
Reaching hands clutched him, drew him over the side. Half an hour later, sick at the stomach and with raging headache, but still sufficiently recovered to walk, Robert Brockton stepped from the boat run close in to shore, and waded to the beach.
Declining further aid he moved on up along the sand to where lay his shoes, and with shaky steps began the shortjourney home, meeting half way his mother much alarmed, the maid, and two neighboring gentlemen.
“It’s allright,” he assured them. “I just swam out too far, and it was hard returning against the ebbing tide.”
DOBERT BROCKTON walked in his grounds, perfect of lawn and shrubbery dotted. All about him was life—birds, bees and butterflies flitted in the July air; at his feet ants ran, a caterpillar crawled, a
grasshopper went hurtling away in queer short flights; at his heels a solemn fox terrier and its inseparable companion, a grey and black-barred tabby cat, walked with sober mein and tread sedate—life piled on life, life legion in kind, varied of form, an infinity of vigor and emotion, the abysmal fecundity, the eternal yea-to-be that filled the earth and sky and waters beneath with sentient thin gs.
A week lay behind Robert Brockton and his adventurous seeking a way to the unknown beyond; a week of dejection, recrimination and fresh pondering, for qmckly the scientific flame within him had revived. As he walked in the garden now this plethora of living things about him roused him further. Why were they? Why was he?—and what? And eagerness came again to him to be rid of this which men called life, and know the answer. One thing, however: Robert Brockton had learned a lesson; he now realized that the way out must be taken in such a manner as to give the unscientific side of him no chance to again assert itself. So walking here in the neat, well ordered grounds, he dwelt upon the matter with careful thoroughness; that attention to cause, effect, and detail which so marks the truly scientific mind, a marvellous organism, coldly calculating, moving serenely to its goal, sure, certain, unwavering. Thus now Robert Brockton sought a plan by which would be prevented another disgraceful triumph of the base yea-to-be of the ordinary human part of him.
Suggestion after suggestion marched up in his mind, was reviewed, closely inspected, then discarded; but at last came one acceptable.
A HOT sun of August’s first morning shone down on Robert Brockton by the north shore of Anderson Lake in the heart of the Coast Range. Here at a lonely siding the night before he had alighted from the mixed freight and passenger train which ran tri-weekly on the
Pacific Great Eastern Railway from the tidewater terminal of Squamish, forty miles by boat from Vancouver, to the mountain town of Lillooet, a hundred odd miles inland. The railroad was a new one, but partly completed, and still in the hands of the construction department. It pierced a country of mountains, a rough wild stretch almost uninhabited. To Anderson Lake as starting point for penetrating farther and higher up in the mountain region, Robert Brockton had come again. Once, two years previously, he had travelled for some weeks in the vicinity, and the remembrances of the steep precipices here had been the basis of the suggestion accepted from many considered ones. Ostensibly the trip was in connection with his scientific studies. As camp assistant and guide he was accompanied by Johnny Smith, white man in name but red of skin, a full blood Indian from off a near reserve; for Robert Brockton was fully aware that insurance companies required to see the bodies of men upon whose lives they were forced to pay policy money.
A foot-wide trail, carved with titan labor by a prospector to a mine in the distant past, led along the side of the mountains for fifteen miles, climbing in that stretch to an elevation of seven thousand feet. Beyond the trail’s end unknown peaks defiled into distances unpathed and unexplored.
With a pair of blankets each, two weeks’ provisions, one hand axe, the load equally divided of weight between them, and carried in regulation packsacks, number one of size, and one rifle by Johnny toted, the travellers came to the trail’s end late upon the evening of the day of their start.
With morning’s coming they again proceeded onward and upward. Ahead, flung far and wide, the whitecapped peaks, the jagged ridges of gniess and granite grey, and steep inclines, stretched away a chaotic sea to a changeless horizon as though a stormy ocean’s tremendous waves had been suddenly halted in motion, and forever frozen still.
High among the highest of the range, just where the tree line dwindled, Robert Brockton two evenings later announced himself satisfied to camp permanently for their two weeks of projected stay.
With the coming of the next morning he set out ostensibly searching among the rocks for certain peculiar plant growths indigenous to the region, but in reality looking for a place suitable for an accident, an accident sure and certain of resultant death.
In the first two days’ rambles following the making of permanent camp, Robert Brockton walked alone. But on the third morning, with breakfast finished and Johnny done with the dishes, Robert Brockton said: “Better bring your gun and come along, Johnny; yesterday I saw a bear. You might see him again to-day.”
Together they started, the scientist setting the course. And Robert Brockton, keen, clear analyst, the highest type of scientific mind, joyed as he walked along; was filled with a queer ecstasy, such as he alone among all the race of man could find pleasurable. Before him soon now— a matter of less than thirty minutes —lay the great solution which all the men of all the ages since early in the race’s history had pondered upon, yet at nothing arrived. Quickly he would know whether immortality— man’s grand dream, his most magnificent conception—was; or know nothing, and be swallowed up in the eternal sleep of nihility.
His thoughts so dwelling, Robert Brockton actually felt come a momentary sense of aggravation that, he had delayed so long; that his scientific seeking had not years before pointed clearly the path he was so belatedly taking. The feeling, however, lasted only a flitting space of time, for now, when the culmination of his plan remained but a matter of minutes, he had no time for sadness or regrets.
And this time he was sure of himself. The day before he had found the ideal spot for the successful launching of his project, the wall approaches of a pyramid-shaped
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peak not twenty minutes’ walk from the camp. The peak, snowless at this season, and much lower than many surrounding ones, fitted perfectly with his need. By the route he now took up on Vhe rock walls leading to the peak the ascent was a sharp incline, difficult, yet possible of climbing. Near to the summit of the peak, however, the ascent was broken by a ledge about twelve feet wide. From this ledge the rock wall sheered straight up, preventing the reaching of the summit. This ledge also continued on around the end of the wall and along a second one of the pyramid-like approaching walls for a distance of about a hundred and fifty feet, when it ended abruptly against a rocky crag jutting out at right angles to the otherwise smooth surface of the wall. The ledge along this second wall, unlike that of first one, which was almost an even width of twelve feet, was very narrow. At its widest, where it left the angle of the two walls, it was but two feet. This distance narrowed down in spots to the bare breadth of a large man’s shoes. Below this ledge the rock face sheered straight down, a thousand feet of drop. And this cliff, with its giddy drop, whose edge was still so easy of reaching and so fitting a stage for accidental exit, was sufficient for Robert Brockton’s plan.
The previous afternoon he had stood on the ledge at the beginning of its narrow way along the second of the faces of the mountain. Standing here he had surveyed the drop, found it satisfactory, yet, with his mind jubilant, had still returned to camp; for the presence of Johnny Smith was necessary to witness the final act.
With Johnny at his heels, Robert Brockton presently came to a halt upon the wide ledge just at the point where the edges of the two walls met. Standing here Johnny could see the narrow ledge which lay beyond. Halting at the intersection, Robert Brockton said: “Theie is a plant growth on the jutting face of the wall at the end of that narrow ledge I must get. Then we’ll go along down the farther side of the mountain and I’ll show you the slide where the bear was feeding.”
Johnny eyed the narrow ledge, the frowning wall above it and the abyss below. “It’s pretty narrow. I don’t think I’d try it,” he ventured in the perfect English many reservation Indians speak at the present day.
But heedless the white man moved out upon the narrow way, more difficult of passage than he had even judged from observation on the previous day. The almost perpendicular wall beside him, however, presented the advantage of being full of fissures, and with fingers gripping in these he went on slowly, a clinging, fly-like thing, insignificantly little, lost there against the immensity and vastness of heights towering and falling so tremendously away.
WHEN thirty feet distant from the anxiously watching Johnny, the scientist’s right foot slipped suddenly on a pebble at the path’s narrowest spot, no wider than the soles of his shoes, and just at the very second when his outstretched right hand was reaching for a farther fissure. Now was the time to go toppling over into space and go hurtling down that thousand feet and more of airy emptiness to the jumbled boulders piled below. Yet with impulse involuntary, action elemental, his left hand redoubled its grip, and madly he clung to the fissure, the five straining fingers sustaining all the wrench and the weight of the unstable body. And in the following gasp of time he threw his weight back upon the firmly planted left foot. A breathless infinitesimal space he hung there, so dreadly balanced that the heart of the watching Johnny stood still with sickening apprehension. Then the outstretched fingers of the scientist’s right hand found the reached-for cleft. Another second he swayed till his right foot again settled to firm hold. Breathing hard, he clung there motionless, then, when recovered, began inwardly upbraiding himself for failing to take advantage of this chance-come opportunity so much better than any situation he could ever feign.
The momentary panic quite over, his scientific resolve reasserted; called more loudly than ever for immediate action. So on and on he went, with every step de-
ciding that at the next he should fake a stumble and let go. Yet step followed step and still he hung on there above the abyss, while ever the way forward grew harder.
Seventy feet he covered and came at last to a five-foot stretch, over the whole of which the pathway did not much exceed in width the bottom of his shoes.
“This is the place, the ideal spot,” the scientific self within him shouted. His feet, close together, the one behind the other, came to rest upon the beginning of this twice narrow ledge. His hands above his head found a fissure. “Let go! Let go! Let go now!” his scientific self cried, fiercely urging. But Robert Brockton, the earthborn being, looked down into the depths and his heart began loud pounding, his breath came faster, and still he clung there, a pigmy-hanging thing above the void of eternity, afraid to die, cringing back from destruction that leered up through a thousand feet of empty space. And then as he gazed, with his scientific self still urging him to make ready for the letting go, his mind, so keen, so clear the moment before, suddenly was fogged. Terror, wild, blind, uncontrollable by higher reason, surged up and mastered him. He turned. Slowly, with an animal caution absolute he moved backward toward Johnny safe on that wider ledge, and stepped at last upon this to slump down white and shaking to a sitting position beside the for many minutes anxious guide.
Yet neither man voiced a word. Presently, still in silence, Robert Brockton got to his feet and turned his steps campward. All day he lay sprawled upon his blankets before the tent, bathing in the warm rays of the August sun, while his mind pondered long upon a new-come realization.
Supper time arrived. Johnny called him to a spread of bannock, and young blue grouse deliciously brown and extra tasty from long, slow simmering in bacon fat with a little water added. And with the first morsel, an illicit one, for the season lacked a month of opening, Robert Brockton felt hunger upon him. He ate heartily, drank many draughts of tea. When at last he sat back satisfied, and with well filled pipe drawing satisfactorily, he remarked abruptly, in that odd manner peculiar to men too much given to indwelling and heavy thought: “Well,
Johnny, we’ll start home to morrow, for I’ve just made a new scientific discovery: that matter is greater than mind; that the primal yea-to-existence inherent in all humanity is the master force, superior even to the commands of most highly trained and organized scientific mind.”
To which Johnny, made tactful and diplomatic by long years of guiding many strange white men, replied: “Sure, Mr. Brockton.” And went on cleaning up the supper dishes.
IT WAS raining and bleak, and a thin fog lay over Anderson Lake and the railway track when Robert Brockton on the morning of the tenth of August said goodbye to Johnny Smith and flagged the tri-weekly train and climbed aboard homeward bound.
The Pacific Great Eastern Express, so the scattered settlers along the line had humorously dubbed the mixed train operated by the construction department, was strange in appearance this morning. The usual long strips of box cars and some times flats which generally stood before the one passenger and baggage coach, was missing. Behind the engine there was only the baggage car and solitary passenger coach, and Robert Brockton found himself the solitary occupant of the latter, and the train was already a quarter of the way upon its journey. Presently as it gathered speed, he smiled with pleasure, for the lightly loaded engine was pulling much faster than usual this tri-weekly local, a good augur for arriving right on time, not often occurring where much freight had to be handled and switching of many box cars to be done.
The train rumbled on, the battered old coach pitching and tossing like a row boat broadside on to a choppy swell, while every fibre of its ancient wooden frame creaked protestingly. The fog thickened and blurred from sight even the right-of-
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way and the passing walls of rock-cuts. But now and then a long diapason roll, or short thundering ones, told of trestles large or small left behind. At irregular intervals the engine’s whistle screamed hoarsely; a bellow muffled and made melodious by the hanging fog, it reverberated and repeated reverberation on reverberation down distant ¿[canyons lonely.
And Robert Brockton closed his eyes and gave himself up to that odd human joy a homeward carrying motion brings; and, affected by the chill and the fog, he began already in mind pleasuring at the thought of his own fireplace and the highleaping fire which late that night he should sit beside.
Presently, still a little weary from the long hike of the day before down the mountain, he dozed, his head nodding sideways in keeping with the motion of the swaying train, fast boring through the fog.
A jarring crash, a sense of motion momentarily suspended, then a hurtling downward and a splash. Confusedly these things Robert Brockton knew as he was thrown from his seat and fell sprawling in the aisle. Then water poured in upon him from all sides as the car submerged in the river below a burnedthrough bridge upon which the engineer had run unseeing in the heavy fog.
_ With a faint jolt the car struck the river’s bottom, landing upright, this retaining of ordinary position caused by the speed at which it left the track and the balancing weight of the trucks. Immediately as it submerged, the interior was plunged in darkness; but in that starfalling flash of time before it sank, Robert Brockton, on his knees in the aisle, saw the door ahead of him burst open before the water’s pressure. As the encompassing river filled the space and closed over his head, he was already moving toward the door, speeding his progress by hand-holds from seat to seat. And as he went, he thanked all those years of training in the water which now made him the swimmer and the diver that he was.
HE FOUND the door, pushed himself out, and felt his freed body leap upI wards. His head broke the surface almost immediately, for this mountain river here was not deep. In the next instant his eyes glimpsed dimly through the fog the rocky bank scarcely more than a hundred feet away. His arms flashed out in the old familiar stroke; that stroke which had once brought praise from swarthy Polynesians, themselves among the world’s best swimmers. Hampered though he was by clothes and shoes and the fastnumbing icy water of this river, glacier fed, he still moved backward, though carried downstream by the current swift.
And now Robert Brockton, who so short a time before had striven in this same way so hard to die, fought for life with all the power of a perfect body.
Nearer came the shore. Yet so chilled now was he, and weighted, he began to go under.
Once, twice, three times the river dragged him down; his leaden feet, seeming tons in weight, refusing longer to keep up and kicking. Then suddenly as he sank vertically for this third time, his shoes struck bottom. He straightened to a standing position, bracing his body against the current. A moment the river tugged and wrestled; but now with his chin just above the water Robert Brockton held his ground.
Once more stride and life was secure again. He dragged himself up the here slowly sloping bank. After several minutes of resting on a rock, he went on to the railway track.
Moving slowly down it, he presently encountered a track inspector on his three-wheeled speeder, and informed him of the wreck.
And so two days later Robert Brockton walked again in his grounds overlooking the calm Pacific, his terrier and his cat marching sedately at his heels; and as he walked, life suddenly seemed good, the most desirable thing in the world, for all its mystery.