Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/288

This page has been validated.



the mountains, what purgatory could equal that! Jem Brown cowered down, moaning . . . as the thunderous drumming came directly over the cabin, increased to a deafening roar, culminated in a series of shot-like explosions—and ceased. In the sudden uncanny quiet he could hear his own voice raised in a feeble whimper like a frightened child’s. Of course it had been a dream, the feverish, half-consciousness of delirium . . . but how real for the moment, how hideously real. . . .What?

With terror the old man heard the sound of his first visitor, knocking; and saw the door swing back. . . .

A strange figure in leather clothes and a begoggled helmet stood in the opening, stared into the dim cabin, breathed an exclamation of relief: “I was afraid that this place was deserted—and I’m miles off my course! I’ve been trying for two hours to find a bare space to come down in; it was just by the merest chance that I saw this clearing—and none too good a landing field at that! Can you tell me where I am? What’s the nearest town?” He stopped to look more closely at Jem Brown. “The light was so poor that I couldn’t see you before! Are you sick? You look . . . ghastly!”

The old man could not answer.

The stranger stepped inside the cabin. “Isn’t there something I could do for you? Water? Where can I get you a drink?”

Feebly Jem Brown pointed to the bucket, and indicated the direction of the spring. The young man returned with the brimming pail.

His decisive voice was clear: “If you can give me some idea of where I am, and the general direction, I think we’d better be on our way. I’ll carry you out to the plane, and take you to a hospital. This is the last place for a sick man to be! Just now, by that spring, I saw a big bear and two cubs! You’d stand no chance—even if you were able to go for water!”

Jem Brown roused himself: “That’s Mollie—I found her four-five years ago; guess her mother’d been killed, ‘cause the wolves were yappin’ round the poor little cuss. . . . She comes back an’ hangs ’bout, every summer now, with her cubs. Mollie’d steal bacon’n bread . . . but she wouldn’t touch me!”