Arizona Nights by Stewart Edward White
Chapter Fourteen. The Chewed Sugar Cane
"I'd like to have trailed you fellows," sighed a voice from the corner.
"Would you!" said Colorado Rogers grimly.
It was five days to the next water. But they were worse than the eight days before. We were lucky, however, for at the spring we discovered in a deep wash near the coast, was the dried-up skull of a horse. It had been there a long time, but a few shreds of dried flesh still clung to it. It was the only thing that could be described as food that had passed our lips since breakfast thirteen days before. In that time we had crossed the mountain chain, and had come again to the sea. The Lord was good to us. He sent us the water, and the horse's skull, and the smooth hard beach, without breaks or the necessity of climbing hills. And we needed it, oh, I promise you, we needed it!
I doubt if any of us could have kept the direction except by such an obvious and continuous landmark as the sea to our left. It hardly seemed worth while to focus my mind, but I did it occasionally just by way of testing myself. Schwartz still threw away his gold coins, and once, in one of my rare intervals of looking about me, I saw Denton picking them up. This surprised me mildly, but I was too tired to be very curious. Only now, when I saw Schwartz's arm sweep out in what had become a mechanical movement, I always took pains to look, and always I saw Denton search for the coin. Sometimes he found it, and sometimes he did not.
The figures of my companions and the yellow-brown tide sand under my feet, and a consciousness of the blue and white sea to my left, are all I remember, except when we had to pull ourselves together for the purpose of cutting fishhook cactus. I kept going, and I knew I had a good reason for doing so, but it seemed too much of an effort to recall what that reason was.
Schwartz threw away a gold piece as another man would take a stimulant. Gradually, without really thinking about it, I came to see this, and then went on to sabe why Denton picked up the coins; and a great admiration for Denton's cleverness seeped through me like water through the sand. He was saving the coins to keep Schwartz going. When the last coin went, Schwartz would give out. It all sounds queer now, but it seemed all right then--and it was all right, too.
So we walked on the beach, losing entire track of time. And after a long interval I came to myself to see Schwartz lying on the sand, and Denton standing over him. Of course we'd all been falling down a lot, but always before we'd got up again.
"He's give out," croaked Denton.
His voice sounded as if it was miles away, which surprised me, but, when I answered, mine sounded miles away, too, which surprised me still more.
Denton pulled out a handful of gold coins.
"This will buy him some more walk," said he gravely, "but not much."
I nodded. It seemed all right, this new, strange purchasing power of gold--it was all right, by God, and as real as buying bricks--
"I'll go on," said Denton, "and send back help. You come after."
"To Mollyhay!" said I.
This far I reckon we'd hung onto ourselves because it was serious. Now I began to laugh. So did Denton. We laughed and laughed.
"A damn long way
said I. Then we laughed some more, until the tears ran down our cheeks, and we had to hold our poor weak sides. Pretty soon we fetched up with a gasp.
"A damn long way
whispered Denton, and then off we went into more shrieks. And when we would sober down a little, one or the other of us would say it again;
"A damn long way
and then we'd laugh some more. It must have been a sweet sight!
At last I realised that we ought to pull ourselves together, so I snubbed up short, and Denton did the same, and we set to laying plans. But every minute or so one of us would catch on some word, and then we'd trail off into rhymes and laughter and repetition.
"Keep him going as long as you can," said Denton.
"And be sure to stick to the beach."
That far it was all right and clear-headed. But the word "beach" let us out.
"I'm a peach
sings I, and there we were both off again until one or the other managed to grope his way back to common sense again. And sometimes we crow-hopped solemnly around and around the prostrate Schwartz like a pair of Injins.
But somehow we got our plan laid at last, slipped the coins into Schwartz's pocket, and said good-bye.
"Old socks, good-bye,
yelled Denton, and laughing fit to kill, danced off up the beach, and out into a sort of grey mist that shut off everything beyond a certain distance from me now.
So I kicked Schwartz, he felt in his pocket, threw a gold piece away, and "bought a little more walk."
My entire vision was fifty feet or so across. Beyond that was grey mist. Inside my circle I could see the sand quite plainly and Denton's footprints. If I moved a little to the left, the wash of the waters would lap under the edge of that grey curtain.
If I moved to the right, I came to cliffs. The nearer I drew to them, the farther up I could see, but I could never see to the top. It used to amuse me to move this area of consciousness about to see what I could find. Actual physical suffering was beginning to dull, and my head seemed to be getting clearer.
One day, without any apparent reason, I moved at right angles across the beach. Directly before me lay a piece of sugar cane, and one end of it had been chewed.
Do you know what that meant? Animals don't cut sugar cane and bring it to the beach and chew one end. A new strength ran through me, and actually the grey mist thinned and lifted for a moment, until I could make out dimly the line of cliffs and the tumbling sea.
I was not a bit hungry, but I chewed on the sugar cane, and made Schwartz do the same. When we went on I kept close to the cliff, even though the walking was somewhat heavier.
I remember after that its getting dark and then light again, so the night must have passed, but whether we rested or walked I do not know. Probably we did not get very far, though certainly we staggered ahead after sun-up, for I remember my shadow.
About midday, I suppose, I made out a dim trail leading up a break in the cliffs. Plenty of such trails we had seen before. They were generally made by peccaries in search of cast-up fish-- I hope they had better luck than we.
But in the middle of this, as though for a sign, lay another piece of chewed sugar cane.