“YOU’RE wrong there, boy; dead wrong! ’Tis not the fear of death that’s the greatest fear in this world. ‘Ah, no! ’Tis the fear of life! The weakest of us are strong enough to die, but it takes the man with a stout heart to live in the face of some circumstances. Most of us could not, because the most of as are puny-souled creatures at best, and the fear of life is truly the great dread.”
He was an old square-timber man, gaunt, grizzled, and stiff about limb and muscles. He sat on Squaw Point, watching the last, long, white timbers that would float out of the mouth of the boardman—until generations of humans have come and gone and new forests of pine have sprung up at least.
Beyond the little bar lay the high-riding barge, her nose to the stream, taking the sticks into her maw. He gesticulated with a burned brier pipe, and his talk was punctuated irregular by the piping of the signal whistle on the vessel as the hoists grew taut or lowered away.
“Someways," he went on, “that fear of livin’ has been creeping into my marrow for a long, long time—many and many a year. Not violent, understand; just so’s I can get a taste of what it’s like. Us old fellows, who were here when the game was good, when the pine stood thick and high, hate to see it going. It won't be long before it's all gone, here in the lake country. What then?”
He shrugged his shoulders, tossed away the burned match, and his green derby far back on the gray head.
“But we can’t always shuffle along when we’d like, you know. Some of us has got to stay here for a purpose. We’re necessary, I guess. Something for us to do. See? It's a hard job for some of us to face; but lots of men have been forced to it, and it's hard work to guess how a man’ll act when he’s up against such a set of facts. Anyhow, it don’t pay to guess much about men. You never can tell for sure which is the real man until he goes to a test.
“What I started out to say was this: Lots of us would take death a thousand times over instead of life when life means certain conditions of living. And that brings me down to something that will explain just what I mean by all this talk. I'm getting to be a doddering old cuss, you know.
“It was a long time ago, away back in the days when the north shore of Superior was as fine a country as you'd find anywhere. You didn’t catch men going out to the Pacific slope in them days for timber. Not much! They stuck right around the lakes here, and they got out real timber, too, you bet!
“It was a big country and a new country; so it had its mixture of good and bad. They played a tall game with big stakes, and played her fast. There was stealin’ and murder and lying and ordinary business methods, which are a shade worse when used just so. A man’s life didn’t amount to much
* This is the second in the series of short stories which are to appear weekly in both English and Esperanto in THE CAVALIER. The Esperanto version follows the English version.
This feature is purely an experiment. THE CAVALIER is the first magazine to include in its Table of Contents a story written in the international language.
The previous issue, January 18th, contained “The Lure of the Lavender Trees.” Back numbers can be supplied by our Subscription Department at 10c a copy.—THE EDITOR
where timber was concerned, in spite of the fact that there was a wealth of the stuff to be had. Men went crazy, just like they do after gold or wheat or anything else.
“A feller named Ross was pretty well known then. He was a big cuss with the very devil in him. His shoulders was as square and as heavy as them timbers there; his voice sounded like a thirty-foot jam breakin’, and he was quick to lose his temper and use his muscles on the men in his camp.
“Just to show you what sort he was: A young fellow named Birdsley was in his camp one winter. About the first heavy fall of snow that come he got caught. Swampin’, he was; didn’t hear ’em yell, and down comes a top on him. Well, it was mighty painful; but not serious, as afterward turned out. They had to do some quick work to get him out, and he suffered somethin’ awful. Ross stood around directin’ the work, and the boy’s moaning made him mad.
“ ‘What’s the matter, you—baby?" he roared, ﬁt to drown out the noise of a planer. ‘ ’Fraid of dyin’? Well, blubber then! Maybe it’ll help some.’
“Now, that wasn’t considerate talk to use to a poor devil who was all cut and busted up. But it was like Ross. He stood there and twitted that boy a dozen times about being afraid to die. I call that dirty work.
“I guess maybe it never occurred to Ross that the boy might be wantin’ to live pretty bad. It wasn’t the fear of death; it was the wantin’ to live that went along with the pain to make him fuss a bit. Couldn’t blame him, anyhow.
“But Ross was money-mad, so crazy after it that he couldn’t stop to consider what was going on inside the heads of ordinary men. He would let nothing stand in his way, but drove and cursed his crew on into the cut like the boys were so many cattle—and worthless at that! Ross was in bad financially. He had to swing that deal or bust—pouf! like that. Such a condition made worse, naturally.
“The winter wore on. The men caught it stronger and stronger all the time. The Birdsley kid, who had been hurt by the tree, got to work in a couple of months, and the crew figured they’d get out lucky with no more serious accidents than that, considering the way they was put to it.
“The break-up come, but the camp kept rlght on boomin’ along. The boss was awful tight for money. Guess it looked to him as though his whole deal was going to bust, and he got desperate. Spent one whole night writing letters, and next mail up come word that a party from Saginaw would be on his way, to reach camp at. a certain time. That seemed to relieve Ross.
“Few days "later two estimators came in, and the old man got ready to take ‘em down the shore aways—‘bout twenty mile, I guess—and go over a piece he’d had his eye on. One of the estimators was named Simmons, the other Brill. Them, a swamper named Bud, who was some man with a paddle, the kid Birdsley, and Ross made up the party. They took a monster big canoe that had belonged to a bunch of Indians who worked half the time at carrying grub, and the rest at trappin’.
“ ‛Now, hump, you!’ he said to ‘em as they pulled away from shore. ‘We got to be back here day after to-morrow. So hustle!’
“Well, those boys laid down to it and hiked him down along the shore a whole lot faster than he could have made it by land, there being no such thing as a trail through that stretch of timber them days. They all knew how to swing a paddle, you bet.
“When they got to the land Ross had an interest in they rigged a little shelter and started out looking it over.
That night, just about sundown, she commenced to blow, a little west from north. The old lake just turned herself inside out, and the noise was something frightful. Timber went
down all around them, and it’s a wonder they weren’t caught. The blow kept up fierce until daylight; then it eased off a bit, but still was severe enough to keep big seas rolling.
“At noon, when they was gettin’ na bit of grub, somebody comes crashing through the brush from the lake. It was one of the Indians from near camp. He’d come down along the shore in a canoe, startin’ in all that storm with a note for Ross. It said that the Saginaw party was in camp and would be leaving that night.
“The boss went straight through the treetops at that. As I’ve said before, this Saginaw party come up in answer to his letters, and I guess—yes, I know—that his help was about the last straw in sight for Ross. He cursed and blasphemed something terrible, and ordered the boat into the water.
“He pulled out, not hearing, or letting on to hear, what the Indian said about hugging shore all the way, and not trjying to cut across any of the coves where the wind could get a sweep. ’Twas dangerous when the wind got a sweep at you, you bet! The slant of the shore, runnin’ pretty much toward the west, sort of sheltered ’em at ﬁrst, though it was rough enough in there.
“They’d gone a little better than a mile probably, when-Ross commenced yellin’ for more speed.
“ ‘Bend to it now!’ he yelled. ‘Earn your salt this time! I’m the loser if you don’t!’
“That was it, you see—always thinkin’ of himself; never of others.
“They worked for all that was in ’em, the big kid in the bow, Simmons and Brill next, with Ross in the stern, and Bud just ahead of him. They come to a little cove, sudden like, and Birdsley sort of hesitated, as though he expected Ross to swing ’em in and follow the shore. It wasn’t so dangerous there, but it was a cinch they never could cross and keep dry.
“ ‛If you don’t want to work, git out and walk, damn you!’ Ross yelled at the kid. ‛ ’Fraid of gettin’ drowned this 'time? You damned big baby!’
“He said lots more than that too, keeping it up for a long time. A wonder the kid stood it at all. But he kept his mouth shut and let the old man call him every kind of a coward he could call, and Ross was some on callin’ names, too! He twitted him about blubberin’ when the tree was on him, and made lots of nasty cracks that was too blasphemous to repeat.
“They got past that cove, all; right, bucking big waves all the way and shipping a little water now and then. But the next one—it was a big bend in the shore, and the wind had a peach of a sweep, and was keepin’ the water all mussed up.
“Birdsley settled on his heels, drew his head down between his shoulders, and flew at the work as though he knew trouble was ahead—as though he was anxious to meet it and be done.
“But the others didn’t act that way. Brill and Simmons pulled their paddles out of the water and made a kick.
“ ‘It’s a death-warrant,’ says Brill. ‘We can’t cross there. I got a wife and kids in Bay City. I won’t take no such risk.'
“ ‘ Me, too,’ puts in Simmons. 'The woman’s sick in Alpena, and I can't take chances. Swing her in farther.’
“ ‘Swing her in!’ roared Ross. ‘What’m I payin’ you for?
“ ‛Not to risk leavin’ the women widows!’ yells back Brill.
“ ‘Damn yer women!’ was the answer Ross heaved back at ’em.
“Just then they took a big one over the bow, and the two estimators sort of half got up as though to make a swim for it.
“ ‛Git back there!’ bellowed Ross. ‘Hump to it, now! And take a look at this!’ They turned their heads and saw him leveling a big revolver at them with a terrible blood in his eye. They knew their man well enough to know that he’d shoot if they kept up their protest. Across the cove there was a
chance out; to quit meant a bullet in the back. So they took the chance.
“The canoe went into rougher and rougher water as the shore fell away and the wind got: a longer sweep at them. They were all soaked five minutes after that gun was produced, and it was bitter cold. But they didn't dare stop. That was where your fear of death comes in. They’d rather take that long chance than have it out with Ross, for, to fight him, the chance would have been a dozen times as long. They just kept on, takin’ water every few minutes, and those times coming oftener and oftener as the bottom of the craft commenced to get sloppy. Ross grumbled and cursed, swearing at everything from the men to his financial condition.
“Of course, it wasn’t long before trouble arrived. A boat of that size, no matter how good or how well handled, couldn’t stand the sea. The biggest waves ran in series of three, as you may have noticed they do on the lakes. There’d be three whoppers; then a bunch of moderate-sized; then three big ones again. Well, when the canoe was a quarter full of water, it looked so serious that Ross even stopped his blaspheming.
“The craft stuck her nose into the first of the biggest three they’d met. The top of that sea slid into the boat, but the worst trouble was that it flung the stern around so’s the canoe took the others straight on. When the next came she rode higher than usual, took a long look at the sky and slid down through the third roller as though she was on her way to the bottom.
“She was—almost. Birdsley saw it coming, let go his paddle and jumped. The boat wallowed full of water, and as the rest went over the side she turned bottom up.
“Well, you can imagine what that water was! So cold that it shriveled a man’s soul! They swam back to the canoe, and did their best to get her up, but it wasn’t no use. They couldn’t get the water out She rode higher up when turned over, so they left her that way, and hung on.
“Shore was a mile or more off, and they drifted faster down the lake than they did toward land, on account of the wind’s direction. The man Bud was the first to go. He just gave up his hold, and slipped down into the water with never a word. He didn’t need words. When he went out of sight he had his eye on Ross’s face with a look like a poisoned dog’ll give his master.
“Ross begged the Almighty for mercy then, and the kid, Birdsley, laughed at him in a horrible, mocking way. Nobody said anything much. Once Brill sort of whimpered a word or two about the kids, and Ross cried like a woman, askin’ him not to mention it again. Then Birdsley laughed once more, taunting like.
“They all tried to get their river boots off, but what with numbed fingers and soaked laces they couldn’t make it—none of ‘em except the kid. He did kick free, and tried to help the others. But it was no use.
“Simmons went crazy as a loon. He yelled about his sick wife in Alpena, and tried to punch Ross with his fists. He slipped off then, and they saw him only once more, when his hands shot out of water a few yards off. Birdsley tried to get him, but couldn’t.
“Brill hung on for a few minutes longer. His eyes looked vacant for the last little time he was with them, and he didn’t talk straight. When he did talk, it was to himself, sayin’ that he’d got to hang on. Pretty soon he slipped off, grabbed hold again, but, after sputterin’ considerable, was gone for good.
“Then Ross commenced to cry like a mad kid, him on one side of the overturned boat and the boy on the other.
“ ‘I’m to blame!’ he moaned. ‘I’m to blame! I did it, and their blood’s on my head!ˮ
“ ‘Right!’ agrees Birdley. ‛Right you are, Ross. You’re to blame. You’ve seen it now. Death ain’t a
pretty thing to look at, is it? Go on an’ blubber. Maybe it’ll help some!’ repeatin’ the words Ross used to him when he was under the tree.
“ ‘But I don’t want to live!’ yelled Ross, and a most awful fear was in his voice, a fear greater than that of death—the fear of life! Their blood’s on my head, and I won’t live! I ain’t afraid to die!’
“With that, he let go the boat and sank. Birdsley was too quick for him. He was only a boy, understand; but he had something under his belt, he did! And, of a sudden, he reatlized what the situation meant. He dove under the boat, and, after a minute, come up, blue and half dead with cold, but hangin’ to Ross's arm.
“ ‘You’re goin’ to live!’ he told the boss. ‘You got to live—got to live—and make it right near’s you can with them women and kids! Understand. You dirty coward —you don’t get a chance to die if I can help it!’
“That was the big fight, boy—out there in the ice-cold lake! Ross hated life then just as much as the three men who’d gone hated death—yes, and a thousand times over! He lived through a hell then if man ever did! To die would have been a nice easy way out, because you can't think when you’re dead. But he couldn’t die—not with that big, freezing, fighting kid there with him. Birdsley pulled off his belt, and somehow got it around Ross’s wrist. Then he worked to the other side of the boat, and tied the other end of the strap to one of his wrists. There they was, one hanging on each side. They might freeze, but they couldn’t drown.
“Well, sir, if “you’ll believe it, all that cruel strength that had made Ross feared and hated left him. Yes, sir it all went! Then it came back in a different form. Right out there in that pickle, he said afterward, he grew to be a new man. He saw what he’d done; he saw that it was the coward’s way out to die; he grew strong enough to face what was comin’ to him, and he made up his mind to do it! That kid, who’d stood his abuse and jeerin’, had taught him the big lesson.
“About the time they was both losing their senses, along comes the Indian who’s taken ’em the message. He was paddling back, keepin’ close to shore. He sighted the overturned canoe, got ’em to land, and brought the two back to life with a good fire.
“There was some hot talk against Ross, but the kid stalled it off. The camp broke up, and Ross went south to take care of the widows and kids. He sent the youngsters to school, and fixed it so’s the women wouldn’t have to work out. Life was no dream for him, but he stuck to it and done his duty.
“The kid? What about him? Oh, I don’t know. He drifted around somewhere, I suppose, just like all those worthless lumber-jacks.”
SOURCE: Titus, Harold. The Fear of Life, with La Timo Pri la Vivado, translated by D. O. S. Lowell, The Cavalier, vol. 24, no. 4, January 25, 1913, pp. 759-763, 763-768.
This occasions the third appearance of an Esperanto translation in The Cavalier, and the second of a new series that generated five translations. For links to all the English originals and Esperanto translations and more information, see:
The Cavalier: Covers & Contents
J. U. Giesy (John Ulrich, 1877-1948) & His Collaborators
In 2112 (1912) by J. U. Giesy & J. B. Smith
2112 (1912) by J. U. Giesy & J. B. Smith,
translated into Esperanto by Elmer E. Haynes, M.D.
In 2112, by J. U. Giesy
& J. B. Smith,
translated from Esperanto by Forrest J. Ackerman
Esperanto in The Scrap Book, April - June 1907
(with 2 articles by D. O. S. Lowell)
Farewell to Esperanto
by Bob Davis, the Editor
(The Cavalier, 15 Feb 1913)
“Esperanto—A Closed Incident”
by the Editor [Bob Davis],
with images of the entire letter column
“Heart to Heart Talks”
Elmer E. Haynes & John A. Morris on J. U. Giesy et al in the pulps (1915)
Esperanto in early science fiction to 1930 by Everet F. Bleiler
J. U. Giesy (John Ulrich, 1877-1948) & His Collaborators
Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko
Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography
& Utopia Literaturo en Esperanto /
Science Fiction & Utopian Literature in Esperanto:
Gvidilo / A Guide
Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress
J. U. Giesy @ Ĝirafo
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