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|The Red One||Jack London|
Like Argus of the Ancient Times
|Page 3 of 19||
"I used to have money," her father said humbly.
"Well, you ain't got any now - so forget it," William advised. "Them times is past, like roping bear with Bill Ping. There ain't no more bear."
"Just the same - "
But Mary cut him off. Seizing the day's paper from the kitchen table, she flourished it savagely under her aged progenitor's nose.
"What do those Klondikers say? There it is in cold print. Only the young and robust can stand the Klondike. It's worse than the north pole. And they've left their dead a-plenty there themselves. Look at their pictures. You're forty years older 'n the oldest of them."
John Tarwater did look, but his eyes strayed to other photographs on the highly sensational front page.
"And look at the photys of them nuggets they brought down," he said. "I know gold. Didn't I gopher twenty thousand outa the Merced? And wouldn't it a-ben a hundred thousand if that cloudburst hadn't busted my wing-dam? Now if I was only in the Klondike - "
"Crazy as a loon," William sneered in open aside to the rest.
"A nice way to talk to your father," Old Man Tarwater censured mildly. "My father'd have walloped the tar out of me with a single-tree if I'd spoke to him that way."
"But you ARE crazy, father - " William began.
"Reckon you're right, son. And that's where my father wasn't crazy. He'd a-done it."
"The old man's been reading some of them magazine articles about men who succeeded after forty," Annie jibed.
"And why not, daughter?" he asked. "And why can't a man succeed after he's seventy? I was only seventy this year. And mebbe I could succeed if only I could get to the Klondike - "
"Which you ain't going to get to," Mary shut him off.
"Oh, well, then," he sighed, "seein's I ain't, I might just as well go to bed."
He stood up, tall, gaunt, great-boned and gnarled, a splendid ruin of a man. His ragged hair and whiskers were not grey but snowy white, as were the tufts of hair that stood out on the backs of his huge bony fingers. He moved toward the door, opened it, sighed, and paused with a backward look.
"Just the same," he murmured plaintively, "the bottoms of my feet is itching something terrible."
Long before the family stirred next morning, his horses fed and harnessed by lantern light, breakfast cooked and eaten by lamp fight, Old Man Tarwater was off and away down Tarwater Valley on the road to Kelterville. Two things were unusual about this usual trip which he had made a thousand and forty times since taking the mail contract. He did not drive to Kelterville, but turned off on the main road south to Santa Rosa. Even more remarkable than this was the paper-wrapped parcel between his feet. It contained his one decent black suit, which Mary had been long reluctant to see him wear any more, not because it was shabby, but because, as he guessed what was at the back of her mind, it was decent enough to bury him in.
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