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"Man Proposes–"; The Story Of A Man Who Wanted To Die
by [?]

Day after day, night after night, he exposed himself with a deliberate methodical recklessness that seemed fatal; time after time his good constitution threw off the assault. DeVoe declared querulously that his friend looked even better than when they had arrived, and the scales showed he had put on five pounds of weight. The affair assumed an ironical, grisly sort of humor which amused Murray. But it was maddening to DeVoe.

One howling, stormy afternoon the former bundled his accessory into warm clothes and took him for a long walk. Leaving the town behind them, they plowed up through the snow to the summit of a near-by mountain where the gale raged past in all its violence. Henry was cursing the cold and grumbling at his idiocy in coming along, and, when he had regained his breath, growled:

“Understand, Butler, this ends it for me. I never agreed to kill myself. Hereafter you can make your Alpine trips alone. I’ve had a cold now for a week.”

Murray laughed good-naturedly. “Remember, if I fail I can’t pay you.”

“For Heaven’s sake, then, get it over with! I need that money and–I have nerves.”

The former speaker opened his coat and DeVoe saw that he had left the house with no protection whatever beneath it, except trousers and footgear. His body was wet from the climb, but he exposed it openly to the storm until he was blue with cold, while the younger man stamped about, threshing his arms and lamenting his own discomfort.

That night Murray repeated his Turkish bath, swallowed his usual narcotic, and lay down upon his draughty couch to be awakened some time after midnight by a cry of “Fire.” He noted dully that a vivid glare was flickering through his open windows, and saw that the roofs adjoining were silhouetted against a redly glowing sky; he heard a great clamor of shouting voices, gunshots, bells, running feet, so arose and dressed himself. Instead of donning his regular clothing, however, he drew on a pair of trousers, thrust his bare feet into rubber boots, then buttoned a rubber coat over his naked shoulders.

When he undertook to rouse DeVoe, Henry refused to get up, murmuring sourly beneath his blankets:

“It’s too cold and I’ve just fallen asleep–been tossing around for hours.”

“Very well. If it should spread in this direction I’ll come back and help get the things out.”

The blizzard of the previous day had increased in violence, and as Murray stepped out into it the cold sank through his thin garb and cut him to the bone. His rain-coat was almost no protection, the rubber boots upon his bare feet froze quickly, but he smiled with a grim, distorted sense of satisfaction as he decided that here perhaps was his long-awaited opportunity.

A winter fire in a desert mining-camp is a serious calamity. Water is scarce at all times, and at this particular season Goldfield was even drier than usual. Volunteers had already joined the insufficient fire department, but the blaze was gaining headway in spite of all. The wind played devilish pranks, serving not only to fan the conflagration, but to deaden human hands and reduce human bodies to helpless, clumsy things.

Butler Murray plunged into the fight with an abandon that won admiration even in this chaos. He had no fear, he courted danger, he led where others shrank from following. In and out of the flames he went, now blistered by the heat, now numbed by the wintry gale. His body became drenched with sweat, only to be caked in ice from the spray a moment later. Icicles clung to his brows, his boots filled with water. It was he who laid the dynamite, it was he who set it off and razed the buildings in the path of the conflagration, checking the swift march of destruction. Although he labored like a giant, taking insane risks at every opportunity, his life seemed charmed, and dawn found him uninjured, although staggering from weakness. Women brought him hot coffee and sandwiches, then when the fire was under control he returned to his quarters, half naked, as he had set out. It had been one long battle against the blind god luck and he had emerged unscathed. And yet he had not lost, for no human body could withstand a strain like this; his previous exposures had been as nothing compared with what he had undergone these many hours. If this did not bring pneumonia nothing could.