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´╗┐Title: Nomads of the North: A Story of Romance and Adventure under the Open Stars
Author: Curwood, James Oliver, 1878-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nomads of the North: A Story of Romance and Adventure under the Open Stars" ***

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NOMADS OF THE NORTH

A STORY OF ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE UNDER THE OPEN STARS


BY

JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD



CHAPTER ONE


It was late in the month of March, at the dying-out of the Eagle Moon,
that Neewa the black bear cub got his first real look at the world.
Noozak, his mother, was an old bear, and like an old person she was
filled with rheumatics and the desire to sleep late. So instead of
taking a short and ordinary nap of three months this particular winter
of little Neewa's birth she slept four, which, made Neewa, who was born
while his mother was sound asleep, a little over two months old instead
of six weeks when they came out of den.

In choosing this den Noozak had gone to a cavern at the crest of a
high, barren ridge, and from this point Neewa first looked down into
the valley. For a time, coming out of darkness into sunlight, he was
blinded. He could hear and smell and feel many things before he could
see. And Noozak, as though puzzled at finding warmth and sunshine in
place of cold and darkness, stood for many minutes sniffing the wind
and looking down upon her domain.

For two weeks an early spring had been working its miracle of change in
that wonderful country of the northland between Jackson's Knee and the
Shamattawa River, and from north to south between God's Lake and the
Churchill.

It was a splendid world. From the tall pinnacle of rock on which they
stood it looked like a great sea of sunlight, with only here and there
patches of white snow where the winter winds had piled it deep. Their
ridge rose up out of a great valley. On all sides of them, as far as a
man's eye could have reached, there were blue and black patches of
forest, the shimmer of lakes still partly frozen, the sunlit sparkle of
rivulet and stream, and the greening open spaces out of which rose the
perfumes of the earth. These smells drifted up like tonic and food to
the nostrils of Noozak the big bear. Down there the earth was already
swelling with life. The buds on the poplars were growing fat and near
the bursting point; the grasses were sending out shoots tender and
sweet; the camas were filling with juice; the shooting stars, the
dog-tooth violets, and the spring beauties were thrusting themselves up
into the warm glow of the sun, inviting Noozak and Neewa to the feast.
All these things Noozak smelled with the experience and the knowledge
of twenty years of life behind her--the delicious aroma of the spruce
and the jackpine; the dank, sweet scent of water-lily roots and
swelling bulbs that came from a thawed-out fen at the foot of the
ridge; and over all these things, overwhelming their individual
sweetnesses in a still greater thrill of life, the smell of the heart
itself!

And Neewa smelled them. His amazed little body trembled and thrilled
for the first time with the excitement of life. A moment before in
darkness, he found himself now in a wonderland of which he had never so
much as had a dream. In these few minutes Nature was at work upon him.
He possessed no knowledge, but instinct was born within him. He knew
this was HIS world, that the sun and the warmth were for him, and that
the sweet things of the earth were inviting him into his heritage. He
puckered up his little brown nose and sniffed the air, and the pungency
of everything that was sweet and to be yearned for came to him.

And he listened. His pointed ears were pricked forward, and up to him
came the drone of a wakening earth. Even the roots of the grasses must
have been singing in their joy, for all through that sunlit valley
there was the low and murmuring music of a country that was at peace
because it was empty of men. Everywhere was the rippling sound of
running water, and he heard strange sounds that he knew was life; the
twittering of a rock-sparrow, the silver-toned aria of a black-throated
thrush down in the fen, the shrill paean of a gorgeously coloured
Canada jay exploring for a nesting place in a brake of velvety balsam.
And then, far over his head, a screaming cry that made him shiver. It
was instinct again that told him in that cry was danger. Noozak looked
up, and saw the shadow of Upisk, the great eagle, as it flung itself
between the sun and the earth. Neewa saw the shadow, and cringed nearer
to his mother.

And Noozak--so old that she had lost half her teeth, so old that her
bones ached on damp and chilly nights, and her eyesight was growing
dim--was still not so old that she did not look down with growing
exultation upon what she saw. Her mind was travelling beyond the mere
valley in which they had wakened. Off there beyond the walls of forest,
beyond the farthest lake, beyond the river and the plain, were the
illimitable spaces which gave her home. To her came dully a sound
uncaught by Neewa--the almost unintelligible rumble of the great
waterfall. It was this, and the murmur of a thousand trickles of
running water, and the soft wind breathing down in the balsam and
spruce that put the music of spring into the air.

At last Noozak heaved a great breath out of her lungs and with a grunt
to Neewa began to lead the way slowly down among the rocks to the foot
of the ridge.

In the golden pool of the valley it was even warmer than on the crest
of the ridge. Noozak went straight to the edge of the slough. Half a
dozen rice birds rose with a whir of wings that made Neewa almost upset
himself. Noozak paid no attention to them. A loon let out a squawky
protest at Noozak's soft-footed appearance, and followed it up with a
raucous screech that raised the hair on Neewa's spine. And Noozak paid
no attention to this. Neewa observed these things. His eye was on her,
and instinct had already winged his legs with the readiness to run if
his mother should give the signal. In his funny little head it was
developing very quickly that his mother was a most wonderful creature.
She was by all odds the biggest thing alive--that is, the biggest that
stood on legs, and moved. He was confident of this for a space of
perhaps two minutes, when they came to the end of the fen. And here was
a sudden snort, a crashing of bracken, the floundering of a huge body
through knee-deep mud, and a monstrous bull moose, four times as big as
Noozak, set off in lively flight. Neewa's eyes all but popped from his
head. And STILL Noozak PAID NO ATTENTION!

It was then that Neewa crinkled up his tiny nose and snarled, just as
he had snarled at Noozak's ears and hair and at sticks he had worried
in the black cavern. A glorious understanding dawned upon him. He could
snarl at anything he wanted to snarl at, no matter how big. For
everything ran away from Noozak his mother.

All through this first glorious day Neewa was discovering things, and
with each hour it was more and more impressed upon him that his mother
was the unchallenged mistress of all this new and sunlit domain.

Noozak was a thoughtful old mother of a bear who had reared fifteen or
eighteen families in her time, and she travelled very little this first
day in order that Neewa's tender feet might toughen up a bit. They
scarcely left the fen, except to go into a nearby clump of trees where
Noozak used her claws to shred a spruce that they might get at the
juice and slimy substance just under the bark. Neewa liked this dessert
after their feast of roots and bulbs, and tried to claw open a tree on
his own account. By mid-afternoon Noozak had eaten until her sides
bulged out, and Neewa himself--between his mother's milk and the many
odds and ends of other things--looked like an over-filled pod.
Selecting a spot where the declining sun made a warm oven of a great
white rock, lazy old Noozak lay down for a nap, while Neewa, wandering
about in quest of an adventure of his own, came face to face with a
ferocious bug.

The creature was a giant wood-beetle two inches long. Its two battling
pincers were jet black, and curved like hooks of iron. It was a rich
brown in colour and in the sunlight its metallic armour shone in a
dazzling splendour. Neewa, squatted flat on his belly, eyed it with a
swiftly beating heart. The beetle was not more than a foot away, and
ADVANCING! That was the curious and rather shocking part of it. It was
the first living thing he had met with that day that had not run away.
As it advanced slowly on its two rows of legs the beetle made a
clicking sound that Neewa heard quite distinctly. With the fighting
blood of his father, Soominitik, nerving him on to the adventure he
thrust out a hesitating paw, and instantly Chegawasse, the beetle, took
upon himself a most ferocious aspect. His wings began humming like a
buzz-saw, his pincers opened until they could have taken in a man's
finger, and he vibrated on his legs until it looked as though he might
be performing some sort of a dance. Neewa jerked his paw back and after
a moment or two Chegawasse calmed himself and again began to ADVANCE!

Neewa did not know, of course, that the beetle's field of vision ended
about four inches from the end of his nose; the situation,
consequently, was appalling. But it was never born in a son of a father
like Soominitik to run from a bug, even at nine weeks of age.
Desperately he thrust out his paw again, and unfortunately for him one
of his tiny claws got a half Nelson on the beetle and held Chegawasse
on his shining back so that he could neither buzz not click. A great
exultation swept through Neewa. Inch by inch he drew his paw in until
the beetle was within reach of his sharp little teeth. Then he smelled
of him.

That was Chegawasse's opportunity. The pincers closed and Noozak's
slumbers were disturbed by a sudden bawl of agony. When she raised her
head Neewa was rolling about as if in a fit. He was scratching and
snarling and spitting. Noozak eyed him speculatively for some moments,
then reared herself slowly and went to him. With one big paw she rolled
him over--and saw Chegawasse firmly and determinedly attached to her
offspring's nose. Flattening Neewa on his back so that he could not
move she seized the beetle between her teeth, bit slowly until
Chegawasse lost his hold, and then swallowed him.

From then until dusk Neewa nursed his sore nose. A little before dark
Noozak curled herself up against the big rock, and Neewa took his
supper. Then he made himself a nest in the crook of her big, warm
forearm. In spite of his smarting nose he was a happy bear, and at the
end of his first day he felt very brave and very fearless, though he
was but nine weeks old. He had come into the world, he had looked upon
many things, and if he had not conquered he at least had gone
gloriously through the day.



CHAPTER TWO


That night Neewa had a hard attack of Mistu-puyew, or stomach-ache.
Imagine a nursing baby going direct from its mother's breast to a
beefsteak! That was what Neewa had done. Ordinarily he would not have
begun nibbling at solid foods for at least another month, but nature
seemed deliberately at work in a process of intensive education
preparing him for the mighty and unequal struggle which he would have
to put up a little later. For hours Neewa moaned and wailed, and Noozak
muzzled his bulging little belly with her nose, until finally he
vomited and was better.

After that he slept. When he awoke he was startled by opening his eyes
full into the glare of a great blaze of fire. Yesterday he had seen the
sun, golden and shimmering and far away. But this was the first time he
had seen it come up over the edge of the world on a spring morning in
the Northland. It was as red as blood, and as he stared it rose
steadily and swiftly until the flat side of it rounded out and it was a
huge ball of SOMETHING. At first he thought it was Life--some monstrous
creature sailing up over the forest toward them--and he turned with a
whine of enquiry to his mother. Whatever it was, Noozak was unafraid.
Her big head was turned toward it, and she was blinking her eyes in
solemn comfort. It was then that Neewa began to feel the pleasing
warmth of the red thing, and in spite of his nervousness he began to
purr in the glow of it. From red the sun turned swiftly to gold, and
the whole valley was transformed once more into a warm and pulsating
glory of life.

For two weeks after this first sunrise in Neewa's life Noozak remained
near the ridge and the slough. Then came the day, when Neewa was eleven
weeks old, that she turned her nose toward the distant black forests
and began the summer's peregrination. Neewa's feet had lost their
tenderness, and he weighed a good six pounds. This was pretty good
considering that he had only weighed twelve ounces at birth.

From the day when Noozak set off on her wandering TREK Neewa's real
adventures began. In the dark and mysterious caverns of the forests
there were places where the snow still lay unsoftened by the sun, and
for two days Neewa yearned and whined for the sunlit valley. They
passed the waterfall, where Neewa looked for the first tune on a
rushing torrent of water. Deeper and darker and gloomier grew the
forest Noozak was penetrating. In this forest Neewa received his first
lessons in hunting. Noozak was now well in the "bottoms" between the
Jackson's Knee and Shamattawa waterway divides, a great hunting ground
for bears in the early spring. When awake she was tireless in her quest
for food, and was constantly digging in the earth, or turning over
stones and tearing rotting logs and stumps into pieces. The little gray
wood-mice were her piece de resistance, small as they were, and it
amazed Neewa to see how quick his clumsy old mother could be when one
of these little creatures was revealed. There were times when Noozak
captured a whole family before they could escape. And to these were
added frogs and toads, still partly somnambulent; many ants, curled up
as if dead, in the heart of rotting logs; and occasional bumble-bees,
wasps, and hornets. Now and then Neewa took a nibble at these things.
On the third day Noozak uncovered a solid mass of hibernating vinegar
ants as large as a man's two fists, and frozen solid. Neewa ate a
quantity of these, and the sweet, vinegary flavour of them was
delicious to his palate.

As the days progressed, and living things began to crawl out from under
logs and rocks, Neewa discovered the thrill and excitement of hunting
on his own account. He encountered a second beetle, and killed it. He
killed his first wood-mouse. Swiftly there were developing in him the
instincts of Soominitik, his scrap-loving old father, who lived three
or four valleys to the north of their own, and who never missed an
opportunity to get into a fight. At four months of age, which was late
in May, Neewa was eating many things that would have killed most cubs
of his age, and there wasn't a yellow streak in him from the tip of his
saucy little nose to the end of his stubby tail. He weighed nine pounds
at this date and was as black as a tar-baby.

It was early in June that the exciting event occurred which brought
about the beginning of the big change in Neewa's life, and it was on a
day so warm and mellow with sunshine that Noozak started in right after
dinner to take her afternoon nap. They were out of the lower timber
country now, and were in a valley through which a shallow stream
wriggled and twisted around white sand-bars and between pebbly shores.
Neewa was sleepless. He had less desire than ever to waste a glorious
afternoon in napping. With his little round eyes he looked out on a
wonderful world, and found it calling to him. He looked at his mother,
and whined. Experience told him that she was dead to the world for
hours to come, unless he tickled her foot or nipped her ear, and then
she would only rouse herself enough to growl at him. He was tired of
that. He yearned for something more exciting, and with his mind
suddenly made up he set off in quest of adventure.

In that big world of green and golden colours he was a little black
ball nearly as wide as he was long. He went down to the creek, and
looked back. He could still see his mother. Then his feet paddled in
the soft white sand of a long bar that edged the shore, and he forgot
Noozak. He went to the end of the bar, and turned up on the green shore
where the young grass was like velvet under his paws. Here he began
turning over small stones for ants. He chased a chipmunk that ran a
close and furious race with him for twenty seconds. A little later a
huge snow-shoe rabbit got up almost under his nose, and he chased that
until in a dozen long leaps Wapoos disappeared in a thicket. Neewa
wrinkled up his nose and emitted a squeaky snarl. Never had
Soominitik's blood run so riotously within him. He wanted to get hold
of something. For the first time in his life he was yearning for a
scrap. He was like a small boy who the day after Christmas has a pair
of boxing gloves and no opponent. He sat down and looked about him
querulously, still wrinkling his nose and snarling defiantly. He had
the whole world beaten. He knew that. Everything was afraid of his
mother. Everything was afraid of HIM. It was disgusting--this lack of
something alive for an ambitious young fellow to fight. After all, the
world was rather tame.

He set off at a new angle, came around the edge of a huge rock, and
suddenly stopped.

From behind the other end of the rock protruded a huge hind paw. For a
few moments Neewa sat still, eyeing it with a growing anticipation.
This time he would give his mother a nip that would waken her for good!
He would rouse her to the beauty and the opportunities of this day if
there was any rouse in him! So he advanced slowly and cautiously,
picked out a nice bare spot on the paw, and sank his little teeth in it
to the gums.

There followed a roar that shook the earth. Now it happened that the
paw did not belong to Noozak, but was the personal property of Makoos,
an old he-bear of unlovely disposition and malevolent temper. But in
him age had produced a grouchiness that was not at all like the
grandmotherly peculiarities of old Noozak. Makoos was on his feet
fairly before Neewa realized that he had made a mistake. He was not
only an old bear and a grouchy bear, but he was also a hater of cubs.
More than once in his day he had committed the crime of cannibalism. He
was what the Indian hunter calls uchan--a bad bear, an eater of his own
kind, and the instant his enraged eyes caught sight of Neewa he let out
another roar.

At that Neewa gathered his fat little legs under his belly and was off
like a shot. Never before in his life had he run as he ran now.
Instinct told him that at last he had met something which was not
afraid of him, and that he was in deadly peril. He made no choice of
direction, for now that he had made this mistake he had no idea where
he would find his mother. He could hear Makoos coming after him, and as
he ran he set up a bawling that was filled with a wild and agonizing
prayer for help. That cry reached the faithful old Noozak. In an
instant she was on her feet--and just in time. Like a round black ball
shot out of a gun Neewa sped past the rock where she had been sleeping,
and ten jumps behind him came Makoos. Out of the corner of his eye he
saw his mother, but his momentum carried him past her. In that moment
Noozak leapt into action. As a football player makes a tackle she
rushed out just in time to catch old Makoos with all her weight full
broadside in the ribs, and the two old bears rolled over and over in
what to Neewa was an exciting and glorious mix-up.

He had stopped, and his eyes bulged out like shining little onions as
he took in the scene of battle. He had longed for a fight but what he
saw now fairly paralyzed him. The two bears were at it, roaring and
tearing each other's hides and throwing up showers of gravel and earth
in their deadly clinch. In this first round Noozak had the best of it.
She had butted the wind out of Makoos in her first dynamic assault, and
now with her dulled and broken teeth at his throat she was lashing him
with her sharp hind claws until the blood streamed from the old
barbarian's sides and he bellowed like a choking bull. Neewa knew that
it was his pursuer who was getting the worst of it, and with a squeaky
cry for his mother to lambast the very devil out of Makoos he ran back
to the edge of the arena, his nose crinkled and his teeth gleaming in a
ferocious snarl. He danced about excitedly a dozen feet from the
fighters, Soominitik's blood filling him with a yearning for the fray
and yet he was afraid.

Then something happened that suddenly and totally upset the maddening
joy of his mother's triumph. Makoos, being a he-bear, was of necessity
skilled in fighting, and all at once he freed himself from Noozak's
jaws, wallowed her under him, and in turn began ripping the hide off
old Noozak's carcass in such quantities that she let out an agonized
bawling that turned Neewa's little heart into stone.

It is a matter of most exciting conjecture what a small boy will do
when he sees his father getting licked. If there is an axe handy he is
liable to use it. The most cataclysmic catastrophe that cam come into
his is to have a father whom some other boy's father has given a
walloping. Next to being President of the United States the average
small boy treasures the desire to possess a parent who can whip any
other two-legged creature that wears trousers. And there were a lot of
human things about Neewa. The louder his mother bawled the more
distinctly he felt the shock of his world falling about him. If Noozak
had lost a part of her strength in her old age her voice, at least, was
still unimpaired, and such a spasm of outcry as she emitted could have
been heard at least half a mile away.

Neewa could stand no more. Blind with rage, he darted in. It was chance
that closed his vicious little jaws on a toe that belonged to Makoos,
and his teeth sank into the flesh like two rows of ivory needles.
Makoos gave a tug, but Neewa held on, and bit deeper. Then Makoos drew
up his leg and sent it out like a catapault, and in spite of his
determination to hang on Neewa found himself sailing wildly through the
air. He landed against a rock twenty feet from the fighters with a
force that knocked the wind out of him, and for a matter of eight or
ten seconds after that he wobbled dizzily in his efforts to stand up.
Then his vision and his senses returned and he gazed on a scene that
brought all the blood pounding back into his body again.

Makoos was no longer fighting, but was RUNNING AWAY--and there was a
decided limp in his gait!

Poor old Noozak was standing on her feet, facing the retreating enemy.
She was panting like a winded calf. Her jaws were agape. Her tongue
lolled out, and blood was dripping in little trickles from her body to
the ground. She had been thoroughly and efficiently mauled. She was
beyond the shadow of a doubt a whipped bear. Yet in that glorious
flight of the enemy Neewa saw nothing of Noozak's defeat. Their enemy
was RUNNING AWAY! Therefore, he was whipped. And with excited little
squeaks of joy Neewa ran to his mother.



CHAPTER THREE


As they stood in the warm sunshine of this first day of June, watching
the last of Makoos as he fled across the creek bottom, Neewa felt very
much like an old and seasoned warrior instead of a pot-bellied,
round-faced cub of four months who weighed nine pounds and not four
hundred.

It was many minutes after Neewa had sunk his ferocious little teeth
deep into the tenderest part of the old he-bear's toe before Noozak
could get her wind sufficiently to grunt. Her sides were pumping like a
pair of bellows, and after Makoos had disappeared beyond the creek
Neewa sat down on his chubby bottom, perked his funny ears forward, and
eyed his mother with round and glistening eyes that were filled with
uneasy speculation. With a wheezing groan Noozak turned and made her
way slowly toward the big rock alongside which she had been sleeping
when Neewa's fearful cries for help had awakened her. Every bone in her
aged body seemed broken or dislocated. She limped and sagged and moaned
as she walked, and behind her were left little red trails of blood in
the green grass. Makoos had given her a fine pummeling.

She lay down, gave a final groan, and looked at Neewa, as if to say:

"If you hadn't gone off on some deviltry and upset that old viper's
temper this wouldn't have happened. And now--look at ME!"

A young bear would have rallied quickly from the effects of the battle,
but Noozak lay without moving all the rest of that afternoon, and the
night that followed. And that night was by all odds the finest that
Neewa had ever seen. Now that the nights were warm, he had come to love
the moon even more than the sun, for by birth and instinct he was more
a prowler in darkness than a hunter of the day. The moon rose out of
the east in a glory of golden fire. The spruce and balsam forests stood
out like islands in a yellow sea of light, and the creek shimmered and
quivered like a living thing as it wound its way through the glowing
valley. But Neewa had learned his lesson, and though the moon and the
stars called to him he hung close to his mother, listening to the
carnival of night sound that came to him, but never moving away from
her side.

With the morning Noozak rose to her feet, and with a grunting command
for Neewa to follow she slowly climbed the sun-capped ridge. She was in
no mood for travel, but away back in her head was an unexpressed fear
that villainous old Makoos might return, and she knew that another
fight would do her up entirely, in which event Makoos would make a
breakfast of Neewa. So she urged herself down the other side of the
ridge, across a new valley, and through a cut that opened like a wide
door into a rolling plain that was made up of meadows and lakes and
great sweeps of spruce and cedar forest. For a week Noozak had been
making for a certain creek in this plain, and now that the presence of
Makoos threatened behind she kept at her journeying until Neewa's
short, fat legs could scarcely hold up his body.

It was mid-afternoon when they reached the creek, and Neewa was so
exhausted that he had difficulty in climbing the spruce up which his
mother sent him to take a nap. Finding a comfortable crotch he quickly
fell asleep--while Noozak went fishing.

The creek was alive with suckers, trapped in the shallow pools after
spawning, and within an hour she had the shore strewn with them. When
Neewa came down out of his cradle, just at the edge of dusk, it was to
a feast at which Noozak had already stuffed herself until she looked
like a barrel. This was his first meal of fish, and for a week
thereafter he lived in a paradise of fish. He ate them morning, noon,
and night, and when he was too full to eat he rolled in them. And
Noozak stuffed herself until it seemed her hide would burst. Wherever
they moved they carried with them a fishy smell that grew older day by
day, and the older it became the more delicious it was to Neewa and his
mother. And Neewa grew like a swelling pod. In that week he gained
three pounds. He had given up nursing entirely now, for Noozak--being
an old bear--had dried up to a point where she was hopelessly
disappointing.

It was early in the evening of the eighth day that Neewa and his mother
lay down in the edge of a grassy knoll to sleep after their day's
feasting. Noozak was by all odds the happiest old bear in all that part
of the northland. Food was no longer a problem for her. In the creek,
penned up in the pools, were unlimited quantities of it, and she had
encountered no other bear to challenge her possession of it. She looked
ahead to uninterrupted bliss in their happy hunting grounds until
midsummer storms emptied the pools, or the berries ripened. And Neewa,
a happy little gourmand, dreamed with her.

It was this day, just as the sun was setting, that a man on his hands
and knees was examining a damp patch of sand five or six miles down the
creek. His sleeves were rolled up, baring his brown arms halfway to the
shoulders and he wore no hat, so that the evening breeze ruffled a
ragged head of blond hair that for a matter of eight or nine months had
been cut with a hunting knife.

Close on one side of this individual was a tin pail, and on the other,
eying him with the keenest interest, one of the homeliest and yet one
of the most companionable-looking dog pups ever born of a Mackenzie
hound father and a mother half Airedale and half Spitz.

With this tragedy of blood in his veins nothing in the world could have
made the pup anything more than "just dog." His tail,--stretched out
straight on the sand, was long and lean, with a knot at every joint;
his paws, like an overgrown boy's feet, looked like small
boxing-gloves; his head was three sizes too big for his body, and
accident had assisted Nature in the perfection of her masterpiece by
robbing him of a half of one of his ears. As he watched his master this
half of an ear stood up like a galvanized stub, while the other--twice
as long--was perked forward in the deepest and most interested enquiry.
Head, feet, and tail were Mackenzie hound, but the ears and his lank,
skinny body was a battle royal between Spitz and Airedale. At his
present inharmonious stage of development he was the doggiest dog-pup
outside the alleys of a big city.

For the first time in several minutes his master spoke, and Miki
wiggled from stem to stern in appreciation of the fact that it was
directly to him the words were uttered.

"It's a mother and a cub, as sure as you're a week old, Miki," he said.
"And if I know anything about bears they were here some time to-day!"

He rose to his feet, made note of the deepening shadows in the edge of
the timber, and filled his pail with water. For a few moments the last
rays of the sun lit up his face. It was a strong, hopeful face. In it
was the joy of life. And now it was lighted up with a sudden
inspiration, and a glow that was not of the forest alone came into his
eyes, as he added:

"Miki, I'm lugging your homely carcass down to the Girl because you're
an unpolished gem of good nature and beauty--and for those two things I
know she'll love you. She is my sister, you know. Now, if I could only
take that cub along with you----"

He began to whistle as he turned with his pail of water in the
direction of a thin fringe of balsams a hundred yards away.

Close at his heels followed Miki.

Challoner, who was a newly appointed factor of the Great Hudson's Bay
Company, had pitched his camp at tie edge of the lake dose to the mouth
of the creek. There was not much to it--a battered tent, a still more
battered canoe, and a small pile of dunnage. But in the last glow of
the sunset it would have spoken volumes to a man with an eye trained to
the wear and the turmoil of the forests. It was the outfit of a man who
had gone unfearing to the rough edge of the world. And now what was
left of it was returning with him. To Challoner there was something of
human comradeship in these remnants of things that had gone through the
greater part of a year's fight with him. The canoe was warped and
battered and patched; smoke and storm had blackened his tent until it
was the colour of rusty char, and his grub sacks were next to empty.

Over a small fire title contents of a pan and a pot were brewing when
he returned with Miki at his heels, and close to the heat was a
battered and mended reflector in which a bannock of flour and water was
beginning to brown. In one of the pots was coffee, in the other a
boiling fish.

Miki sat down on his angular haunches so that the odour of the fish
filled his nostrils. This, he had discovered, was the next thing to
eating. His eyes, as they followed Challoner's final preparatory
movements, were as bright as garnets, and every third or fourth breath
he licked his chops, and swallowed hungrily. That, in fact, was why
Miki had got his name. He was always hungry, and apparently always
empty, no matter how much he ate. Therefore his name, Miki, "The drum."

It was not until they had eaten the fish and the bannock, and Challoner
had lighted his pipe, that he spoke what was in his mind.

"To-morrow I'm going after that bear," he said.

Miki, curled up near the dying embers, gave his tail a club-like thump
in evidence of the fact that he was listening.

"I'm going to pair you up with the cub, and tickle the Girl to death."

Miki thumped his tail harder than before.

"Fine," he seemed to say.

"Just think of it," said Challoner, looking over Miki's head a thousand
miles away, "Fourteen months--and at last we're going home. I'm going
to train you and the cub for that sister of mine. Eh, won't you like
that? You don't know what she's like, you homely little devil, or you
wouldn't sit there staring at me like a totem-pole pup! And it isn't in
your stupid head to imagine how pretty she is. You saw that sunset
to-night? Well, she's prettier than THAT if she is my sister. Got
anything to add to that, Miki? If not, let's say our prayers and go to
bed!"

Challoner rose and stretched himself. His muscles cracked. He felt life
surging like a giant within him.

And Miki, thumping his tail until this moment, rose on his overgrown
legs and followed his master into their shelter.

It was in the gray light of the early summer dawn when Challoner came
forth again, and rekindled the fire. Miki followed a few moments later,
and his master fastened the end of a worn tent-rope around his neck and
tied the rope to a sapling. Another rope of similar length Challoner
tied to the corners of a grub sack so that it could be carried over his
shoulder like a game bag. With the first rose-flush of the sun he was
ready for the trail of Neewa and his mother. Miki set up a melancholy
wailing when he found himself left behind, and when Challoner looked
back the pup was tugging and somersaulting at the end of his rope like
a jumping-jack. For a quarter of a mile up the creek he could hear
Miki's entreating protest.

To Challoner the business of the day was not a matter of personal
pleasure, nor was it inspired alone by his desire to possess a cub
along with Miki. He needed meat, and bear pork thus early in the season
would be exceedingly good; and above all else he needed a supply of
fat. If he bagged this bear, time would be saved all the rest of the
way down to civilization.

It was eight o'clock when he struck the first unmistakably fresh signs
of Noozak and Neewa. It was at the point where Noozak had fished four
or five days previously, and where they had returned yesterday to feast
on the "ripened" catch. Challoner was elated. He was sure that he would
find the pair along the creek, and not far distant. The wind was in his
favour, and he began to advance with greater caution, his rifle ready
for the anticipated moment. For an hour he travelled steadily and
quietly, marking every sound and movement ahead of him, and wetting his
finger now and then to see if the wind had shifted. After all, it was
not so much a matter of human cunning. Everything was in Challoner's
favour.

In a wide, flat part of the valley where the creek split itself into a
dozen little channels, and the water rippled between sandy bars and
over pebbly shallows, Neewa and his mother were nosing about lazily for
a breakfast of crawfish. The world had never looked more beautiful to
Neewa. The sun made the soft hair on his back fluff up like that of a
purring cat. He liked the plash of wet sand under his feet and the
singing gush of water against his legs. He liked the sound that was all
about him, the breath of the wind, the whispers that came out of the
spruce-tops and the cedars, the murmur of water, the TWIT-TWIT of the
rock rabbits, the call of birds; and more than all else the low,
grunting talk of his mother.

It was in this sun-bathed sweep of the valley that Noozak caught the
first whiff of danger. It came to her in a sudden twist of the
wind--the smell of man!

Instantly she was turned into rock. There was still the deep scar in
her shoulder which had come, years before, with that same smell of the
one enemy she feared. For three summers she had not caught the taint in
her nostrils and she had almost forgotten its existence. Now, so
suddenly that it paralyzed her, it was warm and terrible in the breath
of the wind.

In this moment, too, Neewa seemed to sense the nearness of an appalling
danger. Two hundred yards from Challoner he stood a motionless blotch
of jet against the white of the sand about him, his eyes on his mother,
and his sensitive little nose trying to catch the meaning of the menace
in the air.

Then came a thing he had never heard before--a splitting, cracking
roar--something that was almost like thunder and yet unlike it; and he
saw his mother lurch where she stood and crumple down all at once on
her fore legs.

The next moment she was up, with a wild WHOOF in her voice that was new
to him--a warning for him to fly for his life.

Like all mothers who have known the comradeship and love of a child,
Noozak's first thought was of him. Reaching out a paw she gave him a
sudden shove, and Neewa legged it wildly for the near-by shelter of the
timber. Noozak followed. A second shot came, and close over her head
there sped a purring, terrible sound. But Noozak did not hurry. She
kept behind Neewa, urging him on even as that pain of a red-hot iron in
her groin filled her with agony. They came to the edge of the timber as
Challoner's third shot bit under Noozak's feet.

A moment more and they were within the barricade of the timber.
Instinct guided Neewa into the thickest part of it, and close behind
him Noozak fought with the last of her dying strength to urge him on.
In her old brain there was growing a deep and appalling shadow,
something that was beginning to cloud her vision so that she could not
see, and she knew that at last she had come to the uttermost end of her
trail. With twenty years of life behind her, she struggled now for a
last few seconds. She stopped Neewa close to a thick cedar, and as she
had done many times before she commanded him to climb it. Just once her
hot tongue touched his face in a final caress. Then she turned to fight
her last great fight.

Straight into the face of Challoner she dragged herself, and fifty feet
from the spruce she stopped and waited for him, her head drooped
between her shoulders, her sides heaving, her eyes dimming more and
more, until at last she sank down with a great sigh, barring the trail
of their enemy. For a space, it may be, she saw once more the golden
moons and the blazing suns of those twenty years that were gone; it may
be that the soft, sweet music of spring came to her again, filled with
the old, old song of life, and that Something gracious and painless
descended upon her as a final reward for a glorious motherhood on earth.

When Challoner came up she was dead.

From his hiding place in a crotch of the spruce Neewa looked down on
the first great tragedy of his life, and the advent of man. The
two-legged beast made him cringe deeper into his refuge, and his little
heart was near breaking with the terror that had seized upon him. He
did not reason. It was by no miracle of mental process that he knew
something terrible had happened, and that this tall, two-legged
creature was the cause of it. His little eyes were blazing, just over
the level of the crotch. He wondered why his mother did not get up and
fight when this new enemy came. Frightened as he was he was ready to
snarl if she would only wake up--ready to hurry down the tree and help
her as he had helped her in the defeat of Makoos, the old he-bear. But
not a muscle of Noozak's huge body moved as Challoner bent over her.
She was stone dead.

Challoner's face was flushed with exultation. Necessity had made of him
a killer. He saw in Noozak a splendid pelt, and a provision of meat
that would carry him all the rest of the way to the southland. He
leaned his rifle against a tree and began looking about for the cub.
Knowledge of the wild told him it would not be far from its mother, and
he began looking into the trees and the near-by thickets.

In the shelter of his crotch, screened by the thick branches, Neewa
made himself as small as possible during the search. At the end of half
an hour Challoner disappointedly gave up his quest, and went back to
the creek for a drink before setting himself to the task of skinning
Noozak.

No sooner was he gone than Neewa's little head shot up alertly. For a
few moments he watched, and then slipped backward down the trunk of the
cedar to the ground. He gave his squealing call, but his mother did not
move. He went to her and stood beside her motionless head, sniffing the
man-tainted air. Then he muzzled her jowl, butted his nose under her
neck, and at last nipped her ear--always his last resort in the
awakening process. He was puzzled. He whined softly, and climbed upon
his mother's big, soft back, and sat there. Into his whine there came a
strange note, and then out of his throat there rose a whimpering cry
that was like the cry of a child.

Challoner heard that cry as he came back, and something seemed to grip
hold of his heart suddenly, and choke him. He had heard children crying
like that; and it was the motherless cub!

Creeping up behind a dwarf spruce he looked where Noozak lay dead, and
saw Neewa perched on his mother's back. He had killed many things in
his time, for it was his business to kill, and to barter in the pelts
of creatures that others killed. But he had seen nothing like this
before, and he felt all at once as if he had done murder.

"I'm sorry," he breathed softly, "you poor little devil; I'm sorry!"

It was almost a prayer--for forgiveness. Yet there was but one thing to
do now. So quietly that Neewa failed to hear him he crept around with
the wind and stole up behind. He was within a dozen feet of Neewa
before the cub suspected danger. Then it was too late. In a swift rush
Challoner was upon him and, before Neewa could leave the back of his
mother, had smothered him in the folds of the grub sack.

In all his life Challoner had never experienced a livelier five minutes
than the five that followed. Above Neewa's grief and his fear there
rose the savage fighting blood of old Soominitik, his father. He clawed
and bit and kicked and snarled. In those five minutes he was five
little devils all rolled into one, and by the time Challoner had the
rope fastened about Neewa's neck, and his fat body chucked into the
sack, his hands were scratched and lacerated in a score of places.

In the sack Neewa continued to fight until he was exhausted, while
Challoner skinned Noozak and cut from her the meat and fats which he
wanted. The beauty of Noozak's pelt brought a glow into his eyes. In it
he rolled the meat and fats, and with babiche thong bound the whole
into a pack around which he belted the dunnage ends of his shoulder
straps. Weighted under the burden of sixty pounds of pelt and meat he
picked up his rifle--and Neewa. It had been early afternoon when he
left. It was almost sunset when he reached camp. Every foot of the way,
until the last half mile, Neewa fought like a Spartan.

Now he lay limp and almost lifeless in his sack, and when Miki came up
to smell suspiciously of his prison he made no movement of protest. All
smells were alike to him now, and of sounds he made no distinction.
Challoner was nearly done for. Every muscle and bone in his body had
its ache. Yet in his face, sweaty and grimed, was a grin of pride.

"You plucky little devil," he said, contemplating the limp sack as he
loaded his pipe for the first time that afternoon. "You--you plucky
little devil!"

He tied the end of Neewa's rope halter to a sapling, and began
cautiously to open the grub sack. Then he rolled Neewa out on the
ground, and stepped back. In that hour Neewa was willing to accept a
truce so far as Challoner was concerned. But it was not Challoner that
his half-blinded eyes saw first as he rolled from his bag. It was Miki!
And Miki, his awkward body wriggling with the excitement of his
curiosity, was almost on the point of smelling of him!

Neewa's little eyes glared. Was that ill-jointed lop-eared offspring of
the man-beast an enemy, too? Were those twisting convolutions of this
new creature's body and the club-like swing of his tail an invitation
to fight? He judged so. Anyway, here was something of his size, and
like a flash he was at the end of his rope and on the pup. Miki, a
moment before bubbling over with friendship and good cheer, was on his
back in an instant, his grotesque legs paddling the air and his yelping
cries for help rising in a wild clamour that filled the golden
stillness of the evening with an unutterable woe.

Challoner stood dumbfounded. In another moment he would have separated
the little fighters, but something happened that stopped him. Neewa,
standing squarely over Miki, with Miki's four over-grown paws held
aloft as if signalling an unqualified surrender, slowly drew his teeth
from the pup's loose hide. Again he saw the man-beast. Instinct, keener
than a clumsy reasoning, held him for a few moments without movement,
his beady eyes on Challoner. In midair Miki wagged his paws; he whined
softly; his hard tail thumped the ground as he pleaded for mercy, and
he licked his chops and tried to wriggle, as if to tell Neewa that he
had no intention at all to do him harm. Neewa, facing Challoner,
snarled defiantly. He drew himself slowly from over Miki. And Miki,
afraid to move, still lay on his back with his paws in the air.

Very slowly, a look of wonder in his face, Challoner drew back into the
tent and peered through a rent in the canvas.

The snarl left Neewa's face. He looked at the pup. Perhaps away back in
some corner of his brain the heritage of instinct was telling him of
what he had lost because of brothers and sisters unborn--the
comradeship of babyhood, the play of children. And Miki must have
sensed the change in the furry little black creature who a moment ago
was his enemy. His tail thumped almost frantically, and he swung out
his front paws toward Neewa. Then, a little fearful of what might
happen, he rolled on his side. Still Neewa did not move. Joyously Miki
wriggled.

A moment later, looking through the slit in the canvas, Challoner saw
them cautiously smelling noses.



CHAPTER FOUR


That night came a cold and drizzling rain from out of the north and the
east. In the wet dawn Challoner came out to start a fire, and in a
hollow under a spruce root he found Miki and Neewa cuddled together,
sound asleep.

It was the cub who first saw the man-beast, and for a brief space
before the pup roused himself Neewa's shining eyes were fixed on the
strange enemy who had so utterly changed his world for him. Exhaustion
had made him sleep through the long hours of that first night of
captivity, and in sleep he had forgotten many things. But now it all
came back to him as he cringed deeper into his shelter under the root,
and so softly that only Miki heard him he whimpered for his mother.

It was the whimper that roused Miki. Slowly he untangled himself from
the ball into which he had rolled, stretched his long and overgrown
legs, and yawned so loudly that the sound reached Challoner's ears. The
man turned and saw two pairs of eyes fixed upon him from the sheltered
hollow under the root. The pup's one good ear and the other that was
half gone stood up alertly, as he greeted his master with the boundless
good cheer of an irrepressible comradeship. Challoner's face, wet with
the drizzle of the gray skies and bronzed by the wind and storm of
fourteen months in the northland, lighted up with a responsive grin,
and Miki wriggled forth weaving and twisting himself into grotesque
contortions expressive of happiness at being thus directly smiled at by
his master.

With all the room under the root left to him Neewa pulled himself back
until only his round head was showing, and from this fortress of
temporary safety his bright little eyes glared forth at his mother's
murderer.

Vividly the tragedy of yesterday was before him again--the warm,
sun-filled creek bottom in which he and Noozak, his mother, were
hunting a breakfast of crawfish when the man-beast came; the crash of
strange thunder, their flight into the timber, and the end of it all
when his mother turned to confront their enemy. And yet it was not the
death of his mother that remained with him most poignantly this
morning. It was the memory of his own terrific fight with the white
man, and his struggle afterward in the black and suffocating depths of
the bag in which Challoner had brought him to his camp. Even now
Challoner was looking at the scratches on his hands. He advanced a few
steps, and grinned down at Neewa, just as he had grinned
good-humouredly at Miki, the angular pup.

Neewa's little eyes blazed.

"I told you last night that I was sorry," said Challoner, speaking as
if to one of his own kind.

In several ways Challoner was unusual, an out-of-the-ordinary type in
the northland. He believed, for instance, in a certain specific
psychology of the animal mind, and had proven to his own satisfaction
that animals treated and conversed with in a matter-of-fact human way
frequently developed an understanding which he, in his unscientific
way, called reason.

"I told you I was sorry," he repeated, squatting on his heels within a
yard of the root from under which Neewa's eyes were glaring at him,
"and I am. I'm sorry I killed your mother. But we had to have meat and
fat. Besides, Miki and I are going to make it up to you. We're going to
take you along with us down to the Girl, and if you don't learn to love
her you're the meanest, lowest-down little cuss in all creation and
don't deserve a mother. You and Miki are going to be brothers. His
mother is dead, too--plum starved to death, which is worse than dying
with a bullet in your lung. And I found Miki just as I found you,
hugging up close to her an' crying as if there wasn't any world left
for him. So cheer up, and give us your paw. Let's shake!"

Challoner held out his hand. Neewa was as motionless as a stone. A few
moments before he would have snarled and bared his teeth. But now he
was dead still. This was by all odds the strangest beast he had ever
seen. Yesterday it had not harmed him, except to put him into the bag.
And now it did not offer to harm him. More than that, the talk it made
was not unpleasant, or threatening. His eyes took in Miki. The pup had
squeezed himself squarely between Challoner's knees and was looking at
him in a puzzled, questioning sort of way, as if to ask: "Why don't you
come out from under that root and help get breakfast?"

Challoner's hand came nearer, and Neewa crowded himself back until
there was not another inch of room for him to fill. Then the miracle
happened. The man-beast's paw touched his head. It sent a strange and
terrible thrill through him. Yet it did not hurt. If he had not wedged
himself in so tightly he would have scratched and bitten. But he could
do neither.

Slowly Challoner worked his fingers to the loose hide at the back of
Neewa's neck. Miki, surmising that something momentous was about to
happen, watched the proceedings with popping eyes. Then Challoner's
fingers closed and the next instant he dragged Neewa forth and held him
at arm's length, kicking and squirming, and setting up such a bawling
that in sheer sympathy Miki raised his voice and joined in the agonized
orgy of sound. Half a minute later Challoner had Neewa once more in the
prison-sack, but this time he left the cub's head protruding, and drew
in the mouth of the sack closely about his neck, fastening it securely
with a piece of babiche string. Thus three quarters of Neewa was
imprisoned in the sack, with only his head sticking out. He was a cub
in a poke.

Leaving the cub to roll and squirm in protest Challoner went about the
business of getting breakfast. For once Miki found a proceeding more
interesting than that operation, and he hovered about Neewa as he
struggled and bawled, trying vainly to offer him some assistance in the
matter of sympathy. Finally Neewa lay still, and Miki sat down close
beside him and eyed his master with serious questioning if not actual
disapprobation.

The gray sky was breaking with the promise of the sun when Challoner
was ready to renew his long journey into the southland. He packed his
canoe, leaving Neewa and Miki until the last. In the bow of the canoe
he made a soft nest of the skin taken from the cub's mother. Then he
called Miki and tied the end of a worn rope around his neck, after
which he fastened the other end of this rope around the neck of Neewa.
Thus he had the cub and the pup on the same yard-long halter. Taking
each of the twain by the scruff of the neck he carried them to the
canoe and placed them in the nest he had made of Noozak's hide.

"Now you youngsters be good," he warned. "We're going to aim at forty
miles to-day to make up for the time we lost yesterday."

As the canoe shot out a shaft of sunlight broke through the sky low in
the east.



CHAPTER FIVE


During the first few moments in which the canoe moved swiftly over the
surface of the lake an amazing change had taken place in Neewa.
Challoner did not see it, and Miki was unconscious of it. But every
fibre in Neewa's body was atremble, and his heart was thumping as it
had pounded on that glorious day of the fight between his mother and
the old he-bear. It seemed to him that everything that he had lost was
coming back to him, and that all would be well very soon--FOR HE
SMELLED HIS MOTHER! And then he discovered that the scent of her was
warm and strong in the furry black mass under his feet, and he
smothered himself down in it, flat on his plump little belly, and
peered at Challoner over his paws.

It was hard for him to understand--the man-beast back there, sending
the canoe through the water, and under him his mother, warm and soft,
but so deadly still! He could not keep the whimper out of his
throat--his low and grief-filled call for HER. And there was no answer,
except Miki's responsive whine, the crying of one child for another.
Neewa's mother did not move. She made no sound. And he could see
nothing of her but her black and furry skin--without head, without
feet, without the big, bald paws he had loved to tickle, and the ears
he had loved to nip. There was nothing of her but the patch of black
skin--and the SMELL.

But a great comfort warmed his frightened little soul. He felt the
protecting nearness of an unconquerable and abiding force and in the
first of the warm sunshine his back fluffed up, and he thrust his brown
nose between his paws and into his mother's fur. Miki, as if vainly
striving to solve the mystery of his new-found chum, was watching him
closely from between his own fore-paws. In his comical head--adorned
with its one good ear and its one bad one, and furthermore beautified
by the outstanding whiskers inherited from his Airedale ancestor--he
was trying to come to some sort of an understanding. At the outset he
had accepted Neewa as a friend and a comrade--and Neewa had thanklessly
given him a good mauling for his trouble. That much Miki could forgive
and forget. What he could not forgive was the utter lack of regard
which Neewa seemed to possess for him. His playful antics had gained no
recognition from the cub. When he had barked and hopped about,
flattening and contorting himself in warm invitation for him to join in
a game of tag or a wrestling match, Neewa had simply stared at him like
an idiot. He was wondering, perhaps, if Neewa would enjoy anything
besides a fight. It was a long time before he decided to make another
experiment.

It was, as a matter of fact, halfway between breakfast and noon. In all
that time Neewa had scarcely moved, and Miki was finding himself bored
to death. The discomfort of last night's storm was only a memory, and
overhead there was a sun unshadowed by cloud. More than an hour before
Challoner's canoe had left the lake, and was now in the clear-running
water of a stream that was making its way down the southward slope of
the divide between Jackson's Knee and the Shamattawa. It was a new
stream to Challoner, fed by the large lake above, and guarding himself
against the treachery of waterfall and rapid he kept a keen lookout
ahead. For a matter of half an hour the water had been growing steadily
swifter, and Challoner was satisfied that before very long he would be
compelled to make a portage. A little later he heard ahead of him the
low and steady murmur which told him he was approaching a danger zone.
As he shot around the next bend, hugging fairly close to shore, he saw,
four or five hundred yards below him, a rock-frothed and boiling
maelstrom of water.

Swiftly his eyes measured the situation. The rapids ran between an
almost precipitous shore on one side and a deep forest on the other. He
saw at a glance that it was the forest side over which he must make the
portage, and this was the shore opposite him and farthest away.
Swinging his canoe at a 45-degree angle he put all the strength of body
and arms into the sweep of his paddle. There would be just time to
reach the other shore before the current became dangerous. Above the
sweep of the rapids he could now hear the growling roar of a waterfall
below.

It was at this unfortunate moment that Miki decided to venture one more
experiment with Neewa. With a friendly yip he swung out one of his
paws. Now Miki's paw, for a pup, was monstrously big, and his foreleg
was long and lanky, so that when the paw landed squarely on the end of
Neewa's nose it was like the swing of a prize-fighter's glove. The
unexpectedness of it was a further decisive feature in the situation;
and, on top of this, Miki swung his other paw around like a club and
caught Neewa a jolt in the eye. This was too much, even from a friend,
and with a sudden snarl Neewa bounced out of his nest and clinched with
the pup.

Now the fact was that Miki, who had so ingloriously begged for mercy in
their first scrimmage, came of fighting stock himself. Mix the blood of
a Mackenzie hound--which is the biggest-footed, biggest-shouldered,
most powerful dog in the northland--with the blood of a Spitz and an
Airedale and something is bound to come of it. While the Mackenzie dog,
with his ox-like strength, is peaceable and good-humoured in all sorts
of weather, there is a good deal of the devil in the northern Spitz and
Airedale and it is a question which likes a fight the best. And all at
once good-humoured little Miki felt the devil rising in him. This time
he did not yap for mercy. He met Neewa's jaws, and in two seconds they
were staging a first-class fight on the bit of precarious footing in
the prow of the canoe.

Vainly Challoner yelled at them as he paddled desperately to beat out
the danger of the rapids. Neewa and Miki were too absorbed to hear him.
Miki's four paws were paddling the air again, but this time his sharp
teeth were firmly fixed in the loose hide under Neewa's neck, and with
his paws he continued to kick and bat in a way that promised
effectively to pummel the wind out of Neewa had not the thing happened
which Challoner feared. Still in a clinch they rolled off the prow of
the canoe into the swirling current of the stream.

For ten seconds or so they utterly disappeared. Then they bobbed up, a
good fifty feet below him, their heads close together as they sped
swiftly toward the doom that awaited them, and a choking cry broke from
Challoner's lips. He was powerless to save them, and in his cry was the
anguish of real grief. For many weeks Miki had been his only chum and
comrade.

Held together by the yard-long rope to which they were fastened, Miki
and Neewa swept into the frothing turmoil of the rapids. For Miki it
was the kindness of fate that had inspired his master to fasten him to
the same rope with Neewa. Miki, at three months of age--weight,
fourteen pounds--was about 80 per cent. bone and only a half of 1 per
cent. fat; while Neewa, weight thirteen pounds, was about 90 per cent.
fat. Therefore Miki had the floating capacity of a small anchor, while
Neewa was a first-class life-preserver, and almost unsinkable.

In neither of the youngsters was there a yellow streak. Both were of
fighting stock, and, though Miki was under water most of the time
during their first hundred-yard dash through the rapids, never for an
instant did he give up the struggle to keep his nose in the air.
Sometimes he was on his back and sometimes on his belly; but no matter
what his position, he kept his four overgrown paws going like paddles.
To an extent this helped Neewa in the heroic fight he was making to
keep from shipping too much water himself. Had he been alone his ten or
eleven pounds of fat would have carried him down-stream like a toy
balloon covered with fur, but, with the fourteen-pound drag around his
neck, the problem of not going under completely was a serious one. Half
a dozen times he did disappear for an instant when some undertow caught
Miki and dragged him down--head, tail, legs, and all. But Neewa always
rose again, his four fat legs working for dear life.

Then came the waterfall. By this time Miki had become accustomed to
travelling under water, and the full horror of the new cataclysm into
which they were plunged was mercifully lost to him. His paws had almost
ceased their motion. He was still conscious of the roar in his ears,
but the affair was less unpleasant than it was at the beginning. In
fact, he was drowning. To Neewa the pleasant sensations of a painless
death were denied. No cub in the world was wider awake than he when the
final catastrophe came. His head was well above water and he was
clearly possessed of all his senses. Then the river itself dropped out
from under him and he shot down in an avalanche of water, feeling no
longer the drag of Miki's weight at his neck.

How deep the pool was at the bottom of the waterfall Challoner might
have guessed quite accurately. Could Neewa have expressed an opinion of
his own, he would have sworn that it was a mile. Miki was past the
stage of making estimates, or of caring whether it was two feet or two
leagues. His paws had ceased to operate and he had given himself up
entirely to his fate. But Neewa came up again, and Miki followed, like
a bobber. He was about to gasp his last gasp when the force of the
current, as it swung out of the whirlpool, flung Neewa upon a bit of
partly submerged driftage, and in a wild and strenuous effort to make
himself safe Neewa dragged Miki's head out of water so that the pup
hung at the edge of the driftage like a hangman's victim at the end of
his rope.



CHAPTER SIX


It is doubtful whether in the few moments that followed, any clear-cut
mental argument passed through Neewa's head. It is too much to suppose
that he deliberately set about assisting the half-dead and almost
unconscious Miki from his precarious position. His sole ambition was to
get himself where it was safe and dry, and to do this he of necessity
had to drag the pup with him. So Neewa tugged at the end of his rope,
digging his sharp little claws into the driftwood, and as he advanced
Miki was dragged up head foremost out of the cold and friendless
stream. It was a simple process. Neewa reached a log around which the
water was eddying, and there he flattened himself down and hung on as
he had never hung to anything else in his life. The log was entirely
hidden from shore by a dense growth of brushwood. Otherwise, ten
minutes later Challoner would have seen them.

As it was, Miki had not sufficiently recovered either to smell or hear
his master when Challoner came to see if there was a possibility of his
small comrade being alive. And Neewa only hugged the log more tightly.
He had seen enough of the man-beast to last him for the remainder of
his life. It was half an hour before Miki began to gasp, and cough, and
gulp up water, and for the first time since their scrap in the canoe
the cub began to take a live interest in him. In another ten minutes
Miki raised his head and looked about him. At that Neewa gave a tug on
the rope, as if to advise him that it was time to get busy if they were
expected to reach shore. And Miki, drenched and forlorn, resembling
more a starved bone than a thing of skin and flesh, actually made an
effort to wag his tail when he saw Neewa.

He was still in a couple of inches of water, and with a hopeful eye on
the log upon which Neewa was squatted he began to work his wobbly legs
toward it. It was a high log, and a dry log, and when Miki reached it
his unlucky star was with him again. Cumbrously he sprawled himself
against it, and as he scrambled and scraped with his four awkward legs
to get up alongside Neewa he gave to the log the slight push which it
needed to set it free of the sunken driftage. Slowly at first the
eddying current carried one end of the log away from its pier. Then the
edge of the main current caught at it, viciously--and so suddenly that
Miki almost lost his precarious footing, the log gave a twist, righted
itself, and began, to scud down stream at a speed that would have made
Challoner hug his breath had he been in their position with his
faithful canoe.

In fact, Challoner was at this very moment portaging the rapids below
the waterfall. To have set his canoe in them where Miki and Neewa were
gloriously sailing he would have considered an inexcusable hazard, and
as a matter of safety he was losing the better part of a couple of
hours by packing his outfit through the forest to a point half a mile
below. That half mile was to the cub and the pup a show which was
destined to live in their memories for as long as they were alive.

They were facing each other about amidships of the log, Neewa flattened
tight, his sharp claws dug in like hooks, and his little brown eyes
half starting from his head. It would have taken a crowbar to wrench
him from the log. But with Miki it was an open question from the
beginning whether he would weather the storm. He had no claws that he
could dig into the wood, and it was impossible for him to use his
clumsy legs as Neewa used his--like two pairs of human arms. All he
could do was to balance himself, slipping this way or that as the log
rolled or swerved in its course, sometimes lying across it and
sometimes lengthwise, and every moment with the jaws of uncertainty
open wide for him. Neewa's eyes never left him for an instant. Had they
been gimlets they would have bored holes. From the acuteness of this
life-and-death stare one would have given Neewa credit for
understanding that his own personal safety depended not so much upon
his claws and his hug as upon Miki's seamanship. If Miki went overboard
there would be left but one thing for him to do--and that would be to
follow.

The log, being larger and heavier at one end than at the other, swept
on without turning broadside, and with the swiftness and appearance of
a huge torpedo. While Neewa's back was turned toward the horror of
frothing water and roaring rock behind him, Miki, who was facing it,
lost none of its spectacular beauty. Now and then the log shot into one
of the white masses of foam and for an instant or two would utterly
disappear; and at these intervals Miki would hold his breath and close
his eyes while Neewa dug his toes in still deeper. Once the log grazed
a rock. Six inches more and they would have been without a ship. Their
trip was not half over before both cub and pup looked like two round
balls of lather out of which their eyes peered wildly.

Swiftly the roar of the cataract was left behind; the huge rocks around
which the current boiled and twisted with a ferocious snarling became
fewer; there came open spaces in which the log floated smoothly and
without convulsions, and then, at last, the quiet and placid flow of
calm water. Not until then did the two balls of suds make a move. For
the first time Neewa saw the whole of the thing they had passed
through, and Miki, looking down stream, saw the quiet shores again, the
deep forest, and the stream aglow with the warm sun. He drew in a
breath that filled his whole body and let it out again with a sigh of
relief so deep and sincere that it blew out a scatter of foam from the
ends of his nose and whiskers. For the first time he became conscious
of his own discomfort. One of his hind legs was twisted under him, and
a foreleg was under his chest. The smoothness of the water and the
nearness of the shores gave him confidence, and he proceeded to
straighten himself. Unlike Neewa he was an experienced VOYAGEUR. For
more than a month he had travelled steadily with Challoner in his
canoe, and of ordinarily decent water he was unafraid. So he perked up
a little, and offered Neewa a congratulatory yip that was half a whine.

But Neewa's education had travelled along another line, and while his
experience in a canoe had been confined to that day he did know what a
log was. He knew from more than one adventure of his own that a log in
the water is the next thing to a live thing, and that its capacity for
playing evil jokes was beyond any computation that he had ever been
able to make. That was where Miki's store of knowledge was fatally
defective. Inasmuch as the log had carried them safely through the
worst stretch of water he had ever seen he regarded it in the light of
a first-class canoe--with the exception that it was unpleasantly
rounded on top. But this little defect did not worry him. To Neewa's
horror he sat up boldly, and looked about him.

Instinctively the cub hugged the log still closer, while Miki was
seized with an overwhelming desire to shake from himself the mass of
suds in which, with the exception of the end of his tail and his eyes,
he was completely swathed. He had often shaken himself in the canoe;
why not here? Without either asking or answering the question he did it.

Like the trap of a gibbet suddenly sprung by the hangman, the log
instantly responded by turning half over. Without so much as a wail
Miki was off like a shot, hit the water with a deep and solemn CHUG,
and once more disappeared as completely as if he had been made of lead.

Finding himself completely submerged for the first time, Neewa hung on
gloriously, and when the log righted itself again he was tenaciously
hugging his old place, all the froth washed from him. He looked for
Miki--but Miki was gone. And then he felt once more that choking drag
on his neck! Of necessity, because his head was pulled in the direction
of the rope, he saw where the rope disappeared in the water. But there
was no Miki. The pup was down too far for Neewa to see. With the drag
growing heavier and heavier--for here there was not much current to
help Miki along--Neewa hung on like grim death. If he had let go, and
had joined Miki in the water, the good fortune which was turning their
way would have been missed. For Miki, struggling well under water, was
serving both as an anchor and a rudder; slowly the log shifted its
course, was caught in a beach-eddy, and drifted in close to a muddy
bank.

With one wild leap Neewa was ashore. Feeling the earth under his feet
he started to run, and the result was that Miki came up slowly through
the mire and spread himself out like an overgrown crustacean while he
got the wind back into his lungs. Neewa, sensing the fact that for a
few moments his comrade was physically unfit for travel, shook himself,
and waited. Miki picked up quickly. Within five minutes he was on his
feet shaking himself so furiously that Neewa became the centre of a
shower of mud and water.

Had they remained where they were, Challoner would have found them an
hour or so later, for he paddled that way, close inshore, looking for
their bodies. It may be that the countless generations of instinct back
of Neewa warned him of that possibility, for within a quarter of an
hour after they had landed he was leading the way into the forest, and
Miki was following. It was a new adventure for the pup.

But Neewa began to recover his good cheer. For him the forest was home
even if his mother was missing. After his maddening experiences with
Miki and the man-beast the velvety touch of the soft pine-needles under
his feet and the familiar smells of the silent places filled him with a
growing joy. He was back in his old trails. He sniffed the air and
pricked up his ears, thrilled by the enlivening sensations of knowing
that he was once more the small master of his own destiny. It was a new
forest, but Neewa was undisturbed by this fact. All forests were alike
to him, inasmuch as several hundred thousand square miles were included
in his domain and it was impossible for him to landmark them all.

With Miki it was different. He not only began to miss Challoner and the
river, but became more and more disturbed the farther Neewa led him
into the dark and mysterious depths of the timber. At last he decided
to set up a vigorous protest, and in line with this decision he braced
himself so suddenly that Neewa, coming to the end of the rope, flopped
over on his back with an astonished grunt. Seizing his advantage Miki
turned, and tugging with the horse-like energy of his Mackenzie father
he started back toward the river, dragging Neewa after him for a space
of ten or fifteen feet before the cub succeeded in regaining his feet.

Then the battle began. With their bottoms braced and their forefeet
digging into the soft earth, they pulled on the rope in opposite
directions until their necks stretched and their eyes began to pop.
Neewa's pull was steady and unexcited, while Miki, dog-like, yanked and
convulsed himself in sudden backward jerks that made Neewa give way an
inch at a time. It was, after all, only a question as to which
possessed the most enduring neck. Under Neewa's fat there was as yet
little real physical strength. Miki had him handicapped there. Under
the pup's loose hide and his overgrown bones there was a lot of pull,
and after bracing himself heroically for another dozen feet Neewa gave
up the contest and followed in the direction chosen by Miki.

While the instincts of Neewa's breed would have taken him back to the
river as straight as a die, Miki's intentions were better than was his
sense of orientation. Neewa followed in a sweeter temper when he found
that his companion was making an unreasonable circle which was taking
them a little more slowly, but just as surely, away from the
danger-ridden stream. At the end of another quarter of an hour Miki was
utterly lost; he sat down on his rump, looked at Neewa, and confessed
as much--with a low whine. Neewa did not move. His sharp little eyes
were fixed suddenly on an object that hung to a low bush half a dozen
paces from them. Before the man-beast's appearance the cub had spent
three quarters of his time in eating, but since yesterday morning he
had not swallowed so much as a bug. He was completely empty, and the
object he saw hanging to the bush set every salivary gland in his mouth
working. It was a wasp's nest. Many times in his young life he had seen
Noozak, his mother, go up to nests like that, tear them down, crush
them under her big paw, and then invite him to the feast of dead wasps
within. For at least a month wasps had been included in his daily fare,
and they were as good as anything he knew of. He approached the nest;
Miki followed. When they were within three feet of it Miki began to
take notice of a very distinct and peculiarly disquieting buzzing
sound. Neewa was not at all alarmed; judging the distance of the nest
from the ground, he rose on his hind feet, raised his arms, and gave it
a fatal tug.

Instantly the drone which Miki had heard changed into the angry buzzing
of a saw. Quick as a flash Neewa's mother would have had the nest under
her paws and the life crushed out of it, while Neewa's tug had only
served partly to dislodge the home of Ahmoo and his dangerous tribe.
And it happened that Ahmoo was at home with three quarters of his
warriors. Before Neewa could give the nest a second tug they were
piling out of it in a cloud and suddenly a wild yell of agony rose out
of Miki. Ahmoo himself had landed on the end of the dog's nose. Neewa
made no sound, but stood for a moment swiping at his face with both
paws, while Miki, still yelling, ran the end of his crucified nose into
the ground. In another moment every fighter in Ahmoo's army was busy.
Suddenly setting up a bawling on his own account Neewa turned tail to
the nest and ran. Miki was not a hair behind him. In every square inch
of his tender hide he felt the red-hot thrust of a needle. It was Neewa
that made the most noise. His voice was one continuous bawl, and to
this bass Miki's soprano wailing added the touch which would have
convinced any passing Indian that the loup-garou devils were having a
dance.

Now that their foes were in disorderly flight the wasps, who are rather
a chivalrous enemy, would have returned to their upset fortress had not
Miki, in his mad flight, chosen one side of a small sapling and Neewa
the other--a misadventure that stopped them with a force almost
sufficient to break their necks. Thereupon a few dozen of Ahmoo's rear
guard started in afresh. With his fighting blood at last aroused, Neewa
swung out and caught Miki where there was almost no hair on his rump.
Already half blinded, and so wrought up with pain and terror that he
had lost all sense of judgment or understanding, Miki believed that the
sharp dig of Neewa's razor-like claws was a deeper thrust than usual of
the buzzing horrors that overwhelmed him, and with a final shriek he
proceeded to throw a fit.

It was the fit that saved them. In his maniacal contortions he swung
around to Neewa's side of the sapling, when, with their halter once
more free from impediment, Neewa bolted for safety. Miki followed,
yelping at every jump. No longer did Neewa feel a horror of the river.
The instinct of his kind told him that he wanted water, and wanted it
badly. As straight as Challoner might have set his course by a compass
he headed for the stream, but he had proceeded only a few hundred feet
when they came upon a tiny creek across which either of them could have
jumped. Neewa jumped into the water, which was four or five inches
deep, and for the first time in his life Miki voluntarily took a
plunge. For a long time they lay in the cooling rill.

The light of day was dim and hazy before Miki's eyes, and he was
beginning to swell from the tip of his nose to the end of his bony
tail. Neewa, being so much fat, suffered less. He could still see, and,
as the painful hours passed, a number of things were adjusting
themselves in his brain. All this had begun with the man-beast. It was
the man-beast who had taken his mother from him. It was the man-beast
who had chucked him into the dark sack, and it was the man-beast who
had FASTENED THE ROPE AROUND HIS NECK. Slowly the fact was beginning to
impinge itself upon him that the rope was to blame for everything.

After a long time they dragged themselves out of the rivulet and found
a soft, dry hollow at the foot of a big tree. Even to Neewa, who had
the use of his eyes, it was growing dark in the deep forest. The sun
was far in the west. And the air was growing chilly. Flat on his belly,
with his swollen head between his fore paws, Miki whined plaintively.

Again and again Neewa's eyes went to the rope as the big thought
developed itself in his head. He whined. It was partly a yearning for
his mother, partly a response to Miki. He drew closer to the pup,
filled with the irresistible desire for comradeship. After all, it was
not Miki who was to blame. It was the man-beast--and THE ROPE!

The gloom of evening settled more darkly about them, and snuggling
himself still closer to the pup Neewa drew the rope between his fore
paws. With a little snarl he set his teeth in it. And then, steadily,
he began to chew. Now and then he growled, and in the growl there was a
peculiarly communicative note, as if he wished to say to Miki:

"Don't you see?--I'm chewing this thing in two. I'll have it done by
morning. Cheer up! There's surely a better day coming."



CHAPTER SEVEN


The morning after their painful experience with the wasp's nest, Neewa
and Miki rose on four pairs of stiff and swollen legs to greet a new
day in the deep and mysterious forest into which the accident of the
previous day had thrown them. The spirit of irrepressible youth was
upon them, and, though Miki was so swollen from the stings of the wasps
that his lank body and overgrown legs were more grotesque than ever, he
was in no way daunted from the quest of further adventure.

The pup's face was as round as a moon, and his head was puffed up until
Neewa might reasonably have had a suspicion that it was on the point of
exploding. But Miki's eyes--as much as could be seen of them--were as
bright as ever, and his one good ear and his one half ear stood up
hopefully as he waited for the cub to give some sign of what they were
going to do. The poison in his system no longer gave him discomfort. He
felt several sizes too large--but, otherwise, quite well.

Neewa, because of his fat, exhibited fewer effects of his battle with
the wasps. His one outstanding defect was an entirely closed eye. With
the other, wide open and alert, he looked about him. In spite of his
one bad eye and his stiff legs he was inspired with the optimism of one
who at last sees fortune turning his way. He was rid of the man-beast,
who had killed his mother; the forests were before him again, open and
inviting, and the rope with which Challoner had tied him and Miki
together he had successfully gnawed in two during the night. Having
dispossessed himself of at least two evils it would not have surprised
him much if he had seen Noozak, his mother, coming up from out of the
shadows of the trees. Thought of her made him whine. And Miki, facing
the vast loneliness of his new world, and thinking of his master,
whined in reply.

Both were hungry. The amazing swiftness with which their misfortunes
had descended upon them had given them no time in which to eat. To Miki
the change was more than astonishing; it was overwhelming, and he held
his breath in anticipation of some new evil while Neewa scanned the
forest about them.

As if assured by this survey that everything was right, Neewa turned
his back to the sun, which had been his mother's custom, and set out.

Miki followed. Not until then did he discover that every joint in his
body had apparently disappeared. His neck was stiff, his legs were like
stilts, and five times in as many minutes he stubbed his clumsy toes
and fell down in his efforts to keep up with the cub. On top of this
his eyes were so nearly closed that his vision was bad, and the fifth
time he stumbled he lost sight of Neewa entirely, and sent out a
protesting wail. Neewa stopped and began prodding with his nose under a
rotten log. When Miki came up Neewa was flat on his belly, licking up a
colony of big red vinegar ants as fast as he could catch them. Miki
studied the proceeding for some moments. It soon dawned upon him that
Neewa was eating something, but for the life of him he couldn't make
out what it was. Hungrily he nosed close to Neewa's foraging snout. He
licked with his tongue where Neewa licked, and he got only dirt. And
all the time Neewa was giving his jolly little grunts of satisfaction.
It was ten minutes before he hunted out the last ant and went on.

A little later they came to a small open space where the ground was
wet, and after sniffing about a bit, and focussing his one good eye
here and there, Neewa suddenly began digging. Very shortly he drew out
of the ground a white object about the size of a man's thumb and began
to crunch it ravenously between his jaws. Miki succeeded in capturing a
fair sized bit of it. Disappointment followed fast. The thing was like
wood; after rolling it in his mouth a few times he dropped it in
disgust, and Neewa finished the remnant of the root with a thankful
grunt.

They proceeded. For two heartbreaking hours Miki followed at Neewa's
heels, the void in his stomach increasing as the swelling in his body
diminished. His hunger was becoming a torture. Yet not a bit to eat
could he find, while Neewa at every few steps apparently discovered
something to devour. At the end of the two hours the cub's bill of fare
had grown to considerable proportions. It included, among other things,
half a dozen green and black beetles; numberless bugs, both hard and
soft; whole colonies of red and black ants; several white grubs dug out
of the heart of decaying logs; a handful of snails; a young frog; the
egg of a ground-plover that had failed to hatch; and, in the vegetable
line, the roots of two camas and one skunk cabbage. Now and then he
pulled down tender poplar shoots and nipped the ends off. Likewise he
nibbled spruce and balsam gum whenever he found it, and occasionally
added to his breakfast a bit of tender grass.

A number of these things Miki tried. He would have eaten the frog, but
Neewa was ahead of him there. The spruce and balsam gum clogged up his
teeth and almost made him vomit because of its bitterness. Between a
snail and a stone he could find little difference, and as the one bug
he tried happened to be that asafoetida-like creature known as a
stink-bug he made no further efforts in that direction. He also bit off
a tender tip from a ground-shoot, but instead of a young poplar it was
Fox-bite, and shrivelled up his tongue for a quarter of an hour. At
last he arrived at the conclusion that, up to date, the one thing in
Neewa's menu that he COULD eat was grass.

In the face of his own starvation his companion grew happier as he
added to the strange collection in his stomach. In fact, Neewa
considered himself in clover and was grunting his satisfaction
continually, especially as his bad eye was beginning to open and he
could see things better. Half a dozen times when he found fresh ant
nests he invited Miki to the feast with excited little squeals. Until
noon Miki followed like a faithful satellite at his heels. The end came
when Neewa deliberately dug into a nest inhabited by four huge
bumble-bees, smashed them all, and ate them.

From that moment something impressed upon Miki that he must do his own
hunting. With the thought came a new thrill. His eyes were fairly open
now, and much of the stiffness had gone from his legs. The blood of his
Mackenzie father and of his half Spitz and half Airedale mother rose up
in him in swift and immediate demand, and he began to quest about for
himself. He found a warm scent, and poked about until a partridge went
up with a tremendous thunder of wings. It startled him, but added to
the thrill. A few minutes later, nosing under a pile of brush, he came
face to face with his dinner.

It was Wahboo, the baby rabbit. Instantly Miki was at him, and had a
firm hold at the back of Wahboo's back. Neewa, hearing the smashing of
the brush and the squealing of the rabbit, stopped catching ants and
hustled toward the scene of action. The squealing ceased quickly and
Miki backed himself out and faced Neewa with Wahboo held triumphantly
in his jaws. The young rabbit had already given his last kick, and with
a fierce show of growling Miki began tearing the fur off. Neewa edged
in, grunting affably. Miki snarled more fiercely. Neewa, undaunted,
continued to express his overwhelming regard for Miki in low and
supplicating grunts--and smelled the rabbit. The snarl in Miki's throat
died away. He may have remembered that Neewa had invited him more than
once to partake of his ants and bugs. Together they ate the rabbit. Not
until the last bit of flesh and the last tender bone were gone did the
feast end, and then Neewa sat back on his round bottom and stuck out
his little red tongue for the first time since he had lost his mother.
It was the cub sign of a full stomach and a blissful mind. He could see
nothing to be more desired at the present time than a nap, and
stretching himself languidly he began looking about for a tree.

Miki, on the other hand, was inspired to new action by the pleasurable
sensation of being comfortably filled. Inasmuch as Neewa chewed his
food very carefully, while Miki, paying small attention to mastication,
swallowed it in chunks, the pup had succeeded in getting away with
about four fifths of the rabbit. So he was no longer hungry. But he was
more keenly alive to his changed environment than at any time since he
and Neewa had fallen out of Challoner's canoe into the rapids. For the
first time he had killed, and for the first time he had tasted warm
blood, and the combination added to his existence an excitement that
was greater than any desire he might have possessed to lie down in a
sunny spot and sleep. Now that he had learned the game, the hunting
instinct trembled in every fibre of his small being. He would have gone
on hunting until his legs gave way under him if Neewa had not found a
napping-place.

Astonished half out of his wits he watched Neewa as he leisurely
climbed the trunk of a big poplar. He had seen squirrels climb
trees--just as he had seen birds fly--but Neewa's performance held him
breathless; and not until the cub had stretched himself out comfortably
in a crotch did Miki express himself. Then he gave an incredulous yelp,
sniffed at the butt of the tree, and made a half-hearted experiment at
the thing himself. One flop on his back convinced him that Neewa was
the tree-climber of the partnership. Chagrined, he wandered back
fifteen or twenty feet and sat down to study the situation. He could
not perceive that Neewa had any special business up the tree. Certainly
he was not hunting for bugs. He yelped half a dozen times, but Neewa
made no answer. At last he gave it up and flopped himself down with a
disconsolate whine.

But it was not to sleep. He was ready and anxious to go on. He wanted
to explore still further the mysterious and fascinating depths of the
forest. He no longer felt the strange fear that had been upon him
before he killed the rabbit. In two minutes under the brush-heap Nature
had performed one of her miracles of education. In those two minutes
Miki had risen out of whimpering puppyhood to new power and
understanding. He had passed that elemental stage which his
companionship with Challoner had prolonged. He had KILLED, and the hot
thrill of it set fire to every instinct that was in him. In the half
hour during which he lay flat on his belly, his head alert and
listening, while Neewa slept, he passed half way from puppyhood to
dogdom. He would never know that Hela, his Mackenzie hound father, was
the mightiest hunter in all the reaches of the Little Fox country, and
that alone he had torn down a bull caribou. But he FELT it. There was
something insistent and demanding in the call. And because he was
answering that call, and listening eagerly to the whispering voices of
the forest, his quick ears caught the low, chuckling monotone of
Kawook, the porcupine.

Miki lay very still. A moment later he heard the soft clicking of
quills, and then Kawook came out in the open and stood up on his hind
feet in a patch of sunlight.

For thirteen years Kawook had lived undisturbed in this particular part
of the wilderness, and in his old age he weighed thirty pounds if he
weighed an ounce. On this afternoon, coming for his late dinner, he was
feeling even more than usually happy. His eyesight at best was dim.
Nature had never intended him to see very far, and had therefore
quilted him heavily with the barbed shafts of his protecting armour.
Thirty feet away he was entirely oblivious of Miki, at least apparently
so; and Miki hugged the ground closer, warned by the swiftly developing
instinct within him that here was a creature it would be unwise to
attack.

For perhaps a minute Kawook stood up, chuckling his tribal song without
any visible movement of his body. He stood profile to Miki, like a fat
alderman. He was so fat that his stomach bulged out in front like the
half of a balloon, and over this stomach his hands were folded in a
peculiarly human way, so that he looked more like an old she-porcupine
than a master in his tribe.

It was not until then that Miki observed Iskwasis, the young female
porcupine, who had poked herself slyly out from under a bush near
Kawook. In spite of his years the red thrill of romance was not yet
gone from the old fellow's bones, and he immediately started to give an
exhibition of his good breeding and elegance. He began with his
ludicrous love-making dance, hopping from one foot to the other until
his fat stomach shook, and chuckling louder than ever. The charms of
Iskwasis were indeed sufficient to turn the head of an older beau than
Kawook. She was a distinctive blonde; in other words, one of those
unusual creatures of her kind, an albino. Her nose was pink, the palms
of her little feet were pink, and each of her pretty pink eyes was set
in an iris of sky-blue. It was evident that she did not regard old
Kawook's passion-dance with favour and sensing this fact Kawook changed
his tactics and falling on all four feet began to chase his spiky tail
as if he had suddenly gone mad. When he stopped, and looked to see what
effect he had made he was clearly knocked out by the fact that Iskwasis
had disappeared.

For another minute he sat stupidly, without making a sound. Then to
Miki's consternation he started straight for the tree in which Neewa
was sleeping. As a matter of fact, it was Kawook's dinner-tree, and he
began climbing it, talking to himself all the time. Miki's hair began
to stand on end. He did not know that Kawook, like all his kind, was
the best-natured fellow in the world, and had never harmed anything in
his life unless assaulted first. Lacking this knowledge he set up a
sudden frenzy of barking to warn Neewa.

Neewa roused himself slowly, and when he opened his eyes he was looking
into a spiky face that sent him into a convulsion of alarm. With a
suddenness that came within an ace of toppling him from his crotch he
swung over and scurried higher up the tree. Kawook was not at all
excited. Now that Iskwasis was gone he was entirely absorbed in the
anticipation of his dinner. He continued to clamber slowly upward, and
at this the horrified Neewa backed himself out on a limb in order that
Kawook might have an unobstructed trail up the tree.

Unfortunately for Neewa it was on this limb that Kawook had eaten his
last meal, and he began working himself out on it, still apparently
oblivious of the fact that the cub was on the same branch. At this Miki
sent up such a series of shrieking yelps from below that Kawook seemed
at last to realize that something unusual was going on. He peered down
at Miki who was making vain efforts to jump up the trunk of the tree;
then he turned and, for the first time, contemplated Neewa with some
sign of interest. Neewa was hugging the limb with both forearms and
both hind legs. To retreat another foot on the branch that was already
bending dangerously under his weight seemed impossible.

It was at this point that Kawook began to scold fiercely. With a final
frantic yelp Miki sat back on his haunches and watched the thrilling
drama above him. A little at a time Kawook advanced, and inch by inch
Neewa retreated, until at last he rolled clean over and was hanging
with his back toward the ground. It was then that Kawook ceased his
scolding and calmly began eating his dinner. For two or three minutes
Neewa kept his hold. Twice he made efforts to pull himself up so that
he could get the branch under him. Then his hind feet slipped. For a
dozen seconds he hung with his two front paws--then shot down through
fifteen feet of space to the ground. Close to Miki he landed with a
thud that knocked the wind out of him. He rose with a grunt, took one
dazed look up the tree, and without further explanation to Miki began
to leg it deeper into the forest--straight into the face of the great
adventure which was to be the final test for these two.



CHAPTER EIGHT


Not until he had covered at least a quarter of a mile did Neewa stop.
To Miki it seemed as though they had come suddenly out of day into the
gloom of evening. That part of the forest into which Neewa's flight had
led them was like a vast, mysterious cavern. Even Challoner would have
paused there, awed by the grandeur of its silence, held spellbound by
the enigmatical whispers that made up its only sound. The sun was still
high in the heavens, but not a ray of it penetrated the dense green
canopy of spruce and balsam that hung like a wall over the heads of
Miki and Neewa. About them was no bush, no undergrowth; under their
feet was not a flower or a spear of grass. Nothing but a thick, soft
carpet of velvety brown needles under which all life was smothered. It
was as if the forest nymphs had made of this their bedchamber,
sheltered through all the seasons of the year from wind and rain and
snow; or else that the were-wolf people--the loup-garou--had chosen it
as their hiding-place and from its weird and gloomy fastnesses went
forth on their ghostly missions among the sons of men.

Not a bird twittered in the trees. There was no flutter of life in
their crowded branches. Everything was so still that Miki heard the
excited throbbing of life in his own body. He looked at Neewa, and in
the gloom the cub's eyes were glistening with a strange fire. Neither
of them was afraid, yet in that cavernous silence their comradeship was
born anew, and in it there was something now that crept down into their
wild little souls and filled the emptiness that was left by the death
of Neewa's mother and the loss of Miki's master. The pup whined gently,
and in his throat Neewa made a purring sound and followed it with a
squeaky grunt that was like the grunt of a little pig. They edged
nearer, and stood shoulder to shoulder facing their world. They went on
after a little, like two children exploring the mystery of an old and
abandoned house. They were not hunting, yet every hunting instinct in
their bodies was awake, and they stopped frequently to peer about them,
and listen, and scent the air.

To Neewa it all brought back a memory of the black cavern in which he
was born. Would Noozak, his mother, come up presently out of one of
those dark forest aisles? Was she sleeping here, as she had slept in
the darkness of their den? The questions may have come vaguely in his
mind. For it was like the cavern, in that it was deathly still; and a
short distance away its gloom thickened into black pits. Such a place
the Indians called MUHNEDOO--a spot in the forest blasted of all life
by the presence of devils; for only devils would grow trees so thick
that sunlight never penetrated. And only owls held the companionship of
the evil spirits.

Where Neewa and Miki stood a grown wolf would have paused, and turned
back; the fox would have slunk away, hugging the ground; even the
murderous-hearted little ermine would have peered in with his beady red
eyes, unafraid, but turned by instinct back into the open timber. For
here, in spite of the stillness and the gloom, THERE WAS LIFE. It was
beating and waiting in the ambush of those black pits. It was rousing
itself, even as Neewa and Miki went on deeper into the silence, and
eyes that were like round balls were beginning to glow with a greenish
fire. Still there was no sound, no movement in the dense overgrowth of
the trees. Like the imps of MUHNEDOO the monster owls looked down,
gathering their slow wits--and waiting.

And then a huge shadow floated out of the dark chaos and passed so
close over the heads of Neewa and Miki that they heard the menacing
purr of giant wings. As the wraith-like creature disappeared there came
back to them a hiss and the grating snap of a powerful beak. It sent a
shiver through Miki. The instinct that had been fighting to rouse
itself within him flared up like a powder-flash. Instantly he sensed
the nearness of an unknown and appalling danger.

There was sound about them now--movement in the trees, ghostly tremours
in the air, and the crackling, metallic SNAP--SNAP--SNAP over their
heads. Again Miki saw the great shadow come and go. It was followed by
a second, and a third, until the vault under the trees seemed filled
with shadows; and with each shadow came nearer that grating menace of
powerfully beaked jaws. Like the wolf and the fox he cringed down,
hugging the earth. But it was no longer with the whimpering fear of the
pup. His muscles were drawn tight, and with a snarl he bared his fangs
when one of the owls swooped so low that he felt the beat of its wings.
Neewa responded with a sniff that a little later in his life would have
been the defiant WHOOF of his mother. Bear-like he was standing up. And
it was upon him that one of the shadows descended--a monstrous
feathered bolt straight out of darkness.

Six feet away Miki's blazing eyes saw his comrade smothered under a
gray mass, and for a moment or two he was held appalled and lifeless by
the thunderous beat of the gargantuan wings. No sound came from Neewa.
Flung on his back, he was digging his claws into feathers so thick and
soft that they seemed to have no heart or flesh. He felt upon him the
presence of the Thing that was death. The beat of the wings was like
the beat of clubs: they drove the breath out of his body, they blinded
his senses, yet he continued to tear fiercely with his claws into a
fleshless breast.

In his first savage swoop Oohoomisew, whose great wings measured five
feet from tip to tip, had missed his death-grip by the fraction of an
inch. His powerful talons that would have buried themselves like knives
in Neewa's vitals closed too soon, and were filled with the cub's thick
hair and loose hide. Now he was beating his prey down with his wings
until the right moment came for him to finish the killing with the
terrific stabbing of his beak. Half a minute of that and Neewa's face
would be torn into pieces.

It was the fact that Neewa made no sound, that no cry came from him,
that brought Miki to his feet with his lips drawn back and a snarl in
his throat. All at once fear went out of him and in its place came a
wild and almost joyous exultation. He recognized their enemy--A BIRD.
To him birds were a prey, and not a menace. A dozen times in their
journey down from the Upper Country Challoner had shot big Canada geese
and huge-winged cranes. Miki had eaten their flesh. Twice he had
pursued wounded cranes, yapping at the top of his voice, AND THEY HAD
RUN FROM HIM. He did not bark or yelp now. Like a flash he launched
himself into the feathered mass of the owl. His fourteen pounds of
flesh and bone landed with the force of a stone, and Oohoomisew was
torn from his hold and flung with a great flutter of wings upon his
side.

Before he could recover his balance Miki was at him again, striking
full at his head, where he had struck at the wounded crane. Oohoomisew
went flat on his back--and for the first time Miki let out of his
throat a series of savage and snarling yelps. It was a new sound to
Oohoomisew and his blood-thirsty brethren watching the struggle from
out of the gloom. The snapping beaks drifted farther away, and
Oohoomisew, with a sudden sweep of wings, vaulted into the air.

With his big forefeet planted firmly and his snarling face turned up to
the black wall of the tree-tops Miki continued to bark and howl
defiantly. He wanted the bird to come back. He wanted to tear and rip
at its feathers, and as he sent out his frantic challenge Neewa rolled
over, got on his feet, and with a warning squeal to Miki once more set
off in flight. If Miki was ignorant in the matter, HE at least
understood the situation. Again it was the instinct born of countless
generations. He knew that in the black pits about them hovered
death--and he ran as he had never run before in his life. As Miki
followed, the shadows were beginning to float nearer again.

Ahead of them they saw a glimmer of sunshine. The trees grew taller,
and soon the day began breaking through so that there were no longer
the cavernous hollows of gloom about them. If they had gone on another
hundred yards they would have come to the edge of the big plain, the
hunting grounds of the owls. But the flame of self-preservation was hot
in Neewa's head; he was still dazed by the thunderous beat of wings;
his sides burned where Oohoomisew's talons had scarred his flesh; so,
when he saw in his path a tangled windfall of tree trunks he dived into
the security of it so swiftly that for a moment or two Miki wondered
where he had gone.

Crawling into the windfall after him Miki turned and poked out his
head. He was not satisfied. His lips were still drawn back, and he
continued to growl. He had beaten his enemy. He had knocked it over
fairly, and had filled his jaws with its feathers. In the face of that
triumph he sensed the fact that he had run away in following Neewa, and
he was possessed with the desire to go back and have it out to a
finish. It was the blood of the Airedale and the Spitz growing stronger
in him, fearless of defeat; the blood of his father, the giant
hunting-hound Hela. It was the demand of his breed, with its mixture of
wolfish courage and fox-like persistency backed by the powerful jaws
and Herculean strength of the Mackenzie hound, and if Neewa had not
drawn deeper under the windfall he would have gone out again and yelped
his challenge to the feathered things from which they had fled.

Neewa was smarting under the red-hot stab of Oohoomisew's talons, and
he wanted no more of the fight that came out of the air. He began
licking his wounds, and after a while Miki went back to him and smelled
of the fresh, warm blood. It made him growl. He knew that it was
Neewa's blood, and his eyes glowed like twin balls of fire as they
watched the opening through which they had entered into the dark tangle
of fallen trees.

For an hour he did not move, and in that hour, as in the hour after the
killing of the rabbit, he GREW. When at last he crept out cautiously
from under the windfall the sun was sinking behind the western forests.
He peered about him, watching for movement and listening for sound. The
sagging and apologetic posture of puppyhood was gone from him. His
overgrown feet stood squarely on the ground; his angular legs were as
hard as if carven out of knotty wood; his body was tense, his ears
stood up, his head was rigidly set between the bony shoulders that
already gave evidence of gigantic strength to come. About him he knew
was the Big Adventure. The world was no longer a world of play and of
snuggling under the hands of a master. Something vastly more thrilling
had come into it now.

After a time he dropped on his belly close to the opening under the
windfall and began chewing at the end of rope which dragged from about
his neck. The sun sank lower. It disappeared. Still he waited for Neewa
to come out and lie with him in the open. As the twilight thickened
into deeper gloom he drew himself into the edge of the door under the
windfall and found Neewa there. Together they peered forth into the
mysterious night.

For a time there was the utter stillness of the first hour of darkness
in the northland. Up in the clear sky the stars came out in twos and
then in glowing constellations. There was an early moon. It was already
over the edge of the forests, flooding the world with a golden glow,
and in that glow the night was filled with grotesque black shadows that
had neither movement nor sound. Then the silence was broken. From out
of the owl-infested pits came a strange and hollow sound. Miki had
heard the shrill screeching and the TU-WHO-O-O, TU-WHO-O-O, TU-WHO-O-O
of the little owls, the trap-pirates, but never this voice of the
strong-winged Jezebels and Frankensteins of the deeper forests--the
real butchers of the night. It was a hollow, throaty sound--more a moan
than a cry; a moan so short and low that it seemed born of caution, or
of fear that it would frighten possible prey. For a few minutes pit
after pit gave forth each its signal of life, and then there was a
silence of voice, broken at intervals by the faint, crashing sweep of
great wings in the spruce and balsam tops as the hunters launched
themselves up and over them in the direction of the plain.

The going forth of the owls was only the beginning of the night
carnival for Neewa and Miki. For a long time they lay side by side,
sleepless, and listening. Past the windfall went the padded feet of a
fisher-cat, and they caught the scent of it; to them came the far cry
of a loon, the yapping of a restless fox, and the MOOING of a cow moose
feeding in the edge of a lake on the farther side of the plain. And
then, at last, came the thing that made their blood run faster and sent
a deeper thrill into their hearts.

It seemed a vast distance away at first--the hot throated cry of wolves
on the trail of meat. It was swinging northward into the plain, and
this shortly brought the cry with the wind, which was out of the north
and the west. The howling of the pack was very distinct after that, and
in Miki's brain nebulous visions and almost unintelligible memories
were swiftly wakening into life. It was not Challoner's voice that he
heard, but it was A VOICE THAT HE KNEW. It was the voice of Hela, his
giant father; the voice of Numa, his mother; the voice of his kind for
a hundred and a thousand generations before him, and it was the
instinct of those generations and the hazy memory of his earliest
puppyhood that were impinging the thing upon him. A little later it
would take both intelligence and experience to make him discriminate
the hair-breadth difference between wolf and dog. And this voice of his
blood was COMING! It bore down upon them swiftly, fierce and filled
with the blood-lust of hunger. He forgot Neewa. He did not observe the
cub when he slunk back deeper under the windfall. He rose up on his
feet and stood stiff and tense, unconscious of all things but that
thrilling tongue of the hunt-pack.

Wind-broken, his strength failing him, and his eyes wildly searching
the night ahead for the gleam of water that might save him, Ahtik, the
young caribou bull, raced for his life a hundred yards ahead of the
wolves. The pack had already flung itself out in the form of a
horse-shoe, and the two ends were beginning to creep up abreast of
Ahtik, ready to close in for the hamstring--and the kill. In these last
minutes every throat was silent, and the young bull sensed the
beginning of the end. Desperately he turned to the right and plunged
into the forest.

Miki heard the crash of his body and he hugged close to the windfall.
Ten seconds later Ahtik passed within fifty feet of him, a huge and
grotesque form in the moonlight, his coughing breath filled with the
agony and hopelessness of approaching death. As swiftly as he had come
he was gone, and in his place followed half a score of noiseless
shadows passing so quickly that to Miki they were like the coming and
the going of the wind.

For many minutes after that he stood and listened but again silence had
fallen upon the night. After a little he went back into the windfall
and lay down beside Neewa.

Hours that followed he passed in restless snatches of slumber. He
dreamed of things that he had forgotten. He dreamed of Challoner. He
dreamed of chill nights and the big fires; he heard his master's voice
and he felt again the touch of his hand; but over it all and through it
all ran that wild hunting voice of his own kind.

In the early dawn he came out from under the windfall and smelled of
the trail where the wolves and the caribou had passed. Heretofore it
was Neewa who had led in their wandering; now it was Neewa that
followed. His nostrils filled with the heavy scent of the pack, Miki
travelled steadily in the direction of the plain. It took him half an
hour to reach the edge of it. After that he came to a wide and stony
out-cropping of the earth over which he nosed the spoor to a low and
abrupt descent into the wider range of the valley.

Here he stopped.

Twenty feet under him and fifty feet away lay the partly devoured
carcass of the young bull. It was not this fact that thrilled him until
his heart stood still. From out of the bushy plain had come Maheegun, a
renegade she-wolf, to fill herself of the meat which she had not helped
to kill. She was a slinking, hollow-backed, quick-fanged creature,
still rib-thin from the sickness that had come of eating a poison-bait;
a beast shunned by her own kind--a coward, a murderess even of her own
whelps. But she was none of these things to Miki. In her he saw in
living flesh and bone what his memory and his instinct recalled to him
of his mother. And his mother had come before Challoner, his master.

For a minute or two he lay trembling, and then he went down, as he
would have gone to Challoner; with great caution, with a wilder
suspense, but with a strange yearning within him that the man's
presence would have failed to rouse. He was very close to Maheegun
before she was conscious that he was near. The Mother-smell was warm in
his nose now; it filled him with a great joy; and yet--he was afraid.
But it was not a physical fear. Flattened on the ground, with his head
between his fore-paws, he whined.

Like a flash the she-wolf turned, her fangs bared the length of her
jaws and her bloodshot eyes aglow with menace and suspicion. Miki had
no time to make a move or another sound. With the suddenness of a cat
the outcast creature was upon him. Her fangs slashed him just once--and
she was gone. Her teeth had drawn blood from his shoulder, but it was
not the smart of the wound that held him for many moments as still as
if dead. The Mother-smell was still where Maheegun had been. But his
dreams had crumbled. The thing that had been Memory died away at last
in a deep breath that was broken by a whimper of pain. For him, even as
for Neewa, there was no more a Challoner, and no longer a mother. But
there remained--the world! In it the sun was rising. Out of it came the
thrill and the perfume of life. And close to him--very close--was the
rich, sweet smell of meat.

He sniffed hungrily. Then he turned, and saw Neewa's black and pudgy
body tumbling down the slope of the dip to join him in the feast.



CHAPTER NINE


Had Makoki, the leather-faced old Cree runner between God's Lake and
Fort Churchill, known the history of Miki and Neewa up to the point
where they came to feast on the fat and partly devoured carcass of the
young caribou bull, he would have said that Iskoo Wapoo, the Good
Spirit of the beasts, was watching over them most carefully. For Makoki
had great faith in the forest gods as well as in those of his own
tepee. He would have given the story his own picturesque version, and
would have told it to the little children of his son's children; and
his son's children would have kept it in their memory for their own
children later on.

It was not in the ordained nature of things that a black bear cub and a
Mackenzie hound pup with a dash of Airedale and Spitz in him should
"chum up" together as Neewa and Miki had done. Therefore, he would have
said, the Beneficent Spirit who watched over the affairs of four-legged
beasts must have had an eye on them from the beginning. It was
she--Iskoo Wapoo was a goddess and not a god--who had made Challoner
kill Neewa's mother, the big black bear; and it was she who had induced
him to tie the pup and the cub together on the same piece of rope, so
that when they fell out of the white man's canoe into the rapids they
would not die, but would be company and salvation for each other.
NESWA-PAWUK ("two little brothers") Makoki would have called them; and
had it come to the test he would have cut off a finger before harming
either of them. But Makoki knew nothing of their adventures, and on
this morning when they came down to the feast he was a hundred miles
away, haggling with a white man who wanted a guide. He would never know
that Iskoo Wapoo was at his side that very moment, planning the thing
that was to mean so much in the lives of Neewa and Miki.

Meanwhile Neewa and Miki went at their breakfast as if starved. They
were immensely practical. They did not look back on what had happened,
but for the moment submerged themselves completely in the present. The
few days of thrill and adventure through which they had gone seemed
like a year. Neewa's yearning for his mother had grown less and less
insistent, and Miki's lost master counted for nothing now, as things
were going with him. Last night was the big, vivid thing in their
memories--their fight for life with the monster owls, their flight, the
killing of the young caribou bull by the wolves, and (with Miki) the
short, bitter experience with Maheegun, the renegade she-wolf. His
shoulder burned where she had torn at him with her teeth. But this did
not lessen his appetite. Growling as he ate, he filled himself until he
could hold no more.

Then he sat back on his haunches and looked in the direction Maheegun
had taken.

It was eastward, toward Hudson Bay, over a great plain that lay between
two ridges that were like forest walls, yellow and gold in the morning
sun. He had never seen the world as it looked to him now. The wolves
had overtaken the caribou on a scarp on the high ground that thrust
itself out like a short fat thumb from the black and owl-infested
forest, and the carcass lay in a meadowy dip that overhung the plain.
From the edge of this dip Miki could look down--and so far away that
the wonder of what he saw dissolved itself at last into the shimmer of
the sun and the blue of the sky. Within his vision lay a paradise of
marvellous promise; wide stretches of soft, green meadow; clumps of
timber, park-like until they merged into the deeper forest that began
with the farther ridge; great patches of bush radiant with the
colouring of June; here and there the gleam of water, and half a mile
away a lake that was like a giant mirror set in a purplish-green frame
of balsam and spruce.

Into these things Maheegun, the she-wolf, had gone. He wondered whether
she would come back. He sniffed the air for her. But there was no
longer the mother-yearning in his heart. Something had already begun to
tell him of the vast difference between the dog and the wolf. For a few
moments, still hopeful that the world held a mother for him, he had
mistaken her for the one he had lost. But he understood now. A little
more and Maheegun's teeth would have snapped his shoulder, or slashed
his throat to the jugular. TEBAH-GONE-GAWIN (the One Great Law) was
impinging itself upon him, the implacable law of the survival of the
fittest. To live was to fight--to kill; to beat everything that had
feet or wings. The earth and the air held menace for him. Nowhere,
since he had lost Challoner, had he found friendship except in the
heart of Neewa, the motherless cub. And he turned toward Neewa now,
growling at a gay-plumaged moose-bird that was hovering about for a
morsel of meat.

A few minutes before, Neewa had weighed a dozen pounds; now he weighed
fourteen or fifteen. His stomach was puffed out like the sides of an
overfilled bag, and he sat humped up in a pool of warm sunshine licking
his chops and vastly contented with himself and the world. Miki rubbed
up to him, and Neewa gave a chummy grunt. Then he rolled over on his
fat back and invited Miki to play. It was the first time; and with a
joyous yelp Miki jumped into him. Scratching and biting and kicking,
and interjecting their friendly scrimmage with ferocious growling on
Miki's part and pig-like grunts and squeals on Neewa's, they rolled to
the edge of the dip. It was a good hundred feet to the bottom--a steep,
grassy slope that ran to the plain--and like two balls they catapulted
the length of it. For Neewa it was not so bad. He was round and fat,
and went easily.

With Miki it was different. He was all legs and skin and angular bone,
and he went down twisting and somersaulting and tying himself into
knots until by the time he struck the hard strip of shale at the edge
of the plain he was drunk with dizziness and the breath was out of his
body. He staggered to his feet with a gasp. For a space the world was
whirling round and round in a sickening circle. Then he pulled himself
together, and made out Neewa a dozen feet away.

Neewa was just awakening to the truth of an exhilarating discovery.
Next to a boy on a sled, or a beaver on its tail, no one enjoys a
"slide" more than a black bear cub, and as Miki rearranged his
scattered wits Neewa climbed twenty or thirty feet up the slope and
deliberately rolled down again! Miki's jaws fell apart in amazement.
Again Neewa climbed up and rolled down--and Miki ceased to breathe
altogether. Five times he watched Neewa go that twenty or thirty feet
up the grassy slope and tumble down. The fifth time he waded into Neewa
and gave him a rough-and-tumble that almost ended in a fight.

After that Miki began exploring along the foot of the slope, and for a
scant hundred yards Neewa humoured him by following, but beyond that
point he flatly refused to go. In the fourth month of his exciting
young life Neewa was satisfied that Nature had given him birth that he
might have the endless pleasure of filling his stomach. For him, eating
was the one and only excuse for existing. In the next few months he had
a big job on his hands if he kept up the record of his family, and the
fact that Miki was apparently abandoning the fat and juicy carcass of
the young bull filled him with alarm and rebellion. Straightway he
forgot all thought of play and started back up the slope on a mission
that was 100 per cent. business.

Observing this, Miki gave up his idea of exploration and joined him.
They reached the shelf of the dip twenty yards from the carcass of the
bull, and from a clutter of big stones looked forth upon their meat. In
that moment they stood dumb and paralyzed. Two gigantic owls were
tearing at the carcass. To Miki and Neewa these were the monsters of
the black forest out of which they had escaped so narrowly with their
lives. But as a matter of fact they were not of Oohoomisew's breed of
night-seeing pirates. They were Snowy Owls, unlike all others of their
kind in that their vision was as keen as a hawk's in the light of broad
day. Mispoon, the big male, was immaculately white. His mate, a size or
two smaller, was barred with brownish-slate colour--and their heads
were round and terrible looking because they had no ear-tufts. Mispoon,
with his splendid wings spread half over the carcass of Ahtik, the dead
bull, was rending flesh so ravenously with his powerful beak that Neewa
and Miki could hear the sound of it. Newish, his mate, had her head
almost buried in Ahtik's bowels. The sight of them and the sound of
their eating were enough to disturb the nerves of an older bear than
Neewa, and he crouched behind a stone, with just his head sticking out.

In Miki's throat was a sullen growl. But he held it back, and flattened
himself on the ground. The blood of the giant hunter that was his
father rose in him again like fire. The carcass was his meat, and he
was ready to fight for it. Besides, had he not whipped the big owl in
the forest? But here there were two. The fact held him flattened on his
belly a moment or two longer, and in that brief space the unexpected
happened.

Slinking up out of the low growth of bush at the far edge of the dip
lie saw Maheegun, the renegade she-wolf. Hollow-backed, red-eyed, her
bushy tail hanging with the sneaky droop of the murderess, she advanced
over the bit of open, a gray and vengeful shadow. Furtive as she was,
she at least acted with great swiftness. Straight at Mispoon she
launched herself with a snarl and snap of fangs that made Miki hug the
ground still closer.

Deep into Mispoon's four-inch armour of feathers Maheegun buried her
fangs. Taken at a disadvantage Mispoon's head would have been torn from
his body before he could have gathered himself for battle had it not
been for Newish. Pulling her blood stained head from Ahtik's flesh and
blood she drove at Maheegun with a throaty, wheezing scream--a cry that
was like the cry of no other thing that lived. Into the she-wolf's back
she sank her beak and talons and Maheegun gave up her grip on Mispoon
and tore ferociously at her new assailant. For a space Mispoon was
saved, but it was at a terrible sacrifice to Newish. With a single
lucky slash of her long-fanged jaws, Maheegun literally tore one of
Newish's great wings from her body. The croak of agony that came out of
her may have held the death-note for Mispoon, her mate; for he rose on
his wings, poised himself for an instant, and launched himself at the
she-wolf's back with a force that drove Maheegun off her feet.

Deep into her loins the great owl sank his talons, gripping at the
renegade's vitals with an avenging and ferocious tenacity. In that hold
Maheegun felt the sting of death. She flung herself on her back; she
rolled over and over, snarling and snapping and clawing the air in her
efforts to free herself of the burning knives that were sinking still
deeper into her bowels. Mispoon hung on, rolling as she rolled, beating
with his giant wings, fastening his talons in that clutch that death
could not shake loose. On the ground his mate was dying. Her life's
blood was pouring out of the hole in her side, but with the dimming
vision of death she made a last effort to help Mispoon. And Mispoon, a
hero to the last, kept his grip until he was dead.

Into the edge of the bush Maheegun dragged herself. There she freed
herself of the big owl. But the deep wounds were still in her sides.
The blood dripped from her belly as she made her way down into the
thicker cover, leaving a red trail behind her. A quarter of a mile away
she lay down under a clump of dwarf spruce; and there, a little later,
she died.

To Neewa and Miki--and especially to the son of Hela--the grim combat
had widened even more that subtle and growing comprehension of the
world as it existed for them. It was the unforgettable wisdom of
experience backed by an age-old instinct and the heredity of breed.
They had killed small things--Neewa, his bugs and his frogs and his
bumble-bees; Miki, his rabbit--they had fought for their lives; they
had passed through experiences that, from the beginning, had been a
gamble with death; but it had needed the climax of a struggle such as
they had seen with their own eyes to open up the doors that gave them a
new viewpoint of life.

It was many minutes before Miki went forth and smelled of Newish, the
dead owl. He had no desire now to tear at her feathers in the
excitement of an infantile triumph and ferocity. Along with greater
understanding a new craft and a new cunning were born in him. The fate
of Mispoon and his mate had taught him the priceless value of silence
and of caution, for he knew now that in the world there were many
things that were not afraid of him, and many things that would not run
away from him. He had lost his fearless and blatant contempt for winged
creatures; he had learned that the earth was not made for him alone,
and that to hold his small place on it he must fight as Maheegun and
the owls had fought. This was because in Miki's veins was the red
fighting blood of a long line of ancestors that reached back to the
wolves.

In Neewa the process of deduction was vastly different. His breed was
not the fighting breed, except as it fought among its own kind. It did
not make a habit of preying upon other beasts, and no other beast
preyed upon it. This was purely an accident of birth--the fact that no
other creature in all his wide domain was powerful enough, either alone
or in groups, to defeat a grown black bear in open battle. Therefore
Neewa learned nothing of fighting in the tragedy of Maheegun and the
owls. His profit, if any, was in a greater caution. And his chief
interest was in the fact that Maheegun and the two owls had not
devoured the young bull. His supper was still safe.

With his little round eyes on the alert for fresh trouble he kept
himself safely hidden while he watched Miki investigating the scene of
battle. From the body of the owl Miki went to Ahtik, and from Ahtik he
sniffed slowly over the trail which Maheegun had taken into the bush.
In the edge of the cover he found Mispoon. He did not go farther, but
returned to Neewa, who by this time had made up his mind that he could
safely come out into the open.

Fifty times that day Miki rushed to the defense of their meat. The
big-eyed, clucking moose-birds were most annoying. Next to them the
Canada jays were most persistent. Twice a little gray-coated ermine,
with eyes as red as garnets, came in to get his fill of blood. Miki was
at him so fiercely that he did not return a third time. By noon the
crows had got scent or sight of the carcass and were circling overhead,
waiting for Neewa and Miki to disappear. Later, they set up a raucous
protest from the tops of the trees in the edge of the forest.

That night the wolves did not return to the dip. Meat was too
plentiful, and those that were over their gorge were off on a fresh
kill far to the west. Once or twice Neewa and Miki heard their distant
cry.

Again through a star-filled radiant night they watched and listened,
and slept at times. In the soft gray dawn they went forth once more to
their feast.

And here is where Makoki, the old Cree runner, would have emphasized
the presence of the Beneficent Spirit. For day followed day, and night
followed night, and Ahtik's flesh and blood put into Neewa and Miki a
strength and growth that developed marvellously. By the fourth day
Neewa had become so fat and sleek that he was half again as big as on
the day he fell out of the canoe. Miki had begun to fill out. His ribs
could no longer be counted from a distance. His chest was broadening
and his legs were losing some of their angular clumsiness. Practice on
Ahtik's bones had strengthened his jaws. With his development he felt
less and less the old puppyish desire to play--more and more the
restlessness of the hunter. The fourth night he heard again the wailing
hunt-cry of the wolves, and it held a wild and thrilling note for him.

With Neewa, fat and good humour and contentment were all synonymous. As
long as the meat held out there was no very great temptation for him
beyond the dip and the slope. Two or three times a day he went down to
the creek; and every morning and afternoon--especially about sunset--he
had his fun rolling downhill. In addition to this he began taking his
afternoon naps in the crotch of a small sapling. As Miki could see
neither sense nor sport in tobogganing, and as he could not climb a
tree, he began to spend more and more time in venturing up and down the
foot of the ridge. He wanted Neewa to go with him on these expeditions.
He never set out until he had entreated Neewa to come down out of his
tree, or until he had made an effort to coax him away from the single
trail he had made to the creek and back. Neewa's obstinacy would never
have brought about any real unpleasantness between them. Miki thought
too much of him for that; and if it had come to a final test, and Neewa
had thought that Miki would not return, he would undoubtedly have
followed him.

It was another and a more potent thing than an ordinary quarrel that
placed the first great barrier between them. Now it happened that Miki
was of the breed which preferred its meat fresh, while Neewa liked his
"well hung." And from the fourth day onward, what was left of Ahtik's
carcass was ripening. On the fifth day Miki found the flesh difficult
to eat; on the sixth, impossible. To Neewa it became increasingly
delectable as the flavour grew and the perfume thickened. On the sixth
day, in sheer delight, he rolled in it. That night, for the first time,
Miki could not sleep with him.

The seventh day brought the climax. Ahtik now fairly smelled to heaven.
The odour of him drifted up and away on the soft June wind until all
the crows in the country were gathering. It drove Miki, slinking like a
whipped cur, down into the creek bottom. When Neewa came down for a
drink after his morning feast Miki sniffed him over for a moment and
then slunk away from him again. As a matter of fact, there was small
difference between Ahtik and Neewa now, except that one lay still and
the other moved. Both smelled dead; both were decidedly "well hung."
Even the crows circled over Neewa, wondering why it was that he walked
about like a living thing.

That night Miki slept alone under a clump of bush in the creek bottom.
He was hungry and lonely, and for the first time in many days he felt
the bigness and emptiness of the world. He wanted Neewa. He whined for
him in the starry silence of the long hours between sunset and dawn.
The sun was well up before Neewa came down the hill. He had finished
his breakfast and his morning roll, and he was worse than ever. Again
Miki tried to coax him away but Neewa was disgustingly fixed in his
determination to remain in his present glory. And this morning he was
more than usually anxious to return to the dip. All of yesterday he had
found it necessary to frighten the crows away from his meat, and to-day
they were doubly persistent in their efforts to rob him. With a grunt
and a squeal to Miki he hustled back up the hill after he had taken his
drink.

His trail entered the dip through the pile of rocks from which Miki and
he had watched the battle between Maheegun and the two owls, and as a
matter of caution he always paused for a few moments among these rocks
to make sure that all was well in the open. This morning he received a
decided shock. Ahtik's carcass was literally black with crows. Kakakew
and his Ethiopic horde of scavengers had descended in a cloud, and they
were tearing and fighting and beating their wings about Ahtik as if all
of them had gone mad. Another cloud was hovering in air; every bush and
near-by sapling was bending under the weight of them, and in the sun
their jet-black plumage glistened as if they had just come out of the
bath of a tinker's pot. Neewa stood astounded. He was not frightened;
he had driven the cowardly robbers away many times. But never had there
been so many of them. He could see no trace of his meat. Even the
ground about it was black.

He rushed out from the rocks with his lips drawn back, just as he had
rushed a dozen or more times before. There was a mighty roar of wings.
The air was darkened by them, and the ravenish screaming that followed
could have been heard a mile away. This time Kakakew and his mighty
crew did not fly back to the forest. Their number gave them courage.
The taste of Ahtik's flesh and the flavour of it in their nostrils
intoxicated them, to the point of madness, with desire. Neewa was
dazed. Over him, behind him, on all sides of him they swept and
circled, croaking and screaming at him, the boldest of them swooping
down to beat at him with their wings. Thicker grew the menacing cloud,
and then suddenly it descended like an avalanche. It covered Ahtik
again. In it Neewa was fairly smothered. He felt himself buried under a
mass of wings and bodies, and he began fighting, as he had fought the
owls. A score of pincer-like black beaks fought to get at his hair and
hide; others stabbed at his eyes; he felt his ears being pulled from
his head, and the end of his nose was a bloody cushion within a dozen
seconds. The breath was beaten out of him; he was blinded, and dazed,
and every square inch of him was aquiver with its own excruciating
pain. He forgot Ahtik. The one thing in the world he wanted most was a
large open space in which to run.

Putting all his strength into the effort he struggled to his feet and
charged through the mass of living things about him. At this sign of
defeat many of the crows left him to join in the feast. By the time he
was half way to the cover into which Maheegun had gone all but one had
left him. That one may have been Kakakew himself. He had fastened
himself like a rat-trap to Neewa's stubby tail, and there he hung on
like grim death while Neewa ran. He kept his hold until his victim was
well into the cover. Then he flopped himself into the air and rejoined
his brethren at the putrified carcass of the bull.

If ever Neewa had wanted Miki he wanted him now. Again his entire
viewpoint of the world was changed. He was stabbed in a hundred places.
He burned as if afire. Even the bottoms of his feet hurt him when he
stepped on them, and for half an hour he hid himself under a bush,
licking his wounds and sniffing the air for Miki.

Then he went down the slope into the creek bottom, and hurried to the
foot of the trail he had made to and from the dip. Vainly he quested
about him for his comrade. He grunted and squealed, and tried to catch
the scent of him in the air. He ran up the creek a distance, and back
again. Ahtik counted as nothing now.

Miki was gone.



CHAPTER TEN


A quarter of a mile away Miki had heard the clamour of the crows. But
he was in no humour to turn back, even had he guessed that Neewa was in
need of his help. He was hungry from long fasting and, for the present,
his disposition had taken a decided turn. He was in a mood to tackle
anything in the eating line, no matter how big, but he was a good mile
from the dip in the side of the ridge before he found even a crawfish.
He crunched this down, shell and all. It helped to take the bad taste
out of his mouth.

The day was destined to hold for him still another unforgettable event
in his life. Now that he was alone the memory of his master was not so
vague as it had been yesterday, and the days before. Brain-pictures
came back to him more vividly as the morning lengthened into afternoon,
bridging slowly but surely the gulf that Neewa's comradeship had
wrought. For a time the exciting thrill of his adventure was gone. Half
a dozen times he hesitated on the point of turning back to Neewa. It
was hunger that always drove him on a little farther. He found two more
crawfish. Then the creek deepened and its water ran slowly, and was
darker. Twice he chased old rabbits, that got away from him easily.
Once he came within an ace of catching a young one. Frequently a
partridge rose with a thunder of wings. He saw moose-birds, and jays,
and many squirrels. All about him was meat which it was impossible for
him to catch. Then fortune turned his way. Poking his head into the end
of a hollow log he cornered a rabbit so completely that there was no
escape. During the next few minutes he indulged in the first square
meal he had eaten for three days.

So absorbed was he in his feast that he was unconscious of a new
arrival on the scene. He did not hear the coming of Oochak, the
fisher-cat; nor, for a few moments, did he smell him. It was not in
Oochak's nature to make a disturbance. He was by birth and instinct a
valiant hunter and a gentleman, and when he saw Miki (whom he took to
be a young wolf) feeding on a fresh kill, he made no move to demand a
share for himself. Nor did he run away. He would undoubtedly have
continued on his way very soon if Miki had not finally sensed his
presence, and faced him.

Oochak had come from the other side of the log, and stood not more than
six feet distant. To one who knew as little of his history as Miki
there was nothing at all ferocious about him. He was shaped like his
cousins, the weazel, the mink, and the skunk. He was about half as high
as Miki, and fully as long, so that his two pairs of short legs seemed
somewhat out of place, as on a dachshund. He probably weighed between
eight and ten pounds, had a bullet head, almost no ears, and atrocious
whiskers. Also he had a bushy tail and snapping little eyes that seemed
to bore clean through whatever he looked at. To Miki his accidental
presence was a threat and a challenge. Besides, Oochak looked like an
easy victim if it came to a fight. So he pulled back his lips and
snarled.

Oochak accepted this as an invitation for him to move on, and being a
gentleman who respected other people's preserves he made his apologies
by beginning a velvet-footed exit. This was too much for Miki, who had
yet to learn the etiquette of the forest trails. Oochak was afraid of
him. He was running away! With a triumphant yelp Miki took after him.
After all, it was simply a mistake in judgment. (Many two-footed
animals with bigger brains than Miki's had made similar mistakes.) For
Oochak, attending always to his own business, was, for his size and
weight, the greatest little fighter in North America.

Just what happened in the one minute that followed his assault Miki
would never be able quite to understand. It was not in reality a fight;
it was a one-sided immolation, a massacre. His first impression was
that he had tackled a dozen Oochaks instead of one. Beyond that first
impression his mind did not work, nor did his eyes visualize. He was
whipped as he would never be whipped again in his life. He was cut and
bruised and bitten; he was strangled and stabbed; he was so utterly
mauled that for a space after Oochak had gone he continued to rake the
air with his paws, unconscious of the fact that the affair was over.
When he opened his eyes, and found himself alone, he slunk into the
hollow log where he had cornered the rabbit.

In there he lay a good half hour, trying hard to comprehend just what
had happened. The sun was setting when he dragged himself out. He
limped. His one good ear was bitten clean through. There were bare
spots on his hide where Oochak had scraped the hair off. His bones
ached, his throat was sore, and there was a lump over one eye. He
looked longingly back over the "home" trail. Up there was Neewa. With
the lengthening shadows of the day's end a great loneliness crept upon
him and a desire to turn back to his comrade. But Oochak had gone that
way--and he did not want to meet Oochak again.

He wandered a little farther south and east, perhaps a quarter of a
mile, before the sun disappeared entirely. In the thickening gloom of
twilight he struck the Big Rock portage between the Beaver and the Loon.

It was not a trail. Only at rare intervals did wandering voyageurs
coming down from the north make use of it in their passage from one
waterway to the other. Three or four times a year at the most would a
wolf have caught the scent of man in it. It was there tonight, so fresh
that Miki stopped when he came to it as if another Oochak had risen
before him. For a space he was turned into the rigidity of rock by a
single overwhelming emotion. All other things were forgotten in the
fact that he had struck the trail of a man--AND, THEREFORE, THE TRAIL
OF CHALLONER, HIS MASTER. He began to follow it--slowly at first, as if
fearing that it might get away from him. Darkness came, and he was
still following it. In the light of the stars he persisted, all else
crowded from him but the homing instinct of the dog and the desire for
a master.

At last he came almost to the shore of the Loon, and there he saw the
campfire of Makoki and the white man.

He did not rush in. He did not bark or yelp; the hard schooling of the
wilderness had already set its mark upon him. He slunk in
cautiously--then stopped, flat on his belly, just outside the rim of
firelight. Then he saw that neither of the men was Challoner. But both
were smoking, as Challoner had smoked. He could hear their voices, and
they were like Challoner's voice. And the camp was the same--a fire, a
pot hanging over it, a tent, and in the air the odours of recently
cooked things.

Another moment or two and he would have gone into the firelight. But
the white man rose to his feet, stretched himself as he had often seen
Challoner stretch, and picked up a stick of wood as big as his arm. He
came within ten feet of Miki, and Miki wormed himself just a little
toward him, and stood up on his feet. It brought him into a half light.
His eyes were aglow with the reflection of the fire. And the man saw
him.

In a flash the club he held was over his head; it swung through the air
with the power of a giant arm behind it and was launched straight at
Miki. Had it struck squarely it would have killed him. The big end of
it missed him; the smaller end landed against his neck and shoulder,
driving him back into the gloom with such force and suddenness that the
man thought he had done for him. He called out loudly to Makoki that he
had killed a young wolf or a fox, and dashed out into the darkness.

The club had knocked Miki fairly into the heart of a thick ground
spruce. There he lay, making no sound, with a terrible pain in his
shoulder. Between himself and the fire he saw the man bend over and
pick up the club. He saw Makoki hurrying toward him with ANOTHER club,
and under his shelter he made himself as small as he could. He was
filled with a great dread, for now he understood the truth. THESE men
were not Challoner. They were hunting for him--with clubs in their
hands. He knew what the clubs meant. His shoulder was almost broken.

He lay very still while the men searched about him. The Indian even
poked his stick into the thick ground spruce. The white man kept saying
that he was sure he had made a hit, and once he stood so near that
Miki's nose almost touched his boot. He went back and added fresh birch
to the fire, so that the light of it illumined a greater space about
them. Miki's heart stood still. But the men searched farther on, and at
last went back to the fire.

For an hour Miki did not move. The fire burned itself low. The old Cree
wrapped himself in a blanket, and the white man went into his tent. Not
until then did Miki dare to crawl out from under the spruce. With his
bruised shoulder making him limp at every step he hurried back over the
trail which he had followed so hopefully a little while before. The
man-scent no longer made his heart beat swiftly with joy. It was a
menace now. A warning. A thing from which he wanted to get away. He
would sooner have faced Oochak again, or the owls, than the white man
with his club. With the owls he could fight, but in the club he sensed
an overwhelming superiority.

The night was very still when he dragged himself back to the hollow log
in which he had killed the rabbit. He crawled into it, and nursed his
wounds through all the rest of the hours of darkness. In the early
morning he came out and ate the rest of the rabbit.

After that he faced the north and west--where Neewa was. There was no
hesitation now. He wanted Neewa again. He wanted to muzzle him with his
nose and lick his face even though he did smell to heaven. He wanted to
hear him grunt and squeal in his funny, companionable way; he wanted to
hunt with him again, and play with him, and lie down beside him in a
sunny spot and sleep. Neewa, at last, was a necessary part of his world.

He set out.

And Neewa, far up the creek, still followed hopefully and yearningly
over the trail of Miki.

Half way to the dip, in a small open meadow that was a glory of sun,
they met. There was no very great demonstration. They stopped and
looked at each other for a moment, as if to make sure that there was no
mistake. Neewa grunted. Miki wagged his tail. They smelled noses. Neewa
responded with a little squeal, and Miki whined. It was as if they had
said,

"Hello, Miki!"

"Hello, Neewa!"

And then Neewa lay down in the sun and Miki sprawled himself out beside
him. After all, it was a funny world. It went to pieces now and then,
but it always came together again. And to-day their world had
thoroughly adjusted itself. Once more they were chums--and they were
happy.



CHAPTER ELEVEN


It was the Flying-Up Moon--deep and slumbering midsummer--in all the
land of Keewatin. From Hudson Bay to the Athabasca and from the Hight
of Land to the edge of the Great Barrens, forest, plain, and swamp lay
in peace and forgetfulness under the sun-glowing days and the
star-filled nights of the August MUKOO-SAWIN. It was the breeding moon,
the growing moon, the moon when all wild life came into its own once
more. For the trails of this wilderness world--so vast that it reached
a thousand miles east and west and as far north and south--were empty
of human life. At the Hudson Bay Company's posts--scattered here and
there over the illimitable domain of fang and claw--had gathered the
thousands of hunters and trappers, with their wives and children, to
sleep and gossip and play through the few weeks of warmth and plenty
until the strife and tragedy of another winter began. For these people
of the forests it was MUKOO-SAWIN--the great Play Day of the year; the
weeks in which they ran up new debts and established new credits at the
Posts; the weeks in which they foregathered at every Post as at a great
fair--playing, and making love, and marrying, and fattening up for the
many days of hunger and gloom to come.

It was because of this that the wild things had come fully into the
possession of their world for a space. There was no longer the scent of
man in all the wilderness. They were not hunted. There were no traps
laid for their feet, no poison-baits placed temptingly where they might
pass. In the fens and on the lakes the wildfowl squawked and honked
unfearing to their young, just learning the power of wing; the lynx
played with her kittens without sniffing the air for the menace of man;
the cow moose went openly into the cool water of the lakes with their
calves; the wolverine and the marten ran playfully over the roofs of
deserted shacks and cabins; the beaver and the otter tumbled and
frolicked in their dark pools; the birds sang, and through all the
wilderness there was the drone and song of Nature as some Great Power
must at first have meant that Nature should be. A new generation of
wild things had been born. It was a season of Youth, with tens of
thousands and hundreds of thousands of little children of the wild
playing their first play, learning their first lessons, growing up
swiftly to face the menace and doom of their first winter. And the
Beneficent Spirit of the forests, anticipating what was to come, had
prepared well for them. Everywhere there was plenty. The blueberries,
the blackberries, the mountain-ash and the saskatoons were ripe; tree
and vine were bent low with their burden of fruit. The grass was green
and tender from the summer rains. Bulbous roots were fairly popping out
of the earth; the fens and the edges of the lakes were rich with things
to eat, overhead and underfoot the horn of plenty was emptying itself
without stint.

In this world Neewa and Miki found a vast and unending contentment.
They lay, on this August afternoon, on a sun-bathed shelf of rock that
overlooked a wonderful valley. Neewa, stuffed with luscious
blueberries, was asleep. Miki's eyes were only partly closed as he
looked down into the soft haze of the valley. Up to him came the
rippling music of the stream running between the rocks and over the
pebbly bars below, and with it the soft and languorous drone of the
valley itself. He napped uneasily for half an hour, and then his eyes
opened and he was wide awake. He took a sharp look over the valley.
Then he looked at Neewa, who, fat and lazy, would have slept until
dark. It was always Miki who kept him on the move. And now Miki barked
at him gruffly two or three times, and nipped at one of his ears.

"Wake up!" he might have said. "What's the sense of sleeping on a day
like this? Let's go down along the creek and hunt something."

Neewa roused himself, stretched his fat body, and yawned. Sleepily his
little eyes took in the valley. Miki got up and gave the low and
anxious whine which always told his companion that he wanted to be on
the move. Neewa responded, and they began making their way down the
green slope into the rich bottom between the two ridges.

They were now almost six months of age, and in the matter of size had
nearly ceased to be a cub and a pup. They were almost a dog and a bear.
Miki's angular legs were getting their shape; his chest had filled out;
his neck had grown until it no longer seemed too small for his big head
and jaws, and his body had increased in girth and length until he was
twice as big as most ordinary dogs of his age.

Neewa had lost his round, ball-like cubbishness, though he still
betrayed far more than Miki the fact that he was not many months lost
from his mother. But he was no longer filled with that wholesome love
of peace that had filled his earlier cubhood. The blood of Soominitik
was at last beginning to assert itself, and he no longer sought a place
of safety in time of battle--unless the grimness of utter necessity
made it unavoidable. In fact, unlike most bears, he loved a fight. If
there were a stronger term at hand it might be applied to Miki, the
true son of Hela. Youthful as they were, they were already covered with
scars that would have made a veteran proud. Crows and owls, wolf-fang
and fisher-claw had all left their marks, and on Miki's side was a bare
space eight inches long left as a souvenir by a wolverine.

In Neewa's funny round head there had grown, during the course of
events, an ambition to have it out some day with a citizen of his own
kind; but the two opportunities that had come his way were spoiled by
the fact that the other cubs' mothers were with them. So now, when Miki
led off on his trips of adventure, Neewa always followed with another
thrill than that of getting something to eat, which so long had been
his one ambition. Which is not to say that Neewa had lost his appetite.
He could eat more in one day than Miki could eat in three, mainly
because Miki was satisfied with two or three meals a day while Neewa
preferred one--a continuous one lasting from dawn until dark. On the
trail he was always eating something.

A quarter of a mile along the foot of the ridge, in a stony coulee down
which a tiny rivulet trickled, there grew the finest wild currants in
all the Shamattawa country. Big as cherries, black as ink, and swelling
almost to the bursting point with luscious juice, they hung in clusters
so thick that Neewa could gather them by the mouthful. Nothing in all
the wilderness is quite so good as one of these dead-ripe black
currants, and this coulee wherein they grew so richly Neewa had
preempted as his own personal property. Miki, too, had learned to eat
the currants; so to the coulee they went this afternoon, for such
currants as these one can eat even when one is already full. Besides,
the coulee was fruitful for Miki in other ways. There were many young
partridges and rabbits in it--"fool hens" of tender flesh and delicious
flavour which he caught quite easily, and any number of gophers and
squirrels.

To-day they had scarcely taken their first mouthful of the big juicy
currants when an unmistakable sound came to them. Unmistakable because
each recognized instantly what it meant. It was the tearing down of
currant bushes twenty or thirty yards higher up the coulee. Some robber
had invaded their treasure-house, and instantly Miki bared his fangs
while Neewa wrinkled up his nose in an ominous snarl. Soft-footed they
advanced toward the sound until they came to the edge of a small open
space which was as flat as a table. In the centre of this space was a
clump of currant bushes not more than a yard in girth, and black with
fruit; and squatted on his haunches there, gathering the laden bushes
in his arms, was a young black bear about four sizes larger than Neewa.

In that moment of consternation and rage Neewa did not take size into
consideration. He was much in the frame of mind of a man returning home
to discover his domicile, and all it contained, in full possession of
another. At the same time here was his ambition easily to be
achieved--his ambition to lick the daylight out of a member of his own
kind. Miki seemed to sense this fact. Under ordinary conditions he
would have led in the fray, and before Neewa had fairly got started,
would have been at the impudent interloper's throat. But now something
held him back, and it was Neewa who first shot out--like a black
bolt--landing squarely in the ribs of his unsuspecting enemy.

(Old Makoki, the Cree runner, had he seen that attack, would instantly
have found a name for the other bear--"Petoot-a-wapis-kum," which
means, literally: "Kicked-off-his-Feet." Perhaps he would have called
him "Pete" for short. For the Cree believes in fitting names to fact,
and Petoot-a-wapis-kum certainly fitted the unknown bear like a glove.)

Taken utterly by surprise, with his mouth full of berries, he was
bowled over like an overfilled bag under the force of Neewa's charge.
So complete was his discomfiture for the moment that Miki, watching the
affair with a yearning interest, could not keep back an excited yap of
approbation. Before Pete could understand what had happened, and while
the berries were still oozing from his mouth, Neewa was at his
throat--and the fun began.

Now bears, and especially young bears, have a way of fighting that is
all their own. It reminds one of a hair-pulling contest between two
well-matched ladies. There are no rules to the game--absolutely none.
As Pete and Neewa clinched, their hind legs began to do the fighting,
and the fur began to fly. Pete, being already on his back--a
first-class battling position for a bear--would have possessed an
advantage had it not been for Neewa's ferocious hold at his throat. As
it was, Neewa sank his fangs in to their full length, and scrubbed away
for dear life with his sharp hind claws. Miki drew nearer at sight of
the flying fur, his soul filled with joy. Then Pete got one leg into
action, and then the other, and Miki's jaws came together with a sudden
click. Over and over the two fighters rolled, Neewa holding to his
throat-grip, and not a squeal or a grunt came from either of them.
Pebbles and dirt flew along with hair and fur. Stones rolled with a
clatter down the coulee. The very air trembled with the thrill of
combat. In Miki's attitude of tense waiting there was something now of
suspicious anxiety. With eight furry legs scratching and tearing
furiously, and the two fighters rolling and twisting and contorting
themselves like a pair of windmills gone mad, it was almost impossible
for Miki to tell who was getting the worst of it--Neewa or Pete; at
least he was in doubt for a matter of three or four minutes.

Then he recognized Neewa's voice. It was very faint, but for all that
it was an unmistakable bawl of pain.

Smothered under Pete's heavier body Neewa began to realize, at the end
of those three or four minutes, that he had tackled more than was good
for him. It was altogether Pete's size and not his fighting qualities,
for Neewa had him outpointed there. But he fought on, hoping for some
good turn of luck, until at last Pete got him just where he wanted him
and began raking him up and down his sides until in another three
minutes he would have been half skinned if Miki hadn't judged the
moment ripe for intervention. Even then Neewa was taking his punishment
without a howl.

In another instant Miki had Pete by the ear. It was a grim and terrible
hold. Old Soominitik himself would have bawled lustily in the
circumstances. Pete raised his voice in a howl of agony. He forgot
everything else but the terror and the pain of this new SOMETHING that
had him by the ear, and he rent the air with his outcry. His
lamentation poured in an unbroken spasm of sound from his throat. Neewa
knew that Miki was in action.

He pulled himself from under the young interloper's body--and not a
second too soon. Down the coulee, charging like a mad bull, came Pete's
mother. Neewa was off like a shot just as she made a powerful swing at
him. The blow missed, and the old bear turned excitedly to her bawling
offspring. Miki, hanging joyously to his victim, was oblivious of his
danger until Pete's mother was almost upon him. He caught sight of her
just as her long arm shot out like a wooden beam. He dodged; and the
blow intended for him landed full against the side of the unfortunate
Pete's head with a force that took him clean off his feet and sent him
flying like a football twenty yards down the coulee.

Miki did not wait for further results. Quick as a flash he was in a
currant thicket tearing down the little gulch after Neewa. They came
out on the plain together, and for a good ten minutes they did not halt
in their flight long enough to look back. When they did, the coulee was
a mile away. They sat down, panting. Neewa's red tongue was hanging out
in his exhaustion. He was scratched and bleeding; loose hair hung all
over him. As he looked at Miki there was something in the dolorous
expression of Neewa's face which was a confession of the fact that he
realized Pete had licked him.



CHAPTER TWELVE


After the fight in the coulee there was no longer a thought on the part
of Neewa and Miki of returning to the Garden of Eden in which the black
currants grew so lusciously. From the tip of his tail to the end of his
nose Miki was an adventurer, and like the nomadic rovers of old he was
happiest when on the move. The wilderness had claimed him now, body and
soul, and it is probable that he would have shunned a human camp at
this stage of his life, even as Neewa would have shunned it. But in the
lives of beasts, as well as in the lives of men, Fate plays her pranks
and tricks, and even as they turned into the vast and mystery-filled
spaces of the great lake and waterway-country, to the west, events were
slowly shaping themselves into what was to be perhaps the darkest hour
of gloom in the life of Miki, son of Hela.

Through six glorious and sun-filled weeks of late summer and early
autumn--until the middle of September--Miki and Neewa ranged the
country westward, always heading toward the setting sun, the country of
Jackson's Knee, of the Touchwood and the Clearwater, and God's Lake. In
this country they saw many things. It was a region a hundred miles
square which the handiwork of Nature had made into a veritable kingdom
of the wild. They came upon great beaver colonies in the dark and
silent places; they watched the otter at play; they came upon moose and
caribou so frequently that they no longer feared or evaded them, but
walked out openly into the meadows or down to the edge of the swamps
where they were feeding. It was here that Miki learned the great lesson
that claw and fang were made to prey upon cloven hoof and horn, for the
wolves were thick, and a dozen times they came upon their kills, and
even more frequently heard the wild tongue of the hunting-packs. Since
his experience with Maheegun he no longer had the desire to join them.
And now Neewa no longer insisted on remaining near meat when they found
it. It was the beginning of the KWASKA-HAO in Neewa--the instinctive
sensing of the Big Change.

Until early in October Miki could see but little of this change in his
comrade. It was then that Neewa became more and more restless, and this
restlessness grew as the chill nights came, and autumn breathed more
heavily in the air. It was Neewa who took the lead in their
peregrinations now, and he seemed always to be questing for
something--a mysterious something which Miki could neither smell nor
see. He no longer slept for hours at a time. By mid-October he slept
scarcely at all, but roved through most of the hours of night as well
as day, eating, eating, eating, and always smelling the wind for that
elusive thing which Nature was commanding him to seek and find.
Ceaselessly he was nosing under windfalls and among the rocks, and Miki
was always near him, always on the QUI VIVE for battle with the thing
that Neewa was hunting out. And it seemed to be never found.

Then Neewa turned back to the east, drawn by the instinct of his
forefathers; back toward the country of Noozak, his mother, and of
Soominitik, his father; and Miki followed. The nights grew more and
more chill. The stars seemed farther away, and no longer was the forest
moon red like blood. The cry of the loon had a moaning note in it, a
note of grief and lamentation. And in their shacks and tepees the
forest people sniffed the air of frosty mornings, and soaked their
traps in fish-oil and beaver-grease, and made their moccasins, and
mended snow-shoe and sledge, for the cry of the loon said that winter
was creeping down out of the North. And the swamps grew silent. The cow
moose no longer mooed to her young. In place of it, from the open plain
and "burn" rose the defiant challenge of bull to bull and the deadly
clash of horn against horn under the stars of night. The wolf no longer
howled to hear his voice. In the travel of padded feet there came to be
a slinking, hunting caution. In all the forest world blood was running
red again.

And then--November.

Perhaps Miki would never forget that first day when the snow came. At
first he thought all the winged things in the world were shedding their
white feathers. Then he felt the fine, soft touch of it under his feet,
and the chill. It sent the blood rushing like a new kind of fire
through his body; a wild and thrilling joy--the exultation that leaps
through the veins of the wolf when the winter comes.

With Neewa its effect was different--so different that even Miki felt
the oppression of it, and waited vaguely and anxiously for what was to
come. And then, on this day of the first snow, he saw his comrade do a
strange and unaccountable thing. He began to eat things that he had
never touched as food before. He lapped up soft pine needles, and
swallowed them. He ate of the dry, pulpy substance of rotted logs. And
then he went into a great cleft broken into the heart of a rocky ridge,
and found at last the thing for which he had been seeking. It was a
cavern--deep, and dark, and warm.

Nature works in strange ways. She gives to the birds of the air eyes
which men may never have, and she gives to the beasts of the earth an
instinct which men may never know. For Neewa had come back to sleep his
first Long Sleep in the place of his birth--the cavern in which Noozak,
his mother, had brought him into the world.

His old bed was still there, the wallow in the soft sand, the blanket
of hair Noozak had shed; but the smell of his mother was gone. In the
nest where he was born Neewa lay down, and for the last time he grunted
softly to Miki. It was as if he felt upon him the touch of a hand,
gentle but inevitable, which he could no longer refuse to obey, and to
Miki was saying, for the last time: "Good-night!"

That night the PIPOO KESTIN--the first storm of winter--came like an
avalanche from out of the North. With it came a wind that was like the
roaring of a thousand bulls, and over all the land of the wild there
was nothing that moved. Even in the depth of the cavern Miki heard the
beat and the wail of it and the swishing of the shot-like snow beyond
the door through which they had come, and he snuggled close to Neewa,
content that they had found shelter.

With the day he went to the slit in the face of the rock, and in his
astonishment he made no sound, but stared forth upon a world that was
no longer the world he had left last night. Everywhere it was white--a
dazzling, eye-blinding white. The sun had risen. It shot a thousand
flashing shafts of radiant light into Miki's eyes. So far as his vision
could reach the earth was as if covered with a robe of diamonds. From
rock and tree and shrub blazed the fire of the sun; it quivered in the
tree-tops, bent low with their burden of snow; it was like a sea in the
valley, so vivid that the unfrozen stream running through the heart of
it was black. Never had Miki seen a day so magnificent. Never had his
heart pounded at the sight of the sun as it pounded now, and never had
his blood burned with a wilder exultation. He whined, and ran back to
Neewa. He barked in the gloom of the cavern and gave his comrade a
nudge with his nose. Neewa grunted sleepily. He stretched himself,
raised his head for an instant, and then curled himself into a ball
again. Vainly Miki protested that it was day, and time for them to be
moving. Neewa made no response, and after a while Miki returned to the
mouth of the cavern, and looked back to see if Neewa was following him.
Then, disappointed, he went out into the snow. For an hour he did not
move farther than ten feet away from the den. Three times he returned
to Neewa and urged him to get up and come out where it was light. In
that far corner of the cavern it was dark, and it was as if he were
trying to tell Neewa that he was a dunce to lie there still thinking it
was night when the sun was up outside. But he failed. Neewa was in the
edge of his Long Sleep--the beginning of USKE-POW-A-MEW, the dream land
of the bears.

Annoyance, the desire almost to sink his teeth in Neewa's ear, gave
place slowly to another thing in Miki. The instinct that between beasts
is like the spoken reason of men stirred in a strange and disquieting
way within him. He became more and more uneasy. There was almost
distress in his restlessness as he hovered about the mouth of the
cavern. A last time he went to Neewa, and then he started alone down
into the valley.

He was hungry, but on this first day after the storm there was small
chance of him finding anything to eat. The snowshoe rabbits were
completely buried under their windfalls and shelters, and lay quietly
in their warm nests. Nothing had moved during the hours of the storm.
There were no trails of living things for him to follow, and in places
he sank to his shoulders in the soft snow. He made his way to the
creek. It was no longer the creek he had known. It was edged with ice.
There was something dark and brooding about it now. The sound it made
was no longer the rippling song of summer and golden autumn. There was
a threat in its gurgling monotone--a new voice, as if a black and
forbidding spirit had taken possession of it and was warning him that
the times had changed, and that new laws and a new force had come to
claim sovereignty in the land of his birth.

He drank of the water cautiously. It was cold--ice-cold. Slowly it was
being impinged upon him that in the beauty of this new world that was
his there was no longer the warm and pulsing beat of the heart that was
life. He was alone. ALONE! Everything else was covered up; everything
else seemed dead.

He went back to Neewa and lay close to him all through the day. And
through the night that followed he did not move again from the cavern.
He went only as far as the door and saw celestial spaces ablaze with
stars and a moon that rode up into the heavens like a white sun. They,
too, seemed no longer like the moon and stars he had known. They were
terribly still and cold. And under them the earth was terribly white
and silent.

With the coming of dawn he tried once more to awaken Neewa. But this
time he was not so insistent. Nor did he have the desire to nip Neewa
with his teeth. Something had happened--something which he could not
understand. He sensed the thing, but he could not reason it. And he was
filled with a strange and foreboding fear.

He went down again to hunt. Under the glory of the moon and stars it
had been a wild night of carnival for the rabbits, and in the edge of
the timber Miki found the snow beaten hard in places with their tracks.
It was not difficult for him to stalk his breakfast this morning. He
made his kill, and feasted. He killed again after that, and still
again. He could have gone on killing, for now that the snow betrayed
them, the hiding-places of the rabbits were so many traps for them.
Miki's courage returned. He was fired again with the joy of life. Never
had he known such hunting, never had he found such a treasure-house
before--not even in the coulee where the currants grew. He ate until he
could eat no more, and then he went back to Neewa, carrying with him
one of the rabbits he had slain. He dropped it in front of his comrade,
and whined. Even then Neewa did not respond, except to draw a deeper
breath, and change his position a little.

That afternoon, for the first time in many hours, Neewa rose to his
feet, stretched himself, and sniffed of the dead rabbit. But he did not
eat. To Miki's consternation he rolled himself round and round in his
nest of sand and went to sleep again.

The next day, at about the same time, Neewa roused himself once more.
This time he went as far as the mouth of the den, and lapped up a few
mouthfuls of snow. But he still refused to eat the rabbit. Again it was
Nature telling him that he must not disturb the pine needles and dry
bark with which he had padded his stomach and intestines. And he went
to sleep again. He did not get up after that.

Day followed day, and, growing lonelier as the winter deepened, Miki
hunted alone. All through November he came back each night and slept
with Neewa. And Neewa was as if dead, except that his body was warm,
and he breathed, and made little sounds now and then in his throat. But
this did not satisfy the great yearning that was becoming more and more
insistent in Miki's soul, the overwhelming desire for company, for a
brotherhood on the trail. He loved Neewa. Through the first long weeks
of winter he returned to him faithfully; he brought him meat. He was
filled with a strange grief--even greater than if Neewa had been dead.
For Miki knew that he was alive, and he could not account for the thing
that had happened. Death he would have understood, and FROM death he
would have gone away--for good.

So it came that one night, having hunted far, Miki remained away from
the den for the first time, and slept under a deep windfall. After that
it was still harder for him to resist the CALL. A second and a third
night he went away; and then came the time--inevitable as the coming
and going of the moon and stars--when understanding at last broke its
way through his hope and his fear, and something told him that Neewa
would never again travel with him as through those glorious days of
old, when shoulder to shoulder they had faced together the comedies and
tragedies of life in a world that was no longer soft and green and warm
with a golden sun, but white, and still, and filled with death.

Neewa did not know when Miki went away from the den for the last time.
And yet it may be that even in his slumber the Beneficent Spirit may
have whispered that Miki was going, for there were restlessness and
disquiet in Neewa's dreamland for many days thereafter.

"Be quiet--and sleep!" the Spirit may have whispered. "The Winter is
long. The rivers are black and chill, the lakes are covered with floors
of ice, and the waterfalls are frozen like great white giants. Sleep!
For Miki must go his way, just as the waters of the streams must go
their way to the sea. For he is Dog. And you are Bear. SLEEP!"



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


In many years there had not been such a storm in all the Northland as
that which followed swiftly in the trail of the first snows that had
driven Neewa into his den--the late November storm of that year which
will long be remembered as KUSKETA PIPPOON (the Black Year), the year
of great and sudden cold, of starvation and of death.

It came a week after Miki had left the cavern wherein Neewa was
sleeping so soundly. Preceding that, when all the forest world lay
under its mantle of white, the sun shone day after day, and the moon
and stars were as clear as golden fires in the night skies. The wind
was out of the west. The rabbits were so numerous they made hard floors
of the snow in thicket and swamp. Caribou and moose were plentiful, and
the early cry of wolves on the hunt was like music in the ears of a
thousand trappers in shack and teepee.

With appalling suddenness came the unexpected. There was no warning.
The day had dawned with a clear sky, and a bright sun followed the
dawn. Then the world darkened so swiftly that men on their traplines
paused in amazement. With the deepening gloom came a strange moaning,
and there was something in that sound that seemed like the rolling of a
great drum--the knell of an impending doom. It was THUNDER. The warning
was too late. Before men could turn back to safety, or build themselves
shelters, the Big Storm was upon them. For three days and three nights
it raged like a mad bull from out of the north. In the open barrens no
living creature could stand upon its feet. The forests were broken, and
all the earth was smothered. All things that breathed buried
themselves--or died; for the snow that piled itself up in windrows and
mountains was round and hard as leaden shot, and with it came an
intense cold.

On the third day it was sixty degrees below zero in the country between
the Shamattawa and Jackson's Knee. Not until the fourth day did living
things begin to move. Moose and caribou heaved themselves up out of the
thick covering of snow that had been their protection; smaller animals
dug their way out of the heart of deep drifts and mounds; a half of the
rabbits and birds were dead. But the most terrible toll was of men.
Many of those who were caught out succeeded in keeping the life within
their bodies, and dragged themselves back to teepee and shack. But
there were also many who did not return--five hundred who died between
Hudson Bay and the Athabasca in those three terrible days of the
KUSKETA PIPPOON.

In the beginning of the Big Storm Miki found himself in the "burnt"
country of Jackson's Knee, and instinct sent him quickly into deeper
timber. Here he crawled into a windfall of tangled trunks and
tree-tops, and during the three days he did not move. Buried in the
heart of the storm, there came upon him an overwhelming desire to
return to Neewa's den, and to snuggle up to him once more, even though
Neewa lay as if dead. The strange comradeship that had grown up between
the two--their wanderings together all through the summer, the joys and
hardships of the days and months in which they had fought and feasted
like brothers--were memories as vivid in his brain as if it had all
happened yesterday. And in the dark wind-fall, buried deeper and deeper
under the snow, he dreamed.

He dreamed of Challoner, who had been his master in the days of his
joyous puppyhood; he dreamed of the time when Neewa, the motherless
cub, was brought into camp, and of the happenings that had come to them
afterward; the loss of his master, of their strange and thrilling
adventures in the wilderness, and last of all of Neewa's denning-up. He
could not understand that. Awake, and listening to the storm, he
wondered why it was that Neewa no longer hunted with him, but had
curled himself up into a round ball, and slept a sleep from which he
could not rouse him. Through the long hours of the three days and
nights of storm it was loneliness more than hunger that ate at his
vitals. When on the morning of the fourth day he came out from under
the windfall his ribs were showing and there was a reddish film over
his eyes. First of all he looked south and east, and whined.

Through twenty miles of snow he travelled back that day to the ridge
where he had left Neewa. On this fourth day the sun shone like a
dazzling fire. It was so bright that the glare of the snow pricked his
eyes, and the reddish film grew redder. There was only a cold glow in
the west when he came to the end of his journey. Dusk had already begun
to settle over the roofs of the forests when he reached the ridge where
Neewa had found the cavern. It was no longer a ridge. The wind had
piled the snow up over it in grotesque and monstrous shapes. Rocks and
bushes were obliterated. Where the mouth of the cavern should have been
was a drift ten feet deep. Cold and hungry, thinned by his days and
nights of fasting, and with his last hope of comradeship shattered by
the pitiless mountains of snow, Miki turned back over his trail. There
was nothing left for him now but the old windfall, and his heart was no
longer the heart of the joyous comrade and brother of Neewa, the bear.
His feet were sore and bleeding, but still he went on. The stars came
out; the night was ghostly white in their pale fire; and it was
cold--terribly cold. The trees began to snap. Now and then there came a
report like a pistol-shot as the frost snapped at the heart of timber.
It was thirty degrees below zero. And it was growing colder. With the
windfall as his only inspiration Miki drove himself on. Never had he
tested his strength or his endurance as he strained them now. Older
dogs would have fallen in the trail or have sought shelter or rest. But
Miki was the true son of Hela, his giant Mackenzie hound father, and he
would have continued until he triumphed--or died.

But a strange thing happened. He had travelled twenty miles to the
ridge, and fifteen of the twenty miles back, when a shelf of snow gave
way under his feet and he was pitched suddenly downward. When he
gathered his dazed wits and stood up on his half frozen legs he found
himself in a curious place. He had rolled completely into a
wigwam-shaped shelter of spruce boughs and sticks, and strong in his
nostrils was the SMELL OF MEAT. He found the meat not more than a foot
from the end of his nose. It was a chunk of frozen caribou flesh
transfixed on a stick, and without questioning the manner of its
presence he gnawed at it ravenously. Only Jacques Le Beau, who lived
eight or ten miles to the east, could have explained the situation.
Miki had rolled into one of his trap-houses, and it was the bait he was
eating.

There was not much of it, but it fired Miki's blood with new life.
There was smell in his nostrils now, and he began clawing in the snow.
After a little his teeth struck something hard and cold. It was
steel--a fisher trap. He dragged it up from under a foot of snow, and
with it came a huge rabbit. The snow had so protected the rabbit that,
although several days dead, it was not frozen stiff. Not until the last
bone of it was gone did Miki's feast end. He even devoured the head.
Then he went on to the windfall, and in his warm nest slept until
another day.

That day Jacques Le Beau--whom the Indians called "Muchet-ta-aao" (the
One with an Evil Heart)--went over his trapline and rebuilt his
snow-smothered "houses" and re-set his traps.

It was in the afternoon that Miki, who was hunting, struck his trail in
a swamp several miles from the windfall. No longer was his soul stirred
by the wild yearning for a master. He sniffed, suspiciously, of Le
Beau's snowshoe tracks and the crest along his spine trembled as he
caught the wind, and listened. He followed cautiously, and a hundred
yards farther on came to one of Le Beau's KEKEKS or trap-shelters. Here
too, there was meat--fixed on a peg. Miki reached in. From under his
fore-paw came a vicious snap and the steel jaws of a trap flung sticks
and snow into his face. He snarled, and for a few moments he waited,
with his eyes on the trap. Then he stretched himself until he reached
the meat, without advancing his feet. Thus he had discovered the hidden
menace of the steel jaws, and instinct told him how to evade them.

For another third of a mile he followed Le Beau's tracks. He sensed the
presence of a new and thrilling danger, and yet he did not turn off the
trail. An impulse which he was powerless to resist drew him on. He came
to a second trap, and this time he robbed the bait-peg without
springing the thing which he knew was concealed close under it. His
long fangs clicked as he went on. He was eager for a glimpse of the
man-beast. But he did not hurry. A third, a fourth, and a fifth trap he
robbed of their meat.

Then, as the day ended, he swung westward and covered quickly the five
miles between the swamp and his windfall.

Half an hour later Le Beau came back over the line. He saw the first
empty KEKEK, and the tracks in the snow.

"TONNERRE!--a wolf!" he exclaimed. "And in broad day!"

Then a slow look of amazement crept into his face, and he fell upon his
knees in the snow and examined the tracks.

"NON!" he gasped. "It is a dog! A devil of a wild dog--robbing my
traps!"

He rose to his feet, cursing. From the pocket of his coat he drew a
small tin box, and from this box he took a round ball of fat. In the
heart of the fat was a strychnine capsule. It was a poison-bait, to be
set for wolves and foxes.

Le Beau chuckled exultantly as he stuck the deadly lure on the end of
the bait-peg.

"OW, a wild dog," he growled. "I will teach him. To-morrow he will be
dead."

On each of the five ravished bait-pegs he placed a strychnine capsule
rolled in its inviting little ball of fat.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


The next morning Miki set out again for the trapline of Jacques Le
Beau. It was not the thought of food easily secured that tempted him.
There would have been a greater thrill in killing for himself. It was
the trail, with its smell of the man-beast, that drew him like a
magnet. Where that smell was very strong he wanted to lie down, and
wait. Yet with his desire there was also fear, and a steadily growing
caution. He did not tamper with the first KEKEK, nor with the second.
At the third Le Beau had fumbled in the placing of his bait, and for
that reason the little ball of fat was strong with the scent of his
hands. A fox would have turned away from it quickly. Miki, however,
drew it from the peg and dropped it in the snow between his forefeet.
Then he looked about him, and listened for a full minute. After that he
licked the ball of fat with his tongue. The scent of Le Beau's hands
kept him from swallowing it as he had swallowed the caribou meat. A
little suspiciously he crushed it slowly between his jaws. The fat was
sweet. He was about to gulp it down when he detected another and less
pleasant taste, and what remained in his mouth he spat out upon the
snow. But the acrid bite of the poison remained upon his tongue and in
his throat. It crept deeper--and he caught up a mouthful of snow and
swallowed it to put out the burning sensation that was crawling nearer
to his vitals.

Had he devoured the ball of fat as he had eaten the other baits he
would have been dead within a quarter of an hour, and Le Beau would not
have gone far to find his body. As it was, he was beginning to turn
sick at the end of the fifteen minutes. A premonition of the evil that
was upon him drew him off the trail and in the direction of the
windfall. He had gone only a short distance when suddenly his legs gave
way under him, and he fell. He began to shiver. Every muscle in his
body trembled. His teeth clicked. His eyes grew wide, and it was
impossible for him to move. And then, like a hand throttling him, there
came a strange stiffness in the back of his neck, and his breath hissed
chokingly out of his throat. The stiffness passed like a wave of fire
through his body. Where his muscles had trembled and shivered a moment
before they now became rigid and lifeless. The throttling grip of the
poison at the base of his brain drew his head back until his muzzle was
pointed straight up to the sky. Still he made no cry. For a space every
nerve in his body was at the point of death.

Then came the change. As though a string had snapped, the horrible grip
left the back of his neck; the stiffness shot out of his body in a
flood of shivering cold, and in another moment he was twisting and
tearing up the snow in mad convulsions. The spasm lasted for perhaps a
minute. When it was over Miki was panting. Streams of saliva dripped
from his jaws into the snow. But he was alive. Death had missed him by
a hair, and after a little he staggered to his feet and continued on
his way to the windfall.

Thereafter Jacques Le Beau might place a million poison capsules in his
way and he would not touch them. Never again would he steal the meat
from a bait-peg.

Two days later Le Beau saw where Miki had fought his fight with death
in the snow and his heart was black with rage and disappointment. He
began to follow the footprints of the dog. It was noon when he came to
the windfall and saw the beaten path where Miki entered it. On his
knees he peered into the cavernous depths--and saw nothing. But Miki,
lying watchfully, saw the man, and he was like the black, bearded
monster who had almost killed him with a club a long time ago. And in
his heart, too, there was disappointment, for away back in his memory
of things there was always the thought of Challoner--the master he had
lost; and it was never Challoner whom he found when he came upon the
man smell.

Le Beau heard his growl, and the man's blood leapt excitedly as he rose
to his feet. He could not go in after the wild dog, and he could not
lure him out. But there was another way. He would drive him out with
fire!

Deep back in his fortress, Miki heard the crunch of Le Beau's feet in
the snow. A few minutes later he saw the man-beast again peering into
his lair.

"BETE, BETE," he called half tauntingly, and again Miki growled.

Jacques was satisfied. The windfall was not more than thirty or forty
feet in diameter, and about it the forest was open and clear of
undergrowth. It would be impossible for the wild dog to get away from
his rifle.

A second time he went around the piled-up mass of fallen timber. On
three sides it was completely smothered under the deep snow. Only where
Miki's trail entered was it open.

Getting the wind behind him Le Beau made his ISKOO of birch-bark and
dry wood at the far end of the windfall. The seasoned logs and
tree-tops caught the fire like tinder, and within a few minutes the
flames began to crackle and roar in a manner that made Miki wonder what
was happening. For a space the smoke did not reach him. Le Beau,
watching, with his rifle in his bare hands, did not for an instant let
his eyes leave the spot where the wild dog must come out.

Suddenly a pungent whiff of smoke filled Miki's nostrils, and a thin
white cloud crept in a ghostly veil between him and the opening. A
crawling, snake-like rope of it began to pour between two logs within a
yard of him, and with it the strange roaring grew nearer and more
menacing. Then, for the first time, he saw lightning flashes of yellow
flame through the tangled debris as the fire ate into the heart of a
mass of pitch-filled spruce. In another ten seconds the flames leapt
twenty feet into the air, and Jacques Le Beau stood with his rifle half
to his shoulder, ready to kill.

Appalled by the danger that was upon him, Miki did not forget Le Beau.
With an instinct sharpened to fox-like keenness his mind leapt
instantly to the truth of the matter. It was the man-beast who had set
this new enemy upon him; and out there, just beyond the opening, the
man-beast was waiting. So, like the fox, he did what Le Beau least
expected. He crawled back swiftly through the tangled tops until he
came to the wall of snow that shut the windfall in, and through this he
burrowed his way almost as quickly as the fox himself would have done
it. With his jaws he tore through the half-inch outer crust, and a
moment later stood in the open, with the fire between him and Le Beau.

The windfall was a blazing furnace, and suddenly Le Beau ran back a
dozen steps so that he could see on the farther side. A hundred yards
away he saw Miki making for the deeper forest.

It was a clear shot. At that distance Le Beau would have staked his
life that it was impossible for him to miss. He did not hurry. One
shot, and it would be over. He raised his rifle, and in that instant a
wisp of smoke came like the lash of a whip with the wind and caught him
fairly in the eyes, and his bullet passed three inches over Miki's
head. The whining snarl of it was a new thing to Miki. But he
recognized the thunder of the gun--and he knew what a gun could do. To
Le Beau, still firing at him through the merciful cloud of smoke, he
was like a gray streak flashing to the thick timber. Three times more
Le Beau fired. From the edge of a dense clump of spruce Miki flung back
a defiant howl. He disappeared as Le Beau's last shot shovelled up the
snow at his heels.

The narrowness of his escape from the man-beast did not frighten Miki
out of the Jackson's Knee country. If anything, it held him more
closely to it. It gave him something to think about besides Neewa and
his aloneness. As the fox returns to peer stealthily upon the deadfall
that has almost caught him, so the trapline was possessed now of a new
thrill for Miki. Heretofore the man-smell had held for him only a vague
significance; now it marked the presence of a real and concrete danger.
And he welcomed it. His wits were sharpened. The fascination of the
trapline was deadlier than before.

From the burned windfall he made a wide detour to a point where Le
Beau's snowshoe trail entered the edge of the swamp; and here, hidden
in a thick clump of bushes, he watched him as he travelled homeward
half an hour later.

From that day he hung like a grim, gray ghost to the trapline.
Silent-footed, cautious, always on the alert for the danger which
threatened him, he haunted Jacques Le Beau's thoughts and footsteps
with the elusive persistence of a were-wolf--a loup-garou of the Black
Forest. Twice in the next week Le Beau caught a flash of him. Three
times he heard him howl. And twice he followed his trail until, in
despair and exhaustion, he turned back. Never was Miki caught unaware.
He ate no more baits in the trap-houses. Even when Le Beau lured him
with the whole carcass of a rabbit he would not touch it, nor would he
touch a rabbit frozen dead in a snare. From Le Beau's traps he took
only the living things, chiefly birds and squirrels and the big
web-footed snowshoe rabbits. And because a mink jumped at him once, and
tore open his nose, he destroyed a number of minks so utterly that
their pelts were spoiled. He found himself another windfall, but
instinct taught him now never to go to it directly, but to approach it,
and leave it, in a roundabout way.

Day and night Le Beau, the man-brute, plotted against him. He set many
poison-baits. He killed a doe, and scattered strychnine in its
entrails. He built deadfalls, and baited them with meat soaked in
boiling fat. He made himself a "blind" of spruce and cedar boughs, and
sat for long hours, watching with his rifle. And still Miki was the
victor.

One day Miki found a huge fisher-cat in one of the traps. He had not
forgotten the battle of long ago with Oochak, the other fisher-cat, or
the whipping he had received. But there was no thought of vengeance in
his heart on the early evening he became acquainted with Oochak the
Second. Usually he was in his windfall at dusk, but this afternoon a
great and devouring loneliness had held him on the trail. The spirit of
Kuskayetum--the hand of the mating-god--was pressing heavily upon him;
the consuming desire of flesh and blood for the companionship of other
flesh and blood. It burned in his veins like a fever. It took away from
him all thought of hunger or of the hunt. In his soul was a vast,
unfilled yearning.

It was then that he came upon Oochak. Perhaps it was the same Oochak of
months ago. If so, he had grown even as Miki had grown. He was
splendid, with his long silken fur and his sleek body, and he was not
struggling, but sat awaiting his fate without excitement. To Miki he
looked warm and soft and comfortable. It made him think of Neewa, and
the hundred and one nights they had slept together. His desire leapt
out to Oochak. He whined softly as he advanced. He would make friends.
Even with Oochak, his old enemy, he would lie down in peace and
happiness, so great was the gnawing emptiness in his heart.

Oochak made no response, nor did he move, but sat furred up like a huge
soft ball, watching Miki as he crept nearer on his belly. Something of
the old puppishness came back into the dog. He wriggled and thumped his
tail, and as he whined again he seemed to say.

"Let's forget the old trouble, Oochak. Let's be friends. I've got a
fine windfall--and I'll kill you a rabbit."

And still Oochak did not move or make a sound. At last Miki could
almost reach out with his forepaws and touch him. He dragged himself
still nearer, and his tail thumped harder.

"And I'll get you out of the trap," he may have been saying. "It's the
man-beast's trap--and I hate him."

And then, so suddenly that Miki had no chance to guard himself, Oochak
sprang the length of the trap-chain and was at him. With teeth and
razor-edged claws he tore deep gashes in Miki's nose. Even then the
blood of battle rose slowly in him, and he might have retreated had not
Oochak's teeth got a hold in his shoulder. With a roar he tried to
shake himself free, but Oochak held on. Then his jaws snapped at the
back of the fisher-cat's neck. When he was done Oochak was dead.

He slunk away, but in him there was no more the thrill of the victor.
He had killed, but in killing he had found no joy. Upon him--the
four-footed beast--had fallen at last the oppression of the thing that
drives men mad. He stood in the heart of a vast world, and for him that
world was empty. He was an outcast. His heart crying out for
comradeship, he found that all things feared him or hated him. He was a
pariah; a wanderer without a friend or a home. He did not reason these
things but the gloom of them settled upon him like black night.

He did not return to his windfall. In a little open he sat on his
haunches, listening to the night sounds, and watching the stars as they
came out. There was an early moon, and as it came up over the forest, a
great throbbing red disc that seemed filled with life, he howled
mournfully in the face of it. He wandered out into a big burn a little
later, and there the night was like day, so clear that his shadow
followed him and all other things about him cast shadows, And then, all
at once, he caught in the night wind a sound which he had heard many
times before.

It came from far away, and it was like a whisper at first, an echo of
strange voices riding on the wind, A hundred times he had heard that
cry of the wolves. Since Maheegun, the she-wolf, had gashed his
shoulder so fiercely away back in the days of his puppyhood he had
evaded the path of that cry. He had learned, in a way, to hate it. But
he could not wipe out entirely the thrill that came with that call of
the blood. And to-night it rode over all his fear and hatred. Out there
was COMPANY. Whence the cry came the wild brethren were running two by
two, and three by three, and there was COMRADESHIP. His body quivered.
An answering cry rose in his throat, dying away in a whine, and for an
hour after that he heard no more of the wolf-cry in the wind. The pack
had swung to the west--so far away that their voices were lost. And it
passed--with the moon straight over them--close to the shack of
Pierrot, the halfbreed.

In Pierrot's cabin was a white man, on his way to Fort O' God. He saw
that Pierrot crossed himself, and muttered.

"It is the mad pack," explained Pierrot then. "M'sieu, they have been
KESKWAO since the beginning of the new moon. In them are the spirits of
devils."

He opened the cabin door a little, so that the mad cry of the beasts
came to them plainly. When he closed it there was in his eyes a look of
strange fear.

"Now and then wolves go like that--KESKWAO (stark mad)--in the dead of
winter," he shuddered. "Three days ago there were twenty of them,
m'sieu, for I saw them with my own eyes, and counted their tracks in
the snow. Since then they been murdered and torn into strings by the
others of the pack. Listen to them ravin'! Can you tell me why, m'sieu?
Can you tell me why wolves sometimes go mad in the heart of winter when
there is no heat or rotten meat to turn them sick? NON? But I can tell
you. They are the loups-garous; in their bodies ride the spirits of
devils, and there they will ride until the bodies die. For the wolves
that go mad in the deep snows always die, m'sieu. That is the strange
part of it. THEY DIE!"

And then it was, swinging eastward from the cabin of Pierrot, that the
mad wolves of Jackson's Knee came into the country of the big swamp
wherein trees bore the Double-X blaze of Jacques Le Beau's axe. There
were fourteen of them running in the moonlight. What it is that now and
then drives a wolf-pack mad in the dead of winter no man yet has wholly
learned. Possibly it begins with a "bad" wolf; just as a "bad"
sledge-dog, nipping and biting his fellows, will spread his distemper
among them until the team becomes an ugly, quarrelsome horde. Such a
dog the wise driver kills--or turns loose.

The wolves that bore down upon Le Beau's country were red-eyed and
thin. Their bodies were covered with gashes, and the mouths of some
frothed blood. They did not run as wolves run for meat. They were a
sinister and suspicious lot, with a sneaking droop to their haunches,
and their cry was not the deep-throated cry of the hunt-pack but a
ravening clamour that seemed to have no leadership or cause. Scarcely
was the sound of their tongues gone beyond the hearing of Pierrot's
ears than one of the thin gray beasts rubbed against the shoulder of
another, and the second turned with the swiftness of a snake, like the
"bad" dog of the traces, and struck his fangs deep into the first
wolf's flesh. Could Pierrot have seen, he would have understood then
how the four he had found had come to their end.

Swift as the snap of a whip-lash the fight between the two was on. The
other twelve of the pack stopped. They came back, circling in
cautiously and grimly silent about their fighting comrades. They ranged
themselves in a ring, as men gather about a fistic battle; and there
they waited, their jaws drooling, their fangs clicking, a low and eager
whining smothered in their throats. And then the thing happened. One of
the fighting wolves went down. He was on his back--and the end came.
The twelve wolves were upon him as one, and, like those Pierrot had
seen, he was torn to pieces, and his flesh devoured. After that the
thirteen went on deeper into Le Beau's country.

Miki heard them again, after that hour's interval of silence. Farther
and farther he had wandered from the forest. He had crossed the "burn,"
and was in the open plain, with the rough ridges cutting through and
the big river at the edge of it. It was not so gloomy out here, and his
loneliness weighed upon him less heavily than in the deep timber.

And across this plain came the voice of the wolves.

He did not move away from it to-night. He waited, silhouetted against
the vivid starlight at the crest of a rocky knoll, and the top of this
knoll was so small that another could not have stood beside him without
their shoulders touching. On all sides of him the plain swept away in
the white light of the stars and moon; never had the desire to respond
to the wild brethren urged itself upon him more fiercely than now. He
flung back his head, until his black-tipped muzzle pointed up to the
stars, and the voice rolled out of his throat. But it was only half a
howl. Even then, oppressed by his great loneliness, there gripped him
that something instinctive which warned him against betrayal. After
that he remained quiet, and as the wolves drew nearer his body grew
tense, his muscles hardened, and in his throat there was the low
whispering of a snarl instead of a howl. He sensed danger. He had
caught, in the voice of the wolves, the ravening note that had made
Pierrot cross himself and mutter of the loups-garous, and he crouched
down on his belly at the top of the rocky mound.

Then he saw them. They were sweeping like dark and swiftly moving
shadows between him and the forest. Suddenly they stopped, and for a
few moments no sound came from them as they packed themselves closely
on the scent of his fresh trail in the snow. And then they surged in
his direction; this time there was a still fiercer madness in the wild
cry that rose from their throats. In a dozen seconds they were at the
mound. They swept around it and past it, all save one--a huge gray
brute who shot up the hillock straight at the prey the others had not
yet seen. There was a snarl in Miki's throat as he came. Once more he
was facing the thrill of a great fight. Once more the blood ran
suddenly hot in his veins, and fear was driven from him as the wind
drives smoke from a fire. If Neewa were only there now, to fend at his
back while he fought in front! He stood up on his feet. He met the
up-rushing pack-brute head to head. Their jaws clashed, and the wild
wolf found jaws at last that crunched through his own as if they had
been whelp's bone, and he rolled and twisted back to the plain in a
dying agony. But not until another gray form had come to fill his
place. Into the throat of this second Miki drove his fangs as the wolf
came over the crest. It was the slashing, sabre-like stroke of the
north-dog, and the throat of the wolf was torn open and the blood
poured out as if emptied by the blade of a knife. Down he plunged to
join the first, and in that instant the pack swept up and over Miki,
and he was smothered under the mass of their bodies. Had two or three
attacked him at once he would have died as quickly as the first two of
his enemies had come to their end. Numbers saved him in the first rush.
On the level of the plain he would have been torn into pieces like a
bit of cloth, but on the space at the top of the KOPJE, no larger than
the top of a table, he was lost for a few seconds under the snarling
and rending horde of his enemies. Fangs intended for him sank into
other wolf-flesh; the madness of the pack became a blind rage, and the
assault upon Miki turned into a slaughter of the wolves themselves. On
his back, held down by the weight of bodies, Miki drove his fangs again
and again into flesh. A pair of jaws seized him in the groin, and a
shock of agony swept through him. It was a death-grip, sinking steadily
into his vitals. Just in time another pair of jaws seized the wolf who
held him, and the hold in his groin gave way. In that moment Miki felt
himself plunging down the steep side of the knoll, and after him came a
half of what was left alive of the pack.

The fighting devils in Miki's brain gave way all at once to that
cunning of the fox which had served him even more than claw and fang in
times of great danger. Scarcely had he reached the plain before he was
on his feet, and no sooner had he touched his feet than he was off like
the wind in direction of the river. He had gained a fifty-yard start
before the first of the wolves discovered his flight. There were only
eight that followed him now. Of the thirteen mad beasts five were dead
or dying at the foot of the hillock. Of these Miki had slain two. The
others had fallen at the fangs of their own brethren.

Half a mile away were the steep cliffs of the river, and at the edge of
these cliffs was a great cairn of rocks in which for one night Miki had
sought shelter. He had not forgotten the tunnel into the tumbled mass
of rock debris, nor how easily it could be defended from within. Once
in that tunnel he would turn in the door of it and slaughter his
enemies one by one, for only one by one could they attack him. But he
had not reckoned with that huge gray form behind him that might have
been named Lightning, the fiercest and swiftest of all the mad wolves
of the pack. He sped ahead of his slower-footed companions like a
streak of light, and Miki had made but half the distance to the cairn
when he heard the panting breath of Lightning behind him. Even Hela,
his father, could not have run more swiftly than Miki, but great as was
Miki's speed, Lightning ran more swiftly. Two thirds of the distance to
the cliff and the huge wolf's muzzle was at Miki's flank. With a burst
of speed Miki gained a little. Then steadily Lightning drew abreast of
him, a grim and merciless shadow of doom.

A hundred yards farther on and a little to the right was the cairn. But
Miki could not run to the right without turning into Lightning's jaws,
and he realized now that if he reached the cairn his enemy would be
upon him before he could dive into the tunnel and face about. To stop
and fight would be death, for behind he could hear the other wolves.
Ten seconds more and the chasm of the river yawned ahead of them.

At its very brink Miki swung and struck at Lightning. He sensed death
now, and in the face of death all his hatred turned upon the one beast
that had run at his side. In an instant they were down. Two yards from
the edge of the cliff, and Miki's jaws were at Lightning's throat when
the pack rushed upon them. They were swept onward. The earth flew out
from under their feet, and they were in space. Grimly Miki held to the
throat of his foe. Over and over they twisted in mid-air, and then came
a terrific shock. Lightning was under. Yet so great was the shock,
that, even though the wolf's huge body was under him like a cushion,
Miki was stunned and dazed. A minute passed before he staggered to his
feet. Lightning lay still, the life smashed out of him. A little beyond
him lay the bodies of two other wolves that in their wild rush had
swept over the cliff.

Miki looked up. Between him and the stars he could see the top of the
cliff, a vast distance above him. One after the other he smelled at the
bodies of the three dead wolves. Then he limped slowly along the base
of the cliff until he came to a fissure between two huge rocks. Into
this he crept and lay down, licking his wounds. After all there were
worse things in the world than Le Beau's trapline. Perhaps there were
even worse things than men.

After a time he stretched his great head out between his fore-paws, and
slowly the starlight grew dimmer, and the snow less white, and he slept.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN


In a twist of Three Jackpine River, buried in the deep of the forest
between the Shamattawa country and Hudson Bay, was the cabin in which
lived Jacques Le Beau, the trapper. There was not another man in all
that wilderness who was the equal of Le Beau in wickedness--unless it
was Durant, who hunted foxes a hundred miles north, and who was
Jacques's rival in several things. A giant in size, with a heavy,
sullen face and eyes which seemed but half-hidden greenish loopholes
for the pitiless soul within him--if he had a soul at all--Le Beau was
a "throw-back" of the worst sort. In their shacks and teepees the
Indians whispered softly that all the devils of his forebears had
gathered in him.

It was a grim kind of fate that had given to Le Beau a wife. Had she
been a witch, an evil-doer and an evil-thinker like himself, the thing
would not have been such an abortion of what should have been. But she
was not that. Sweet-faced, with something of unusual beauty still in
her pale cheeks and starving eyes--trembling at his approach and a
slave in his presence--she was, like his dogs, the PROPERTY of The
Brute. And the woman had a baby. One had already died; and it was the
thought that this one might die, as the other had died, that brought at
times the new flash of fire into her dark eyes.

"Le bon Dieu--I pray to the Blessed Angels--I swear you SHALL live!"
she would cry to it at times, hugging it close to her breast. And it
was at these times that the fire came into her eyes, and her pale
cheeks flushed with a smouldering bit of the flame that had once been
her beauty. "Some day--SOME DAY--"

But she never finished, even to the child, what was in her mind.
Sometimes her dreams were filled with visions. The world was still
young, and SHE was not old. She was thinking of that as she stood
before the cracked bit of mirror in the cabin, brushing out her hair,
that was black and shining and so long that it fell to her hips. Of her
beauty her hair had remained. It was defiant of The Brute. And deep
back in her eyes, and in her face, there were still the living, hidden
traces of her girlhood heritage ready to bloom again if Fate, mending
its error at last, would only take away forever the crushing presence
of the Master. She stood a little longer before the bit of glass when
she heard the crunching of footsteps in the snow outside.

Swiftly what had been in her face was gone. Le Beau had been away on
his trapline since yesterday, and his return filled her with the old
dread. Twice he had caught her before the mirror and had called her
vile names for wasting her time in admiring herself when she might have
been scraping the fat from his pelts. The second time he had sent her
reeling back against the wall, and had broken the mirror until the bit
she treasured now was not much larger than her two slim hands. She
would not be caught again. She ran with the glass to the place where
she kept it in hiding, and then quickly she wove the heavy strands of
her hair into a braid. The strange, dead look of fear and foreboding
closed like a veil over the secrets her eyes had disclosed to herself.
She turned, as she always turned in her woman's hope and yearning, to
greet him when he entered.

The Brute entered, a dark and surly monster. He was in a wicked humour.
His freshly caught furs he flung to the floor. He pointed to them, and
his eyes were narrowed to menacing slits as they fell upon her.

"He was there again--that devil!" he growled. "See, he has spoiled the
fisher, and he has cleaned out my baits and knocked down the
trap-houses. Par les mille cornes du diable, but I will kill him! I
have sworn to cut him into bits with a knife when I catch him--and
catch him I will, to-morrow. See to it there--the skins--when you have
got me something to eat. Mend the fisher where he is torn in two, and
cover the seam well with fat so that the agent over at the post will
not discover it is bad. Tonnerre de Dieu!--that brat! Why do you always
keep his squalling until I come in? Answer me, Bete!"

Such was his greeting. He flung his snowshoes into a corner, stamped
the snow off his feet, and got himself a fresh plug of black tobacco
from a shelf over the stove. Then he went out again, leaving the woman
with a cold tremble in her heart and the wan desolation of hopelessness
in her face as she set about getting him food.

From the cabin Le Beau went to his dog-pit, a corral of saplings with a
shelter-shack in the centre of it. It was The Brute's boast that he had
the fiercest pack of sledge-dogs between Hudson Bay and the Athabasca.
It was his chief quarrel with Durant, his rival farther north; and his
ambition was to breed a pup that would kill the fighting husky which
Durant brought down to the Post with him each winter at New Year. This
season he had chosen Netah ("The Killer") for the big fight at God's
Lake. On the day he would gamble his money and his reputation against
Durant's, his dog would be just one month under two years of age. It
was Netah he called from out of the pack now.

The dog slunk to him with a low growl in his throat, and for the first
time something like joy shone in Le Beau's face. He loved to hear that
growl. He loved to see the red and treacherous glow in Netah's eyes,
and hear the menacing click of his jaws. Whatever of nobility might
have been in Netah's blood had been clubbed out by the man. They were
alike, in that their souls were dead. And Netah, for a dog, was a
devil. For that reason Le Beau had chosen him to fight the big fight.

Le Beau looked down at him, and drew a deep breath of satisfaction.

"OW! but you are looking fine, Netah," he exulted. "I can almost see
running blood in those devil-eyes of yours; OUI--red blood that smells
and runs, as the blood of Durant's POOS shall run when you sink those
teeth in its jugular. And to-morrow we are going to give you the
test--such a beautiful test!--with the wild dog that is robbing my
traps and tearing my fishers into bits. For I will catch him, and you
shall fight him until he is almost dead; and then I shall cut his heart
out alive, as I have promised, and you will eat it while it is still
beating, so that there will be no excuse for your losing to that POOS
which M'sieu Durant will bring down. COMPRENEZ? It will be a beautiful
test--to-morrow. And if you fail I will kill you. OUI; if you so much
as let a whimper out of you, I will kill you--dead."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


That same night, ten miles to the west, Miki slept under a windfall of
logs and treetops not more than half a mile from Le Beau's trapline.

In the early dawn, when Le Beau left his cabin, accompanied by Netah,
The Killer, Miki came out from under his windfall after a night of
troublous dreams. He had dreamed of those first weeks after he had lost
his master, when Neewa was always at his side; and the visions that had
come to him filled him with an uneasiness and a loneliness that made
him whine as he stood watching the dark shadows fading away before the
coming of day. Could Le Beau have seen him there, as the first of the
cold sun struck upon him, the words which he had repeated over and over
to The Killer would have stuck in his throat. For at eleven months of
age Miki was a young giant of his breed. He weighed sixty pounds, and
none of that sixty was fat. His body was as slim and as lean as a
wolf's. His chest was massive, and over it the muscles rolled like
BABICHE cord when he moved. His legs were like the legs of Hela, the
big Mackenzie hound who was his father; and with his jaws he could
crack a caribou bone as Le Beau might have cracked it with a stone. For
eight of the eleven months of his life the wilderness had been his
master; it had tempered him to the hardness of living steel; it had
wrought him without abeyance to age in the mould of its pitiless
schooling--had taught him to fight for his life, to kill that he might
live, and to use his brain before he used his jaws. He was as powerful
as Netah, The Killer, who was twice his age, and with his strength he
possessed a cunning and a quickness which The Killer would never know.
Thus had the raw wilderness prepared him for this day.

As the sun fired up the forest with a cold flame Miki set off in
direction of Le Beau's trapline. He came to where Le Beau had passed
yesterday and sniffed suspiciously of the man-smell that was still
strong in the snowshoe tracks. He had become accustomed to this smell,
but he had not lost his suspicion of it. It was repugnant to him, even
as it fascinated him. It filled him with an inexplicable fear, and yet
he found himself powerless to run away from it. Three times in the last
ten days he had seen the man-brute himself. Once he had been hiding
within a dozen yards of Le Beau when he passed.

This morning he headed straight for the swamp through which Le Beau's
traps were set. There the rabbits were thickest and it was in the swamp
that they most frequently got in Jacques's KEKEKS--the little houses he
built of sticks and cedar boughs to keep the snow off his baits. They
were so numerous that they were a pest, and each time that Le Beau made
his trip over the line he found at least two out of every three traps
sprung by them, and therefore made useless for the catching of fur.
But, where there were many rabbits there were also fishers and lynx,
and in spite of the rage which the plague of rabbits sent him into, Le
Beau continued to set his traps there. And now, in addition to the
rabbits, he had the wild dog to contend with.

His heart was fired by a vengeful anticipation as he hurried on through
the glow of the early sun, with The Killer at his heels, led by a
BABICHE thong. Miki was nosing about the first trap-house as Netah and
Le Beau entered the edge of the swamp, three miles to the east.

It was in this KEKEK that Miki had killed the fisher-cat the previous
morning. It was empty now. Even the bait-peg was gone, and there was no
sign of a trap. A quarter of a mile farther on he came to a second
trap-house, and this also was empty. He was a bit puzzled. And then he
went on to the third house. He stood for several minutes, sniffing the
air still more suspiciously, before he drew close to it. The man-tracks
were thicker here. The snow was beaten down with them, and the scent of
Le Beau was so strong in the air that for a space Miki believed he was
near. Then he advanced so that he got a look into the door of the
trap-house. Squatted there, staring at him with big round eyes, was a
huge snowshoe rabbit. A premonition of danger held Miki back. It was
something in the attitude of Wapoos, the old rabbit. He was not like
the others he had caught along Le Beau's line. He was not struggling in
a trap; he was not stretched out, half frozen, and he was not dangling
at the end of a snare. He was all furred up into a warm and comfortable
looking ball. As a matter of fact, Le Beau had caught him with his
hands in a hollow log, and had tied him to the bait peg with a piece of
buck-skin string; and after that, just out of Wapoos's reach, he had
set a nest of traps and covered them with snow.

Nearer and nearer to this menace drew Miki, in spite of the
unaccountable impulse that warned him to keep back. Wapoos, fascinated
by his slow and deadly advance, made no movement, but sat as if frozen
into stone. Then Miki was at him. His powerful jaws closed with a
crunch. In the same instant there came the angry snap of steel and a
fisher-trap closed on one of his hind feet. With a snarl he dropped
Wapoos and turned upon it, SNAP--SNAP--SNAP went three more of
Jacques's nest of traps. Two of them missed. The third caught him by a
front paw. As he had caught Wapoos, and as he had killed the
fisher-cat, so now he seized this new and savage enemy between his
jaws. His fangs crunched on the cold steel; he literally tore it from
his paw so that blood streamed forth and strained the snow red. Madly
he twisted himself to get at his hind foot. On this foot the
fisher-trap had secured a hold that was unbreakable. He ground it
between his jaws until the blood ran from his mouth. He was fighting it
when Le Beau came out from behind a clump of spruce twenty yards away
with The Killer at his heels.

The Brute stopped. He was panting, and his eyes were aflame. Two
hundred yards away he had heard the clinking of the trap-chain.

"OW! he is there," he gasped, tightening his hold on The Killer's lead
thong. "He is there, Netah, you Red Eye! That is the robber devil you
are to kill--almost. I will unfasten you, and then--GO TO!"

Miki, no longer fighting the trap, was eyeing them as they advanced. In
this moment of peril he felt no fear of the man. In his veins the hot
blood raged with a killing madness. The truth leapt upon him in a flash
of instinctive awakening. These two were his enemies instead of the
thing on his foot--the man-beast, and Netah, The Killer. He
remembered--as if it were yesterday. This was not the first time he had
seen a man with a club in his hand. And Le Beau held a club. But he was
not afraid. His steady eyes watched Netah. Unleashed by his master, The
Killer stood on stiff legs a dozen feet away, the wiry crest along his
spine erect, his muscles tense.

Miki heard the man-beast's voice.

"Go to, you devil! GO TO!"

Miki waited, without the quiver of a muscle. Thus much he had learned
of his hard lessons in the wilderness--to wait, and watch, and use his
cunning. He was flat on his belly, his nose between his forepaws. His
lips were drawn back a little, just a little; but he made no sound, and
his eyes were as steady as two points of flame. Le Beau stared. He felt
suddenly a new thrill, and it was not the thrill of his desire for
vengeance. Never had he seen a lynx or a fox or a wolf in a trap like
that. Never had he seen a dog with eyes like the eyes that were on
Netah. For a moment he held his breath.

Foot by foot, and then almost inch by inch, The Killer crept in. Ten
feet, eight, six--and all that time Miki made no move, never winked an
eye. With a snarl like that of a tiger, Netah came at him.

What happened then was the most marvellous thing that Jacques Le Beau
had ever seen. So swiftly that his eyes could scarcely follow the
movement, Miki had passed like a flash under the belly of Netah, and
turning then at the end of his trap chain he was at The Killer's throat
before Le Beau could have counted ten. They were down, and The Brute
gripped the club in his hand and stared like one fascinated. He heard
the grinding crunch of jaws, and he knew they were the Wild Dog's jaws;
he heard a snarl choking slowly into a wheezing sob of agony, and he
knew that the sound came from The Eller. The blood rose into his face.
The red fire in his eyes grew livid--a blaze of exultation, of triumph.

"TONNERRE DE DIEU! he is choking the life out of Netah!" he gasped.
"NON, I have never seen a dog like that. I will keep him alive; and he
shall fight Durant's POOS over at Post Fort O' God! By the belly of
Saint Gris, I say--"

The Killer was as good as dead if left another minute. With upraised
club Le Beau advanced. As he sank his fangs deeper into Netah's throat
Miki saw the new danger out of the corner of his eye. He loosed his
jaws and swung himself free of The Killer as the club descended. He
only partly evaded the smashing blow, which caught him on the shoulder
and knocked him down. Quick as a flash he was on his feet and had
lunged at Le Beau. The Frenchman was a master with the club. All his
life he had used it, and he brought it around in a sudden side-swing
that landed with terrific force against Miki's head. The blood spurted
from his mouth and nostrils. He was dazed and half blinded. He leapt
again, and the club caught him once more. He heard Le Beau's ferocious
cry of joy. A third, a fourth, and a fifth time he went down under the
club, and Le Beau no longer laughed, but swung his weapon with a look
that was half fear in his eyes. The sixth time the club missed, and
Miki's jaws closed against The Brute's chest, ripping away the thick
coat and shirt as if they had been of paper, and leaving on Le Beau's
skin a bleeding gash. Ten inches more--a little better vision in his
blood-dimmed eyes--and he would have reached the man's throat. A great
cry rose out of Le Beau. For an instant he felt the appalling nearness
of death.

"Netah! Netah!" he cried, and swung the club wildly.

Netah did not respond. It may be that in this moment he sensed the fact
that it was his master who had made him into a monster. About him was
the wilderness, opening its doors of freedom. When Le Beau called again
The Killer was slinking away, dripping blood as he went--and this was
the last that Le Beau saw of him. Probably he joined the wolves, for
The Killer was a quarter-strain wild.

Le Beau got no more than a glimpse of him as he disappeared. His
club-arm shot out again, a clean miss; and this time it was pure chance
that saved him. The trap-chain caught, and Miki fell back when his hot
breath was almost at The Brute's jugular. He fell upon his side. Before
he could recover himself the club was pounding his head into the snow.
The world grew black. He no longer had the power to move. Lying as if
dead he still heard over him the panting, exultant voice of the
man-beast. For Le Beau, black though his heart was, could not keep back
a prayerful cry of thankfulness that he was victor--and had missed
death, though by a space no wider than the link of a chain.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


Nanette, the woman, saw Jacques come out of the edge of the timber late
in the afternoon, dragging something on the snow behind him. In her
heart, ever since her husband had begun to talk about him, she had kept
secret to herself a pity for the wild dog. Long before the last baby
had come she had loved a dog. It was this dog that had given her the
only real affection she had known in the company of The Brute, and with
barbarous cruelty Le Beau had driven it from her. Nanette herself had
encouraged it to seek freedom in the wilderness, as Netah had at last
sought his. Therefore she had prayed that the wild dog of the trapline
might escape.

As Le Beau came nearer she saw that what he drew after him upon the
snow was a sledge-drag made of four lengths of sapling, and when, a
moment later, she looked down at its burden, she gave a little cry of
horror.

Miki's four feet were tied so firmly to the pieces of sapling that he
could not move. A cord about his neck was fastened to one of the
crossbars, and over his jaws Le Beau had improvised a muzzle of
unbreakable BABICHE thong. He had done all this before Miki regained
consciousness after the clubbing. The woman stared, and there was a
sudden catch in her breath after the little cry that had fallen from
her lips. Many times she had seen Jacques club his dogs, but never had
she seen one clubbed like this. Miki's head and shoulders were a mass
of frozen blood. And then she saw his eyes. They were looking straight
up at her. She turned, fearing that Jacques might see what was in her
face.

Le Beau dragged his burden straight into the cabin, and then stood back
and rubbed his hands as he looked at Miki on the floor. Nanette saw
that he was in a strangely good humour, and waited.

"By the Blessed Saints, but you should have seen him kill
Netah--almost," he exulted. "OUI; he had him down by the throat quicker
than you could flash your eye, and twice he was within an inch of my
life when I fought him with the club. DIEU! I say, what will happen to
Durant's dog when they meet at Post Fort 0' God? I will make a side
wager that he kills him before the second-hand of LE FACTEUR'S watch,
goes round twice. He is splendid! Watch him, Nanette, while I go make a
corral for him alone. If I put him in with the pack he will kill them
all."

Miki's eyes followed him as he disappeared through the cabin door. Then
he looked swiftly back to Nanette. She had drawn nearer. Her eyes were
shining as she bent over him. A snarl rose in Miki's throat, and died
there. For the first time he was looking upon WOMAN. He sensed, all at
once, a difference as vast as the world itself. In his bruised and
broken body his heart stood still. Nanette spoke to him. Never in his
life had he heard a voice like hers--soft and gentle, with a breaking
sob in it; and then--miracle of miracles--she had dropped on her knees
and her hands were at his head!

In that instant his spirit leapt back through the generations--back
beyond his father, and his father's father; back to that far day when
the blood in the veins of his race was "just dog," and he romped with
children, and listened to the call of woman, and worshipped at the
shrine of humankind. And now the woman had run quickly to the stove,
and was back again with a dish of warm water and a soft cloth, and was
bathing his head, talking to him all the time in that gentle,
half-sobbing voice of pity and of love. He closed his eyes--no longer
afraid. A great sigh heaved out of his body. He wanted to put out his
tongue and lick the slim white hands that were bringing him peace and
comfort. And then the strangest thing of all happened. In the crib the
baby sat up and began to prattle. It was a new note to Miki, a new song
of Life's spring-tide to him, but it thrilled him as nothing else in
all the world had ever thrilled him before. He opened his eyes
wide--and whined.

A laugh of joy--new and strange even to herself--came into the woman's
voice, and she ran to the crib and returned with the baby in her arms.
She knelt down beside him again, and the baby, at sight of this strange
plaything on the floor, thrust out its little arms, and kicked its tiny
moccasined feet, and cooed and laughed and squirmed until Miki strained
at his thongs to get a little nearer that he might touch this wonderful
creature with his nose. He forgot his pain. He no longer sensed the
agony of his bruised and beaten jaws. He did not feel the numbness of
his tightly bound and frozen legs. Every instinct in him was centred in
these two.

And the woman, now, was beautiful. She UNDERSTOOD; and the gentle heart
throbbed in her bosom, forgetful of The Brute. Her eyes glowed with the
soft radiance of stars. Into her pale cheeks came a sweet flush. She
sat the baby down, and with the cloth and warm water continued to bathe
Miki's head. Le Beau, had he been human, must have worshipped her then
as she knelt there, all that was pure and beautiful in motherhood, an
angel of mercy, radiant for a moment in her forgetfulness of HIM. And
Le Beau DID enter--and see her--so quietly that for a space she did not
realize his presence; and with him staring down on her she continued to
talk and laugh and half sob, and the baby kicked and prattled and flung
out its little arms wildly in the joy of these exciting moments.

Le Beau's thick lips drew back in an ugly leer, and he gave a savage
curse. Nanette flinched as if struck a blow.

"Get up, you fool!" he snarled.

She obeyed, shrinking back with the baby in her arms. Miki saw the
change, and the greenish fire returned into his eyes when he caught
sight of Le Beau. A deep and wolfish snarl rose in his throat.

Le Beau turned on Nanette. The glow and the flush had not quite gone
from her eyes and cheeks as she stood with the baby hugged up to her
breast, and her big shining braid had fallen over her shoulder,
glistening with a velvety fire in the light that came through the
western window. But Le Beau saw nothing of this.

"If you make a POOS (a house-kitten) of that dog--a thing like you made
of Minoo, the breed-bitch, I will--"

He did not finish, but his huge hands were clinched, and there was an
ugly passion in his eyes. Nanette needed no more than that. She
understood. She had received many blows, but there was the memory of
one that never left her, night or day. Some day, if she could ever get
to Post Fort O' God, and had the courage, she would tell LE FACTEUR of
that blow--how Jacques Le Beau, her husband, struck it at the nursing
time, and her bosom was so hurt that the baby of two years ago had
died. She would tell it, when she knew she and the baby would be safe
from the vengeance of the Brute. And only LE FACTEUR--the Big Man at
Post Fort O' God a hundred miles away--was powerful enough to save her.

It was well that Le Beau did not read this thought in her mind now.
With his warning he turned to Miki and dragged him out of the cabin to
a cage made of saplings in which the winter before he had kept two live
foxes. A small chain ten feet in length he fastened around Miki's neck
and then to one of the sapling bars before he thrust his prisoner
inside the door of the prison and freed him by cutting the BABICHE
thongs with a knife.

For several minutes after that Miki lay still while the blood made its
way slowly through his numbed and half-frozen limbs. At last he
staggered to his feet, and then it was that Le Beau chuckled jubilantly
and turned back to the cabin.

And now followed many days that were days of hell and torment for
him--an unequal struggle between the power of The Brute and the spirit
of the Dog.

"I must break you--OW! by the Christ! I WILL break you!"--Le Beau would
say time and again when he came with the club and the whip. "I will
make you crawl to me--OUI, and when I say fight you will fight!"

It was a small cage, so small that Miki could not get away from the
reach of the club and the whip. They maddened him--for a time, and Le
Beau's ugly soul was filled with joy as Miki launched himself again and
again at the sapling bars, tearing at them with his teeth and frothing
blood like a wolf gone mad. For twenty years Le Beau had trained
fighting dogs, and this was his way. So he had done with Netah until
The Killer was mastered, and at his call crept to him on his belly.

Three times, from a window in the cabin, Nanette looked forth on these
horrible struggles between the man and the dog, and the third time she
buried her face in her arms and sobbed; and when Le Beau came in and
found her crying he dragged her to the window and made her look out
again at Miki, who lay bleeding and half dead in the cage. It was a
morning on which he started the round of his traps, and he was always
gone until late the following day. And never was he more than well out
of sight than Nanette would run out and go to the cage.

It was then that Miki forgot The Brute. At times so beaten and blinded
that he could scarcely stand or see, he would crawl to the bars of the
cage and caress the soft hands that Nanette held in fearlessly to him.
And then, after a little, Nanette began to bring the baby out with her,
bundled up like a little Eskimo, and in his joy Miki whimpered and
wagged his tail and grovelled in his worship before these two.

It was in the second week of his captivity that the wonderful thing
happened. Le Beau was gone, and there was a raging blizzard outside to
which Nanette dared not expose the baby. So she went to the cage, and
with a heart that beat wildly, she unbarred the door--and brought Miki
into the cabin! If Le Beau should ever discover what she had done--!

The thought made her shiver.

After this first time she brought him into the cabin again and again.
Once her heart stood still when Le Beau saw blood on the floor, and his
eyes shot at her suspiciously. Then she lied.

"I cut my finger she said," and a moment later, with her back to him,
she DID cut it, and when Jacques looked at her hand he saw a cloth
about the finger, with blood-stain on it.

After that Nanette always watched the floor carefully.

More and more this cabin, with the woman and the baby in it, became a
paradise for Miki. Then came the time when Nanette dared to keep him in
the cabin with her all night, and lying close to the precious cradle
Miki never once took his eyes from her. It was late when she prepared
for bed. She changed into a long, soft robe, and then, sitting near
Miki, with her bare little feet in the fireglow, she took down her
wonderful hair and began brushing it. It was the first time Miki had
seen this new and marvellous garment about her. It fell over her
shoulders and breast and almost to the floor in a shimmering glory, and
the scent of it was so sweet that Miki crept a few inches nearer, and
whimpered softly. After she had done brushing it Miki watched her as
her slim fingers plaited it into two braids; and then, before she put
the light out, a still more curious thing happened. She went to her
bed, made of saplings, against the wall, and from its hiding place
under the blankets drew forth tenderly a little ivory Crucifix. With
this in her hands she knelt upon the log floor, and Miki listened to
her prayer. He did not know, but she was asking God to be good to her
baby--the little Nanette in the crib.

After that she cuddled the baby up in her arms, and put out the light,
and went to bed; and through all the hours of the night Miki made no
sound that would waken them.

In the morning, when Nanette opened her eyes, she found Miki with his
head resting on the edge of the bed, close to the baby that was nestled
against her bosom.

That morning, as she built the fire, something strange and stirring in
Nanette's breast made her sing. Le Beau would be away until dark that
night, and she would never dare to tell him what she and the baby and
the dog were going to do. It was her birthday. Twenty-six; and it
seemed to her that she had lived the time of two lives! And eight of
those years with The Brute! But to-day they would celebrate, they
three. All the morning the cabin was filled with a new spirit--a new
happiness.

Years ago, before she had met Le Beau, the Indians away back on the
Waterfound had called Nanette "Tanta Penashe" ("the Little Bird")
because of the marvellous sweetness of her voice. And this morning she
sang as she prepared the birthday feast; the sun flooded through the
windows, and Miki whimpered happily and thumped his tail, and the baby
cackled and crowed, and The Brute was forgotten. In that forgetfulness
Nanette was a girl again, sweet and beautiful as in those days when old
Jackpine, the Cree--who was now dead--had told her that she was born of
the flowers. The wonderful dinner was ready at last, and to the baby's
delight Nanette induced Miki to sit on a chair at the table. He felt
foolish there, and he looked so foolish that Nanette laughed until her
long dark lashes were damp with tears; and then, when Miki slunk down
from the chair, feeling his shame horribly, she ran to him and put her
arms around him and pleaded with him until he took his place at the
table again.

So the day passed until mid-afternoon, when Nanette cleared away all
signs of the celebration and locked Miki in his cage. It was fortunate
she was ahead of time, for scarcely was she done when Le Beau came into
the edge of the clearing, and with him was Durant, his acquaintance and
rival from the edge of the Barrens farther north. Durant had sent his
outfit on to Port O' God by an Indian, and had struck south and west
with two dogs and a sledge to visit a cousin for a day or two. He was
on his way to the Post when he came upon Le Beau on his trapline.

Thus much Le Beau told Nanette, and Nanette looked at Durant with
startled eyes. They were a good pair, Jacques and his guest, only that
Durant was older. She had become somewhat accustomed to the brutality
in Le Beau's face, but she thought that Durant was a monster. He made
her afraid, and she was glad when they went from the cabin.

"Now I will show you the BETE that is going to kill your POOS as easily
as your lead-whelp killed that rabbit to-day, m'sieu," exulted Jacques.
"I have told you but you have not seen!"

And he took with him the club and the whip.

Like a tiger fresh out of the jungles Miki responded to the club and
the whip to-day, until Durant himself stood aghast, and exclaimed under
his breath: "MON DIEU! he is a devil!"

From the window Nanette saw what was happening, and out of her rose a
cry of anguish. Sudden as a burst of fire there arose in
her--triumphant at last and unafraid--that thing which for years The
Brute had crushed back: her womanhood resurrected! Her soul broken free
of its shackles! Her faith, her strength, her courage! She turned from
the window and ran to the door, and out over the snow to the cage; and
for the first time in her life she struck at Le Beau, and beat fiercely
at the arm that was wielding the club.

"You beast!" she cried. "I tell you, you SHALL NOT! Do you hear? You
SHALL NOT!"

Paralyzed with amazement, The Brute stood still. Was this Nanette, his
slave? This wonderful creature with eyes that were glowing fire and
defiance, and a look in her face that he had never seen in any woman's
face before? NON--impossible! Hot rage rose in him, and with a single
sweep of his powerful arm he flung her back so that she fell to the
earth. With a wild curse he lifted the bar of the cage door.

"I will kill him, now; I will KILL him!" he almost shrieked. "And it is
YOU--YOU--you she-devil! who shall eat his heart alive! I will force it
down your throat: I will--"

He was dragging Miki forth by the chain. The club rose as Miki's head
came through. In another instant it would have beaten his head to a
pulp--but Nanette was between it and the dog like a flash, and the blow
went wild. It was with his fist that Le Beau struck out now, and the
blow caught Nanette on the shoulder and sent her frail body down with a
crash. The Brute sprang upon her. His fingers gripped in her thick,
soft hair.

And then--

From Durant came a warning cry. It was too late. A lean gray streak of
vengeance and retribution, Miki was at the end of his chain and at Le
Beau's throat. Nanette HEARD! Through dazed eyes she SAW! She reached
out gropingly and struggled to her feet, and looked just once down upon
the snow. Then, with a terrible cry, she staggered toward the cabin.

When Durant gathered courage to drag Le Beau out of Miki's reach Miki
made no movement to harm him. Again, perhaps, it was the Beneficent
Spirit that told him his duty was done. He went back into his cage, and
lying there on his belly looked forth at Durant.

And Durant, looking at the blood-stained snow and the dead body of The
Brute, whispered to himself again:

"MON DIEU! he is a devil!"

In the cabin, Nanette was upon her knees before the crucifix.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


There are times when death is a shock, but not a grief. And so it was
with Nanette Le Beau. With her own eyes she had looked upon the
terrible fate of her husband, and it was not in her gentle soul to weep
or wish him alive again. At last there had overtaken him what LE BON
DIEU had intended him to receive some day: justice. And for the baby's
sake more than her own Nanette was not sorry. Durant, whose soul was
only a little less wicked than the dead man's, had not even waited for
a prayer--had not asked her what to do. He had chopped a hole in the
frozen earth and had buried Le Beau almost before his body was cold.
And Nanette was not sorry for that. The Brute was gone. He was gone for
ever. He would never strike her again. And because of the baby she
offered up a prayer of gratitude to God.

In his prison-cage of sapling bars Miki cringed on his belly at the end
of his chain. He had scarcely moved since those terrible moments in
which he had torn the life out of the man-brute's throat. He had not
even growled at Durant when he dragged the body away. Upon him had
fallen a fearful and overwhelming oppression. He was not thinking of
his own brutal beatings, or of the death which Le Beau had been about
to inflict upon him with the club; he did not feel the presence of pain
in his bruised and battered body, nor in his bleeding jaws and
whip-lashed eyes. He was thinking of Nanette, the woman. Why had she
run away with that terrible cry when he killed the man-beast? Was it
not the man-beast who had struck her down, and whose hands were at her
white throat when he sprang the length of his chain and tore out his
jugular? Then why was it that she ran away, and did not come back?

He whimpered softly.

The afternoon was almost gone, and the early gloom of mid-winter night
in the Northland was settling thickly over the forests. In that gloom
the dark face of Durant appeared at the bars of Miki's prison.
Instinctively Miki had hated this foxhunter from the edge of the
Barrens, just as he had hated Le Beau, for in their brutish faces as
well as in their hearts they were like brothers. Yet he did not growl
at Durant as he peered through. He did not even move.

"UGH! LE DIABLE!" shuddered Durant.

Then he laughed. It was a low, terrible laugh, half smothered in his
coarse black beard, and it sent an odd chill through Miki.

He turned after that and went into the cabin.

Nanette rose to meet him, her great dark eyes glowing in a face dead
white. She had not yet risen above the shock of Le Beau's tragic death,
and yet in those eyes there was already something re-born. It had not
been there when Durant came to the cabin with Le Beau that afternoon.
He looked at her strangely as she stood with the baby in her arms. She
was another Nanette. He felt uneasy. Why was it that a few hours ago he
had laughed boldly when her husband had cursed her and said vile things
in her presence--and now he could not meet the steady gaze of her eyes?
DIEU! he had never before observed how lovely she was! He drew himself
together, and stated the business in his mind.

"You will not want the dog," he said. "I will take him away."

Nanette did not answer. She seemed scarcely to be breathing as she
looked at him. It seemed to him that she was waiting for him to
explain; and then the inspiration to lie leapt into his mind.

"You know, there was to be the big fight between HIS dog and mine at
Post Fort O' God at the New Year carnival," he went on, shuffling his
heavy feet. "For that, Jacques--your husband--was training the wild
dog. And when I saw that OOCHUN--that wolf devil--tearing at the bars
of the cage I knew he would kill my dog as a fox kills a rabbit. So we
struck a bargain, and for the two cross foxes and the ten red which I
have outside I bought him." (The VRAISEMBLANCE of his lie gave him
courage. It sounded like truth, and Jacques, the dead man, was not
there to repudiate his claim.) "So he is mine," he finished a little
exultantly, "and I will take him to the Post, and will fight him
against any dog or wolf in all the North. Shall I bring in the skins,
MADAME?"

"He is not for sale," said Nanette, the glow in her eyes deepening. "He
is my dog--mine and the baby's. Do you understand, Henri Durant? HE IS
NOT FOR SALE!"

"OUI," gasped Durant, amazed.

"And when you reach Post Fort O' God, m'sieu, you will tell LE FACTEUR
that Jacques is dead, and how he died, and say that some one must be
sent for the baby and me. We will stay here until then."

"OUI," said Durant again, backing to the door.

He had never seen her like that. He wondered how Jacques Le Beau could
swear at her, and strike her. For himself, he was afraid. Standing
there with those wonderful eyes and white face, with the baby in her
arms, and her shining hair over her breasts, she made him think of a
picture he had once seen of the Blessed Lady.

He went out through the door and back to the sapling cage where Miki
lay. Softly he spoke through the bars.

"OW, BETE" he called; "she will not sell you. She keeps you because you
fought for her, and killed MON AMI, Jacques Le Beau. And so I must take
you my own way. In a little while the moon will be up, and then I will
slip a noose over your head at the end of a pole, and will choke you so
quickly she will not hear a sound. And who will know where you are
gone, if the cage door is left open? And you will fight for me at Post
Fort 0' God. MON DIEU! how you will fight! I swear it will do the ghost
of Jacques Le Beau good to see what happens there."

He went away, to where he had left his light sledge and two dogs in the
edge of the timber, and waited for the moon to rise.

Still Miki did not move, A light had appeared in the window of the
cabin, and his eyes were fixed on it yearningly as the low whine
gathered in his throat again. His world no longer lay beyond that
window. The Woman and the baby had obliterated in him all desire but to
be with them.

In the cabin Nanette was thinking of him--and of Durant. The man's
words came to her again, vividly, significantly: "YOU WILL NOT WANT THE
DOG." Yes, all the forest people would say that same thing--even LE
FACTEUR himself, when he heard. SHE WOULD NOT WANT THE DOG! And why
not? Because he had killed Jacques Le Beau, her husband, in defence of
her? Because he had freed her from the bondage of The Brute? Because
God had sent him to the end of his chain in that terrible moment that
the baby Nanette might live, as the OTHER had not, and that she might
grow up with laughter on her lips instead of sobs? In her there rose
suddenly a thought that fanned the new flame in her heart. It MUST have
been LE BON DIEU! Others might doubt, but she--never. She recalled all
that Le Beau had told her about the wild dog--how for many days he had
robbed the traps, and the terrific fight he had made when at last he
was caught. And of all that The Brute had said there stood out most the
words he had spoken one day.

"He is a devil, but he was not born of wolf. NON, some time, a long
time ago, he was a white man's dog."

A WHITE MAN'S DOG!

Her soul thrilled. Once--a long time ago--he had known a master with a
white heart, just as she had known a girlhood in which the flowers
bloomed and the birds sang. She tried to look back, but she could not
see very far. She could not vision that day, less than a year ago, when
Miki, an angular pup, came down out of the Farther North with
Challoner; she could not vision the strange comradeship between the pup
and Neewa, the little black bear cub, nor that tragic day when they had
fallen out of Challoner's canoe into the swift stream that had carried
them over the waterfall and into the Great Adventure which had turned
Neewa into a grown bear and Miki into a wild dog. But in her heart she
FELT the things which she could not see. Miki had not come by chance.
Something greater than that had sent him.

She rose quietly, so that she would not waken the baby in the crib, and
opened the door. The moon was just rising over the forest and through
the glow of it she went to the cage. She heard the dog's joyous whine,
and then she felt the warm caress of his tongue upon her bare hands as
she thrust them between the sapling bars.

"NON, NON; you are not a devil," she cried softly, her voice filled
with a strange tremble. "O-o-ee, my SOKETAAO, I prayed, PRAYED--and you
came. Yes, on my knees each night I prayed to Our Blessed Lady that she
might have mercy on my baby, and make the sun in heaven shine for her
through all time. AND YOU CAME! And the dear God does not send devils
in answer to prayer. NON; never!"

And Miki, as though some spirit had given him the power to understand,
rested the weight of his bruised and beaten head on her hands.

From the edge of the forest Durant was watching. He had caught the
flash of light from the door and had seen Nanette go to the cage, and
his eyes did not leave her until she returned into the cabin. He
laughed as he went to his fire and finished making the WAHGUN he was
fastening to the end of a long pole. This WAHGUN and the pole added to
his own cleverness were saving him twelve good fox skins, and he
continued to chuckle there in the fireglow as he thought how easy it
was to beat a woman's wits. Nanette was a fool to refuse the pelts, and
Jacques was--dead. It was a most lucky combination of circumstances for
him. Fortune had surely come his way. On LE BETE, as he called the wild
dog, he would gamble all that he possessed in the big fight. And he
would win.

He waited until the light in the cabin went out before he approached
the cage again. Miki heard him coming. At a considerable distance he
saw him, for the moon was already turning the night into day. Durant
knew the ways of dogs. With them he employed a superior reason where Le
Beau had used the club and the rawhide. So he came up openly and
boldly, and, as if by accident, dropped the end of the pole between the
bars. With his hands against the cage, apparently unafraid, he began
talking in a casual way. He was different from Le Beau. Miki watched
him closely for a space and then let his eyes rest again on the
darkened cabin window. Stealthily Durant began to take advantage of his
opportunity. A little at a time he moved the end of the pole until it
was over Miki's head, with the deadly bowstring and its open noose
hanging down. He was an adept in the use of the WAHGUN. Many foxes and
wolves, and even a bear, he had caught that way. Miki, numbed by the
cold, scarcely felt the BABICHE noose as it settled softly about his
neck. He did not see Durant brace himself, with his feet against the
running-log of the cage.

Then, suddenly, Durant lurched himself backward, and it seemed to Miki
as though a giant trap of steel had closed about his neck. Instantly
his wind was cut off. He could make no sound as he struggled
frantically to free himself. Hand over hand Durant dragged him to the
bars, and there, with his feet still braced, he choked with his whole
weight until--when at last he let up on the WAHGUN--Miki collapsed as
if dead. Ten seconds later Durant was looping a muzzle over his closed
jaws. He left the cage door open when he went back to his sledge,
carrying Miki in his arms. Nanette's slow wits would never guess, he
told himself. She would think that LE BETE had escaped into the forest.

It was not his scheme to club Miki into serfdom, as Le Beau had failed
to do. Durant was wiser than that. In his crude and merciless way he
had come to know certain phenomena of the animal mind. He was not a
psychologist; oh the other hand brutality had not utterly blinded him.
So, instead of lashing Miki to the sledge as Le Beau had fastened him
to his improvised drag, Durant made his captive comfortable, covering
him with a warm blanket before he began his journey eastward. He made
sure, however, that there was no flaw in the muzzle about Miki's jaws,
and that the free end of the chain to which he was still fastened was
well hitched to the Gee-bar of his sledge.

When these things were done Durant set off in the direction of Fort O'
God, and if Jacques Le Beau could have seen him then he would have had
good reason to guess at his elation. By taint of birth and blood Durant
was a gambler first, and a trapper afterward. He set his traps that he
might have the thrill of wagering his profits, and for half a dozen
successive years he had won at the big annual dog fight at Post Fort O'
God. But this year he had been half afraid. His fear had not been of
Jacques Le Beau and Netah, but of the halfbreed away over on Red Belly
Lake. Grouse Piet was the halfbreed's name, and the "dog" that he was
going to put up at the fight was half wolf. Therefore, in the foolish
eagerness of his desire, had Durant offered two cross foxes and ten
reds--the price of five dogs and not one--for the possession of Le
Beau's wild dog. And now that he had him for nothing, and Nanette was
poorer by twelve skins, he was happy. For he had now a good match for
Grouse Piet's half wolf, and he would chance his money and his credit
at the Post to the limit.

When Miki came back to his senses Durant stopped his dogs, for he had
been watching closely for this moment. He bent over the sledge and
began talking, not in Le Beau's brutal way, but in a careless chummy
sort of voice, and with his mittened hand he patted his captive's head.
This was a new thing to Miki, for he knew that it was not the hand of
Nanette, but of a man-beast, and the softness of his nest in the
blanket, over which Henri had thrown a bear skin, was also new. A short
time ago he was frozen and stiff. Now he was warm and comfortable. So
he did not move. And Durant exulted in his cleverness. He did not
travel far in the night, but stopped four or five miles from Nanette's
cabin, and built a fire. Over this he boiled coffee and roasted meat.
He allowed the meat to roast slowly, turning it round and round on a
wooden spit, so that the aroma of it grew thick and inviting in the
air. He had fastened his two sledge dogs fifty paces away, but the
sledge was close to the fire, and he watched the effect on Miki of the
roasting meat. Since the days of his puppyhood with Challoner a smell
like that which came from the meat had not filled Miki's nostrils, and
at last Durant saw him lick his chops and heard the click of his teeth.
He chuckled in his beard. Still he waited another quarter of an hour.
Then he pulled the meat off the spit, cut it up, and gave a half of it
to Miki. And Miki ate it ravenously.

A clever man was Henri Durant!



CHAPTER NINETEEN


During the last few days in December all trails for ten thousand square
miles around led to Post Fort 0' God. It was the eve of OOSKE
PIPOON--of the New Year--the mid-winter carnival time of the people of
the wilderness, when from teepees and cabins far and near come the
trappers and their families to sell their furs and celebrate for a few
days with others of their kind. To this New Year gathering men, women,
and children look forward through long and weary months. The trapper's
wife has no neighbour. Her husband's "line" is a little kingdom
inviolate, with no other human life within many miles of it; so for the
women the OOSKE PIPOON is a time of rejoicing; for the children it is
the "big circus," and for the men a reward for the labour and hardship
of catching their fur. During these few days old acquaintanceships are
renewed and new ones are made. It is here that the "news" of the
trackless wilderness is spread, the news of deaths, of marriages, and
of births; of tragic happenings that bring horror and grief and tears,
and of others that bring laughter and joy. For the first and last time
in all the seven months' winter the people of the forests "come to
town." Indian, halfbreed, "blood," and white man, join in the holiday
without distinction of colour or creed.

This year there was to be a great caribou roast, a huge barbecue, at
Fort O' God, and by the time Henri Durant came within half a dozen
miles of the Post the trails from north and south and east and west
were beaten hard by the tracks of dogs and men. That year a hundred
sledges came in from the forests, and with them were three hundred men
and women and children and half a thousand dogs.

Durant was a day later than he had planned to be, but he had made good
use of his time. For Miki, while still muzzled, now followed at the end
of the babiche that was tied to Henri's sledge. In the afternoon of the
third day after leaving Nanette Le Beau's cabin Durant turned off the
main-travelled trail until he came to the shack of Andre Ribon, who
kept the Factor and his people at the Post supplied with fresh meat.
Andre, who was becoming over-anxious at Durant's delay, was still
waiting when his friend came. It was here that Henri's Indian had left
his fighting dog, the big husky. And here he left Miki, locked in
Andre's shack. Then the two men went on to the Post which was only a
mile away.

Neither he nor Ribon returned that night. The cabin was empty. And with
the beginning of dusk Miki began to hear weird and strange sounds which
grew louder as darkness settled deeper. It was the sound of the
carnival at the Post--the distant tumult of human voice mingled with
the howling of a hundred dogs. He had never heard anything like it
before, and for a long time he listened without moving. Then he stood
up like a man before the window with this fore-paws resting against the
heavy sash. Ribon's cabin was at the crest of a knoll that over-looked
the frozen lake, and far off, over the tops of the scrub timber that
fringed the edge of it, Miki saw the red glow in the sky made by a
score of great camp fires. He whined, and dropped on his four feet
again. It was a long wait between that and another day. But the cabin
was more comfortable than Le Beau's prison-cage had been. All through
the night his restless slumber was filled with visions of Nanette and
the baby.

Durant and Ribon did not return until nearly noon the next day. They
brought with them fresh meat, of which Miki ate ravenously, for he was
hungry. In an unresponsive way he tolerated the advances of these two.
A second night he was left alone in the cabin. When Durant and Ribon
came back again in the early dawn they brought with them a cage four
feet square made of small birch saplings. The open door of this cage
they drew close to the door of the cabin, and by means of a chunk of
fresh meat Miki was induced to enter through it. Instantly the trap
fell, and he was a prisoner. The cage was already fastened on a wide
toboggan, and scarcely was the sun up when Miki was on his way to Fort
O' God.

This was the big day at the carnival--the day of the caribou-roast and
the fight. For many minutes before they came in sight of Fort O' God
Miki heard the growing sound. It amazed him, and he stood up on his
feet in his cage, rigid and alert, utterly unconscious of the men who
were pulling him. He was looking ahead of them, and Durant chuckled
exultantly as they heard him growl, and his teeth click.

"Oui, he will fight! He would fight NOW," he chuckled.

They were following the shore of a lake. Suddenly they came around the
end of a point, and all of Fort O' God lay on the rising shelf of the
shore ahead of them. The growl died in Miki's throat. His teeth shut
with a last click. For an instant his heart seemed to grow dead and
still. Until this moment his world had held only half a dozen human
beings. Now, so suddenly that he had no flash of warning, he saw a
hundred of them, two hundred, three hundred. At sight of Durant and the
cage a swarm of them began running down to the shore. And everywhere
there were wolves, so many of them that his senses grew dazed as he
stared. His cage was the centre of a clamouring, gesticulating horde of
men and boys as it was dragged up the slope. Women began joining the
crowd, many of them with small children in their arms. Then his journey
came to an end. He was close to another cage, and in that cage was a
beast like himself. Beside this cage there stood a tall, swarthy,
shaggy-headed halfbreed who looked like a pirate. The man was Grouse
Piet, Durant's rival.

A contemptuous leer was on his thick-lipped face as he looked at Miki.
He turned, and to the group of dark-faced Indians and breeds about him
he said something that roused a guttural laugh.

Durant's face flamed red.

"Laugh, you heathen," he challenged, "but don't forget that Henri
Durant is here to take your bets!" Then he shook the two cross and ten
red foxes in the face of Grouse Piet.

"Cover them, Grouse Piet," he cried. "And I have ten times more where
they came from!"

With his muzzle lifted, Miki was sniffing the air. It was filled with
strange scents, heavy with the odours of men, of dogs, and of the five
huge caribou roasting on their spits fifteen feet over the big fires
that were built under them. For ten hours those caribou would roast,
turning slowly on spits as thick as a man's leg. The fight was to come
before the feast.

For an hour the clatter and tumult of voices hovered about the two
cages. Men appraised the fighters and made their bets, and Grouse Piet
and Henri Durant made their throats hoarse flinging banter and contempt
at each other. At the end of the hour the crowd began to thin out. In
the place of men and women half a hundred dark-visaged little children
crowded about the cages. It was not until then that Miki caught
glimpses of the hordes of beasts fastened in ones and twos and groups
in the edge of the clearing. His nostrils had at last caught the
distinction. They were not wolves. They were like himself.

It was a long time before his eyes rested steadily on the wolf-dog in
the other cage. He went to the edge of his bars and sniffed. The
wolf-dog thrust his gaunt muzzle toward him. He made Miki think of the
huge wolf he had fought one day on the edge of the cliff, and
instinctively he showed his fangs, and snarled. The wolf-dog snarled
back. Henri Durant rubbed his hands exultantly, and Grouse Piet laughed
softly.

"Oui; they will FIGHT!" said Henri again.

"Ze wolf, he will fight, oui," said Grouse Piet. "But your dog, m'sieu,
he be vair seek, lak a puppy, w'en ze fight come!"

A little later Miki saw a white man standing close to his cage. It was
MacDonnell, the Scotch factor. He gazed at Miki and the wolf-dog with
troubled eyes. Ten minutes later, in the little room which he had made
his office, he was saying to a younger man:

"I'd like to stop it, but I can't. They wouldn't stand for it. It would
lose us half a season's catch of fur. There's been a fight like this at
Fort O' God for the last fifty years, and I don't suppose, after all,
that it's any worse than one of the prize fights down there. Only, in
this case--"

"They kill," said the younger man.

"Yes, that's it. Usually one of the dogs dies."

The younger man knocked the ash out of his pipe.

"I love dogs," he said, simply. "There'll never be a fight at my post,
Mac--unless it's between men. And I'm not going to see this fight,
because I'm afraid I'd kill some one if I did."



CHAPTER TWENTY


It was two o'clock in the afternoon. The caribou were roasting brown.
In two more hours the feast would begin. The hour of the fight was at
hand.

In the centre of the clearing three hundred men, women, and children
were gathered in a close circle about a sapling cage ten feet square.
Close to this cage, one at each side, were drawn the two smaller cages.
Beside one of these cages stood Henri Durant; beside the other, Grouse
Piet. They were not bantering now. Their faces were hard and set. And
three hundred pairs of eyes were staring at them, and three hundred
pairs of ears waiting for the thrilling signal.

It came--from Grouse Piet.

With a swift movement Durant pulled up the door of Miki's cage. Then,
suddenly, he prodded him from behind with a crotched stick, and with a
single leap Miki was in the big cage. Almost at the same instant the
wolf-dog leapt from Grouse Piet's cage, and the two faced each other in
the arena.

With the next breath he drew Durant could have groaned. What happened
in the following half minute was a matter of environment with Miki. In
the forest the wolf-dog would have interested him to the exclusion of
everything else, and he would have looked upon him as another Netah or
a wild wolf. But in his present surroundings the idea of fighting was
the last to possess him. He was fascinated by that grim and waiting
circle of faces closing in the big cage; he scrutinized it, turning his
head sharply from point to point, as if hoping to see Nanette and the
baby, or even Challoner his first master. To the wolf-dog Grouse Piet
had given the name of Taao, because of the extraordinary length of his
fangs; and of Taao, to Durant's growing horror, Miki was utterly
oblivious after that first head-on glance. He trotted to the edge of
the cage and thrust his nose between the bars, and a taunting laugh
rose out of Grouse Piet's throat. Then he began making a circle of the
cage, his sharp eyes on the silent ring of faces. Taao stood in the
centre of the cage, and not once did his reddish eyes leave Miki. What
was outside of the cage held small interest for him. He understood his
business, and murder was bred in his heart. For a space during which
Durant's heart beat like a hammer Taao turned, as if on a pivot,
following Miki's movement, and the crest on his spine stood up like
bristles.

Then Miki stopped, and in that moment Durant saw the end of all his
hopes. Without a sound the wolf-dog was at his opponent. A bellow rose
from Grouse Piet's lips. A deep breath passed through the circle of
spectators, and Durant felt a cold chill run up his back to the roots
of his hair. What happened in the next instant made men's hearts stand
still. In that first rush Miki should have died. Grouse Piet expected
him to die, and Durant expected him to die. But in the last fractional
bit of the second in which the wolf-dog's jaws closed, Miki was
transformed into a thing of living lightning. No man had ever seen a
movement swifter than that with which he turned on Taao. Their jaws
clashed. There was a sickening grinding of bone, and in another moment
they were rolling and twisting together on the earth floor. Neither
Grouse Piet nor Durant could see what was happening. They forgot even
their own bets in the horror of that fight. Never had there been such a
fight at Fort O' God.

The sound of it reached to the Company's store. In the door, looking
toward the big cage, stood the young white man. He heard the snarling,
the clashing of teeth, and his jaws set heavily and a dull flame burned
in his eyes. His breath came in a sudden gasp.

"DAMN!" he cried, softly.

His hands clenched, and he stepped slowly down from the door and went
toward the cage. It was over when he made his way through the ring of
spectators. The fight had ended as suddenly as it had begun, and Grouse
Piet's wolf-dog lay in the centre of the cage with a severed jugular.
Miki looked as though he might be dying. Durant had opened the door and
had slipped a rope over his head, and outside the cage Miki stood
swaying on his feet, red with blood, and half blind. His flesh was red
and bleeding in a dozen places, and a stream of blood trickled from his
mouth. A cry of horror rose to the young white man's lips as he looked
down at him.

And then, almost in the same breath, there came a still stranger cry.

"Good God! Miki--Miki--Miki--"

Beating upon his brain as if from a vast distance, coming to him
through the blindness of his wounds, Miki heard that voice.

The VOICE! THE voice that had lived with him in all his dreams, the
voice he had waited for, and searched for, and knew that some day he
would find. The voice of Challoner, his master!

He dropped on his belly, whining, trying to see through the film of
blood in his eyes; and lying there, wounded almost unto death, his tail
thumped the ground in recognition. And then, to the amazement of all
who beheld, Challoner was down upon his knees beside him, and his arms
were about him, and Miki's lacerated tongue was reaching for his hands,
his face, his clothes.

"Miki--Miki--Miki!"

Durant's hand fell heavily upon Challoner's shoulder.

It was like the touch of a red-hot iron to Challoner. In a flash he was
on his feet, facing him.

"He's mine," Challoner cried, trying to hold back his passion. "He's
mine you--you devil!"

And then, powerless to hold back his desire for vengeance, his clenched
fist swung like a rock to Durant's heavy jaw, and the Frenchman went to
the ground. For a moment Challoner stood over him, but he did not move.
Fiercely he turned upon Grouse Piet and the crowd. Miki was cringing at
his feet again. Pointing to him, Challoner cried loudly, so all could
hear.

"He's my dog. Where this beast got him I don't know. But he's mine.
Look for yourselves! See--see him lick my hand. Would he do that for
HIM? And look at that ear. There's no other ear in all the north cut
like that. I lost him almost a year ago, but I'd know him among ten
thousand by that ear. By God!--if I had known--"

He elbowed his way through the breeds and Indians, leading Miki by the
rope Durant had slipped over the dog's head. He went to MacDonnell, and
told him what had happened. He told of the preceding spring, and of the
accident in which Miki and the bear cub were lost from his canoe and
swept over the waterfall. After registering his claim against whatever
Durant might have to say he went to the shack in which he was staying
at Fort 0' God.

An hour later Challoner sat with Miki's big head between his two hands,
and talked to him. He had bathed and dressed his wounds, and Miki could
see. His eyes were on his master's face, and his hard tail thumped the
floor. Both were oblivious of the sounds of the revellers outside; the
cries of men, the shouting of boys, the laughter of women, and the
incessant barking of dogs. In Challoner's eyes there was a soft glow.

"Miki, old boy, you haven't forgotten a thing--not a dam' thing, have
you? You were nothing but an onery-legged pup then, but you didn't
forget! Remember what I told you, that I was going to take you and the
cub down to the Girl? Do you remember? The Girl I said was an angel,
and 'd love you to death, and all that? Well, I'm glad something
happened--and you didn't go. It wasn't the same when I got back, an'
SHE wasn't the same, Miki. Lord, she'd got married, AND HAD TWO KIDS!
Think of that, old scout--TWO! How the deuce could she have taken care
of you and the cub, eh? And nothing else was the same, Boy. Three years
in God's Country--up here where you burst your lungs just for the fun
of drinking in air--changed me a lot, I guess. Inside a week I wanted
to come back, Miki. Yessir, I was SICK to come back. So I came. And
we're going to stick now, Miki. You're going with me up to that new
Post the Company has given me. From now on we're pals. Understand, old
scout, we're PALS!"



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


It was late the night of the big feast at Post Fort O' God that
MacDonnell, the factor, sent for Challoner. Challoner was preparing for
bed when an Indian boy pounded on the door of his shack and a moment
later gave him the message. He looked at his watch. It was eleven
o'clock. What could the Factor want of him at that hour, he wondered?
Flat on his belly near the warm box stove Miki watched his new-found
master speculatively as he pulled on his boots. His eyes were wide open
now. Challoner had washed from him the blood of the terrific fight of
that afternoon.

"Something to do with that devil of a Durant," growled Challoner,
looking at the battle-scarred dog. "Well, if he hopes to get YOU again,
Miki, he's barking up the wrong tree. You're MINE!"

Miki thumped his hard tail on the floor and wriggled toward his master
in mute adoration. Together they went out into the night.

It was a night of white moonlight and a multitude of stars. The four
great fires over which the caribou had roasted for the savage barbecue
that day were still burning brightly. In the edge of the forest that
ringed in the Post were the smouldering embers of a score of smaller
fires. Back of these fires were faintly outlined the gray shadows of
teepees and tents. In these shelters the three hundred halfbreeds and
Indians who had come in from the forest trails to the New Year carnival
at the Post were sleeping. Only here and there was there a movement of
life. Even the dogs were quiet after the earlier hours of excitement
and gluttony.

Past the big fires, with their huge spits still standing, Challoner
passed toward the Factor's quarters. Miki sniffed at the freshly picked
bones. Beyond these bones there was no sign of the two thousand pounds
of flesh that had roasted that day on the spits. Men, women, children,
and dogs had stuffed themselves until there was nothing left. It was
the silence of Mutai--the "belly god"--the god who eats himself to
sleep each night--that hovered strangely over this Post of Fort O' God,
three hundred miles from civilization.

There was a light in the Factor's room, and Challoner entered with Miki
at his heels. MacDonnell, the Scotchman, was puffing moodily on his
pipe. There was a worried look in his ruddy face as the younger man
seated himself, and his eyes were on Miki.

"Durant has been here," he said. "He's ugly. I'm afraid of trouble. If
you hadn't struck him--"

Challoner shrugged his shoulders as he filled his own pipe from the
Factor's tobacco.

"You see--you don't just understand the situation at Fort 0' God," went
on MacDonnell. "There's been a big dog fight here at New Year for the
last fifty years. It's become a part of history, a part of Fort O' God
itself, and that's why in my own fifteen years here I haven't tried to
stop it. I believe it would bring on a sort of--revolution. I'd wager a
half of my people would go to another post with their furs. That's why
all the sympathy seems to be with Durant. Even Grouse Piet, his rival,
tells him he's a fool to let you get away with him that way. Durant
says that dog is HIS."

MacDonnell nodded at Miki, lying at Challoner's feet.

"Then he lies," said Challoner quietly.

"He says he bought him of Jacques Le Beau."

"Then Le Beau sold a dog that didn't belong to him."

For a moment MacDonnell was silent. Then he said:

"But that wasn't what I had you come over for, Challoner. Durant told
me something that froze my blood to-night. Your outfit starts for your
post up in the Reindeer Lake county to-morrow, doesn't it?"

"In the morning."

"Then could you, with one of my Indians and a team, arrange to swing
around by way of the Jackson's Knee? You'd lose a week, but you could
overtake your outfit before it reached the Reindeer--and it would be a
mighty big favour to me. There's a--a HELL of a thing happened over
there."

Again he looked at Miki.

"GAWD!" he breathed.

Challoner waited. He thought he saw a shudder pass through the Factor's
shoulders.

"I'd go myself--I ought to, but this frosted lung of mine has made me
sit tight this winter, Challoner. I OUGHT to go. Why--(a sudden glow
shot into his eyes)--I knew this Nanette Le Beau when she was SO HIGH,
fifteen years ago. I watched her grow up, Challoner. If I hadn't been
married--then--I'd have fallen in love with her. Do you know her,
Challoner? Did you ever see Nanette Le Beau?"

Challoner shook his head.

"An angel--if God ever made one," declared MacDonnell through his red
beard. "She lived over beyond the Jackson's Knee with her father. And
he died, froze to death crossing Red Eye Lake one night. I've always
thought Jacques Le Beau MADE her marry him after that. Or else she
didn't know, or was crazed, or frightened at being alone. Anyway, she
married him. It was five years ago I saw her last. Now and then I've
heard things, but I didn't believe--not all of them. I didn't believe
that Le Beau beat her, and knocked her down when he wanted to. I didn't
believe he dragged her through the snow by her hair one day until she
was nearly dead. They were just rumours, and he was seventy miles away.
But I believe them now. Durant came from their place, and I guess he
told me a whole lot of the truth--to save that dog."

Again he looked at Miki.

"You see, Durant tells me that Le Beau caught the dog in one of his
traps, took him to his cabin, and tortured him into shape for the big
fight. When Durant came he was so taken with the dog that he bought
him, and it was while Le Beau was driving the dog mad in his cage to
show his temper that Nanette interfered. Le Beau knocked her down, and
then jumped on her and was pulling her hair and choking her when the
dog went for him and killed him. That's the story. Durant told me the
truth through fear that I'd have the dog shot if he was an out-and-out
murderer. And that's why I want you to go by way of the Jackson's Knee.
I want you to investigate, and I want you to do what you can for
Nanette Le Beau. My Indian will bring her back to Port O' God."

With Scotch stoicism MacDonnell had repressed whatever excitement he
may have felt. He spoke quietly. But the curious shudder went through
his shoulders again. Challoner stared at him in blank amazement.

"You mean to say that Miki--this dog--has killed a man?"

"Yes. He killed him, Durant says, just as he killed Grouse Piet's
wolf-dog in the big fight to-day. UGH!" As Challoner's eyes fell slowly
upon Miki, the Factor added: "But Grouse Piet's dog was better than the
man. If what I hear about Le Beau was true he's better dead than alive.
Challoner, if you didn't think it too much trouble, and could go that
way--and see Nanette--"

"I'll go," said Challoner, dropping a hand to Miki's head.

For half an hour after that MacDonnell told him the things he knew
about Nanette Le Beau. When Challoner rose to go the Factor followed
him to the door.

"Keep your eyes open for Durant," he warned. "That dog is worth more to
him than all his winnings to-day, and they say his stakes were big. He
won heavily from Grouse Piet, but the halfbreed is thick with him now.
I know it. So watch out."

Out in the open space, in the light of the moon and stars, Challoner
stood far a moment with Miki's forepaws resting against his breast. The
dog's head was almost on a level with his shoulders.

"D'ye remember when you fell out of the canoe, Boy?" he asked softly.
"Remember how you 'n' the cub were tied in the bow, an' you got to
scrapping and fell overboard just above the rapids? Remember? By Jove!
those rapids pretty near got ME, too. I thought you were dead,
sure--both of you. I wonder what happened to the cub?"

Miki whined in response, and his whole body trembled.

"And since then you've killed a man," added Challoner, as if he still
could not quite believe. "And I'm to take you back to the woman. That's
the funny thing about it. You're going back to HER, and if she says
kill you--"

He dropped Miki's forefeet and went on to the cabin. At the threshold a
low growl rose in Miki's throat. Challoner laughed, and opened the
door. They went in, and the dog's growl was a menacing snarl. Challoner
had left his lamp burning low, and in the light of it he saw Henri
Durant and Grouse Piet waiting for him. He turned up the wick, and
nodded.

"Good evening. Pretty late for a call, isn't it?"

Grouse Piet's stolid face did not change its expression. It struck
Challoner, as he glanced at him, that in head and shoulders he bore a
grotesque resemblance to a walrus. Durant's eyes were dully ablaze. His
face was swollen where Challoner had struck him. Miki, stiffened to the
hardness of a knot, and still snarling under his breath, had crawled
under Challoner's bunk. Durant pointed to him.

"We've come after that dog," he said.

"You can't have him, Durant," replied Challoner, trying hard to make
himself appear at ease in a situation that sent a chill up his back. As
he spoke he was making up his mind why Grouse Piet had come with
Durant. They were giants, both of them: more than that--monsters.
Instinctively he had faced them with the small table between them. "I'm
sorry I lost my temper out there," he continued. "I shouldn't have
struck you, Durant. It wasn't your fault--and I apologize. But the dog
is mine. I lost him over in the Jackson's Knee country, and if Jacques
Le Beau caught him in a trap, and sold him to you, he sold a dog that
didn't belong to him. I'm willing to pay you back what you gave for
him, just to be fair. How much was it?"

Grouse Piet had risen to his feet. Durant came to the opposite edge of
the table, and leaned over it. Challoner wondered how a single blow had
knocked him down.

"Non, he is not for sale." Durant's voice was low; so low that it
seemed to choke him to get it out. It was filled with a repressed
hatred. Challoner saw the great cords of his knotted hands bulging
under the skin as he gripped the edge of the table. "M'sieu, we have
come for that dog. Will you let us take him?"

"I will pay you back what you gave for him, Durant. I will add to the
price."

"Non. He is mine. Will you give him back--NOW?"

"No!"

Scarcely was the word out of his mouth when Durant flung his whole
weight and strength against the table. Challoner had not expected the
move--just yet. With a bellow of rage and hatred Durant was upon him,
and under the weight of the giant he crashed to the floor. With them
went the table and lamp. There was a vivid splutter of flame and the
cabin was in darkness, except where the moon-light flooded through the
one window. Challoner had looked for something different. He had
expected Durant to threaten before he acted, and, sizing up the two of
them, he had decided to reach the edge of his bunk during the
discussion. Under the pillow was his revolver. It was too late now.
Durant was on him, fumbling in the darkness for his throat, and as he
flung one arm upward to get a hook around the Frenchman's neck he heard
Grouse Piet throw the table back. The next instant they were rolling in
the moonlight on the floor, and Challoner caught a glimpse of Grouse
Piet's huge bulk bending over them. Durant's head was twisted under his
arm, but one of the giant's hands had reached his throat. The halfbreed
saw this, and he cried out something in a guttural voice. With a
tremendous effort Challoner rolled himself and his adversary out of the
patch of light into darkness again. Durant's thick neck cracked. Again
Grouse Piet called out in that guttural, questioning voice. Challoner
put every ounce of his energy into the crook of his arm, and Durant did
not answer.

Then the weight of Grouse Piet fell upon them, and his great hands
groped for Challoner's neck. His thick fingers found Durant's beard
first, then fumbled for Challoner, and got their hold. Ten seconds of
their terrific grip would have broken his neck. But the fingers never
closed. A savage cry of agony burst from Grouse Piet's lips, and with
that cry, ending almost in a scream, came the snap of great jaws and
the rending snarl of fangs in the darkness. Durant heard, and with a
great heave of his massive body he broke free from Challoner's grip,
and leapt to his feet. In a flash Challoner was at his bunk, facing his
enemies with the revolver in his hand.

Everything had happened quickly. Scarcely more than a minute had passed
since the overturning of the table, and now, in the moment when the
situation had turned in his favour, a sudden swift and sickening horror
seized upon Challoner. Bloody and terrible there rose before him the
one scene he had witnessed that day in the big cage where Miki and the
wolf-dog had fought. And there--in that darkness of the cabin--

He heard a moaning cry and the crash of a body to the floor.

"Miki, Miki," he cried. "Here! Here!"

He dropped his revolver and sprang to the door, flinging it wide open.

"For God's sake get out!" he cried. "GET OUT!"

A bulk dashed past him into the night. He knew it was Durant. Then he
leapt to the dark shadows on the floor and dug his two hands into the
loose hide at the back of Miki's neck, dragging him back, and shouting
his name. He saw Grouse Piet crawling toward the door. He saw him rise
to his feet, silhouetted for a moment against the starlight, and
stagger out into the night. And then he felt Miki's weight slinking
down to the floor, and under his hands the dog's muscles grew limp and
saggy. For two or three minutes he continued to kneel beside him before
he closed the cabin door and lighted another lamp. He set up the
overturned table and placed the lamp on it. Miki had not moved. He lay
flat on his belly, his head between his forepaws, looking up at
Challoner with a mute appeal in his eyes.

Challoner reached out his two arms.

"Miki!"

In an instant Miki was up against him, his forefeet against his breast,
and with his arms about the dog's shoulders Challoner's eyes took in
the floor. On it were wet splashes and bits of torn clothing.

His arms closed more tightly.

"Miki, old boy, I'm much obliged," he said.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


The next morning Challoner's outfit of three teams and four men left
north and west for the Reindeer Lake country on the journey to his new
post at the mouth of the Cochrane. An hour later Challoner struck due
west with a light sledge and a five-dog team for the Jackson's Knee.
Behind him followed one of MacDonnell's Indians with the team that was
to bring Nanette to Fort O' God.

He saw nothing more of Durant and Grouse Piet, and accepted
MacDonnell's explanation that they had undoubtedly left the Post
shortly after their assault upon him in the cabin. No doubt their
disappearance had been hastened by the fact that a patrol of the Royal
Northwest Mounted Police on its way to York Factory was expected at
Fort O' God that day.

Not until the final moment of departure was Miki brought from the cabin
and tied to the gee-bar of Challoner's sledge. When he saw the five
dogs squatted on their haunches he grew rigid and the old snarl rose in
his throat. Under Challoner's quieting words he quickly came to
understand that these beasts were not enemies, and from a rather
suspicious toleration of them he very soon began to take a new sort of
interest in them. It was a friendly team, bred in the south and without
the wolf strain.

Events had come to pass so swiftly and so vividly in Miki's life during
the past twenty-four hours that for many miles after they left Fort O'
God his senses were in an unsettled state of anticipation. His brain
was filled with a jumble of strange and thrilling pictures. Very far
away, and almost indistinct, were the pictures of things that had
happened before he was made a prisoner by Jacques Le Beau. Even the
memory of Neewa was fading under the thrill of events at Nanette's
cabin and at Fort O' God. The pictures that blazed their way across his
brain now were of men, and dogs, and many other things that he had
never seen before. His world had suddenly transformed itself into a
host of Henri Durants and Grouse Piets and Jacques Le Beaus, two-legged
beasts who had clubbed him, and half killed him, and who had made him
fight to keep the life in his body. He had tasted their blood in his
vengeance. And he watched for them now. The pictures told him they were
everywhere. He could imagine them as countless as the wolves, and as he
had seen them crowded round the big cage in which he had slain the
wolf-dog.

In all of this excited and distorted world there was only one
Challoner, and one Nanette, and one baby. All else was a chaos of
uncertainty and of dark menace. Twice when the Indian came up close
behind them Miki whirled about with a savage snarl. Challoner watched
him, and understood.

Of the pictures in his brain one stood out above all others, definite
and unclouded, and that was the picture of Nanette. Yes, even above
Challoner himself. There lived in him the consciousness of her gentle
hands; her sweet, soft voice; the perfume of her hair and clothes and
body--the WOMAN of her; and a part of the woman--as the hand is a part
of the body--was the baby. It was this part of Miki that Challoner
could not understand, and which puzzled him when they made camp that
night. He sat for a long time beside the fire trying to bring back the
old comradeship of the days of Miki's puppyhood. But he only partly
succeeded. Miki was restive. Every nerve in his body seemed on edge.
Again and again he faced the west, and always when he sniffed the air
in that direction there came a low whine in his throat.

That night, with doubt in his heart, Challoner fastened him near the
tent with a tough rope of babiche.

For a long time after Challoner had gone to bed Miki sat on his
haunches close to the spruce to which he was fastened. It must have
been ten o'clock, and the night was so still that the snap of a dying
ember in the fire was like the crack of a whip to his ears. Miki's eyes
were wide open and alert. Near the slowly burning logs, wrapped in his
thick blankets, he could make out the motionless form of the Indian,
asleep. Back of him the sledge-dogs had wallowed their beds in the snow
and were silent. The moon was almost straight overhead, and a mile or
two away a wolf pointed his muzzle to the radiant glow of it and
howled. The sound, like a distant calling voice, added new fire to the
growing thrill in Miki's blood. He turned in the direction of the
wailing voice. He wanted to call back. He wanted to throw up his head
and cry out to the forests, and the moon, and the starlit sky. But only
his jaws clicked, and he looked at the tent in which Challoner was
sleeping. He dropped down upon his belly in the snow. But his head was
still alert and listening. The moon had already begun its westward
decline. The fire burned out until the logs were only a dull and
slumbering glow; the hand of Challoner's watch passed midnight, and
still Miki was wide-eyed and restless in the thrill of the thing that
was upon him. And then at last The Call that was coming to him from out
of the night became his master, and he gnawed the babiche in two. It
was the call of the Woman--of Nanette and the baby.

In his freedom Miki sniffed at the edge of Challoner's tent. His back
sagged. His tail drooped. He knew that in this hour he was betraying
the master for whom he had waited so long, and who had lived so vividly
in his dreams. It was not reasoning, but an instinctive oppression of
fact. He would come back. That conviction burned dully in his brain.
But now--to-night--he must go. He slunk off into the darkness. With the
stealth of a fox he made his way between the sleeping dogs. Not until
he was a quarter of a mile from the camp did he straighten out, and
then a gray and fleeting shadow he sped westward under the light of the
moon.

There was no hesitation in the manner of his going. Free of the pain of
his wounds, strong-limbed, deep-lunged as the strongest wolf of the
forests, he went on tirelessly. Rabbits bobbing out of his path did not
make him pause; even the strong scent of a fisher-cat almost under his
nose did not swerve him a foot from his trail. Through swamp and deep
forest, over lake and stream, across open barren and charred burns his
unerring sense of orientation led him on. Once he stopped to drink
where the swift current of a creek kept the water open. Even then he
gulped in haste--and shot on. The moon drifted lower and lower until it
sank into oblivion. The stars began to fade away The little ones went
out, and the big ones grew sleepy and dull. A great snow-ghostly gloom
settled over the forest world.

In the six hours between midnight and dawn he covered thirty-five miles.

And then he stopped. Dropping on his belly beside a rock at the crest
of a ridge he watched the birth of day. With drooling jaws and panting
breath he rested, until at last the dull gold of the winter sun began
to paint the eastern sky. And then came the first bars of vivid
sunlight, shooting over the eastern ramparts as guns flash from behind
their battlements, and Miki rose to his feet and surveyed the morning
wonder of his world. Behind him was Fort O' God, fifty miles away;
ahead of him the cabin--twenty. It was the cabin he faced as he went
down from the ridge.

As the miles between him and the cabin grew fewer and fewer he felt
again something of the oppression that had borne upon him at
Challoner's tent. And yet it was different. He had run his race. He had
answered The Call. And now, at the end, he was seized by a fear of what
his welcome would be. For at the cabin he had killed a man--and the man
had belonged to the woman. His progress became more hesitating.
Mid-forenoon found him only half a mile from the home of Nanette and
the baby. His keen nostrils caught the faint tang of smoke in the air.
He did not follow it up, but circled like a wolf, coming up stealthily
and uncertainly until at last he looked out into the little clearing
where a new world had come into existence for him. He saw the sapling
cage in which Jacques Le Beau had kept him a prisoner; the door of that
cage was still open, as Durant had left it after stealing him; he saw
the ploughed-up snow where he had leapt upon the man-brute--and he
whined.

He was facing the cabin door--and the door was wide open. He could see
no life, but he could SMELL it. And smoke was rising from the chimney.
He slunk across the open. In the manner of his going there was an
abject humiliation--a plea for mercy if he had done wrong, a prayer to
the creatures he worshipped that he might not be driven away.

He came to the door, and peered in. The room was empty. Nanette was not
there. Then his ears shot forward and his body grew suddenly tense, and
he listened, listened, LISTENED to a soft, cooing sound that was coming
from the crib. He swallowed hard; the faintest whine rose in his throat
and his claws CLICKED, CLICKED, CLICKED, across the floor and he thrust
his great head over the side of the little bed. The baby was there.
With his warm tongue he kissed it--just once--and then, with another
deep breath, lay down on the floor.

He heard footsteps. Nanette came in with her arms filled with blankets;
she carried these into the smaller room, and returned, before she saw
him. For a moment she stared. Then, with a strange little cry, she ran
to him; and once more he felt her arms about him; and he cried like a
puppy with his muzzle against her breast, and Nanette laughed and
sobbed, and in the crib the baby kicked and squealed and thrust her
tiny moccasined feet up into the air.

"Ao-oo tap-wa-mukun" ("When the devil goes heaven comes in,") say the
Crees. And with the death of Le Beau, her husband, the devil had gone
out of life for Nanette. She was more beautiful than ever. Heaven was
in the dark, pure glow of her eyes. She was no longer like a dog under
the club and the whip of a brute, and in the re-birth of her soul she
was glorious. Youth had come back to her--freed from the yoke of
oppression. She was happy. Happy with her baby, with freedom, with the
sun and the stars shining for her again; and with new hope, the
greatest star of all. Again on the night of that first day of his
return Miki crept up to her when she was brushing her glorious hair. He
loved to put his muzzle in it; he loved the sweet scent of it; he loved
to put his head on her knees and feel it smothering him. And Nanette
hugged him tight, even as she hugged the baby, for it was Miki who had
brought her freedom, and hope, and life. What had passed was no longer
a tragedy. It was justice. God had sent Miki to do for her what a
father or a brother would have done.

And the second night after that, when Challoner came early in the
darkness, it happened that Nanette had her hair down in that same way;
and Challoner, seeing her thus, with the lampglow shining in her eyes,
felt that the world had taken a sudden swift turn under his feet--that
through all his years he had been working forward to this hour.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


With the coming of Challoner to the cabin of Nanette Le Beau there was
no longer a shadow of gloom in the world for Miki. He did not reason
out the wonder of it, nor did he have a foreboding for the future. It
was the present in which he lived--the precious hours in which all the
creatures he had ever loved were together. And yet, away back in his
memory of those things that had grown deep in his soul, was the picture
of Neewa, the bear; Neewa, his chum, his brother, his fighting comrade
of many battles, and he thought of the cold and snow-smothered cavern
at the top of the ridge in which Neewa had buried himself in that long
and mysterious sleep that was so much like death. But it was in the
present that he lived. The hours lengthened themselves out into days,
and still Challoner did not go, nor did Nanette leave with the Indian
for Fort O' God. The Indian returned with a note for MacDonnell in
which Challoner told the Factor that something was the matter with the
baby's lungs, and that she could not travel until the weather, which
was intensely cold, grew warmer. He asked that the Indian be sent back
with certain supplies.

In spite of the terrific cold which followed the birth of the new year
Challoner had put up his tent in the edge of the timber a hundred yards
from the cabin, and Miki divided his time between the cabin and the
tent. For him they were glorious days. And for Challoner--

In a way Miki saw, though it was impossible for him to comprehend. As
the days lengthened into a week, and the week into two, there was
something in the glow of Nanette's eyes that had never been there
before, and in the sweetness of her voice a new thrill, and in her
prayers at night the thankfulness of a new and great joy.

And then, one day, Miki looked up from where he was lying beside the
baby's crib and he saw Nanette in his master's arms, her face turned up
to him, her eyes filled with the glory of the stars, and Challoner was
saying something which transformed her face into the face of an angel.
Miki was puzzled. And he was more puzzled when Challoner came from
Nanette to the crib, and snuggled the baby up in his arms; and the
woman--looking at them both for a moment with that wonderful look in
her eyes--suddenly covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Half a
snarl rose in Miki's throat, but in that moment Challoner had put his
arm around Nanette too, and Nanette's arms were about him and the baby,
and she was sobbing something which for the life of him Miki could make
neither head nor tail of. And yet he knew that he must not snarl or
spring. He felt the wonder-thrill of the new thing that had come into
the cabin; he gulped hard, and looked. A moment or two later Nanette
was on her knees beside him, and her arms were around him, just as they
had been around the man. And Challoner was dancing like a boy--cooing
to the baby in his arms. Then he, too, dropped down beside Miki, and
cried:

"My Gawd! Miki--I'VE GOT A FAM'LY!"

And Miki tried to understand.

That night, after supper, he saw Challoner unbraid Nanette's glorious
hair, and brush it. They laughed like two happy children. Miki tried
still harder to understand.

When Challoner went to go to his tent in the edge of the forest he took
Nanette in his arms, and kissed her, and stroked her shining hair; and
Nanette took his face between her hands and smiled and almost cried in
her joy.

After that Miki DID understand. He knew that happiness had come to all
who were in that cabin.

Now that his world was settled, Miki took once more to hunting. The
thrill of the trail came back to him, and wider and wider grew his
range from the cabin. Again he followed Le Beau's old trapline. But the
traps were sprung now. He had lost a great deal of his old caution. He
had grown fatter. He no longer scented danger in every whiff of the
wind. It was in the third week of Challoner's stay at the cabin, the
day which marked the end of the cold spell and the beginning of warm
weather, that Miki came upon an old dead-fall in a swamp a full ten
miles from the clearing. Le Beau had set it for lynx, but nothing had
touched the bait, which was a chunk of caribou flesh, frozen solid as a
rock. Curiously Miki began smelling of it. He no longer feared danger.
Menace had gone out of his world. He nibbled. He pulled--and the log
crashed down to break his back. Only by a little did it fail. For
twenty-four hours it held him helpless and crippled. Then, fighting
through all those hours, he dragged himself out from under it. With the
rising temperature a soft snow had fallen, covering all tracks and
trails. Through this snow Miki dragged himself, leaving a path like
that of an otter in the mud, for his hind quarters were helpless. His
back was not broken; it was temporarily paralyzed by the blow and the
weight of the log.

He made in the direction of the cabin, but every foot that he dragged
himself was filled with agony, and his progress was so slow that at the
end of an hour he had not gone more than a quarter of a mile. Another
night found him less than two miles from the deadfall. He pulled
himself under a shelter of brush and lay there until dawn. All through
that day he did not move. The next, which was the fourth since he had
left the cabin to hunt, the pain in his back was not so great. But he
could pull himself through the snow only a few yards at a time. Again
the good spirit of the forests favoured him for in the afternoon he
came upon the partly eaten carcass of a buck killed by the wolves. The
flesh was frozen but he gnawed at it ravenously. Then he found himself
a shelter under a mass of fallen tree-tops, and for ten days thereafter
he lay between life and death. He would have died had it not been for
the buck. To the carcass he managed to drag himself, sometimes each day
and sometimes every other day, and kept himself from starving. It was
the end of the second week before he could stand well on his feet. The
fifteenth day he returned to the cabin.

In the edge of the clearing there fell upon him slowly a foreboding of
great change. The cabin was there. It was no different than it had been
fifteen days ago. But out of the chimney there came no smoke, and the
windows were white with frost. About it the snow lay clean and white,
like an unspotted sheet. He made his way hesitatingly across the
clearing to the door. There were no tracks. Drifted snow was piled high
over the sill. He whined, and scratched at the door. There was no
answer. And he heard no sound.

He went back into the edge of the timber, and waited. He waited all
through that day, going occasionally to the cabin, and smelling about
it, to convince himself that he had not made a mistake. When darkness
came he hollowed himself out a bed in the fresh snow close to the door
and lay there all through the night. Day came again, gray and empty and
still there was no smoke from the chimney or sound from within the log
walls, and at last he knew that Challoner and Nanette and the baby were
gone. But he was hopeful. He no longer listened for sound from within
the cabin, but watched and listened for them to come from out of the
forest. He made short quests, hunting now on this side and now on that
of the cabin, sniffing futilely at the fresh and trackless snow and
pointing the wind for minutes at a time. In the afternoon, with a
forlorn slouch to his body, he went deeper into the forest to hunt for
a rabbit. When he had killed and eaten his supper he returned again and
slept a second night in the burrow beside the door. A third day and a
third night he remained, and the third night he heard the wolves
howling under a clear and star-filled sky, and from him there came his
first cry--a yearning, grief-filled cry that rose wailingly out of the
clearing; the entreaty for his master, for Nanette, and the baby. It
was not an answer to the wolves. In its note there was a trembling
fear, the voicing of a thing that had grown into hopelessness.

And now there settled upon him a loneliness greater than any loneliness
he had ever known. Something seemed to whisper to his canine brain that
all he had seen and felt had been but a dream, and that he was face to
face with his old world again, its dangers, its vast and soul-breaking
emptiness, its friendlessness, its ceaseless strife for existence. His
instincts, dulled by the worship of what the cabin had held, became
keenly alive. He sensed again the sharp thrill of danger, which comes
of ALONENESS, and his old caution fell upon him, so that the fourth day
he slunk around the edge of the clearing like a wolf.

The fifth night he did not sleep in the clearing but found himself a
windfall a mile back in the forest. That night he had strange and
troubled dreams. They were not of Challoner, or of Nanette and the
baby, nor were they of the fight and the unforgettable things he had
seen at the Post. His dreams were of a high and barren ridge smothered
in deep snow, and of a cavern that was dark and deep. Again he was with
his brother and comrade of days that were gone--Neewa the bear. He was
trying to waken him, and he could feel the warmth of his body and hear
his sleepy, protesting grunts. And then, later, he was fighting again
in the paradise of black currants, and with Neewa was running for his
life from the enraged she-bear who had invaded their coulee. When he
awoke suddenly from out of these dreams he was trembling and his
muscles were tense. He growled in the darkness. His eyes were round
balls of searching fire. He whined softly and yearningly in that pit of
gloom under the windfall, and for a moment or two he listened, for he
thought that Neewa might answer.

For a month after that night he remained near the cabin. At least once
each day, and sometimes at night, he would return to the clearing. And
more and more frequently he was thinking of Neewa. Early in March came
the Tiki-Swao--(the Big Thaw). For a week the sun shone without a cloud
in the sky. The air was warm. The snow turned soft underfoot and on the
sunny sides of slopes and ridges it melted away into trickling streams
or rolled down in "slides" that were miniature avalanches. The world
was vibrant with a new thrill. It pulsed with the growing heart-beat of
spring, and in Miki's soul there arose slowly a new hope, a new
impression a new inspiration that was the thrilling urge of a wonderful
instinct. NEEWA WOULD BE WAKING NOW!

It came to him at last like a voice which he could understand. The
trickling music of the growing streams sang it to him; he heard it in
the warm winds that were no longer filled with the blast of winter; he
caught it in the new odours that were rising out of the earth; he
smelled it in the dank, sweet perfume of the black woods-soil. The
thing thrilled him. It called him. And he KNEW!

NEEWA WOULD BE WAKING NOW!

He responded to the call. It was in the nature of things that no power
less than physical force could hold him back. And yet he did not travel
as he had travelled from Challoner's camp to the cabin of Nanette and
the baby. There had been a definite object there, something to achieve,
something to spur him on to an immediate fulfilment. Now the thing that
drew him, at first, was an overpowering impulse, not a reality. For two
or three days his trail westward was wandering and indefinite. Then it
straightened out, and early in the morning of the fifth day he came
from a deep forest into a plain, and across that plain he saw the
ridge. For a long time he gazed over the level space before he went on.

In his brain the pictures of Neewa were becoming clearer and clearer.
After all, it seemed only yesterday or the day before that he had gone
away from that ridge. Then it was smothered in snow, and a gray,
terrible gloom had settled upon the earth. Now there was but little
snow, and the sun was shining, and the sky was blue again. He went on,
and sniffed along the foot of the ridge; he had not forgotten the way.
He was not excited, because time had ceased to have definite import for
him. Yesterday he had come down from that ridge, and to-day he was
going back. He went straight to the mouth of Neewa's den, which was
uncovered now, and thrust in his head and shoulders, and sniffed. Ah!
but that lazy rascal of a bear was a sleepy-head! He was still
sleeping. Miki could smell him. Listening hard, he could HEAR him.

He climbed over the low drift of snow that had packed itself in the
neck of the cavern and entered confidently into the darkness. He heard
a soft, sleepy grunt and a great sigh. He almost stumbled over Neewa,
who had changed his bed. Again Neewa grunted, and Miki whined. He ran
his muzzle into Neewa's fresh, new coat of spring fur and smelled his
way to Neewa's ear. After all, it was only yesterday! And he remembered
everything now! So he gave Neewa's ear a sudden sharp nip with his
teeth, and then he barked in that low, throaty way that Neewa had
always understood.

"Wake up, Neewa," it all said. "Wake up! The snow is gone, and it's
fine out to-day. WAKE UP!"

And Neewa, stretching himself, gave a great yawn.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


Meshaba, the old Cree, sat on the sunny side of a rock on the sunny
side of a slope that looked up and down the valley. Meshaba--who many,
many years ago had been called The Giant--was very old. He was so old
that even the Factor's books over at Fort O' God had no record of his
birth; nor the "post logs" at Albany House, or Cumberland House, or
Norway House, or Fort Churchill. Perhaps farther north, at Lac La
Biche, at Old Fort Resolution, or at Fort McPherson some trace of him
might have been found. His skin was crinkled and weather-worn, like dry
buckskin, and over his brown, thin face his hair fell to his shoulders,
snow-white. His hands were thin, even his nose was thin with the
thinness of age. But his eyes were still like dark garnets, and down
through the greater part of a century their vision had come undimmed.

They roved over the valley now. At Meshaba's back, a mile on the other
side of the ridge, was the old trapper's cabin, where he lived alone.
The winter had been long and cold, and in his gladness at the coming of
spring Meshaba had come up the ridge to bask in the sun and look out
over the changing world. For an hour his eyes had travelled up and down
the valley like the eyes of an old and wary hawk. The dark spruce and
cedar forest edged in the far side of the valley; between that and the
ridge rolled the meadowy plain--still covered with melting snow in
places, and in others bare and glowing, a dull green in the sunlight.
From where he sat Meshaba could also see a rocky scarp of the ridge
that projected out into the plain a hundred yards away. But this did
not interest him, except that if it had not been in his line of vision
he could have seen a mile farther down the valley.

In that hour of Sphinx-like watching, while the smoke curled slowly up
from his black pipe, Meshaba had seen life. Half a mile from where he
was sitting a band of caribou had come out of the timber and wandered
into a less distant patch of low bush. They had not thrilled his old
blood with the desire to kill, for there was already a fresh carcass
hung up at the back of his cabin. Still farther away he had seen a
hornless moose, so grotesque in its spring ugliness that the
parchment-like skin of his face had cracked for half an instant in a
smile, and out of him had come a low and appreciative grunt; for
Meshaba, in spite of his age, still had a sense of humour left. Once he
had seen a wolf, and twice a fox, and now his eyes were on an eagle
high over his head. Meshaba would not have shot that eagle, for year
after year it had come down through time with him, and it was always
there soaring in the sun when spring came. So Meshaba grunted as he
watched it, and was glad that Upisk had not died during the winter.

"Kata y ati sisew," he whispered to himself, a glow of superstition in
his fiery eyes. "We have lived long together, and it is fated that we
die together, Oh Upisk. The spring has come for us many times, and soon
the black winter will swallow us up for ever."

His eyes shifted slowly, and then they rested on the scarp of the ridge
that shut out his vision. His heart gave a sudden thump in his body.
His pipe fell from his mouth to his hand; and he stared without moving,
stared like a thing of rock.

On a flat sunlit shelf not more than eighty or ninety yards away stood
a young black bear. In the warm glow of the sunlight the bear's spring
coat shone like polished jet. But it was not the sudden appearance of
the bear that amazed Meshaba. It was the fact that another animal was
standing shoulder to shoulder with Wakayoo, and that it was not a
brother bear, but a huge wolf. Slowly one of his thin hands rose to his
eyes and he wiped away what he thought must surely be a strange
something that was fooling his vision. In all his eighty years and odd
he had never known a wolf to be thus friendly with a bear. Nature had
made them enemies. Nature had fore-doomed their hatred to be the
deepest hatred of the forests. Therefore, for a space, Meshaba doubted
his eyes. But in another moment he saw that the miracle had truly come
to pass. For the wolf turned broadside to him and it WAS a wolf! A
huge, big-boned beast that stood as high at the shoulders as Wakayoo,
the bear; a great beast, with a great head, and--

It was then that Meshaba's heart gave another thump, for the tail of a
wolf is big and bushy in the springtime, and the tail of this beast was
as bare of hair as a beaver's tail!

"Ohne moosh!" gasped Meshaba, under his breath--"a dog!"

He seemed to draw slowly into himself, slinking backward. His rifle
stood just out of reach on the other side of the rock.

At the other end of that eighty or ninety yards Neewa and Miki stood
blinking in the bright sunlight, with the mouth of the cavern in which
Neewa had slept so many months just behind them. Miki was puzzled.
Again it seemed to him that it was only yesterday, and not months ago,
that he had left Neewa in that den, sleeping his lazy head off. And now
that he had returned to him after his own hard winter in the forests he
was astonished to find Neewa so big. For Neewa had grown steadily
through his four months' nap and he was half again as big as when he
went to sleep. Could Miki have spoken Cree, and had Meshaba given him
the opportunity, he might have explained the situation.

"You see, Mr. Indian"--he might have said--"this dub of a bear and I
have been pals from just about the time we were born. A man named
Challoner tied us together first when Neewa, there, was just about as
big as your head, and we did a lot of scrapping before we got properly
acquainted. Then we got lost, and after that we hitched up like
brothers; and we had a lot of fun and excitement all through last
summer, until at last, when the cold weather came, Neewa hunted up this
hole in the ground and the lazy cuss went to sleep for all winter. I
won't mention what happened to me during the winter. It was a-plenty.
So this spring I had a hunch it was about time for Neewa to get the
cobwebs out of his fool head, and came back. And--here we are! But tell
me this: WHAT MAKES NEEWA SO BIG?"

It was at least that thought--the bigness of Neewa--that was filling
Miki's head at the present moment. And Meshaba, in place of listening
to an explanation, was reaching for his rifle--while Neewa, with his
brown muzzle sniffing the wind, was gathering in a strange smell. Of
the three, Neewa saw nothing to be wondered at in the situation itself.
When he had gone to sleep four and a half months ago Miki was at his
side; and to-day, when he awoke, Miki was still at his side. The four
and a half months meant nothing to him. Many times he and Miki had gone
to sleep, and had awakened together. For all the knowledge he had of
time it might have been only last night that he had fallen asleep.

The one thing that made Neewa uneasy now was that strange odour he had
caught in the air. Instinctively he seized upon it as a menace--at
least as something that he would rather NOT smell than smell. So he
turned away with a warning WOOF to Miki. When Meshaba peered around the
edge of the rock, expecting an easy shot, he caught only a flash of the
two as they were disappearing. He fired quickly.

To Miki and Neewa the report of the rifle and the moaning whirr of the
bullet over their backs recalled memories of a host of things, and
Neewa settled down to that hump-backed, flat-eared flight of his that
kept Miki pegging along at a brisk pace for at least a mile. Then Neewa
stopped, puffing audibly. Inasmuch as he had had nothing to eat for a
third of a year, and was weak from long inactivity, the run came within
an ace of putting him out of business. It was several minutes before he
could gather his wind sufficiently to grunt. Miki, meanwhile, was
carefully smelling of him from his rump to his muzzle. There was
apparently nothing missing, for he gave a delighted little yap at the
end, and, in spite of his size and the dignity of increased age, he
began frisking about Neewa In a manner emphatically expressive of his
joy at his comrade's awakening.

"It's been a deuce of a lonely winter, Neewa, and I'm tickled to death
to see you on your feet again," his antics said. "What'll we do? Go for
a hunt?"

This seemed to be the thought in Neewa's mind, for he headed straight
up the valley until they came to an open fen where he proceeded to
quest about for a dinner of roots and grass; and as he searched he
grunted--grunted in his old, companionable, cubbish way. And Miki,
hunting with him, found that once more the loneliness had gone out of
his world.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


To Miki and Neewa, especially Neewa, there seemed nothing extraordinary
in the fact that they were together again, and that their comradeship
was resumed. Although during his months of hibernation Neewa's body had
grown, his mind had not changed its memories or its pictures. It had
not passed through a mess of stirring events such as had made the
winter a thrilling one for Miki, and so it was Neewa who accepted the
new situation most casually. He went on feeding as if nothing at all
unusual had happened during the past four months, and after the edge
had gone from his first hunger he fell into his old habit of looking to
Miki for leadership. And Miki fell into the old ways as though only a
day or a week and not four months had lapsed in their brotherhood. It
is possible that he tried mightily to tell Neewa what had happened. At
least he must have had that desire--to let him know in what a strange
way he had found his old master, Challoner, and how he had lost him
again. And also how he found the woman, Nanette, and the little baby
Nanette, and how for a long time he had lived with them and loved them
as he had never loved anything else on earth.

It was the old cabin, far to the north and east, that drew him now--the
cabin in which Nanette and the baby had lived; and it was toward this
cabin that he lured Neewa during the first two weeks of their hunting.
They did not travel quickly, largely because of Neewa's voracious
spring appetite and the fact that it consumed nine tenths of his waking
hours to keep full on such provender as roots and swelling buds and
grass. During the first week Miki grew either hopeless or disgusted in
his hunting. One day he killed five rabbits and Neewa ate four of them
and grunted piggishly for more.

If Miki had stood amazed and appalled at Neewa's appetite in the days
of their cubhood and puppyhood a year ago, he was more than astounded
now, for in the matter of food Neewa was a bottomless pit. On the other
hand he was jollier than ever, and in their wrestling matches he was
almost more than a match for Miki, being nearly again as heavy. He very
soon acquired the habit of taking advantage of this superiority of
weight, and at unexpected moments he would hop on Miki and pin him to
the ground, his fat body smothering him like a huge soft cushion, and
his arms holding him until at times Miki could scarcely squirm. Now and
then, hugging him in this embrace, he would roll over and over, both of
them snarling and growling as though in deadly combat. This play,
though he was literally the under dog, delighted Miki until one day
they rolled over the edge of a deep ravine and crashed in a
dog-and-bear avalanche to the bottom. After that, for a long time,
Neewa did not roll with his victim. Whenever Miki wanted to end a bout,
however, all he had to do was to give Neewa a sharp nip with his long
fangs and the bear would uncoil himself and hop to his feet like a
spring. He had a most serious respect for Miki's teeth.

But Miki's greatest moments of joy were where Neewa stood up
man-fashion. Then was a real tussle. And his greatest hours of disgust
were when Neewa stretched himself out in a tree for a nap.

It was the beginning of the third week before they came one day to the
cabin. There was no change in it, and Miki's body sagged disconsolately
as he and Neewa looked at it from the edge of the clearing. No smoke,
no sign of life, and the window was broken now--probably by an
inquisitive bear or a wolverine. Miki went to the window and stood up
to it, sniffing inside. The SMELL was still there--so faint that he
could only just detect it. But that was all. The big room was empty
except for the stove, a table and a few bits of rude furniture. All
else was gone. Three or four times during the next half hour Miki stood
up at the window, and at last Neewa--urged by his curiosity--did
likewise. He also detected the faint odour that was left in the cabin.
He sniffed at it for a long time. It was like the smell he had caught
the day he came out of his den--and yet different. It was fainter, more
elusive, and not so unpleasant.

For a month thereafter Miki insisted on hunting in the vicinity of the
cabin, held there by the "pull" of the thing which he could neither
analyze nor quite understand. Neewa accepted the situation
good-naturedly for a time. Then he lost patience and surrendered
himself to a grouch for three whole days during which he wandered at
his own sweet will. To preserve the alliance Miki was compelled to
follow him. Berry time--early July--found them sixty miles north and
west of the cabin, in the edge of the country where Neewa was born.

But there were few berries that summer of bebe nak um geda (the summer
of drought and fire). As early as the middle of July a thin, gray film
began to hover in palpitating waves over the forests. For three weeks
there had been no rain. Even the nights were hot and dry. Each day the
factors at their posts looked out with anxious eyes over their domains,
and by the first of August every post had a score of halfbreeds and
Indians patrolling the trails on the watch for fire. In their cabins
and teepees the forest dwellers who had not gone to pass the summer at
the posts waited and watched; each morning and noon and night they
climbed tall trees and peered through that palpitating gray film for a
sign of smoke. For weeks the wind came steadily from the south and
west, parched as though swept over the burning sands of a desert.
Berries dried up on the bushes; the fruit of the mountain ash shriveled
on its stems; creeks ran dry; swamps turned into baked peat, and the
poplar leaves hung wilted and lifeless, too limp to rustle in the
breeze. Only once or twice in a lifetime does the forest dweller see
poplar leaves curl up and die like that, baked to death in the summer
sun. It is Kiskewahoon (the Danger Signal). Not only the warning of
possible death in a holocaust of fire, but the omen of poor hunting and
trapping in the winter to come.

Miki and Neewa were in a swamp country when the fifth of August came.
In the lowland it was sweltering. Neewa's tongue hung from his mouth,
and Miki was panting as they made their way along a black and sluggish
stream that was like a great ditch and as dead as the day itself. There
was no visible sun, but a red and lurid glow filled the sky--the sun
struggling to fight its way through the smothering film that had grown
thicker over the earth. Because they were in a "pocket"--a sweep of
tangled country lower than the surrounding country--Neewa and Miki were
not caught in this blackening cloud. Five miles away they might have
heard the thunder of cloven hoofs and the crash of heavy bodies in
their flight before the deadly menace of fire. As it was they made
their way slowly through the parched swamp, so that it was midday when
they came out of the edge of it and up through a green fringe of timber
to the top of a ridge. Before this hour neither had passed through the
horror of a forest fire. But it seized upon them now. It needed no past
experience. The cumulative instinct of a thousand generations leapt
through their brains and bodies. Their world was in the grip of
Iskootao (the Fire Devil). To the south and the east and the west it
was buried in a pall like the darkness of night, and out of the far
edge of the swamp through which they had come they caught the first
livid spurts of flame. From that direction, now that they were out of
the "pocket," they felt a hot wind, and with that wind came a dull and
rumbling roar that was like the distant moaning of a cataract. They
waited, and watched, struggling to get their bearings, their minds
fighting for a few moments in the gigantic process of changing instinct
into reasoning and understanding. Neewa, being a bear, was afflicted
with the near-sightedness of his breed, and he could see neither the
black tornado of smoke bearing down upon them nor the flames leaping
out of the swamp. But he could SMELL, and his nose was twisted into a
hundred wrinkles, and even ahead of Miki he was ready for flight. But
Miki, whose vision was like a hawk's, stood as if fascinated.

The roaring grew more distinct. It seemed on all sides of them. But it
was from the south that there came the first storm of ash rushing
noiselessly ahead of the fire, and after that the smoke. It was then
that Miki turned with a strange whine but it was Neewa now who took the
lead--Neewa, whose forebears had ten thousand times run this same wild
race with death in the centuries since their world was born. He did not
need the keenness of far vision now. He KNEW. He knew what was behind,
and what was on either side, and where the one trail to safety lay; and
in the air he felt and smelled the thing that was death. Twice Miki
made efforts to swing their course into the east, but Neewa would have
none of it. With flattened ears he went on NORTH. Three times Miki
stopped to turn and face the galloping menace behind them, but never
for an instant did Neewa pause. Straight on--NORTH, NORTH, NORTH--north
to the higher lands, the big waters, the open plains.

They were not alone. A caribou sped past them with the swiftness of the
wind itself. "FAST, FAST, FAST!"--Neewa's instinct cried; "but--ENDURE!
For the caribou, speeding even faster than the fire, will fall of
exhaustion shortly and be eaten up by the flames. FAST--but ENDURE!"

And steadily, stoically, at his loping gait Neewa led on.

A bull moose swung half across their trail from the west, wind-gone and
panting as though his throat were cut. He was badly burned, and running
blindly into the eastern wall of fire.

Behind and on either side, where the flames were rushing on with the
pitiless ferocity of hunnish regiments, the harvest of death was a vast
and shuddering reality. In hollow logs, under windfalls, in the thick
tree-tops, and in the earth itself, the smaller things of the
wilderness sought their refuge--and died. Rabbits became leaping balls
of flame, then lay shrivelled and black; the marten were baked in their
trees; fishers and mink and ermine crawled into the deepest corners of
the windfalls and died there by inches; owls fluttered out of their
tree-tops, staggered for a few moments in the fiery air, and fell down
into the heart of the flame. No creature made a sound--except the
porcupines; and as they died they cried like little children.

In the green spruce and cedar timber, heavy with the pitch that made
their thick tops spurt into flame like a sea of explosive, the fire
rushed on with a tremendous roar. From it--in a straight race--there
was no escape for man or beast. Out of that world of conflagration
there might have risen one great, yearning cry to heaven:
WATER--WATER--WATER! Wherever there was water there was also hope--and
life. Breed and blood and wilderness feuds were forgotten in the great
hour of peril. Every lake became a haven of refuge.

To such a lake came Neewa, guided by an unerring instinct and sense of
smell sharpened by the rumble and roar of the storm of fire behind him.
Miki had "lost" himself; his senses were dulled; his nostrils caught no
scent but that of a world in flames--so, blindly, he followed his
comrade. The fire was enveloping the lake along its western shore, and
its water was already thickly tenanted. It was not a large lake, and
almost round. Its diameter was not more than two hundred yards. Farther
out--a few of them swimming, but most of them standing on bottom with
only their heads out of water--were a score of caribou and moose. Many
other shorter-legged creatures were swimming aimlessly, turning this
way and that, paddling their feet only enough to keep afloat. On the
shore where Neewa and Miki paused was a huge porcupine, chattering and
chuckling foolishly, as if scolding all things in general for having
disturbed him at dinner. Then he took to the water. A little farther up
the shore a fisher-cat and a fox hugged close to the water line,
hesitating to wet their precious fur until death itself snapped at
their heels; and as if to bring fresh news of this death a second fox
dragged himself wearily out on the shore, as limp as a wet rag after
his swim from the opposite shore, where the fire was already leaping in
a wall of flame. And as this fox swam in, hoping to find safety, an old
bear twice as big as Neewa, crashed panting from the undergrowth,
plunged into the water, and swam OUT. Smaller things were creeping and
crawling and slinking along the shore; little red-eyed ermine, marten,
and mink, rabbits, squirrels, and squeaking gophers, and a horde of
mice. And at last, with these things which he would have devoured so
greedily running about him, Neewa waded slowly out into the water. Miki
followed until he was submerged to his shoulders. Then he stopped. The
fire was close now, advancing like a race-horse. Over the protecting
barrier of thick timber drove the clouds of smoke and ash. Swiftly the
lake became obliterated, and now out of that awful chaos of blackness
and smoke and heat there rose strange and thrilling cries; the bleating
of a moose calf that was doomed to die and the bellowing, terror-filled
response of its mother; the agonized howling of a wolf; the terrified
barking of a fox, and over all else the horrible screaming of a pair of
loons whose home had been transformed into a sea of flame.

Through the thickening smoke and increasing heat Neewa gave his call to
Miki as he began to swim, and with an answering whine Miki plunged
after him, swimming so close to his big black brother that his muzzle
touched the other's flank. In mid-lake Neewa did as the other swimming
creatures were doing--paddled only enough to keep himself afloat; but
for Miki, big of bone and unassisted by a life-preserver of fat, the
struggle was not so easy. He was forced to swim to keep afloat. A dozen
times he circled around Neewa, and then, with something of the
situation driven upon him, he came up close to the bear and rested his
forepaws on his shoulders.

The lake was now encircled by a solid wall of fire. Blasts of flame
shot up the pitch-laden trees and leapt for fifty feet into the
blistering air. The roar of the conflagration was deafening. It drowned
all sound that brute agony and death may have made. And its heat was
terrific. For a few terrible minutes the air which Miki drew into his
lungs was like fire itself. Neewa plunged his head under water every
few seconds, but it was not Miki's instinct to do this. Like the wolf
and the fox and the fisher-cat and the lynx it was his nature to die
before completely submerging himself.

Swift as it had come the fire passed; and the walls of timber that had
been green a few moments before were black and shrivelled and dead; and
sound swept on with the flame until it became once more only a low and
rumbling murmur.

To the black and smouldering shores the live things slowly made their
way. Of all the creatures that had taken refuge in the lake many had
died. Chief of those were the porcupines. All had drowned.

Close to the shore the heat was still intense, and for hours the earth
was hot with smouldering fire. All the rest of that day and the night
that followed no living thing moved out of the shallow water. And yet
no living thing thought to prey upon its neighbour. The great peril had
made of all beasts kin.

A little before dawn of the day following the fire relief came. A
deluge of rain fell, and when day broke and the sun shone through a
murky heaven there was left no sign of what the lake had been, except
for the dead bodies that floated on its surface or lined its shores.
The living things had returned into their desolated wilderness--and
among them Neewa and Miki.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


For many days after the Great Fire it was Neewa who took the lead. All
their world was a black and lifeless desolation and Miki would not have
known which way to turn. Had it been a local fire of small extent he
would have "wandered" out of its charred path. But the conflagration
had been immense. It had swept over a vast reach of country, and for a
half of the creatures who had saved themselves in the lakes and streams
there was only a death by starvation left.

But not for Neewa and his breed. Just as there had been no indecision
in the manner and direction of his flight before the fire so there was
now no hesitation in the direction he chose to seek a live world again.
It was due north and west--as straight as a die. If they came to a
lake, and went around it, Neewa would always follow the shore until he
came directly opposite his trail on the other side of the lake--and
then strike north and west again. He travelled steadily, not only by
day but also by night, with only short intervals of rest, and the
dawning of the second morning found Miki more exhausted than the bear.

There were many evidences now that they had reached a point where the
fire had begun to burn itself out. Patches of green timber were left
standing, there were swamps unscathed by the flames, and here and there
they came upon green patches of meadow. In the swamps and timber they
feasted, for these oases in what had been a sea of flame were filled
with food ready to be preyed upon and devoured. For the first time
Neewa refused to stop because there was plenty to eat. The sixth day
they were a hundred miles from the lake in which they had sought refuge
from the fire.

It was a wonderful country of green timber, of wide plains and of many
lakes and streams--cut up by a thousand usayow (low ridges), which made
the best of hunting. Because it was a country of many waters, with live
streams running between the ridges and from lake to lake, it had not
suffered from the drought like the country farther south. For a month
Neewa and Miki hunted in their new paradise, and became fat and happy
again.

It was in September that they came upon a strange thing in the edge of
a swamp. At first Miki thought that it was a cabin; but it was a great
deal smaller than any cabin he had known. It was not much larger than
the cage of saplings in which Le Beau had kept him. But it was made of
heavy logs, and the logs were notched so that nothing could knock them
down. And these logs, instead of lying closely one on the other, had
open spaces six or eight inches wide between them. And there was a
wide-open door. From this strange contraption there came a strong odour
of over-ripened fish. The smell repelled Miki. But it was a powerful
attraction to Neewa, who persisted in remaining near it in spite of all
Miki could do to drag him away. Finally, disgusted at his comrade's bad
taste, Miki sulked off alone to hunt. It was some time after that
before Neewa dared to thrust his head and shoulders through the
opening. The smell of the fish made his little eyes gleam. Cautiously
he stepped inside the queer looking thing of logs. Nothing happened. He
saw the fish, all he could eat, just on the other side of a sapling
against which he must lean to reach them. He went deliberately to the
sapling, leaned over, and then!--

"CRASH!"

He whirled about as if shot. There was no longer an opening where he
had entered. The sapling "trigger" had released an over-head door, and
Neewa was a prisoner. He was not excited, but accepted the situation
quite coolly, probably having no doubt in his mind that somewhere there
was an aperture between the logs large enough for him to squeeze
through. After a few inquisitive sniffs he proceeded to devour the
fish. He was absorbed in his odoriferous feast when out of a clump of
dwarf balsams a few yards away appeared an Indian. He quickly took in
the situation, turned, and disappeared.

Half an hour later this Indian ran into a clearing in which were the
recently constructed buildings of a new Post. He made for the Company
store. In the fur-carpeted "office" of this store a man was bending
fondly over a woman. The Indian saw them as he entered, and chuckled.
"Sakehewawin" ("the love couple"); that was what they had already come
to call them at Post Lac Bain--this man and woman who had given them a
great feast when the missioner had married them not so very long ago.
The man and the woman stood up when the Indian entered, and the woman
smiled at him. She was beautiful. Her eyes were glowing, and there was
the flush of a flower in her cheeks. The Indian felt the worship of her
warm in his heart.

"Oo-ee, we have caught the bear," he said. "But it is napao (a
he-bear). There is no cub, Iskwao Nanette!"

The white man chuckled.

"Aren't we having the darndest luck getting you a cub for a house-pet,
Nanette?" he asked. "I'd have sworn this mother and her cub would have
been easily caught. A he-bear! We'll have to let him loose, Mootag. His
pelt is good for nothing. Do you want to go with us and see the fun,
Nanette?"

She nodded, her little laugh filled with the joy of love and life.

"Oui. It will be such fun--to see him go!"

Challoner led the way, with an axe in his hand; and with him came
Nanette, her hand in his. Mootag followed with his rifle, prepared for
an emergency. From the thick screen of balsams Challoner peered forth,
then made a hole through which Nanette might look at the cage and its
prisoner. For a moment or two she held her breath as she watched Neewa
pacing back and forth, very much excited now. Then she gave a little
cry, and Challoner felt her fingers pinch his own sharply. Before he
knew what she was about to do she had thrust herself through the screen
of balsams.

Close to the log prison, faithful to his comrade in the hour of peril,
lay Miki. He was exhausted from digging at the earth under the lower
log, and he had not smelled or heard anything of the presence of others
until he saw Nanette standing not twenty paces away. His heart leapt up
into his panting throat. He swallowed, as though to get rid of a great
lump; he stared. And then, with a sudden, yearning whine, he sprang
toward her. With a yell Challoner leapt out of the balsams with
uplifted axe. But before the axe could fall, Miki was in Nanette's
arms, and Challoner dropped his weapon with a gasp of amazement--and
one word:

"MIKI!"

Mootag, looking on in stupid astonishment, saw both the man and the
woman making a great fuss over a strange and wild-looking beast that
looked as if it ought to be killed. They had forgotten the bear. And
Miki, wildly joyous at finding his beloved master and mistress, had
forgotten him also. It was a prodigious WHOOF from Neewa himself that
brought their attention to him. Like a flash Miki was back at the pen
smelling of Neewa's snout between two of the logs, and with a great
wagging of tail trying to make him understand what had happened.

Slowly, with a thought born in his head that made him oblivious of all
else but the big black brute in the pen, Challoner approached the trap.
Was it possible that Miki could have made friends with any other bear
than the cub of long ago? He drew in a deep breath as he looked at
them. Neewa's brown-tipped nose was thrust between two of the logs and
MIKI WAS LICKING IT WITH HIS TONGUE! He held out a hand to Nanette, and
when she came to him he pointed for a space, without speaking.

Then he said:

"It is the cub, Nanette. You know--the cub I have told you about.
They've stuck together all this time--ever since I killed the cub's
mother a year and a half ago, and tied them together on a piece of
rope. I understand now why Miki ran away from us when we were at the
cabin. He went back--to the bear."

To-day if you strike northward from Le Pas and put your canoe in the
Rat River or Grassberry waterways, and thence paddle and run with the
current down the Reindeer River and along the east shore of Reindeer
Lake you will ultimately come to the Cochrane--and Post Lac Bain. It is
one of the most wonderful countries in all the northland. Three hundred
Indians, breeds and French, come with their furs to Lac Bain. Not a
soul among them--man, woman, or child--but knows the story of the "tame
bear of Lac Bain"--the pet of l'ange, the white angel, the Factor's
wife.

The bear wears a shining collar and roams at will in the company of a
great dog, but, having grown huge and fat now, never wanders far from
the Post. And it is an unwritten law in all that country that the
animal must not be harmed, and that no bear traps shall be set within
five miles of the Company buildings. Beyond that limit the bear never
roams; and when it comes cold, and he goes into his long sleep, he
crawls into a deep warm cavern that has been dug for him under the
Company storehouse. And with him, when the nights come, sleeps Miki the
dog.



THE END





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