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Title: Baree, Son of Kazan
Author: Curwood, James Oliver
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.

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                        BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                      The Courage of Captain Plum
                      The Honor of the Big Snows
                      The Gold Hunters
                      The Wolf Hunters
                      The Danger Trail
                      Philip Steele
                      The Great Lakes
                      Flower of the North
                      Isobel
                      Kazan
                      God’s Country—and the Woman
                      The Hunted Woman
                      The Grizzly King
                      Baree, Son of Kazan

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: Baree had not killed, but he had conquered. His first
great day—or night—had come. The world was filled with a new promise for
him, as vast as the night itself.]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          BAREE, SON OF KAZAN

                                   BY
                          JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD

                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                            FRANK B. HOFFMAN

                       Garden City      New York
                       DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
                                  1917

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Copyright, 1917, by
                       Doubleday, Page & Company

                 All rights reserved, including that of
                  translation into foreign languages,
                       including the Scandinavian

              COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY THE RED BOOK CORPORATION
                    UNDER THE TITLE “A SON OF KAZAN”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                PREFACE

Since the publication of my two animal books, “Kazan” and “The Grizzly
King,” I have received so many hundreds of letters from friends of wild
animal life, all of which were more or less of an enquiring nature, that
I have been encouraged to incorporate in this preface of the third of my
series—“Baree, Son of Kazan”—something more of my desire and hope in
writing of wild life, and something of the foundation of fact whereupon
this and its companion books have been written.

I have always disliked the preaching of sermons in the pages of romance.
It is like placing a halter about an unsuspecting reader’s neck and
dragging him into paths for which he may have no liking. But if fact and
truth produce in the reader’s mind a message for himself, then a work
has been done. That is what I hope for in my nature books. The American
people are not and never have been lovers of wild life. As a nation we
have gone after Nature with a gun.

And what right, you may ask, has a confessed slaughterer of wild life
such as I have been to complain? None at all, I assure you. I have
twenty-seven guns—and I have used them all. I stand condemned as having
done more than my share toward extermination. But that does not lessen
the fact that I have learned; and in learning I have come to believe
that if boys and girls and men and women could be brought into the homes
and lives of wild birds and animals as their homes are made and their
lives are lived we would all understand at last that wherever a heart
beats it is very much like our own in the final analysis of things. To
see a bird singing on a twig means but little; but to live a season with
that bird, to be with it in courting days, in matehood and motherhood,
to understand its griefs as well as its gladness means a great deal. And
in my books it is my desire to tell of the lives of the wild things
which I know as they are actually lived. It is not my desire to humanize
them. If we are to love wild animals so much that we do not want to kill
them we _must know them as they actually live_. And in their lives, in
the _facts_ of their lives, there is so much of real and honest romance
and tragedy, so much that makes them akin to ourselves that the animal
biographer need not step aside from the paths of actuality to hold one’s
interest.

Perhaps rather tediously I have come to the few words I want to say
about Baree, the hero of this book. Baree, after all, is only another
Kazan. For it was Kazan I found in the way I have described—a bad dog, a
killer about to be shot to death by his master when chance, and my own
faith in him, gave him to me.

We travelled together for many thousands of miles through the
northland—on trails to the Barren Lands, to Hudson’s Bay and to the
Arctic. Kazan, the bad dog, the half-wolf, the killer—was the best
four-legged friend I ever had. He died near Fort MacPherson, on the Peel
River, and is buried there. And Kazan was the father of Baree; Gray
Wolf, the full-blooded wolf was his mother. Nepeese, The Willow, still
lives near God’s Lake; and it was in the country of Nepeese and her
father that for three lazy months I watched the doings at Beaver Town,
and went on fishing trips with Wakayoo, the bear. Sometimes I have
wondered if old Beaver Tooth himself did not in some way understand that
I had made his colony safe for his people. It was Pierrot’s trapping
ground; and to Pierrot—father of Nepeese—I gave my best rifle on his
word that he would not harm my beaver friends for two years. And the
people of Pierrot’s breed keep their word. Wakayoo, Baree’s big bear
friend is dead. He was killed as I have described, in that “pocket”
among the ridges, while I was on a jaunt to Beaver Town. We were
becoming good friends and I missed him a great deal. The story of
Pierrot and of his princess wife, Wyola, is true; they are buried side
by side under the tall spruce that stood near their cabin. Pierrot’s
murderer, instead of dying as I have told it, was killed in his attempt
to escape the Royal Mounted farther west. When I last saw Baree he was
at Lac Seul House, where I was the guest of Mr. William Patterson, the
factor; and the last word I heard from him was through my good friend
Frank Aldous, factor at White Dog Post, who wrote me only a few weeks
ago that he had recently seen Nepeese and Baree and the husband of
Nepeese, and that the happiness he found in their far wilderness home
made him regret that he was a bachelor. I feel sorry for Aldous. He is a
splendid young Englishman, unattached, and some day I am going to try
and marry him off. I have in mind some one at the present moment—a
fox-trapper’s daughter up near the Barren, very pretty, and educated at
a Missioner’s school; and as Aldous is going with me on my next trip I
may have something to say about them in the book that is to follow
“Baree, Son of Kazan.”

                                                   James Oliver Curwood.

 Owosso, Michigan,
 June 12, 1917.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  Baree had not killed, but he had conquered. His first great day—or
  night—had come _Frontispiece_

  Nepeese, the trapper’s daughter, known to the forest men as “The
  Willow,” who became a big factor in the life of the pup Baree

  Baree stood still. Nepeese was not more than twenty feet from him.
  She sat on a rock, full in the early morning sun

  With an oath McTaggart snatched his revolver from its holster. The
  Willow was ahead of him

  The Willow rose slowly to her feet and looked at Pierrot. Her eyes
  were big and dark and steady

  When Baree joined the pack, a maddened, mouth-frothing, snarling
  horde, Napamoos, the young caribou bull, was well out in the river

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          BAREE, SON OF KAZAN



                               CHAPTER I


To Baree, for many days after he was born, the world was a vast gloomy
cavern.

During these first days of his life his home was in the heart of a great
windfall where Gray Wolf, his blind mother, had found a safe nest for
his babyhood, and to which Kazan, her mate, came only now and then, his
eyes gleaming like strange balls of greenish fire in the darkness. It
was Kazan’s eyes that gave to Baree his first impression of something
existing away from his mother’s side, and they brought to him also his
discovery of vision. He could feel, he could smell, he could hear—but in
that black pit under the fallen timber he had never _seen_ until the
eyes came. At first they frightened him; then they puzzled him, and his
fear changed to an immense curiosity. He would be looking straight at
them, when all at once they would disappear. This was when Kazan turned
his head. And then they would flash back at him again out of the
darkness with such startling suddenness that Baree would involuntarily
shrink closer to his mother, who always trembled and shivered in a
strange sort of way when Kazan came in.

Baree, of course, would never know their story. He would never know that
Gray Wolf, his mother, was a full-blooded wolf, and that Kazan, his
father, was a dog. In him nature was already beginning its wonderful
work, but it would never go beyond certain limitations. It would tell
him, in time, that his beautiful wolf-mother was blind, but he would
never know of that terrible battle between Gray Wolf and the lynx in
which his mother’s sight had been destroyed. Nature could tell him
nothing of Kazan’s merciless vengeance, of the wonderful years of their
matehood, of their loyalty, their strange adventures in the great
Canadian wilderness—it could make him only a son of Kazan.

But at first, and for many days, it was all mother. Even after his eyes
had opened wide and he had found his legs so that he could stumble about
a little in the darkness, nothing existed for Baree but his mother. When
he was old enough to be playing with sticks and moss out in the
sunlight, he still did not know what she looked like. But to him she was
big and soft and warm, and she licked his face with her tongue, and
talked to him in a gentle, whimpering way that at last made him find his
own voice in a faint, squeaky yap.

And then came that wonderful day when the greenish balls of fire that
were Kazan’s eyes came nearer and nearer, a little at a time, and very
cautiously. Heretofore Gray Wolf had warned him back. To be alone was
the first law of her wild breed during mothering-time. A low snarl from
her throat, and Kazan had always stopped. But on this day the snarl did
not come. In Gray Wolf’s throat it died away in a low, whimpering sound.
A note of loneliness, of gladness, of a great yearning. “It is all right
now,” she was saying to Kazan; and Kazan—pausing for a moment to make
sure—replied with an answering note deep in his throat.

Still slowly, as if not quite sure of what he would find, Kazan came to
them, and Baree snuggled closer to his mother. He heard Kazan as he
dropped down heavily on his belly close to Gray Wolf. He was
unafraid—and mightily curious. And Kazan, too, was curious. He sniffed.
In the gloom his ears were alert. After a little Baree began to move. An
inch at a time he dragged himself away from Gray Wolf’s side. Every
muscle in her lithe body tensed. Again her wolf blood was warning her.
There was danger for Baree. Her lips drew back, baring her fangs. Her
throat trembled, but the note in it never came. Out of the darkness two
yards away came a soft, puppyish whine, and the caressing sound of
Kazan’s tongue.

Baree had felt the thrill of his first great adventure. He had
discovered his father.

This all happened in the third week of Baree’s life. He was just
eighteen days old when Gray Wolf allowed Kazan to make the acquaintance
of his son. If it had not been for Gray Wolf’s blindness and the memory
of that day on the Sun Rock when the lynx had destroyed her eyes, she
would have given birth to Baree in the open, and his legs would have
been quite strong. He would have known the sun and the moon and the
stars; he would have realized what the thunder meant, and would have
seen the lightning flashing in the sky. But as it was, there had been
nothing for him to do in that black cavern under the windfall but
stumble about a little in the darkness, and lick with his tiny red
tongue the raw bones that were strewn about them. Many times he had been
left alone. He had heard his mother come and go, and nearly always it
had been in response to a yelp from Kazan that came to them like a
distant echo. He had never felt a very strong desire to follow until
this day when Kazan’s big, cool tongue caressed his face. In those
wonderful seconds nature was at work. His instinct was not quite born
until then. And when Kazan went away, leaving them alone in darkness,
Baree whimpered for him to come back, just as he had cried for his
mother when now and then she had left him in response to her mate’s
call.

The sun was straight above the forest when, an hour or two after Kazan’s
visit, Gray Wolf slipped away. Between Baree’s nest and the top of the
windfall were forty feet of jammed and broken timber through which not a
ray of light could break. This blackness did not frighten him, for he
had yet to learn the meaning of light. Day, and not night, was to fill
him with his first great terror. So quite fearlessly, with a yelp for
his mother to wait for him, he began to follow. If Gray Wolf heard him,
she paid no attention to his call, and the scrape of her claws on the
dead timber died swiftly away.

This time Baree did not stop at the eight-inch log which had always shut
in his world in that particular direction. He clambered to the top of it
and rolled over on the other side. Beyond this was vast adventure, and
he plunged into it courageously.

It took him a long time to make the first twenty yards. Then he came to
a log worn smooth by the feet of Gray Wolf and Kazan, and stopping every
few feet to send out a whimpering call for his mother, he made his way
farther and farther along it. As he went, there grew slowly a curious
change in this world of his. He had known nothing but blackness. And now
this blackness seemed breaking itself up into strange shapes and
shadows. Once he caught the flash of a fiery streak above him—a gleam of
sunshine—and it startled him so that he flattened himself down upon the
log and did not move for half a minute. Then he went on. An ermine
squeaked under him. He heard the swift rustling of a squirrel’s feet,
and a curious _whut-whut-whut_ that was not at all like any sound his
mother had ever made. He was off the trail.

The log was no longer smooth, and it was leading him upward higher and
higher into the tangle of the windfall, and was growing narrower every
foot he progressed. He whined. His soft little nose sought vainly for
the warm scent of his mother. The end came suddenly when he lost his
balance and fell. He let out a piercing cry of terror as he felt himself
slipping, and then plunged downward. He must have been high up in the
windfall, for to Baree it was a tremendous fall. His soft little body
thumped from log to log as he shot this way and that, and when at last
he stopped, there was scarcely a breath left in him. But he stood up
quickly on his four trembling legs—and blinked.

A new terror held Baree rooted there. In an instant the whole world had
changed. It was a flood of sunlight. Everywhere he looked he could see
strange things. But it was the sun that frightened him most. It was his
first impression of fire, and it made his eyes smart. He would have
slunk back into the friendly gloom of the windfall, but at this moment
Gray Wolf came around the end of a great log, followed by Kazan. She
muzzled Baree joyously, and Kazan in a most doglike fashion wagged his
tail. This mark of the dog was to be a part of Baree. Half wolf, he
would always wag his tail. He tried to wag it now. Perhaps Kazan saw the
effort, for he emitted a muffled yelp of approbation as he sat back on
his haunches.

Or he might have been saying to Gray Wolf:

“Well, we’ve got the little rascal out of that windfall at last, haven’t
we?”

For Baree it had been a great day. He had discovered his father—and the
world.



                               CHAPTER II


And it was a wonderful world—a world of vast silence, empty of
everything but the creatures of the wild. The nearest Hudson’s Bay post
was a hundred miles away, and the first town of civilization was a
straight three hundred to the south. Two years before, Tusoo, the Cree
trapper, had called this his domain. It had come down to him, as was the
law of the forests, through generations of forefathers; but Tusoo had
been the last of his worn-out family; he had died of smallpox, and his
wife and his children had died with him. Since then no human foot had
taken up his trails. The lynx had multiplied. The moose and caribou had
gone unhunted by man. The beaver had built their homes undisturbed. The
tracks of the black bear were as thick as the tracks of the deer farther
south. And where once the deadfalls and poison-baits of Tusoo had kept
the wolves thinned down, there was no longer a menace for these
_mohekuns_ of the wilderness.

Following the sun of this first wonderful day came the moon and the
stars of Baree’s first real night. It was a splendid night, and with it
a full red moon sailed up over the forests, flooding the earth with a
new kind of light, softer and more beautiful to Baree. The wolf was
strong in him, and he was restless. He had slept that day in the warmth
of the sun, but he could not sleep in this glow of the moon. He nosed
uneasily about Gray Wolf, who lay flat on her belly, her beautiful head
alert, listening yearningly to the night sounds, and for the tonguing of
Kazan, who had slunk away like a shadow to hunt.

Half a dozen times, as Baree wandered about near the windfall, he heard
a soft whir over his head, and once or twice he saw gray shadows
floating swiftly through the air. They were the big northern owls
swooping down to investigate him, and if he had been a rabbit instead of
a wolf-dog whelp, his first night under the moon and stars would have
been his last; for unlike Wapoos, the rabbit, he was not cautious. Gray
Wolf did not watch him closely. Instinct told her that in these forests
there was no great danger for Baree except at the hands of man. In his
veins ran the blood of the wolf. He was a hunter of all other wild
creatures, but no other creature, either winged or fanged, hunted him.

In a way Baree sensed this. He was not afraid of the owls. He was not
afraid of the strange blood-curdling cries they made in the black
spruce-tops. But once fear entered into him, and he scurried back to his
mother. It was when one of the winged hunters of the air swooped down on
a snowshoe rabbit, and the squealing agony of the doomed creature set
his heart thumping like a little hammer. He felt in those cries the
nearness of that one ever-present tragedy of the wild—death. He felt it
again that night when, snuggled close to Gray Wolf, he listened to the
fierce outcry of a wolf-pack that was close on the heels of a young
caribou bull. And the meaning of it all, and the wild thrill of it all,
came home to him early in the gray dawn when Kazan returned, holding
between his jaws a huge rabbit that was still kicking and squirming with
life.

This rabbit was the climax in the first chapter of Baree’s education. It
was as if Gray Wolf and Kazan had planned it all out, so that he might
receive his first instruction in the art of killing. When Kazan had
dropped it, Baree approached the big hare cautiously. The back of
Wapoos, the rabbit, was broken. His round eyes were glazed, and he had
ceased to feel pain. But to Baree, as he dug his tiny teeth into the
heavy fur under Wapoos’s throat, the hare was very much alive. The teeth
did not go through into the flesh. With puppyish fierceness Baree hung
on. He thought that he was killing. He could feel the dying convulsions
of Wapoos. He could hear the last gasping breaths leaving the warm body,
and he snarled and tugged until finally he fell back with a mouthful of
fur. When he returned to the attack, Wapoos was quite dead, and Baree
continued to bite and snarl until Gray Wolf came with her sharp fangs
and tore the rabbit to pieces. After that followed the feast.

So Baree came to understand that to eat meant to kill, and as other days
and nights passed, there grew in him swiftly the hunger for flesh. In
this he was the true wolf. From Kazan he had taken other and stronger
inheritances of the dog. He was magnificently black, which in later days
gave him the name of _Kusketa Mohekun_—the black wolf. On his breast was
a white star. His right ear was tipped with white. His tail, at six
weeks, was bushy and hung low. It was a wolf’s tail. His ears were Gray
Wolf’s ears—sharp, short, pointed, always alert. His fore-shoulders gave
promise of being splendidly like Kazan’s, and when he stood up he was
like the trace dog, except that he always stood _sidewise_ to the point
or object he was watching. This, again, was the wolf, for a dog faces
the direction in which he is looking intently.

One brilliant night, when Baree was two months old, and when the sky was
filled with stars and a June moon so bright that it seemed scarcely
higher than the tall spruce-tops, Baree settled back on his haunches and
howled. It was a first effort. But there was no mistake in the note of
it. It was the wolf-howl. But a moment later when Baree slunk up to
Kazan, as if deeply ashamed of his effort, he was wagging his tail in an
unmistakably apologetic manner. And this again was the dog. If Tusoo,
the dead Indian trapper, could have seen him then, he would have judged
him by that wagging of his tail. It revealed the fact that deep in his
heart—and in his soul, if we can concede that he had one—Baree was dog.

In another way Tusoo would have found judgment of him. At two months the
wolf whelp has forgotten how to play. He is a slinking part of the
wilderness, already at work preying on creatures smaller and more
helpless than himself. Baree still played. In his excursions away from
the windfall he had never gone farther than the creek, a hundred yards
from where his mother lay. He had helped to tear many dead and dying
rabbits into pieces; he believed, if he thought upon the matter at all,
that he was exceedingly fierce and courageous. But it was his ninth week
before he felt his spurs and fought his terrible battle with the young
owl in the edge of the thick forest.

The fact that Oohoomisew, the big snow-owl, had made her nest in a
broken stub not far from the windfall was destined to change the whole
course of Baree’s life, just as the blinding of Gray Wolf had changed
hers, and a man’s club had changed Kazan’s. The creek ran close past the
stub, which had been shriven by lightning; and this stub stood in a
still, dark place in the forest, surrounded by tall, black spruce and
enveloped in gloom even in broad day. Many times Baree had gone to the
edge of this mysterious bit of forest and had peered in curiously, and
with a growing desire.

On this day of his great battle its lure was over-powering. Little by
little he entered into it, his eyes shining brightly and his ears alert
for the slightest sounds that might come out of it. His heart beat
faster. The gloom enveloped him more. He forgot the windfall and Kazan
and Gray Wolf. Here before him lay the thrill of adventure. He heard
stranger sounds, but very soft sounds, as if made by padded feet and
downy wings, and they filled him with a thrilling expectancy. Under his
feet there were no grass or weeds or flowers, but a wonderful brown
carpet of soft evergreen needles. They felt good to his feet, and were
so velvety that he could not hear his own movement.

He was fully three hundred yards from the windfall when he passed
Oohoomisew’s stub and into a thick growth of young balsams. And
there—directly in his path—crouched the monster!

Papayuchisew (Young Owl) was not more than a third as large as Baree.
But he was a terrifying looking object. To Baree he seemed all head and
eyes. He could see nobody at all. Kazan had never brought in anything
like this, and for a full half-minute he remained very quiet, eyeing it
speculatively. Papayuchisew did not move a feather. But as Baree
advanced, a cautious step at a time, the bird’s eyes grew bigger and the
feathers about his head ruffled up as if stirred by a bit of wind. He
came of a fighting family, this little Papayuchisew—a savage, fearless,
and killing family—and even Kazan would have taken note of those
ruffling feathers.

With a space of two feet between them, the pup and the owlet eyed each
other. In that moment, if Gray Wolf could have seen, she might have said
to Baree: “Use your legs—and run!” And Oohoomisew, the old owl, might
have said to Papayuchisew: “You little fool—use your wings and fly!”

They did neither—and the fight began.

Papayuchisew started it, and with a single wild yelp Baree went back in
a heap, the owlet’s beak fastened like a red-hot vise in the soft flesh
at the end of his nose. That one yelp of surprise and pain was Baree’s
first and last cry in the fight. The wolf surged in him; rage and the
desire to kill possessed him. As Papayuchisew hung on, he made a curious
hissing sound; and as Baree rolled and gnashed his teeth and fought to
free himself from that amazing grip on his nose, fierce little snarls
rose out of his throat.

For fully a minute Baree had no use of his jaws. Then, by accident, he
wedged Papayuchisew in a crotch of a low ground-shrub, and a bit of his
nose gave way. He might have run then, but instead of that he was back
at the owlet like a flash. Flop went Papayuchisew on his back, and Baree
buried his needle-like teeth in the bird’s breast. It was like trying to
bite through a pillow, the feathers were so close and thick. Deeper and
deeper Baree sank his fangs, and just as they were beginning to prick
the owlet’s skin, Papayuchisew—jabbing a little blindly with a beak that
snapped sharply every time it closed—got him by the ear.

The pain of that hold was excruciating to Baree, and he made a more
desperate effort to get his teeth through his enemy’s thick armour of
feathers. In the struggle they rolled under the low balsams to the edge
of the ravine through which ran the creek. Over the steep edge they
plunged, and as they rolled and bumped to the bottom, Baree loosed his
hold. Papayuchisew hung valiantly on, and when they reached the bottom
he still had his grip on Baree’s ear.

Baree’s nose was bleeding; his ear felt as if it were being pulled from
his head; and in this uncomfortable moment a newly awakened instinct
made Baby Papayuchisew discover his wings as a fighting asset. An owl
has never really begun to fight until he uses his wings, and with a
joyous hissing, Papayuchisew began beating his antagonist so fast and so
viciously that Baree was dazed. He was compelled to close his eyes, and
he snapped blindly. For the first time since the battle began he felt a
strong inclination to get away. He tried to tear himself free with his
forepaws, but Papayuchisew—slow to reason but of firm conviction—hung to
Baree’s ear like grim fate.

At this critical point, when the understanding of defeat was forming
itself swiftly in Baree’s mind, chance saved him. His fangs closed on
one of the owlet’s tender feet. Papayuchisew gave a sudden squeak. The
ear was free at last—and with a snarl of triumph Baree gave a vicious
tug at Papayuchisew’s leg.

In the excitement of battle he had not heard the rushing tumult of the
creek close under them, and over the edge of a rock Papayuchisew and he
went together, the chill water of the rain-swollen stream muffling a
final snarl and a final hiss of the two little fighters.



                              CHAPTER III


To Papayuchisew, after his first mouthful of water, the stream was
almost as safe as the air, for he went sailing down it with the
lightness of a gull, wondering in his slow-thinking big head why he was
moving so swiftly and so pleasantly without any effort of his own.

To Baree it was a different matter. He went down almost like a stone. A
mighty roaring filled his ears; it was dark, suffocating, terrible. In
the swift current he was twisted over and over. For twenty feet he was
under water. Then he rose to the surface and desperately began using his
legs. It was of little use. He had only time to blink once or twice and
catch a lungful of air when he shot into a current that was running like
a millrace between the butts of two fallen trees, and for another twenty
feet the sharpest eyes could not have seen hair or hide of him. He came
up again at the edge of a shallow riffle over which the water ran like
the rapids at Niagara in miniature, and for fifty or sixty yards he was
flung along like a hairy ball. From this he was hurled into a deep, cold
pool; and then—half dead—he found himself crawling out on a gravelly
bar.

For a long time Baree lay there in a pool of sunlight without moving.
His ear hurt him; his nose was raw, and burned as if he had thrust it
into fire. His legs and body were sore, and as he began to wander along
the gravel bar, he was the most wretched pup in the world. He was also
completely turned around. In vain he looked about him for some familiar
mark—something that might guide him back to his windfall home.
Everything was strange. He did not know that the water had flung him out
on the wrong side of the stream, and that to reach the windfall he would
have to cross it again. He whined, but that was as loud as his voice
rose. Gray Wolf could have heard his barking, for the windfall was not
more than two hundred and fifty yards up the stream. But the wolf in
Baree held him silent, except for his low whining.

Striking the main shore, Baree began going downstream. This was away
from the windfall, and each step that he took carried him farther and
farther from home. Every little while he stopped and listened. The
forest was deeper. It was growing blacker and more mysterious. Its
silence was frightening. At the end of half an hour Baree would even
have welcomed Papayuchisew. And he would not have fought him—he would
have inquired, if possible, the way back home.

Baree was fully three quarters of a mile from the windfall when he came
to a point where the creek split itself into two channels. He had but
one choice to follow—the stream that flowed a little south and east.
This stream did not run swiftly. It was not filled with shimmering
riffles, and rocks about which the water sang and foamed. It grew black,
like the forest. It was still and deep. Without knowing it, Baree was
burying himself deeper and deeper into Tusoo’s old trapping-grounds.
Since Tusoo had died, they had lain undisturbed except for the wolves,
for Gray Wolf and Kazan had not hunted on this side of the waterway—and
the wolves themselves preferred the more open country for the chase.

Suddenly Baree found himself at the edge of a deep, dark pool in which
the water lay still as oil, and his heart nearly jumped out of his body
when a great, sleek, shining creature sprang out from almost under his
nose and landed with a tremendous splash in the centre of it. It was
Nekik, the otter.

The otter had not heard Baree, and in another moment Napanekik, his
wife, came sailing out of a patch of gloom, and behind her came three
little otters, leaving behind them four shimmering wakes in the
oily-looking water. What happened after that made Baree forget for a few
minutes that he was lost. Nekik had disappeared under the surface, and
now he came up directly under his unsuspecting mate with a force that
lifted her half out of the water. Instantly he was gone again, and
Napanekik took after him fiercely. To Baree it did not look like play.
Two of the baby otters had pitched on the third, which seemed to be
fighting desperately. The chill and ache went out of Baree’s body. His
blood ran excitedly; he forgot himself, and let out a bark. In a flash
the otters disappeared. For several minutes the water in the pool
continued to rock and heave—and that was all. After a little, Baree drew
himself back into the bushes and went on.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and the sun should still
have been well up in the sky. But it was growing darker steadily, and
the strangeness and fear of it all lent greater speed to Baree’s legs.
He stopped every little while to listen, and at one of these intervals
he heard a sound that drew from him a responsive and joyous whine. It
was a distant howl—a wolf’s howl—straight ahead of him. Baree was not
thinking of wolves but of Kazan, and he ran through the gloom of the
forest until he was winded. Then he stopped and listened a long time.
The wolf-howl did not come again. Instead of it there rolled up from the
west a deep and thunderous rumble. Through the treetops there flashed a
vivid streak of lightning. A moaning whisper of wind rode in advance of
the storm; the thunder grew nearer; and a second flash of lightning
seemed searching Baree out where he stood shivering under a canopy of
great spruce. This was his second storm. The first had frightened him
terribly, and he had crawled far back into the shelter of the windfall.
The best he could find now was a hollow under a big root, and into this
he slunk, crying softly. It was a babyish cry, a cry for his mother, for
home, for warmth, for something soft and protecting to nestle up to; and
as he cried, the storm burst over the forest.

Baree had never before heard so much noise, and he had never seen the
lightning play in such sheets of fire as when this June deluge fell. It
seemed at times as though the whole world were aflame, and the earth
seemed to shake and roll under the crashes of the thunder. He ceased his
crying and made himself as small as he could under the root, which
protected him partly from the terrific beat of the rain which came down
through the treetops in a flood. It was now so black that except when
the lightning ripped great holes in the gloom he could not see the
spruce-trunks twenty feet away. Twice that distance from Baree there was
a huge dead stub that stood out like a ghost each time the fires swept
the sky, as if defying the flaming hands up there to strike—and strike,
at last, one of them did! A bluish tongue of snapping flame ran down the
old stub; and as it touched the earth, there came a tremendous explosion
above the treetops. The massive stub shivered, and then it broke asunder
as if cloven by a gigantic axe. It crashed down so close to Baree that
earth and sticks flew about him, and he let out a wild yelp of terror as
he tried to crowd himself deeper into the shallow hole under the root.

With the destruction of the old stub the thunder and lightning seemed to
have vented their malevolence. The thunder passed on into the south and
east like the rolling of ten thousand heavy cart-wheels over the roofs
of the forest, and the lightning went with it. The rain fell steadily.
The hole in which he had taken shelter was soppy. He was drenched; his
teeth chattered as he waited for the next thing to happen.

It was a long wait. When the rain stopped, and the sky cleared, it was
night. Through the tops of the trees Baree could have seen the stars if
he had poked out his head and looked upward. But he clung to his hole.
Hour after hour passed. Exhausted, half drowned, footsore, and hungry,
he did not move. At last he fell into a troubled sleep, a sleep in which
every now and then he cried softly and forlornly for his mother. When he
ventured out from under the root it was morning, and the sun was
shining.

At first Baree could hardly stand. His legs were cramped; every bone in
his body seemed out of joint; his ear was stiff where the blood had
oozed out of it and hardened, and when he tried to wrinkle his wounded
nose, he gave a sharp little yap of pain. If such a thing were possible,
he looked even worse than he felt. His hair had dried in muddy patches;
he was dirt-stained from end to end; and where yesterday he had been
plump and shiny, he was now as thin and wretched as misfortune could
possibly make him. And he was hungry. He had never before known what it
meant to be really hungry.

When he went on, continuing in the direction he had been following
yesterday, he slunk along in a disheartened sort of way. His head and
ears were no longer alert, and his curiosity was gone. He was not only
stomach-hungry: mother-hunger rose above his physical yearning for
something to eat. He wanted his mother as he had never wanted her before
in his life. He wanted to snuggle his shivering little body close up to
her and feel the warm caressing of her tongue and listen to the
mothering whine of her voice. And he wanted Kazan, and the old windfall,
and that big blue spot that was in the sky right over it. While he
followed again along the edge of the creek, he whimpered for them as a
child might grieve.

The forest grew more open after a time, and this cheered him up a
little. Also the warmth of the sun was taking the ache out of his body.
He grew hungrier and hungrier. He had depended entirely on Kazan and
Gray Wolf for food. His parents had, in some ways, made a great baby of
him. Gray Wolf’s blindness accounted for this, for since his birth she
had not taken up her hunting with Kazan, and it was quite natural that
Baree should stick close to her, though more than once he had been
filled with a great yearning to follow his father. Nature was hard at
work trying to overcome its handicap now. It was struggling to impress
on Baree that the time had now come when he must seek his own food. The
fact impinged itself upon him slowly but steadily, and he began to think
of the three or four shellfish he had caught and devoured on the stony
creek-bar near the windfall. He also remembered the open clam-shell he
had found, and the lusciousness of the tender morsel inside it. A new
excitement began to possess him. He became, all at once, a hunter.

With the thinning out of the forest the creek grew more shallow. It ran
again over bars of sand and stones, and Baree began to nose along the
edge of these. For a long time he had no success. The few crayfish that
he saw were exceedingly lively and elusive, and all the clam-shells were
shut so tight that even Kazan’s powerful jaws would have had difficulty
in smashing them. It was almost noon when he caught his first crayfish,
about as big as a man’s forefinger. He devoured it ravenously. The taste
of food gave him fresh courage. He caught two more crayfish during the
afternoon. It was almost dusk when he stirred a young rabbit out from
under a cover of grass. If he had been a month older, he could have
caught it. He was still very hungry, for three crayfish—scattered
through the day—had not done much to fill the emptiness that was growing
steadily in him.

With the approach of night Baree’s fears and great loneliness returned.
Before the day had quite gone he found himself a shelter under a big
rock, where there was a warm, soft bed of sand. Since his fight with
Papayuchisew, he had travelled a long distance, and the rock under which
he made his bed this night was at least eight or nine miles from the
windfall. It was in the open of the creek-bottom, with the dark forest
of spruce and cedars close on either side; and when the moon rose, and
the stars filled the sky, Baree could look out and see the water of the
stream shimmering in a glow almost as bright as day. Directly in front
of him, running to the water’s edge, was a broad carpet of white sand.
Across this sand, half an hour later, came a huge black bear.

Until Baree had seen the otters at play in the creek, his conceptions of
the forests had not gone beyond his own kind, and such creatures as owls
and rabbits and small feathered things. The otters had not frightened
him, because he still measured things by size, and Nekik was not half as
big as Kazan. But the bear was a monster beside which Kazan would have
stood a mere pigmy. He was big. If nature was taking this way of
introducing Baree to the fact that there were more important creatures
in the forests than dogs and wolves and owls and crayfish, she was
driving the point home with a little more than necessary emphasis. For
Wakayoo, the bear, weighed six hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce. He
was fat and sleek from a month’s feasting on fish. His shiny coat was
like black velvet in the moonlight, and he walked with a curious rolling
motion with his head hung low. The horror grew when he stopped broadside
in the carpet of sand not more than ten feet from the rock under which
Baree was shivering as if he had the ague.

It was quite evident that Wakayoo had caught scent of him in the air.
Baree could hear him sniff—could hear his breathing—caught the starlight
flashing in his reddish-brown eyes as they swung suspiciously toward the
big boulder. If Baree could have known then that _he_—his insignificant
little self—was making that monster actually nervous and uneasy, he
would have given a yelp of joy. For Wakayoo, in spite of his size, was
somewhat of a coward when it came to wolves. And Baree carried the
wolf-scent. It grew stronger in Wakayoo’s nose; and just then, as if to
increase whatever nervousness was growing in him, there came from out of
the forest behind him a long and wailing howl.

With an audible grunt, Wakayoo moved on. Wolves were pests, he argued.
They wouldn’t stand up and fight. They’d snap and yap at one’s heels for
hours at a time, and were always out of the way quicker than a wink when
one turned on them. What was the use of hanging around where there were
wolves, on a beautiful night like this? He lumbered on decisively. Baree
could hear him splashing heavily through the water of the creek. Not
until then did the wolf-dog draw a full breath. It was almost a gasp.

But the excitement was not over for the night. Baree had chosen his bed
at a place where the animals came down to drink, and where they crossed
from one of the creek forests to the other. Not long after the bear had
disappeared he heard a heavy crunching in the sand, and hoofs rattling
against stones, and a bull moose with a huge sweep of antlers passed
through the open space in the moonlight. Baree stared with popping eyes,
for if Wakayoo had weighed six hundred pounds, this gigantic creature
whose legs were so long that it seemed to be walking on stilts weighed
at least twice as much. A cow moose followed, and then a calf. The calf
seemed all legs. It was too much for Baree, and he shoved himself
farther and farther back under the rock until he lay wedged in like a
sardine in a box. And there he lay until morning.



                               CHAPTER IV


When Baree ventured forth from under his rock at the beginning of the
next day, he was a much older puppy than when he met Papayuchisew, the
young owl, in his path near the old windfall. If experience can be made
to take the place of age, he had aged a great deal in the last
forty-eight hours. In fact, he had passed almost out of puppyhood. He
awoke with a new and much broader conception of the world. It was a big
place. It was filled with many things, of which Kazan and Gray Wolf were
not the most important. The monsters he had seen on the moonlit plot of
sand had roused in him a new kind of caution, and the one greatest
instinct of beasts—the primal understanding that it is the strong that
prey upon the weak—was wakening swiftly in him. As yet he quite
naturally measured brute force and the menace of things by size alone.
Thus the bear was more terrible than Kazan, and the moose was more
terrible than the bear.

It was quite fortunate for Baree that this instinct did not go to the
limit in the beginning and make him understand that his own breed—the
wolf—was most feared of all the creatures, claw, hoof, and wing, of the
forests. Otherwise, like the small boy who thinks he can swim before he
has mastered a stroke, he might somewhere have jumped in beyond his
depth and had his head chewed off.

Very much alert, with the hair standing up along his spine, and a little
growl in his throat, Baree smelled of the big footprints made by the
bear and the moose. It was the bear-scent that made him growl. He
followed the tracks to the edge of the creek. After that he resumed his
wandering, and also his hunt for food.

For two hours he did not find a crayfish. Then he came out of the green
timber into the edge of a burned-over country. Here everything was
black. The stumps of the trees stood up like huge charred canes. It was
a comparatively fresh “burn” of last autumn, and the ash was still soft
under Baree’s feet. Straight through this black region ran the creek,
and over it hung a blue sky in which the sun was shining. It was quite
inviting to Baree. The fox, the wolf, the moose, and the caribou would
have turned back from the edge of this dead country. In another year it
would be good hunting-ground, but now it was lifeless. Even the owls
would have found nothing to eat out there.

It was the blue sky and the sun and the softness of the earth under his
feet that lured Baree. It was pleasant to travel in after his painful
experiences in the forest. He continued to follow the stream, though
there was now little possibility of his finding anything to eat. The
water had become sluggish and dark; the channel was choked with charred
débris that had fallen into it when the forest had burned, and its
shores were soft and muddy. After a time, when Baree stopped and looked
about him, he could no longer see the green timber he had left. He was
alone in that desolate wilderness of charred tree-corpses. It was as
still as death, too. Not the chirp of a bird broke the silence. In the
soft ash he could not hear the fall of his own feet. But he was not
frightened. There was the assurance of safety here.

If he could only find something to eat! That was the master-thought that
possessed Baree. Instinct had not yet impressed upon him that this which
he saw all about him was starvation. He went on, seeking hopefully for
food. But at last, as the hours passed, hope began to die out of him.
The sun sank westward. The sky grew less blue; a low wind began to ride
over the tops of the stubs, and now and then one of them fell with a
startling crash.

Baree could go no farther. An hour before dusk he lay down in the open,
weak and starved. The sun disappeared behind the forest. The moon rolled
up from the east. The sky glittered with stars—and all through the night
Baree lay as if dead. When morning came, he dragged himself to the
stream for a drink. With his last strength he went on. It was the wolf
urging him—compelling him to struggle to the last for his life. The dog
in him wanted to lie down and die. But the wolf-spark in him burned
stronger. In the end it won. Half a mile farther on he came again to the
green timber.

In the forests as well as in the great cities fate plays its changing
and whimsical hand. If Baree had dragged himself into the timber half an
hour later he would have died. He was too far gone now to hunt for
crayfish or kill the weakest bird. But he came just as Sekoosew, the
ermine—the most bloodthirsty little pirate of all the wild—was making a
kill.

That was fully a hundred yards from where Baree lay stretched out under
a spruce, almost ready to give up the ghost. Sekoosew was a mighty
hunter of his kind. His body was about seven inches long, with a tiny
black-tipped tail appended to it, and he weighed perhaps five ounces. A
baby’s fingers could have encircled him anywhere between his four legs,
and his little sharp-pointed head with its beady red eyes could slip
easily through a hole an inch in diameter. For several centuries
Sekoosew had helped to make history. It was he—when his pelt was worth a
hundred dollars in king’s gold—that lured the first shipload of
gentlemen adventurers over the sea, with Prince Rupert at their head; it
was little Sekoosew who was responsible for the forming of the great
Hudson’s Bay Company and the discovery of half a continent; for almost
three centuries he had fought his fight for existence with the trapper.
And now, though he was no longer worth his weight in yellow gold, he was
the cleverest, the fiercest, and the most merciless of all the creatures
that made up his world.

As Baree lay under his tree, Sekoosew was creeping on his prey. His game
was a big fat spruce-hen standing under a thicket of black currant
bushes. The ear of no living thing could have heard Sekoosew’s movement.
He was like a shadow—a gray dot here, a flash there, now hidden behind a
stick no larger than a man’s wrist, appearing for a moment, the next
instant gone as completely as if he had not existed. Thus he approached
from fifty feet to within three feet of the spruce-hen. That was his
favourite striking distance. Unerringly he launched himself at the
drowsy partridge’s throat, and his needle-like teeth sank through
feathers into flesh.

Sekoosew was prepared for what happened then. It always happened when he
attacked Napanao, the wood-partridge. Her wings were powerful, and her
first instinct when he struck was always that of flight. She rose
straight up now with a great thunder of wings. Sekoosew hung tight, his
teeth buried deep in her throat, and his tiny, sharp claws clinging to
her like hands. Through the air he whizzed with her, biting deeper and
deeper, until a hundred yards from where that terrible death-thing had
fastened to her throat, Napanao crashed again to earth.

Where she fell was not ten feet from Baree. For a few moments he looked
at the struggling mass of feathers in a daze, not quite comprehending
that at last food was almost within his reach. Napanao was dying, but
she still struggled convulsively with her wings. Baree rose stealthily,
and after a moment in which he gathered all his remaining strength, he
made a rush for her. His teeth sank into her breast—and not until then
did he see Sekoosew. The ermine had raised his head from the death-grip
at the partridge’s throat, and his savage little red eyes glared for a
single instant into Baree’s. Here was something too big to kill, and
with an angry squeak the ermine was gone. Napanao’s wings relaxed, and
the throb went out of her body. She was dead. Baree hung on until he was
sure. Then he began his feast.

With murder in his heart, Sekoosew hovered near, whisking here and there
but never coming nearer than half a dozen feet from Baree. His eyes were
redder than ever. Now and then he emitted a sharp little squeak of rage.
Never had he been so angry in all his life! To have a fat partridge
stolen from him like this was an imposition he had never suffered
before. He wanted to dart in and fasten his teeth in Baree’s jugular.
But he was too good a general to make the attempt, too good a Napoleon
to jump deliberately to his Waterloo. An owl he would have fought. He
might even have given battle to his big brother—and his deadliest
enemy—the mink. But in Baree he recognized the wolf-breed, and he vented
his spite at a distance. After a time his good sense returned, and he
went off on another hunt.

Baree ate a third of the partridge, and the remaining two thirds he
cached very carefully at the foot of the big spruce. Then he hurried
down to the creek for a drink. The world looked very different to him
now. After all, one’s capacity for happiness depends largely on how
deeply one has suffered. One’s hard luck and misfortune form the
measuring-stick for future good luck and fortune. So it was with Baree.
Forty-eight hours ago a full stomach would not have made him a tenth
part as happy as he was now. Then his greatest longing was for his
mother. Since then a still greater yearning had come into his life—for
food. In a way it was fortunate for him that he had almost died of
exhaustion and starvation, for his experience had helped to make a man
of him—or a wolf-dog, just as you are of a mind to put it. He would miss
his mother for a long time. But he would never miss her again as he had
missed her yesterday, and the day before.

That afternoon Baree took a long nap close to his cache. Then he
uncovered the partridge and ate his supper. When his fourth night alone
came, he did not hide himself as he had done on the three preceding
nights. He was strangely and curiously alert. Under the moon and the
stars he prowled in the edge of the forest and out on the burn. He
listened with a new kind of thrill to the far-away cry of a wolf-pack on
the hunt. He listened to the ghostly _whoo-whoo-whoo_ of the owls
without shivering. Sounds and silences were beginning to hold a new and
significant note for him.

For another day and night Baree remained in the vicinity of his cache.
When the last bone was picked, he moved on. He now entered a country
where subsistence was no longer a perilous problem for him. It was a
lynx country, and where there are lynx, there are also a great many
rabbits. When the rabbits thin out, the lynx emigrate to better
hunting-grounds. As the snowshoe rabbit breeds all the summer through,
Baree found himself in a land of plenty. It was not difficult for him to
catch and kill the young rabbits. For a week he prospered and grew
bigger and stronger each day. But all the time, stirred by that seeking,
Wanderlust spirit—still hoping to find the old home and his mother—he
travelled into the north and east.

And this was straight into the trapping country of Pierrot, the
halfbreed.

Pierrot, until two years ago, had believed himself to be one of the most
fortunate men in the big wilderness. That was before _La Mort Rouge_—the
Red Death—came. He was half French, and he had married a Cree chief’s
daughter, and in their log cabin on the Gray Loon they had lived for
many years in great prosperity and happiness. Pierrot was proud of three
things in this wild world of his: he was immensely proud of Wyola, his
royal-blooded wife; he was proud of his daughter; and he was proud of
his reputation as a hunter. Until the Red Death came, life was quite
complete for him. It was then—two years ago—that the smallpox killed his
princess-wife. He still lived in the little cabin on the Gray Loon, but
he was a different Pierrot. The heart was sick in him. It would have
died, had it not been for Nepeese, his daughter. His wife had named her
Nepeese, which means the Willow. Nepeese had grown up like the willow,
slender as a reed, with all her mother’s wild beauty, and with a little
of the French thrown in. She was sixteen, with great, dark, wonderful
eyes, and hair so beautiful that an agent from Montreal passing that way
had once tried to buy it. It fell in two shining braids, each as big as
a man’s wrist, almost to her knees. “_Non, M’sieu_,” Pierrot had said, a
cold glitter in his eyes as he saw what was in the agent’s face. “It is
not for barter.”

Two days after Baree had entered his trapping-ground, Pierrot came in
from the forests with a troubled look in his face.

“Something is killing off the young beavers,” he explained to Nepeese,
speaking to her in French. “It is a lynx or a wolf. To-morrow——” He
shrugged his thin shoulders, and smiled at her.

“We will go on the hunt,” laughed Nepeese happily, in her soft Cree.

When Pierrot smiled at her like that, and began with “To-morrow,” it
always meant that she might go with him on the adventure he was
contemplating.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Still another day later, at the end of the afternoon, Baree crossed the
Gray Loon on a bridge of driftwood that had wedged between two trees.
This was to the north. Just beyond the driftwood bridge there was a
small open, and on the edge of this Baree paused to enjoy the last of
the setting sun. As he stood motionless and listening, his tail drooping
low, his ears alert, his sharp-pointed nose sniffing the new country to
the north, there was not a pair of eyes in the forest that would not
have taken him for a young wolf.

From behind a clump of young balsams, a hundred yards away, Pierrot and
Nepeese had watched him come over the driftwood bridge. Now was the
time, and Pierrot levelled his rifle. It was not until then that Nepeese
touched his arm softly. Her breath came a little excitedly as she
whispered:

“Nootawe, let me shoot. I can kill him!”

With a low chuckle Pierrot gave the gun to her. He counted the whelp as
already dead. For Nepeese, at that distance, could send a bullet into an
inch square nine times out of ten. And Nepeese, aiming carefully at
Baree, pressed steadily with her brown forefinger upon the trigger.



                               CHAPTER V


As the Willow pulled the trigger of her rifle, Baree sprang into the
air. He felt the force of the bullet before he heard the report of the
gun. It lifted him off his feet, and then sent him rolling over and over
as if he had been struck a hideous blow with a club. For a flash he did
not feel pain. Then it ran through him like a knife of fire, and with
that pain the dog in him rose above the wolf, and he let out a wild
outcry of puppyish yapping as he rolled and twisted on the ground.

Pierrot and Nepeese had stepped from behind the balsams, the Willow’s
beautiful eyes shining with pride at the accuracy of her shot. Instantly
she caught her breath. Her brown fingers clutched at the barrel of her
rifle. The chuckle of satisfaction died on Pierrot’s lips as Baree’s
cries of pain filled the forest.

“_Uchi Moosis!_” gasped Nepeese, in her Cree.

Pierrot caught the rifle from her.

“_Diable!_ A dog—a puppy!” he cried.

He started on a run for Baree. But in their amazement they had lost a
few seconds and Baree’s dazed senses were returning. He saw them clearly
as they came across the open—a new kind of monster of the forests! With
a final wail he darted back into the deep shadows of the trees. It was
almost sunset, and he ran for the thick gloom of the heavy spruce near
the creek. He had shivered at sight of the bear and the moose, but for
the first time he now sensed the real meaning of danger. And it was
close after him. He could hear the crashing of the two-legged beasts in
pursuit; strange cries were almost at his heels—and then suddenly he
plunged without warning into a hole.

It was a shock to have the earth go out from under his feet like that,
but Baree did not yelp. The wolf was dominant in him again. It urged him
to remain where he was, making no move, no sound—scarcely breathing. The
voices were over him; the strange feet almost stumbled in the hole where
he lay. Looking out of his dark hiding-place, he could see one of his
enemies. It was Nepeese, the Willow. She was standing so that a last
glow of the day fell upon her face. Baree did not take his eyes from
her. Above his pain there rose in him a strange and thrilling
fascination. The girl put her two hands to her mouth and in a voice that
was soft and plaintive and amazingly comforting to his terrified little
heart, cried:

“_Uchimoo—Uchimoo—Uchimoo!_”

And then he heard another voice; and this voice, too, was far less
terrible than many sounds he had listened to in the forests.

“We cannot find him, Nepeese,” the voice was saying. “He has crawled off
to die. It is too bad. Come.”

Where Baree had stood in the edge of the open Pierrot paused and pointed
to a birch sapling that had been cut clean off by the Willow’s bullet.
Nepeese understood. The sapling, no larger than her thumb, had turned
her shot a trifle and had saved Baree from instant death.

She turned again, and called:

“_Uchimoo—Uchimoo—Uchimoo!_”

Her eyes were no longer filled with the thrill of slaughter.

“He would not understand that,” said Pierrot, leading the way across the
open. “He is wild—born of the wolves. Perhaps he was of Koomo’s
lead-bitch, who ran away to hunt with the packs last winter.”

“And he will die——”

“_Ayetun_—yes, he will die.”

But Baree had no idea of dying. He was too tough a youngster to be
shocked to death by a bullet passing through the soft flesh of his
fore-leg. That was what had happened. His leg was torn to the bone, but
the bone itself was untouched. He waited until the moon had risen before
he crawled out of his hole.

His leg had grown stiff then; it had stopped bleeding, but his whole
body was racked by a terrible pain. A dozen Papayuchisews, all holding
tight to his ears and nose, could not have hurt him more. Every time he
moved, a sharp twinge shot through him; and yet he persisted in moving.
Instinctively he felt that by travelling away from the hole he would get
away from danger. This was the best thing that could have happened to
him, for a little later a porcupine came wandering along, chattering to
itself in its foolish, good-humoured way, and fell with a fat thud into
the hole. Had Baree remained, he would have been so full of quills that
he must surely have died.

[Illustration: Nepeese, the trapper’s daughter, known to the forest men
as “The Willow,” who became a big factor in the life of the pup Baree.]

In another way the exercise of travel was good for Baree. It gave his
wound no opportunity to “set,” as Pierrot would have said, for in
reality his hurt was more painful than serious. For the first hundred
yards he hobbled along on three legs, and after that he found that he
could use his fourth by humouring it a great deal. He followed the creek
for a half-mile. Whenever a bit of brush touched his wound, he would
snap at it viciously, and instead of whimpering when he felt one of the
sharp twinges shooting through him, an angry little growl gathered in
his throat, and his teeth clicked. Now that he was out of the hole, the
effect of the Willow’s shot was stirring every drop of wolf-blood in his
body. In him there was a growing animosity—a feeling of rage not against
any one thing in particular, but against all things. It was not the
feeling with which he had fought Papayuchisew, the young owl. On this
night the dog in him had disappeared. An accumulation of misfortunes had
descended upon him, and out of these misfortunes—and his present
hurt—the wolf had risen savage and vengeful.

This was the first night Baree had travelled. He was, for the time,
unafraid of anything that might creep up on him out of the darkness. The
blackest shadows had lost their thrill. It was the first big fight
between the two natures that were born in him—the wolf and the dog—and
the dog was vanquished. Now and then he stopped to lick his wound, and
as he licked it he growled, as though for the hurt itself he held a
personal antagonism. If Pierrot could have seen and heard, he would have
understood very quickly, and he would have said: “Let him die. The club
will never take that devil out of him.”

In this humour Baree came, an hour later, out of the heavy timber of the
creek-bottom into the more open spaces of a small plain that ran along
the foot of a ridge. It was in this plain that Oohoomisew hunted.
Oohoomisew was a huge snow-owl. He was the patriarch among all the owls
of Pierrot’s trapping domain. He was so old that he was almost blind,
and therefore he never hunted as other owls hunted. He did not hide
himself in the black cover of spruce- and balsam-tops, or float softly
through the night, ready in an instant to swoop down upon his prey. His
eyesight was so poor that from a spruce-top he could not have seen a
rabbit at all, and he might have mistaken a fox for a mouse.

So old Oohoomisew, learning wisdom from experience, hunted from ambush.
He would squat on the ground, and for hours at a time he would remain
there without making a sound and scarcely moving a feather, waiting with
the patience of Job for something to eat to come his way. Now and then
he had made mistakes. Twice he had mistaken a lynx for a rabbit, and in
the second attack he had lost a foot, so that when he slumbered aloft
during the day he hung to his perch with one claw. Crippled, nearly
blind, and so old that he had long ago lost the tufts of feathers over
his ears, he was still a giant in strength, and when he was angry, one
could hear the snap of his beak twenty yards away.

For three nights he had been unlucky, and to-night he had been
particularly unfortunate. Two rabbits had come his way, and he had
lunged at each of them from his cover. The first he had missed entirely;
the second had left with him a mouthful of fur—and that was all. He was
ravenously hungry, and he was gritting his bill in his bad temper when
he heard Baree approaching.

Even if Baree could have seen under the dark bush ahead, and had
discovered Oohoomisew ready to dart from his ambush, it is not likely
that he would have gone very far aside. His own fighting blood was up.
He, too, was ready for war.

Very indistinctly Oohoomisew saw him at last, coming across the little
open which he was watching. He squatted down. His feathers ruffled up
until he was like a ball. His almost sightless eyes glowed like two
bluish pools of fire. Ten feet away, Baree stopped for a moment and
licked his wound. Oohoomisew waited cautiously. Again Baree advanced,
passing within six feet of the bush. With a swift hop and a sudden
thunder of his powerful wings the great owl was upon him.

This time Baree let out no cry of pain or of fright. The wolf is
_kipichi-mao_, as the Indians say. No hunter ever heard a trapped wolf
whine for mercy at the sting of a bullet or the beat of a club. He dies
with his fangs bared. To-night it was a wolf-whelp that Oohoomisew was
attacking, and not a dog-pup. The owl’s first rush keeled Baree over,
and for a moment he was smothered under the huge, outspread wings, while
Oohoomisew—pinioning him down—hopped for a claw-hold with his one good
foot, and struck fiercely with his beak.

One blow of that beak anywhere about the head would have settled for a
rabbit, but at the first thrust Oohoomisew discovered that it was not a
rabbit he was holding under his wings. A blood-curdling snarl answered
the blow, and Oohoomisew remembered the lynx, his lost foot, and his
narrow escape with his life. The old pirate might have beaten a retreat,
but Baree was no longer the puppyish Baree of that hour in which he had
fought young Papayuchisew. Experience and hardship had aged and
strengthened him; his jaws had passed quickly from the bone-licking to
the bone-cracking age—and before Oohoomisew could get away, if he was
thinking of flight at all, Baree’s fangs closed with a vicious snap on
his one good leg.

In the stillness of night there rose a still greater thunder of wings,
and for a few moments Baree closed his eyes to keep from being blinded
by Oohoomisew’s furious blows. But he hung on grimly, and as his teeth
met through the flesh of the old night-pirate’s leg, his angry snarl
carried defiance to Oohoomisew’s ears. Rare good fortune had given him
that grip on the leg, and Baree knew that triumph or defeat depended on
his ability to hold it. The old owl had no other claw to sink into him,
and it was impossible—caught as he was—for him to tear at Baree with his
beak. So he continued to beat that thunder of blows with his four-foot
wings.

The wings made a great tumult about Baree, but they did not hurt him. He
buried his fangs deeper. His snarls rose more fiercely as he got the
taste of Oohoomisew’s blood, and through him there surged more hotly the
desire to kill this monster of the night, as though in the death of this
creature he had the opportunity of avenging himself for all the hurts
and hardships that had befallen him since he lost his mother.

Oohoomisew had never felt a great fear until now. The lynx had snapped
at him but once—and was gone, leaving him crippled. But the lynx had not
snarled in that wolfish way, and it had not hung on. A thousand and one
nights Oohoomisew had listened to the wolf-howl. Instinct had told him
what it meant. He had seen the packs pass swiftly through the night, and
always when they passed he had kept in the deepest shadows. To him, as
for all other wild things, the wolf-howl stood for death. But until now,
with Baree’s fangs buried in his leg, he had never sensed fully the
wolf-fear. It had taken it years to enter into his slow, stupid head—but
now that it was there, it possessed him as no other thing had ever
possessed him in all his life.

Suddenly Oohoomisew ceased his beating and launched himself upward. Like
huge fans his powerful wings churned the air, and Baree felt himself
lifted suddenly from the earth. Still he held on—and in a moment both
bird and beast fell back with a thud.

Oohoomisew tried again. This time he was more successful, and he rose
fully six feet into the air with Baree. They fell again. A third time
the old outlaw fought to wing himself free of Baree’s grip; and then,
exhausted, he lay with his giant wings outspread, hissing and cracking
his bill.

Under those wings Baree’s mind worked with the swift instincts of the
killer. Suddenly he changed his hold, burying his fangs into the under
part of Oohoomisew’s body. They sank into three inches of feathers.
Swift as Baree had been, Oohoomisew was equally swift to take advantage
of his opportunity. In an instant he had swooped upward. There was a
jerk, a rending of feathers from flesh—and Baree was alone on the field
of battle.

Baree had not killed, but he had conquered. His first great day—or
night—had come. The world was filled with a new promise for him, as vast
as the night itself. And after a moment he sat back on his haunches,
sniffing the air for his beaten enemy; and then, as if defying the
feathered monster to come back and fight to the end, he pointed his
sharp little muzzle up to the stars and sent forth his first babyish
wolf-howl into the night.



                               CHAPTER VI


Baree’s fight with Oohoomisew was good medicine for him. It not only
gave him great confidence in himself, but it also cleared the fever of
ugliness from his blood. He no longer snapped and snarled at things as
he went on through the night.

It was a wonderful night. The moon was straight overhead, and the sky
was filled with stars, so that in the open spaces the light was almost
like that of day, except that it was softer and more beautiful. It was
very still. There was no wind in the treetops, and it seemed to Baree
that the howl he had given must have echoed to the end of the world.

Now and then Baree heard a sound—and always he stopped, attentive and
listening. Far away he heard the long, soft mooing of a cow moose; he
heard a great splashing in the water of a small lake that he came to,
and once there came to him the sharp cracking of horn against horn—two
bucks settling a little difference of opinion a quarter of a mile away.
But it was always the wolf-howl that made him sit and listen longest,
his heart beating with a strange impulse which he did not as yet
understand. It was the call of his breed, growing in him slowly but
insistently.

He was still a wanderer—_pupamootao_, the Indians call it. It is this
“wander spirit” that inspires for a time nearly every creature of the
wild as soon as it is able to care for itself—nature’s scheme, perhaps,
for doing away with too close family relations and possibly dangerous
interbreeding. Baree, like the young wolf seeking new hunting-grounds,
or the young fox discovering a new world, had no reason or method in his
wandering. He was simply “travelling”—going on. He wanted something
which he could not find. The wolf-note brought it to him.

The stars and the moon filled Baree with a yearning for this something.
The distant sounds impinged upon him his great aloneness. And instinct
told him that only by questing could he find. It was not so much Kazan
and Gray Wolf that he missed now—not so much motherhood and home as it
was companionship. Now that he had fought the wolfish rage out of him in
his battle with Oohoomisew, the dog part of him had come into its own
again—the lovable half of him, the part that wanted to snuggle up near
something that was alive and friendly, small odds whether it wore
feathers or fur, was clawed or hoofed.

He was sore from the Willow’s bullet, and he was sore from battle, and
toward dawn he lay down under a shelter of alders at the edge of a
second small lake and rested until midday. Then he began questing in the
reeds and close to the pond-lilies for food. He found a dead jackfish,
partly eaten by a mink, and finished it.

His wound was much less painful this afternoon, and by nightfall he
scarcely noticed it at all. Since his almost tragic end at the hands of
Nepeese, he had been travelling in a general northeasterly direction,
following instinctively the run of the water-ways; but his progress had
been slow, and when darkness came again he was not more than eight or
ten miles from the hole into which he had fallen after the Willow had
shot him.

Baree did not travel far this night. The fact that his wound had come
with dusk, and his fight with Oohoomisew still later, filled him with
caution. Experience had taught him that the dark shadows and the black
pits in the forest were possible ambuscades of danger. He was no longer
afraid, as he had once been, but he had had fighting enough for a time,
and so he accepted circumspection as the better part of valour and held
himself aloof from the perils of darkness. It was a strange instinct
that made him seek his bed on the top of a huge rock up which he had
some difficulty in climbing. Perhaps it was a harkening back to the days
of long ago when Gray Wolf, in her first motherhood, sought refuge at
the summit of the Sun Rock which towered high above the forest-world of
which she and Kazan were a part, and where later she was blinded in her
battle with the lynx.

Baree’s rock, instead of rising for a hundred feet or more straight up,
was possibly as high as a man’s head. It was in the edge of the
creek-bottom, with the spruce forest close at his back. For many hours
he did not sleep, but lay keenly alert, his ears tuned to catch every
sound that came out of the dark world about him. There was more than
curiosity in his alertness to-night. His education had broadened
immensely in one way: he had learned that he was a very small part of
all this wonderful earth that lay under the stars and the moon, and he
was keenly alive with the desire to become better acquainted with it
without any more fighting or hurt. To-night he knew what it meant when
he saw now and then gray shadows float silently out of the forest into
the moonlight—the owls, monsters of the breed with which he had fought.
He heard the crackling of hoofed feet and the smashing of heavy bodies
in the underbrush. He heard again the mooing of the moose. Voices came
to him that he had not heard before—the sharp _yap-yap-yap_ of a fox,
the unearthly, laughing cry of a great Northern loon on a lake half a
mile away, the scream of a lynx that came floating through miles of
forest, the low, soft croaks of the nighthawks between himself and the
stars. He heard strange whisperings in the treetops—whisperings of the
winds; and once, in the heart of a dead stillness, a buck whistled
shrilly close behind his rock—and at the wolf-scent in the air shot away
in a terror-stricken gray streak.

All these sounds held their new meaning for Baree. Swiftly he was coming
into his knowledge of the wilderness. His eyes gleamed; his blood
thrilled. For many minutes at a time he scarcely moved. But of all the
sounds that came to him, the wolf-cry thrilled him most. Again and again
he listened to it. At times it was far away, so far that it was like a
whisper, dying away almost before it reached him; and then again it
would come to him full-throated, hot with the breath of the chase,
calling him to the red thrill of the hunt, to the wild orgy of torn
flesh and running blood—calling, calling, calling. That was it, calling
him to his own kin, to the bone of his bone and the flesh of his
flesh—to the wild, fierce hunting-packs of his mother’s tribe! It was
Gray Wolf’s voice seeking for him in the night—Gray Wolf’s blood
inviting him to the Brotherhood of the Pack.

Baree trembled as he listened. In his throat he whined softly. He edged
to the sheer face of the rock. He wanted to go; nature was urging him to
go. But the call of the wild was struggling against odds; for in him was
the dog, with its generations of subdued and sleeping instincts—and all
that night the dog in him kept Baree to the top of his rock.

Next morning Baree found many crawfish along the creek, and he feasted
on their succulent flesh until he felt that he would never be hungry
again. Nothing had tasted quite so good since he had eaten the partridge
of which he had robbed Sekoosew the ermine.

In the middle of the afternoon Baree came into a part of the forest that
was very quiet and very peaceful. The creek had deepened. In places its
banks swept out until they formed small ponds. Twice he made
considerable detours to get around these ponds. He travelled very
quietly, listening and watching. Not since the ill-fated day he had left
the old windfall had he felt quite so much at home as now. It seemed to
him that at last he was treading country which he knew, and where he
would find friends. Perhaps this was another miracle-mystery of
instinct—of nature. For he was in old Beaver-tooth’s domain. It was here
that his father and mother had hunted in the days before he was born. It
was not far from here that Kazan and Beaver-tooth had fought that mighty
duel under water, from which Kazan had escaped with his life without
another breath to lose.

Baree would never know these things. He would never know that he was
travelling over old trails. But something deep in him gripped at him
strangely. He sniffed the air, as if in it he found the scent of
familiar things. It was only a faint breath—an indefinable promise that
brought him to the point of a mysterious anticipation.

The forest grew deeper. It was wonderful. There was no undergrowth, and
travelling under the trees was like being in a vast, mystery-filled
cavern through the roof of which the light of day broke softly,
brightened here and there by golden splashes of the sun. For a mile
Baree made his way quietly through this forest. He saw nothing but a few
winged flittings of birds; there was almost no sound. Then he came to a
still larger pond. Around this pond there was a thick growth of alders
and willows; the larger trees had thinned out. He saw the glimmer of
afternoon sunlight on the water—and then, all at once, he heard life.

There had been few changes in Beaver-tooth’s colony since the days of
his feud with Kazan and the otters. Old Beaver-tooth was still older. He
was fatter. He slept a great deal, and perhaps he was less cautious. He
was dozing on the great mud-and-brushwood dam of which he had been
engineer-in-chief, when Baree came out softly on a high bank thirty or
forty feet away. So noiseless had Baree been that none of the beavers
had seen or heard him. He squatted himself flat on his belly, hidden
behind a tuft of grass, and with eager interest watched every movement.
Beaver-tooth was rousing himself. He stood on his short legs for a
moment; then he tilted himself up on his broad, flat tail like a soldier
at attention, and with a sudden whistle dived into the pond with a great
splash.

In another moment it seemed to Baree that the pond was alive with
beavers. Heads and bodies appeared and disappeared, rushing this way and
that through the water in a manner that amazed and puzzled him. It was
the colony’s evening frolic. Tails hit the water like flat boards. Odd
whistlings rose above the splashing—and then as suddenly as it had
begun, the play came to an end. There were probably twenty beavers, not
counting the young, and as if guided by a common signal—something which
Baree had not heard—they became so quiet that hardly a sound could be
heard in the pond. A few of them sank under the water and disappeared
entirely, but most of them Baree could watch as they drew themselves out
on shore.

The beavers lost no time in getting at their labour, and Baree watched
and listened without so much as rustling a blade of the grass in which
he was concealed. He was trying to understand. He was striving to place
these curious and comfortable-looking creatures in his knowledge of
things. They did not alarm him; he felt no uneasiness at their number or
size. His stillness was not the quiet of discretion, but rather of a
strange and growing desire to get better acquainted with this curious
four-legged brotherhood of the pond. Already they had begun to make the
big forest less lonely for him. And then, close under him—not more than
ten feet from where he lay—he saw something that almost gave voice to
the puppyish longing for companionship that was in him.

Down there, on a clean strip of the shore that rose out of the soft mud
of the pond, waddled fat little Umisk and three of his playmates. Umisk
was just about Baree’s age, perhaps a week or two younger. But he was
fully as heavy, and almost as wide as he was long. Nature can produce no
four-footed creature that is more lovable than a baby beaver, unless it
is a baby bear; and Umisk would have taken first prize at any beaver
baby-show in the world. His three companions were a bit smaller. They
came waddling from behind a low willow, making queer little chuckling
noises, their little flat tails dragging like tiny sledges behind them.
They were fat and furry, and mighty friendly looking to Baree, and his
heart beat a sudden swift _pit-a-pat_ of joy.

But Baree did not move. He scarcely breathed. And then, suddenly, Umisk
turned on one of his playmates and bowled him over. Instantly the other
two were on Umisk, and the four little beavers rolled over and over,
kicking with their short feet and spatting with their tails, and all the
time emitting soft little squeaking cries. Baree knew that it was not
fight but frolic. He rose up on his feet. He forgot where he was—forgot
everything in the world but those playing, furry balls. For the moment
all the hard training nature had been giving him was lost. He was no
longer a fighter, no longer a hunter, no longer a seeker after food. He
was a puppy, and in him there rose a desire that was greater than
hunger. He wanted to go down there with Umisk and his little chums and
roll and play. He wanted to tell them, if such a thing were possible,
that he had lost his mother and his home, and that he had been having a
mighty hard time of it, and that he would like to stay with them and
their mothers and fathers if they didn’t care.

In his throat there came the least bit of a whine. It was so low that
Umisk and his playmates did not hear it. They were tremendously busy.

Softly Baree took his first step toward them, and then another—and at
last he stood on the narrow strip of shore within half a dozen feet of
them. His sharp little ears were pitched forward, and he was wiggling
his tail as fast as he could, and every muscle in his body was trembling
in anticipation.

It was then that Umisk saw him, and his fat little body became suddenly
as motionless as a stone.

“Hello!” said Baree, wiggling his whole body and talking as plainly as a
human tongue could talk. “Do you care if I play with you?”

Umisk made no response. His three playmates now had their eyes on Baree.
They didn’t make a move. They looked stunned. Four pairs of staring,
wondering eyes were fixed on the stranger.

Baree made another effort. He grovelled on his fore-legs, while his tail
and hind-legs continued to wiggle, and with a sniff he grabbed a bit of
stick between his teeth.

“Come on—let me in,” he urged. “I know how to play!”

He tossed the stick in the air as if to prove what he was saying, and
gave a little yap.

Umisk and his brothers were like dummies.

And then, of a sudden, some one saw Baree. It was a big beaver swimming
down the pond with a sapling timber for the new dam that was under way.
Instantly he loosed his hold and faced the shore. And then, like the
report of a rifle, there came the crack of his big flat tail on the
water—the beaver’s signal of danger that on a quiet night can be heard
half a mile away.

“_Danger_,” it warned. “_Danger—danger—danger!_”

Scarcely had the signal gone forth when tails were cracking in all
directions—in the pond, in the hidden canals, in the thick willows and
alders. To Umisk and his companions they said:

“_Run for your lives!_”

Baree stood rigid and motionless now. In amazement he watched the four
little beavers plunge into the pond and disappear. He heard the sounds
of other and heavier bodies striking the water. And then there followed
a strange and disquieting silence. Softly Baree whined, and his whine
was almost a sobbing cry. Why had Umisk and his little mates run away
from him? What had he done that they didn’t want to make friends with
him? A great loneliness swept over him—a loneliness greater even than
that of his first night away from his mother. The last of the sun faded
out of the sky as he stood there. Darker shadows crept over the pond. He
looked into the forest, where night was gathering—and with another
whining cry he slunk back into it. He had not found friendship. He had
not found comradeship. And his heart was very sad.



                              CHAPTER VII


For two or three days Baree’s excursions after food took him farther and
farther away from the pond. But each afternoon he returned to it—until
the third day, when he discovered a new creek, and Wakayoo. The creek
was fully two miles back in the forest. This was a different sort of
stream. It sang merrily over a gravelly bed and between chasm walls of
split rock. It formed deep pools and foaming eddies, and where Baree
first struck it, the air trembled with the distant thunder of a
waterfall. It was much pleasanter than the dark and silent
beaver-stream. It seemed possessed of life, and the rush and tumult of
it—the song and thunder of the water—gave to Baree entirely new
sensations. He made his way along it slowly and cautiously, and it was
because of this slowness and caution that he came suddenly and
unobserved upon Wakayoo, the big black bear, hard at work fishing.

Wakayoo stood knee-deep in a pool that had formed behind a sand bar, and
he was having tremendously good luck. Even as Baree shrank back, his
eyes popping at sight of this monster he had seen but once before, in
the gloom of night, one of Wakayoo’s big paws sent a great splash of
water high in the air, and a fish landed on the pebbly shore. A little
while before, the suckers had run up the creek in thousands to spawn,
and the rapid lowering of the water had caught many of them in these
prison-pools. Wakayoo’s fat, sleek body was evidence of the prosperity
this circumstance had brought him. Although it was a little past the
“prime” season for bearskins, Wakayoo’s coat was splendidly thick and
black.

For a quarter of an hour Baree watched him while he knocked fish out of
the pool. When at last he stopped, there were twenty or thirty fish
among the stones, some of them dead and others still flopping. From
where he lay flattened out between two rocks, Baree could hear the
crunching of flesh and bone as the bear devoured his dinner. It sounded
good, and the fresh smell of fish filled him with a craving that had
never been roused by crawfish or even partridge.

In spite of his fat and his size, Wakayoo was not a glutton, and after
he had eaten his fourth fish he pawed all the others together in a pile,
partly covered them by raking up sand and stones with his long claws,
and finished his work of caching by breaking down a small balsam sapling
so that the fish were entirely concealed. Then he lumbered slowly away
in the direction of the rumbling waterfall.

Twenty seconds after the last of Wakayoo had disappeared in a turn of
the creek, Baree was under the broken balsam. He dragged out a fish that
was still alive. He ate the whole of it, and it was delicious.

Baree now found that Wakayoo had solved the food problem for him, and
this day he did not return to the beaver pond, nor the next. The big
bear was incessantly fishing up and down the creek, and day after day
Baree continued his feasts. It was not difficult for him to find
Wakayoo’s caches. All he had to do was to follow along the shore of the
stream, sniffing carefully. Some of the caches were getting old, and
their perfume was anything but pleasant to Baree. These he avoided—but
he never missed a meal or two out of a fresh one.

For a week life continued to be exceedingly pleasant. And then came the
break—the change that was destined to mean as much for Baree as that
other day, long ago, had meant for Kazan, his father, when he killed the
man-brute in the edge of the wilderness.

This change came on the day when, in trotting around a great rock near
the waterfall, Baree found himself face to face with Pierrot the hunter
and Nepeese, the star-eyed girl who had shot him in the edge of the
clearing.

It was Nepeese whom he saw first. If it had been Pierrot, he would have
turned back quickly. But again the blood of his forbear was rousing
strange tremblings within him. Was it like this that the first woman had
looked to Kazan?

Baree stood still. Nepeese was not more than twenty feet from him. She
sat on a rock, full in the early morning sun, and was brushing out her
wonderful hair. Her lips parted. Her eyes shone in an instant like
stars. One hand remained poised, weighted with the jet tresses. She
recognized him. She saw the white star on his breast and the white tip
on his ear, and under her breath she whispered “_Uchi moosis!_”—“The
dog-pup!” It was the wild-dog she had shot—and thought had died!

The evening before Pierrot and Nepeese had built a shelter of balsams
behind the big rock, and on a small white plot of sand Pierrot was
kneeling over a fire preparing breakfast while the Willow arranged her
hair. He raised his head to speak to her, and saw Baree. In that instant
the spell was broken. Baree saw the man-beast as he rose to his feet.
Like a shot he was gone.

Scarcely swifter was he than Nepeese.

“_Dépêchez vous, mon père!_” she cried. “It is the dog-pup! Quick——”

In the floating cloud of her hair she sped after Baree like the wind.
Pierrot followed, and in going he caught up his rifle. It was difficult
for him to catch up with the Willow. She was like a wild spirit, her
little moccasined feet scarcely touching the sand as she ran up the long
bar. It was wonderful to see the lithe swiftness of her, and that
wonderful hair streaming out in the sun. Even now, in this moment’s
excitement, it made Pierrot think of McTaggart, the Hudson’s Bay
Company’s factor over at Lac Bain, and what he had said yesterday. Half
the night Pierrot had lain awake, gritting his teeth at thought of it;
and this morning, before Baree ran upon them, he had looked at Nepeese
more closely than ever before in his life. She was beautiful. She was
lovelier even than Wyola, her princess mother, who was dead. That
hair—which made men stare as if they could not believe! Those eyes—like
pools filled with wonderful starlight! Her slimness, that was like a
flower! And McTaggart had said——

Floating back to him there came an excited cry.

“Hurry, Nootawe! He has turned into the blind cañon. He cannot escape us
now.”

She was panting when he came up to her. The French blood in her glowed a
vivid crimson in her cheeks and lips. Her white teeth gleamed like milk.

“In there!” And she pointed.

They went in.

Ahead of them Baree was running for his life. He sensed instinctively
the fact that these wonderful two-legged beings he had looked upon were
all-powerful. And they were after him! He could hear them. Nepeese was
following almost as swiftly as he could run. Suddenly he turned into a
cleft between two great rocks. Twenty feet in, his way was barred, and
he ran back. When he darted out, straight up the cañon, Nepeese was not
a dozen yards behind him, and he saw Pierrot almost at her side. The
Willow gave a cry.

“_Mana_—_mana_—there he is!”

She caught her breath, and darted into a copse of young balsams where
Baree had disappeared. Like a great entangling web her loose hair
impeded her in the brush, and with an encouraging cry to Pierrot she
stopped to gather it over her shoulder as he ran past her. She lost only
a moment or two, and was after him. Fifty yards ahead of her Pierrot
gave a warning shout. Baree had turned. Almost in the same breath he was
tearing over his back-trail, directly toward the Willow. He did not see
her in time to stop or swerve aside, and Nepeese flung herself down in
his path. For an instant or two they were together. Baree felt the
smother of her hair, and the clutch of her hands. Then he squirmed away
and darted again toward the blind end of the cañon.

Nepeese sprang to her feet. She was panting—and laughing. Pierrot came
back wildly, and the Willow pointed beyond him.

“I had him—and he didn’t bite!” she said, breathing swiftly. She still
pointed to the end of the cañon, and she said again: “I had him—and he
didn’t bite me, Nootawe!”

That was the wonder of it. She had been reckless—and Baree had not
bitten her! It was then, with her eyes shining at Pierrot, and the smile
fading slowly from her lips, that she spoke softly the word “_Baree_,”
which in her tongue meant “the wild dog”—a little brother of the wolf.

“Come,” cried Pierrot, “or we will lose him!”

Pierrot was confident. The cañon had narrowed. Baree could not get past
them unseen. Three minutes later Baree came to the blind end of the
cañon—a wall of rock that rose straight up like the curve of a dish.
Feasting on fish and long hours of sleep had fattened him, and he was
half winded as he sought vainly for an exit. He was at the far end of
the dishlike curve of rock, without a bush or a clump of grass to hide
him, when Pierrot and Nepeese saw him again. Nepeese made straight
toward him. Pierrot, foreseeing what Baree would do, hurried to the
left, at right-angles to the end of the cañon.

In and out among the rocks Baree sought swiftly for a way of escape. In
a moment more he had come to the “box,” or cup of the cañon. This was a
break in the wall, fifty or sixty feet wide, which opened into a natural
prison about an acre in extent. It was a beautiful spot. On all sides
but that leading into the coulée it was shut in by walls of rock. At the
far end a waterfall broke down in a series of rippling cascades. The
grass was thick underfoot and strewn with flowers. In this trap Pierrot
had got more than one fine haunch of venison. From it there was no
escape, except in the face of his rifle. He called to Nepeese as he saw
Baree entering it, and together they climbed the slope.

Baree had almost reached the edge of the little prison-meadow when
suddenly he stopped himself so quickly that he fell back on his
haunches, and his heart jumped up into his throat.

Full in his path stood Wakayoo, the huge black bear!

For perhaps a half-minute Baree hesitated between the two perils. He
heard the voices of Nepeese and Pierrot. He caught the rattle of stones
under their feet. And he was filled with a great dread. Then he looked
at Wakayoo. The big bear had not moved an inch. He, too, was listening.
But to him there was a thing more disturbing than the sounds he heard.
It was the scent which he caught in the air—the man-scent.

Baree, watching him, saw his head swing slowly even as the footsteps of
Nepeese and Pierrot became more and more distinct. It was the first time
Baree had ever stood face to face with the big bear. He had watched him
fish; he had fattened on Wakayoo’s prowess; he had held him in splendid
awe. Now there was something about the bear that took away his fear and
gave him in its place a new and thrilling confidence. Wakayoo, big and
powerful as he was, would not run from the two-legged creatures who
pursued him! If Baree could only get past Wakayoo he was safe!

Baree darted to one side and ran for the open meadow. Wakayoo did not
stir as Baree sped past him—no more than if he had been a bird or a
rabbit. Then came another breath of air, heavy with the scent of man.
This, at last, put life into him. He turned and began lumbering after
Baree into the meadow-trap. Baree, looking back, saw him coming—and
thought it was pursuit. Nepeese and Pierrot came over the slope, and at
the same instant they saw both Wakayoo and Baree.

Where they entered into the grassy dip under the rock walls, Baree
turned sharply to the right. Here was a great boulder, one end of it
tilted up off the earth. It looked like a splendid hiding-place, and
Baree crawled under it.

But Wakayoo kept straight ahead into the meadow.

From where he lay Baree could see what happened. Scarcely had he crawled
under the rock when Nepeese and Pierrot appeared through the break in
the dip, and stopped. The fact that they stopped thrilled Baree. They
were afraid of Wakayoo! The big bear was two thirds of the way across
the meadow. The sun fell on him, so that his coat shone like black
satin. Pierrot stared at him for a moment. Pierrot did not kill for the
love of killing. Necessity made him a conservationist. But he saw that
in spite of the lateness of the season, Wakayoo’s coat was splendid—and
he raised his rifle.

Baree saw this action. He saw, a moment later, something spit from the
end of the gun, and then he heard that deafening crash that had come
with his own hurt, when the Willow’s bullet had burned through his
flesh. He turned his eyes swiftly to Wakayoo. The big bear had stumbled;
he was on his knees; and then he struggled up and lumbered on.

The roar of the rifle came again, and a second time Wakayoo went down.
Pierrot could not miss at that distance. Wakayoo made a splendid mark.
It was slaughter; yet for Pierrot and Nepeese it was business—the
business of life.

Baree was shivering. It was more from excitement than fear, for he had
lost his own fear in the tragedy of these moments. A low whine rose in
his throat as he looked at Wakayoo, who had risen again and faced his
enemies—his jaws gaping, his head swinging slowly, his legs weakening
under him as the blood poured through his torn lungs. Baree
whined—because Wakayoo had fished for him, because he had come to look
on him as a friend, and because he knew it was death that Wakayoo was
facing now. There was a third shot—the last. Wakayoo sank down in his
tracks. His big head dropped between his forepaws. A racking cough or
two came to Baree. And then there was silence.

It was slaughter—but business.

A minute later, standing over Wakayoo, Pierrot said to Nepeese:

“_Mon Dieu_, but it is a fine skin, _Sakahet!_ It is worth twenty
dollars over at Lac Bain!”

He drew forth his knife and began whetting if on a stone which he
carried in his pocket. In these minutes Baree might have crawled out
from under his rock and escaped down the cañon; for a space he was
forgotten. Then Nepeese thought of him, and in that same strange,
wondering voice she spoke again the word “_Baree_.”

Pierrot, who was kneeling, looked up at her.

“_Oui, Sakahet._ He was born of the wild. And now he is gone——”

The Willow shook her head.

“_Non_, he is not gone,” she said, and her dark eyes quested the sunlit
meadow.

[Illustration: Baree stood still. Nepeese was not more than twenty feet
from him. He sat on a rock, full in the early morning sun. She saw the
white star on his breast and the white tip on his ear, and under her
breath she whispered “_Uchi moosis!_”—“The dog-pup!” It was the wild-dog
she had shot—and thought had died!]



                              CHAPTER VIII


As Nepeese gazed about the rock-walled end of the cañon, the prison into
which they had driven Wakayoo and Baree, Pierrot looked up again from
his skinning of the big black bear, and he muttered something that no
one but himself could have heard. “_Non_, it is not possible,” he had
said a moment before; but to Nepeese it was possible—the thought that
was in her mind. It was a wonderful thought. It thrilled her to the
depth of her wild, beautiful soul. It sent a glow into her eyes and a
deeper flush of excitement into her cheeks and lips.

As she quested the ragged edges of the little meadow for signs of the
dog-pup, her thoughts flashed back swiftly. Two years ago they had
buried her princess mother under the tall spruce near their cabin. That
day Pierrot’s sun had set for all time, and her own life was filled with
a vast loneliness. There had been three at the graveside that afternoon
as the sun went down—Pierrot, herself, and a dog, a great, powerful
husky with a white star on his breast and a white-tipped ear. He had
been her dead mother’s pet from puppyhood—her bodyguard, with her
always, even with his head resting on the side of her bed as she died.
And that night, the night of the day they buried her, the dog had
disappeared. He had gone as quietly and as completely as her spirit. No
one ever saw him after that. It was strange, and to Pierrot it was a
miracle. Deep in his heart he was filled with the wonderful conviction
that the dog had gone with his beloved Wyola into heaven.

But Nepeese had spent three winters at the Missioner’s school at Nelson
House. She had learned a great deal about white people and the real God,
and she knew that Pierrot’s thought was impossible. She believed that
her mother’s husky was either dead or had joined the wolves. Probably he
had gone to the wolves. So—was it not possible that this youngster she
and her father had pursued was of the flesh and blood of her mother’s
pet? It was more than possible. The white star on his breast, the
white-tipped ear—the fact that he had not bitten her when he might
easily have buried his fangs in the soft flesh of her arms! She was
convinced. While Pierrot skinned the bear, she began hunting for Baree.

Baree had not moved an inch from under his rock. He lay like a thing
stunned, his eyes fixed steadily on the scene of the tragedy out in the
meadow. He had seen something that he would never forget—even as he
would never quite forget his mother and Kazan and the old windfall. He
had witnessed the death of the creature he had thought all-powerful.
Wakayoo, the big bear, had not even put up a fight. Pierrot and Nepeese
had killed him _without touching him_; now Pierrot was cutting him with
a knife which shot silvery flashes in the sun; and Wakayoo made no
movement. It made Baree shiver, and he drew himself an inch farther back
under the rock, where he was already wedged as if he had been shoved
there by a strong hand.

He could see Nepeese. She came straight back to the break through which
his flight had taken him, and stood at last not more than twenty feet
from where he was hidden. Now that she stood where he could not escape,
she began weaving her shining hair into two thick braids. Baree had
taken his eyes from Pierrot, and he watched her curiously. He was not
afraid now. His nerves tingled. In him a strange and growing force was
struggling to solve a great mystery—the reason for his desire to creep
out from under his rock and approach that wonderful creature with the
shining eyes and the beautiful hair.

Baree wanted to approach. It was like an invisible string tugging at his
very heart. It was Kazan, and not Gray Wolf, calling to him back through
the centuries, a “call” that was as old as the Egyptian pyramids and
perhaps ten thousand years older. But against that desire Gray Wolf was
pulling from out the black ages of the forests. The wolf held him quiet
and motionless. Nepeese was looking about her. She was smiling. For a
moment her face was turned toward him, and he saw the white shine of her
teeth, and her beautiful eyes seemed glowing straight at him.

And then, suddenly, she dropped on her knees and peered under the rock.

Their eyes met. For at least half a minute there was not a sound.
Nepeese did not move, and her breath came so softly that Baree could not
hear it. Then she said, almost in a whisper:

“_Baree! Baree! Upi Baree!_”

It was the first time Baree had heard his name, and there was something
so soft and assuring in the sound of it that in spite of himself the dog
in him responded to it in a whimper that just reached the Willow’s ears.
Slowly she stretched in an arm. It was bare and round and soft. He might
have darted forward the length of his body and buried his fangs in it
easily. But something held him back. He knew that it was not an enemy;
he knew that the dark eyes shining at him so wonderfully were not filled
with the desire to harm—and the voice that came to him softly was like a
strange and thrilling music.

“_Baree! Baree! Upi Baree!_”

Over and over again the Willow called to him like that, while on her
face she tried to draw herself a few inches farther under the rock. She
could not reach him. There was still a foot between her hand and Baree,
and she could not wedge herself in an inch more. And then she saw where
on the other side of the rock there was a hollow, shut in by a stone. If
she had removed the stone, and come in that way——

She drew herself out and stood once more in the sunshine. Her heart
thrilled. Pierrot was busy over his bear—and she would not call him. She
made an effort to move the stone which closed in the hollow under the
big boulder, but it was wedged in tightly. Then she began digging with a
stick. If Pierrot had been there, his sharp eyes would have discovered
the significance of that stone, which was not larger than a water pail.
Possibly for centuries it had lain there, its support keeping the huge
rock from toppling down, just as an ounce-weight may swing the balance
of a wheel that weighs a ton.

Five minutes—and Nepeese could move the stone. She tugged at it. Inch by
inch she dragged it out until at last it lay at her feet and the opening
was ready for her body. She looked again toward Pierrot. He was still
busy, and she laughed softly as she untied a big red-and-white Bay
handkerchief from about her shoulders. With this she would secure Baree.
She dropped on her hands and knees and then lowered herself flat on the
ground and began crawling into the hollow under the boulder.

Baree had moved. With the back of his head flattened against the rock,
he had heard something which Nepeese had not heard; he had felt a slow
and growing pressure, and from this pressure he had dragged himself
slowly—and the pressure still followed. The mass of rock was settling!
Nepeese did not see or hear or understand. She was calling to him more
and more pleadingly:

“Baree—Baree—Baree——”

Her head and shoulders and both arms were under the rock now. The glow
of her eyes was very close to Baree. He whined. The thrill of a great
and impending danger stirred in his blood. And then——

In that moment Nepeese felt the pressure of the rock on her shoulder,
and into the eyes that had been glowing softly at Baree there shot a
sudden wild look of horror. And then there came from her lips a cry that
was not like any other sound Baree had ever heard in the
wilderness—wild, piercing, filled with agonized fear. Pierrot did not
hear that first cry. But he heard the second and the third—and then
scream after scream as the Willow’s tender body was slowly crushed under
the settling mass. He ran toward it with the speed of the wind. The
cries were weaker—dying away. He saw Baree as he came out from under the
rock and ran into the cañon, and in the same instant he saw a part of
the Willow’s dress and her moccasined feet. The rest of her was hidden
under the death-trap. Like a madman Pierrot began digging. When a few
moments later he drew Nepeese out from under the boulder she was white
and deathly still. Her eyes were closed. His hand could not feel that
she was living, and a great moan of anguish rose out of his soul. But he
knew how to fight for a life. He tore open her dress and found that she
was not crushed as he had feared. Then he ran for water. When he
returned, the Willow’s eyes were open and she was gasping for breath.

“The blessed saints be praised!” sobbed Pierrot, falling on his knees at
her side. “_Nepeese, ma Nepeese!_”

She smiled at him, with her two hands on her bare breast, and Pierrot
hugged her up to him, forgetting the water he had run so hard to get.

Still later, when he got down on his knees and peered under the rock,
his face turned white and he said:

“_Mon Dieu_, if it had not been for that little hollow in the earth,
Nepeese——”

He shuddered, and said no more. But Nepeese, happy in her salvation,
made a movement with her hand and said, smiling at him:

“I would have been like—_that_. Ah, _mon père_, I hope I shall never
have a lover like that rock!”

Pierrot’s face darkened as he bent over her.

“_Non!_” he said fiercely. “Never!”

He was thinking again of McTaggart, the factor at Lac Bain, and his
hands clenched while his lips softly touched the Willow’s hair.



                               CHAPTER IX


Impelled by the wild alarm of the Willow’s terrible cries and the sight
of Pierrot dashing madly toward him from the dead body of Wakayoo, Baree
did not stop running until it seemed as though his lungs could not draw
another breath. When he stopped, he was well out of the cañon and headed
for the beaver-pond. For almost a week Baree had not been near the pond.
He had not forgotten Beaver-tooth and Umisk and the other little
beavers, but Wakayoo and his daily catch of fresh fish had been too big
a temptation for him. Now Wakayoo was gone. He sensed the fact that the
big black bear would never fish again in the quiet pools and shimmering
eddies, and that where for many days there had been peace and plenty,
there was now great danger; and just as in another country he would have
fled for safety to the old windfall, he now fled desperately for the
beaver-pond.

Exactly wherein lay Baree’s fears it would be difficult to say—but
surely it was not because of Nepeese. The Willow had chased him hard.
She had flung herself upon him. He had felt the clutch of her hands and
the smother of her soft hair, and yet of her he was not afraid! If he
stopped now and then in his flight and looked back, it was to see if
Nepeese was following. He would not have run hard from her—alone. Her
eyes and voice and hands had set something stirring in him; he was
filled with a greater yearning and a greater loneliness now—and that
night he dreamed troubled dreams.

He found himself a bed under a spruce root not far from the beaver-pond,
and all through the night his sleep was filled with that restless
dreaming—dreams of his mother, of Kazan, the old windfall, of Umisk—and
of Nepeese. Once, when he awoke, he thought the spruce root was Gray
Wolf; and when he found that she was not there, Pierrot and the Willow
could have told what his crying meant if they had heard it. Again and
again he had visions of the thrilling happenings of that day. He saw the
flight of Wakayoo over the little meadow—he saw him die again. He saw
the glow of the Willow’s eyes close to his own, heard her voice—so sweet
and low that it was like strange music to him—and again he heard her
terrible screams.

Baree was glad when the dawn came. He did not seek for food, but went
down to the pond. There was little hope and anticipation in his manner
now. He remembered that, as plainly as animal ways could talk, Umisk and
his playmates had told him they wanted nothing to do with him. And yet
the fact that they were there took away some of his loneliness. It was
more than loneliness. The wolf in him was submerged. The dog was master.
And in these passing moments, when the blood of the wild was almost
dormant in him, he was depressed by the instinctive and growing feeling
that he was not of that wild, but a fugitive in it, menaced on all sides
by strange dangers.

Deep in the northern forests the beaver does not work and play in
darkness only, but uses day even more than night, and many of
Beaver-tooth’s people were awake when Baree began disconsolately to
investigate the shores of the pond. The little beavers were still with
their mothers in the big houses that looked like great domes of sticks
and mud out in the middle of the lake. There were three of these houses,
one of them at least twenty feet in diameter. Baree had some difficulty
in following his side of the pond. When he got back among the willows
and alders and birch, dozens of little canals crossed and criss-crossed
in his path. Some of these canals were a foot wide, and others three or
four feet, and all were filled with water. No country in the world ever
had a better system of traffic than this domain of the beavers, down
which they brought their working materials and food into the main
reservoir—the pond.

In one of the larger canals Baree surprised a big beaver towing a
four-foot cutting of birch as thick through as a man’s leg—half a dozen
breakfasts and dinners and suppers in that one cargo. The four or five
inner barks of the birch are what might be called the bread and butter
and potatoes of the beaver menu, while the more highly prized barks of
the willow and young alder take the place of meat and pie.

Baree smelled curiously of the birch cutting after the old beaver had
abandoned it in flight, and then went on. He did not try to hide himself
now, and at least half a dozen beavers had a good look at him before he
came to the point where the pond narrowed down to the width of the
stream, almost half a mile from the dam. Then he wandered back. All that
morning he hovered about the pond, showing himself openly.

In their big mud-and-stick strongholds the beavers held a council of
war. They were distinctly puzzled. There were four enemies which they
dreaded above all others: the otter, who destroyed their dams in the
winter-time and brought death to them from cold and by lowering the
water so they could not get to their food-supplies; the lynx, who preyed
on them all, young and old alike; and the fox and wolf, who would lie in
ambush for hours in order to pounce on the very young, like Umisk and
his playmates. If Baree had been any one of these four, wily
Beaver-tooth and his people would have known what to do. But Baree was
surely not an otter, and if he was a fox or a wolf or a lynx, his
actions were very strange, to say the least. Half a dozen times he had
had the opportunity to pounce on his prey, if he had been seeking prey.
But at no time had he shown the desire to harm them.

It may be that the beavers discussed the matter fully among themselves.
It is possible that Umisk and his playmates told their parents of their
adventure, and of how Baree made no move to harm them when he could
quite easily have caught them. It is also more than likely that the
older beavers who had fled from Baree that morning gave an account of
their adventures, again emphasizing the fact that the stranger, while
frightening them, had shown no disposition to attack them. All this is
quite possible, for if beavers can make a large part of a continent’s
history, and can perform engineering feats that nothing less than
dynamite can destroy, it is only reasonable to suppose that they have
some way of making one another understand.

However this may be, courageous old Beaver-tooth took it upon himself to
end the suspense.

It was early in the afternoon that for the third or fourth time Baree
walked out on the dam. This dam was fully two hundred feet in length,
but at no point did the water run over it, the overflow finding its way
through narrow sluices. A week or two ago Baree could have crossed to
the opposite side of the pond on this dam, but now—at the far
end—Beaver-tooth and his engineers were adding a new section of dam, and
in order to accomplish their work more easily, they had flooded fully
fifty yards of the low ground on which they were working. The main dam
held a fascination for Baree. It was strong with the smell of beaver.
The top of it was high and dry, and there were dozens of smoothly worn
little hollows in which the beavers had taken their sun-baths. In one of
these hollows Baree stretched himself out, with his eyes on the pond.
Not a ripple stirred its velvety smoothness. Not a sound broke the
drowsy stillness of the afternoon. The beavers might have been dead or
asleep, for all the stir they made. And yet they knew that Baree was on
the dam. Where he lay, the sun fell in a warm flood, and it was so
comfortable that after a time he had difficulty in keeping his eyes open
to watch the pond. Then he fell asleep.

Just how Beaver-tooth sensed this fact is a mystery. Five minutes later
he came up quietly, without a splash or a sound, within fifty yards of
Baree. For a few moments he scarcely moved in the water. Then he swam
very slowly parallel with the dam across the pond. At the other side he
drew himself ashore, and for another minute sat as motionless as a
stone, with his eyes on that part of the dam where Baree was lying. Not
another beaver was moving, and it was very soon apparent that
Beaver-tooth had but one object in mind—getting a closer observation of
Baree. When he entered the water again, he swam along close to the dam.
Ten feet beyond Baree he began to climb out. He did this with great
slowness and caution. At last he reached the top of the dam.

A few yards away Baree was almost hidden in his hollow, only the top of
his shiny black body appearing to Beaver-tooth’s scrutiny. To get a
better look, the old beaver spread his flat tail out beyond him and rose
to a sitting posture on his hind-quarters, his two front paws held
squirrel-like over his breast. In this pose he was fully three feet
tall. He probably weighed forty pounds, and in some ways he resembled
one of those fat, good-natured, silly-looking dogs that go largely to
stomach. But his brain was working with amazing celerity. Suddenly he
gave the hard mud of the dam a single slap with his tail—and Baree sat
up. Instantly he saw Beaver-tooth, and stared. Beaver-tooth stared. For
a full half-minute neither moved the thousandth part of an inch. Then
Baree stood up and wagged his tail.

That was enough. Dropping to his forefeet. Beaver-tooth waddled
leisurely to the edge of the dam and dived over. He was neither cautious
nor in very great haste now. He made a great commotion in the water and
swam boldly back and forth under Baree. When he had done this several
times, he cut straight up the pond to the largest of the three houses
and disappeared. Five minutes after Beaver-tooth’s exploit word was
passing quickly among the colony. The stranger—Baree—was not a lynx. He
was not a fox. He was not a wolf. Moreover, he was very young—and
harmless. Work could be resumed. Play could be resumed. There was no
danger. Such was Beaver-tooth’s verdict.

If some one had shouted these facts in beaver-language through a
megaphone, the response could not have been quicker. All at once it
seemed to Baree, who was still standing on the edge of the dam, that the
pond was alive with beavers. He had never seen so many at one time
before. They were popping up everywhere, and some of them swam up within
a dozen feet of him and looked him over in a leisurely and curious way.
For perhaps five minutes the beavers seemed to have no particular object
in view. Then Beaver-tooth himself struck straight for the shore and
climbed out. Others followed him. Half a dozen workers disappeared in
the canals. As many more waddled out among the alders and willows.
Eagerly Baree watched for Umisk and his chums. At last he saw them,
swimming forth from one of the smaller houses. They climbed out on their
playground—the smooth bar above the shore of mud. Baree wagged his tail
so hard that his whole body shook, and hurried along the dam.

When he came out on the level strip of shore, Umisk was there alone,
nibbling his supper from a long, freshly cut willow. The other little
beavers had gone into a thick clump of young alders.

This time Umisk did not run. He looked up from his stick. Baree squatted
himself, wiggling in a most friendly and ingratiating manner. For a few
seconds Umisk regarded him.

Then, very coolly, he resumed his supper.



                               CHAPTER X


Just as in the life of every man there is one big, controlling
influence, either for good or bad, so in the life of Baree the
beaver-pond was largely an arbiter of destiny. Where he might have gone
if he had not discovered it, and what might have happened to him, are
matters of conjecture. But it held him. It began to take the place of
the old windfall, and in the beavers themselves he found a companionship
which made up, in a way, for his loss of the protection and friendship
of Kazan and Gray Wolf.

This companionship, if it could be called that, went just so far and no
farther. With each day that passed the older beavers became more
accustomed to seeing Baree. At the end of two weeks, if Baree had gone
away, they would have missed him—but not in the same way that Baree
would have missed the beavers. It was a matter of good-natured
toleration on their part. With Baree it was different. He was still
_uskahis_, as Nepeese would have said; he still wanted mothering; he was
still moved by the puppyish yearnings which he had not yet had the time
to outgrow; and when night came—to speak that yearning quite plainly—he
had the desire to go into the big beaver house with Umisk and his chums
and sleep.

During this fortnight that followed Beaver-tooth’s exploit on the dam
Baree ate his meals a mile up the creek, where there were plenty of
crawfish. But the pond was home. Night always found him there, and a
large part of his day. He slept at the end of the dam, or on top of it
on particularly clear nights, and the beavers accepted him as a
permanent guest. They worked in his presence as if he did not exist.

Baree was fascinated by this work, and he never grew tired of watching
it. It puzzled and bewildered him. Day after day he saw them float
timber and brush through the water for the new dam. He saw this dam
growing steadily under their efforts. One day he lay within a dozen feet
of an old beaver who was cutting down a tree six inches through. When
the tree fell, and the old beaver scurried away, Baree scurried, too.
Then he came back and smelled of the cutting, wondering what it was all
about, and why Umisk’s uncle or grandfather or aunt had gone to all that
trouble.

He still could not induce Umisk and the other young beavers to join him
in play, and after the first week or so he gave up his efforts. In fact,
their play puzzled him almost as much as the dam-building operations of
the older beavers. Umisk, for instance, was fond of playing in the mud
at the edge of the pond. He was like a very small boy. Where his elders
floated timbers from three inches to a foot in diameter to the big dam,
Umisk brought small sticks and twigs no larger around than a lead-pencil
to his playground, and built a make-believe dam of his own.

Umisk would work an hour at a time on this play-dam as industriously as
his father and mother were working on the big dam, and Baree would lie
flat on his belly a few feet away, watching him and wondering mightily.
And through this half-dry mud Umisk would also dig his miniature canals,
just as a small boy might have dug his Mississippi River and
pirate-infested oceans in the outflow of some back-lot spring. With his
sharp little teeth he cut down his big timber—willow-sprouts never more
than an inch in diameter; and when one of these four or five-foot
sprouts toppled down, he undoubtedly felt as great a satisfaction as
Beaver-tooth felt when he sent a seventy-foot birch crashing into the
edge of the pond. Baree could not understand the fun of all this. He
could see some reason for nibbling at sticks—he liked to sharpen his
teeth on sticks himself; but it puzzled him to explain why Umisk so
painstakingly stripped the bark from the sticks and swallowed it.

Another method of play still further discouraged Baree’s advances. A
short distance from the spot where he had first seen Umisk there was a
shelving bank that rose ten or twelve feet from the water, and this bank
was used by the young beavers as a slide. It was worn smooth and hard.
Umisk would climb up the bank at a point where it was not so steep. At
the top of the slide he would put his tail out flat behind him and give
himself a shove, shooting down the toboggan and landing in the water
with a big splash. At times there were from six to ten young beavers
engaged in this sport, and now and then one of the older beavers would
waddle to the top of the slide and take a turn with the youngsters.

One afternoon, when the toboggan was particularly wet and slippery from
recent use, Baree went up the beaver-path to the top of the bank, and
began investigating. Nowhere had he found the beaver-smell so strong as
on the slide. He began sniffing and incautiously went too far. In an
instant his feet shot out from under him, and with a single wild yelp he
went shooting down the toboggan. For the second time in his life he
found himself struggling under water, and when a minute or two later he
dragged himself up through the soft mud to the firmer footing of the
shore, he had at last a very well-defined opinion of beaver play.

It may be that Umisk saw him. It may be that very soon the story of his
adventure was known by all the inhabitants of Beaver Town. For when
Baree came upon Umisk eating his supper of alder-bark that evening,
Umisk stood his ground to the last inch, and for the first time they
smelled noses. At least Baree sniffed audibly, and plucky little Umisk
sat like a rolled-up sphinx. That was the final cementing of their
friendship—on Baree’s part. He capered about extravagantly for a few
moments, telling Umisk how much he liked him, and that they’d be great
chums. Umisk didn’t talk. He didn’t make a move until he resumed his
supper. But he was a companionable looking little fellow, for all that,
and Baree was happier than he had been since the day he left the old
windfall.

This friendship, even though it outwardly appeared to be quite
one-sided, was decidedly fortunate for Umisk. When Baree was at the
pond, he always kept as near to Umisk as possible, when he could find
him. One day he was lying in a patch of grass, half asleep, while Umisk
busied himself in a clump of alder-shoots a few yards away. It was the
warning crack of a beaver tail that fully roused Baree; and then another
and another, like pistol-shots. He jumped up. Everywhere beavers were
scurrying for the pond.

Just then Umisk came out of the alders and hurried as fast as his short,
fat legs would carry him toward the water. He had almost reached the mud
when a lightning flash of red passed before Baree’s eyes in the
afternoon sun, and in another instant Napakasew—the he-fox—had fastened
his sharp fangs in Umisk’s throat. Baree heard his little friend’s
agonized cry; he heard the frenzied _flap-flap-flap_ of many tails—and
his blood pounded suddenly with the thrill of excitement and rage.

As swiftly as the red fox himself, Baree darted to the rescue. He was as
big and as heavy as the fox, and when he struck Napakasew, it was with a
ferocious snarl that Pierrot might have heard on the farther side of the
pond, and his teeth sank like knives into the shoulder of Umisk’s
assailant. The fox was of a breed of forest highwaymen which kills from
behind. He was not a fighter when it came fang-to-fang, unless
cornered—and so fierce and sudden was Baree’s assault that Napakasew
took to flight almost as quickly as he had begun his attack on Umisk.

Baree did not follow him, but went to Umisk, who lay half in the mud,
whimpering and snuffling in a curious sort of way. Gently Baree nosed
him, and after a moment or two Umisk got up on his webbed feet, while
fully twenty or thirty beavers were making a tremendous fuss in the
water near the shore.

After this the beaver-pond seemed more than ever like home to Baree.



                               CHAPTER XI


While lovely Nepeese was shuddering over her thrilling experience under
the rock—while Pierrot still offered grateful thanks in his prayers for
her deliverance and Baree was becoming more and more a fixture at the
beaver-pond—Bush McTaggart was perfecting a little scheme of his own up
at Post Lac Bain, about forty miles north and west. McTaggart had been
factor at Lac Bain for seven years. In the Company’s books down in
Winnipeg he was counted a remarkably successful man. The expense of his
post was below the average, and his semi-annual report of furs always
ranked among the first. After his name, kept on file in the main office,
was one notation which said: “Gets more out of a dollar than any other
man north of God’s Lake.”

The Indians knew why this was so. They called him _Napao Wetikoo_—the
man-devil. This was under their breath—a name whispered sinisterly in
the glow of tepee fires, or spoken softly where not even the winds might
carry it to the ears of Bush McTaggart. They feared him; they hated him.
They died of starvation and sickness, and the tighter Bush McTaggart
clenched the fingers of his iron rule, the more meekly, it seemed to
him, did they respond to his mastery. His was a small soul, hidden in
the hulk of a brute, which rejoiced in power. And here—with the raw
wilderness on four sides of him—his power knew no end. The Big Company
was behind him. It had made him king of a domain in which there was
little law except his own. And in return he gave back to the Company
bales and bundles of furs beyond their expectation. It was not for them
to have suspicions. They were a thousand or more miles away—and dollars
counted.

Gregson might have told. Gregson was the Investigating Agent of that
district, who visited McTaggart once each year. He might have reported
that the Indians called McTaggart _Napao Wetikoo_ because he gave them
only half price for their furs; he might have told the Company quite
plainly that he kept the people of the trap-lines at the edge of
starvation through every month of the winter, that he had them on their
knees with his hands at their throats—putting the truth in a mild and
pretty way—and that he always had a woman or a girl, Indian or
halfbreed, living with him at the Post. But Gregson enjoyed his visits
too much at Lac Bain. Always he could count on two weeks of coarse
pleasures; and in addition to that, his own womenfolk at home wore a
rich treasure of fur that came to them from McTaggart.

One evening, a week after the adventure of Nepeese and Baree under the
rock, McTaggart sat under the glow of an oil lamp in his “store.” He had
sent his little pippin-faced English clerk to bed, and he was alone. For
six weeks there had been in him a great unrest. It was just six weeks
ago that Pierrot had brought Nepeese on her first visit to Lac Bain
since McTaggart had been factor there. She had taken his breath away.
Since then he had been able to think of nothing but her. Twice in that
six weeks he had gone down to Pierrot’s cabin. To-morrow he was going
again. Marie, the slim Cree girl over in his cabin, he had
forgotten—just as a dozen others before Marie had slipped out of his
memory. It was Nepeese now. He had never seen anything quite so
beautiful as Pierrot’s girl.

Audibly he cursed Pierrot as he looked at a sheet of paper under his
hand, on which for an hour or more he had been making notes out of worn
and dusty Company ledgers. It was Pierrot who stood in his way.
Pierrot’s father, according to those notes, had been a full-blooded
Frenchman. Therefore Pierrot was half French, and Nepeese was quarter
French—though she was so beautiful he could have sworn there was not
more than a drop or two of Indian blood in her veins. If they had been
all Indian—Chippewayan, Cree, Ojibway, Dog Rib—anything—there would have
been no trouble at all in the matter. He would have bent them to his
power, and Nepeese would have come to his cabin, as Marie came six
months ago. But there was the accursed French of it! Pierrot and Nepeese
were different. And yet——

He smiled grimly, and his hands clenched tighter. After all, was not his
power sufficient? Would even Pierrot dare stand against that? If Pierrot
objected, he would drive him from the country—from the trapping regions
that had come down to him as heritage from father and grandfather, and
even before their day. He would make of Pierrot a wanderer and an
outcast, as he had made wanderers and outcasts of a score of others who
had lost his favour. No other Post would sell to or buy from Pierrot if
_Le Bête_—the black cross—was put after his name. That was his power—a
law of the Factors that had come down through the centuries. It was a
tremendous power for evil. It had brought him Marie, the slim, dark-eyed
Cree girl, who hated him—and in spite of her hatred “kept house for
him.” That was the polite way of explaining her presence if explanations
were ever necessary.

McTaggart looked again at the notes he had made on the sheet of paper.
Pierrot’s trapping-country, his own property according to the common law
of the wilderness, was very valuable. During the last seven years he had
received an average of a thousand dollars a year for his furs, for
McTaggart had been unable to cheat Pierrot quite as completely as he had
cheated the Indians. A thousand dollars a year! Pierrot would think
twice before he gave that up. McTaggart chuckled as he crumpled the
paper in his hand and prepared to put out the light. Under his
close-cropped shaggy beard his reddish face blazed with the fire that
was in his blood. It was an unpleasant face—like iron, merciless, filled
with the look that gave him his name of _Napao Wetikoo_. His eyes
gleamed, and he drew a quick breath as he put out the light.

He chuckled again as he made his way through the darkness to the door.
Nepeese as good as belonged to him. He would have her if it
cost—_Pierrot’s life_. And—_why not_? It was all so easy. A shot on a
lonely trap-line, a single knife-thrust—and who would know? Who would
guess where Pierrot had gone? And it would all be Pierrot’s fault. For
the last time he had seen Pierrot, he had made an honest proposition: he
would marry Nepeese. Yes, even that. He had told Pierrot so. He had told
Pierrot that when the latter was his father-in-law, he would pay him
double price for furs.

And Pierrot had stared—had stared with that strange, stunned look in his
face, like a man dazed by a blow from a club. And so if he did not get
Nepeese without trouble it would all be Pierrot’s fault. To-morrow
McTaggart would start again for the halfbreed’s country. And the next
day Pierrot would have an answer for him. Bush McTaggart chuckled again
when he went to bed.

Until the next to the last day Pierrot said nothing to Nepeese about
what had passed between him and the factor at Lac Bain. Then he told
her.

“He is a beast—a man-devil,” he said, when he had finished. “I would
rather see you out there—with her—dead.” And he pointed to the tall
spruce under which the princess mother lay.

Nepeese had not uttered a sound. But her eyes had grown bigger and
darker, and there was a flush in her cheeks which Pierrot had never seen
there before. She stood up when he had done, and she seemed taller to
him. Never had she looked quite so much like a woman, and Pierrot’s eyes
were deep-shadowed with fear and uneasiness as he watched her while she
gazed off into the northwest—toward Lac Bain.

She was wonderful, this slip of a girl-woman. Her beauty troubled him.
He had seen the look in Bush McTaggart’s eyes. He had heard the thrill
in McTaggart’s voice. He had caught the desire of a beast in McTaggart’s
face. It had frightened him at first. But now—he was not frightened. He
was uneasy, but his hands were clenched. In his heart there was a
smoldering fire. At last Nepeese turned and came and sat down beside him
again, at his feet.

“He is coming to-morrow, _ma chérie_,” he said. “What shall I tell him?”

The Willow’s lips were red. Her eyes shone. But she did not look up at
her father.

“Nothing, Nootawe—except that you are to say to him that I am the one to
whom he must come—for what he seeks.”

Pierrot bent over and caught her smiling. The sun went down. His heart
sank with it, like cold lead.

                  *       *       *       *       *

From Lac Bain to Pierrot’s cabin the trail cut within half a mile of the
beaver-pond, a dozen miles from where Pierrot lived; and it was here, on
a twist of the creek in which Wakayoo had caught fish for Baree, that
Bush McTaggart made his camp for the night. Only twenty miles of the
journey could be made by canoe, and as McTaggart was travelling the last
stretch afoot, his camp was a simple affair—a few cut balsams, a light
blanket, a small fire. Before he prepared his supper, the Factor drew a
number of copper-wire snares from his small pack and spent half an hour
in setting them in rabbit runways. This method of securing meat was far
less arduous than carrying a gun in hot weather, and it was certain.
Half a dozen snares were good for at least three rabbits, and one of
these three was sure to be young and tender enough for the frying-pan.
After he had placed his snares McTaggart set a skillet of bacon over the
coals and boiled his coffee.

Of all the odours of a camp, the smell of bacon reaches farthest in the
forest. It needs no wind. It drifts on its own wings. On a still night a
fox will sniff it a mile away—twice that far if the air is moving in the
right direction. It was this smell of bacon that came to Baree where he
lay in his hollow on top of the beaver-dam.

Since his experience in the cañon and the death of Wakayoo, he had not
fared particularly well. Caution had held him near the pond, and he had
lived almost entirely on crawfish. This new perfume that came with the
night wind roused his hunger. But it was elusive: now he could smell
it—the next instant it was gone. He left the dam and began questing for
the source of it in the forest, until after a time he lost it
altogether. McTaggart had finished frying his bacon and was eating it.

It was a splendid night that followed. Perhaps Baree would have slept
through it in his nest on the top of the dam if the bacon smell had not
stirred the new hunger in him. Since his adventure in the cañon, the
deeper forest had held a dread for him, especially at night. But this
night was like a pale, golden day: it was moonless; but the stars shone
like a billion distant lamps, flooding the world in a soft and billowy
sea of light. A gentle whisper of wind made pleasant sounds in the
treetops. Beyond that it was very quiet, for it was _Puskowepesim_—the
Moulting Moon—and the wolves were not hunting, the owls had lost their
voice, the foxes slunk with he silence of shadows, and even the beavers
had begun to cease their labours. The horns of the moose, the deer, and
the caribou were in tender velvet, and they moved but little and fought
not at all. It was late July, Moulting Moon of the Cree, Moon of Silence
for the Chippewayan.

In this silence Baree began to hunt. He stirred up a family of
half-grown partridges, but they escaped him. He pursued a rabbit that
was swifter than he. For an hour he had no luck. Then he heard a sound
that made every drop of blood in him thrill. He was close to McTaggart’s
camp, and what he had heard was a rabbit in one of McTaggart’s snares.
He came out into a little starlit open and there he saw the rabbit going
through a most marvellous pantomime. It amazed him for a moment, and he
stopped in his tracks.

Wapoos, the rabbit, had run his furry head into the snare, and his first
frightened jump had “shot” the sapling to which the copper wire was
attached so that he was now hung half in midair, with only his hind feet
touching the ground. And there he was dancing madly while the noose
about his neck slowly choked him to death.

Baree gave a sort of gasp. He could understand nothing of the part that
the wire and the sapling were playing in this curious game. All he could
see was that Wapoos was hopping and dancing about on his hind legs in a
most puzzling and unrabbit-like fashion. It may be that he thought it
some sort of play. In this instance, however, he did not regard Wapoos
as he had looked on Umisk the beaver. He knew that Wapoos made mighty
fine eating, and after another moment or two of hesitation he darted
upon his prey.

Wapoos, half gone already, made almost no struggle, and in the glow of
the stars Baree finished him, and for half an hour afterward he feasted.

McTaggart had heard no sound, for the snare into which Wapoos had run
his head was the one set farthest from his camp. Beside the smouldering
coals of his fire he sat with his back to a tree, smoking his black pipe
and dreaming covetously of Nepeese, when Baree continued his
night-wandering. Baree no longer had the desire to hunt. He was too
full. But he nosed in and out of the starlit spaces, enjoying immensely
the stillness and the golden glow of the night. He was following a
rabbit-run when he came to a place where two fallen logs left a trail no
wider than his body. He squeezed through; something tightened about his
neck; there was a sudden snap—a swish as the sapling was released from
its “trigger”—and Baree was jerked off his feet so suddenly that he had
no time to conjecture as to what was happening.

The yelp in his throat died in a gurgle, and the next moment he was
going through the pantomimic actions of Wapoos, who was having his
vengeance inside him. For the life of him Baree could not keep from
dancing about, while the wire grew tighter and tighter about his neck.
When he snapped at the wire and flung the weight of his body to the
ground, the sapling would bend obligingly, and then—in its rebound—would
yank him for an instant completely off the earth. Furiously he
struggled. It was a miracle that the fine wire held him. In a few
moments more it must have broken—but McTaggart had heard him! The Factor
caught up his blanket and a heavy stick as he hurried toward the snare.
It was not a rabbit making those sounds—he knew that. Perhaps a
fisher-cat—a lynx, a fox, a young wolf——

It was the wolf he thought of first when he saw Baree at the end of the
wire. He dropped the blanket and raised the club. If there had been
clouds overhead, or the stars had been less brilliant, Baree would have
died as surely as Wapoos had died. With the club raised over his head
McTaggart saw in time the white star, the white-tipped ear, and the jet
black of Baree’s coat.

With a swift movement he exchanged the club for the blanket.

In that hour, could McTaggart have looked ahead to the days that were to
come, he would have used the club. Could he have foreseen the great
tragedy in which Baree was to play a vital part, wrecking his hopes and
destroying his world, he would have beaten him to a pulp there under the
light of the stars. And Baree, could he have foreseen what was to happen
between this brute with a white skin and the most beautiful thing in the
forests, would have fought even more bitterly before he surrendered
himself to the smothering embrace of the Factor’s blanket. On this night
Fate had played a strange hand for them both, and only that Fate, and
perhaps the stars above, held a knowledge of what its outcome was to be.



                              CHAPTER XII


Half an hour later Rush McTaggart’s fire was burning brightly again. In
the glow of it Baree lay trussed up like an Indian papoose, tied into a
balloon-shaped ball with _babiche_ thong, his head alone showing where
his captor had cut a hole for it in the blanket. He was hopelessly
caught—so closely imprisoned in the blanket that he could scarcely move
a muscle of his body. A few feet away from him McTaggart was bathing a
bleeding hand in a basin of water. There was also a red streak down the
side of McTaggart’s bullish neck.

“You little devil!” he snarled at Baree. “You little devil!”

He reached over suddenly and gave Baree’s head a vicious blow with his
heavy hand.

“I ought to beat your brains out, and—I believe I will!”

Baree watched him as he picked up a stick close at his side—a bit of
firewood. Pierrot had chased him, but this was the first time he had
been near enough to the man-monster to see the red glow in his eyes.
They were not like the eyes of the wonderful creature who had almost
caught him in the web of her hair, and who had crawled after him under
the rock. They were beast-eyes. They made him shrink and try to draw his
head back into the blanket as the stick was raised. At the same time he
snarled. His white fangs gleamed in the firelight. His ears were flat.
He wanted to sink his teeth in the red throat where he had already drawn
blood.

The stick fell. It fell again and again, and when McTaggart was done,
Baree lay half stunned, his eyes partly closed by the blows, and his
mouth bleeding.

“That’s the way we take the devil out of a wild dog,” snarled McTaggart.
“I guess you won’t try the biting game again, eh, youngster? A thousand
devils—but you went almost to the bone of this hand!”

He began washing the wound again. Baree’s teeth had sunk deep, and there
was a troubled look in the Factor’s face. It was July—a bad month for
bites. From his kit he got a small flask of whisky and turned a bit of
the raw liquor on the wound, cursing Baree as it burned into his flesh.

Baree’s half-shut eyes were fixed on him steadily. He knew that at last
he had met the deadliest of all his enemies. And yet he was not afraid.
The club in Bush McTaggart’s hand had not killed his spirit. It had
killed his fear. It had roused in him a hatred such as he had never
known—not even when he was fighting Oohoomisew, the outlaw owl. The
vengeful animosity of the wolf was burning in him now, along with the
savage courage of the dog. He did not flinch when McTaggart approached
him again. He made an effort to raise himself, that he might spring at
this man-monster. In the effort, swaddled as he was in the blanket, he
rolled over in a helpless and ludicrous heap.

The sight of it touched McTaggart’s risibilities, and he laughed. He sat
down with his back to the tree again and filled his pipe.

Baree did not take his eyes from McTaggart as he smoked. He watched the
man when the latter stretched himself out on the bare ground and went to
sleep. He listened, still later, to the man-monster’s heinous snoring.
Again and again during the long night he struggled to free himself. He
would never forget that night. It was terrible. In the thick, hot folds
of the blanket his limbs and body were suffocated until the blood almost
stood still in his veins. Yet he did not whine.

They began to journey before the sun was up, for if Baree’s blood was
almost dead within him, Bush McTaggart’s was scorching his body with the
heat of its anticipation. He made his last plans as he walked swiftly
through the forest with Baree under his arm. He would send Pierrot at
once for Father Grotin at his Mission seventy miles to the west. He
would marry Nepeese—yes, marry her! That would tickle Pierrot. And he
would be alone with Nepeese while Pierrot was gone for the missioner.

This thought flamed McTaggart’s blood like strong whisky. There was no
thought in his hot and unreasoning brain of what Nepeese might say—of
what she might think. He was not after the soul of her. His hand
clenched, and he laughed harshly as there flashed on him for an instant
the thought that perhaps Pierrot would not want to give her up. Pierrot!
Bah! It would not be the first time he had killed a man—or the second.

McTaggart laughed again, and he walked still faster. There was no chance
of his losing—no chance for Nepeese to get away from him. He—Bush
McTaggart—was lord of this wilderness, master of its people, arbiter of
their destinies. He was power—and the law.

The sun was well up when Pierrot, standing in front of his cabin with
Nepeese, pointed to a rise in the trail three or four hundred yards
away, over which McTaggart had just appeared.

“He is coming.”

With a face which had aged since last night he looked at Nepeese. Again
he saw the dark glow in her eyes and the deepening red of her parted
lips, and his heart was sick again with dread. Was it possible——

She turned on him, her eyes shining, her voice trembling.

“Remember, Nootawe—you must send him to me for his answer,” she cried
quickly, and she darted into the cabin. With a cold, gray face Pierrot
faced Bush McTaggart.



                              CHAPTER XIII


From the window, her face screened by the folds of the curtain which she
had made for it, the Willow saw what happened outside. She was not
smiling now. She was breathing quickly, and her body was tense. Bush
McTaggart paused not a dozen feet from the window and shook hands with
Pierrot, her father. She heard McTaggart’s coarse voice, his boisterous
greeting, and then she saw him showing Pierrot what he carried under his
arm. There came to her distinctly his explanation of how he had caught
his captive in a rabbit-snare. He unwrapped the blanket. Nepeese gave a
cry of amazement. In an instant she was out beside them. She did not
look at McTaggart’s red face, blazing in its joy and exultation.

“It is Baree!” she cried.

She took the bundle from McTaggart and turned to Pierrot.

“Tell him that Baree belongs to me,” she said.

She hurried into the cabin. McTaggart looked after her, stunned and
amazed. Then he looked at Pierrot. A man half blind could have seen that
Pierrot was as amazed as he. Nepeese had not spoken to him—the Factor of
Lac Bain! She had not _looked_ at him! And she had taken the dog from
him with as little concern as though he had been a wooden man. The red
in his face deepened as he stared from Pierrot to the door through which
she had gone, and which she had closed behind her.

On the floor of the cabin Nepeese dropped on her knees and finished
unwrapping the blanket. She was not afraid of Baree. She had forgotten
McTaggart. And then, as Baree rolled in a limp heap on the floor, she
saw his half-closed eyes and the dry blood on his jaws, and the light
left her face as swiftly as the sun is shadowed by a cloud. “Baree,” she
cried softly. “Baree—Baree!”

She partly lifted him in her two hands. Baree’s head sagged. His body
was numbed until he was powerless to move. His legs were without
feeling. He could scarcely see. But he heard her voice! It was the same
voice that had come to him that day he had felt the sting of the bullet,
the voice that had pleaded with him under the rock!

The voice of the Willow thrilled Baree. It seemed to stir the sluggish
blood in his veins, and he opened his eyes wider and saw again the
wonderful stars that had glowed at him so softly the day of Wakayoo’s
death. One of the Willow’s long braids fell over her shoulder, and he
smelled again the sweet scent of her hair as her hand caressed him and
her voice talked to him. Then she got up suddenly and left him, and he
did not move while he waited for her. In a moment she was back with a
basin of water and a cloth. Gently she washed the blood from his eyes
and mouth. And still Baree made no move. He scarcely breathed. But
Nepeese saw the little quivers that shot through his body when her hand
touched him, like electric shocks.

“He beat you with a club,” she was saying, her dark eyes within a foot
of Baree’s. “He beat you! That man-beast!”

There came an interruption. The door opened, and the man-beast stood
looking down on them, a grin on his red face. Instantly Baree showed
that he was alive. He sprang back from under the Willow’s hand with a
sudden snarl and faced McTaggart. The hair of his spine stood up like a
brush; his fangs gleamed menacingly, and his eyes burned like living
coals.

“There is a devil in him,” said McTaggart. “He is wild—born of the wolf.
You must be careful or he will take off a hand, _ka sakahet_!” It was
the first time he had called her that lover’s name in Cree—_sweetheart_!
Her heart pounded. She bent her head for a moment over her clenched
hands, and McTaggart—looking down on what he thought was her
confusion—laid his hand caressingly on her hair. From the door Pierrot
had heard the word, and now he saw the caress, and he raised a hand as
if to shut out the sight of a sacrilege.

“_Mon Dieu!_” he breathed.

In the next instant he had given a sharp cry of wonder that mingled with
a sudden yell of pain from McTaggart. Like a flash Baree had darted
across the floor and fastened his teeth in the Factor’s leg. They had
bitten deep before McTaggart freed himself with a powerful kick. With an
oath he snatched his revolver from its holster. The Willow was ahead of
him. With a little cry she darted to Baree and caught him in her arms.
As she looked up at McTaggart, her soft, bare throat was within a few
inches of Baree’s naked fangs. Her eyes blazed.

“You beat him!” she cried. “He hates you—hates you——”

[Illustration: With an oath McTaggart snatched his revolver from its
holster. The Willow was ahead of him. With a little cry she darted to
Baree and caught him in her arms.... Her eyes blazed. “You beat him!”
she cried. “He hates you—hates you—hates you.”]

“Let him go!” called Pierrot in an agony of fear.

“_Mon Dieu!_ I say let him go or he will tear the life from you!”

“He hates you—hates you—hates you——” the Willow was repeating over and
over again into McTaggart’s startled face. Then suddenly she turned to
her father. “No, he will not tear the life from me,” she cried. “See! It
is Baree. Did I not tell you that? It is Baree! Is it not proof that he
defended me——”

“From me!” gasped McTaggart, his face darkening.

Pierrot advanced and laid a hand on McTaggart’s arm. He was smiling.

“Let us leave them to fight it out between themselves, m’sieu,” he said.
“They are two little firebrands, and we are not safe. If she is
bitten——”

He shrugged his shoulders. A great load had been lifted from them
suddenly. His voice was soft and persuasive. And now the anger had gone
out of the Willow’s face. A coquettish uplift of her eyes caught
McTaggart, and she looked straight at him half smiling, as she spoke to
her father:

“I will join you soon, _mon père_—you and M’sieu the Factor from Lac
Bain!”

There were undeniable little devils in her eyes, McTaggart
thought—little devils laughing full at him as she spoke, setting his
brain afire and his blood to running wildly. Those eyes—full of dancing
witches! How he would tame them and play with them—very soon now! He
followed Pierrot outside. In his exultation he no longer felt the smart
of Baree’s teeth.

“I will show you my new cariole that I have made for winter, m’sieu,”
said Pierrot as the door closed behind them.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later Nepeese came out of the cabin. She could see that
Pierrot and the Factor had been talking about something that had not
been pleasant to her father. His face was strained. She caught in his
eyes the smoulder of fire which he was trying to smother, as one might
smother flames under a blanket. McTaggart’s jaws were set, but his eyes
flared up with pleasure when he saw her. She knew what it was about. The
Factor from Lac Bain had been demanding his answer of Pierrot, and
Pierrot had been telling him what she had insisted upon—that he must
come to her. And he was coming! She turned with a quick beating of the
heart and hurried down a little path. She heard McTaggart’s footsteps
behind her, and threw the flash of a smile over her shoulder. But her
teeth were set tight. The nails of her fingers were cutting into the
palms of her hands.

Pierrot stood without moving. He watched them as they disappeared into
the edge of the forest, Nepeese still a few steps ahead of McTaggart.
Out of his breast rose a sharp breath.

“_Par les mille cornes du diable!_” he swore softly. “Is it
possible—that she smiles from her heart at that beast? _Non!_ It is
impossible. And yet—if it is so——”

One of his brown hands tightened convulsively about the handle of the
knife in his belt, and slowly he began to follow them.

McTaggart did not hurry to overtake Nepeese. She was following the
narrow path deeper into the forest, and he was glad of that. They would
be alone—away from Pierrot. He was ten steps behind her, and again the
Willow smiled at him over her shoulder. Her body moved sinuously and
swiftly. She was keeping accurate measurement of the distance between
them—but McTaggart did not guess that this was why she looked back every
now and then. He was satisfied to let her go on. When she turned from
the narrow trail into a side path that scarcely bore the mark of travel,
his heart gave an exultant jump. If she kept on, he would very soon have
her alone—a good distance from the cabin. The blood ran hot in his face.
He did not speak to her, through fear that she would stop. Ahead of them
he heard the rumble of water. It was the creek running through the
chasm.

Nepeese was making straight for that sound. With a little laugh she
started to run, and when she stood at the edge of the chasm, McTaggart
was fully fifty yards behind her. Twenty feet sheer down there was a
deep pool between the rock walls, a pool so deep that it was like blue
ink. She turned to face the Factor from Lac Bain. He had never looked
more like a red beast to her. Until this moment she had been unafraid.
But now—in an instant—he terrified her. Before she could speak what she
had planned to say, he was at her side, and had taken her face between
his two great hands, his coarse fingers twining in the silken strands of
her thick braids where they fell over her shoulders at the neck.

“_Ka sakahet!_” he cried passionately. “Pierrot said you would have an
answer for me. But I need no answer now. You are mine! Mine!”

She gave a cry. It was a gasping, broken cry. His arms were about her
like bands of iron, crushing her slender body, shutting off her breath,
turning the world almost black for her. She could neither struggle nor
cry out. She felt the hot passion of his lips on her face, heard his
voice—and then came a moment’s freedom, and air into her strangled
lungs. Pierrot was calling! He had come to the fork in the trail, and he
was calling the Willow’s name!

McTaggart’s hot hand came over her mouth.

“Don’t answer,” she heard him say.

Strength—anger—hatred flared up in her, and fiercely she struck the hand
down. Something in her wonderful eyes held McTaggart. They blazed into
his very soul.

“_Bête noir!_” she panted at him, freeing herself from the last touch of
his hands. “Beast—black beast!” Her voice trembled, and her face flamed.
“See—I came to show you my pool—and tell you what you wanted to hear—and
you—you—have crushed me like a beast—like a great rock——See! down
there—it is my pool!”

She had not planned it like this. She had intended to be smiling, even
laughing, in this moment. But McTaggart had spoiled them—her carefully
made plans! And yet, as she pointed, the Factor from Lac Bain looked for
an instant over the edge of the chasm. And then she laughed—laughed as
she gave him a sudden shove from behind.

“And that is my answer, M’sieu le Facteur from Lac Bain!” she cried
tauntingly as he plunged headlong into the deep pool between the rock
walls.



                              CHAPTER XIV


From the edge of the open Pierrot saw what had happened, and he gave a
great gasp. He drew back among the balsams. This was not a moment for
him to show himself. While his heart drummed like a hammer, his face was
filled with joy.

On her hands and knees the Willow was peering over the edge. Bush
McTaggart had disappeared. He had gone down like the great clod he was;
the water of her pool had closed over him with a dull splash that was
like a chuckle of triumph. He appeared now, beating out with his arms
and legs to keep himself afloat, while the Willow’s voice came to him in
taunting cries.

“_Bête noir!_ _Bête noir!_ Beast! Beast——”

She flung small sticks and tufts of earth down at him fiercely; and
McTaggart, looking up as he gained his equilibrium, saw her leaning so
far over that she seemed about to fall. Her long braids hung down into
the chasm, gleaming in the sun; her eyes were laughing while her lips
taunted him; he could see the flash of her white teeth.

“Beast! Beast!”

He began swimming, still looking up at her. It was a hundred yards down
the slow-going current to the beach of shale where he could climb out,
and a half of that distance she followed him, laughing and taunting him,
and flinging down sticks and pebbles. He noted that none of the sticks
or stones was large enough to hurt him. When at last his feet touched
bottom, she was gone.

Swiftly Nepeese ran back over the trail, and almost into Pierrot’s arms.
She was panting and laughing when for a moment she stopped.

“I have given him the answer, Nootawe! He is in the pool!”

Into the balsams she disappeared like a bird. Pierrot made no effort to
stop her or to follow.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_” he chuckled—and cut straight across for the other
trail.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Nepeese was out of breath when she reached the cabin. Baree, fastened to
a table-leg by a _babiche_ thong, heard her pause for a moment at the
door. Then she entered and came straight to him. During the half-hour of
her absence Baree had scarcely moved. That half-hour, and the few
minutes that had preceded it, had made tremendous impressions upon him.
Nature, heredity, and instinct were at work, clashing and readjusting,
impinging on him a new intelligence—the beginning of a new
understanding. A swift and savage impulse had made him leap at Bush
McTaggart when the Factor put his hand on the Willow’s head. It was not
reason. It was a hearkening back of the dog to that day long ago when
Kazan, his father, had killed the man-brute in the tent, the man-brute
who had dared to attempt the sacrilege of Thorpe’s wife, whom Kazan
worshipped. It was the dog—and woman.

And here again it was the woman. She had called to the great hidden
passion that was in Baree and that had come to him from Kazan. Of all
the living things in the world, he knew that he must not hurt this
creature that appeared to him through the door. He trembled as she knelt
before him again, and up through the years came the wild and glorious
surge of Kazan’s blood, overwhelming the wolf, submerging the savagery
of his birth—and with his head flat on the floor he whined softly, and
_wagged his tail_.

Nepeese gave a cry of joy.

“Baree!” she whispered, taking his head in her hands. “Baree!”

Her touch thrilled him. It sent little throbs through his body, a
tremulous quivering which she could feel and which deepened the glow in
her eyes. Gently her hand stroked his head and his back. It seemed to
Nepeese that he did not breathe. Under the caress of her hand his eyes
closed. In another moment she was talking to him, and at the sound of
her voice his eyes shot open.

“He will come here—that beast—and he will kill us,” she was saying. “He
will kill you because you bit him, Baree. Ugh, I wish you were bigger,
and stronger, so that you could take off his head for me!”

She was untying the _babiche_ from about the table-leg, and under her
breath she laughed. She was not frightened. It was a tremendous
adventure—and she throbbed with exultation at the thought of having
beaten the man-beast in her own way. She could see him in the pool
struggling and beating about like a great fish. He was just about
crawling out of the chasm now—and she laughed again as she caught Baree
up under her arm.

“Oh—_oopi-nao_—but you are heavy!” she gasped. “And yet I must carry
you—because I am going to run!”

She hurried outside. Pierrot had not come, and she darted swiftly into
the balsams back of the cabin, with Baree hung in the crook of her arm,
like a sack filled at both ends and tied in the middle. He felt like
that, too. But he still had no inclination to wriggle himself free.
Nepeese ran with him until her arm ached. Then she stopped and put him
down on his feet, holding to the end of the caribou-skin thong that was
tied about his neck. She was prepared for any lunge he might make to
escape. She expected that he would make an attempt, and for a few
moments she watched him closely, while Baree, with his feet on earth
once more, looked about him. And then the Willow spoke to him softly.

“You are not going to run away, Baree. _Non_, you are going to stay with
me, and we will kill that man-beast if he dares do to me again what he
did back there.” She flung back the loose hair from about her flushed
face, and for a moment she forgot Baree as she thought of that
half-minute at the edge of the chasm. He was looking straight up at her
when her glance fell on him again. “_Non_, you are not going to run
away—you are going to follow me,” she whispered. “Come.”

The _babiche_ string tightened about Baree’s neck as she urged him to
follow. It was like another rabbit-snare, and he braced his forefeet and
bared his fangs just a little. The Willow did not pull. Fearlessly she
put her hand on his head again. From the direction of the cabin came a
shout, and at the sound of it she took Baree up under her arm once more.

“_Bête noir—bête noir!_” she called back tauntingly, but only loud
enough to be heard a few yards away. “Go back to Lac Bain—_owases_—you
wild beast!”

Nepeese began to make her way swiftly through the forest. It grew deeper
and darker, and there were no trails. Three times in the next half-hour
she stopped to put Baree down and rest her arm. Each time she pleaded
with him coaxingly to follow her. The second and third times Baree
wriggled and wagged his tail, but beyond those demonstrations of his
satisfaction at the turn his affairs had taken he would not go. When the
string tightened around his neck, he braced himself; once he
growled—again he snapped viciously at the _babiche_. So Nepeese
continued to carry him.

They came at last into an open. It was a tiny meadow in the heart of the
forest, not more than three or four times as big as the cabin; underfoot
the grass was soft and green, and thick with flowers. Straight through
the heart of this little oasis trickled a streamlet across which the
Willow jumped with Baree under her arm, and on the edge of the rill was
a small wigwam made of freshly cut spruce- and balsam-boughs. Into her
diminutive _mekewap_ the Willow thrust her head to see that things were
as she had left them yesterday. Then, with a long breath of relief, she
put down her four-legged burden and fastened the end of the _babiche_ to
one of the cut spruce-limbs.

Baree burrowed himself back into the wall of the wigwam, and with head
alert—and eyes wide open—watched attentively what happened after this.
Not a movement of the Willow escaped him. She was radiant—and happy. Her
laugh, sweet and wild as a bird’s trill, set Baree’s heart throbbing
with a desire to jump about with her among the flowers.

For a time Nepeese seemed to forget Baree. Her wild blood raced with the
joy of her triumph over the Factor from Lac Bain. She saw him again,
floundering about in the pool—pictured him at the cabin now, soaked and
angry, demanding of _mon père_ where she had gone. And _mon père_, with
a shrug of his shoulders, was telling him that he didn’t know—that
probably she had run off into the forest. It did not enter into her head
that in tricking Bush McTaggart in that way she had played with
dynamite. She did not foresee the peril that in an instant would have
stamped the wild flush from her face and curdled the blood in her
veins—did not guess that McTaggart had become for her a deadlier menace
than ever.

Nepeese knew that he was angry. But what had she to fear? _Mon père_
would be angry, too, if she told him what had happened at the edge of
the chasm. But she would not tell him. He might kill the beast from Lac
Bain. A factor was great. But Pierrot, her father, was greater. It was
an unlimited faith in her, born of her mother. Perhaps even now Pierrot
was sending him back to Lac Bain, telling him that his business was
there. But she would not return to the cabin to see. She would wait
here. _Mon père_ would understand—and he knew where to find her when the
beast was gone. But it would have been such fun to throw sticks at him
as he went!

After a little Nepeese returned to Baree. She brought him water and gave
him a piece of raw fish. For hours they were alone, and with each hour
there grew stronger in Baree the desire to follow the girl in every
movement she made, to crawl close to her when she sat down, to feel the
touch of her dress, of her hand—and hear her voice. But he did not show
this desire. He was still a little savage of the forests—a four-footed
barbarian born half of a wolf and half of a dog; and he lay still. With
Umisk he would have played. With Oohoomisew he would have fought. At
Bush McTaggart he would have bared his fangs, and buried them deep when
the chance came. But the girl was different. Like the Kazan of old, he
had begun to worship. If the Willow had freed Baree, he would not have
run away. If she had left him, he would possibly have followed her—at a
distance. His eyes were never away from her. He watched her build a
small fire and cook a piece of the fish. He watched her eat her dinner.
It was quite late in the afternoon when she came and sat down close to
him, with her lap full of flowers which she twined in the long, shining
braids of her hair. Then, playfully, she began beating Baree with the
end of one of these braids. He shrank under the soft blows, and with
that low, birdlike laughter in her throat, Nepeese drew his head into
her lap where the scatter of flowers lay. She talked to him. Her hand
stroked his head. Then it remained still, so near that he wanted to
thrust out his warm red tongue and caress it. He breathed in the
flower-scented perfume of it—and lay as if dead. It was a glorious
moment. Nepeese, looking down on him, could not see that he was
breathing.

There came an interruption. It was the snapping of a dry stick. Through
the forest Pierrot had come with the stealth of a cat, and when they
looked up, he stood at the edge of the open. Baree knew that it was not
Bush McTaggart. But it was a man-beast! Instantly his body stiffened
under the Willow’s hand. He drew back slowly and cautiously from her
lap, and as Pierrot advanced, Baree snarled. The next instant Nepeese
had risen and had run to Pierrot. The look in her father’s face alarmed
her.

“What has happened, _mon père_?” she cried.

Pierrot shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing, _ma Nepeese_—except that you have roused a thousand devils in
the heart of the Factor from Lac Bain, and that——”

He stopped as he saw Baree, and pointed at him.

“Last night when M’sieu the Factor caught him in a snare, he bit
M’sieu’s hand. M’sieu’s hand is swollen twice its size, and I can see
his blood turning black. It is _pechipoo_.”

“_Pechipoo!_” gasped Nepeese.

She looked into Pierrot’s eyes. They were dark, and filled with a
sinister gleam—a flash of exultation, she thought.

“Yes, it is the blood-poison,” said Pierrot. A gleam of cunning shot
into his eyes as he looked over his shoulder, and nodded. “I have hidden
the medicine—and told him there is no time to lose in getting back to
Lac Bain. And he is afraid—that devil! He is waiting. With that
blackening hand, he is afraid to start back alone—and so I go with him.
And—listen, _ma Nepeese_. We will be away by sundown, and there is
something you must know before I go.”

Baree saw them there, close together in the shadows thrown by the tall
spruce trees. He heard the low murmur of their voices—chiefly of
Pierrot’s, and at last he saw Nepeese put her two arms up around the
man-beast’s neck, and then Pierrot went away again into the forest. He
thought that the Willow would never turn her face toward him after that.
For a long time she stood looking in the direction which Pierrot had
taken. And when after a time she turned and came back to Baree, she did
not look like the Nepeese who had been twining flowers in her hair. The
laughter was gone from her face and eyes. She knelt down beside him and
with sudden fierceness she cried:

“It is _pechipoo_, Baree! It was you—you—who put the poison in his
blood. And I hope he dies! For I am afraid—afraid!”

She shivered.

Perhaps it was in this moment that the Great Spirit of things meant
Baree to understand—that at last it was given him to comprehend that his
day had dawned, that the rising and the setting of his sun no longer
existed in the sky but in this girl whose hand rested on his head. He
whined softly, and inch by inch he dragged himself nearer to her until
again his head rested in the hollow of her lap.



                               CHAPTER XV


For a long time after Pierrot left them the Willow did not move from
where she had seated herself beside Baree. It was at last the deepening
shadows and a near rumble in the sky that roused her from the fear of
the things Pierrot had told her. When she looked up, black clouds were
massing slowly over the open space above the spruce-tops. Darkness was
falling. In the whisper of the wind and the dead stillness of the
thickening gloom there was the sullen brewing of storm. To-night there
would be no glorious sunset. There would be no twilight hour in which to
follow the trail, no moon, no stars—and unless Pierrot and the Factor
were already on their way, they would not start in the face of the pitch
blackness that would soon shroud the land.

Nepeese shivered and rose to her feet. For the first time Baree got up,
and he stood close at her side. Above them a lightning-flash cut the
clouds like a knife of fire, followed in an instant by a terrific crash
of thunder. Baree shrank back as if struck a blow. He would have slunk
into the shelter of the brush wall of the wigwam, but there was
something about the Willow as he looked at her which gave him
confidence. The thunder crashed again. But he retreated no farther. His
eyes were fixed on Nepeese.

She stood straight and slim in that gathering gloom riven by the
lightning, her beautiful head thrown back, her lips parted, and her eyes
glowing with an almost eager anticipation—a sculptured goddess welcoming
with bated breath the onrushing forces of the heavens. Perhaps it was
because she was born on a night of storm. Many times Pierrot and the
dead princess mother had told her that—how on the night she had come
into the world the crash of thunder and the flare of lightning had made
the hours an inferno, how the streams had burst over their banks and the
stems of ten thousand forest trees had snapped in its fury—and the beat
of the deluge on their cabin roof had drowned the sound of her mother’s
pain, and of her own first babyish cries.

On that night, it may be, the Spirit of Storm was born in Nepeese. She
loved to face it, as she was facing it now. It made her forget all
things but the splendid might of nature; her half-wild soul thrilled to
the crash and fire of it; often she had reached up her bare arms and
laughed with joy as the deluge burst about her. Even now she might have
stood there in the little open until the rain fell, if a whine from
Baree had not turned her. As the first big drops struck with the dull
thud of leaden bullets about them, she went with him into the balsam
shelter.

Once before Baree had passed through a night of terrible storm—the night
he had hidden himself under a root and saw the tree riven by lightning;
but now he had company, and the warmth and soft pressure of the Willow’s
hand on his head and neck filled him with a strange courage. He growled
softly at the crashing thunder. He wanted to snap at the
lightning-flashes. Under her hand Nepeese felt the stiffening of his
body, and in a moment of uncanny stillness she heard the sharp, uneasy
click of his teeth. Then the rain fell.

It was not like other rains Baree had known. It was an inundation
sweeping down out of the blackness of the skies. Within five minutes the
interior of the balsam shelter was a shower-bath—half an hour of that
torrential downpour, and Nepeese was soaked to the skin. The water ran
in little rivulets down her back and breast; it trickled in tiny streams
from her drenched braids and dropped from her long lashes, and the
blanket under her was wet as a mop. To Baree it was almost as bad as his
near-drowning in the stream after his fight with Papayuchisew, and he
snuggled closer and closer under the sheltering arm of the Willow. It
seemed an interminable time before the thunder rolled far to the east,
and the lightning died away into distant and intermittent flashings.
Even after that the rain fell for another hour. Then it stopped as
suddenly as it had begun.

With a laughing gasp Nepeese rose to her feet. The water gurgled in her
moccasins as she walked out into the open. She paid no attention to
Baree—and he followed her. Across the open in the treetops the last of
the storm-clouds were drifting away. A star shone—then another; and the
Willow stood watching them as they appeared until there were so many she
could not count. It was no longer black. A wonderful starlight flooded
the open after the inky gloom of the storm.

Nepeese looked down and saw Baree. He was standing clear and unleashed,
with freedom on all sides of him. Yet he did not run. He was waiting,
wet as a water-rat, with his eyes on her expectantly. Nepeese made a
movement toward him, and hesitated.

“No, you will not run away, Baree. I will leave you free. And now we
must have a fire!”

A fire! Any one but Pierrot might have said that she was crazy. Not a
stem or twig in the forest that was not dripping! They could hear the
trickle of running water all about them.

“A fire,” she said again. “Let us hunt for the _wuskwi_, Baree.”

With her wet clothes clinging to her tightly, she was like a slim shadow
as she crossed the soggy open and buried herself among the forest trees.
Baree still followed. She went straight to a birch-tree that she had
located that day and began tearing off the loose bark. An armful of this
bark she carried close to the wigwam, and on it she heaped load after
load of wet wood until she had a great pile. From a bottle in the wigwam
she secured a dry match, and at the first touch of its tiny flame the
birch-bark flared up like paper soaked in oil. Half an hour later the
Willow’s fire—if there had been no forest walls to hide it—could have
been seen at the cabin a mile away. Not until it was blazing a dozen
feet into the air did she cease putting wood on it. Then she drove
sticks into the soft ground and over these sticks stretched the blanket
out to dry. After that she began to undress.

The rain had cooled the air, and the tonic of it—laden with the breath
of the balsam and spruce—set the Willow’s blood dancing in her veins.
She forgot the discomfort of the deluge. She forgot the Factor from Lac
Bain, and what Pierrot had told her. After all, she was a bird of the
forests, wild with the sweet wildness of the flowers under her bare
feet—and in the glory of these wonderful hours that had followed the
storm she could see nothing and think of nothing that might harm her.
She danced about Baree, tossing her sea of hair about her, her naked
body shimmering in and out of it, her eyes aglow, her lips laughing in
her unreasoning happiness—the happiness of being alive, of drinking into
her lungs the perfumed air of the forest, of seeing the stars and the
wonderful sky above her. She stopped before Baree, and cried laughingly
at him, holding out her arms:

“_Ahe_, Baree—if you could only throw off your skin as easily as I have
thrown off my clothes!”

She drew a deep breath, and her eyes shone with a sudden inspiration.
Slowly her mouth formed into a round red O, and leaning still nearer to
Baree, she whispered:

“It will be deep—and sweet to-night. _Ninga_—yes—we will go!”

She called to him softly as she slipped on her wet moccasins and
followed the creek into the forest. A hundred yards from the open she
came to the edge of a pool. It was deep and full to-night, three times
as big as it had been before the storm. She could hear the gurgle and
inrush of water. On its ruffled surface the stars shone. For a moment or
two she stood poised on a rock with the cool depths half a dozen feet
below her. Then she flung back her hair and shot like a slim white arrow
through the starlight.

Baree saw her go. He heard the plunge of her body. For half an hour he
lay flat and still, close to the edge of the pool, and watched her.
Sometimes she was just under him, floating silently, her hair forming a
cloud darker than the water about her; again she was cutting over the
surface almost as swiftly as the otters he had seen—and then with a
sudden plunge she would disappear, and Baree’s heart would quicken its
pulse as he waited for her. Once she was gone a long time. He whined. He
knew she was not like the beaver and the otter, and he was filled with
an immense relief when she came up.

So their first night passed—storm, the cool, deep pool, the big fire;
and later, when the Willow’s clothes and the blanket had dried, a few
hours’ sleep. At dawn they returned to the cabin. It was a cautious
approach. There was no smoke coming from the chimney. The door was
closed. Pierrot and Bush McTaggart were gone.



                              CHAPTER XVI


It was the beginning of August—the Flying-up Moon—when Pierrot returned
from Lac Bain, and in three days more it would be the Willow’s
seventeenth birthday. He brought back with him many things for
Nepeese—ribbons for her hair, real shoes, which she wore at times like
the two Englishwomen at Nelson House, and chief glory of all, some
wonderful red cloth for a dress. In the three winters she had spent at
the Mission these women had made much of Nepeese. They had taught her to
sew as well as to spell and read and pray, and at times there came to
the Willow a compelling desire to do as they did.

So for three days Nepeese worked hard on her new dress and on her
birthday she stood before Pierrot in a fashion that took his breath
away. She had piled her hair in great glowing masses and coils on the
crown of her head, as Yvonne, the younger of the Englishwomen, had
taught her, and in the rich jet of it had half buried a vivid sprig of
the crimson fire-flower. Under this, and the glow in her eyes, and the
red flush of her lips and cheeks came the wonderful red dress, fitted to
the slim and sinuous beauty of her form—as the style had been two
winters ago at Nelson House. And under the dress, which reached just
below the knees—Nepeese had quite forgotten the proper length, or else
her material had run out—came the _coup de maître_ of her toilet, real
stockings and the wonderful shoes with high heels! She was a vision
before which the gods of the forests might have felt their hearts stop
beating. Pierrot turned her round and round without a word, but smiling;
but when she left him, followed by Baree, and limping a little in the
tightness of her shoes, the smile faded from his face, leaving it cold
and staring.

“_Mon Dieu_,” he whispered to himself in French, with a thought that was
like a sharp stab at his heart, “she is not of her mother’s blood—_non_.
It is French. She is—yes—like an angel.”

There was a change in Pierrot. During the three days of her dressmaking
Nepeese had been quite too excited to notice this change, and Pierrot
had tried to keep it from her. He had been away ten days on the trip to
Lac Bain, and he brought back to Nepeese the joyous news that M’sieu
McTaggart was very sick with _pechipoo_—the blood-poison—news that made
the Willow clap her hands and laugh happily. But he knew that the Factor
would get well, and that he would come again to their cabin on the Gray
Loon. And when next time he came——

It was when he was thinking of this that his face grew cold and hard,
and his eyes burned. And he was thinking of it on this her birthday,
even as her laughter floated to him like a song. _Dieu_, in spite of her
seventeen years, she was nothing but a child—a baby! She could not guess
his horrible visions. And the dread of awakening her for all time from
that beautiful childhood kept him from telling her the whole truth so
that she might have understood fully and completely. _Non_, it should
not be that. His soul beat with a great and gentle love. He, Pierrot Du
Quesne, would do the watching. And she should laugh and sing and
play—and have no share in the black forebodings that had come to spoil
his life.

On this day there came up from the south MacDonald, the government
map-maker. He was gray and grizzled, with a great, free laugh and a
clean heart. Two days he remained with Pierrot. He told Nepeese of his
daughters at home, of their mother, whom he worshipped more than
anything else on earth—and before he went on in his quest of the last
timber-line of Banksian pine, he took pictures of the Willow as he had
first seen her on her birthday: her hair piled in glossy coils and
masses, her red dress, the high-heeled shoes. He carried the negatives
on with him, promising Pierrot that he would get a picture back in some
way. Thus fate works in its strange and apparently innocent ways as it
spins its webs of tragedy.

                  *       *       *       *       *

For many weeks after this there followed tranquil days on the Gray Loon.
They were wonderful days for Baree. At first he was suspicious of
Pierrot. After a little he tolerated him, and at last accepted him as a
part of the cabin—and Nepeese. It was the Willow whose shadow he became.
Pierrot noted the attachment with the deepest satisfaction.

“Ah, in a few months more, if he should leap at the throat of M’sieu the
Factor,” he said to himself one day.

In September, when he was six months old, Baree was almost as large as
Gray Wolf—big-boned, long-fanged, with a deep chest, and jaws that could
already crack a bone as if it were a stick. He was with Nepeese whenever
and wherever she moved. They swam together in the two pools—the pool in
the forest and the pool between the chasm walls. At first it alarmed
Baree to see Nepeese dive from the rock wall over which she had pushed
McTaggart, but at the end of a month she had taught him to plunge after
her through that twenty feet of space.

It was late in August when Baree saw the first of his kind outside of
Kazan and Gray Wolf. During the summer Pierrot allowed his dogs to run
at large on a small island in the centre of a lake two or three miles
away, and twice a week he netted fish for them. On one of these trips
Nepeese accompanied him and took Baree with her. Pierrot carried his
long caribou-gut whip. He expected a fight. But there was none. Baree
joined the pack in their rush for fish, and ate with them. This pleased
Pierrot more than ever.

“He will make a great sledge-dog,” he chuckled. “It is best to leave him
for a week with the pack, _ma Nepeese_.”

Reluctantly Nepeese gave her consent. While the dogs were still at their
fish, they started homeward. Their canoe had stolen well out before
Baree discovered the trick they had played on him. Instantly he leaped
into the water and swam after them—and the Willow helped him into the
canoe.

Early in September a passing Indian brought Pierrot word of Bush
McTaggart. The Factor had been very sick. He had almost died from the
blood-poison, but he was well now. With the first exhilarating tang of
autumn in the air a new dread oppressed Pierrot. But at present he said
nothing of what was in his mind to Nepeese. The Willow had almost
forgotten the Factor from Lac Bain, for the glory and thrill of
wilderness autumn was in her blood. She went on long trips with Pierrot,
helping him to blaze out the new trap-lines that would be used when the
first snows came, and on these journeys she was always accompanied by
Baree.

Most of Nepeese’s spare hours she spent in training him for the sledge.
She began with a _babiche_ string and a stick. It was a whole day before
she could induce Baree to drag this stick without turning at every other
step to snap and growl at it. Then she fastened another length of
_babiche_ to him, and made him drag two sticks. Thus little by little
she trained him to the sledge-harness, until at the end of a fortnight
he was tugging heroically at anything she had a mind to fasten him to.
Pierrot brought home two of the dogs from the island, and Baree was put
into training with these, and helped to drag the empty sledge. Nepeese
was delighted. On the day the first light snow fell she clapped her
hands and cried to Pierrot:

“By mid-winter I will have him the finest dog in the pack, _mon père_!”

This was the time for Pierrot to say what was in his mind. He smiled.
_Diantre_—would not that beast the Factor fall into the very devil of a
rage when he found how he had been cheated! And yet——

He tried to make his voice quiet and commonplace.

“I am going to send you down to the school at Nelson House again this
winter, _ma chérie_,” he said. “Baree will help draw you down on the
first good snow.”

The Willow was tying a knot in Baree’s _babiche_, and she rose slowly to
her feet and looked at Pierrot. Her eyes were big and dark and steady.

“I am not going, _mon père_!”

[Illustration: The Willow rose slowly to her feet and looked at Pierrot.
Her eyes were big and dark and steady. “I am not going, _mon père_!”]

It was the first time Nepeese had ever said that to Pierrot—in just that
way. It thrilled him. And he could scarcely face the look in her eyes.
He was not good at bluffing. She saw what was in his face; it seemed to
him that she was reading what was in his mind, and that she grew a
little taller as she stood there. Certainly her breath came quicker, and
he could see the throb of her breast. Nepeese did not wait for him to
gather speech.

“I am not going!” she repeated with even greater finality, and bent
again over Baree.

With a shrug of his shoulders Pierrot watched her. After all, was he not
glad? Would his heart not have turned sick if she had been happy at the
thought of leaving him? He moved to her side and with great gentleness
laid a hand on her glossy head. Up from under it the Willow smiled at
him. Between them they heard the click of Baree’s jaws as he rested his
muzzle on the Willow’s arm. For the first time in weeks the world seemed
suddenly filled with sunshine for Pierrot. When he went back to the
cabin he held his head higher. Nepeese would not leave him! He laughed
softly. He rubbed his hands together. His fear of the Factor from Lac
Bain was gone. From the cabin door he looked back at Nepeese and Baree.

“The Saints be blessed!” he murmured. “Now—now—it is Pierrot Du Quesne
who knows what to do!”



                              CHAPTER XVII


Back to Lac Bain, late in September, came MacDonald the map-maker. For
ten days Gregson, the investigating agent, had been Bush McTaggart’s
guest at the post, and twice in that time it had come into Marie’s mind
to creep upon him while he slept and kill him. The Factor himself paid
little attention to her now, a fact which would have made her happy if
it had not been for Gregson. He was enraptured with the wild, sinuous
beauty of the Cree girl, and McTaggart, without jealousy, encouraged
him. He was tired of Marie.

McTaggart told Gregson this. He wanted to get rid of her, and if
he—Gregson—could possibly take her on with him it would be a great
favour. He explained why. A little later, when the deep snows came, he
was going to bring the daughter of Pierrot Du Quesne to the Post. In the
rottenness of their brotherhood he told of his visit, of the manner of
his reception, and of the incident at the chasm. In spite of all this,
he assured Gregson. Pierrot’s girl would soon be at Lac Bain.

It was at this time that MacDonald came. He remained only one night, and
without knowing that he was adding fuel to a fire already dangerously
blazing, he gave the photograph he had taken of Nepeese to the Factor.
It was a splendid picture.

“If you can get it down to that girl some day I’ll be mightily obliged,”
he said to McTaggart. “I promised her one. Her father’s name is Du
Quesne—Pierrot Du Quesne. You probably know them. And the girl——”

His blood warmed as he described to McTaggart how beautiful she was that
day in her red dress, which had taken black in the photograph. He did
not guess how near the boiling point McTaggart’s blood was.

The next day MacDonald started for Norway House. McTaggart did not show
Gregson the picture. He kept it to himself, and at night, under the glow
of his lamp, he looked at it with thoughts that filled him with a
growing resolution. There was but one way. The scheme had been in his
mind for weeks—and the picture determined him. He dared not whisper his
secret even to Gregson. But it was the one way. It would give him
Nepeese. Only—he must wait for the deep snows, the mid-winter snows.
They buried their tragedies deepest.

McTaggart was glad when Gregson followed the map-maker to Norway House.
Out of courtesy he accompanied him a day’s journey on his way. When he
returned to the Post, Marie was gone. He was glad. He sent off a runner
with a load of presents for her people, and the message: “Don’t beat
her. Keep her. She is free.”

Along with the bustle and stir of the beginning of the trapping season
McTaggart began to prepare his house for the coming of Nepeese. He knew
what she liked in the way of cleanliness and a few other things. He had
the log walls painted white with the lead and oil that were intended for
his York boats. Certain partitions were torn down, and new ones were
built; the Indian wife of his chief runner made curtains for the
windows, and he confiscated a small phonograph that should have gone on
to Lac la Biche. He had no doubts, and he counted the days as they
passed.

Down on the Gray Loon Pierrot and Nepeese were busy at many things, so
busy that at times Pierrot’s fears of the Factor at Lac Bain were
forgotten, and they went out of the Willow’s mind entirely. It was the
Red Moon, and it thrilled with the anticipation and excitement of the
winter hunt. Nepeese carefully dipped a hundred traps in boiling
caribou-fat mixed with beaver-grease, while Pierrot made fresh deadfalls
ready for setting on his trails. When he was gone more than a day from
the cabin, she was always with him.

But at the cabin there was much to do, for Pierrot, like all his
Northern brotherhood, did not begin to prepare until the keen tang of
autumn was in the air. There were snowshoes to be rewebbed with new
_babiche_, there was wood to be cut in readiness for the winter storms;
the cabin had to be banked, a new harness made, skinning-knives
sharpened and winter moccasins to be manufactured—a hundred and one
affairs to be attended to, even to the repairing of the meat rack at the
back of the cabin, where, from the beginning of cold weather until the
end, would hang the haunches of deer, caribou, and moose for the family
larder and, when fish were scarce, the dogs’ rations.

In the bustle of all this Nepeese was compelled to give less attention
to Baree than during the preceding weeks. They did not play so much;
they no longer swam, for with the mornings there was deep frost on the
ground, and the water was turning icy cold: they no longer wandered deep
in the forest after flowers and berries. For hours at a time Baree would
now lie at the Willow’s feet, watching her slender fingers as they
weaved swiftly in and out with her snowshoe _babiche_; and now and then
Nepeese would pause to lean over and put her hand on his head, and talk
to him for a moment—sometimes in her soft Cree, sometimes in English or
her father’s French.

It was the Willow’s voice which Baree had learned to understand, and the
movement of her lips, her gesture, the poise of her body, the changing
moods which brought shadow or sunlight into her face. He knew what it
meant when she smiled; he shook himself, and often jumped about her in
sympathetic rejoicing, when she laughed; her happiness was a part of
him, a stern word from her was worse than a blow. Twice Pierrot had
struck him, and twice Baree had sprang back and faced him with bared
fangs and an angry snarl, the crest along his back standing up like a
brush. Had one of the other dogs done this, Pierrot would have half
killed him. It would have been mutiny, and the man must be master. But
Baree was always safe. A touch of the Willow’s hand, a word from her
lips, and the crest slowly settled and the snarl went out of his throat.

Pierrot was not at all displeased.

“_Dieu._ I will never go so far as to try and whip that out of him,” he
told himself. “He is a barbarian—a wild beast—and her slave. For her he
would kill!”

So it came, through Pierrot himself—and without telling his reason for
it—that Baree did not become a sledge-dog. He was allowed his freedom,
and was never tied, like the others. Nepeese was glad, but did not guess
the thought that was in Pierrot’s mind. To himself Pierrot chuckled. She
would never know why he kept Baree always suspicious of him, even to the
point of hating him. It required considerable skill and cunning on his
part. With himself he reasoned: “If I make him hate me, he will hate all
men. Mey-oo! That is good.”

So he looked into the future—for Nepeese.

Now the tonic-filled days and cold, frosty nights of the Red Moon
brought about the big change in Baree. It was inevitable. Pierrot knew
that it would come, and the first night that Baree settled back on his
haunches and howled up at the Red Moon, Pierrot prepared Nepeese for it.

“He is a wild dog, _Ma Nepeese_,” he said to her. “He is half wolf, and
the Call will come to him strong. He will go into the forests. He will
disappear at times. But we must not fasten him. He will come back. _Ka_,
he will come back!” And he rubbed his hands in the moon-glow until his
knuckles cracked.

The Call came to Baree like a thief entering slowly and cautiously into
a forbidden place. He did not understand it at first. It made him
nervous and uneasy, so restless that Nepeese frequently heard him whine
softly in his sleep. He was waiting for something. What was it? Pierrot
knew, and smiled in his inscrutable way.

And then it came. It was night, a glorious night filled with moon and
stars, under which the earth was whitening with a film of frost, when
they heard the first hunt-call of the wolves. Now and then during the
summer there had come the lone wolf-howl, but this was the tonguing of
the pack; and as it floated through the vast silence and mystery of the
night, a song of savagery that had come with each Red Moon down through
unending ages, Pierrot knew that at last had come that for which Baree
had been waiting.

In an instant Baree had sensed it. His muscles grew taut as pieces of
stretched rope as he stood up in the moonlight, facing the direction
from which floated the mystery and thrill of the sound. They could hear
him whining softly; and Pierrot, bending down so that he caught the
light of the night properly, could see him trembling.

“It is _Mee-Koo_!” he said in a whisper to Nepeese.

That was it, the call of the blood that was running swift in Baree’s
veins—not alone the call of his species, but the call of Kazan and Gray
Wolf and of his forbears for generations unnumbered. It was the voice of
his people. So Pierrot had whispered, and he was right. In the golden
night the Willow was waiting, for it was she who had gambled most, and
it was she who must lose or win. She uttered no sound, replied not to
the low voice of Pierrot, but held her breath and watched Baree as he
slowly faded away, step by step, in the shadows. In a few moments more
he was gone. It was then that she stood straight, and flung back her
head, with eyes that glowed in rivalry with the stars.

“Baree!” she called. “Baree! Baree! Baree!”

He must have been near the edge of the forest, for she had drawn a slow,
waiting breath or two before he was back at her side. But he had come,
straight as an arrow, and he whined up into her face. Nepeese put her
hands to his head.

“You are right, _mon père_,” she said. “He will go to the wolves, but he
will come back. He will never leave me for long.” With one hand still on
Baree’s head, she pointed with the other into the pitlike blackness of
the forest. “Go to them, Baree!” she whispered. “But you must come back.
You must. _Cheamao!_”

With Pierrot she went into the cabin; the door closed behind them, and
Baree was alone. There was a long silence. In it he could hear the soft
night sounds: the clinking of the chains to which the dogs were
fastened, the restless movement of their bodies, the throbbing whir of a
pair of wings, the breath of the night itself. For to him this night,
even in its stillness, seemed alive. Again he went into it, and close to
the forest once more he stopped to listen. The wind had turned, and on
it rode the wailing, blood-thrilling cry of the pack. Far off to the
west a lone wolf turned his muzzle to the sky and answered that
gathering-call of his clan; and then out of the east came a voice, so
far beyond the cabin that it was like an echo dying away in the vastness
of the night.

A choking note gathered in Baree’s throat. He threw up his head.
Straight above him was the Red Moon, inviting him to the thrill and
mystery of the open world. The sound grew in his throat, and slowly it
rose in volume until his answer was rising to the stars. In their cabin
Pierrot and the Willow heard it. Pierrot shrugged his shoulders.

“He is gone,” he said.

“_Oui_, he is gone, _mon père_,” replied Nepeese, peering through the
window.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


No longer, as in the days of old, did the darkness of the forests hold a
fear for Baree. This night his hunt-cry had risen to the stars and the
moon, and in that cry he had, for the first time, sent forth his
defiance of night and space, his warning to all the wild, and his
acceptance of the Brotherhood. In that cry, and the answers that came
back to him, he sensed a new power—the final triumph of nature in
impinging on him the fact that the forests and the creatures they held
were no longer to be feared, but that all things feared him. Off there,
beyond the pale of the cabin and the influence of Nepeese, were all the
things that the wolf-blood in him found now most desirable:
companionship of his kind, the lure of adventure, the red, sweet blood
of the chase—and matehood. This last, after all, was the dominant
mystery that was urging him, and yet least of all did he understand it.

He ran straight into the darkness to the north and west, slinking low
under the bushes, his tail drooping, his ears aslant—the wolf as the
wolf runs on the night trail. The pack had swung due north, and was
travelling faster than he, so that at the end of half an hour he could
no longer hear it. But the lone wolf-howl to the west was nearer, and
three times Baree gave answer to it.

At the end of an hour he heard the pack again, swinging southward.
Pierrot would easily have understood. Their quarry had found safety
beyond water, or in a lake, and the _muhekuns_ were on a fresh trail. By
this time not more than a quarter of a mile of the forest separated
Baree from the lone wolf, but the lone wolf was also an old wolf, and
with the directness and precision of long experience, he swerved in the
direction of the hunters, compassing his trail so that he was heading
for a point half or three quarters of a mile in advance of the pack.

This was a trick of the Brotherhood which Baree had yet to learn; and
the result of his ignorance, and lack of skill, was that twice within
the next half-hour he found himself near to the pack without being able
to join it. Then came a long and final silence. The pack had pulled down
its kill, and in their feasting they made no sound.

The rest of the night Baree wandered alone, or at least until the moon
was well on the wane. He was a long way from the cabin, and his trail
had been an uncertain and twisting one, but he was no longer possessed
with the discomforting sensation of being lost. The last two or three
months had been developing strongly in him the sense of orientation,
that “sixth sense” which guides the pigeon unerringly on its way and
takes a bear straight as a bird might fly to its last year’s
denning-place.

Baree had not forgotten Nepeese. A dozen times he turned his head back
and whined, and always he picked out accurately the direction in which
the cabin lay. But he did not turn back. As the night lengthened, his
search for that mysterious something which he had not found continued.
His hunger, even with the fading-out of the moon and the coming of the
gray dawn, was not sufficiently keen to make him hunt for food.

It was cold, and it seemed colder when the glow of the moon and stars
died out. Under his padded feet, especially in the open spaces, was a
thick white frost in which he left clearly at times the imprint of his
toes and claws. He had travelled steadily for hours, a great many miles
in all, and he was tired when the first light of the day came. And then
there came the time when, with a sudden sharp click of his jaws, he
stopped like a shot in his tracks.

At last it had come—the meeting with that for which he had been seeking.
It was in an open, lighted by the cold dawn—a tiny amphitheatre that lay
on the side of a ridge, facing the east. With her head toward him, and
waiting for him as he came out of the shadows, his scent strong in her
keen nose, stood Maheegun, the young wolf. Baree had not smelled her,
but he saw her directly he came out of the rim of young balsams that
fringed the open. It was then that he stopped, and for a full minute
neither of them moved a muscle or seemed to breathe.

There was not a fortnight’s difference in their age and yet Maheegun was
much the smaller of the two; her body was as long, but she was slimmer;
she stood on slender legs that were almost like the legs of a fox, and
the curve of her back was that of a slightly bent bow, a sign of
swiftness almost equal to the wind. She stood poised for flight even as
Baree advanced his first step toward her, and then very slowly her body
relaxed, and in a direct ratio as he drew nearer her ears lost their
alertness and dropped aslant.

Baree whined. His own ears were up, his head alert, his tail aloft and
bushy. Cleverness, if not strategy, had already become a part of his
masculine superiority, and he did not immediately press the affair. He
was within five feet of Maheegun when he casually turned away from her
and faced the east, where a faint pencilling of red and gold was
heralding the day. For a few moments he sniffed and looked around and
pointed the wind with much seriousness, as though impressing on his fair
acquaintance—as many a two-legged animal has done before him—his
tremendous importance in the world at large.

And Maheegun was properly impressed. Baree’s bluff worked as beautifully
as the bluffs of the two-legged animals. He sniffed the air with such
thrilling and suspicious zeal that Maheegun’s ears sprang alert, and she
sniffed it with him; he turned his head from point to point so sharply
and alertly that her feminine curiosity, if not anxiety, made her turn
her own head in questioning conjunction; and when he whined, as though
in the air he had caught a mystery which she could not possibly
understand, a responsive note gathered in her throat, but smothered and
low as a woman’s exclamation when she is not quite sure whether she
should interrupt her lord or not. At this sound, which Baree’s sharp
ears caught, he swung up to her with a light and mincing step, and in
another moment they were smelling noses.

When the sun rose, half an hour later, it found them still in the small
open on the side of the ridge, with a deep fringe of forest under them,
and beyond that a wide, timbered plain which looked like a ghostly
shroud in its mantle of frost. Up over this came the first red glow of
the day, filling the open with a warmth that grew more and more
comfortable as the sun crept higher.

Neither Baree nor Maheegun were inclined to move for a while, and for an
hour or two they lay basking in a cup of the slope, looking down with
questing and wide-awake eyes upon the wooded plain that stretched away
under them like a great sea.

Maheegun, too, had sought the hunt-pack, and like Baree had failed to
catch it. They were tired, a little discouraged for the time, and
hungry—but still alive with the fine thrill of anticipation, and
restlessly sensitive to the new and mysterious consciousness of
companionship. Half a dozen times Baree got up and nosed about Maheegun
as she lay in the sun, whining to her softly and touching her soft coat
with his muzzle, but for a long time she paid little attention to him.
At last she followed him. All that day they wandered and rested
together. Once more the night came.

It was without moon or stars. Gray masses of clouds swept slowly down
out of the north and east, and in the treetops there was scarcely a
whisper of wind as night gathered in. The snow began to fall at dusk,
thickly, heavily, without a breath of sound. It was not cold, but it was
still—so still that Baree and Maheegun travelled only a few yards at a
time, and then stopped to listen. In this way all the night-prowlers of
the forest were travelling, if they were moving at all. It was the first
of the Big Snow.

To the flesh-eating wild things of the forests, clawed and winged, the
Big Snow was the beginning of the winter carnival of slaughter and
feasting, of wild adventure in the long nights, of merciless warfare on
the frozen trails. The days of breeding, of motherhood—the peace of
spring and summer—were over; out of the sky came the wakening of the
Northland, the call of all flesh-eating creatures to the long hunt, and
in the first thrill of it living things were moving but little this
night, and that watchfully and with suspicion. Youth made it all new to
Baree and Maheegun; their blood ran swiftly; their feet fell softly;
their ears were attuned to catch the slightest sounds.

In this first of the Big Snow they felt the exciting pulse of a new
life. It lured them on. It invited them to adventure into the white
mystery of the silent storm; and inspired by that restlessness of youth
and its desires, they went on.

The snow grew deeper under their feet. In the open spaces they waded
through it to their knees, and it continued to fall in a vast white
cloud that descended steadily out of the sky. It was near midnight when
it stopped. The clouds drifted away from under the stars and the moon,
and for a long time Baree and Maheegun stood without moving, looking
down from the bald crest of a ridge upon a wonderful world.

Never had they seen so far, except in the light of day. Under them was a
plain. They could see its forests, lone trees that stood up like shadows
out of the snow, a stream—still unfrozen—shimmering like glass with the
flicker of firelight on it. Toward this stream Baree led the way. He no
longer thought of Nepeese, and he whined with pent-up happiness as he
stopped halfway down and turned to muzzle Maheegun. He wanted to roll in
the snow and frisk about with his companion; he wanted to bark, to put
up his head and howl as he had howled at the Red Moon back at the cabin.

Something held him from doing these things. Perhaps it was Maheegun’s
demeanour. She accepted his attentions rigidly. Once or twice she had
seemed almost frightened; twice Baree had heard the sharp clicking of
her teeth. The previous night, and all through to-night’s storm, their
companionship had grown more intimate, but now there was taking its
place a mysterious aloofness on the part of Maheegun. Pierrot could have
explained. With the white snow under and about him, and the luminous
moon and stars above him, Baree, like the night, had undergone a
transformation which even the sunlight of day had not made in him
before. His coat was like polished jet. Every hair in his body glistened
black. _Black!_ That was it. And Nature was trying to tell Maheegun that
of all the creatures hated by her kind, the creature which they feared
and hated most was black. With her it was not experience, but
instinct—telling her of the age-old feud between the gray wolf and the
black bear. And Baree’s coat, in the moonlight and the snow, was blacker
than Wakayoo’s had ever been in the fish-fattening days of May. Until
they struck the broad openings of the plain, the young she-wolf had
followed Baree without hesitation; now there was a gathering strangeness
and indecision in her manner, and twice she stopped and would have let
Baree go on without her.

An hour after they entered the plain there came suddenly out of the west
the tonguing of the wolf-pack. It was not far distant, probably not more
than a mile along the foot of the ridge, and the sharp, quick yapping
that followed the first outburst was evidence that the long-fanged
hunters had put up sudden game, a caribou or young moose, and were close
at its heels. At the voice of her own people Maheegun laid her ears
close to her head and was off like an arrow from a bow.

The unexpectedness of her movement and the swiftness of her flight put
Baree well behind her in the race over the plain. She was running
blindly, favoured by luck. For an interval of perhaps five minutes the
pack were so near to their game that they made no sound, and the chase
swung full into the face of Maheegun and Baree. The latter was not half
a dozen lengths behind the young wolf when a crashing in the brush
directly ahead stopped them so sharply that they tore up the snow with
their braced forefeet and squat haunches. Ten seconds later a caribou
burst through and flashed across an open not more than twenty yards from
where they stood. They could hear its swift panting as it disappeared.
And then came the pack.

At sight of those swiftly moving gray bodies Baree’s heart leaped for an
instant into his throat. He forgot Maheegun, and that she had run away
from him. The moon and the stars went out of existence for him. He no
longer sensed the chill of the snow under his feet. He was wolf—all
wolf. With the warm scent of the caribou in his nostrils, and the
passion to kill sweeping through him like fire, he darted after the
pack.

Even at that, Maheegun was a bit ahead of him. He did not miss her; in
the excitement of his first chase he no longer felt the desire to have
her at his side. Very soon he found himself close to the flanks of one
of the gray monsters of the pack; half a minute later a new hunter swept
in from the bush behind him, and then a second, and after that a third.
At times he was running shoulder to shoulder with his new companions; he
heard the whining excitement in their throats; the snap of their jaws as
they ran—and in the golden moonlight ahead of him the smash of the
caribou as it plunged through thickets and over windfalls in its race
for life.

It was as if Baree had belonged to the pack always. He had joined it
naturally, as other stray wolves had joined it from out of the bush;
there had been no ostentation, no welcome such as Maheegun had given him
in the open, and no hostility. He belonged with these slim, swift-footed
outlaws of the old forests, and his own jaws snapped and his blood ran
hot as the smell of the caribou grew heavier, and the sound of its
crashing body nearer.

It seemed to him they were almost at its heel when they swept into an
open plain, a stretch of barren without a tree or a shrub, brilliant in
the light of the stars and moon. Across its unbroken carpet of snow sped
the caribou a spare hundred yards ahead of the pack. Now the two leading
hunters no longer followed directly in the trail, but shot out at an
angle, one to the right and the other to the left of the pursued, and
like well-trained soldiers the pack split in halves and spread out
fan-shape in the final charge.

The two ends of the fan forged ahead and closed in, until the leaders
were running almost abreast of the caribou, with fifty or sixty feet
separating them from the pursued. Thus, adroitly and swiftly, with
deadly precision, the pack had formed a horseshoe cordon of fangs from
which there was but one course of flight—straight ahead. For the caribou
to swerve half a degree to the right or left meant death. It was the
duty of the leaders to draw in the ends of the Horseshoe now, until one
or both of them could make the fatal lunge for the ham-strings. After
that it would be a simple matter. The pack would close in over the
caribou like an inundation.

Baree had found his place in the lower rim of the horseshoe, so that he
was fairly well in the rear when the climax came. The plain made a
sudden dip. Straight ahead was the gleam of water—water shimmering
softly in the starglow, and the sight of it sent a final great spurt of
blood through the caribou’s bursting heart. Forty seconds would tell the
story—forty seconds of a last spurt for life, of a final tremendous
effort to escape death. Baree felt the sudden thrill of these moments,
and he forged ahead with the others in that lower rim of the horseshoe
as one of the leading wolves made a lunge for the young bull’s
ham-string. It was a clean miss. A second wolf darted in. And this one
also missed.

There was no time for others to take their place. From the broken end of
the horseshoe Baree heard the caribou’s heavy plunge into water. When
Baree joined the pack, a maddened, mouth-frothing, snarling horde,
Napamoos, the young bull, was well out in the river and swimming
steadily for the opposite shore.

[Illustration: When Baree joined the pack, a maddened, mouth-frothing,
snarling horde, Napamoos, the young caribou bull, was well out in the
river and swimming steadily for the opposite shore.]

It was then that Baree found himself at the side of Maheegun. She was
panting; her red tongue hung from her open jaws; but at his presence she
brought her fangs together with a snap and slunk from him into the heart
of the wind-run and disappointed pack. The wolves were in an ugly
temper, but Baree did not sense the fact. Nepeese had trained him to
take to water like an otter, and he did not understand why this narrow
river should stop them as it had. He ran down to the water and stood
belly deep in it, facing for an instant the horde of savage beasts above
him, wondering why they did not follow. And he was black—_black_. He
came among them again, and for the first time they noticed him.

The restless movements of the waters ceased now. A new and wondering
interest held them rigid. Fangs closed sharply. A little in the open
Baree saw Maheegun, with a big gray wolf standing near her. He went to
her again, and this time she remained with flattened ears until he was
sniffing her neck. And then, with a vicious snarl, she snapped at him.
Her teeth sank deep in the soft flesh of his shoulder, and at the
unexpectedness and pain of her attack, he let out a yelp. The next
instant the big gray wolf was at him.

Again caught unexpectedly, Baree went down with the wolf’s fangs at his
throat. But in him was the blood of Kazan, the flesh and bone and sinew
of Kazan, and for the first time in his life he fought as Kazan fought
on that terrible day at the top of the Sun Rock. He was young; he had
yet to learn the cleverness and the strategy of the veteran; but his
jaws were like the iron clamps with which Pierrot set his bear traps,
and in his heart was sudden and blinding rage, a desire to kill that
rose above all sense of pain or fear.

That fight, if it had been fair, would have been a victory for Baree,
even in his youth and inexperience. In fairness the pack should have
waited; it was a law of the pack to wait—until one was done for. But
Baree was black; he was a stranger, an interloper, a creature whom they
noticed now in a moment when their blood was hot with the rage and
disappointment of killers who had missed their prey. A second wolf
sprang in, striking Baree treacherously from the flank; and while he was
in the snow, his jaws crushing the fore-leg of his first foe, the pack
was on him _en masse_.

Such an attack on the young caribou bull would have meant death in less
than a minute. Every fang would have found its hold. Baree, by the
fortunate circumstance that he was under his first two assailants and
protected by their bodies, was saved from being torn instantly into
pieces. He knew that he was fighting for his life. Over him the horde of
beasts rolled and twisted and snarled; he felt the burning pain of teeth
sinking into his flesh; he was smothered; a hundred knives seemed
cutting him into pieces; yet no sound—not a whimper or a cry—came from
him now in the horror and hopelessness of it all.

It would have ended in another half-minute had the struggle not been at
the very edge of the bank. Undermined by the erosion of the spring
floods, a section of this bank suddenly gave way, and with it went Baree
and half the pack. In a flash Baree thought of the water and the
escaping caribou. For a bare instant the cave-in had sent him free of
the pack, and in that space he gave a single leap over the gray backs of
his enemies into the deep water of the stream. Close behind him half a
dozen jaws snapped shut on empty air. As it had saved the caribou, so
this strip of water shimmering in the glow of the moon and stars had
saved Baree.

The stream was not more than a hundred feet in width, but it cost Baree
close to a losing struggle to get across it. Until he dragged himself
out on the opposite shore, the extent of his injuries was not impressed
upon him fully. One hind leg, for the time, was useless; his forward
left shoulder was laid open to the bone; his head and body were torn and
cut; and as he dragged himself slowly away from the stream, the trail he
left in the snow was a red path of blood. It trickled from his panting
jaws, between which his tongue was bleeding; it ran down his legs and
flanks and belly, and it dripped from his ears, one of which was slit
clean for two inches as though cut with a knife. His instincts were
dazed, his perception of things clouded as if by a veil drawn close over
his eyes. He did not hear, a few minutes later, the howling of the
disappointed wolf-horde on the other side of the river, and he no longer
sensed the existence of moon or stars. Half dead, he dragged himself on
until by chance he came to a clump of dwarf spruce. Into this he
struggled, and then he dropped exhausted.

All that night and until noon the next day Baree lay without moving. The
fever burned in his blood; it flamed high and swift toward death; then
it ebbed slowly, and life conquered. At noon he came forth. He was weak,
and he wobbled on his legs. His hind leg still dragged, and he was
racked with pain. But it was a splendid day. The sun was warm; the snow
was thawing; the sky was like a great blue sea; and the floods of life
coursed warmly again through Baree’s veins. But now, for all time, his
desires were changed, and his great quest at an end.

A red ferocity grew in Baree’s eyes as he snarled in the direction of
last night’s fight with the wolves. They were no longer his people. They
were no longer of his blood. Never again could the hunt-call lure him or
the voice of the pack rouse the old longing. In him there was a thing
new-born, an undying hatred for the wolf, a hatred that was to grow in
him until it became like a disease in his vitals, a thing ever present
and insistent, demanding vengeance on their kind. Last night he had gone
to them a comrade. To-day he was an outcast. Cut and maimed, bearing
with him scars for all time, he had learned his lesson of the
wilderness. To-morrow, and the next day, and for days after that without
number, he would remember the lesson well.



                              CHAPTER XIX


At the cabin on the Gray Loon, on the fourth night of Baree’s absence,
Pierrot was smoking his pipe after a great supper of caribou tenderloin
he had brought in from the trail, and Nepeese was listening to his tale
of the remarkable shot he had made, when a sound at the door interrupted
them. Nepeese opened it, and Baree came in. The cry of welcome that was
on the girl’s lips died there instantly, and Pierrot stared as if he
could not quite believe this creature that had returned was the
wolf-dog. Three days and nights of hunger in which he could not hunt
because of the leg that dragged had put on him the marks of starvation.
Battle-scarred and covered with dried blood-clots that still clung
tenaciously to his long hair, he was a sight that drew at last a long
breath from Nepeese. A queer smile was growing in Pierrot’s face as he
leaned forward in his chair; and then slowly rising to his feet, and
looking closer, he said to Nepeese:

“_Ventre Saint Gris! Oui_, he has been to the pack, Nepeese, and the
pack turned on him. It was not a two-wolf fight—_non!_ It was the pack.
He is cut and torn in fifty places. And—_mon Dieu_, he is alive!”

In Pierrot’s voice there was growing wonder and amazement. He was
incredulous, and yet he could not disbelieve what his eyes told him.
What had happened was nothing short of a miracle, and for a time he
uttered not a word more but remained staring in silence while Nepeese
woke from her astonishment to give Baree doctoring and food. After he
had eaten ravenously of cold boiled mush she began bathing his wounds in
warm water, and after that she soothed them with bear-grease, talking to
him all the time in her soft Cree. After the pain and hunger and
treachery of his adventure, it was a wonderful homecoming for Baree. He
slept that night at the foot of the Willow’s bed. The next morning it
was the cool caress of his tongue on her hand that awakened her.

With this day they resumed the comradeship interrupted by Baree’s
temporary desertion. The attachment was greater than ever on Baree’s
part. It was he who had run away from the Willow, who had deserted her
at the call of the pack, and it seemed at times as though he sensed the
depths of his perfidy and was striving to make amends. There was
indubitably a very great change in him. He hung to Nepeese like a
shadow. Instead of sleeping at night in the spruce shelter Pierrot made
for him, he made himself a little hollow in the earth close to the cabin
door. Pierrot thought that he understood, and Nepeese thought that she
understood still more; but in reality the key to the mystery remained
with Baree himself. He no longer played as he had played before he went
off alone into the forest. He did not chase sticks, or run until he was
winded, for the pure joy of running. His puppyishness was gone. In its
place was a great worship and a rankling bitterness, a love for the girl
and a hatred for the pack and all that it stood for. Whenever he heard
the wolf-howl, it brought an angry snarl into his throat, and he would
bare his fangs until even Pierrot would draw a little away from him. But
a touch of the girl’s hand would quiet him.

In a week or two the heavier snows came, and Pierrot began making his
trips over the trap-lines. Nepeese had entered into a thrilling bargain
with him this winter. Pierrot had taken her into partnership. Every
fifth trap, every fifth deadfall, and every fifth poison-bait was to be
her own, and what they caught or killed was to bring a bit nearer to
realization a wonderful dream that was growing in the Willow’s soul.
Pierrot had promised. If they had great luck that winter, they would go
down together on the last snows to Nelson House and buy the little old
organ that was for sale there; and if the organ was sold, they would
work another winter, and get a new one.

This plan gave Nepeese an enthusiastic and tireless interest in the
trap-line. With Pierrot it was more or less a fine bit of strategy. He
would have sold his hand to give Nepeese the organ; he was determined
that she should have it, whether the fifth traps and the fifth deadfalls
and the fifth poison-baits caught the fur or not. The partnership meant
nothing so far as that was concerned. But in another way it meant to
Nepeese a business interest, the thrill of personal achievement. Pierrot
impressed on her that it made a comrade and co-worker of her on the
trail. That was his scheme: to keep her with him when he was away from
the cabin. He knew that Bush McTaggart would come again to the Gray
Loon, probably more than once during the winter. He had swift dogs, and
it was a short journey. And when McTaggart came, Nepeese must not be at
the cabin—alone.

Pierrot’s trap-line swung into the north and west, covering in all a
matter of fifty miles, with an average of two traps, one deadfall, and a
poison-bait to each mile. It was a twisting line blazed along streams
for mink, otter, and marten, piercing the deepest forests for fisher-cat
and lynx and crossing lakes and storm-swept strips of barrens where
poison-baits could be set for fox and wolf. Halfway over this line
Pierrot had built a small log cabin, and at the end of it another, so
that a day’s work meant twenty-five miles. This was easy for Pierrot,
and not hard on Nepeese after the first few days.

All through October and November they made the trips regularly, making
the round every six days, which gave one day of rest at the cabin on the
Gray Loon and another day in the cabin at the end of the trail. To
Pierrot the winter’s work was business, the labour of his people for
many generations back; to Nepeese and Baree it was a wild and joyous
adventure that never for a day grew tiresome. Even Pierrot could not
quite immunize himself against their enthusiasm. It was infectious, and
he was happier than he had been since his sun had set that evening the
princess mother died.

They were splendid months. Fur was thick, and it was steadily cold
without bad storm. Nepeese not only carried a small pack on her
shoulders in order that Pierrot’s load might be lighter, but she trained
Baree to bear tiny shoulder-panniers which she manufactured. In these
panniers Baree carried the bait. In at least a third of the total number
of traps set there was always what Pierrot called trash—rabbits, owls,
whisky-jacks, jays, and squirrels. These, with the skin or feathers
stripped off, made up the bulk of the bait for the traps ahead.

One afternoon early in December, as they were returning to the Gray
Loon, Pierrot stopped suddenly a dozen paces ahead of Nepeese and stared
at the snow. A strange snowshoe trail had joined their own and was
heading toward the cabin. For half a minute Pierrot was silent and
scarcely moved a muscle as he stared. The trail came straight out of the
north—and off there was Lac Bain. Also they were the marks of large
snowshoes, and the stride indicated was that of a tall man. Before
Pierrot had spoken, Nepeese had guessed what they meant.

“M’sieu the Factor from Lac Bain!” she said.

Baree was sniffing suspiciously at the strange trail. They heard the low
growl in his throat, and Pierrot’s shoulders stiffened.

“Yes, the M’sieu,” he said.

The Willow’s heart beat more swiftly as they went on. She was not afraid
of McTaggart, not physically afraid; and yet something rose up in her
breast and choked her at thought of his presence on the Gray Loon. Why
was he there? It was not necessary for Pierrot to answer the question,
even had she given voice to it. She knew. The Factor from Lac Bain had
no business there—except to see her. The blood burned red in her cheeks
as she thought again of that minute on the edge of the chasm when he had
almost crushed her in his arms. Would he try _that_ again?

Pierrot, deep in his own sombre thoughts, scarcely heard the strange
laugh that came suddenly from her lips. Nepeese was listening to the
growl that was again in Baree’s throat. It was a low but terrible sound.
When half a mile from the cabin, she unslung the panniers from his
shoulders and carried them herself. Ten minutes later they saw a man
advancing to meet them.

It was not McTaggart. Pierrot recognized him, and with an audible breath
of relief waved his hand. It was DeBar, who trapped in the Barren
Country north of Lac Bain. Pierrot knew him well. They had exchanged
fox-poison. They were friends, and there was pleasure in the grip of
their hands. DeBar stared then at Nepeese.

“Tonnerre, she has grown into a woman!” he cried, and like a woman
Nepeese looked at him straight with the colour deepening in her cheeks,
as he bowed low with a courtesy that dated back a couple of centuries
beyond the trap-line.

DeBar lost no time in explaining his mission, and before they reached
the cabin Pierrot and Nepeese knew why he had come. M’sieu, the Factor
at Lac Bain, was leaving on a journey in five days, and he had sent
DeBar as a special messenger to request Pierrot to come up to assist the
clerk and the halfbreed storekeeper in his absence. Pierrot made no
comment at first. But he was thinking. Why had Bush McTaggart sent for
_him_? Why had he not chosen some one nearer? Not until a fire was
crackling in the sheet-iron stove in the cabin, and Nepeese was busily
engaged getting supper, did he voice these questions to the fox-hunter.

DeBar shrugged his shoulders.

“He asked me, at first, if I could stay. But I have a wife with a bad
lung, Pierrot. It was caught by frost last winter, and I dare not leave
her long alone. He has great faith in you. Besides, you know all the
trappers on the Company’s books at Lac Bain. So he sent for you, and
begs you not to worry about your fur-lines, as he will pay you double
what you would catch in the time you are at the Post.”

“And—Nepeese?” said Pierrot. “M’sieu expects me to bring her?”

From the stove the Willow bent her head to listen, and her heart leaped
free again at DeBar’s answer.

“He said nothing about that. But surely—it will be a great change for
li’le m’selle.”

Pierrot nodded.

“Possibly, _Netootam_.”

They discussed the matter no more that night. But for hours Pierrot was
still, thinking, and a hundred times he asked himself that same
question: Why had McTaggart sent for _him_? He was not the only man well
known to the trappers on the Company’s books. There was Wassoon, for
instance, the halfbreed Scandinavian whose cabin was less than four
hours’ journey from the post—or Baroche, the white-bearded old Frenchman
who lived yet nearer and whose word was as good as the Bible. It must
be, he told himself finally, that M’sieu had sent for _him_ because he
wanted to win over the father of Nepeese and gain the friendship of
Nepeese herself. For this was undoubtedly a very great honour that the
Factor was conferring on him. And yet, deep down in his heart, he was
filled with suspicion.

When DeBar was about to leave the next morning, Pierrot said:

“Tell M’sieu that I will leave for Lac Bain the day after to-morrow.”

After DeBar had gone, he said to Nepeese:

“And you shall remain here, _ma chérie_. I will not take you to Lac
Bain. I have had a dream that M’sieu will not go on a journey, but that
he has lied, and that he will be sick when I arrive at the post. And
yet, if it should happen that you care to go——”

Nepeese straightened suddenly, like a reed that has been caught by the
wind.

“_Non!_” she cried, so fiercely that Pierrot laughed, and rubbed his
hands.

So it happened that on the second day after the fox-hunter’s visit
Pierrot left for Lac Bain, with Nepeese in the door waving him good-bye
until he was out of sight.

                  *       *       *       *       *

On the morning of this same day Bush McTaggart rose from his bed while
it was still dark. The time had come. He had hesitated at murder—at the
killing of Pierrot; and in his hesitation he had found a better way.
There could be no escape for Nepeese.

It was a wonderful scheme, so easy of accomplishment, so inevitable in
its outcome. And all the time Pierrot would think he was away to the
east on a mission!

He ate his breakfast before dawn, and was on the trail before it was yet
light. Purposely he struck due east, so that in coming up from the south
and west Pierrot would not strike his sledge tracks. For he had made up
his mind now that Pierrot must never know and must never have a
suspicion, even though it cost him so many more miles to travel that he
would not reach the Gray Loon until the second day. It was better to be
a day late, after all, as it was possible that something might have
delayed Pierrot. So he made no effort to travel fast.

There was a vast amount of brutal satisfaction to McTaggart in
anticipating what was about to happen, and he revelled in it to the
full. There was no chance for disappointment. He was positive that
Nepeese would not accompany her father to Lac Bain. She would be at the
cabin on the Gray Loon—alone.

This aloneness was to Nepeese burdened with no thought of danger. There
were times, now, when the thought of being alone was pleasant to her,
when she wanted to dream by herself, when she visioned things into the
mysteries of which she would not admit even Pierrot. She was growing
into womanhood—just the sweet, closed bud of womanhood as yet—still a
girl with the soft velvet of girlhood in her eyes, yet with the mystery
of woman stirring gently in her soul, as if the Great Hand were
hesitating between awakening her and letting her sleep a little longer.
At these times, when the opportunity came to steal hours by herself, she
would put on the red dress and do up her wonderful hair as she saw it in
the pictures of the magazines Pierrot had sent up twice a year from
Nelson House.

On the second day of Pierrot’s absence Nepeese dressed herself like
this, but to-day she let her hair cascade in a shining glory about her,
and about her forehead bound a circlet of red ribbon. She was not yet
done. To-day she had marvellous designs. On the wall close to her mirror
she had tacked a large page from a woman’s magazine, and on this page
was a lovely vision of curls. Fifteen hundred miles north of the sunny
California studio in which the picture had been taken, Nepeese, with
pouted red lips and puckered forehead, was fighting to master the
mystery of the other girl’s curls!

She was looking into her mirror, her face flushed and her eyes aglow in
the excitement of the struggle to fashion one of the coveted ringlets
from a tress that fell away below her hips, when the door opened behind
her, and Bush McTaggart walked in.



                               CHAPTER XX


The Willow’s back was toward the door when the Factor from Lac Bain
entered the cabin, and for a few startled seconds she did not turn. Her
first thought was of Pierrot—for some reason he had returned. But even
as this thought came to her, she heard in Baree’s throat a snarl that
brought her suddenly to her feet, facing the door.

McTaggart had not entered unprepared. He had left his pack, his gun, and
his heavy coat outside. He was standing with his back against the door;
and at Nepeese—in her wonderful dress and flowing hair—he was staring as
if stunned for a space at what he saw. Fate, or accident, was playing
against the Willow now. If there had been a spark of slumbering
chivalry, of mercy, even, in Bush McTaggart’s soul, it was extinguished
by what he saw. Never had Nepeese looked more beautiful, not even on
that day when MacDonald the map-maker had taken her picture. The sun,
flooding through the window, lighted up her marvellous hair; her flushed
face was framed in its lustrous darkness like a tinted cameo. He had
dreamed, but he had pictured nothing like this woman who stood before
him now, her eyes widening with fear and the flush leaving her face even
as he looked at her.

It was not a long interval in which their eyes met in that terrible
silence—terrible to the girl. Words were unnecessary. At last she
understood—understood what her peril had been that day at the edge of
the chasm and in the forest, when fearlessly she had played with the
menace that was confronting her now.

A breath that was like a sob broke from her lips.

“M’sieu!” she tried to say. But it was only a gasp—an effort. She seemed
choking.

Plainly she heard the click of the iron bolt as it locked the door.
McTaggart advanced a step.

Only a single step McTaggart advanced. On the floor Baree had remained
like a carven thing. He had not moved. He had not made a sound but that
one warning snarl—until McTaggart took the step. And then, like a flash,
he was up and in front of Nepeese, every hair of his body on end; and at
the fury in his growl McTaggart lunged back against the barred door. A
word from Nepeese in that moment, and it would have been over. But an
instant was lost—an instant before her cry came. In that moment man’s
hand and brain worked swifter than brute understanding; and as Baree
launched himself at the Factor’s throat, there came a flash and a
deafening explosion almost in the Willow’s eyes.

It was a chance shot, a shot from the hip with McTaggart’s automatic.
Baree fell short. He struck the floor with a thud and rolled against the
log wall. There was not a kick or a quiver left in his body. McTaggart
laughed nervously as he shoved his pistol back in its holster. He knew
that only a brain shot could have done that.

With her back against the farther wall, Nepeese was waiting. McTaggart
could hear her panting breath. He advanced halfway to her.

“Nepeese, I have come to make you my wife,” he said.

She did not answer. He could see that her breath was choking her. She
raised a hand to her throat. He took two more steps, and stopped. He had
never seen such eyes.

“I have come to make you my wife, Nepeese. To-morrow you will go on to
Nelson House with me and then back to Lac Bain—forever.” He added the
last word as an afterthought. “Forever,” he repeated.

He did not mince words. His courage and his determination rose as he saw
her body droop a little against the wall. She was powerless. There was
no escape. Pierrot was gone. Baree was dead.

He had thought that no living creature could move as swiftly as the
Willow when his arms reached out for her. She made no sound as she
darted under one of his outstretched arms. He made a lunge, a brutal
grab, and his fingers caught a bit of hair. He heard the snap of it as
she tore herself free and flew to the door. She had thrown back the bolt
when he caught her and his arms closed about her. He dragged her back,
and now she cried out—cried out in her despair for Pierrot, for Baree,
for some miracle of God that might save her.

And Nepeese fought. She twisted in his arms until she was facing him.
She could no longer see. She was smothered in her hair. It covered her
face and breast and body, suffocating her, entangling her hands and
arms—and still she fought. In the struggle McTaggart stumbled over the
body of Baree, and they went down. Nepeese was up fully five seconds
ahead of the man. She could have reached the door. But again it was her
hair. She paused to fling back the thick masses of it so that she could
see, and McTaggart was at the door ahead of her.

He did not lock it again, but stood facing her. His face was scratched
and bleeding. He was no longer a man but a devil. Nepeese was broken,
panting—a low sobbing came with her breath. She bent down, and picked up
a piece of firewood. McTaggart could see that her strength was almost
gone.

She clutched the stick as he approached her again. But McTaggart had
lost all thought of fear or caution. He sprang upon her like an animal.
The stick of firewood fell. And again fate played against the girl. In
her terror and hopelessness she had caught up the first stick her hand
had touched—a light one. With her last strength she struck at McTaggart
with it, and as it fell on his head, he staggered back. But it did not
make him lose his hold.

Vainly she was fighting now, not to strike him or to escape, but to get
her breath. She tried to cry out again, but this time no sound came from
between her gasping lips.

Again he laughed, and as he laughed, he heard the door open. Was it the
wind? He turned, still holding her in his arms.

In the open door stood Pierrot.



                              CHAPTER XXI


During that terrible space which followed an eternity of time rolled
slowly through the little cabin on the Gray Loon—that eternity which
lies somewhere between life and death and which is sometimes meted out
to a human life in seconds instead of eons.

In those seconds Pierrot did not move from where he stood in the
doorway. McTaggart, huddled over with the weight in his arms, and
staring at Pierrot, did not move. But the Willow’s eyes were opening.
And a convulsive quiver ran through the body of Baree, where he lay near
the wall. There was not the sound of a breath. And then, in that
silence, a great gasping sob came from Nepeese.

Then Pierrot stirred to life. Like McTaggart, he had left his coat and
mittens outside. He spoke, and his voice was not like Pierrot’s. It was
a strange voice.

“The great God has sent me back in time, m’sieu,” he said. “I, too,
travelled by way of the east, and saw your trail where it turned this
way.”

No, that was not like Pierrot’s voice! A chill ran through McTaggart
now, and slowly he let go of Nepeese. She fell to the floor. Slowly he
straightened.

“Is it not true, m’sieu?” said Pierrot again. “I have come in time?”

What power was it—what great fear, perhaps, that made McTaggart nod his
head, that made his thick lips form huskily the words, “Yes—in time.”
And yet it was not fear. It was something greater, something more
all-powerful than that. And Pierrot said, in that same strange voice:

“I thank the great God!”

The eyes of madman met the eyes of madman now. Between them was death.
Both saw it. Both thought that they saw the direction in which its bony
finger pointed. Both were certain. McTaggart’s hand did not go to the
pistol in his holster, and Pierrot did not touch the knife in his belt.
When they came together, it was throat to throat—two beasts now, instead
of one, for Pierrot had in him the fury and strength of the wolf, the
cat, and the panther.

McTaggart was the bigger and heavier man, a giant in strength; yet in
the face of Pierrot’s fury he lurched back over the table and went down
with a crash. Many times in his life he had fought, but he had never
felt a grip at his throat like the grip of Pierrot’s hands. They almost
crushed the life from him at once. His neck snapped—a little more, and
it would have broken. He struck out blindly from his back, and twisted
himself to throw off the weight of the halfbreed’s body. But Pierrot was
fastened there, as Sekoosew the ermine had fastened itself at the
jugular of the partridge, and Bush McTaggart’s jaws slowly swung open,
and his face began to turn from red to purple.

Cold air rushing through the door, Pierrot’s voice and the sound of
battle roused Nepeese quickly to consciousness and the power to raise
herself from the floor. She had fallen near Baree, and as she lifted her
head, her eyes rested for a moment on the dog before they went to the
fighting men. Baree was alive! His body was twitching; his eyes were
open; he made an effort to raise his head as she was looking at him.

Then she dragged herself to her knees and turned to the men, and
Pierrot, even in the blood-red fury of his desire to kill, must have
heard the sharp cry of joy that came from her when she saw that it was
the Factor from Lac Bain who was underneath. With a tremendous effort
she staggered to her feet, and for a few moments she stood swaying
unsteadily as her brain and her body readjusted themselves. Even as she
looked down upon the blackening face from which Pierrot’s fingers were
choking the life, Bush McTaggart’s hand was groping blindly for his
pistol. He found it. Unseen by Pierrot, he dragged it from its holster.
It was one of the black devils of chance that favoured him again, for in
his excitement he had not snapped the safety shut after shooting Baree.
Now he had only strength left to pull the trigger. Twice his forefinger
closed. Twice there came deadened explosion close to Pierrot’s body.

In Pierrot’s face Nepeese saw what had happened. Her heart died in her
breast as she looked upon the swift and terrible change wrought by
sudden death. Slowly Pierrot straightened. His eyes were wide for a
moment—wide and staring. He made no sound. She could not see his lips
move. And then he fell toward her, so that McTaggart’s body was free.
Blindly and with an agony that gave no evidence in cry or word she flung
herself down beside him. He was dead.

How long Nepeese lay there, how long she waited for Pierrot to move, to
open his eyes, to breathe, she would never know. In that time McTaggart
rose to his feet and stood leaning against the wall, the pistol in his
hand, his brain clearing itself as he saw his final triumph. His work
did not frighten him. Even in that tragic moment as he stood against the
wall, his defense—if it ever came to a defense—framed itself in his
mind. Pierrot had murderously assaulted him—without cause. In
self-defense he had killed him. Was he not the Factor of Lac Bain? Would
not the Company and the law believe his word before that of this girl?
His brain leaped with the old exultation. It would never come to that—to
a betrayal of this struggle and death in the cabin—after he had finished
with her! She would not be known for all time as _La Bête Noir_. No,
they would bury Pierrot, and she would return to Lac Bain with him. If
she had been helpless before, she was ten times more helpless now. She
would never tell of what had happened in the cabin.

He forgot the presence of death as he looked at her, bowed over her
father so that her hair covered him like a silken shroud. He replaced
the pistol in its holster and drew a deep breath into his lungs. He was
still a little unsteady on his feet, but his face was again the face of
a devil. He took a step, and it was then there came a sound to rouse the
girl. In the shadow of the farther wall Baree had struggled to his
haunches, and now he growled.

Slowly Nepeese lifted her head. A power which she could not resist drew
her eyes up until she was looking into the face of Bush McTaggart. She
had almost lost consciousness of his presence; her senses were cold and
deadened—it was as if her own heart had stopped beating along with
Pierrot’s. What she saw in the Factor’s face dragged her out of the
numbness of her grief back to the abyss of her own peril. He was
standing over her. In his face there was no pity, nothing of horror at
what he had done—only an insane exultation as he looked—not at Pierrot’s
dead body, but at her. He put out a hand, and it rested on her head. She
felt his thick fingers crumpling her hair, and his eyes blazed like
embers of fire behind watery films. She struggled to rise, but with his
hands at her hair he held her down.

“Great God!” she breathed.

She uttered no other words, no plea for mercy, no other sound but a dry,
hopeless sob. In that moment neither of them heard or saw Baree. Twice
in crossing the cabin his hind-quarters had sagged to the floor. Now he
was close to McTaggart. He wanted to give a single lunge to the
man-brute’s back and snap his thick neck as he would have broken a
caribou-bone. But he had no strength. He was still partially paralyzed
from his fore-shoulder back. But his jaws were like iron, and they
closed savagely on McTaggart’s leg.

With a yell of pain the Factor released his hold on the Willow, and she
staggered to her feet. For a precious half-minute she was free, and as
the Factor kicked and struck to loose Baree’s hold, she ran to the cabin
door and out into the day. The cold air struck her face; it filled her
lungs with new strength; and without thought of where hope might lie she
ran through the snow into the forest.

McTaggart appeared at the door just in time to see her disappear. His
leg was torn where Baree had fastened his fangs, but he felt no pain as
he ran in pursuit of the girl. She could not go far. An exultant cry,
inhuman as the cry of a beast, came in a great breath from his gaping
mouth as he saw that she was staggering weakly as she fled. He was
halfway to the edge of the forest when Baree dragged himself over the
threshold. His jaws were bleeding where McTaggart had kicked him again
and again before his fangs gave way. Halfway between his ears was a
seared spot, as if a red-hot poker had been laid there for an instant.
This was where McTaggart’s bullet had gone. A quarter of an inch deeper,
and it would have meant death. As it was, it had been like the blow of a
heavy club, paralyzing his senses and sending him limp and unconscious
against the wall. He could move on his feet now without falling, and
slowly he followed in the tracks of the man and the girl.

As she ran, Nepeese’s mind became all at once clear and reasoning. She
turned into the narrow trail over which McTaggart had followed her once
before, but just before reaching the chasm, she swung sharply to the
right. She could see McTaggart. He was not running fast, but was gaining
steadily, as if enjoying the sight of her helplessness, as he had
enjoyed it in another way on that other day. Two hundred yards below the
deep pool into which she had pushed the Factor—just beyond the shallows
out of which he had dragged himself to safety—was the beginning of Blue
Feather’s Gorge. An appalling thing was shaping itself in her mind as
she ran to it—a thing that with each gasping breath she drew became more
and more a great and glorious hope. At last she reached it and looked
down. And as she looked, there whispered up out of her soul and trembled
on her lips the swan-song of her mother’s people.

                    Our fathers—come!
                    Come from out of the valley.
                    Guide us—for to-day we die,
                    And the winds whisper of death!

She had raised her arms. Against the white wilderness beyond the chasm
she stood tall and slim. Fifty yards behind her the Factor from Lac Bain
stopped suddenly in his tracks. “Ah,” he mumbled. “Is she not
wonderful!” And behind McTaggart, coming faster and faster, was Baree.

Again the Willow looked down. She was at the edge, for she had no fear
in this hour. Many times she had clung to Pierrot’s hand as she looked
over. Down there no one could fall and live. Fifty feet below her the
water which never froze was smashing itself into froth among the rocks.
It was deep and black and terrible, for between the narrow rock walls
the sun did not reach it. The roar of it filled the Willow’s ears.

She turned and faced McTaggart.

Even then he did not guess, but came toward her again, his arms
stretched out ahead of him. Fifty yards! It was not much, and shortening
swiftly.

Once more the Willow’s lips moved. After all, it is the mother soul that
gives us faith to meet eternity—and it was to the spirit of her mother
that the Willow called in the hour of death. With the call on her lips
she plunged into the abyss, her wind-whipped hair clinging to her in a
glistening shroud.



                              CHAPTER XXII


A moment later the Factor from Lac Bain stood at the edge of the chasm.
His voice had called out in a hoarse bellow—a wild cry of disbelief and
horror that had formed the Willow’s name as she disappeared. He looked
down, clutching his huge red hands and staring in ghastly suspense at
the boiling water and black rocks far below. There was nothing there
now—no sign of her, no last flash of her pale face and streaming hair in
the white foam. And she had done _that_—to save herself from him!

The soul of the man-beast turned sick within him, so sick that he
staggered back, his vision blinded and his legs tottering under him. He
had killed Pierrot, and it had been a triumph; all his life he had
played the part of the brute with a stoicism and cruelty that had known
no shock—nothing like this that overwhelmed him now, numbing him to the
marrow of his bones until he stood like one paralyzed. He did not see
Baree. He did not hear the dog’s whining cries at the edge of the chasm.
For a few moments the world turned black for him; and then, dragging
himself out of his stupor, he ran frantically along the edge of the
gorge, looking down wherever his eyes could reach the water, striving
for a glimpse of her. At last it grew too deep. There was no hope. She
was gone—and she had faced _that_ to escape him!

He mumbled that fact over and over again, stupidly, thickly, as though
his brain could grasp nothing beyond it. She was dead. And Pierrot was
dead. And he, in a few minutes, had accomplished it all.

He turned back toward the cabin—not by the trail over which he had
pursued Nepeese, but straight through the thick bush. Great flakes of
snow had begun to fall. He looked at the sky, where banks of dark clouds
were rolling up from the south and east. The sun went out. Soon there
would be a storm—a heavy snowstorm. The big flakes falling on his naked
hands and face set his mind to work. It was lucky for him, this storm.
It would cover everything—the fresh trails, even the grave he would dig
for Pierrot.

It does not take such a man as the Factor long to recover from a moral
concussion. By the time he came in sight of the cabin his mind was again
at work on physical things—on the necessities of the situation. The
appalling thing, after all, was not that both Pierrot and Nepeese were
dead, but that his dream was shattered. It was not that Nepeese was
dead, but that he had lost her. This was his vital disappointment. The
other thing—his crime—it was easy to cover.

It was not sentiment that made him dig Pierrot’s grave close to the
princess mother’s under the tall spruce. It was not sentiment that made
him dig the grave at all, but caution. He buried Pierrot decently. Then
he poured Pierrot’s stock of kerosene where it would be most effective
and touched a match to it. He stood in the edge of the forest until the
cabin was a mass of flames. The snow was falling thickly. The freshly
made grave was a white mound, and the trails were filling. For the
physical things he had done there was no fear in Bush McTaggart’s heart
as he turned back toward Lac Bain. No one would ever look into the grave
of Pierrot du Quesne. And there was no one to betray him if such a
miracle happened. But of one thing his black soul would never be able to
free itself. Always he would see the pale, triumphant face of the Willow
as she stood facing him in that moment of her glory when, even as she
was choosing death rather than him, he had cried to himself: “Ah! Is she
not wonderful!”

As Bush McTaggart had forgotten Baree, so Baree had forgotten the Factor
from Lac Bain. When McTaggart had run along the edge of the chasm, Baree
had squatted himself in the foot-beaten plot of snow where Nepeese had
last stood, his body stiffened and his forefeet braced as he looked
down. He had seen her take the leap. Many times that summer he had
followed her in her daring dives into the deep, quiet water of the pool.
But this was a tremendous distance. She had never dived into a place
like that. He could see the black heads of the rocks, appearing and
disappearing in the whirling foam like the heads of monsters at play;
the roar of the water filled him with dread; his eyes caught the swift
rush of crumbled ice between the rock walls. And she had gone down
there!

He had a great desire to follow her, to jump in, as he had always jumped
in after her. She was surely down there, even though he could not see
her. Probably she was playing among the rocks and hiding herself in the
white froth and wondering why he didn’t come. But he hesitated—hesitated
with his head and neck over the abyss, and his forefeet giving way a
little in the snow. With an effort he dragged himself back and whined.
He caught the fresh scent of McTaggart’s moccasins in the snow, and the
whine changed slowly into a long snarl. He looked over again. Still he
could not see her. He barked—the short, sharp signal with which he
always called her. There was no answer. Again and again he barked, and
always there was nothing but the roar of the water that came back to
him. Then for a few moments he stood back, silent and listening, his
body shivering with the strange dread that was possessing him.

The snow was falling now, and McTaggart had returned to the cabin. After
a little Baree followed in the trail he had made along the edge of the
chasm, and wherever McTaggart had stopped to peer over, Baree paused
also. For a space his hatred of the man was burned up in his desire to
join the Willow, and he continued along the gorge until, a quarter of a
mile beyond where the Factor had last looked into it, he came to the
narrow trail down which he and Nepeese had many time adventured in quest
of rock-violets. The twisting path that led down the face of the cliff
was filled with snow now, but Baree cleared his way through it until at
last he stood at the edge of the unfrozen torrent. Nepeese was not here.
He whined, and barked again, but this time there was in his signal to
her an uneasy repression, a whimpering note which told that he did not
expect a reply. For five minutes after that he sat on his haunches in
the snow, stolid as a rock. What it was that came down out of the dark
mystery and tumult of the chasm to him, what spirit-whispers of nature
that told him the truth, it is beyond the power of reason to explain.
But he listened, and he looked; and his muscles twitched as the truth
grew in him; and at last he raised his head slowly until his black
muzzle pointed to the white storm in the sky, and out of his throat
there went forth the quavering, long-drawn howl of the husky who mourns
outside the tepee of a master who is newly dead.

On the trail, heading for Lac Bain, Bush McTaggart heard that cry and
shivered.

It was the smell of smoke, thickening in the air until it stung his
nostrils, that drew Baree at last away from the chasm and back to the
cabin. There was not much left when he came to the clearing. Where the
cabin had been was a red-hot, smouldering mass. For a long time he sat
watching it, still waiting and still listening. He no longer felt the
effect of the bullet that had stunned him, but his senses were
undergoing another change now, as strange and unreal as their struggle
against that darkness of near-death in the cabin. In a space that had
not covered more than an hour the world had twisted itself grotesquely
for Baree. That long ago the Willow was sitting before her little mirror
in the cabin, talking to him and laughing in her happiness, while he lay
in vast contentment on the floor. And now there was no cabin, no
Nepeese, no Pierrot. Quietly he struggled to comprehend. It was some
time before he moved from under the thick balsams, for already a deep
and growing suspicion began to guide his movements. He did not go nearer
to the smouldering mass of the cabin, but slinking low, made his way
about the circle of the open to the dog-corral. This took him under the
tall spruce. For a full minute he paused here, sniffing at the freshly
made mound under its white mantle of snow. When he went on, he slunk
still lower, and his ears were flat against his head.

The dog-corral was open and empty. McTaggart had seen to that. Again
Baree squatted back on his haunches and sent forth the death-howl. This
time it was for Pierrot. In it there was a different note from that of
the howl he had sent forth from the chasm: it was positive, certain. In
the chasm his cry had been tempered with doubt—a questioning hope,
something that was so almost human that McTaggart had shivered on the
trail. But Baree knew what lay in that freshly dug snow-covered grave. A
scant three feet of earth could not hide its secret from him. There was
death—definite and unequivocal. But for Nepeese he was still hoping and
seeking.

Until noon he did not go far from the cabin, but only once did he
actually approach and sniff about the black pile of steaming timbers.
Again and again he circled the edge of the clearing, keeping just within
the bush and timber, sniffing the air and listening. Twice he went back
to the chasm. Late in the afternoon there came to him a sudden impulse
that carried him swiftly through the forest. He did not run openly now;
caution, suspicion, and fear had roused in him afresh the instincts of
the wolf. With his ears flattened against the side of his head, his tail
drooping until the tip of it dragged the snow and his back sagging in
the curious, evasive gait of the wolf, he scarcely made himself
distinguishable from the shadows of the spruce and balsams.

There was no faltering in the trail Baree made; it was straight as a
rope might have been drawn through the forest, and it brought him, early
in the dusk, to the open spot where Nepeese had fled with him that day
she had pushed McTaggart over the edge of the precipice into the pool.
In the place of the balsam shelter of that day there was now a
water-tight birch-bark tepee which Pierrot had helped the Willow to make
during the summer. Baree went straight to it and thrust in his head with
a low and expectant whine.

There was no answer. It was dark and cold in the tepee. He could make
out indistinctly the two blankets that were always in it, the row of big
tin boxes in which Nepeese kept their stores, and the stove which
Pierrot had improvised out of scraps of iron and heavy tin. But Nepeese
was not there. And there was no sign of her outside. The snow was
unbroken except by his own trail. It was dark when he returned to the
burned cabin. All that night he hung about the deserted dog-corral, and
all through the night the snow fell steadily, so that by dawn he sank
into it to his shoulders when he moved out into the clearing.

But with day the sky had cleared. The sun came up, and the world was
almost too dazzling for the eyes. It warmed Baree’s blood with new hope
and expectation. His brain struggled even more eagerly than yesterday to
comprehend. Surely the Willow would be returning soon! He would hear her
voice. She would appear suddenly out of the forest. He would receive
some signal from her. One of these things, or all of them, must happen.
He stopped sharply in his tracks at every sound, and sniffed the air
from every point of the wind. He was travelling ceaselessly. His body
made deep trails in the snow around and over the huge white mound where
the cabin had stood; his tracks led from the corral to the tall spruce,
and they were as numerous as the footprints of a wolf-pack for half a
mile up and down the chasm.

On the afternoon of this day the second big impulse came to him. It was
not reason, and neither was it instinct alone. It was the struggle
halfway between, the brute mind fighting at its best with the mystery of
an intangible thing—something that could not be seen by the eye or heard
by the ear. Nepeese was not in the cabin, because there was no cabin.
She was not at the tepee. He could find no trace of her in the chasm.
She was not with Pierrot under the big spruce.

Therefore, unreasoning but sure, he began to follow the old trap-line
into the north and west.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


No man has ever looked clearly into the mystery of death as it is
impinged upon the senses of the northern dog. It comes to him,
sometimes, with the wind; most frequently it must come with the wind,
and yet there are ten thousand masters in the northland who will swear
that their dogs have given warning of death hours before it actually
came; and there are many of these thousands who know from experience
that their teams will stop a quarter or half a mile from a stranger
cabin in which there is unburied dead.

Yesterday Baree had smelled death, and he knew without process of
reasoning that the dead was Pierrot. How he knew this, and why he
accepted the fact as inevitable, is one of the mysteries which at times
seems to give the direct challenge to those who concede nothing more
than instinct to the brute mind. He knew that Pierrot was dead without
exactly knowing what death was. But of one thing he was sure: he would
never see Pierrot again; he would never hear his voice again; he would
never hear again the _swish-swish-swish_ of his snowshoes in the trail
ahead, and so on the trap-line he did not look for Pierrot. Pierrot was
gone forever. But Baree had not yet associated death with Nepeese. He
was filled with a great uneasiness; what came to him from out of the
chasm had made him tremble with fear and suspense; he sensed the thrill
of something strange, of something impending, and yet even as he had
given the death-howl in the chasm, it must have been for Pierrot. For he
believed that Nepeese was alive, and he was now just as sure that he
would overtake her on the trap-line as he was positive yesterday that he
would find her at the birch-bark tepee.

Since yesterday morning’s breakfast with the Willow, Baree had gone
without eating; to appease his hunger meant to hunt, and his mind was
too filled with his quest of Nepeese for that. He would have gone hungry
all that day, but in the third mile from the cabin he came to a trap in
which there was a big snowshoe rabbit. The rabbit was still alive, and
he killed it and ate his fill. Until dark he did not miss a trap. In one
of them there was a lynx; in another a fisher-cat; out on the white
surface of a lake he sniffed at a snowy mound under which lay the body
of a red fox killed by one of Pierrot’s poison baits. Both the lynx and
the fisher-cat were alive, and the steel chains of their traps clanked
sharply as they prepared to give Baree battle. But Baree was
uninterested. He hurried on, his uneasiness growing as the day darkened
and he found no sign of the Willow.

It was a wonderfully clear night after the storm—cold and brilliant,
with the shadows standing out as clearly as living things. The third
idea came to Baree now. He was, like all animals, largely of one idea at
a time—a creature with whom all lesser impulses were governed by a
single leading impulse. And this impulse, in the glow of the starlit
night, was to reach as quickly as possible the first of Pierrot’s two
cabins on the trap-line. There he would find Nepeese!

We won’t call the process by which Baree came to this conclusion a
process of reasoning; instinct or reasoning, whatever it was, a fixed
and positive faith came to Baree just the same. He began to miss the
traps in his haste to cover distance—to reach the cabin. It was
twenty-five miles from Pierrot’s burned home to the first trap-cabin,
and Baree had made ten of these by nightfall. The remaining fifteen were
the most difficult. In the open spaces the snow was belly-deep and soft;
frequently lie plunged through drifts in which for a few moments he was
buried. Three times during the early part of the night Baree heard the
savage dirge of the wolves. Once it was a wild pæan of triumph as the
hunters pulled down their kill less than half a mile away in the deep
forest. But the voice no longer called to him. It was repellent—a voice
of hatred and of treachery. Each time that he heard it he stopped in his
tracks and snarled, while his spine stiffened.

At midnight Baree came to the tiny amphitheatre in the forest where
Pierrot had cut the logs for the first of his trap-line cabins. For at
least a minute Baree stood at the edge of the clearing, his ears very
alert, his eyes bright with hope and expectation, while he sniffed the
air. There was no smoke, no sound, no light in the one window of the log
shack. His disappointment fell on him even as he stood there; again he
sensed the fact of his aloneness, of the barrenness of his quest. There
was a disheartened slouch to his body as he made his way through the
snow to the cabin door. He had travelled twenty-five miles, and he was
tired.

The snow was drifted deep at the doorway, and here Baree sat down and
whined. It was no longer the anxious, questing whine of a few hours ago.
Now it voiced hopelessness and a deep despair. For half an hour he sat
shivering with his back to the door and his face to the starlit
wilderness, as if there still remained the fleeting hope that Nepeese
might follow after him over the trail. Then he burrowed himself a hole
deep in the snowdrift and passed the remainder of the night in uneasy
slumber.

With the first light of day Baree resumed the trail. He was not so alert
this morning. There was the disconsolate droop to his tail which the
Indians call the _Akoosewin_—the sign of the sick dog. And Baree was
sick—not of body but of soul. The keenness of his hope had died, and he
no longer expected to find the Willow. The second cabin at the far end
of the trap-line drew him on, but it inspired in him none of the
enthusiasm with which he had hurried to the first. He travelled slowly
and spasmodically, his suspicions of the forests again replacing the
excitement of his quest. He approached each of Pierrot’s traps and
deadfalls cautiously, and twice he showed his fangs—once at a marten
that snapped at him from under a root where it had dragged the trap in
which it was caught, and the second time at a big snowy owl that had
come to steal bait and was now a prisoner at the end of a steel chain.
It may be that Baree thought it was Oohoomisew and that he still
remembered vividly the treacherous assault and fierce battle of that
night when, as a puppy, he was dragging his sore and wounded body
through the mystery and fear of the big timber. For he did more than to
show his fangs. He tore the owl into pieces.

There were plenty of rabbits in Pierrot’s traps, and Baree did not go
hungry. He reached the second trap-line cabin late in the afternoon,
after ten hours of travelling. He met with no very great disappointment
here, for he had not anticipated very much. The snow had banked this
cabin even higher than the other. It lay three feet deep against the
door, and the window was white with a thick coating of frost. At this
place, which was close to the edge of a big barren, and unsheltered by
the thick forests farther back, Pierrot had built a shelter for his
firewood, and in this shelter Baree made his temporary home. All the
next day he remained somewhere near the end of the trap-line, skirting
the edge of the barren and investigating the short side line of a dozen
traps which Pierrot and Nepeese had strung through a swamp in which
there had been many signs of lynx. It was the third day before he set
out on his return to the Gray Loon.

He did not travel very fast, spending two days in covering the
twenty-five miles between the first and the second trap-line cabins. At
the second cabin he remained for three days, and it was on the ninth day
that he reached the Gray Loon. There was no change. There were no tracks
in the snow but his own, made nine days ago.

Baree’s quest for Nepeese became now more or less involuntary, a sort of
daily routine. For a week he made his burrow in the dog-corral, and at
least twice between dawn and darkness he would go to the birch-bark
tepee and the chasm. His trail, soon beaten hard in the snow, became as
fixed as Pierrot’s trap-line. It cut straight through the forest to the
tepee, swinging slightly to the east so that it crossed the frozen
surface of the Willow’s swimming-pool. From the tepee it swung in a
circle through a part of the forest where Nepeese had frequently
gathered armfuls of crimson fire-flowers, and then to the chasm. Up and
down the edge of the gorge it went, down into the little cup at the
bottom of the chasm, and thence straight back to the dog-corral.

And then, of a sudden, Baree made a change. He spent a night in the
tepee. After that, whenever he was at the Gray Loon, during the day he
always slept in the tepee. The two blankets were his bed—and they were a
part of Nepeese. And there, all through the long winter, he waited.

If Nepeese had returned in February and could have taken him unaware,
she would have found a changed Baree. He was more than ever like a wolf;
yet he never gave the wolf-howl now, and always he snarled deep in his
throat when he heard the cry of the pack. For several weeks the old
trap-line had supplied him with meat, but now he hunted. The tepee, in
and out, was scattered with fur and bones. Once—alone—he caught a young
deer in deep snow and killed it. Again, in the heart of a fierce
February storm, he pursued a bull caribou so closely that it plunged
over a cliff and broke its neck. He lived well, and in size and strength
he was growing swiftly into a giant of his kind. In another six months
he would be as large as Kazan, and his jaws were almost as powerful,
even now.

Three times that winter Baree fought—once with a lynx that sprang down
upon him from a windfall while he was eating a freshly killed rabbit,
and twice with two lone wolves. The lynx tore him unmercifully before it
fled into the windfall. The younger of the wolves he killed; the other
fight was a draw. More and more he became an outcast, living alone with
his dreams and his smouldering hopes.

And Baree did dream. Many times, as he lay in the tepee, he would hear
the voice of Nepeese. He would hear her sweet calling, her laughter, the
sound of his name, and often he would start up to his feet—the old Baree
for a thrilling moment or two—only to lie down in his nest again with a
low, grief-filled whine. And always when he heard the snap of a twig or
some other sound in the forest, it was thought of Nepeese that flashed
first into his brain. Some day she would return. That belief was a part
of his existence as much as the sun and the moon and the stars.

The winter passed, and spring came, and still Baree continued to haunt
his old trails, even going now and then over the old trap-line as far as
the first of the two cabins. The traps were rusted and sprung now; the
thawing snow disclosed bones and feathers between their jaws; under the
deadfalls were remnants of fur, and out on the ice of the lakes were
picked skeletons of foxes and wolves that had taken the poison-baits.
The last snow went. The swollen streams sang in the forests and cañons.
The grass turned green, and the first flowers came.

Surely this was the time for Nepeese to come home! He watched for her
expectantly. He went still more frequently to their swimming-pool in the
forest, and he hung closely to the burned cabin and the dog-corral.
Twice he sprang into the pool and whined as he swam about, as though she
surely must join him in their old water frolic. And now, as the spring
passed and summer came, there settled upon him slowly the gloom and
misery of utter hopelessness. The flowers were all out now, and even the
bakneesh vines glowed like red fire in the woods. Patches of green were
beginning to hide the charred heap where the cabin had stood, and the
blue-flower vines that covered the princess mother’s grave were reaching
out toward Pierrot’s, as if the princess mother herself were the spirit
of them.

All these things were happening, and the birds had mated and nested, and
still Nepeese did not come! And at last something broke inside of Baree,
his last hope, perhaps, his last dream; and one day he bade good-bye to
the Gray Loon.

No one can say what it cost him to go; no one can say how he fought
against the things that were holding him to the tepee, the old
swimming-pool, the familiar paths in the forest, and the two graves that
were not so lonely now under the tall spruce. He went. He had no
reason—simply went. It may be that there is a Master whose hand guides
the beast as well as the man, and that we know just enough of this
guidance to call it instinct. For, in dragging himself away, Baree faced
the Great Adventure.

It was there, in the north, waiting for him—and into the north he went.



                              CHAPTER XXIV


It was early in August when Baree left the Gray Loon. He had no
objective in view. But there was still left upon his mind, like the
delicate impression of light and shadow on a negative, the memories of
his earlier days. Things and happenings that he had almost forgotten
recurred to him now, as his trail led him farther and farther away from
the Gray Loon; and his earlier experiences became real again, pictures
thrown out afresh in his mind by the breaking of the last ties that held
him to the home of the Willow. Involuntarily he followed the trail of
these impressions—of these past happenings, and slowly they helped to
build up new interests for him. A year in his life was a long time—a
decade of man’s experience. It was more than a year ago that he had left
Kazan and Gray Wolf and the old windfall, and yet now there came back to
him indistinct memories of those days of his earliest puppyhood, of the
stream into which he had fallen, and of his fierce battle with
Papayuchisew. It was his later experiences that roused the older
memories. He came to the blind cañon up which Nepeese and Pierrot had
chased him. That seemed but yesterday. He entered the little meadow, and
stood beside the great rock that had almost crushed the life out of the
Willow’s body; and then he remembered where Wakayoo, his big bear
friend, had died under Pierrot’s rifle—and he smelled of Wakayoo’s
whitened bones where they lay scattered in the green grass, with flowers
growing up among them. A day and night he spent in the little meadow
before he went back out of the cañon and into his old haunts along the
creek, where Wakayoo had fished for him. There was another bear here
now, and he also was fishing. Perhaps he was a son or a grandson of
Wakayoo. Baree smelled where he had made his fish caches, and for three
days he lived on fish before he struck into the North.

And now, for the first time in many weeks, a bit of the old-time
eagerness put speed into Baree’s feet. Memories that had been hazy and
indistinct through forgetfulness were becoming realities again, and as
he would have returned to the Gray Loon had Nepeese been there so now,
with something of the feeling of a wanderer going home, he returned to
the old beaver-pond.

It was that most glorious hour of a summer’s day—sunset—when he reached
it. He stopped a hundred yards away, with the pond still hidden from his
sight, and sniffed the air, and listened. The pond was there. He caught
the cool, honey smell of it. But Umisk, and Beaver-tooth, and all the
others? Would he find them? He strained his ears to catch a familiar
sound, and after a moment or two it came—a hollow splash in the water.
He went quietly through the alders and stood at last close to the spot
where he had first made the acquaintance of Umisk. The surface of the
pond was undulating slightly; two or three heads popped up; he saw the
torpedo-like wake of an old beaver towing a stick close to the opposite
shore—he looked toward the dam, and it was as he had left it almost a
year ago. He did not show himself for a time, but stood concealed in the
young alders. He felt growing in him more and more a feeling of
restfulness, a relaxation from the long strain of the lonely months
during which he had waited for Nepeese. With a long breath he lay down
among the alders, with his head just enough exposed to give him a clear
view. As the sun settled lower the pond became alive. Out on the shore
where he had saved Umisk from the fox came another generation of young
beavers—three of them, fat and waddling. Very softly Baree whined.

All that night he lay in the alders. The beaver-pond became his home
again. Conditions were changed, of course, and as days grew into weeks
the inhabitants of Beaver-tooth’s colony showed no signs of accepting
the grown-up Baree as they had accepted the baby Baree of long ago. He
_was_ big, black, and wolfish now—a long-fanged and formidable looking
creature, and though he offered no violence he was regarded by the
beavers with a deep-seated feeling of fear and suspicion. On the other
hand, Baree no longer felt the old puppyish desire to play with the baby
beavers, so their aloofness did not trouble him as in those other days.
Umisk was grown up, too, a fat and prosperous young buck who was just
taking unto himself this year a wife, and who was at present very busy
gathering his winter’s rations. It is entirely probable that he did not
associate the big black beast he saw now and then with the little Baree
with whom he had smelled noses once upon a time, and it is quite likely
that Baree did not recognize Umisk except as a _part_ of the memories
that had remained with him.

All through the month of August Baree made the beaver-pond his
headquarters. At times his excursions kept him away for two or three
days at a time. These journeys were always into the north, sometimes a
little east and sometimes a little west, but never again into the south.
And at last, early in September, he left the beaver-pond for good.

For many days his wanderings carried him in no one particular direction.
He followed the hunting, living chiefly on rabbits and that
simple-minded species of partridge known as the “fool hen.” This diet,
of course, was given variety by other things as they happened to come
his way. Wild currants and raspberries were ripening, and Baree was fond
of these. He also liked the bitter berries of the mountain ash, which,
along with the soft balsam and spruce pitch which he licked with his
tongue now and then, were good medicine for him. In shallow water he
occasionally caught a fish; now and then he hazarded a cautious battle
with a porcupine, and if he was successful he feasted on the tenderest
and most luscious of all the flesh that made up his menu. Twice in
September he killed young deer. The big “burns” that he occasionally
came to no longer held terrors for him; in the midst of plenty he forgot
the days in which he had gone hungry. In October he wandered as far west
as the Geikie River, and then northward to Wollaston Lake, which was a
good hundred miles north of the Gray Loon. The first week in November he
turned south again, following the Canoe River for a distance, and then
swinging westward along a twisting creek called The Little Black Bear
With No Tail. More than once during these weeks Baree came into touch
with man, but, with the exception of the Cree hunter at the upper end of
Wollaston Lake, no man had seen him. Three times in following the Geikie
he lay crouched in the brush while canoes passed; half a dozen times, in
the stillness of night, he nosed about cabins and tepees in which there
was life, and once he came so near to the Hudson’s Bay Company post at
Wollaston that he could hear the barking of dogs and the shouting of
their masters. And always he was seeking—questing for the thing that had
gone out of his life. At the thresholds of the cabins he sniffed;
outside of the tepees he circled close, gathering the wind; the canoes
he watched with eyes in which there was a hopeful gleam. Once he thought
the wind brought him the scent of Nepeese, and all at once his legs grew
weak under his body and his heart seemed to stop beating. It was only
for a moment or two. She came out of the tepee—an Indian girl with her
hands full of willow-work—and Baree slunk away unseen.

It was almost December when Lerue, a halfbreed from Lac Bain, saw
Baree’s footprints in freshly fallen snow, and a little later caught a
flash of him in the bush.

“Mon Dieu, I tell you his feet are as big as my hand, and he is as black
as a raven’s wing with the sun on it!” he exclaimed in the Company’s
store at Lac Bain. “A fox? _Non!_ He is half as big as a bear. A
wolf—_oui_! And black as the devil, M’sieus.”

McTaggart was one of those who heard. He was putting his signature in
ink to a letter he had written to the Company when Lerue’s words came to
him. His hand stopped so suddenly that a drop of ink spattered on the
letter. Through him there ran a curious shiver as he looked over at the
halfbreed. Just then Marie came in. McTaggart had brought her back from
her tribe. Her big, dark eyes had a sick look in them, and some of her
wild beauty had gone since a year ago.

“He was gone like—that!” Lerue was saying, with a snap of his fingers.
He saw Marie, and stopped.

“Black, you say?” McTaggart said carelessly, without lifting his eyes
from his writing. “Did he not bear some dog mark?”

Lerue shrugged his shoulders.

“He was gone like the wind, M’sieu. But he was a wolf.”

With scarcely a sound that the others could hear Marie had whispered
into the Factor’s ear, and folding his letter McTaggart rose quickly and
left the store. He was gone an hour. Lerue and the others were puzzled.
It was not often that Marie came into the store; it was not often that
they saw her at all. She remained hidden in the Factor’s log house, and
each time that he saw her Lerue thought that her face was a little
thinner than the last, and her eyes bigger and hungrier looking. In his
own heart there was a great yearning. Many a night he passed the little
window beyond which he knew that she was sleeping; often he looked to
catch a glimpse of her pale face, and he lived in the one happiness of
knowing that Marie understood, and that into her eyes there came for an
instant a different light when their glances met. No one else knew. The
secret lay between them—and patiently Lerue waited and watched.
“Someday,” he kept saying to himself—“Someday”—and that was all. The one
word carried a world of meaning and of hope. When that day came he would
take Marie straight to the Missioner over at Fort Churchill, and they
would be married. It was a dream—a dream that made the long days and the
longer nights on the trap-line patiently endured. Now they were both
slaves to the environing Power. But—someday——

Lerue was thinking of this when McTaggart returned at the end of the
hour. The Factor came straight up to where the half dozen of them were
seated about the big box stove, and with a grunt of satisfaction shook
the freshly fallen snow from his shoulders.

“Pierre Eustach has accepted the Government’s offer, and is going to
guide that map-making party up into the Barrens this winter,” he
announced. “You know, Lerue—he has a hundred and fifty traps and
deadfalls set, and a big poison-bait country. A good line, eh? And I
have leased it of him for the season. It will give me the outdoor work I
need—three days on the trail, three days here. Eh, what do you say to
the bargain?”

“It is good,” said Lerue.

“Yes, it is good,” said Roget.

“A wide fox country,” said Mons Roule.

“And easy to travel,” murmured Valence in a voice that was almost like a
woman’s.



                              CHAPTER XXV


The trap-line of Pierre Eustach ran thirty miles straight west of Lac
Bain. It was not as long a line as Pierrot’s had been, but it was like a
main artery running through the heart of a rich fur country. It had
belonged to Pierre Eustach’s father, and his grandfather, and his
great-grandfather, and beyond that it reached, Pierre averred, back to
the very pulse of the finest blood in France. The books at McTaggart’s
post went back only as far as the great-grandfather end of it, the older
evidence of ownership being at Churchill. It was the finest game country
between Reindeer Lake and the Barren Lands. It was in December that
Baree came to it.

Again he was travelling southward in a slow and wandering fashion,
seeking food in the deep snows. The _Kistisew Kestin_, or Great Storm,
had come earlier than usual this winter, and for a week after it
scarcely a hoof or claw was moving. Baree, unlike the other creatures,
did not bury himself in the snow and wait for the skies to clear and
crust to form. He was big, and powerful, and restless. Less than two
years old, he weighed a good eighty pounds. His pads were broad and
wolfish. His chest and shoulders were like a Malemute’s, heavy and yet
muscled for speed. He was wider between the eyes than the wolf-breed
husky, and his eyes were larger, and entirely clear of the _Wuttooi_, or
blood-film, that marks the wolf and also to an extent the husky. His
jaws were like Kazan’s, perhaps even more powerful. Through all that
week of the Big Storm he travelled without food. There were four days of
snow, with driving blizzards and fierce winds, and after that three days
of intense cold in which every living creature kept to their warm
dugouts in the snow. Even the birds had burrowed themselves in. One
might have walked on the backs of caribou and moose and not have guessed
it. Baree sheltered himself during the worst of the storm but did not
allow the snow to gather over him.

Every trapper from Hudson’s Bay to the country of the Athabasca knew
that after the Big Storm the famished fur animals would be seeking food,
and that traps and deadfalls properly set and baited stood the biggest
chance of the year of being filled. Some of them set out over their
trap-lines on the sixth day; some on the seventh, and others on the
eighth. It was on the seventh day that Bush McTaggart started over
Pierre Eustach’s line, which was now his own for the season. It took him
two days to uncover the traps, dig the snow from them, rebuild the
fallen “trap-houses,” and rearrange the baits. On the third day he was
back at Lac Bain.

It was on this day that Baree came to the cabin at the far end of
McTaggart’s line. McTaggart’s trail was fresh in the snow about the
cabin, and the instant Baree sniffed of it every drop of blood in his
body seemed to leap suddenly with a strange excitement. It took perhaps
half a minute for the scent that filled his nostrils to associate itself
with what had gone before, and at the end of that half-minute there
rumbled in Baree’s chest a deep and sullen growl. For many minutes after
that he stood like a black rock in the snow, watching the cabin. Then
slowly he began circling about it, drawing nearer and nearer, until at
last he was sniffing at the threshold. No sound or smell of life came
from inside, but he could smell the _old_ smell of McTaggart. Then he
faced the wilderness—the direction in which the trap-line ran back to
Lac Bain. He was trembling. His muscles twitched. He whined. Pictures
were assembling more and more vividly in his mind—the fight in the
cabin, Nepeese, the wild chase through the snow to the chasm’s edge—even
the memory of that age-old struggle when McTaggart had caught him in the
rabbit snare. In his whine there was a great yearning, almost
expectation. Then it died slowly away. After all, the scent in the snow
was of a thing that he had hated and wanted to kill, and not of anything
that he had loved. For an instant nature had impressed on him the
significance of associations—a brief space only, and then it was gone.
The whine died away, but in its place came again that ominous growl.

Slowly he followed the trail and a quarter of a mile from the cabin
struck the first trap on the line. Hunger had caved in his sides until
he was like a starved wolf. In the first trap-house McTaggart had placed
as bait the hind-quarter of a snowshoe rabbit. Baree reached in
cautiously. He had learned many things on Pierrot’s line: he had learned
what the snap of a trap meant; he had felt the cruel pain of steel jaws;
he knew better than the shrewdest fox what a deadfall would do when the
trigger was sprung—and Nepeese herself had taught him that he was never
to touch a poison-bait. So he closed his teeth gently in the rabbit
flesh and drew it forth as cleverly as McTaggart himself could have
done. He visited five traps before dark, and ate the five baits without
springing a pan. The sixth was a deadfall. He circled about this until
he had beaten a path in the snow. Then he went on into a warm balsam
swamp and found himself a bed for the night.

The next day saw the beginning of the struggle that was to follow
between the wits of man and beast. To Baree the encroachment of Bush
McTaggart’s trap-line was not war; it was existence. It was to furnish
him food, as Pierrot’s line had furnished him food for many weeks. But
he sensed the fact that in this instance he was law-breaker and had an
enemy to outwit. Had it been good hunting weather he might have gone on,
for the unseen hand that was guiding his wanderings was drawing him
slowly but surely back to the old beaver pond and the Gray Loon. As it
was, with the snow deep and soft under him—so deep that in places he
plunged into it over his ears—McTaggart’s trap-line was like a trail of
manna made for his special use. He followed in the factor’s snowshoe
tracks, and in the third trap killed a rabbit. When he had finished with
it nothing but the hair and crimson patches of blood lay upon the snow.
Starved for many days, he was filled with a wolfish hunger, and before
the day was over he robbed the bait from a full dozen of McTaggart’s
traps. Three times he struck poison-baits—venison or caribou fat in the
heart of which was a dose of strychnine, and each time his keen nostrils
detected the danger. Pierrot had more than once noted the amazing fact
that Baree could sense the presence of poison even when it was most
skillfully injected into the frozen carcass of a deer. Foxes and wolves
ate of flesh from which his super-sensitive power of detecting the
presence of deadly danger turned him away. So he passed Bush McTaggart’s
poisoned tidbits, sniffing them on the way, and leaving the story of his
suspicion in the manner of his footprints in the snow. Where McTaggart
had halted at midday to cook his dinner Baree made these same cautious
circles with his feet.

The second day, being less hungry and more keenly alive to the hated
smell of his enemy, Baree ate less but was more destructive. McTaggart
was not as skillful as Pierre Eustach in keeping the scent of his hands
from the traps and “houses,” and every now and then the smell of him was
strong in Baree’s nose. This wrought in Baree a swift and definite
antagonism, a steadily increasing hatred where a few days before hatred
was almost forgotten. There is, perhaps, in the animal mind a process of
simple computation which does not quite achieve the distinction of
reason, and which is not altogether instinct, but which produces results
that might be ascribed to either. Baree did not add two and two together
to make four; he did not go back step by step to prove to himself that
the man to whom this trap-line belonged was the cause of all his griefs
and troubles—but he _did_ find himself possessed of a deep and yearning
hatred. McTaggart was the one creature except the wolves that he had
ever hated; it was McTaggart who had hurt him, McTaggart who had hurt
Pierrot, McTaggart who had made him lose his beloved Nepeese—_and
McTaggart was here on this trap-line_! If he had been wandering before,
without object or destiny, he was given a mission now. It was to keep to
the traps. To feed himself. And to vent his hatred and his vengeance as
he lived.

The second day, in the centre of a lake, he came upon the body of a wolf
that had died of one of the poison-baits. For a half-hour he mauled the
dead beast until its skin was torn into ribbons. He did not taste the
flesh. It was repugnant to him. It was his vengeance on the wolf breed.
He stopped when he was half a dozen miles from Lac Bain, and turned
back. At this particular point the line crossed a frozen stream beyond
which was an open plain, and over that plain came—when the wind was
right—the smoke and smell of the Post. The second night Baree lay with a
full stomach in a thicket of banksian pine; the third day he was
travelling westward over the trap-line again.

Early on this morning Bush McTaggart started out to gather his catch,
and where he crossed the stream six miles from Lac Bain he first saw
Baree’s tracks. He stopped to examine them with sudden and unusual
interest, falling at last on his knees, whipping off the glove from his
right hand, and picking up a single hair.

“The black wolf!”

He uttered the words in an odd, hard voice, and involuntarily his eyes
turned straight in the direction of the Gray Loon. After that, even more
carefully than before, he examined one of the clearly impressed tracks
in the snow. When he rose to his feet there was in his face the look of
one who had made an unpleasant discovery.

“A black wolf!” he repeated, and shrugged his shoulders. “Bah! Lerue is
a fool. It is a dog.” And then, after a moment, he muttered in a voice
scarcely louder than a whisper, “_her dog_.”

He went on, travelling in the trail of the dog. A new excitement
possessed him that was more thrilling than the excitement of the hunt.
Being human, it was his privilege to add two and two together, and out
of two and two he made—Baree. There was little doubt in his mind. The
thought had flashed on him first when Lerue had mentioned the black
wolf. He was convinced after his examination of the tracks. They were
the tracks of a dog, and the dog was black. Then he came to the first
trap that had been robbed of its bait.

Under his breath he cursed. The bait was gone, and the trap was
unsprung. The sharpened stick that had transfixed the bait was pulled
out clean.

All that day Bush McTaggart followed a trail where Baree had left traces
of his presence. Trap after trap he found robbed. On the lake he came
upon the mangled wolf. From the first disturbing excitement of his
discovery of Baree’s presence his humour changed slowly to one of rage,
and his rage increased as the day dragged out. He was not unacquainted
with four-footed robbers of the trap-line, but usually a wolf or a fox
or a dog who had grown adept in thievery troubled only a few traps. But
in this case Baree was travelling straight from trap to trap, and his
footprints in the snow showed that he stopped at each. There was, to
McTaggart, almost a human devilishness to his work. He evaded the
poisons. Not once did he stretch his head or paw within the danger zone
of a deadfall. For apparently no reason whatever he had destroyed a
splendid mink, whose glossy fur lay scattered in worthless bits over the
snow. Toward the end of the day McTaggart came to a deadfall in which a
lynx had died. Baree had torn the silvery flank of the animal until the
skin was of less than half value. McTaggart cursed aloud, and his breath
came hot.

At dusk he reached the shack Pierre Eustach had built midway of his
line, and took inventory of his fur. It was not more than a third of a
catch; the lynx was half ruined, a mink was torn completely in two. The
second day he found still greater ruin, still more barren traps. He was
like a madman. When he arrived at the second cabin, late in the
afternoon, Baree’s tracks were not an hour old in the snow. Three times
during the night he heard the dog howling.

The third day McTaggart did not return to Lac Bain, but began a cautious
hunt for Baree. An inch or two of fresh snow had fallen, and as if to
take even greater measure of vengeance from his man-enemy Baree had left
his footprints freely within a radius of a hundred yards of the cabin.
It was half an hour before McTaggart could pick out the straight trail,
and he followed this for two hours into a thick banksian swamp. Baree
kept with the wind. Now and then he caught the scent of his pursuer; a
dozen times he waited until the other was so close he could hear the
snap of brush, or the metallic click of twigs against his rifle barrel.
And then, with a sudden inspiration that brought the curses afresh to
McTaggart’s lips, he swung in a wide circle and cut straight back for
the trap-line. When the Factor reached the line, along toward noon,
Baree had already begun his work. He had killed and eaten a rabbit; he
had robbed three traps in the distance of a mile, and he was headed
again straight over the trap-line for Post Lac Bain.

It was the fifth day that Bush McTaggart returned to his post. He was in
an ugly mood. Only Valence of the four Frenchmen was there, and it was
Valence who heard his story, and afterward heard him cursing Marie. She
came into the store a little later, big-eyed and frightened, one of her
cheeks flaming red where McTaggart had struck her. While the storekeeper
was getting her the canned salmon McTaggart wanted for his dinner
Valence found the opportunity to whisper softly in her ear:

“M’sieu Lerue has trapped a silver fox,” he said with low triumph. “He
loves you, _Mon ami_, and he will have a splendid catch by spring—and
sends you this message from his cabin up on The Little Black Bear With
No Tail: _Be ready to fly when the soft snows come!_”

Marie did not look at him, but she heard, and her eyes shone so like
stars when the young storekeeper gave her the salmon that he said to
Valence, when she had gone:

“Blue Death, but she is still beautiful at times. Valence!”

To which Valence nodded with an odd smile.



                              CHAPTER XXVI


By the middle of January the war between Baree and Bush McTaggart had
become more than an incident—more than a passing adventure to the beast,
and more than an irritating happening to the man. It was, for the time,
the elemental _raison d’etre_ of their lives. Baree hung to the
trap-line. He haunted it like a devastating spectre, and each time that
he sniffed afresh the scent of the Factor from Lac Bain he was impressed
still more strongly with the instinct that he was avenging himself upon
a deadly enemy. Again and again he outwitted McTaggart; he continued to
strip his traps of their bait; the humour grew in him more strongly to
destroy the fur he came across; his greatest pleasure came to be—not in
eating—but in destroying. The fires of his hatred burned fiercer as the
weeks passed, until at last he would snap and tear with his long fangs
at the snow where McTaggart’s feet had passed. And all of the time, away
back of his madness, there was a vision of Nepeese that continued to
grow more and more clearly in his brain. That first Great Loneliness—the
loneliness of the long days and longer nights of his waiting and seeking
on the Gray Loon, oppressed him again as it had oppressed him in the
early days of her loss. On starry or moonlit nights he sent forth his
wailing cries for her again, and Bush McTaggart, listening to them in
the middle of the night, felt strange shivers run up his spine.

The man’s hatred was different than the beast’s, but perhaps even more
implacable. With McTaggart it was not hatred alone. There was mixed with
it an indefinable and superstitious fear, a thing he laughed at, a thing
he cursed at, but which clung to him as surely as the scent of his trail
clung to Baree’s nose. Baree no longer stood for the animal alone; _he
stood for Nepeese_. That was the thought that insisted in growing in
McTaggart’s ugly mind. Never a day passed now that he did not think of
the Willow; never a night came and went without a visioning of her face.
He even fancied, on a certain night of storm, that he heard her voice
out in the wailing of the wind—and less than a minute later he heard
faintly a distant howl out in the forest. That night his heart was
filled with a leaden dread. He shook himself. He smoked his pipe until
the cabin was blue. He cursed Baree, and the storm—but there was no
longer in him the bullying courage of old. He had not ceased to hate
Baree; he still hated him as he had never hated a man, but he had an
even greater reason now for wanting to kill him. It came to him first in
his sleep, in a restless dream, and after that it lived, and lived—_the
thought that the spirit of Nepeese was guiding Baree in the ravaging of
his trap-line_!

After a time he ceased to talk at the Post about the Black Wolf that was
robbing his line. The furs damaged by Baree’s teeth he kept out of
sight, and to himself he kept his secret. He learned every trick and
scheme of the hunters who killed foxes and wolves along the Barrens. He
tried three different poisons, one so powerful that a single drop of it
meant death; he tried strychnine in gelatin capsules, in deer fat,
caribou fat, moose liver, and even in the flesh of porcupine. At last,
in preparing his poisons, he dipped his hands in beaver oil before he
handled the venoms and flesh so that there could be no human smell.
Foxes, wolves, and even the mink and ermine died of these baits, but
Baree came always so near—and no nearer. In January McTaggart poisoned
every bait in his trap-houses. This produced at least one good result
for him. From that day Baree no longer touched his baits, but ate only
the rabbits he killed in the traps.

It was in January that McTaggart caught his first glimpse of Baree. He
had placed his rifle against a tree, and was a dozen feet away from it
at the time. It was as if Baree knew, and had come to taunt him; for
when the Factor suddenly looked up Baree was standing out clear from the
dwarf spruce not twenty yards away from him, his white fangs gleaming
and his eyes burning like coals. For a space McTaggart stared as if
turned into stone. It was Baree. He recognized the white star, the
white-tipped ear, and his heart thumped like a hammer in his breast.
Very slowly he began to creep toward his rifle. His hand was reaching
for it when like a flash Baree was gone.

This gave McTaggart his new idea. He blazed himself a fresh trail
through the forests parallel with his trap-line but at least five
hundred yards distant from it. Wherever a trap or deadfall was set this
new trail struck sharply in, like the point of a V, so that he could
approach his line unobserved. By this strategy he believed that in time
he was sure of getting a shot at the dog. Again it was the man who was
reasoning, and again it was the man who was defeated. The first day that
McTaggart followed his new trail Baree also struck that trail. For a
little while it puzzled him. Three times he cut back and forth between
the old and the new trail. Then there was no doubt. The new trail was
the _fresh_ trail, and he followed in the footsteps of the Factor from
Lac Bain. McTaggart did not know what was happening until his return
trip, when he saw the story told in the snow. Baree had visited each
trap, and without exception he had approached each time at the point of
the inverted V. After a week of futile hunting, of lying in wait, of
approaching at every point of the wind—a period during which McTaggart
had twenty times cursed himself into fits of madness, another idea came
to him. It was like an inspiration, and so simple that it seemed almost
inconceivable that he had not thought of it before.

He hurried back to Post Lac Bain.

The second day after he was on the trail at dawn. This time he carried a
pack in which there were a dozen strong wolf traps freshly dipped in
beaver oil, and a rabbit which he had snared the previous night. Now and
then he looked anxiously at the sky. It was clear until late in the
afternoon, when banks of dark clouds began rolling up from the east.
Half an hour later a few flakes of snow began falling. McTaggart let one
of these drop on the back of his mittened hand, and examined it closely.
It was soft and downy, and he gave vent to his satisfaction. It was what
he wanted. Before morning there would be six inches of freshly fallen
snow covering the trails.

He stopped at the next trap-house and quickly set to work. First he
threw away the poisoned bait in the “house” and replaced it with the
rabbit. Then he began setting his wolf traps. Three of these he placed
close to the “door” of the house, through which Baree would have to
reach for the bait. The remaining nine he scattered at intervals of a
foot or sixteen inches apart, so that when he was done a veritable
cordon of traps guarded the house. He did not fasten the chains, but let
them lay loose in the snow. If Baree got into one trap he would get into
others and there would be no use of toggles. His work done, McTaggart
hurried on through the thickening twilight of winter night to his shack.
He was highly elated. This time there could be no such thing as failure.
He had sprung every trap on his way from Lac Bain. In none of those
traps would Baree find anything to eat until he came to the “nest” of
twelve wolf traps.

Seven inches of snow fell that night, and the whole world seemed turned
into a wonderful white robe. Like billows of feathers the snow hung to
the trees and shrubs; it gave tall white caps to the rocks, and
underfoot it was so light that a cartridge dropped from the hand sank to
the bottom of it. Baree was on the trap-line early. He was more cautious
this morning, for there was no longer the scent or snowshoe track of
McTaggart to guide him. He struck the first trap about halfway between
Lac Bain and the shack in which the Factor was waiting. It was sprung,
and there was no bait. Trap after trap he visited, and all of them he
found sprung, and all without bait. He sniffed the air suspiciously,
striving vainly to catch the tang of smoke, a whiff of the man-smell.
Along toward noon he came to the “nest”—the twelve treacherous traps
waiting for him with gaping jaws half a foot under the blanket of snow.
For a full minute he stood well outside the danger line, sniffing the
air, and listening. He saw the rabbit, and his jaws closed with a hungry
click. He moved a step nearer. Still he was suspicious—for some strange
and inexplicable reason he sensed danger. Anxiously he sought for it
with his nose, his eyes, and his ears. And all about him there was a
great silence and a great peace. His jaws clicked again. He whined
softly. What was it stirring him? Where was the danger he could neither
see nor smell? Slowly he circled about the trap-house; three times he
circled round it, each circle drawing him a little nearer—until at last
his feet almost touched the outer cordon of traps. Another minute he
stood still; his ears flattened; in spite of the rich aroma of the
rabbit in his nostrils _something was drawing him away_. In another
moment he would have gone, but there came suddenly—and from directly
behind the trap-house—a fierce little rat-like squeak, and the next
instant Baree saw an ermine whiter than the snow tearing hungrily at the
flesh of the rabbit. He forgot his strange premonition of danger. He
growled fiercely, but his plucky little rival did not budge from his
feast.

And then he sprang straight into the “nest” that Bush McTaggart had made
for him.



                             CHAPTER XXVII


The next morning Bush McTaggart heard the clanking of a chain when he
was still a good quarter of a mile from the “nest.” Was it a lynx? Was
it a fisher-cat? Was it a wolf or a fox? _Or was it Baree?_ He half ran
the rest of the distance, and at last he came to where he could see, and
his heart leaped into his throat when he saw that he had caught his
enemy. He approached, holding his rifle ready to fire if by any chance
the dog should free himself.

Baree lay on his side, panting from exhaustion and quivering with pain.
A hoarse cry of exultation burst from McTaggart’s lips as he drew nearer
and looked at the snow. It was packed hard for many feet about the
trap-house, where Baree had struggled, and it was red with blood. The
blood had come mostly from Baree’s jaws. They were dripping now as he
glared at his enemy. The steel jaws hidden under the snow had done their
merciless work well. One of his forefeet was caught well up toward the
first joint; both hind feet were caught; a fourth trap had closed on his
flank, and in tearing the jaws loose he had pulled off a patch of skin
half as big as McTaggart’s hand. The snow told the story of his
desperate fight all through the night; his bleeding jaws showed how
vainly he had tried to break the imprisoning steel with his teeth. He
was panting. His eyes were bloodshot. But even now, after all his hours
of agony, neither his spirit nor his courage were broken. When he saw
McTaggart he made a lunge to his feet, almost instantly crumpling down
into the snow again. But his forefeet were braced. His head and chest
remained up, and the snarl that came from his throat was tigerish in its
ferocity. Here, at last—not more than a dozen feet from him—was the one
thing in all the world that he hated more than he hated the wolf breed.
And again he was helpless, as he had been helpless that other time in
the rabbit snare.

The fierceness of his snarl did not disturb Bush McTaggart now. He saw
how utterly the other was at his mercy, and with an exultant laugh he
leaned his rifle against a tree, pulled off his mittens, and began
loading his pipe. This was the triumph he had looked forward to, the
torture he had waited for. In his soul there was a hatred as deadly as
Baree’s, the hatred that a man might have for a man. He had expected to
send a bullet through the dog. But this was better—to watch him dying by
inches, to taunt him as he would have taunted a human, to walk about him
so that he could hear the clank of the traps and see the fresh blood
drip as Baree twisted his tortured legs and body to keep facing him. It
was a splendid vengeance. He was so engrossed in it that he did not hear
the approach of snowshoes behind him. It was a voice—a man’s voice—that
turned him round suddenly.

The man was a stranger, and he was younger than McTaggart by ten years.
At least he looked no more than thirty-five or six, even with the short
growth of blonde beard he wore. He was of that sort that the average man
would like at a glance; boyish, and yet a man; with clear eyes that
looked out frankly from under the rim of his fur cap, a form lithe as an
Indian’s, and a face altogether that did not bear the hard lines of the
wilderness. Yet McTaggart knew before he had spoken that this man _was_
of the wilderness, that he was heart and soul a part of it. His cap was
of fisher-skin. He wore a windproof coat of softly tanned caribou skin,
belted at the waist with a long sash, and Indian fringed. The inside of
the coat was furred. He was travelling on the long, slender bush-country
snowshoe; his pack, strapped over the shoulders, was small and compact;
he was carrying his rifle in a cloth jacket. And from cap to snowshoes
he was _travel-worn_. McTaggart, at a guess, would have said that he had
travelled a thousand miles in the last few weeks. It was not this
thought that sent the strange and chilling thrill up his back; but the
sudden fear that in some strange way a whisper of the truth might have
found its way down into the south—the truth of what had happened on the
Gray Loon—and that this travel-worn stranger wore under his caribou-skin
coat the badge of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. For that instant
it was almost a terror that possessed him, and he stood mute.

The stranger had uttered only an amazed exclamation before. Now he said,
with his eyes on Baree:

“God save us, but you’ve got the poor devil in a right proper mess,
haven’t you?”

There was something in the voice that reassured McTaggart. It was not a
suspicious voice, and he saw that the stranger was more interested in
the captured animal than in himself. He drew a deep breath.

“A trap robber,” he said.

The stranger was staring still more closely at Baree. He thrust his gun
stock downward in the snow and drew nearer to him.

“God save us again—a dog!” he exclaimed.

From behind, McTaggart was watching the man with the eyes of a ferret.

“Yes, a dog,” he answered. “A wild dog, half wolf at least. He’s robbed
me of a thousand dollars’ worth of fur this winter.”

The stranger squatted himself before Baree, with his mittened hands
resting on his knees, and his white teeth gleaming in a half smile.

“You poor devil!” he said sympathetically. “So you’re a trap robber, eh?
An outlaw? And—the Police have got you! And—God save us once more—they
haven’t played you a very square game!”

He rose and faced McTaggart.

“I had to set a lot of traps like that,” the Factor apologized, his face
reddening slightly under the steady gaze of the stranger’s blue eyes.
Suddenly his animus rose. “And he’s going to die there, inch by inch.
I’m going to let him starve, and rot in the traps, to pay for all he’s
done.” He picked up his gun, and added, with his eyes on the stranger
and his finger ready at the trigger, “I’m Bush McTaggart, the Factor at
Lac Bain. Are you bound that way, M’sieu?”

“A few miles. I’m bound up-country—beyond the Barrens.”

McTaggart felt again the strange thrill.

“Government?” he asked.

The stranger nodded.

“The—Police, perhaps,” persisted McTaggart.

“Why, yes—of course—the Police,” said the stranger, looking straight
into the Factor’s eyes. “And now, M’sieu, as a very great courtesy to
the Law I’m going to ask you to send a bullet through that beast’s head
before we go on. Will you? Or shall I?”

“It’s the law of the line,” said McTaggart, “to let a trap robber rot in
the traps. And that beast was a devil. Listen——”

Swiftly, and yet leaving out none of the fine detail, he told of the
weeks and months of strife between himself and Baree; of the maddening
futility of all his tricks and schemes and the still more maddening
cleverness of the beast he had at last succeeded in trapping.

“He was a devil—that clever,” he cried fiercely when he had finished.
“And now—would you shoot him, or let him lie there and die by inches, as
the devil should?”

The stranger was looking at Baree. His face was turned away from
McTaggart. He said:

“I guess you are right. Let the devil rot. If you’re heading for Lac
Bain, M’sieu, I’ll travel a short distance with you now. It will take a
couple of miles to straighten out the line of my compass.”

He picked up his gun. McTaggart led the way. At the end of half an hour
the stranger stopped, and pointed north.

“Straight up there—a good five hundred miles,” he said, speaking as
lightly as though he would reach home that night. “I’ll leave you here.”

He made no offer to shake hands. But in going, he said,

“You might report that John Madison has passed this way.”

After that he travelled straight northward for half a mile through the
deep forest. Then he swung westward for two miles, turned at a sharp
angle into the south, and an hour after he had left McTaggart he was
once more squatted on his heels almost within arms’ reach of Baree.

And he was saying, as though speaking to a human companion:

“So that’s what you’ve been, old boy. A trap robber, eh? An _outlaw_?
And you beat him at the game for two months! And for that, because
you’re a better beast than he is, he wants to let you die here as slow
as you can. An _outlaw_!” His voice broke into a pleasant laugh, the
sort of laugh that warms one, even a beast. “That’s funny. We ought to
shake hands. Boy, by George, we had! You’re a wild one, he says. Well,
so am I. Told him my name was John Madison. It ain’t. I’m Jim Carvel.
And, oh Lord!—all I said was ‘Police.’ And that was right. It ain’t a
lie. I’m wanted by the whole corporation—by every danged policeman
between Hudson’s Bay and the Mackenzie River. Shake, old man. We’re in
the same boat, an’ I’m glad to meet you!”



                             CHAPTER XXVIII


Jim Carvel held out his hand, and the snarl that was in Baree’s throat
died away. The man rose to his feet. He stood there, looking in the
direction taken by Bush McTaggart, and chuckled in a curious, exultant
sort of way. There was friendliness even in that chuckle. There was
friendliness in his eyes and in the shine of his teeth as he looked
again at Baree. About him there was something that seemed to make the
gray day brighter, that seemed to warm the chill air—a strange something
that radiated cheer and hope and comradeship just as a hot stove sends
out the glow of heat. Baree felt it. For the first time since the two
men had come his trap-torn body lost its tenseness; his back sagged; his
teeth clicked as he shivered in his agony. To _this_ man he betrayed his
weakness. In his bloodshot eyes there was a hungering look as he watched
Carvel—the self-confessed outlaw. And Jim Carvel again held out his
hand—much nearer this time.

“You poor devil,” he said, the smile going out of his face. “You poor
devil!”

The words were like a caress to Baree—the first he had known since the
loss of Nepeese and Pierrot. He dropped his head until his jaw lay flat
in the snow. Carvel could see the blood dripping slowly from it.

“You poor devil!” he repeated.

There was no fear in the way he put forth his hand. It was the
confidence of a great sincerity and a great compassion. It touched
Baree’s head and patted it in a brotherly fashion, and then—slowly and
with a bit more caution—it went to the trap fastened to Baree’s forepaw.
In his half-crazed brain Baree was fighting to understand things, and
the truth came finally when he felt the steel jaws of the trap open, and
he drew forth his maimed foot. He did then what he had done to no other
creature but Nepeese. Just once his hot tongue shot out and licked
Carvel’s hand. The man laughed. With his powerful hands he opened the
other traps, and Baree was free.

For a few moments he lay without moving, his eyes fixed on the man.
Carvel had seated himself on the snow-covered end of a birch log and was
filling his pipe. Baree watched him light it; he noted with new interest
the first purplish cloud of smoke that left Carvel’s mouth. The man was
not more than the length of two trap-chains away—and he grinned at
Baree.

“Screw up your nerve, old chap,” he encouraged. “No bones broke. Just a
little stiff. Mebby we’d better—get out.”

He turned his face in the direction of Lac Bain. The suspicion was in
his mind that McTaggart might turn back. Perhaps that same suspicion was
impressed upon Baree, for when Carvel looked at him again he was on his
feet, staggering a bit as he gained his equilibrium. In another moment
the outlaw had swung the pack-sack from his shoulders and was opening
it. He thrust in his hand and drew out a chunk of raw, red meat.

“Killed it this morning,” he explained to Baree. “Yearling bull, tender
as partridge—and that’s as fine a sweetbread as ever came out from under
a backbone. Try it!”

He tossed the flesh to Baree. There was no equivocation in the manner of
its acceptance. Baree was famished—and the meat was flung to him by a
friend. He buried his teeth in it. His jaws crunched it. New fire leapt
into his blood as he feasted, but not for an instant did his reddened
eyes leave the other’s face. Carvel replaced his pack. He rose to his
feet, took up his rifle, slipped on his snowshoes, and fronted the
north.

“Come on, Boy,” he said. “We’ve got to travel.”

It was a matter-of-fact invitation, as though the two had been
travelling companions for a long time. It was, perhaps, not only an
invitation but partly a command. It puzzled Baree. For a full half
minute he stood motionless in his tracks gazing at Carvel as he strode
into the north. A sudden convulsive twitching shot through Baree; he
swung his head toward Lac Bain; he looked again at Carvel, and a whine
that was scarcely more than a breath came out of his throat. The man was
just about to disappear into the thick spruce. He paused, and looked
back.

“Coming, Boy?”

Even at that distance Baree could see him grinning affably; he saw the
outstretched hand, and the voice stirred new sensations in him. It was
not like Pierrot’s voice. He had never loved Pierrot. Neither was it
soft and sweet like the Willow’s. He had known only a few men, and all
of them he had regarded with distrust. But this was a voice that
disarmed him. It was lureful in its appeal. He wanted to answer it. He
was filled with a desire, all at once, to follow close at the heels of
this stranger. For the first time in his life a craving for the
friendship of man possessed him. He did not move until Jim Carvel
entered the spruce. Then he followed.

That night they were camped in a dense growth of cedars and balsams ten
miles north of Bush McTaggart’s trap-line. For two hours it had snowed,
and their trail was covered. It was still snowing, but not a flake of
the white deluge sifted down through the thick canopy of boughs. Carvel
had put up his small silk tent, and had built a fire; their supper was
over, and Baree lay on his belly facing the outlaw, almost within reach
of his hand. With his back to a tree Carvel was smoking luxuriously. He
had thrown off his cap and his coat, and in the warm fireglow he looked
almost boyishly young. But even in that glow his jaws lost none of their
squareness, nor his eyes their clear alertness.

“Seems good to have some one to talk to,” he was saying to Baree. “Some
one who can understand, an’ keep his mouth shut. Did you ever want to
howl, an’ didn’t dare? Well, that’s me. Sometimes I’ve been on the point
of bustin’ because I wanted to talk to some one, an’ couldn’t.”

He rubbed his hands together, and held them out toward the fire. Baree
watched his movements and listened intently to every sound that escaped
his lips. His eyes had in them now a dumb sort of worship, a look that
warmed Carvel’s heart and did away with the vast loneliness and
emptiness of the night. Baree had dragged himself nearer to the man’s
feet, and suddenly Carvel leaned over and patted his head.

“I’m a bad one, old chap,” he chuckled. “You haven’t got it on me—not a
bit. Want to know what happened?” He waited a moment, and Baree looked
at him steadily. Then Carvel went on, as if speaking to a human, “Let’s
see—it was five years ago, five years this December, just before
Christmas time. Had a Dad. Fine old chap, my Dad was. No Mother—just the
Dad, an’ when you added us up we made just One. Understand? And along
came a white-striped skunk named Hardy and shot him one day because Dad
had worked against him in politics. Out an’ out murder. An’ they didn’t
hang that skunk! No, sir, they didn’t hang him. He had too much money,
an’ too many friends in politics, an’ they let ’im off with two years in
the penitentiary. But he didn’t get there. No—s’elp me God, he didn’t
get there!”

Carvel was twisting his hands until his knuckles cracked. An exultant
smile lighted up his face, and his eyes flashed back the firelight.
Baree drew a deep breath—a mere coincidence; but it was a tense moment
for all that.

“No, he didn’t get to the penitentiary,” went on Carvel, looking
straight at Baree again. “Yours truly knew what that meant, old chap.
He’d have been pardoned inside a year. An’ there was my Dad, the biggest
half of me, in his grave. So I just went up to that white-striped skunk
right there before the Judge’s eyes, an’ the lawyers’ eyes, an’ the eyes
of all his dear relatives an’ friends—_and I killed him_! And I got
away. Was out through a window before they woke up, hit for the bush
country, and have been eating up the trails ever since. An’ I guess God
was with me, Boy. For He did a queer thing to help me out summer before
last, just when the Mounties were after me hardest an’ it looked pretty
black. Man was found drowned down in the Reindeer Country, right where
they thought I was cornered; an’ the good Lord made that man look so
much like me that he was buried under my name. So I’m officially dead,
old chap. I don’t need to be afraid any more so long as I don’t get too
familiar with people for a year or so longer, and ’way down inside me
I’ve liked to believe God fixed it up in that way to help me out of a
bad hole. What’s _your_ opinion? Eh?”

He leaned forward for an answer. Baree had listened. Perhaps, in a way,
he had understood. But it was another sound than Carvel’s voice that
came to his ears now. With his head close to the ground he heard it
quite distinctly. He whined, and the whine ended in a snarl so low that
Carvel just caught the warning note in it. He straightened. He stood up
then, and faced the south. Baree stood beside him, his legs tense and
his spine bristling.

After a moment Carvel said:

“Relatives of yours, old chap. Wolves.”

He went into the tent for his rifle and cartridges.



                              CHAPTER XXIX


Baree was on his feet, rigid as hewn rock, when Carvel came out of the
tent, and for a few moments Carvel stood in silence, watching him
closely. Would the dog respond to the call of the pack? Did he belong to
them? Would he go—now? The wolves were drawing nearer. They were not
circling, as a caribou or a deer would have circled, but were travelling
straight—dead straight for their camp. The significance of this fact was
easily understood by Carvel. All that afternoon Baree’s feet had left a
blood-smell in their trail, and the wolves had struck the trail in the
deep forest, where the falling snow had not covered it. Carvel was not
alarmed. More than once in his five years of wandering between the
Arctic and the Height of Land he had played the game with the wolves.
Once he had almost lost, but that was out in the open Barren. To-night
he had a fire, and in the event of his firewood running out he had trees
he could climb. His anxiety just now was centred in Baree. So he said,
making his voice quite casual,

“You aren’t going, are you, old chap?”

If Baree heard him he gave no evidence of it. But Carvel, still watching
him closely, saw that the hair along his spine had risen like a brush,
and then he heard—growing slowly in Baree’s throat—a snarl of ferocious
hatred. It was the sort of snarl that had held back the Factor from Lac
Bain, and Carvel, opening the breech of his gun to see that all was
right, chuckled happily. Baree may have heard the chuckle. Perhaps it
meant something to him, for he turned his head suddenly and with
flattened ears looked at his companion.

The wolves were silent now. Carvel knew what that meant, and he was
tensely alert. In the stillness the click of the safety on his rifle
sounded with metallic sharpness. For many minutes they heard nothing but
the crack of the fire. Suddenly Baree’s muscles seemed to snap. He
sprang back, and faced the quarter behind Carvel, his head level with
his shoulders, his inch-long fangs gleaming as he snarled into the black
caverns of the forest beyond the rim of firelight. Carvel had turned
like a shot. It was almost frightening—what he saw. A pair of eyes
burning with greenish fire, and then another pair, and after that so
many of them that he could not have counted them. He gave a sudden gasp.
They were like cat-eyes, only much larger. Some of them, catching the
firelight fully, were red as coals, others flashed blue and green—living
things without bodies. With a swift glance he took in the black circle
of the forest. They were out there, too; they were on all sides of them,
but where he had seen them first they were thickest. In these first few
seconds he had forgotten Baree, awed almost to stupefaction by that
monster-eyed cordon of death that hemmed them in. There were
fifty—perhaps a hundred wolves out there, afraid of nothing in all this
savage world but fire. They had come up without the sound of a padded
foot or a broken twig. If it had been later, and they had been asleep,
and the fire out——

He shuddered, and for a moment the thought got the better of his nerves.
He had not intended to shoot except from necessity, but all at once his
rifle came to his shoulder and he sent a stream of fire out where the
eyes were thickest. Baree knew what the shots meant, and filled with the
mad desire to get at the throat of one of his enemies he dashed in their
direction. Carvel gave a startled yell as he went. He saw the flash of
Baree’s body, saw it swallowed up in the gloom, and in that same instant
heard the deadly clash of fangs and the impact of bodies. A wild thrill
shot through him. The dog had charged alone—and the wolves had waited.
There could be but one end. His four-footed comrade had gone straight
into the jaws of death!

He could hear the ravening snap of those jaws out in the darkness. It
was sickening. His hand went to the Colt .45 at his belt, and he thrust
his empty rifle butt downward into the snow. With the big automatic
before his eyes he plunged out into the darkness, and from his lips
there issued a wild yelling that could have been heard a mile away. With
the yelling a steady stream of fire spat from the Colt into the mass of
fighting beasts. There were eight shots in the automatic, and not until
the plunger clicked with metallic emptiness did Carvel cease his yelling
and retreat into the firelight. He listened, breathing deeply. He no
longer saw eyes in the darkness, nor did he hear the movement of bodies.
The suddenness and ferocity of his attack had driven back the
wolf-horde. But the dog! He caught his breath, and strained his eyes. A
shadow was dragging itself into the circle of light. It was Baree.
Carvel ran to him, put his arms under his shoulders, and brought him to
the fire.

For a long time after that there was a questioning light in Carvel’s
eyes. He reloaded his guns, put fresh fuel on the fire, and from his
pack dug out strips of cloth with which he bandaged three or four of the
deepest cuts in Baree’s legs. And a dozen times he asked, in a wondering
sort of way,

“Now what the deuce made you do that, old chap? What have _you_ got
against the wolves?”

All that night he did not sleep, but watched.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Their experience with the wolves broke down the last bit of uncertainty
that might have existed between the man and the dog. For days after
that, as they travelled slowly north and west, Carvel nursed Baree as he
might have cared for a sick child. Because of the dog’s hurts, he made
only a few miles a day. Baree understood, and in him there grew stronger
and stronger a great love for the man whose hands were as gentle as the
Willow’s and whose voice warmed him with the thrill of an immeasurable
comradeship. He no longer feared him or had a suspicion of him. And
Carvel, on his part, was observing things. The vast emptiness of the
world about them, and their aloneness, gave him the opportunity of
pondering over unimportant details, and he found himself each day
watching Baree a little more closely. He made at last a discovery which
interested him deeply. Always, when they halted on the trail, Baree
would turn his face to the south; when they were in camp it was from the
south that he nosed the wind most frequently. This was quite natural.
Carvel thought, for his old hunting-grounds were back there. But as the
days passed he began to notice other things. Now and then, looking off
into the far country from which they had come, Baree would whine softly,
and on that day he would be filled with a great restlessness. He gave no
evidence of wanting to leave Carvel, but more and more Carvel came to
understand that some mysterious call was coming to him from out of the
south.

It was the wanderer’s intention to swing over into the country of the
Great Slave, a good eight hundred miles to the north and west, before
the mush-snows came. From there, when the waters opened in springtime,
he planned to travel by canoe westward to the Mackenzie and ultimately
to the mountains of British Columbia. These plans were changed in
February. They were caught in a great storm in the Wholdaia Lake
country, and when their fortunes looked darkest Carvel stumbled on a
cabin in the heart of a deep spruce forest, and in this cabin there was
a dead man. He had been dead for many days, and was frozen stiff. Carvel
chopped a hole in the earth and buried him.

The cabin was a treasure trove to Carvel and Baree, and especially to
the man. It evidently possessed no other owner than the one who had
died; it was comfortable and stocked with provisions; and more than
that, its owner had made a splendid catch of fur before the frost bit
his lungs, and he died. Carvel went over them carefully and joyously.
They were worth a thousand dollars at any post, and he could see no
reason why they did not belong to him now. Within a week he had blazed
out the dead man’s snow-covered trap-line and was trapping on his own
account.

This was two hundred miles north and west of the Gray Loon, and soon
Carvel observed that Baree did not face directly south in those moments
when the strange call came to him, but south and east. And now, with
each day that passed, the sun rose higher in the sky; it grew warmer;
the snow softened underfoot, and in the air was the tremulous and
growing throb of spring. With these things came the old yearning to
Baree; the heart-thrilling call of the lonely graves back on the Gray
Loon, of the burned cabin, the abandoned tepee beyond the pool—and of
Nepeese. In his sleep he saw visions of things. He heard again the low,
sweet voice of the Willow, felt the touch of her hand, was at play with
her once more in the dark shades of the forest—and Carvel would sit and
watch him as he dreamed, trying to read the meaning of what he saw and
heard.

In April Carvel shouldered his furs up to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s
post at Lac la Biche, which was still farther north. Baree accompanied
him halfway, and then—at sundown Carvel returned to the cabin and found
him there. He was so overjoyed that he caught the dog’s head in his arms
and hugged it. They lived in the cabin until May. The buds were swelling
then, and the smell of growing things had begun to rise up out of the
earth.

Then Carvel found the first of the early Blue Flowers.

That night he packed up.

“It’s time to travel,” he announced to Baree. “And I’ve sort of changed
my mind. We’re going back—there.”

And he pointed south.



                              CHAPTER XXX


A strange humour possessed Carvel as he began the southward journey. He
did not believe in omens, good or bad. Superstition had played a small
part in his life, but he possessed both curiosity and a love for
adventure, and his years of lonely wandering had developed in him a
wonderfully clear mental vision of things, which in other words might be
called singularly active imagination. He knew that some irresistible
force was drawing Baree back into the south—that it was pulling him not
only along a given line of the compass, but to an exact point in that
line. For no reason in particular the situation began to interest him
more and more, and as his time was valueless, and he had no fixed
destination in view, he began to experiment. For the first two days he
marked the dog’s course by compass. It was due southeast. On the third
morning Carvel purposely struck a course straight west. He noted quickly
the change in Baree—his restlessness at first, and after that the
dejected manner in which he followed at his heels. Toward noon Carvel
swung sharply to the south and east again, and almost immediately Baree
regained his old eagerness, and ran ahead of his master.

After this, for many days, Carvel followed the trail of the dog.

“Mebby I’m an idiot, old chap,” he apologized one evening. “But it’s a
bit of fun, after all—an’ I’ve got to hit the line of rail before I can
get over to the mountains, so what’s the difference? I’m game—so long as
you don’t take me back to that chap at Lac Bain. Now—what the devil! Are
you hitting for his trap-line, to get even? If that’s the case——”

He blew out a cloud of smoke from his pipe as he eyed Baree, and Baree,
with his head between his forepaws, eyed him back.

A week later Baree answered Carvel’s question by swinging westward to
give a wide berth to Post Lac Bain. It was mid-afternoon when they
crossed the trail along which Bush McTaggart’s traps and deadfalls had
been set. Baree did not even pause. He headed due south, travelling so
fast that at times he was lost to Carvel’s sight. A suppressed but
intense excitement possessed him, and he whined whenever Carvel stopped
to rest—always with his nose sniffing the wind out of the south.
Springtime, the flowers, the earth turning green, the singing of birds,
and the sweet breaths in the air were bringing him back to that great
Yesterday when he had belonged to Nepeese. In his unreasoning mind there
existed no longer a winter. The long months of cold and hunger were
gone; in the new visionings that filled his brain they were forgotten.
The birds and flowers and the blue skies had come back, and with them
the Willow must surely have returned, and she was waiting for him now,
just over there beyond that rim of green forest.

Something greater than mere curiosity began to take possession of
Carvel. A whimsical humour became a fixed and deeper thought, an
unreasoning anticipation that was accompanied by a certain thrill of
subdued excitement. By the time they reached the old beaver-pond the
mystery of the strange adventure had a firm hold on him. From
Beaver-tooth’s colony Baree led him to the creek along which Wakayoo,
the black bear, had fished, and thence straight to the Gray Loon.

It was early afternoon of a wonderful day. It was so still that the
rippling waters of spring, singing in a thousand rills and streamlets,
filled the forests with a droning music. In the warm sun the crimson
bakneesh glowed like blood. In the open spaces the air was scented with
the perfume of Blue Flowers. In the trees and bushes mated birds were
building their nests. After the long sleep of winter Nature was at work
in all her glory. It was _Unekepesim_, the Mating Moon, the Home
Building Moon—and Baree was going home. Not to matehood—but to Nepeese.
He knew that she was there now, perhaps at the very edge of the chasm
where he had seen her last. They would be playing together again soon,
as they had played yesterday, and the day before, and the day before
that, and in his joy he barked up into Carvel’s face, and urged him to
greater speed. Then they came to the clearing, and once more Baree stood
like a rock. Carvel saw the charred ruins of the burned cabin, and a
moment later the two graves under the tall spruce. He began to
understand as his eyes returned slowly to the waiting, listening dog. A
great swelling rose in his throat, and after a moment or two he said
softly, and with an effort,

“Boy, I guess you’re home.”

Baree did not hear. With his head up and his nose tilted to the blue sky
he was sniffing the air. What was it that came to him with the perfumes
of the forests and the green meadow? Why was it that he trembled now as
he stood there? What was there in the air? Carvel asked himself, and his
questing eyes tried to answer the questions. Nothing. There was death
here—death and desertion, that was all. And then, all at once, there
came from Baree a strange cry—almost a human cry—and he was gone like
the wind.

Carvel had thrown off his pack. He dropped his rifle beside it now, and
followed Baree. He ran swiftly, straight across the open, into the dwarf
balsams, and into a grass-grown path that had once been worn by the
travel of feet. He ran until he was panting for breath, and then
stopped, and listened. He could hear nothing of Baree. But that old worn
trail led on under the forest trees, and he followed it.

Close to the deep, dark pool in which he and the Willow had disported so
often Baree, too, had stopped. He could hear the rippling of water, and
his eyes shone with a gleaming fire as he quested for Nepeese. He
expected to see her there, her slim white body shimmering in some dark
shadow of overhanging spruce, or gleaming suddenly white as snow in one
of the warm plashes of sunlight. His eyes sought out their old
hiding-places; the great split rock on the other side, the shelving
banks under which they used to dive like otter, the spruce boughs that
dipped down to the surface, and in the midst of which the Willow loved
to screen her naked body while he searched the pool for her. And at last
the realization was borne upon him that she was not there, that he had
still farther to go.

He went on to the tepee. The little open space in which they had built
their hidden wigwam was flooded with sunshine that came through a break
in the forest to the west. The tepee was still there. It did not seem
very much changed to Baree. And rising from the ground in front of the
tepee was what had come to him faintly on the still air—the smoke of a
small fire. Over that fire was bending a person, and it did not strike
Baree as amazing, or at all unexpected, that this person should have two
great shining braids down her back. He whined, and at his whine the
Person grew a little rigid, and turned slowly.

Even then it seemed quite the most natural thing in the world that it
should be Nepeese, and none other. He had lost her yesterday. To-day he
had found her. And in answer to his whine there came a sobbing cry
straight out of the soul of the Willow.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Carvel found them there a few minutes later, the dog’s head hugged close
up against the Willow’s breast, and the Willow was crying—crying like a
little child, her face hidden from him on Baree’s neck. He did not
interrupt them, but waited; and as he waited something in the sobbing
voice and the stillness of the forest seemed to whisper to him a bit of
the story of the burned cabin and the two graves, and the meaning of the
Call that had come to Baree from out of the south.



                              CHAPTER XXXI


That night there was a new campfire in the open. It was not a small
fire, built with the fear that other eyes might see it, but a fire that
sent its flames high. In the glow of it stood Carvel. And as the fire
had changed from that small smouldering heap over which the Willow had
cooked her dinner, so Carvel, the officially dead outlaw, had changed.
The beard was gone from his face; he had thrown off his caribou-skin
coat; his sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and there was a wild
flush in his face that was not altogether the tanning of wind and sun
and storm, and a glow in his eyes that had not been there for five
years, perhaps never before. His eyes were on Nepeese. She sat in the
firelight, leaning a little toward the blaze, her wonderful hair glowing
warmly in the flash of it. Carvel did not move while she was in that
attitude. He seemed scarcely to breathe. The glow in his eyes grew
deeper—the worship of a man for a woman. Suddenly Nepeese turned and
caught him before he could turn his gaze. There was nothing to hide in
her own eyes. Like her face, they were flushed with a new hope and a new
gladness. Carvel sat down beside her on the birch log, and in his hand
he took one of her thick braids and crumpled it as he talked. At their
feet, watching them, lay Baree.

“To-morrow or the next day I am going to Lac Bain,” he said, a hard and
bitter note back of the gentle worship in his voice. “I will not come
back until I have—killed him.”

The Willow looked straight into the fire. For a time there was a silence
broken only by the crackling of the flames, and in that silence Carvel’s
fingers weaved in and out of the silken strands of the Willow’s hair.
His thoughts flashed back. What a chance he had missed that day on Bush
McTaggart’s trap-line—if he had only known! His jaws set hard as he saw
in the red-hot heart of the fire the mental pictures of the day when the
Factor from Lac Bain had killed Pierrot. She had told him the whole
story. Her flight. Her plunge to what she had thought was certain death
in the icy torrent of the chasm. Her miraculous escape from the
waters—and how she was discovered, nearly dead, by Tuboa, the toothless
old Cree whom Pierrot out of pity had allowed to hunt in part of his
domain. He felt within himself the tragedy and the horror of the one
terrible hour in which the sun had gone out of the world for the Willow,
and in the flames he could see faithful old Tuboa as he called on his
last strength to bear Nepeese over the long miles that lay between the
chasm and his cabin; he caught shifting visions of the weeks that
followed in that cabin, weeks of hunger and of intense cold in which the
Willow’s life hung by a single thread. And at last, when the snows were
deepest, Tuboa had died. Carvel’s fingers clenched in the strands of the
Willow’s braid. A deep breath rose out of his chest, and he said,
staring deep into the fire,

“To-morrow I will go to Lac Bain.”

For a moment Nepeese did not answer. She, too, was looking into the
fire. Then she said:

“Tuboa meant to kill him when the spring came, and he could travel. When
Tuboa died I knew that it was I who must kill him. So I came, with
Tuboa’s gun. It was fresh loaded—yesterday. And—M’sieu _Jeem_”—she
looked up at him, a triumphant glow in her eyes as she added, almost in
a whisper—“You will not go to Lac Bain. _I have sent a messenger._”

“A messenger?”

“Yes, Ookimow Jeem—a messenger. Two days ago. I sent word that I had not
died, but was here—waiting for him—and that I would be _Iskwao_ now, his
wife. Oo-oo, he will come, Ookimow Jeem—he will come fast. And you shall
not kill him. _Non!_” She smiled into his face, and the throb of
Carvel’s heart was like a drum. “The gun is loaded,” she said softly. “I
will shoot.”

“Two days ago,” said Carvel. “And from Lac Bain it is——”

“He will be here to-morrow,” Nepeese answered him. “To-morrow, as the
sun goes down, he will enter the clearing. I know. My blood has been
singing it all day. To-morrow—to-morrow—for he will travel fast, Ookimow
Jeem. Yes, he will come fast.”

Carvel had bent his head. The soft tresses gripped in his fingers were
crushed to his lips. The Willow, looking again into the fire, did not
see. But she _felt_—and her soul was beating like the wings of a bird.

“Ookimow Jeem,” she whispered—a breath, a flutter of the lips so soft
that Carvel heard no sound.

If old Tuboa had been there that night it is possible he would have read
strange warnings in the winds that whispered now and then softly in the
treetops. It was such a night; a night when the Red Gods whisper low
among themselves, a carnival of glory in which even the dipping shadows
and the high stars seemed to quiver with the life of a potent language.
It is barely possible that old Tuboa, with his ninety years behind him,
would have learned something, or that at least he would have _suspected_
a thing which Carvel in his youth and confidence did not see.
To-morrow—he will come to-morrow! The Willow, exultant, had said that.
But to old Tuboa the trees might have whispered, _why not to-night_?

It was midnight when the big moon stood full above the little open in
the forest. In the tepee the Willow was sleeping. In a balsam shadow
back from the fire slept Baree, and still farther back in the edge of a
spruce thicket slept Carvel. Dog and man were tired. They had travelled
far and fast that day, and they heard no sound.

But they had travelled neither so far nor so fast as Bush McTaggart.
Between sunrise and midnight he had come forty miles when he strode out
into the clearing where Pierrot’s cabin had stood. Twice from the edge
of the forest he had called; and now, when he found no answer, he stood
under the light of the moon and listened. Nepeese was to be
here—waiting. He was tired, but exhaustion could not still the fire that
burned in his blood. It had been blazing all day, and now—so near its
realization and its triumph—the old passion was like a drunkening wine
in his veins. Somewhere, near where he stood, Nepeese was waiting for
him, _waiting for him_. Once again he called, his heart beating in a
fierce anticipation as he listened. There was no answer. And then for a
thrilling instant his breath stopped. He sniffed the air—and there came
to him faintly the smell of smoke.

With the first instinct of the forest man he fronted the wind that was
but a faint breath under the starlit skies. He did not call again, but
hastened across the clearing. Nepeese was off there—somewhere—sleeping
beside her fire, and out of him there rose a low cry of exultation. He
came to the edge of the forest; chance directed his steps to the
overgrown trail; he followed it, and the smoke smell came stronger to
his nostrils.

It was the forest man’s instinct, too, that added the element of caution
to his advance. That, and the utter stillness of the night. He broke no
sticks under his feet. He disturbed the brush so quietly that it made no
sound. When he came at last to the little open where Carvel’s fire was
still sending a spiral of spruce-scented smoke up into the air it was
with a stealth that failed even to rouse Baree. Perhaps, deep down in
him, there smouldered an old suspicion; perhaps it was because he wanted
to come to her while she was sleeping. The sight of the tepee made his
heart throb faster. It was light as day where it stood in the moonlight,
and he saw hanging outside it a few bits of woman’s apparel. He advanced
soft-footed as a fox and stood a moment later with his hand on the cloth
flap at the wigwam door, his head bent forward to catch the merest
breath of sound. He could hear her breathing. For an instant his face
turned so that the moonlight struck his eyes. They were aflame with a
mad fire. Then, still very quietly, he drew aside the flap at the door.

It could not have been sound that roused Baree, hidden in the black
balsam shadow a dozen paces away. Perhaps it was scent. His nostrils
twitched first; then he awoke. For a few seconds his eyes glared at the
bent figure in the tepee door. He knew that it was not Carvel. The old
smell—the man-beast’s smell, filled his nostrils like a hated poison. He
sprang to his feet and stood with his lips snarling back slowly from his
long fangs. McTaggart had disappeared. From inside the tepee there came
a sound; a sudden movement of bodies, a startled ejaculation of one
awakening from sleep—and then a cry, a low, half-smothered, frightened
cry, and in response to that cry Baree shot out from under the balsam
with a sound in his throat that had in it the note of death.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the edge of the spruce thicket Carvel rolled uneasily. Strange sounds
were rousing him, cries that in his exhaustion came to him as if in a
dream. At last he sat up, and then in sudden horror leaped to his feet
and rushed toward the tepee. Nepeese was in the open, crying the name
she had given him—“_Ookimow Jeem—Ookimow—Jeem—Ookimow Jeem_——” She was
standing there white and slim, her eyes with the blaze of the stars in
them, and when she saw Carvel she flung out her arms to him, still
crying:

“Ookimow Jeem—Oo-oo, Ookimow Jeem——”

In the tepee he heard the rage of a beast, the moaning cries of a man.
He forgot that it was only last night he had come, and with a cry he
swept the Willow to his breast, and the Willow’s arms tightened round
his neck as she moaned:

“Ookimow Jeem—it is the man-beast—in there! It is the man-beast from Lac
Bain—and Baree——”

Truth flashed upon Carvel, and he caught Nepeese up in his arms and ran
away with her from the sounds that had grown sickening and horrible. In
the spruce thicket he put her feet once more to the ground. Her arms
were still tight around his neck; he felt the wild terror of her body as
it throbbed against him; her breath was sobbing, and her eyes were on
his face. He drew her closer, and suddenly he crushed his face down
close against hers and felt for an instant the warm thrill of her lips
against his own. And he heard the whisper, soft and trembling.

“Ooo-oo, _Ookimow Jeem_——”

When Carvel returned to the fire, alone, his Colt in his hand, Baree was
in front of the tepee waiting for him. Carvel picked up a burning brand
and entered the wigwam. When he came out his face was white. He tossed
the brand in the fire, and went back to Nepeese. He had wrapped her in
his blankets, and now he knelt down beside her and put his arms about
her.

“He is dead, Nepeese.”

“Dead, Ookimow Jeem?”

“Yes. Baree killed him.”

She did not seem to breathe. Gently, with his lips in her hair, Carvel
whispered his plans for their paradise.

“No one will know, my sweetheart. To-night I will bury him and burn the
tepee. To-morrow we will start for Nelson House, where there is a
Missioner. And after that—we will come back—and I will build a new cabin
where the old one burned. _Do you love me, ka sakahet?_”

“Oui—yes—Ookimow Jeem—I love you——”

Suddenly there came an interruption. Baree at last was giving his cry of
triumph. It rose to the stars; it wailed over the roofs of the forests
and filled the quiet skies—a wolfish howl of exultation, of achievement,
of vengeance fulfilled. Its echoes died slowly away, and silence came
again. A great peace whispered in the soft breath of the treetops. Out
of the north came the mating call of a loon. About Carvel’s shoulders
the Willow’s arms crept closer. And Carvel, out of his heart, thanked
God.


                                THE END



                         THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
                           GARDEN CITY, N. Y.





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