Baree, Son of Kazan.
James Oliver Curwood.
JTABLE 10 31 1
Since the publication of my two animal books, "Kazan, the Wolf Dog" 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 inquiring 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 traveled 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 someone 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
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 sound of the scraping 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 seemed 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.
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 bloodcurdling 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 foreshoulders 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 a 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 part of the forest and had peered in curiously, and with a growing desire.
On this day of his great battle its lure was overpowering. 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 strange 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 no body at all. Kazan had never brought in anything like this, and for a full half-minute he remained very quiet, eying 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 puff 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 been there, 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 needlelike teeth in the bird's breast. It was like trying to bite through a pillow, the feathers 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 armor 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.
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 a distance of 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 quite probably 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 center 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 tree-tops there flashed a vivid streak of lightning. A moaning whisper of wind rode in advance of the storm. The thunder sounded 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 ax. 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 partly filled with water. He was drenched. His teeth chattered as he waited for the next thing to happen.
It was a long wait. When the rain finally 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. As 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. But he grew hungrier and hungrier. He always 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 clamshell 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 the shallows. For a long time he had no success. The few crayfish that he saw were exceedingly lively and elusive, and all the clamshells 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 soft bed of sand. Since his fight with Papayuchisew, he had traveled 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 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 pygmy. 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.
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.
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 debris 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 in 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 favorite striking distance. Unerringly he launched himself at the drowsy partridge's throat, and his needlelike 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 faraway 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 traveled into the north and east.
And this was straight into the trapping country of Pierrot, the half-breed.
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. Tomorrow—" 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 "Tomorrow," 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 clearing, and on the edge of it 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 leveled 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.
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:
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:
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 foreleg. 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, but it had stopped bleeding, though his whole body was racked by a terrible pain. A dozen Papayuchisews, all holding right 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 traveling 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-humored 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.
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 humoring 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 time Baree had traveled at night. He was, for the time, unafraid of anything that might creep up on him out of the darkness. The blackest shadows had lost their terror. 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 humor 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 clung 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 tonight 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 space 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. Tonight 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 bloodcurdling 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 had 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. 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.
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 "traveling"—going on. He wanted something which he could not find. The wolf call 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 some 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 traveling in a general northeasterly direction, following instinctively the run of the waterways. 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 valor 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 tonight. 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. Tonight 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 wind. 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. Often 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. 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 crayfish 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 traveled 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 traveling over old trails. But something deep in him gripped 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 virgin forest. There was no undergrowth, and traveling 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 flirtings 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 where 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 somewhat 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 labor, 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 mind.
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 groveled on his forelegs, 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, someone 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.
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 crayfish 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 tasted 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 meant for Kazan, his father, when he killed the man-brute at the edge of the wilderness.
This change came or 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 forebear 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.
"Depechez vous, mon pere!" 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 glorious 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—