NOMADS OF THE NORTH
A STORY OF ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE UNDER THE OPEN STARS
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
It was late in the month of March, at the dying-out of the Eagle Moon, that Neewa the black bear cub got his first real look at the world. Noozak, his mother, was an old bear, and like an old person she was filled with rheumatics and the desire to sleep late. So instead of taking a short and ordinary nap of three months this particular winter of little Neewa's birth she slept four, which, made Neewa, who was born while his mother was sound asleep, a little over two months old instead of six weeks when they came out of den.
In choosing this den Noozak had gone to a cavern at the crest of a high, barren ridge, and from this point Neewa first looked down into the valley. For a time, coming out of darkness into sunlight, he was blinded. He could hear and smell and feel many things before he could see. And Noozak, as though puzzled at finding warmth and sunshine in place of cold and darkness, stood for many minutes sniffing the wind and looking down upon her domain.
For two weeks an early spring had been working its miracle of change in that wonderful country of the northland between Jackson's Knee and the Shamattawa River, and from north to south between God's Lake and the Churchill.
It was a splendid world. From the tall pinnacle of rock on which they stood it looked like a great sea of sunlight, with only here and there patches of white snow where the winter winds had piled it deep. Their ridge rose up out of a great valley. On all sides of them, as far as a man's eye could have reached, there were blue and black patches of forest, the shimmer of lakes still partly frozen, the sunlit sparkle of rivulet and stream, and the greening open spaces out of which rose the perfumes of the earth. These smells drifted up like tonic and food to the nostrils of Noozak the big bear. Down there the earth was already swelling with life. The buds on the poplars were growing fat and near the bursting point; the grasses were sending out shoots tender and sweet; the camas were filling with juice; the shooting stars, the dog-tooth violets, and the spring beauties were thrusting themselves up into the warm glow of the sun, inviting Noozak and Neewa to the feast. All these things Noozak smelled with the experience and the knowledge of twenty years of life behind her—the delicious aroma of the spruce and the jackpine; the dank, sweet scent of water-lily roots and swelling bulbs that came from a thawed-out fen at the foot of the ridge; and over all these things, overwhelming their individual sweetnesses in a still greater thrill of life, the smell of the heart itself!
And Neewa smelled them. His amazed little body trembled and thrilled for the first time with the excitement of life. A moment before in darkness, he found himself now in a wonderland of which he had never so much as had a dream. In these few minutes Nature was at work upon him. He possessed no knowledge, but instinct was born within him. He knew this was HIS world, that the sun and the warmth were for him, and that the sweet things of the earth were inviting him into his heritage. He puckered up his little brown nose and sniffed the air, and the pungency of everything that was sweet and to be yearned for came to him.
And he listened. His pointed ears were pricked forward, and up to him came the drone of a wakening earth. Even the roots of the grasses must have been singing in their joy, for all through that sunlit valley there was the low and murmuring music of a country that was at peace because it was empty of men. Everywhere was the rippling sound of running water, and he heard strange sounds that he knew was life; the twittering of a rock-sparrow, the silver-toned aria of a black-throated thrush down in the fen, the shrill paean of a gorgeously coloured Canada jay exploring for a nesting place in a brake of velvety balsam. And then, far over his head, a screaming cry that made him shiver. It was instinct again that told him in that cry was danger. Noozak looked up, and saw the shadow of Upisk, the great eagle, as it flung itself between the sun and the earth. Neewa saw the shadow, and cringed nearer to his mother.
And Noozak—so old that she had lost half her teeth, so old that her bones ached on damp and chilly nights, and her eyesight was growing dim—was still not so old that she did not look down with growing exultation upon what she saw. Her mind was travelling beyond the mere valley in which they had wakened. Off there beyond the walls of forest, beyond the farthest lake, beyond the river and the plain, were the illimitable spaces which gave her home. To her came dully a sound uncaught by Neewa—the almost unintelligible rumble of the great waterfall. It was this, and the murmur of a thousand trickles of running water, and the soft wind breathing down in the balsam and spruce that put the music of spring into the air.
At last Noozak heaved a great breath out of her lungs and with a grunt to Neewa began to lead the way slowly down among the rocks to the foot of the ridge.
In the golden pool of the valley it was even warmer than on the crest of the ridge. Noozak went straight to the edge of the slough. Half a dozen rice birds rose with a whir of wings that made Neewa almost upset himself. Noozak paid no attention to them. A loon let out a squawky protest at Noozak's soft-footed appearance, and followed it up with a raucous screech that raised the hair on Neewa's spine. And Noozak paid no attention to this. Neewa observed these things. His eye was on her, and instinct had already winged his legs with the readiness to run if his mother should give the signal. In his funny little head it was developing very quickly that his mother was a most wonderful creature. She was by all odds the biggest thing alive—that is, the biggest that stood on legs, and moved. He was confident of this for a space of perhaps two minutes, when they came to the end of the fen. And here was a sudden snort, a crashing of bracken, the floundering of a huge body through knee-deep mud, and a monstrous bull moose, four times as big as Noozak, set off in lively flight. Neewa's eyes all but popped from his head. And STILL Noozak PAID NO ATTENTION!
It was then that Neewa crinkled up his tiny nose and snarled, just as he had snarled at Noozak's ears and hair and at sticks he had worried in the black cavern. A glorious understanding dawned upon him. He could snarl at anything he wanted to snarl at, no matter how big. For everything ran away from Noozak his mother.
All through this first glorious day Neewa was discovering things, and with each hour it was more and more impressed upon him that his mother was the unchallenged mistress of all this new and sunlit domain.
Noozak was a thoughtful old mother of a bear who had reared fifteen or eighteen families in her time, and she travelled very little this first day in order that Neewa's tender feet might toughen up a bit. They scarcely left the fen, except to go into a nearby clump of trees where Noozak used her claws to shred a spruce that they might get at the juice and slimy substance just under the bark. Neewa liked this dessert after their feast of roots and bulbs, and tried to claw open a tree on his own account. By mid-afternoon Noozak had eaten until her sides bulged out, and Neewa himself—between his mother's milk and the many odds and ends of other things—looked like an over-filled pod. Selecting a spot where the declining sun made a warm oven of a great white rock, lazy old Noozak lay down for a nap, while Neewa, wandering about in quest of an adventure of his own, came face to face with a ferocious bug.
The creature was a giant wood-beetle two inches long. Its two battling pincers were jet black, and curved like hooks of iron. It was a rich brown in colour and in the sunlight its metallic armour shone in a dazzling splendour. Neewa, squatted flat on his belly, eyed it with a swiftly beating heart. The beetle was not more than a foot away, and ADVANCING! That was the curious and rather shocking part of it. It was the first living thing he had met with that day that had not run away. As it advanced slowly on its two rows of legs the beetle made a clicking sound that Neewa heard quite distinctly. With the fighting blood of his father, Soominitik, nerving him on to the adventure he thrust out a hesitating paw, and instantly Chegawasse, the beetle, took upon himself a most ferocious aspect. His wings began humming like a buzz-saw, his pincers opened until they could have taken in a man's finger, and he vibrated on his legs until it looked as though he might be performing some sort of a dance. Neewa jerked his paw back and after a moment or two Chegawasse calmed himself and again began to ADVANCE!
Neewa did not know, of course, that the beetle's field of vision ended about four inches from the end of his nose; the situation, consequently, was appalling. But it was never born in a son of a father like Soominitik to run from a bug, even at nine weeks of age. Desperately he thrust out his paw again, and unfortunately for him one of his tiny claws got a half Nelson on the beetle and held Chegawasse on his shining back so that he could neither buzz not click. A great exultation swept through Neewa. Inch by inch he drew his paw in until the beetle was within reach of his sharp little teeth. Then he smelled of him.
That was Chegawasse's opportunity. The pincers closed and Noozak's slumbers were disturbed by a sudden bawl of agony. When she raised her head Neewa was rolling about as if in a fit. He was scratching and snarling and spitting. Noozak eyed him speculatively for some moments, then reared herself slowly and went to him. With one big paw she rolled him over—and saw Chegawasse firmly and determinedly attached to her offspring's nose. Flattening Neewa on his back so that he could not move she seized the beetle between her teeth, bit slowly until Chegawasse lost his hold, and then swallowed him.
From then until dusk Neewa nursed his sore nose. A little before dark Noozak curled herself up against the big rock, and Neewa took his supper. Then he made himself a nest in the crook of her big, warm forearm. In spite of his smarting nose he was a happy bear, and at the end of his first day he felt very brave and very fearless, though he was but nine weeks old. He had come into the world, he had looked upon many things, and if he had not conquered he at least had gone gloriously through the day.
That night Neewa had a hard attack of Mistu-puyew, or stomach-ache. Imagine a nursing baby going direct from its mother's breast to a beefsteak! That was what Neewa had done. Ordinarily he would not have begun nibbling at solid foods for at least another month, but nature seemed deliberately at work in a process of intensive education preparing him for the mighty and unequal struggle which he would have to put up a little later. For hours Neewa moaned and wailed, and Noozak muzzled his bulging little belly with her nose, until finally he vomited and was better.
After that he slept. When he awoke he was startled by opening his eyes full into the glare of a great blaze of fire. Yesterday he had seen the sun, golden and shimmering and far away. But this was the first time he had seen it come up over the edge of the world on a spring morning in the Northland. It was as red as blood, and as he stared it rose steadily and swiftly until the flat side of it rounded out and it was a huge ball of SOMETHING. At first he thought it was Life—some monstrous creature sailing up over the forest toward them—and he turned with a whine of enquiry to his mother. Whatever it was, Noozak was unafraid. Her big head was turned toward it, and she was blinking her eyes in solemn comfort. It was then that Neewa began to feel the pleasing warmth of the red thing, and in spite of his nervousness he began to purr in the glow of it. From red the sun turned swiftly to gold, and the whole valley was transformed once more into a warm and pulsating glory of life.
For two weeks after this first sunrise in Neewa's life Noozak remained near the ridge and the slough. Then came the day, when Neewa was eleven weeks old, that she turned her nose toward the distant black forests and began the summer's peregrination. Neewa's feet had lost their tenderness, and he weighed a good six pounds. This was pretty good considering that he had only weighed twelve ounces at birth.
From the day when Noozak set off on her wandering TREK Neewa's real adventures began. In the dark and mysterious caverns of the forests there were places where the snow still lay unsoftened by the sun, and for two days Neewa yearned and whined for the sunlit valley. They passed the waterfall, where Neewa looked for the first tune on a rushing torrent of water. Deeper and darker and gloomier grew the forest Noozak was penetrating. In this forest Neewa received his first lessons in hunting. Noozak was now well in the "bottoms" between the Jackson's Knee and Shamattawa waterway divides, a great hunting ground for bears in the early spring. When awake she was tireless in her quest for food, and was constantly digging in the earth, or turning over stones and tearing rotting logs and stumps into pieces. The little gray wood-mice were her piece de resistance, small as they were, and it amazed Neewa to see how quick his clumsy old mother could be when one of these little creatures was revealed. There were times when Noozak captured a whole family before they could escape. And to these were added frogs and toads, still partly somnambulent; many ants, curled up as if dead, in the heart of rotting logs; and occasional bumble-bees, wasps, and hornets. Now and then Neewa took a nibble at these things. On the third day Noozak uncovered a solid mass of hibernating vinegar ants as large as a man's two fists, and frozen solid. Neewa ate a quantity of these, and the sweet, vinegary flavour of them was delicious to his palate.
As the days progressed, and living things began to crawl out from under logs and rocks, Neewa discovered the thrill and excitement of hunting on his own account. He encountered a second beetle, and killed it. He killed his first wood-mouse. Swiftly there were developing in him the instincts of Soominitik, his scrap-loving old father, who lived three or four valleys to the north of their own, and who never missed an opportunity to get into a fight. At four months of age, which was late in May, Neewa was eating many things that would have killed most cubs of his age, and there wasn't a yellow streak in him from the tip of his saucy little nose to the end of his stubby tail. He weighed nine pounds at this date and was as black as a tar-baby.
It was early in June that the exciting event occurred which brought about the beginning of the big change in Neewa's life, and it was on a day so warm and mellow with sunshine that Noozak started in right after dinner to take her afternoon nap. They were out of the lower timber country now, and were in a valley through which a shallow stream wriggled and twisted around white sand-bars and between pebbly shores. Neewa was sleepless. He had less desire than ever to waste a glorious afternoon in napping. With his little round eyes he looked out on a wonderful world, and found it calling to him. He looked at his mother, and whined. Experience told him that she was dead to the world for hours to come, unless he tickled her foot or nipped her ear, and then she would only rouse herself enough to growl at him. He was tired of that. He yearned for something more exciting, and with his mind suddenly made up he set off in quest of adventure.
In that big world of green and golden colours he was a little black ball nearly as wide as he was long. He went down to the creek, and looked back. He could still see his mother. Then his feet paddled in the soft white sand of a long bar that edged the shore, and he forgot Noozak. He went to the end of the bar, and turned up on the green shore where the young grass was like velvet under his paws. Here he began turning over small stones for ants. He chased a chipmunk that ran a close and furious race with him for twenty seconds. A little later a huge snow-shoe rabbit got up almost under his nose, and he chased that until in a dozen long leaps Wapoos disappeared in a thicket. Neewa wrinkled up his nose and emitted a squeaky snarl. Never had Soominitik's blood run so riotously within him. He wanted to get hold of something. For the first time in his life he was yearning for a scrap. He was like a small boy who the day after Christmas has a pair of boxing gloves and no opponent. He sat down and looked about him querulously, still wrinkling his nose and snarling defiantly. He had the whole world beaten. He knew that. Everything was afraid of his mother. Everything was afraid of HIM. It was disgusting—this lack of something alive for an ambitious young fellow to fight. After all, the world was rather tame.
He set off at a new angle, came around the edge of a huge rock, and suddenly stopped.
From behind the other end of the rock protruded a huge hind paw. For a few moments Neewa sat still, eyeing it with a growing anticipation. This time he would give his mother a nip that would waken her for good! He would rouse her to the beauty and the opportunities of this day if there was any rouse in him! So he advanced slowly and cautiously, picked out a nice bare spot on the paw, and sank his little teeth in it to the gums.
There followed a roar that shook the earth. Now it happened that the paw did not belong to Noozak, but was the personal property of Makoos, an old he-bear of unlovely disposition and malevolent temper. But in him age had produced a grouchiness that was not at all like the grandmotherly peculiarities of old Noozak. Makoos was on his feet fairly before Neewa realized that he had made a mistake. He was not only an old bear and a grouchy bear, but he was also a hater of cubs. More than once in his day he had committed the crime of cannibalism. He was what the Indian hunter calls uchan—a bad bear, an eater of his own kind, and the instant his enraged eyes caught sight of Neewa he let out another roar.
At that Neewa gathered his fat little legs under his belly and was off like a shot. Never before in his life had he run as he ran now. Instinct told him that at last he had met something which was not afraid of him, and that he was in deadly peril. He made no choice of direction, for now that he had made this mistake he had no idea where he would find his mother. He could hear Makoos coming after him, and as he ran he set up a bawling that was filled with a wild and agonizing prayer for help. That cry reached the faithful old Noozak. In an instant she was on her feet—and just in time. Like a round black ball shot out of a gun Neewa sped past the rock where she had been sleeping, and ten jumps behind him came Makoos. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother, but his momentum carried him past her. In that moment Noozak leapt into action. As a football player makes a tackle she rushed out just in time to catch old Makoos with all her weight full broadside in the ribs, and the two old bears rolled over and over in what to Neewa was an exciting and glorious mix-up.
He had stopped, and his eyes bulged out like shining little onions as he took in the scene of battle. He had longed for a fight but what he saw now fairly paralyzed him. The two bears were at it, roaring and tearing each other's hides and throwing up showers of gravel and earth in their deadly clinch. In this first round Noozak had the best of it. She had butted the wind out of Makoos in her first dynamic assault, and now with her dulled and broken teeth at his throat she was lashing him with her sharp hind claws until the blood streamed from the old barbarian's sides and he bellowed like a choking bull. Neewa knew that it was his pursuer who was getting the worst of it, and with a squeaky cry for his mother to lambast the very devil out of Makoos he ran back to the edge of the arena, his nose crinkled and his teeth gleaming in a ferocious snarl. He danced about excitedly a dozen feet from the fighters, Soominitik's blood filling him with a yearning for the fray and yet he was afraid.
Then something happened that suddenly and totally upset the maddening joy of his mother's triumph. Makoos, being a he-bear, was of necessity skilled in fighting, and all at once he freed himself from Noozak's jaws, wallowed her under him, and in turn began ripping the hide off old Noozak's carcass in such quantities that she let out an agonized bawling that turned Neewa's little heart into stone.
It is a matter of most exciting conjecture what a small boy will do when he sees his father getting licked. If there is an axe handy he is liable to use it. The most cataclysmic catastrophe that cam come into his is to have a father whom some other boy's father has given a walloping. Next to being President of the United States the average small boy treasures the desire to possess a parent who can whip any other two-legged creature that wears trousers. And there were a lot of human things about Neewa. The louder his mother bawled the more distinctly he felt the shock of his world falling about him. If Noozak had lost a part of her strength in her old age her voice, at least, was still unimpaired, and such a spasm of outcry as she emitted could have been heard at least half a mile away.
Neewa could stand no more. Blind with rage, he darted in. It was chance that closed his vicious little jaws on a toe that belonged to Makoos, and his teeth sank into the flesh like two rows of ivory needles. Makoos gave a tug, but Neewa held on, and bit deeper. Then Makoos drew up his leg and sent it out like a catapault, and in spite of his determination to hang on Neewa found himself sailing wildly through the air. He landed against a rock twenty feet from the fighters with a force that knocked the wind out of him, and for a matter of eight or ten seconds after that he wobbled dizzily in his efforts to stand up. Then his vision and his senses returned and he gazed on a scene that brought all the blood pounding back into his body again.
Makoos was no longer fighting, but was RUNNING AWAY—and there was a decided limp in his gait!
Poor old Noozak was standing on her feet, facing the retreating enemy. She was panting like a winded calf. Her jaws were agape. Her tongue lolled out, and blood was dripping in little trickles from her body to the ground. She had been thoroughly and efficiently mauled. She was beyond the shadow of a doubt a whipped bear. Yet in that glorious flight of the enemy Neewa saw nothing of Noozak's defeat. Their enemy was RUNNING AWAY! Therefore, he was whipped. And with excited little squeaks of joy Neewa ran to his mother.
As they stood in the warm sunshine of this first day of June, watching the last of Makoos as he fled across the creek bottom, Neewa felt very much like an old and seasoned warrior instead of a pot-bellied, round-faced cub of four months who weighed nine pounds and not four hundred.
It was many minutes after Neewa had sunk his ferocious little teeth deep into the tenderest part of the old he-bear's toe before Noozak could get her wind sufficiently to grunt. Her sides were pumping like a pair of bellows, and after Makoos had disappeared beyond the creek Neewa sat down on his chubby bottom, perked his funny ears forward, and eyed his mother with round and glistening eyes that were filled with uneasy speculation. With a wheezing groan Noozak turned and made her way slowly toward the big rock alongside which she had been sleeping when Neewa's fearful cries for help had awakened her. Every bone in her aged body seemed broken or dislocated. She limped and sagged and moaned as she walked, and behind her were left little red trails of blood in the green grass. Makoos had given her a fine pummeling.
She lay down, gave a final groan, and looked at Neewa, as if to say:
"If you hadn't gone off on some deviltry and upset that old viper's temper this wouldn't have happened. And now—look at ME!"
A young bear would have rallied quickly from the effects of the battle, but Noozak lay without moving all the rest of that afternoon, and the night that followed. And that night was by all odds the finest that Neewa had ever seen. Now that the nights were warm, he had come to love the moon even more than the sun, for by birth and instinct he was more a prowler in darkness than a hunter of the day. The moon rose out of the east in a glory of golden fire. The spruce and balsam forests stood out like islands in a yellow sea of light, and the creek shimmered and quivered like a living thing as it wound its way through the glowing valley. But Neewa had learned his lesson, and though the moon and the stars called to him he hung close to his mother, listening to the carnival of night sound that came to him, but never moving away from her side.
With the morning Noozak rose to her feet, and with a grunting command for Neewa to follow she slowly climbed the sun-capped ridge. She was in no mood for travel, but away back in her head was an unexpressed fear that villainous old Makoos might return, and she knew that another fight would do her up entirely, in which event Makoos would make a breakfast of Neewa. So she urged herself down the other side of the ridge, across a new valley, and through a cut that opened like a wide door into a rolling plain that was made up of meadows and lakes and great sweeps of spruce and cedar forest. For a week Noozak had been making for a certain creek in this plain, and now that the presence of Makoos threatened behind she kept at her journeying until Neewa's short, fat legs could scarcely hold up his body.
It was mid-afternoon when they reached the creek, and Neewa was so exhausted that he had difficulty in climbing the spruce up which his mother sent him to take a nap. Finding a comfortable crotch he quickly fell asleep—while Noozak went fishing.
The creek was alive with suckers, trapped in the shallow pools after spawning, and within an hour she had the shore strewn with them. When Neewa came down out of his cradle, just at the edge of dusk, it was to a feast at which Noozak had already stuffed herself until she looked like a barrel. This was his first meal of fish, and for a week thereafter he lived in a paradise of fish. He ate them morning, noon, and night, and when he was too full to eat he rolled in them. And Noozak stuffed herself until it seemed her hide would burst. Wherever they moved they carried with them a fishy smell that grew older day by day, and the older it became the more delicious it was to Neewa and his mother. And Neewa grew like a swelling pod. In that week he gained three pounds. He had given up nursing entirely now, for Noozak—being an old bear—had dried up to a point where she was hopelessly disappointing.
It was early in the evening of the eighth day that Neewa and his mother lay down in the edge of a grassy knoll to sleep after their day's feasting. Noozak was by all odds the happiest old bear in all that part of the northland. Food was no longer a problem for her. In the creek, penned up in the pools, were unlimited quantities of it, and she had encountered no other bear to challenge her possession of it. She looked ahead to uninterrupted bliss in their happy hunting grounds until midsummer storms emptied the pools, or the berries ripened. And Neewa, a happy little gourmand, dreamed with her.
It was this day, just as the sun was setting, that a man on his hands and knees was examining a damp patch of sand five or six miles down the creek. His sleeves were rolled up, baring his brown arms halfway to the shoulders and he wore no hat, so that the evening breeze ruffled a ragged head of blond hair that for a matter of eight or nine months had been cut with a hunting knife.
Close on one side of this individual was a tin pail, and on the other, eying him with the keenest interest, one of the homeliest and yet one of the most companionable-looking dog pups ever born of a Mackenzie hound father and a mother half Airedale and half Spitz.
With this tragedy of blood in his veins nothing in the world could have made the pup anything more than "just dog." His tail,—stretched out straight on the sand, was long and lean, with a knot at every joint; his paws, like an overgrown boy's feet, looked like small boxing-gloves; his head was three sizes too big for his body, and accident had assisted Nature in the perfection of her masterpiece by robbing him of a half of one of his ears. As he watched his master this half of an ear stood up like a galvanized stub, while the other—twice as long—was perked forward in the deepest and most interested enquiry. Head, feet, and tail were Mackenzie hound, but the ears and his lank, skinny body was a battle royal between Spitz and Airedale. At his present inharmonious stage of development he was the doggiest dog-pup outside the alleys of a big city.
For the first time in several minutes his master spoke, and Miki wiggled from stem to stern in appreciation of the fact that it was directly to him the words were uttered.
"It's a mother and a cub, as sure as you're a week old, Miki," he said. "And if I know anything about bears they were here some time to-day!"
He rose to his feet, made note of the deepening shadows in the edge of the timber, and filled his pail with water. For a few moments the last rays of the sun lit up his face. It was a strong, hopeful face. In it was the joy of life. And now it was lighted up with a sudden inspiration, and a glow that was not of the forest alone came into his eyes, as he added:
"Miki, I'm lugging your homely carcass down to the Girl because you're an unpolished gem of good nature and beauty—and for those two things I know she'll love you. She is my sister, you know. Now, if I could only take that cub along with you——"
He began to whistle as he turned with his pail of water in the direction of a thin fringe of balsams a hundred yards away.
Close at his heels followed Miki.
Challoner, who was a newly appointed factor of the Great Hudson's Bay Company, had pitched his camp at tie edge of the lake dose to the mouth of the creek. There was not much to it—a battered tent, a still more battered canoe, and a small pile of dunnage. But in the last glow of the sunset it would have spoken volumes to a man with an eye trained to the wear and the turmoil of the forests. It was the outfit of a man who had gone unfearing to the rough edge of the world. And now what was left of it was returning with him. To Challoner there was something of human comradeship in these remnants of things that had gone through the greater part of a year's fight with him. The canoe was warped and battered and patched; smoke and storm had blackened his tent until it was the colour of rusty char, and his grub sacks were next to empty.
Over a small fire title contents of a pan and a pot were brewing when he returned with Miki at his heels, and close to the heat was a battered and mended reflector in which a bannock of flour and water was beginning to brown. In one of the pots was coffee, in the other a boiling fish.
Miki sat down on his angular haunches so that the odour of the fish filled his nostrils. This, he had discovered, was the next thing to eating. His eyes, as they followed Challoner's final preparatory movements, were as bright as garnets, and every third or fourth breath he licked his chops, and swallowed hungrily. That, in fact, was why Miki had got his name. He was always hungry, and apparently always empty, no matter how much he ate. Therefore his name, Miki, "The drum."
It was not until they had eaten the fish and the bannock, and Challoner had lighted his pipe, that he spoke what was in his mind.
"To-morrow I'm going after that bear," he said.
Miki, curled up near the dying embers, gave his tail a club-like thump in evidence of the fact that he was listening.
"I'm going to pair you up with the cub, and tickle the Girl to death."
Miki thumped his tail harder than before.
"Fine," he seemed to say.
"Just think of it," said Challoner, looking over Miki's head a thousand miles away, "Fourteen months—and at last we're going home. I'm going to train you and the cub for that sister of mine. Eh, won't you like that? You don't know what she's like, you homely little devil, or you wouldn't sit there staring at me like a totem-pole pup! And it isn't in your stupid head to imagine how pretty she is. You saw that sunset to-night? Well, she's prettier than THAT if she is my sister. Got anything to add to that, Miki? If not, let's say our prayers and go to bed!"
Challoner rose and stretched himself. His muscles cracked. He felt life surging like a giant within him.
And Miki, thumping his tail until this moment, rose on his overgrown legs and followed his master into their shelter.
It was in the gray light of the early summer dawn when Challoner came forth again, and rekindled the fire. Miki followed a few moments later, and his master fastened the end of a worn tent-rope around his neck and tied the rope to a sapling. Another rope of similar length Challoner tied to the corners of a grub sack so that it could be carried over his shoulder like a game bag. With the first rose-flush of the sun he was ready for the trail of Neewa and his mother. Miki set up a melancholy wailing when he found himself left behind, and when Challoner looked back the pup was tugging and somersaulting at the end of his rope like a jumping-jack. For a quarter of a mile up the creek he could hear Miki's entreating protest.
To Challoner the business of the day was not a matter of personal pleasure, nor was it inspired alone by his desire to possess a cub along with Miki. He needed meat, and bear pork thus early in the season would be exceedingly good; and above all else he needed a supply of fat. If he bagged this bear, time would be saved all the rest of the way down to civilization.
It was eight o'clock when he struck the first unmistakably fresh signs of Noozak and Neewa. It was at the point where Noozak had fished four or five days previously, and where they had returned yesterday to feast on the "ripened" catch. Challoner was elated. He was sure that he would find the pair along the creek, and not far distant. The wind was in his favour, and he began to advance with greater caution, his rifle ready for the anticipated moment. For an hour he travelled steadily and quietly, marking every sound and movement ahead of him, and wetting his finger now and then to see if the wind had shifted. After all, it was not so much a matter of human cunning. Everything was in Challoner's favour.
In a wide, flat part of the valley where the creek split itself into a dozen little channels, and the water rippled between sandy bars and over pebbly shallows, Neewa and his mother were nosing about lazily for a breakfast of crawfish. The world had never looked more beautiful to Neewa. The sun made the soft hair on his back fluff up like that of a purring cat. He liked the plash of wet sand under his feet and the singing gush of water against his legs. He liked the sound that was all about him, the breath of the wind, the whispers that came out of the spruce-tops and the cedars, the murmur of water, the TWIT-TWIT of the rock rabbits, the call of birds; and more than all else the low, grunting talk of his mother.
It was in this sun-bathed sweep of the valley that Noozak caught the first whiff of danger. It came to her in a sudden twist of the wind—the smell of man!
Instantly she was turned into rock. There was still the deep scar in her shoulder which had come, years before, with that same smell of the one enemy she feared. For three summers she had not caught the taint in her nostrils and she had almost forgotten its existence. Now, so suddenly that it paralyzed her, it was warm and terrible in the breath of the wind.
In this moment, too, Neewa seemed to sense the nearness of an appalling danger. Two hundred yards from Challoner he stood a motionless blotch of jet against the white of the sand about him, his eyes on his mother, and his sensitive little nose trying to catch the meaning of the menace in the air.
Then came a thing he had never heard before—a splitting, cracking roar—something that was almost like thunder and yet unlike it; and he saw his mother lurch where she stood and crumple down all at once on her fore legs.
The next moment she was up, with a wild WHOOF in her voice that was new to him—a warning for him to fly for his life.
Like all mothers who have known the comradeship and love of a child, Noozak's first thought was of him. Reaching out a paw she gave him a sudden shove, and Neewa legged it wildly for the near-by shelter of the timber. Noozak followed. A second shot came, and close over her head there sped a purring, terrible sound. But Noozak did not hurry. She kept behind Neewa, urging him on even as that pain of a red-hot iron in her groin filled her with agony. They came to the edge of the timber as Challoner's third shot bit under Noozak's feet.
A moment more and they were within the barricade of the timber. Instinct guided Neewa into the thickest part of it, and close behind him Noozak fought with the last of her dying strength to urge him on. In her old brain there was growing a deep and appalling shadow, something that was beginning to cloud her vision so that she could not see, and she knew that at last she had come to the uttermost end of her trail. With twenty years of life behind her, she struggled now for a last few seconds. She stopped Neewa close to a thick cedar, and as she had done many times before she commanded him to climb it. Just once her hot tongue touched his face in a final caress. Then she turned to fight her last great fight.
Straight into the face of Challoner she dragged herself, and fifty feet from the spruce she stopped and waited for him, her head drooped between her shoulders, her sides heaving, her eyes dimming more and more, until at last she sank down with a great sigh, barring the trail of their enemy. For a space, it may be, she saw once more the golden moons and the blazing suns of those twenty years that were gone; it may be that the soft, sweet music of spring came to her again, filled with the old, old song of life, and that Something gracious and painless descended upon her as a final reward for a glorious motherhood on earth.
When Challoner came up she was dead.
From his hiding place in a crotch of the spruce Neewa looked down on the first great tragedy of his life, and the advent of man. The two-legged beast made him cringe deeper into his refuge, and his little heart was near breaking with the terror that had seized upon him. He did not reason. It was by no miracle of mental process that he knew something terrible had happened, and that this tall, two-legged creature was the cause of it. His little eyes were blazing, just over the level of the crotch. He wondered why his mother did not get up and fight when this new enemy came. Frightened as he was he was ready to snarl if she would only wake up—ready to hurry down the tree and help her as he had helped her in the defeat of Makoos, the old he-bear. But not a muscle of Noozak's huge body moved as Challoner bent over her. She was stone dead.
Challoner's face was flushed with exultation. Necessity had made of him a killer. He saw in Noozak a splendid pelt, and a provision of meat that would carry him all the rest of the way to the southland. He leaned his rifle against a tree and began looking about for the cub. Knowledge of the wild told him it would not be far from its mother, and he began looking into the trees and the near-by thickets.
In the shelter of his crotch, screened by the thick branches, Neewa made himself as small as possible during the search. At the end of half an hour Challoner disappointedly gave up his quest, and went back to the creek for a drink before setting himself to the task of skinning Noozak.
No sooner was he gone than Neewa's little head shot up alertly. For a few moments he watched, and then slipped backward down the trunk of the cedar to the ground. He gave his squealing call, but his mother did not move. He went to her and stood beside her motionless head, sniffing the man-tainted air. Then he muzzled her jowl, butted his nose under her neck, and at last nipped her ear—always his last resort in the awakening process. He was puzzled. He whined softly, and climbed upon his mother's big, soft back, and sat there. Into his whine there came a strange note, and then out of his throat there rose a whimpering cry that was like the cry of a child.
Challoner heard that cry as he came back, and something seemed to grip hold of his heart suddenly, and choke him. He had heard children crying like that; and it was the motherless cub!
Creeping up behind a dwarf spruce he looked where Noozak lay dead, and saw Neewa perched on his mother's back. He had killed many things in his time, for it was his business to kill, and to barter in the pelts of creatures that others killed. But he had seen nothing like this before, and he felt all at once as if he had done murder.
"I'm sorry," he breathed softly, "you poor little devil; I'm sorry!"
It was almost a prayer—for forgiveness. Yet there was but one thing to do now. So quietly that Neewa failed to hear him he crept around with the wind and stole up behind. He was within a dozen feet of Neewa before the cub suspected danger. Then it was too late. In a swift rush Challoner was upon him and, before Neewa could leave the back of his mother, had smothered him in the folds of the grub sack.
In all his life Challoner had never experienced a livelier five minutes than the five that followed. Above Neewa's grief and his fear there rose the savage fighting blood of old Soominitik, his father. He clawed and bit and kicked and snarled. In those five minutes he was five little devils all rolled into one, and by the time Challoner had the rope fastened about Neewa's neck, and his fat body chucked into the sack, his hands were scratched and lacerated in a score of places.
In the sack Neewa continued to fight until he was exhausted, while Challoner skinned Noozak and cut from her the meat and fats which he wanted. The beauty of Noozak's pelt brought a glow into his eyes. In it he rolled the meat and fats, and with babiche thong bound the whole into a pack around which he belted the dunnage ends of his shoulder straps. Weighted under the burden of sixty pounds of pelt and meat he picked up his rifle—and Neewa. It had been early afternoon when he left. It was almost sunset when he reached camp. Every foot of the way, until the last half mile, Neewa fought like a Spartan.
Now he lay limp and almost lifeless in his sack, and when Miki came up to smell suspiciously of his prison he made no movement of protest. All smells were alike to him now, and of sounds he made no distinction. Challoner was nearly done for. Every muscle and bone in his body had its ache. Yet in his face, sweaty and grimed, was a grin of pride.
"You plucky little devil," he said, contemplating the limp sack as he loaded his pipe for the first time that afternoon. "You—you plucky little devil!"
He tied the end of Neewa's rope halter to a sapling, and began cautiously to open the grub sack. Then he rolled Neewa out on the ground, and stepped back. In that hour Neewa was willing to accept a truce so far as Challoner was concerned. But it was not Challoner that his half-blinded eyes saw first as he rolled from his bag. It was Miki! And Miki, his awkward body wriggling with the excitement of his curiosity, was almost on the point of smelling of him!
Neewa's little eyes glared. Was that ill-jointed lop-eared offspring of the man-beast an enemy, too? Were those twisting convolutions of this new creature's body and the club-like swing of his tail an invitation to fight? He judged so. Anyway, here was something of his size, and like a flash he was at the end of his rope and on the pup. Miki, a moment before bubbling over with friendship and good cheer, was on his back in an instant, his grotesque legs paddling the air and his yelping cries for help rising in a wild clamour that filled the golden stillness of the evening with an unutterable woe.
Challoner stood dumbfounded. In another moment he would have separated the little fighters, but something happened that stopped him. Neewa, standing squarely over Miki, with Miki's four over-grown paws held aloft as if signalling an unqualified surrender, slowly drew his teeth from the pup's loose hide. Again he saw the man-beast. Instinct, keener than a clumsy reasoning, held him for a few moments without movement, his beady eyes on Challoner. In midair Miki wagged his paws; he whined softly; his hard tail thumped the ground as he pleaded for mercy, and he licked his chops and tried to wriggle, as if to tell Neewa that he had no intention at all to do him harm. Neewa, facing Challoner, snarled defiantly. He drew himself slowly from over Miki. And Miki, afraid to move, still lay on his back with his paws in the air.
Very slowly, a look of wonder in his face, Challoner drew back into the tent and peered through a rent in the canvas.
The snarl left Neewa's face. He looked at the pup. Perhaps away back in some corner of his brain the heritage of instinct was telling him of what he had lost because of brothers and sisters unborn—the comradeship of babyhood, the play of children. And Miki must have sensed the change in the furry little black creature who a moment ago was his enemy. His tail thumped almost frantically, and he swung out his front paws toward Neewa. Then, a little fearful of what might happen, he rolled on his side. Still Neewa did not move. Joyously Miki wriggled.
A moment later, looking through the slit in the canvas, Challoner saw them cautiously smelling noses.
That night came a cold and drizzling rain from out of the north and the east. In the wet dawn Challoner came out to start a fire, and in a hollow under a spruce root he found Miki and Neewa cuddled together, sound asleep.
It was the cub who first saw the man-beast, and for a brief space before the pup roused himself Neewa's shining eyes were fixed on the strange enemy who had so utterly changed his world for him. Exhaustion had made him sleep through the long hours of that first night of captivity, and in sleep he had forgotten many things. But now it all came back to him as he cringed deeper into his shelter under the root, and so softly that only Miki heard him he whimpered for his mother.
It was the whimper that roused Miki. Slowly he untangled himself from the ball into which he had rolled, stretched his long and overgrown legs, and yawned so loudly that the sound reached Challoner's ears. The man turned and saw two pairs of eyes fixed upon him from the sheltered hollow under the root. The pup's one good ear and the other that was half gone stood up alertly, as he greeted his master with the boundless good cheer of an irrepressible comradeship. Challoner's face, wet with the drizzle of the gray skies and bronzed by the wind and storm of fourteen months in the northland, lighted up with a responsive grin, and Miki wriggled forth weaving and twisting himself into grotesque contortions expressive of happiness at being thus directly smiled at by his master.
With all the room under the root left to him Neewa pulled himself back until only his round head was showing, and from this fortress of temporary safety his bright little eyes glared forth at his mother's murderer.
Vividly the tragedy of yesterday was before him again—the warm, sun-filled creek bottom in which he and Noozak, his mother, were hunting a breakfast of crawfish when the man-beast came; the crash of strange thunder, their flight into the timber, and the end of it all when his mother turned to confront their enemy. And yet it was not the death of his mother that remained with him most poignantly this morning. It was the memory of his own terrific fight with the white man, and his struggle afterward in the black and suffocating depths of the bag in which Challoner had brought him to his camp. Even now Challoner was looking at the scratches on his hands. He advanced a few steps, and grinned down at Neewa, just as he had grinned good-humouredly at Miki, the angular pup.
Neewa's little eyes blazed.
"I told you last night that I was sorry," said Challoner, speaking as if to one of his own kind.
In several ways Challoner was unusual, an out-of-the-ordinary type in the northland. He believed, for instance, in a certain specific psychology of the animal mind, and had proven to his own satisfaction that animals treated and conversed with in a matter-of-fact human way frequently developed an understanding which he, in his unscientific way, called reason.
"I told you I was sorry," he repeated, squatting on his heels within a yard of the root from under which Neewa's eyes were glaring at him, "and I am. I'm sorry I killed your mother. But we had to have meat and fat. Besides, Miki and I are going to make it up to you. We're going to take you along with us down to the Girl, and if you don't learn to love her you're the meanest, lowest-down little cuss in all creation and don't deserve a mother. You and Miki are going to be brothers. His mother is dead, too—plum starved to death, which is worse than dying with a bullet in your lung. And I found Miki just as I found you, hugging up close to her an' crying as if there wasn't any world left for him. So cheer up, and give us your paw. Let's shake!"
Challoner held out his hand. Neewa was as motionless as a stone. A few moments before he would have snarled and bared his teeth. But now he was dead still. This was by all odds the strangest beast he had ever seen. Yesterday it had not harmed him, except to put him into the bag. And now it did not offer to harm him. More than that, the talk it made was not unpleasant, or threatening. His eyes took in Miki. The pup had squeezed himself squarely between Challoner's knees and was looking at him in a puzzled, questioning sort of way, as if to ask: "Why don't you come out from under that root and help get breakfast?"
Challoner's hand came nearer, and Neewa crowded himself back until there was not another inch of room for him to fill. Then the miracle happened. The man-beast's paw touched his head. It sent a strange and terrible thrill through him. Yet it did not hurt. If he had not wedged himself in so tightly he would have scratched and bitten. But he could do neither.
Slowly Challoner worked his fingers to the loose hide at the back of Neewa's neck. Miki, surmising that something momentous was about to happen, watched the proceedings with popping eyes. Then Challoner's fingers closed and the next instant he dragged Neewa forth and held him at arm's length, kicking and squirming, and setting up such a bawling that in sheer sympathy Miki raised his voice and joined in the agonized orgy of sound. Half a minute later Challoner had Neewa once more in the prison-sack, but this time he left the cub's head protruding, and drew in the mouth of the sack closely about his neck, fastening it securely with a piece of babiche string. Thus three quarters of Neewa was imprisoned in the sack, with only his head sticking out. He was a cub in a poke.
Leaving the cub to roll and squirm in protest Challoner went about the business of getting breakfast. For once Miki found a proceeding more interesting than that operation, and he hovered about Neewa as he struggled and bawled, trying vainly to offer him some assistance in the matter of sympathy. Finally Neewa lay still, and Miki sat down close beside him and eyed his master with serious questioning if not actual disapprobation.
The gray sky was breaking with the promise of the sun when Challoner was ready to renew his long journey into the southland. He packed his canoe, leaving Neewa and Miki until the last. In the bow of the canoe he made a soft nest of the skin taken from the cub's mother. Then he called Miki and tied the end of a worn rope around his neck, after which he fastened the other end of this rope around the neck of Neewa. Thus he had the cub and the pup on the same yard-long halter. Taking each of the twain by the scruff of the neck he carried them to the canoe and placed them in the nest he had made of Noozak's hide.
"Now you youngsters be good," he warned. "We're going to aim at forty miles to-day to make up for the time we lost yesterday."
As the canoe shot out a shaft of sunlight broke through the sky low in the east.
During the first few moments in which the canoe moved swiftly over the surface of the lake an amazing change had taken place in Neewa. Challoner did not see it, and Miki was unconscious of it. But every fibre in Neewa's body was atremble, and his heart was thumping as it had pounded on that glorious day of the fight between his mother and the old he-bear. It seemed to him that everything that he had lost was coming back to him, and that all would be well very soon—FOR HE SMELLED HIS MOTHER! And then he discovered that the scent of her was warm and strong in the furry black mass under his feet, and he smothered himself down in it, flat on his plump little belly, and peered at Challoner over his paws.
It was hard for him to understand—the man-beast back there, sending the canoe through the water, and under him his mother, warm and soft, but so deadly still! He could not keep the whimper out of his throat—his low and grief-filled call for HER. And there was no answer, except Miki's responsive whine, the crying of one child for another. Neewa's mother did not move. She made no sound. And he could see nothing of her but her black and furry skin—without head, without feet, without the big, bald paws he had loved to tickle, and the ears he had loved to nip. There was nothing of her but the patch of black skin—and the SMELL.
But a great comfort warmed his frightened little soul. He felt the protecting nearness of an unconquerable and abiding force and in the first of the warm sunshine his back fluffed up, and he thrust his brown nose between his paws and into his mother's fur. Miki, as if vainly striving to solve the mystery of his new-found chum, was watching him closely from between his own fore-paws. In his comical head—adorned with its one good ear and its one bad one, and furthermore beautified by the outstanding whiskers inherited from his Airedale ancestor—he was trying to come to some sort of an understanding. At the outset he had accepted Neewa as a friend and a comrade—and Neewa had thanklessly given him a good mauling for his trouble. That much Miki could forgive and forget. What he could not forgive was the utter lack of regard which Neewa seemed to possess for him. His playful antics had gained no recognition from the cub. When he had barked and hopped about, flattening and contorting himself in warm invitation for him to join in a game of tag or a wrestling match, Neewa had simply stared at him like an idiot. He was wondering, perhaps, if Neewa would enjoy anything besides a fight. It was a long time before he decided to make another experiment.
It was, as a matter of fact, halfway between breakfast and noon. In all that time Neewa had scarcely moved, and Miki was finding himself bored to death. The discomfort of last night's storm was only a memory, and overhead there was a sun unshadowed by cloud. More than an hour before Challoner's canoe had left the lake, and was now in the clear-running water of a stream that was making its way down the southward slope of the divide between Jackson's Knee and the Shamattawa. It was a new stream to Challoner, fed by the large lake above, and guarding himself against the treachery of waterfall and rapid he kept a keen lookout ahead. For a matter of half an hour the water had been growing steadily swifter, and Challoner was satisfied that before very long he would be compelled to make a portage. A little later he heard ahead of him the low and steady murmur which told him he was approaching a danger zone. As he shot around the next bend, hugging fairly close to shore, he saw, four or five hundred yards below him, a rock-frothed and boiling maelstrom of water.
Swiftly his eyes measured the situation. The rapids ran between an almost precipitous shore on one side and a deep forest on the other. He saw at a glance that it was the forest side over which he must make the portage, and this was the shore opposite him and farthest away. Swinging his canoe at a 45-degree angle he put all the strength of body and arms into the sweep of his paddle. There would be just time to reach the other shore before the current became dangerous. Above the sweep of the rapids he could now hear the growling roar of a waterfall below.
It was at this unfortunate moment that Miki decided to venture one more experiment with Neewa. With a friendly yip he swung out one of his paws. Now Miki's paw, for a pup, was monstrously big, and his foreleg was long and lanky, so that when the paw landed squarely on the end of Neewa's nose it was like the swing of a prize-fighter's glove. The unexpectedness of it was a further decisive feature in the situation; and, on top of this, Miki swung his other paw around like a club and caught Neewa a jolt in the eye. This was too much, even from a friend, and with a sudden snarl Neewa bounced out of his nest and clinched with the pup.
Now the fact was that Miki, who had so ingloriously begged for mercy in their first scrimmage, came of fighting stock himself. Mix the blood of a Mackenzie hound—which is the biggest-footed, biggest-shouldered, most powerful dog in the northland—with the blood of a Spitz and an Airedale and something is bound to come of it. While the Mackenzie dog, with his ox-like strength, is peaceable and good-humoured in all sorts of weather, there is a good deal of the devil in the northern Spitz and Airedale and it is a question which likes a fight the best. And all at once good-humoured little Miki felt the devil rising in him. This time he did not yap for mercy. He met Neewa's jaws, and in two seconds they were staging a first-class fight on the bit of precarious footing in the prow of the canoe.
Vainly Challoner yelled at them as he paddled desperately to beat out the danger of the rapids. Neewa and Miki were too absorbed to hear him. Miki's four paws were paddling the air again, but this time his sharp teeth were firmly fixed in the loose hide under Neewa's neck, and with his paws he continued to kick and bat in a way that promised effectively to pummel the wind out of Neewa had not the thing happened which Challoner feared. Still in a clinch they rolled off the prow of the canoe into the swirling current of the stream.
For ten seconds or so they utterly disappeared. Then they bobbed up, a good fifty feet below him, their heads close together as they sped swiftly toward the doom that awaited them, and a choking cry broke from Challoner's lips. He was powerless to save them, and in his cry was the anguish of real grief. For many weeks Miki had been his only chum and comrade.
Held together by the yard-long rope to which they were fastened, Miki and Neewa swept into the frothing turmoil of the rapids. For Miki it was the kindness of fate that had inspired his master to fasten him to the same rope with Neewa. Miki, at three months of age—weight, fourteen pounds—was about 80 per cent. bone and only a half of 1 per cent. fat; while Neewa, weight thirteen pounds, was about 90 per cent. fat. Therefore Miki had the floating capacity of a small anchor, while Neewa was a first-class life-preserver, and almost unsinkable.
In neither of the youngsters was there a yellow streak. Both were of fighting stock, and, though Miki was under water most of the time during their first hundred-yard dash through the rapids, never for an instant did he give up the struggle to keep his nose in the air. Sometimes he was on his back and sometimes on his belly; but no matter what his position, he kept his four overgrown paws going like paddles. To an extent this helped Neewa in the heroic fight he was making to keep from shipping too much water himself. Had he been alone his ten or eleven pounds of fat would have carried him down-stream like a toy balloon covered with fur, but, with the fourteen-pound drag around his neck, the problem of not going under completely was a serious one. Half a dozen times he did disappear for an instant when some undertow caught Miki and dragged him down—head, tail, legs, and all. But Neewa always rose again, his four fat legs working for dear life.
Then came the waterfall. By this time Miki had become accustomed to travelling under water, and the full horror of the new cataclysm into which they were plunged was mercifully lost to him. His paws had almost ceased their motion. He was still conscious of the roar in his ears, but the affair was less unpleasant than it was at the beginning. In fact, he was drowning. To Neewa the pleasant sensations of a painless death were denied. No cub in the world was wider awake than he when the final catastrophe came. His head was well above water and he was clearly possessed of all his senses. Then the river itself dropped out from under him and he shot down in an avalanche of water, feeling no longer the drag of Miki's weight at his neck.
How deep the pool was at the bottom of the waterfall Challoner might have guessed quite accurately. Could Neewa have expressed an opinion of his own, he would have sworn that it was a mile. Miki was past the stage of making estimates, or of caring whether it was two feet or two leagues. His paws had ceased to operate and he had given himself up entirely to his fate. But Neewa came up again, and Miki followed, like a bobber. He was about to gasp his last gasp when the force of the current, as it swung out of the whirlpool, flung Neewa upon a bit of partly submerged driftage, and in a wild and strenuous effort to make himself safe Neewa dragged Miki's head out of water so that the pup hung at the edge of the driftage like a hangman's victim at the end of his rope.
It is doubtful whether in the few moments that followed, any clear-cut mental argument passed through Neewa's head. It is too much to suppose that he deliberately set about assisting the half-dead and almost unconscious Miki from his precarious position. His sole ambition was to get himself where it was safe and dry, and to do this he of necessity had to drag the pup with him. So Neewa tugged at the end of his rope, digging his sharp little claws into the driftwood, and as he advanced Miki was dragged up head foremost out of the cold and friendless stream. It was a simple process. Neewa reached a log around which the water was eddying, and there he flattened himself down and hung on as he had never hung to anything else in his life. The log was entirely hidden from shore by a dense growth of brushwood. Otherwise, ten minutes later Challoner would have seen them.
As it was, Miki had not sufficiently recovered either to smell or hear his master when Challoner came to see if there was a possibility of his small comrade being alive. And Neewa only hugged the log more tightly. He had seen enough of the man-beast to last him for the remainder of his life. It was half an hour before Miki began to gasp, and cough, and gulp up water, and for the first time since their scrap in the canoe the cub began to take a live interest in him. In another ten minutes Miki raised his head and looked about him. At that Neewa gave a tug on the rope, as if to advise him that it was time to get busy if they were expected to reach shore. And Miki, drenched and forlorn, resembling more a starved bone than a thing of skin and flesh, actually made an effort to wag his tail when he saw Neewa.
He was still in a couple of inches of water, and with a hopeful eye on the log upon which Neewa was squatted he began to work his wobbly legs toward it. It was a high log, and a dry log, and when Miki reached it his unlucky star was with him again. Cumbrously he sprawled himself against it, and as he scrambled and scraped with his four awkward legs to get up alongside Neewa he gave to the log the slight push which it needed to set it free of the sunken driftage. Slowly at first the eddying current carried one end of the log away from its pier. Then the edge of the main current caught at it, viciously—and so suddenly that Miki almost lost his precarious footing, the log gave a twist, righted itself, and began, to scud down stream at a speed that would have made Challoner hug his breath had he been in their position with his faithful canoe.
In fact, Challoner was at this very moment portaging the rapids below the waterfall. To have set his canoe in them where Miki and Neewa were gloriously sailing he would have considered an inexcusable hazard, and as a matter of safety he was losing the better part of a couple of hours by packing his outfit through the forest to a point half a mile below. That half mile was to the cub and the pup a show which was destined to live in their memories for as long as they were alive.
They were facing each other about amidships of the log, Neewa flattened tight, his sharp claws dug in like hooks, and his little brown eyes half starting from his head. It would have taken a crowbar to wrench him from the log. But with Miki it was an open question from the beginning whether he would weather the storm. He had no claws that he could dig into the wood, and it was impossible for him to use his clumsy legs as Neewa used his—like two pairs of human arms. All he could do was to balance himself, slipping this way or that as the log rolled or swerved in its course, sometimes lying across it and sometimes lengthwise, and every moment with the jaws of uncertainty open wide for him. Neewa's eyes never left him for an instant. Had they been gimlets they would have bored holes. From the acuteness of this life-and-death stare one would have given Neewa credit for understanding that his own personal safety depended not so much upon his claws and his hug as upon Miki's seamanship. If Miki went overboard there would be left but one thing for him to do—and that would be to follow.
The log, being larger and heavier at one end than at the other, swept on without turning broadside, and with the swiftness and appearance of a huge torpedo. While Neewa's back was turned toward the horror of frothing water and roaring rock behind him, Miki, who was facing it, lost none of its spectacular beauty. Now and then the log shot into one of the white masses of foam and for an instant or two would utterly disappear; and at these intervals Miki would hold his breath and close his eyes while Neewa dug his toes in still deeper. Once the log grazed a rock. Six inches more and they would have been without a ship. Their trip was not half over before both cub and pup looked like two round balls of lather out of which their eyes peered wildly.
Swiftly the roar of the cataract was left behind; the huge rocks around which the current boiled and twisted with a ferocious snarling became fewer; there came open spaces in which the log floated smoothly and without convulsions, and then, at last, the quiet and placid flow of calm water. Not until then did the two balls of suds make a move. For the first time Neewa saw the whole of the thing they had passed through, and Miki, looking down stream, saw the quiet shores again, the deep forest, and the stream aglow with the warm sun. He drew in a breath that filled his whole body and let it out again with a sigh of relief so deep and sincere that it blew out a scatter of foam from the ends of his nose and whiskers. For the first time he became conscious of his own discomfort. One of his hind legs was twisted under him, and a foreleg was under his chest. The smoothness of the water and the nearness of the shores gave him confidence, and he proceeded to straighten himself. Unlike Neewa he was an experienced VOYAGEUR. For more than a month he had travelled steadily with Challoner in his canoe, and of ordinarily decent water he was unafraid. So he perked up a little, and offered Neewa a congratulatory yip that was half a whine.
But Neewa's education had travelled along another line, and while his experience in a canoe had been confined to that day he did know what a log was. He knew from more than one adventure of his own that a log in the water is the next thing to a live thing, and that its capacity for playing evil jokes was beyond any computation that he had ever been able to make. That was where Miki's store of knowledge was fatally defective. Inasmuch as the log had carried them safely through the worst stretch of water he had ever seen he regarded it in the light of a first-class canoe—with the exception that it was unpleasantly rounded on top. But this little defect did not worry him. To Neewa's horror he sat up boldly, and looked about him.
Instinctively the cub hugged the log still closer, while Miki was seized with an overwhelming desire to shake from himself the mass of suds in which, with the exception of the end of his tail and his eyes, he was completely swathed. He had often shaken himself in the canoe; why not here? Without either asking or answering the question he did it.
Like the trap of a gibbet suddenly sprung by the hangman, the log instantly responded by turning half over. Without so much as a wail Miki was off like a shot, hit the water with a deep and solemn CHUG, and once more disappeared as completely as if he had been made of lead.
Finding himself completely submerged for the first time, Neewa hung on gloriously, and when the log righted itself again he was tenaciously hugging his old place, all the froth washed from him. He looked for Miki—but Miki was gone. And then he felt once more that choking drag on his neck! Of necessity, because his head was pulled in the direction of the rope, he saw where the rope disappeared in the water. But there was no Miki. The pup was down too far for Neewa to see. With the drag growing heavier and heavier—for here there was not much current to help Miki along—Neewa hung on like grim death. If he had let go, and had joined Miki in the water, the good fortune which was turning their way would have been missed. For Miki, struggling well under water, was serving both as an anchor and a rudder; slowly the log shifted its course, was caught in a beach-eddy, and drifted in close to a muddy bank.
With one wild leap Neewa was ashore. Feeling the earth under his feet he started to run, and the result was that Miki came up slowly through the mire and spread himself out like an overgrown crustacean while he got the wind back into his lungs. Neewa, sensing the fact that for a few moments his comrade was physically unfit for travel, shook himself, and waited. Miki picked up quickly. Within five minutes he was on his feet shaking himself so furiously that Neewa became the centre of a shower of mud and water.
Had they remained where they were, Challoner would have found them an hour or so later, for he paddled that way, close inshore, looking for their bodies. It may be that the countless generations of instinct back of Neewa warned him of that possibility, for within a quarter of an hour after they had landed he was leading the way into the forest, and Miki was following. It was a new adventure for the pup.
But Neewa began to recover his good cheer. For him the forest was home even if his mother was missing. After his maddening experiences with Miki and the man-beast the velvety touch of the soft pine-needles under his feet and the familiar smells of the silent places filled him with a growing joy. He was back in his old trails. He sniffed the air and pricked up his ears, thrilled by the enlivening sensations of knowing that he was once more the small master of his own destiny. It was a new forest, but Neewa was undisturbed by this fact. All forests were alike to him, inasmuch as several hundred thousand square miles were included in his domain and it was impossible for him to landmark them all.
With Miki it was different. He not only began to miss Challoner and the river, but became more and more disturbed the farther Neewa led him into the dark and mysterious depths of the timber. At last he decided to set up a vigorous protest, and in line with this decision he braced himself so suddenly that Neewa, coming to the end of the rope, flopped over on his back with an astonished grunt. Seizing his advantage Miki turned, and tugging with the horse-like energy of his Mackenzie father he started back toward the river, dragging Neewa after him for a space of ten or fifteen feet before the cub succeeded in regaining his feet.
Then the battle began. With their bottoms braced and their forefeet digging into the soft earth, they pulled on the rope in opposite directions until their necks stretched and their eyes began to pop. Neewa's pull was steady and unexcited, while Miki, dog-like, yanked and convulsed himself in sudden backward jerks that made Neewa give way an inch at a time. It was, after all, only a question as to which possessed the most enduring neck. Under Neewa's fat there was as yet little real physical strength. Miki had him handicapped there. Under the pup's loose hide and his overgrown bones there was a lot of pull, and after bracing himself heroically for another dozen feet Neewa gave up the contest and followed in the direction chosen by Miki.
While the instincts of Neewa's breed would have taken him back to the river as straight as a die, Miki's intentions were better than was his sense of orientation. Neewa followed in a sweeter temper when he found that his companion was making an unreasonable circle which was taking them a little more slowly, but just as surely, away from the danger-ridden stream. At the end of another quarter of an hour Miki was utterly lost; he sat down on his rump, looked at Neewa, and confessed as much—with a low whine. Neewa did not move. His sharp little eyes were fixed suddenly on an object that hung to a low bush half a dozen paces from them. Before the man-beast's appearance the cub had spent three quarters of his time in eating, but since yesterday morning he had not swallowed so much as a bug. He was completely empty, and the object he saw hanging to the bush set every salivary gland in his mouth working. It was a wasp's nest. Many times in his young life he had seen Noozak, his mother, go up to nests like that, tear them down, crush them under her big paw, and then invite him to the feast of dead wasps within. For at least a month wasps had been included in his daily fare, and they were as good as anything he knew of. He approached the nest; Miki followed. When they were within three feet of it Miki began to take notice of a very distinct and peculiarly disquieting buzzing sound. Neewa was not at all alarmed; judging the distance of the nest from the ground, he rose on his hind feet, raised his arms, and gave it a fatal tug.
Instantly the drone which Miki had heard changed into the angry buzzing of a saw. Quick as a flash Neewa's mother would have had the nest under her paws and the life crushed out of it, while Neewa's tug had only served partly to dislodge the home of Ahmoo and his dangerous tribe. And it happened that Ahmoo was at home with three quarters of his warriors. Before Neewa could give the nest a second tug they were piling out of it in a cloud and suddenly a wild yell of agony rose out of Miki. Ahmoo himself had landed on the end of the dog's nose. Neewa made no sound, but stood for a moment swiping at his face with both paws, while Miki, still yelling, ran the end of his crucified nose into the ground. In another moment every fighter in Ahmoo's army was busy. Suddenly setting up a bawling on his own account Neewa turned tail to the nest and ran. Miki was not a hair behind him. In every square inch of his tender hide he felt the red-hot thrust of a needle. It was Neewa that made the most noise. His voice was one continuous bawl, and to this bass Miki's soprano wailing added the touch which would have convinced any passing Indian that the loup-garou devils were having a dance.
Now that their foes were in disorderly flight the wasps, who are rather a chivalrous enemy, would have returned to their upset fortress had not Miki, in his mad flight, chosen one side of a small sapling and Neewa the other—a misadventure that stopped them with a force almost sufficient to break their necks. Thereupon a few dozen of Ahmoo's rear guard started in afresh. With his fighting blood at last aroused, Neewa swung out and caught Miki where there was almost no hair on his rump. Already half blinded, and so wrought up with pain and terror that he had lost all sense of judgment or understanding, Miki believed that the sharp dig of Neewa's razor-like claws was a deeper thrust than usual of the buzzing horrors that overwhelmed him, and with a final shriek he proceeded to throw a fit.
It was the fit that saved them. In his maniacal contortions he swung around to Neewa's side of the sapling, when, with their halter once more free from impediment, Neewa bolted for safety. Miki followed, yelping at every jump. No longer did Neewa feel a horror of the river. The instinct of his kind told him that he wanted water, and wanted it badly. As straight as Challoner might have set his course by a compass he headed for the stream, but he had proceeded only a few hundred feet when they came upon a tiny creek across which either of them could have jumped. Neewa jumped into the water, which was four or five inches deep, and for the first time in his life Miki voluntarily took a plunge. For a long time they lay in the cooling rill.
The light of day was dim and hazy before Miki's eyes, and he was beginning to swell from the tip of his nose to the end of his bony tail. Neewa, being so much fat, suffered less. He could still see, and, as the painful hours passed, a number of things were adjusting themselves in his brain. All this had begun with the man-beast. It was the man-beast who had taken his mother from him. It was the man-beast who had chucked him into the dark sack, and it was the man-beast who had FASTENED THE ROPE AROUND HIS NECK. Slowly the fact was beginning to impinge itself upon him that the rope was to blame for everything.
After a long time they dragged themselves out of the rivulet and found a soft, dry hollow at the foot of a big tree. Even to Neewa, who had the use of his eyes, it was growing dark in the deep forest. The sun was far in the west. And the air was growing chilly. Flat on his belly, with his swollen head between his fore paws, Miki whined plaintively.
Again and again Neewa's eyes went to the rope as the big thought developed itself in his head. He whined. It was partly a yearning for his mother, partly a response to Miki. He drew closer to the pup, filled with the irresistible desire for comradeship. After all, it was not Miki who was to blame. It was the man-beast—and THE ROPE!
The gloom of evening settled more darkly about them, and snuggling himself still closer to the pup Neewa drew the rope between his fore paws. With a little snarl he set his teeth in it. And then, steadily, he began to chew. Now and then he growled, and in the growl there was a peculiarly communicative note, as if he wished to say to Miki:
"Don't you see?—I'm chewing this thing in two. I'll have it done by morning. Cheer up! There's surely a better day coming."
The morning after their painful experience with the wasp's nest, Neewa and Miki rose on four pairs of stiff and swollen legs to greet a new day in the deep and mysterious forest into which the accident of the previous day had thrown them. The spirit of irrepressible youth was upon them, and, though Miki was so swollen from the stings of the wasps that his lank body and overgrown legs were more grotesque than ever, he was in no way daunted from the quest of further adventure.
The pup's face was as round as a moon, and his head was puffed up until Neewa might reasonably have had a suspicion that it was on the point of exploding. But Miki's eyes—as much as could be seen of them—were as bright as ever, and his one good ear and his one half ear stood up hopefully as he waited for the cub to give some sign of what they were going to do. The poison in his system no longer gave him discomfort. He felt several sizes too large—but, otherwise, quite well.
Neewa, because of his fat, exhibited fewer effects of his battle with the wasps. His one outstanding defect was an entirely closed eye. With the other, wide open and alert, he looked about him. In spite of his one bad eye and his stiff legs he was inspired with the optimism of one who at last sees fortune turning his way. He was rid of the man-beast, who had killed his mother; the forests were before him again, open and inviting, and the rope with which Challoner had tied him and Miki together he had successfully gnawed in two during the night. Having dispossessed himself of at least two evils it would not have surprised him much if he had seen Noozak, his mother, coming up from out of the shadows of the trees. Thought of her made him whine. And Miki, facing the vast loneliness of his new world, and thinking of his master, whined in reply.
Both were hungry. The amazing swiftness with which their misfortunes had descended upon them had given them no time in which to eat. To Miki the change was more than astonishing; it was overwhelming, and he held his breath in anticipation of some new evil while Neewa scanned the forest about them.
As if assured by this survey that everything was right, Neewa turned his back to the sun, which had been his mother's custom, and set out.
Miki followed. Not until then did he discover that every joint in his body had apparently disappeared. His neck was stiff, his legs were like stilts, and five times in as many minutes he stubbed his clumsy toes and fell down in his efforts to keep up with the cub. On top of this his eyes were so nearly closed that his vision was bad, and the fifth time he stumbled he lost sight of Neewa entirely, and sent out a protesting wail. Neewa stopped and began prodding with his nose under a rotten log. When Miki came up Neewa was flat on his belly, licking up a colony of big red vinegar ants as fast as he could catch them. Miki studied the proceeding for some moments. It soon dawned upon him that Neewa was eating something, but for the life of him he couldn't make out what it was. Hungrily he nosed close to Neewa's foraging snout. He licked with his tongue where Neewa licked, and he got only dirt. And all the time Neewa was giving his jolly little grunts of satisfaction. It was ten minutes before he hunted out the last ant and went on.
A little later they came to a small open space where the ground was wet, and after sniffing about a bit, and focussing his one good eye here and there, Neewa suddenly began digging. Very shortly he drew out of the ground a white object about the size of a man's thumb and began to crunch it ravenously between his jaws. Miki succeeded in capturing a fair sized bit of it. Disappointment followed fast. The thing was like wood; after rolling it in his mouth a few times he dropped it in disgust, and Neewa finished the remnant of the root with a thankful grunt.
They proceeded. For two heartbreaking hours Miki followed at Neewa's heels, the void in his stomach increasing as the swelling in his body diminished. His hunger was becoming a torture. Yet not a bit to eat could he find, while Neewa at every few steps apparently discovered something to devour. At the end of the two hours the cub's bill of fare had grown to considerable proportions. It included, among other things, half a dozen green and black beetles; numberless bugs, both hard and soft; whole colonies of red and black ants; several white grubs dug out of the heart of decaying logs; a handful of snails; a young frog; the egg of a ground-plover that had failed to hatch; and, in the vegetable line, the roots of two camas and one skunk cabbage. Now and then he pulled down tender poplar shoots and nipped the ends off. Likewise he nibbled spruce and balsam gum whenever he found it, and occasionally added to his breakfast a bit of tender grass.
A number of these things Miki tried. He would have eaten the frog, but Neewa was ahead of him there. The spruce and balsam gum clogged up his teeth and almost made him vomit because of its bitterness. Between a snail and a stone he could find little difference, and as the one bug he tried happened to be that asafoetida-like creature known as a stink-bug he made no further efforts in that direction. He also bit off a tender tip from a ground-shoot, but instead of a young poplar it was Fox-bite, and shrivelled up his tongue for a quarter of an hour. At last he arrived at the conclusion that, up to date, the one thing in Neewa's menu that he COULD eat was grass.
In the face of his own starvation his companion grew happier as he added to the strange collection in his stomach. In fact, Neewa considered himself in clover and was grunting his satisfaction continually, especially as his bad eye was beginning to open and he could see things better. Half a dozen times when he found fresh ant nests he invited Miki to the feast with excited little squeals. Until noon Miki followed like a faithful satellite at his heels. The end came when Neewa deliberately dug into a nest inhabited by four huge bumble-bees, smashed them all, and ate them.
From that moment something impressed upon Miki that he must do his own hunting. With the thought came a new thrill. His eyes were fairly open now, and much of the stiffness had gone from his legs. The blood of his Mackenzie father and of his half Spitz and half Airedale mother rose up in him in swift and immediate demand, and he began to quest about for himself. He found a warm scent, and poked about until a partridge went up with a tremendous thunder of wings. It startled him, but added to the thrill. A few minutes later, nosing under a pile of brush, he came face to face with his dinner.
It was Wahboo, the baby rabbit. Instantly Miki was at him, and had a firm hold at the back of Wahboo's back. Neewa, hearing the smashing of the brush and the squealing of the rabbit, stopped catching ants and hustled toward the scene of action. The squealing ceased quickly and Miki backed himself out and faced Neewa with Wahboo held triumphantly in his jaws. The young rabbit had already given his last kick, and with a fierce show of growling Miki began tearing the fur off. Neewa edged in, grunting affably. Miki snarled more fiercely. Neewa, undaunted, continued to express his overwhelming regard for Miki in low and supplicating grunts—and smelled the rabbit. The snarl in Miki's throat died away. He may have remembered that Neewa had invited him more than once to partake of his ants and bugs. Together they ate the rabbit. Not until the last bit of flesh and the last tender bone were gone did the feast end, and then Neewa sat back on his round bottom and stuck out his little red tongue for the first time since he had lost his mother. It was the cub sign of a full stomach and a blissful mind. He could see nothing to be more desired at the present time than a nap, and stretching himself languidly he began looking about for a tree.
Miki, on the other hand, was inspired to new action by the pleasurable sensation of being comfortably filled. Inasmuch as Neewa chewed his food very carefully, while Miki, paying small attention to mastication, swallowed it in chunks, the pup had succeeded in getting away with about four fifths of the rabbit. So he was no longer hungry. But he was more keenly alive to his changed environment than at any time since he and Neewa had fallen out of Challoner's canoe into the rapids. For the first time he had killed, and for the first time he had tasted warm blood, and the combination added to his existence an excitement that was greater than any desire he might have possessed to lie down in a sunny spot and sleep. Now that he had learned the game, the hunting instinct trembled in every fibre of his small being. He would have gone on hunting until his legs gave way under him if Neewa had not found a napping-place.
Astonished half out of his wits he watched Neewa as he leisurely climbed the trunk of a big poplar. He had seen squirrels climb trees—just as he had seen birds fly—but Neewa's performance held him breathless; and not until the cub had stretched himself out comfortably in a crotch did Miki express himself. Then he gave an incredulous yelp, sniffed at the butt of the tree, and made a half-hearted experiment at the thing himself. One flop on his back convinced him that Neewa was the tree-climber of the partnership. Chagrined, he wandered back fifteen or twenty feet and sat down to study the situation. He could not perceive that Neewa had any special business up the tree. Certainly he was not hunting for bugs. He yelped half a dozen times, but Neewa made no answer. At last he gave it up and flopped himself down with a disconsolate whine.
But it was not to sleep. He was ready and anxious to go on. He wanted to explore still further the mysterious and fascinating depths of the forest. He no longer felt the strange fear that had been upon him before he killed the rabbit. In two minutes under the brush-heap Nature had performed one of her miracles of education. In those two minutes Miki had risen out of whimpering puppyhood to new power and understanding. He had passed that elemental stage which his companionship with Challoner had prolonged. He had KILLED, and the hot thrill of it set fire to every instinct that was in him. In the half hour during which he lay flat on his belly, his head alert and listening, while Neewa slept, he passed half way from puppyhood to dogdom. He would never know that Hela, his Mackenzie hound father, was the mightiest hunter in all the reaches of the Little Fox country, and that alone he had torn down a bull caribou. But he FELT it. There was something insistent and demanding in the call. And because he was answering that call, and listening eagerly to the whispering voices of the forest, his quick ears caught the low, chuckling monotone of Kawook, the porcupine.
Miki lay very still. A moment later he heard the soft clicking of quills, and then Kawook came out in the open and stood up on his hind feet in a patch of sunlight.
For thirteen years Kawook had lived undisturbed in this particular part of the wilderness, and in his old age he weighed thirty pounds if he weighed an ounce. On this afternoon, coming for his late dinner, he was feeling even more than usually happy. His eyesight at best was dim. Nature had never intended him to see very far, and had therefore quilted him heavily with the barbed shafts of his protecting armour. Thirty feet away he was entirely oblivious of Miki, at least apparently so; and Miki hugged the ground closer, warned by the swiftly developing instinct within him that here was a creature it would be unwise to attack.
For perhaps a minute Kawook stood up, chuckling his tribal song without any visible movement of his body. He stood profile to Miki, like a fat alderman. He was so fat that his stomach bulged out in front like the half of a balloon, and over this stomach his hands were folded in a peculiarly human way, so that he looked more like an old she-porcupine than a master in his tribe.
It was not until then that Miki observed Iskwasis, the young female porcupine, who had poked herself slyly out from under a bush near Kawook. In spite of his years the red thrill of romance was not yet gone from the old fellow's bones, and he immediately started to give an exhibition of his good breeding and elegance. He began with his ludicrous love-making dance, hopping from one foot to the other until his fat stomach shook, and chuckling louder than ever. The charms of Iskwasis were indeed sufficient to turn the head of an older beau than Kawook. She was a distinctive blonde; in other words, one of those unusual creatures of her kind, an albino. Her nose was pink, the palms of her little feet were pink, and each of her pretty pink eyes was set in an iris of sky-blue. It was evident that she did not regard old Kawook's passion-dance with favour and sensing this fact Kawook changed his tactics and falling on all four feet began to chase his spiky tail as if he had suddenly gone mad. When he stopped, and looked to see what effect he had made he was clearly knocked out by the fact that Iskwasis had disappeared.
For another minute he sat stupidly, without making a sound. Then to Miki's consternation he started straight for the tree in which Neewa was sleeping. As a matter of fact, it was Kawook's dinner-tree, and he began climbing it, talking to himself all the time. Miki's hair began to stand on end. He did not know that Kawook, like all his kind, was the best-natured fellow in the world, and had never harmed anything in his life unless assaulted first. Lacking this knowledge he set up a sudden frenzy of barking to warn Neewa.
Neewa roused himself slowly, and when he opened his eyes he was looking into a spiky face that sent him into a convulsion of alarm. With a suddenness that came within an ace of toppling him from his crotch he swung over and scurried higher up the tree. Kawook was not at all excited. Now that Iskwasis was gone he was entirely absorbed in the anticipation of his dinner. He continued to clamber slowly upward, and at this the horrified Neewa backed himself out on a limb in order that Kawook might have an unobstructed trail up the tree.
Unfortunately for Neewa it was on this limb that Kawook had eaten his last meal, and he began working himself out on it, still apparently oblivious of the fact that the cub was on the same branch. At this Miki sent up such a series of shrieking yelps from below that Kawook seemed at last to realize that something unusual was going on. He peered down at Miki who was making vain efforts to jump up the trunk of the tree; then he turned and, for the first time, contemplated Neewa with some sign of interest. Neewa was hugging the limb with both forearms and both hind legs. To retreat another foot on the branch that was already bending dangerously under his weight seemed impossible.
It was at this point that Kawook began to scold fiercely. With a final frantic yelp Miki sat back on his haunches and watched the thrilling drama above him. A little at a time Kawook advanced, and inch by inch Neewa retreated, until at last he rolled clean over and was hanging with his back toward the ground. It was then that Kawook ceased his scolding and calmly began eating his dinner. For two or three minutes Neewa kept his hold. Twice he made efforts to pull himself up so that he could get the branch under him. Then his hind feet slipped. For a dozen seconds he hung with his two front paws—then shot down through fifteen feet of space to the ground. Close to Miki he landed with a thud that knocked the wind out of him. He rose with a grunt, took one dazed look up the tree, and without further explanation to Miki began to leg it deeper into the forest—straight into the face of the great adventure which was to be the final test for these two.