Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Dianne Bean, Prescott Valley, Arizona.
BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY AND OTHER STORIES
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
Back to God's Country
The Fiddling Man
The Case of Beauvais
The Other Man's Wife
The Strength of Men
The Honor of Her People
His First Penitent
BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY
When Shan Tung, the long-cued Chinaman from Vancouver, started up the
Frazer River in the old days when the Telegraph Trail and the headwaters
of the Peace were the Meccas of half the gold-hunting population of
British Columbia, he did not foresee tragedy ahead of him. He was a
clever man, was Shan Tung, a cha-sukeed, a very devil in the collecting
of gold, and far-seeing. But he could not look forty years into the
future, and when Shan Tung set off into the north, that winter, he was in
reality touching fire to the end of a fuse that was to burn through four
decades before the explosion came.
With Shan Tung went Tao, a Great Dane. The Chinaman had picked him up
somewhere on the coast and had trained him as one trains a horse. Tao was
the biggest dog ever seen about the Height of Land, the most powerful,
and at times the most terrible. Of two things Shan Tung was enormously
proud in his silent and mysterious oriental way--of Tao, the dog, and of
his long, shining cue which fell to the crook of his knees when he let it
down. It had been the longest cue in Vancouver, and therefore it was the
longest cue in British Columbia. The cue and the dog formed the
combination which set the forty-year fuse of romance and tragedy burning.
Shan Tung started for the El Dorados early in the winter, and Tao alone
pulled his sledge and outfit. It was no more than an ordinary task for
the monstrous Great Dane, and Shan Tung subserviently but with hidden
triumph passed outfit after outfit exhausted by the way. He had reached
Copper Creek Camp, which was boiling and frothing with the excitement of
gold-maddened men, and was congratulating himself that he would soon be
at the camps west of the Peace, when the thing happened. A drunken
Irishman, filled with a grim and unfortunate sense of humor, spotted Shan
Tung's wonderful cue and coveted it. Wherefore there followed a bit of
excitement in which Shan Tung passed into his empyrean home with a bullet
through his heart, and the drunken Irishman was strung up for his misdeed
fifteen minutes later. Tao, the Great Dane, was taken by the leader of
the men who pulled on the rope. Tao's new master was a "drifter," and as
he drifted, his face was always set to the north, until at last a new
humor struck him and he turned eastward to the Mackenzie. As the seasons
passed, Tao found mates along the way and left a string of his progeny
behind him, and he had new masters, one after another, until he was grown
old and his muzzle was turning gray. And never did one of these masters
turn south with him. Always it was north, north with the white man first,
north with the Cree, and then wit h the Chippewayan, until in the end the
dog born in a Vancouver kennel died in an Eskimo igloo on the Great Bear.
But the breed of the Great Dane lived on. Here and there, as the years
passed, one would find among the Eskimo trace-dogs, a grizzled-haired,
powerful-jawed giant that was alien to the arctic stock, and in these
occasional aliens ran the blood of Tao, the Dane.
Forty years, more or less, after Shan Tung lost his life and his cue at
Copper Creek Camp, there was born on a firth of Coronation Gulf a dog who
was named Wapi, which means "the Walrus." Wapi, at full growth, was a
throwback of more than forty dog generations. He was nearly as large as
his forefather, Tao. His fangs were an inch in length, his great jaws
could crack the thigh-bone of a caribou, and from the beginning the hands
of men and the fangs of beasts were against him. Almost from the day of
his birth until this winter of his fourth year, life for Wapi had been an
unceasing fight for existence. He was maya-tisew--bad with the badness of
a devil. His reputation had gone from master to master and from igloo to
igloo; women and children were afraid of him, and men always spoke to him
with the club or the lash in their hands. He was hated and feared, and
yet because he could run down a barren-land caribou and kill it within a
mile, and would hold a big white bear at bay until the hunters came, he
was not sacrificed to this hate and fear. A hundred whips and clubs and a
hundred pairs of hands were against him between Cape Perry and the crown
of Franklin Bay--and the fangs of twice as many dogs.
The dogs were responsible. Quick-tempered, clannish with the savage
brotherhood of the wolves, treacherous, jealous of leadership, and with
the older instincts of the dog dead within them, their merciless feud
with what they regarded as an interloper of another breed put the devil
heart in Wapi. In all the gray and desolate sweep of his world he had no
friend. The heritage of Tao, his forefather, had fallen upon him, and he
was an alien in a land of strangers. As the dogs and the men and women
and children hated him, so he hated them. He hated the sight and smell of
the round-faced, blear-eyed creatures who were his master, yet he obeyed
them, sullenly, watchfully, with his lips wrinkled warningly over fangs
which had twice torn out the life of white bears. Twenty times he had
killed other dogs. He had fought them singly, and in pairs, and in packs.
His giant body bore the scars of a hundred wounds. He had been clubbed
until a part of his body was deformed and he traveled with a limp. He
kept to himself even in the mating season. And all this because Wapi, the
Walrus, forty years removed from the Great Dane of Vancouver, was a white
Stirring restlessly within him, sometimes coming to him in dreams and
sometimes in a great and unfulfilled yearning, Wapi felt vaguely the
strange call of his forefathers. It was impossible for him to understand.
It was impossible for him to know what it meant. And yet he did know that
somewhere there was something for which he was seeking and which he never
found. The desire and the questing came to him most compellingly in the
long winter filled with its eternal starlight, when the maddening yap,
yap, yap of the little white foxes, the barking of the dogs, and the
Eskimo chatter oppressed him like the voices of haunting ghosts. In these
long months, filled with the horror of the arctic night, the spirit of
Tao whispered within him that somewhere there was light and sun, that
somewhere there was warmth and flowers, and running streams, and voices
he could understand, and things he could love. And then Wapi would whine,
and perhaps the whine would bring him the blow of a club, or the lash of
a whip, or an Eskimo threat, or the menace of an Eskimo dog's snarl. Of
the latter Wapi was unafraid. With a snap of his jaws, he could break the
back of any other dog on Franklin Bay.
Such was Wapi, the Walrus, when for two sacks of flour, some tobacco, and
a bale of cloth he became the property of Blake, the uta-wawe-yinew, the
trader in seals, whalebone--and women. On this day Wapi's soul took its
flight back through the space of forty years. For Blake was white, which
is to say that at one time or another he had been white. His skin and his
appearance did not betray how black he had turned inside and Wapi's brute
soul cried out to him, telling him how he had waited and watched for this
master he knew would come, how he would fight for him, how he wanted to
lie down and put his great head on the white man's feet in token of his
fealty. But Wapi's bloodshot eyes and battle-scarred face failed to
reveal what was in him, and Blake--following the instructions of those
who should know--ruled him from the beginning with a club that was more
brutal than the club of the Eskimo.
For three months Wapi had been the property of Blake, and it was now the
dead of a long and sunless arctic night. Blake's cabin, built of ship
timber and veneered with blocks of ice, was built in the face of a deep
pit that sheltered it from wind and storm. To this cabin came the
Nanatalmutes from the east, and the Kogmollocks from the west, bartering
their furs and whalebone and seal-oil for the things Blake gave in
exchange, and adding women to their wares whenever Blake announced a
demand. The demand had been excellent this winter. Over in Darnley Bay,
thirty miles across the headland, was the whaler Harpoon frozen up for
the winter with a crew of thirty men, and straight out from the face of
his igloo cabin, less than a mile away, was the Flying Moon with a crew
of twenty more. It was Blake's business to wait and watch like a hawk for
such opportunities as there, and tonight--his watch pointed to the hour
of twelve, midnight--he was sitting in the light of a sputtering seal-oil
lamp adding up figures which told him that his winter, only half gone,
had already been an enormously profitable one.
"If the Mounted Police over at Herschel only knew," he chuckled. "Uppy,
if they did, they'd have an outfit after us in twenty-four hours."
Oopi, his Eskimo right-hand man, had learned to understand English, and
he nodded, his moon-face split by a wide and enigmatic grin. In his way,
"Uppy" was as clever as Shan Tung had been in his.
And Blake added, "We've sold every fur and every pound of bone and oil,
and we've forty Upisk wives to our credit at fifty dollars apiece."
Uppy's grin became larger, and his throat was filled with an exultant
rattle. In the matter of the Upisk wives he knew that he stood ace-high.
"Never," said Blake, "has our wife-by-the-month business been so good. If
it wasn't for Captain Rydal and his love-affair, we'd take a vacation and
He turned, facing the Eskimo, and the yellow flame of the lamp lit up his
face. It was the face of a remarkable man. A black beard concealed much
of its cruelty and its cunning, a beard as carefully Van-dycked as though
Blake sat in a professional chair two thousand miles south, but the beard
could not hide the almost inhuman hardness of the eyes. There was a
glittering light in them as he looked at the Eskimo. "Did you see her
today, Uppy? Of course you did. My Gawd, if a woman could ever tempt me,
she could! And Rydal is going to have her. Unless I miss my guess,
there's going to be money in it for us--a lot of it. The funny part of it
is, Rydal's got to get rid of her husband. And how's he going to do it,
Uppy? Eh? Answer me that. How's he going to do it?"
In a hole he had dug for himself in the drifted snow under a huge scarp
of ice a hundred yards from the igloo cabin lay Wapi. His bed was red
with the stain of blood, and a trail of blood led from the cabin to the
place where he had hidden himself. Not many hours ago, when by God's sun
it should have been day, he had turned at last on a teasing, snarling,
back-biting little kiskanuk of a dog and had killed it. And Blake and
Uppy had beaten him until he was almost dead.
It was not of the beating that Wapi was thinking as he lay in his wallow.
He was thinking of the fur-clad figure that had come between Blake's club
and his body, of the moment when for the first time in his life he had
seen the face of a white woman. She had stopped Blake's club. He had
heard her voice. She had bent over him, and she would have put her hand
on him if his master had not dragged her back with a cry of warning. She
had gone into the cabin then, and he had dragged himself away.
Since then a new and thrilling flame had burned in him. For a time his
senses had been dazed by his punishment, but now every instinct in him
was like a living wire. Slowly he pulled himself from his retreat and sat
down on his haunches. His gray muzzle was pointed to the sky. The same
stars were there, burning in cold, white points of flame as they had
burned week after week in the maddening monotony of the long nights near
the pole. They were like a million pitiless eyes, never blinking, always
watching, things of life and fire, and yet dead. And at those eyes, the
little white foxes yapped so incessantly that the sound of it drove men
mad. They were yapping now. They were never still. And with their yapping
came the droning, hissing monotone of the aurora, like the song of a vast
piece of mechanism in the still farther north. Toward this Wapi turned
his bruised and beaten head. Out there, just beyond the ghostly pale of
vision, was the ship. Fifty times he had slunk out and around it,
cautiously as the foxes themselves. He had caught its smells and its
sounds; he had come near enough to hear the voices of men, and those
voices were like the voice of Blake, his master. Therefore, he had never
There was a change in him now. His big pads fell noiselessly as he slunk
back to the cabin and sniffed for a scent in the snow. He found it. It
was the trail of the white woman. His blood tingled again, as it had
tingled when her face bent over him and her hand reached out, and in his
soul there rose up the ghost of Tao to whip him on. He followed the
woman's footprints slowly, stopping now and then to listen, and each
moment the spirit in him grew more insistent, and he whined up at the
stars. At last he saw the ship, a wraithlike thing in its piled-up bed of
ice, and he stopped. This was his dead-line. He had never gone nearer.
But tonight--if any one period could be called night--he went on.
It was the hour of sleep, and there was no sound aboard. The foxes, never
tiring of their infuriating sport, were yapping at the ship. They barked
faster and louder when they caught the scent of Wapi, and as he
approached, they drifted farther away. The scent of the woman's trail led
up the wide bridge of ice, and Wapi followed this as he would have
followed a road, until he found himself all at once on the deck of the
Flying Moon. For a space he was startled. His long fangs bared themselves
at the shadows cast by the stars. Then he saw ahead of him a narrow
ribbon of yellow light. Toward this Wapi sniffed out, step by step, the
footprints of the woman. When he stopped again, his muzzle was at the
narrow crack through which came the glimmer of light.
It was the door of a deck-house veneered like an igloo with snow and ice
to protect it from cold and wind. It was, perhaps, half an inch ajar, and
through that aperture Wapi drank the warm, sweet perfume of the woman.
With it he caught also the smell of a man. But in him the woman scent
submerged all else. Overwhelmed by it, he stood trembling, not daring to
move, every inch of him thrilled by a vast and mysterious yearning. He
was no longer Wapi, the Walrus; Wapi, the Killer. Tao was there. And it
may be that the spirit of Shan Tung was there. For after forty years the
change had come, and Wapi, as he stood at the woman's door, was just
dog,--a white man's dog--again the dog of the Vancouver kennel--the dog
of a white man's world.
He thrust open the door with his nose. He slunk in, so silently that he
was not heard. The cabin was lighted. In a bed lay a white-faced,
hollow-cheeked man--awake. On a low stool at his side sat a woman. The
light of the lamp hanging from above warmed with gold fires the thick and
radiant mass of her hair. She was leaning over the sick man. One slim,
white hand was stroking his face gently, and she was speaking to him in a
voice so sweet and soft that it stirred like wonderful music in Wapi's
warped and beaten soul. And then, with a great sigh, he flopped down, an
abject slave, on the edge of her dress.
With a startled cry the woman turned. For a moment she stared at the
great beast wide-eyed, then there came slowly into her face recognition
and understanding. "Why, it's the dog Blake whipped so terribly," she
gasped. "Peter, it's--it's Wapi!" For the first time Wapi felt the caress
of a woman's hand, soft, gentle, pitying, and out of him there came a
wimpering sound that was almost a sob.
"It's the dog--he whipped," she repeated, and, then, if Wapi could have
understood, he would have noted the tense pallor of her lovely face and
the look of a great fear that was away back in the staring blue depths of
From his pillow Peter Keith had seen the look of fear and the paleness of
her cheeks, but he was a long way from guessing the truth. Yet he thought
he knew. For days--yes, for weeks--there had been that growing fear in
her eyes. He had seen her mighty fight to hide it from him. And he
thought he understood.
"I know it has been a terrible winter for you, dear," he had said to her
many times. "But you mustn't worry so much about me. I'll be on my feet
again--soon." He had always emphasized that. "I'll be on my feet again
Once, in the breaking terror of her heart, she had almost told him the
truth. Afterward she had thanked God for giving her the strength to keep
it back. It was day--for they spoke in terms of day and night--when
Rydal, half drunk, had dragged her into his cabin, and she had fought him
until her hair was down about her in tangled confusion--and she had told
Peter that it was the wind. After that, instead of evading him, she had
played Rydal with her wits, while praying to God for help. It was
impossible to tell Peter. He had aged steadily and terribly in the last
two weeks. His eyes were sunken into deep pits. His blond hair was
turning gray over the temples. His cheeks were hollowed, and there was a
different sort of luster in his eyes. He looked fifty instead of
thirty-five. Her heart bled in its agony. She loved Peter with a
The truth! If she told him that! She could see Peter rising up out of his
bed like a ghost. It would kill him. If he could have seen Rydal--only an
hour before--stopping her out on the deck, taking her in his arms, and
kissing her until his drunken breath and his beard sickened her! And if
he could have heard what Rydal had said! She shuddered. And suddenly she
dropped down on her knees beside Wapi and took his great head in her
arms, unafraid of him--and glad that he had come.
Then she turned to Peter. "I'm going ashore to see Blake again--now," she
said. "Wapi will go with me, and I won't be afraid. I insist that I am
right, so please don't object any more, Peter dear."
She bent over and kissed him, and then in spite of his protest, put on
her fur coat and hood, and stood for a moment smiling down at him. The
fear was gone out of her eyes now. It was impossible for him not to smile
at her loveliness. He had always been proud of that. He reached up a thin
hand and plucked tenderly at the shining little tendrils of gold that
crept out from under her hood.
"I wish you wouldn't, dear," he pleaded.
How pathetically white, and thin, and weak he was! She kissed him again
and turned quickly to hide the mist in her eyes. At the door she blew him
a kiss from the tip of her big fur mitten, and as she went out she heard
him say in the thin, strange voice that was so unlike the old Peter:
"Don't be long, Dolores."
She stood silently for a few moments to make sure that no one would see
her. Then she moved swiftly to the ice bridge and out into the
star-lighted ghostliness of the night. Wapi followed close behind her,
and dropping a hand to her side she called softly to him. In an instant
Wapi's muzzle was against her mitten, and his great body quivered with
joy at her direct speech to him. She saw the response in his red eyes and
stopped to stroke him with both mittened hands, and over and over again
she spoke his name. "Wapi--Wapi--Wapi." He whined. She could feel him
under her touch as if alive with an electrical force. Her eyes shone. In
the white starlight there was a new emotion in her face. She had found a
friend, the one friend she and Peter had, and it made her braver.
At no time had she actually been afraid--for herself. It was for Peter.
And she was not afraid now. Her cheeks flushed with exertion and her
breath came quickly as she neared Blake's cabin. Twice she had made
excuses to go ashore--just because she was curious, she had said--and she
believed that she had measured up Blake pretty well. It was a case in
which her woman's intuition had failed her miserably. She was amazed that
such a man had marooned himself voluntarily on the arctic coast. She did
not, of course, understand his business--entirely. She thought him simply
a trader. And he was unlike any man aboard ship. By his carefully clipped
beard, his calm, cold manner of speech, and the unusual correctness with
which he used his words she was convinced that at some time or another he
had been part of what she mentally thought of as "an entirely different
She was right. There was a time when London and New York would have given
much to lay their hands on the man who now called himself Blake.
Dolores, excited by the conviction that Blake would help her when he
heard her story, still did not lose her caution. Rydal had given her
another twenty-four hours, and that was all. In those twenty-four hours
she must fight out their salvation, her own and Peter's. If Blake should
Fifty paces from his cabin she stopped, slipped the big fur mitten from
her right hand and unbuttoned her coat so that she could quickly and
easily reach an inside pocket in which was Peter's revolver. She smiled
just a bit grimly, as her fingers touched the cold steel. It was to be
her last resort. And she was thinking in that flash of the days "back
home" when she was counted the best revolver shot at the Piping Rock. She
could beat Peter, and Peter was good. Her fingers twined a bit fondly
about the pearl-handled thing in her pocket. The last resort--and from
the first it had given her courage to keep the truth from Peter!
She knocked at the heavy door of the igloo cabin. Blake was still up, and
when he opened it, he stared at her in wide-eyed amazement. Wapi hung
outside when Dolores entered, and the door closed. "I know you think it
strange for me to come at this hour," she apologized, "but in this
terrible gloom I've lost all count of hours. They have no significance
for me any more. And I wanted to see you--alone."
She emphasized the word. And as she spoke, she loosened her coat and
threw back her hood, so that the glow of the lamp lit up the ruffled mass
of gold the hood had covered. She sat down without waiting for an
invitation, and Blake sat down opposite her with a narrow table between
them. Her face was flushed with cold and wind as she looked at him. Her
eyes were blue with the blue of a steady flame, and they met his own
squarely. She was not nervous. Nor was she afraid.
"Perhaps you can guess--why I have come?" she asked.
He was appraising her almost startling beauty with the lamp glow flooding
down on her. For a moment he hesitated; then he nodded, looking at her
steadily. "Yes, I think I know," he said quietly. "It's Captain Rydal. In
fact, I'm quite positive. It's an unusual situation, you know. Have I
She nodded, drawing in her breath quickly and leaning a little toward
him, wondering how much he knew and how he had come by it.
"A very unusual situation," he repeated. "There's nothing in the world
that makes beasts out of men--most men--more quickly than an arctic
night, Mrs. Keith. And they're all beasts out there--now--all except your
husband, and he is contented because he possesses the one white woman
aboard ship. It's putting it brutally plain, but it's the truth, isn't
it? For the time being they're beasts, every man of the twenty, and
you--pardon me!--are very beautiful. Rydal wants you, and the fact that
your husband is dying--"
"He is not dying," she interrupted him fiercely. "He shall not die! If he
"Do you love him?" There was no insult in Blake's quiet voice. He asked
the question as if much depended on the answer, as if he must assure
himself of that fact.
"Love him--my Peter? Yes!"
She leaned forward eagerly, gripping her hands in front of him on the
table. She spoke swiftly, as if she must convince him before he asked her
another question. Blake's eyes did not change. They had not changed for
an instant. They were hard, and cold, and searching, unwarmed by her
beauty, by the luster of her shining hair, by the touch of her breath as
it came to him over the table.
"I have gone everywhere with him--everywhere," she began. "Peter writes
books, you know, and we have gone into all sorts of places. We love
it--both of us--this adventuring. We have been all through the country
down there," she swept a hand to the south, "on dog sledges, in canoes,
with snowshoes, and pack-trains. Then we hit on the idea of coming north
on a whaler. You know, of course, Captain Rydal planned to return this
autumn. The crew was rough, but we expected that. We expected to put up
with a lot. But even before the ice shut us in, before this terrible
night came, Rydal insulted me. I didn't dare tell Peter. I thought I
could handle Rydal, that I could keep him in his place, and I knew that
if I told Peter, he would kill the beast. And then the ice--and this
night--" She choked.
Blake's eyes, gimleting to her soul, were shot with a sudden fire as he,
too, leaned a little over the table. But his voice was unemotional as
rock. It merely stated a fact. "That's why Captain Rydal allowed himself
to be frozen in," he said. "He had plenty of time to get into the open
channels, Mrs. Keith. But he wanted you. And to get you he knew he would
have to lay over. And if he laid over, he knew that he would get you, for
many things may happen in an arctic night. It shows the depth of the
man's feelings, doesn't it? He is sacrificing a great deal to possess
you, losing a great deal of time, and money, and all that. And when your
Her clenched little fist struck the table. "He won't die, I tell you! Why
do you say that?"
"Because--Rydal says he is going to die."
"Rydal--lies. Peter had a fall, and it hurt his spine so that his legs
are paralyzed. But I know what it is. If he could get away from that ship
and could have a doctor, he would be well again in two or three months."
"But Rydal says he is going to die."
There was no mistaking the significance of Blake's words this time. Her
eyes filled with sudden horror. Then they flashed with the blue fire
again. "So--he has told you? Well, he told me the same thing today. He
didn't intend to, of course. But he was half mad, and he had been
drinking. He has given me twenty-four hours."
"In which to--surrender?"
There was no need to reply.
For the first time Blake smiled. There was something in that smile that
made her flesh creep. "Twenty-four hours is a short time," he said, "and
in this matter, Mrs. Keith, I think that you will find Captain Rydal a
man of his word. No need to ask you why you don't appeal to the crew!
Useless! But you have hope that I can help you? Is that it?"
Her heart throbbed. "That is why I have come to you, Mr. Blake. You told
me today that Fort Confidence is only a hundred and fifty miles away and
that a Northwest Mounted Police garrison is there this winter--with a
doctor. Will you help me?"
"A hundred and fifty miles, in this country, at this time of the year, is
a long distance, Mrs. Keith," reflected Blake, looking into her eyes with
a steadiness that at any other time would have been embarrassing. "It
means the McFarlane, the Lacs Delesse, and the Arctic Barren. For a
hundred miles there isn't a stick of timber. If a storm came--no man or
dog could live. It is different from the coast. Here there is shelter
everywhere." He spoke slowly, and he was thinking swiftly. "It would take
five days at thirty miles a day. And the chances are that your husband
would not stand it. One hundred and twenty hours at fifty degrees below
zero, and no fire until the fourth day. He would die."
"It would be better--for if we stay--" she stopped, unclenching her hands
"What?" he asked.
"I shall kill Captain Rydal," she declared. "It is the only thing I can
do. Will you force me to do that, or will you help me? You have sledges
and many dogs, and we will pay. And I have judged you to be--a man."
He rose from the table, and for a moment his face was turned from her.
"You probably do not understand my position, Mrs. Keith," he said, pacing
slowly back and forth and chuckling inwardly at the shock he was about to
give her. "You see, my livelihood depends on such men as Captain Rydal. I
have already done a big business with him in bone, oil, pelts--and Eskimo
Without looking at her he heard the horrified intake of her breath. It
gave him a pleasing sort of thrill, and he turned, smiling, to look into
her dead-white face. Her eyes had changed. There was no longer hope or
entreaty in them. They were simply pools of blue flame. And she, too,
rose to her feet.
"Then--I can expect--no help--from you."
"I didn't say that, Mrs. Keith. It shocks you to know that I am
responsible. But up here, you must understand the code of ethics is a
great deal different from yours. We figure that what I have done for
Rydal and his crew keeps sane men from going mad during the long months
of darkness. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to help you--and Peter.
I think I shall. But you must give me a little time in which to consider
the matter--say an hour or so. I understand that whatever is to be done
must be done quickly. If I make up my mind to take you to Fort
Confidence, we shall start within two or three hours. I shall bring you
word aboard ship. So you might return and prepare yourself and Peter for
a probable emergency."
She went out dumbly into the night, Blake seeing her to the door and
closing it after her. He was courteous in his icy way but did not offer
to escort her back to the ship. She was glad. Her heart was choking her
with hope and fear. She had measured him differently this time. And she
was afraid. She had caught a glimpse that had taken her beyond the man,
to the monster. It made her shudder. And yet what did it matter, if Blake
She had forgotten Wapi. Now she found him again close at her side, and
she dropped a hand to his big head as she hurried back through the pallid
gloom. She spoke to him, crying out with sobbing breath what she had not
dared to reveal to Blake. For Wapi the long night had ceased to be a hell
of ghastly emptiness, and to her voice and the touch of her hand he
responded with a whine that was the whine of a white man's dog. They had
traveled two-thirds of the distance to the ship when he stopped in his
tracks and sniffed the wind that was coming from shore. A second time he
did this, and a third, and the third time Dolores turned with him and
faced the direction from which they had come. A low growl rose in Wapi's
throat, a snarl of menace with a note of warning in it.
"What is it, Wapi?" whispered Dolores. She heard his long fangs click,
and under her hand she felt his body grow tense. "What is it?" she
A thrill, a suspicion, shot into her heart as they went on. A fourth time
Wapi faced the shore and growled before they reached the ship. Like
shadows they went up over the ice bridge. Dolores did not enter the cabin
but drew Wapi behind it so they could not be seen. Ten minutes, fifteen,
and suddenly she caught her breath and fell down on her knees beside
Wapi, putting her arms about his gaunt shoulders. "Be quiet," she
whispered. "Be quiet."
Up out of the night came a dark and grotesque shadow. It paused below the
bridge, then it came on silently and passed almost without sound toward
the captain's quarters. It was Blake. Dolores' heart was choking her. Her
arms clutched Wapi, whispering for him to be quiet, to be quiet. Blake
disappeared, and she rose to her feet. She had come of fighting stock.
Peter was proud of that. "You slim wonderful little thing!" he had said
to her more than once. "You've a heart in that pretty body of yours like
the general's!" The general was her father, and a fighter. She thought of
Peter's words now, and the fighting blood leaped through her veins. It
was for Peter more than herself that she was going to fight now.
She made Wapi understand that he must remain where he was. Then she
followed after Blake, followed until her ears were close to the door
behind which she could already hear Blake and Rydal talking.
Ten minutes later she returned to Wapi. Under her hood her face was as
white as the whitest star in the sky. She stood for many minutes close to
the dog, gathering her courage, marshaling her strength, preparing
herself to face Peter. He must not suspect until the last moment. She
thanked God that Wapi had caught the taint of Blake in the air, and she
was conscious of offering a prayer that God might help her and Peter.
Peter gave a cry of pleasure when the door opened and Dolores entered. He
saw Wapi crowding in, and laughed. "Pals already! I guess I needn't have
been afraid for you. What a giant of a dog!"
The instant she appeared, Dolores forced upon herself an appearance of
joyous excitement. She flung off her coat and ran to Peter, hugging his
head against her as she told him swiftly what they were going to do. Fort
Confidence was only one hundred and fifty miles away, and a garrison of
police and a doctor were there. Five days on a sledge! That was all. And
she had persuaded Blake, the trader, to help them. They would start now,
as soon as she got him ready and Blake came. She must hurry. And she was
wildly and gloriously happy, she told him. In a little while they would
be at least on the outer edge of this horrible night, and he would be in
a doctor's hands.
She was holding Peter's head so that he could not see her face, and by
the time she jumped up and he did see it, there was nothing in it to
betray the truth or the fact that she was acting a lie. First she began
to dress Peter for the trail. Every instant gave her more courage. This
helpless, sunken-cheeked man with the hair graying over his temples was
Peter, her Peter, the Peter who had watched over her, and sheltered her,
and fought for her ever since she had known him, and now had come her
chance to fight for him. The thought filled her with a wonderful
exultation. It flushed her cheeks, and put a glory into her eyes, and
made her voice tremble. How wonderful it was to love a man as she loved
Peter! It was impossible for her to see the contrast they made--Peter
with his scrubby beard, his sunken cheeks, his emaciation, and she with
her radiant, golden beauty. She was ablaze with the desire to fight. And
how proud of her Peter would be when it was all over!
She finished dressing him and began putting things in their big dunnage
sack. Her lips tightened as she made this preparation. Finally she came
to a box of revolver cartridges and emptied them into one of the pockets
of her under-jacket. Wapi flattened out near the door, watched every
movement she made.
When the dunnage sack was filled, she returned to Peter. "Won't it be a
joke on Captain Rydal!" she exulted. "You see, we aren't gong to let him
know anything about it." She appeared not to observe Peter's surprise.
"You know how I hate him, Peter dear," she went on. "He is a beast. But
Mr. Blake has done a great deal of trading with him, and he doesn't want
Captain Rydal to know the part he is taking in getting us away. Not that
Rydal would miss us, you know! I don't think he cares very much whether
you live or die, Peter, and that's why I hate him. But we must humor Mr.
Blake. He doesn't want him to know."
"Odd," mused Peter. "It's sort of--sneaking away."
His eyes had in them a searching question which Dolores tried not to see
and which she was glad he did not put into words. If she could only fool
him another hour--just one more hour.
It was less than that--half an hour after she had finished the dunnage
sack--when they heard footsteps crunching outside and then a knock at the
door. Wapi answered with a snarl, and when Dolores opened the door and
Blake entered, his eyes fell first of all on the dog.
"Attached himself, eh?" he greeted, turning his quiet, unemotional smile
on Peter. "First white woman he has ever seen, and I guess the case is
hopeless. Mrs. Keith may have him."
He turned to her. "Are you ready?"
She nodded and pointed to the dunnage sack. Then she put on her fur coat
and hood and helped Peter sit up on the edge of the bed while Blake
opened the door again and made a low signal. Instantly Uppy and another
Eskimo came in. Blake led with the sack, and the two Eskimos carried
Peter. Dolores followed last, with the fingers of one little hand gripped
about the revolver in her pocket. Wapi hugged so close to her that she
could feel his body.
On the ice was a sledge without dogs. Peter was bundled on this, and the
Eskimos pulled him. Blake was still in the lead. Twenty minutes after
leaving the ship they pulled up beside his cabin.
There were two teams ready for the trail, one of six dogs, and another of
five, each watched over by an Eskimo. The visor of Dolores' hood kept
Blake from seeing how sharply she took in the situation. Under it her
eyes were ablaze. Her bare hand gripped her revolver, and if Peter could
have heard the beating of her heart, he would have gasped. But she was
cool, for all that. Swiftly and accurately she appraised Blake's
preparations. She observed that in the six-dog team, in spite of its
numerical superiority, the animals were more powerful than those in the
five-dog team. The Eskimos placed Peter on the six-dog sledge, and
Dolores helped to wrap him up warmly in the bearskins. Their dunnage sack
was tied on at Peter's feet. Not until then did she seem to notice the
five-dog sledge. She smiled at Blake. "We must be sure that in our
excitement we haven't forgotten something," she said, going over what was
on the sledge. "This is a tent, and here are plenty of warm
bearskins--and--and--" She looked up at Blake, who was watching her
silently. "If there is no timber for so long, Mr. Blake, shouldn't we
have a big bundle of kindling? And surely we should have meat for the
Blake stared at her and then turned sharply on Uppy with a rattle of
Eskimo. Uppy and one of the companions made their exit instantly and in
"The fools!" he apologized. "One has to watch them like children, Mrs.
Keith. Pardon me while I help them."
She waited until he followed Uppy into the cabin. Then, with the
remaining Eskimo staring at her in wonderment, she carried an extra
bearskin, the small tent, and a narwhal grub-sack to Peter's sledge. It
was another five minutes before Blake and the two Eskimos reappeared with
a bag of fish and a big bundle of ship-timber kindlings. Dolores stood
with a mittened hand on Peter's shoulder, and bending down, she
"Peter, if you love me, don't mind what I'm going to say now. Don't move,
for everything is going to be all right, and if you should try to get up
or roll off the sledge, it would be so much harder for me. I haven't even
told you why we're going to Port Confidence. Now you'll know!"
She straightened up to face Blake. She had chosen her position, and Blake
was standing clear and unshadowed in the starlight half a dozen paces
from her. She had thrust her hood back a little, inspired by her feminine
instinct to let him see her contempt for him.
The words hissed hot and furious from her lips, and in that same instant
Blake found himself staring straight into the unquivering muzzle of her
"You beast!" she repeated. "I ought to kill you. I ought to shoot you
down where you stand, for you are a cur and a coward. I know what you
have planned. I followed you when you went to Rydal's cabin a little
while ago, and I heard everything that passed between you. Listen, Peter,
and I'll tell you what these brutes were going to do with us. You were to
go with the six-dog team and I with the five, and out on the barrens we
were to become separated, you to go on and be killed when you we're a
proper distance away, and I to be brought back--to Rydal. Do you
understand, Peter dear? Isn't it splendid that we should have forced on
us like this such wonderful material for a story!"
She was gloriously unafraid now. A paean of triumph rang in her voice,
triumph, contempt, and utter fearlessness. Her mittened hand pressed on
Peter's shoulder, and before the weapon in her other hand Blake stood as
if turned into stone.
"You don't know," she said, speaking to him directly, "how near I am to
killing you. I think I shall shoot unless you have the meat and kindlings
put on Peter's sledge immediately and give Uppy instructions--in
English--to drive us to Fort Confidence. Peter and I will both go with
the six-dog sledge. Give the instructions quickly, Mr. Blake!"
Blake, recovering from the shock she had given him, flashed back at her
his cool and cynical smile. In spite of being caught in an unpleasant
lie, he admired this golden-haired, blue-eyed slip of a woman for the
colossal bluff she was playing. "Personally, I'm sorry," he said, "but I
couldn't help it. Rydal--"
"I am sure, unless you give the instructions quickly, that I shall
shoot," she interrupted him. Her voice was so quiet that Peter was
amazed. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Keith. But--"
A flash of fire blinded him, and with the flash Blake staggered back with
a cry of pain and stood swaying unsteadily in the starlight, clutching
with one hand at an arm which hung limp and useless at his side.
"That time, I broke your arm," said Dolores, with scarcely more
excitement than if she had made a bull's-eye on the Piping Rock range.
"If I fire again, I am quite positive that I shall kill you!"
The Eskimos had not moved. They were like three lifeless, staring
gargoyles. For another second or two Blake stood clutching at his arm.
Then he said,
"Uppy, put the dog meat and the kindlings on the big sledge--and drive
like hell for Fort Confidence!" And then, before she could stop him, he
followed up his words swiftly and furiously in Eskimo.
She almost shrieked the one word of warning, and with it a second shot
burned its way through the flesh of Blake's shoulder and he went down.
The revolver turned on Uppy, and instantly he was electrified into life.
Thirty seconds later, at the head of the team, he was leading the way out
into the chaotic gloom of the night. Hovering over Peter, riding with her
hand on the gee-bar of the sledge, Dolores looked back to see Blake
staggering to his feet. He shouted after them, and what he said was in
Uppy's tongue. And this time she could not stop him.
She had forgotten Wapi. But as the night swallowed them up, she still
looked back, and through the gloom she saw a shadow coming swiftly. In a
few moments Wapi was running at the tail of the sledge. Then she leaned
over Peter and encircled his shoulders with her furry arms.
"We're off!" she cried, a breaking note of gladness in her voice. "We're
off! And, Peter dear, wasn't it perfectly thrilling!"
A few minutes later she called upon Uppy to stop the team. Then she faced
him, close to Peter, with the revolver in her hand.
"Uppy," she demanded, speaking slowly and distinctly, "what was it Blake
said to you?"
For a moment Uppy made as if to feign stupidity. The revolver covered a
spot half-way between his narrow-slit eyes.
"I shall shoot--"
Uppy gave a choking gasp. "He said--no take trail For' Con'dence--go
wrong--he come soon get you."
"Yes, he said just that." She picked her words even more slowly. "Uppy,
listen to me. If you let them come up with us--unless you get us to Fort
Confidence--I will kill you. Do you understand?"
She poked her revolver a foot nearer, and Uppy nodded emphatically. She
smiled. It was almost funny to see Uppy's understanding liven up at the
point of the gun, and she felt a thrill that tingled to her finger-tips.
The little devils of adventure were wide-awake in her, and, smiling at
Uppy, she told him to hold up the end of his driving whip. He obeyed. The
revolver flashed, and a muffled yell came from him as he felt the shock
of the bullet as it struck fairly against the butt of his whip. In the
same instant there came a snarling deep-throated growl from Wapi. From
the sledge Peter gave a cry of warning. Uppy shrank back, and Dolores
cried out sharply and put herself swiftly between Wapi and the Eskimo.
The huge dog, ready to spring, slunk back to the end of the sledge at the
command of her voice. She patted his big head before she got on the
sledge behind Peter.
There was no indecision in the manner of Uppy'S going now. He struck out
swift and straight for the pale constellation of stars that hung over
Fort Confidence. It was splendid traveling. The surface of the arctic
plain was frozen solid. What little wind there was came from behind them,
and the dogs were big and fresh. Uppy ran briskly, snapping the lash of
his whip and la-looing to the dogs in the manner of the Eskimo driver.
Dolores did not wait for Peter's demand for a further explanation of
their running away and her remarkable words to Blake. She told him. She
omitted, for the sake of Peter's peace of mind, the physical insults she
had suffered at Captain Rydal's hands. She did not tell him that Rydal
had forced her into his arms a few hours before and kissed her. What she
did reveal made Peter's arms and shoulders grow tense and he groaned in
"If you'd only told me!" he protested. Dolores laughed triumphantly, with
her arm about his shoulder. "I knew my dear old Peter too well for that,"
she exulted. "If I had told you, what a pretty mess we'd be in now,
Peter! You would have insisted on calling Captain Rydal into our cabin
and shooting him from the bed--and then where would we have been? Don't
you think I'm handling it pretty well, Peter dear?"
Peter's reply was smothered against her hooded cheek.
He began to question her more directly now, and with his ability to grasp
at the significance of things he pointed out quickly the tremendous
hazard of their position. There were many more dogs and other sledges at
Blake's place, and it was utterly inconceivable that Blake and Captain
Rydal would permit them to reach Fort Confidence without making every
effort in their power to stop them. Once they succeeded in placing
certain facts in the hands of the Mounted Police, both Rydal and Blake
would be done for. He impressed this uncomfortable truth on Dolores and
suggested that if she could have smuggled a rifle along in the dunnage
sack it would have helped matters considerably. For Rydal and Blake would
not hesitate at shooting. For them it must be either capture or
kill--death for him, anyway, for he was the one factor not wanted in the
equation. He summed up their chances and their danger calmly and
pointedly, as he always looked at troubling things. And Dolores felt her
heart sinking within her. After all, she had not handled the situation
any too well. She almost wished she had killed Rydal herself and called
it self-defense. At least she had been criminally negligent in not
smuggling along a rifle.
"But we'll beat them out," she argued hopefully. "We've got a splendid
team, Peter, and I'll take off my coat and run behind the sledge as much
as I can. Uppy won't dare play a trick on us now, for he knows that if I
should miss him, Wapi would tear the life out of him at a word from me.
We'll win out, Peter dear. See if we don't!"
Peter hugged his thoughts to himself. He did not tell her that Blake and
Rydal would pursue with a ten- or twelve-dog team, and that there was
almost no chance at all of a straight get-away. Instead, he pulled her
head down and kissed her.
To Wapi there had come at last a response to the great yearning that was
in him. Instinct, summer and winter, had drawn him south, had turned him
always in that direction, filled with the uneasiness of the mysterious
something that was calling to him through the years of forty generations
of his kind. And now he was going south. He sensed the fact that this
journey would not end at the edge of the Arctic plain and that he was not
to hunt caribou or bear. His mental formulae necessitated no process of
reasoning. They were simple and to the point His world had suddenly
divided itself into two parts; one contained the woman, and the other his
old masters and slavery. And the woman stood against these masters. They
were her enemies as well as his own. Experience had taught him the power
and the significance of firearms, just as it had made him understand the
uses for which spears, and harpoons, and whips were made. He had seen the
woman shoot Blake, and he had seen her ready to shoot at Uppy. Therefore
he understood that they were enemies and that all associated with them
were enemies. At a word from her he was ready to spring ahead and tear
the life out of the Eskimo driver and even out of the dogs that were
pulling the sledge. It did not take him long to comprehend that the man
on the sledge was a part of the woman.
He hung well back, twenty or thirty paces behind the sledge, and unless
Peter or the woman called to him, or the sledge stopped for some reason,
he seldom came nearer.
It took only a word from Dolores to bring him to her side.
Hour after hour the journey continued. The plain was level as a floor,
and at intervals Dolores would run in the trail that the load might be
lightened and the dogs might make better time. It was then that Peter
watched Uppy with the revolver, and it was also in these
intervals--running close beside the woman--that the blood in Wapi's veins
was fired with a riotous joy.
For three hours there was almost no slackening in Uppy's speed. The
fourth and fifth were slower. In the sixth and seventh the pace began to
tell. And the plain was no longer hard and level, swept like a floor by
the polar winds. Rolling undulations grew into ridges of snow and ice; in
places the dogs dragged the sledge over thin crusts that broke under the
runners; fields of drift snow, fine as shot, lay in their way; and in the
eighth hour Uppy stopped the lagging dogs and held up his two hands in
the mute signal of the Eskimo that they could go no farther without a
Wapi dropped on his belly and watched. His eyes followed Uppy
suspiciously as he strung up the tent on its whalebone supports to keep
the bite of the wind from the sledge on which Dolores sat at Peter's
feet. Then Uppy built a fire of kindlings, and scraped up a pot of ice
for tea-water. After that, while the water was heating, he gave each of
the trace dogs a frozen fish. Dolores herself picked out one of the
largest and tossed it to Wapi. Then she sat down again and began to talk
to Peter, bundled up in his furs. After a time they ate, and drank hot
tea, and after he had devoured a chunk of raw meat the size of his two
fists, Uppy rolled himself in his sleeping bag near the dogs. A little at
a time Wapi dragged himself nearer until his head lay on Dolores' coat.
After that there was a long silence broken only by the low voices of the
woman and the man, and the heavy breathing of the tired dogs. Wapi
himself dozed off, but never for long. Then Dolores nodded, and her head
drooped until it found a pillow on Peter's shoulder. Gently Peter drew a
bearskin about her, and for a long time sat wide-awake, guarding Uppy and
baring his ears at intervals to listen. A dozen times he saw Wapi's
bloodshot eyes looking at him, and twice he put out a hand to the dog's
head and spoke to him in a whisper.
Even Peter's eyes were filmed by a growing drowsiness when Wapi drew
silently away and slunk suspiciously into the night. There was no yapping
foxes here, forty miles from the coast. An almost appalling silence hung
under the white stars, a silence broken only by the low and distant
moaning the wind always makes on the barrens. Wapi listened to it, and he
sniffed with his gray muzzle turned to the north. And then he whined. Had
Dolores or Peter seen him or heard the note in his throat, they, too,
would have stared back over the trail they had traveled. For something
was coming to Wapi. Faint, elusive, and indefinable breath in the air, he
smelled it in one moment, and the next it was gone. For many minutes he
stood undecided, and then he returned to the sledge, his spine bristling
and a growl in his throat.
Wide-eyed and staring, Peter was looking back. "What is it, Wapi?"
His voice aroused Dolores. She sat up with a start. The growl had grown
into a snarl in Wapi's throat.
"I think they are coming," said Peter calmly. "You'd better rouse Uppy.
He hasn't moved in the last two hours."
Something that was like a sob came from Dolores' lips as she stood up.
"They're not coming," she whispered. "They've stopped--and they're
building a fire!"
Not more than a third of a mile away a point of yellow flame flared up in
"Give me the revolver, Peter."
Peter gave it to her without a word. She went to Uppy, and at the touch
of her foot he was out of his sleeping-bag, his moon-face staring at her.
She pointed back to the fire. Her face was dead white. The revolver was
pointed straight at Uppy's heart.
"If they come up with us, Uppy--you die!"
The Eskimo's narrow eyes widened. There was murder in this white woman's
face, in the steadiness of her hand, and in her voice. If they came up
with them--he would die! Swiftly he gathered up his sleeping-bag and
placed it on the sledge. Then he roused the dogs, tangled in their
traces. They rose to their feet, sleepy and ill-humored. One of them
snapped at his hand. Another snarled viciously as he untwisted a trace.
Then one of the yawning brutes caught the new smell in the air, the smell
that Wapi had gathered when it was a mile farther off. He sniffed. He sat
back on his haunches and sent forth a yelping howl to his comrades in the
other team. In ten seconds the other five were howling with him, and
scarcely had the tumult burst from their throats when there came a
response from the fire half a mile away.
"My God!" gasped Peter, under his breath.
Dolores sprang to the gee-bar, and Uppy lashed his long whip until it
cracked like a repeating rifle over the pack. The dogs responded and sped
through the night. Behind them the pandemonium of dog voices in the other
camp had ceased. Men had leaped into life. Fifteen dogs were
straightening in the tandem trace of a single sledge.
Dolores laughed, a sobbing, broken laugh, that in itself was a cry of
despair. "Peter, if they come up with us, what shall we do?"
"If they overtake us," said Peter, "give me the revolver. It is fully
"I have cartridges--"
For the first time she remembered that she had not filled the three empty
chambers. Crooking her arm under the gee-bar, she fumbled in her pocket.
The dogs, refreshed by their sleep and urged by Uppy's whip, were tearing
off the first mile at a great speed. The trail ahead of them was level
and hard again. Uppy knew they were on the edge of the big barren of the
Lacs Delesse, and he cracked his whip just as the off runner of the
sledge struck a hidden snow-blister. There was a sudden lurch, and in a
vicious up-shoot of the gee-bar the revolver was knocked from Dolores'
hand--and was gone. A shriek rose to her lips, but she stifled it before
it was given voice. Until this minute she had not felt the terror of
utter hopelessness upon her. Now it made her faint. The revolver had not
only given her hope, but also a steadfast faith in herself. From the
beginning she had made up her mind how she would use it in the end, even
though a few moments before she had asked Peter what they would do.
Crumpled down on the sledge, she clung to Peter, and suddenly the
inspiration came to her not to let him know what had happened. Her arms
tightened about his shoulders, and she looked ahead over the backs of the
wolfish pack, shivering as she thought of what Uppy would do could he
guess her loss. But he was running now for his life, driven on by his
fear of her unerring marksmanship--and Wapi. She looked over her
shoulder. Wapi was there, a huge gray shadow twenty paces behind. And she
thought she heard a shout!
Peter was speaking to her. "Blake's dogs are tired," he was saying. "They
were just about to camp, and ours have had a rest. Perhaps--"
"We shall beat them!" she interrupted him. "See how fast we are going,
Peter! It is splendid!"
A rifle-shot sounded behind them. It was not far away, and involuntarily
she clutched him tighter. Peter reached up a hand.
"Give me the revolver, Dolores."
"No," she protested. "They are not going to overtake us."
"You must give me the revolver," he insisted.
"Peter, I can't. You understand, I can't. I must keep the revolver."
She looked back again. There was no doubt now. Their pursuers were
drawing nearer. She heard a voice, the la-looing of running Eskimos, a
faint shout which she knew was a white man's shout--and another rifle
shot. Wapi was running nearer. He was almost at the tail of the sledge,
and his red eyes were fixed on her as he ran.
"Wapi!" she cried. "Wapi!"
His jaws dropped agape. She could hear his panting response to her voice.
A third shot--over their heads sped a strange droning sound.
"Wapi," she almost screamed, "go back! Sick 'em, Wapi--sick 'em--sick
'em--sick 'em!" She flung out her arms, driving him back, repeating the
words over and over again. She leaned over the edge of the sledge,
clinging to the gee-bar. "Go back, Wapi! Sick 'em--sick 'em--sick 'em!"
As if in response to her wild exhortation, there came a sudden yelping
outcry from the team behind. It was close upon them now. Another ten
And then she saw that Wapi was dropping behind. Quickly he was swallowed
up in the starlit chaos of the night.
"Peter," she cried, sobbingly. "Peter!"
Listening to the retreating sound of the sledge, Wapi stood a silent
shadow in the trail. Then he turned and faced the north. He heard the
other sound now, and ahead of it the wind brought him a smell, the smell
of things he hated. For many years something had been fighting itself
toward understanding within him, and the yelping of dogs and the taint in
the air of creatures who had been his slave-masters narrowed his instinct
to the one vital point. Again it was not a process of reason but the
cumulative effect of things that had happened, and were happening. He had
scented menace when first he had given warning of the nearness of
pursuers, and this menace was no longer an elusive and unseizable thing
that had merely stirred the fires of his hatred. It was now a near and
physical fact. He had tried to run away from it--with the woman--but it
had followed and was overtaking him, and the yelping dogs were
challenging him to fight as they had challenged him from the day he was
old enough to take his own part. And now he had something to fight for.
His intelligence gripped the fact that one sledge was running away from
the other, and that the sledge which was running away was his sledge--and
that for his sledge he must fight.
He waited, almost squarely in the trail. There was no longer the
slinking, club-driven attitude of a creature at bay in the manner in
which he stood in the path of his enemies. He had risen out of his
serfdom. The stinging slash of the whip and his dread of it were gone.
Standing there in the starlight with his magnificent head thrown up and
the muscles of his huge body like corded steel, the passing spirit of
Shan Tung would have taken him for Tao, the Great Dane. He was not
excited--and yet he was filled with a mighty desire--more than that, a
tremendous purpose. The yelping excitement of the oncoming Eskimo dogs no
longer urged him to turn aside to avoid their insolent bluster, as he
would have turned aside yesterday or the day before. The voices of his
old masters no longer sent him slinking out of their way, a growl in his
throat and his body sagging with humiliation and the rage of his slavery.
He stood like a rock, his broad chest facing them squarely, and when he
saw the shadows of them racing up out of the star-mist an eighth of a
mile away, it was not a growl but a whine that rose in his throat, a
whine of low and repressed eagerness, of a great yearning about to be
fulfilled. Two hundred yards--a hundred--eighty--not until the dogs were
less than fifty from him did he move. And then, like a rock hurled by a
mighty force, he was at them.
He met the onrushing weight of the pack breast to breast. There was no
warning. Neither men nor dogs had seen the waiting shadow. The crash sent
the lead-dog back with Wapi's great fangs in his throat, and in an
instant the fourteen dogs behind had piled over them, tangled in their
traces, yelping and snarling and biting, while over them round-faced,
hooded men shouted shrilly and struck with their whips, and from the
sledge a white man sprang with a rifle in his hands. It was Rydal. Under
the mass of dogs Wapi, the Walrus, heard nothing of the shouts of men. He
was fighting. He was fighting as he had never fought before in all the
days of his life. The fierce little Eskimo dogs had smelled him, and they
knew their enemy. The lead-dog was dead. A second Wapi had disemboweled
with a single slash of his inch-long fangs. He was buried now. But his
jaws met flesh and bone, and out of the squirming mass there rose fearful
cries of agony that mingled hideously with the bawling of men and the
snarling and yelping of beasts that had not yet felt Wapi's fangs. Three
and four at a time they were at him. He felt the wolfish slash of their
teeth in his flesh. In him the sense of pain was gone. His jaws closed on
a foreleg, and it snapped like a stick. His teeth sank like ivory knives
into the groin of a brute that had torn a hole in his side, and a
smothered death-howl rose out of the heap. A fang pierced his eye. Even
then no cry came from Wapi, the Walrus. He heaved upward with his giant
body. He found another throat, and it was then that he rose above the
pack, shaking the life from his victim as a terrier would have shaken a
rat. For the first time the Eskimos saw him, and out of their
superstitious souls strange cries found utterance as they sprang back and
shrieked out to Rydal that it was a devil and not a beast that had waited
for them in the trail. Rydal threw up his rifle. The shot came. It burned
a crease in Wapi's shoulder and tore a hole as big as a man's fist in the
breast of a dog about to spring upon him f rom behind. Again he was down,
and Rydal dropped his rifle, and snatched a whip from the hand of an
Eskimo. Shouting and cursing, he lashed the pack, and in a moment he saw
a huge, open-jawed shadow rise up on the far side and start off into the
open starlight. He sprang back to his rifle. Twice he fired at the
retreating shadow before it disappeared. And the Eskimo dogs made no
movement to follow. Five of the fifteen were dead. The remaining ten,
torn and bleeding--three of them with legs that dragged in the bloody
snow--gathered in a whipped and whimpering group. And the Eskimos,
shivering in their fear of this devil that had entered into the body of
Wapi, the Walrus, failed to respond to Rydal's command when he pointed to
the red trail that ran out under the stars.
At Fort Confidence, one hundred and fifty miles to the south, there was
day--day that was like cold, gray dawn, the day one finds just beyond the
edge of the Arctic night, in which the sun hangs like a pale lantern over
the far southern horizon. In a log-built room that faced this bit of
glorious red glow lay Peter, bolstered up in his bed so that he could see
it until it faded from the sky. There was a new light in his face, and
there was something of the old Peter back in his eyes. Watching the final
glow with him was Dolores. It was their second day.
Into this world, in the twilight that was falling swiftly as they watched
the setting of the sun, came Wapi, the Walrus. Blinded in the eye, gaunt
with hunger and exhaustion, covered with wounds, and with his great heart
almost ready to die, he came at last to the river across which lay the
barracks. His vision was nearly gone, but under his nose he could still
smell faintly the trail he was following until the last. It led him
across the river. And in darkness it brought him to a door.
After a little the door opened, and with its opening came at last the
fulfilment of the promise of his dreams--hope, happiness, things to live
for in a new, a white-man's world. For Wapi, the Walrus, forty years
removed from Tao of Vancouver, had at last come home.
Above God's Lake, where the Bent Arrow runs red as pale blood under its
crust of ice, Reese Beaudin heard of the dog auction that was to take
place at Post Lac Bain three days later. It was in the cabin of Joe
Delesse, a trapper, who lived at Lac Bain during the summer, and trapped
the fox and the lynx sixty miles farther north in this month of February.
"Diantre, but I tell you it is to be the greatest sale of dogs that has
ever happened at Lac Bain!" said Delesse. "To this Wakao they are coming
from all the four directions. There will be a hundred dogs, huskies, and
malamutes, and Mackenzie hounds, and mongrels from the south, and I
should not wonder if some of the little Eskimo devils were brought from
the north to be sold as breeders. Surely you will not miss it, my
"I am going by way of Post Lac Bain," replied Reese Beaudin equivocally.
But his mind was not on the sale of dogs. From his pipe he puffed out
thick clouds of smoke, and his eyes narrowed until they seemed like coals
peering out of cracks; and he said, in his quiet, soft voice:
"Do you know of a man named Jacques Dupont, m'sieu?"
Joe Delesse tried to peer through the cloud of smoke at Reese Beaudin's
"Yes, I know him. Does he happen to be a friend of yours?"
Reese laughed softly.
"I have heard of him. They say that he is a devil. To the west I was told
that he can whip any man between Hudson's Bay and the Great Bear, that he
is a beast in man-shape, and that he will surely be at the big sale at
On his knees the huge hands of Joe Delesse clenched slowly, gripping in
their imaginary clutch a hated thing.
"Oui, I know him," he said. "I know also--Elise--his wife. See!"
He thrust suddenly his two huge knotted hands through the smoke that
drifted between him and the stranger who had sought the shelter of his
cabin that night.
"See--I am a man full-grown, m'sieu--a man--and yet I am afraid of him!
That is how much of a devil and a beast in man-shape he is."
Again Reese Beaudin laughed in his low, soft voice.
"And his wife, mon ami? Is she afraid of him?"
He had stopped smoking. Joe Delesse saw his face. The stranger's eyes
made him look twice and think twice.
"You have known her--sometime?"
"Yes, a long time ago. "We were children together. And I have heard all
has not gone well with her. Is it so?"
"Does it go well when a dove is mated to a vulture, m'sieu?"
"I have also heard that she grew up to be very beautiful," said Reese
Beaudin, "and that Jacques Dupont killed a man for her. If that is so--"
"It is not so," interrupted Delesse. "He drove another man away--no, not
a man, but a yellow-livered coward who had no more fight in him than a
porcupine without quills! And yet she says he was not a coward. She has
always said, even to Dupont, that it was the way le Bon Dieu made him,
and that because he was made that way he was greater than all other men
in the North Country. How do I know? Because, m'sieu, I am Elise Dupont's
Delesse wondered why Reese Beaudin's eyes were glowing like living coals.
"And yet--again, it is only rumor I have heard--they say this man,
whoever he was, did actually run away, like a dog that had been whipped
and was afraid to return to its kennel."
"Pst!" Joe Delesse flung his great arms wide. "Like that--he was gone.
And no one ever saw him again, or heard of him again. But I know that she
knew--my cousin, Elise. What word it was he left for her at the last she
has always kept in her own heart, mon Dieu, and what a wonderful thing he
had to fight for! You knew the child. But the woman--non? She was like an
angel. Her eyes, when you looked into them--hat can I say, m'sieu? They
made you forget. And I have seen her hair, unbound, black and glossy as
the velvet side of a sable, covering her to the hips. And two years ago I
saw Jacques Dupont's hands in that hair, and he was dragging her by it--"
Something snapped. It was a muscle in Reese Beaudin's arm. He had
stiffened like iron.
"And you let him do that!"
Joe Delesse shrugged his shoulders. It was a shrug of hopelessness, of
"For the third time I interfered, and for the third time Jacques Dupont
beat me until I was nearer dead than alive. And since then I have made it
none of my business. It was, after all, the fault of the man who ran
away. You see, m'sieu, it was like this: Dupont was mad for her, and this
man who ran away--the Yellow-back--wanted her, and Elise loved the
Yellow-back. This Yellow-back was twenty-three or four, and he read
books, and played a fiddle and drew strange pictures--and was weak in the
heart when it came to a fight. But Elise loved him. She loved him for
those very things that made him a fool and a weakling, m'sieu, the books
and the fiddle and the pictures; and she stood up with the courage for
them both. And she would have married him, too, and would have fought for
him with a club if it had come to that, when the thing happened that made
him run away. It was at the midsummer carnival, when all the trappers and
their wives and children were at Lac Bain. And Dupont followed the
Yellow-back about like a dog. He taunted him, he insulted him, he got
down on his knees and offered to fight him without getting on his feet;
and there, before the very eyes of Elise, he washed the Yellow-back's
face in the grease of one of the roasted caribou! And the Yellow-back was
a man! Yes, a grown man! And it was then that Jacques Dupont shouted out
his challenge to all that crowd. He would fight the Yellow-back. He would
fight him with his right arm tied behind his back! And before Elise and
the Yellow-back, and all that crowd, friends tied his arm so that it was
like a piece of wood behind him, and it was his right arm, his fighting
arm, the better half of him that was gone. And even then the Yellow-back
was as white as the paper he drew pictures on. Ventre saint gris, but
then was his chance to have killed Jacques Dupont! Half a man could have
done it. Did he, m'sieu? No, he did not. With his one arm and his one
hand Jacques Dupont whipped that Yellow-back, and he would have killed
him if Elise had not rushed in to sav e the Yellow-back's purple face
from going dead black. And that night the Yellow-back slunk away. Shame?
Yes. From that night he was ashamed to show his face ever again at Lac
Bain. And no one knows where he went. No one--except Elise. And her
secret is in her own breast."
"And after that?" questioned Reese Beaudin, in a voice that was scarcely
above a whisper.
"I cannot understand," said Joe Delesse. "It was strange, m'sieu, very
strange. I know that Elise, even after that coward ran away, still loved
him. And yet--well, something happened. I overheard a terrible quarrel
one day between Jan Thiebout, father of Elise, and Jacques Dupont. After
that Thiebout was very much afraid of Dupont. I have my own suspicion.
Now that Thiebout is dead it is not wrong for me to say what it is. I
think Thiebout killed the halfbreed Bedore who was found dead on his
trap-line five years ago. There was a feud between them. And Dupont,
discovering Thiebout's secret--well, you can understand how easy it would
be after that, m'sieu. Thiebout's winter trapping was in that Burntwood
country, fifty miles from neighbor to neighbor, and very soon after
Bedore's death Jacques Dupont became Thiebout's partner. I know that
Elise was forced to marry him. That was four years ago. The next year old
Thiebout died, and in all that time not once has Elise been to Post Lac
"Like the Yellow-back--she never returned," breathed Reese Beaudin.
"Never. And now--it is strange--"
"What is strange, Joe Delesse?"
"That for the first time in all these years she is going to Lac Bain--to
the dog sale."
Reese Beaudin's face was again hidden in the smoke of his pipe. Through
it his voice came.
"It is a cold night, M'sieu Delesse. Hear the wind howl!"
"Yes, it is cold--so cold the foxes will not run. My traps and
poison-baits will need no tending tomorrow."
"Unless you dig them out of the drifts."
"I will stay in the cabin."
"What! You are not going to Lac Bain!"
"I doubt it."
"Even though Elise, your cousin, is to be there?"
"I have no stomach for it, m'sieu. Nor would you were you in my boots,
and did you know why he is going. Par les mille cornes d'u diable, I
cannot whip him but I can kill him--and if I went--and the thing happens
which I guess is going to happen--"
"Qui? Surely you will tell me--"
"Yes, I will tell you. Jacques Dupont knows that Elise has never stopped
loving the Yellow-back. I do not believe she has ever tried to hide it
from him. Why should she? And there is a rumor, m'sieu, that the
Yellow-back will be at the Lac Bain dog sale."
Reese Beaudin rose slowly to his feet, and yawned in that smoke-filled
"And if the Yellow-back should turn the tables, Joe Delesse, think of
what a fine thing you will miss," he said.
Joe Delesse also rose, with a contemptuous laugh.
"That fiddler, that picture-drawer, that book-reader--Pouff! You are
tired, m'sieu, that is your bunk."
Reese Beaudin held out a hand. The bulk of the two stood out in the
lamp-glow, and Joe Delesse was so much the bigger man that his hand was
half again the size of Reese Beaudin's. They gripped. And then a strange
look went over the face of Joe Delesse. A cry came from out of his beard.
His mouth grew twisted. His knees doubled slowly under him, and in the
space of ten seconds his huge bulk was kneeling on the floor, while Reese
Beaudin looked at him, smiling.
"Has Jacques Dupont a greater grip than that, Joe Delesse?" he asked in a
voice that was so soft it was almost a woman's.
"Mon Dieu!" gasped Delesse. He staggered to his feet, clutching his
crushed hand. "M'sieu--"
Reese Beaudin put his hands to the other's shoulders, smiling, friendly.
"I will apologize, I will explain, mon ami," he said. "But first, you
must tell me the name of that Yellow-back who ran away years ago. Do you
"Oui, but what has that to do with my crushed hand? The Yellow-back's
name was Reese Beaudin--"
"And I am Reese Beaudin," laughed the other gently.
On that day--the day of Wakoa, the dog sale--seven fat caribou were
roasting on great spits at Post Lac Bain, and under them were seven fires
burning red and hot of seasoned birch, and around the seven fires were
seven groups of men who slowly turned the roasting carcasses.
It was the Big Day of the mid-winter festival, and Post Lac Bain, with a
population of twenty in times of quiet, was a seething wilderness
metropolis of two hundred excited souls and twice as many dogs. From all
directions they had come, from north and south and east and west; from
near and from far, from the Barrens, from the swamps, from the farther
forests, from river and lake and hidden trail--a few white men, mostly
French; half-breeds and 'breeds, Chippewans, and Crees, and here and
there a strange, dark-visaged little interloper from the north with his
strain of Eskimo blood. Foregathered were all the breeds and creeds and
fashions of the wilderness.
Over all this, pervading the air like an incense, stirring the desire of
man and beast, floated the aroma of the roasting caribou. The feast-hour
was at hand. With cries that rose above the last words of a wild song the
seven groups of men rushed to seven pairs of props and tore them away.
The great carcasses swayed in mid-air, bent slowly over their spits, and
then crashed into the snow fifteen feet from the fire. About each carcass
five men with razor-sharp knives ripped off hunks of the roasted flesh
and passed them into eager hands of the hungry multitude. First came the
women and children, and last the men.
On this there peered forth from a window in the factor's house the darkly
bearded, smiling face of Reese Beaudin.
"I have seen him three times, wandering about in the crowd, seeking
someone," he said. "Bien, he shall find that someone very soon!"
In the face of McDougall, the factor, was a strange look. For he had
listened to a strange story, and there was still something of shock and
amazement and disbelief in his eyes.
"Reese Beaudin, it is hard for me to believe."
"And yet you shall find that it is true," smiled Reese.
"He will kill you. He is a monster--a giant!"
"I shall die hard," replied Reese.
He turned from the window again, and took from the table a violin wrapped
in buckskin, and softly he played one of their old love songs. It was not
much more than a whisper, and yet it was filled with a joyous exultation.
He laid the violin down when he was finished, and laughed, and filled his
pipe, and lighted it.
"It is good for a man's soul to know that a woman loves him, and has been
true," he said. "Mon pere, will you tell me again what she said? It is
strength for me--and I must soon be going."
McDougall repeated, as if under a strain from which he could not free
"She came to me late last night, unknown to Dupont. She had received your
message, and knew you were coming. And I tell you again that I saw
something in her eyes which makes me afraid! She told me, then, that her
father killed Bedore in a quarrel, and that she married Dupont to save
him from the law--and kneeling there, with her hand on the cross at her
breast, she swore that each day of her life she has let Dupont know that
she hates him, and that she loves you, and that some day Reese Beaudin
would return to avenge her. Yes, she told him that--I know it by what I
saw in her eyes. With that cross clutched in her fingers she swore that
she had suffered torture and shame, and that never a word of it had she
whispered to a living soul, that she might turn the passion of Jacques
Dupont's black heart into a great hatred. And today--Jacques Dupont will
"I shall die hard," Reese repeated again.
He tucked the violin in its buckskin covering under his arm. From the
table he took his cap and placed it on his head.
In a last effort McDougall sprang from his chair and caught the other's
"Reese Beaudin--you are going to your death! As factor of Lac Bain--agent
of justice under power of the Police--I forbid it!"
"So-o-o-o," spoke Reese Beaudin gently. "Mon pere--"
He unbuttoned his coat, which had remained buttoned. Under the coat was a
heavy shirt; and the shirt he opened, smiling into the factor's eyes, and
McDougall's face froze, and the breath was cut short on his lips.
"That!" he gasped.
Reese Beaudin nodded.
Then he opened the door and went out.
Joe Delesse had been watching the factor's house, and he worked his way
slowly along the edge of the feasters so that he might casually come into
the path of Reese Beaudin. And there was one other man who also had
watched, and who came in the same direction. He was a stranger, tall,
closely hooded, his mustached face an Indian bronze. No one had ever seen
him at Lac Bain before, yet in the excitement of the carnival the fact
passed without conjecture or significance. And from the cabin of Henri
Paquette another pair of eyes saw Reese Beaudin, and Mother Paquette
heard a sob that in itself was a prayer.
In and out among the devourers of caribou-flesh, scanning the groups and
the ones and the twos and the threes, passed Jacques Dupont, and with him
walked his friend, one-eyed Layonne. Layonne was a big man, but Dupont
was taller by half a head. The brutishness of his face was hidden under a
coarse red beard; but the devil in him glowered from his deep-set,
inhuman eyes; it walked in his gait, in the hulk of his great shoulders,
in the gorilla-like slouch of his hips. His huge hands hung partly
clenched at his sides. His breath was heavy with whisky that Layonne
himself had smuggled in, and in his heart was black murder.
"He has not come!" he cried for the twentieth time. "He has not come!"
He moved on, and Reese Beaudin--ten feet away--turned and smiled at Joe
Delesse with triumph in his eyes. He moved nearer.
"Did I not tell you he would not find in me that narrow-shouldered,
smooth-faced stripling of five years ago?" he asked. "N'est-ce pas,
The face of Joe Delesse was heavy with a somber fear.
"His fist is like a wood-sledge, m'sieu."
"So it was years ago."
"His forearm is as big as the calf of your leg."
"Oui, friend Delesse, it is the forearm of a giant."
"He is half again your weight."
"Or more, friend Delesse."
"He will kill you! As the great God lives, he will kill you!"
"I shall die hard," repeated Reese Beaudin for the third time that day.
Joe Delesse turned slowly, doggedly. His voice rumbled.
"The sale is about to begin, m'sieu. See!"
A man had mounted the log platform raised to the height of a man's
shoulders at the far end of the clearing. It was Henri Paquette, master
of the day's ceremonies, and appointed auctioneer of the great wakao. A
man of many tongues was Paquette. To his lips he raised a great megaphone
of birchbark, and sonorously his call rang out--in French, in Cree, in
Chippewan, and the packed throng about the caribou-fires heaved like a
living billow, and to a man and a woman and a child it moved toward the
"The time has come," said Reese Beaudin. "And all Lac Bain shall see!"
Behind them--watching, always watching--followed the bronze-faced
stranger in his close-drawn hood.
For an hour the men of Lac Bain gathered close-wedged about the log
platform on which stood Henri Paquette and his Indian helper. Behind the
men were the women and children, and through the cordon there ran a
babiche-roped pathway along which the dogs were brought.
The platform was twenty feet square, with the floor side of the logs hewn
flat, and there was no lack of space for the gesticulation and wild
pantomime of Paquette. In one hand he held a notebook, and in the other a
pencil. In the notebook the sales of twenty dogs were already tabulated,
and the prices paid.
Anxiously, Reese Beaudin was waiting. Each time that a new dog came up he
looked at Joe Delesse, but, as yet Joe had failed to give the signal.
On the platform the Indian was holding two malamutes in leash now and
Paquette was crying, in a well simulated fit of great fury:
"What, you cheap kimootisks, will you let this pair of malamutes go for
seven mink and a cross fox. Are you men? Are you poverty-stricken? Are
you blind? A breed dog and a male giant for seven mink and a cross fox?
Non, I will buy them myself first, and kill them, and use their flesh for
dog-feed, and their hides for fools' caps! I will--"
"Twelve mink and a Number Two Cross," came a voice out of the crowd.
"Twelve mink and a Number One," shouted another.
"A little better--a little better!" wailed Paquette. "You are waking up,
but slowly--mon Dieu, so slowly! Twelve mink and--"
A voice rose in Cree:
Paquette gave a triumphant yell.
"The Indian beats you! The Indian from Little Neck Lake--an Indian beats
the white man! He offers twenty beaver--prime skins! And beaver are
wanted in Paris now. They're wanted in London. Beaver and gold--they are
the same! But they are the price of one dog alone. Shall they both go at
that? Shall the Indian have them for twenty beaver--twenty beaver that
may be taken from a single house in a day--while it has taken these
malamutes two and a half years to grow? I say, you cheap kimootisks--"
And then an amazing thing happened. It was like a bomb falling in that
crowded throng of wondering and amazed forest people.
It was the closely hooded stranger who spoke.
"I will give a hundred dollars cash," he said.
A look of annoyance crossed Reese Beaudin's face.
He was close to the bronze-faced stranger, and edged nearer.
"Let the Indian have them," he said in a low voice. "It is Meewe. I knew
him years ago. He has carried me on his back. He taught me first to draw
"But they are powerful dogs," objected the stranger. "My team needs
The Cree had risen higher out of the crowd. One arm rose above his head.
He was an Indian who had seen fifty years of the forests, and his face
was the face of an Egyptian.
"Nesi-tu-now Nesoo-sap umisk!" he proclaimed.
Henri Paquette hopped excitedly, and faced the stranger.
"Twenty-two beaver," he challenged. "Twenty-two--"
"Let Meewe have them," replied the hooded stranger.
Three minutes later a single dog was pulled up on the log platform. He
was a magnificent beast, and a rumble of approval ran through the crowd.
The face of Joe Delesse was gray. He wet his lips. Reese Beaudin,
watching him, knew that the time had come. And Joe Delesse, seeing no way
of escape, whispered:
"It is her dog, m'sieu. It is Parka--and Dupont sells him today to show
her that he is master."
Already Paquette was advertising the virtues of Parka when Reese Beaudin,
in a single leap, mounted the log platform, and stood beside him.
"Wait!" he cried.
There fell a silence, and Reese said, loud enough for all to hear:
"M'sieu Paquette, I ask the privilege of examining this dog that I want
At last he straightened, and all who faced him saw the smiling sneer on
"Who is it that offers this worthless cur for sale?" Lac Bain heard him
say. "P-s-s-st--it is a woman's dog! It is not worth bidding for!"
"You lie!" Dupont's voice rose in a savage roar. His huge shoulders
bulked over those about him. He crowded to the edge of the platform. "You
"He is a woman's dog," repeated Reese Beaudin without excitement, yet so
clearly that every ear heard. "He is a woman's pet, and M'sieu Dupont
most surely does lie if he denies it!"
So far as memory went back no man at Lac Bain that day had ever heard
another man give Jacques Dupont the lie. A thrill swept those who heard
and understood. There was a great silence, in that silence men near him
heard the choking rage in Dupont's great chest. He was staring
up--straight up into the smiling face of Reese Beaudin; and in that
moment he saw beyond the glossy black beard, and amazement and unbelief
held him still. In the next, Reese Beaudin had the violin in his hands.
He flung off the buckskin, and in a flash the instrument was at his
"See! I will play, and the woman's pet shall sing!"
And once more, after five years, Lac Bain listened to the magic of Reese
Beaudin's violin. And it was Elise's old love song that he played. He
played it, smiling down into the eyes of a monster whose face was turning
from red to black; yet he did not play it to the end, nor a quarter of
it, for suddenly a voice shouted:
"It is Reese Beaudin--come back!"
Joe Delesse, paralyzed, speechless, could have sworn it was the hooded
stranger who shouted; and then he remembered, and flung up his great
arms, and bellowed:
"Oui--by the Saints, it is Reese Beaudin--Reese Beaudin come back!"
Suddenly as it had begun the playing ceased, and Henri Paquette found
himself with the violin in his hands. Reese Beaudin turned, facing them
all, the wintry sun glowing in his beard, his eyes smiling, his head
high--unfraid now, more fearless than any other man that had ever set
foot in Lac Bain. And McDougall, with his arm touching Elise's hair, felt
the wild and throbbing pulse of her body. This day--this hour--this
minute in which she stood still, inbreathing--had confirmed her belief in
Reese Beaudin. As she had dreamed, so had he risen. First of all the men
in the world he stood there now, just as he had been first in the days
when she had loved his dreams, his music, and his pictures. To her he was
the old god, more splendid,--for he had risen above fear, and he was
facing Dupont now with that strange quiet smile on his lips. And then,
all at once, her soul broke its fetters, and over the women's heads she
reached out her arms, and all there heard her voice in its triumph, its
joy, its fear.
"Reese! Reese--my sakeakun!"
Over the heads of all the forest people she called him beloved! Like the
fang of an adder the word stung Dupont's brain. And like fire touched to
powder, swiftly as lightning illumines the sky, the glory of it blazed in
Reese Beaudin's face. And all that were there heard him clearly:
"I am Reese Beaudin. I am the Yellow-back. I have returned to meet a man
you all know--Jacques Dupont. He is a monkey-man--a whipper of boys, a
stealer of women, a cheat, a coward, a thing so foul the crows will not
touch him when he dies--"
There was a roar. It was not the roar of a man, but of a beast--and
Jacques Dupont was on the platform!
Quick as Dupont's movement had been it was no swifter than that of the
closely-hooded stranger. He was as tall as Dupont, and about him there
was an air of authority and command.
"Wait," he said, and placed a hand on Dupont's heaving chest. His smile
was cold as ice. Never had Dupont seen eyes so like the pale blue of
"M'sieu Dupont, you are about to avenge a great insult. It must be done
fairly. If you have weapons, throw them away. I will search this--this
Reese Beaudin, as he calls himself! And if there is to be a fight, let it
be a good one. Strip yourself to that great garment you have on, friend
Dupont. See, our friend--this Reese Beaudin--is already stripping!"
He was unbuttoning the giant's heavy Hudson's Bay coat. He pulled it off,
and drew Dupont's knife from its sheath. Paquette, like a stunned cat
that had recovered its ninth life, was scrambling from the platform. The
Indian was already gone. And Reese Beaudin had tossed his coat to Joe
Delesse, and with it his cap. His heavy shirt was closely buttoned; and
not only was it buttoned, Delesse observed, but also was it carefully
pinned. And even now, facing that monster who would soon be at him, Reese
Beaudin was smiling.
For a moment the closely hooded stranger stood between them, and Jacques
Dupont crouched himself for his vengeance. Never to the people of Lac
Bain had he looked more terrible. He was the gorilla-fighter, the beast
fighter, the fighter who fights as the wolf, the bear and the
cat--crushing out life, breaking bones, twisting, snapping, inundating
and destroying with his great weight and his monstrous strength. He was a
hundred pounds heavier than Reese Beaudin. On his stooping shoulders he
could carry a tree. With his giant hands he could snap a two-inch
sapling. With one hand alone he had set a bear-trap. And with that mighty
strength he fought as the cave-man fought. It was his boast there was no
trick of the Chippewan, the Cree, the Eskimo or the forest man that he
did not know. And yet Reese Beaudin stood calmly, waiting for him, and
In another moment the hooded stranger was gone, and there was none
"A long time I have waited for this, m'sieu," said Reese, for Dupont's
ears alone. "Five years is a long time. And my Elise still loves me."
Still more like a gorilla Jacques Dupont crept upon him. His face was
twisted by a rage to which he could no longer give voice. Hatred and
jealousy robbed his eyes of the last spark of the thing that was human.
His great hands were hooked, like an eagle's talons. His lips were drawn
back, like a beast's. Through his red beard yellow fangs were bared.
And Reese Beaudin no longer smiled. He laughed!
"Until I went away and met real men, I never knew what a pig of a man you
were, M'sieu Dupont," he taunted amiably, as though speaking in jest to a
friend. "You remind me of an aged and over-fat porcupine with his big
paunch and crooked arms. What horror must it have been for my Elise to
have lived in sight of such a beast as you!"
With a bellow Dupont was at him. And swifter than eyes had ever seen man
move at Lac Bain before, Reese Beaudin was out of his way, and behind
him; and then, as the giant caught himself at the edge of the platform,
and turned, he received a blow that sounded like the broadside of a
paddle striking water. Reese Beaudin had struck him with the flat of his
A murmur of incredulity rose out of the crowd. To the forest man such a
blow was the deadliest of insults. It was calling him an Iskwao--a
woman--a weakling--a thing too contemptible to harden one's fist against.
But the murmur died in an instant. For Reese Beaudin, making as if to
step back, shot suddenly forward--straight through the giant's crooked
arms--and it was his fist this time that landed squarely between the eyes
of Dupont. The monster's head went back, his great body wavered, and then
suddenly he plunged backward off the platform and fell with a crash to
A yell went up from the hooded stranger. Joe Delesse split his throat.
The crowd drowned Reese Beaudin's voice. But above it all rose a woman's
voice shrieking forth a name.
And then Jacques Dupont was on the platform again. In the moments that
followed one could almost hear his neighbor's heart beat. Nearer and
still nearer to each other drew the two men. And now Dupont crouched
still more, and Joe Delesse held his breath. He noticed that Reese
Beaudin was standing almost on the tips of his toes--that each instant he
seemed prepared, like a runner, for sudden flight. Five feet--four--and
Dupont leapt in, his huge arms swinging like the limb of a tree, and his
weight following with crushing force behind his blow. For an instant it
seemed as though Reese Beaudin had stood to meet that fatal rush, but in
that same instant--so swiftly that only the hooded stranger knew what had
happened--he was out of the way, and his left arm seemed to shoot
downward, and then up, and then his right straight out, and then again
his left arm downward, and up--and it was the third blow, all swift as
lightning, that brought a yell from the hooded stranger. For though none
but the stranger had seen it, Jacques Dupont's head snapped back--and all
saw the fourth blow that sent him reeling like a man struck by a club.
There was no sound now. A mental and a vocal paralysis seized upon the
inhabitants of Lac Bain. Never had they seen fighting like this fighting
of Reese Beaudin. Until now had they lived to see the science of the
sawdust ring pitted against the brute force of Brobdingnagian, of Antaeus
and Goliath. For Reese Beaudin's fighting was a fighting without tricks
that they could see. He used his fists, and his fists alone. He was like
a dancing man. And suddenly, in the midst of the miracle, they saw
Jacques Dupont go down. And the second miracle was that Reese Beaudin did
not leap on him when he had fallen. He stood back a little, balancing
himself in that queer fashion on the balls and toes of his feet. But no
sooner was Dupont up than Reese Beaudin was in again, with the swiftness
of a cat, and they could hear the blows, like solid shots, and Dupont's
arms waved like tree-tops, and a second time he was off the platform.
He was staggering when he rose. The blood ran in streams from his mouth
and nose. His beard dripped with it. His yellow teeth were caved in.
This time he did not leap upon the platform--he clambered back to it, and
the hooded stranger gave him a lift which a few minutes before Dupont
would have resented as an insult.
"Ah, it has come," said the stranger to Delesse.
"He is the best close-in fighter in all--"
He did not finish.
"I could kill you now--kill you with a single blow," said Reese Beaudin
in a moment when the giant stood swaying. "But there is a greater
punishment in store for you, and so I shall let you live!"
And now Reese Beaudin was facing that part of the crowd where the woman
he loved was standing. He was breathing deeply. But he was not winded.
His eyes were black as night, his hair wind-blown. He looked straight
over the heads between him and she whom Dupont had stolen from him.
Reese Beaudin raised his arms, and where there had been a murmur of
voices there was now silence.
For the first time the stranger threw back his hood. He was unbuttoning
his heavy coat.
And Joe Delesse, looking up, saw that Reese Beaudin was making a mighty
effort to quiet a strange excitement within his breast. And then there
was a rending of cloth and of buttons and of pins as in one swift
movement he tore the shirt from his own breast--exposing to the eyes of
Lac Bain blood-red in the glow of the winter sun, the crimson badge of
the Royal Northwest Mounted Police!
And above the gasp that swept the multitude, above the strange cry of the
woman, his voice rose:
"I am Reese Beaudin, the Yellow-back. I am Reese Beaudin, who ran away. I
am Reese Beaudin,--Sergeant in His Majesty's Royal Northwest Mounted
Police, and in the name of the law I arrest Jacques Dupont for the murder
of Francois Bedore, who was killed on his trap-line five years ago!
The hooded stranger leaped upon the platform. His heavy coat fell off.
Tall and grim he stood in the scarlet jacket of the Police. Steel clinked
in his hands. And Jacques Dupont, terror in his heart, was trying to see
as he groped to his knees. The steel snapped over his wrists.
And then he heard a voice close over him. It was the voice of Reese
"And this is your final punishment, Jacques Dupont--to be hanged by the
neck until you are dead. For Bedore was not dead when Elise's father left
him after their fight on the trap-line. It was you who saw the fight, and
finished the killing, and laid the crime on Elise's father. Mukoki, the
Indian, saw you. It is my day, Dupont, and I have waited long--"
The rest Dupont did not hear. For up from the crowd there went a mighty
roar. And through it a woman was making her way with outreaching
arms--and behind her followed the factor of Lac Bain.
THE FIDDLING MAN
Breault's cough was not pleasant to hear. A cough possesses manifold and
almost unclassifiable diversities. But there is only one cough when a man
has a bullet through his lungs and is measuring his life by minutes,
perhaps seconds. Yet Breault, even as he coughed the red stain from his
lips, was not afraid. Many times he had found himself in the presence of
death, and long ago it had ceased to frighten him. Some day he had
expected to come under the black shadow of it himself--not in a quiet and
peaceful way, but all at once, with a shock. And the time had come. He
knew that he was dying; and he was calm. More than that--in dying he was
achieving a triumph. The red-hot death-sting in his lung had given birth
to a frightful thought in his sickening brain. The day of his great
opportunity was at hand. The hour--the minute.
A last flush of the pale afternoon sun lighted up his black-bearded face
as his eyes turned, with their new inspiration, to his sledge. It was a
face that one would remember--not pleasantly, perhaps, but as a fixture
in a shifting memory of things; a face strong with a brute strength,
implacable in its hard lines, emotionless almost, and beyond that, a
It was the best known face in all that part of the northland which
reaches up from Fort McMurray to Lake Athabasca and westward to Fond du
Lac and the Wholdais country. For ten years Breault had made that trip
twice a year with the northern mails. In all its reaches there was not a
cabin he did not know, a face he had not seen, or a name he could not
speak; yet there was not a man, woman, or child who welcomed him except
for what he brought. But the government had found its faith in him
justified. The police at their lonely outposts had come to regard his
comings and goings as dependable as day and night. They blessed him for
his punctuality, and not one of them missed him when he was gone. A
strange man was Breault.
With his back against a tree, where he had propped himself after the
first shock of the bullet in his lung, he took a last look at life with a
passionless imperturbability. If there was any emotion at all in his face
it was one of vindictiveness--an emotion roused by an intense and
terrible hatred that in this hour saw the fulfilment of its vengeance.
Few men nursed a hatred as Breault had nursed his. And it gave him
strength now, when another man would have died.
He measured the distance between himself and the sledge. It was, perhaps,
a dozen paces. The dogs were still standing, tangled a little in their
traces,--eight of them,--wide-chested, thin at the groins, a wolfish
horde, built for endurance and speed. On the sledge was a quarter of a
ton of his Majesty's mail. Toward this Breault began to creep slowly and
with great pain. A hand inside of him seemed crushing the fiber of his
lung, so that the blood oozed out of his mouth. When he reached the
sledge there were many red patches in the snow behind him. He opened with
considerable difficulty a small dunnage sack, and after fumbling a bit
took there-from a pencil attached to a long red string, and a soiled
For the first time a change came upon his countenance--a ghastly smile.
And above his hissing breath, that gushed between his lips with the sound
of air pumped through the fine mesh of a colander, there rose a still
more ghastly croak of exultation and of triumph. Laboriously he wrote. A
few words, and the pencil dropped from his stiffening fingers into the
snow. Around his neck he wore a long red scarf held together by a big
brass pin, and to this pin he fastened securely the envelope.
This much done,--the mystery of his death solved for those who might some
day find him,--the ordinary man would have contented himself by yielding
up life's struggle with as little more physical difficulty as possible.
Breault was not ordinary. He was, in his one way, efficiency incarnate.
He made space for himself on the sledge, and laid himself out in that
space with great care, first taking pains to fasten about his thighs two
babiche thongs that were employed at times to steady his freight. Then he
ran his left arm through one of the loops of the stout mail-chest. By
taking these precautions he was fairly secure in the belief that after he
was dead and frozen stiff no amount of rough trailing by the dogs could
roll him from the sledge.
In this conjecture he was right. When the starved and exhausted malamutes
dragged their silent burden into the Northwest Mounted Police outpost
barracks at Crooked Bow twenty-four hours later, an ax and a sapling bar
were required to pry Francois Breault from his bier. Previous to this
process, however, Sergeant Fitzgerald, in charge at the outpost, took
possession of the soiled envelope pinned to Breault's red scarf. The
information it bore was simple, and yet exceedingly definite. Few men in
dying as Breault had died could have made the matter easier for the
On the envelope he had written:
Jan Thoreau shot me and left me for dead. Have just strength to write