Part 2 out of 4
It was early in the afternoon that for the third or fourth time Baree
walked out on the dam. This dam was fully two hundred feet in length,
but at no point did the water run over it, the overflow finding its way
through narrow sluices. A week or two ago Baree could have crossed to
the opposite side of the pond on this dam, but now--at the far
end--Beaver Tooth and his engineers were adding a new section of dam,
and in order to accomplish their work more easily, they had flooded
fully fifty yards of the low ground on which they were working.
The main dam held a strange fascination for Baree. It was strong with
the smell of beaver. The top of it was high and dry, and there were
dozens of smoothly worn little hollows in which the beavers had taken
their sun baths. In one of these hollows Baree stretched himself out,
with his eyes on the pond. Not a ripple stirred its velvety smoothness.
Not a sound broke the drowsy stillness of the afternoon. The beavers
might have been dead or asleep, for all the stir they made. And yet
they knew that Baree was on the dam. Where he lay, the sun fell in a
warm flood, and it was so comfortable that after a time he had
difficulty in keeping his eyes open to watch the pond. Then he fell
Just how Beaver Tooth sensed this fact is a mystery. Five minutes later
he came up quietly, without a splash or a sound, within fifty yards of
Baree. For a few moments he scarcely moved in the water. Then he swam
very slowly parallel with the dam across the pond. At the other side he
drew himself ashore, and for another minute sat as motionless as a
stone, with his eyes on that part of the dam where Baree was lying. Not
another beaver was moving, and it was very soon apparent that Beaver
Tooth had but one object in mind--getting a closer observation of
Baree. When he entered the water again, he swam along close to the dam.
Ten feet beyond Baree he began to climb out. He did this with great
slowness and caution. At last he reached the top of the dam.
A few yards away Baree was almost hidden in his hollow, only the top of
his shiny black body appearing to Beaver Tooth's scrutiny. To get a
better look, the old beaver spread his flat tail out beyond him and
rose to a sitting posture on his hindquarters, his two front paws held
squirrel-like over his breast. In this pose he was fully three feet
tall. He probably weighed forty pounds, and in some ways he resembled
one of those fat, good-natured, silly-looking dogs that go largely to
stomach. But his brain was working with amazing celerity. Suddenly he
gave the hard mud of the dam a single slap with his tail--and Baree sat
up. Instantly he saw Beaver Tooth, and stared. Beaver Tooth stared. For
a full half-minute neither moved the thousandth part of an inch. Then
Baree stood up and wagged his tail.
That was enough. Dropping to his forefeet. Beaver Tooth waddled
leisurely to the edge of the dam and dived over. He was neither
cautious nor in very great haste now. He made a great commotion in the
water and swam boldly back and forth under Baree. When he had done this
several times, he cut straight up the pond to the largest of the three
houses and disappeared. Five minutes after Beaver Tooth's exploit word
was passing quickly among the colony. The stranger--Baree--was not a
lynx. He was not a fox. He was not a wolf. Moreover, he was very
young--and harmless. Work could be resumed. Play could be resumed.
There was no danger. Such was Beaver Tooth's verdict.
If someone had shouted these facts in beaver language through a
megaphone, the response could not have been quicker. All at once it
seemed to Baree, who was still standing on the edge of the dam, that
the pond was alive with beavers. He had never seen so many at one time
before. They were popping up everywhere, and some of them swam up
within a dozen feet of him and looked him over in a leisurely and
curious way. For perhaps five minutes the beavers seemed to have no
particular object in view. Then Beaver Tooth himself struck straight
for the shore and climbed out. Others followed him. Half a dozen
workers disappeared in the canals. As many more waddled out among the
alders and willows. Eagerly Baree watched for Umisk and his chums. At
last he saw them, swimming forth from one of the smaller houses. They
climbed out on their playground--the smooth bar above the shore of mud.
Baree wagged his tail so hard that his whole body shook, and hurried
along the dam.
When he came out on the level strip of shore, Umisk was there alone,
nibbling his supper from a long, freshly cut willow. The other little
beavers had gone into a thick clump of young alders.
This time Umisk did not run. He looked up from his stick. Baree
squatted himself, wiggling in a most friendly and ingratiating manner.
For a few seconds Umisk regarded him.
Then, very coolly, he resumed his supper.
Just as in the life of every man there is one big, controlling
influence, either for good or bad, so in the life of Baree the beaver
pond was largely an arbiter of destiny. Where he might have gone if he
had not discovered it, and what might have happened to him, are matters
of conjecture. But it held him. It began to take the place of the old
windfall, and in the beavers themselves he found a companionship which
made up, in a way, for his loss of the protection and friendship of
Kazan and Gray Wolf.
This companionship, if it could be called that, went just so far and no
farther. With each day that passed the older beavers became more
accustomed to seeing Baree. At the end of two weeks, if Baree had gone
away, they would have missed him--but not in the same way that Baree
would have missed the beavers. It was a matter of good-natured
toleration on their part. With Baree it was different. He was still
uskahis, as Nepeese would have said. He still wanted mothering; he was
still moved by the puppyish yearnings which he had not yet had the time
to outgrow; and when night came--to speak that yearning quite
plainly--he had the desire to go into the big beaver house with Umisk
and his chums and sleep.
During this fortnight that followed Beaver Tooth's exploit on the dam
Baree ate his meals a mile up the creek, where there were plenty of
crayfish. But the pond was home. Night always found him there, and a
large part of his day. He slept at the end of the dam, or on top of it
on particularly clear nights, and the beavers accepted him as a
permanent guest. They worked in his presence as if he did not exist.
Baree was fascinated by this work, and he never grew tired of watching
it. It puzzled and bewildered him. Day after day he saw them float
timber and brush through the water for the new dam. He saw this dam
growing steadily under their efforts. One day he lay within a dozen
feet of an old beaver who was cutting down a tree six inches through.
When the tree fell, and the old beaver scurried away, Baree scurried,
too. Then he came back and smelled of the cutting, wondering what it
was all about, and why Umisk's uncle or grandfather or aunt had gone to
all that trouble.
He still could not induce Umisk and the other young beavers to join him
in play, and after the first week or so he gave up his efforts. In
fact, their play puzzled him almost as much as the dam-building
operations of the older beavers. Umisk, for instance, was fond of
playing in the mud at the edge of the pond. He was like a very small
boy. Where his elders floated timbers from three inches to a foot in
diameter to the big dam, Umisk brought small sticks and twigs no larger
around than a lead pencil to his playground, and built a make-believe
dam of his own.
Umisk would work an hour at a time on this play dam as industriously as
his father and mother were working on the big dam, and Baree would lie
flat on his belly a few feet away, watching him and wondering mightily.
And through this half-dry mud Umisk would also dig his miniature
canals, just as a small boy might have dug his Mississippi River and
pirate-infested oceans in the outflow of some back-lot spring. With his
sharp little teeth he cut down his big timber--willow sprouts never
more than an inch in diameter; and when one of these four or five-foot
sprouts toppled down, he undoubtedly felt as great a satisfaction as
Beaver Tooth felt when he sent a seventy-foot birch crashing into the
edge of the pond. Baree could not understand the fun of all this. He
could see some reason for nibbling at sticks--he liked to sharpen his
teeth on sticks himself; but it puzzled him to explain why Umisk so
painstakingly stripped the bark from the sticks and swallowed it.
Another method of play still further discouraged Baree's advances. A
short distance from the spot where he had first seen Umisk there was a
shelving bank that rose ten or twelve feet from the water, and this
bank was used by the young beavers as a slide. It was worn smooth and
hard. Umisk would climb up the bank at a point where it was not so
steep. At the top of the slide he would put his tail out flat behind
him and give himself a shove, shooting down the toboggan and landing in
the water with a big splash. At times there were from six to ten young
beavers engaged in this sport, and now and then one of the older
beavers would waddle to the top of the slide and take a turn with the
One afternoon, when the toboggan was particularly wet and slippery from
recent use, Baree went up the beaver path to the top of the bank, and
began investigating. Nowhere had he found the beaver smell so strong as
on the slide. He began sniffing and incautiously went too far. In an
instant his feet shot out from under him, and with a single wild yelp
he went shooting down the toboggan. For the second time in his life he
found himself struggling under water, and when a minute or two later he
dragged himself up through the soft mud to the firmer footing of the
shore, he had at last a very well-defined opinion of beaver play.
It may be that Umisk saw him. It may be that very soon the story of his
adventure was known by all the inhabitants of Beaver Town. For when
Baree came upon Umisk eating his supper of alder bark that evening,
Umisk stood his ground to the last inch, and for the first time they
smelled noses. At least Baree sniffed audibly, and plucky little Umisk
sat like a rolled-up sphinx. That was the final cementing of their
friendship--on Baree's part. He capered about extravagantly for a few
moments, telling Umisk how much he liked him, and that they'd be great
chums. Umisk didn't talk. He didn't make a move until he resumed his
supper. But he was a companionable-looking little fellow, for all that,
and Baree was happier than he had been since the day he left the old
This friendship, even though it outwardly appeared to be quite
one-sided, was decidedly fortunate for Umisk. When Baree was at the
pond, he always kept as near to Umisk as possible, when he could find
him. One day he was lying in a patch of grass, half asleep, while Umisk
busied himself in a clump of alder shoots a few yards away. It was the
warning crack of a beaver tail that fully roused Baree; and then
another and another, like pistol shots. He jumped up. Everywhere
beavers were scurrying for the pond.
Just then Umisk came out of the alders and hurried as fast as his
short, fat legs would carry him toward the water. He had almost reached
the mud when a lightning flash of red passed before Baree's eyes in the
afternoon sun, and in another instant Napakasew--the he-fox--had
fastened his sharp fangs in Umisk's throat. Baree heard his little
friend's agonized cry; he heard the frenzied flap-flap-flap of many
tails--and his blood pounded suddenly with the thrill of excitement and
As swiftly as the red fox himself, Baree darted to the rescue. He was
as big and as heavy as the fox, and when he struck Napakasew, it was
with a ferocious snarl that Pierrot might have heard on the farther
side of the pond, and his teeth sank like knives into the shoulder of
Umisk's assailant. The fox was of a breed of forest highwaymen which
kills from behind. He was not a fighter when it came fang-to-fang,
unless cornered--and so fierce and sudden was Baree's assault that
Napakasew took to flight almost as quickly as he had begun his attack
Baree did not follow him, but went to Umisk, who lay half in the mud,
whimpering and snuffling in a curious sort of way. Gently Baree nosed
him, and after a moment or two Umisk got up on his webbed feet, while
fully twenty or thirty beavers were making a tremendous fuss in the
water near the shore.
After this the beaver pond seemed more than ever like home to Baree.
While lovely Nepeese was still shuddering over her thrilling experience
under the rock--while Pierrot still offered grateful thanks in his
prayers for her deliverance and Baree was becoming more and more a
fixture at the beaver pond--Bush McTaggart was perfecting a little
scheme of his own up at Post Lac Bain, about forty miles north and
west. McTaggart had been factor at Lac Bain for seven years. In the
company's books down in Winnipeg he was counted a remarkably successful
man. The expense of his post was below the average, and his semiannual
report of furs always ranked among the first. After his name, kept on
file in the main office, was one notation which said: "Gets more out of
a dollar than any other man north of God's Lake."
The Indians knew why this was so. They called him Napao Wetikoo--the
man-devil. This was under their breath--a name whispered sinisterly in
the glow of tepee fires, or spoken softly where not even the winds
might carry it to the ears of Bush McTaggart. They feared him; they
hated him. They died of starvation and sickness, and the tighter Bush
McTaggart clenched the fingers of his iron rule, the more meekly, it
seemed to him, did they respond to his mastery. His was a small soul,
hidden in the hulk of a brute, which rejoiced in power. And here--with
the raw wilderness on four sides of him--his power knew no end. The big
company was behind him. It had made him king of a domain in which there
was little law except his own. And in return he gave back to the
company bales and bundles of furs beyond their expectation. It was not
for them to have suspicions. They were a thousand or more miles
away--and dollars were what counted.
Gregson might have told. Gregson was the investigating agent of that
district, who visited McTaggart once each year. He might have reported
that the Indians called McTaggart Napao Wetikoo because he gave them
only half price for their furs. He might have told the company quite
plainly that he kept the people of the trap lines at the edge of
starvation through every month of the winter, that he had them on their
knees with his hands at their throats--putting the truth in a mild and
pretty way--and that he always had a woman or a girl, Indian or
half-breed, living with him at the Post. But Gregson enjoyed his visits
too much at Lac Bain. Always he could count on two weeks of coarse
pleasures. And in addition to that, his own womenfolk at home wore a
rich treasure of fur that came to them from McTaggart.
One evening, a week after the adventure of Nepeese and Baree under the
rock, McTaggart sat under the glow of an oil lamp in his "store." He
had sent his little pippin-faced English clerk to bed, and he was
alone. For six weeks there had been in him a great unrest. It was just
six weeks ago that Pierrot had brought Nepeese on her first visit to
Lac Bain since McTaggart had been factor there. She had taken his
breath away. Since then he had been able to think of nothing but her.
Twice in that six weeks he had gone down to Pierrot's cabin. Tomorrow
he was going again. Marie, the slim Cree girl over in his cabin, he had
forgotten--just as a dozen others before Marie had slipped out of his
memory. It was Nepeese now. He had never seen anything quite so
beautiful as Pierrot's girl.
Audibly he cursed Pierrot as he looked at a sheet of paper under his
hand, on which for an hour or more he had been making notes out of worn
and dusty company ledgers. It was Pierrot who stood in his way.
Pierrot's father, according to those notes, had been a full-blooded
Frenchman. Therefore Pierrot was half French, and Nepeese was quarter
French--though she was so beautiful he could have sworn there was not
more than a drop or two of Indian blood in her veins. If they had been
all Indian--Chipewyan, Cree, Ojibway, Dog Rib--anything--there would
have been no trouble at all in the matter. He would have bent them to
his power, and Nepeese would have come to his cabin, as Marie had come
six months ago. But there was the accursed French of it! Pierrot and
Nepeese were different. And yet--
He smiled grimly, and his hands clenched tighter. After all, was not
his power sufficient? Would even Pierrot dare stand up against that? If
Pierrot objected, he would drive him from the country--from the
trapping regions that had come down to him as heritage from father and
grandfather, and even before their day. He would make of Pierrot a
wanderer and an outcast, as he had made wanderers and outcasts of a
score of others who had lost his favor. No other Post would sell to or
buy from Pierrot if Le Bete--the black cross--was put after his name.
That was his power--a law of the factors that had come down through the
centuries. It was a tremendous power for evil. It had brought him
Marie, the slim, dark-eyed Cree girl, who hated him--and who in spite
of her hatred "kept house for him."
That was the polite way of explaining her presence if explanations were
ever necessary. McTaggart looked again at the notes he had made on the
sheet of paper. Pierrot's trapping country, his own property according
to the common law of the wilderness, was very valuable. During the last
seven years he had received an average of a thousand dollars a year for
his furs, for McTaggart had been unable to cheat Pierrot quite as
completely as he had cheated the Indians. A thousand dollars a year!
Pierrot would think twice before he gave that up. McTaggart chuckled as
he crumpled the paper in his hand and prepared to put out the light.
Under his close-cropped beard his reddish face blazed with the fire
that was in his blood. It was an unpleasant face--like iron, merciless,
filled with the look that gave him his name of Napao Wetikoo. His eyes
gleamed, and he drew a quick breath as he put out the light.
He chuckled again as he made his way through the darkness to the door.
Nepeese as good as belonged to him. He, would have her if it
cost--PIERROT'S LIFE. And--WHY NOT? It was all so easy. A shot on a
lonely trap line, a single knife thrust--and who would know? Who would
guess where Pierrot had gone? And it would all be Pierrot's fault. For
the last time he had seen Pierrot, he had made an honest proposition:
he would marry Nepeese. Yes, even that. He had told Pierrot so. He had
told Pierrot that when the latter was his father-in-law, he would pay
him double price for furs.
And Pierrot had stared--had stared with that strange, stunned look in
his face, like a man dazed by a blow from a club. And so if he did not
get Nepeese without trouble it would all be Pierrot's fault. Tomorrow
McTaggart would start again for the half-breed's country. And the next
day Pierrot would have an answer for him. Bush McTaggart chuckled again
as he went to bed.
Until the next to the last day Pierrot said nothing to Nepeese about
what had passed between him and the factor at Lac Bain. Then he told
"He is a beast--a man-devil," he said, when he had finished. "I would
rather see you out there--with her--dead." And he pointed to the tall
spruce under which the princess mother lay.
Nepeese had not uttered a sound. But her eyes had grown bigger and
darker, and there was a flush in her cheeks which Pierrot had never
seen there before. She stood up when he had finished, and she seemed
taller to him. Never had she looked quite so much like a woman, and
Pierrot's eyes were deep-shadowed with fear and uneasiness as he
watched her while she gazed off into the northwest--toward Lac Bain.
She was wonderful, this slip of a girl-woman. Her beauty troubled him.
He had seen the look in Bush McTaggart's eyes. He had heard the thrill
in McTaggart's voice. He had caught the desire of a beast in
McTaggart's face. It had frightened him at first. But now--he was not
frightened. He was uneasy, but his hands were clenched. In his heart
there was a smoldering fire. At last Nepeese turned and came and sat
down beside him again, at his feet.
"He is coming tomorrow, ma cherie," he said. "What shall I tell him?"
The Willow's lips were red. Her eyes shone. But she did not look up at
"Nothing, Nootawe--except that you are to say to him that I am the one
to whom he must come--for what he seeks."
Pierrot bent over and caught her smiling. The sun went down. His heart
sank with it, like cold lead.
From Lac Bain to Pierrot's cabin the trail cut within half a mile of
the beaver pond, a dozen miles from where Pierrot lived. And it was
here, on a twist of the creek in which Wakayoo had caught fish for
Baree, that Bush McTaggart made his camp for the night. Only twenty
miles of the journey could be made by canoe, and as McTaggart was
traveling the last stretch afoot, his camp was a simple affair--a few
cut balsams, a light blanket, a small fire. Before he prepared his
supper, the factor drew a number of copper wire snares from his small
pack and spent half an hour in setting them in rabbit runways. This
method of securing meat was far less arduous than carrying a gun in hot
weather, and it was certain. Half a dozen snares were good for at least
three rabbits, and one of these three was sure to be young and tender
enough for the frying pan. After he had placed his snares McTaggart set
a skillet of bacon over the coals and boiled his coffee.
Of all the odors of a camp, the smell of bacon reaches farthest in the
forest. It needs no wind. It drifts on its own wings. On a still night
a fox will sniff it a mile away--twice that far if the air is moving in
the right direction. It was this smell of bacon that came to Baree
where he lay in his hollow on top of the beaver dam.
Since his experience in the canyon and the death of Wakayoo, he had not
fared particularly well. Caution had kept him near the pond, and he had
lived almost entirely on crayfish. This new aroma that came with the
night wind roused his hunger. But it was elusive: now he could smell
it--the next instant it was gone. He left the dam and began questing
for the source of it in the forest, until after a time he lost it
altogether. McTaggart had finished frying his bacon and was eating it.
It was a splendid night that followed. Perhaps Baree would have slept
through it in his nest on the top of the dam if the bacon smell had not
stirred the new hunger in him. Since his adventure in the canyon, the
deeper forest had held a dread for him, especially at night. But this
night was like a pale, golden day. It was moonless; but the stars shone
like a billion distant lamps, flooding the world in a soft and billowy
sea of light. A gentle whisper of wind made pleasant sounds in the
treetops. Beyond that it was very quiet, for it was Puskowepesim--the
Molting Moon--and the wolves were not hunting, the owls had lost their
voice, the foxes slunk with the silence of shadows, and even the
beavers had begun to cease their labors. The horns of the moose, the
deer, and the caribou were in tender velvet, and they moved but little
and fought not at all. It was late July, Molting Moon of the Cree, Moon
of Silence for the Chipewyan.
In this silence Baree began to hunt. He stirred up a family of
half-grown partridges, but they escaped him. He pursued a rabbit that
was swifter than he. For an hour he had no luck. Then he heard a sound
that made every drop of blood in him thrill. He was close to
McTaggart's camp, and what he had heard was a rabbit in one of
McTaggart's snares. He came out into a little starlit open and there he
saw the rabbit going through a most marvelous pantomime. It amazed him
for a moment, and he stopped in his tracks.
Wapoos, the rabbit, had run his furry head into the snare, and his
first frightened jump had "shot" the sapling to which the copper wire
was attached so that he was now hung half in mid-air, with only his
hind feet touching the ground. And there he was dancing madly while the
noose about his neck slowly choked him to death.
Baree gave a sort of gasp. He could understand nothing of the part that
the wire and the sapling were playing in this curious game. All he
could see was that Wapoos was hopping and dancing about on his hind
legs in a most puzzling and unrabbitlike fashion. It may be that he
thought it some sort of play. In this instance, however, he did not
regard Wapoos as he had looked on Umisk the beaver. He knew that Wapoos
made mighty fine eating, and after another moment or two of hesitation
he darted upon his prey.
Wapoos, half gone already, made almost no struggle, and in the glow of
the stars Baree finished him, and for half an hour afterward he feasted.
McTaggart had heard no sound, for the snare into which Wapoos had run
his head was the one set farthest from his camp. Beside the smoldering
coals of his fire he sat with his back to a tree, smoking his black
pipe and dreaming covetously of Nepeese, while Baree continued his
night wandering. Baree no longer had the desire to hunt. He was too
full. But he nosed in and out of the starlit spaces, enjoying immensely
the stillness and the golden glow of the night. He was following a
rabbit-run when he came to a place where two fallen logs left a trail
no wider than his body. He squeezed through; something tightened about
his neck. There was a sudden snap--a swish as the sapling was released
from its "trigger"--and Baree was jerked off his feet so suddenly that
he had no time to conjecture as to what was happening.
The yelp in his throat died in a gurgle, and the next moment he was
going through the pantomimic actions of Wapoos, who was having his
vengeance inside him. For the life of him Baree could not keep from
dancing about, while the wire grew tighter and tighter about his neck.
When he snapped at the wire and flung the weight of his body to the
ground, the sapling would bend obligingly, and then--in its
rebound--would yank him for an instant completely off the earth.
Furiously he struggled. It was a miracle that the fine wire held him.
In a few moments more it must have broken--but McTaggart had heard him!
The factor caught up his blanket and a heavy stick as he hurried toward
the snare. It was not a rabbit making those sounds--he knew that.
Perhaps a fishercat--a lynx, a fox, a young wolf--
It was the wolf he thought of first when he saw Baree at the end of the
wire. He dropped the blanket and raised the club. If there had been
clouds overhead, or the stars had been less brilliant, Baree would have
died as surely as Wapoos had died. With the club raised over his head
McTaggart saw in time the white star, the white-tipped ear, and the jet
black of Baree's coat.
With a swift movement he exchanged the club for the blanket.
In that hour, could McTaggart have looked ahead to the days that were
to come, he would have used the club. Could he have foreseen the great
tragedy in which Baree was to play a vital part, wrecking his hopes and
destroying his world, he would have beaten him to a pulp there under
the light of the stars. And Baree, could he have foreseen what was to
happen between this brute with a white skin and the most beautiful
thing in the forests, would have fought even more bitterly before he
surrendered himself to the smothering embrace of the factor's blanket.
On this night Fate had played a strange hand for them both, and only
that Fate, and perhaps the stars above, held a knowledge of what its
outcome was to be.
Half an hour later Bush McTaggart's fire was burning brightly again. In
the glow of it Baree lay trussed up like an Indian papoose, tied into a
balloon-shaped ball with babiche thong, his head alone showing where
his captor had cut a hole for it in the blanket. He was hopelessly
caught--so closely imprisoned in the blanket that he could scarcely
move a muscle of his body. A few feet away from him McTaggart was
bathing a bleeding hand in a basin of water. There was also a red
streak down the side of McTaggart's bullish neck.
"You little devil!" he snarled at Baree. "You little devil!"
He reached over suddenly and gave Baree's head a vicious blow with his
"I ought to beat your brains out, and--I believe I will!"
Baree watched him as he picked up a stick close at his side--a bit of
firewood. Pierrot had chased him, but this was the first time he had
been near enough to the man-monster to see the red glow in his eyes.
They were not like the eyes of the wonderful creature who had almost
caught him in the web of her hair, and who had crawled after him under
the rock. They were the eyes of a beast. They made him shrink and try
to draw his head back into the blanket as the stick was raised. At the
same time he snarled. His white fangs gleamed in the firelight. His
ears were flat. He wanted to sink his teeth in the red throat where he
had already drawn blood.
The stick fell. It fell again and again, and when McTaggart was done,
Baree lay half stunned, his eyes partly closed by the blows, and his
"That's the way we take the devil out of a wild dog," snarled
McTaggart. "I guess you won't try the biting game again, eh, youngster?
A thousand devils--but you went almost to the bone of this hand!"
He began washing the wound again. Baree's teeth had sunk deep, and
there was a troubled look in the factor's face. It was July--a bad
month for bites. From his kit he got a small flask of whisky and turned
a bit of the raw liquor on the wound, cursing Baree as it burned into
Baree's half-shut eyes were fixed on him steadily. He knew that at last
he had met the deadliest of all his enemies. And yet he was not afraid.
The club in Bush McTaggart's hand had not killed his spirit. It had
killed his fear. It had roused in him a hatred such as he had never
known--not even when he was fighting Oohoomisew, the outlaw owl. The
vengeful animosity of the wolf was burning in him now, along with the
savage courage of the dog. He did not flinch when McTaggart approached
him again. He made an effort to raise himself, that he might spring at
this man-monster. In the effort, swaddled as he was in the blanket. he
rolled over in a helpless and ludicrous heap.
The sight of it touched McTaggart's risibilities, and he laughed. He
sat down with his back to the tree again and filled his pipe.
Baree did not take his eyes from McTaggart as he smoked. He watched the
man when the latter stretched himself out on the bare ground and went
to sleep. He listened, still later, to the man-monster's heinous
snoring. Again and again during the long night he struggled to free
himself. He would never forget that night. It was terrible. In the
thick, hot folds of the blanket his limbs and body were suffocated
until the blood almost stood still in his veins. Yet he did not whine.
They began to journey before the sun was up, for if Baree's blood was
almost dead within him, Bush McTaggart's was scorching his body. He
made his last plans as he walked swiftly through the forest with Baree
under his arm. He would send Pierrot at once for Father Grotin at his
mission seventy miles to the west. He would marry Nepeese--yes, marry
her! That would tickle Pierrot. And he would be alone with Nepeese
while Pierrot was gone for the missioner.
This thought flamed McTaggart's blood like strong whisky. There was no
thought in his hot and unreasoning brain of what Nepeese might say--of
what she might think. His hand clenched, and he laughed harshly as
there flashed on him for an instant the thought that perhaps Pierrot
would not want to give her up. Pierrot! Bah! It would not be the first
time he had killed a man--or the second.
McTaggart laughed again, and he walked still faster. There was no
chance of his losing--no chance for Nepeese to get away from him.
He--Bush McTaggart--was lord of this wilderness, master of its people,
arbiter of their destinies. He was power--and the law.
The sun was well up when Pierrot, standing in front of his cabin with
Nepeese, pointed to a rise in the trail three or four hundred yards
away, over which McTaggart had just appeared.
"He is coming."
With a face which had aged since last night he looked at Nepeese. Again
he saw the dark glow in her eyes and the deepening red of her parted
lips, and his heart was sick again with dread. Was it possible-
She turned on him, her eyes shining, her voice trembling.
"Remember, Nootawe--you must send him to me for his answer," she cried
quickly, and she darted into the cabin. With a cold, gray face Pierrot
faced Bush McTaggart.
From the window, her face screened by the folds of the curtain which
she had made for it, the Willow could see what happened outside. She
was not smiling now. She was breathing quickly, and her body was tense.
Bush McTaggart paused not a dozen feet from the window and shook hands
with Pierrot, her father. She heard McTaggart's coarse voice, his
boisterous greeting, and then she saw him showing Pierrot what he
carried under his arm. There came to her distinctly his explanation of
how he had caught his captive in a rabbit snare. He unwrapped the
blanket. Nepeese gave a cry of amazement. In an instant she was out
beside them. She did not look at McTaggart's red face, blazing in its
joy and exultation.
"It is Baree!" she cried.
She took the bundle from McTaggart and turned to Pierrot.
"Tell him that Baree belongs to me," she said.
She hurried into the cabin. McTaggart looked after her, stunned and
amazed. Then he looked at Pierrot. A man half blind could have seen
that Pierrot was as amazed as he.
Nepeese had not spoken to him--the factor of Lac Bain! She had not
LOOKED at him! And she had taken the dog from him with as little
concern as though he had been a wooden man. The red in his face
deepened as he stared from Pierrot to the door through which she had
gone, and which she had closed behind her.
On the floor of the cabin Nepeese dropped on her knees and finished
unwrapping the blanket. She was not afraid of Baree. She had forgotten
McTaggart. And then, as Baree rolled in a limp heap on the floor, she
saw his half-closed eyes and the dry blood on his jaws, and the light
left her face as swiftly as the sun is shadowed by a cloud. "Baree,"
she cried softly. "Baree--Baree!"
She partly lifted him in her two hands. Baree's head sagged. His body
was numbed until he was powerless to move. His legs were without
feeling. He could scarcely see. But he heard her voice! It was the same
voice that had come to him that day he had felt the sting of the
bullet, the voice that had pleaded with him under the rock!
The voice of the Willow thrilled Baree. It seemed to stir the sluggish
blood in his veins, and he opened his eyes wider and saw again the
wonderful stars that had glowed at him so softly the day of Wakayoo's
death. One of the Willow's long braids fell over her shoulder, and he
smelled again the sweet scent of her hair as her hand caressed him and
her voice talked to him. Then she got up suddenly and left him, and he
did not move while he waited for her. In a moment she was back with a
basin of water and a cloth. Gently she washed the blood from his eyes
and mouth. And still Baree made no move. He scarcely breathed. But
Nepeese saw the little quivers that shot through his body when her hand
touched him, like electric shocks.
"He beat you with a club," she was saying, her dark eyes within a foot
of Baree's. "He beat you! That man-beast!"
There came an interruption. The door opened, and the man-beast stood
looking down on them, a grin on his red face. Instantly Baree showed
that he was alive. He sprang back from under the Willow's hand with a
sudden snarl and faced McTaggart. The hair of his spine stood up like a
brush; his fangs gleamed menacingly, and his eyes burned like living
"There is a devil in him," said McTaggart. "He is wild--born of the
wolf. You must be careful or he will take off a hand, kit sakahet." It
was the first time he had called her that lover's name in
Cree--SWEETHEART! Her heart pounded. She bent her head for a moment
over her clenched hands, and McTaggart--looking down on what he thought
was her confusion--laid his hand caressingly on her hair. From the door
Pierrot had heard the word, and now he saw the caress, and he raised a
hand as if to shut out the sight of a sacrilege.
"Mon Dieu!" he breathed.
In the next instant he had given a sharp cry of wonder that mingled
with a sudden yell of pain from McTaggart. Like a flash Baree had
darted across the floor and fastened his teeth in the factor's leg.
They had bitten deep before McTaggart freed himself with a powerful
kick. With an oath he snatched his revolver from its holster. The
Willow was ahead of him. With a little cry she darted to Baree and
caught him in her arms. As she looked up at McTaggart, her soft, bare
throat was within a few inches of Baree's naked fangs. Her eyes blazed.
"You beat him!" she cried. "He hates you--hates you--"
"Let him go!" called Pierrot in an agony of fear.
"Mon Dieu! I say let him go, or he will tear the life from you!"
"He hates you--hates you--hates you--" the Willow was repeating over
and over again into McTaggart's startled face. Then suddenly she turned
to her father. "No, he will not tear the life from me," she cried.
"See! It is Baree. Did I not tell you that? It is Baree! Is it not
proof that he defended me--"
"From me!" gasped McTaggart, his face darkening.
Pierrot advanced and laid a hand on McTaggart's arm. He was smiling.
"Let us leave them to fight it out between themselves, m'sieu," he
said. "They are two little firebrands, and we are not safe. If she is
He shrugged his shoulders. A great load had been lifted from them
suddenly. His voice was soft and persuasive. And now the anger had gone
out of the Willow's face. A coquettish uplift of her eyes caught
McTaggart, and she looked straight at him half smiling, as she spoke to
"I will join you soon, mon pere--you and M'sieu the Factor from Lac
There were undeniable little devils in her eyes, McTaggart
thought--little devils laughing full at him as she spoke, setting his
brain afire and his blood to throbbing wildly. Those eyes--full of
dancing witches! How he would take pleasure in taming them--very soon
now! He followed Pierrot outside. In his exultation he no longer felt
the smart of Baree's teeth.
"I will show you my new cariole that I have made for winter, m'sieu,"
said Pierrot as the door closed behind them.
Half an hour later Nepeese came out of the cabin. She could see that
Pierrot and the factor had been talking about something that had not
been pleasant to her father. His face was strained. She caught in his
eyes the smolder of fire which he was trying to smother, as one might
smother flames under a blanket. McTaggart's jaws were set, but his eyes
lighted up with pleasure when he saw her. She knew what it was about.
The factor from Lac Bain had been demanding his answer of Pierrot, and
Pierrot had been telling him what she had insisted upon--that he must
come to her. And he was coming! She turned with a quick beating of the
heart and hurried down a little path. She heard McTaggart's footsteps
behind her, and threw the flash of a smile over her shoulder. But her
teeth were set tight. The nails of her fingers were cutting into the
palms of her hands.
Pierrot stood without moving. He watched them as they disappeared into
the edge of the forest, Nepeese still a few steps ahead of McTaggart.
Out of his breast rose a sharp breath.
"Par les mills cornes du diable!" he swore softly. "Is it
possible--that she smiles from her heart at that beast? Non! It is
impossible. And yet--if it is so--"
One of his brown hands tightened convulsively about the handle of the
knife in his belt, and slowly he began to follow them.
McTaggart did not hurry to overtake Nepeese. She was following the
narrow path deeper into the forest, and he was glad of that. They would
be alone--away from Pierrot. He was ten steps behind her, and again the
Willow smiled at him over her shoulder. Her body moved sinuously and
swiftly. She was keeping accurate measurement of the distance between
them--but McTaggart did not guess that this was why she looked back
every now and then. He was satisfied to let her go on. When she turned
from the narrow trail into a side path that scarcely bore the mark of
travel, his heart gave an exultant jump. If she kept on, he would very
soon have her alone--a good distance from the cabin. The blood ran hot
in his face. He did not speak to her, through fear that she would stop.
Ahead of them he heard the rumble of water. It was the creek running
through the chasm.
Nepeese was making straight for that sound. With a little laugh she
started to run, and when she stood at the edge of the chasm, McTaggart
was fully fifty yards behind her. Twenty feet sheer down there was a
deep pool between the rock walls, a pool so deep that the water was the
color of blue ink. She turned to face the factor from Lac Bain. He had
never looked more like a red beast to her. Until this moment she had
been unafraid. But now--in an instant--he terrified her. Before she
could speak what she had planned to say, he was at her side, and had
taken her face between his two great hands, his coarse fingers twining
in the silken strands of her thick braids where they fell over her
shoulders at the neck.
"Ka sakahet!" he cried passionately. "Pierrot said you would have an
answer for me. But I need no answer now. You are mine! Mine!"
She gave a cry. It was a gasping, broken cry. His arms were about her
like bands of iron, crushing her slender body, shutting off her breath,
turning the world almost black before her eyes. She could neither
struggle nor cry out. She felt the hot passion of his lips on her face,
heard his voice--and then came a moment's freedom, and air into her
strangled lungs. Pierrot was calling! He had come to the fork in the
trail, and he was calling the Willow's name!
McTaggart's hot hand came over her mouth.
"Don't answer," she heard him say.
Strength--anger--hatred flared up in her, and fiercely she struck the
hand down. Something in her wonderful eyes held McTaggart. They blazed
into his very soul.
"Bete noir!" she panted at him, freeing herself from the last touch of
his hands. "Beast--black beast!" Her voice trembled, and her face
flamed. "See--I came to show you my pool--and tell you what you wanted
to hear--and you--you--have crushed me like a beast--like a great
rock-- See! down there--it is my pool!"
She had not planned it like this. She had intended to be smiling, even
laughing, in this moment. But McTaggart had spoiled them--her carefully
made plans! And yet, as she pointed, the factor from Lac Bain looked
for an instant over the edge of the chasm. And then she
laughed--laughed as she gave him a sudden shove from behind.
"And that is my answer, M'sieu le Facteur from Lac Bain!" she cried
tauntingly as he plunged headlong into the deep pool between the rock
From the edge of the open Pierrot saw what had happened, and he gave a
great gasp of horror. He drew back among the balsams. This was not a
moment for him to show himself. While his heart drummed like a hammer,
his face was filled with joy.
On her hands and knees the Willow was peering over the edge. Bush
McTaggart had disappeared. He had gone down like the great clod he was.
The water of her pool had closed over him with a dull splash that was
like a chuckle of triumph. He appeared now, beating out with his arms
and legs to keep himself afloat, while the Willow's voice came to him
in taunting cries.
"Bete noir! Bete noir! Beast! Beast--"
Savagely she flung small sticks and tufts of earth down at him; and
McTaggart, looking up as he gained his equilibrium, saw her leaning so
far over that she seemed almost about to fall. Her long braids hung
down into the chasm, gleaming in the sun. Her eyes were laughing while
her lips taunted him. He could see the flash of her white teeth.
He began swimming, still looking up at her. It was a hundred yards down
the slow-going current to the beach of shale where he could climb out,
and a half of that distance she followed him, laughing and taunting
him, and flinging down sticks and pebbles. He noted that none of the
sticks or stones was large enough to hurt him. When at last his feet
touched bottom, she was gone.
Swiftly Nepeese ran back over the trail, and almost into Pierrot's
arms. She was panting and laughing when for a moment she stopped.
"I have given him the answer, Nootawe! He is in the pool!"
Into the balsams she disappeared like a bird. Pierrot made no effort to
stop her or to follow.
"Tonnerre de Dieu," he chuckled--and cut straight across for the other
Nepeese was out of breath when she reached the cabin. Baree, fastened
to a table leg by a babiche thong, heard her pause for a moment at the
door. Then she entered and came straight to him. During the half-hour
of her absence Baree had scarcely moved. That half-hour, and the few
minutes that had preceded it, had made tremendous impressions upon him.
Nature, heredity, and instinct were at work, clashing and readjusting,
impinging on him a new intelligence--the beginning of a new
understanding. A swift and savage impulse had made him leap at Bush
McTaggart when the factor put his hand on the Willow's head. It was not
reason. It was a hearkening back of the dog to that day long ago when
Kazan, his father, had lulled the man-brute in the tent, the man-brute
who had dared to molest Thorpe's wife, whom Kazan worshiped. Then it
had been the dog--and the woman.
And here again it was the woman. She had appealed to the great hidden
passion that was in Baree and that had come to him from Kazan. Of all
the living things in the world, he knew that he must not hurt this
creature that appeared to him through the door. He trembled as she
knelt before him again, and up through the years came the wild and
glorious surge of Kazan's blood, overwhelming the wolf, submerging the
savagery of his birth--and with his head flat on the floor he whined
softly, and WAGGED HIS TAIL.
Nepeese gave a cry of joy.
"Baree!" she whispered, taking his head in her hands. "Baree!"
Her touch thrilled him. It sent little throbs through his body, a
tremulous quivering which she could feel and which deepened the glow in
her eyes. Gently her hand stroked his head and his back. It seemed to
Nepeese that he did not breathe. Under the caress of her hand his eyes
closed. In another moment she was talking to him, and at the sound of
her voice his eyes shot open.
"He will come here--that beast--and he will kill us," she was saying.
"He will kill you because you bit him, Baree. Ugh, I wish you were
bigger, and stronger, so that you could take off his head for me!"
She was untying the babiche from about the table leg, and under her
breath she laughed. She was not frightened. It was a tremendous
adventure--and she throbbed with exultation at the thought of having
beaten the man-beast in her own way. She could see him in the pool
struggling and beating about like a great fish. He was just about
crawling out of the chasm now--and she laughed again as she caught
Baree up under her arm.
"Oh--oopi-nao--but you are heavy!" she gasped, "And yet I must carry
you--because I am going to run!"
She hurried outside. Pierrot had not come, and she darted swiftly into
the balsams back of the cabin, with Baree hung in the crook of her arm,
like a sack filled at both ends and tied in the middle. He felt like
that, too. But he still had no inclination to wriggle himself free.
Nepeese ran with him until her arm ached. Then she stopped and put him
down on his feet, holding to the end of the caribou-skin thong that was
tied about his neck. She was prepared for any lunge he might make to
escape. She expected that he would make an attempt, and for a few
moments she watched him closely, while Baree, with his feet on earth
once more, looked about him. And then the Willow spoke to him softly.
"You are not going to run away, Baree. Non, you are going to stay with
me, and we will kill that man-beast if he dares do to me again what he
did back there." She flung back the loose hair from about her flushed
face, and for a moment she forgot Baree as she thought of that
half-minute at the edge of the chasm. He was looking straight up at her
when her glance fell on him again. "Non, you are not going to run
away--you are going to follow me," she whispered. "Come."
The babiche string tightened about Baree's neck as she urged him to
follow. It was like another rabbit snare, and he braced his forefeet
and bared his fangs just a little. The Willow did not pull. Fearlessly
she put her hand on his head again. From the direction of the cabin
came a shout, and at the sound of it she took Baree up under her arm
"Bete noir--bete noir!" she called back tauntingly, but only loud
enough to be heard a few yards away. "Go back to Lac Bain--owases--you
Nepeese began to make her way swiftly through the forest. It grew
deeper and darker, and there were no trails. Three times in the next
half-hour she stopped to put Baree down and rest her arm. Each time she
pleaded with him coaxingly to follow her. The second and third times
Baree wriggled and wagged his tail, but beyond those demonstrations of
his satisfaction with the turn his affairs had taken he would not go.
When the string tightened around his neck, he braced himself; once he
growled--again he snapped viciously at the babiche. So Nepeese
continued to carry him.
They came at last into a clearing. It was a tiny meadow in the heart of
the forest, not more than three or four times as big as the cabin.
Underfoot the grass was soft and green, and thickly strewn with
flowers. Straight through the heart of this little oasis trickled a
streamlet across which the Willow jumped with Baree under her arm, and
on the edge of the rill was a small wigwam made of freshly cut spruce
and balsam boughs. Into her diminutive mekewap the Willow thrust her
head to see that things were as she had left them yesterday. Then, with
a long breath of relief, she put down her four-legged burden and
fastened the end of the babiche to one of the cut spruce limbs.
Baree burrowed himself back into the wall of the wigwam, and with head
alert--and eyes wide open--watched his companion attentively. Not a
movement of the Willow escaped him. She was radiant--and happy. Her
laugh, sweet and wild as a bird's trill, set Baree's heart throbbing
with a desire to jump about with her among the flowers.
For a time Nepeese seemed to forget Baree. Her wild blood raced with
the joy of her triumph over the factor from Lac Bain. She saw him
again, floundering about in the pool--pictured him at the cabin now,
soaked and angry, demanding of mon pere where she had gone. And mon
pere, with a shrug of his shoulders, was telling him that he didn't
know--that probably she had run off into the forest. It did not enter
into her head that in tricking Bush McTaggart in that way she was
playing with dynamite. She did not foresee the peril that in an instant
would have stamped the wild flush from her face and curdled the blood
in her veins--she did not guess that McTaggart had become for her a
deadlier menace than ever.
Nepeese knew that he must be angry. But what had she to fear? Mon pere
would be angry, too, if she told him what had happened at the edge of
the chasm. But she would not tell him. He might kill the man from Lac
Bain. A factor was great. But Pierrot, her father, was greater. It was
an unlimited faith in her, born of her mother. Perhaps even now Pierrot
was sending him back to Lac Bain, telling him that his business was
there. But she would not return to the cabin to see. She would wait
here. Mon pere would understand--and he knew where to find her when the
man was gone. But it would have been such fun to throw sticks at him as
After a little Nepeese returned to Baree. She brought him water and
gave him a piece of raw fish. For hours they were alone, and with each
hour there grew stronger in Baree the desire to follow the girl in
every movement she made, to crawl close to her when she sat down, to
feel the touch of her dress, of her hand--and to hear her voice. But he
did not show this desire. He was still a little savage of the
forests--a four-footed barbarian born half of a wolf and half of a dog;
and he lay still. With Umisk he would have played. With Oohoomisew he
would have fought. At Bush McTaggart he would have bared his fangs, and
buried them deep when the chance came. But the girl was different. Like
the Kazan of old, he had begun to worship. If the Willow had freed
Baree, he would not have run away. If she had left him, he would
possibly have followed her--at a distance. His eyes were never away
from her. He watched her build a small fire and cook a piece of the
fish. He watched her eat her dinner.
It was quite late in the afternoon when she came and sat down close to
him, with her lap full of flowers which she twined in the long, shining
braids of her hair. Then, playfully, she began beating Baree with the
end of one of these braids. He shrank under the soft blows, and with
that low, birdlike laughter in her throat, Nepeese drew his head into
her lap where the scatter of flowers lay. She talked to him. Her hand
stroked his head. Then it remained still, so near that he wanted to
thrust out his warm red tongue and caress it. He breathed in the
flower-scented perfume of it--and lay as if dead. It was a glorious
moment. Nepeese, looking down on him, could not see that he was
There came an interruption. It was the snapping of a dry stick. Through
the forest Pierrot had come with the stealth of a cat, and when they
looked up, he stood at the edge of the open. Baree knew that it was not
Bush McTaggart. But it was a man-beast! Instantly his body stiffened
under the Willow's hand. He drew back slowly and cautiously from her
lap, and as Pierrot advanced, Baree snarled. The next instant Nepeese
had risen and had run to Pierrot. The look in her father's face alarmed
"What has happened, man pere?" she cried.
Pierrot shrugged his shoulders.
"Nothing, ma Nepeese--except that you have roused a thousand devils in
the heart of the factor from Lac Barn, and that--"
He stopped as he saw Baree, and pointed at him.
"Last night when M'sieu the Factor caught him in a snare, he bit
m'sieu's hand. M'sieu's hand is swollen twice its size, and I can see
his blood turning black. It is pechipoo."
"Pechipoo!" gasped Nepeese.
She looked into Pierrot's eyes. They were dark, and filled with a
sinister gleam--a flash of exultation, she thought.
"Yes, it is the blood poison," said Pierrot. A gleam of cunning shot
into his eyes as he looked over his shoulder, and nodded. "I have
hidden the medicine--and told him there is no time to lose in getting
back to Lac Bain. And he is afraid--that devil! He is waiting. With
that blackening hand, he is afraid to start back alone--and so I go
with him. And--listen, ma Nepeese. We will be away by sundown, and
there is something you must know before I go."
Baree saw them there, close together in the shadows thrown by the tall
spruce trees. He heard the low murmur of their voices--chiefly of
Pierrot's, and at last he saw Nepeese put her two arms up around the
man-beast's neck, and then Pierrot went away again into the forest. He
thought that the Willow would never turn her face toward him after
that. For a long time she stood looking in the direction which Pierrot
had taken. And when after a time she turned and came back to Baree, she
did not look like the Nepeese who had been twining flowers in her hair.
The laughter was gone from her face and eyes. She knelt down beside him
and with sudden fierceness she cried:
"It is pechipoo, Baree! It was you--you--who put the poison in his
blood. And I hope he dies! For I am afraid--afraid!"
Perhaps it was in this moment that the Great Spirit of things meant
Baree to understand--that at last it was given him to comprehend that
his day had dawned, that the rising and the setting of his sun no
longer existed in the sky but in this girl whose hand rested on his
head. He whined softly, and inch by inch he dragged himself nearer to
her until again his head rested in the hollow of her lap.
For a long time after Pierrot left them the Willow did not move from
the spot where she had seated herself beside Baree. It was at last the
deepening shadows and a low rumble in the sky that roused her from the
fear of the things Pierrot had told her. When she looked up, black
clouds were massing slowly over the open space above the spruce tops.
Darkness was falling. In the whisper of the wind and the dead stillness
of the thickening gloom there was the sullen brewing of storm. Tonight
there would be no glorious sunset. There would be no twilight hour in
which to follow the trail, no moon, no stars--and unless Pierrot and
the factor were already on their way, they would not start in the face
of the pitch blackness that would soon shroud the forest.
Nepeese shivered and rose to her feet. For the first time Baree got up,
and he stood close at her side. Above them a flash of lightning cut the
clouds like a knife of fire, followed in an instant by a terrific crash
of thunder. Baree shrank back as if struck a blow. He would have slunk
into the shelter of the brush wall of the wigwam, but there was
something about the Willow as he looked at her which gave him
confidence. The thunder crashed again. But he retreated no farther. His
eyes were fixed on Nepeese.
She stood straight and slim in that gathering gloom riven by the
lightning, her beautiful head thrown back, her lips parted, and her
eyes glowing with an almost eager anticipation--a sculptured goddess
welcoming with bated breath the onrushing forces of the heavens.
Perhaps it was because she was born during a night of storm. Many times
Pierrot and the dead princess mother had told her that--how on the
night she had come into the world the crash of thunder and the flare of
lightning had made the hours an inferno, how the streams had burst over
their banks and the stems of ten thousand forest trees had snapped in
its fury--and the beat of the deluge on their cabin roof had drowned
the sound of her mother's pain, and of her own first babyish cries.
On that night, it may be, the Spirit of Storm was born in Nepeese. She
loved to face it, as she was facing it now. It made her forget all
things but the splendid might of nature. Her half-wild soul thrilled to
the crash and fire of it. Often she had reached up her bare arms and
laughed with joy as the deluge burst about her. Even now she might have
stood there in the little open until the rain fell, if a whine from
Baree had not caused her to turn. As the first big drops struck with
the dull thud of leaden bullets about them, she went with him into the
Once before Baree had passed through a night of terrible storm--the
night he had hidden himself under a root and had seen the tree riven by
lightning; but now he had company, and the warmth and soft pressure of
the Willow's hand on his head and neck filled him with a strange
courage. He growled softly at the crashing thunder. He wanted to snap
at the lightning flashes. Under her hand Nepeese felt the stiffening of
his body, and in a moment of uncanny stillness she heard the sharp,
uneasy click of his teeth. Then the rain fell.
It was not like other rains Baree had known. It was an inundation
sweeping down out of the blackness of the skies. Within five minutes
the interior of the balsam shelter was a shower bath. After half an
hour of that torrential downpour, Nepeese was soaked to the skin. The
water ran in little rivulets down her body. It trickled in tiny streams
from her drenched braids and dropped from her long lashes, and the
blanket under her became wet as a mop. To Baree it was almost as bad as
his near-drowning in the stream after his fight with Papayuchisew, and
he snuggled closer and closer under the sheltering arm of the Willow.
It seemed an interminable time before the thunder rolled far to the
east, and the lightning died away into distant and intermittent
flashings. Even after that the rain fell for another hour. Then it
stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
With a laughing gasp Nepeese rose to her feet. The water gurgled in her
moccasins as she walked out into the open. She paid no attention to
Baree--and he followed her. Across the open in the treetops the last of
the storm clouds were drifting away. A star shone--then another; and
the Willow stood watching them as they appeared until there were so
many she could not count. It was no longer black. A wonderful starlight
flooded the open after the inky gloom of the storm.
Nepeese looked down and saw Baree. He was standing quietly and
unleashed, with freedom on all sides of him. Yet he did not run. He was
waiting, wet as a water rat, with his eyes fixed on her expectantly.
Nepeese made a movement toward him, and hesitated.
"No, you will not run away, Baree. I will leave you free. And now we
must have a fire!"
A fire! Anyone but Pierrot might have said that she was crazy. Not a
stem or twig in the forest that was not dripping! They could hear the
trickle of running water all about them.
"A fire," she said again. "Let us hunt for the wuskisi, Baree."
With her wet clothes clinging to her lightly, she was like a slim
shadow as she crossed the soggy clearing and lost herself among the
forest trees. Baree still followed. She went straight to a birch tree
that she had located that day and began tearing off the loose bark. An
armful of this bark she carried close to the wigwam, and on it she
heaped load after load of wet wood until she had a great pile. From a
bottle in the wigwam she secured a dry match, and at the first touch of
its tiny flame the birch bark flared up like paper soaked in oil. Half
an hour later the Willow's fire--if there had been no forest walls to
hide it--could have been seen at the cabin a mile away. Not until it
was blazing a dozen feet into the air did she cease piling wood on it.
Then she drove sticks into the soft ground and over these sticks she
stretched the blanket out to dry.
So their first night passed--storm, the cool, deep pool, the big fire;
and later, when the Willow's clothes and the blanket had dried, a few
hours' sleep. At dawn they returned to the cabin. It was a cautious
approach. There was no smoke coming from the chimney. The door was
closed. Pierrot and Bush McTaggart were gone.
It was the beginning of August--the Flying-up Moon--when Pierrot
returned from Lac Bain, and in three days more it would be the Willow's
seventeenth birthday. He brought back with him many things for
Nepeese--ribbons for her hair, real shoes, which she wore at times like
the two Englishwomen at Nelson House, and chief glory of all, some
wonderful red cloth for a dress. In the three winters she had spent at
the mission these women had made much of Nepeese. They had taught her
to sew as well as to spell and read and pray, and at times there came
to the Willow a compelling desire to do as they did.
So for three days Nepeese worked hard on her new dress and on her
birthday she stood before Pierrot in a fashion that took his breath
away. She had piled her hair in great coils on the crown of her head,
as Yvonne, the younger of the Englishwomen, had taught her, and in the
rich jet of it had half buried a vivid sprig of the crimson fireflower.
Under this, and the glow in her eyes, and the red flush of her lips and
cheeks came the wonderful red dress, fitted to the slim and sinuous
beauty of her form--as the style had been two winters ago at Nelson
House. And below the dress, which reached just below the knees--Nepeese
had quite forgotten the proper length, or else her material had run
out--came the coup de maitre of her toilet, real stockings and the gay
shoes with high heels! She was a vision before which the gods of the
forests might have felt their hearts stop beating. Pierrot turned her
round and round without a word, but smiling. When she left him,
however, followed by Baree, and limping a little because of the
tightness of her shoes, the smile faded from his face, leaving it cold
"Mon Dieu," he whispered to himself in French, with a thought that was
like a sharp stab at his heart, "she is not of her mother's blood--non.
It is French. She is--yes--like an angel."
A change had come over Pierrot. During the three days she had been
engaged in her dressmaking, Nepeese had been quite too excited to
notice this change, and Pierrot had tried to keep it from her. He had
been away ten days on the trip to Lac Bain, and he brought back to
Nepeese the joyous news that M'sieu McTaggart was very sick with
pechipoo--the blood poison--news that made the Willow clap her hands
and laugh happily. But he knew that the factor would get well, and that
he would come again to their cabin on the Gray Loon. And when next time
It was while he was thinking of this that his face grew cold and hard,
and his eyes burned. And he was thinking of it on this her birthday,
even as her laughter floated to him like a song. dim, in spite of her
seventeen years, she was nothing but a child--a baby! She could not
guess his horrible visions. And the dread of awakening her for all time
from that beautiful childhood kept him from telling her the whole truth
so that she might have understood fully and completely. Non, it should
not be that. His soul beat with a great and gentle love. He, Pierrot Du
Quesne, would do the watching. And she should laugh and sing and
play--and have no share in the black forebodings that had come to spoil
On this day there came up from the south MacDonald, the government map
maker. He was gray and grizzled, with a great, free laugh and a clean
heart. Two days he remained with Pierrot. He told Nepeese of his
daughters at home, of their mother, whom he worshiped more than
anything else on earth--and before he went on in his quest of the last
timber line of Banksian pine, he took pictures of the Willow as he had
first seen her on her birthday: her hair piled in glossy coils, her red
dress, the high-heeled shoes. He carried the negatives on with him,
promising Pierrot that he would get a picture back in some way. Thus
fate works in its strange and apparently innocent ways as it spins its
webs of tragedy.
For many weeks after MacDonald's visit there followed tranquil days on
the Gray Loon. They were wonderful days for Baree. At first he was
suspicious of Pierrot. After a little he tolerated him, and at last
accepted him as a part of the cabin--and Nepeese. It was the Willow
whose shadow he became. Pierrot noted the attachment with the deepest
"Ah, in a few months more, if he should leap at the throat of M'sieu
the Factor," he said to himself one day.
In September, when he was six months old, Baree was almost as large as
Gray Wolf--big-boned, long-fanged, with a deep chest, and jaws that
could already crack a bone as if it were a stick. He was with Nepeese
whenever and wherever she moved. They swam together in the two
pools--the pool in the forest and the pool between the chasm walls. At
first it alarmed Baree to see Nepeese dive from the rock wall over
which she had pushed McTaggart, but at the end of a month she had
taught him to plunge after her through that twenty feet of space.
It was late in August when Baree saw the first of his kind outside of
Kazan and Gray Wolf. During the summer Pierrot allowed his dogs to run
at large on a small island in the center of a lake two or three miles
away, and twice a week he netted fish for them. On one of these trips
Nepeese accompanied him and took Baree with her. Pierrot carried his
long caribou-gut whip. He expected a fight. But there was none. Baree
joined the pack in their rush for fish, and ate with them. This pleased
Pierrot more than ever.
"He will make a great sledge dog," he chuckled. "It is best to leave
him for a week with the pack, ma Nepeese."
Reluctantly Nepeese gave her consent. While the dogs were still at
their fish, they started homeward. Their canoe had slipped away before
Baree discovered the trick they had played on him. Instantly he leaped
into the water and swam after them--and the Willow helped him into his
Early in September a passing Indian brought Pierrot word of Bush
McTaggart. The factor had been very sick. He had almost died from the
blood poison, but he was well now. With the first exhilarating tang of
autumn in the air a new dread oppressed Pierrot. But at present he said
nothing of what was in his mind to Nepeese. The Willow had almost
forgotten the factor from Lac Bain, for the glory and thrill of
wilderness autumn was in her blood. She went on long trips with
Pierrot, helping him to blaze out the new trap lines that would be used
when the first snows came, and on these journeys she was always
accompanied by Baree.
Most of Nepeese's spare hours she spent in training him for the sledge.
She began with a babiche string and a stick. It was a whole day before
she could induce Baree to drag this stick without turning at every
other step to snap and growl at it. Then she fastened another length of
babiche to him, and made him drag two sticks. Thus little by little she
trained him to the sledge harness, until at the end of a fortnight he
was tugging heroically at anything she had a mind to fasten him to.
Pierrot brought home two of the dogs from the island, and Baree was put
into training with these, and helped to drag the empty sledge. Nepeese
was delighted. On the day the first light snow fell she clapped her
hands and cried to Pierrot:
"By midwinter I will have him the finest dog in the pack, mon pere!"
This was the time for Pierrot to say what was in his mind. He smiled.
Diantre--would not that beast the factor fall into the very devil of a
rage when he found how he had been cheated! And yet--
He tried to make his voice quiet and commonplace.
"I am going to send you down to the school at Nelson House again this
winter, ma cherie," he said. "Baree will help draw you down on the
first good snow."
The Willow was tying a knot in Baree's babiche, and she rose slowly to
her feet and looked at Pierrot. Her eyes were big and dark and steady.
"I am not going, mon pere!"
It was the first time Nepeese had ever said that to Pierrot--in just
that way. It thrilled him. And he could scarcely face the look in her
eyes. He was not good at bluffing. She saw what was in his face; it
seemed to him that she was reading what was in his mind, and that she
grew a little taller as she stood there. Certainly her breath came
quicker, and he could see the throb of her breast. Nepeese did not wait
for him to gather speech.
"I am not going!" she repeated with even greater finality, and bent
again over Baree.
With a shrug of his shoulders Pierrot watched her. After all, was he
not glad? Would his heart not have turned sick if she had been happy at
the thought of leaving him? He moved to her side and with great
gentleness laid a hand on her glossy head. Up from under it the Willow
smiled at him. Between them they heard the click of Baree's jaws as he
rested his muzzle on the Willow's arm. For the first time in weeks the
world seemed suddenly filled with sunshine for Pierrot. When he went
back to the cabin he held his head higher. Nepeese would not leave him!
He laughed softly. He rubbed his hands together. His fear of the factor
from Lac Bain was gone. From the cabin door he looked back at Nepeese
"The Saints be blessed!" he murmured. "Now--now--it is Pierrot Du
Quesne who knows what to do!"
Back to Lac Bain, late in September, came MacDonald the map maker. For
ten days Gregson, the investigating agent, had been Bush McTaggart's
guest at the Post, and twice in that time it had come into Marie's mind
to creep upon him while he slept and kill him. The factor himself paid
little attention to her now, a fact which would have made her happy if
it had not been for Gregson. He was enraptured with the wild, sinuous
beauty of the Cree girl, and McTaggart, without jealousy, encouraged
him. He was tired of Marie.
McTaggart told Gregson this. He wanted to get rid of her, and if
he--Gregson--could possibly take her along with him it would be a great
favor. He explained why. A little later, when the deep snows came, he
was going to bring the daughter of Pierrot Du Quesne to the Post. In
the rottenness of their brotherhood he told of his visit, of the manner
of his reception, and of the incident at the chasm. In spite of all
this, he assured Gregson, Pierrot's girl would soon be at Lac Bain.
It was at this time that MacDonald came. He remained only one night,
and without knowing that he was adding fuel to a fire already
dangerously blazing, he gave the photograph he had taken of Nepeese to
the factor. It was a splendid picture.
"If you can get it down to that girl some day I'll be mightily
obliged," he said to McTaggart. "I promised her one. Her father's name
is Du Quesne--Pierrot Du Quesne. You probably know them. And the girl--"
His blood warmed as he described to McTaggart how beautiful she was
that day in her red dress, which appeared black in the photograph. He
did not guess how near McTaggart's blood was to the boiling point.
The next day MacDonald started for Norway House. McTaggart did not show
Gregson the picture. He kept it to himself and at night, under the glow
of his lamp, he looked at it with thoughts that filled him with a
growing resolution. There was but one way. The scheme had been in his
mind for weeks--and the picture determined him. He dared not whisper
his secret even to Gregson. But it was the one way. It would give him
Nepeese. Only--he must wait for the deep snows, the midwinter snows.
They buried their tragedies deepest.
McTaggart was glad when Gregson followed the map maker to Norway House.
Out of courtesy he accompanied him a day's journey on his way. When he
returned to the Post, Marie was gone. He was glad. He sent off a runner
with a load of presents for her people, and the message: "Don't beat
her. Keep her. She is free."
Along with the bustle and stir of the beginning of the trapping season
McTaggart began to prepare his house for the coming of Nepeese. He knew
what she liked in the way of cleanliness and a few other things. He had
the log walls painted white with the lead and oil that were intended
for his York boats. Certain partitions were torn down, and new ones
were built. The Indian wife of his chief runner made curtains for the
windows, and he confiscated a small phonograph that should have gone on
to Lac la Biche. He had no doubts, and he counted the days as they
Down on the Gray Loon Pierrot and Nepeese were busy at many things, so
busy that at times Pierrot's fears of the factor at Lac Bain were
almost forgotten, and they slipped out of the Willow's mind entirely.
It was the Red Moon, and both thrilled with the anticipation and
excitement of the winter hunt. Nepeese carefully dipped a hundred traps
in boiling caribou fat mixed with beaver grease, while Pierrot made
fresh deadfalls ready for setting on his trails. When he was gone more
than a day from the cabin, she was always with him.
But at the cabin there was much to do, for Pierrot, like all his
Northern brotherhood, did not begin to prepare until the keen tang of
autumn was in the air. There were snowshoes to be rewebbed with new
babiche; there was wood to be cut in readiness for the winter storms.
The cabin had to be banked, a new harness made, skinning knives
sharpened and winter moccasins to be manufactured --a hundred and one
affairs to be attended to, even to the repairing of the meat rack at
the back of the cabin, where, from the beginning of cold weather until
the end, would hang the haunches of deer, caribou, and moose for the
family larder and, when fish were scarce, the dogs' rations.
In the bustle of all these preparations Nepeese was compelled to give
less attention to Baree than she had during the preceding weeks. They
did not play so much; they no longer swam, for with the mornings there
was deep frost on the ground, and the water was turning icy cold. They
no longer wandered deep in the forest after flowers and berries. For
hours at a time Baree would now lie at the Willow's feet, watching her
slender fingers as they weaved swiftly in and out with her snowshoe
babiche. And now and then Nepeese would pause to lean over and put her
hand on his head, and talk to him for a moment--sometimes in her soft
Cree, sometimes in English or her father's French.
It was the Willow's voice which Baree had learned to understand, and
the movement of her lips, her gestures, the poise of her body, the
changing moods which brought shadow or sunlight into her face. He knew
what it meant when she smiled. He would shake himself, and often jump
about her in sympathetic rejoicing, when she laughed. Her happiness was
such a part of him that a stern word from her was worse than a blow.
Twice Pierrot had struck him, and twice Baree had leaped back and faced
him with bared fangs and an angry snarl, the crest along his back
standing up like a brush. Had one of the other dogs done this, Pierrot
would have half-killed him. It would have been mutiny, and the man must
be master. But Baree was always safe. A touch of the Willow's hand, a
word from her lips, and the crest slowly settled and the snarl went out
of his throat.
Pierrot was not at all displeased.
"Dieu. I will never go so far as to try and whip that out of him," he
told himself. "He is a barbarian--a wild beast--and her slave. For her
he would kill!"
So it turned out, through Pierrot himself--and without telling his
reason for it--that Baree did not become a sledge dog. He was allowed
his freedom, and was never tied, like the others. Nepeese was glad, but
did not guess the thought that was in Pierrot's mind. To himself
Pierrot chuckled. She would never know why he kept Baree always
suspicious of him, even to the point of hating him.
It required considerable skill and cunning on his part. With himself he
"If I make him hate me, he will hate all men. Mey-oo! That is good."
So he looked into the future--for Nepeese.
Now the tonic-filled days and cold, frosty nights of the Red Moon
brought about the big change in Baree. It was inevitable. Pierrot knew
that it would come, and the first night that Baree settled back on his
haunches and howled up at the Red Moon, Pierrot prepared Nepeese for it.
"He is a wild dog, ma Nepeese," he said to her. "He is half wolf, and
the Call will come to him strong. He will go into the forests. He will
disappear at times. But we must not fasten him. He will come back. Ka,
he will come back!" And he rubbed his hands in the moonglow until his
The Call came to Baree like a thief entering slowly and cautiously into
a forbidden place. He did not understand it at first. It made him
nervous and uneasy, so restless that Nepeese frequently heard him whine
softly in his sleep. He was waiting for something. What was it? Pierrot
knew, and smiled in his inscrutable way.
And then it came. It was night, a glorious night filled with moon and
stars, under which the earth was whitening with a film of frost, when
they heard the first hunt call of the wolves. Now and then during the
summer there had come the lone wolf howl, but this was the tonguing of
the pack; and as it floated through the vast silence and mystery of the
night, a song of savagery that had come with each Red Moon down through
unending ages, Pierrot knew that at last had come that for which Baree
had been waiting.
In an instant Baree had sensed it. His muscles grew taut as pieces of
stretched rope as he stood up in the moonlight, facing the direction
from which floated the mystery and thrill of the sound. They could hear
him whining softly; and Pierrot, bending down so that he caught the
light of the night properly, could see him trembling.
"It is Mee-Koo!" he said in a whisper to Nepeese.
That was it, the call of the blood that was running swift in Baree's
veins--not alone the call of his species, but the call of Kazan and
Gray Wolf and of his forbears for generations unnumbered. It was the
voice of his people. So Pierrot had whispered, and he was right. In the
golden night the Willow was waiting, for it was she who had gambled
most, and it was she who must lose or win. She uttered no sound,
replied not to the low voice of Pierrot, but held her breath and
watched Baree as he slowly faded away, step by step, into the shadows.
In a few moments more he was gone. It was then that she stood straight,
and flung back her head, with eyes that glowed in rivalry with the
"Baree!" she called. "Baree! Baree! Baree!"
He must have been near the edge of the forest, for she had drawn a
slow, waiting breath or two before he was and he whined up into her
face. Nepeese put her hands to his head.
"You are right, mon pere," she said. "He will go to the wolves, but he
will come back. He will never leave me for long." With one hand still
on Baree's head, she pointed with the other into the pitlike blackness
of the forest. "Go to them, Baree!" she whispered. "But you must come
back. You must. Cheamao!"
With Pierrot she went into the cabin; the door closed silence. In it he
could hear the soft night sounds: the clinking of the chains to which
the dogs were fastened, the restless movement of their bodies, the
throbbing whir of a pair of wings, the breath of the night itself. For
to him this night, even in its stillness, seemed alive. Again he went
into it, and close to the forest once more he stopped to listen. The
wind had turned, and on it rode the wailing, blood-thrilling cry of the
pack. Far off to the west a lone wolf turned his muzzle to the sky and
answered that gathering call of his clan. And then out of the east came
a voice, so far beyond the cabin that it was like an echo dying away in
the vastness of the night.
A choking note gathered in Baree's throat. He threw up his head.
Straight above him was the Red Moon, inviting him to the thrill and
mystery of the open world.
The sound grew in his throat, and slowly it rose in volume until his
answer was rising to the stars. In their cabin Pierrot and the Willow
heard it. Pierrot shrugged his shoulders.
"He is gone," he said.
"Oui, he is gone, mon pere" replied Nepeese, peering through the window.
No longer, as in the days of old, did the darkness of the forests hold
a fear for Baree. This night his hunt cry had risen to the stars and
the moon, and in that cry he had, for the first time, sent forth his
defiance of night and space, his warning to all the wild, and his
acceptance of the Brotherhood. In that cry, and the answers that came
back to him, he sensed a new power--the final triumph of nature in
telling him that the forests and the creatures they held were no longer
to be feared, but that all things feared him. Off there, beyond the
pale of the cabin and the influence of Nepeese, were all the things
that the wolf blood in him found now most desirable: companionship of
his kind, the lure of adventure, the red, sweet blood of the chase--and
matehood. This last, after all, was the dominant mystery that was
urging him, and yet least of all did he understand it.
He ran straight into the darkness to the north and west, slinking low
under the bushes, his tail drooping, his ears aslant--the wolf as the
wolf runs on the night trail. The pack had swung due north, and was
traveling faster than he, so that at the end of half an hour he could
no longer hear it. But the lone wolf howl to the west was nearer, and
three times Baree gave answer to it.
At the end of an hour he heard the pack again, swinging southward.
Pierrot would easily have understood. Their quarry had found safety
beyond water, or in a lake, and the muhekuns were on a fresh trail. By
this time not more than a quarter of a mile of the forest separated
Baree from the lone wolf, but the lone wolf was also an old wolf, and
with the directness and precision of long experience, he swerved in the
direction of the hunters, compassing his trail so that he was heading
for a point half or three-quarters of a mile in advance of the pack.
This was a trick of the Brotherhood which Baree had yet to learn; and
the result of his ignorance, and lack of skill, was that twice within
the next half-hour he found himself near to the pack without being able
to join it. Then came a long and final silence. The pack had pulled
down its kill, and in their feasting they made no sound.
The rest of the night Baree wandered alone, or at least until the moon
was well on the wane. He was a long way from the cabin, and his trail
had been an uncertain and twisting one, but he was no longer possessed
with the discomforting sensation of being lost. The last two or three
months had been developing strongly in him the sense of orientation,
that "sixth sense" which guides the pigeon unerringly on its way and
takes a bear straight as a bird might fly to its last year's denning
Baree had not forgotten Nepeese. A dozen times he turned his head back
and whined, and always he picked out accurately the direction in which
the cabin lay. But he did not turn back. As the night lengthened, his
search for that mysterious something which he had not found continued.
His hunger, even with the fading-out of the moon and the coming of the
gray dawn, was not sufficiently keen to make him hunt for food.
It was cold, and it seemed colder when the glow of the moon and stars
died out. Under his padded feet, especially in the open spaces, was a
thick white frost in which he left clearly at times the imprint of his
toes and claws. He had traveled steadily for hours, a great many miles
in all, and he was tired when the first light of the day came. And then
there came the time when, with a sudden sharp click of his jaws, he
stopped like a shot in his tracks.
At last it had come--the meeting with that for which he had been
seeking. It was in a clearing, lighted by the cold dawn--a tiny
amphitheater that lay on the side of a ridge, facing the east. With her
head toward him, and waiting for him as he came out of the shadows, his
scent strong in her keen nose, stood Maheegun, the young wolf. Baree
had not smelled her, but he saw her directly he came out of the rim of
young balsams that fringed the clearing. It was then that he stopped,
and for a full minute neither of them moved a muscle or seemed to
There was not a fortnight's difference in their age and yet Maheegun
was much the smaller of the two. Her body was as long, but she was
slimmer; she stood on slender legs that were almost like the legs of a
fox, and the curve of her back was that of a slightly bent bow, a sign
of swiftness almost equal to the wind. She stood poised for flight even
as Baree advanced his first step toward her, and then very slowly her
body relaxed, and in a direct ratio as he drew nearer her ears lost
their alertness and dropped aslant.
Baree whined. His own ears were up, his head alert, his tail aloft and
bushy. Cleverness, if not strategy, had already become a part of his
masculine superiority, and he did not immediately press the affair. He
was within five feet of Maheegun when he casually turned away from her
and faced the cast, where a faint penciling of red and gold was
heralding the day. For a few moments he sniffed and looked around and
pointed the wind with much seriousness, as though impressing on his
fair acquaintance--as many a two-legged animal has done before him--his
tremendous importance in the world at large.
And Maheegun was properly impressed. Baree's bluff worked as
beautifully as the bluffs of the two-legged animals. He sniffed the air
with such thrilling and suspicious zeal that Maheegun's ears sprang
alert, and she sniffed it with him. He turned his head from point to
point so sharply and alertly that her feminine curiosity, if not
anxiety, made her turn her own head in questioning conjunction. And
when he whined, as though in the air he had caught a mystery which she
could not possibly understand, a responsive note gathered in her
throat, but smothered and low as a woman's exclamation when she is not
quite sure whether she should interrupt her lord or not. At this sound,
which Baree's sharp ears caught, he swung up to her with a light and
mincing step, and in another moment they were smelling noses.
When the sun rose, half an hour later, it found them still in the small
clearing on the side of the ridge, with a deep fringe of forest under
them, and beyond that a wide, timbered plain which looked like a
ghostly shroud in its mantle of frost. Up over this came the first red
glow of the day, filling the clearing with a warmth that grew more and
more comfortable as the sun crept higher.
Neither Baree nor Maheegun were inclined to move for a while, and for
an hour or two they lay basking in a cup of the slope, looking down
with questing and wide-awake eyes upon the wooded plain that stretched
away under them like a great sea.
Maheegun, too, had sought the hunt pack, and like Baree had failed to
catch it. They were tired, a little discouraged for the time, and
hungry--but still alive with the fine thrill of anticipation, and
restlessly sensitive to the new and mysterious consciousness of
companionship. Half a dozen times Baree got up and nosed about Maheegun
as the lay in the sun, whining to her softly and touching her soft coat
with his muzzle, but for a long time she paid little attention to him.
At last she followed him. All that day they wandered and rested
together. Once more the night came.
It was without moon or stars. Gray masses of clouds swept slowly down
out of the north and east, and in the treetops there was scarcely a
whisper of wind as night gathered in. The snow began to fall at dusk,
thickly, heavily, without a breath of sound. It was not cold, but it
was still--so still that Baree and Maheegun traveled only a few yards
at a time, and then stopped to listen. In this way all the night
prowlers of the forest were traveling, if they were moving at all. It
was the first of the Big Snow.
To the flesh-eating wild things of the forests, clawed and winged, the
Big Snow was the beginning of the winter carnival of slaughter and
feasting, of wild adventure in the long nights, of merciless warfare on
the frozen trails. The days of breeding, of motherhood--the peace of
spring and summer--were over. Out of the sky came the wakening of the
Northland, the call of all flesh-eating creatures to the long hunt, and
in the first thrill of it living things were moving but little this
night, and that watchfully and with suspicion. Youth made it all new to
Baree and Maheegun. Their blood ran swiftly; their feet fell softly;
their ears were attuned to catch the slightest sounds.
In this first of the Big Snow they felt the exciting pulse of a new
life. It lured them on. It invited them to adventure into the white
mystery of the silent storm; and inspired by that restlessness of youth
and its desires, they went on.
The snow grew deeper under their feet. In the open spaces they waded
through it to their knees, and it continued to fall in a vast white
cloud that descended steadily out of the sky. It was near midnight when
it stopped. The clouds drifted away from under the stars and the moon,
and for a long time Baree and Maheegun stood without moving, looking
down from the bald crest of a ridge upon a wonderful world.
Never had they been able to see so far, except in the light of day.
Under them was a plain. They could make out forests, lone trees that
stood up like shadows out of the snow, a stream--still
unfrozen--shimmering like glass with the flicker of firelight on it.
Toward this stream Baree led the way. He no longer thought of Nepeese,
and he whined with pent-up happiness as he stopped halfway down and
turned to muzzle Maheegun. He wanted to roll in the snow and frisk
about with his companion; he wanted to bark, to put up his head and
howl as he had howled at the Red Moon back at the cabin.
Something held him from doing any of these things. Perhaps it was
Maheegun's demeanor. She accepted his attentions rigidly. Once or twice
she had seemed almost frightened; twice Baree had heard the sharp
clicking of her teeth. The previous night, and all through tonight's
storm, their companionship had grown more intimate, but now there was
taking its place a mysterious aloofness on the part of Maheegun.
Pierrot could have explained. With moon and stars above him, Baree,
like the night, had undergone a transformation which even the sunlight
of day had not made in him before. His coat was like polished jet.
Every hair in his body glistened black. BLACK! That was it. And Nature
was trying to tell Maheegun that of all the creatures hated by her
kind, the creature which they feared and hated most was black. With her
it was not experience, but instinct--telling her of the age-old feud
between the gray wolf and the black bear. And Baree's coat, in the
moonlight and the snow, was blacker than Wakayoo's had ever been in the
fish-fattening days of May. Until they struck the broad openings of the
plain, the young she-wolf had followed Baree without hesitation; now
there was a gathering strangeness and indecision in her manner, and
twice she stopped and would have let Baree go on without her.
An hour after they entered the plain there came suddenly out of the
west the tonguing of the wolf pack. It was not far distant, probably
not more than a mile along the foot of the ridge, and the sharp, quick
yapping that followed the first outburst was evidence that the
long-fanged hunters had put up sudden game, a caribou or young moose,
and were close at its heels. At the voice of her own people Maheegun
laid her ears close to her head and was off like an arrow from a bow.
The unexpectedness of her movement and the swiftness of her flight put
Baree well behind her in the race over the plain. She was running
blindly, favored by luck. For an interval of perhaps five minutes the
pack were so near to their game that they made no sound, and the chase
swung full into the face of Maheegun and Baree. The latter was not half
a dozen lengths behind the young wolf when a crashing in the brush
directly ahead stopped them so sharply that they tore up the snow with
their braced forefeet and squat haunches. Ten seconds later a caribou
burst through and flashed across a clearing not more than twenty yards
from where they stood. They could hear its swift panting as it
disappeared. And then came the pack.
At sight of those swiftly moving gray bodies Baree's heart leaped for
an instant into his throat. He forgot Maheegun, and that she had run
away from him. The moon and the stars went out of existence for him. He
no longer sensed the chill of the snow under his feet. He was wolf--all
wolf. With the warm scent of the caribou in his nostrils, and the
passion to kill sweeping through him like fire, he darted after the
Even at that, Maheegun was a bit ahead of him. He did not miss her. In
the excitement of his first chase he no longer felt the desire to have
her at his side. Very soon he found himself close to the flanks of one
of the gray monsters of the pack. Half a minute later a new hunter
swept in from the bush behind him, and then a second, and after that a
third. At times he was running shoulder to shoulder with his new
companions. He heard the whining excitement in their throats; the snap
of their jaws as they ran--and in the golden moonlight ahead of him the
sound of a caribou as it plunged through thickets and over windfalls in
its race for life.
It was as if Baree had belonged to the pack always. He had joined it
naturally, as other stray wolves had joined it from out of the bush.
There had been no ostentation, no welcome such as Maheegun had given
him in the open, and no hostility. He belonged with these slim,
swift-footed outlaws of the old forests, and his own jaws snapped and
his blood ran hot as the smell of the caribou grew heavier, and the
sound of its crashing body nearer.
It seemed to him they were almost at its heels when they swept into an
open plain, a stretch of barren without a tree or a shrub, brilliant in
the light of the stars and moon. Across its unbroken carpet of snow
sped the caribou a spare hundred yards ahead of the pack. Now the two
leading hunters no longer followed directly in the trail, but shot out
at an angle, one to the right and the other to the left of the pursued,
and like well-trained soldiers the pack split in halves and spread out
fan shape in the final charge.
The two ends of the fan forged ahead and closed in, until the leaders
were running almost abreast of the caribou, with fifty or sixty feet
separating them from the pursued. Thus, adroitly and swiftly, with
deadly precision, the pack had formed a horseshoe cordon of fangs from
which there was but one course of flight--straight ahead. For the
caribou to swerve half a degree to the right or left meant death. It
was the duty of the leaders to draw in the ends of the horseshoe now,
until one or both of them could make the fatal lunge for the
hamstrings. After that it would be a simple matter. The pack would
close in over the caribou like an inundation.
Baree had found his place in the lower rim of the horseshoe, so that he
was fairly well in the rear when the climax came. The plain made a
sudden dip. Straight ahead was the gleam of water--water shimmering
softly in the starglow, and the sight of it sent a final great spurt of
blood through the caribou's bursting heart. Forty seconds would tell
the story--forty seconds of a last spurt for life, of a final
tremendous effort to escape death. Baree felt the sudden thrill of
these moments, and he forged ahead with the others in that lower rim of
the horseshoe as one of the leading wolves made a lunge for the young
bull's hamstring. It was a clean miss. A second wolf darted in. And
this one also missed.
There was no time for others to take their place. From the broken end
of the horseshoe Baree heard the caribou's heavy plunge into water.
When Baree joined the pack, a maddened, mouth-frothing, snarling horde,
Napamoos, the young bull, was well out in the river and swimming
steadily for the opposite shore.
It was then that Baree found himself at the side of Maheegun. She was
panting; her red tongue hung from her open jaws. But at his presence
she brought her fangs together with a snap and slunk from him into the
heart of the wind-run and disappointed pack. The wolves were in an ugly
temper, but Baree did not sense the fact. Nepeese had trained him to
take to water like an otter, and he did not understand why this narrow
river should stop them as it had. He ran down to the water and stood
belly deep in it, facing for an instant the horde of savage beasts
above him, wondering why they did not follow. And he was black--BLACK.
He came among them again, and for the first time they noticed him.
The restless movements of the waters ceased now. A new and wondering
interest held them rigid. Fangs closed sharply. A little in the open
Baree saw Maheegun, with a big gray wolf standing near her. He went to
her again, and this time she remained with flattened ears until he was
sniffing her neck. And then, with a vicious snarl, she snapped at him.
Her teeth sank deep in the soft flesh of his shoulder, and at the
unexpectedness and pain of her attack, he let out a yelp. The next
instant the big gray wolf was at him.
Again caught unexpectedly, Baree went down with the wolf's fangs at his
throat. But in him was the blood of Kazan, the flesh and bone and sinew
of Kazan, and for the first time in his life he fought as Kazan fought
on that terrible day at the top of the Sun Rock. He was young; he had
yet to learn the cleverness and the strategy of the veteran. But his
jaws were like the iron clamps with which Pierrot set his bear traps,
and in his heart was sudden and blinding rage, a desire to kill that
rose above all sense of pain or fear.
That fight, if it had been fair, would have been a victory for Baree,
even in his youth and inexperience. In fairness the pack should have
waited. It was a law of the pack to wait--until one was done for. But
Baree was black. He was a stranger, an interloper, a creature whom they
noticed now in a moment when their blood was hot with the rage and
disappointment of killers who had missed their prey. A second wolf
sprang in, striking Baree treacherously from the flank. And while he
was in the snow, his jaws crushing the foreleg of his first foe, the
pack was on him en masse.
Such an attack on the young caribou bull would have meant death in less
than a minute. Every fang would have found its hold. Baree, by the
fortunate circumstance that he was under his first two assailants and
protected by their bodies, was saved from being torn instantly into
pieces. He knew that he was fighting for his life. Over him the horde
of beasts rolled and twisted and snarled. He felt the burning pain of
teeth sinking into his flesh. He was smothered; a hundred knives seemed
cutting him into pieces; yet no sound--not a whimper or a cry--came
from him now in the horror and hopelessness of it all.
It would have ended in another half-minute had the struggle not been at
the very edge of the bank. Undermined by the erosion of the spring
floods, a section of this bank suddenly gave way, and with it went
Baree and half the pack. In a flash Baree thought of the water and the
escaping caribou. For a bare instant the cave-in had set him free of
the pack, and in that space he gave a single leap over the gray backs
of his enemies into the deep water of the stream. Close behind him half
a dozen jaws snapped shut on empty air. As it had saved the caribou, so
this strip of water shimmering in the glow of the moon and stars had
The stream was not more than a hundred feet in width, but it cost Baree
close to a losing struggle to get across it. Until he dragged himself
out on the opposite shore, the extent of his injuries was not impressed
upon him fully. One hind leg, for the time, was useless. His forward
left shoulder was laid open to the bone. His head and body were torn
and cut; and as he dragged himself slowly away from the stream, the
trail he left in the snow was a red path of blood. It trickled from his
panting jaws, between which his tongue was bleeding. It ran down his
legs and flanks and belly, and it dripped from his ears, one of which
was slit clean for two inches as though cut with a knife. His instincts
were dazed, his perception of things clouded as if by a veil drawn
close over his eyes. He did not hear, a few minutes later, the howling
of the disappointed wolf horde on the other side of the river, and he
no longer sensed the existence of moon or stars. Half dead, he dragged
himself on until by chance he came to a clump of dwarf spruce. Into
this he struggled, and then he dropped exhausted.
All that night and until noon the next day Baree lay without moving.
The fever burned in his blood. It flamed high and swift toward death;
then it ebbed slowly, and life conquered. At noon he came forth. He was
weak, and he wobbled on his legs. His hind leg still dragged, and he
was racked with pain. But it was a splendid day. The sun was warm; the
snow was thawing; the sky was like a great blue sea; and the floods of
life coursed warmly again through Baree's veins. But now, for all time,
his desires were changed, and his great quest at an end.
A red ferocity grew in Baree's eyes as he snarled in the direction of
last night's fight with the wolves. They were no longer his people.
They were no longer of his blood. Never again could the hunt call lure
him or the voice of the pack rouse the old longing. In him there was a
thing newborn, an undying hatred for the wolf, a hatred that was to
grow in him until it became like a disease in his vitals, a thing ever
present and insistent, demanding vengeance on their kind. Last night he
had gone to them a comrade. Today he was an outcast. Cut and maimed,
bearing with him scars for all time, he had learned his lesson of the
wilderness. Tomorrow, and the next day, and for days after that without
number, he would remember the lesson well.
At the cabin on the Gray Loon, on the fourth night of Baree's absence,
Pierrot was smoking his pipe after a great supper of caribou tenderloin
he had brought in from the trail, and Nepeese was listening to his tale
of the remarkable shot he had made, when a sound at the door
interrupted them. Nepeese opened it, and Baree came in. The cry of
welcome that was on the girl's lips died there instantly, and Pierrot
stared as if he could not quite believe this creature that had returned
was the wolf dog. Three days and nights of hunger in which he could not
hunt because of the leg that dragged had put on him the marks of
starvation. Battle-scarred and covered with dried blood clots that
still clung tenaciously to his long hair, he was a sight that drew at
last a long despairing breath from Nepeese. A queer smile was growing
in Pierrot's face as he leaned forward in his chair. Then slowly rising
to his feet and looking closer, he said to Nepeese:
"Ventre Saint Gris! Oui, he has been to the pack, Nepeese, and the pack
turned on him. It was not a two-wolf fight--non! It was the pack. He is
cut and torn in fifty places. And--mon Dieu, he is alive!"
In Pierrot's voice there was growing wonder and amazement. He was
incredulous, and yet he could not disbelieve what his eyes told him.
What had happened was nothing short of a miracle, and for a time he
uttered not a word more but remained staring in silence while Nepeese
recovered from her astonishment to give Baree doctoring and food. After
he had eaten ravenously of cold boiled mush she began bathing his
wounds in warm water, and after that she soothed them with bear grease,
talking to him all the time in her soft Cree. After the pain and hunger
and treachery of his adventure, it was a wonderful homecoming for
Baree. He slept that night at the foot of the Willow's bed. The next
morning it was the cool caress of his tongue on her hand that awakened
With this day they resumed the comradeship interrupted by Baree's
temporary desertion. The attachment was greater than ever on Baree's
part. It was he who had run away from the Willow, who had deserted her
at the call of the pack, and it seemed at times as though he sensed the
depths of his perfidy and was striving to make amends. There was
indubitably a very great change in him. He clung to Nepeese like a
shadow. Instead of sleeping at night in the spruce shelter Pierrot made
for him, he made himself a little hollow in the earth close to the
cabin door. Pierrot thought that he understood, and Nepeese thought
that she understood even more; but in reality the key to the mystery
remained with Baree himself. He no longer played as he had played
before he went off alone into the forest. He did not chase sticks, or
run until he was winded, for the pure joy of running. His puppyishness
was gone. In its place was a great worship and a rankling bitterness, a
love for the girl and a hatred for the pack and all that it stood for.
Whenever he heard the wolf howl, it brought an angry snarl into his
throat, and he would bare his fangs until even Pierrot would draw a
little away from him. But a touch of the girl's hand would quiet him.
In a week or two the heavier snows came, and Pierrot began making his
trips over the trap lines. Nepeese had entered into an exciting bargain
with him this winter. Pierrot had taken her into partnership. Every
fifth trap, every fifth deadfall, and every fifth poison bait was to be
her own, and what they caught or killed was to bring a bit nearer to
realization a wonderful dream that was growing in the Willow's heart.
Pierrot had promised. If they had great luck that winter, they would go
down together on the last snows to Nelson House and buy the little old
organ that was for sale there. And if the organ was sold, they would
work another winter, and get a new one.
This plan gave Nepeese an enthusiastic and tireless interest in the
trap line. With Pierrot it was more or less a fine bit of strategy. He
would have sold his hand to give Nepeese the organ. He was determined
that she should have it, whether the fifth traps and the fifth