Part 3 out of 4
deadfalls and fifth poison baits caught the fur or not. The partnership
meant nothing so far as the actual returns were concerned. But in
another way it meant to Nepeese a business interest, the thrill of
personal achievement. Pierrot impressed on her that it made a comrade
and coworker of her on the trail. His scheme was to keep her with him
when he was away from the cabin. He knew that Bush McTaggart would come
again to the Gray Loon, probably more than once during the winter. He
had swift dogs, and it was a short journey. And when McTaggart came,
Nepeese must not be at the cabin--alone.
Pierrot's trap line swung into the north and west, covering in all a
matter of fifty miles, with an average of two traps, one deadfall, and
a poison bait to each mile. It was a twisting line blazed along streams
for mink, otter, and marten, piercing the deepest forests for fishercat
and lynx and crossing lakes and storm-swept strips of barrens where
poison baits could be set for fox and wolf. Halfway over this line
Pierrot had built a small log cabin, and at the end of it another, so
that a day's work meant twenty-five miles. This was easy for Pierrot,
and not hard on Nepeese after the first few days.
All through October and November they made the trips regularly, making
the round every six days, which gave one day of rest at the cabin on
the Gray Loon and another day in the cabin at the end of the trail. To
Pierrot the winter's work was business, the labor of his people for
many generations back. To Nepeese and Baree it was a wild and joyous
adventure that never for a day grew tiresome. Even Pierrot could not
quite immunize himself against their enthusiasm. It was infectious, and
he was happier than he had been since his sun had set that evening the
princess mother died.
They were glorious months. Fur was thick, and it was steadily cold
without any bad storms. Nepeese not only carried a small pack on her
shoulders in order that Pierrot's load might be lighter, but she
trained Baree to bear tiny shoulder panniers which she manufactured. In
these panniers Baree carried the bait. In at least a third of the total
number of traps set there was always what Pierrot called
trash--rabbits, owls, whisky jacks, jays, and squirrels. These, with
the skin or feathers stripped off, made up the bulk of the bait for the
One afternoon early in December, as they were returning to the Gray
Loon, Pierrot stopped suddenly a dozen paces ahead of Nepeese and
stared at the snow. A strange snowshoe trail had joined their own and
was heading toward the cabin. For half a minute Pierrot was silent and
scarcely moved a muscle as he stared. The trail came straight out of
the north--and off there was Lac Bain.
Also they were the marks of large snowshoes, and the stride indicated
was that of a tall man. Before Pierrot had spoken, Nepeese had guessed
what they meant.
"M'sieu the Factor from Lac Bain!" she said.
Baree was sniffing suspiciously at the strange trail. They heard the
low growl in his throat, and Pierrot's shoulders stiffened.
"Yes, the m'sieu," he said.
The Willow's heart beat more swiftly as they went on. She was not
afraid of McTaggart, not physically afraid. And yet something rose up
in her breast and choked her at the thought of his presence on the Gray
Loon. Why was he there? It was not necessary for Pierrot to answer the
question, even had she given voice to it. She knew. The factor from Lac
Bain had no business there--except to see her. The blood burned red in
her cheeks as she thought again of that minute on the edge of the chasm
when he had almost crushed her in his arms. Would he try that again?
Pierrot, deep in his own somber thoughts, scarcely heard the strange
laugh that came suddenly from her lips. Nepeese was listening to the
growl that was again in Baree's throat. It was a low but terrible
sound. When half a mile from the cabin, she unslung the panniers from
his shoulders and carried them herself. Ten minutes later they saw a
man advancing to meet them.
It was not McTaggart. Pierrot recognized him, and with an audible
breath of relief waved his hand. It was DeBar, who trapped in the
Barren Country north of Lac Bain. Pierrot knew him well. They had
exchanged fox poison. They were friends, and there was pleasure in the
grip of their hands. DeBar stared then at Nepeese.
"Tonnerre, she has grown into a woman!" he cried, and like a woman
Nepeese looked at him straight, with the color deepening in her cheeks,
as he bowed low with a courtesy that dated back a couple of centuries
beyond the trap line.
DeBar lost no time in explaining his mission, and before they reached
the cabin Pierrot and Nepeese knew why he had come. M'sieu, the factor
at Lac Bain, was leaving on a journey in five days, and he had sent
DeBar as a special messenger to request Pierrot to come up to assist
the clerk and the half-breed storekeeper in his absence. Pierrot made
no comment at first. But he was thinking. Why had Bush McTaggart sent
for HIM? Why had he not chosen some one nearer? Not until a fire was
crackling in the sheet-iron stove in the cabin, and Nepeese was busily
engaged getting supper, did he voice these questions to the fox hunter.
DeBar shrugged his shoulders.
"He asked me, at first, if I could stay. But I have a wife with a bad
lung, Pierrot. It was caught by frost last winter, and I dare not leave
her long alone. He has great faith in you. Besides, you know all the
trappers on the company's books at Lac Bain. So he sent for you, and
begs you not to worry about your fur lines, as he will pay you double
what you would catch in the time you are at the Post."
"And--Nepeese?" said Pierrot. "M'sieu expects me to bring her?"
From the stove the Willow bent her head to listen, and her heart leaped
free again at DeBar's answer.
"He said nothing about that. But surely--it will be a great change for
They discussed the matter no more that night. But for hours Pierrot was
still, thinking, and a hundred times he asked himself that same
question: Why had McTaggart sent for him? He was not the only man well
known to the trappers on the company's books. There was Wassoon, for
instance, the half-breed Scandinavian whose cabin was less than four
hours' journey from the Post--or Baroche, the white-bearded old
Frenchman who lived yet nearer and whose word was as good as the Bible.
It must be, he told himself finally, that M'sieu had sent for HIM
because he wanted to win over the father of Nepeese and gain the
friendship of Nepeese herself. For this was undoubtedly a very great
honor that the factor was conferring on him.
And yet, deep down in his heart, he was filled with suspicion. When
DeBar was about to leave the next morning, Pierrot said:
"Tell m'sieu that I will leave for Lac Bain the day after tomorrow."
After DeBar had gone, he said to Nepeese:
"And you shall remain here, ma cherie. I will not take you to Lac Bain.
I have had a dream that m'sieu will not go on a journey, but that he
has lied, and that he will be SICK when I arrive at the Post. And yet,
if it should happen that you care to go--"
Nepeese straightened suddenly, like a reed that has been caught by the
"Non!" she cried, so fiercely that Pierrot laughed, and rubbed his
So it happened that on the second day after the fox hunter's visit
Pierrot left for Lac Bain, with Nepeese in the door waving him good-bye
until he was out of sight.
On the morning of this same day Bush McTaggart rose from his bed while
it was still dark. The time had come. He had hesitated at murder--at
the killing of Pierrot; and in his hesitation he had found a better
way. There could be no escape for Nepeese.
It was a wonderful scheme, so easy of accomplishment, so inevitable in
its outcome. And all the time Pierrot would think he was away to the
east on a mission!
He ate his breakfast before dawn, and was on the trail before it was
yet light. Purposely he struck due east, so that in coming up from the
south and west Pierrot would not strike his sledge tracks. For he had
made up his mind now that Pierrot must never know and must never have a
suspicion, even though it cost him so many more miles to travel that he
would not reach the Gray Loon until the second day. It was better to be
a day late, after all, as it was possible that something might have
delayed Pierrot. So he made no effort to travel fast.
McTaggart took a vast amount of brutal satisfaction in anticipating
what was about to happen, and he reveled in it to the full. There was
no chance for disappointment. He was positive that Nepeese would not
accompany her father to Lac Bain. She would be at the cabin on the Gray
This aloneness to Nepeese was burdened with no thought of danger. There
were times, now, when the thought of being alone was pleasant to her,
when she wanted to dream by herself, when she visioned things into the
mysteries of which she would not admit even Pierrot. She was growing
into womanhood--just the sweet, closed bud of womanhood as yet--still a
girl with the soft velvet of girlhood in her eyes, yet with the mystery
of woman stirring gently in her soul, as if the Great Hand were
hesitating between awakening her and letting her sleep a little longer.
At these times, when the opportunity came to steal hours by herself,
she would put on the red dress and do up her wonderful hair as she saw
it in the pictures of the magazines Pierrot had sent up twice a year
from Nelson House.
On the second day of Pierrot's absence Nepeese dressed herself like
this, but today she let her hair cascade in a shining glory about her,
and about her forehead bound a circlet of red ribbon. She was not yet
done. Today she had marvelous designs. On the wall close to her mirror
she had tacked a large page from a woman's magazine, and on this page
was a lovely vision of curls. Fifteen hundred miles north of the sunny
California studio in which the picture had been taken, Nepeese, with
pouted red lips and puckered forehead, was struggling to master the
mystery of the other girl's curls!
She was looking into her mirror, her face flushed and her eyes aglow in
the excitement of the struggle to fashion one of the coveted ringlets
from a tress that fell away below her hips, when the door opened behind
her, and Bush McTaggart walked in.
The Willow's back was toward the door when the factor from Lac Bain
entered the cabin, and for a few startled seconds she did not turn. Her
first thought was of Pierrot--for some reason he had returned. But even
as this thought came to her, she heard in Baree's throat a snarl that
brought her suddenly to her feet, facing the door.
McTaggart had not entered unprepared. He had left his pack, his gun,
and his heavy coat outside. He was standing with his back against the
door; and at Nepeese--in her wonderful dress and flowing hair--he was
staring as if stunned for a space at what he saw. Fate, or accident,
was playing against the Willow now. If there had been a spark of
slumbering chivalry, of mercy, even, in Bush McTaggart's soul, it was
extinguished by what he saw. Never had Nepeese looked more beautiful,
not even on that day when MacDonald the map maker had taken her
picture. The sun, flooding through the window, lighted up her marvelous
hair. Her flushed face was framed in its lustrous darkness like a
tinted cameo. He had dreamed, but he had pictured nothing like this
woman who stood before him now, her eyes widening with fear and the
flush leaving her face even as he looked at her.
It was not a long interval in which their eyes met in that terrible
silence. Words were unnecessary. At last she understood--understood
what her peril had been that day at the edge of the chasm and in the
forest, when fearlessly she had played with the menace that was
confronting her now.
A breath that was like a sob broke from her lips.
"M'sieu!" she tried to say. But it was only a gasp--an effort.
Plainly she heard the click of the iron bolt as it locked the door.
McTaggart advanced a step.
Only a single step McTaggart advanced. On the floor Baree had remained
like something carved out of stone. He had not moved. He had not made a
sound but that one warning snarl--until McTaggart took the step. And
then, like a flash, he was up and in front of Nepeese, every hair of
his body on end; and at the fury in his growl McTaggart lunged back
against the barred door. A word from Nepeese in that moment, and it
would have been over. But an instant was lost--an instant before her
cry came. In that moment man's hand and brain worked swifter than brute
understanding; and as Baree launched himself at the factor's throat,
there came a flash and a deafening explosion almost in the Willow's
It was a chance shot, a shot from the hip with McTaggart's automatic.
Baree fell short. He struck the floor with a thud and rolled against
the log wall. There was not a kick or a quiver left in his body.
McTaggart laughed nervously as he shoved his pistol back in its
holster. He knew that only a brain shot could have done that.
With her back against the farther wall, Nepeese was waiting. McTaggart
could hear her panting breath. He advanced halfway to her.
"Nepeese, I have come to make you my wife," he said.
She did not answer. He could see that her breath was choking her. She
raised a hand to her throat. He took two more steps, and stopped. He
had never seen such eyes.
"I have come to make you my wife, Nepeese. Tomorrow you will go on to
Nelson House with me, and then back to Lac Bain--forever." He added the
last word as an afterthought. "Forever," he repeated.
He did not mince words. His courage and his determination rose as he
saw her body droop a little against the wall. She was powerless. There
was no escape. Pierrot was gone. Baree was dead.
He had thought that no living creature could move as swiftly as the
Willow when his arms reached out for her. She made no sound as she
darted under one of his outstretched arms. He made a lunge, a savage
grab, and his fingers caught a bit of hair. He heard the snap of it as
she tore herself free and flew to the door. She had thrown back the
bolt when he caught her and his arms closed about her. He dragged her
back, and now she cried out--cried out in her despair for Pierrot, for
Baree, for some miracle of God that might save her.
And Nepeese fought. She twisted in his arms until she was facing him.
She could no longer see. She was smothered in her own hair. It covered
her face and breast and body, suffocating her, entangling her hands and
arms--and still she fought. In the struggle McTaggart stumbled over the
body of Baree, and they went down. Nepeese was up fully five seconds
ahead of the man. She could have reached the door. But again it was her
hair. She paused to fling back the thick masses of it so that she could
see, and McTaggart was at the door ahead of her.
He did not lock it again, but stood facing her. His face was scratched
and bleeding. He was no longer a man but a devil. Nepeese was broken,
panting--a low sobbing came with every breath. She bent down, and
picked up a piece of firewood. McTaggart could see that her strength
was almost gone.
She clutched the stick as he approached her again. But McTaggart had
lost all thought of fear or caution. He sprang upon her like an animal.
The stick of firewood fell. And again fate played against the girl. In
her terror and hopelessness she had caught up the first stick her hand
had touched--a light one. With her last strength she hurled it at
McTaggart, and as it struck his head, he staggered back. But it did not
make him loose his hold.
Vainly she was fighting now, not to strike him or to escape, but to get
her breath. She tried to cry out again, but this time no sound came
from between her gasping lips.
Again he laughed, and as he laughed, he heard the door open. Was it the
wind? He turned, still holding her in his arms.
In the open door stood Pierrot.
During that terrible interval which followed an eternity of time passed
slowly through the little cabin on the Gray Loon--that eternity which
lies somewhere between life and death and which is sometimes meted out
to a human life in seconds instead of years.
In those seconds Pierrot did not move from where he stood in the
doorway. McTaggart, encumbered with the weight in his arms, and staring
at Pierrot, did not move. But the Willow's eyes were opening. And at
the same moment a convulsive quiver ran through the body of Baree,
where he lay near the wall. There was not the sound of a breath. And
then, in that silence, a great gasping sob came from Nepeese.
Then Pierrot stirred to life. Like McTaggart, he had left his coat and
mittens outside. He spoke, and his voice was not like Pierrot's. It was
a strange voice.
"The great God has sent me back in time, m'sieu," he said. "I, too,
traveled by way of the east, and saw your trail where it turned this
No, that was not like Pierrot's voice! A chill ran through McTaggart
now, and slowly he let go of Nepeese. She fell to the floor. Slowly he
"Is it not true, m'sieu?" said Pierrot again. "I have come in time?"
What power was it--what great fear, perhaps, that made McTaggart nod
his head, that made his thick lips form huskily the words, "Yes--in
time." And yet it was not fear. It was something greater, something
more all-powerful than that. And Pierrot said, in that same strange
"I thank the great God!"
The eyes of madman met the eyes of madman now. Between them was death.
Both saw it. Both thought that they saw the direction in which its bony
finger pointed. Both were certain. McTaggart's hand did not go to the
pistol in his holster, and Pierrot did not touch the knife in his belt.
When they came together, it was throat to throat--two beasts now,
instead of one, for Pierrot had in him the fury and strength of the
wolf, the cat, and the panther.
McTaggart was the bigger and heavier man, a giant in strength; yet in
the face of Pierrot's fury he lurched back over the table and went down
with a crash. Many times in his life he had fought, but he had never
felt a grip at his throat like the grip of Pierrot's hands. They almost
crushed the life from him at once. His neck snapped--a little more, and
it would have broken. He struck out blindly, and twisted himself to
throw off the weight of the half-breed's body. But Pierrot was fastened
there, as Sekoosew the ermine had fastened itself at the jugular of the
partridge, and Bush McTaggart's jaws slowly swung open, and his face
began to turn from red to purple.
Cold air rushing through the door, Pierrot's voice and the sound of
battle roused Nepeese quickly to consciousness and the power to raise
herself from the floor. She had fallen near Baree, and as she lifted
her head, her eyes rested for a moment on the dog before they went to
the fighting men. Baree was alive! His body was twitching; his eyes
were open. He made an effort to raise his head as she was looking at
Then she dragged herself to her knees and turned to the men, and
Pierrot, even in the blood-red fury of his desire to kill, must have
heard the sharp cry of joy that came from her when she saw that it was
the factor from Lac Bain who was underneath. With a tremendous effort
she staggered to her feet, and for a few moments she stood swaying
unsteadily as her brain and her body readjusted themselves. Even as she
looked down upon the blackening face from which Pierrot's fingers were
choking the life, Bush McTaggart's hand was groping blindly for his
pistol. He found it. Unseen by Pierrot, he dragged it from its holster.
It was one of the black devils of chance that favored him again, for in
his excitement he had not snapped the safety shut after shooting Baree.
Now he had only strength left to pull the trigger. Twice his forefinger
closed. Twice there came deadened explosion close to Pierrot's body.
In Pierrot's face Nepeese saw what had happened. Her heart died in her
breast as she looked upon the swift and terrible change wrought by
sudden death. Slowly Pierrot straightened. His eyes were wide for a
moment--wide and staring. He made no sound. She could not see his lips
move. And then he fell toward her, so that McTaggart's body was free.
Blindly and with an agony that gave no evidence in cry or word she
flung herself down beside her father. He was dead.
How long Nepeese lay there, how long she waited for Pierrot to move, to
open his eyes, to breathe, she would never know. In that time McTaggart
rose to his feet and stood leaning against the wall, the pistol in his
hand, his brain clearing itself as he saw his final triumph. His work
did not frighten him. Even in that tragic moment as he stood against
the wall, his defense--if it ever came to a defense--framed itself in
his mind. Pierrot had murderously assaulted him--without cause. In
self-defense he had killed him. Was he not the Factor of Lac Bain?
Would not the company and the law believe his word before that of this
girl? His brain leaped with the old exultation. It would never come to
that--to a betrayal of this struggle and death in the cabin--after he
had finished with her! She would not be known for all time as La Bete
Noir. No, they would bury Pierrot, and she would return to Lac Bain
with him. If she had been helpless before, she was ten times more
helpless now. She would never tell of what had happened in the cabin.
He forgot the presence of death as he looked at her, bowed over her
father so that her hair covered him like a silken-shroud. He replaced
the pistol in its holster and drew a deep breath into his lungs. He was
still a little unsteady on his feet, but his face was again the face of
a devil. He took a step, and it was then there came a sound to rouse
the girl. In the shadow of the farther wall Baree had struggled to his
haunches, and now he growled.
Slowly Nepeese lifted her head. A power which she could not resist drew
her eyes up until she was looking into the face of Bush McTaggart. She
had almost lost consciousness of his presence. Her senses were cold and
deadened--it was as if her own heart had stopped beating along with
Pierrot's. What she saw in the factor's face dragged her out of the
numbness of her grief back into the shadow of her own peril. He was
standing over her. In his face there was no pity, nothing of horror at
what he had done--only an insane exultation as he looked--not at
Pierrot's dead body, but at her. He put out a hand, and it rested on
her head. She felt his thick fingers crumpling her hair, and his eyes
blazed like embers of fire behind watery films. She struggled to rise,
but with his hands at her hair he held her down.
"Great God!" she breathed.
She uttered no other words, no plea for mercy, no other sound but a
dry, hopeless sob. In that moment neither of them heard or saw Baree.
Twice in crossing the cabin his hindquarters had sagged to the floor.
Now he was close to McTaggart. He wanted to give a single lunge to the
man-brute's back and snap his thick neck as he would have broken a
caribou bone. But he had no strength. He was still partially paralyzed
from his foreshoulder back. But his jaws were like iron, and they
closed savagely on McTaggart's leg.
With a yell of pain the factor released his hold on the Willow, and she
staggered to her feet. For a precious half-minute she was free, and as
the factor kicked and struck to loose Baree's hold, she ran to the
cabin door and out into the day. The cold air struck her face. It
filled her lungs with new strength; and without thought of where hope
might lie she ran through the snow into the forest.
McTaggart appeared at the door just in time to see her disappear. His
leg was torn where Baree had fastened his fangs, but he felt no pain as
he ran in pursuit of the girl. She could not go far. An exultant cry,
inhuman as the cry of a beast, came in a great breath from his gaping
mouth as he saw that she was staggering weakly as she fled. He was
halfway to the edge of the forest when Baree dragged himself over the
threshold. His jaws were bleeding where McTaggart had kicked him again
and again before his fangs gave way. Halfway between his ears was a
seared spot, as if a red-hot poker had been laid there for an instant.
This was where McTaggart's bullet had gone. A quarter of an inch
deeper, and it would have meant death. As it was, it had been like the
blow of a heavy club, paralyzing his senses and sending him limp and
unconscious against the wall. He could move on his feet now without
falling, and slowly he followed in the tracks of the man and the girl.
As she ran, Nepeese's mind became all at once clear and reasoning. She
turned into the narrow trail over which McTaggart had followed her once
before, but just before reaching the chasm, she swung sharply to the
right. She could see McTaggart. He was not running fast, but was
gaining steadily, as if enjoying the sight of her helplessness, as he
had enjoyed it in another way on that other day. Two hundred yards
below the deep pool into which she had pushed the factor--just beyond
the shallows out of which he had dragged himself to safety--was the
beginning of Blue Feather's Gorge. An appalling thing was shaping
itself in her mind as she ran to it--a thing that with each gasping
breath she drew became more and more a great and glorious hope. At last
she reached it and looked down. And as she looked, there whispered up
out of her soul and trembled on her lips the swan song of her mother's
Come from out of the valley.
Guide us--for today we die,
And the winds whisper of death!
She had raised her arms. Against the white wilderness beyond the chasm
she stood tall and slim. Fifty yards behind her the factor from Lac
Bain stopped suddenly in his tracks. "Ah," he mumbled. "Is she not
wonderful!" And behind McTaggart, coming faster and faster, was Baree.
Again the Willow looked down. She was at the edge, for she had no fear
in this hour. Many times she had clung to Pierrot's hand as she looked
over. Down there no one could fall and live. Fifty feet below her the
water which never froze was smashing itself into froth among the rocks.
It was deep and black and terrible, for between the narrow rock walls
the sun did not reach it. The roar of it filled the Willow's ears.
She turned and faced McTaggart.
Even then he did not guess, but came toward her again, his arms
stretched out ahead of him. Fifty yards! It was not much, and
Once more the Willow's lips moved. After all, it is the mother soul
that gives us faith to meet eternity--and it was to the spirit of her
mother that the Willow called in the hour of death. With the call on
her lips she plunged into the abyss, her wind-whipped hair clinging to
her in a glistening shroud.
A moment later the factor from Lac Bain stood at the edge of the chasm.
His voice had called out in a hoarse bellow--a wild cry of disbelief
and horror that had formed the Willow's name as she disappeared. He
looked down, clutching his huge red hands and staring in ghastly
suspense at the boiling water and black rocks far below. There was
nothing there now--no sign of her, no last flash of her pale face and
streaming hair in the white foam. And she had done THAT--to save
herself from him!
The soul of the man-beast turned sick within him, so sick that he
staggered back, his vision blinded and his legs tottering under him. He
had killed Pierrot, and it had been a triumph. All his life he had
played the part of the brute with a stoicism and cruelty that had known
no shock--nothing like this that overwhelmed him now, numbing him to
the marrow of his bones until he stood like one paralyzed. He did not
see Baree. He did not hear the dog's whining cries at the edge of the
chasm. For a few moments the world turned black for him. And then,
dragging himself out of his stupor, he ran frantically along the edge
of the gorge, looking down wherever his eyes could see the water,
striving for a glimpse of her. At last it grew too deep. There was no
hope. She was gone--and she had faced that to escape him!
He mumbled that fact over and over again, stupidly, thickly, as though
his brain could grasp nothing beyond it. She was dead. And Pierrot was
dead. And he, in a few minutes, had accomplished it all.
He turned back toward the cabin--not by the trail over which he had
pursued Nepeese, but straight through the thick bush. Great flakes of
snow had begun to fall. He looked at the sky, where banks of dark
clouds were rolling up from the south and east. The sun disappeared.
Soon there would be a storm--a heavy snowstorm. The big flakes falling
on his naked hands and face set his mind to work. It was lucky for him,
this storm. It would cover everything--the fresh trails, even the grave
he would dig for Pierrot.
It does not take such a man as the factor long to recover from a moral
concussion. By the time he came in sight of the cabin his mind was
again at work on physical things--on the necessities of the situation.
The appalling thing, after all, was not that both Pierrot and Nepeese
were dead, but that his dream was shattered. It was not that Nepeese
was dead, but that he had lost her. This was his vital disappointment.
The other thing--his crime--it was easy to destroy all traces of that.
It was not sentiment that made him dig Pierrot's grave close to the
princess mother's under the tall spruce. It was not sentiment that made
him dig the grave at all, but caution. He buried Pierrot decently. Then
he poured Pierrot's stock of kerosene where it would be most effective
and touched a match to it. He stood in the edge of the forest until the
cabin was a mass of flames. The snow was falling thickly. The freshly
made grave was a white mound, and the trails were filling up with new
snow. For the physical things he had done there was no fear in Bush
McTaggart's heart as he turned back toward Lac Bain. No one would ever
look into the grave of Pierrot Du Quesne. And there was no one to
betray him if such a miracle happened. But of one thing his black soul
would never be able to free itself. Always he would see the pale,
triumphant face of the Willow as she stood facing him in that moment of
her glory when, even as she was choosing death rather than him, he had
cried to himself: "Ah! Is she not wonderful!"
As Bush McTaggart had forgotten Baree, so Baree had forgotten the
factor from Lac Bain. When McTaggart had run along the edge of the
chasm, Baree had squatted himself in the trodden plot of snow where
Nepeese had last stood, his body stiffened and his forefeet braced as
he looked down. He had seen her take the leap. Many times that summer
he had followed her in her daring dives into the deep, quiet water of
the pool. But this was a tremendous distance. She had never dived into
a place like that before. He could see the black shapes of the rocks,
appearing and disappearing in the whirling foam like the heads of
monsters at play. The roar of the water filled him with dread. His eyes
caught the swift rush of crumbled ice between the rock walls. And she
had gone down there!
He had a great desire to follow her, to jump in, as he had always
jumped in after her in previous times. She was surely down there, even
though he could not see her. Probably she was playing among the rocks
and hiding herself in the white froth and wondering why he didn't come.
But he hesitated--hesitated with his head and neck over the abyss, and
his forefeet giving way a little in the snow. With an effort he dragged
himself back and whined. He caught the fresh scent of McTaggart's
moccasins in the snow, and the whine changed slowly into a long snarl.
He looked over again. Still he could not see her. He barked--the short,
sharp signal with which he always called her. There was no answer.
Again and again he barked, and always there was nothing but the roar of
the water that came back to him. Then for a few moments he stood back,
silent and listening, his body shivering with the strange dread that
was possessing him.
The snow was falling now, and McTaggart had returned to the cabin.
After a little Baree followed in the trail he had made along the edge
of the chasm, and wherever McTaggart had stopped to peer over, Baree
paused also. For a space his hatred of the man was lost in his desire
to join the Willow, and he continued along the gorge until, a quarter
of a mile beyond where the factor had last looked into it, he came to
the narrow trail down which he and Nepeese had many time adventured in
quest of rock violets. The twisting path that led down the face of the
cliff was filled with snow now, but Baree made his way through it until
at last he stood at the edge of the unfrozen torrent. Nepeese was not
here. He whined, and barked again, but this time there was in his
signal to her an uneasy repression, a whimpering note which told that
he did not expect a reply. For five minutes after that he sat on his
haunches in the snow, stolid as a rock. What it was that came down out
of the dark mystery and tumult of the chasm to him, what spirit
whispers of nature that told him the truth, it is beyond the power of
reason to explain. But he listened, and he looked; and his muscles
twitched as the truth grew in him. And at last he raised his head
slowly until his black muzzle pointed to the white storm in the sky,
and out of his throat there went forth the quavering, long-drawn howl
of the husky who mourns outside the tepee of a master who is newly dead.
On the trail, heading for Lac Bain, Bush McTaggart heard that cry and
It was the smell of smoke, thickening in the air until it stung his
nostrils, that drew Baree at last away from the chasm and back to the
cabin. There was not much left when he came to the clearing. Where the
cabin had been was a red-hot, smoldering mass. For a long time he sat
watching it, still waiting and still listening. He no longer felt the
effect of the bullet that had stunned him, but his senses were
undergoing another change now, as strange and unreal as their struggle
against that darkness of near death in the cabin. In a space that had
not covered more than an hour the world had twisted itself grotesquely
for Baree. That long ago the Willow was sitting before her little
mirror in the cabin, talking to him and laughing in her happiness,
while he lay in vast contentment on the floor. And now there was no
cabin, no Nepeese, no Pierrot. Quietly he struggled to comprehend. It
was some time before he moved from under the thick balsams, for already
a deep and growing suspicion began to guide his movements. He did not
go nearer to the smoldering mass of the cabin, but slinking low, made
his way about the circle of the clearing to the dog corral. This took
him under the tall spruce. For a full minute he paused here, sniffing
at the freshly made mound under its white mantle of snow. When he went
on, he slunk still lower, and his ears were flat against his head.
The dog corral was open and empty. McTaggart had seen to that. Again
Baree squatted back on his haunches and sent forth the death howl. This
time it was for Pierrot. In it there was a different note from that of
the howl he had sent forth from the chasm: it was positive, certain. In
the chasm his cry had been tempered with doubt--a questioning hope,
something that was so almost human that McTaggart had shivered on the
trail. But Baree knew what lay in that freshly dug snow-covered grave.
A scant three feet of earth could not hide its secret from him. There
was death--definite and unequivocal. But for Nepeese he was still
hoping and seeking.
Until noon he did not go far from the site of the cabin, but only once
did he actually approach and sniff about the black pile of steaming
timbers. Again and again he circled the edge of the clearing, keeping
just within the bush and timber, sniffing the air and listening. Twice
he went hack to the chasm. Late in the afternoon there came to him a
sudden impulse that carried him swiftly through the forest. He did not
run openly now. Caution, suspicion, and fear had roused in him afresh
the instincts of the wolf. With his ears flattened against the side of
his head, his tail drooping until the tip of it dragged the snow and
his back sagging in the curious, evasive gait of the wolf, he scarcely
made himself distinguishable from the shadows of the spruce and balsams.
There was no faltering in the trail Baree made; it was straight as a
rope might have been drawn through the forest, and it brought him,
early in the dusk, to the open spot where Nepeese had fled with him
that day she had pushed McTaggart over the edge of the precipice into
the pool. In the place of the balsam shelter of that day there was now
a watertight birchbark tepee which Pierrot had helped the Willow to
make during the summer. Baree went straight to it and thrust in his
head with a low and expectant whine.
There was no answer. It was dark and cold in the tepee. He could make
out indistinctly the two blankets that were always in it, the row of
big tin boxes in which Nepeese kept their stores, and the stove which
Pierrot had improvised out of scraps of iron and heavy tin. But Nepeese
was not there. And there was no sign of her outside. The snow was
unbroken except by his own trail. It was dark when he returned to the
burned cabin. All that night he hung about the deserted dog corral, and
all through the night the snow fell steadily, so that by dawn he sank
into it to his shoulders when he moved out into the clearing.
But with day the sky had cleared. The sun came up, and the world was
almost too dazzling for the eyes. It warmed Baree's blood with new hope
and expectation. His brain struggled even more eagerly than yesterday
to comprehend. Surely the Willow would be returning soon! He would hear
her voice. She would appear suddenly out of the forest. He would
receive some signal from her. One of these things, or all of them, must
happen. He stopped sharply in his tracks at every sound, and sniffed
the air from every point of the wind. He was traveling ceaselessly. His
body made deep trails in the snow around and over the huge white mound
where the cabin had stood. His tracks led from the corral to the tall
spruce, and they were as numerous as the footprints of a wolf pack for
half a mile up and down the chasm.
On the afternoon of this day the second strong impulse came to him. It
was not reason, and neither was it instinct alone. It was the struggle
halfway between, the brute mind righting at its best with the mystery
of an intangible thing--something that could not be seen by the eye or
heard by the ear. Nepeese was not in the cabin, because there was no
cabin. She was not at the tepee. He could find no trace of her in the
chasm. She was not with Pierrot under the big spruce.
Therefore, unreasoning but sure, he began to follow the old trap line
into the north and west.
No man has ever looked clearly into the mystery of death as it is
impressed upon the senses of the northern dog. It comes to him,
sometimes, with the wind. Most frequently it must come with the wind,
and yet there are ten thousand masters in the northland who will swear
that their dogs have given warning of death hours before it actually
came; and there are many of these thousands who know from experience
that their teams will stop a quarter or half a mile from a strange
cabin in which there lies unburied dead.
Yesterday Baree had smelled death, and he knew without process of
reasoning that the dead was Pierrot. How he knew this, and why he
accepted the fact as inevitable, is one of the mysteries which at times
seems to give the direct challenge to those who concede nothing more
than instinct to the brute mind. He knew that Pierrot was dead without
exactly knowing what death was. But of one thing he was sure: he would
never see Pierrot again. He would never hear his voice again; he would
never hear again the swish-swish-swish of his snowshoes in the trail
ahead, and so on the trap line he did not look for Pierrot. Pierrot was
gone forever. But Baree had not yet associated death with Nepeese. He
was filled with a great uneasiness. What came to him from out of the
chasm had made him tremble with fear and suspense. He sensed the thrill
of something strange, of something impending, and yet even as he had
given the death howl in the chasm, it must have been for Pierrot. For
he believed that Nepeese was alive, and he was now just as sure that he
would overtake her on the trap line as he was positive yesterday that
he would find her at the birchbark tepee.
Since yesterday morning's breakfast with the Willow, Baree had gone
without eating. To appease his hunger meant to hunt, and his mind was
too filled with his quest of Nepeese for that. He would have gone
hungry all that day, but in the third mile from the cabin he came to a
trap in which there was a big snowshoe rabbit. The rabbit was still
alive, and he killed it and ate his fill. Until dark he did not miss a
trap. In one of them there was a lynx; in another a fishercat. Out on
the white surface of a lake he sniffed at a snowy mound under which lay
the body of a red fox killed by one of Pierrot's poison baits. Both the
lynx and the fishercat were alive, and the steel chains of their traps
clanked sharply as they prepared to give Baree battle. But Baree was
uninterested. He hurried on, his uneasiness growing as the day darkened
and he found no sign of the Willow.
It was a wonderfully clear night after the storm--cold and brilliant,
with the shadows standing out as clearly as living things. The third
suggestion came to Baree now. He was, like all animals, largely of one
idea at a time--a creature with whom all lesser impulses were governed
by a single leading impulse. And this impulse, in the glow of the
starlit night, was to reach as quickly as possible the first of
Pierrot's two cabins on the trap line. There he would find Nepeese!
We won't call the process by which Baree came to this conclusion a
process of reasoning. Instinct or reasoning, whatever it was, a fixed
and positive faith came to Baree just the same. He began to miss the
traps in his haste to cover distance--to reach the cabin. It was
twenty-five miles from Pierrot's burned home to the first trap cabin,
and Baree had made ten of these by nightfall. The remaining fifteen
were the most difficult. In the open spaces the snow was belly-deep and
soft. Frequently he plunged through drifts in which for a few moments
he was buried. Three times during the early part of the night Baree
heard the savage dirge of the wolves. Once it was a wild paean of
triumph as the hunters pulled down their kill less than half a mile
away in the deep forest. But the voice no longer called to him. It was
repellent--a voice of hatred and of treachery. Each time that he heard
it he stopped in his tracks and snarled, while his spine stiffened.
At midnight Baree came to the tiny amphitheater in the forest where
Pierrot had cut the logs for the first of his trapline cabins. For at
least a minute Baree stood at the edge of the clearing, his ears very
alert, his eyes bright with hope and expectation, while he sniffed the
air. There was no smoke, no sound, no light in the one window of the
log shack. His disappointment fell on him even as he stood there. Again
he sensed the fact of his aloneness, of the barrenness of his quest.
There was a disheartened slouch to his door. He had traveled
twenty-five miles, and he was tired.
The snow was drifted deep at the doorway, and here Baree sat down and
whined. It was no longer the anxious, questing whine of a few hours
ago. Now it voiced hopelessness and a deep despair. For half an hour he
sat shivering with his back to the door and his face to the starlit
wilderness, as if there still remained the fleeting hope that Nepeese
might follow after him over the trail. Then he burrowed himself a hole
deep in the snowdrift and passed the remainder of the night in uneasy
With the first light of day Baree resumed the trail. He was not so
alert this morning. There was the disconsolate droop to his tail which
the Indians call the Akoosewin--the sign of the sick dog. And Baree was
sick--not of body but of soul. The keenness of his hope had died, and
he no longer expected to find the Willow. The second cabin at the far
end of the trap line drew him on, but it inspired in him none of the
enthusiasm with which he had hurried to the first. He traveled slowly
and spasmodically, his suspicions of the forests again replacing the
excitement of his quest. He approached each of Pierrot's traps and the
deadfalls cautiously, and twice he showed his fangs--once at a marten
that snapped at him from under a root where it had dragged the trap in
which it was caught, and the second time at a big snowy owl that had
come to steal bait and was now a prisoner at the end of a steel chain.
It may be that Baree thought it was Oohoomisew and that he still
remembered vividly the treacherous assault and fierce battle of that
night when, as a puppy, he was dragging his sore and wounded body
through the mystery and fear of the big timber. For he did more than to
show his fangs. He tore the owl into pieces.
There were plenty of rabbits in Pierrot's traps, and Baree did not go
hungry. He reached the second trap-line cabin late in the afternoon,
after ten hours of traveling. He met with no very great disappointment
here, for he had not anticipated very much. The snow had banked this
cabin even higher than the other. It lay three feet deep against the
door, and the window was white with a thick coating of frost. At this
place, which was close to the edge of a big barren, and unsheltered by
the thick forests farther back, Pierrot had built a shelter for his
firewood, and in this shelter Baree made his temporary home. All the
next day he remained somewhere near the end of the trap line, skirting
the edge of the barren and investigating the short side line of a dozen
traps which Pierrot and Nepeese had strung through a swamp in which
there had been many signs of lynx. It was the third day before he set
out on his return to the Gray Loon.
He did not travel very fast, spending two days in covering the
twenty-five miles between the first and the second trap-line cabins. At
the second cabin he remained for three days, and it was on the ninth
day that he reached the Gray Loon. There was no change. There were no
tracks in the snow but his own, made nine days ago.
Baree's quest for Nepeese became now more or less involuntary, a sort
of daily routine. For a week he made his burrow in the dog corral, and
at least twice between dawn and darkness he would go to the birchbark
tepee and the chasm. His trail, soon beaten hard in the snow, became as
fixed as Pierrot's trap line. It cut straight through the forest to the
tepee, swinging slightly to the east so that it crossed the frozen
surface of the Willow's swimming pool. From the tepee it swung in a
circle through a part of the forest where Nepeese had frequently
gathered armfuls of crimson fireflowers, and then to the chasm. Up and
down the edge of the gorge it went, down into the little cup at the
bottom of the chasm, and thence straight back to the dog corral.
And then, of a sudden, Baree made a change. He spent a night in the
tepee. After that, whenever he was at the Gray Loon, during the day he
always slept in the tepee. The two blankets were his bed--and they were
a part of Nepeese. And there, all through the long winter, he waited.
If Nepeese had returned in February and could have taken him unaware,
she would have found a changed Baree. He was more than ever like a
wolf; yet he never gave the wolf howl now, and always he snarled deep
in his throat when he heard the cry of the pack. For several weeks the
old trap line had supplied him with meat, but now he hunted. The tepee,
in and out, was scattered with fur and bones. Once--alone--he caught a
young deer in deep snow and killed it. Again, in the heart of a fierce
February storm, he pursued a bull caribou so closely that it plunged
over a cliff and broke its neck. He lived well, and in size and
strength he was growing swiftly into a giant of his kind. In another
six months he would be as large as Kazan, and his jaws were almost as
powerful, even now.
Three times that winter Baree fought--once with a lynx that sprang down
upon him from a windfall while he was eating a freshly killed rabbit,
and twice with two lone wolves. The lynx tore him unmercifully before
it fled into the windfall. The younger of the wolves he killed; the
other fight was a draw. More and more he became an outcast, living
alone with his dreams and his smoldering hopes.
And Baree did dream. Many times, as he lay in the tepee, he would hear
the voice of Nepeese. He would hear her sweet voice calling, her
laughter, the sound of his name. and often he would start up to his
feet--the old Baree for a thrilling moment or two--only to lie down in
his nest again with a low, grief-filled whine. And always when he heard
the snap of a twig or some other sound in the forest, it was thought of
Nepeese that flashed first into his brain. Some day she would return.
That belief was a part of his existence as much as the sun and the moon
and the stars.
The winter passed, and spring came, and still Baree continued to haunt
his old trails, even going now and then over the old trap line as far
as the first of the two cabins. The traps were rusted and sprung now;
the thawing snow disclosed bones and feathers between their jaws. Under
the deadfalls were remnants of fur, and out on the ice of the lakes
were picked skeletons of foxes and wolves that had taken the poison
baits. The last snow went. The swollen streams sang in the forests and
canyons. The grass turned green, and the first flowers came.
Surely this was the time for Nepeese to come home! He watched for her
expectantly. He went still more frequently to their swimming pool in
the forest, and he hung closely to the burned cabin and the dog corral.
Twice he sprang into the pool and whined as he swam about, as though
she surely must join him in their old water frolic. And now, as the
spring passed and summer came, there settled upon him slowly the gloom
and misery of utter hopelessness. The flowers were all out now, and
even the bakneesh vines glowed like red fire in the woods. Patches of
green were beginning to hide the charred heap where the cabin had
stood, and the blue-flower vines that covered the princess mother's
grave were reaching out toward Pierrot's, as if the princess mother
herself were the spirit of them.
All these things were happening, and the birds had mated and nested,
and still Nepeese did not come! And at last something broke inside of
Baree, his last hope, perhaps, his last dream; and one day he bade
good-bye to the Gray Loon.
No one can say what it cost him to go. No one can say how he fought
against the things that were holding him to the tepee, the old swimming
pool, the familiar paths in the forest, and the two graves that were
not so lonely now under the tall spruce. He went. He had no
reason--simply went. It may be that there is a Master whose hand guides
the beast as well as the man, and that we know just enough of this
guidance to call it instinct. For, in dragging himself away, Baree
faced the Great Adventure.
It was there, in the north, waiting for him--and into the north he went.
It was early in August when Baree left the Gray Loon. He had no
objective in view. But there was still left upon his mind, like the
delicate impression of light and shadow on a negative, the memories of
his earlier days. Things and happenings that he had almost forgotten
recurred to him now, as his trail led him farther and farther away from
the Gray Loon. And his earlier experiences became real again, pictures
thrown out afresh in his mind by the breaking of the last ties that
held him to the home of the Willow. Involuntarily he followed the trail
of these impressions--of these past happenings, and slowly they helped
to build up new interests for him.
A year in his life was a long time--a decade of man's experience. It
was more than a year ago that he had left Kazan and Gray Wolf and the
old windfall, and yet now there came back to him indistinct memories of
those days of his earliest puppyhood, of the stream into which he had
fallen, and of his fierce battle with Papayuchisew. It was his later
experiences that roused the older memories. He came to the blind canyon
up which Nepeese and Pierrot had chased him. That seemed but yesterday.
He entered the little meadow, and stood beside the great rock that had
almost crushed the life out of the Willow's body; and then he
remembered where Wakayoo, his big bear friend, had died under Pierrot's
rifle--and he smelled of Wakayoo's whitened bones where they lay
scattered in the green grass, with flowers growing up among them.
A day and night he spent in the little meadow before he went back out
of the canyon and into his old haunts along the creek, where Wakayoo
had fished for him. There was another bear here now, and he also was
fishing. Perhaps he was a son or a grandson of Wakayoo. Baree smelled
where he had made his fish caches, and for three days he lived on fish
before he struck out for the North.
And now, for the first time in many weeks, a bit of the old-time
eagerness put speed into Baree's feet. Memories that had been hazy and
indistinct through forgetfulness were becoming realities again, and as
he would have returned to the Gray Loon had Nepeese been there so now,
with something of the feeling of a wanderer going home, he returned to
the old beaver pond.
It was that most glorious hour of a summer's day--sunset--when he
reached it. He stopped a hundred yards away, with the pond still hidden
from his sight, and sniffed the air, and listened. The POND was there.
He caught the cool, honey smell of it. But Umisk, and Beaver Tooth, and
all the others? Would he find them? He strained his ears to catch a
familiar sound, and after a moment or two it came--a hollow splash in
He went quietly through the alders and stood at last close to the spot
where he had first made the acquaintance of Umisk. The surface of the
pond was undulating slightly, two or three heads popped up. He saw the
torpedolike wake of an old beaver towing a stick close to the opposite
shore. He looked toward the dam, and it was as he had left it almost a
year ago. He did not show himself for a time, but stood concealed in
the young alders. He felt growing in him more and more a feeling of
restfulness, a relaxation from the long strain of the lonely months
during which he had waited for Nepeese.
With a long breath he lay down among the alders, with his head just
enough exposed to give him a clear view. As the sun settled lower the
pond became alive. Out on the shore where he had saved Umisk from the
fox came another generation of young beavers--three of them, fat and
waddling. Very softly Baree whined.
All that night he lay in the alders. The beaver pond became his home
again. Conditions were changed, of course, and as days grew into weeks
the inhabitants of Beaver Tooth's colony showed no signs of accepting
the grown-up Baree as they had accepted the baby Baree of long ago. He
was big, black, and wolfish now--a long-fanged and formidable-looking
creature, and though he offered no violence he was regarded by the
beavers with a deep-seated feeling of fear and suspicion.
On the other hand, Baree no longer felt the old puppyish desire to play
with the baby beavers, so their aloofness did not trouble him as in
those other days. Umisk was grown up, too, a fat and prosperous young
buck who was just taking unto himself this year a wife, and who was at
present very busy gathering his winter's rations. It is entirely
probable that he did not associate the big black beast he saw now and
then with the little Baree with whom he had smelled noses once upon a
time, and it is quite likely that Baree did not recognize Umisk except
as a part of the memories that had remained with him.
All through the month of August Baree made the beaver pond his
headquarters. At times his excursions kept him away for two or three
days at a time. These journeys were always into the north, sometimes a
little east and sometimes a little west, but never again into the
south. And at last, early in September, he left the beaver pond for
For many days his wanderings carried him in no one particular
direction. He followed the hunting, living chiefly on rabbits and that
simple-minded species of partridge known as the "fool hen." This diet,
of course, was given variety by other things as they happened to come
his way. Wild currants and raspberries were ripening, and Baree was
fond of these. He also liked the bitter berries of the mountain ash,
which, along with the soft balsam and spruce pitch which he licked with
his tongue now and then, were good medicine for him. In shallow water
he occasionally caught a fish. Now and then he hazarded a cautious
battle with a porcupine, and if he was successful he feasted on the
tenderest and most luscious of all the flesh that made up his menu.
Twice in September he killed young deer. The big "burns" that he
occasionally came to no longer held terrors for him; in the midst of
plenty he forgot the days in which he had gone hungry. In October he
wandered as far west as the Geikie River, and then northward to
Wollaston Lake, which was a good hundred miles north of the Gray Loon.
The first week in November he turned south again, following the Canoe
River for a distance, and then swinging westward along a twisting creek
called The Little Black Bear with No Tail.
More than once during these weeks Baree came into touch with man, but,
with the exception of the Cree hunter at the upper end of Wollaston
Lake, no man had seen him. Three times in following the Geikie he lay
crouched in the brush while canoes passed. Half a dozen times, in the
stillness of night, he nosed about cabins and tepees in which there was
life, and once he came so near to the Hudson's Bay Company post at
Wollaston that he could hear the barking of dogs and the shouting of
And always he was seeking--questing for the thing that had gone out of
his life. At the thresholds of the cabins he sniffed; outside of the
tepees he circled close, gathering the wind. The canoes he watched with
eyes in which there was a hopeful gleam. Once he thought the wind
brought him the scent of Nepeese, and all at once his legs grew weak
under his body and his heart seemed to stop beating. It was only for a
moment or two. She came out of the tepee--an Indian girl with her hands
full of willow work--and Baree slunk away unseen.
It was almost December when Lerue, a half-breed from Lac Bain, saw
Baree's footprints in freshly fallen snow, and a little later caught a
flash of him in the bush.
"Mon Dieu, I tell you his feet are as big as my hand, and he is as
black as a raven's wing with the sun on it!" he exclaimed in the
company's store at Lac Bain. "A fox? Non! He is half as big as a bear.
A wolf--oui! And black as the devil, m'sieus."
McTaggart was one of those who heard. He was putting his signature in
ink to a letter he had written to the company when Lerue's words came
to him. His hand stopped so suddenly that a drop of ink spattered on
the letter. Through him there ran a curious shiver as he looked over at
the half-breed. Just then Marie came in. McTaggart had brought her back
from her tribe. Her big, dark eyes had a sick look in them, and some of
her wild beauty had gone since a year ago.
"He was gone like--that!" Lerue was saying, with a snap of his fingers.
He saw Marie, and stopped.
"Black, you say?" McTaggart said carelessly, without lifting his eyes
from his writing. "Did he not bear some dog mark?"
Lerue shrugged his shoulders.
"He was gone like the wind, m'sieu. But he was a wolf."
With scarcely a sound that the others could hear Marie had whispered
into the factor's ear, and folding his letter McTaggart rose quickly
and left the store. He was gone an hour. Lerue and the others were
puzzled. It was not often that Marie came into the store. It was not
often that they saw her at all. She remained hidden in the factor's log
house, and each time that he saw her Lerue thought that her face was a
little thinner than the last, and her eyes bigger and hungrier looking.
In his own heart there was a great yearning.
Many a night he passed the little window beyond which he knew that she
was sleeping. Often he looked to catch a glimpse of her pale face, and
he lived in the one happiness of knowing that Marie understood, and
that into her eyes there came for an instant a different light when
their glances met. No one else knew. The secret lay between them--and
patiently Lerue waited and watched. "Some day," he kept saying to
himself--"Some day"--and that was all. The one word carried a world of
meaning and of hope. When that day came he would take Marie straight to
the missioner over at Fort Churchill, and they would be married. It was
a dream--a dream that made the long days and the longer nights on the
trap line patiently endured. Now they were both slaves to the
environing Power. But--some day--
Lerue was thinking of this when McTaggart returned at the end of the
hour. The factor came straight up to where the half dozen of them were
seated about the big box stove, and with a grunt of satisfaction shook
the freshly fallen snow from his shoulders.
"Pierre Eustach has accepted the Government's offer and is going to
guide that map-making party up into the Barrens this winter," he
announced. "You know, Lerue--he has a hundred and fifty traps and
deadfalls set, and a big poison-bait country. A good line, eh? And I
have leased it of him for the season. It will give me the outdoor work
I need--three days on the trail, three days here. Eh, what do you say
to the bargain?"
"It is good," said Lerue.
"Yes, it is good," said Roget.
"A wide fox country," said Mons Roule.
"And easy to travel," murmured Valence in a voice that was almost like
The trap line of Pierre Eustach ran thirty miles straight west of Lac
Bain. It was not as long a line as Pierrot's had been, but it was like
a main artery running through the heart of a rich fur country. It had
belonged to Pierre Eustach's father, and his grandfather, and his
great-grandfather, and beyond that it reached, Pierre averred, back to
the very pulse of the finest blood in France. The books at McTaggart's
Post went back only as far as the great-grandfather end of it, the
older evidence of ownership being at Churchill. It was the finest game
country between Reindeer Lake and the Barren Lands. It was in December
that Baree came to it.
Again he was traveling southward in a slow and wandering fashion,
seeking food in the deep snows. The Kistisew Kestin, or Great Storm,
had come earlier than usual this winter, and for a week after it
scarcely a hoof or claw was moving. Baree, unlike the other creatures,
did not bury himself in the snow and wait for the skies to clear and
crust to form. He was big, and powerful, and restless. Less than two
years old, he weighed a good eighty pounds. His pads were broad and
wolfish. His chest and shoulders were like a Malemute's, heavy and yet
muscled for speed. He was wider between the eyes than the wolf-breed
husky, and his eyes were larger, and entirely clear of the Wuttooi, or
blood film, that marks the wolf and also to an extent the husky. His
jaws were like Kazan's, perhaps even more powerful.
Through all that week of the Big Storm he traveled without food. There
were four days of snow, with driving blizzards and fierce winds, and
after that three days of intense cold in which every living creature
kept to its warm dugout in the snow. Even the birds had burrowed
themselves in. One might have walked on the backs of caribou and moose
and not have guessed it. Baree sheltered himself during the worst of
the storm but did not allow the snow to gather over him.
Every trapper from Hudson's Bay to the country of the Athabasca knew
that after the Big Storm the famished fur animals would be seeking
food, and that traps and deadfalls properly set and baited stood the
biggest chance of the year of being filled. Some of them set out over
their trap lines on the sixth day; some on the seventh, and others on
the eighth. It was on the seventh day that Bush McTaggart started over
Pierre Eustach's line, which was now his own for the season. It took
him two days to uncover the traps, dig the snow from them, rebuild the
fallen "trap houses," and rearrange the baits. On the third day he was
back at Lac Bain.
It was on this day that Baree came to the cabin at the far end of
McTaggart's line. McTaggart's trail was fresh in the snow about the
cabin, and the instant Baree sniffed of it every drop of blood in his
body seemed to leap suddenly with a strange excitement. It took perhaps
half a minute for the scent that filled his nostrils to associate
itself with what had gone before, and at the end of that half-minute
there rumbled in Baree's chest a deep and sullen growl. For many
minutes after that he stood like a black rock in the snow, watching the
Then slowly he began circling about it, drawing nearer and nearer,
until at last he was sniffing at the threshold. No sound or smell of
life came from inside, but he could smell the old smell of McTaggart.
Then he faced the wilderness--the direction in which the trap line ran
back to Lac Bain. He was trembling. His muscles twitched. He whined.
Pictures were assembling more and more vividly in his mind--the fight
in the cabin, Nepeese, the wild chase through the snow to the chasm's
edge--even the memory of that age-old struggle when McTaggart had
caught him in the rabbit snare. In his whine there was a great
yearning, almost expectation. Then it died slowly away. After all, the
scent in the snow was of a thing that he had hated and wanted to kill,
and not of anything that he had loved. For an instant nature had
impressed on him the significance of associations--a brief space only,
and then it was gone. The whine died away, but in its place came again
that ominous growl.
Slowly he followed the trail and a quarter of a mile from the cabin
struck the first trap on the line. Hunger had caved in his sides until
he was like a starved wolf. In the first trap house McTaggart had
placed as bait the hindquarter of a snowshoe rabbit. Baree reached in
cautiously. He had learned many things on Pierrot's line: he had
learned what the snap of a trap meant. He had felt the cruel pain of
steel jaws; he knew better than the shrewdest fox what a deadfall would
do when the trigger was sprung--and Nepeese herself had taught him that
he was never to touch a poison bait. So he closed his teeth gently in
the rabbit flesh and drew it forth as cleverly as McTaggart himself
could have done. He visited five traps before dark, and ate the five
baits without springing a pan. The sixth was a deadfall. He circled
about this until he had beaten a path in the snow. Then he went on into
a warm balsam swamp and found himself a bed for the night.
The next day saw the beginning of the struggle that was to follow
between the wits of man and beast. To Baree the encroachment of Bush
McTaggart's trap line was not war; it was existence. It was to furnish
him food, as Pierrot's line had furnished him food for many weeks. But
he sensed the fact that in this instance he was lawbreaker and had an
enemy to outwit. Had it been good hunting weather he might have gone
on, for the unseen hand that was guiding his wanderings was drawing him
slowly but surely back to the old beaver pond and the Gray Loon. As it
was, with the snow deep and soft under him--so deep that in places he
plunged into it over his ears--McTaggart's trap line was like a trail
of manna made for his special use.
He followed in the factor's snowshoe tracks, and in the third trap
killed a rabbit. When he had finished with it nothing but the hair and
crimson patches of blood lay upon the snow. Starved for many days, he
was filled with a wolfish hunger, and before the day was over he had
robbed the bait from a full dozen of McTaggart's traps. Three times he
struck poison baits--venison or caribou fat in the heart of which was a
dose of strychnine, and each time his keen nostrils detected the
danger. Pierrot had more than once noted the amazing fact that Baree
could sense the presence of poison even when it was most skillfully
injected into the frozen carcass of a deer. Foxes and wolves ate of
flesh from which his supersensitive power of detecting the presence of
deadly danger turned him away.
So he passed Bush McTaggart's poisoned tidbits, sniffing them on the
way, and leaving the story of his suspicion in the manner of his
footprints in the snow. Where McTaggart had halted at midday to cook
his dinner Baree made these same cautious circles with his feet.
The second day, being less hungry and more keenly alive to the hated
smell of his enemy, Baree ate less but was more destructive. McTaggart
was not as skillful as Pierre Eustach in keeping the scent of his hands
from the traps and "houses," and every now and then the smell of him
was strong in Baree's nose. This wrought in Baree a swift and definite
antagonism, a steadily increasing hatred where a few days before hatred
was almost forgotten.
There is, perhaps, in the animal mind a process of simple computation
which does not quite achieve the distinction of reason, and which is
not altogether instinct, but which produces results that might be
ascribed to either. Baree did not add two and two together to make
four. He did not go back step by step to prove to himself that the man
to whom this trap line belonged was the cause of all hit, griefs and
troubles--but he DID find himself possessed of a deep and yearning
hatred. McTaggart was the one creature except the wolves that he had
ever hated. It was McTaggart who had hurt him, McTaggart who had hurt
Pierrot, McTaggart who had made him lose his beloved Nepeese--AND
McTAGGART WAS HERE ON THIS TRAP LINE! If he had been wandering before,
without object or destiny, he was given a mission now. It was to keep
to the traps. To feed himself. And to vent his hatred and his vengeance
as he lived.
The second day, in the center of a lake, he came upon the body of a
wolf that had died of one of the poison baits. For a half-hour he
mauled the dead beast until its skin was torn into ribbons. He did not
taste the flesh. It was repugnant to him. It was his vengeance on the
wolf breed. He stopped when he was half a dozen miles from Lac Bain,
and turned back. At this particular point the line crossed a frozen
stream beyond which was an open plain, and over that plain came--when
the wind was right--the smoke and smell of the Post. The second night
Baree lay with a full stomach in a thicket of banksian pine; the third
day he was traveling westward over the trap line again.
Early on this morning Bush McTaggart started out to gather his catch,
and where he crossed the stream six miles from Lac Bain he first saw
Baree's tracks. He stopped to examine them with sudden and unusual
interest, falling at last on his knees, whipping off the glove from his
right hand, and picking up a single hair.
"The black wolf!"
He uttered the words in an odd, hard voice, and involuntarily his eyes
turned straight in the direction of the Gray Loon. After that, even
more carefully than before, he examined one of the clearly impressed
tracks in the snow. When he rose to his feet there was in his face the
look of one who had made an unpleasant discovery.
"A black wolf!" he repeated, and shrugged his shoulders. "Bah! Lerue is
a fool. It is a dog." And then, after a moment, he muttered in a voice
scarcely louder than a whisper, "HER DOG."
He went on, traveling in the trail of the dog. A new excitement
possessed him that was more thrilling than the excitement of the hunt.
Being human, it was his privilege to add two and two together, and out
of two and two he made--Baree. There was little doubt in his mind. The
thought had flashed on him first when Lerue had mentioned the black
wolf. He was convinced after his examination of the tracks. They were
the tracks of a dog, and the dog was black. Then he came to the first
trap that had been robbed of its bait.
Under his breath he cursed. The bait was gone, and the trap was
unsprung. The sharpened stick that had transfixed the bait was pulled
All that day Bush McTaggart followed a trail where Baree had left
traces of his presence. Trap after trap he found robbed. On the lake he
came upon the mangled wolf. From the first disturbing excitement of his
discovery of Baree's presence his humor changed slowly to one of rage,
and his rage increased as the day dragged out. He was not unacquainted
with four-footed robbers of the trap line, but usually a wolf or a fox
or a dog who had grown adept in thievery troubled only a few traps. But
in this case Baree was traveling straight from trap to trap, and his
footprints in the snow showed that he had stopped at each one. There
was, to McTaggart, almost a human devilishness to his work. He evaded
the poisons. Not once did he stretch his head or paw within the danger
zone of a deadfall. For apparently no reason whatever he had destroyed
a splendid mink, whose glossy fur lay scattered in worthless bits over
the snow. Toward the end of the day McTaggart came to a deadfall in
which a lynx had died. Baree had torn the silvery flank of the animal
until the skin was of less than half value. McTaggart cursed aloud, and
his breath came hot.
At dusk he reached the shack Pierre Eustach had built midway of his
line, and took inventory of his fur. It was not more than a third of a
catch; the lynx was half-ruined, a mink was torn completely in two. The
second day he found still greater ruin, still more barren traps. He was
like a madman. When he arrived at the second cabin, late in the
afternoon, Baree's tracks were not an hour old in the snow. Three times
during the night he heard the dog howling.
The third day McTaggart did not return to Lac Bain, but began a
cautious hunt for Baree. An inch or two of fresh snow had fallen, and
as if to take even greater measure of vengeance from his man enemy
Baree had left his footprints freely within a radius of a hundred yards
of the cabin. It was half an hour before McTaggart could pick out the
straight trail, and he followed it for two hours into a thick banksian
swamp. Baree kept with the wind. Now and then he caught the scent of
his pursuer. A dozen times he waited until the other was so close he
could hear the snap of brush, or the metallic click of twigs against
his rifle barrel. And then, with a sudden inspiration that brought the
curses afresh to McTaggart's lips, he swung in a wide circle and cut
straight back for the trap line. When the factor reached the line,
along toward noon, Baree had already begun his work. He had killed and
eaten a rabbit. He had robbed three traps within the distance of a
mile, and he was headed again straight over the trap line for Post Lac
It was the fifth day that Bush McTaggart returned to his post. He was
in an ugly mood. Only Valence of the four Frenchmen was there, and it
was Valence who heard his story, and afterward heard him cursing Marie.
She came into the store a little later, big-eyed and frightened, one of
her cheeks flaming red where McTaggart had struck her. While the
storekeeper was getting her the canned salmon McTaggart wanted for his
dinner Valence found the opportunity to whisper softly in her ear:
"M'sieu Lerue has trapped a silver fox," he said with low triumph. "He
loves you, cherie, and he will have a splendid catch by spring--and
sends you this message from his cabin up on The Little Black Bear with
No Tail: BE READY TO FLY WHEN THE SOFT SNOWS COME!"
Marie did not look at him, but she heard, and her eyes shone so like
stars when the young storekeeper gave her the salmon that he said to
Valence, when she had gone:
"Blue Death, but she is still beautiful at times. Valence!"
To which Valence nodded with an odd smile.
By the middle of January the war between Baree and Bush McTaggart had
become more than an incident--more than a passing adventure to the
beast, and more than an irritating happening to the man. It was, for
the time, the elemental raison d'etre of their lives. Baree hung to the
trap line. He haunted it like a devastating specter, and each time that
he sniffed afresh the scent of the factor from Lac Bain he was
impressed still more strongly with the instinct that he was avenging
himself upon a deadly enemy. Again and again he outwitted McTaggart. He
continued to strip his traps of their bait and the humor grew in him
more strongly to destroy the fur he came across. His greatest pleasure
came to be--not in eating--but in destroying.
The fires of his hatred burned fiercer as the weeks passed, until at
last he would snap and tear with his long fangs at the snow where
McTaggart's feet had passed. And all of the time, away back of his
madness, there was a vision of Nepeese that continued to grow more and
more clearly in his brain. That first Great Loneliness--the loneliness
of the long days and longer nights of his waiting and seeking on the
Gray Loon, oppressed him again as it had oppressed him in the early
days of her disappearance. On starry or moonlit nights he sent forth
his wailing cries for her again, and Bush McTaggart, listening to them
in the middle of the night, felt strange shivers run up his spine. The
man's hatred was different than the beast's, but perhaps even more
implacable. With McTaggart it was not hatred alone. There was mixed
with it an indefinable and superstitious fear, a thing he laughed at, a
thing he cursed at, but which clung to him as surely as the scent of
his trail clung to Baree's nose. Baree no longer stood for the animal
alone; HE STOOD FOR NEPEESE. That was the thought that insisted in
growing in McTaggart's ugly mind. Never a day passed now that he did
not think of the Willow; never a night came and went without a
visioning of her face.
He even fancied, on a certain night of storm, that he heard her voice
out in the wailing of the wind--and less than a minute later he heard
faintly a distant howl out in the forest. That night his heart was
filled with a leaden dread. He shook himself. He smoked his pipe until
the cabin was blue. He cursed Baree, and the storm--but there was no
longer in him the bullying courage of old. He had not ceased to hate
Baree; he still hated him as he had never hated a man, but he had an
even greater reason now for wanting to kill him. It came to him first
in his sleep, in a restless dream, and after that it lived, and
lived--THE THOUGHT THAT THE SPIRIT OF NEPEESE WAS GUIDING BAREE IN THE
RAVAGING OF HIS TRAP LINE!
After a time he ceased to talk at the Post about the Black Wolf that
was robbing his line. The furs damaged by Baree's teeth he kept out of
sight, and to himself he kept his secret. He learned every trick and
scheme of the hunters who killed foxes and wolves along the Barrens. He
tried three different poisons, one so powerful that a single drop of it
meant death. He tried strychnine in gelatin capsules, in deer fat,
caribou fat, moose liver, and even in the flesh of porcupine. At last,
in preparing his poisons, he dipped his hands in beaver oil before he
handled the venoms and flesh so that there could be no human smell.
Foxes, wolves, and even the mink and ermine died of these baits, but
Baree came always so near--and no nearer. In January McTaggart poisoned
every bait in his trap houses. This produced at least one good result
for him. From that day Baree no longer touched his baits, but ate only
the rabbits he killed in the traps.
It was in January that McTaggart caught his first glimpse of Baree. He
had placed his rifle against a tree, and was a dozen feet away from it
at the time. It was as if Baree knew, and had come to taunt him. For
when the factor suddenly looked up Baree was standing out clear from
the dwarf spruce not twenty yards away from him, his white fangs
gleaming and his eyes burning like coals. For a space McTaggart stared
as if turned into stone. It was Baree. He recognized the white star,
the white-tipped ear, and his heart thumped like a hammer in his
breast. Very slowly he began to creep toward his rifle. His hand was
reaching for it when like a flash Baree was gone.
This gave McTaggart his new idea. He blazed himself a fresh trail
through the forests parallel with his trap line but at least five
hundred yards distant from it. Wherever a trap or deadfall was set this
new trail struck sharply in, like the point of a V, so that he could
approach his line unobserved. By this strategy he believed that in time
he was sure of getting a shot at the dog.
Again it was the man who was reasoning, and again it was the man who
was defeated. The first day that McTaggart followed his new trail Baree
also struck that trail. For a little while it puzzled him. Three times
he cut back and forth between the old and the new trail. Then there was
no doubt. The new trail was the FRESH trail, and he followed in the
footsteps of the factor from Lac Bain. McTaggart did not know what was
happening until his return trip, when he saw the story told in the
snow. Baree had visited each trap, and without exception he had
approached each time at the point of the inverted V. After a week of
futile hunting, of lying in wait, of approaching at every point of the
wind--a period during which McTaggart had twenty times cursed himself
into fits of madness, another idea came to him. It was like an
inspiration, and so simple that it seemed almost inconceivable that he
had not thought of it before.
He hurried back to Post Lac Bain.
The second day after he was on the trail at dawn. This time he carried
a pack in which there were a dozen strong wolf traps freshly dipped in
beaver oil, and a rabbit which he had snared the previous night. Now
and then he looked anxiously at the sky. It was clear until late in the
afternoon, when banks of dark clouds began rolling up from the east.
Half an hour later a few flakes of snow began falling. McTaggart let
one of these drop on the back of his mittened hand, and examined it
closely. It was soft and downy, and he gave vent to his satisfaction.
It was what he wanted. Before morning there would be six inches of
freshly fallen snow covering the trails.
He stopped at the next trap house and quickly set to work. First he
threw away the poisoned bait in the "house" and replaced it with the
rabbit. Then he began setting his wolf traps. Three of these he placed
close to the "door" of the house, through which Baree would have to
reach for the bait. The remaining nine he scattered at intervals of a
foot or sixteen inches apart, so that when he was done a veritable
cordon of traps guarded the house. He did not fasten the chains, but
let them lay loose in the snow. If Baree got into one trap he would get
into others and there would be no use of toggles. His work done,
McTaggart hurried on through the thickening twilight of winter night to
his shack. He was highly elated. This time there could be no such thing
as failure. He had sprung every trap on his way from Lac Bain. In none
of those traps would Baree find anything to eat until he came to the
"nest" of twelve wolf traps.
Seven inches of snow fell that night, and the whole world seemed turned
into a wonderful white robe. Like billows of feathers the snow clung to
the trees and shrubs. It gave tall white caps to the rocks, and
underfoot it was so light that a cartridge dropped from the hand sank
out of sight. Baree was on the trap line early. He was more cautious
this morning, for there was no longer the scent or snowshoe track of
McTaggart to guide him. He struck the first trap about halfway between
Lac Bain and the shack in which the factor was waiting. It was sprung,
and there was no bait. Trap after trap he visited, and all of them he
found sprung, and all without bait. He sniffed the air suspiciously,
striving vainly to catch the tang of smoke, a whiff of the man smell.
Along toward noon he came to the "nest"--the twelve treacherous traps
waiting for him with gaping jaws half a foot under the blanket of snow.
For a full minute he stood well outside the danger line, sniffing the
air, and listening. He saw the rabbit, and his jaws closed with a
hungry click. He moved a step nearer. Still he was suspicious--for some
strange and inexplicable reason he sensed danger. Anxiously he sought
for it with his nose, his eyes, and his ears. And all about him there
was a great silence and a great peace. His jaws clicked again. He
whined softly. What was it stirring him? Where was the danger he could
neither see nor smell? Slowly he circled about the trap house. Three
times he circled round it, each circle drawing him a little
nearer--until at last his feet almost touched the outer cordon of
traps. Another minute he stood still; his ears flattened; in spite of
the rich aroma of the rabbit in his nostrils SOMETHING WAS DRAWING HIM
AWAY. In another moment he would have gone, but there came
suddenly--and from directly behind the trap house--a fierce little
ratlike squeak, and the next instant Baree saw an ermine whiter than
the snow tearing hungrily at the flesh of the rabbit. He forgot his
strange premonition of danger. He growled fiercely, but his plucky
little rival did not budge from his feast. And then he sprang straight
into the "nest" that Bush McTaggart had made for him.
The next morning Bush McTaggart heard the clanking of a chain when he
was still a good quarter of a mile from the "nest." Was it a lynx? Was
it a fishercat? Was it a wolf or a fox? OR WAS IT BAREE? He half ran
the rest of the distance, and it last he came to where he could see,
and his heart leaped into his throat when he saw that he had caught his
enemy. He approached, holding his rifle ready to fire if by any chance
the dog should free himself.
Baree lay on his side, panting from exhaustion and quivering with pain.
A hoarse cry of exultation burst from McTaggart's lips as he drew
nearer and looked at the snow. It was packed hard for many feet about
the trap house, where Baree had struggled, and it was red with blood.
The blood had come mostly from Baree's jaws. They were dripping now as
he glared at his enemy. The steel jaws hidden under the snow had done
their merciless work well. One of his forefeet was caught well up
toward the first joint; both hind feet were caught. A fourth trap had
closed on his flank, and in tearing the jaws loose he had pulled off a
patch of skin half as big as McTaggart's hand. The snow told the story
of his desperate fight all through the night. His bleeding jaws showed
how vainly he had tried to break the imprisoning steel with his teeth.
He was panting. His eyes were bloodshot.
But even now, after all his hours of agony, neither his spirit nor his
courage was broken. When he saw McTaggart he made a lunge to his feet,
almost instantly crumpling down into the snow again. But his forefeet
were braced. His head and chest remained up, and the snarl that came
from his throat was tigerish in its ferocity. Here, at last--not more
than a dozen feet from him--was the one thing in all the world that he
hated more than he hated the wolf breed. And again he was helpless, as
he had been helpless that other time in the rabbit snare.
The fierceness of his snarl did not disturb Bush McTaggart now. He saw
how utterly the other was at his mercy, and with an exultant laugh he
leaned his rifle against a tree, pulled oft his mittens, and began
loading his pipe. This was the triumph he had looked forward to, the
torture he had waited for. In his soul there was a hatred as deadly as
Baree's, the hatred that a man might have for a man. He had expected to
send a bullet through the dog. But this was better--to watch him dying
by inches, to taunt him as he would have taunted a human, to walk about
him so that he could hear the clank of the traps and see the fresh
blood drip as Baree twisted his tortured legs and body to keep facing
him. It was a splendid vengeance. He was so engrossed in it that he did
not hear the approach of snowshoes behind him. It was a voice--a man's
voice--that turned him round in his tracks.
The man was a stranger, and he was younger than McTaggart by ten years.
At least he looked no more than thirty-five or six, even with the short
growth of blond beard he wore. He was of that sort that the average man
would like at first glance; boyish, and yet a man; with clear eyes that
looked out frankly from under the rim of his fur cap, a form lithe as
an Indian's, and a face that did not bear the hard lines of the
wilderness. Yet McTaggart knew before he had spoken that this man was
of the wilderness, that he was heart and soul a part of it. His cap was
of fisher skin. He wore a windproof coat of softly tanned caribou skin,
belted at the waist with a long sash, and Indian fringed. The inside of
the coat was furred. He was traveling on the long, slender bush country
snowshoe. His pack, strapped over the shoulders, was small and compact;
he was carrying his rifle in a cloth jacket. And from cap to snowshoes
he was TRAVEL WORN. McTaggart, at a guess, would have said that he had
traveled a thousand miles in the last few weeks. It was not this
thought that sent the strange and chilling thrill up his back; but the
sudden fear that in some strange way a whisper of the truth might have
found its way down into the south--the truth of what had happened on
the Gray Loon--and that this travel-worn stranger wore under his
caribou-skin coat the badge of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. For
that instant it was almost a terror that possessed him, and he stood
The stranger had uttered only an amazed exclamation before. Now he
said, with his eyes on Baree:
"God save us, but you've got the poor devil in a right proper mess,
There was something in the voice that reassured McTaggart. It was not a
suspicious voice, and he saw that the stranger was more interested in
the captured animal than in himself. He drew a deep breath.
"A trap robber," he said.
The stranger was staring still more closely at Baree. He thrust his gun
stock downward in the snow and drew nearer to him.
"God save us again--a dog!" he exclaimed.
From behind, McTaggart was watching the man with the eyes of a ferret.
"Yes, a dog," he answered. "A wild dog, half wolf at least. He's robbed
me of a thousand dollars' worth of fur this winter."
The stranger squatted himself before Baree, with his mittened hands
resting on his knees, and his white teeth gleaming in a half smile.
"You poor devil!" he said sympathetically. "So you're a trap robber,
eh? An outlaw? And--the police have got you! And--God save us once
more--they haven't played you a very square game!"
He rose and faced McTaggart.
"I had to set a lot of traps like that," the factor apologized, his
face reddening slightly under the steady gaze of the stranger's blue
eyes. Suddenly his animus rose. "And he's going to die there, inch by
inch. I'm going to let him starve, and rot in the traps, to pay for all
he's done." He picked up his gun, and added, with his eyes on the
stranger and his finger ready at the trigger, "I'm Bush McTaggart, the
factor at Lac Bain. Are you bound that way, M'sieu?"
"A few miles. I'm bound upcountry--beyond the Barrens."
McTaggart felt again the strange thrill.
"Government?' he asked.
The stranger nodded.
"The--police, perhaps," persisted McTaggart.
"Why, yes--of course--the police," said the stranger, looking straight
into the factor's eyes. "And now, m'sieu, as a very great courtesy to
the Law I'm going to ask you to send a bullet through that beast's head
before we go on. Will you? Or shall I?"
"It's the law of the line," said McTaggart, "to let a trap robber rot
in the traps. And that beast was a devil. Listen--"
Swiftly, and yet leaving out none of the fine detail, he told of the
weeks and months of strife between himself and Baree; of the maddening
futility of all his tricks and schemes and the still more maddening
cleverness of the beast he had at last succeeded in trapping.
"He was a devil--that clever," he cried fiercely when he had finished.
"And now--would you shoot him, or let him lie there and die by inches,
as the devil should?"
The stranger was looking at Baree. His face was turned away from
McTaggart. He said:
"I guess you are right. Let the devil rot. If you're heading for Lac
Bain, m'sieu, I'll travel a short distance with you now. It will take a
couple of miles to straighten out the line of my compass."
He picked up his gun. McTaggart led the way. At the end of half an hour
the stranger stopped, and pointed north.
"Straight up there--a good five hundred miles," he said, speaking as
lightly as though he would reach home that night. "I'll leave you here."
He made no offer to shake hands. But in going, he said:
"You might report that John Madison has passed this way."
After that he traveled straight northward for half a mile through the
deep forest. Then he swung westward for two miles, turned at a sharp
angle into the south, and an hour after he had left McTaggart he was
once more squatted on his heels almost within arms' reach of Baree.
And he was saying, as though speaking to a human companion:
"So that's what you've been, old boy. A trap robber, eh? An OUTLAW? And
you beat him at the game for two months! And for that, because you're a
better beast than he is, he wants to let you die here as slow as you
can. An OUTLAW!" His voice broke into a pleasant laugh, the sort of
laugh that warms one, even a beast. "That's funny. We ought to shake
hands, Boy, by George, we had! You're a wild one, he says. Well, so am
I. Told him my name was John Madison. It ain't. I'm Jim Carvel. And, oh
Lord!--all I said was 'police.' And that was right. It ain't a lie. I'm
wanted by the whole corporation--by every danged policeman between
Hudson's Bay and the Mackenzie River. Shake, old man. We're in the same
boat, an' I'm glad to meet you!"
Jim Carvel held out his hand, and the snarl that was in Baree's throat
died away. The man rose to his feet. He stood there, looking in the
direction taken by Bush McTaggart, and chuckled in a curious, exultant
sort of way.
There was friendliness even in that chuckle. There was friendliness in
his eyes and in the shine of his teeth as he looked again at Baree.
About him there was something that seemed to make the gray day
brighter, that seemed to warm the chill air--a strange something that
radiated cheer and hope and comradeship just as a hot stove sends out
the glow of heat. Baree felt it. For the first time since the two men
had come his trap-torn body lost its tenseness; his back sagged; his
teeth clicked as he shivered in his agony. To THIS man he betrayed his
weakness. In his bloodshot eyes there was a hungering look as he
watched Carvel--the self-confessed outlaw. And Jim Carvel again held
out his hand--much nearer this time.
"You poor devil," he said, the smile going out of his face. "You poor
The words were like a caress to Baree--the first he had known since the
loss of Nepeese and Pierrot. He dropped his head until his jaw lay flat
in the snow. Carvel could see the blood dripping slowly from it.
"You poor devil!" he repeated.
There was no fear in the way he put forth his hand. It was the
confidence of a great sincerity and a great compassion. It touched
Baree's head and patted it in a brotherly fashion, and then--slowly and
with a bit more caution--it went to the trap fastened to Baree's
forepaw. In his half-crazed brain Baree was fighting to understand
things, and the truth came finally when he felt the steel jaws of the
trap open, and he drew forth his maimed foot. He did then what he had
done to no other creature but Nepeese. Just once his hot tongue shot
out and licked Carvel's hand. The man laughed. With his powerful hands
he opened the other traps, and Baree was free.
For a few moments he lay without moving, his eyes fixed on the man.
Carvel had seated himself on the snow-covered end of a birch log and
was filling his pipe. Baree watched him light it; he noted with new
interest the first purplish cloud of smoke that left Carvel's mouth.
The man was not more than the length of two trap chains away--and he
grinned at Baree.
"Screw up your nerve, old chap," he encouraged. "No bones broke. Just a
little stiff. Mebby we'd better--get out."
He turned his face in the direction of Lac Bain. The suspicion was in
his mind that McTaggart might turn back. Perhaps that same suspicion
was impressed upon Baree, for when Carvel looked at him again he was on
his feet, staggering a bit as he gained his equilibrium. In another
moment the outlaw had swung the packsack from his shoulders and was
opening it. He thrust in his hand and drew out a chunk of raw, red meat.
"Killed it this morning," he explained to Baree. "Yearling bull, tender
as partridge--and that's as fine a sweetbread as ever came out from
under a backbone. Try it!"
He tossed the flesh to Baree. There was no equivocation in the manner
of its acceptance. Baree was famished--and the meat was flung to him by
a friend. He buried his teeth in it. His jaws crunched it. New fire
leapt into his blood as he feasted, but not for an instant did his
reddened eyes leave the other's face. Carvel replaced his pack. He rose
to his feet, took up his rifle, slipped on his snowshoes, and fronted
"Come on. Boy," he said. "We've got to travel."
It was a matter-of-fact invitation, as though the two had been
traveling companions for a long time. It was, perhaps, not only an
invitation but partly a command. It puzzled Baree. For a full
half-minute he stood motionless in his tracks gazing at Carvel as he
strode into the north. A sudden convulsive twitching shot through
Baree. He swung his head toward Lac Bain; he looked again at Carvel,
and a whine that was scarcely more than a breath came out of his
throat. The man was just about to disappear into the thick spruce. He
paused, and looked back.
Even at that distance Baree could see him grinning affably. He saw the
outstretched hand, and the voice stirred new sensations in him. It was
not like Pierrot's voice. He had never loved Pierrot. Neither was it
soft and sweet like the Willow's. He had known only a few men, and all
of them he had regarded with distrust. But this was a voice that
disarmed him. It was lureful in its appeal. He wanted to answer it. He
was filled with a desire, all at once, to follow close at the heels of
this stranger. For the first time in his life a craving for the
friendship of man possessed him. He did not move until Jim Carvel
entered the spruce. Then he followed.
That night they were camped in a dense growth of cedars and balsams ten
miles north of Bush McTaggart's trap line. For two hours it had snowed,
and their trail was covered. It was still snowing, but not a flake of
the white deluge sifted down through the thick canopy of boughs. Carvel
had put up his small silk tent, and had built a fire. Their supper was
over, and Baree lay on his belly facing the outlaw, almost within reach
of his hand. With his back to a tree Carvel was smoking luxuriously. He
had thrown off his cap and his coat, and in the warm fireglow he looked
almost boyishly young. But even in that glow his jaws lost none of
their squareness, nor his eyes their clear alertness.
"Seems good to have someone to talk to," he was saying to Baree.
"Someone who can understand, an' keep his mouth shut. Did you ever want
to howl, an' didn't dare? Well, that's me. Sometimes I've been on the
point of bustin' because I wanted to talk to someone, an' couldn't."
He rubbed his hands together, and held them out toward the fire. Baree
watched his movements and listened intently to every sound that escaped
his lips. His eyes had in them now a dumb sort of worship, a look that
warmed Carvel's heart and did away with the vast loneliness and
emptiness of the night. Baree had dragged himself nearer to the man's
feet, and suddenly Carvel leaned over and patted his head.
"I'm a bad one, old chap," he chuckled. "You haven't got it on me--not
a bit. Want to know what happened?" He waited a moment, and Baree
looked at him steadily. Then Carvel went on, as if speaking to a human,
"Let's see--it was five years ago, five years this December, just
before Christmas time. Had a Dad. Fine old chap, my dad was. No
Mother--just the Dad, an' when you added us up we made just One.
Understand? And along came a white-striped skunk named Hardy and shot
him one day because Dad had worked against him in politics. Out an' out
murder. An' they didn't hang that skunk! No, sir, they didn't hang him.
He had too much money, an' too many friends in politics, an' they let
'im off with two years in the penitentiary. But he didn't get there.
No--s'elp me God, he didn't get there!"
Carvel was twisting his hands until his knuckles cracked. An exultant
smile lighted up his face, and his eyes flashed back the firelight.
Baree drew a deep breath--a mere coincidence; but it was a tense moment
for all that.
"No, he didn't get to the penitentiary," went on Carvel, looking
straight at Baree again. "Yours truly knew what that meant, old chap.
He'd have been pardoned inside a year. An' there was my dad, the
biggest half of me, in his grave. So I just went up to that
white-striped skunk right there before the judge's eyes, an' the
lawyers' eyes, an' the eyes of all his dear relatives an' friends--AND
I KILLED HIM! And I got away. Was out through a window before they woke
up, hit for the bush country, and have been eating up the trails ever
since. An' I guess God was with me, Boy. For He did a queer thing to
help me out summer before last, just when the Mounties were after me
hardest an' it looked pretty black. Man was found drowned down in the
Reindeer Country, right where they thought I was cornered. An' the good
Lord made that man look so much like me that he was buried under my
name. So I'm officially dead, old chap. I don't need to be afraid any
more so long as I don't get too familiar with people for a year or so
longer, and 'way down inside me I've liked to believe God fixed it up
in that way to help me out of a bad hole. What's YOUR opinion? Eh?"
He leaned forward for an answer. Baree had listened. Perhaps, in a way,
he had understood. But it was another sound than Carvel's voice that
came to his ears now. With his head close to the ground he heard it
quite distinctly. He whined, and the whine ended in a snarl so low that
Carvel just caught the warning note in it. He straightened. He stood up
then, and faced the south. Baree stood beside him, his legs tense and
his spine bristling.
After a moment Carvel said:
"Relatives of yours, old chap. Wolves."
He went into the tent for his rifle and cartridges.
Baree was on his feet, rigid as hewn rock, when Carvel came out of the
tent, and for a few moments Carvel stood in silence, watching him
closely. Would the dog respond to the call of the pack? Did he belong
to them? Would he go--now? The wolves were drawing nearer. They were
not circling, as a caribou or a deer would have circled, but were
traveling straight--dead straight for their camp. The significance of
this fact was easily understood by Carvel. All that afternoon Baree's
feet had left a blood smell in their trail, and the wolves had struck
the trail in the deep forest, where the falling snow had not covered
it. Carvel was not alarmed. More than once in his five years of
wandering between the Arctic and the Height of Land he had played the
game with the wolves. Once he had almost lost, but that was out in the
open Barren. Tonight he had a fire, and in the event of his firewood
running out he had trees he could climb. His anxiety just now was
centered in Baree. So he said, making his voice quite casual:
"You aren't going, are you, old chap?"
If Baree heard him he gave no evidence of it. But Carvel, still
watching him closely, saw that the hair along his spine had risen like
a brush, and then he heard--growing slowly in Baree's throat--a snarl
of ferocious hatred. It was the sort of snarl that had held back the
factor from Lac Bain, and Carvel, opening the breech of his gun to see
that all was right, chuckled happily. Baree may have heard the chuckle.
Perhaps it meant something to him, for he turned his head suddenly and
with flattened ears looked at his companion.
The wolves were silent now. Carvel knew what that meant, and he was
tensely alert. In the stillness the click of the safety on his rifle
sounded with metallic sharpness. For many minutes they heard nothing
but the crack of the fire. Suddenly Baree's muscles seemed to snap. He
sprang back, and faced the quarter behind Carvel, his head level with
his shoulders, his inch-long fangs gleaming as he snarled into the
black caverns of the forest beyond the rim of firelight. Carvel had
turned like a shot. It was almost frightening--what he saw. A pair of
eyes burning with greenish fire, and then another pair, and after that
so many of them that he could not have counted them. He gave a sadden
gasp. They were like cat eyes, only much larger. Some of them, catching
the firelight fully, were red as coals, others flashed blue and
green--living things without bodies. With a swift glance he took in the
black circle of the forest. They were out there, too; they were on all
sides of them, but where he had seen them first they were thickest. In
these first few seconds he had forgotten Baree, awed almost to
stupefaction by that monster-eyed cordon of death that hemmed them in.
There were fifty--perhaps a hundred wolves out there, afraid of nothing
in all this savage world but fire. They had come up without the sound
of a padded foot or a broken twig. If it had been later, and they had
been asleep, and the fire out--
He shuddered, and for a moment the thought got the better of his
nerves. He had not intended to shoot except from necessity, but all at
once his rifle came to his shoulder and he sent a stream of fire out
where the eyes were thickest. Baree knew what the shots meant, and
filled with the mad desire to get at the throat of one of his enemies
he dashed in their direction. Carvel gave a startled yell as he went.
He saw the flash of Baree's body, saw it swallowed up in the gloom, and
in that same instant heard the deadly clash of fangs and the impact of
bodies. A wild thrill shot through him. The dog had charged alone--and
the wolves had waited. There could be but one end. His four-footed
comrade had gone straight into the jaws of death!
He could hear the ravening snap of those jaws out in the darkness. It
was sickening. His hand went to the Colt .45 at his belt, and he thrust
his empty rifle butt downward into the snow. With the big automatic
before his eyes he plunged out into the darkness, and from his lips
there issued a wild yelling that could have been heard a mile away.
With the yelling a steady stream of fire spat from the Colt into the
mass of fighting beasts. There were eight shots in the automatic, and
not until the plunger clicked with metallic emptiness did Carvel cease
his yelling and retreat into the firelight. He listened, breathing
deeply. He no longer saw eyes in the darkness, nor did he hear the
movement of bodies. The suddenness and ferocity of his attack had
driven back the wolf horde. But the dog! He caught his breath, and
strained his eyes. A shadow was dragging itself into the circle of
light. It was Baree. Carvel ran to him, put his arms under his
shoulders, and brought him to the fire.
For a long time after that there was a questioning light in Carvel's
eyes. He reloaded his guns, put fresh fuel on the fire, and from his
pack dug out strips of cloth with which he bandaged three or four of
the deepest cuts in Baree's legs. And a dozen times he asked, in a
wondering sort of way,
"Now what the deuce made you do that, old chap? What have YOU got
against the wolves?"
All that night he did not sleep, but watched.
Their experience with the wolves broke down the last bit of uncertainty
that might have existed between the man and the dog. For days after
that, as they traveled slowly north and west, Carvel nursed Baree as he
might have cared for a sick child. Because of the dog's hurts, he made
only a few miles a day. Baree understood, and in him there grew
stronger and stronger a great love for the man whose hands were as
gentle as the Willow's and whose voice warmed him with the thrill of an
immeasurable comradeship. He no longer feared him or had a suspicion of
him. And Carvel, on his part, was observing things. The vast emptiness
of the world about them, and their aloneness, gave him the opportunity
of pondering over unimportant details, and he found himself each day
watching Baree a little more closely. He made at last a discovery which
interested him deeply. Always, when they halted on the trail, Baree
would turn his face to the south. When they were in camp it was from
the south that he nosed the wind most frequently. This was quite
natural, Carvel thought, for his old hunting grounds were back there.
But as the days passed he began to notice other things. Now and then,
looking off into the far country from which they had come, Baree would
whine softly, and on that day he would be filled with a great
restlessness. He gave no evidence of wanting to leave Carvel, but more
and more Carvel came to understand that some mysterious call was coming
to him from out of the south.
It was the wanderer's intention to swing over into the country of the
Great Slave, a good eight hundred miles to the north and west, before
the mush snows came. From there, when the waters opened in springtime,
he planned to travel by canoe westward to the Mackenzie and ultimately
to the mountains of British Columbia. These plans were changed in