Part 4 out of 4
February. They were caught in a great storm in the Wholdaia Lake
country, and when their fortunes looked darkest Carvel stumbled on a
cabin in the heart of a deep spruce forest, and in this cabin there was
a dead man. He had been dead for many days, and was frozen stiff.
Carvel chopped a hole in the earth and buried him.
The cabin was a treasure trove to Carvel and Baree, and especially to
the man. It evidently possessed no other owner than the one who had
died. It was comfortable and stocked with provisions; and more than
that, its owner had made a splendid catch of fur before the frost bit
his lungs, and he died. Carvel went over them carefully and joyously.
They were worth a thousand dollars at any post, and he could see no
reason why they did not belong to him now. Within a week he had blazed
out the dead man's snow-covered trap line and was trapping on his own
This was two hundred miles north and west of the Gray Loon, and soon
Carvel observed that Baree did not face directly south in those moments
when the strange call came to him, but south and east. And now, with
each day that passed, the sun rose higher in the sky; it grew warmer;
the snow softened underfoot, and in the air was the tremulous and
growing throb of spring. With these things came the old yearning to
Baree; the heart-thrilling call of the lonely graves back on the Gray
Loon, of the burned cabin, the abandoned tepee beyond the pool--and of
Nepeese. In his sleep he saw visions of things. He heard again the low,
sweet voice of the Willow, felt the touch of her hand, was at play with
her once more in the dark shades of the forest--and Carvel would sit
and watch him as he dreamed, trying to read the meaning of what he saw
In April Carvel shouldered his furs up to the Hudson's Bay Company's
post at Lac la Biche, which was still farther north. Baree accompanied
him halfway, and then--at sundown Carvel returned to the cabin and
found him there. He was so overjoyed that he caught the dog's head in
his arms and hugged it. They lived in the cabin until May. The buds
were swelling then, and the smell of growing things had begun to rise
up out of the earth.
Then Carvel found the first of the early blue flowers.
That night he packed up.
"It's time to travel," he announced to Baree. "And I've sort of changed
my mind. We're going back--there." And he pointed south.
A strange humor possessed Carvel as he began the southward journey. He
did not believe in omens, good or bad.
Superstition had played a small part in his life, but he possessed both
curiosity and a love for adventure, and his years of lonely wandering
had developed in him a wonderfully clear mental vision of things, which
in other words might be called a singularly active imagination. He knew
that some irresistible force was drawing Baree back into the
south--that it was pulling him not only along a given line of the
compass, but to an exact point in that line.
For no reason in particular the situation began to interest him more
and more, and as his time was valueless, and he had no fixed
destination in view, he began to experiment. For the first two days he
marked the dog's course by compass. It was due southeast. On the third
morning Carvel purposely struck a course straight west. He noted
quickly the change in Baree--his restlessness at first, and after that
the dejected manner in which he followed at his heels. Toward noon
Carvel swung sharply to the south and east again, and almost
immediately Baree regained his old eagerness, and ran ahead of his
After this, for many days, Carvel followed the trail of the dog.
"Mebby I'm an idiot, old chap," he apologized one evening. "But it's a
bit of fun, after all--an' I've got to hit the line of rail before I
can get over to the mountains, so what's the difference? I'm game--so
long as you don't take me back to that chap at Lac Bain. Now--what the
devil! Are yon hitting for his trap line, to get even? If that's the
He blew out a cloud of smoke from his pipe as he eyed Baree, and Baree,
with his head between his forepaws, eyed him back.
A week later Baree answered Carvel's question by swinging westward to
give a wide berth to Post Lac Bain. It was midafternoon when they
crossed the trail along which Bush McTaggart's traps and deadfalls had
been set. Baree did not even pause. He headed due south, traveling so
fast that at times he was lost to Carvel's sight. A suppressed but
intense excitement possessed him, and he whined whenever Carvel stopped
to rest--always with his nose sniffing the wind out of the south.
Springtime, the flowers, the earth turning green, the singing of birds,
and the sweet breaths in the air were bringing him back to that great
yesterday when he had belonged to Nepeese. In his unreasoning mind
there existed no longer a winter. The long months of cold and hunger
were gone; in the new visionings that filled his brain they were
forgotten. The birds and flowers and the blue skies had come back, and
with them the Willow must surely have returned, and she was waiting for
him now, just over there beyond that rim of green forest.
Something greater than mere curiosity began to take possession of
Carvel. A whimsical humor became a fixed and deeper thought, an
unreasoning anticipation that was accompanied by a certain thrill of
subdued excitement. By the time they reached the old beaver pond the
mystery of the strange adventure had a firm hold on him. From Beaver
Tooth's colony Baree led him to the creek along which Wakayoo, the
black bear, had fished, and thence straight to the Gray Loon.
It was early afternoon of a wonderful day. It was so still that the
rippling waters of spring, singing in a thousand rills and streamlets,
filled the forests with a droning music. In the warm sun the crimson
bakneesh glowed like blood. In the open spaces the air was scented with
the perfume of blue flowers. In the trees and bushes mated birds were
building their nests. After the long sleep of winter nature was at work
in all her glory. It was Unekepesim, the Mating Moon, the Home-building
Moon--and Baree was going home. Not to matehood--but to Nepeese. He
knew that she was there now, perhaps at the very edge of the chasm
where he had seen her last. They would be playing together again soon,
as they had played yesterday, and the day before, and the day before
that, and in his joy he barked up into Carvel's face, and urged him to
Then they came to the clearing, and once more Baree stood like a rock.
Carvel saw the charred ruins of the burned cabin, and a moment later
the two graves under the tall spruce. He began to understand as his
eyes returned slowly to the waiting, listening dog. A great swelling
rose in his throat, and after a moment or two he said softly, and with
"Boy, I guess you're home."
Baree did not hear. With his head up and his nose tilted to the blue
sky he was sniffing the air. What was it that came to him with the
perfumes of the forests and the green meadow? Why was it that he
trembled now as he stood there? What was there in the air? Carvel asked
himself, and his questing eyes tried to answer the questions. Nothing.
There was death here--death and desertion, that was all. And then, all
at once, there came from Baree a strange cry--almost a human cry--and
he was gone like the wind.
Carvel had thrown off his pack. He dropped his rifle beside it now, and
followed Baree. He ran swiftly, straight across the open, into the
dwarf balsams, and into a grass-grown path that had once been worn by
the travel of feet. He ran until he was panting for breath, and then
stopped, and listened. He could hear nothing of Baree. But that old
worn trail led on under the forest trees, and he followed it.
Close to the deep, dark pool in which he and the Willow had disported
so often Baree, too, had stopped. He could hear the rippling of water,
and his eyes shone with a gleaming fire as he searched for Nepeese. He
expected to see her there, her slim white body shimmering in some dark
shadow of overhanging spruce, or gleaming suddenly white as snow in one
of the warm plashes of sunlight. His eyes sought out their old hiding
places; the great split rock on the other side, the shelving banks
under which they used to dive like otter, the spruce boughs that dipped
down to the surface, and in the midst of which the Willow loved to
pretend to hide while he searched the pool for her. And at last the
realization was borne upon him that she was not there, that he had
still farther to go.
He went on to the tepee. The little open space in which they had built
their hidden wigwam was flooded with sunshine that came through a break
in the forest to the west. The tepee was still there. It did not seem
very much changed to Baree. And rising from the ground in front of the
tepee was what had come to him faintly on the still air--the smoke of a
small fire. Over that fire was bending a person, and it did not strike
Baree as amazing, or at all unexpected, that this person should have
two great shining braids down her back. He whined, and at his whine the
person grew a little rigid, and turned slowly.
Even then it seemed quite the most natural thing in the world that it
should be Nepeese, and none other. He had lost her yesterday. Today he
had found her. And in answer to his whine there came a sobbing cry
straight out of the heart of the Willow.
Carvel found them there a few minutes later, the dog's head hugged
close up against the Willow's breast, and the Willow was crying--crying
like a little child, her face hidden from him on Baree's neck. He did
not interrupt them, but waited; and as he waited something in the
sobbing voice and the stillness of the forest seemed to whisper to him
a bit of the story of the burned cabin and the two graves, and the
meaning of the Call that had come to Baree from out of the south.
That night there was a new campfire in the clearing. It was not a small
fire, built with the fear that other eyes might see it, but a fire that
sent its flames high. In the glow of it stood Carvel. And as the fire
had changed from that small smoldering heap over which the Willow had
cooked her dinner, so Carvel, the officially dead outlaw, had changed.
The beard was gone from his face. He had thrown off his caribou-skin
coat. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and there was a wild
flush in his face that was not altogether the work of wind and sun and
storm, and a glow in his eyes that had not been there for five years,
perhaps never before. His eyes were on Nepeese.
She sat in the firelight, leaning a little toward the blaze, her
wonderful hair warmly reflecting its mellow light. Carvel did not move
while she was in that attitude. He seemed scarcely to breathe. The glow
in his eyes grew deeper--the worship of a man for a woman. Suddenly
Nepeese turned and caught him before he could turn his gaze. There was
nothing to hide in her own eyes. Like her face, they were alight with a
new hope and a new gladness. Carvel sat down beside her on the birch
log, and in his hand he took one of her thick braids and crumpled it as
he talked. At their feet, watching them, lay Baree.
"Tomorrow or the next day I am going to Lac Bain," he said, a hard and
bitter note back of the gentle worship in his voice. "I will not come
back until I have--killed him."
The Willow looked straight into the fire. For a time there was a
silence broken only by the crackling of the flames, and in that silence
Carvel's ringers weaved in and out of the silken strands of the
Willow's hair. His thoughts flashed back. What a chance he had missed
that day on Bush McTaggart's trap line--if he had only known! His jaws
set hard as he saw in the red-hot heart of the fire the mental pictures
of the day when the factor from Lac Bain had killed Pierrot. She had
told him the whole story. Her flight. Her plunge to what she had
thought was certain death in the icy torrent of the chasm. Her
miraculous escape from the waters--and how she was discovered, nearly
dead, by Tuboa, the toothless old Cree whom Pierrot out of pity had
allowed to hunt in part of his domain. He felt within himself the
tragedy and the horror of the one terrible hour in which the sun had
gone out of the world for the Willow, and in the flames he could see
faithful old Tuboa as he called on his last strength to bear Nepeese
over the long miles that lay between the chasm and his cabin. He caught
shifting visions of the weeks that followed in that cabin, weeks of
hunger and of intense cold in which the Willow's life hung by a single
thread. And at last, when the snows were deepest, Tuboa had died.
Carvel's fingers clenched in the strands of the Willow's braid. A deep
breath rose out of his chest, and he said, staring deep into the fire,
"Tomorrow I will go to Lac Bain."
For a moment Nepeese did not answer. She, too, was looking into the
fire. Then she said:
"Tuboa meant to kill him when the spring came, and he could travel.
When Tuboa died I knew that it was I who must kill him. So I came, with
Tuboa's gun. It was fresh loaded--yesterday. And--M'sieu Jeem"--she
looked up at him, a triumphant glow in her eyes as she added, almost in
a whisper--"You will not go to Lac Bain. I HAVE SENT A MESSENGER."
"Yes, Ookimow Jeem--a messenger. Two days ago. I sent word that I had
not died, but was here--waiting for him--and that I would be Iskwao
now, his wife. Oo-oo, he will come, Ookimow Jeem--he will come fast.
And you shall not kill him. Non!" She smiled into his face, and the
throb of Carvel's heart was like a drum. "The gun is loaded," she said
softly. "I will shoot."
"Two days ago," said Carvel. "And from Lac Bain it is--"
"He will be here tomorrow," Nepeese answered him.
"Tomorrow, as the sun goes down, he will enter the clearing. I know. My
blood has been singing it all day. Tomorrow--tomorrow--for he will
travel fast, Ookimow Jeem. Yes, he will come fast."
Carvel had bent his head. The soft tresses gripped in his fingers were
crushed to his lips. The Willow, looking again into the fire, did not
see. But she FELT--and her soul was beating like the wings of a bird.
"Ookimow Jeem," she whispered--a breath, a flutter of the lips so soft
that Carvel heard no sound.
If old Tuboa had been there that night it is possible he would have
read strange warnings in the winds that whispered now and then softly
in the treetops. It was such a night; a night when the Red Gods whisper
low among themselves, a carnival of glory in which even the dipping
shadows and the high stars seemed to quiver with the life of a potent
language. It is barely possible that old Tuboa, with his ninety years
behind him, would have learned something, or that at least he would
have SUSPECTED a thing which Carvel in his youth and confidence did not
see. Tomorrow--he will come tomorrow! The Willow, exultant, had said
that. But to old Tuboa the trees might have whispered, WHY NOT TONIGHT?
It was midnight when the big moon stood full above the little opening
in the forest. In the tepee the Willow was sleeping. In a balsam shadow
back from the fire slept Baree, and still farther back in the edge of a
spruce thicket slept Carvel. Dog and man were tired. They had traveled
far and fast that day, and they heard no sound.
But they had traveled neither so far nor so fast as Bush McTaggart.
Between sunrise and midnight he had come forty miles when he strode out
into the clearing where Pierrot's cabin had stood. Twice from the edge
of the forest he had called; and now, when he found no answer, he stood
under the light of the moon and listened. Nepeese was to be
here--waiting. He was tired, but exhaustion could not still the fire
that burned in his blood. It had been blazing all day, and now--so near
its realization and its triumph--the old passion was like a rich wine
in his veins. Somewhere, near where he stood, Nepeese was waiting for
him, WAITING FOR HIM. Once again he called, his heart beating in a
fierce anticipation as he listened. There was no answer. And then for a
thrilling instant his breath stopped. He sniffed the air--and there
came to him faintly the smell of smoke.
With the first instinct of the forest man he fronted the wind that was
but a faint breath under the starlit skies. He did not call again, but
hastened across the clearing. Nepeese was off
there--somewhere--sleeping beside her fire, and out of him there rose a
low cry of exultation. He came to the edge of the forest; chance
directed his steps to the overgrown trail. He followed it, and the
smoke smell came stronger to his nostrils.
It was the forest man's instinct, too, that added the element of
caution to his advance. That, and the utter stillness of the night. He
broke no sticks under his feet. He disturbed the brush so quietly that
it made no sound. When he came at last to the little open where
Carvel's fire was still sending a spiral of spruce-scented smoke up
into the air it was with a stealth that failed even to rouse Baree.
Perhaps, deep down in him, there smoldered an old suspicion; perhaps it
was because he wanted to come to her while she was sleeping. The sight
of the tepee made his heart throb faster. It was light as day where it
stood in the moonlight, and he saw hanging outside it a few bits of
woman's apparel. He advanced soft-footed as a fox and stood a moment
later with his hand on the cloth flap at the wigwam door, his head bent
forward to catch the merest breath of sound. He could hear her
breathing. For an instant his face turned so that the moonlight struck
his eyes. They were aflame with a mad fire. Then, still very quietly,
he drew aside the flap at the door.
It could not have been sound that roused Baree, hidden in the black
balsam shadow a dozen paces away. Perhaps it was scent. His nostrils
twitched first; then he awoke. For a few seconds his eyes glared at the
bent figure in the tepee door. He knew that it was not Carvel. The old
smell--the man-beast's smell, filled his nostrils like a hated poison.
He sprang to his feet and stood with his lips snarling back slowly from
his long fangs. McTaggart had disappeared. From inside the tepee there
came a sound; a sudden movement of bodies, a startled ejaculation of
one awakening from sleep--and then a cry, a low, half-smothered,
frightened cry, and in response to that cry Baree shot out from under
the balsam with a sound in his throat that had in it the note of death.
In the edge of the spruce thicket Carvel rolled uneasily. Strange
sounds were rousing him, cries that in his exhaustion came to him as if
in a dream. At last he sat up, and then in sudden horror leaped to his
feet and rushed toward the tepee. Nepeese was in the open, crying the
name she had given him--"0OKIMOW JEEM--OOKIMOW--JEEM--OOKIMOW JEEM--"
She was standing there white and slim, her eyes with the blaze of the
stars in them, and when she saw Carvel she flung out her arms to him,
"Ookimow Jeem--Oo-oo, Ookimow Jeem--"
In the tepee he heard the rage or a beast, the moaning cries of a man.
He forgot that it was only last night he had come, and with a cry he
swept the Willow to his breast, and the Willow's arms tightened round
his neck as she moaned:
"Ookimow Jeem--it is the man-beast--in there! It is the man-beast from
Lac Bain--and Baree--"
Truth flashed upon Carvel, and he caught Nepeese up in his arms and ran
away with her from the sounds that had grown sickening and horrible. In
the spruce thicket he put her feet once more to the ground. Her arms
were still tight around his neck. He felt the wild terror of her body
as it throbbed against him. Her breath was sobbing, and her eyes were
on his face. He drew her closer, and suddenly he crushed his face down
close against hers and felt for an instant the warm thrill of her lips
against his own. And he heard the whisper, soft and trembling.
"Ooo-oo, OOKIMOW JEEM--"
When Carvel returned to the fire, alone, his Colt in his hand, Baree
was in front of the tepee waiting for him.
Carvel picked up a burning brand and entered the wigwam. When he came
out his face was white. He tossed the brand in the fire, and went back
to Nepeese. He had wrapped her in his blankets, and now he knelt down
beside her and put his arms about her.
"He is dead, Nepeese."
"Dead, Ookimow Jeem?"
"Yes. Baree killed him."
She did not seem to breathe. Gently, with his lips in her hair. Carvel
whispered his plans for their paradise.
"No one will know, my sweetheart. Tonight I will bury him and burn the
tepee. Tomorrow we will start for Nelson House, where there is a
missioner. And after that--we will come back--and I will build a new
cabin where the old one burned. DO YOU LOVE ME, KA SAKAHET?"
"OM'--yes--Ookimow Jeem--I love you--"
Suddenly there came an interruption. Baree at last was giving his cry
of triumph. It rose to the stars; it wailed over the roofs of the
forests and filled the quiet skies--a wolfish howl of exultation, of
achievement, of vengeance fulfilled. Its echoes died slowly away, and
silence came again. A great peace whispered in the soft breath of the
treetops. Out of the north came the mating call of a loon. About
Carvel's shoulders the Willow's arms crept closer. And Carvel, out of
his heart, thanked God.