Nomads Of The North
James Oliver Curwood
Part 1 out of 4
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NOMADS OF THE NORTH
A STORY OF ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE UNDER THE OPEN STARS
BY JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
It was late in the month of March, at the dying-out of the Eagle
Moon, that Neewa the black bear cub got his first real look at the
world. Noozak, his mother, was an old bear, and like an old person
she was filled with rheumatics and the desire to sleep late. So
instead of taking a short and ordinary nap of three months this
particular winter of little Neewa's birth she slept four, which,
made Neewa, who was born while ms mother was sound asleep, a
little over two months old instead of six weeks when they came out
In choosing this den Noozak had gone to a cavern at the crest of a
high, barren ridge, and from this point Neewa first looked down
into the valley. For a time, coming out of darkness into sunlight,
he was blinded. He could hear and smell and feel many things
before he could see. And Noozak, as though puzzled at finding
warmth and sunshine in place of cold and darkness, stood for many
minutes sniffing the wind and looking down upon her domain.
For two weeks an early spring had been working its miracle of
change in that wonderful country of the northland between
Jackson's Knee and the Shamattawa River, and from north to south
between God's Lake and the Churchill.
It was a splendid world. From the tall pinnacle of rock on which
they stood it looked like a great sea of sunlight, with only here
and there patches of white snow where the winter winds had piled
it deep. Their ridge rose up out of a great valley. On all sides
of them, as far as a man's eye could have reached, there were blue
and black patches of forest, the shimmer of lakes still partly
frozen, the sunlit sparkle of rivulet and stream, and the greening
open spaces out of which rose the perfumes of the earth. These
smells drifted up like tonic and food to the nostrils of Noozak
the big bear. Down there the earth was already swelling with life.
The buds on the poplars were growing fat and near the bursting
point; the grasses were sending out shoots tender and sweet; the
camas were filling with juice; the shooting stars, the dog-tooth
violets, and the spring beauties were thrusting themselves up into
the warm glow of the sun, inviting Noozak and Neewa to the feast.
All these things Noozak smelled with the experience and the
knowledge of twenty years of life behind her--the delicious aroma
of the spruce and the jackpine; the dank, sweet scent of water-
lily roots and swelling bulbs that came from a thawed-out fen at
the foot of the ridge; and over all these things, overwhelming
their individual sweetnesses in a still greater thrill of life,
the smell of the heart itself!
And Neewa smelled them. His amazed little body trembled and
thrilled for the first time with the excitement of life. A moment
before in darkness, he found himself now in a wonderland of which
he had never so much as had a dream. In these few minutes Nature
was at work upon him. He possessed no knowledge, but instinct was
born within him. He knew this was HIS world, that the sun and the
warmth were for him, and that the sweet things of the earth were
inviting him into his heritage. He puckered up his little brown
nose and sniffed the air, and the pungency of everything that was
sweet and to be yearned for came to him.
And he listened. His pointed ears were pricked forward, and up to
him came the drone of a wakening earth. Even the roots of the
grasses must have been singing in their joy, for all through that
sunlit valley there was the low and murmuring music of a country
that was at peace because it was empty of men. Everywhere was the
rippling sound of running water, and he heard strange sounds that
he knew was life; the twittering of a rock-sparrow, the silver-
toned aria of a black-throated thrush down in the fen, the shrill
paean of a gorgeously coloured Canada jay exploring for a nesting
place in a brake of velvety balsam. And then, far over his head, a
screaming cry that made him shiver. It was instinct again that
told him in that cry was danger. Noozak looked up, and saw the
shadow of Upisk, the great eagle, as it flung itself between the
sun and the earth. Neewa saw the shadow, and cringed nearer to his
And Noozak--so old that she had lost half her teeth, so old that
her bones ached on damp and chilly nights, and her eyesight was
growing dim--was still not so old that she did not look down with
growing exultation upon what she saw. Her mind was travelling
beyond the mere valley in which they had wakened. Off there beyond
the walls of forest, beyond the farthest lake, beyond the river
and the plain, were the illimitable spaces which gave her home. To
her came dully a sound uncaught by Neewa--the almost
unintelligible rumble of the great waterfall. It was this, and the
murmur of a thousand trickles of running water, and the soft wind
breathing down in the balsam and spruce that put the music of
spring into the air.
At last Noozak heaved a great breath out of her lungs and with a
grunt to Neewa began to lead the way slowly down among the rocks
to the foot of the ridge.
In the golden pool of the valley it was even warmer than on the
crest of the ridge. Noozak went straight to the edge of the
slough. Half a dozen rice birds rose with a whir of wings that
made Neewa almost upset himself. Noozak paid no attention to them.
A loon let out a squawky protest at Noozak's soft-footed
appearance, and followed it up with a raucous screech that raised
the hair on Neewa's spine. And Noozak paid no attention to this.
Neewa observed these things. His eye was on her, and instinct had
already winged his legs with the readiness to run if his mother
should give the signal. In his funny little head it was developing
very quickly that his mother was a most wonderful creature. She
was by all odds the biggest thing alive--that is, the biggest that
stood on legs, and moved. He was confident of this for a space of
perhaps two minutes, when they came to the end of the fen. And
here was a sudden snort, a crashing of bracken, the floundering of
a huge body through knee-deep mud, and a monstrous bull moose,
four times as big as Noozak, set off in lively flight. Neewa's
eyes all but popped from his head. And STILL Noozak PAID NO
It was then that Neewa crinkled up his tiny nose and snarled, just
as he had snarled at Noozak's ears and hair and at sticks he had
worried in the black cavern. A glorious understanding dawned upon
him. He could snarl at anything he wanted to snarl at, no matter
how big. For everything ran away from Noozak his mother.
All through this first glorious day Neewa was discovering things,
and with each hour it was more and more impressed upon him that
his mother was the unchallenged mistress of all this new and
Noozak was a thoughtful old mother of a bear who had reared
fifteen or eighteen families in her time, and she travelled very
little this first day in order that Neewa's tender feet might
toughen up a bit. They scarcely left the fen, except to go into a
nearby clump of trees where Noozak used her claws to shred a
spruce that they might get at the juice and slimy substance just
under the bark. Neewa liked this dessert after their feast of
roots and bulbs, and tried to claw open a tree on his own account.
By mid-afternoon Noozak had eaten until her sides bulged out, and
Neewa himself--between his mother's milk and the many odds and
ends of other things--looked like an over-filled pod. Selecting a
spot where the declining sun made a warm oven of a great white
rock, lazy old Noozak lay down for a nap, while Neewa, wandering
about in quest of an adventure of his own, came face to face with
a ferocious bug.
The creature was a giant wood-beetle two inches long. Its two
battling pincers were jet black, and curved like hooks of iron. It
was a rich brown in colour and in the sunlight its metallic armour
shone in a dazzling splendour. Neewa, squatted flat on his belly,
eyed it with a swiftly beating heart. The beetle was not more than
a foot away, and ADVANCING! That was the curious and rather
shocking part of it. It was the first living thing he had met with
that day that had not run away. As it advanced slowly on its two
rows of legs the beetle made a clicking sound that Neewa heard
quite distinctly. With the fighting blood of his father,
Soominitik, nerving him on to the adventure he thrust out a
hesitating paw, and instantly Chegawasse, the beetle, took upon
himself a most ferocious aspect. His wings began humming like a
buzz-saw, his pincers opened until they could have taken in a
man's finger, and he vibrated on his legs until it looked as
though he might be performing some sort of a dance. Neewa jerked
his paw back and after a moment or two Chegawasse calmed himself
and again began to ADVANCE!
Neewa did not know, of course, that the beetle's field of vision
ended about four inches from the end of his nose; the situation,
consequently, was appalling. But it was never born in a son of a
father like Soominitik to run from a bug, even at nine weeks of
age. Desperately he thrust out his paw again, and unfortunately
for him one of his tiny claws got a half Nelson on the beetle and
held Chegawasse on his shining back so that he could neither buzz
not click. A great exultation swept through Neewa. Inch by inch he
drew his paw in until the beetle was within reach of his sharp
little teeth. Then he smelled of him.
That was Chegawasse's opportunity. The pincers closed and Noozak's
slumbers were disturbed by a sudden bawl of agony. When she raised
her head Neewa was rolling about as if in a fit. He was scratching
and snarling and spitting. Noozak eyed him speculatively for some
moments, then reared herself slowly and went to him. With one big
paw she rolled him over--and saw Chegawasse firmly and
determinedly attached to her offspring's nose. Flattening Neewa on
his back so that he could not move she seized the beetle between
her teeth, bit slowly until Chegawasse lost his hold, and then
From then until dusk Neewa nursed his sore nose. A little before
dark Noozak curled herself up against the big rock, and Neewa took
his supper. Then he made himself a nest in the crook of her big,
warm forearm. In spite of his smarting nose he was a happy bear,
and at the end of his first day he felt very brave and very
fearless, though he was but nine weeks old. He had come into the
world, he had looked upon many things, and if he had not conquered
he at least had gone gloriously through the day.
That night Neewa had a hard attack of Mistu-puyew, or stomach-
ache. Imagine a nursing baby going direct from its mother's breast
to a beefsteak! That was what Neewa had done. Ordinarily he would
not have begun nibbling at solid foods for at least another month,
but nature seemed deliberately at work in a process of intensive
education preparing him for the mighty and unequal struggle which
he would have to put up a little later. For hours Neewa moaned and
wailed, and Noozak muzzled his bulging little belly with her nose,
until finally he vomited and was better.
After that he slept. When he awoke he was startled by opening his
eyes full into the glare of a great blaze of fire. Yesterday he
had seen the sun, golden and shimmering and far away. But this was
the first time he had seen it come up over the edge of the world
on a spring morning in the Northland. It was as red as blood, and
as he stared it rose steadily and swiftly until the flat side of
it rounded out and it was a huge ball of SOMETHING. At first he
thought it was Life--some monstrous creature sailing up over the
forest toward them--and he turned with a whine of enquiry to his
mother. Whatever it was, Noozak was unafraid. Her big head was
turned toward it, and she was blinking her eyes in solemn comfort.
It was then that Neewa began to feel the pleasing warmth of the
red thing, and in spite of his nervousness he began to purr in the
glow of it. From red the sun turned swiftly to gold, and the whole
valley was transformed once more into a warm and pulsating glory
For two weeks after this first sunrise in Neewa's life Noozak
remained near the ridge and the slough. Then came the day, when
Neewa was eleven weeks old, that she turned her nose toward the
distant black forests and began the summer's peregrination.
Neewa's feet had lost their tenderness, and he weighed a good six
pounds. This was pretty good considering that he had only weighed
twelve ounces at birth.
From the day when Noozak set off on her wandering TREK Neewa's
real adventures began. In the dark and mysterious caverns of the
forests there were places where the snow still lay unsoftened by
the sun, and for two days Neewa yearned and whined for the sunlit
valley. They passed the waterfall, where Neewa looked for the
first tune on a rushing torrent of water. Deeper and darker and
gloomier grew the forest Noozak was penetrating. In this forest
Neewa received his first lessons in hunting. Noozak was now well
in the "bottoms" between the Jackson's Knee and Shamattawa
waterway divides, a great hunting ground for bears in the early
spring. When awake she was tireless in her quest for food, and was
constantly digging in the earth, or turning over stones and
tearing rotting logs and stumps into pieces. The little gray wood-
mice were her piece de resistance, small as they were, and it
amazed Neewa to see how quick his clumsy old mother could be when
one of these little creatures was revealed. There were times when
Noozak captured a whole family before they could escape. And to
these were added frogs and toads, still partly somnambulent; many
ants, curled up as if dead, in the heart of rotting logs; and
occasional bumble-bees, wasps, and hornets. Now and then Neewa
took a nibble at these things. On the third day Noozak uncovered a
solid mass of hibernating vinegar ants as large as a man's two
fists, and frozen solid. Neewa ate a quantity of these, and the
sweet, vinegary flavour of them was delicious to his palate.
As the days progressed, and living things began to crawl out from
under logs and rocks, Neewa discovered the thrill and excitement
of hunting on his own account. He encountered a second beetle, and
killed it. He killed his first wood-mouse. Swiftly there were
developing in him the instincts of Soominitik, his scrap-loving
old father, who lived three or four valleys to the north of their
own, and who never missed an opportunity to get into a fight. At
four months of age, which was late in May, Neewa was eating many
things that would have killed most cubs of his age, and there
wasn't a yellow streak in him from the tip of his saucy little
nose to the end of his stubby tail. He weighed nine pounds at this
date and was as black as a tar-baby.
It was early in June that the exciting event occurred which
brought about the beginning of the big change in Neewa's life, and
it was on a day so warm and mellow with sunshine that Noozak
started in right after dinner to take her afternoon nap. They were
out of the lower timber country now, and were in a valley through
which a shallow stream wriggled and twisted around white sand-bars
and between pebbly shores. Neewa was sleepless. He had less desire
than ever to waste a glorious afternoon in napping. With his
little round eyes he looked out on a wonderful world, and found it
calling to him. He looked at his mother, and whined. Experience
told him that she was dead to the world for hours to come, unless
he tickled her foot or nipped her ear, and then she would only
rouse herself enough to growl at him. He was tired of that. He
yearned for something more exciting, and with his mind suddenly
made up he set off in quest of adventure.
In that big world of green and golden colours he was a little
black ball nearly as wide as he was long. He went down to the
creek, and looked back. He could still see his mother. Then his
feet paddled in the soft white sand of a long bar that edged the
shore, and he forgot Noozak. He went to the end of the bar, and
turned up on the green shore where the young grass was like velvet
under his paws. Here he began turning over small stones for ants.
He chased a chipmunk that ran a close and furious race with him
for twenty seconds. A little later a huge snow-shoe rabbit got up
almost under his nose, and he chased that until in a dozen long
leaps Wapoos disappeared in a thicket. Neewa wrinkled up his nose
and emitted a squeaky snarl. Never had Soominitik's blood run so
riotously within him. He wanted to get hold of something. For the
first time in his life he was yearning for a scrap. He was like a
small boy who the day after Christmas has a pair of boxing gloves
and no opponent. He sat down and looked about him querulously,
still wrinkling his nose and snarling defiantly. He had the whole
world beaten. He knew that. Everything was afraid of his mother.
Everything was afraid of HIM. It was disgusting--this lack of
something alive for an ambitious young fellow to fight. After all,
the world was rather tame.
He set off at a new angle, came around the edge of a huge rock,
and suddenly stopped.
From behind the other end of the rock protruded a huge hind paw.
For a few moments Neewa sat still, eyeing it with a growing
anticipation. This time he would give his mother a nip that would
waken her for good! He would rouse her to the beauty and the
opportunities of this day if there was any rouse in him! So he
advanced slowly and cautiously, picked out a nice bare spot on the
paw, and sank his little teeth in it to the gums.
There followed a roar that shook the earth. Now it happened that
the paw did not belong to Noozak, but was the personal property of
Makoos, an old he-bear of unlovely disposition and malevolent
temper. But in him age had produced a grouchiness that was not at
all like the grandmotherly peculiarities of old Noozak. Makoos was
on his feet fairly before Neewa realized that he had made a
mistake. He was not only an old bear and a grouchy bear, but he
was also a hater of cubs. More than once in his day he had
committed the crime of cannibalism. He was what the Indian hunter
calls uchan--a bad bear, an eater of his own kind, and the instant
his enraged eyes caught sight of Neewa he let out another roar.
At that Neewa gathered his fat little legs under his belly and was
off like a shot. Never before in his life had he run as he ran
now. Instinct told him that at last he had met something which was
not afraid of him, and that he was in deadly peril. He made no
choice of direction, for now that he had made this mistake he had
no idea where he would find his mother. He could hear Makoos
coming after him, and as he ran he set up a bawling that was
filled with a wild and agonizing prayer for help. That cry reached
the faithful old Noozak. In an instant she was on her feet--and
just in time. Like a round black ball shot out of a gun Neewa sped
past the rock where she had been sleeping, and ten jumps behind
him came Makoos. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother,
but his momentum carried him past her. In that moment Noozak leapt
into action. As a football player makes a tackle she rushed out
just in time to catch old Makoos with all her weight full
broadside in the ribs, and the two old bears rolled over and over
in what to Neewa was an exciting and glorious mix-up.
He had stopped, and his eyes bulged out like shining little onions
as he took in the scene of battle. He had longed for a fight but
what he saw now fairly paralyzed him. The two bears were at it,
roaring and tearing each other's hides and throwing up showers of
gravel and earth in their deadly clinch. In this first round
Noozak had the best of it. She had butted the wind out of Makoos
in her first dynamic assault, and now with her dulled and broken
teeth at his throat she was lashing him with her sharp hind claws
until the blood streamed from the old barbarian's sides and he
bellowed like a choking bull. Neewa knew that it was his pursuer
who was getting the worst of it, and with a squeaky cry for his
mother to lambast the very devil out of Makoos he ran back to the
edge of the arena, his nose crinkled and his teeth gleaming in a
ferocious snarl. He danced about excitedly a dozen feet from the
fighters, Soominitik's blood filling him with a yearning for the
fray and yet he was afraid.
Then something happened that suddenly and totally upset the
maddening joy of his mother's triumph. Makoos, being a he-bear,
was of necessity skilled in fighting, and all at once he freed
himself from Noozak's jaws, wallowed her under him, and in turn
began ripping the hide off old Noozak's carcass in such quantities
that she let out an agonized bawling that turned Neewa's little
heart into stone.
It is a matter of most exciting conjecture what a small boy will
do when he sees his father getting licked. If there is an axe
handy he is liable to use it. The most cataclysmic catastrophe
that cam come into his is to have a father whom some other boy's
father has given a walloping. Next to being President of the
United States the average small boy treasures the desire to
possess a parent who can whip any other two-legged creature that
wears trousers. And there were a lot of human things about Neewa.
The louder his mother bawled the more distinctly he felt the shock
of his world falling about him. If Noozak had lost a part of her
strength in her old age her voice, at least, was still unimpaired,
and such a spasm of outcry as she emitted could have been heard at
least half a mile away.
Neewa could stand no more. Blind with rage, he darted in. It was
chance that closed his vicious little jaws on a toe that belonged
to Makoos, and his teeth sank into the flesh like two rows of
ivory needles. Makoos gave a tug, but Neewa held on, and bit
deeper. Then Makoos drew up his leg and sent it out like a
catapault, and in spite of his determination to hang on Neewa
found himself sailing wildly through the air. He landed against a
rock twenty feet from the fighters with a force that knocked the
wind out of him, and for a matter of eight or ten seconds after
that he wobbled dizzily in his efforts to stand up. Then his
vision and his senses returned and he gazed on a scene that
brought all the blood pounding back into his body again.
Makoos was no longer fighting, but was RUNNING AWAY--and there was
a decided limp in his gait!
Poor old Noozak was standing on her feet, facing the retreating
enemy. She was panting like a winded calf. Her jaws were agape.
Her tongue lolled out, and blood was dripping in little trickles
from her body to the ground. She had been thoroughly and
efficiently mauled. She was beyond the shadow of a doubt a whipped
bear. Yet in that glorious flight of the enemy Neewa saw nothing
of Noozak's defeat. Their enemy was RUNNING AWAY! Therefore, he
was whipped. And with excited little squeaks of joy Neewa ran to
As they stood in the warm sunshine of this first day of June,
watching the last of Makoos as he fled across the creek bottom,
Neewa felt very much like an old and seasoned warrior instead of a
pot-bellied, round-faced cub of four months who weighed nine
pounds and not four hundred.
It was many minutes after Neewa had sunk his ferocious little
teeth deep into the tenderest part of the old he-bear's toe before
Noozak could get her wind sufficiently to grunt. Her sides were
pumping like a pair of bellows, and after Makoos had disappeared
beyond the creek Neewa sat down on his chubby bottom, perked his
funny ears forward, and eyed his mother with round and glistening
eyes that were filled with uneasy speculation. With a wheezing
groan Noozak turned and made her way slowly toward the big rock
alongside which she had been sleeping when Neewa's fearful cries
for help had awakened her. Every bone in her aged body seemed
broken or dislocated. She limped and sagged and moaned as she
walked, and behind her were left little red trails of blood in the
green grass. Makoos had given her a fine pummeling.
She lay down, gave a final groan, and looked at Neewa, as if to
"If you hadn't gone off on some deviltry and upset that old
viper's temper this wouldn't have happened. And now--look at ME!"
A young bear would have rallied quickly from the effects of the
battle, but Noozak lay without moving all the rest of that
afternoon, and the night that followed. And that night was by all
odds the finest that Neewa had ever seen. Now that the nights were
warm, he had come to love the moon even more than the sun, for by
birth and instinct he was more a prowler in darkness than a hunter
of the day. The moon rose out of the east in a glory of golden
fire. The spruce and balsam forests stood out like islands in a
yellow sea of light, and the creek shimmered and quivered like a
living thing as it wound its way through the glowing valley. But
Neewa had learned his lesson, and though the moon and the stars
called to him he hung close to his mother, listening to the
carnival of night sound that came to him, but never moving away
from her side.
With the morning Noozak rose to her feet, and with a grunting
command for Neewa to follow she slowly climbed the sun-capped
ridge. She was in no mood for travel, but away back in her head
was an unexpressed fear that villainous old Makoos might return,
and she knew that another fight would do her up entirely, in which
event Makoos would make a breakfast of Neewa. So she urged herself
down the other side of the ridge, across a new valley, and through
a cut that opened like a wide door into a rolling plain that was
made up of meadows and lakes and great sweeps of spruce and cedar
forest. For a week Noozak had been making for a certain creek in
this plain, and now that the presence of Makoos threatened behind
she kept at her journeying until Neewa's short, fat legs could
scarcely hold up his body.
It was mid-afternoon when they reached the creek, and Neewa was so
exhausted that he had difficulty in climbing the spruce up which
his mother sent him to take a nap. Finding a comfortable crotch he
quickly fell asleep--while Noozak went fishing.
The creek was alive with suckers, trapped in the shallow pools
after spawning, and within an hour she had the shore strewn with
them. When Neewa came down out of his cradle, just at the edge of
dusk, it was to a feast at which Noozak had already stuffed
herself until she looked like a barrel. This was his first meal of
fish, and for a week thereafter he lived in a paradise of fish. He
ate them morning, noon, and night, and when he was too full to eat
he rolled in them. And Noozak stuffed herself until it seemed her
hide would burst. Wherever they moved they carried with them a
fishy smell that grew older day by day, and the older it became
the more delicious it was to Neewa and his mother. And Neewa grew
like a swelling pod. In that week he gained three pounds. He had
given up nursing entirely now, for Noozak--being an old bear--had
dried up to a point where she was hopelessly disappointing.
It was early in the evening of the eighth day that Neewa and his
mother lay down in the edge of a grassy knoll to sleep after their
day's feasting. Noozak was by all odds the happiest old bear in
all that part of the northland. Food was no longer a problem for
her. In the creek, penned up in the pools, were unlimited
quantities of it, and she had encountered no other bear to
challenge her possession of it. She looked ahead to uninterrupted
bliss in their happy hunting grounds until midsummer storms
emptied the pools, or the berries ripened. And Neewa, a happy
little gourmand, dreamed with her.
It was this day, just as the sun was setting, that a man on his
hands and knees was examining a damp patch of sand five or six
miles down the creek. His sleeves were rolled up, baring his brown
arms halfway to the shoulders and he wore no hat, so that the
evening breeze ruffled a ragged head of blond hair that for a
matter of eight or nine months had been cut with a hunting knife.
Close on one side of this individual was a tin pail, and on the
other, eying him with the keenest interest, one of the homeliest
and yet one of the most companionable-looking dog pups ever born
of a Mackenzie hound father and a mother half Airedale and half
With this tragedy of blood in his veins nothing in the world could
have made the pup anything more than "just dog." His tail,--
stretched out straight on the sand, was long and lean, with a knot
at every joint; his paws, like an overgrown boy's feet, looked
like small boxing-gloves; his head was three sizes too big for his
body, and accident had assisted Nature in the perfection of her
masterpiece by robbing him of a half of one of his ears. As he
watched his master this half of an ear stood up like a galvanized
stub, while the other--twice as long--was perked forward in the
deepest and most interested enquiry. Head, feet, and tail were
Mackenzie hound, but the ears and his lank, skinny body was a
battle royal between Spitz and Airedale. At his present
inharmonious stage of development he was the doggiest dog-pup
outside the alleys of a big city.
For the first time in several minutes his master spoke, and Miki
wiggled from stem to stern in appreciation of the fact that it was
directly to him the words were uttered.
"It's a mother and a cub, as sure as you're a week old, Miki," he
said. "And if I know anything about bears they were here some time
He rose to his feet, made note of the deepening shadows in the
edge of the timber, and filled his pail with water. For a few
moments the last rays of the sun lit up his face. It was a strong,
hopeful face. In it was the joy of life. And now it was lighted up
with a sudden inspiration, and a glow that was not of the forest
alone came into his eyes, as he added:
"Miki, I'm lugging your homely carcass down to the Girl because
you're an unpolished gem of good nature and beauty--and for those
two things I know she'll love you. She is my sister, you know.
Now, if I could only take that cub along with you----"
He began to whistle as he turned with his pail of water in the
direction of a thin fringe of balsams a hundred yards away.
Close at his heels followed Miki.
Challoner, who was a newly appointed factor of the Great Hudson's
Bay Company, had pitched his camp at tie edge of the lake dose to
the mouth of the creek. There was not much to it--a battered tent,
a still more battered canoe, and a small pile of dunnage. But in
the last glow of the sunset it would have spoken volumes to a man
with an eye trained to the wear and the turmoil of the forests. It
was the outfit of a man who had gone unfearing to the rough edge
of the world. And now what was left of it was returning with him.
To Challoner there was something of human comradeship in these
remnants of things that had gone through the greater part of a
year's fight with him. The canoe was warped and battered and
patched; smoke and storm had blackened his tent until it was the
colour of rusty char, and his grub sacks were next to empty.
Over a small fire title contents of a pan and a pot were brewing
when he returned with Miki at his heels, and close to the heat was
a battered and mended reflector in which a bannock of flour and
water was beginning to brown. In one of the pots was coffee, in
the other a boiling fish.
Miki sat down on his angular haunches so that the odour of the
fish filled his nostrils. This, he had discovered, was the next
thing to eating. His eyes, as they followed Challoner's final
preparatory movements, were as bright as garnets, and every third
or fourth breath he licked his chops, and swallowed hungrily.
That, in fact, was why Miki had got his name. He was always
hungry, and apparently always empty, no matter how much he ate.
Therefore his name, Miki, "The drum."
It was not until they had eaten the fish and the bannock, and
Challoner had lighted his pipe, that he spoke what was in his
"To-morrow I'm going after that bear," he said.
Miki, curled up near the dying embers, gave his tail a club-like
thump in evidence of the fact that he was listening.
"I'm going to pair you up with the cub, and tickle the Girl to
Miki thumped his tail harder than before.
"Fine," he seemed to say.
"Just think of it," said Challoner, looking over Miki's head a
thousand miles away, "Fourteen months--and at last we're going
home. I'm going to train you and the cub for that sister of mine.
Eh, won't you like that? You don't know what she's like, you
homely little devil, or you wouldn't sit there staring at me like
a totem-pole pup! And it isn't in your stupid head to imagine how
pretty she is. You saw that sunset to-night? Well, she's prettier
than THAT if she is my sister. Got anything to add to that, Miki?
If not, let's say our prayers and go to bed!"
Challoner rose and stretched himself. His muscles cracked. He felt
life surging like a giant within him.
And Miki, thumping his tail until this moment, rose on his
overgrown legs and followed his master into their shelter.
It was in the gray light of the early summer dawn when Challoner
came forth again, and rekindled the fire. Miki followed a few
moments later, and his master fastened the end of a worn tent-rope
around his neck and tied the rope to a sapling. Another rope of
similar length Challoner tied to the corners of a grub sack so
that it could be carried over his shoulder like a game bag. With
the first rose-flush of the sun he was ready for the trail of
Neewa and his mother. Miki set up a melancholy wailing when he
found himself left behind, and when Challoner looked back the pup
was tugging and somersaulting at the end of his rope like a
jumping-jack. For a quarter of a mile up the creek he could hear
Miki's entreating protest.
To Challoner the business of the day was not a matter of personal
pleasure, nor was it inspired alone by his desire to possess a cub
along with Miki. He needed meat, and bear pork thus early in the
season would be exceedingly good; and above all else he needed a
supply of fat. If he bagged this bear, time would be saved all the
rest of the way down to civilization.
It was eight o'clock when he struck the first unmistakably fresh
signs of Noozak and Neewa. It was at the point where Noozak had
fished four or five days previously, and where they had returned
yesterday to feast on the "ripened" catch. Challoner was elated.
He was sure that he would find the pair along the creek, and not
far distant. The wind was in his favour, and he began to advance
with greater caution, his rifle ready for the anticipated moment.
For an hour he travelled steadily and quietly, marking every sound
and movement ahead of him, and wetting his finger now and then to
see if the wind had shifted. After all, it was not so much a
matter of human cunning. Everything was in Challoner's favour.
In a wide, flat part of the valley where the creek split itself
into a dozen little channels, and the water rippled between sandy
bars and over pebbly shallows, Neewa and his mother were nosing
about lazily for a breakfast of crawfish. The world had never
looked more beautiful to Neewa. The sun made the soft hair on his
back fluff up like that of a purring cat. He liked the plash of
wet sand under his feet and the singing gush of water against his
legs. He liked the sound that was all about him, the breath of the
wind, the whispers that came out of the spruce-tops and the
cedars, the murmur of water, the TWIT-TWIT of the rock rabbits,
the call of birds; and more than all else the low, grunting talk
of his mother.
It was in this sun-bathed sweep of the valley that Noozak caught
the first whiff of danger. It came to her in a sudden twist of the
wind--the smell of man!
Instantly she was turned into rock. There was still the deep scar
in her shoulder which had come, years before, with that same smell
of the one enemy she feared. For three summers she had not caught
the taint in her nostrils and she had almost forgotten its
existence. Now, so suddenly that it paralyzed her, it was warm and
terrible in the breath of the wind.
In this moment, too, Neewa seemed to sense the nearness of an
appalling danger. Two hundred yards from Challoner he stood a
motionless blotch of jet against the white of the sand about him,
his eyes on his mother, and his sensitive little nose trying to
catch the meaning of the menace in the air.
Then came a thing he had never heard before--a splitting, cracking
roar--something that was almost like thunder and yet unlike it;
and he saw his mother lurch where she stood and crumple down all
at once on her fore legs.
The next moment she was up, with a wild WHOOF in her voice that
was new to him--a warning for him to fly for his life.
Like all mothers who have known the comradeship and love of a
child, Noozak's first thought was of him. Reaching out a paw she
gave him a sudden shove, and Neewa legged it wildly for the near-
by shelter of the timber. Noozak followed. A second shot came, and
close over her head there sped a purring, terrible sound. But
Noozak did not hurry. She kept behind Neewa, urging him on even as
that pain of a red-hot iron in her groin filled her with agony.
They came to the edge of the timber as Challoner's third shot bit
under Noozak's feet.
A moment more and they were within the barricade of the timber.
Instinct guided Neewa into the thickest part of it, and close
behind him Noozak fought with the last of her dying strength to
urge him on. In her old brain there was growing a deep and
appalling shadow, something that was beginning to cloud her vision
so that she could not see, and she knew that at last she had come
to the uttermost end of her trail. With twenty years of life
behind her, she struggled now for a last few seconds. She stopped
Neewa close to a thick cedar, and as she had done many times
before she commanded him to climb it. Just once her hot tongue
touched his face in a final caress. Then she turned to fight her
last great fight.
Straight into the face of Challoner she dragged herself, and fifty
feet from the spruce she stopped and waited for him, her head
drooped between her shoulders, her sides heaving, her eyes dimming
more and more, until at last she sank down with a great sigh,
barring the trail of their enemy. For a space, it may be, she saw
once more the golden moons and the blazing suns of those twenty
years that were gone; it may be that the soft, sweet music of
spring came to her again, filled with the old, old song of life,
and that Something gracious and painless descended upon her as a
final reward for a glorious motherhood on earth.
When Challoner came up she was dead.
From his hiding place in a crotch of the spruce Neewa looked down
on the first great tragedy of his life, and the advent of man. The
two-legged beast made him cringe deeper into his refuge, and his
little heart was near breaking with the terror that had seized
upon him. He did not reason. It was by no miracle of mental
process that he knew something terrible had happened, and that
this tall, two-legged creature was the cause of it. His little
eyes were blazing, just over the level of the crotch. He wondered
why his mother did not get up and fight when this new enemy came.
Frightened as he was he was ready to snarl if she would only wake
up--ready to hurry down the tree and help her as he had helped her
in the defeat of Makoos, the old he-bear. But not a muscle of
Noozak's huge body moved as Challoner bent over her. She was stone
Challoner's face was flushed with exultation. Necessity had made
of him a killer. He saw in Noozak a splendid pelt, and a provision
of meat that would carry him all the rest of the way to the
southland. He leaned his rifle against a tree and began looking
about for the cub. Knowledge of the wild told him it would not be
far from its mother, and he began looking into the trees and the
In the shelter of his crotch, screened by the thick branches,
Neewa made himself as small as possible during the search. At the
end of half an hour Challoner disappointedly gave up his quest,
and went back to the creek for a drink before setting himself to
the task of skinning Noozak.
No sooner was he gone than Neewa's little head shot up alertly.
For a few moments he watched, and then slipped backward down the
trunk of the cedar to the ground. He gave his squealing call, but
his mother did not move. He went to her and stood beside her
motionless head, sniffing the man-tainted air. Then he muzzled her
jowl, butted his nose under her neck, and at last nipped her ear--
always his last resort in the awakening process. He was puzzled.
He whined softly, and climbed upon his mother's big, soft back,
and sat there. Into his whine there came a strange note, and then
out of his throat there rose a whimpering cry that was like the
cry of a child.
Challoner heard that cry as he came back, and something seemed to
grip hold of his heart suddenly, and choke him. He had heard
children crying like that; and it was the motherless cub!
Creeping up behind a dwarf spruce he looked where Noozak lay dead,
and saw Neewa perched on his mother's back. He had killed many
things in his time, for it was his business to kill, and to barter
in the pelts of creatures that others killed. But he had seen
nothing like this before, and he felt all at once as if he had
"I'm sorry," he breathed softly, "you poor little devil; I'm
It was almost a prayer--for forgiveness. Yet there was but one
thing to do now. So quietly that Neewa failed to hear him he crept
around with the wind and stole up behind. He was within a dozen
feet of Neewa before the cub suspected danger. Then it was too
late. In a swift rush Challoner was upon him and, before Neewa
could leave the back of his mother, had smothered him in the folds
of the grub sack.
In all his life Challoner had never experienced a livelier five
minutes than the five that followed. Above Neewa's grief and his
fear there rose the savage fighting blood of old Soominitik, his
father. He clawed and bit and kicked and snarled. In those five
minutes he was five little devils all rolled into one, and by the
time Challoner had the rope fastened about Neewa's neck, and his
fat body chucked into the sack, his hands were scratched and
lacerated in a score of places.
In the sack Neewa continued to fight until he was exhausted, while
Challoner skinned Noozak and cut from her the meat and fats which
he wanted. The beauty of Noozak's pelt brought a glow into his
eyes. In it he rolled the meat and fats, and with babiche thong
bound the whole into a pack around which he belted the dunnage
ends of his shoulder straps. Weighted under the burden of sixty
pounds of pelt and meat he picked up his rifle--and Neewa. It had
been early afternoon when he left. It was almost sunset when he
reached camp. Every foot of the way, until the last half mile,
Neewa fought like a Spartan.
Now he lay limp and almost lifeless in his sack, and when Miki
came up to smell suspiciously of his prison he made no movement of
protest. All smells were alike to him now, and of sounds he made
no distinction. Challoner was nearly done for. Every muscle and
bone in his body had its ache. Yet in his face, sweaty and grimed,
was a grin of pride.
"You plucky little devil," he said, contemplating the limp sack as
he loaded his pipe for the first time that afternoon. "You--you
plucky little devil!"
He tied the end of Neewa's rope halter to a sapling, and began
cautiously to open the grub sack. Then he rolled Neewa out on the
ground, and stepped back. In that hour Neewa was willing to accept
a truce so far as Challoner was concerned. But it was not
Challoner that his half-blinded eyes saw first as he rolled from
his bag. It was Miki! And Miki, his awkward body wriggling with
the excitement of his curiosity, was almost on the point of
smelling of him!
Neewa's little eyes glared. Was that ill-jointed lop-eared
offspring of the man-beast an enemy, too? Were those twisting
convolutions of this new creature's body and the club-like swing
of his tail an invitation to fight? He judged so. Anyway, here was
something of his size, and like a flash he was at the end of his
rope and on the pup. Miki, a moment before bubbling over with
friendship and good cheer, was on his back in an instant, his
grotesque legs paddling the air and his yelping cries for help
rising in a wild clamour that filled the golden stillness of the
evening with an unutterable woe.
Challoner stood dumbfounded. In another moment he would have
separated the little fighters, but something happened that stopped
him. Neewa, standing squarely over Miki, with Miki's four over-
grown paws held aloft as if signalling an unqualified surrender,
slowly drew his teeth from the pup's loose hide. Again he saw the
man-beast. Instinct, keener than a clumsy reasoning, held him for
a few moments without movement, his beady eyes on Challoner. In
midair Miki wagged his paws; he whined softly; his hard tail
thumped the ground as he pleaded for mercy, and he licked his
chops and tried to wriggle, as if to tell Neewa that he had no
intention at all to do him harm. Neewa, facing Challoner, snarled
defiantly. He drew himself slowly from over Miki. And Miki, afraid
to move, still lay on his back with his paws in the air.
Very slowly, a look of wonder in his face, Challoner drew back
into the tent and peered through a rent in the canvas.
The snarl left Neewa's face. He looked at the pup. Perhaps away
back in some corner of his brain the heritage of instinct was
telling him of what he had lost because of brothers and sisters
unborn--the comradeship of babyhood, the play of children. And
Miki must have sensed the change in the furry little black
creature who a moment ago was his enemy. His tail thumped almost
frantically, and he swung out his front paws toward Neewa. Then, a
little fearful of what might happen, he rolled on his side. Still
Neewa did not move. Joyously Miki wriggled.
A moment later, looking through the slit in the canvas, Challoner
saw them cautiously smelling noses.
That night came a cold and drizzling rain from out of the north
and the east. In the wet dawn Challoner came out to start a fire,
and in a hollow under a spruce root he found Miki and Neewa
cuddled together, sound asleep.
It was the cub who first saw the man-beast, and for a brief space
before the pup roused himself Neewa's shining eyes were fixed on
the strange enemy who had so utterly changed his world for him.
Exhaustion had made him sleep through the long hours of that first
night of captivity, and in sleep he had forgotten many things. But
now it all came back to him as he cringed deeper into his shelter
under the root, and so softly that only Miki heard him he
whimpered for his mother.
It was the whimper that roused Miki. Slowly he untangled himself
from the ball into which he had rolled, stretched his long and
overgrown legs, and yawned so loudly that the sound reached
Challoner's ears. The man turned and saw two pairs of eyes fixed
upon him from the sheltered hollow under the root. The pup's one
good ear and the other that was half gone stood up alertly, as he
greeted his master with the boundless good cheer of an
irrepressible comradeship. Challoner's face, wet with the drizzle
of the gray skies and bronzed by the wind and storm of fourteen
months in the northland, lighted up with a responsive grin, and
Miki wriggled forth weaving and twisting himself into grotesque
contortions expressive of happiness at being thus directly smiled
at by his master.
With all the room under the root left to him Neewa pulled himself
back until only his round head was showing, and from this fortress
of temporary safety his bright little eyes glared forth at his
Vividly the tragedy of yesterday was before him again--the warm,
sun-filled creek bottom in which he and Noozak, his mother, were
hunting a breakfast of crawfish when the man-beast came; the crash
of strange thunder, their flight into the timber, and the end of
it all when his mother turned to confront their enemy. And yet it
was not the death of his mother that remained with him most
poignantly this morning. It was the memory of his own terrific
fight with the white man, and his struggle afterward in the black
and suffocating depths of the bag in which Challoner had brought
him to his camp. Even now Challoner was looking at the scratches
on his hands. He advanced a few steps, and grinned down at Neewa,
just as he had grinned good-humouredly at Miki, the angular pup.
Neewa's little eyes blazed.
"I told you last night that I was sorry," said Challoner, speaking
as if to one of his own kind.
In several ways Challoner was unusual, an out-of-the-ordinary type
in the northland. He believed, for instance, in a certain specific
psychology of the animal mind, and had proven to his own
satisfaction that animals treated and conversed with in a matter-
of-fact human way frequently developed an understanding which he,
in his unscientific way, called reason.
"I told you I was sorry," he repeated, squatting on his heels
within a yard of the root from under which Neewa's eyes were
glaring at him, "and I am. I'm sorry I killed your mother. But we
had to have meat and fat. Besides, Miki and I are going to make it
up to you. We're going to take you along with us down to the Girl,
and if you don't learn to love her you're the meanest, lowest-down
little cuss in all creation and don't deserve a mother. You and
Miki are going to be brothers. His mother is dead, too--plum
starved to death, which is worse than dying with a bullet in your
lung. And I found Miki just as I found you, hugging up close to
her an' crying as if there wasn't any world left for him. So cheer
up, and give us your paw. Let's shake!"
Challoner held out his hand. Neewa was as motionless as a stone. A
few moments before he would have snarled and bared his teeth. But
now he was dead still. This was by all odds the strangest beast he
had ever seen. Yesterday it had not harmed him, except to put him
into the bag. And now it did not offer to harm him. More than
that, the talk it made was not unpleasant, or threatening. His
eyes took in Miki. The pup had squeezed himself squarely between
Challoner's knees and was looking at him in a puzzled, questioning
sort of way, as if to ask: "Why don't you come out from under that
root and help get breakfast?"
Challoner's hand came nearer, and Neewa crowded himself back until
there was not another inch of room for him to fill. Then the
miracle happened. The man-beast's paw touched his head. It sent a
strange and terrible thrill through him. Yet it did not hurt. If
he had not wedged himself in so tightly he would have scratched
and bitten. But he could do neither.
Slowly Challoner worked his fingers to the loose hide at the back
of Neewa's neck. Miki, surmising that something momentous was
about to happen, watched the proceedings with popping eyes. Then
Challoner's fingers closed and the next instant he dragged Neewa
forth and held him at arm's length, kicking and squirming, and
setting up such a bawling that in sheer sympathy Miki raised his
voice and joined in the agonized orgy of sound. Half a minute
later Challoner had Neewa once more in the prison-sack, but this
time he left the cub's head protruding, and drew in the mouth of
the sack closely about his neck, fastening it securely with a
piece of babiche string. Thus three quarters of Neewa was
imprisoned in the sack, with only his head sticking out. He was a
cub in a poke.
Leaving the cub to roll and squirm in protest Challoner went about
the business of getting breakfast. For once Miki found a
proceeding more interesting than that operation, and he hovered
about Neewa as he struggled and bawled, trying vainly to offer him
some assistance in the matter of sympathy. Finally Neewa lay
still, and Miki sat down close beside him and eyed his master with
serious questioning if not actual disapprobation.
The gray sky was breaking with the promise of the sun when
Challoner was ready to renew his long journey into the southland.
He packed his canoe, leaving Neewa and Miki until the last. In the
bow of the canoe he made a soft nest of the skin taken from the
cub's mother. Then he called Miki and tied the end of a worn rope
around his neck, after which he fastened the other end of this
rope around the neck of Neewa. Thus he had the cub and the pup on
the same yard-long halter. Taking each of the twain by the scruff
of the neck he carried them to the canoe and placed them in the
nest he had made of Noozak's hide.
"Now you youngsters be good," he warned. "We're going to aim at
forty miles to-day to make up for the time we lost yesterday."
As the canoe shot out a shaft of sunlight broke through the sky
low in the east.
During the first few moments in which the canoe moved swiftly over
the surface of the lake an amazing change had taken place in
Neewa. Challoner did not see it, and Miki was unconscious of it.
But every fibre in Neewa's body was atremble, and his heart was
thumping as it had pounded on that glorious day of the fight
between his mother and the old he-bear. It seemed to him that
everything that he had lost was coming back to him, and that all
would be well very soon--FOR HE SMELLED HIS MOTHER! And then he
discovered that the scent of her was warm and strong in the furry
black mass under his feet, and he smothered himself down in it,
flat on his plump little belly, and peered at Challoner over his
It was hard for him to understand--the man-beast back there,
sending the canoe through the water, and under him his mother,
warm and soft, but so deadly still! He could not keep the whimper
out of his throat--his low and grief-filled call for HER. And
there was no answer, except Miki's responsive whine, the crying of
one child for another. Neewa's mother did not move. She made no
sound. And he could see nothing of her but her black and furry
skin--without head, without feet, without the big, bald paws he
had loved to tickle, and the ears he had loved to nip. There was
nothing of her but the patch of black skin--and the SMELL.
But a great comfort warmed his frightened little soul. He felt the
protecting nearness of an unconquerable and abiding force and in
the first of the warm sunshine his back fluffed up, and he thrust
his brown nose between his paws and into his mother's fur. Miki,
as if vainly striving to solve the mystery of his new-found chum,
was watching him closely from between his own fore-paws. In his
comical head--adorned with its one good ear and its one bad one,
and furthermore beautified by the outstanding whiskers inherited
from his Airedale ancestor--he was trying to come to some sort of
an understanding. At the outset he had accepted Neewa as a friend
and a comrade--and Neewa had thanklessly given him a good mauling
for his trouble. That much Miki could forgive and forget. What he
could not forgive was the utter lack of regard which Neewa seemed
to possess for him. His playful antics had gained no recognition
from the cub. When he had barked and hopped about, flattening and
contorting himself in warm invitation for him to join in a game of
tag or a wrestling match, Neewa had simply stared at him like an
idiot. He was wondering, perhaps, if Neewa would enjoy anything
besides a fight. It was a long time before he decided to make
It was, as a matter of fact, halfway between breakfast and noon.
In all that time Neewa had scarcely moved, and Miki was finding
himself bored to death. The discomfort of last night's storm was
only a memory, and overhead there was a sun unshadowed by cloud.
More than an hour before Challoner's canoe had left the lake, and
was now in the clear-running water of a stream that was making its
way down the southward slope of the divide between Jackson's Knee
and the Shamattawa. It was a new stream to Challoner, fed by the
large lake above, and guarding himself against the treachery of
waterfall and rapid he kept a keen lookout ahead. For a matter of
half an hour the water had been growing steadily swifter, and
Challoner was satisfied that before very long he would be
compelled to make a portage. A little later he heard ahead of him
the low and steady murmur which told him he was approaching a
danger zone. As he shot around the next bend, hugging fairly close
to shore, he saw, four or five hundred yards below him, a rock-
frothed and boiling maelstrom of water.
Swiftly his eyes measured the situation. The rapids ran between an
almost precipitous shore on one side and a deep forest on the
other. He saw at a glance that it was the forest side over which
he must make the portage, and this was the shore opposite him and
farthest away. Swinging his canoe at a 45-degree angle he put all
the strength of body and arms into the sweep of his paddle. There
would be just time to reach the other shore before the current
became dangerous. Above the sweep of the rapids he could now hear
the growling roar of a waterfall below.
It was at this unfortunate moment that Miki decided to venture one
more experiment with Neewa. With a friendly yip he swung out one
of his paws. Now Miki's paw, for a pup, was monstrously big, and
his foreleg was long and lanky, so that when the paw landed
squarely on the end of Neewa's nose it was like the swing of a
prize-fighter's glove. The unexpectedness of it was a further
decisive feature in the situation; and, on top of this, Miki swung
his other paw around like a club and caught Neewa a jolt in the
eye. This was too much, even from a friend, and with a sudden
snarl Neewa bounced out of his nest and clinched with the pup.
Now the fact was that Miki, who had so ingloriously begged for
mercy in their first scrimmage, came of fighting stock himself.
Mix the blood of a Mackenzie hound--which is the biggest-footed,
biggest-shouldered, most powerful dog in the northland--with the
blood of a Spitz and an Airedale and something is bound to come of
it. While the Mackenzie dog, with his ox-like strength, is
peaceable and good-humoured in all sorts of weather, there is a
good deal of the devil in the northern Spitz and Airedale and it
is a question which likes a fight the best. And all at once good-
humoured little Miki felt the devil rising in him. This time he
did not yap for mercy. He met Neewa's jaws, and in two seconds
they were staging a first-class fight on the bit of precarious
footing in the prow of the canoe.
Vainly Challoner yelled at them as he paddled desperately to beat
out the danger of the rapids. Neewa and Miki were too absorbed to
hear him. Miki's four paws were paddling the air again, but this
time his sharp teeth were firmly fixed in the loose hide under
Neewa's neck, and with his paws he continued to kick and bat in a
way that promised effectively to pummel the wind out of Neewa had
not the thing happened which Challoner feared. Still in a clinch
they rolled off the prow of the canoe into the swirling current of
For ten seconds or so they utterly disappeared. Then they bobbed
up, a good fifty feet below him, their heads close together as
they sped swiftly toward the doom that awaited them, and a choking
cry broke from Challoner's lips. He was powerless to save them,
and in his cry was the anguish of real grief. For many weeks Miki
had been his only chum and comrade.
Held together by the yard-long rope to which they were fastened,
Miki and Neewa swept into the frothing turmoil of the rapids. For
Miki it was the kindness of fate that had inspired his master to
fasten him to the same rope with Neewa. Miki, at three months of
age--weight, fourteen pounds--was about 80 per cent. bone and only
a half of 1 per cent. fat; while Neewa, weight thirteen pounds,
was about 90 per cent. fat. Therefore Miki had the floating
capacity of a small anchor, while Neewa was a first-class life-
preserver, and almost unsinkable.
In neither of the youngsters was there a yellow streak. Both were
of fighting stock, and, though Miki was under water most of the
time during their first hundred-yard dash through the rapids,
never for an instant did he give up the struggle to keep his nose
in the air. Sometimes he was on his back and sometimes on his
belly; but no matter what his position, he kept his four overgrown
paws going like paddles. To an extent this helped Neewa in the
heroic fight he was making to keep from shipping too much water
himself. Had he been alone his ten or eleven pounds of fat would
have carried him down-stream like a toy balloon covered with fur,
but, with the fourteen-pound drag around his neck, the problem of
not going under completely was a serious one. Half a dozen times
he did disappear for an instant when some undertow caught Miki and
dragged him down--head, tail, legs, and all. But Neewa always rose
again, his four fat legs working for dear life.
Then came the waterfall. By this time Miki had become accustomed
to travelling under water, and the full horror of the new
cataclysm into which they were plunged was mercifully lost to him.
His paws had almost ceased their motion. He was still conscious of
the roar in his ears, but the affair was less unpleasant than it
was at the beginning. In fact, he was drowning. To Neewa the
pleasant sensations of a painless death were denied. No cub in the
world was wider awake than he when the final catastrophe came. His
head was well above water and he was clearly possessed of all his
senses. Then the river itself dropped out from under him and he
shot down in an avalanche of water, feeling no longer the drag of
Miki's weight at his neck.
How deep the pool was at the bottom of the waterfall Challoner
might have guessed quite accurately. Could Neewa have expressed an
opinion of his own, he would have sworn that it was a mile. Miki
was past the stage of making estimates, or of caring whether it
was two feet or two leagues. His paws had ceased to operate and he
had given himself up entirely to his fate. But Neewa came up
again, and Miki followed, like a bobber. He was about to gasp his
last gasp when the force of the current, as it swung out of the
whirlpool, flung Neewa upon a bit of partly submerged driftage,
and in a wild and strenuous effort to make himself safe Neewa
dragged Miki's head out of water so that the pup hung at the edge
of the driftage like a hangman's victim at the end of his rope.
It is doubtful whether in the few moments that followed, any
clear-cut mental argument passed through Neewa's head. It is too
much to suppose that he deliberately set about assisting the half-
dead and almost unconscious Miki from his precarious position. His
sole ambition was to get himself where it was safe and dry, and to
do this he of necessity had to drag the pup with him. So Neewa
tugged at the end of his rope, digging his sharp little claws into
the driftwood, and as he advanced Miki was dragged up head
foremost out of the cold and friendless stream. It was a simple
process. Neewa reached a log around which the water was eddying,
and there he flattened himself down and hung on as he had never
hung to anything else in his life. The log was entirely hidden
from shore by a dense growth of brushwood. Otherwise, ten minutes
later Challoner would have seen them.
As it was, Miki had not sufficiently recovered either to smell or
hear his master when Challoner came to see if there was a
possibility of his small comrade being alive. And Neewa only
hugged the log more tightly. He had seen enough of the man-beast
to last him for the remainder of his life. It was half an hour
before Miki began to gasp, and cough, and gulp up water, and for
the first time since their scrap in the canoe the cub began to
take a live interest in him. In another ten minutes Miki raised
his head and looked about him. At that Neewa gave a tug on the
rope, as if to advise him that it was time to get busy if they
were expected to reach shore. And Miki, drenched and forlorn,
resembling more a starved bone than a thing of skin and flesh,
actually made an effort to wag his tail when he saw Neewa.
He was still in a couple of inches of water, and with a hopeful
eye on the log upon which Neewa was squatted he began to work his
wobbly legs toward it. It was a high log, and a dry log, and when
Miki reached it his unlucky star was with him again. Cumbrously he
sprawled himself against it, and as he scrambled and scraped with
his four awkward legs to get up alongside Neewa he gave to the log
the slight push which it needed to set it free of the sunken
driftage. Slowly at first the eddying current carried one end of
the log away from its pier. Then the edge of the main current
caught at it, viciously--and so suddenly that Miki almost lost his
precarious footing, the log gave a twist, righted itself, and
began, to scud down stream at a speed that would have made
Challoner hug his breath had he been in their position with his
In fact, Challoner was at this very moment portaging the rapids
below the waterfall. To have set his canoe in them where Miki and
Neewa were gloriously sailing he would have considered an
inexcusable hazard, and as a matter of safety he was losing the
better part of a couple of hours by packing his outfit through the
forest to a point half a mile below. That half mile was to the cub
and the pup a show which was destined to live in their memories
for as long as they were alive.
They were facing each other about amidships of the log, Neewa
flattened tight, his sharp claws dug in like hooks, and his little
brown eyes half starting from his head. It would have taken a
crowbar to wrench him from the log. But with Miki it was an open
question from the beginning whether he would weather the storm. He
had no claws that he could dig into the wood, and it was
impossible for him to use his clumsy legs as Neewa used his--like
two pairs of human arms. All he could do was to balance himself,
slipping this way or that as the log rolled or swerved in its
course, sometimes lying across it and sometimes lengthwise, and
every moment with the jaws of uncertainty open wide for him.
Neewa's eyes never left him for an instant. Had they been gimlets
they would have bored holes. From the acuteness of this life-and-
death stare one would have given Neewa credit for understanding
that his own personal safety depended not so much upon his claws
and his hug as upon Miki's seamanship. If Miki went overboard
there would be left but one thing for him to do--and that would be
The log, being larger and heavier at one end than at the other,
swept on without turning broadside, and with the swiftness and
appearance of a huge torpedo. While Neewa's back was turned toward
the horror of frothing water and roaring rock behind him, Miki,
who was facing it, lost none of its spectacular beauty. Now and
then the log shot into one of the white masses of foam and for an
instant or two would utterly disappear; and at these intervals
Miki would hold his breath and close his eyes while Neewa dug his
toes in still deeper. Once the log grazed a rock. Six inches more
and they would have been without a ship. Their trip was not half
over before both cub and pup looked like two round balls of lather
out of which their eyes peered wildly.
Swiftly the roar of the cataract was left behind; the huge rocks
around which the current boiled and twisted with a ferocious
snarling became fewer; there came open spaces in which the log
floated smoothly and without convulsions, and then, at last, the
quiet and placid flow of calm water. Not until then did the two
balls of suds make a move. For the first time Neewa saw the whole
of the thing they had passed through, and Miki, looking down
stream, saw the quiet shores again, the deep forest, and the
stream aglow with the warm sun. He drew in a breath that filled
his whole body and let it out again with a sigh of relief so deep
and sincere that it blew out a scatter of foam from the ends of
his nose and whiskers. For the first time he became conscious of
his own discomfort. One of his hind legs was twisted under him,
and a foreleg was under his chest. The smoothness of the water and
the nearness of the shores gave him confidence, and he proceeded
to straighten himself. Unlike Neewa he was an experienced
VOYAGEUR. For more than a month he had travelled steadily with
Challoner in his canoe, and of ordinarily decent water he was
unafraid. So he perked up a little, and offered Neewa a
congratulatory yip that was half a whine.
But Neewa's education had travelled along another line, and while
his experience in a canoe had been confined to that day he did
know what a log was. He knew from more than one adventure of his
own that a log in the water is the next thing to a live thing, and
that its capacity for playing evil jokes was beyond any
computation that he had ever been able to make. That was where
Miki's store of knowledge was fatally defective. Inasmuch as the
log had carried them safely through the worst stretch of water he
had ever seen he regarded it in the light of a first-class canoe--
with the exception that it was unpleasantly rounded on top. But
this little defect did not worry him. To Neewa's horror he sat up
boldly, and looked about him.
Instinctively the cub hugged the log still closer, while Miki was
seized with an overwhelming desire to shake from himself the mass
of suds in which, with the exception of the end of his tail and
his eyes, he was completely swathed. He had often shaken himself
in the canoe; why not here? Without either asking or answering the
question he did it.
Like the trap of a gibbet suddenly sprung by the hangman, the log
instantly responded by turning half over. Without so much as a
wail Miki was off like a shot, hit the water with a deep and
solemn CHUG, and once more disappeared as completely as if he had
been made of lead.
Finding himself completely submerged for the first time, Neewa
hung on gloriously, and when the log righted itself again he was
tenaciously hugging his old place, all the froth washed from him.
He looked for Miki--but Miki was gone. And then he felt once more
that choking drag on his neck! Of necessity, because his head was
pulled in the direction of the rope, he saw where the rope
disappeared in the water. But there was no Miki. The pup was down
too far for Neewa to see. With the drag growing heavier and
heavier--for here there was not much current to help Miki along--
Neewa hung on like grim death. If he had let go, and had joined
Miki in the water, the good fortune which was turning their way
would have been missed. For Miki, struggling well under water, was
serving both as an anchor and a rudder; slowly the log shifted its
course, was caught in a beach-eddy, and drifted in close to a
With one wild leap Neewa was ashore. Feeling the earth under his
feet he started to run, and the result was that Miki came up
slowly through the mire and spread himself out like an overgrown
crustacean while he got the wind back into his lungs. Neewa,
sensing the fact that for a few moments his comrade was physically
unfit for travel, shook himself, and waited. Miki picked up
quickly. Within five minutes he was on his feet shaking himself so
furiously that Neewa became the centre of a shower of mud and
Had they remained where they were, Challoner would have found them
an hour or so later, for he paddled that way, close inshore,
looking for their bodies. It may be that the countless generations
of instinct back of Neewa warned him of that possibility, for
within a quarter of an hour after they had landed he was leading
the way into the forest, and Miki was following. It was a new
adventure for the pup.
But Neewa began to recover his good cheer. For him the forest was
home even if his mother was missing. After his maddening
experiences with Miki and the man-beast the velvety touch of the
soft pine-needles under his feet and the familiar smells of the
silent places filled him with a growing joy. He was back in his
old trails. He sniffed the air and pricked up his ears, thrilled
by the enlivening sensations of knowing that he was once more the
small master of his own destiny. It was a new forest, but Neewa
was undisturbed by this fact. All forests were alike to him,
inasmuch as several hundred thousand square miles were included in
his domain and it was impossible for him to landmark them all.
With Miki it was different. He not only began to miss Challoner
and the river, but became more and more disturbed the farther
Neewa led him into the dark and mysterious depths of the timber.
At last he decided to set up a vigorous protest, and in line with
this decision he braced himself so suddenly that Neewa, coming to
the end of the rope, flopped over on his back with an astonished
grunt. Seizing his advantage Miki turned, and tugging with the
horse-like energy of his Mackenzie father he started back toward
the river, dragging Neewa after him for a space of ten or fifteen
feet before the cub succeeded in regaining his feet.
Then the battle began. With their bottoms braced and their
forefeet digging into the soft earth, they pulled on the rope in
opposite directions until their necks stretched and their eyes
began to pop. Neewa's pull was steady and unexcited, while Miki,
dog-like, yanked and convulsed himself in sudden backward jerks
that made Neewa give way an inch at a time. It was, after all,
only a question as to which possessed the most enduring neck.
Under Neewa's fat there was as yet little real physical strength.
Miki had him handicapped there. Under the pup's loose hide and his
overgrown bones there was a lot of pull, and after bracing himself
heroically for another dozen feet Neewa gave up the contest and
followed in the direction chosen by Miki.
While the instincts of Neewa's breed would have taken him back to
the river as straight as a die, Miki's intentions were better than
was his sense of orientation. Neewa followed in a sweeter temper
when he found that his companion was making an unreasonable circle
which was taking them a little more slowly, but just as surely,
away from the danger-ridden stream. At the end of another quarter
of an hour Miki was utterly lost; he sat down on his rump, looked
at Neewa, and confessed as much--with a low whine. Neewa did not
move. His sharp little eyes were fixed suddenly on an object that
hung to a low bush half a dozen paces from them. Before the man-
beast's appearance the cub had spent three quarters of his time in
eating, but since yesterday morning he had not swallowed so much
as a bug. He was completely empty, and the object he saw hanging
to the bush set every salivary gland in his mouth working. It was
a wasp's nest. Many times in his young life he had seen Noozak,
his mother, go up to nests like that, tear them down, crush them
under her big paw, and then invite him to the feast of dead wasps
within. For at least a month wasps had been included in his daily
fare, and they were as good as anything he knew of. He approached
the nest; Miki followed. When they were within three feet of it
Miki began to take notice of a very distinct and peculiarly
disquieting buzzing sound. Neewa was not at all alarmed; judging
the distance of the nest from the ground, he rose on his hind
feet, raised his arms, and gave it a fatal tug.
Instantly the drone which Miki had heard changed into the angry
buzzing of a saw. Quick as a flash Neewa's mother would have had
the nest under her paws and the life crushed out of it, while
Neewa's tug had only served partly to dislodge the home of Ahmoo
and his dangerous tribe. And it happened that Ahmoo was at home
with three quarters of his warriors. Before Neewa could give the
nest a second tug they were piling out of it in a cloud and
suddenly a wild yell of agony rose out of Miki. Ahmoo himself had
landed on the end of the dog's nose. Neewa made no sound, but
stood for a moment swiping at his face with both paws, while Miki,
still yelling, ran the end of his crucified nose into the ground.
In another moment every fighter in Ahmoo's army was busy. Suddenly
setting up a bawling on his own account Neewa turned tail to the
nest and ran. Miki was not a hair behind him. In every square inch
of his tender hide he felt the red-hot thrust of a needle. It was
Neewa that made the most noise. His voice was one continuous bawl,
and to this bass Miki's soprano wailing added the touch which
would have convinced any passing Indian that the loup-garou devils
were having a dance.
Now that their foes were in disorderly flight the wasps, who are
rather a chivalrous enemy, would have returned to their upset
fortress had not Miki, in his mad flight, chosen one side of a
small sapling and Neewa the other--a misadventure that stopped
them with a force almost sufficient to break their necks.
Thereupon a few dozen of Ahmoo's rear guard started in afresh.
With his fighting blood at last aroused, Neewa swung out and
caught Miki where there was almost no hair on his rump. Already
half blinded, and so wrought up with pain and terror that he had
lost all sense of judgment or understanding, Miki believed that
the sharp dig of Neewa's razor-like claws was a deeper thrust than
usual of the buzzing horrors that overwhelmed him, and with a
final shriek he proceeded to throw a fit.
It was the fit that saved them. In his maniacal contortions he
swung around to Neewa's side of the sapling, when, with their
halter once more free from impediment, Neewa bolted for safety.
Miki followed, yelping at every jump. No longer did Neewa feel a
horror of the river. The instinct of his kind told him that he
wanted water, and wanted it badly. As straight as Challoner might
have set his course by a compass he headed for the stream, but he
had proceeded only a few hundred feet when they came upon a tiny
creek across which either of them could have jumped. Neewa jumped
into the water, which was four or five inches deep, and for the
first time in his life Miki voluntarily took a plunge. For a long
time they lay in the cooling rill.
The light of day was dim and hazy before Miki's eyes, and he was
beginning to swell from the tip of his nose to the end of his bony
tail. Neewa, being so much fat, suffered less. He could still see,
and, as the painful hours passed, a number of things were
adjusting themselves in his brain. All this had begun with the
man-beast. It was the man-beast who had taken his mother from him.
It was the man-beast who had chucked him into the dark sack, and
it was the man-beast who had FASTENED THE ROPE AROUND HIS NECK.
Slowly the fact was beginning to impinge itself upon him that the
rope was to blame for everything.
After a long time they dragged themselves out of the rivulet and
found a soft, dry hollow at the foot of a big tree. Even to Neewa,
who had the use of his eyes, it was growing dark in the deep
forest. The sun was far in the west. And the air was growing
chilly. Flat on his belly, with his swollen head between his fore
paws, Miki whined plaintively.
Again and again Neewa's eyes went to the rope as the big thought
developed itself in his head. He whined. It was partly a yearning
for his mother, partly a response to Miki. He drew closer to the
pup, filled with the irresistible desire for comradeship. After
all, it was not Miki who was to blame. It was the man-beast--and
The gloom of evening settled more darkly about them, and snuggling
himself still closer to the pup Neewa drew the rope between his
fore paws. With a little snarl he set his teeth in it. And then,
steadily, he began to chew. Now and then he growled, and in the
growl there was a peculiarly communicative note, as if he wished
to say to Miki:
"Don't you see?--I'm chewing this thing in two. I'll have it done
by morning. Cheer up! There's surely a better day coming."
The morning after their painful experience with the wasp's nest,
Neewa and Miki rose on four pairs of stiff and swollen legs to
greet a new day in the deep and mysterious forest into which the
accident of the previous day had thrown them. The spirit of
irrepressible youth was upon them, and, though Miki was so swollen
from the stings of the wasps that his lank body and overgrown legs
were more grotesque than ever, he was in no way daunted from the
quest of further adventure.
The pup's face was as round as a moon, and his head was puffed up
until Neewa might reasonably have had a suspicion that it was on
the point of exploding. But Miki's eyes--as much as could be seen
of them--were as bright as ever, and his one good ear and his one
half ear stood up hopefully as he waited for the cub to give some
sign of what they were going to do. The poison in his system no
longer gave him discomfort. He felt several sizes too large--but,
otherwise, quite well.
Neewa, because of his fat, exhibited fewer effects of his battle
with the wasps. His one outstanding defect was an entirely closed
eye. With the other, wide open and alert, he looked about him. In
spite of his one bad eye and his stiff legs he was inspired with
the optimism of one who at last sees fortune turning his way. He
was rid of the man-beast, who had killed his mother; the forests
were before him again, open and inviting, and the rope with which
Challoner had tied him and Miki together he had successfully
gnawed in two during the night. Having dispossessed himself of at
least two evils it would not have surprised him much if he had
seen Noozak, his mother, coming up from out of the shadows of the
trees. Thought of her made him whine. And Miki, facing the vast
loneliness of his new world, and thinking of his master, whined in
Both were hungry. The amazing swiftness with which their
misfortunes had descended upon them had given them no time in
which to eat. To Miki the change was more than astonishing; it was
overwhelming, and he held his breath in anticipation of some new
evil while Neewa scanned the forest about them.
As if assured by this survey that everything was right, Neewa
turned his back to the sun, which had been his mother's custom,
and set out.
Miki followed. Not until then did he discover that every joint in
his body had apparently disappeared. His neck was stiff, his legs
were like stilts, and five times in as many minutes he stubbed his
clumsy toes and fell down in his efforts to keep up with the cub.
On top of this his eyes were so nearly closed that his vision was
bad, and the fifth time he stumbled he lost sight of Neewa
entirely, and sent out a protesting wail. Neewa stopped and began
prodding with his nose under a rotten log. When Miki came up Neewa
was flat on his belly, licking up a colony of big red vinegar ants
as fast as he could catch them. Miki studied the proceeding for
some moments. It soon dawned upon him that Neewa was eating
something, but for the life of him he couldn't make out what it
was. Hungrily he nosed close to Neewa's foraging snout. He licked
with his tongue where Neewa licked, and he got only dirt. And all
the time Neewa was giving his jolly little grunts of satisfaction.
It was ten minutes before he hunted out the last ant and went on.
A little later they came to a small open space where the ground
was wet, and after sniffing about a bit, and focussing his one
good eye here and there, Neewa suddenly began digging. Very
shortly he drew out of the ground a white object about the size of
a man's thumb and began to crunch it ravenously between his jaws.
Miki succeeded in capturing a fair sized bit of it. Disappointment
followed fast. The thing was like wood; after rolling it in his
mouth a few times he dropped it in disgust, and Neewa finished the
remnant of the root with a thankful grunt.
They proceeded. For two heartbreaking hours Miki followed at
Neewa's heels, the void in his stomach increasing as the swelling
in his body diminished. His hunger was becoming a torture. Yet not
a bit to eat could he find, while Neewa at every few steps
apparently discovered something to devour. At the end of the two
hours the cub's bill of fare had grown to considerable
proportions. It included, among other things, half a dozen green
and black beetles; numberless bugs, both hard and soft; whole
colonies of red and black ants; several white grubs dug out of the
heart of decaying logs; a handful of snails; a young frog; the egg
of a ground-plover that had failed to hatch; and, in the vegetable
line, the roots of two camas and one skunk cabbage. Now and then
he pulled down tender poplar shoots and nipped the ends off.
Likewise he nibbled spruce and balsam gum whenever he found it,
and occasionally added to his breakfast a bit of tender grass.
A number of these things Miki tried. He would have eaten the frog,
but Neewa was ahead of him there. The spruce and balsam gum
clogged up his teeth and almost made him vomit because of its
bitterness. Between a snail and a stone he could find little
difference, and as the one bug he tried happened to be that
asafoetida-like creature known as a stink-bug he made no further
efforts in that direction. He also bit off a tender tip from a
ground-shoot, but instead of a young poplar it was Fox-bite, and
shrivelled up his tongue for a quarter of an hour. At last he
arrived at the conclusion that, up to date, the one thing in
Neewa's menu that he COULD eat was grass.
In the face of his own starvation his companion grew happier as he
added to the strange collection in his stomach. In fact, Neewa
considered himself in clover and was grunting his satisfaction
continually, especially as his bad eye was beginning to open and
he could see things better. Half a dozen times when he found fresh
ant nests he invited Miki to the feast with excited little
squeals. Until noon Miki followed like a faithful satellite at his
heels. The end came when Neewa deliberately dug into a nest
inhabited by four huge bumble-bees, smashed them all, and ate
From that moment something impressed upon Miki that he must do his
own hunting. With the thought came a new thrill. His eyes were
fairly open now, and much of the stiffness had gone from his legs.
The blood of his Mackenzie father and of his half Spitz and half
Airedale mother rose up in him in swift and immediate demand, and
he began to quest about for himself. He found a warm scent, and
poked about until a partridge went up with a tremendous thunder of
wings. It startled him, but added to the thrill. A few minutes
later, nosing under a pile of brush, he came face to face with his
It was Wahboo, the baby rabbit. Instantly Miki was at him, and had
a firm hold at the back of Wahboo's back. Neewa, hearing the
smashing of the brush and the squealing of the rabbit, stopped
catching ants and hustled toward the scene of action. The
squealing ceased quickly and Miki backed himself out and faced
Neewa with Wahboo held triumphantly in his jaws. The young rabbit
had already given his last kick, and with a fierce show of
growling Miki began tearing the fur off. Neewa edged in, grunting
affably. Miki snarled more fiercely. Neewa, undaunted, continued
to express his overwhelming regard for Miki in low and
supplicating grunts--and smelled the rabbit. The snarl in Miki's
throat died away. He may have remembered that Neewa had invited
him more than once to partake of his ants and bugs. Together they
ate the rabbit. Not until the last bit of flesh and the last
tender bone were gone did the feast end, and then Neewa sat back
on his round bottom and stuck out his little red tongue for the
first time since he had lost his mother. It was the cub sign of a
full stomach and a blissful mind. He could see nothing to be more
desired at the present time than a nap, and stretching himself
languidly he began looking about for a tree.
Miki, on the other hand, was inspired to new action by the
pleasurable sensation of being comfortably filled. Inasmuch as
Neewa chewed his food very carefully, while Miki, paying small
attention to mastication, swallowed it in chunks, the pup had
succeeded in getting away with about four fifths of the rabbit. So
he was no longer hungry. But he was more keenly alive to his
changed environment than at any time since he and Neewa had fallen
out of Challoner's canoe into the rapids. For the first time he
had killed, and for the first time he had tasted warm blood, and
the combination added to his existence an excitement that was
greater than any desire he might have possessed to lie down in a
sunny spot and sleep. Now that he had learned the game, the
hunting instinct trembled in every fibre of his small being. He
would have gone on hunting until his legs gave way under him if
Neewa had not found a napping-place.
Astonished half out of his wits he watched Neewa as he leisurely
climbed the trunk of a big poplar. He had seen squirrels climb
trees--just as he had seen birds fly--but Neewa's performance held
him breathless; and not until the cub had stretched himself out
comfortably in a crotch did Miki express himself. Then he gave an
incredulous yelp, sniffed at the butt of the tree, and made a
half-hearted experiment at the thing himself. One flop on his back
convinced him that Neewa was the tree-climber of the partnership.
Chagrined, he wandered back fifteen or twenty feet and sat down to
study the situation. He could not perceive that Neewa had any
special business up the tree. Certainly he was not hunting for
bugs. He yelped half a dozen times, but Neewa made no answer. At
last he gave it up and flopped himself down with a disconsolate
But it was not to sleep. He was ready and anxious to go on. He
wanted to explore still further the mysterious and fascinating
depths of the forest. He no longer felt the strange fear that had
been upon him before he killed the rabbit. In two minutes under
the brush-heap Nature had performed one of her miracles of
education. In those two minutes Miki had risen out of whimpering
puppyhood to new power and understanding. He had passed that
elemental stage which his companionship with Challoner had
prolonged. He had KILLED, and the hot thrill of it set fire to
every instinct that was in him. In the half hour during which he
lay flat on his belly, his head alert and listening, while Neewa
slept, he passed half way from puppyhood to dogdom. He would never
know that Hela, his Mackenzie hound father, was the mightiest
hunter in all the reaches of the Little Fox country, and that
alone he had torn down a bull caribou. But he FELT it. There was
something insistent and demanding in the call. And because he was
answering that call, and listening eagerly to the whispering
voices of the forest, his quick ears caught the low, chuckling
monotone of Kawook, the porcupine.
Miki lay very still. A moment later he heard the soft clicking of
quills, and then Kawook came out in the open and stood up on his
hind feet in a patch of sunlight.
For thirteen years Kawook had lived undisturbed in this particular
part of the wilderness, and in his old age he weighed thirty
pounds if he weighed an ounce. On this afternoon, coming for his
late dinner, he was feeling even more than usually happy. His
eyesight at best was dim. Nature had never intended him to see
very far, and had therefore quilted him heavily with the barbed
shafts of his protecting armour. Thirty feet away he was entirely
oblivious of Miki, at least apparently so; and Miki hugged the
ground closer, warned by the swiftly developing instinct within
him that here was a creature it would be unwise to attack.
For perhaps a minute Kawook stood up, chuckling his tribal song
without any visible movement of his body. He stood profile to
Miki, like a fat alderman. He was so fat that his stomach bulged
out in front like the half of a balloon, and over this stomach his
hands were folded in a peculiarly human way, so that he looked
more like an old she-porcupine than a master in his tribe.
It was not until then that Miki observed Iskwasis, the young
female porcupine, who had poked herself slyly out from under a
bush near Kawook. In spite of his years the red thrill of romance
was not yet gone from the old fellow's bones, and he immediately
started to give an exhibition of his good breeding and elegance.
He began with his ludicrous love-making dance, hopping from one
foot to the other until his fat stomach shook, and chuckling
louder than ever. The charms of Iskwasis were indeed sufficient to
turn the head of an older beau than Kawook. She was a distinctive
blonde; in other words, one of those unusual creatures of her
kind, an albino. Her nose was pink, the palms of her little feet
were pink, and each of her pretty pink eyes was set in an iris of
sky-blue. It was evident that she did not regard old Kawook's
passion-dance with favour and sensing this fact Kawook changed his
tactics and falling on all four feet began to chase his spiky tail
as if he had suddenly gone mad. When he stopped, and looked to see
what effect he had made he was clearly knocked out by the fact
that Iskwasis had disappeared.
For another minute he sat stupidly, without making a sound. Then
to Miki's consternation he started straight for the tree in which
Neewa was sleeping. As a matter of fact, it was Kawook's dinner-
tree, and he began climbing it, talking to himself all the time.
Miki's hair began to stand on end. He did not know that Kawook,
like all his kind, was the best-natured fellow in the world, and
had never harmed anything in his life unless assaulted first.
Lacking this knowledge he set up a sudden frenzy of barking to
Neewa roused himself slowly, and when he opened his eyes he was
looking into a spiky face that sent him into a convulsion of
alarm. With a suddenness that came within an ace of toppling him
from his crotch he swung over and scurried higher up the tree.
Kawook was not at all excited. Now that Iskwasis was gone he was
entirely absorbed in the anticipation of his dinner. He continued
to clamber slowly upward, and at this the horrified Neewa backed
himself out on a limb in order that Kawook might have an
unobstructed trail up the tree.
Unfortunately for Neewa it was on this limb that Kawook had eaten
his last meal, and he began working himself out on it, still
apparently oblivious of the fact that the cub was on the same
branch. At this Miki sent up such a series of shrieking yelps from
below that Kawook seemed at last to realize that something unusual
was going on. He peered down at Miki who was making vain efforts
to jump up the trunk of the tree; then he turned and, for the
first time, contemplated Neewa with some sign of interest. Neewa
was hugging the limb with both forearms and both hind legs. To
retreat another foot on the branch that was already bending
dangerously under his weight seemed impossible.
It was at this point that Kawook began to scold fiercely. With a
final frantic yelp Miki sat back on his haunches and watched the
thrilling drama above him. A little at a time Kawook advanced, and
inch by inch Neewa retreated, until at last he rolled clean over
and was hanging with his back toward the ground. It was then that
Kawook ceased his scolding and calmly began eating his dinner. For
two or three minutes Neewa kept his hold. Twice he made efforts to
pull himself up so that he could get the branch under him. Then
his hind feet slipped. For a dozen seconds he hung with his two
front paws--then shot down through fifteen feet of space to the
ground. Close to Miki he landed with a thud that knocked the wind
out of him. He rose with a grunt, took one dazed look up the tree,
and without further explanation to Miki began to leg it deeper
into the forest--straight into the face of the great adventure
which was to be the final test for these two.
Not until he had covered at least a quarter of a mile did Neewa
stop. To Miki it seemed as though they had come suddenly out of
day into the gloom of evening. That part of the forest into which
Neewa's flight had led them was like a vast, mysterious cavern.
Even Challoner would have paused there, awed by the grandeur of
its silence, held spellbound by the enigmatical whispers that made
up its only sound. The sun was still high in the heavens, but not
a ray of it penetrated the dense green canopy of spruce and balsam
that hung like a wall over the heads of Miki and Neewa. About them
was no bush, no undergrowth; under their feet was not a flower or
a spear of grass. Nothing but a thick, soft carpet of velvety
brown needles under which all life was smothered. It was as if the
forest nymphs had made of this their bedchamber, sheltered through
all the seasons of the year from wind and rain and snow; or else
that the were-wolf people--the loup-garou--had chosen it as their
hiding-place and from its weird and gloomy fastnesses went forth
on their ghostly missions among the sons of men.
Not a bird twittered in the trees. There was no flutter of life in
their crowded branches. Everything was so still that Miki heard
the excited throbbing of life in his own body. He looked at Neewa,
and in the gloom the cub's eyes were glistening with a strange
fire. Neither of them was afraid, yet in that cavernous silence
their comradeship was born anew, and in it there was something now
that crept down into their wild little souls and filled the
emptiness that was left by the death of Neewa's mother and the
loss of Miki's master. The pup whined gently, and in his throat
Neewa made a purring sound and followed it with a squeaky grunt
that was like the grunt of a little pig. They edged nearer, and
stood shoulder to shoulder facing their world. They went on after
a little, like two children exploring the mystery of an old and
abandoned house. They were not hunting, yet every hunting instinct
in their bodies was awake, and they stopped frequently to peer
about them, and listen, and scent the air.
To Neewa it all brought back a memory of the black cavern in which
he was born. Would Noozak, his mother, come up presently out of
one of those dark forest aisles? Was she sleeping here, as she had
slept in the darkness of their den? The questions may have come
vaguely in his mind. For it was like the cavern, in that it was
deathly still; and a short distance away its gloom thickened into
black pits. Such a place the Indians called MUHNEDOO--a spot in
the forest blasted of all life by the presence of devils; for only
devils would grow trees so thick that sunlight never penetrated.
And only owls held the companionship of the evil spirits.
Where Neewa and Miki stood a grown wolf would have paused, and
turned back; the fox would have slunk away, hugging the ground;
even the murderous-hearted little ermine would have peered in with
his beady red eyes, unafraid, but turned by instinct back into the
open timber. For here, in spite of the stillness and the gloom,
THERE WAS LIFE. It was beating and waiting in the ambush of those
black pits. It was rousing itself, even as Neewa and Miki went on
deeper into the silence, and eyes that were like round balls were
beginning to glow with a greenish fire. Still there was no sound,
no movement in the dense overgrowth of the trees. Like the imps of
MUHNEDOO the monster owls looked down, gathering their slow wits--
And then a huge shadow floated out of the dark chaos and passed so
close over the heads of Neewa and Miki that they heard the
menacing purr of giant wings. As the wraith-like creature
disappeared there came back to them a hiss and the grating snap of
a powerful beak. It sent a shiver through Miki. The instinct that
had been fighting to rouse itself within him flared up like a
powder-flash. Instantly he sensed the nearness of an unknown and
There was sound about them now--movement in the trees, ghostly
tremours in the air, and the crackling, metallic SNAP--SNAP--SNAP
over their heads. Again Miki saw the great shadow come and go. It
was followed by a second, and a third, until the vault under the
trees seemed filled with shadows; and with each shadow came nearer
that grating menace of powerfully beaked jaws. Like the wolf and
the fox he cringed down, hugging the earth. But it was no longer
with the whimpering fear of the pup. His muscles were drawn tight,
and with a snarl he bared his fangs when one of the owls swooped
so low that he felt the beat of its wings. Neewa responded with a
sniff that a little later in his life would have been the defiant
WHOOF of his mother. Bear-like he was standing up. And it was upon
him that one of the shadows descended--a monstrous feathered bolt
straight out of darkness.
Six feet away Miki's blazing eyes saw his comrade smothered under
a gray mass, and for a moment or two he was held appalled and
lifeless by the thunderous beat of the gargantuan wings. No sound
came from Neewa. Flung on his back, he was digging his claws into
feathers so thick and soft that they seemed to have no heart or
flesh. He felt upon him the presence of the Thing that was death.
The beat of the wings was like the beat of clubs: they drove the
breath out of his body, they blinded his senses, yet he continued
to tear fiercely with his claws into a fleshless breast.
In his first savage swoop Oohoomisew, whose great wings measured
five feet from tip to tip, had missed his death-grip by the
fraction of an inch. His powerful talons that would have buried
themselves like knives in Neewa's vitals closed too soon, and were
filled with the cub's thick hair and loose hide. Now he was
beating his prey down with his wings until the right moment came
for him to finish the killing with the terrific stabbing of his
beak. Half a minute of that and Neewa's face would be torn into
It was the fact that Neewa made no sound, that no cry came from
him, that brought Miki to his feet with his lips drawn back and a
snarl in his throat. All at once fear went out of him and in its
place came a wild and almost joyous exultation. He recognized
their enemy--A BIRD. To him birds were a prey, and not a menace. A
dozen times in their journey down from the Upper Country Challoner
had shot big Canada geese and huge-winged cranes. Miki had eaten
their flesh. Twice he had pursued wounded cranes, yapping at the
top of his voice, AND THEY HAD RUN FROM HIM. He did not bark or
yelp now. Like a flash he launched himself into the feathered mass
of the owl. His fourteen pounds of flesh and bone landed with the
force of a stone, and Oohoomisew was torn from his hold and flung
with a great flutter of wings upon his side.
Before he could recover his balance Miki was at him again,
striking full at his head, where he had struck at the wounded
crane. Oohoomisew went flat on his back--and for the first time
Miki let out of his throat a series of savage and snarling yelps.
It was a new sound to Oohoomisew and his blood-thirsty brethren
watching the struggle from out of the gloom. The snapping beaks
drifted farther away, and Oohoomisew, with a, sudden sweep of
wings, vaulted into the air.
With his big forefeet planted firmly and his snarling face turned
up to the black wall of the tree-tops Miki continued to bark and
howl defiantly. He wanted the bird to come back. He wanted to tear
and rip at its feathers, and as he sent out his frantic challenge
Neewa rolled over, got on his feet, and with a warning squeal to
Miki once more set off in flight. If Miki was ignorant in the
matter, HE at least understood the situation. Again it was the
instinct born of countless generations. He knew that in the black
pits about them hovered death--and he ran as he had never run
before in his life. As Miki followed, the shadows were beginning
to float nearer again.
Ahead of them they saw a glimmer of sunshine. The trees grew
taller, and soon the day began breaking through so that there were
no longer the cavernous hollows of gloom about them. If they had
gone on another hundred yards they would have come to the edge of
the big plain, the hunting grounds of the owls. But the flame of
self-preservation was hot in Neewa's head; he was still dazed by
the thunderous beat of wings; his sides burned where Oohoomisew's
talons had scarred his flesh; so, when he saw in his path a
tangled windfall of tree trunks he dived into the security of it
so swiftly that for a moment or two Miki wondered where he had
Crawling into the windfall after him Miki turned and poked out his
head. He was not satisfied. His lips were still drawn back, and he
continued to growl. He had beaten his enemy. He had knocked it
over fairly, and had filled his jaws with its feathers. In the
face of that triumph he sensed the fact that he had run away in
following Neewa, and he was possessed with the desire to go back
and have it out to a finish. It was the blood of the Airedale and
the Spitz growing stronger in him, fearless of defeat; the blood
of his father, the giant hunting-hound Hela. It was the demand of
his breed, with its mixture of wolfish courage and fox-like
persistency backed by the powerful jaws and Herculean strength of
the Mackenzie hound, and if Neewa had not drawn deeper under the
windfall he would have gone out again and yelped his challenge to
the feathered things from which they had fled.
Neewa was smarting under the red-hot stab of Oohoomisew's talons,
and he wanted no more of the fight that came out of the air. He
began licking his wounds, and after a while Miki went back to him
and smelled of the fresh, warm blood. It made him growl. He knew
that it was Neewa's blood, and his eyes glowed like twin balls of
fire as they watched the opening through which they had entered
into the dark tangle of fallen trees.
For an hour he did not move, and in that hour, as in the hour
after the killing of the rabbit, he GREW. When at last he crept
out cautiously from under the windfall the sun was sinking behind
the western forests. He peered about him, watching for movement
and listening for sound. The sagging and apologetic posture of
puppyhood was gone from him. His overgrown feet stood squarely on
the ground; his angular legs were as hard as if carven out of
knotty wood; his body was tense, his ears stood up, his head was
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