Nomads Of The North
James Oliver Curwood
Part 3 out of 4
and the Athabasca. It was his chief quarrel with Durant, his rival
farther north; and his ambition was to breed a pup that would kill
the fighting husky which Durant brought down to the Post with him
each winter at New Year. This season he had chosen Netah ("The
Killer") for the big fight at God's Lake. On the day he would
gamble his money and his reputation against Durant's, his dog
would be just one month under two years of age. It was Netah he
called from out of the pack now.
The dog slunk to him with a low growl in his throat, and for the
first time something like joy shone in Le Beau's face. He loved to
hear that growl. He loved to see the red and treacherous glow in
Netah's eyes, and hear the menacing click of his jaws. Whatever of
nobility might have been in Netah's blood had been clubbed out by
the man. They were alike, in that their souls were dead. And
Netah, for a dog, was a devil. For that reason Le Beau had chosen
him to fight the big fight.
Le Beau looked down at him, and drew a deep breath of
"OW! but you are looking fine, Netah," he exulted. "I can almost
see running blood in those devil-eyes of yours; OUI--red blood
that smells and runs, as the blood of Durant's POOS shall run when
you sink those teeth in its jugular. And to-morrow we are going to
give you the test--such a beautiful test!--with the wild dog that
is robbing my traps and tearing my fishers into bits. For I will
catch him, and you shall fight him until he is almost dead; and
then I shall cut his heart out alive, as I have promised, and you
will eat it while it is still beating, so that there will be no
excuse for your losing to that POOS which M'sieu Durant will bring
down. COMPRENEZ? It will be a beautiful test--to-morrow. And if
you fail I will kill you. OUI; if you so much as let a whimper out
of you, I will kill you--dead."
That same night, ten miles to the west, Miki slept under a
windfall of logs and treetops not more than half a mile from Le
In the early dawn, when Le Beau left his cabin, accompanied by
Netah, The Killer, Miki came out from under his windfall after a
night of troublous dreams. He had dreamed of those first weeks
after he had lost his master, when Neewa was always at his side;
and the visions that had come to him filled him with an uneasiness
and a loneliness that made him whine as he stood watching the dark
shadows fading away before the coming of day. Could Le Beau have
seen him there, as the first of the cold sun struck upon him, the
words which he had repeated over and over to The Killer would have
stuck in his throat. For at eleven months of age Miki was a young
giant of his breed. He weighed sixty pounds, and none of that
sixty was fat. His body was as slim and as lean as a wolf's. His
chest was massive, and over it the muscles rolled like BABICHE
cord when he moved. His legs were like the legs of Hela, the big
Mackenzie hound who was his father; and with his jaws he could
crack a caribou bone as Le Beau might have cracked it with a
stone. For eight of the eleven months of his life the wilderness
had been his master; it had tempered him to the hardness of living
steel; it had wrought him without abeyance to age in the mould of
its pitiless schooling--had taught him to fight for his life, to
kill that he might live, and to use his brain before he used his
jaws. He was as powerful as Netah, The Killer, who was twice his
age, and with his strength he possessed a cunning and a quickness
which The Killer would never know. Thus had the raw wilderness
prepared him for this day.
As the sun fired up the forest with a cold flame Miki set off in
direction of Le Beau's trapline. He came to where Le Beau had
passed yesterday and sniffed suspiciously of the man-smell that
was still strong in the snowshoe tracks. He had become accustomed
to this smell, but he had not lost his suspicion of it. It was
repugnant to him, even as it fascinated him. It filled him with an
inexplicable fear, and yet he found himself powerless to run away
from it. Three times in the last ten days he had seen the man-
brute himself. Once he had been hiding within a dozen yards of Le
Beau when he passed.
This morning he headed straight for the swamp through which Le
Beau's traps were set. There the rabbits were thickest and it was
in the swamp that they most frequently got in Jacques's KEKEKS--
the little houses he built of sticks and cedar boughs to keep the
snow off his baits. They were so numerous that they were a pest,
and each time that Le Beau made his trip over the line he found at
least two out of every three traps sprung by them, and therefore
made useless for the catching of fur. But, where there were many
rabbits there were also fishers and lynx, and in spite of the rage
which the plague of rabbits sent him into, Le Beau continued to
set his traps there. And now, in addition to the rabbits, he had
the wild dog to contend with.
His heart was fired by a vengeful anticipation as he hurried on
through the glow of the early sun, with The Killer at his heels,
led by a BABICHE thong. Miki was nosing about the first trap-house
as Netah and Le Beau entered the edge of the swamp, three miles to
It was in this KEKEK that Miki had killed the fisher-cat the
previous morning. It was empty now. Even the bait-peg was gone,
and there was no sign of a trap. A quarter of a mile farther on he
came to a second trap-house, and this also was empty. He was a bit
puzzled. And then he went on to the third house. He stood for
several minutes, sniffing the air still more suspiciously, before
he drew close to it. The man-tracks were thicker here. The snow
was beaten down with them, and the scent of Le Beau was so strong
in the air that for a space Miki believed he was near. Then he
advanced so that he got a look into the door of the trap-house.
Squatted there, staring at him with big round eyes, was a huge
snowshoe rabbit. A premonition of danger held Miki back. It was
something in the attitude of Wapoos, the old rabbit. He was not
like the others he had caught along Le Beau's line. He was not
struggling in a trap; he was not stretched out, half frozen, and
he was not dangling at the end of a snare. He was all furred up
into a warm and comfortable looking ball. As a matter of fact, Le
Beau had caught him with his hands in a hollow log, and had tied
him to the bait peg with a piece of buck-skin string; and after
that, just out of Wapoos's reach, he had set a nest of traps and
covered them with snow.
Nearer and nearer to this menace drew Miki, in spite of the
unaccountable impulse that warned him to keep back. Wapoos,
fascinated by his slow and deadly advance, made no movement, but
sat as if frozen into stone. Then Miki was at him. His powerful
jaws closed with a crunch. In the same instant there came the
angry snap of steel and a fisher-trap closed on one of his hind
feet. With a snarl he dropped Wapoos and turned upon it, SNAP--
SNAP--SNAP went three more of Jacques's nest of traps. Two of them
missed. The third caught him by a front paw. As he had caught
Wapoos, and as he had killed the fisher-cat, so now he seized this
new and savage enemy between his jaws. His fangs crunched on the
cold steel; he literally tore it from his paw so that blood
streamed forth and strained the snow red. Madly he twisted himself
to get at his hind foot. On this foot the fisher-trap had secured
a hold that was unbreakable. He ground it between his jaws until
the blood ran from his mouth. He was fighting it when Le Beau came
out from behind a clump of spruce twenty yards away with The
Killer at his heels.
The Brute stopped. He was panting, and his eyes were aflame. Two
hundred yards away he had heard the clinking of the trap-chain.
"OW! he is there," he gasped, tightening his hold on The Killer's
lead thong. "He is there, Netah, you Red Eye! That is the robber
devil you are to kill--almost. I will unfasten you, and then--GO
Miki, no longer fighting the trap, was eyeing them as they
advanced. In this moment of peril he felt no fear of the man. In
his veins the hot blood raged with a killing madness. The truth
leapt upon him in a flash of instinctive awakening. These two were
his enemies instead of the thing on his foot--the man-beast, and
Netah, The Killer. He remembered--as if it were yesterday. This
was not the first time he had seen a man with a club in his hand.
And Le Beau held a club. But he was not afraid. His steady eyes
watched Netah. Unleashed by his master, The Killer stood on stiff
legs a dozen feet away, the wiry crest along his spine erect, his
Miki heard the man-beast's voice.
"Go to, you devil! GO TO!"
Miki waited, without the quiver of a muscle. Thus much he had
learned of his hard lessons in the wilderness--to wait, and watch,
and use his cunning. He was flat on his belly, his nose between
his forepaws. His lips were drawn back a little, just a little;
but he made no sound, and his eyes were as steady as two points of
flame. Le Beau stared. He felt suddenly a new thrill, and it was
not the thrill of his desire for vengeance. Never had he seen a
lynx or a fox or a wolf in a trap like that. Never had he seen a
dog with eyes like the eyes that were on Netah. For a moment he
held his breath.
Foot by foot, and then almost inch by inch, The Killer crept in.
Ten feet, eight, six--and all that time Miki made no move, never
winked an eye. With a snarl like that of a tiger, Netah came at
What happened then was the most marvellous thing that Jacques Le
Beau had ever seen. So swiftly that his eyes could scarcely follow
the movement, Miki had passed like a flash under the belly of
Netah, and turning then at the end of his trap chain he was at The
Killer's throat before Le Beau could have counted ten. They were
down, and The Brute gripped the club in his hand and stared like
one fascinated. He heard the grinding crunch of jaws, and he knew
they were the Wild Dog's jaws; he heard a snarl choking slowly
into a wheezing sob of agony, and he knew that the sound came from
The Eller. The blood rose into his face. The red fire in his eyes
grew livid--a blaze of exultation, of triumph.
"TONNERRE DE DIEU! he is choking the life out of Netah!" he
gasped. "NON, I have never seen a dog like that. I will keep him
alive; and he shall fight Durant's POOS over at Post Fort O' God!
By the belly of Saint Gris, I say--"
The Killer was as good as dead if left another minute. With
upraised club Le Beau advanced. As he sank his fangs deeper into
Netah's throat Miki saw the new danger out of the corner of his
eye. He loosed his jaws and swung himself free of The Killer as
the club descended. He only partly evaded the smashing blow, which
caught him on the shoulder and knocked him down. Quick as a flash
he was on his feet and had lunged at Le Beau. The Frenchman was a
master with the club. All his life he had used it, and he brought
it around in a sudden side-swing that landed with terrific force
against Miki's head. The blood spurted from his mouth and
nostrils. He was dazed and half blinded. He leapt again, and the
club caught him once more. He heard Le Beau's ferocious cry of
joy. A third, a fourth, and a fifth time he went down under the
club, and Le Beau no longer laughed, but swung his weapon with a
look that was half fear in his eyes. The sixth time the club
missed, and Miki's jaws closed against The Brute's chest, ripping
away the thick coat and shirt as if they had been of paper, and
leaving on Le Beau's skin a bleeding gash. Ten inches more--a
little better vision in his blood-dimmed eyes--and he would have
reached the man's throat. A great cry rose out of Le Beau. For an
instant he felt the appalling nearness of death.
"Netah! Netah!" he cried, and swung the club wildly.
Netah did not respond. It may be that in this moment he sensed the
fact that it was his master who had made him into a monster. About
him was the wilderness, opening its doors of freedom. When Le Beau
called again The Killer was slinking away, dripping blood as he
went--and this was the last that Le Beau saw of him. Probably he
joined the wolves, for The Killer was a quarter-strain wild.
Le Beau got no more than a glimpse of him as he disappeared. His
club-arm shot out again, a clean miss; and this time it was pure
chance that saved him. The trap-chain caught, and Miki fell back
when his hot breath was almost at The Brute's jugular. He fell
upon his side. Before he could recover himself the club was
pounding his head into the snow. The world grew black. He no
longer had the power to move. Lying as if dead he still heard over
him the panting, exultant voice of the man-beast. For Le Beau,
black though his heart was, could not keep back a prayerful cry of
thankfulness that he was victor--and had missed death, though by a
space no wider than the link of a chain.
Nanette, the woman, saw Jacques come out of the edge of the timber
late in the afternoon, dragging something on the snow behind him.
In her heart, ever since her husband had begun to talk about him,
she had kept secret to herself a pity for the wild dog. Long
before the last baby had come she had loved a dog. It was this dog
that had given her the only real affection she had known in the
company of The Brute, and with barbarous cruelty Le Beau had
driven it from her. Nanette herself had encouraged it to seek
freedom in the wilderness, as Netah had at last sought his.
Therefore she had prayed that the wild dog of the trapline might
As Le Beau came nearer she saw that what he drew after him upon
the snow was a sledge-drag made of four lengths of sapling, and
when, a moment later, she looked down at its burden, she gave a
little cry of horror.
Miki's four feet were tied so firmly to the pieces of sapling that
he could not move. A cord about his neck was fastened to one of
the crossbars, and over his jaws Le Beau had improvised a muzzle
of unbreakable BABICHE thong. He had done all this before Miki
regained consciousness after the clubbing. The woman stared, and
there was a sudden catch in her breath after the little cry that
had fallen from her lips. Many times she had seen Jacques club his
dogs, but never had she seen one clubbed like this. Miki's head
and shoulders were a mass of frozen blood. And then she saw his
eyes. They were looking straight up at her. She turned, fearing
that Jacques might see what was in her face.
Le Beau dragged his burden straight into the cabin, and then stood
back and rubbed his hands as he looked at Miki on the floor.
Nanette saw that he was in a strangely good humour, and waited.
"By the Blessed Saints, but you should have seen him kill Netah--
almost," he exulted. "OUI; he had him down by the throat quicker
than you could flash your eye, and twice he was within an inch of
my life when I fought him with the club. DIEU! I say, what will
happen to Durant's dog when they meet at Post Fort 0' God? I will
make a side wager that he kills him before the second-hand of LE
FACTEUR'S watch, goes round twice. He is splendid! Watch him,
Nanette, while I go make a corral for him alone. If I put him in
with the pack he will kill them all."
Miki's eyes followed him as he disappeared through the cabin door.
Then he looked swiftly back to Nanette. She had drawn nearer. Her
eyes were shining as she bent over him. A snarl rose in Miki's
throat, and died there. For the first time he was looking upon
WOMAN. He sensed, all at once, a difference as vast as the world
itself. In his bruised and broken body his heart stood still.
Nanette spoke to him. Never in his life had he heard a voice like
hers--soft and gentle, with a breaking sob in it; and then--
miracle of miracles--she had dropped on her knees and her hands
were at his head!
In that instant his spirit leapt back through the generations--
back beyond his father, and his father's father; back to that far
day when the blood in the veins of his race was "just dog," and he
romped with children, and listened to the call of woman, and
worshipped at the shrine of humankind. And now the woman had run
quickly to the stove, and was back again with a dish of warm water
and a soft cloth, and was bathing his head, talking to him all the
time in that gentle, half-sobbing voice of pity and of love. He
closed his eyes--no longer afraid. A great sigh heaved out of his
body. He wanted to put out his tongue and lick the slim white
hands that were bringing him peace and comfort. And then the
strangest thing of all happened. In the crib the baby sat up and
began to prattle. It was a new note to Miki, a new song of Life's
spring-tide to him, but it thrilled him as nothing else in all the
world had ever thrilled him before. He opened his eyes wide--and
A laugh of joy--new and strange even to herself--came into the
woman's voice, and she ran to the crib and returned with the baby
in her arms. She knelt down beside him again, and the baby, at
sight of this strange plaything on the floor, thrust out its
little arms, and kicked its tiny moccasined feet, and cooed and
laughed and squirmed until Miki strained at his thongs to get a
little nearer that he might touch this wonderful creature with his
nose. He forgot his pain. He no longer sensed the agony of his
bruised and beaten jaws. He did not feel the numbness of his
tightly bound and frozen legs. Every instinct in him was centred
in these two.
And the woman, now, was beautiful. She UNDERSTOOD; and the gentle
heart throbbed in her bosom, forgetful of The Brute. Her eyes
glowed with the soft radiance of stars. Into her pale cheeks came
a sweet flush. She sat the baby down, and with the cloth and warm
water continued to bathe Miki's head. Le Beau, had he been human,
must have worshipped her then as she knelt there, all that was
pure and beautiful in motherhood, an angel of mercy, radiant for a
moment in her forgetfulness of HIM. And Le Beau DID enter--and see
her--so quietly that for a space she did not realize his presence;
and with him staring down on her she continued to talk and laugh
and half sob, and the baby kicked and prattled and flung out its
little arms wildly in the joy of these exciting moments.
Le Beau's thick lips drew back in an ugly leer, and he gave a
savage curse. Nanette flinched as if struck a blow.
"Get up, you fool!" he snarled.
She obeyed, shrinking back with the baby in her arms. Miki saw the
change, and the greenish fire returned into his eyes when he
caught sight of Le Beau. A deep and wolfish snarl rose in his
Le Beau turned on Nanette. The glow and the flush had not quite
gone from her eyes and cheeks as she stood with the baby hugged up
to her breast, and her big shining braid had fallen over her
shoulder, glistening with a velvety fire in the light that came
through the western window. But Le Beau saw nothing of this.
"If you make a POOS (a house-kitten) of that dog--a thing like you
made of Minoo, the breed-bitch, I will--"
He did not finish, but his huge hands were clinched, and there was
an ugly passion in his eyes. Nanette needed no more than that. She
understood. She had received many blows, but there was the memory
of one that never left her, night or day. Some day, if she could
ever get to Post Fort O' God, and had the courage, she would tell
LE FACTEUR of that blow--how Jacques Le Beau, her husband, struck
it at the nursing time, and her bosom was so hurt that the baby of
two years ago had died. She would tell it, when she knew she and
the baby would be safe from the vengeance of the Brute. And only
LE FACTEUR--the Big Man at Post Fort O' God a hundred miles away--
was powerful enough to save her.
It was well that Le Beau did not read this thought in her mind
now. With his warning he turned to Miki and dragged him out of the
cabin to a cage made of saplings in which the winter before he had
kept two live foxes. A small chain ten feet in length he fastened
around Miki's neck and then to one of the sapling bars before he
thrust his prisoner inside the door of the prison and freed him by
cutting the BABICHE thongs with a knife.
For several minutes after that Miki lay still while the blood made
its way slowly through his numbed and half-frozen limbs. At last
he staggered to his feet, and then it was that Le Beau chuckled
jubilantly and turned back to the cabin.
And now followed many days that were days of hell and torment for
him--an unequal struggle between the power of The Brute and the
spirit of the Dog.
"I must break you--OW! by the Christ! I WILL break you!"--Le Beau
would say time and again when he came with the club and the whip.
"I will make you crawl to me--OUI, and when I say fight you will
It was a small cage, so small that Miki could not get away from
the reach of the club and the whip. They maddened him--for a time,
and Le Beau's ugly soul was filled with joy as Miki launched
himself again and again at the sapling bars, tearing at them with
his teeth and frothing blood like a wolf gone mad. For twenty
years Le Beau had trained fighting dogs, and this was his way. So
he had done with Netah until The Killer was mastered, and at his
call crept to him on his belly.
Three times, from a window in the cabin, Nanette looked forth on
these horrible struggles between the man and the dog, and the
third time she buried her face in her arms and sobbed; and when Le
Beau came in and found her crying he dragged her to the window and
made her look out again at Miki, who lay bleeding and half dead in
the cage. It was a morning on which he started the round of his
traps, and he was always gone until late the following day. And
never was he more than well out of sight than Nanette would run
out and go to the cage.
It was then that Miki forgot The Brute. At times so beaten and
blinded that he could scarcely stand or see, he would crawl to the
bars of the cage and caress the soft hands that Nanette held in
fearlessly to him. And then, after a little, Nanette began to
bring the baby out with her, bundled up like a little Eskimo, and
in his joy Miki whimpered and wagged his tail and grovelled in his
worship before these two.
It was in the second week of his captivity that the wonderful
thing happened. Le Beau was gone, and there was a raging blizzard
outside to which Nanette dared not expose the baby. So she went to
the cage, and with a heart that beat wildly, she unbarred the
door--and brought Miki into the cabin! If Le Beau should ever
discover what she had done--!
The thought made her shiver.
After this first time she brought him into the cabin again and
again. Once her heart stood still when Le Beau saw blood on the
floor, and his eyes shot at her suspiciously. Then she lied.
"I cut my finger she said," and a moment later, with her back to
him, she DID cut it, and when Jacques looked at her hand he saw a
cloth about the finger, with blood-stain on it.
After that Nanette always watched the floor carefully.
More and more this cabin, with the woman and the baby in it,
became a paradise for Miki. Then came the time when Nanette dared
to keep him in the cabin with her all night, and lying close to
the precious cradle Miki never once took his eyes from her. It was
late when she prepared for bed. She changed into a long, soft
robe, and then, sitting near Miki, with her bare little feet in
the fireglow, she took down her wonderful hair and began brushing
it. It was the first time Miki had seen this new and marvellous
garment about her. It fell over her shoulders and breast and
almost to the floor in a shimmering glory, and the scent of it was
so sweet that Miki crept a few inches nearer, and whimpered
softly. After she had done brushing it Miki watched her as her
slim fingers plaited it into two braids; and then, before she put
the light out, a still more curious thing happened. She went to
her bed, made of saplings, against the wall, and from its hiding
place under the blankets drew forth tenderly a little ivory
Crucifix. With this in her hands she knelt upon the log floor, and
Miki listened to her prayer. He did not know, but she was asking
God to be good to her baby--the little Nanette in the crib.
After that she cuddled the baby up in her arms, and put out the
light, and went to bed; and through all the hours of the night
Miki made no sound that would waken them.
In the morning, when Nanette opened her eyes, she found Miki with
his head resting on the edge of the bed, close to the baby that
was nestled against her bosom.
That morning, as she built the fire, something strange and
stirring in Nanette's breast made her sing. Le Beau would be away
until dark that night, and she would never dare to tell him what
she and the baby and the dog were going to do. It was her
birthday. Twenty-six; and it seemed to her that she had lived the
time of two lives! And eight of those years with The Brute! But
to-day they would celebrate, they three. All the morning the cabin
was filled with a new spirit--a new happiness.
Years ago, before she had met Le Beau, the Indians away back on
the Waterfound had called Nanette "Tanta Penashe" ("the Little
Bird") because of the marvellous sweetness of her voice. And this
morning she sang as she prepared the birthday feast; the sun
flooded through the windows, and Miki whimpered happily and
thumped his tail, and the baby cackled and crowed, and The Brute
was forgotten. In that forgetfulness Nanette was a girl again,
sweet and beautiful as in those days when old Jackpine, the Cree--
who was now dead--had told her that she was born of the flowers.
The wonderful dinner was ready at last, and to the baby's delight
Nanette induced Miki to sit on a chair at the table. He felt
foolish there, and he looked so foolish that Nanette laughed until
her long dark lashes were damp with tears; and then, when Miki
slunk down from the chair, feeling his shame horribly, she ran to
him and put her arms around him and pleaded with him until he took
his place at the table again.
So the day passed until mid-afternoon, when Nanette cleared away
all signs of the celebration and locked Miki in his cage. It was
fortunate she was ahead of time, for scarcely was she done when Le
Beau came into the edge of the clearing, and with him was Durant,
his acquaintance and rival from the edge of the Barrens farther
north. Durant had sent his outfit on to Port O' God by an Indian,
and had struck south and west with two dogs and a sledge to visit
a cousin for a day or two. He was on his way to the Post when he
came upon Le Beau on his trapline.
Thus much Le Beau told Nanette, and Nanette looked at Durant with
startled eyes. They were a good pair, Jacques and his guest, only
that Durant was older. She had become somewhat accustomed to the
brutality in Le Beau's face, but she thought that Durant was a
monster. He made her afraid, and she was glad when they went from
"Now I will show you the BETE that is going to kill your POOS as
easily as your lead-whelp killed that rabbit to-day, m'sieu,"
exulted Jacques. "I have told you but you have not seen!"
And he took with him the club and the whip.
Like a tiger fresh out of the jungles Miki responded to the club
and the whip to-day, until Durant himself stood aghast, and
exclaimed under his breath: "MON DIEU! he is a devil!"
From the window Nanette saw what was happening, and out of her
rose a cry of anguish. Sudden as a burst of fire there arose in
her--triumphant at last and unafraid--that thing which for years
The Brute had crushed back: her womanhood resurrected! Her soul
broken free of its shackles! Her faith, her strength, her courage!
She turned from the window and ran to the door, and out over the
snow to the cage; and for the first time in her life she struck at
Le Beau, and beat fiercely at the arm that was wielding the club.
"You beast!" she cried. "I tell you, you SHALL NOT! Do you hear?
You SHALL NOT!"
Paralyzed with amazement, The Brute stood still. Was this Nanette,
his slave? This wonderful creature with eyes that were glowing
fire and defiance, and a look in her face that he had never seen
in any woman's face before? NON--impossible! Hot rage rose in him,
and with a single sweep of his powerful arm he flung her back so
that she fell to the earth. With a wild curse he lifted the bar of
the cage door.
"I will kill him, now; I will KILL him!" he almost shrieked. "And
it is YOU--YOU--you she-devil! who shall eat his heart alive! I
will force it down your throat: I will--"
He was dragging Miki forth by the chain. The club rose as Miki's
head came through. In another instant it would have beaten his
head to a pulp--but Nanette was between it and the dog like a
flash, and the blow went wild. It was with his fist that Le Beau
struck out now, and the blow caught Nanette on the shoulder and
sent her frail body down with a crash. The Brute sprang upon her.
His fingers gripped in her thick, soft hair.
From Durant came a warning cry. It was too late. A lean gray
streak of vengeance and retribution, Miki was at the end of his
chain and at Le Beau's throat. Nanette HEARD! Through dazed eyes
she SAW! She reached out gropingly and struggled to her feet, and
looked just once down upon the snow. Then, with a terrible cry,
she staggered toward the cabin.
When Durant gathered courage to drag Le Beau out of Miki's reach
Miki made no movement to harm him. Again, perhaps, it was the
Beneficent Spirit that told him his duty was done. He went back
into his cage, and lying there on his belly looked forth at
And Durant, looking at the blood-stained snow and the dead body of
The Brute, whispered to himself again:
"MON DIEU! he is a devil!"
In the cabin, Nanette was upon her knees before the crucifix.
There are times when death is a shock, but not a grief. And so it
was with Nanette Le Beau. With her own eyes she had looked upon
the terrible fate of her husband, and it was not in her gentle
soul to weep or wish him alive again. At last there had overtaken
him what LE BON DIEU had intended him to receive some day:
justice. And for the baby's sake more than her own Nanette was not
sorry. Durant, whose soul was only a little less wicked than the
dead man's, had not even waited for a prayer--had not asked her
what to do. He had chopped a hole in the frozen earth and had
buried Le Beau almost before his body was cold. And Nanette was
not sorry for that. The Brute was gone. He was gone for ever. He
would never strike her again. And because of the baby she offered
up a prayer of gratitude to God.
In his prison-cage of sapling bars Miki cringed on his belly at
the end of his chain. He had scarcely moved since those terrible
moments in which he had torn the life out of the man-brute's
throat. He had not even growled at Durant when he dragged the body
away. Upon him had fallen a fearful and overwhelming oppression.
He was not thinking of his own brutal beatings, or of the death
which Le Beau had been about to inflict upon him with the club; he
did not feel the presence of pain in his bruised and battered
body, nor in his bleeding jaws and whip-lashed eyes. He was
thinking of Nanette, the woman. Why had she run away with that
terrible cry when he killed the man-beast? Was it not the man-
beast who had struck her down, and whose hands were at her white
throat when he sprang the length of his chain and tore out his
jugular? Then why was it that she ran away, and did not come back?
He whimpered softly.
The afternoon was almost gone, and the early gloom of mid-winter
night in the Northland was settling thickly over the forests. In
that gloom the dark face of Durant appeared at the bars of Miki's
prison. Instinctively Miki had hated this foxhunter from the edge
of the Barrens, just as he had hated Le Beau, for in their brutish
faces as well as in their hearts they were like brothers. Yet he
did not growl at Durant as he peered through. He did not even
"UGH! LE DIABLE!" shuddered Durant.
Then he laughed. It was a low, terrible laugh, half smothered in
his coarse black beard, and it sent an odd chill through Miki.
He turned after that and went into the cabin.
Nanette rose to meet him, her great dark eyes glowing in a face
dead white. She had not yet risen above the shock of Le Beau's
tragic death, and yet in those eyes there was already something
re-born. It had not been there when Durant came to the cabin with
Le Beau that afternoon. He looked at her strangely as she stood
with the baby in her arms. She was another Nanette. He felt
uneasy. Why was it that a few hours ago he had laughed boldly when
her husband had cursed her and said vile things in her presence--
and now he could not meet the steady gaze of her eyes? DIEU! he
had never before observed how lovely she was! He drew himself
together, and stated the business in his mind.
"You will not want the dog," he said. "I will take him away."
Nanette did not answer. She seemed scarcely to be breathing as she
looked at him. It seemed to him that she was waiting for him to
explain; and then the inspiration to lie leapt into his mind.
"You know, there was to be the big fight between HIS dog and mine
at Post Fort O' God at the New Year carnival," he went on,
shuffling his heavy feet. "For that, Jacques--your husband--was
training the wild dog. And when I saw that OOCHUN--that wolf
devil--tearing at the bars of the cage I knew he would kill my dog
as a fox kills a rabbit. So we struck a bargain, and for the two
cross foxes and the ten red which I have outside I bought him."
(The VRAISEMBLANCE of his lie gave him courage. It sounded like
truth, and Jacques, the dead man, was not there to repudiate his
claim.) "So he is mine," he finished a little exultantly, "and I
will take him to the Post, and will fight him against any dog or
wolf in all the North. Shall I bring in the skins, MADAME?"
"He is not for sale," said Nanette, the glow in her eyes
deepening. "He is my dog--mine and the baby's. Do you understand,
Henri Durant? HE IS NOT FOR SALE!"
"OUI," gasped Durant, amazed.
"And when you reach Post Fort O' God, m'sieu, you will tell LE
FACTEUR that Jacques is dead, and how he died, and say that some
one must be sent for the baby and me. We will stay here until
"OUI," said Durant again, backing to the door.
He had never seen her like that. He wondered how Jacques Le Beau
could swear at her, and strike her. For himself, he was afraid.
Standing there with those wonderful eyes and white face, with the
baby in her arms, and her shining hair over her breasts, she made
him think of a picture he had once seen of the Blessed Lady.
He went out through the door and back to the sapling cage where
Miki lay. Softly he spoke through the bars.
"OW, BETE" he called; "she will not sell you. She keeps you
because you fought for her, and killed MON AMI, Jacques Le Beau.
And so I must take you my own way. In a little while the moon will
be up, and then I will slip a noose over your head at the end of a
pole, and will choke you so quickly she will not hear a sound. And
who will know where you are gone, if the cage door is left open?
And you will fight for me at Post Fort 0' God. MON DIEU! how you
will fight! I swear it will do the ghost of Jacques Le Beau good
to see what happens there."
He went away, to where he had left his light sledge and two dogs
in the edge of the timber, and waited for the moon to rise.
Still Miki did not move, A light had appeared in the window of the
cabin, and his eyes were fixed on it yearningly as the low whine
gathered in his throat again. His world no longer lay beyond that
window. The Woman and the baby had obliterated in him all desire
but to be with them.
In the cabin Nanette was thinking of him--and of Durant. The man's
words came to her again, vividly, significantly: "YOU WILL NOT
WANT THE DOG." Yes, all the forest people would say that same
thing--even LE FACTEUR himself, when he heard. SHE WOULD NOT WANT
THE DOG! And why not? Because he had killed Jacques Le Beau, her
husband, in defence of her? Because he had freed her from the
bondage of The Brute? Because God had sent him to the end of his
chain in that terrible moment that the baby Nanette might live, as
the OTHER had not, and that she might grow up with laughter on her
lips instead of sobs? In her there rose suddenly a thought that
fanned the new flame in her heart. It MUST have been LE BON DIEU!
Others might doubt, but she--never. She recalled all that Le Beau
had told her about the wild dog--how for many days he had robbed
the traps, and the terrific fight he had made when at last he was
caught. And of all that The Brute had said there stood out most
the words he had spoken one day.
"He is a devil, but he was not born of wolf. NON, some time, a
long time ago, he was a white man's dog."
A WHITE MAN'S DOG!
Her soul thrilled. Once--a long time ago--he had known a master
with a white heart, just as she had known a girlhood in which the
flowers bloomed and the birds sang. She tried to look back, but
she could not see very far. She could not vision that day, less
than a year ago, when Miki, an angular pup, came down out of the
Farther North with Challoner; she could not vision the strange
comradeship between the pup and Neewa, the little black bear cub,
nor that tragic day when they had fallen out of Challoner's canoe
into the swift stream that had carried them over the waterfall and
into the Great Adventure which had turned Neewa into a grown bear
and Miki into a wild dog. But in her heart she FELT the things
which she could not see. Miki had not come by chance. Something
greater than that had sent him.
She rose quietly, so that she would not waken the baby in the
crib, and opened the door. The moon was just rising over the
forest and through the glow of it she went to the cage. She heard
the dog's joyous whine, and then she felt the warm caress of his
tongue upon her bare hands as she thrust them between the sapling
"NON, NON; you are not a devil," she cried softly, her voice
filled with a strange tremble. "O-o-ee, my SOKETAAO, I prayed,
PRAYED--and you came. Yes, on my knees each night I prayed to Our
Blessed Lady that she might have mercy on my baby, and make the
sun in heaven shine for her through all time. AND YOU CAME! And
the dear God does not send devils in answer to prayer. NON;
And Miki, as though some spirit had given him the power to
understand, rested the weight of his bruised and beaten head on
From the edge of the forest Durant was watching. He had caught the
flash of light from the door and had seen Nanette go to the cage,
and his eyes did not leave her until she returned into the cabin.
He laughed as he went to his fire and finished making the WAHGUN
he was fastening to the end of a long pole. This WAHGUN and the
pole added to his own cleverness were saving him twelve good fox
skins, and he continued to chuckle there in the fireglow as he
thought how easy it was to beat a woman's wits. Nanette was a fool
to refuse the pelts, and Jacques was--dead. It was a most lucky
combination of circumstances for him. Fortune had surely come his
way. On LE BETE, as he called the wild dog, he would gamble all
that he possessed in the big fight. And he would win.
He waited until the light in the cabin went out before he
approached the cage again. Miki heard him coming. At a
considerable distance he saw him, for the moon was already turning
the night into day. Durant knew the ways of dogs. With them he
employed a superior reason where Le Beau had used the club and the
rawhide. So he came up openly and boldly, and, as if by accident,
dropped the end of the pole between the bars. With his hands
against the cage, apparently unafraid, he began talking in a
casual way. He was different from Le Beau. Miki watched him
closely for a space and then let his eyes rest again on the
darkened cabin window. Stealthily Durant began to take advantage
of his opportunity. A little at a time he moved the end of the
pole until it was over Miki's head, with the deadly bowstring and
its open noose hanging down. He was an adept in the use of the
WAHGUN. Many foxes and wolves, and even a bear, he had caught that
way. Miki, numbed by the cold, scarcely felt the BABICHE noose as
it settled softly about his neck. He did not see Durant brace
himself, with his feet against the running-log of the cage.
Then, suddenly, Durant lurched himself backward, and it seemed to
Miki as though a giant trap of steel had closed about his neck.
Instantly his wind was cut off. He could make no sound as he
struggled frantically to free himself. Hand over hand Durant
dragged him to the bars, and there, with his feet still braced, he
choked with his whole weight until--when at last he let up on the
WAHGUN--Miki collapsed as if dead. Ten seconds later Durant was
looping a muzzle over his closed jaws. He left the cage door open
when he went back to his sledge, carrying Miki in his arms.
Nanette's slow wits would never guess, he told himself. She would
think that LE BETE had escaped into the forest.
It was not his scheme to club Miki into serfdom, as Le Beau had
failed to do. Durant was wiser than that. In his crude and
merciless way he had come to know certain phenomena of the animal
mind. He was not a psychologist; oh the other hand brutality had
not utterly blinded him. So, instead of lashing Miki to the sledge
as Le Beau had fastened him to his improvised drag, Durant made
his captive comfortable, covering him with a warm blanket before
he began his journey eastward. He made sure, however, that there
was no flaw in the muzzle about Miki's jaws, and that the free end
of the chain to which he was still fastened was well hitched to
the Gee-bar of his sledge.
When these things were done Durant set off in the direction of
Fort O' God, and if Jacques Le Beau could have seen him then he
would have had good reason to guess at his elation. By taint of
birth and blood Durant was a gambler first, and a trapper
afterward. He set his traps that he might have the thrill of
wagering his profits, and for half a dozen successive years he had
won at the big annual dog fight at Post Fort O' God. But this year
he had been half afraid. His fear had not been of Jacques Le Beau
and Netah, but of the halfbreed away over on Red Belly Lake.
Grouse Piet was the halfbreed's name, and the "dog" that he was
going to put up at the fight was half wolf. Therefore, in the
foolish eagerness of his desire, had Durant offered two cross
foxes and ten reds--the price of five dogs and not one--for the
possession of Le Beau's wild dog. And now that he had him for
nothing, and Nanette was poorer by twelve skins, he was happy. For
he had now a good match for Grouse Piet's half wolf, and he would
chance his money and his credit at the Post to the limit.
When Miki came back to his senses Durant stopped his dogs, for he
had been watching closely for this moment. He bent over the sledge
and began talking, not in Le Beau's brutal way, but in a careless
chummy sort of voice, and with his mittened hand he patted his
captive's head. This was a new thing to Miki, for he knew that it
was not the hand of Nanette, but of a man-beast, and the softness
of his nest in the blanket, over which Henri had thrown a bear
skin, was also new. A short time ago he was frozen and stiff. Now
he was warm and comfortable. So he did not move. And Durant
exulted in his cleverness. He did not travel far in the night, but
stopped four or five miles from Nanette's cabin, and built a fire.
Over this he boiled coffee and roasted meat. He allowed the meat
to roast slowly, turning it round and round on a wooden spit, so
that the aroma of it grew thick and inviting in the air. He had
fastened his two sledge dogs fifty paces away, but the sledge was
close to the fire, and he watched the effect on Miki of the
roasting meat. Since the days of his puppyhood with Challoner a
smell like that which came from the meat had not filled Miki's
nostrils, and at last Durant saw him lick his chops and heard the
click of his teeth. He chuckled in his beard. Still he waited
another quarter of an hour. Then he pulled the meat off the spit,
cut it up, and gave a half of it to Miki. And Miki ate it
A clever man was Henri Durant!
During the last few days in December all trails for ten thousand
square miles around led to Post Fort 0' God. It was the eve of
OOSKE PIPOON--of the New Year--the mid-winter carnival time of the
people of the wilderness, when from teepees and cabins far and
near come the trappers and their families to sell their furs and
celebrate for a few days with others of their kind. To this New
Year gathering men, women, and children look forward through long
and weary months. The trapper's wife has no neighbour. Her
husband's "line" is a little kingdom inviolate, with no other
human life within many miles of it; so for the women the OOSKE
PIPOON is a time of rejoicing; for the children it is the "big
circus," and for the men a reward for the labour and hardship of
catching their fur. During these few days old acquaintanceships
are renewed and new ones are made. It is here that the "news" of
the trackless wilderness is spread, the news of deaths, of
marriages, and of births; of tragic happenings that bring horror
and grief and tears, and of others that bring laughter and joy.
For the first and last time in all the seven months' winter the
people of the forests "come to town." Indian, halfbreed, "blood,"
and white man, join in the holiday without distinction of colour
This year there was to be a great caribou roast, a huge barbecue,
at Fort O' God, and by the time Henri Durant came within half a
dozen miles of the Post the trails from north and south and east
and west were beaten hard by the tracks of dogs and men. That year
a hundred sledges came in from the forests, and with them were
three hundred men and women and children and half a thousand dogs.
Durant was a day later than he had planned to be, but he had made
good use of his time. For Miki, while still muzzled, now followed
at the end of the babiche that was tied to Henri's sledge. In the
afternoon of the third day after leaving Nanette Le Beau's cabin
Durant turned off the main-travelled trail until he came to the
shack of Andre Ribon, who kept the Factor and his people at the
Post supplied with fresh meat. Andre, who was becoming over-
anxious at Durant's delay, was still waiting when his friend came.
It was here that Henri's Indian had left his fighting dog, the big
husky. And here he left Miki, locked in Andre's shack. Then the
two men went on to the Post which was only a mile away.
Neither he nor Ribon returned that night. The cabin was empty. And
with the beginning of dusk Miki began to hear weird and strange
sounds which grew louder as darkness settled deeper. It was the
sound of the carnival at the Post--the distant tumult of human
voice mingled with the howling of a hundred dogs. He had never
heard anything like it before, and for a long time he listened
without moving. Then he stood up like a man before the window with
this fore-paws resting against the heavy sash. Ribon's cabin was
at the crest of a knoll that over-looked the frozen lake, and far
off, over the tops of the scrub timber that fringed the edge of
it, Miki saw the red glow in the sky made by a score of great camp
fires. He whined, and dropped on his four feet again. It was a
long wait between that and another day. But the cabin was more
comfortable than Le Beau's prison-cage had been. All through the
night his restless slumber was filled with visions of Nanette and
Durant and Ribon did not return until nearly noon the next day.
They brought with them fresh meat, of which Miki ate ravenously,
for he was hungry. In an unresponsive way he tolerated the
advances of these two. A second night he was left alone in the
cabin. When Durant and Ribon came back again in the early dawn
they brought with them a cage four feet square made of small birch
saplings. The open door of this cage they drew close to the door
of the cabin, and by means of a chunk of fresh meat Miki was
induced to enter through it. Instantly the trap fell, and he was a
prisoner. The cage was already fastened on a wide toboggan, and
scarcely was the sun up when Miki was on his way to Fort O' God.
This was the big day at the carnival--the day of the caribou-roast
and the fight. For many minutes before they came in sight of Fort
O' God Miki heard the growing sound. It amazed him, and he stood
up on his feet in his cage, rigid and alert, utterly unconscious
of the men who were pulling him. He was looking ahead of them, and
Durant chuckled exultantly as they heard him growl, and his teeth
"Oui, he will fight! He would fight NOW," he chuckled.
They were following the shore of a lake. Suddenly they came around
the end of a point, and all of Fort O' God lay on the rising shelf
of the shore ahead of them. The growl died in Miki's throat. His
teeth shut with a last click. For an instant his heart seemed to
grow dead and still. Until this moment his world had held only
half a dozen human beings. Now, so suddenly that he had no flash
of warning, he saw a hundred of them, two hundred, three hundred.
At sight of Durant and the cage a swarm of them began running down
to the shore. And everywhere there were wolves, so many of them
that his senses grew dazed as he stared. His cage was the centre
of a clamouring, gesticulating horde of men and boys as it was
dragged up the slope. Women began joining the crowd, many of them
with small children in their arms. Then his journey came to an
end. He was close to another cage, and in that cage was a beast
like himself. Beside this cage there stood a tall, swarthy,
shaggy-headed halfbreed who looked like a pirate. The man was
Grouse Piet, Durant's rival.
A contemptuous leer was on his thick-lipped face as he looked at
Miki. He turned, and to the group of dark-faced Indians and breeds
about him he said something that roused a guttural laugh.
Durant's face flamed red.
"Laugh, you heathen," he challenged, "but don't forget that Henri
Durant is here to take your bets!" Then he shook the two cross and
ten red foxes in the face of Grouse Piet.
"Cover them, Grouse Piet," he cried. "And I have ten times more
where they came from!"
With his muzzle lifted, Miki was sniffing the air. It was filled
with strange scents, heavy with the odours of men, of dogs, and of
the five huge caribou roasting on their spits fifteen feet over
the big fires that were built under them. For ten hours those
caribou would roast, turning slowly on spits as thick as a man's
leg. The fight was to come before the feast.
For an hour the clatter and tumult of voices hovered about the two
cages. Men appraised the fighters and made their bets, and Grouse
Piet and Henri Durant made their throats hoarse flinging banter
and contempt at each other. At the end of the hour the crowd began
to thin out. In the place of men and women half a hundred dark-
visaged little children crowded about the cages. It was not until
then that Miki caught glimpses of the hordes of beasts fastened in
ones and twos and groups in the edge of the clearing. His nostrils
had at last caught the distinction. They were not wolves. They
were like himself.
It was a long time before his eyes rested steadily on the wolf-dog
in the other cage. He went to the edge of his bars and sniffed.
The wolf-dog thrust his gaunt muzzle toward him. He made Miki
think of the huge wolf he had fought one day on the edge of the
cliff, and instinctively he showed his fangs, and snarled. The
wolf-dog snarled back. Henri Durant rubbed his hands exultantly,
and Grouse Piet laughed softly.
"Oui; they will FIGHT!" said Henri again.
"Ze wolf, he will fight, oui," said Grouse Piet. "But your dog,
m'sieu, he be vair seek, lak a puppy, w'en ze fight come!"
A little later Miki saw a white man standing close to his cage. It
was MacDonnell, the Scotch factor. He gazed at Miki and the wolf-
dog with troubled eyes. Ten minutes later, in the little room
which he had made his office, he was saying to a younger man:
"I'd like to stop it, but I can't. They wouldn't stand for it. It
would lose us half a season's catch of fur. There's been a fight
like this at Fort O' God for the last fifty years, and I don't
suppose, after all, that it's any worse than one of the prize
fights down there. Only, in this case--"
"They kill," said the younger man.
"Yes, that's it. Usually one of the dogs dies."
The younger man knocked the ash out of his pipe.
"I love dogs," he said, simply. "There'll never be a fight at my
post, Mac--unless it's between men. And I'm not going to see this
fight, because I'm afraid I'd kill some one if I did."
It was two o'clock in the afternoon. The caribou were roasting
brown. In two more hours the feast would begin. The hour of the
fight was at hand.
In the centre of the clearing three hundred men, women, and
children were gathered in a close circle about a sapling cage ten
feet square. Close to this cage, one at each side, were drawn the
two smaller cages. Beside one of these cages stood Henri Durant;
beside the other, Grouse Piet. They were not bantering now. Their
faces were hard and set. And three hundred pairs of eyes were
staring at them, and three hundred pairs of ears waiting for the
It came--from Grouse Piet.
With a swift movement Durant pulled up the door of Miki's cage.
Then, suddenly, he prodded him from behind with a crotched stick,
and with a single leap Miki was in the big cage. Almost at the
same instant the wolf-dog leapt from Grouse Piet's cage, and the
two faced each other in the arena.
With the next breath he drew Durant could have groaned. What
happened in the following half minute was a matter of environment
with Miki. In the forest the wolf-dog would have interested him to
the exclusion of everything else, and he would have looked upon
him as another Netah or a wild wolf. But in his present
surroundings the idea of fighting was the last to possess him. He
was fascinated by that grim and waiting circle of faces closing in
the big cage; he scrutinized it, turning his head sharply from
point to point, as if hoping to see Nanette and the baby, or even
Challoner his first master. To the wolf-dog Grouse Piet had given
the name of Taao, because of the extraordinary length of his
fangs; and of Taao, to Durant's growing horror, Miki was utterly
oblivious after that first head-on glance. He trotted to the edge
of the cage and thrust his nose between the bars, and a taunting
laugh rose out of Grouse Piet's throat. Then he began making a
circle of the cage, his sharp eyes on the silent ring of faces.
Taao stood in the centre of the cage, and not once did his reddish
eyes leave Miki. What was outside of the cage held small interest
for him. He understood his business, and murder was bred in his
heart. For a space during which Durant's heart beat like a hammer
Taao turned, as if on a pivot, following Miki's movement, and the
crest on his spine stood up like bristles.
Then Miki stopped, and in that moment Durant saw the end of all
his hopes. Without a sound the wolf-dog was at his opponent. A
bellow rose from Grouse Piet's lips. A deep breath passed through
the circle of spectators, and Durant felt a cold chill run up his
back to the roots of his hair. What happened in the next instant
made men's hearts stand still. In that first rush Miki should have
died. Grouse Piet expected him to die, and Durant expected him to
die. But in the last fractional bit of the second in which the
wolf-dog's jaws closed, Miki was transformed into a thing of
living lightning. No man had ever seen a movement swifter than
that with which he turned on Taao. Their jaws clashed. There was a
sickening grinding of bone, and in another moment they were
rolling and twisting together on the earth floor. Neither Grouse
Piet nor Durant could see what was happening. They forgot even
their own bets in the horror of that fight. Never had there been
such a fight at Fort O' God.
The sound of it reached to the Company's store. In the door,
looking toward the big cage, stood the young white man. He heard
the snarling, the clashing of teeth, and his jaws set heavily and
a dull flame burned in his eyes. His breath came in a sudden gasp.
"DAMN!" he cried, softly.
His hands clenched, and he stepped slowly down from the door and
went toward the cage. It was over when he made his way through the
ring of spectators. The fight had ended as suddenly as it had
begun, and Grouse Piet's wolf-dog lay in the centre of the cage
with a severed jugular. Miki looked as though he might be dying.
Durant had opened the door and had slipped a rope over his head,
and outside the cage Miki stood swaying on his feet, red with
blood, and half blind. His flesh was red and bleeding in a dozen
places, and a stream of blood trickled from his mouth. A cry of
horror rose to the young white man's lips as he looked down at
And then, almost in the same breath, there came a still stranger
"Good God! Miki--Miki--Miki--"
Beating upon his brain as if from a vast distance, coming to him
through the blindness of his wounds, Miki heard that voice.
The VOICE! THE voice that had lived with him in all his dreams,
the voice he had waited for, and searched for, and knew that some
day he would find. The voice of Challoner, his master!
He dropped on his belly, whining, trying to see through the film
of blood in his eyes; and lying there, wounded almost unto death,
his tail thumped the ground in recognition. And then, to the
amazement of all who beheld, Challoner was down upon his knees
beside him, and his arms were about him, and Miki's lacerated
tongue was reaching for his hands, his face, his clothes.
Durant's hand fell heavily upon Challoner's shoulder.
It was like the touch of a red-hot iron to Challoner. In a flash
he was on his feet, facing him.
"He's mine," Challoner cried, trying to hold back his passion.
"He's mine you--you devil!"
And then, powerless to hold back his desire for vengeance, his
clenched fist swung like a rock to Durant's heavy jaw, and the
Frenchman went to the ground. For a moment Challoner stood over
him, but he did not move. Fiercely he turned upon Grouse Piet and
the crowd. Miki was cringing at his feet again. Pointing to him,
Challoner cried loudly, so all could hear.
"He's my dog. Where this beast got him I don't know. But he's
mine. Look for yourselves! See--see him lick my hand. Would he do
that for HIM? And look at that ear. There's no other ear in all
the north cut like that. I lost him almost a year ago, but I'd
know him among ten thousand by that ear. By God!--if I had known--
He elbowed his way through the breeds and Indians, leading Miki by
the rope Durant had slipped over the dog's head. He went to
MacDonnell, and told him what had happened. He told of the
preceding spring, and of the accident in which Miki and the bear
cub were lost from his canoe and swept over the waterfall. After
registering his claim against whatever Durant might have to say he
went to the shack in which he was staying at Fort 0' God.
An hour later Challoner sat with Miki's big head between his two
hands, and talked to him. He had bathed and dressed his wounds,
and Miki could see. His eyes were on his master's face, and his
hard tail thumped the floor. Both were oblivious of the sounds of
the revellers outside; the cries of men, the shouting of boys, the
laughter of women, and the incessant barking of dogs. In
Challoner's eyes there was a soft glow.
"Miki, old boy, you haven't forgotten a thing--not a dam' thing,
have you? You were nothing but an onery-legged pup then, but you
didn't forget! Remember what I told you, that I was going to take
you and the cub down to the Girl? Do you remember? The Girl I said
was an angel, and 'd love you to death, and all that? Well, I'm
glad something happened--and you didn't go. It wasn't the same
when I got back, an' SHE wasn't the same, Miki. Lord, she'd got
married, AND HAD TWO KIDS! Think of that, old scout--TWO! How the
deuce could she have taken care of you and the cub, eh? And
nothing else was the same, Boy. Three years in God's Country--up
here where you burst your lungs just for the fun of drinking in
air--changed me a lot, I guess. Inside a week I wanted to come
back, Miki. Yessir, I was SICK to come back. So I came. And we're
going to stick now, Miki. You're going with me up to that new Post
the Company has given me. From now on we're pals. Understand, old
scout, we're PALS!"
It was late the night of the big feast at Post Fort O' God that
MacDonnell, the factor, sent for Challoner. Challoner was
preparing for bed when an Indian boy pounded on the door of his
shack and a moment later gave him the message. He looked at his
watch. It was eleven o'clock. What could the Factor want of him at
that hour, he wondered? Flat on his belly near the warm box stove
Miki watched his new-found master speculatively as he pulled on
his boots. His eyes were wide open now. Challoner had washed from
him the blood of the terrific fight of that afternoon.
"Something to do with that devil of a Durant," growled Challoner,
looking at the battle-scarred dog. "Well, if he hopes to get YOU
again, Miki, he's barking up the wrong tree. You're MINE!"
Miki thumped his hard tail on the floor and wriggled toward his
master in mute adoration. Together they went out into the night.
It was a night of white moonlight and a multitude of stars. The
four great fires over which the caribou had roasted for the savage
barbecue that day were still burning brightly. In the edge of the
forest that ringed in the Post were the smouldering embers of a
score of smaller fires. Back of these fires were faintly outlined
the gray shadows of teepees and tents. In these shelters the three
hundred halfbreeds and Indians who had come in from the forest
trails to the New Year carnival at the Post were sleeping. Only
here and there was there a movement of life. Even the dogs were
quiet after the earlier hours of excitement and gluttony.
Past the big fires, with their huge spits still standing,
Challoner passed toward the Factor's quarters. Miki sniffed at the
freshly picked bones. Beyond these bones there was no sign of the
two thousand pounds of flesh that had roasted that day on the
spits. Men, women, children, and dogs had stuffed themselves until
there was nothing left. It was the silence of Mutai--the "belly
god"--the god who eats himself to sleep each night--that hovered
strangely over this Post of Fort O' God, three hundred miles from
There was a light in the Factor's room, and Challoner entered with
Miki at his heels. MacDonnell, the Scotchman, was puffing moodily
on his pipe. There was a worried look in his ruddy face as the
younger man seated himself, and his eyes were on Miki.
"Durant has been here," he said. "He's ugly. I'm afraid of
trouble. If you hadn't struck him--"
Challoner shrugged his shoulders as he filled his own pipe from
the Factor's tobacco.
"You see--you don't just understand the situation at Fort 0' God,"
went on MacDonnell. "There's been a big dog fight here at New Year
for the last fifty years. It's become a part of history, a part of
Fort O' God itself, and that's why in my own fifteen years here I
haven't tried to stop it. I believe it would bring on a sort of--
revolution. I'd wager a half of my people would go to another post
with their furs. That's why all the sympathy seems to be with
Durant. Even Grouse Piet, his rival, tells him he's a fool to let
you get away with him that way. Durant says that dog is HIS."
MacDonnell nodded at Miki, lying at Challoner's feet.
"Then he lies," said Challoner quietly.
"He says he bought him of Jacques Le Beau."
"Then Le Beau sold a dog that didn't belong to him."
For a moment MacDonnell was silent. Then he said:
"But that wasn't what I had you come over for, Challoner. Durant
told me something that froze my blood to-night. Your outfit starts
for your post up in the Reindeer Lake county to-morrow, doesn't
"In the morning."
"Then could you, with one of my Indians and a team, arrange to
swing around by way of the Jackson's Knee? You'd lose a week, but
you could overtake your outfit before it reached the Reindeer--and
it would be a mighty big favour to me. There's a--a HELL of a
thing happened over there."
Again he looked at Miki.
"GAWD!" he breathed.
Challoner waited. He thought he saw a shudder pass through the
"I'd go myself--I ought to, but this frosted lung of mine has made
me sit tight this winter, Challoner. I OUGHT to go. Why--(a sudden
glow shot into his eyes)--I knew this Nanette Le Beau when she was
SO HIGH, fifteen years ago. I watched her grow up, Challoner. If I
hadn't been married--then--I'd have fallen in love with her. Do
you know her, Challoner? Did you ever see Nanette Le Beau?"
Challoner shook his head.
"An angel--if God ever made one," declared MacDonnell through his
red beard. "She lived over beyond the Jackson's Knee with her
father. And he died, froze to death crossing Red Eye Lake one
night. I've always thought Jacques Le Beau MADE her marry him
after that. Or else she didn't know, or was crazed, or frightened
at being alone. Anyway, she married him. It was five years ago I
saw her last. Now and then I've heard things, but I didn't
believe--not all of them. I didn't believe that Le Beau beat her,
and knocked her down when he wanted to. I didn't believe he
dragged her through the snow by her hair one day until she was
nearly dead. They were just rumours, and he was seventy miles
away. But I believe them now. Durant came from their place, and I
guess he told me a whole lot of the truth--to save that dog."
Again he looked at Miki.
"You see, Durant tells me that Le Beau caught the dog in one of
his traps, took him to his cabin, and tortured him into shape for
the big fight. When Durant came he was so taken with the dog that
he bought him, and it was while Le Beau was driving the dog mad in
his cage to show his temper that Nanette interfered. Le Beau
knocked her down, and then jumped on her and was pulling her hair
and choking her when the dog went for him and killed him. That's
the story. Durant told me the truth through fear that I'd have the
dog shot if he was an out-and-out murderer. And that's why I want
you to go by way of the Jackson's Knee. I want you to investigate,
and I want you to do what you can for Nanette Le Beau. My Indian
will bring her back to Port O' God."
With Scotch stoicism MacDonnell had repressed whatever excitement
he may have felt. He spoke quietly. But the curious shudder went
through his shoulders again. Challoner stared at him in blank
"You mean to say that Miki--this dog--has killed a man?"
"Yes. He killed him, Durant says, just as he killed Grouse Piet's
wolf-dog in the big fight to-day. UGH!" As Challoner's eyes fell
slowly upon Miki, the Factor added: "But Grouse Piet's dog was
better than the man. If what I hear about Le Beau was true he's
better dead than alive. Challoner, if you didn't think it too much
trouble, and could go that way--and see Nanette--"
"I'll go," said Challoner, dropping a hand to Miki's head.
For half an hour after that MacDonnell told him the things he knew
about Nanette Le Beau. When Challoner rose to go the Factor
followed him to the door.
"Keep your eyes open for Durant," he warned. "That dog is worth
more to him than all his winnings to-day, and they say his stakes
were big. He won heavily from Grouse Piet, but the halfbreed is
thick with him now. I know it. So watch out."
Out in the open space, in the light of the moon and stars,
Challoner stood far a moment with Miki's forepaws resting against
his breast. The dog's head was almost on a level with his
"D'ye remember when you fell out of the canoe, Boy?" he asked
softly. "Remember how you 'n' the cub were tied in the bow, an'
you got to scrapping and fell overboard just above the rapids?
Remember? By Jove! those rapids pretty near got ME, too. I thought
you were dead, sure--both of you. I wonder what happened to the
Miki whined in response, and his whole body trembled.
"And since then you've killed a man," added Challoner, as if he
still could not quite believe. "And I'm to take you back to the
woman. That's the funny thing about it. You're going back to HER,
and if she says kill you--"
He dropped Miki's forefeet and went on to the cabin. At the
threshold a low growl rose in Miki's throat. Challoner laughed,
and opened the door. They went in, and the dog's growl was a
menacing snarl. Challoner had left his lamp burning low, and in
the light of it he saw Henri Durant and Grouse Piet waiting for
him. He turned up the wick, and nodded.
"Good evening. Pretty late for a call, isn't it?"
Grouse Piet's stolid face did not change its expression. It struck
Challoner, as he glanced at him, that in head and shoulders he
bore a grotesque resemblance to a walrus. Durant's eyes were dully
ablaze. His face was swollen where Challoner had struck him. Miki,
stiffened to the hardness of a knot, and still snarling under his
breath, had crawled under Challoner's bunk. Durant pointed to him.
"We've come after that dog," he said.
"You can't have him, Durant," replied Challoner, trying hard to
make himself appear at ease in a situation that sent a chill up
his back. As he spoke he was making up his mind why Grouse Piet
had come with Durant. They were giants, both of them: more than
that--monsters. Instinctively he had faced them with the small
table between them. "I'm sorry I lost my temper out there," he
continued. "I shouldn't have struck you, Durant. It wasn't your
fault--and I apologize. But the dog is mine. I lost him over in
the Jackson's Knee country, and if Jacques Le Beau caught him in a
trap, and sold him to you, he sold a dog that didn't belong to
him. I'm willing to pay you back what you gave for him, just to be
fair. How much was it?"
Grouse Piet had risen to his feet. Durant came to the opposite
edge of the table, and leaned over it. Challoner wondered how a
single blow had knocked him down.
"Non, he is not for sale." Durant's voice was low; so low that it
seemed to choke him to get it out. It was filled with a repressed
hatred. Challoner saw the great cords of his knotted hands bulging
under the skin as he gripped the edge of the table. "M'sieu, we
have come for that dog. Will you let us take him?"
"I will pay you back what you gave for him, Durant. I will add to
"Non. He is mine. Will you give him back--NOW?"
Scarcely was the word out of his mouth when Durant flung his whole
weight and strength against the table. Challoner had not expected
the move--just yet. With a bellow of rage and hatred Durant was
upon him, and under the weight of the giant he crashed to the
floor. With them went the table and lamp. There was a vivid
splutter of flame and the cabin was in darkness, except where the
moon-light flooded through the one window. Challoner had looked
for something different. He had expected Durant to threaten before
he acted, and, sizing up the two of them, he had decided to reach
the edge of his bunk during the discussion. Under the pillow was
his revolver. It was too late now. Durant was on him, fumbling in
the darkness for his throat, and as he flung one arm upward to get
a hook around the Frenchman's neck he heard Grouse Piet throw the
table back. The next instant they were rolling in the moonlight on
the floor, and Challoner caught a glimpse of Grouse Piet's huge
bulk bending over them. Durant's head was twisted under his arm,
but one of the giant's hands had reached his throat. The halfbreed
saw this, and he cried out something in a guttural voice. With a
tremendous effort Challoner rolled himself and his adversary out
of the patch of light into darkness again. Durant's thick neck
cracked. Again Grouse Piet called out in that guttural,
questioning voice. Challoner put every ounce of his energy into
the crook of his arm, and Durant did not answer.
Then the weight of Grouse Piet fell upon them, and his great hands
groped for Challoner's neck. His thick fingers found Durant's
beard first, then fumbled for Challoner, and got their hold. Ten
seconds of their terrific grip would have broken his neck. But the
fingers never closed. A savage cry of agony burst from Grouse
Piet's lips, and with that cry, ending almost in a scream, came
the snap of great jaws and the rending snarl of fangs in the
darkness. Durant heard, and with a great heave of his massive body
he broke free from Challoner's grip, and leapt to his feet. In a
flash Challoner was at his bunk, facing his enemies with the
revolver in his hand.
Everything had happened quickly. Scarcely more than a minute had
passed since the overturning of the table, and now, in the moment
when the situation had turned in his favour, a sudden swift and
sickening horror seized upon Challoner. Bloody and terrible there
rose before him the one scene he had witnessed that day in the big
cage where Miki and the wolf-dog had fought. And there--in that
darkness of the cabin--
He heard a moaning cry and the crash of a body to the floor.
"Miki, Miki," he cried. "Here! Here!"
He dropped his revolver and sprang to the door, flinging it wide
"For God's sake get out!" he cried. "GET OUT!"
A bulk dashed past him into the night. He knew it was Durant. Then
he leapt to the dark shadows on the floor and dug his two hands
into the loose hide at the back of Miki's neck, dragging him back,
and shouting his name. He saw Grouse Piet crawling toward the
door. He saw him rise to his feet, silhouetted for a moment
against the starlight, and stagger out into the night. And then he
felt Miki's weight slinking down to the floor, and under his hands
the dog's muscles grew limp and saggy. For two or three minutes he
continued to kneel beside him before he closed the cabin door and
lighted another lamp. He set up the overturned table and placed
the lamp on it. Miki had not moved. He lay flat on his belly, his
head between his forepaws, looking up at Challoner with a mute
appeal in his eyes.
Challoner reached out his two arms.
In an instant Miki was up against him, his forefeet against his
breast, and with his arms about the dog's shoulders Challoner's
eyes took in the floor. On it were wet splashes and bits of torn
His arms closed more tightly.
"Miki, old boy, I'm much obliged," he said.
The next morning Challoner's outfit of three teams and four men
left north and west for the Reindeer Lake country on the journey
to his new post at the mouth of the Cochrane. An hour later
Challoner struck due west with a light sledge and a five-dog team
for the Jackson's Knee. Behind him followed one of MacDonnell's
Indians with the team that was to bring Nanette to Fort O' God.
He saw nothing more of Durant and Grouse Piet, and accepted
MacDonnell's explanation that they had undoubtedly left the Post
shortly after their assault upon him in the cabin. No doubt their
disappearance had been hastened by the fact that a patrol of the
Royal Northwest Mounted Police on its way to York Factory was
expected at Fort O' God that day.
Not until the final moment of departure was Miki brought from the
cabin and tied to the gee-bar of Challoner's sledge. When he saw
the five dogs squatted on their haunches he grew rigid and the old
snarl rose in his throat. Under Challoner's quieting words he
quickly came to understand that these beasts were not enemies, and
from a rather suspicious toleration of them he very soon began to
take a new sort of interest in them. It was a friendly team, bred
in the south and without the wolf strain.
Events had come to pass so swiftly and so vividly in Miki's life
during the past twenty-four hours that for many miles after they
left Fort O' God his senses were in an unsettled state of
anticipation. His brain was filled with a jumble of strange and
thrilling pictures. Very far away, and almost indistinct, were the
pictures of things that had happened before he was made a prisoner
by Jacques Le Beau. Even the memory of Neewa was fading under the
thrill of events at Nanette's cabin and at Fort O' God. The
pictures that blazed their way across his brain now were of men,
and dogs, and many other things that he had never seen before. His
world had suddenly transformed itself into a host of Henri Durants
and Grouse Piets and Jacques Le Beaus, two-legged beasts who had
clubbed him, and half killed him, and who had made him fight to
keep the life in his body. He had tasted their blood in his
vengeance. And he watched for them now. The pictures told him they
were everywhere. He could imagine them as countless as the wolves,
and as he had seen them crowded round the big cage in which he had
slain the wolf-dog.
In all of this excited and distorted world there was only one
Challoner, and one Nanette, and one baby. All else was a chaos of
uncertainty and of dark menace. Twice when the Indian came up
close behind them Miki whirled about with a savage snarl.
Challoner watched him, and understood.
Of the pictures in his brain one stood out above all others,
definite and unclouded, and that was the picture of Nanette. Yes,
even above Challoner himself. There lived in him the consciousness
of her gentle hands; her sweet, soft voice; the perfume of her
hair and clothes and body--the WOMAN of her; and a part of the
woman--as the hand is a part of the body--was the baby. It was
this part of Miki that Challoner could not understand, and which
puzzled him when they made camp that night. He sat for a long time
beside the fire trying to bring back the old comradeship of the
days of Miki's puppyhood. But he only partly succeeded. Miki was
restive. Every nerve in his body seemed on edge. Again and again
he faced the west, and always when he sniffed the air in that
direction there came a low whine in his throat.
That night, with doubt in his heart, Challoner fastened him near
the tent with a tough rope of babiche.
For a long time after Challoner had gone to bed Miki sat on his
haunches close to the spruce to which he was fastened. It must
have been ten o'clock, and the night was so still that the snap of
a dying ember in the fire was like the crack of a whip to his
ears. Miki's eyes were wide open and alert. Near the slowly
burning logs, wrapped in his thick blankets, he could make out the
motionless form of the Indian, asleep. Back of him the sledge-dogs
had wallowed their beds in the snow and were silent. The moon was
almost straight overhead, and a mile or two away a wolf pointed
his muzzle to the radiant glow of it and howled. The sound, like a
distant calling voice, added new fire to the growing thrill in
Miki's blood. He turned in the direction of the wailing voice. He
wanted to call back. He wanted to throw up his head and cry out to
the forests, and the moon, and the starlit sky. But only his jaws
clicked, and he looked at the tent in which Challoner was
sleeping. He dropped down upon his belly in the snow. But his head
was still alert and listening. The moon had already begun its
westward decline. The fire burned out until the logs were only a
dull and slumbering glow; the hand of Challoner's watch passed
midnight, and still Miki was wide-eyed and restless in the thrill
of the thing that was upon him. And then at last The Call that was
coming to him from out of the night became his master, and he
gnawed the babiche in two. It was the call of the Woman--of
Nanette and the baby.
In his freedom Miki sniffed at the edge of Challoner's tent. His
back sagged. His tail drooped. He knew that in this hour he was
betraying the master for whom he had waited so long, and who had
lived so vividly in his dreams. It was not reasoning, but an
instinctive oppression of fact. He would come back. That
conviction burned dully in his brain. But now--to-night--he must
go. He slunk off into the darkness. With the stealth of a fox he
made his way between the sleeping dogs. Not until he was a quarter
of a mile from the camp did he straighten out, and then a gray and
fleeting shadow he sped westward under the light of the moon.
There was no hesitation in the manner of his going. Free of the
pain of his wounds, strong-limbed, deep-lunged as the strongest
wolf of the forests, he went on tirelessly. Rabbits bobbing out of
his path did not make him pause; even the strong scent of a
fisher-cat almost under his nose did not swerve him a foot from
his trail. Through swamp and deep forest, over lake and stream,
across open barren and charred burns his unerring sense of
orientation led him on. Once he stopped to drink where the swift
current of a creek kept the water open. Even then he gulped in
haste--and shot on. The moon drifted lower and lower until it sank
into oblivion. The stars began to fade away The little ones went
out, and the big ones grew sleepy and dull. A great snow-ghostly
gloom settled over the forest world.
In the six hours between midnight and dawn he covered thirty-five
And then he stopped. Dropping on his belly beside a rock at the
crest of a ridge he watched the birth of day. With drooling jaws
and panting breath he rested, until at last the dull gold of the
winter sun began to paint the eastern sky. And then came the first
bars of vivid sunlight, shooting over the eastern ramparts as guns
flash from behind their battlements, and Miki rose to his feet and
surveyed the morning wonder of his world. Behind him was Fort O'
God, fifty miles away; ahead of him the cabin--twenty. It was the
cabin he faced as he went down from the ridge.
As the miles between him and the cabin grew fewer and fewer he
felt again something of the oppression that had borne upon him at
Challoner's tent. And yet it was different. He had run his race.
He had answered The Call. And now, at the end, he was seized by a
fear of what his welcome would be. For at the cabin he had killed
a man--and the man had belonged to the woman. His progress became
more hesitating. Mid-forenoon found him only half a mile from the
home of Nanette and the baby. His keen nostrils caught the faint
tang of smoke in the air. He did not follow it up, but circled
like a wolf, coming up stealthily and uncertainly until at last he
looked out into the little clearing where a new world had come
into existence for him. He saw the sapling cage in which Jacques
Le Beau had kept him a prisoner; the door of that cage was still
open, as Durant had left it after stealing him; he saw the
ploughed-up snow where he had leapt upon the man-brute--and he
He was facing the cabin door--and the door was wide open. He could
see no life, but he could SMELL it. And smoke was rising from the
chimney. He slunk across the open. In the manner of his going
there was an abject humiliation--a plea for mercy if he had done
wrong, a prayer to the creatures he worshipped that he might not
be driven away.
He came to the door, and peered in. The room was empty. Nanette
was not there. Then his ears shot forward and his body grew
suddenly tense, and he listened, listened, LISTENED to a soft,
cooing sound that was coming from the crib. He swallowed hard; the
faintest whine rose in his throat and his claws CLICKED, CLICKED,
CLICKED, across the floor and he thrust his great head over the
side of the little bed. The baby was there. With his warm tongue
he kissed it--just once--and then, with another deep breath, lay
down on the floor.
He heard footsteps. Nanette came in with her arms filled with
blankets; she carried these into the smaller room, and returned,
before she saw him. For a moment she stared. Then, with a strange
little cry, she ran to him; and once more he felt her arms about
him; and he cried like a puppy with his muzzle against her breast,
and Nanette laughed and sobbed, and in the crib the baby kicked
and squealed and thrust her tiny moccasined feet up into the air.
"Ao-oo tap-wa-mukun" ("When the devil goes heaven comes in,") say
the Crees. And with the death of Le Beau, her husband, the devil
had gone out of life for Nanette. She was more beautiful than
ever. Heaven was in the dark, pure glow of her eyes. She was no
longer like a dog under the club and the whip of a brute, and in
the re-birth of her soul she was glorious. Youth had come back to
her--freed from the yoke of oppression. She was happy. Happy with
her baby, with freedom, with the sun and the stars shining for her
again; and with new hope, the greatest star of all. Again on the
night of that first day of his return Miki crept up to her when
she was brushing her glorious hair. He loved to put his muzzle in
it; he loved the sweet scent of it; he loved to put his head on
her knees and feel it smothering him. And Nanette hugged him
tight, even as she hugged the baby, for it was Miki who had
brought her freedom, and hope, and life. What had passed was no
longer a tragedy. It was justice. God had sent Miki to do for her
what a father or a brother would have done.
And the second night after that, when Challoner came early in the
darkness, it happened that Nanette had her hair down in that same
way; and Challoner, seeing her thus, with the lampglow shining in
her eyes, felt that the world had taken a sudden swift turn under
his feet--that through all his years he had been working forward
to this hour.
With the coming of Challoner to the cabin of Nanette Le Beau there
was no longer a shadow of gloom in the world for Miki. He did not
reason out the wonder of it, nor did he have a foreboding for the
future. It was the present in which he lived--the precious hours
in which all the creatures he had ever loved were together. And
yet, away back in his memory of those things that had grown deep
in his soul, was the picture of Neewa, the bear; Neewa, his chum,
his brother, his fighting comrade of many battles, and he thought
of the cold and snow-smothered cavern at the top of the ridge in
which Neewa had buried himself in that long and mysterious sleep
that was so much like death. But it was in the present that he
lived. The hours lengthened themselves out into days, and still
Challoner did not go, nor did Nanette leave with the Indian for
Fort O' God. The Indian returned with a note for MacDonnell in
which Challoner told the Factor that something was the matter with
the baby's lungs, and that she could not travel until the weather,
which was intensely cold, grew warmer. He asked that the Indian be
sent back with certain supplies.
In spite of the terrific cold which followed the birth of the new
year Challoner had put up his tent in the edge of the timber a
hundred yards from the cabin, and Miki divided his time between
the cabin and the tent. For him they were glorious days. And for
In a way Miki saw, though it was impossible for him to comprehend.
As the days lengthened into a week, and the week into two, there
was something in the glow of Nanette's eyes that had never been
there before, and in the sweetness of her voice a new thrill, and
in her prayers at night the thankfulness of a new and great joy.
And then, one day, Miki looked up from where he was lying beside
the baby's crib and he saw Nanette in his master's arms, her face
turned up to him, her eyes filled with the glory of the stars, and
Challoner was saying something which transformed her face into the
face of an angel. Miki was puzzled. And he was more puzzled when
Challoner came from Nanette to the crib, and snuggled the baby up
in his arms; and the woman--looking at them both for a moment with
that wonderful look in her eyes--suddenly covered her face with
her hands and sobbed. Half a snarl rose in Miki's throat, but in
that moment Challoner had put his arm around Nanette too, and
Nanette's arms were about him and the baby, and she was sobbing
something which for the life of him Miki could make neither head
nor tail of. And yet he knew that he must not snarl or spring. He
felt the wonder-thrill of the new thing that had come into the
cabin; he gulped hard, and looked. A moment or two later Nanette
was on her knees beside him, and her arms were around him, just as
they had been around the man. And Challoner was dancing like a
boy--cooing to the baby in his arms. Then he, too, dropped down
beside Miki, and cried:
"My Gawd! Miki--I'VE GOT A FAM'LY!"
And Miki tried to understand.
That night, after supper, he saw Challoner unbraid Nanette's
glorious hair, and brush it. They laughed like two happy children.
Miki tried still harder to understand.
When Challoner went to go to his tent in the edge of the forest he
took Nanette in his arms, and kissed her, and stroked her shining
hair; and Nanette took his face between her hands and smiled and
almost cried in her joy.
After that Miki DID understand. He knew that happiness had come to
all who were in that cabin.
Now that his world was settled, Miki took once more to hunting.
The thrill of the trail came back to him, and wider and wider grew
his range from the cabin. Again he followed Le Beau's old
trapline. But the traps were sprung now. He had lost a great deal
of his old caution. He had grown fatter. He no longer scented
danger in every whiff of the wind. It was in the third week of
Challoner's stay at the cabin, the day which marked the end of the
cold spell and the beginning of warm weather, that Miki came upon
an old dead-fall in a swamp a full ten miles from the clearing. Le
Beau had set it for lynx, but nothing had touched the bait, which
was a chunk of caribou flesh, frozen solid as a rock. Curiously
Miki began smelling of it. He no longer feared danger. Menace had
gone out of his world. He nibbled. He pulled--and the log crashed
down to break his back. Only by a little did it fail. For twenty-
four hours it held him helpless and crippled. Then, fighting
through all those hours, he dragged himself out from under it.
With the rising temperature a soft snow had fallen, covering all
tracks and trails. Through this snow Miki dragged himself, leaving
a path like that of an otter in the mud, for his hind quarters
were helpless. His back was not broken; it was temporarily
paralyzed by the blow and the weight of the log.
He made in the direction of the cabin, but every foot that he
dragged himself was filled with agony, and his progress was so
slow that at the end of an hour he had not gone more than a
quarter of a mile. Another night found him less than two miles
from the deadfall. He pulled himself under a shelter of brush and
lay there until dawn. All through that day he did not move. The
next, which was the fourth since he had left the cabin to hunt,
the pain in his back was not so great. But he could pull himself
through the snow only a few yards at a time. Again the good spirit
of the forests favoured him for in the afternoon he came upon the
partly eaten carcass of a buck killed by the wolves. The flesh was
frozen but he gnawed at it ravenously. Then he found himself a
shelter under a mass of fallen tree-tops, and for ten days
thereafter he lay between life and death. He would have died had
it not been for the buck. To the carcass he managed to drag
himself, sometimes each day and sometimes every other day, and
kept himself from starving. It was the end of the second week
before he could stand well on his feet. The fifteenth day he
returned to the cabin.
In the edge of the clearing there fell upon him slowly a
foreboding of great change. The cabin was there. It was no
different than it had been fifteen days ago. But out of the
chimney there came no smoke, and the windows were white with
frost. About it the snow lay clean and white, like an unspotted
sheet. He made his way hesitatingly across the clearing to the
door. There were no tracks. Drifted snow was piled high over the
sill. He whined, and scratched at the door. There was no answer.
And he heard no sound.
He went back into the edge of the timber, and waited. He waited
all through that day, going occasionally to the cabin, and
smelling about it, to convince himself that he had not made a
mistake. When darkness came he hollowed himself out a bed in the
fresh snow close to the door and lay there all through the night.
Day came again, gray and empty and still there was no smoke from
the chimney or sound from within the log walls, and at last he
knew that Challoner and Nanette and the baby were gone. But he was
hopeful. He no longer listened for sound from within the cabin,
but watched and listened for them to come from out of the forest.
He made short quests, hunting now on this side and now on that of
the cabin, sniffing futilely at the fresh and trackless snow and
pointing the wind for minutes at a time. In the afternoon, with a
forlorn slouch to his body, he went deeper into the forest to hunt
for a rabbit. When he had killed and eaten his supper he returned
again and slept a second night in the burrow beside the door. A
third day and a third night he remained, and the third night he
heard the wolves howling under a clear and star-filled sky, and
from him there came his first cry--a yearning, grief-filled cry
that rose wailingly out of the clearing; the entreaty for his
master, for Nanette, and the baby. It was not an answer to the
wolves. In its note there was a trembling fear, the voicing of a
thing that had grown into hopelessness.
And now there settled upon him a loneliness greater than any
loneliness he had ever known. Something seemed to whisper to his
canine brain that all he had seen and felt had been but a dream,
and that he was face to face with his old world again, its
dangers, its vast and soul-breaking emptiness, its friendlessness,
its ceaseless strife for existence. His instincts, dulled by the
worship of what the cabin had held, became keenly alive. He sensed
again the sharp thrill of danger, which comes of ALONENESS, and
his old caution fell upon him, so that the fourth day he slunk
around the edge of the clearing like a wolf.
The fifth night he did not sleep in the clearing but found himself
a windfall a mile back in the forest. That night he had strange
and troubled dreams. They were not of Challoner, or of Nanette and
the baby, nor were they of the fight and the unforgettable things
he had seen at the Post. His dreams were of a high and barren
ridge smothered in deep snow, and of a cavern that was dark and
deep. Again he was with his brother and comrade of days that were
gone--Neewa the bear. He was trying to waken him, and he could
feel the warmth of his body and hear his sleepy, protesting
grunts. And then, later, he was fighting again in the paradise of
black currants, and with Neewa was running for his life from the
enraged she-bear who had invaded their coulee. When he awoke
suddenly from out of these dreams he was trembling and his muscles
were tense. He growled in the darkness. His eyes were round balls
of searching fire. He whined softly and yearningly in that pit of
gloom under the windfall, and for a moment or two he listened, for
he thought that Neewa might answer.
For a month after that night he remained near the cabin. At least
once each day, and sometimes at night, he would return to the
clearing. And more and more frequently he was thinking of Neewa.
Early in March came the Tiki-Swao--(the Big Thaw). For a week the
sun shone without a cloud in the sky. The air was warm. The snow
turned soft underfoot and on the sunny sides of slopes and ridges
it melted away into trickling streams or rolled down in "slides"
that were miniature avalanches. The world was vibrant with a new
thrill. It pulsed with the growing heart-beat of spring, and in
Miki's soul there arose slowly a new hope, a new impression a new
inspiration that was the thrilling urge of a wonderful instinct.
NEEWA WOULD BE WAKING NOW!
It came to him at last like a voice which he could understand. The
trickling music of the growing streams sang it to him; he heard it
in the warm winds that were no longer filled with the blast of
winter; he caught it in the new odours that were rising out of the
earth; he smelled it in the dank, sweet perfume of the black
woods-soil. The thing thrilled him. It called him. And he KNEW!
NEEWA WOULD BE WAKING NOW!
He responded to the call. It was in the nature of things that no
power less than physical force could hold him back. And yet he did
not travel as he had travelled from Challoner's camp to the cabin
of Nanette and the baby. There had been a definite object there,
something to achieve, something to spur him on to an immediate
fulfilment. Now the thing that drew him, at first, was an
overpowering impulse, not a reality. For two or three days his
trail westward was wandering and indefinite. Then it straightened
out, and early in the morning of the fifth day he came from a deep
forest into a plain, and across that plain he saw the ridge. For a
long time he gazed over the level space before he went on.
In his brain the pictures of Neewa were becoming clearer and
clearer. After all, it seemed only yesterday or the day before
that he had gone away from that ridge. Then it was smothered in
snow, and a gray, terrible gloom had settled upon the earth. Now
there was but little snow, and the sun was shining, and the sky
was blue again. He went on, and sniffed along the foot of the
ridge; he had not forgotten the way. He was not excited, because
time had ceased to have definite import for him. Yesterday he had
come down from that ridge, and to-day he was going back. He went
straight to the mouth of Neewa's den, which was uncovered now, and
thrust in his head and shoulders, and sniffed. Ah! but that lazy
rascal of a bear was a sleepy-head! He was still sleeping. Miki
could smell him. Listening hard, he could HEAR him.
He climbed over the low drift of snow that had packed itself in
the neck of the cavern and entered confidently into the darkness.
He heard a soft, sleepy grunt and a great sigh. He almost stumbled
over Neewa, who had changed his bed. Again Neewa grunted, and Miki
whined. He ran his muzzle into Neewa's fresh, new coat of spring
fur and smelled his way to Neewa's ear. After all, it was only
yesterday! And he remembered everything now! So he gave Neewa's
ear a sudden sharp nip with his teeth, and then he barked in that
low, throaty way that Neewa had always understood.
"Wake up, Neewa," it all said. "Wake up! The snow is gone, and
it's fine out to-day. WAKE UP!"
And Neewa, stretching himself, gave a great yawn.
Meshaba, the old Cree, sat on the sunny side of a rock on the
sunny side of a slope that looked up and down the valley. Meshaba
--who many, many years ago had been called The Giant--was very old.
He was so old that even the Factor's books over at Fort O' God had
no record of his birth; nor the "post logs" at Albany House, or
Cumberland House, or Norway House, or Fort Churchill. Perhaps
farther north, at Lac La Biche, at Old Fort Resolution, or at Fort
McPherson some trace of him might have been found. His skin was
crinkled and weather-worn, like dry buckskin, and over his brown,
thin face his hair fell to his shoulders, snow-white. His hands
were thin, even his nose was thin with the thinness of age. But
his eyes were still like dark garnets, and down through the
greater part of a century their vision had come undimmed.
They roved over the valley now. At Meshaba's back, a mile on the
other side of the ridge, was the old trapper's cabin, where he
lived alone. The winter had been long and cold, and in his
gladness at the coming of spring Meshaba had come up the ridge to
bask in the sun and look out over the changing world. For an hour
his eyes had travelled up and down the valley like the eyes of an
old and wary hawk. The dark spruce and cedar forest edged in the
far side of the valley; between that and the ridge rolled the
meadowy plain--still covered with melting snow in places, and in
others bare and glowing, a dull green in the sunlight. From where
he sat Meshaba could also see a rocky scarp of the ridge that
projected out into the plain a hundred yards away. But this did
not interest him, except that if it had not been in his line of
vision he could have seen a mile farther down the valley.
In that hour of Sphinx-like watching, while the smoke curled
slowly up from his black pipe, Meshaba had seen life. Half a mile
from where he was sitting a band of caribou had come out of the
timber and wandered into a less distant patch of low bush. They
had not thrilled his old blood with the desire to kill, for there
was already a fresh carcass hung up at the back of his cabin.
Still farther away he had seen a hornless moose, so grotesque in
its spring ugliness that the parchment-like skin of his face had
cracked for half an instant in a smile, and out of him had come a
low and appreciative grunt; for Meshaba, in spite of his age,
still had a sense of humour left. Once he had seen a wolf, and
twice a fox, and now his eyes were on an eagle high over his head.
Meshaba would not have shot that eagle, for year after year it had
come down through time with him, and it was always there soaring
in the sun when spring came. So Meshaba grunted as he watched it,
and was glad that Upisk had not died during the winter.
"Kata y ati sisew," he whispered to himself, a glow of
superstition in his fiery eyes. "We have lived long together, and
it is fated that we die together, Oh Upisk. The spring has come
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