BY JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
Author of The Danger Trail, Etc.
Illustrated by Gayle Hoskins and Frank Hoffman
I. THE MIRACLE
II. INTO THE NORTH
III. McCREADY PAYS THE DEBT
IV. FREE FROM BONDS
V. THE FIGHT IN THE SNOW
VII. OUT OF THE BLIZZARD
VIII. THE GREAT CHANGE
IX. THE TRAGEDY ON SUN ROCK
X. THE DAYS OF FIRE
XI. ALWAYS TWO BY TWO
XII. THE RED DEATH
XIII. THE TRAIL OF HUNGER
XIV. THE RIGHT OF FANG
XV. A FIGHT UNDER THE STARS
XVI. THE CALL
XVII. HIS SON
XVIII. THE EDUCATION OF BA-REE
XIX. THE USURPERS
XX. A FEUD IN THE WILDERNESS
XXI. A SHOT ON THE SAND-BAR
XXII. SANDY'S METHOD
XXIII. PROFESSOR McGILL
XXIV. ALONE IN DARKNESS
XXV. THE LAST OF McTRIGGER
XXVI. AN EMPTY WORLD
XXVII. THE CALL OF SUN ROCK
Kazan lay mute and motionless, his gray nose between his forepaws, his eyes half closed. A rock could have appeared scarcely less lifeless than he; not a muscle twitched; not a hair moved; not an eyelid quivered. Yet every drop of the wild blood in his splendid body was racing in a ferment of excitement that Kazan had never before experienced; every nerve and fiber of his wonderful muscles was tense as steel wire. Quarter-strain wolf, three-quarters "husky," he had lived the four years of his life in the wilderness. He had felt the pangs of starvation. He knew what it meant to freeze. He had listened to the wailing winds of the long Arctic night over the barrens. He had heard the thunder of the torrent and the cataract, and had cowered under the mighty crash of the storm. His throat and sides were scarred by battle, and his eyes were red with the blister of the snows. He was called Kazan, the Wild Dog, because he was a giant among his kind and as fearless, even, as the men who drove him through the perils of a frozen world.
He had never known fear—until now. He had never felt in him before the desire to run—not even on that terrible day in the forest when he had fought and killed the big gray lynx. He did not know what it was that frightened him, but he knew that he was in another world, and that many things in it startled and alarmed him. It was his first glimpse of civilization. He wished that his master would come back into the strange room where he had left him. It was a room filled with hideous things. There were great human faces on the wall, but they did not move or speak, but stared at him in a way he had never seen people look before. He remembered having looked on a master who lay very quiet and very cold in the snow, and he had sat back on his haunches and wailed forth the death song; but these people on the walls looked alive, and yet seemed dead.
Suddenly Kazan lifted his ears a little. He heard steps, then low voices. One of them was his master's voice. But the other—it sent a little tremor through him! Once, so long ago that it must have been in his puppyhood days, he seemed to have had a dream of a laugh that was like the girl's laugh—a laugh that was all at once filled with a wonderful happiness, the thrill of a wonderful love, and a sweetness that made Kazan lift his head as they came in. He looked straight at them, his red eyes gleaming. At once he knew that she must be dear to his master, for his master's arm was about her. In the glow of the light he saw that her hair was very bright, and that there was the color of the crimson bakneesh vine in her face and the blue of the bakneesh flower in her shining eyes. Suddenly she saw him, and with a little cry darted toward him.
"Stop!" shouted the man. "He's dangerous! Kazan—"
She was on her knees beside him, all fluffy and sweet and beautiful, her eyes shining wonderfully, her hands about to touch him. Should he cringe back? Should he snap? Was she one of the things on the wall, and his enemy? Should he leap at her white throat? He saw the man running forward, pale as death. Then her hand fell upon his head and the touch sent a thrill through him that quivered in every nerve of his body. With both hands she turned up his head. Her face was very close, and he heard her say, almost sobbingly:
"And you are Kazan—dear old Kazan, my Kazan, my hero dog—who brought him home to me when all the others had died! My Kazan—my hero!"
And then, miracle of miracles, her face was crushed down against him, and he felt her sweet warm touch.
In those moments Kazan did not move. He scarcely breathed. It seemed a long time before the girl lifted her face from him. And when she did, there were tears in her blue eyes, and the man was standing above them, his hands gripped tight, his jaws set.
"I never knew him to let any one touch him—with their naked hand," he said in a tense wondering voice. "Move back quietly, Isobel. Good heaven—look at that!"
Kazan whined softly, his bloodshot eyes on the girl's face. He wanted to feel her hand again; he wanted to touch her face. Would they beat him with a club, he wondered, if he dared! He meant no harm now. He would kill for her. He cringed toward her, inch by inch, his eyes never faltering. He heard what the man said—"Good heaven! Look at that!"—and he shuddered. But no blow fell to drive him back. His cold muzzle touched her filmy dress, and she looked at him, without moving, her wet eyes blazing like stars.
"See!" she whispered. "See!"
Half an inch more—an inch, two inches, and he gave his big gray body a hunch toward her. Now his muzzle traveled slowly upward—over her foot, to her lap, and at last touched the warm little hand that lay there. His eyes were still on her face: he saw a queer throbbing in her bare white throat, and then a trembling of her lips as she looked up at the man with a wonderful look. He, too, knelt down beside them, and put his arm about the girl again, and patted the dog on his head. Kazan did not like the man's touch. He mistrusted it, as nature had taught him to mistrust the touch of all men's hands, but he permitted it because he saw that it in some way pleased the girl.
"Kazan, old boy, you wouldn't hurt her, would you?" said his master softly. "We both love her, don't we, boy? Can't help it, can we? And she's ours, Kazan, all ours! She belongs to you and to me, and we're going to take care of her all our lives, and if we ever have to we'll fight for her like hell—won't we? Eh, Kazan, old boy?"
For a long time after they left him where he was lying on the rug, Kazan's eyes did not leave the girl. He watched and listened—and all the time there grew more and more in him the craving to creep up to them and touch the girl's hand, or her dress, or her foot. After a time his master said something, and with a little laugh the girl jumped up and ran to a big, square, shining thing that stood crosswise in a corner, and which had a row of white teeth longer than his own body. He had wondered what those teeth were for. The girl's fingers touched them now, and all the whispering of winds that he had ever heard, all the music of the waterfalls and the rapids and the trilling of birds in spring-time, could not equal the sounds they made. It was his first music. For a moment it startled and frightened him, and then he felt the fright pass away and a strange tingling in his body. He wanted to sit back on his haunches and howl, as he had howled at the billion stars in the skies on cold winter nights. But something kept him from doing that. It was the girl. Slowly he began slinking toward her. He felt the eyes of the man upon him, and stopped. Then a little more—inches at a time, with his throat and jaw straight out along the floor! He was half-way to her—half-way across the room—when the wonderful sounds grew very soft and very low.
"Go on!" he heard the man urge in a low quick voice. "Go on! Don't stop!"
The girl turned her head, saw Kazan cringing there on the floor, and continued to play. The man was still looking, but his eyes could not keep Kazan back now. He went nearer, still nearer, until at last his outreaching muzzle touched her dress where it lay piled on the floor. And then—he lay trembling, for she had begun to sing. He had heard a Cree woman crooning in front of her tepee; he had heard the wild chant of the caribou song—but he had never heard anything like this wonderful sweetness that fell from the lips of the girl. He forgot his master's presence now. Quietly, cringingly, so that she would not know, he lifted his head. He saw her looking at him; there was something in her wonderful eyes that gave him confidence, and he laid his head in her lap. For the second time he felt the touch of a woman's hand, and he closed his eyes with a long sighing breath. The music stopped. There came a little fluttering sound above him, like a laugh and a sob in one. He heard his master cough.
"I've always loved the old rascal—but I never thought he'd do that," he said; and his voice sounded queer to Kazan.
INTO THE NORTH
Wonderful days followed for Kazan. He missed the forests and deep snows. He missed the daily strife of keeping his team-mates in trace, the yapping at his heels, the straight long pull over the open spaces and the barrens. He missed the "Koosh—koosh—Hoo-yah!" of the driver, the spiteful snap of his twenty-foot caribou-gut whip, and that yelping and straining behind him that told him he had his followers in line. But something had come to take the place of that which he missed. It was in the room, in the air all about him, even when the girl or his master was not near. Wherever she had been, he found the presence of that strange thing that took away his loneliness. It was the woman scent, and sometimes it made him whine softly when the girl herself was actually with him. He was not lonely, nights, when he should have been out howling at the stars. He was not lonely, because one night he prowled about until he found a certain door, and when the girl opened that door in the morning she found him curled up tight against it. She had reached down and hugged him, the thick smother of her long hair falling all over him in a delightful perfume; thereafter she placed a rug before the door for him to sleep on. All through the long nights he knew that she was just beyond the door, and he was content. Each day he thought less and less of the wild places, and more of her.
Then there came the beginning of the change. There was a strange hurry and excitement around him, and the girl paid less attention to him. He grew uneasy. He sniffed the change in the air, and he began to study his master's face. Then there came the morning, very early, when the babiche collar and the iron chain were fastened to him again. Not until he had followed his master out through the door and into the street did he begin to understand. They were sending him away! He sat suddenly back on his haunches and refused to budge.
"Come, Kazan," coaxed the man. "Come on, boy."
He hung back and showed his white fangs. He expected the lash of a whip or the blow of a club, but neither came. His master laughed and took him back to the house. When they left it again, the girl was with them and walked with her hand touching his head. It was she who persuaded him to leap up through a big dark hole into the still darker interior of a car, and it was she who lured him to the darkest corner of all, where his master fastened his chain. Then they went out, laughing like two children. For hours after that, Kazan lay still and tense, listening to the queer rumble of wheels under him. Several times those wheels stopped, and he heard voices outside. At last he was sure that he heard a familiar voice, and he strained at his chain and whined. The closed door slid back. A man with a lantern climbed in, followed by his master. He paid no attention to them, but glared out through the opening into the gloom of night. He almost broke loose when he leaped down upon the white snow, but when he saw no one there, he stood rigid, sniffing the air. Over him were the stars he had howled at all his life, and about him were the forests, black and silent, shutting them in like a wall. Vainly he sought for that one scent that was missing, and Thorpe heard the low note of grief in his shaggy throat. He took the lantern and held it above his head, at the same time loosening his hold on the leash. At that signal there came a voice from out of the night. It came from behind them, and Kazan whirled so suddenly that the loosely held chain slipped from the man's hand. He saw the glow of other lanterns. And then, once more, the voice—
He was off like a bolt. Thorpe laughed to himself as he followed.
"The old pirate!" he chuckled.
When he came to the lantern-lighted space back of the caboose, Thorpe found Kazan crouching down at a woman's feet. It was Thorpe's wife. She smiled triumphantly at him as he came up out of the gloom.
"You've won!" he laughed, not unhappily. "I'd have wagered my last dollar he wouldn't do that for any voice on earth. You've won! Kazan, you brute, I've lost you!"
His face suddenly sobered as Isobel stooped to pick up the end of the chain.
"He's yours, Issy," he added quickly, "but you must let me care for him until—we know. Give me the chain. I won't trust him even now. He's a wolf. I've seen him take an Indian's hand off at a single snap. I've seen him tear out another dog's jugular in one leap. He's an outlaw—a bad dog—in spite of the fact that he hung to me like a hero and brought me out alive. I can't trust him. Give me the chain—"
He did not finish. With the snarl of a wild beast Kazan had leaped to his feet. His lips drew up and bared his long fangs. His spine stiffened, and with a sudden cry of warning, Thorpe dropped a hand to the revolver at his belt.
Kazan paid no attention to him. Another form had approached out of the night, and stood now in the circle of illumination made by the lanterns. It was McCready, who was to accompany Thorpe and his young wife back to the Red River camp, where Thorpe was in charge of the building of the new Trans-continental. The man was straight, powerfully built and clean shaven. His jaw was so square that it was brutal, and there was a glow in his eyes that was almost like the passion in Kazan's as he looked at Isobel.
Her red and white stocking-cap had slipped free of her head and was hanging over her shoulder. The dull blaze of the lanterns shone in the warm glow of her hair. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes, suddenly turned to him, were as blue as the bluest bakneesh flower and glowed like diamonds. McCready shifted his gaze, and instantly her hand fell on Kazan's head. For the first time the dog did not seem to feel her touch. He still snarled at McCready, the rumbling menace in his throat growing deeper. Thorpe's wife tugged at the chain.
"Down, Kazan—down!" she commanded.
At the sound of her voice he relaxed.
"Down!" she repeated, and her free hand fell on his head again. He slunk to her feet. But his lips were still drawn back. Thorpe was watching him. He wondered at the deadly venom that shot from the wolfish eyes, and looked at McCready. The big guide had uncoiled his long dog-whip. A strange look had come into his face. He was staring hard at Kazan. Suddenly he leaned forward, with both hands on his knees, and for a tense moment or two he seemed to forget that Isobel Thorpe's wonderful blue eyes were looking at him.
That one word—charge—was taught only to the dogs in the service of the Northwest Mounted Police. Kazan did not move. McCready straightened, and quick as a shot sent the long lash of his whip curling out into the night with a crack like a pistol report.
The rumble in Kazan's throat deepened to a snarling growl, but not a muscle of his body moved. McCready turned to Thorpe.
"I could have sworn that I knew that dog," he said. "If it's Pedro, he's bad!"
Thorpe was taking the chain. Only the girl saw the look that came for an instant into McCready's face. It made her shiver. A few minutes before, when the train had first stopped at Les Pas, she had offered her hand to this man and she had seen the same thing then. But even as she shuddered she recalled the many things her husband had told her of the forest people. She had grown to love them, to admire their big rough manhood and loyal hearts, before he had brought her among them; and suddenly she smiled at McCready, struggling to overcome that thrill of fear and dislike.
"He doesn't like you," she laughed at him softly. "Won't you make friends with him?"
She drew Kazan toward him, with Thorpe holding the end of the chain. McCready came to her side as she bent over the dog. His back was to Thorpe as he hunched down. Isobel's bowed head was within a foot of his face. He could see the glow in her cheek and the pouting curve of her mouth as she quieted the low rumbling in Kazan's throat. Thorpe stood ready to pull back on the chain, but for a moment McCready was between him and his wife, and he could not see McCready's face. The man's eyes were not on Kazan. He was staring at the girl.
"You're brave," he said. "I don't dare do that. He would take off my hand!"
He took the lantern from Thorpe and led the way to a narrow snow-path branching off, from the track. Hidden back in the thick spruce was the camp that Thorpe had left a fortnight before. There were two tents there now in place of the one that he and his guide had used. A big fire was burning in front of them. Close to the fire was a long sledge, and fastened to trees just within the outer circle of firelight Kazan saw the shadowy forms and gleaming eyes of his team-mates. He stood stiff and motionless while Thorpe fastened him to a sledge. Once more he was back in his forests—and in command. His mistress was laughing and clapping her hands delightedly in the excitement of the strange and wonderful life of which she had now become a part. Thorpe had thrown back the flap of their tent, and she was entering ahead of him. She did not look back. She spoke no word to him. He whined, and turned his red eyes on McCready.
In the tent Thorpe was saying:
"I'm sorry old Jackpine wouldn't go back with us, Issy. He drove me down, but for love or money I couldn't get him to return. He's a Mission Indian, and I'd give a month's salary to have you see him handle the dogs. I'm not sure about this man McCready. He's a queer chap, the Company's agent here tells me, and knows the woods like a book. But dogs don't like a stranger. Kazan isn't going to take to him worth a cent!"
Kazan heard the girl's voice, and stood rigid and motionless listening to it. He did not hear or see McCready when he came up stealthily behind him. The man's voice came as suddenly as a shot at his heels.
In an instant Kazan cringed as if touched by a lash.
"Got you that time—didn't I, you old devil!" whispered McCready, his face strangely pale in the firelight. "Changed your name, eh? But I got you—didn't I?"
McCREADY PAYS THE DEBT
For a long time after he had uttered those words McCready sat in silence beside the fire. Only for a moment or two at a time did his eyes leave Kazan. After a little, when he was sure that Thorpe and Isobel had retired for the night, he went into his own tent and returned with a flask of whisky. During the next half-hour he drank frequently. Then he went over and sat on the end of the sledge, just beyond the reach of Kazan's chain.
"Got you, didn't I?" he repeated, the effect of the liquor beginning to show in the glitter of his eyes. "Wonder who changed your name, Pedro. And how the devil did he come by you? Ho, ho, if you could only talk—"
They heard Thorpe's voice inside the tent. It was followed by a low girlish peal of laughter, and McCready jerked himself erect. His face blazed suddenly red, and he rose to his feet, dropping the flask in his coat pocket. Walking around the fire, he tiptoed cautiously to the shadow of a tree close to the tent and stood there for many minutes listening. His eyes burned with a fiery madness when he returned to the sledge and Kazan. It was midnight before he went into his own tent.
In the warmth of the fire, Kazan's eyes slowly closed. He slumbered uneasily, and his brain was filled with troubled pictures. At times he was fighting, and his jaws snapped. At others he was straining at the end of his chain, with McCready or his mistress just out of reach. He felt the gentle touch of the girl's hand again and heard the wonderful sweetness of her voice as she sang to him and his master, and his body trembled and twitched with the thrills that had filled him that night. And then the picture changed. He was running at the head of a splendid team—six dogs of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police—and his master was calling him Pedro! The scene shifted. They were in camp. His master was young and smooth-faced and he helped from the sledge another man whose hands were fastened in front of him by curious black rings. Again it was later—and he was lying before a great fire. His master was sitting opposite him, with his back to a tent, and as he looked, there came out of the tent the man with the black rings—only now the rings were gone and his hands were free, and in one of them he carried a heavy club. He heard the terrible blow of the club as it fell on his master's head—and the sound of it aroused him from his restless sleep.
He sprang to his feet, his spine stiffening and a snarl in his throat. The fire had died down and the camp was in the darker gloom that precedes dawn. Through that gloom Kazan saw McCready. Again he was standing close to the tent of his mistress, and he knew now that this was the man who had worn the black iron rings, and that it was he who had beaten him with whip and club for many long days after he had killed his master. McCready heard the menace in his throat and came back quickly to the fire. He began to whistle and draw the half-burned logs together, and as the fire blazed up afresh he shouted to awaken Thorp and Isobel. In a few minutes Thorpe appeared at the tent-flap and his wife followed him out. Her loose hair rippled in billows of gold about her shoulders and she sat down on the sledge, close to Kazan, and began brushing it. McCready came up behind her and fumbled among the packages on the sledge. As if by accident one of his hands buried itself for an instant in the rich tresses that flowed down her back. She did not at first feel the caressing touch of his fingers, and Thorpe's back was toward them.
Only Kazan saw the stealthy movement of the hand, the fondling clutch of the fingers in her hair, and the mad passion burning in the eyes of the man. Quicker than a lynx, the dog had leaped the length of his chain across the sledge. McCready sprang back just in time, and as Kazan reached the end of his chain he was jerked back so that his body struck sidewise against the girl. Thorpe had turned in time to see the end of the leap. He believed that Kazan had sprung at Isobel, and in his horror no word or cry escaped his lips as he dragged her from where she had half fallen over the sledge. He saw that she was not hurt, and he reached for his revolver. It was in his holster in the tent. At his feet was McCready's whip, and in the passion of the moment he seized it and sprang upon Kazan. The dog crouched in the snow. He made no move to escape or to attack. Only once in his life could he remember having received a beating like that which Thorpe inflicted upon him now. But not a whimper or a growl escaped him.
And then, suddenly, his mistress ran forward and caught the whip poised above Thorpe's head.
"Not another blow!" she cried, and something in her voice held him from striking. McCready did not hear what she said then, but a strange look came into Thorpe's eyes, and without a word he followed his wife into their tent.
"Kazan did not leap at me," she whispered, and she was trembling with a sudden excitement. Her face was deathly white. "That man was behind me," she went on, clutching her husband by the arm. "I felt him touch me—and then Kazan sprang. He wouldn't bite me. It's the man! There's something—wrong—"
She was almost sobbing, and Thorpe drew her close in his arms.
"I hadn't thought before—but it's strange," he said. "Didn't McCready say something about knowing the dog? It's possible. Perhaps he's had Kazan before and abused him in a way that the dog has not forgotten. To-morrow I'll find out. But until I know—will you promise to keep away from Kazan?"
Isobel gave the promise. When they came out from the tent Kazan lifted his great head. The stinging lash had closed one of his eyes and his mouth was dripping blood. Isobel gave a low sob, but did not go near him. Half blinded, he knew that his mistress had stopped his punishment, and he whined softly, and wagged his thick tail in the snow.
Never had he felt so miserable as through the long hard hours of the day that followed, when he broke the trail for his team-mates into the North. One of his eyes was closed and filled with stinging fire, and his body was sore from the blows of the caribou lash. But it was not physical pain that gave the sullen droop to his head and robbed his body of that keen quick alertness of the lead-dog—the commander of his mates. It was his spirit. For the first time in his life, it was broken. McCready had beaten him—long ago; his master had beaten him; and during all this day their voices were fierce and vengeful in his ears. But it was his mistress who hurt him most. She held aloof from him, always beyond they reach of his leash; and when they stopped to rest, and again in camp, she looked at him with strange and wondering eyes, and did not speak. She, too, was ready to beat him. He believed that, and so slunk away from her and crouched on his belly in the snow. With him, a broken spirit meant a broken heart, and that night he lurked in one of the deepest shadows about the camp-fire and grieved alone. None knew that it was grief—unless it was the girl. She did not move toward him. She did not speak to him. But she watched him closely—and studied him hardest when he was looking at McCready.
Later, after Thorpe and his wife had gone into their tent, it began to snow, and the effect of the snow upon McCready puzzled Kazan. The man was restless, and he drank frequently from the flask that he had used the night before. In the firelight his face grew redder and redder, and Kazan could see the strange gleam of his teeth as he gazed at the tent in which his mistress was sleeping. Again and again he went close to that tent, and listened. Twice he heard movement. The last time, it was the sound of Thorpe's deep breathing. McCready hurried back to the fire and turned his face straight up to the sky. The snow was falling so thickly that when he lowered his face he blinked and wiped his eyes. Then he went out into the gloom and bent low over the trail they had made a few hours before. It was almost obliterated by the falling snow. Another hour and there would be no trail—nothing the next day to tell whoever might pass that they had come this way. By morning it would cover everything, even the fire, if he allowed it to die down. McCready drank again, out in the darkness. Low words of an insane joy burst from his lips. His head was hot with a drunken fire. His heart beat madly, but scarcely more furiously than did Kazan's when the dog saw that McCready was returning with a club! The club he placed on end against a tree. Then he took a lantern from the sledge and lighted it. He approached Thorpe's tent-flap, the lantern in his hand.
"Ho, Thorpe—Thorpe!" he called.
There was no answer. He could hear Thorpe breathing. He drew the flap aside a little, and raised his voice.
Still there was no movement inside, and he untied the flap strings and thrust in his lantern. The light flashed on Isobel's golden head, and McCready stared at it, his eyes burning like red coals, until he saw that Thorpe was awakening. Quickly he dropped the flap and rustled it from the outside.
"Ho, Thorpe!—Thorpe!" he called again.
This time Thorpe replied.
"Hello, McCready—is that you?"
McCready drew the flap back a little, and spoke in a low voice.
"Yes. Can you come out a minute? Something's happening out in the woods. Don't wake up your wife!"
He drew back and waited. A minute later Thorpe came quietly out of the tent. McCready pointed into the thick spruce.
"I'll swear there's some one nosing around the camp," he said. "I'm certain that I saw a man out there a few minutes ago, when I went for a log. It's a good night for stealing dogs. Here—you take the lantern! If I wasn't clean fooled, we'll find a trail in the snow."
He gave Thorpe the lantern and picked up the heavy club. A growl rose in Kazan's throat, but he choked it back. He wanted to snarl forth his warning, to leap at the end of his leash, but he knew that if he did that, they would return and beat him. So he lay still, trembling and shivering, and whining softly. He watched them until they disappeared—and then waited—listened. At last he heard the crunch of snow. He was not surprised to see McCready come back alone. He had expected him to return alone. For he knew what a club meant!
McCready's face was terrible now. It was like a beast's. He was hatless. Kazan slunk deeper in his shadow at the low horrible laugh that fell from his lips—for the man still held the club. In a moment he dropped that, and approached the tent. He drew back the flap and peered in. Thorpe's wife was sleeping, and as quietly as a cat he entered and hung the lantern on a nail in the tent-pole. His movement did not awaken her, and for a few moments he stood there, staring—staring.
Outside, crouching in the deep shadow, Kazan tried to fathom the meaning of these strange things that were happening. Why had his master and McCready gone out into the forest? Why had not his master returned? It was his master, and not McCready, who belonged in that tent. Then why was McCready there? He watched McCready as he entered, and suddenly the dog was on his feet, his back tense and bristling, his limbs rigid. He saw McCready's huge shadow on the canvas, and a moment later there came a strange piercing cry. In the wild terror of that cry he recognized her voice—and he leaped toward the tent. The leash stopped him, choking the snarl in his throat. He saw the shadows struggling now, and there came cry after cry. She was calling to his master, and with his master's name she was calling him!
He leaped again, and was thrown upon his back. A second and a third time he sprang the length of the leash into the night, and the babiche cord about his neck cut into his flesh like a knife. He stopped for an instant, gasping for breath. The shadows were still fighting. Now they were upright! Now they were crumpling down! With a fierce snarl he flung his whole weight once more at the end of the chain. There was a snap, as the thong about his neck gave way.
In half a dozen bounds Kazan made the tent and rushed under the flap. With a snarl he was at McCready's throat. The first snap of his powerful jaws was death, but he did not know that. He knew only that his mistress was there, and that he was fighting for her. There came one choking gasping cry that ended with a terrible sob; it was McCready. The man sank from his knees upon his back, and Kazan thrust his fangs deeper into his enemy's throat; he felt the warm blood.
The dog's mistress was calling to him now. She was pulling at his shaggy neck. But he would not loose his hold—not for a long time. When he did, his mistress looked down once upon the man and covered her face with her hands. Then she sank down upon the blankets. She was very still. Her face and hands were cold, and Kazan muzzled them tenderly. Her eyes were closed. He snuggled up close against her, with his ready jaws turned toward the dead man. Why was she so still, he wondered?
A long time passed, and then she moved. Her eyes opened. Her hand touched him.
Then he heard a step outside.
It was his master, and with that old thrill of fear—fear of the club—he went swiftly to the door. Yes, there was his master in the firelight—and in his hand he held the club. He was coming slowly, almost falling at each step, and his face was red with blood. But he had the club! He would beat him again—beat him terribly for hurting McCready; so Kazan slipped quietly under the tent-flap and stole off into the shadows. From out the gloom of the thick spruce he looked back, and a low whine of love and grief rose and died softly in his throat. They would beat him always now—after that. Even she would beat him. They would hunt him down, and beat him when they found him.
From out of the glow of the fire he turned his wolfish head to the depths of the forest. There were no clubs or stinging lashes out in that gloom. They would never find him there.
For another moment he wavered. And then, as silently as one of the wild creatures whose blood was partly his, he stole away into the blackness of the night.
FREE FROM BONDS
There was a low moaning of the wind in the spruce-tops as Kazan slunk off into the blackness and mystery of the forest. For hours he lay near the camp, his red and blistered eyes gazing steadily at the tent wherein the terrible thing had happened a little while before.
He knew now what death was. He could tell it farther than man. He could smell it in the air. And he knew that there was death all about him, and that he was the cause of it. He lay on his belly in the deep snow and shivered, and the three-quarters of him that was dog whined in a grief-stricken way, while the quarter that was wolf still revealed itself menacingly in his fangs, and in the vengeful glare of his eyes.
Three times the man—his master—came out of the tent, and shouted loudly, "Kazan—Kazan—Kazan!"
Three times the woman came with him. In the firelight Kazan could see her shining hair streaming about her, as he had seen it in the tent, when he had leaped up and killed the other man. In her blue eyes there was the same wild terror, and her face was white as the snow. And the second and third time, she too called, "Kazan—Kazan—Kazan!"—and all that part of him that was dog, and not wolf, trembled joyously at the sound of her voice, and he almost crept in to take his beating. But fear of the club was the greater, and he held back, hour after hour, until now it was silent again in the tent, and he could no longer see their shadows, and the fire was dying down.
Cautiously he crept out from the thick gloom, working his way on his belly toward the packed sledge, and what remained of the burned logs. Beyond that sledge, hidden in the darkness of the trees, was the body of the man he had killed, covered with a blanket. Thorpe, his master, had dragged it there.
He lay down, with his nose to the warm coals and his eyes leveled between his forepaws, straight at the closed tent-flap. He meant to keep awake, to watch, to be ready to slink off into the forest at the first movement there. But a warmth was rising from out of the gray ash of the fire-bed, and his eyes closed. Twice—three times—he fought himself back into watchfulness; but the last time his eyes came only half open, and closed heavily again.
And now, in his sleep, he whined softly, and the splendid muscles of his legs and shoulders twitched, and sudden shuddering ripples ran along his tawny spine. Thorpe, who was in the tent, if he had seen him, would have known that he was dreaming. And Thorpe's wife, whose golden head lay close against his breast, and who shuddered and trembled now and then even as Kazan was doing, would have known what he was dreaming about.
In his sleep he was leaping again at the end of his chain. His jaws snapped like castanets of steel,—and the sound awakened him, and he sprang to his feet, his spine as stiff as a brush, and his snarling fangs bared like ivory knives. He had awakened just in time. There was movement in the tent. His master was awake, and if he did not escape—
He sped swiftly into the thick spruce, and paused, flat and hidden, with only his head showing from behind a tree. He knew that his master would not spare him. Three times Thorpe had beaten him for snapping at McCready. The last time he would have shot him if the girl had not saved him. And now he had torn McCready's throat. He had taken the life from him, and his master would not spare him. Even the woman could not save him.
Kazan was sorry that his master had returned, dazed and bleeding, after he had torn McCready's jugular. Then he would have had her always. She would have loved him. She did love him. And he would have followed her, and fought for her always, and died for her when the time came. But Thorpe had come in from the forest again, and Kazan had slunk away quickly—for Thorpe meant to him what all men meant to him now: the club, the whip and the strange things that spat fire and death. And now—
Thorpe had come out from the tent. It was approaching dawn, and in his hand he held a rifle. A moment later the girl came out, and her hand caught the man's arm. They looked toward the thing covered by the blanket. Then she spoke to Thorpe and he suddenly straightened and threw back his head.
"H-o-o-o-o—Kazan—Kazan—Kazan!" he called.
A shiver ran through Kazan. The man was trying to inveigle him back. He had in his hand the thing that killed.
"Kazan—Kazan—Ka-a-a-a-zan!" he shouted again.
Kazan sneaked cautiously back from the tree. He knew that distance meant nothing to the cold thing of death that Thorpe held in his hand. He turned his head once, and whined softly, and for an instant a great longing filled his reddened eyes as he saw the last of the girl.
He knew, now, that he was leaving her forever, and there was an ache in his heart that had never been there before, a pain that was not of the club or whip, of cold or hunger, but which was greater than them all, and which filled him with a desire to throw back his head and cry out his loneliness to the gray emptiness of the sky.
Back in the camp the girl's voice quivered.
"He is gone."
The man's strong voice choked a little.
"Yes, he is gone. He knew—and I didn't. I'd give—a year of my life—if I hadn't whipped him yesterday and last night. He won't come back."
Isobel Thorpe's hand tightened on his arm.
"He will!" she cried. "He won't leave me. He loved me, if he was savage and terrible. And he knows that I love him. He'll come back—"
From deep in the forest there came a long wailing howl, filled with a plaintive sadness. It was Kazan's farewell to the woman.
After that cry Kazan sat for a long time on his haunches, sniffing the new freedom of the air, and watching the deep black pits in the forest about him, as they faded away before dawn. 'Now and then, since the day the traders had first bought him and put him into sledge-traces away over on the Mackenzie, he had often thought of this freedom longingly, the wolf blood in him urging him to take it. But he had never quite dared. It thrilled him now. There were no clubs here, no whips, none of the man-beasts whom he had first learned to distrust, and then to hate. It was his misfortune—that quarter-strain of wolf; and the clubs, instead of subduing him, had added to the savagery that was born in him. Men had been his worst enemies. They had beaten him time and again until he was almost dead. They called him "bad," and stepped wide of him, and never missed the chance to snap a whip over his back. His body was covered with scars they had given him.
He had never felt kindness, or love, until the first night the woman had put her warm little hand on his head, and had snuggled her face close down to his, while Thorpe—her husband—had cried out in horror. He had almost buried his fangs in her white flesh, but in an instant her gentle touch, and her sweet voice, had sent through him that wonderful thrill that was his first knowledge of love. And now it was a man who was driving him from her, away from the hand that had never held a club or a whip, and he growled as he trotted deeper into the forest.
He came to the edge of a swamp as day broke. For a time he had been filled with a strange uneasiness, and light did not quite dispel it. At last he was free of men. He could detect nothing that reminded him of their hated presence in the air. But neither could he smell the presence of other dogs, of the sledge, the fire, of companionship and food, and so far back as he could remember they had always been a part of his life.
Here it was very quiet. The swamp lay in a hollow between two ridge-mountains, and the spruce and cedar grew low and thick—so thick that there was almost no snow under them, and day was like twilight. Two things he began to miss more than all others—food and company. Both the wolf and the dog that was in him demanded the first, and that part of him that was dog longed for the latter. To both desires the wolf blood that was strong in him rose responsively. It told him that somewhere in this silent world between the two ridges there was companionship, and that all he had to do to find it was to sit back on his haunches, and cry out his loneliness. More than once something trembled in his deep chest, rose in his throat, and ended there in a whine. It was the wolf howl, not yet quite born.
Food came more easily than voice. Toward midday he cornered a big white rabbit under a log, and killed it. The warm flesh and blood was better than frozen fish, or tallow and bran, and the feast he had gave him confidence. That afternoon he chased many rabbits, and killed two more. Until now, he had never known the delight of pursuing and killing at will, even though he did not eat all he killed.
But there was no fight in the rabbits. They died too easily. They were very sweet and tender to eat, when he was hungry, but the first thrill of killing them passed away after a time. He wanted something bigger. He no longer slunk along as if he were afraid, or as if he wanted to remain hidden. He held his head up. His back bristled. His tail swung free and bushy, like a wolf's. Every hair in his body quivered with the electric energy of life and action. He traveled north and west. It was the call of early days—the days away up on the Mackenzie. The Mackenzie was a thousand miles away.
He came upon many trails in the snow that day, and sniffed the scents left by the hoofs of moose and caribou, and the fur-padded feet of a lynx. He followed a fox, and the trail led him to a place shut in by tall spruce, where the snow was beaten down and reddened with blood. There was an owl's head, feathers, wings and entrails lying here, and he knew that there were other hunters abroad besides himself.
Toward evening he came upon tracks in the snow that were very much like his own. They were quite fresh, and there was a warm scent about them that made him whine, and filled him again with that desire to fall back upon his haunches and send forth the wolf-cry. This desire grew stronger in him as the shadows of night deepened in the forest. He had traveled all day, but he was not tired. There was something about night, now that there were no men near, that exhilarated him strangely. The wolf blood in him ran swifter and swifter. To-night it was clear. The sky was filled with stars. The moon rose. And at last he settled back in the snow and turned his head straight up to the spruce-tops, and the wolf came out of him in a long mournful cry which quivered through the still night for miles.
For a long time he sat and listened after that howl. He had found voice—a voice with a strange new note in it, and it gave him still greater confidence. He had expected an answer, but none came. He had traveled in the face of the wind, and as he howled, a bull moose crashed through the scrub timber ahead of him, his horns rattling against the trees like the tattoo of a clear birch club as he put distance between himself and that cry.
Twice Kazan howled before he went on, and he found joy in the practise of that new note. He came then to the foot of a rough ridge, and turned up out of the swamp to the top of it. The stars and the moon were nearer to him there, and on the other side of the ridge he looked down upon a great sweeping plain, with a frozen lake glistening in the moonlight, and a white river leading from it off into timber that was neither so thick nor so black as that in the swamp.
And then every muscle in his body grew tense, and his blood leaped. From far off in the plain there came a cry. It was his cry—the wolf-cry. His jaws snapped. His white fangs gleamed, and he growled deep in his throat. He wanted to reply, but some strange instinct urged him not to. That instinct of the wild was already becoming master of him. In the air, in the whispering of the spruce-tops, in the moon and the stars themselves, there breathed a spirit which told him that what he had heard was the wolf-cry, but that it was not the wolf call.
The other came an hour later, clear and distinct, that same wailing howl at the beginning—but ending in a staccato of quick sharp yelps that stirred his blood at once into a fiery excitement that it had never known before. The same instinct told him that this was the call—the hunt-cry. It urged him to come quickly. A few moments later it came again, and this time there was a reply from close down along the foot of the ridge, and another from so far away that Kazan could scarcely hear it. The hunt-pack was gathering for the night chase; but Kazan sat quiet and trembling.
He was not afraid, but he was not ready to go. The ridge seemed to split the world for him. Down there it was new, and strange, and without men. From the other side something seemed pulling him back, and suddenly he turned his head and gazed back through the moonlit space behind him, and whined. It was the dog-whine now. The woman was back there. He could hear her voice. He could feel the touch of her soft hand. He could see the laughter in her face and eyes, the laughter that had made him warm and happy. She was calling to him through the forests, and he was torn between desire to answer that call, and desire to go down into the plain. For he could also see many men waiting for him with clubs, and he could hear the cracking of whips, and feel the sting of their lashes.
For a long time he remained on the top of the ridge that divided his world. And then, at last, he turned and went down into the plain.
All that night he kept close to the hunt-pack, but never quite approached it. This was fortunate for him. He still bore the scent of traces, and of man. The pack would have torn him into pieces. The first instinct of the wild is that of self-preservation. It may have been this, a whisper back through the years of savage forebears, that made Kazan roll in the snow now and then where the feet of the pack had trod the thickest.
That night the pack killed a caribou on the edge of the lake, and feasted until nearly dawn. Kazan hung in the face of the wind. The smell of blood and of warm flesh tickled his nostrils, and his sharp ears could catch the cracking of bones. But the instinct was stronger than the temptation.
Not until broad day, when the pack had scattered far and wide over the plain, did he go boldly to the scene of the kill. He found nothing but an area of blood-reddened snow, covered with bones, entrails and torn bits of tough hide. But it was enough, and he rolled in it, and buried his nose in what was left, and remained all that day close to it, saturating himself with the scent of it.
That night, when the moon and the stars came out again, he sat back with fear and hesitation no longer in him, and announced himself to his new comrades of the great plain.
The pack hunted again that night, or else it was a new pack that started miles to the south, and came up with a doe caribou to the big frozen lake. The night was almost as clear as day, and from the edge of the forest Kazan first saw the caribou run out on the lake a third of a mile away. The pack was about a dozen strong, and had already split into the fatal horseshoe formation, the two leaders running almost abreast of the kill, and slowly closing in.
With a sharp yelp Kazan darted out into the moonlight. He was directly in the path of the fleeing doe, and bore down upon her with lightning speed. Two hundred yards away the doe saw him, and swerved to the right, and the leader on that side met her with open jaws. Kazan was in with the second leader, and leaped at the doe's soft throat. In a snarling mass the pack closed in from behind, and the doe went down, with Kazan half under her body, his fangs sunk deep in her jugular. She lay heavily on him, but he did not lose his hold. It was his first big kill. His blood ran like fire. He snarled between his clamped teeth.
Not until the last quiver had left the body over him did he pull himself out from under her chest and forelegs. He had killed a rabbit that day and was not hungry. So he sat back in the snow and waited, while the ravenous pack tore at the dead doe. After a little he came nearer, nosed in between two of them, and was nipped for his intrusion.
As Kazan drew back, still hesitating to mix with his wild brothers, a big gray form leaped out of the pack and drove straight for his throat. He had just time to throw his shoulder to the attack, and for a moment the two rolled over and over in the snow. They were up before the excitement of sudden battle had drawn the pack from the feast. Slowly they circled about each other, their white fangs bare, their yellowish backs bristling like brushes. The fatal ring of wolves drew about the fighters.
It was not new to Kazan. A dozen times he had sat in rings like this, waiting for the final moment. More than once he had fought for his life within the circle. It was the sledge-dog way of fighting. Unless man interrupted with a club or a whip it always ended in death. Only one fighter could come out alive. Sometimes both died. And there was no man here—only that fatal cordon of waiting white-fanged demons, ready to leap upon and tear to pieces the first of the fighters who was thrown upon his side or back. Kazan was a stranger, but he did not fear those that hemmed him in. The one great law of the pack would compel them to be fair.
He kept his eyes only on the big gray leader who had challenged him. Shoulder to shoulder they continued to circle. Where a few moments before there had been the snapping of jaws and the rending of flesh there was now silence. Soft-footed and soft-throated mongrel dogs from the South would have snarled and growled, but Kazan and the wolf were still, their ears laid forward instead of back, their tails free and bushy.
Suddenly the wolf struck in with the swiftness of lightning, and his jaws came together with the sharpness of steel striking steel. They missed by an inch. In that same instant Kazan darted in to the side, and like knives his teeth gashed the wolf's flank.
They circled again, their eyes growing redder, their lips drawn back until they seemed to have disappeared. And then Kazan leaped for that death-grip at the throat—and missed. It was only by an inch again, and the wolf came back, as he had done, and laid open Kazan's flank so that the blood ran down his leg and reddened the snow. The burn of that flank-wound told Kazan that his enemy was old in the game of fighting. He crouched low, his head straight out, and his throat close to the snow. It was a trick Kazan had learned in puppyhood—to shield his throat, and wait.
Twice the wolf circled about him, and Kazan pivoted slowly, his eyes half closed. A second time the wolf leaped, and Kazan threw up his terrible jaws, sure of that fatal grip just in front of the forelegs. His teeth snapped on empty air. With the nimbleness of a cat the wolf had gone completely over his back.
The trick had failed, and with a rumble of the dog-snarl in his throat, Kazan reached the wolf in a single bound. They met breast to breast. Their fangs clashed and with the whole weight of his body, Kazan flung himself against the wolf's shoulders, cleared his jaws, and struck again for the throat hold. It was another miss—by a hair's breadth—and before he could recover, the wolf's teeth were buried in the back of his neck.
For the first time in his life Kazan felt the terror and the pain of the death-grip, and with a mighty effort he flung his head a little forward and snapped blindly. His powerful jaws closed on the wolf's foreleg, close to the body. There was a cracking of bone and a crunching of flesh, and the circle of waiting wolves grew tense and alert. One or the other of the fighters was sure to go down before the holds were broken, and they but awaited that fatal fall as a signal to leap in to the death.
Only the thickness of hair and hide on the back of Kazan's neck, and the toughness of his muscles, saved him from that terrible fate of the vanquished. The wolf's teeth sank deep, but not deep enough to reach the vital spot, and suddenly Kazan put every ounce of strength in his limbs to the effort, and flung himself up bodily from under his antagonist. The grip on his neck relaxed, and with another rearing leap he tore himself free.
As swift as a whip-lash he whirled on the broken-legged leader of the pack and with the full rush and weight of his shoulders struck him fairly in the side. More deadly than the throat-grip had Kazan sometimes found the lunge when delivered at the right moment. It was deadly now. The big gray wolf lost his feet, rolled upon his back for an instant, and the pack rushed in, eager to rend the last of life from the leader whose power had ceased to exist.
From out of that gray, snarling, bloody-lipped mass, Kazan drew back, panting and bleeding. He was weak. There was a curious sickness in his head. He wanted to lie down in the snow. But the old and infallible instinct warned him not to betray that weakness. From out of the pack a slim, lithe, gray she-wolf came up to him, and lay down in the snow before him, and then rose swiftly and sniffed at his wounds.
She was young and strong and beautiful, but Kazan did not look at her. Where the fight had been he was looking, at what little remained of the old leader. The pack had returned to the feast. He heard again the cracking of bones and the rending of flesh, and something told him that hereafter all the wilderness would hear and recognize his voice, and that when he sat back on his haunches and called to the moon and the stars, those swift-footed hunters of the big plain would respond to it. He circled twice about the caribou and the pack, and then trotted off to the edge of the black spruce forest.
When he reached the shadows he looked back. Gray Wolf was following him. She was only a few yards behind. And now she came up to him, a little timidly, and she, too, looked back to the dark blotch of life out on the lake. And as she stood there close beside him, Kazan sniffed at something in the air that was not the scent of blood, nor the perfume of the balsam and spruce. It was a thing that seemed to come to him from the clear stars, the cloudless moon, the strange and beautiful quiet of the night itself. And its presence seemed to be a part of Gray Wolf.
He looked at her, and he found Gray Wolf's eyes alert and questioning. She was young—so young that she seemed scarcely to have passed out of puppyhood. Her body was strong and slim and beautifully shaped. In the moonlight the hair under her throat and along her back shone sleek and soft. She whined at the red staring light in Kazan's eyes, and it was not a puppy's whimper. Kazan moved toward her, and stood with his head over her back, facing the pack. He felt her trembling against his chest. He looked at the moon and the stars again, the mystery of Gray Wolf and of the night throbbing in his blood.
Not much of his life had been spent at the posts. Most of it had been on the trail—in the traces—and the spirit of the mating season had only stirred him from afar. But it was very near now. Gray Wolf lifted her head. Her soft muzzle touched the wound on his neck, and in the gentleness of that touch, in the low sound in her throat, Kazan felt and heard again that wonderful something that had come with the caress of the woman's hand and the sound of her voice.
He turned, whining, his back bristling, his head high and defiant of the wilderness which he faced. Gray Wolf trotted close at his side as they entered into the gloom of the forest.
THE FIGHT IN THE SNOW
They found shelter that night under thick balsam, and when they lay down on the soft carpet of needles which the snow had not covered, Gray Wolf snuggled her warm body close to Kazan and licked his wounds. The day broke with a velvety fall of snow, so white and thick that they could not see a dozen leaps ahead of them in the open. It was quite warm, and so still that the whole world seemed filled with only the flutter and whisper of the snowflakes. Through this day Kazan and Gray Wolf traveled side by side. Time and again he turned his head back to the ridge over which he had come, and Gray Wolf could not understand the strange note that trembled in his throat.
In the afternoon they returned to what was left of the caribou doe on the lake. In the edge of the forest Gray Wolf hung back. She did not yet know the meaning of poison-baits, deadfalls and traps, but the instinct of numberless generations was in her veins, and it told her there was danger in visiting a second time a thing that had grown cold in death.
Kazan had seen masters work about carcasses that the wolves had left. He had seen them conceal traps cleverly, and roll little capsules of strychnine in the fat of the entrails, and once he had put a foreleg in a trap, and had experienced its sting and pain and deadly grip. But he did not have Gray Wolf's fear. He urged her to accompany him to the white hummocks on the ice, and at last she went with him and sank back restlessly on her haunches, while he dug out the bones and pieces of flesh that the snow had kept from freezing. But she would not eat, and at last Kazan went and sat on his haunches at her side, and with her looked at what he had dug out from under the snow. He sniffed the air. He could not smell danger, but Gray Wolf told him that it might be there.
She told him many other things in the days and nights that followed. The third night Kazan himself gathered the hunt-pack and led in the chase. Three times that month, before the moon left the skies, he led the chase, and each time there was a kill. But as the snows began to grow softer under his feet he found a greater and greater companionship in Gray Wolf, and they hunted alone, living on the big white rabbits. In all the world he had loved but two things, the girl with the shining hair and the hands that had caressed him—and Gray Wolf.
He did not leave the big plain, and often He took his mate to the top of the ridge, and he would try to tell her what he had left back there. With the dark nights the call of the woman became so strong upon him that he was filled with a longing to go back, and take Gray Wolf with him.
Something happened very soon after that. They were crossing the open plain one day when up on the face of the ridge Kazan saw something that made his heart stand still. A man, with a dog-sledge and team, was coming down into their world. The wind had not warned them, and suddenly Kazan saw something glisten in the man's hands. He knew what it was. It was the thing that spat fire and thunder, and killed.
He gave his warning to Gray Wolf, and they were off like the wind, side by side. And then came the sound—and Kazan's hatred of men burst forth in a snarl as he leaped. There was a queer humming over their heads. The sound from behind came again, and this time Gray Wolf gave a yelp of pain, and rolled over and over in the snow. She was on her feet again in an instant, and Kazan dropped behind her, and ran there until they reached the shelter of the timber. Gray Wolf lay down, and began licking the wound in her shoulder. Kazan faced the ridge. The man was taking up their trail. He stopped where Gray Wolf had fallen, and examined the snow. Then he came on.
Kazan urged Gray Wolf to her feet, and they made for the thick swamp close to the lake. All that day they kept in the face of the wind, and when Gray Wolf lay down Kazan stole back over their trail, watching and sniffing the air.
For days after that Gray Wolf ran lame, and when once they came upon the remains of an old camp, Kazan's teeth were bared in snarling hatred of the man-scent that had been left behind. Growing in him there was a desire for vengeance—vengeance for his own hurts, and for Gray Wolf's. He tried to nose out the man-trail under the cover of fresh snow, and Gray Wolf circled around him anxiously, and tried to lure him deeper into the forest. At last he followed her sullenly. There was a savage redness in his eyes.
Three days later the new moon came. And on the fifth night Kazan struck a trail. It was fresh—so fresh that he stopped as suddenly as though struck by a bullet when he ran upon it, and stood with every muscle in his body quivering, and his hair on end. It was a man-trail. There were the marks of the sledge, the dogs' feet, and the snow-shoeprints of his enemy.
Then he threw up his head to the stars, and from his throat there rolled out over the wide plains the hunt-cry—the wild and savage call for the pack. Never had he put the savagery in it that was there to-night. Again and again he sent forth that call, and then there came an answer and another and still another, until Gray Wolf herself sat back on her haunches and added her voice to Kazan's, and far out on the plain a white and haggard-faced man halted his exhausted dogs to listen, while a voice said faintly from the sledge:
"The wolves, father. Are they coming—after us?"
The man was silent. He was not young. The moon shone in his long white beard, and added grotesquely to the height of his tall gaunt figure. A girl had raised her head from a bearskin pillow on the sleigh. Her dark eyes were filled beautifully with the starlight. She was pale. Her hair fell in a thick shining braid over her shoulder, and she was hugging something tightly to her breast.
"They're on the trail of something—probably a deer," said the man, looking at the breech of his rifle. "Don't worry, Jo. We'll stop at the next bit of scrub and see if we can't find enough dry stuff for a fire.—Wee-ah-h-h-h, boys! Koosh—koosh—" and he snapped his whip over the backs of his team.
From the bundle at the girl's breast there came a small wailing cry. And far back in the plain there answered it the scattered voice of the pack.
At last Kazan was on the trail of vengeance. He ran slowly at first, with Gray Wolf close beside him, pausing every three or four hundred yards to send forth the cry. A gray leaping form joined them from behind. Another followed. Two came in from the side, and Kazan's solitary howl gave place to the wild tongue of the pack. Numbers grew, and with increasing number the pace became swifter. Four—six—seven—ten—fourteen, by the time the more open and wind-swept part of the plain was reached.
It was a strong pack, filled with old and fearless hunters. Gray Wolf was the youngest, and she kept close to Kazan's shoulders. She could see nothing of his red-shot eyes and dripping jaws, and would not have understood if she had seen. But she could feel and she was thrilled by the spirit of that strange and mysterious savagery that had made Kazan forget all things but hurt and death.
The pack made no sound. There was only the panting of breath and the soft fall of many feet. They ran swiftly and close. And always Kazan was a leap ahead, with Gray Wolf nosing his shoulder.
Never had he wanted to kill as he felt the desire in him to kill now. For the first time he had no fear of man, no fear of the club, of the whip, or of the thing that blazed forth fire and death. He ran more swiftly, in order to overtake them and give them battle sooner. All of the pent-up madness of four years of slavery and abuse at the hands of men broke loose in thin red streams of fire in his veins, and when at last he saw a moving blotch far out on the plain ahead of him, the cry that came out of his throat was one that Gray Wolf did not understand.
Three hundred yards beyond that moving blotch was the thin line of timber, and Kazan and his followers bore down swiftly. Half-way to the timber they were almost upon it, and suddenly it stopped and became a black and motionless shadow on the snow. From out of it there leaped that lightning tongue of flame that Kazan had always dreaded, and he heard the hissing song of the death-bee over his head. He did not mind it now. He yelped sharply, and the wolves raced in until four of them were neck-and-neck with him.
A second flash—and the death-bee drove from breast to tail of a huge gray fighter close to Gray Wolf. A third—a fourth—a fifth spurt of that fire from the black shadow, and Kazan himself felt a sudden swift passing of a red-hot thing along his shoulder, where the man's last bullet shaved off the hair and stung his flesh.
Three of the pack had gone down under the fire of the rifle, and half of the others were swinging to the right and the left. But Kazan drove straight ahead. Faithfully Gray Wolf followed him.
The sledge-dogs had been freed from their traces, and before he could reach the man, whom he saw with his rifle held like a club in his hands, Kazan was met by the fighting mass of them. He fought like a fiend, and there was the strength and the fierceness of two mates in the mad gnashing of Gray Wolf's fangs. Two of the wolves rushed in, and Kazan heard the terrific, back-breaking thud of the rifle. To him it was the club. He wanted to reach it. He wanted to reach the man who held it, and he freed himself from the fighting mass of the dogs and sprang to the sledge. For the first time he saw that there was something human on the sledge, and in an instant he was upon it. He buried his jaws deep. They sank in something soft and hairy, and he opened them for another lunge. And then he heard the voice! It was her voice! Every muscle in his body stood still. He became suddenly like flesh turned to lifeless stone.
Her voice! The bear rug was thrown back and what had been hidden under it he saw clearly now in the light of the moon and the stars. In him instinct worked more swiftly than human brain could have given birth to reason. It was not she. But the voice was the same, and the white girlish face so close to his own blood-reddened eyes held in it that same mystery that he had learned to love. And he saw now that which she was clutching to her breast, and there came from it a strange thrilling cry—and he knew that here on the sledge he had found not enmity and death, but that from which he had been driven away in the other world beyond the ridge.
In a flash he turned. He snapped at Gray Wolf's flank, and she dropped away with a startled yelp. It had all happened in a moment, but the man was almost down. Kazan leaped under his clubbed rifle and drove into the face of what was left of the pack. His fangs cut like knives. If he had fought like a demon against the dogs, he fought like ten demons now, and the man—bleeding and ready to fall—staggered back to the sledge, marveling at what was happening. For in Gray Wolf there was now the instinct of matehood, and seeing Kazan tearing and righting the pack she joined him in the struggle which she could not understand.
When it was over, Kazan and Gray Wolf were alone out on the plain. The pack had slunk away into the night, and the same moon and stars that had given to Kazan the first knowledge of his birthright told him now that no longer would those wild brothers of the plains respond to his call when he howled into the sky.
He was hurt. And Gray Wolf was hurt, but not so badly as Kazan. He was torn and bleeding. One of his legs was terribly bitten. After a time he saw a fire in the edge of the forest. The old call was strong upon him. He wanted to crawl in to it, and feel the girl's hand on his head, as he had felt that other hand in the world beyond the ridge. He would have gone—and would have urged Gray Wolf to go with him—but the man was there. He whined, and Gray Wolf thrust her warm muzzle against his neck. Something told them both that they were outcasts, that the plains, and the moon, and the stars were against them now, and they slunk into the shelter and the gloom of the forest.
Kazan could not go far. He could still smell the camp when he lay down. Gray Wolf snuggled close to him. Gently she soothed with her soft tongue Kazan's bleeding wounds. And Kazan, lifting his head, whined softly to the stars.
On the edge of the cedar and spruce forest old Pierre Radisson built the fire. He was bleeding from a dozen wounds, where the fangs of the wolves had reached to his flesh, and he felt in his breast that old and terrible pain, of which no one knew the meaning but himself. He dragged in log after log, piled them on the fire until the flames leaped tip to the crisping needles of the limbs above, and heaped a supply close at hand for use later in the night.
From the sledge Joan watched him, still wild-eyed and fearful, still trembling. She was holding her baby close to her breast. Her long heavy hair smothered her shoulders and arms in a dark lustrous veil that glistened and rippled in the firelight when she moved. Her young face was scarcely a woman's to-night, though she was a mother. She looked like a child.
Old Pierre laughed as he threw down the last armful of fuel, and stood breathing hard.
"It was close, ma cheri" he panted through his white beard. "We were nearer to death out there on the plain than we will ever be again, I hope. But we are comfortable now, and warm. Eh? You are no longer afraid?"
He sat down beside his daughter, and gently pulled back the soft fur that enveloped the bundle she held in her arms. He could see one pink cheek of baby Joan. The eyes of Joan, the mother, were like stars.
"It was the baby who saved us," she whispered. "The dogs were being torn to pieces by the wolves, and I saw them leaping upon you, when one of them sprang to the sledge. At first I thought it was one of the dogs. But it was a wolf. He tore once at us, and the bearskin saved us. He was almost at my throat when baby cried, and then he stood there, his red eyes a foot from us, and I could have sworn again that he was a dog. In an instant he turned, and was fighting the wolves. I saw him leap upon one that was almost at your throat."
"He was a dog," said old Pierre, holding out his hands to the warmth. "They often wander away from the posts, and join the wolves. I have had dogs do that. Ma cheri, a dog is a dog all his life. Kicks, abuse, even the wolves can not change him—for long. He was one of the pack. He came with them—to kill. But when he found us—"
"He fought for us," breathed the girl. She gave him the bundle, and stood up, straight and tall and slim in the firelight. "He fought for us—and he was terribly hurt," she said. "I saw him drag himself away. Father, if he is out there—dying—"
Pierre Radisson stood up. He coughed in a shuddering way, trying to stifle the sound under his beard. The fleck of crimson that came to his lips with the cough Joan did not see. She had seen nothing of it during the six days they had been traveling up from the edge of civilization. Because of that cough, and the stain that came with it, Pierre had made more than ordinary haste.
"I have been thinking of that," he said. "He was badly hurt, and I do not think he went far. Here—take little Joan and sit close to the fire until I come back."
The moon and the stars were brilliant in the sky when he went out in the plain. A short distance from the edge of the timber-line he stood for a moment upon the spot where the wolves had overtaken them an hour before. Not one of his four dogs had lived. The snow was red with their blood, and their bodies lay stiff where they had fallen under the pack. Pierre shuddered as he looked at them. If the wolves had not turned their first mad attack upon the dogs, what would have become of himself, Joan and the baby? He turned away, with another of those hollow coughs that brought the blood to his lips.
A few yards to one side he found in the snow the trail of the strange dog that had come with the wolves, and had turned against them in that moment when all seemed lost. It was not a clean running trail. It was more of a furrow in the snow, and Pierre Radisson followed it, expecting to find the dog dead at the end of it.
In the sheltered spot to which he had dragged himself in the edge of the forest Kazan lay for a long time after the fight, alert and watchful. He felt no very great pain. But he had lost the power to stand upon his legs. His flanks seemed paralyzed. Gray Wolf crouched close at his side, sniffing the air. They could smell the camp, and Kazan could detect the two things that were there—man and woman. He knew that the girl was there, where he could see the glow of the firelight through the spruce and the cedars. He wanted to go to her. He wanted to drag himself close in to the fire, and take Gray Wolf with him, and listen to her voice, and feel the touch of her hand. But the man was there, and to him man had always meant the club, the whip, pain, death.
Gray Wolf crouched close to his side, and whined softly as she urged Kazan to flee deeper with her into the forest. At last she understood that he could not move, and she ran nervously out into the plain, and back again, until her footprints were thick in the trail she made. The instincts of matehood were strong in her. It was she who first saw Pierre Radisson coming over their trail, and she ran swiftly back to Kazan and gave the warning.
Then Kazan caught the scent, and he saw the shadowy figure coming through the starlight. He tried to drag himself back, but he could move only by inches. The man came rapidly nearer. Kazan caught the glisten of the rifle in his hand. He heard his hollow cough, and the tread of his feet in the snow. Gray Wolf crouched shoulder to shoulder with him, trembling and showing her teeth. When Pierre had approached within fifty feet of them she slunk back into the deeper shadows of the spruce.
Kazan's fangs were bared menacingly when Pierre stopped and looked down at him. With an effort he dragged himself to his feet, but fell back into the snow again. The man leaned his rifle against a sapling and bent over him fearlessly. With a fierce growl Kazan snapped at his extended hands. To his surprise the man did not pick up a stick or a club. He held out his hand again—cautiously—and spoke in a voice new to Kazan. The dog snapped again, and growled.
The man persisted, talking to him all the time, and once his mittened hand touched Kazan's head, and escaped before the jaws could reach it. Again and again the man reached out his hand, and three times Kazan felt the touch of it, and there was neither threat nor hurt in it. At last Pierre turned away and went back over the trail.
When he was out of sight and hearing, Kazan whined, and the crest along his spine flattened. He looked wistfully toward the glow of the fire. The man had not hurt him, and the three-quarters of him that was dog wanted to follow.
Gray Wolf came back, and stood with stiffly planted forefeet at his side. She had never been this near to man before, except when the pack had overtaken the sledge out on the plain. She could not understand. Every instinct that was in her warned her that he was the most dangerous of all things, more to be feared than the strongest beasts, the storms, the floods, cold and starvation. And yet this man had not harmed her mate. She sniffed at Kazan's back and head, where the mittened hand had touched. Then she trotted back into the darkness again, for beyond the edge of the forest she once more saw moving life.
The man was returning, and with him was the girl. Her voice was soft and sweet, and there was about her the breath and sweetness of woman. The man stood prepared, but not threatening.
"Be careful, Joan," he warned.
She dropped on her knees in the snow, just out of reach.
"Come, boy—come!" she said gently. She held out her hand. Kazan's muscles twitched. He moved an inch—two inches toward her. There was the old light in her eyes and face now, the love and gentleness he had known once before, when another woman with shining hair and eyes had come into his life. "Come!" she whispered as she saw him move, and she bent a little, reached a little farther with her hand, and at last touched his head.
Pierre knelt beside her. He was proffering something, and Kazan smelled meat. But it was the girl's hand that made him tremble and shiver, and when she drew back, urging him to follow her, he dragged himself painfully a foot or two through the snow. Not until then did the girl see his mangled leg. In an instant she had forgotten all caution, and was down close at his side.
"He can't walk," she cried, a sudden tremble in her voice. "Look, mon pere! Here is a terrible cut. We must carry him."
"I guessed that much," replied Radisson. "For that reason I brought the blanket. Mon Dieu, listen to that!"
From the darkness of the forest there came a low wailing cry.
Kazan lifted his head and a trembling whine answered in his throat. It was Gray Wolf calling to him.
It was a miracle that Pierre Radisson should put the blanket about Kazan, and carry him in to the camp, without scratch or bite. It was this miracle that he achieved, with Joan's arm resting on Kazan's shaggy neck as she held one end of the blanket. They laid him down close to the fire, and after a little it was the man again who brought warm water and washed away the blood from the torn leg, and then put something on it that was soft and warm and soothing, and finally bound a cloth about it.
All this Was strange and new to Kazan. Pierre's hand, as well as the girl's, stroked his head. It was the man who brought him a gruel of meal and tallow, and urged him to eat, while Joan sat with her chin in her two hands, looking at the dog, and talking to him. After this, when he was quite comfortable, and no longer afraid, he heard a strange small cry from the furry bundle on the sledge that brought his head up with a jerk.
Joan saw the movement, and heard the low answering whimper in his throat. She turned quickly to the bundle, talking and cooing to it as she took it in her arms, and then she pulled back the bearskin so that Kazan could see. He had never seen a baby before, and Joan held it out before him, so that he could look straight at it and see what a wonderful creature it was. Its little pink face stared steadily at Kazan. Its tiny fists reached out, and it made queer little sounds at him, and then suddenly it kicked and screamed with delight and laughed. At those sounds Kazan's whole body relaxed, and he dragged himself to the girl's feet.
"See, he likes the baby!" she cried. "Mon pere, we must give him a name. What shall it be?"
"Wait till morning for that," replied the father. "It is late, Joan. Go into the tent, and sleep. We have no dogs now, and will travel slowly. So we must start early."
With her hand on the tent-flap, Joan, turned.
"He came with the wolves," she said. "Let us call him Wolf." With one arm she was holding the little Joan. The other she stretched out to Kazan. "Wolf! Wolf!" she called softly.
Kazan's eyes were on her. He knew that she was speaking to him, and he drew himself a foot toward her.
"He knows it already!" she cried. "Good night, mon pere."
For a long time after she had gone into the tent, old Pierre Radisson sat on the edge of the sledge, facing the fire, with Kazan at his feet. Suddenly the silence was broken again by Gray Wolf's lonely howl deep in the forest. Kazan lifted his head and whined.
"She's calling for you, boy," said Pierre understandingly.
He coughed, and clutched a hand to his breast, where the pain seemed rending him.
"Frost-bitten lung," he said, speaking straight at Kazan. "Got it early in the winter, up at Fond du Lac. Hope we'll get home—in time—with the kids."
In the loneliness and emptiness of the big northern wilderness one falls into the habit of talking to one's self. But Kazan's head was alert, and his eyes watchful, so Pierre spoke to him.
"We've got to get them home, and there's only you and me to do it," he said, twisting his beard. Suddenly he clenched his fists.
His hollow racking cough convulsed him again.
"Home!" he panted, clutching his chest. "It's eighty miles straight north—to the Churchill—and I pray to God we'll get there—with the kids—before my lungs give out."
He rose to his feet, and staggered a little as he walked. There was a collar about Kazan's neck, and he chained him to the sledge. After that he dragged three or four small logs upon the fire, and went quietly into the tent where Joan and the baby were already asleep. Several times that night Kazan heard the distant voice of Gray Wolf calling for him, but something told him that he must not answer it now. Toward dawn Gray Wolf came close in to the camp, and for the first time Kazan replied to her.
His howl awakened the man. He came out of the tent, peered for a few moments up at the sky, built up the fire, and began to prepare breakfast. He patted Kazan on the head, and gave him a chunk of meat. Joan came out a few moments later, leaving the baby asleep in the tent. She ran up and kissed Pierre, and then dropped down on her knees beside Kazan, and talked to him almost as he had heard her talk to the baby. When she jumped up to help her father, Kazan followed her, and when Joan saw him standing firmly upon his legs she gave a cry of pleasure.
It was a strange journey that began into the North that day. Pierre Radisson emptied the sledge of everything but the tent, blankets, food and the furry nest for baby Joan. Then he harnessed himself in the traces and dragged the sledge over the snow. He coughed incessantly.
"It's a cough I've had half the winter," lied Pierre, careful that Joan saw no sign of blood on his lips or beard. "I'll keep in the cabin for a week when we get home."
Even Kazan, with that strange beast knowledge which man, unable to explain, calls instinct, knew that what he said was not the truth. Perhaps it was largely because he had heard other men cough like this, and that for generations his sledge-dog ancestors had heard men cough as Radisson coughed—and had learned what followed it.
More than once he had scented death in tepees and cabins, which he had not entered, and more than once he had sniffed at the mystery of death that was not quite present, but near—just as he had caught at a distance the subtle warning of storm and of fire. And that strange thing seemed to be very near to him now, as he followed at the end of his chain behind the sledge. It made him restless, and half a dozen times, when the sledge stopped, he sniffed at the bit of humanity buried in the bearskin. Each time that he did this Joan was quickly at his side, and twice she patted his scarred and grizzled head until every drop of blood in his body leaped riotously with a joy which his body did not reveal.
This day the chief thing that he came to understand was that the little creature on the sledge was very precious to the girl who stroked his head and talked to him, and that it was very helpless. He learned, too, that Joan was most delighted, and that her voice was softer and thrilled him more deeply, when he paid attention to that little, warm, living thing in the bearskin.
For a long time after they made camp Pierre Radisson sat beside the fire. To-night he did not smoke. He stared straight into the flames. When at last he rose to go into the tent with the girl and the baby, he bent over Kazan and examined his hurt.