It was in this mood that he came upon the great dome-roofed cage containing the hawks and eagles. It was a dishevelled, dirty place, with a few uncanny-looking dead trees stuck up in it to persuade the prisoners that they were free. Horner gave a hasty glance and then hurried past, enraged at the sight of these strong-winged adventurers of the sky doomed to so tame a monotony of days. But just as he got abreast of the farther extremity of the cage, he stopped, with a queer little tug at his heart-strings. He had caught sight of a great, white-headed eagle, sitting erect and still on a dead limb close to the bars, and gazing through them steadily, not at him, but straight into the eye of the sun.
"Shucks! It ain't possible! There's millions o' bald eagles in the world!" muttered Horner discontentedly.
It was the right side of the bird's head that was turned towards him, and that, of course, was snowy white. Equally, of course, it was as, Horner told himself, the height of absurdity to think that this grave, immobile prisoner gazing out through the bars at the sun could be his old friend of the naked peak. Nevertheless, something within his heart insisted it was so. If only the bird would turn his head! At last Horner put two fingers between his mouth, and blew a whistle so piercing that every one stared rebukingly, and a policeman came strolling along casually to see if any one had signalled for help. But Horner was all unconscious of the interest which he had excited. In response to his shrill summons the eagle had slowly, very deliberately, turned his head, and looked him steadily in the eyes. Yes, there was the strange black bar above the left eye, and there, unbroken by defeat and captivity, was the old look of imperturbable challenge!
Horner could almost have cried, from pity and homesick sympathy. Those long days on the peak, fierce with pain, blinding bright with sun, wind-swept and solitary, through which this great, still bird had kept him alive, seemed to rush over his spirit all together.
"Gee, old pardner!" he murmured, leaning as far over the railing as he could. "But ain't you got the grit! I'd like to know who it was served this trick on you. But don't you fret. I'll get you out o' this, ef it takes a year's arnings to do it! You wait an' see!" And with his jaws set resolutely he turned and strode from the gardens. That bird should not stay in there another night if he could help it.
Horner's will was set, but he did not understand the difficulties he had to face. At first he was confronted, as by a stone wall, by the simple and unanswerable fact that the bird was not for sale at any price. And he went to bed that night raging with disappointment and baffled purpose. But in the course of his efforts and angry protestations he had let out a portion of his story—and this, as a matter of interest, was carried to the president of the society which controlled the gardens. To this man, who was a true naturalist and not a mere dry-as-dust cataloguer of bones and teeth, the story made a strong appeal, and before Horner had quite made up his mind whether to get out a writ of habeas corpus for his imprisoned friend, or commit a burglary on the cage, there came a note inviting him to an interview at the president's office. The result of this interview was that Horner came away radiant, convinced at last that there was heart and understanding in the city as well as in the country. He had agreed to pay the society simply what it might cost to replace the captive by another specimen of his kind; and he carried in his pocket an order for the immediate delivery of the eagle into his hands.
To the practical backwoodsman there was no fuss or ceremony now to be gone through. He admired the expeditious fashion in which the keeper of the bird-house handled his dangerous charge, coming out of the brief tussle without a scratch. Trussed up as ignominiously as a turkey—proud head hooded, savage talons muffled, and skyey wings bound fast, the splendid bird was given up to his rescuer, who rolled him in a blanket without regard to his dignity, and carried him off under his arm like a bundle of old clothes.
Beyond the outskirts of the city Horner had observed a high, rocky, desolate hill which seemed suited to his purpose. He took a street car and travelled for an hour with the bundle on his knees. Little his fellow-passengers guessed of the wealth of romance, loyalty, freedom, and spacious memory hidden in that common-looking bundle on the knees of the gaunt-faced, gray-eyed man. At the foot of the hill, at a space of bare and ragged common, Horner got off. By rough paths, frequented by goats, he made his way up the rocky slope, through bare ravines and over broken ridges, and came at last to a steep rock in a solitude, whence only far-off roofs could be seen, and masts, and bridges, and the sharp gleam of the sea in the distance.
This place satisfied him. On the highest point of the rock he carefully unfastened the bonds of his prisoner, loosed him, and jumped back with respect and discretion. The great bird sat up very straight, half raised and lowered his wings as if to regain his poise, looked Horner dauntlessly in the eye, then stared slowly about him and above, as if to make sure that there were really no bars for him to beat his wings against. For perhaps a full minute he sat there. Then, having betrayed no unkingly haste, he spread his wings to their full splendid width and launched himself from the brink. For a few seconds he flapped heavily, as if his wings had grown unused to their function. Then he got his rhythm, and swung into a wide, mounting spiral, which Horner watched with sympathetic joy. At last, when he was but a wheeling speck in the pale blue dome, he suddenly turned and sailed off straight towards the northeast, with a speed which carried him out of sight in a moment.
Horner drew a long breath, half wistful, half glad.
"Them golden eyes of yourn kin see a thunderin' long ways off, pardner," he muttered, "but I reckon even you can't make out the top of 'Old Baldy' at this distance. It's the eyes o' your heart ye must have seen it with, to make for it so straight!"
THE LORD OF THE GLASS HOUSE
THE LORD OF THE GLASS HOUSE
In the sheltered Caribbean cove the water was warm as milk, green and clear as liquid beryl, and shot through with shimmering sun. Under that stimulating yet mitigated radiance the bottom of the cove was astir with strange life, grotesque in form, but brilliant as jewels or flowers. Long, shining weeds, red, yellow, amber, purple, and olive, waved sinuously among the weed-like sea-anemones which outshone them in colored sheen. Fantastic pink-and-orange crabs sidled awkwardly but nimbly this way and that. Tiny sea-horses, yet more fantastic, slipped shyly from one weed-covert to another, aware of a possible peril in every gay but menacing bloom. And just above this eccentric life of the shoal sea-floor small fishes of curious form shot hither and thither, live, darting gleams of gold and azure and amethyst. Now and again a long, black shadow would sail slowly over the scene of freakish life—the shadow of a passing albacore or barracouta. Instantly the shining fish would hide themselves among the shining shells, and every movement, save that of the unconsciously waving weeds, would be stilled. But the sinister shadow would go by, and straightway the sea-floor would be alive again, busy with its affairs of pursuit and flight.
The floor of the cove was uneven, by reason of small, shell-covered rocks and stones being strewn over it at haphazard. From under the slightly overhanging base of one of these stones sprouted what seemed a cluster of yellowish gray, pink-mottled weed-stems, which sprawled out inertly upon the mottled bottom. Over the edge of the stone came swimming slowly one of the gold-and-azure fish, its jewelled, impassive eyes on the watch for some small prey. Up from the bottom, swift as a whip-lash, darted one of those inert-looking weed-stems, and fastened about the bright fish just behind the gills.
Fiercely the shining one struggled, lashing with tail and fins till the water swirled to a boil over the shell-covered rock, and the sea-anemones all about shut their gorgeous, greedy flower-cups in a panic. But the struggle was a vain one. Slowly, inexorably, that mottled tentacle curled downward with its prey, and a portion of the under side of the rock became alive! Two ink-black eyes appeared, bulging, oval, implacable; and between them opened a great, hooked beak, like a giant parrot's. There was no separate head behind this gaping beak, but eyes and beak merely marked the blunt end of a mottled, oblong, sac-like body.
As the victim was drawn down to the waiting beak, among the bases of the tentacles, all the tentacles awoke to dreadful life, writhing in aimless excitement, although there was no work for them to do. In a few seconds the fish was torn asunder and engulfed—those inky eyes the while unwinking and unmoved. A darker, livid hue passed fleetingly over the pallid body of the octopus. Then it slipped back under the shelter of the rock; and the writhing tentacles composed themselves once more to stillness upon the bottom, awaiting the next careless passer-by. Once more they seemed mere inert trailers of weed, not worth the notice of fish or crab. And soon the anemones near by reopened their treacherous blooms of yellow and crimson.
Whether because there was something in the gold-and-azure fish that disturbed his inward content, or because his place of ambush had somehow grown distasteful to his soft, unarmored body, the octopus presently bestirred himself and crawled forth into the open, walking awkwardly on the incurled tips of his tentacles. It looked about as comfortable a method of progression as for a baby to creep on the back of its hands. The traveller himself did not seem to find it altogether satisfactory, for all at once he sprang upward nimbly, clear of the bottom, and gathered his eight tentacles into a compact parallel bunch extending straight out past his eyes. In this attitude he was no longer clumsy, but trim and swift-looking. Beneath the bases of the tentacles, on the under side of the body, a sort of valve opened spasmodically and took in a huge gulp of water, which was at once ejected with great force through a tube among the tentacles. Driven by the strange propulsion of this pulsating stream, the elongated shape shot swiftly on its way, but travelling backward instead of forward. The traveller had apparently taken his direction with care before he started, however, for he made his way straight to another rock, weedier and more overhanging than the first. Here he stopped, settled downward, and let his tentacles once more sprawl wide, preparatory to backing his spotted body-sac into its new quarters.
This was the moment when he was least ready for attack or defence; and just at this moment a foraging dolphin, big-jawed and hungry, shot down upon him through the lucent green, mistaking him, perhaps, for an overgrown but unretaliating squid. The assailant aimed at the big, succulent-looking body, but missed his aim, and caught instead one of the tentacles which had reared themselves instantly to ward off the attack. Before he realized what was happening, another tentacle had curled about his head, clamping his jaws firmly together so that he could not open them to release his hold; while yet others had wrapped themselves securely about his body.
The dolphin was a small one; and such a situation as this had never come within range of his experience. In utter panic he lashed out with his powerful tail and darted forward, carrying the octopus with him. But the weight upon his head, the crushing encumbrance about his body, were too much for him, and bore him slowly downward. Suddenly two tentacles, which had been trailing for an anchorage, got grip upon the bottom—and the dolphin's frantic flight came to a stop abruptly. He lashed, plunged, whirled in a circle, but all to no purpose. His struggles grew weaker. He was drawn down, inexorably, till he lay quivering on the sand. Then the great beak of the octopus made an end of the matter, and the prey was dragged back to the lair beneath the weed-covered rock.
A long time after this, a shadow bigger and blacker than that of any albacore—bigger than that of any shark or saw-fish—drifted over the cove. There was a splash, and a heavy object came down upon the bottom, spreading the swift stillness of terror for yards about. The shadow ceased drifting, for the boat had come to anchor. Then in a very few minutes, because the creatures of the sea seem unable to fear what does not move, the life of the sea-floor again bestirred itself, and small, misshapen forms that did not love the sunlight began to convene in the shadow of the boat.
Presently, from over the side of the boat descended a dark tube, with a bright tip that seemed like a kind of eye. The tube moved very slowly this way and that, as if to let the eye scan every hiding-place on the many-colored bottom. As it swept over the rock that sheltered the octopus, it came to a stop. Those inert, sprawling things that looked like weeds appeared to interest it. Then it was softly withdrawn.
A few moments later, a large and tempting fish appeared at the surface of the water, and began slowly sinking straight downward in a most curious fashion. The still eyes of the octopus took note at once. They had never seen a fish behave that way before; but it plainly was a fish. A quiver of eagerness passed through the sprawling tentacles, for their owner was already hungry again. But the prize was still too far away, and the tentacles did not move. The curious fish, however, seemed determined to come no nearer, and at last the waiting tentacles came stealthily to life. Almost imperceptibly they drew themselves forward, writhing over the bottom as casually as weeds adrift in a light current. And behind them those two great, inky, impassive eyes, and then the fat, mottled, sac-like body, emerged furtively from under the rock.
The bottom, just at this point, was covered with a close brown weed, and almost at once the body of the octopus and his tentacles began to change to the same hue. When the change was complete, the gliding monster was almost invisible. He was now directly beneath that incomprehensible fish; but the fish had gently risen, so that it was still out of reach.
For a few seconds the octopus crouched, staring upward with motionless orbs, and gathering himself together. Then he sprang straight up, like a leaping spider. He fixed two tentacles upon the tantalizing prey; then the other tentacles straightened out, and with a sharp jet of water from his propulsion tube he essayed to dart back to his lair.
To his amazement, the prey refused to come. In some mysterious way it managed to hold itself—or was held—just where it was. Amazement gave way to rage. The monster wrapped his prize in three more tentacles, and then plunged his beak into it savagely. The next instant he was jerked to the surface of the water. A blaze of fierce sun blinded him, and strong meshes enclosed him, binding and entangling his tentacles.
In such an appalling crisis most creatures of sea or land would have been utterly demoralized by terror. Not so the octopus. Maintaining undaunted the clutch of one tentacle upon his prize, he turned the others, along with the effectual menace of his great beak, to the business of battle. The meshes fettered him in a way that drove him frantic with rage, but two of his tentacles managed to find their way through, and writhed madly this way and that in search of some tangible antagonist on which to fasten themselves. While they were yet groping vainly for a grip, he felt himself lifted bodily forth into the strangling air, and crowded—net, prey, and all—into a dark and narrow receptacle full of water.
This fate, of course, was not to be tamely endured. Though he was suffocating in the unnatural medium, and though his great, unwinking eyes could see but vaguely outside their native element, he was all fight. One tentacle clutched the rim of the metal vessel; and one fixed its deadly suckers upon the bare black arm of a half-seen adversary who was trying to crowd him down into the dark prison. There was a strident yell. A sharp, authoritative voice exclaimed: "Look out! Don't hurt him! I'll make him let go!" But the next instant the frightened darky had whipped out a knife and sliced off a good foot of the clutching tentacle. As the injured stump shrank back upon its fellows like a spade-cut worm, the other tentacle was deftly twisted loose from its hold on the rim, and the captive felt himself forced down into the narrow prison. A cover was clapped on, and he found himself in darkness, with his prey still gripped securely. Upset and raging though he was, there was nothing to be done about it, so he fell to feasting indignantly upon the prize for which he had paid so dear.
Left to himself, the furious prisoner by and by disentangled himself from the meshes of the net, and composed himself as well as he could in his straitened quarters. Then for days and days thereafter there was nothing but tossing and tumbling, blind feeding, and uncomprehended distress; till at last his prison was turned upside down and he was dropped unceremoniously into a great tank of glass and enamel that glowed with soft light. Bewildered though he was, he took in his surroundings in an instant, straightened his tentacles out before him, and darted backwards to the shelter of an overhanging rock which he had marked on the floor of the tank. Having backed his defenceless body under that shield, he flattened his tentacles anxiously among the stones and weeds that covered the tank-bottom, and impassively stared about.
It was certainly an improvement on the black hole from which he had just escaped. Light came down through the clear water, but a cold, white light, little like the green and gold glimmer that illumined the slow tide in his Caribbean home. The floor about him was not wholly unfamiliar. The stones, the sand, the colored weeds, the shells,—they were like, yet unlike, those from which he had been snatched away. But on three sides there were white, opaque walls, so near that he could have touched them by stretching out a tentacle. Only on the fourth side was there space—but a space of gloom and inexplicable moving confusion from which he shrank. In this direction the floor of sand and stones and weeds ended with a mysterious abruptness; and the vague openness beyond filled him with uneasiness. Pale-colored shapes, with eyes, would drift up, sometimes in crowds, and stare in at him fixedly. It daunted him as nothing else had ever done, this drift of peering faces. It was long before he could teach himself to ignore them. When food came to him,—small fish and crabs, descending suddenly from the top of the water,—at such times the faces would throng tumultuously in that open space, and for a long time the many peering eyes would so disconcert him as almost to spoil his appetite. But at last he grew accustomed even to the faces and the eyes, and disregarded them as if they were so much passing seaweed, borne by the tide. His investigating tentacles had shown him that between him and the space of confusion there was an incomprehensible barrier fixed, which he could see through but not pass; and that if he could not get out, neither could the faces get in to trouble him.
Thus, well fed and undisturbed, the octopus grew fairly content in his glass house, and never guessed the stormy life of the great city beyond his walls. For all he knew, his comfortable prison might have been on the shore of one of his own Bahaman Keys. He was undisputed lord of his domain, narrow though it was; and the homage he received from the visitors who came to pay him court was untiring.
His lordship had been long unthreatened, when one day, had he not been too indifferent to notice them, he might have seen that the faces in the outer gloom were unusually numerous, the eyes unusually intent. Suddenly there was the accustomed splash in the water above him. That splash had come to him to mean just food, unresisting victims, and his tentacles were instantly alert to seize whatever should come within reach.
This time the splash was unusually heavy, and he was surprised to see a massive, roundish creature, with a little, pointed tail sticking out behind, a small, snake-like head stretched out in front, and two little flippers outspread on each side. With these four flippers the stranger came swimming down calmly towards him. He had never seen anything at all like this daring stranger; but without the slightest hesitation he whipped up two writhing tentacles and seized him. The faces beyond the glass surged with excitement.
When that abrupt and uncompromising clutch laid hold upon the turtle, his tail, head, and flippers vanished as if they had never been, and his upper and lower shells closed tight together till he seemed nothing more than a lifeless box of horn. Absolutely unresisting, he was drawn down to the impassive eyes and gaping beak of his captor. The tentacles writhed all over him, stealthily but eagerly investigating. Then the great parrot-beak laid hold on the shell, expecting to crush it. Making no impression, however, it slid tentatively all over the exasperating prize, seeking, but in vain, for a weak point.
This went on for several minutes, while the watching faces outside the glass gazed in tense expectancy. Then at last the patience of the octopus gave way. In a sudden fury he threw himself upon the exasperating shell, tumbling it over and over, biting at it madly, wrenching it insanely with all his tentacles. And the faces beyond the glass surged thrillingly, wondering how long the turtle would stand such treatment.
Shut up within his safe armor, the turtle all at once grew tired of being tumbled about, and his wise discretion forsook him. He did not mind being shut up, but he objected to being knocked about. Some prudence he had, to be sure, but not enough to control his short temper. Out shot his narrow, vicious-looking head, with its dull eyes and punishing jaws, and fastened with the grip of a bulldog upon the nearest of the tentacles, close to its base. A murmur arose outside the glass.
The rage of the octopus swelled to a frenzy, and in his contortions the locked fighters bumped heavily against the glass, making the faces shrink back. The small stones on the bottom were scattered this way and that, and the fine silt rose in a cloud that presently obscured the battle.
Had the turtle had cunning to match his courage, the lordship of the glass house might have changed holders in that fight. Had he fixed his unbreakable grip in the head of his foe, just above the beak, he would have conquered in the end. But as it was, he had now a vulnerable point, and at last the octopus found it. His beak closed upon the exposed half of the turtle's head, and slowly, inexorably, sheared it clean off just behind the eyes. The stump shrank instantly back into the shell; and the shell became again the unresisting plaything of the tentacles, which presently, as if realizing that it had no more power to retaliate, flung it aside. In a few minutes the silt settled. Then the eager faces beyond the glass saw the lord of the tank crouching motionless before his lair, his ink-like eyes as impassive and implacable as ever, while the turtle lay bottom side up against the glass, no more to be taken account of than a stone.
BACK TO THE WATER WORLD
BACK TO THE WATER WORLD
An iron coast, bleak, black, and desolate, without harborage for so much as a catboat for leagues to north or south. A coast so pitiless, so lashed forever by the long, sullen rollers of the North Atlantic, so tormented by the shifting and treacherous currents of the tide between its chains of outlying rocky islets, that no ship ever ventured willingly within miles of its uncompromising menace. A coast so little favored by summer that even in glowing August the sun could reach it seldom through its cold and drenching fogs.
Perhaps half a mile off shore lay the islands—some of them, indeed, mere ledges, deathtraps for ships, invisible except at low tide, but others naked hills of upthrust rock, which the highest tides and wildest hurricanes could not overwhelm. Even on the loftiest of them there was neither grass, bush, nor tree to break the jagged outlines, but day and night, summer and winter long, the sea-birds clamored over them, and brooded by the myriad on their upper ledges.
These islands were fretted, on both their landward and their seaward sides, by innumerable caves. In one of these caves, above the reach of the highest tide, and facing landward, so that even in the wildest storms no waves could invade it, the pup of the seal first opened his mild eyes upon the misty northern daylight.
Of all the younglings of the wild, he was perhaps the most winsome, with his soft, whitish, shadowy-toned, close, woolly coat, his round, babyish head, his dark, gentle eyes wide with wonder at everything to be seen from the cave mouth. He lay usually very near the entrance, but partly hidden from view by a ragged horn of rock. While alone—which was a good part of the time, indeed, like most fishermen's children—he would lie so still that his woolly little form was hardly to be distinguished from the rock that formed his couch. He had no desire to attract public attention—for the only public that might have been attracted to attend consisted of the pair of great sea eagles whose shadows sometimes swooped aross the ledge, or of an occasional southward-wandering white bear. As for the innumerable gulls, and gannets, and terns, and lesser auks, which made the air forever loud about these lonely islets, nothing could have induced them to pay him any attention whatever. They knew him, and his people, to be harmless; and that was all their winged and garrulous companies were concerned to know.
But to the little seal, on the other hand, the noisy birds were incessantly interesting. Filled with insatiable curiosity, his mild eyes gazed out upon the world. The sea just below the cave was, of course, below his line of vision; but at a distance of some hundred yards or so—a distance which varied hugely with the rising and falling of the tide—he caught sight of the waves, and felt himself strangely drawn to them. Whether leaden and menacing under the drift of rain and the brooding of gray clouds, or green-glinting under the sheen of too rare sunshine, he loved them and found them always absorbing. The sky, too, was worth watching, especially when white fleeces chased each other across a patch of blue, or wonderful colors, pallid yet intense, shot up into it at dawn from behind a far-off line of saw-toothed rocks.
The absences of the mother seal were sometimes long, for it required many fish to satisfy her appetite and keep warm her red blood in those ice-cold arctic currents. Fish were abundant, to be sure, along that coast, where the invisible fruitfulness of the sea made compensation for the blank barrenness of the land; but they were swift and wary, and had to be caught, one at a time, outwitted and outspeeded in their own element. The woolly cub, therefore, was often hungry before his mother returned. But when, at last, she came, flopping awkwardly up the rocky slope, and pausing for an instant to reconnoitre, as her round, glistening head appeared over the brink of the ledge, the youngster's delight was not all in the satisfying of his hunger and in the mothering of his loneliness. As he snuggled under her caress, the salty drip from her wet, sleek sides thrilled him with a dim sense of anticipation. He connected it vaguely with that endless, alluring dance of the waves beyond his threshold.
When he had grown a few days older, the little seal began to turn his attention from the brighter world outside to the shadows that surrounded him in his cave. His interest was caught at once by a woolly gray creature like himself, only somewhat smaller, which lay perhaps seven or eight feet away, at the other side of the cave, and farther back. He had not realized before that his narrow retreat was the home of two families. Being of a companionable disposition, he eyed his newly discovered neighbor with immense good-will. Finding no discouragement in the mild gaze that answered his, he presently raised himself on his flippers, and with laborious, ungainly effort flopped himself over to make acquaintance. Both youngsters were too unsophisticated for ceremony, too trusting for shyness, so in a very few minutes they were sprawling over each other in great content.
In this baby comradeship the stranger's mother, returning to her household duties, found them. She was smaller and younger than our Pup's dam, but with the same kindly eyes and the same salty-dripping coat. So, when her own baby fell to nursing, the Pup insisted confidently on sharing the entertainment. The young mother protested, and drew herself away uneasily, with little threatening grunts; but the Pup, refusing to believe she was in earnest, pressed his point so pertinaciously that at length he got his way. When, half an hour later, the other mother returned to her charge, well filled with fish and well disposed toward all the world, she showed no discontent at the situation. She belonged to the tribe of the "Harbor Seals," and, unlike her pugnacious cousins, the big "Hoods," she was always inclined towards peace and a good understanding. There was probably nothing that could have brought the flame of wrath into her confiding eyes, except an attack upon her young, on whose behalf she would have faced the sea-serpent himself. Without a moment's question, she joined the group; and henceforth the cave was the seat of a convenient partnership in mothers.
It was perhaps a week or two later, when the islands were visited by a wonderful spell of sun and calm. It was what would have been called, farther south, Indian summer. All along the ledges, just above the mark of the diminished surf, the seals lay basking in the glow. The gulls and mews clamored rapturously, and squabbled with gay zest over the choicer prizes of their fishing. It appeared to be generally known that the bears, displeased at the warmth, had withdrawn farther north. The sea took on strange hues of opal and lilac and thrice-diluted sapphire. Even the high black cliffs across the charmed water veiled their harshness in a skyey haze. It was a time for delicious indolence, for the slackening of vigilance, for the forgetfulness of peril. And it was just at this very time that it came the young seal's way to get his first lesson in fear.
He was lying beside his mother, about a dozen feet out from the mouth of the cave. A few steps away basked his little cave-mate—alone for the moment, because its mother had flung herself vehemently down the slope to capture a wounded fish which had just been washed ashore. As she reached the water's edge, a wide shadow floated across the rocks. She wheeled like a flash and scrambled frantically up the steep. But she was too late. She saw the other mothers near by throw their bodies over those of their young, and lift their faces skyward with bared, defiant fangs. She saw her own little one, alone in the bright open, gaze around in helpless bewilderment and alarm. He saw her coming, and lifting himself on his weak flippers, started towards her with a little cry. Then came a terrible hissing of wings in the air above, and he cowered, trembling. The next instant, with a huge buffet of wind in all the upturned faces, a pair of vast, dark pinions were outspread above the trembler; great clutching talons reached down and seized him by neck and back; and his tiny life went out in a throttled whimper. The nearest seal, the mother of the Pup, reared on her flippers and lunged savagely at the marauder. But all she got was a blinding slash of rigid wing-tips across her face. Then, launching himself from the brink of the slope, the eagle flapped scornfully away across the water toward the black cliffs, his victim hanging limply from his claws. And all along the ledges the seals barked furiously after him.
The Pup, whom death had brushed so closely, could not be persuaded for hours to leave the shelter of his mother's side, even after she had led him back to the cave. But now he found himself the exclusive proprietor of two mothers; for the bereaved dam, thenceforth, was no less assiduously devoted to him than his own parent. With such care, and with so abundant nourishment, he throve amazingly, outstripping in growth all the other youngsters of his age along the ledges. His terror quickly passed away from him; but the results of the lesson long remained, in the vigilance with which his glance would sweep the sky, and question every approach of wings more wide than those of gull or gannet.
It was not long after this grim chance that the Pup's woolly coat began to change. A straight, close-lying under-fur pushed swiftly into view, and the wool dropped out—a process which a certain sense of irritation in his skin led him to hasten by rubbing his back and sides against the rock. In an astonishingly short time his coat grew like his mother's—a yellowish gray, dotted irregularly with blackish spots, and running to a creamy tone under the belly. As soon as this change was completed to his mother's satisfaction, he was led down close to the water's edge, where he had never been allowed before.
Eagerly as he loved the sight of the waves, and the salty savor of them, when the first thin crest splashed up and soused him he shrank back daunted. It was colder, too, that first slap in his face, than he had expected. He turned, intending to retreat a little way up the rocks and consider the question, in spite of the fact that there was his little mother in the water, swimming gayly a few feet out from shore and coaxing him with soft cries. He was anxious to join her—but not just yet. Then, all at once the question was decided for him. His real mother, who was just behind him, suddenly thrust her muzzle under his flank, and sent him rolling into deep water.
He came up at once, much startled. Straightway he found that he could move in the water much more easily and naturally than on shore—and he applied the discovery to getting ashore again with all possible haste. But his mother, awaiting him at the edge, shoved him off relentlessly.
Feeling much injured, he turned and swam out to his other mother. Here the first one joined him; and in a few minutes amazement and resentment alike were lost in delight, as he began to realize that this, at last, was life. Here, and not sprawling half helplessly on the rocks, was where he belonged. He swam, and dived, and darted like a fish, and went wild with childish ecstasy. He had come to his own element. After this, he hardly ever returned to the cave, but slept close at the side of one or the other of his mothers, on the open rocks just a few feet above the edge of tide.
A little later came a period of mad weather, ushering in the autumn storms. Snow and sleet drove down out of the north, and lay in great patches over the more level portions of the islets above tide. The wind seemed as if it would lift the islets bodily and sweep them away. The vast seas, green and black and lead-color, thundered down upon the rocks as if they would batter them to fragments. The ledges shuddered under the incessant crashing. When the snow stopped, on its heels came the vanguard of the arctic cold. The ice formed instantly in all the pools left by the tide. Along the edges of the tide it was ground to a bitter slush by the perpetual churning of the waves.
After a week or two of this violence, the seals—who, unlike their polar cousins, the "Harps" and the "Hoods," were no great lovers of storm and the fiercer cold—began to feel discontented. Presently a little party of them, not more than a score in all, with a few of the stronger youngsters of that season, on a sudden impulse left their stormy ledges and started southward. The Pup, who, thanks to his double mothering, was far bigger and more capable than any of his mates, went with his partner-mothers in the very forefront of the migration.
Straight down along the roaring coast they kept, usually at a distance of not more than half a mile from shore. They had, of course, no objection to going farther out, but neither had they any object in doing so, since the fish-life on which they fed as they journeyed was the more abundant where the sea began to shoal. With their slim, sleek, rounded bodies, thickest at the fore flippers and tapering finely to tail and muzzle, each a lithe and close-knit structure of muscle and nerve-energy, they could swim with astounding speed; and therefore, although there was no hurry whatever, they went along at the pace of a motor-boat.
All this time the gale was lashing the coast, but it gave them little concern. Down in the black troughs of the gigantic rollers there was always peace from the yelling of the wind—a tranquillity wherein the gulls and mews would snatch their rest after being buffeted too long about the sky. Near the tops of the waves, of course, it was not good to be, for the gale would rip the crests off bodily and tear them into shreds of whipping spray. But the seals could always dive and slip smoothly under these tormented regions. Moreover, if weary of the tossing surfaces and the tumult of the gale, they had only to sink themselves down, down, into the untroubled gloom beneath the wave-bases, where greenish lights gleamed or faded with the passing of the rollers overhead, and where strange, phosphorescent shapes of life crawled or clung among the silent rocks. Longer than any other red-blooded animal, except the whale, could their lungs go without fresh oxygen; so, though they knew nothing of those great depths where the whales sometimes frequent, it was easy for them to go deep enough to get below the storm.
Sometimes a break in the coast-line, revealing the mouth of an inlet, would tempt the little band of migrants. Hastening shoreward, they would push their way inland between the narrowing banks, often as far as the head of tide, gambolling in the quiet water, and chasing the salmon fairly out upon the shoals. Like most discriminating creatures, they were very fond of salmon, but it was rarely, except on such occasions as this, that they had a chance to gratify their taste.
After perhaps a week of this southward journeying, the travellers found themselves one night at the head of a little creek where the tide lapped pleasantly on a smooth, sandy beach. They were already getting into milder weather, and here, a half mile inland, there was no wind. The sky was overcast, and the seals lay in contented security along the edge of the water. The blacker darkness of a fir forest came down to within perhaps fifty paces of their resting-place. But they had no anxieties. The only creatures that they had learned to fear on shore besides man were the polar bears; and they knew they were now well south of that deadly hunter's range. As for eagles, they did not hunt at night; and, moreover, they were a terror only in the woolly-coated, baby stage of a seal's existence.
But it often enough happens that wild animals, no less than human beings, may be ignorant of something which their health requires them to know. There was another bear in Labrador—a smallish, rusty-coated, broad-headed, crafty cousin of the ordinary American black bear. And one of these, who had acquired a taste for seal, along with some cleverness in gratifying that taste, had his headquarters, as it chanced, in that near-neighboring fir wood.
The Pup lay crowded in snugly between his two mothers. He liked the warmth of being crowded; for the light breeze, drawing up from the water, was sharp with frost. There is such a thing, however, as being just a little too crowded, and presently, waking up with a protest, he pushed and wriggled to get more space. As he did so, he raised his head. His keen young eyes fell upon a black something a little blacker than the surrounding gloom.
The black something was up the slope halfway between the water and the wood. It looked like a mass of rock. But the Pup had a vague feeling that there had been no rock thereabouts when he went to sleep. A thrill of apprehension went up and down his spine, raising the stiffish hairs along his neck. Staring with all his eyes through the dimness, he presently saw the black shape move. Yes, it was drawing nearer. With a shrill little bark of terror he gave the alarm, at the same time struggling free and hurling himself toward the water.
In that same instant the bear rushed, coming down the slope as it were in one plunging jump. The seals, light sleepers all, were already awake and floundering madly back to the water. But for one of them, and that one the Pup's assistant mother, the alarm came too late. Just as she was turning, bewildered with terror of she knew not what, the dark bulk of the bear landed upon her, crushing her down. A terrific blow on the muzzle broke her skull, and she collapsed into a quivering mass. The rest of the band, after a moment of loud splashing, swam off noiselessly for the safe retreat of the outer ledges. And the bear, after shaking the body of his victim to make sure it was quite dead, dragged it away with a grunt of satisfaction into the fir wood.
After this tragedy, though the travellers continued to ascend the creeks and inlets when the whim so moved them, they took care to choose for sleep the ruder security of outlying rocks and islands, and cherished, by night and by day, a wholesome distrust of dark fir woods. But for all their watchfulness their journeying was care-free and joyous, and from time to time, as they went, their light-heartedness would break out into aimless gambols, or something very like a children's game of tag. Nothing, however, checked their progress southward, and presently, turning into the Belle Isle Straits, they came to summer skies and softer weather. At this point, under the guidance of an old male who had followed the southward track before, they forsook the Labrador shore-line and headed fearlessly out across the strait till they reached the coast of Newfoundland. This coast they followed westward till they gained the Gulf of St. Lawrence, then, turning south, worked their way down the southwest coast of the great Island Province, past shores still basking in the amethystine light of Indian summer, through seas so teeming with fish that they began to grow lazy with fatness. Here the Pup and other younger members of the company felt inclined to stay. But their elders knew that winter, with the long cold, and the scanty sun, and the perilous grinding of tortured ice-floes around the shore-rocks, would soon be upon them; so the journey was continued. On they pressed, across the wide gateway of the Gulf, from Cape Ray to North Cape, the eastern point of Nova Scotia. Good weather still waited upon their wayfaring, and they loitered onward gayly, till, arriving at the myriad-islanded bay of the Tuskets, near the westernmost tip of the peninsula, they could not, for sheer satisfaction, go farther. Here was safe seclusion, with countless inaccessible retreats. Here was food in exhaustless plenty; and here was weather benignant enough for any reasonable needs.
It was just here, off the Tuskets, that the Pup got another lesson. Hitherto his ideas of danger had been altogether associated with the land where eagles swooped out of a clear sky and bears skulked in the darkness, and where, moreover, he himself was incapable of swift escape. But now he found that the sea, too, held its menace for the gentle kindred of the seals. It was a still, autumnal morning, blue and clear, with a sunny sparkle on sea and air. The seals were most of them basking luxuriously on the seaward ledges of one of the outermost islands, while half a dozen of the more energetic were amusing themselves with their game of tag in the deep water. Pausing for a moment to take breath, after a sharp wrestling-match far down among the seaweeds, the Pup's observant eyes caught sight of a small, black triangular object cutting swiftly the smooth surface of the swells. He stared at it curiously. It was coming towards him, but it did not, to his uninitiated eyes, look dangerous. Then he became conscious of a scurrying of alarm all about him; and cries of sharp warning reached him from the sentinels on the ledge. Like a flash he dived, at an acute angle to the line of approach of the mysterious black object. Even in the instant, it was close upon him, and he caught sight of a long, terrible, gray shape, thrice as long as a seal, which turned on one side in its rush, showing a whitish belly, and a gaping, saw-toothed mouth big enough to take him in at one gulp. Only by a hair's-breadth did he avoid that awful rush, carrying with him as he passed the sound of the snapping jaws and the cold gleam of the shark's small, malignant eye.
Hideously frightened, he doubled this way and that, with a nimbleness that his huge pursuer could not hope to match. It took the shark but a few seconds to realize that this was a vain chase. An easier quarry caught his eye. He darted straight shoreward, where the deep water ran in abruptly to the very lip of the ledge. The Pup came to the surface to watch. One of the younger seals, losing its wits utterly with fright, and forgetting that its safety lay in the deep water where it could twist and dodge, was struggling frantically to clamber out upon the rocks. It had almost succeeded, indeed. It was just drawing up its narrow, tail-like hind flippers, when the great, rounded snout of the shark shot into the air above it. The monstrous shape descended upon it, and fell back with it into the water, leaving only a splash and trickle of blood upon the lip of the ledge. The other seals tossed their heads wildly, jumped about on their fore-flippers, and barked in lively dismay; and in a few moments, as if the matter had been put to vote and carried unanimously, they betook themselves in haste to one of the inner islands, where they knew that the shark, who hates shoal water, would not venture to follow them.
In this sheltered archipelago the little herd might well have passed the winter. But after a few weeks of content the southing spirit again seized upon the old male who had hitherto been the unquestioned leader. At this point, however, his authority went to pieces. When he resumed the southward wandering, less than half the herd accompanied him. But among those faithful were the Pup and his mild-eyed mother.
Rounding the extremity of Nova Scotia, the travellers crossed the wide mouth of the Bay of Fundy, and lingered a few days about the lofty headlands of Grand Manan. By this time they had grown so accustomed to ships of all kinds, from the white-sailed fishing-smack to the long, black, churning bulk of the ocean liner, that they no longer heeded them any more than enough to give them a wide berth. One and all, these strange apparitions appeared quite indifferent to seals, so very soon the seals became almost indifferent to them. Off the island of Campobello, however, something mysterious occurred which put an end to this indifference, although none of the band could comprehend it.
A beautiful, swift, white craft, with yellow gleams flashing here and there from her deck as the sun caught her polished brasswork, was cleaving the light waves northward. The seals, their round, dark heads bobbing above the water at a distance of perhaps three hundred yards from her port-quarter, gazed at the spectacle with childlike interest. They saw a group of men eying them from the deck of the swift monster. All at once from this group spurted two thin jets of flame. The Pup heard some tiny vicious thing go close over his head with a cruel whine, and zip sharply through a wave-crest just beyond. On the instant, even before the sharp clatter of the two reports came to their ears, all the seals dived, and swam desperately to get as far away as possible from the terrifying bright monster. When they came to the surface again, they were far out of range. But the restless old male, their leader, was not among them. The white yacht was steaming away into the distance, with its so-called sportsmen congratulating themselves that they had almost certainly killed something. The little band of seals waited about the spot for an hour or two, expecting the return of their chief; and then, puzzled and apprehensive, swam away toward the green-crested shore-line of Maine.
Here, lacking a leader, their migration came to an end. There seemed no reason to go farther, since here was everything they wanted. The Pup, by this time an expert pursuer of all but the swiftest fish, was less careful now to keep always within his mother's reach, though the affection between the two was still ardent. One day, while he was swimming some little distance apart from the herd, he noticed a black-hulled boat rocking idly on the swells near by. It was too near for his comfort, so he dived at once, intending to seek a safer neighborhood. But as luck would have it, he had hardly plunged below the surface when he encountered an enormous school of young herring. What throngs of them there were! And how crowded together! Never had he seen anything like it. They were darting this way and that in terrific excitement. He himself went wild at once, dashing hither and thither among them with snapping jaws, destroying many more than he could eat. And still they seemed to throng about him ever the more closely. At last he got tired of it, and dashed straight ahead to clear the shoal. The next moment, to his immeasurable astonishment, he was checked and flung back by a fine, invisible barrier. No, it was not quite invisible. He could see a network of meshes before him. Puzzled and alarmed, he shot up to the surface to reconnoitre.
As his head rose above the water, his heart fairly stopped for a second with dismay. The black side of the fishing boat was just above him, and the terrifying eyes of men looked straight down into his. Instantly he dived again, through the ever thickening masses of the herring. But straightway again he met the fine, invincible barrier of the net. Frantically he struggled to break through it, but only succeeded in coiling it about him till he could not move a flipper. And while he wriggled there impotently, under the squirming myriads of the fish, he was lifted out into the air and dragged into the boat.
Seeing the damage he had wrought in their catch, the fishermen were for knocking their captive straightway on the nose. But as he lay there, looking up with innocent eyes of wonder and appeal through the meshes, something in his baby helplessness softened the captain's heart.
"Hold hard, Jim," he ordered, staying a big sailor's hand. "Blamed if the little varmint ain't got eyes most as soft as my Libby's. I reckon he'll make a right purty pet fer the kid, an' kind of keep her from frettin' after her canary what died last Sunday."
"He don't much resemble a canary, Ephraim," laughed Jim, dropping the belaying-pin.
"I reckon he'll fill the bill fine, all the same," said the captain.
So the Pup was carried prisoner to Eastport.
As it happened, Miss Libby was a child of decided views. One of the most decided of her views proved to be that a seal pup, with very little voice and that little by no means melodious, was no substitute for a canary. She refused to look at the Pup at all, until her father, much disappointed, assured her that she should have a canary also without further delay. And even then, though she could not remain quite indifferent to the Pup's soft eyes and confiding friendliness, she never developed any real enthusiasm for him. She would minister amiably to his wants, and laugh at his antics, and praise his good temper, and stroke his sleek, round head, but she stuck resolutely to her first notion, that he was quite too "queer" for her to really love. She could never approve of his having flippers instead of fore paws, and of his lying down all the time even when he walked. As for his hind feet, which stuck out always straight behind him and close together, like a sort of double-barrelled tail, she was quite sure they had been fixed that way by mistake, and she could not, in spite of all her father's explanations as to the advantages, for a seal, of that arrangement, ever bring herself to accept them as normal.
Miss Libby's mother proved even less cordial. Her notions of natural history being of the most primitive, at first view she had jumped to the conclusion that the Pup was a species of fish; and in this opinion nothing could ever shake her.
"Well, I never!" she had exclaimed. "If that ain't just like you, Eph Barnes. As if it wa'n't enough to have to eat fish, an' talk fish, an' smell fish, year in an' year out, but you must go an' bring a live fish home to flop aroun' the house an' keep gittin' under a body's feet every way they turn! An' what's he goin' to eat, anyways, I'd like to know?"
"He eats fish, but he ain't no manner of fish himself, mother, no more than you nor I be!" explained Captain Ephraim, with a grin. "An' he won't be in your way a mite, for he'll live out in the yard, an' I'll sink the half of a molasses hogshead out there an' fill it with salt water for him to play in. He's an amusin' little beggar, an' gentle as a kitten."
"Well, I'd have you know that I wash my hands of him, Ephraim!" declared Mrs. Barnes, with emphasis. And so it came about that the Pup presently found himself, not Libby's special pet, but Captain Ephraim's.
Two important members of the Barnes family were a large yellow cat and a small, tangle-haired, blue-gray mop of a Skye terrier. At the first glimpse of the Pup, the yellow cat had fled, with tail as big as a bottle-brush, to the top of the kitchen dresser, where she crouched growling, with eyes like green full moons. The terrier, on the other hand, whose name was Toby, had shown himself rather hospitable to the mild-eyed stranger. Unacquainted with fear, and always inclined to be scornful of whatever conduct the yellow cat might indulge in, he had approached the newcomer with a friendly wagging of his long-haired stump of a tail, and sniffed at him with pleased curiosity. The Pup, his lonely heart hungering for comradeship, had met this civil advance with effusion; and thenceforward the two were fast friends.
By the time the yellow cat and Mrs. Barnes had both got over regarding the Pup as a stranger, he had become an object of rather distant interest to them. When he played at wrestling matches with Toby in the yard,—which always ended by the Pup rolling indulgently on his back, while Toby, with yelps of excitement, mounted triumphantly between his fanning flippers,—the yellow cat would crouch upon the woodpile close by and regard the proceedings with intent but non-committal eye. Mrs. Barnes, for her part, would open the kitchen door and surreptitiously coax the Pup in, with the lure of a dish of warm milk, which he loved extravagantly. Then—this being while Libby was at school and Captain Ephraim away on the water—she would seat herself in the rocking-chair by the window with her knitting and watch the Pup and Toby at their play. The young seal was an endless source of speculation to her.
"To think, now," she would mutter to herself, "that I'd be a-settin' here day after day a-studyin' out a critter like that, what's no more'n jest plain fish says I, if he do flop roun' the house an' drink milk like a cat. He's right uncanny; but there ain't no denyin' but what he's as good as a circus when he gits to playin' with Toby."
As Mrs. Barnes had a very good opinion of Toby's intelligence, declaring him to be the smartest dog in Maine, she gradually imbibed a certain degree of respect for Toby's friend. And so it came about that the Pup acquired a taste which no seal was ever intended to acquire—a taste for the luxurious glow of the kitchen fire.
When at last the real Atlantic winter had settled down upon the coast, binding it with bitter frost and scourging it with storm, then Captain Ephraim spent most of his time at home in his snug cottage. He had once, on a flying visit to New York, seen a troupe of performing seals, which had opened his eyes to the marvellous intelligence of these amphibians. It now became his chief occupation, in the long winter evenings, to teach tricks to the Pup. And stimulated by abundant prizes in the shape of fresh herrings and warm milk, right generously did the Pup respond. He learned so fast that before spring the accomplished Toby was outstripped; and as for the canary,—an aristocratic golden fellow who had come all the way from Boston,—Miss Libby was constrained to admit that, except when it came to a question of singing, her pet was "not in it" with her father's. Mrs. Barnes' verdict was that "canaries seemed more natural-like, but couldn't rightly be called so interestin'."
Between Libby and her father there was always a lot of gay banter going on, and now Captain Ephraim declared that he would teach the Pup to sing as well as the canary. The obliging animal had already acquired a repertoire of tricks that would have made him something of a star in any troupe. The new demand upon his wits did not disturb him, so long as it meant more fish, more milk, and more petting. Captain Ephraim took a large tin bucket, turned it upside down on the floor, and made the Pup rest his chest upon the bottom. Then, tying a tin plate to each flipper, he taught the animal to pound the plates vigorously against the sides of the bucket, with a noise that put the shrill canary to shamefaced silence and drove the yellow cat in frantic amazement from the kitchen. This lesson it took weeks to perfect, because the Pup himself always seemed mortified at the blatant discords which he made. When it was all achieved, however, it was not singing, but mere instrumental music, as Libby triumphantly proclaimed. Her father straightway swore that he was not to be downed by any canary. A few weeks more, and he had taught the Pup to point his muzzle skyward and emit long, agonizing groans, the while he kept flapping the two tin plates against the bucket. It was a wonderful achievement, which made Toby retreat behind the kitchen stove and gaze forth upon his friend with grieved surprise. But it obliged Libby, who was a fair-minded child, to confess to her father that she and her pet were vanquished.
All this while the Pup was growing, as perhaps no harbor seal of his months had grown before. When spring came, he saw less of Captain Ephraim, but he had compensation, for the good captain now diverted into his modest grounds a no-account little brook which was going begging, and dug a snug little basin at the foot of the garden for the Pup to disport himself therein. All through the summer he continued to grow and was happy, playing with Toby, offending the yellow cat, amusing Miss Libby, and affording food for speculation to Mrs. Barnes over her knitting. In the winter Captain Ephraim polished him up in his old tricks, and taught him some new ones. But by this time he had grown so big that Mrs. Barnes began to grumble at him for taking up too much room. He was, as ever, a model of confiding amiability, in spite of his ample jaws and formidable teeth. But one day toward spring he showed that this good nature of his would not stand the test of seeing a friend ill-used.
It happened in this way. Toby, who was an impudent little dog, had managed to incur the enmity of a vicious half-breed mastiff, which lived on a farm some distance out of Eastport. The brute was known to have killed several smaller dogs; so whenever he passed the Barnes' gate, and snarled his threats at Toby, Toby would content himself with a scornful growl from the doorstep.
But one morning, as the big mongrel went by at the tail of his master's sled, Toby chanced to be very busy in the snow near the gate digging up a precious buried bone. The big dog crept up on tiptoe, and went over the gate with a scrambling bound. Toby had just time to lift his shaggy little head out of the snow and turn to face the assault. His heart was great, and there was no terror in the growl with which he darted under the foe's huge body and sank his teeth strategically into the nearest hind paw. But the life would have been crushed out of him in half a minute, had not the Pup, at this critical juncture, come flopping up awkwardly to see how his little friend was faring.
Now the Pup, as we have seen, was simply overflowing with good-will towards dogs, and cats, and every one. But that was because he thought they were all friendly. He was amazed to find here a dog that seemed unfriendly. Then all at once he realized that something very serious was happening to his playmate. His eyes reddened and blazed; and with one mighty lunge he flung himself forward upon the enemy. With that terrific speed of action which could snap up a darting mackerel, he caught the mastiff in the neck, close behind the jaw. His teeth were built to hold the writhings of the biggest salmon, and his grip was that of a bulldog—except that it cut far deeper.
The mastiff yelped, snapped wildly at his strange antagonist, and then, finding himself held so that he could not by any possibility get a grip, strove to leap into the air and shake his assailant off. But the Pup held him down inexorably, his long teeth cutting deeper and deeper with every struggle. For perhaps half a minute the fight continued, the mad contortions of the entangled three (for Toby still clung to his grip on the foe's hind paw) tearing up the snow for a dozen feet in every direction. The snow was flecked with crimson,—but suddenly, with a throbbing gush, it was flooded scarlet. The Pup's teeth had torn through the great artery of his opponent's neck. With a cough the brute fell over, limp and unresisting as a half-filled bran sack.
At this moment the mastiff's owner, belatedly aware that the tables were being turned on his vicious favorite, came yelling and cursing over the gate, brandishing a sled stake in his hands. But at the same time arrived Captain Ephraim, rushing bareheaded from the kitchen, and stepped in front of the new arrival. One glance had shown him that the fight was over.
"Hold hard there, Baiseley!" he ordered in curt tones. Then he continued more slowly—"It ain't no use makin' a fuss. That murderin' brute of yourn begun it, an' come into my yard to kill my own little tike here. He's got just what he deserved. An' if the Pup here hadn't 'a' done it, I'd 'a' done it myself. See?"
Baiseley, like his mongrel follower, was a bully. But he had discretion. He calmed down.
"That there dog o' mine, Captain Ephraim, was a good dog, an' worth money. I reckon ye'll hev to pay me ten dollars for that dog, an' we'll call it square."
"Reckon I'll have to owe it to ye, Hank! Mebbe I'll pay it some day when you git han'somer 'n you are now!" laughed Captain Ephraim dryly. He gave a piercing whistle through his teeth. Straightway Toby, sadly bedraggled, came limping up to him. The Pup let go of his dead enemy, and lifted his head to eye his master inquiringly. His whole front was streaming with blood.
"Go wash yerself!" ordered the captain picking up a chip and hurling it into the pond, which was now half empty of ice.
The Pup floundered off obediently to get the chip, and Baiseley, muttering inarticulate abuse, slouched away to his sled.
Toward the end of April there came a great change in the Pup's affairs. Primarily, the change was in Captain Ephraim's. Promoted to the command of a smart schooner engaged in cod-fishing on the Grand Banks, he sold his cottage at Eastport and removed his family to Gloucester, Massachusetts. At the same time, recognizing with many a pang that a city like Gloucester was no place for him to keep a seal in, he sold the Pup, at a most consoling price indeed, to the agent of an English animal trainer. With the prospect of shortly becoming the cynosure of all eyes at Shepherd's Bush or Earl's Court, the Pup was shipped on a freighter for Liverpool.
With his pervasive friendliness, and seeking solace for the absence of Toby and Captain Ephraim, the Pup proved a most privileged and popular passenger. All went well till the ship came off Cape Race, Newfoundland. Then that treacherous and implacable promontory made haste to justify its reputation; and in a blind sou'wester the ship was driven on the ledges. While she was pounding to pieces, the crew got away in their boats, and presently the Pup found himself reviving half-forgotten memories amid the buffeting of the huge Atlantic rollers.
He felt amazingly at home, but very lonely. Bobbing his head as high as he could above the water, he stared about him in every direction, dimly hoping to catch sight of Captain Ephraim or Toby—or even of the unsociable yellow cat. They were nowhere to be seen. Well, company he must have. After fish, of which there was no lack in those teeming waters, company was his urgent demand. He headed impatiently for the coast, which he could not see indeed, but which he felt clearly in the distance.
The first land he encountered was a high hogback of rock which proved to be an island. Swimming around under its lea, he ran into a little herd of seals of his own kind, and hastened confidently to fraternize with them.
The strangers, mostly females and young males, met his advances with a good-natured indifference. One of the herd, however, a big dog-seal who seemed to consider himself the chief, would have none of him, but grumbled and showed his teeth in a most unpleasant manner. The Pup avoided him politely, and crawled out upon the rocks, about twenty feet away, beside two friendly females. He wanted to get acquainted, that was all. But the old male, after grumbling for several minutes, got himself worked up into a rage, and came floundering over the rocks to do up the visitor. Roughly he pushed the two complaisant females off into the water, and then, with a savage lunge, he fell upon the Pup.
But in this last step the old male was ill-advised. Hitherto the Pup had felt diffident in the face of such a reception, but now a sudden red rage flared into his eyes. Young as he was, he was as big as his antagonist, and, here on land, a dozen times more nimble. Here came in the advantage of Captain Ephraim's training. When the old male lunged upon him, he simply wasn't there. He had shot aside, and wheeled like a flash, and secured a hold at the root of his assailant's flipper. Of course in this position he too received some sharp punishment. But he held on like a bulldog, worrying, worrying mercilessly, till all at once the other squealed, and threw up his muzzle, and struggled to get away. The Pup, satisfied with this sign of submission, let him go at once, and he flounced off furiously into the water.
As a prompt result of this victory, the Pup found himself undisputed leader of the little herd, his late antagonist, after a vain effort to effect a division, having slipped indolently into a subordinate place. This suited the Pup exactly, who was happy himself, and wanted everybody else to be so likewise.
As spring advanced, the herd worked their way northward along the Newfoundland coast, sometimes journeying hurriedly, sometimes lingering for days in the uninhabited inlets and creek mouths. The Pup was in a kind of ecstasy over his return to the water world, and indulged in antics that seemed perhaps frivolous in the head of so important a family. But once in a while a qualm of homesickness would come over him, for Toby, and the Captain, and a big tin basin of warm milk. And in one of these moods he was suddenly confronted by men.
The herd was loitering off a point which marked the entrance to a shallow cove, when round the jutting rocks slid a row-boat, with two fishermen coming out to set lines. They had no guns with them, fortunately. They saw the seals dive and vanish at the first glimpse of them, as was natural. But to their amazement, one seal—the biggest, to their astonished eyes, in the whole North Atlantic—did not vanish with the rest. Instead of that, after eying them fearlessly at a distance of some fifty feet, he swam deliberately straight toward them.
Now there is nothing very terrifying, except to a fish, in the aspect of even the biggest harbor seal; but to these fishermen, who knew the shyness of the seals, it was terrifying to the last degree that one should conduct himself in this unheard-of way. They stopped rowing, and stared with superstitious eyes.
"Howly Mother!" gasped one, "that b'ain't no seal, Mike!"
"What d'ye s'pose he wants wid us, Barney, annyhow?" demanded Mike, in an awed voice.
"Sure, an' it's a sign for the one or t'other of us. It's gittin' back to shore we'd better be," suggested Barney, pulling round hard on the bow oar.
As the mysterious visitor was still advancing, this counsel highly commended itself to Mike, who would have faced a polar bear with no weapon but his oar, but had no stomach for a parley with the supernatural. In another moment the boat was rushing back up the cove with all the speed their practised muscles could impart. But still, swimming leisurely in their wake, with what seemed to them a dreadful deliberation, the Pup came after them.
"Don't ye be comin' nigh me!" cried Mike, somewhat hysterically, "or I'll bash yer face wid the oar, mind!"
"Whisht!" said Barney, "don't ye be after talkin' that way to a sperrit, or maybe he'll blast ye!"
"I'm thinkin', now," said Mike, presently, in a hushed voice, "as maybe it be Dan Sheedy's sperrit, comin' back to ha'nt me coz I didn't give up them boots o' his to his b'y, accordin' to me promise."
"Shure an' why not that?" agreed Barney, cheered by the hope that the visitation was not meant for him.
A moment more and the boat reached the beach with an abruptness that hurled both rowers from their seats. Scrambling out upon the shingle, they tugged wildly at the boat to draw her up. But the Pup, his eyes beaming affection, was almost on their heels. With a yell of dismay Mike dashed up the shore toward their shack; but Barney, having less on his conscience, delayed to snatch out of the bow the precious tin pail in which they carried their bait. Then he followed Mike. But looking back over his shoulder, he saw his mysterious pursuer ascend from the water and come flopping up the shore at a pace which assuredly no mortal seal could ever accomplish on dry land. At that he fell over a boulder, dropped the pail of bait, picked himself up with a startled yell, and made a dash for the shack as if all the fiends were chasing him.
Slamming the door behind them, the two stared fearfully out of the window. Their guns, loaded with slugs, leaned against the wall, but they would never be guilty of such perilous impiety as to use them.
When he came to the tin pail and the spilled bait the Pup was pleased. He knew very well what the pail was for, and what the men expected of him. He had no objection to being paid in advance, so he gobbled the bait at once. It was not much, but he had great hopes that, if he acquitted himself well, he might get a pan of warm milk. Cheerfully he hoisted his massive chest upon the pail, and then, pounding jerkily with his flippers as hard as he could, he lifted his muzzle heavenward and delivered himself of a series of prolonged and anguished groans.
This was too much for his audience.
"Howly Mother, save us!" sobbed Barney, dropping upon his knees, and scrabbling desperately in his untidy memory for some fragments of his childhood's prayers.
"Don't, Dan, don't!" pleaded Mike, gazing out with wild eyes at the Pup's mystical performance. "I'll give back them boots to the b'y. I'll give 'em back, Dan! Let me be now, won't 'ee, old mate?"
Thus adjured, the Pup presently stopped, and stared expectantly at the shack, awaiting the pan of warm milk. When it did not come, he was disgusted. He had never been kept waiting this way before. These men were not like Captain Ephraim. In a minute or two he rolled off the pail, flopped heavily down the beach, and plunged back indignantly into the sea. As his dark head grew smaller and smaller in the distance, the men in the shack threw open the door, and came out as if they needed fresh air.
"I always said as how Dan had a good heart," muttered Mike, in a shaken voice. "An' shure, now, ye see, Barney, he ain't after bearin' no grudge."
"But ye'll be takin' back them boots to young Dan, this very day of our lives," urged Barney. "An' ye'll be after makin' it all right wid the Widdy Sheedy, afore ye're a day older, now."
"Shure, an' to wanst ain't none too quick for me, an' me receavin' a hint loike that!" agreed Mike.
As for the Pup, after this shock to his faith in man, he began to forget the days of his comfortable captivity. His own kind proved vastly interesting to him, and in a few weeks his reversion was complete. By that time his journeyings had led him, with his little herd, far up the coast of Labrador. At last he came to a chain of rocky islands, lying off a black and desolate coast. The islands were full of caves, and clamorous with sea-birds, and trodden forever by a white and shuddering surf. Here old memories stirred dimly but sweetly within him—and here he brought his wanderers to rest.
Not, like his grim ancestors for a thousand generations, in some dark cave of the hills was he whelped, but in a narrow iron cage littered with straw. Two brothers and a sister made at the same time a like inauspicious entrance upon an alien and fettered existence. And because their silent, untamable mother loved too savagely the hereditary freedom of her race to endure the thought of bearing her young into a life of bondage, she would have killed them mercifully, even while their blind baby mouths were groping for her breasts. But the watchful keeper forestalled her. Whelps of the great gray timber wolf, born in captivity, and therefore likely to be docile, were rare and precious. The four little sprawlers, helpless and hungrily whimpering, were given into the care of a foster-mother, a sorrowing brown spaniel bitch who had just been robbed of her own puppies.
When old enough to be weaned, the two brothers and the sister, sturdy and sleek as any wolf cubs of the hills, were sold to a dealer in wild animals, who carried them off to Hamburg. But "Lone Wolf," as Toomey, the trainer, had already named him, stayed with the circus. He was the biggest, the most intelligent, and the most teachable cub of the whole litter, and Toomey, who had an unerring eye for quality in a beast, expected to make of him a star performer among wolves.
Job Toomey had been a hunter and a trapper in the backwoods of New Brunswick, where his instinctive knowledge of the wild kindreds had won him a success which presently sickened him. His heart revolted against the slaughter of the creatures which he found so interesting, and for a time, his occupation gone, he had drifted aimlessly about the settlements. Then, at the performance of a travelling circus, which boasted two trained bears and a little trick elephant, he had got his cue. It was borne in upon him that he was meant to be an animal trainer. Then and there he joined the circus at a nominal wage, and within six months found himself an acknowledged indispensable. In less than a year he had become a well-known trainer, employed in one of the biggest menageries of America. Not only for his wonderful comprehension and command of animals was he noted, but also for his pose, to which he clung obstinately, of giving his performances always in the homespun garb of a backwoodsman, instead of in the conventional evening dress.
"Lone Wolf!" It seemed a somewhat imaginative name for the prison-born whelp, but as he grew out of cub-hood his character and his stature alike seemed to justify it. Influenced by the example of his gentle foster-mother, he was docility itself toward his tamer, whom he came to love well after the reticent fashion of his race. But toward all others, man and beast alike, his reserve was cold and dangerous. Toomey, apparently, absorbed all the affection which his lonely nature had to spare. In return for this singleness of regard, Toomey trained him with a firm patience which never forgot to be kind, and made him, by the time he was three years old, quite the cleverest and most distinguished performing wolf who had ever adorned a show.
He was now as tall as the very tallest Great Dane, but with a depth of shoulder and chest, a punishing length and strength of jaw, that no dog ever could boast. When he looked at Toomey, his eyes wore the expression of a faithful and understanding follower; but when he answered the stares of the crowd through the bars of his cage, the greenish fire that flamed in their inscrutable depths was ominous and untamed. In all save his willing subjection to Toomey's mastery, he was a true wolf, of the savage and gigantic breed of the Northwestern timber. To the spectators this was aggressively obvious; and therefore the marvel of seeing this sinister gray beast, with the murderous fangs, so submissive to Toomey's gentlest bidding, never grew stale. In every audience there were always some spectators hopefully pessimistic, who vowed that the great wolf would some day turn upon his master and tear his throat. To be sure, Lone Wolf was not by any means the only beast whom the backwoodsman had performing for the delectation of his audiences. But all the others—the lions, the leopards, the tiger, the elephant, the two zebras, and the white bear—seemed really subdued, as it were hypnotized into harmlessness. It was Lone Wolf only who kept the air of having never yielded up his spirit, of being always, in some way, not the slave but the free collaborator.
Ordinarily, in spite of the wild fire smouldering in his veins, Lone Wolf was well enough content. The show was so big and so important that it was accustomed to visit only the great centres, and to make long stops at each place. At such times his life contained some measure of freedom. He would be given a frequent chance of exercise, in some secure enclosure where he could run, and jump, and stretch his mighty muscles, and breathe deep. And not infrequently—after dark as a rule—his master would snap a massive chain upon his collar, and lead him out, on leash like a dog, into the verdurous freshness of park or country lane. But when the show was on tour, then it was very different. Lone Wolf hated fiercely the narrow cage in which he had to travel. He hated the harsh, incessant noise of the grinding rails, the swaying and lurching of the trucks, the dizzying procession of the landscape past the barred slits which served as windows to his car. Moreover, sometimes the unwieldy length of the circus train would be halted for an hour or two on some forest siding, to let the regular traffic of the line go by. Then, as his wondering eyes caught glimpses of shadowed glades, and mysterious wooded aisles, and far-off hills and horizons, or wild, pungent smells of fir thicket and cedar swamp drew in upon the wind to his uplifted nostrils, his veins would run hot with an uncomprehended but savage longing for delights which he had never known, for a freedom of which he had never learned or guessed. At such times his muscles would ache and quiver, till he felt like dashing himself blindly against his bars. And if the halt happened to take place at night, with perhaps a white moon staring in upon him from over a naked hill-top, he would lift his lean muzzle straight up toward the roof of his cage and give utterance to a terrible sound of which he knew not the meaning, the long, shrill gathering cry of the pack. This would rouse all the other beasts to a frenzy of wails and screeches and growls and roars; till Toomey would have to come and stop his performance by darkening the cage with a tarpaulin. At the sound of Toomey's voice, soothing yet overmastering, the great wolf would lie down quietly, and the ghostly summons of his far-ravaging fathers would haunt his spirit no more.
After one of these long journeys, the show was halted at an inland city for a stop of many weeks; and to house the show a cluster of wooden shanties was run up on the outskirts of the city, forming a sort of mushroom village flanked by the great white exhibition tents. In one of these shanties, near the centre of the cluster, Lone Wolf's cage was sheltered, along with the cages of the puma, the leopard, and the little black Himalayan bear. Immediately adjoining this shanty was the spacious open shed where the elephants were tethered.
That same night, a little before dawn, when the wearied attendants were sleeping heavily, Lone Wolf's nostrils caught a strange smell which made him spring to his feet and sniff anxiously at the suddenly acrid air. A strange reddish glow was dispersing the dark outside his window. From the other cages came uneasy mutterings and movements, and the little black bear, who was very wise, began to whine. The dull glow leaped into a glare and then the elephants trumpeted the alarm. Instantly the night was loud with shoutings, and tramplings, and howlings, and rushings to and fro. A cloud of choking smoke blew into Lone Wolf's cage, making him cough and wonder anxiously why Toomey didn't come. The next moment Toomey came, with one of the keepers, and an elephant. Frantically they began pushing and dragging out the cages. But there was a wind; and before the first cage, that of the puma, was more than clear of the door, the flames were on top of them like a leaping tiger. Panic-stricken, the elephant screamed and bolted. The keeper, shouting, "We can't save any more in this house. Let's git the lions out!" made off with one arm over his eyes, doggedly dragging the heavy cage of the puma. The keeper was right. He had his work cut out for him, as it was, to save the screeching puma. As for Toomey, his escape was already almost cut off. But he could not endure to save himself without giving the imprisoned beasts a chance for their lives. Dashing at the three remaining cages, he tore them open; and then, with a summons to Lone Wolf to follow him, he threw his arms over his face and dashed through the flames.
The three animals sprang out at once into the middle of the floor, but their position seemed already hopeless. The leopard, thoroughly cowed, leaped back into his cage and curled up in the farthest corner, spitting insanely. Lone Wolf dashed at the door by which Toomey had fled, but a whirl of flame in his face drove him back to the middle of the floor, where the little bear stood whimpering. Just at this moment a massive torrent of water from a fire engine crashed through the window, drenching Lone Wolf, and knocking the bear clean over. The beneficent stream was whisked away again in an instant, having work to do elsewhere than on this already doomed and hopeless shed. But to the wise little bear it had shown a way of escape. Out through the window he scurried, and Lone Wolf went after him in one tremendous leap just as the flames swooped in and licked the floor clean, and slew the huddled leopard in its cage.
Outside, in the awful heat, the alternations of dazzling glare and blinding smoke, the tumult of the shouting and the engines, the roar of the flames, the ripping crash of the streams, and the cries of the beasts, Lone Wolf found himself utterly confused. But he trusted, for some reason, to the sagacity of the bear, and followed his shaggy form, bearing diagonally up and across the wind. Presently a cyclone of suffocating smoke enveloped him, and he lost his guide. But straight ahead he darted, stretched out at top speed, belly to the ground, and in another moment he emerged into the clear air. His eyes smarting savagely, his nose and lips scorched, his wet fur singed, he hardly realized at first his escape, but raced straight on across the fields for several hundred yards. Then, at the edge of a wood, he stopped and looked back. The little bear was nowhere to be seen. The night wind here blew deliciously cool upon his face. But there was the mad red monster, roaring and raging still as if it would eat up the world. The terror of it was in his veins. He sprang into the covert of the wood, and ran wildly, with the one impulse to get as far away as possible.