The Black Wolf Pack
by Dan Beard
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In the darkness I discovered another occupant of the piazza also rolled up in a blanket taken from a bed in the house. Feeling with my hands I discovered that it was Big Pete. Comfortably settling myself in my blanket I felt the breeze from the mountain blowing over my face and through my hair, and it soothed me until I dropped off into gentle slumber; but during the months I had been sleeping in the open I had learned the art, as the saying is, of sleeping with one eye open. In this case, however, if the eye had really been wide open it could have seen nothing because of the darkness, but the darkness did not interfere with my ability to hear, and after I had been sleeping awhile I found myself suddenly sitting bolt upright in my blankets with beads of perspiration on my forehead and that terrible sensation of horror which one experiences in a nightmare. I knew that I had heard something, but what?

The oppressive silence of the wilderness made the valley appear as if Nature was holding her breath for a moment before giving voice to an explosion of sound. I sensed impending disaster of some sort. What it was I could not guess, but was convinced that something was about to happen.

As I held my breath and listened, the ranch house was silent; even Pete had not, apparently, awakened, but I could not hear his regular breathing. Now I thought I could detect a soft and very faint noise as of some large body creeping over the puncheon steps. I also imagined I detected the noise of padded feet and the scraping noise of claws on the wood. A shudder ran through me. Was a panther, a mountain lion, about to spring upon me? No, I abandoned the thought and instinctively I knew that it must be one of the black wolf pack. Then I remembered hearing the cracking and breaking of sticks or timber while I was trying to sleep in the bedroom, and I felt that Pluto had broken out of the pen and was creeping up on us slowly and stealthily as I have seen a fox creep up on a covey of quail.

Would the beast presently hurl its terrible form upon me, or on Big Pete? I attempted to warn my friend, but my tongue clung to the roof of my mouth and for the moment I was powerless and speechless, subdued by a combination of fear of the real beast and superstitious fear of the fabulous werwolf or loup-garou,[4] but the next moment I pulled myself together, mastered my trembling limbs, rolled softly out of my blankets, and gun in hand wormed my way toward the spot where Big Pete lay, determined to sell my life dearly. With Big Pete beside me, now that I was thoroughly awake, I would fight all the werwolves of the old world and all the loup-garous of Canada. I reached out and felt for Pete but he was not there, the blankets were empty; once or twice I thought I detected the glint of the wolves' eyes, but the night was very dark and in the shadow of the roof I could really see nothing.

[Footnote 4: A werwolf, or loup-garou, is a legendary man who, it was formerly believed, could at will take on the form and nature of a wolf.]

Closer and closer sounded the stealthy, dragging noise, and I heard a hand feel softly for the latch of the front door and could hear fingers scraping ever so softly over the wood surface of the other side. A slight rattle told me that the hand had found the latch and that presently the door would be flung open. With my revolver ready I waited developments and braced myself for the attack.

The door flew open wide, and the voice of the Wild Hunter cried,

"Pluto, you fiend, down! down! I say!"

But this time the huge brute did not obey and the command was answered by a low rebellious growl, a scratching of feet on the puncheons, and a heavy thud of someone falling told me that the final struggle for the leadership of the black wolf pack had begun.

Then burst upon the stillness of the night such an uproar that for a moment I thought the whole pack was mixed in the fight, but at length I heard Pluto's snarling, rumbling growl, answered by the distant howl of the wolf pack, followed immediately by a close-by yell that chilled my blood; after this came Big Pete's war cry, then the crash of falling objects, shrieks and growls and savage yells.

I had flung myself forward, and there in the pitch darkness of the doorway of the hall I felt and heard rather than saw the lean twisting bodies of the Wild Hunter and Pluto clasped in a life and death struggle on the floor. I feared to use my revolver, as it would have been impossible to tell whether I was shooting the hunter or the wolf.

Suddenly a light burst upon the scene. Big Pete's absence was explained; he had secured a lantern and holding it aloft with his left hand, with a six-shooter in his right, he paused a moment over the struggling figures. By the light of the lantern one could see that the Wild Hunter was on his back struggling with the giant beast which he was trying to choke with his two hands, while the wolf's teeth were seeking the throat of the man. It was a terrible scene but it was no time to waste in horror. The efforts of the hunter to free himself from his terrible assailant would have been of little avail but for the assistance of Big Pete, for the wolf was shaking the wild man from side to side with terrific force, very much the same as a bull-terrier might shake a cat.

Pete wasted no time but placing the muzzle of his gun against the wolf's head he fired, then shouted to me, "Look behind you."

As I wheeled about I found that I was facing the rest of the pack. Pluto reared upon his hind legs, clawed the air frantically in his death struggle, and fell with a thud across his master's body, but Pete and I were now concentrating our fire on the snarling, leaping bodies of the wolf pack. Fortunately the death of Pluto and the silence of the Wild Hunter seemed to discourage the pack, they evidently missed their leaders and this gave us the advantage, for if they had rushed us we undoubtedly would have fallen victims to their savage teeth.

In the melee the lantern was upset and the struggle ended in darkness as it began, but when things quieted down and Pete relit the lantern there were only two wolves which were alive and they were fiercely attacking each other. We soon dispatched them, however, and then devoted our attention to the Wild Hunter over whose body Big Pete was now bending.

"By the great horn spoon, Le-loo!" cried he, looking up for a moment, "we've wiped out the pack, and now that the scrap is over here comes the Injuns. I calculate our friend here is a dead one; Pluto has chewed him to pieces. Come, lend a hand and we will see what we can do for the poor old man; he certainly did put up a glorious fight."

Reaching down I gathered the old man's legs in my arms, and with Big Pete supporting his head and shoulders, we carried him into my room and laid him on the feather bed under the savagely ornamented tester.

Big Pete was all action then, and I helped as best I could. The Scout ripped one of the homespun sheets into ribbons and with these made bandages and proceeded to stay the flow of blood from the old man's lacerated throat. He worked hard and long and now and then he would shake his head dubiously. Presently he muttered, "'Taint much use, Ol' Timer, I guess yore a goner. Yore goneta pass over t' Divide this time, I guess. That tha' Pluto fiend done chewed you up fer further orders."

At this the old man opened his eyes, and a grim smile wrinkled his now ashen face.

"I knew he'd do it some day, and I think he got me this time. The Mewan Indians call the giant wolf "Too-le-ze" and that is also the name they gave me, but I am not a werwolf, a loup-garou or a Too-le-ze. I was only their master but now their victim.

"I feared that Pluto, as I call him, or Too-le-ze, was strong and treacherous and that is why I ruled him with an iron hand. He's got me this time. I guess it had to end this way—give me a cup of water."

He then fixed his gaze on me and I noticed that he no longer had that worried, haunted look which had heretofore characterized him.

"So you are Donald's son—well, when I heard Pluto stalking you I knew that it was you or your uncle that the beast would get; it was fate that made me slip and fall, and once down the wolf saw his long-looked-for opportunity and instantly availed himself of it. But the good Lord was not going to allow me to bring bad luck to both you and your father, boy. Yes, I am Fay Mullen and I caused the death of your father, and my brother. I bear the brand of Cain.

"We were crossing a steep bank of snow at the foot of a cliff, and being both tired and hungry we were bickering and quarreling over nothing. I should have remembered that your father was but just recovering from an attack of nervous prostration, but I did not; we had been months in the mountains prospecting and the unprofitable toil and loneliness must have got on my nerves. At any rate, after some hot, unbrotherly language, we agreed to part company.

"We sat down on the snow and divided our outfit by lot. I got the flint-lock Patrick Mullen, the fierce Great Dane and the gentle little donkey; your father got the packhorse and the Winchester rifle.

"We—we—parted without saying good-bye, and just then an elk came out on the snow bank. Instantly your father fired and I fired, the elk fell, but the simultaneous concussion of the reports of the two rifles started the snow to moving. The Great Dane and the donkey sensed the danger and fled to the right. I turned to warn your father and motioned him back, but he came on a run toward me and I fled at the heels of my outfit. The burro and dog escaped to safety, I was caught in the edge of the slide, knocked unconscious and buried in snow, from which the dog rescued me.

"A fragment of stone struck me on the head and I have never been the same since then. Your father and his outfit are buried under five hundred feet of snow and rocks. I camped nearby for days but could find no trace of my brother and all the time a voice seemed to cry, 'You killed your brother; you are marked with the brand of Cain.'

"This thought has haunted me night and day and I have never quarreled with a man since then; for fear that I might do so, I have avoided white men ever since and buried myself in these mountains. I found this valley and I hid here and with the aid of the Great Dane and the wolf dogs I bred, as beasts of burden, I built this ranch. I—I—was afraid—all the time, though—afraid someone would—find out about—Donald's death and blame it on me. When you—said—you—were—Donald's son I was frightened—I thought you'd come to get me—for killing your—father and—I—I—I was going to kill myself. But Pluto got—me—and saved me from further guilt. I—"

He said more, but neither Big Pete nor I could understand him. Indeed, he kept mumbling incoherently for an hour or more while we watched over him and did all that we could to make him comfortable until the death rattle in his throat put an end to his mumbling. But despite our efforts, he passed on at dawn. Just as the first warm light of the sun glowed above the mountains, he breathed his last.

* * * * *

Now you know why my private den is just cram full of the things you fellows like. You may also guess where I procured the black wolfskin rugs and the rare bead and porcupine quill decorations. Yes, that long-barrelled rifle hanging on the buckhorn rack is the famous Patrick Mullen gun. It is a rifle that Washington, Boone or Crockett would have almost given their scalps to possess, because it is the same pattern as the ones they themselves used but more scientifically and skillfully made. It's a flint-lock, too, and that is the funny part about it that interests all the Scouts of our Troop. It is my good-turn mascot, for as long as it hangs there I am under the influence of my wild uncle and can quarrel with no man.

Now you know why the gun is preserved as a trophy for my old Scouts and is an object of veneration upon which they love to gaze when they sit cross-legged on the skins of the black wolf pack before the crackling fire of their Scoutmaster's private den.

Big Pete? Oh, he now runs the Pluto Ranch in Paradise Valley.



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