And it was a wonderful world—a world of vast silence, empty of
everything but the creatures of the wild. The nearest Hudson's Bay
post was a hundred miles away, and the first town of civilization
was a straight three hundred to the south. Two years before, Tusoo,
the Cree trapper, had called this his domain. It had come down to
him, as was the law of the forests, through generations of
forefathers. But Tusoo had been the last of his worn-out family; he
had died of smallpox, and his wife and his children had died with
him. Since then no human foot had taken up his trails. The lynx had
multiplied. The moose and caribou had gone unhunted by man. The
beaver had built their homes—undisturbed. The tracks of the black
bear were as thick as the tracks of the deer farther south. And
where once the deadfalls and poison baits of Tusoo had kept the
wolves thinned down, there was no longer a menace for these
mohekuns of the wilderness.
Following the sun of this first wonderful day came the moon and
the stars of Baree's first real night. It was a splendid night, and
with it a full red moon sailed up over the forests, flooding the
earth with a new kind of light, softer and more beautiful to Baree.
The wolf was strong in him, and he was restless. He had slept that
day in the warmth of the sun, but he could not sleep in this glow
of the moon. He nosed uneasily about Gray Wolf, who lay flat on her
belly, her beautiful head alert, listening yearningly to the night
sounds, and for the tonguing of Kazan, who had slunk away like a
shadow to hunt.
Half a dozen times, as Baree wandered about near the windfall,
he heard a soft whir over his head, and once or twice he saw gray
shadows floating swiftly through the air. They were the big
northern owls swooping down to investigate him, and if he had been
a rabbit instead of a wolf dog whelp, his first night under the
moon and stars would have been his last; for unlike Wapoos, the
rabbit, he was not cautious. Gray Wolf did not watch him closely.
Instinct told her that in these forests there was no great danger
for Baree except at the hands of man. In his veins ran the blood of
the wolf. He was a hunter of all other wild creatures, but no other
creature, either winged or fanged, hunted him.
In a way Baree sensed this. He was not afraid of the owls. He
was not afraid of the strange bloodcurdling cries they made in the
black spruce tops. But once fear entered into him, and he scurried
back to his mother. It was when one of the winged hunters of the
air swooped down on a snowshoe rabbit, and the squealing agony of
the doomed creature set his heart thumping like a little hammer. He
felt in those cries the nearness of that one ever-present tragedy
of the wild—death. He felt it again that night when, snuggled close
to Gray Wolf, he listened to the fierce outcry of a wolf pack that
was close on the heels of a young caribou bull. And the meaning of
it all, and the wild thrill of it all, came home to him early in
the gray dawn when Kazan returned, holding between his jaws a huge
rabbit that was still kicking and squirming with life.
This rabbit was the climax in the first chapter of Baree's
education. It was as if Gray Wolf and Kazan had planned it all out,
so that he might receive his first instruction in the art of
killing. When Kazan had dropped it, Baree approached the big hare
cautiously. The back of Wapoos, the rabbit, was broken. His round
eyes were glazed, and he had ceased to feel pain. But to Baree, as
he dug his tiny teeth into the heavy fur under Wapoos's throat, the
hare was very much alive. The teeth did not go through into the
flesh. With puppyish fierceness Baree hung on. He thought that he
was killing. He could feel the dying convulsions of Wapoos. He
could hear the last gasping breaths leaving the warm body, and he
snarled and tugged until finally he fell back with a mouthful of
fur. When he returned to the attack, Wapoos was quite dead, and
Baree continued to bite and snarl until Gray Wolf came with her
sharp fangs and tore the rabbit to pieces. After that followed the
So Baree came to understand that to eat meant to kill, and as
other days and nights passed, there grew in him swiftly the hunger
for flesh. In this he was the true wolf. From Kazan he had taken
other and stronger inheritances of the dog. He was magnificently
black, which in later days gave him the name of Kusketa Mohekun—the
black wolf. On his breast was a white star. His right ear was
tipped with white. His tail, at six weeks, was bushy and hung low.
It was a wolf's tail. His ears were Gray Wolf's ears—sharp, short,
pointed, always alert. His foreshoulders gave promise of being
splendidly like Kazan's, and when he stood up he was like the trace
dog, except that he always stood sidewise to the point or object he
was watching. This, again, was the wolf, for a dog faces the
direction in which he is looking intently.
One brilliant night, when Baree was two months old, and when the
sky was filled with stars and a June moon so bright that it seemed
scarcely higher than the tall spruce tops, Baree settled back on
his haunches and howled. It was a first effort. But there was no
mistake in the note of it. It was the wolf howl. But a moment later
when Baree slunk up to Kazan, as if deeply ashamed of his effort,
he was wagging his tail in an unmistakably apologetic manner. And
this again was the dog. If Tusoo, the dead Indian trapper, could
have seen him then, he would have judged him by that wagging of his
tail. It revealed the fact that deep in his heart—and in his soul,
if we can concede that he had one—Baree was a dog.
In another way Tusoo would have found judgment of him. At two
months the wolf whelp has forgotten how to play. He is a slinking
part of the wilderness, already at work preying on creatures
smaller and more helpless than himself. Baree still played. In his
excursions away from the windfall he had never gone farther than
the creek, a hundred yards from where his mother lay. He had helped
to tear many dead and dying rabbits into pieces. He believed, if he
thought upon the matter at all, that he was exceedingly fierce and
courageous. But it was his ninth week before he felt his spurs and
fought his terrible battle with the young owl in the edge of the
The fact that Oohoomisew, the big snow owl, had made her nest in
a broken stub not far from the windfall was destined to change the
whole course of Baree's life, just as the blinding of Gray Wolf had
changed hers, and a man's club had changed Kazan's. The creek ran
close past the stub, which had been shriven by lightning; and this
stub stood in a still, dark place in the forest, surrounded by
tall, black spruce and enveloped in gloom even in broad day. Many
times Baree had gone to the edge of this mysterious part of the
forest and had peered in curiously, and with a growing desire.
On this day of his great battle its lure was overpowering.
Little by little he entered into it, his eyes shining brightly and
his ears alert for the slightest sounds that might come out of it.
His heart beat faster. The gloom enveloped him more. He forgot the
windfall and Kazan and Gray Wolf. Here before him lay the thrill of
adventure. He heard strange sounds, but very soft sounds, as if
made by padded feet and downy wings, and they filled him with a
thrilling expectancy. Under his feet there were no grass or weeds
or flowers, but a wonderful brown carpet of soft evergreen needles.
They felt good to his feet, and were so velvety that he could not
hear his own movement.
He was fully three hundred yards from the windfall when he
passed Oohoomisew's stub and into a thick growth of young balsams.
And there—directly in his path—crouched the monster!
Papayuchisew [Young Owl] was not more than a third as large as
Baree. But he was a terrifying-looking object. To Baree he seemed
all head and eyes. He could see no body at all. Kazan had never
brought in anything like this, and for a full half-minute he
remained very quiet, eying it speculatively. Papayuchisew did not
move a feather. But as Baree advanced, a cautious step at a time,
the bird's eyes grew bigger and the feathers about his head ruffled
up as if stirred by a puff of wind. He came of a fighting family,
this little Papayuchisew—a savage, fearless, and killing family—and
even Kazan would have taken note of those ruffling feathers.
With a space of two feet between them, the pup and the owlet
eyed each other. In that moment, if Gray Wolf could have been
there, she might have said to Baree: "Use your legs—and run!" And
Oohoomisew, the old owl, might have said to Papayuchisew: "You
little fool—use your wings and fly!"
They did neither—and the fight began.
Papayuchisew started it, and with a single wild yelp Baree went
back in a heap, the owlet's beak fastened like a red-hot vise in
the soft flesh at the end of his nose. That one yelp of surprise
and pain was Baree's first and last cry in the fight. The wolf
surged in him; rage and the desire to kill possessed him. As
Papayuchisew hung on, he made a curious hissing sound; and as Baree
rolled and gnashed his teeth and fought to free himself from that
amazing grip on his nose, fierce little snarls rose out of his
For fully a minute Baree had no use of his jaws. Then, by
accident, he wedged Papayuchisew in a crotch of a low ground shrub,
and a bit of his nose gave way. He might have run then, but instead
of that he was back at the owlet like a flash. Flop went
Papayuchisew on his back, and Baree buried his needlelike teeth in
the bird's breast. It was like trying to bite through a pillow, the
feathers fangs, and just as they were beginning to prick the
owlet's skin, Papayuchisew—jabbing a little blindly with a beak
that snapped sharply every time it closed—got him by the ear.
The pain of that hold was excruciating to Baree, and he made a
more desperate effort to get his teeth through his enemy's thick
armor of feathers. In the struggle they rolled under the low
balsams to the edge of the ravine through which ran the creek. Over
the steep edge they plunged, and as they rolled and bumped to the
bottom, Baree loosed his hold. Papayuchisew hung valiantly on, and
when they reached the bottom he still had his grip on Baree's
Baree's nose was bleeding. His ear felt as if it were being
pulled from his head; and in this uncomfortable moment a newly
awakened instinct made Baby Papayuchisew discover his wings as a
fighting asset. An owl has never really begun to fight until he
uses his wings, and with a joyous hissing, Papayuchisew began
beating his antagonist so fast and so viciously that Baree was
dazed. He was compelled to close his eyes, and he snapped blindly.
For the first time since the battle began he felt a strong
inclination to get away. He tried to tear himself free with his
forepaws, but Papayuchisew—slow to reason but of firm
conviction—hung to Baree's ear like grim fate.
At this critical point, when the understanding of defeat was
forming itself swiftly in Baree's mind, chance saved him. His fangs
closed on one of the owlet's tender feet. Papayuchisew gave a
sudden squeak. The ear was free at last—and with a snarl of triumph
Baree gave a vicious tug at Papayuchisew's leg.
In the excitement of battle he had not heard the rushing tumult
of the creek close under them, and over the edge of a rock
Papayuchisew and he went together, the chill water of the
rain-swollen stream muffling a final snarl and a final hiss of the
two little fighters.