Not far from the rugged and storm-whipped north shore of Lake
Superior, and south of the Kaministiqua, yet not as far south as
the Rainy River waterway, there lay a paradise lost in the heart of
a wilderness world—and in that paradise "a little corner of
That was what the girl had called it once upon a time, when
sobbing out the shame and the agony of it to herself. That was
before Peter had come to leaven the drab of her life. But the hell
was still there.
One would not have guessed its existence, standing at the bald
top of Cragg's Ridge this wonderful thirtieth day of May. In the
whiteness of winter one could look off over a hundred square miles
of freezing forest and swamp and river country, with the gleam of
ice-covered lakes here and there, fringed by their black spruce and
cedar and balsam—a country of storm, of deep snows, and men and
women whose blood ran red with the thrill that the hardship and the
never-ending adventure of the wild.
But this was spring. And such a spring as had not come to the
Canadian north country in many years. Until three days ago there
had been a deluge of warm rains, and since then the sun had
inundated the land with the golden warmth of summer. The last chill
was gone from the air, and the last bit of frozen earth and muck
from the deepest and blackest swamps, North, south, east and west
the wilderness world was a glory of bursting life, of springtime
mellowing into summer. Ridge upon ridge of yellows and greens and
blacks swept away into the unknown distances like the billows of a
vast sea; and between them lay the valleys and swamps, the lakes
and waterways, glad with the rippling song of running waters, the
sweet scents of early flowering time, and the joyous voice of all
Just under Cragg's Ridge lay the paradise, a meadow-like sweep
of plain that reached down to the edge of Clearwater Lake, with
clumps of poplars and white birch and darker tapestries of spruce
and balsams dotting it like islets in a sea of verdant green. The
flowers were two weeks ahead of their time and the sweet perfumes
of late June, instead of May, rose up out of the plain, and already
there was nesting in the velvety splashes of timber.
In the edge of a clump of this timber, flat on his belly, lay
Peter. The love of adventure was in him, and today he had sallied
forth on his most desperate enterprise. For the first time he had
gone alone to the edge of Clearwater Lake, half a mile away; boldly
he had trotted up and down the white strip of beach where the
girl's footprints still remained in the sand, and defiantly he had
yipped at the shimmering vastness of the water, and at the white
gulls circling near him in quest of dead fish flung ashore. Peter
was three months old. Yesterday he had been a timid pup, shrinking
from the bigness and strangeness of everything about him; but today
he had braved the lake trail on his own nerve, and nothing had
dared to come near him in spite of his yipping, so that a great
courage and a great desire were born in him.
Therefore, in returning, he had paused in the edge of a great
clump of balsams and spruce, and lay flat on his belly, his sharp
little eyes leveled yearningly at the black mystery of its deeper
shadows. The bit of forest filled a cup-like depression in the
plain, and was possibly half a rifle-shot distance from end to
end—but to Peter it was as vast as life itself. And something urged
him to go in.
And as he lay there, desire and indecision struggling for
mastery within him, no power could have told Peter that destinies
greater than his own were working through the soul of the dog that
was in him, and that on his decision to go in or not to go in—on
the triumph of courage or cowardice—there rested the fates of lives
greater than his own, of men, and women, and of little children
still unborn. A glass of wine once lost a kingdom, a nail turned
the tide of a mighty battle, and a woman's smile once upon a time
destroyed the homes of a million people. Thus have trivial things
played their potent parts in the history of human lives, yet these
things Peter did not know—nor that his greatest hour had come.
At last he rose from his squatting posture, and stood upon his
feet. He was not a beautiful pup, this Peter Pied-Bot—or Peter
Club-foot, as Jolly Roger McKay—who lived over in the big cedar
swamp—had named him when he gave Peter to the girl. He was, in a
way, an accident and a homely one at that. His father was a
blue-blooded fighting Airedale who had broken from his kennel long
enough to commit a MESALLIANCE with a huge big footed and
peace-loving Mackenzie hound—and Peter was the result. He wore the
fiercely bristling whiskers of his Airedale father at the age of
three months; his ears were flappy and big, his tail was knotted,
and his legs were ungainly and loose, with huge feet at the end of
them—so big and heavy that he stumbled frequently, and fell on his
nose. One pitied him at first—and then loved him. For Peter, in
spite of his homeliness, had the two best bloods of all dog
creation in his veins. Yet in a way it was like mixing
nitro-glycerin with olive oil, or dynamite and saltpeter with milk
Peter's heart was thumping rapidly as he took a step toward the
deeper shadows. He swallowed hard, as if to clear a knot out of his
scrawny throat. But he had made up his mind. Something was
compelling him, and he would go in. Slowly the gloom engulfed him,
and once again the whimsical spirit of fatalism had chosen a
trivial thing to work out its ends in the romance and tragedy of
Grim shadows began to surround Peter, and his ears shot up, and
a scraggly brush stood out along his spine. But he did not bark, as
he had barked along the shore of the lake, and in the green opens.
Twice he looked back to the shimmer of sunshine that was growing
more and more indistinct. As long as he could see this, and knew
that his retreat was open, there still remained a bit of that
courage which was swiftly ebbing in the thickening darkness. But
the third time he looked back the light of the sun was utterly
gone! For an instant the knot rose up in his throat and choked him,
and his eyes popped, and grew like little balls of fire in his
intense desire to see through the gloom. Even the girl, who was
afraid of only one thing in the world, would have paused where
Peter stood, with a little quickening of her heart. For all the
light of the day, it seemed to Peter, had suddenly died out. Over
his head the spruce and cedar and balsam tops grew so thick they
were like a canopy of night. Through them the snow never came in
winter, and under them the light of a blazing sun was only a
And now, as he stood there, his whole soul burning with a desire
to see his way out, Peter began to hear strange sounds. Strangest
of all, and most fearsome, was a hissing that came and went,
sometimes very near to him, and always accompanied by a grating
noise that curdled his blood. Twice after that he saw the shadow of
the great owl as it swooped over him, and he flattened himself
down, the knot in his throat growing bigger and more choking. And
then he heard the soft and uncanny movement of huge feathered
bodies in the thick shroud of boughs overhead, and slowly and
cautiously he wormed himself around, determined to get back to
sunshine and day as quickly as he could. It was not until he had
made this movement that the real chill of horror gripped at his
heart. Straight behind him, directly in the path he had traveled,
he saw two little green balls of flame!
It was instinct, and not reason or experience, which told Peter
there was menace and peril in these two tiny spots blazing in the
gloom. He did not know that his own eyes, popping half out of his
head, were equally terrifying in that pit of silence, nor that from
him emanated a still more terrifying thing—the scent of dog. He
trembled on his wobbly legs as the green eyes stared at him, and
his back seemed to break in the middle, so that he sank helplessly
down upon the soft spruce needles, waiting for his doom. In another
flash the twin balls of green fire were gone. In a moment they
appeared again, a little farther away. Then a second time they were
gone, and a third time they flashed back at him—so distant they
appeared like needle-points in the darkness. Something stupendous
rose up in Peter. It was the soul of his Airedale father, telling
him the other thing was running away! And in the joy of triumph
Peter let out a yelp. In that night-infested place, alive with
hiding things, the yelp set loose weird rustlings in the tangled
treetops, strange murmurings of chortling voices, and the nasty
snapping of beaks that held in them the power to rend Peter's
skinny body into a hundred bits. From deeper in the thicket came
the sudden crash of a heavy body, and with it the chuckling notes
of a porcupine, and a HOO-HOO-HOO-EE of startled inquiry that at
first Peter took for a human voice. And again he lay shivering
close to the foot-deep carpet of needles under him, while his heart
thumped against his ribs, and his whiskers stood out in mortal
fear. There followed a weird and appalling silence, and in that
stillness Peter quested vainly for the sunlight he had lost. And
then, indistinctly, but bringing with it a new thrill, he heard
another sound. It was a soft and distant rippling of running water.
He knew that sound. It was friendly. He had played among the rocks
and pebbles and sand where it was made. His courage came back, and
he rose up on his legs, and made his way toward it. Something
inside him told him to go quietly, but his feet were big and
clumsy, and half a dozen times in the next two minutes he stumbled
on his nose. At last he came to the stream, scarcely wider than a
man might have reached across, rippling and plashing its way
through the naked roots of trees. And ahead of him Peter saw light.
He quickened his pace, until at the last he was running when he
came out into the edge of the meadowy plain, with its sweetness of
flowers and green grass and song of birds, and its glory of blue
sky and sun.
If he had ever been afraid, Peter forgot it now. The choking
went out of his throat, his heart fell back in its place, and the
fierce conviction that he had vanquished everything in the world
possessed him. He peered back into the dark cavern of evergreen out
of which the streamlet gurgled, and then trotted straight away from
it, growling back his defiance as he ran. At a safe distance he
stopped, and faced about. Nothing was following him, and the
importance of his achievements grew upon him. He began to swell;
his fore-legs he planted pugnaciously, he hollowed his back, and
began to bark with all the puppyish ferocity that was in him. And
though he continued to yelp, and pounded the earth with his paws,
and tore up the green grass with his sharp little teeth, nothing
dared to come out of the black forest in answer to his
His head was high and his ears cocked jauntily as he trotted up
the slope, and for the first time in his three months of existence
he yearned to give battle to something that was alive. He was a
changed Peter, no longer satisfied with the thought of gnawing
sticks or stones or mauling a rabbit skin. At the crest of the
slope he stopped, and yelped down, almost determined to go back to
that black patch of forest and chase out everything that was in it.
Then he turned toward Cragg's Ridge, and what he saw seemed slowly
to shrink up the pugnaciousness that was in him, and his stiffened
tail drooped until the knotty end of it touched the ground.
Three or four hundred yards away, out of the heart of that
cup-like paradise which ran back through a break in the ridge, rose
a spiral of white smoke, and with the sight of that smoke Peter
heard also the chopping of axe. It made him shiver, and yet he made
his way toward it. He was not old enough—nor was it in the gentle
blood of his Mackenzie mother—to know the meaning of hate; but
something was growing swiftly in Peter's shrewd little head, and he
sensed impending danger whenever he heard the sound of the axe. For
always there was associated with that sound the cat-like,
thin-faced man with the red bristle on his upper lip, and the one
eye that never opened but was always closed. And Peter had come to
fear this one eyed man more than he feared any of the ghostly
monsters hidden in the black pit of the forest he had braved that
But the owls, and the porcupine, and the fiery-eyed fox that had
run away from him, had put into Peter something which was not in
him yesterday, and he did not slink on his belly when he came to
the edge of the cup between the broken ridge, but stood up boldly
on his crooked legs and looked ahead of him. At the far edge of the
cup, under the western shoulder of the ridge, was a thick
scattering of tall cedars and green poplars and white birch, and in
the shelter of these was a cabin built of logs. A lovelier spot
could not have been chosen for the home of man. The hollow, from
where Peter stood, was a velvety carpet of green, thickly strewn
with flowers and ferns, sweet with the scent of violets and wild
honey-suckle, and filled with the song of birds. Through the middle
of it purled a tiny creek which disappeared between the ragged
shoulders of rock, and close to this creek stood the cabin, its log
walls smothered under a luxuriant growth of wood-vine. But Peter's
quizzical little eyes were not measuring the beauty of the place,
nor were his ears listening to the singing of birds, or the
chattering of a red-squirrel on a stub a few yards away. He was
looking beyond the cabin, to a chalk-white mass of rock that rose
like a giant mushroom in the edge of the trees—and he was listening
to the ringing of the axe, and straining his ears to catch the
sound of a voice.
It was the voice he wanted most of all, and when this did not
come he choked back a whimper in his throat, and went down to the
creek, and waded through it, and came up cautiously behind the
cabin, his eyes and ears alert and his loosely jointed legs ready
for flight at a sign of danger. He wanted to set up his sharp
yipping signal for the girl, but the menace of the axe choked back
his desire. At the very end of the cabin, where the wood-vine grew
thick and dense, Peter had burrowed himself a hiding-place, and
into this he skulked with the quickness of a rat getting away from
its enemies. From this protecting screen he cautiously poked forth
his whiskered face, to make what inventory he could of his chances
for supper and a safe home-coming.
And as he looked forth his heart gave a sudden jump.
It was the girl, and not the man who was using the axe today. At
the big wood-pile half a stone's throw away he saw the shimmer of
her brown curls in the sun, and a glimpse of her white face as it
was turned for an instant toward the cabin. In his gladness he
would have leaped out, but the curse of a voice he had learned to
dread held him back.
A man had come out of the cabin, and close behind the man, a
woman. The man was a long, lean, cadaverous-faced creature, and
Peter knew that the devil was in him as he stood there at the cabin
door. His breath, if one had stood close enough to smell it, was
heavy with whiskey. Tobacco juice stained the corners of his mouth,
and his one eye gleamed with an animal-like exultation as he nodded
toward the girl with the shining curls.
"Mooney says he'll pay seven-fifty for her when he gets his
tie-money from the Government, an' he paid me fifty down," he said.
"It'll help pay for the brat's board these last ten years—an'
mebby, when it comes to a show-down, I can stick him for a
The woman made no answer. She was, in a way, past answering with
a mind of her own. The man, as he stood there, was wicked and
cruel, every line in his ugly face and angular body a line of sin.
The woman was bent, broken, a wreck. In her face there was no sign
of a living soul. Her eyes were dull, her heart burned out, her
hands gnarled with toil under the slavedom of a beast. Yet even
Peter, quiet as a mouse where he lay, sensed the difference between
them. He had seen the girl and this woman sobbing in each other's
arms. And often he had crawled to the woman's feet, and
occasionally her hand had touched him, and frequently she had given
him things to eat. But it was seldom he heard her voice when the
man was near.
The man was biting off a chunk of black tobacco. Suddenly he
"How old is she, Liz?"
And the woman answered in a strange and husky voice.
"Seventeen the twelfth day of this month."
The man spat.
"Mooney ought to pay a thousand. We've had her better'n ten
years—an' Mooney's crazy as a loon to git her. He'll pay!"
"Jed—" The woman's voice rose above its hoarseness. "Jed—it
The man laughed. He opened his mouth wide, until his yellow
fangs gleamed in the sun, and the girl with the axe paused for a
moment in her work, and flung back her head, staring at the two
before the cabin door.
"Right?" jeered the man. "Right? That's what you been preachin'
me these last ten years 'bout whiskey-runnin,' but it ain't made me
stop sellin' whiskey, has it? An' I guess it ain't a word that'll
come between Mooney and me—not if Mooney gits his thousand."
Suddenly he turned upon her, a hand half raised to strike. "An' if
you whisper a word to her—if y' double-cross me so much as the
length of your little finger—I'll break every bone in your body, so
help me God! You understand? You won't say anything to her?"
The woman's uneven shoulders drooped lower.
"I won't say ennything, Jed. I—promise."
The man dropped his uplifted hand with a harsh grunt.
"I'll kill y' if you do," he warned.
The girl had dropped her axe, and was coming toward them. She
was a slim, bird-like creature, with a poise to her head and an
up-tilt to her chin which warned that the man had not yet beaten
her to the level of the woman. She was dressed in a faded calico,
frayed at the bottom, and with the sleeves bobbed off just above
the elbows of her slim white arms. Her stockings were mottled with
patches and mends, and her shoes were old, and worn out at the
But to Peter, worshipping her from his hiding place, she was the
most beautiful thing in the world. Jolly Roger had said the same
thing, and most men—and women, too—would have agreed that this slip
of a girl possessed a beauty which it would take a long time for
unhappiness and torture to crush entirely out of her. Her eyes were
as blue as the violets Peter had thrust his nose among that day.
And her hair was a glory, loosed by her exertion from its bondage
of faded ribbon, and falling about her shoulders and nearly to her
waist in a mass of curling brown tresses that at times had made
even Jed Hawkins' one eye light of with admiration. And yet, even
in those times, he hated her, and more than once his bony fingers
had closed viciously in that mass of radiant hair, but seldom could
he wring a scream of pain from Nada. Even now, when she could see
the light of the devil in his one gleaming eye, it was only her
flesh—and not her soul—that was afraid.
But the strain had begun to show its mark. In the blue of her
eyes was the look of one who was never free of haunting visions,
her cheeks were pallid, and a little too thin, and the vivid
redness of her lips was not of health and happiness, but a touch of
the color which should have been in her face, and which until now
had refused to die.
She faced the man, a little out of the reach of his arm.
"I told you never again to raise your hand to strike her," she
cried in a fierce, suppressed little voice, her blue eyes flaming
loathing and hatred at him. "If you hit her once more—something is
going to happen. If you want to hit anyone, hit me. I kin stand it.
But—look at her! You've broken her shoulder, you've crippled
her—an' you oughta die!"
The man advanced half a step, his eye ablaze. Deep down in him
Peter felt something he had never felt before. For the first time
in his life he had no desire to run away from the man. Something
rose up from his bony little chest, and grew in his throat, until
it was a babyish snarl so low that no human ears could hear it. And
in his hiding-place his needle-like fangs gleamed under snarling
But the man did not strike, nor did he reach out to grip his
fingers in the silken mass of Nada's hair. He laughed, as if
something was choking him, and turned away with a toss of his
"You ain't seein' me hit her any more, are you, Nady?" he said,
and disappeared around the end of the cabin.
The girl laid a hand on the woman's arm. Her eyes softened, but
she was trembling.
"I've told him what'll happen, an' he won't dare hit you any
more," she comforted. "If he does, I'll end him. I will! I'll bring
the police. I'll show 'em the places where he hides his whiskey.
I'll—I'll put him in jail, if I die for it!"
The woman's bony hands clutched at one of Nada's.
"No, no, you mustn't do that," she pleaded. "He was good to me
once, a long time ago, Nada. It ain't Jed that's bad—it's the
whiskey. You mustn't tell on him, Nada—you mustn't!"
"I've promised you I won't—if he don't hit you any more. He kin
shake me by the hair if he wants to. But if he hits you—"
She drew a deep breath, and also passed around the end of the
For a few moments Peter listened. Then he slipped back through
the tunnel he had made under the wood-vine, and saw Nada walking
swiftly toward the break in the ridge. He followed, so quietly that
she was through the break, and was picking her way among the
tumbled masses of rock along the farther foot of the ridge, before
she discovered his presence. With a glad cry she caught him up in
her arms and hugged him against her breast.
"Peter, Peter, where have you been?" she demanded. "I thought
something had happened to you, and I've been huntin' for you, and
so has Roger—I mean Mister Jolly Roger."
Peter was hugged tighter, and he hung limply until his mistress
came to a thick little clump of dwarf balsams hidden among the
rocks. It was their "secret place," and Peter had come to sense the
fact that its mystery was not to be disclosed. Here Nada had made
her little bower, and she sat down now upon a thick rug of balsam
boughs, and held Peter out in front of her, squatted on his
haunches. A new light had come into her eyes, and they were shining
like stars. There was a flush in her cheeks, her red lips were
parted, and Peter, looking up—and being just dog—could scarcely
measure the beauty of her. But he knew that something had happened,
and he tried hard to understand.
"Peter, he was here ag'in today—Mister Roger—Mister Jolly
Roger," she cried softly, the pink in her cheeks growing brighter.
"And he told me I was pretty!"
She drew a deep breath, and looked out over the rocks to the
valley and the black forest beyond. And her fingers, under Peter's
scrawny armpits, tightened until he grunted.
"And he asked me if he could touch my hair—mind you he asked me
that, Peter!—And when I said 'yes' he just put his hand on it, as
if he was afraid, and he said it was beautiful, and that I must
take wonderful care of it!"
Peter saw a throbbing in her throat.
"Peter—he said he didn't want to do anything wrong to me, that
he'd cut off his hand first. He said that! And then he said—if I
didn't think it was wrong—he'd like to kiss me—"
She hugged Peter up close to her again.
"And—I told him I guessed it wasn't wrong, because I liked him,
and nobody else had ever kissed me, and—Peter—he didn't kiss me!
And when he went away he looked so queer—so white-like—and
somethin' inside me has been singing ever since. I don't know what
it is, Peter. But it's there!"
And then, after a moment.
"Peter," she whispered, "I wish Mister Jolly Roger would take us
The thought drew a tightening to her lips, and the pucker of a
frown between her eyes, and she sat Peter down beside her and
looked over the valley to the black forest, in the heart of which
was Jolly Roger's cabin.
"It's funny he don't want anybody to know he's there, ain't it—I
mean—isn't it, Peter?" she mused. "He's livin' in the old shack
Indian Tom died in last winter, and I've promised not to tell. He
says it's a great secret, and that only you, and I, and the
Missioner over at Sucker Creek know anything about it. I'd like to
go over and clean up the shack for him. I sure would."
Peter, beginning to nose among the rocks, did not see the flash
of fire that came slowly into the blue of the girl's eyes. She was
looking at her ragged shoes, at the patched stockings, at the
poverty of her faded dress, and her fingers clenched in her
"I'd do it—I'd go away—somewhere—and never come back, if it
wasn't for her," she breathed. "She treats me like a witch most of
the time, but Jed Hawkins made her that way. I kin remember—"
Suddenly she jumped up, and flung back her head defiantly, so
that her hair streamed out in a sun-filled cloud in a gust of wind
that came up the valley.
"Some day, I'll kill 'im," she cried to the black forest across
the plain. "Some day—I will!"