Cold winter lay deep in the Canadian wilderness. Over it the
moon was rising, like a red pulsating ball, lighting up the vast
white silence of the night in a shimmering glow. Not a sound broke
the stillness of the desolation. It was too late for the life of
day, too early for the nocturnal roamings and voices of the
creatures of the night. Like the basin of a great amphitheater the
frozen lake lay revealed in the light of the moon and a billion
stars. Beyond it rose the spruce forest, black and forbidding.
Along its nearer edges stood hushed walls of tamarack, bowed in the
smothering clutch of snow and ice, shut in by impenetrable
A huge white owl flitted out of this rim of blackness, then back
again, and its first quavering hoot came softly, as though the
mystic hour of silence had not yet passed for the night-folk. The
snow of the day had ceased, hardly a breath of air stirred the
ice-coated twigs of the trees. Yet it was bitter cold—so cold that
a man, remaining motionless, would have frozen to death within an
Suddenly there was a break in the silence, a weird, thrilling
sound, like a great sigh, but not human—a sound to make one's blood
run faster and fingers twitch on rifle-stock. It came from the
gloom of the tamaracks. After it there fell a deeper silence than
before, and the owl, like a noiseless snowflake, drifted out over
the frozen lake. After a few moments it came again, more faintly
than before. One versed in woodcraft would have slunk deeper into
the rim of blackness, and listened, and wondered, and watched; for
in the sound he would have recognized the wild, half-conquered note
of a wounded beast's suffering and agony.
Slowly, with all the caution born of that day's experience, a
huge bull moose walked out into the glow of the moon. His
magnificent head, drooping under the weight of massive antlers, was
turned inquisitively across the lake to the north. His nostrils
were distended, his eyes glaring, and he left behind a trail of
blood. Half a mile away he caught the edge of the spruce forest.
There something told him he would find safety. A hunter would have
known that he was wounded unto death as he dragged himself out into
the foot-deep snow of the lake.
A dozen rods out from the tamaracks he stopped, head thrown
high, long ears pitched forward, and nostrils held half to the sky.
It is in this attitude that a moose listens when he hears a trout
splash three-quarters of a mile away. Now there was only the vast,
unending silence, broken only by the mournful hoot of the snow owl
on the other side of the lake. Still the great beast stood
immovable, a little pool of blood growing upon the snow under his
forward legs. What was the mystery that lurked in the blackness of
yonder forest? Was it danger? The keenest of human hearing would
have detected nothing. Yet to those long slender ears of the bull
moose, slanting beyond the heavy plates of his horns, there came a
sound. The animal lifted his head still higher to the sky, sniffed
to the east, to the west, and back to the shadows of the tamaracks.
But it was the north that held him.
From beyond that barrier of spruce there soon came a sound that
man might have heard—neither the beginning nor the end of a wail,
but something like it. Minute by minute it came more clearly, now
growing in volume, now almost dying away, but every instant
approaching—the distant hunting call of the wolf-pack! What the
hangman's noose is to the murderer, what the leveled rifles are to
the condemned spy, that hunt-cry of the wolves is to the wounded
animal of the forests.
Instinct taught this to the old bull. His head dropped, his huge
antlers leveled themselves with his shoulders, and he set off at a
slow trot toward the east. He was taking chances in thus crossing
the open, but to him the spruce forest was home, and there he might
find refuge. In his brute brain he reasoned that he could get there
before the wolves broke cover. And then—
Again he stopped, so suddenly that his forward legs doubled
under him and he pitched into the snow. This time, from the
direction of the wolf-pack, there came the ringing report of a
rifle! It might have been a mile or two miles away, but distance
did not lessen the fear it brought to the dying king of the North.
That day he had heard the same sound, and it had brought mysterious
and weakening pain in his vitals. With a supreme effort he brought
himself to his feet, once more sniffed into the north, the east,
and the west, then turned and buried himself in the black and
frozen wilderness of tamarack.
Stillness fell again with the sound of the rifle-shot. It might
have lasted five minutes or ten, when a long, solitary howl floated
from across the lake. It ended in the sharp, quick yelp of a wolf
on the trail, and an instant later was taken up by others, until
the pack was once more in full cry. Almost simultaneously a figure
darted out upon the ice from the edge of the forest. A dozen paces
and it paused and turned back toward the black wall of spruce.
"Are you coming, Wabi?"
A voice answered from the woods. "Yes. Hurry up—run!"
Thus urged, the other turned his face once more across the lake.
He was a youth of not more than eighteen. In his right hand he
carried a club. His left arm, as if badly injured, was done up in a
sling improvised from a lumberman's heavy scarf. His face was
scratched and bleeding, and his whole appearance showed that he was
nearing complete exhaustion. For a few moments he ran through the
snow, then halted to a staggering walk. His breath came in painful
gasps. The club slipped from his nerveless fingers, and conscious
of the deathly weakness that was overcoming him he did not attempt
to regain it. Foot by foot he struggled on, until suddenly his
knees gave way under him and he sank down into the snow.
From the edge of the spruce forest a young Indian now ran out
upon the surface of the lake. His breath was coming quickly, but
with excitement rather than fatigue. Behind him, less than half a
mile away, he could hear the rapidly approaching cry of the
hunt-pack, and for an instant he bent his lithe form close to the
snow, measuring with the acuteness of his race the distance of the
pursuers. Then he looked for his white companion, and failed to see
the motionless blot that marked where the other had fallen. A look
of alarm shot into his eyes, and resting his rifle between his
knees he placed his hands, trumpet fashion, to his mouth and gave a
signal call which, on a still night like this, carried for a
At that cry the exhausted boy in the snow staggered to his feet,
and with an answering shout which came but faintly to the ears of
the Indian, resumed his flight across the lake. Two or three
minutes later Wabi came up beside him.
"Can you make it, Rod?" he cried.
The other made an effort to answer, but his reply was hardly
more than a gasp. Before Wabi could reach out to support him he had
lost his little remaining strength and fallen for a second time
into the snow.
"I'm afraid—I—can't do it—Wabi," he whispered. "I'm—bushed—"
The young Indian dropped his rifle and knelt beside the wounded
boy, supporting his head against his own heaving shoulders.
"It's only a little farther, Rod," he urged. "We can make it,
and take to a tree. We ought to have taken to a tree back there,
but I didn't know that you were so far gone; and there was a good
chance to make camp, with three cartridges left for the open
"That's all, but I ought to make two of them count in this
light. Here, take hold of my shoulders! Quick!"
He doubled himself like a jack-knife in front of his
half-prostrate companion. From behind them there came a sudden
chorus of the wolves, louder and clearer than before.
"They've hit the open and we'll have them on the lake inside of
two minutes," he cried. "Give me your arms, Rod! There! Can you
hold the gun?"
He straightened himself, staggering under the other's weight,
and set off on a half-trot for the distant tamaracks. Every muscle
in his powerful young body was strained to its utmost tension. Even
more fully than his helpless burden did he realize the peril at
Three minutes, four minutes more, and then—
A terrible picture burned in Wabi's brain, a picture he had
carried from boyhood of another child, torn and mangled before his
very eyes by these outlaws of the North, and he shuddered. Unless
he sped those three remaining bullets true, unless that rim of
tamaracks was reached in time, he knew what their fate would be.
There flashed into his mind one last resource. He might drop his
wounded companion and find safety for himself. But it was a thought
that made Wabi smile grimly. This was not the first time that these
two had risked their lives together, and that very day Roderick had
fought valiantly for the other, and had been the one to suffer. If
they died, it would be in company. Wabi made up his mind to that
and clutched the other's arms in a firmer grip. He was pretty
certain that death faced them both. They might escape the wolves,
but the refuge of a tree, with the voracious pack on guard below,
meant only a more painless end by cold. Still, while there was life
there was hope, and he hurried on through the snow, listening for
the wolves behind him and with each moment feeling more keenly that
his own powers of endurance were rapidly reaching an end.
For some reason that Wabi could not explain the hunt-pack had
ceased to give tongue. Not only the allotted two minutes, but five
of them, passed without the appearance of the animals on the lake.
Was it possible that they! had lost the trail? Then it occurred to
the Indian that perhaps he had wounded one of the pursuers, and
that the others, discovering his injury, had set upon him and were
now participating in one of the cannibalistic feasts that had saved
them thus far. Hardly had he thought of this possibility when he
was thrilled by a series of long howls, and looking back he
discerned a dozen or more dark objects moving swiftly over their
Not an eighth of a mile ahead was the tamarack forest. Surely
Rod could travel that distance!
"Run for it, Rod!" he cried. "You're rested now. I'll stay here
and stop 'em!"
He loosened the other's arms, and as he did so his rifle fell
from the white boy's nerveless grip and buried itself in the snow.
As he relieved himself of his burden he saw for the first time the
deathly pallor and partly closed eyes of his companion. With a new
terror filling his own faithful heart he knelt beside the form
which lay so limp and lifeless, his blazing eyes traveling from the
ghastly face to the oncoming wolves, his rifle ready in his hands.
He could now discern the wolves trailing out from the spruce forest
like ants. A dozen of them were almost within rifle-shot. Wabi knew
that it was with this vanguard of the pack that he must deal if he
succeeded in stopping the scores behind. Nearer and nearer he
allowed them to come, until the first were scarce two hundred feet
away. Then, with a sudden shout, the Indian leaped to his feet and
dashed fearlessly toward them. This unexpected move, as he had
intended, stopped the foremost wolves in a huddled group for an
instant, and in this opportune moment Wabi leveled his gun and
fired. A long howl of pain testified to the effect of the shot.
Hardly had it begun when Wabi fired again, this time with such
deadly precision that one of the wolves, springing high into the
air, tumbled back lifeless among the pack without so much as making
Running to the prostrate Roderick, Wabi drew him quickly upon
his back, clutched his rifle in the grip of his arm, and started
again for the tamaracks. Only once did he look back, and then he
saw the wolves gathering in a snarling, fighting crowd about their
slaughtered comrades. Not until he had reached the shelter of the
tamaracks did the Indian youth lay down his burden, and then in his
own exhaustion he fell prone upon the snow, his black eyes fixed
cautiously upon the feasting pack. A few minutes later he discerned
dark spots appearing here and there upon the whiteness of the snow,
and at these signs of the termination of the feast he climbed up
into the low branches of a spruce and drew Roderick after him. Not
until then did the wounded boy show visible signs of life. Slowly
he recovered from the faintness which had overpowered him, and
after a little, with some assistance from Wabi, was able to place
himself safely on a higher limb.
"That's the second time, Wabi," he said, reaching a hand down
affectionately to the other's shoulder. "Once from drowning, once
from the wolves. I've got a lot to even up with you!"
"Not after what happened to-day!"
The Indian's dusky face was raised until the two were looking
into each other's eyes, with a gaze of love, and trust. Only a
moment thus, and instinctively their glance turned toward the lake.
The wolf-pack was in plain view. It was the biggest pack that Wabi,
in all his life in the wilderness, had ever seen, and he mentally
figured that there were at least half a hundred animals in it. Like
ravenous dogs after having a few scraps of meat flung among them,
the wolves were running about, nosing here and there, as if hoping
to find a morsel that might have escaped discovery. Then one of
them stopped on the trail and, throwing himself half on his
haunches, with his head turned to the sky like a baying hound,
started the hunt-cry.
"There's two packs. I thought it was too big for one," exclaimed
the Indian. "See! Part of them are taking up the trail and the
others are lagging behind gnawing the bones of the dead wolf. Now
if we only had our ammunition and the other gun those murderers got
away from us, we'd make a fortune. What—"
Wabi stopped with a suddenness that spoke volumes, and the
supporting arm that he had thrown around Rod's waist tightened
until it caused the wounded youth to flinch. Both boys stared in
rigid silence. The wolves were crowding around a spot in the snow
half-way between the tamarack refuge and the scene of the recent
feast. The starved animals betrayed unusual excitement. They had
struck the pool of blood and red trail made by the dying moose!
"What is it, Wabi?" whispered Rod.
The Indian did not answer. His black eyes gleamed with a new
fire, his lips were parted in anxious anticipation, and he seemed
hardly to breathe in his tense interest. The wounded boy repeated
his question, and as if in reply the pack swerved to the west and
in a black silent mass swept in a direction that would bring them
into the tamaracks a hundred yards from the young hunters.
"A new trail!" breathed Wabi. "A new trail, and a hot one!
Listen! They make no sound. It is always that way when they are
close to a kill!"
As they looked the last of the wolves disappeared in the forest.
For a few moments there was silence, then a chorus of howls came
from deep in the woods behind them.
"Now is our chance," cried the Indian. "They've broken again,
and their game—"
He had partly slipped from his limb, withdrawing his supporting
arm from Rod's waist, and was about to descend to the ground when
the pack again turned in their direction. A heavy crashing in the
underbrush not a dozen rods away sent Wabi in a hurried scramble
for his perch.
"Quick—higher up!" he warned excitedly. "They're coming out
here—right under us! If we can get up so that they can't see us, or
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a huge shadowy
bulk rushed past them not more than fifty feet from the spruce in
which they had sought refuge. Both of the boys recognized it as a
bull moose, though it did not occur to either of them that it was
the same animal at which Wabi had taken a long shot that same day a
couple of miles back. In close pursuit came the ravenous pack.
Their heads hung close to the bloody trail, hungry, snarling cries
coming from between their gaping jaws, they swept across the little
opening almost at the young hunters' feet. It was a sight which Rod
had never expected to see, and one which held even the more
experienced Wabi fascinated. Not a sound fell from either of the
youths' lips as they stared down upon the fierce, hungry outlaws of
the wilderness. To Wabi this near view of the pack told a fateful
story; to Rod it meant nothing more than the tragedy about to be
enacted before his eyes. The Indian's keen vision saw in the white
moonlight long, thin bodies, starved almost to skin and bone; to
his companion the onrushing pack seemed filled only with agile,
powerful beasts, maddened to almost fiendish exertions by the
nearness of their prey.
In a flash they were gone, but in that moment of their passing
there was painted a picture to endure a lifetime in the memory of
Roderick Drew. And it was to be followed by one even more tragic,
even more thrilling. To the dazed, half-fainting young hunter it
seemed but another instant before the pack overhauled the old bull.
He saw the doomed monster turn, in the stillness heard the snapping
of jaws, the snarling of hunger-crazed animals, and a sound that
might have been a great, heaving moan or a dying bellow. In Wabi's
veins the blood danced with the excitement that stirred his
forefathers to battle. Not a line of the tragedy that was being
enacted before his eyes escaped this native son of the wilderness.
It was a magnificent fight! He knew that the old bull would die by
inches in the one-sided duel, and that when it was over there would
be more than one carcass for the survivors to gorge themselves
upon. Quietly he reached up and touched his companion.
"Now is our time," he said. "Come on—still—and on this side of
He slipped down, foot by foot, assisting Rod as he did so, and
when both had reached the ground he bent over as before, that the
other might get upon his back.
"I can make it alone, Wabi," whispered the wounded boy. "Give me
a lift on the arm, will you?"
With the Indian's arm about his waist, the two set off into the
tamaracks. Fifteen minutes later they came to the bank of a small
frozen river. On the opposite side of this, a hundred yards down,
was a sight which both, as if by a common impulse, welcomed with a
glad cry. Close to the shore, sheltered by a dense growth of
spruce, was a bright camp-fire. In response to Wabi's far-reaching
whoop a shadowy figure appeared in the glow and returned the
"Mukoki!" cried the Indian.
"Mukoki!" laughed Rod, happy that the end was near.
Even as he spoke he swayed dizzily, and Wabi dropped his gun
that he might keep his companion from falling into the snow.