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23 Complete Works of James Oliver CurwoodBack to Gods Country and Other StoriesBaree Son of KazanCountry BeyondFlower of the NorthGod's Country And the WomanIsobelJefferson BrownKazanNomads of the NorthPhilip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted PoliceThe AlaskanThe Courage of Captain PlumThe Courage of Marge O'DooneThe Danger TrailThe Flaming ForestThe Gold HuntersThe Golden SnareThe Grizzly KingThe Honor of the Big SnowsThe Hunted WomanThe River's EndThe Wolf HuntersValley Of Silent Men
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The Complete Collection of James Oliver Curwood
Back to Gods Country and Other Stories
Baree Son of Kazan
Flower of the North
God's Country And the Woman
Nomads of the North
Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police
The Courage of Captain Plum
The Courage of Marge O'Doone
The Danger Trail
The Flaming Forest
The Gold Hunters
The Golden Snare
The Grizzly King
The Honor of the Big Snows
The Hunted Woman
The River's End
The Wolf Hunters
Valley Of Silent Men
Baree, Son of Kazan, by James Oliver Curwood
Baree, Son of Kazan. James Oliver Curwood.
Since the publication of my two animal books, "Kazan, the Wolf Dog" and "The Grizzly King," I have received so many hundreds of letters from friends of wild animal life, all of which were more or less of an inquiring nature, that I have been encouraged to incorporate in this preface of the third of my series--"Baree, Son of Kazan"--something more of my desire and hope in writing of wild life, and something of the foundation of fact whereupon this and its companion books have been written.
I have always disliked the preaching of sermons in the pages of romance. It is like placing a halter about an unsuspecting reader's neck and dragging him into paths for which he may have no liking. But if fact and truth produce in the reader's mind a message for himself, then a work has been done. That is what I hope for in my nature books. The American people are not and never have been lovers of wild life. As a nation we have gone after Nature with a gun.
And what right, you may ask, has a confessed slaughterer of wild life such as I have been to complain? None at all, I assure you. I have twenty-seven guns--and I have used them all. I stand condemned as having done more than my share toward extermination. But that does not lessen the fact that I have learned; and in learning I have come to believe that if boys and girls and men and women could be brought into the homes and lives of wild birds and animals as their homes are made and their lives are lived we would all understand at last that wherever a heart beats it is very much like our own in the final analysis of things. To see a bird singing on a twig means but little; but to live a season with that bird, to be with it in courting days, in matehood and motherhood, to understand its griefs as well as its gladness means a great deal. And in my books it is my desire to tell of the lives of the wild things which I know as they are actually lived. It is not my desire to humanize them. If we are to love wild animals so much that we do not want to kill them we MUST KNOW THEM AS THEY ACTUALLY LIVE. And in their lives, in the facts of their lives, there is so much of real and honest romance and tragedy, so much that makes them akin to ourselves that the animal biographer need not step aside from the paths of actuality to hold one's interest.
Perhaps rather tediously I have come to the few words I want to say about Baree, the hero of this book. Baree, after all, is only another Kazan. For it was Kazan I found in the way I have described--a bad dog, a killer about to be shot to death by his master when chance, and my own faith in him, gave him to me.
We traveled together for many thousands of miles through the northland--on trails to the Barren Lands, to Hudson's Bay and to the Arctic. Kazan--the bad dog, the half-wolf, the killer--was the best four-legged friend I ever had. He died near Fort MacPherson, on the Peel River, and is buried there. And Kazan was the father of Baree; Gray Wolf, the full-blooded wolf, was his mother. Nepeese, the Willow, still lives near God's Lake; and it was in the country of Nepeese and her father that for three lazy months I watched the doings at Beaver Town, and went on fishing trips with Wakayoo, the bear. Sometimes I have wondered if old Beaver Tooth himself did not in some way understand that I had made his colony safe for his people. It was Pierrot's trapping ground; and to Pierrot--father of Nepeese-I gave my best rifle on his word that he would not harm my beaver friends for two years. And the people of Pierrot's breed keep their word. Wakayoo, Baree's big bear friend, is dead. He was killed as I have described, in that "pocket" among the ridges, while I was on a jaunt to Beaver Town. We were becoming good friends and I missed him a great deal. The story of Pierrot and of his princess wife, Wyola, is true; they are buried side by side under the tall spruce that stood near their cabin. Pierrot's murderer, instead of dying as I have told it, was killed in his attempt to escape the Royal Mounted farther west. When I last saw Baree he was at Lac Seul House, where I was the guest of Mr. William Patterson, the factor; and the last word I heard from him was through my good friend Frank Aldous, factor at White Dog Post, who wrote me only a few weeks ago that he had recently seen Nepeese and Baree and the husband of Nepeese, and that the happiness he found in their far wilderness home made him regret that he was a bachelor. I feel sorry for Aldous. He is a splendid young Englishman, unattached, and some day I am going to try and marry him off. I have in mind someone at the present moment--a fox-trapper's daughter up near the Barren, very pretty, and educated at a missioner's school; and as Aldous is going with me on my next trip I may have something to say about them in the book that is to follow "Baree, Son of Kazan."
James Oliver Curwood
To Baree, for many days after he was born, the world was a vast gloomy cavern.
During these first days of his life his home was in the heart of a great windfall where Gray Wolf, his blind mother, had found a safe nest for his babyhood, and to which Kazan, her mate, came only now and then, his eyes gleaming like strange balls of greenish fire in the darkness. It was Kazan's eyes that gave to Baree his first impression of something existing away from his mother's side, and they brought to him also his discovery of vision. He could feel, he could smell, he could hear--but in that black pit under the fallen timber he had never seen until the eyes came. At first they frightened him; then they puzzled him, and his fear changed to an immense curiosity. He would be looking straight at them, when all at once they would disappear. This was when Kazan turned his head. And then they would flash back at him again out of the darkness with such startling suddenness that Baree would involuntarily shrink closer to his mother, who always trembled and shivered in a strange sort of way when Kazan came in.
Baree, of course, would never know their story. He would never know that Gray Wolf, his mother, was a full-blooded wolf, and that Kazan, his father, was a dog. In him nature was already beginning its wonderful work, but it would never go beyond certain limitations. It would tell him, in time, that his beautiful wolf mother was blind, but he would never know of that terrible battle between Gray Wolf and the lynx in which his mother's sight had been destroyed. Nature could tell him nothing of Kazan's merciless vengeance, of the wonderful years of their matehood, of their loyalty, their strange adventures in the great Canadian wilderness--it could make him only a son of Kazan.
But at first, and for many days, it was all mother. Even after his eyes had opened wide and he had found his legs so that he could stumble about a little in the darkness, nothing existed for Baree but his mother. When he was old enough to be playing with sticks and moss out in the sunlight, he still did not know what she looked like. But to him she was big and soft and warm, and she licked his face with her tongue, and talked to him in a gentle, whimpering way that at last made him find his own voice in a faint, squeaky yap.
And then came that wonderful day when the greenish balls of fire that were Kazan's eyes came nearer and nearer, a little at a time, and very cautiously. Heretofore Gray Wolf had warned him back. To be alone was the first law of her wild breed during mothering time. A low snarl from her throat, and Kazan had always stopped. But on this day the snarl did not come. In Gray Wolf's throat it died away in a low, whimpering sound. A note of loneliness, of gladness, of a great yearning. "It is all right now," she was saying to Kazan; and Kazan--pausing for a moment to make sure--replied with an answering note deep in his throat.
Still slowly, as if not quite sure of what he would find, Kazan came to them, and Baree snuggled closer to his mother. He heard Kazan as he dropped down heavily on his belly close to Gray Wolf. He was unafraid--and mightily curious. And Kazan, too, was curious. He sniffed. In the gloom his ears were alert. After a little Baree began to move. An inch at a time he dragged himself away from Gray Wolf's side. Every muscle in her lithe body tensed. Again her wolf blood was warning her. There was danger for Baree. Her lips drew back, baring her fangs. Her throat trembled, but the note in it never came. Out of the darkness two yards away came a soft, puppyish whine, and the caressing sound of Kazan's tongue.
Baree had felt the thrill of his first great adventure. He had discovered his father.
This all happened in the third week of Baree's life. He was just eighteen days old when Gray Wolf allowed Kazan to make the acquaintance of his son. If it had not been for Gray Wolf's blindness and the memory of that day on the Sun Rock when the lynx had destroyed her eyes, she would have given birth to Baree in the open, and his legs would have been quite strong. He would have known the sun and the moon and the stars; he would have realized what the thunder meant, and would have seen the lightning flashing in the sky. But as it was, there had been nothing for him to do in that black cavern under the windfall but stumble about a little in the darkness, and lick with his tiny red tongue the raw bones that were strewn about them. Many times he had been left alone. He had heard his mother come and go, and nearly always it had been in response to a yelp from Kazan that came to them like a distant echo. He had never felt a very strong desire to follow until this day when Kazan's big, cool tongue caressed his face. In those wonderful seconds nature was at work. His instinct was not quite born until then. And when Kazan went away, leaving them alone in darkness, Baree whimpered for him to come back, just as he had cried for his mother when now and then she had left him in response to her mate's call.
The sun was straight above the forest when, an hour or two after Kazan's visit, Gray Wolf slipped away. Between Baree's nest and the top of the windfall were forty feet of jammed and broken timber through which not a ray of light could break. This blackness did not frighten him, for he had yet to learn the meaning of light. Day, and not night, was to fill him with his first great terror. So quite fearlessly, with a yelp for his mother to wait for him, he began to follow. If Gray Wolf heard him, she paid no attention to his call, and the sound of the scraping of her claws on the dead timber died swiftly away.
This time Baree did not stop at the eight-inch log which had always shut in his world in that particular direction. He clambered to the top of it and rolled over on the other side. Beyond this was vast adventure, and he plunged into it courageously.
It took him a long time to make the first twenty yards. Then he came to a log worn smooth by the feet of Gray Wolf and Kazan, and stopping every few feet to send out a whimpering call for his mother, he made his way farther and farther along it. As he went, there grew slowly a curious change in this world of his. He had known nothing but blackness. And now this blackness seemed breaking itself up into strange shapes and shadows. Once he caught the flash of a fiery streak above him--a gleam of sunshine--and it startled him so that he flattened himself down upon the log and did not move for half a minute. Then he went on. An ermine squeaked under him. He heard the swift rustling of a squirrel's feet, and a curious whut-whut-whut that was not at all like any sound his mother had ever made. He was off the trail.
The log was no longer smooth, and it was leading him upward higher and higher into the tangle of the windfall, and was growing narrower every foot he progressed. He whined. His soft little nose sought vainly for the warm scent of his mother. The end came suddenly when he lost his balance and fell. He let out a piercing cry of terror as he felt himself slipping, and then plunged downward. He must have been high up in the windfall, for to Baree it seemed a tremendous fall. His soft little body thumped from log to log as he shot this way and that, and when at last he stopped, there was scarcely a breath left in him. But he stood up quickly on his four trembling legs--and blinked.
A new terror held Baree rooted there. In an instant the whole world had changed. It was a flood of sunlight. Everywhere he looked he could see strange things. But it was the sun that frightened him most. It was his first impression of fire, and it made his eyes smart. He would have slunk back into the friendly gloom of the windfall, but at this moment Gray Wolf came around the end of a great log, followed by Kazan. She muzzled Baree joyously, and Kazan in a most doglike fashion wagged his tail. This mark of the dog was to be a part of Baree. Half wolf, he would always wag his tail. He tried to wag it now. Perhaps Kazan saw the effort, for he emitted a muffled yelp of approbation as he sat back on his haunches.
Or he might have been saying to Gray Wolf:
"Well, we've got the little rascal out of that windfall at last, haven't we?"
For Baree it had been a great day. He had discovered his father--and the world.
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 feast.
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 thick forest.
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 throat.
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 ear.
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.
To Papayuchisew, after his first mouthful of water, the stream was almost as safe as the air, for he went sailing down it with the lightness of a gull, wondering in his slow-thinking big head why he was moving so swiftly and so pleasantly without any effort of his own.
To Baree it was a different matter. He went down almost like a stone. A mighty roaring filled his ears; it was dark, suffocating, terrible. In the swift current he was twisted over and over. For a distance of twenty feet he was under water. Then he rose to the surface and desperately began using his legs. It was of little use. He had only time to blink once or twice and catch a lungful of air when he shot into a current that was running like a millrace between the butts of two fallen trees, and for another twenty feet the sharpest eyes could not have seen hair or hide of him. He came up again at the edge of a shallow riffle over which the water ran like the rapids at Niagara in miniature, and for fifty or sixty yards he was flung along like a hairy ball. From this he was hurled into a deep, cold pool. And then--half dead--he found himself crawling out on a gravelly bar.
For a long time Baree lay there in a pool of sunlight without moving. His ear hurt him; his nose was raw, and burned as if he had thrust it into fire. His legs and body were sore, and as he began to wander along the gravel bar, he was quite probably the most wretched pup in the world. He was also completely turned around. In vain he looked about him for some familiar mark--something that might guide him back to his windfall home. Everything was strange. He did not know that the water had flung him out on the wrong side of the stream, and that to reach the windfall he would have to cross it again. He whined, but that was as loud as his voice rose. Gray Wolf could have heard his barking, for the windfall was not more than two hundred and fifty yards up the stream. But the wolf in Baree held him silent, except for his low whining.
Striking the main shore, Baree began going downstream. This was away from the windfall, and each step that he took carried him farther and farther from home. Every little while he stopped and listened. The forest was deeper. It was growing blacker and more mysterious. Its silence was frightening. At the end of half an hour Baree would even have welcomed Papayuchisew. And he would not have fought him--he would have inquired, if possible, the way back home.
Baree was fully three-quarters of a mile from the windfall when he came to a point where the creek split itself into two channels. He had but one choice to follow--the stream that flowed a little south and east. This stream did not run swiftly. It was not filled with shimmering riffles, and rocks about which the water sang and foamed. It grew black, like the forest. It was still and deep. Without knowing it, Baree was burying himself deeper and deeper into Tusoo's old trapping grounds. Since Tusoo had died, they had lain undisturbed except for the wolves, for Gray Wolf and Kazan had not hunted on this side of the waterway--and the wolves themselves preferred the more open country for the chase.
Suddenly Baree found himself at the edge of a deep, dark pool in which the water lay still as oil, and his heart nearly jumped out of his body when a great, sleek, shining creature sprang out from almost under his nose and landed with a tremendous splash in the center of it. It was Nekik, the otter.
The otter had not heard Baree, and in another moment Napanekik, his wife, came sailing out of a patch of gloom, and behind her came three little otters, leaving behind them four shimmering wakes in the oily-looking water. What happened after that made Baree forget for a few minutes that he was lost. Nekik had disappeared under the surface, and now he came up directly under his unsuspecting mate with a force that lifted her half out of the water. Instantly he was gone again, and Napanekik took after him fiercely. To Baree it did not look like play. Two of the baby otters had pitched on the third, which seemed to be fighting desperately. The chill and ache went out of Baree's body. His blood ran excitedly. He forgot himself, and let out a bark. In a flash the otters disappeared. For several minutes the water in the pool continued to rock and heave--and that was all. After a little, Baree drew himself back into the bushes and went on.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun should still have been well up in the sky. But it was growing darker steadily, and the strangeness and fear of it all lent greater speed to Baree's legs. He stopped every little while to listen, and at one of these intervals he heard a sound that drew from him a responsive and joyous whine. It was a distant howl--a wolf's howl--straight ahead of him. Baree was not thinking of wolves but of Kazan, and he ran through the gloom of the forest until he was winded. Then he stopped and listened a long time. The wolf howl did not come again. Instead of it there rolled up from the west a deep and thunderous rumble. Through the tree-tops there flashed a vivid streak of lightning. A moaning whisper of wind rode in advance of the storm. The thunder sounded nearer; and a second flash of lightning seemed searching Baree out where he stood shivering under a canopy of great spruce.
This was his second storm. The first had frightened him terribly, and he had crawled far back into the shelter of the windfall. The best he could find now was a hollow under a big root, and into this he slunk, crying softly. It was a babyish cry, a cry for his mother, for home, for warmth, for something soft and protecting to nestle up to. And as he cried, the storm burst over the forest.
Baree had never before heard so much noise, and he had never seen the lightning play in such sheets of fire as when this June deluge fell. It seemed at times as though the whole world were aflame, and the earth seemed to shake and roll under the crashes of the thunder. He ceased his crying and made himself as small as he could under the root, which protected him partly from the terrific beat of the rain which came down through the treetops in a flood. It was now so black that except when the lightning ripped great holes in the gloom he could not see the spruce trunks twenty feet away. Twice that distance from Baree there was a huge dead stub that stood out like a ghost each time the fires swept the sky, as if defying the flaming hands up there to strike--and strike, at last, one of them did! A bluish tongue of snapping flame ran down the old stub; and as it touched the earth, there came a tremendous explosion above the treetops. The massive stub shivered, and then it broke asunder as if cloven by a gigantic ax. It crashed down so close to Baree that earth and sticks flew about him, and he let out a wild yelp of terror as he tried to crowd himself deeper into the shallow hole under the root.
With the destruction of the old stub the thunder and lightning seemed to have vented their malevolence. The thunder passed on into the south and east like the rolling of ten thousand heavy cart wheels over the roofs of the forest, and the lightning went with it. The rain fell steadily. The hole in which he had taken shelter was partly filled with water. He was drenched. His teeth chattered as he waited for the next thing to happen.
It was a long wait. When the rain finally stopped, and the sky cleared, it was night. Through the tops of the trees Baree could have seen the stars if he had poked out his head and looked upward. But he clung to his hole. Hour after hour passed. Exhausted, half drowned, footsore, and hungry, he did not move. At last he fell into a troubled sleep, a sleep in which every now and then he cried softly and forlornly for his mother. When he ventured out from under the root it was morning, and the sun was shining.
At first Baree could hardly stand. His legs were cramped. Every bone in his body seemed out of joint. His ear was stiff where the blood had oozed out of it and hardened, and when he tried to wrinkle his wounded nose, he gave a sharp little yap of pain. If such a thing were possible, he looked even worse than he felt. His hair had dried in muddy patches; he was dirt-stained from end to end; and where yesterday he had been plump and shiny, he was now as thin and wretched as misfortune could possibly make him. And he was hungry. He had never before known what it meant to be really hungry.
When he went on, continuing in the direction he had been following yesterday, he slunk along in a disheartened sort of way. His head and ears were no longer alert, and his curiosity was gone. He was not only stomach hungry: mother hunger rose above his physical yearning for something to eat. He wanted his mother as he had never wanted her before in his life. He wanted to snuggle his shivering little body close up to her and feel the warm caressing of her tongue and listen to the mothering whine of her voice. And he wanted Kazan, and the old windfall, and that big blue spot that was in the sky right over it. As he followed again along the edge of the creek, he whimpered for them as a child might grieve.
The forest grew more open after a time, and this cheered him up a little. Also the warmth of the sun was taking the ache out of his body. But he grew hungrier and hungrier. He always had depended entirely on Kazan and Gray Wolf for food. His parents had, in some ways, made a great baby of him. Gray Wolf's blindness accounted for this, for since his birth she had not taken up her hunting with Kazan, and it was quite natural that Baree should sack close to her, though more than once he had been filled with a great yearning to follow his father. Nature was hard at work trying to overcome its handicap now. It was struggling to impress on Baree that the time had now come when he must seek his own food. The fact impinged itself upon him slowly but steadily, and he began to think of the three or four shellfish he had caught and devoured on the stony creek bar near the windfall. He also remembered the open clamshell he had found, and the lusciousness of the tender morsel inside it. A new excitement began to possess him. He became, all at once, a hunter.
With the thinning out of the forest the creek grew more shallow. It ran again over bars of sand and stones, and Baree began to nose along the edge of the shallows. For a long time he had no success. The few crayfish that he saw were exceedingly lively and elusive, and all the clamshells were shut so tight that even Kazan's powerful jaws would have had difficulty in smashing them. It was almost noon when he caught his first crayfish, about as big as a man's forefinger. He devoured it ravenously. The taste of food gave him fresh courage. He caught two more crayfish during the afternoon. It was almost dusk when he stirred a young rabbit out from under a cover of grass. If he had been a month older, he could have caught it. He was still very hungry, for three crayfish--scattered through the day--had not done much to fill the emptiness that was growing steadily in him.
With the approach of night Baree's fears and great loneliness returned. Before the day had quite gone he found soft bed of sand. Since his fight with Papayuchisew, he had traveled a long distance, and the rock under which he made his bed this night was at least eight or nine miles from the windfall. It was in the open of the creek bottom, with and when the moon rose, and the stars filled the sky, Baree could look out and see the water of the stream shimmering in a glow almost as bright as day. Directly in front of him, running to the water's edge, was a broad carpet of white sand. Across this sand, half an hour later, came a huge black bear.
Until Baree had seen the otters at play in the creek, his conceptions of the forests had not gone beyond his own kind, and such creatures as owls and rabbits and small feathered things. The otters had not frightened him, because he still measured things by size, and Nekik was not half as big as Kazan. But the bear was a monster beside which Kazan would have stood a mere pygmy. He was big. If nature was taking this way of introducing Baree to the fact that there were more important creatures in the forests than dogs and wolves and owls and crayfish, she was driving the point home with a little more than necessary emphasis. For Wakayoo, the bear, weighed six hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce. He was fat and sleek from a month's feasting on fish. His shiny coat was like black velvet in the moonlight, and he walked with a curious rolling motion with his head hung low. The horror grew when he stopped broadside in the carpet of sand not more than ten feet from the rock under which Baree was shivering.
It was quite evident that Wakayoo had caught scent of him in the air. Baree could hear him sniff--could hear his breathing--caught the starlight flashing in his reddish-brown eyes as they swung suspiciously toward the big boulder. If Baree could have known then that he--his insignificant little self--was making that monster actually nervous and uneasy, he would have given a yelp of joy. For Wakayoo, in spite of his size, was somewhat of a coward when it came to wolves. And Baree carried the wolf scent. It grew stronger in Wakayoo's nose; and just then, as if to increase whatever nervousness was growing in him, there came from out of the forest behind him a long and wailing howl.
With an audible grunt, Wakayoo moved on. Wolves were pests, he argued. They wouldn't stand up and fight. They'd snap and yap at one's heels for hours at a time, and were always out of the way quicker than a wink when one turned on them. What was the use of hanging around where there were wolves, on a beautiful night like this? He lumbered on decisively. Baree could hear him splashing heavily through the water of the creek. Not until then did the wolf dog draw a full breath. It was almost a gasp.
But the excitement was not over for the night. Baree had chosen his bed at a place where the animals came down to drink, and where they crossed from one of the creek forests to the other. Not long after the bear had disappeared he heard a heavy crunching in the sand, and hoofs rattling against stones, and a bull moose with a huge sweep of antlers passed through the open space in the moonlight. Baree stared with popping eyes, for if Wakayoo had weighed six hundred pounds, this gigantic creature whose legs were so long that it seemed to be walking on stilts weighed at least twice as much. A cow moose followed, and then a calf.
The calf seemed all legs. It was too much for Baree, and he shoved himself farther and farther back under the rock until he lay wedged in like a sardine in a box. And there he lay until morning.
When Baree ventured forth from under his rock at the beginning of the next day, he was a much older puppy than when he met Papayuchisew, the young owl, in his path near the old windfall. If experience can be made to take the place of age, he had aged a great deal in the last forty-eight hours. In fact, he had passed almost out of puppyhood. He awoke with a new and much broader conception of the world. It was a big place. It was filled with many things, of which Kazan and Gray Wolf were not the most important. The monsters he had seen on the moonlit plot of sand had roused in him a new kind of caution, and the one greatest instinct of beasts--the primal understanding that it is the strong that prey upon the weak--was wakening swiftly in him. As yet he quite naturally measured brute force and the menace of things by size alone. Thus the bear was more terrible than Kazan, and the moose was more terrible than the bear.
It was quite fortunate for Baree that this instinct did not go to the limit in the beginning and make him understand that his own breed--the wolf--was most feared of all the creatures, claw, hoof, and wing, of the forests. Otherwise, like the small boy who thinks he can swim before he has mastered a stroke, he might somewhere have jumped in beyond his depth and had his head chewed off.
Very much alert, with the hair standing up along his spine, and a little growl in his throat, Baree smelled of the big footprints made by the bear and the moose. It was the bear scent that made him growl. He followed the tracks to the edge of the creek. After that he resumed his wandering, and also his hunt for food.
For two hours he did not find a crayfish. Then he came out of the green timber into the edge of a burned-over country. Here everything was black. The stumps of the trees stood up like huge charred canes. It was a comparatively fresh "burn" of last autumn, and the ash was still soft under Baree's feet. Straight through this black region ran the creek, and over it hung a blue sky in which the sun was shining. It was quite inviting to Baree. The fox, the wolf, the moose, and the caribou would have turned back from the edge of this dead country. In another year it would be good hunting ground, but now it was lifeless. Even the owls would have found nothing to eat out there.
It was the blue sky and the sun and the softness of the earth under his feet that lured Baree. It was pleasant to travel in after his painful experiences in the forest. He continued to follow the stream, though there was now little possibility of his finding anything to eat. The water had become sluggish and dark. The channel was choked with charred debris that had fallen into it when the forest had burned, and its shores were soft and muddy. After a time, when Baree stopped and looked about him, he could no longer see the green timber he had left. He was alone in that desolate wilderness of charred tree corpses. It was as still as death, too. Not the chirp of a bird broke the silence. In the soft ash he could not hear the fall of his own feet. But he was not frightened. There was the assurance of safety here.
If he could only find something to eat! That was the master thought that possessed Baree. Instinct had not yet impressed upon him that this which he saw all about him was starvation. He went on, seeking hopefully for food. But at last, as the hours passed, hope began to die in him. The sun sank westward. The sky grew less blue; a low wind began to ride over the tops of the stubs, and now and then one of them fell with a startling crash.
Baree could go no farther. An hour before dusk he lay down in the open, weak and starved. The sun disappeared behind the forest. The moon rolled up from the east. The sky glittered with stars--and all through the night Baree lay as if dead. When morning came, he dragged himself to the stream for a drink. With his last strength he went on. It was the wolf urging him--compelling him to struggle to the last for his life. The dog in him wanted to lie down and die. But the wolf spark in him burned stronger. In the end it won. Half a mile farther on he came again to the green timber.
In the forests as well as in the great cities fate plays its changing and whimsical hand. If Baree had dragged himself into the timber half an hour later he would have died. He was too far gone now to hunt for crayfish or kill the weakest bird. But he came just as Sekoosew, the ermine, the most bloodthirsty little pirate of all the wild--was making a kill.
That was fully a hundred yards from where Baree lay stretched out under a spruce, almost ready to give up the ghost. Sekoosew was a mighty hunter of his kind. His body was about seven inches long, with a tiny black-tipped tail appended to it, and he weighed perhaps five ounces. A baby's fingers could have encircled him anywhere between his four legs, and his little sharp-pointed head with its beady red eyes could slip easily through a hole an inch in diameter. For several centuries Sekoosew had helped to make history. It was he--when his pelt was worth a hundred dollars in king's gold--that lured the first shipload of gentlemen adventurers over the sea, with Prince Rupert at their head. It was little Sekoosew who was responsible for the forming of the great Hudson's Bay Company and the discovery of half a continent. For almost three centuries he had fought his fight for existence with the trapper. And now, though he was no longer worth his weight in yellow gold, he was the cleverest, the fiercest, and the most merciless of all the creatures that made up his world.
As Baree lay under his tree, Sekoosew was creeping on his prey. His game was a big fat spruce hen standing under a thicket of black currant bushes. The ear of no living thing could have heard Sekoosew's movement. He was like a shadow--a gray dot here, a flash there, now hidden behind a stick no larger than a man's wrist, appearing for a moment, the next instant gone as completely as if he had not existed. Thus he approached from fifty feet to within three feet of the spruce hen. That was his favorite striking distance. Unerringly he launched himself at the drowsy partridge's throat, and his needlelike teeth sank through feathers into flesh.
Sekoosew was prepared for what happened then. It always happened when he attacked Napanao, the wood partridge. Her wings were powerful, and her first instinct when he struck was always that of flight. She rose straight up now with a great thunder of wings. Sekoosew hung tight, his teeth buried deep in her throat, and his tiny, sharp claws clinging to her like hands. Through the air he whizzed with her, biting deeper and deeper, until a hundred yards from where that terrible death thing had fastened to her throat, Napanao crashed again to earth.
Where she fell was not ten feet from Baree. For a few moments he looked at the struggling mass of feathers in a daze, not quite comprehending that at last food was almost within his reach. Napanao was dying, but she still struggled convulsively with her wings. Baree rose stealthily, and after a moment in which he gathered all his remaining strength, he made a rush for her. His teeth sank into her breast--and not until then did he see Sekoosew. The ermine had raised his head from the death grip at the partridge's throat, and his savage little red eyes glared for a single instant into Baree's. Here was something too big to kill, and with an angry squeak the ermine was gone. Napanao's wings relaxed, and the throb went out of her body. She was dead. Baree hung on until he was sure. Then he began his feast.
With murder in his heart, Sekoosew novered near, whisking here and there but never coming nearer than half a dozen feet from Baree. His eyes were redder than ever. Now and then he emitted a sharp little squeak of rage. Never had he been so angry in all his life! To have a fat partridge stolen from him like this was an imposition he had never suffered before. He wanted to dart in and fasten his teeth in Baree's jugular. But he was too good a general to make the attempt, too good a Napoleon to jump deliberately to his Waterloo. An owl he would have fought. He might even have given battle to his big brother--and his deadliest enemy--the mink. But in Baree he recognized the wolf breed, and he vented his spite at a distance. After a time his good sense returned, and he went off on another hunt.
Baree ate a third of the partridge, and the remaining two thirds he cached very carefully at the foot of the big spruce. Then he hurried down to the creek for a drink. The world looked very different to him now. After all, one's capacity for happiness depends largely on how deeply one has suffered. One's hard luck and misfortune form the measuring stick for future good luck and fortune. So it was with Baree. Forty-eight hours ago a full stomach would not have made him a tenth part as happy as he was now. Then his greatest longing was for his mother. Since then a still greater yearning had come into his life--for food. In a way it was fortunate for him that he had almost died of exhaustion and starvation, for his experience had helped to make a man of him--or a wolf dog, just as you are of a mind to put it. He would miss his mother for a long time. But he would never miss her again as he had missed her yesterday and the day before.
That afternoon Baree took a long nap close to his cache. Then he uncovered the partridge and ate his supper. When his fourth night alone came, he did not hide himself as he had done on the three preceding nights. He was strangely and curiously alert. Under the moon and the stars he prowled in the edge of the forest and out on the burn. He listened with a new kind of thrill to the faraway cry of a wolf pack on the hunt. He listened to the ghostly whoo-whoo-whoo of the owls without shivering. Sounds and silences were beginning to hold a new and significant note for him.
For another day and night Baree remained in the vicinity of his cache. When the last bone was picked, he moved on. He now entered a country where subsistence was no longer a perilous problem for him. It was a lynx country, and where there are lynx, there are also a great many rabbits. When the rabbits thin out, the lynx emigrate to better hunting grounds. As the snowshoe rabbit breeds all the summer through, Baree found himself in a land of plenty. It was not difficult for him to catch and kill the young rabbits. For a week he prospered and grew bigger and stronger each day. But all the time, stirred by that seeking, wanderlust spirit--still hoping to find the old home and his mother--he traveled into the north and east.
And this was straight into the trapping country of Pierrot, the half-breed.
Pierrot, until two years ago, had believed himself to be one of the most fortunate men in the big wilderness. That was before La Mort Rouge--the Red Death--came. He was half French, and he had married a Cree chief's daughter, and in their log cabin on the Gray Loon they had lived for many years in great prosperity and happiness. Pierrot was proud of three things in this wild world of his. He was immensely proud of Wyola, his royal-blooded wife. He was proud of his daughter; and he was proud of his reputation as a hunter. Until the Red Death came, life was quite complete for him. It was then--two years ago--that the smallpox killed his princess wife. He still lived in the little cabin on the Gray Loon, but he was a different Pierrot. The heart was sick in him. It would have died, had it not been for Nepeese, his daughter. His wife had named her Nepeese, which means the Willow.
Nepeese had grown up like the willow, slender as a reed, with all her mother's wild beauty, and with a little of the French thrown in. She was sixteen, with great, dark, wonderful eyes, and hair so beautiful that an agent from Montreal passing that way had once tried to buy it. It fell in two shining braids, each as big as a man's wrist, almost to her knees. "Non, M'sieu," Pierrot had said, a cold glitter in his eyes as he saw what was in the agent's face. "It is not for barter."
Two days after Baree had entered his trapping ground, Pierrot came in from the forests with a troubled look in his face.
"Something is killing off the young beavers," he explained to Nepeese, speaking to her in French. "It is a lynx or a wolf. Tomorrow--" He shrugged his thin shoulders, and smiled at her.
"We will go on the hunt," laughed Nepeese happily, in her soft Cree.
When Pierrot smiled at her like that, and began with "Tomorrow," it always meant that she might go with him on the adventure he was contemplating.
Still another day later, at the end of the afternoon, Baree crossed the Gray Loon on a bridge of driftwood that had wedged between two trees. This was to the north. Just beyond the driftwood bridge there was a small clearing, and on the edge of it Baree paused to enjoy the last of the setting sun. As he stood motionless and listening, his tail drooping low, his ears alert, his sharp-pointed nose sniffing the new country to the north, there was not a pair of eyes in the forest that would not have taken him for a young wolf.
From behind a clump of young balsams, a hundred yards away, Pierrot and Nepeese had watched him come over the driftwood bridge. Now was the time, and Pierrot leveled his rifle. It was not until then that Nepeese touched his arm softly. Her breath came a little excitedly as she whispered:
"Nootawe, let me shoot. I can kill him!"
With a low chuckle Pierrot gave the gun to her. He counted the whelp as already dead. For Nepeese, at that distance, could send a bullet into an inch square nine times out of ten. And Nepeese, aiming carefully at Baree, pressed steadily with her brown forefinger upon the trigger.
As the Willow pulled the trigger of her rifle, Baree sprang into the air. He felt the force of the bullet before he heard the report of the gun. It lifted him off his feet, and then sent him rolling over and over as if he had been struck a hideous blow with a club. For a flash he did not feel pain. Then it ran through him like a knife of fire, and with that pain the dog in him rose above the wolf, and he let out a wild outcry of puppyish yapping as he rolled and twisted on the ground.
Pierrot and Nepeese had stepped from behind the balsams, the Willow's beautiful eyes shining with pride at the accuracy of her shot. Instantly she caught her breath. Her brown fingers clutched at the barrel of her rifle. The chuckle of satisfaction died on Pierrot's lips as Baree's cries of pain filled the forest.
"Uchi moosis!" gasped Nepeese, in her Cree.
Pierrot caught the rifle from her.
"Diable! A dog--a puppy!" he cried.
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