> >James Oliver Curwood "Baree, Son of Kazan"

James Curwood - Baree, Son of Kazan (2 )

: James Oliver Curwood "Baree, Son of Kazan".

 

CHAPTER 7

For two or three days Baree's excursions after food took him farther and farther away from the pond. But each afternoon he returned to it--until the third day, when he discovered a new creek, and Wakayoo. The creek was fully two miles back in the forest. This was a different sort of stream. It sang merrily over a gravelly bed and between chasm walls of split rock. It formed deep pools and foaming eddies, and where Baree first struck it, the air trembled with the distant thunder of a waterfall. It was much pleasanter than the dark and silent beaver stream. It seemed possessed of life, and the rush and tumult of it--the song and thunder of the water--gave to Baree entirely new sensations. He made his way along it slowly and cautiously, and it was because of this slowness and caution that he came suddenly and unobserved upon Wakayoo, the big black bear, hard at work fishing.

Wakayoo stood knee-deep in a pool that had formed behind a sand bar, and he was having tremendously good luck. Even as Baree shrank back, his eyes popping at sight of this monster he had seen but once before, in the gloom of night, one of Wakayoo's big paws sent a great splash of water high in the air, and a fish landed on the pebbly shore. A little while before, the suckers had run up the creek in thousands to spawn, and the rapid lowering of the water had caught many of them in these prison pools. Wakayoo's fat, sleek body was evidence of the prosperity this circumstance had brought him. Although it was a little past the "prime" season for bearskins, Wakayoo's coat was splendidly thick and black.

For a quarter of an hour Baree watched him while he knocked fish out of the pool. When at last he stopped, there were twenty or thirty fish among the stones, some of them dead and others still flopping. From where he lay flattened out between two rocks, Baree could hear the crunching of flesh and bone as the bear devoured his dinner. It sounded good, and the fresh smell of fish filled him with a craving that had never been roused by crayfish or even partridge.

In spite of his fat and his size, Wakayoo was not a glutton, and after he had eaten his fourth fish he pawed all the others together in a pile, partly covered them by raking up sand and stones with his long claws, and finished his work of caching by breaking down a small balsam sapling so that the fish were entirely concealed. Then he lumbered slowly away in the direction of the rumbling waterfall.

Twenty seconds after the last of Wakayoo had disappeared in a turn of the creek, Baree was under the broken balsam. He dragged out a fish that was still alive. He ate the whole of it, and it tasted delicious.

Baree now found that Wakayoo had solved the food problem for him, and this day he did not return to the beaver pond, nor the next. The big bear was incessantly fishing up and down the creek, and day after day Baree continued his feasts. It was not difficult for him to find Wakayoo's caches. All he had to do was to follow along the shore of the stream, sniffing carefully. Some of the caches were getting old, and their perfume was anything but pleasant to Baree. These he avoided--but he never missed a meal or two out of a fresh one.

For a week life continued to be exceedingly pleasant. And then came the break--the change that was destined to meant for Kazan, his father, when he killed the man-brute at the edge of the wilderness.

This change came or the day when, in trotting around a great rock near the waterfall, Baree found himself face to face with Pierrot the hunter and Nepeese, the star-eyed girl who had shot him in the edge of the clearing.

It was Nepeese whom he saw first. If it had been Pierrot, he would have turned back quickly. But again the blood of his forebear was rousing strange tremblings within him. Was it like this that the first woman had looked to Kazan?

Baree stood still. Nepeese was not more than twenty feet from him. She sat on a rock, full in the early morning sun, and was brushing out her wonderful hair. Her lips parted. Her eyes shone in an instant like stars. One hand remained poised, weighted with the jet tresses. She recognized him. She saw the white star on his breast and the white tip on his ear, and under her breath she whispered "Uchi moosis!"--"The dog pup!" It was the wild dog she had shot--and thought had died!

The evening before Pierrot and Nepeese had built a shelter of balsams behind the big rock, and on a small white plot of sand Pierrot was kneeling over a fire preparing breakfast while the Willow arranged her hair. He raised his head to speak to her, and saw Baree. In that instant the spell was broken. Baree saw the man-beast as he rose to his feet. Like a shot he was gone.

Scarcely swifter was he than Nepeese.

"Depechez vous, mon pere!" she cried. "It is the dog pup! Quick--"

In the floating cloud of her hair she sped after Baree like the wind. Pierrot followed, and in going he caught up his rifle. It was difficult for him to catch up with the Willow. She was like a wild spirit, her little moccasined feet scarcely touching the sand as she ran up the long bar. It was wonderful to see the lithe swiftness of her, and that glorious hair streaming out in the sun. Even now, in this moment's excitement, it made Pierrot think of McTaggart, the Hudson's Bay Company's factor over at Lac Bain, and what he had said yesterday. Half the night Pierrot had lain awake, gritting his teeth at thought of it. And this morning, before Baree ran upon them, he had looked at Nepeese more closely than ever before in his life. She was beautiful. She was lovelier even than Wyola, her princess mother, who was dead. That hair--which made men stare as if they could not believe! Those eyes--like pools filled with wonderful starlight! Her slimness, that was like a flower! And McTaggart had said--

Floating back to him there came an excited cry.

"Hurry, Nootawe! He has turned into the blind canyon. He cannot escape us now."

She was panting when he came up to her. The French blood in her glowed a vivid crimson in her cheeks and lips. Her white teeth gleamed like pearls.

"In there!" And she pointed.

They went in.

Ahead of them Baree was running for his life. He sensed instinctively the fact that these wonderful two-legged beings he had looked upon were all-powerful. And they were after him! He could hear them. Nepeese was following almost as swiftly as he could run. Suddenly he turned into a cleft between two great rocks. Twenty feet in, his way was barred, and he ran back. When he darted out, straight up the canyon, Nepeese was not a dozen yards behind him, and he saw Pierrot almost at her side. The Willow gave a cry.

"Mana--mana--there he is!"

She caught her breath, and darted into a copse of young balsams where Baree had disappeared. Like a great entangling web her loose hair impeded her in the brush, and with an encouraging cry to Pierrot she stopped to gather it over her shoulder as he ran past her. She lost only a moment or two, and then once again was after him. Fifty yards ahead of her Pierrot gave a warning shout. Baree had turned. Almost in the same breath he was tearing over his back trail, directly toward the Willow. He did not see her in time to stop or swerve aside, and Nepeese flung herself down in his path. For an instant or two they were together. Baree felt the smother of her hair, and the clutch of her hands. Then he squirmed away and darted again toward the blind end of the canyon.

Nepeese sprang to her feet. She was panting--and laughing. Pierrot came back wildly, and the Willow pointed beyond him.

"I had him--and he didn't bite!" she said, breathing swiftly. She still pointed to the end of the canyon, and she said again: "I had him--and he didn't bite me, Nootawe!"

That was the wonder of it. She had been reckless--and Baree had not bitten her! It was then, with her eyes shining at Pierrot, and the smile fading slowly from her lips, that she spoke softly the word "Baree," which in her tongue meant "the wild dog"--a little brother of the wolf.

"Come," cried Pierrot, "or we will lose him!"

Pierrot was confident. The canyon had narrowed. Baree could not get past them unseen. Three minutes later Baree came to the blind end of the canyon--a wall of rock that rose straight up like the curve of a dish. Feasting on fish and long hours of sleep had fattened him, and he was half winded as he sought vainly for an exit. He was at the far end of the dishlike curve of rock, without a bush or a clump of grass to hide him, when Pierrot and Nepeese saw him again. Nepeese made straight toward him. Pierrot, foreseeing what Baree would do, hurried to the left, at right angles to the end of the canyon.

In and out among the rocks Baree sought swiftly for a way of escape. In a moment more he had come to the "box," or cup of the canyon. This was a break in the wall, fifty or sixty feet wide, which opened into a natural prison about an acre in extent. It was a beautiful spot. On all sides but that leading into the coulee it was shut in by walls of rock. At the far end a waterfall broke down in a series of rippling cascades. The grass was thick underfoot and strewn with flowers. In this trap Pierrot had got more than one fine haunch of venison. From it there was no escape, except in the face of his rifle. He called to Nepeese as he saw Baree entering it, and together they climbed the slope.

Baree had almost reached the edge of the little prison meadow when suddenly he stopped himself so quickly that he fell back on his haunches and his heart jumped up into his throat.

Full in his path stood Wakayoo, the huge black bear!

For perhaps a half-minute Baree hesitated between the two perils. He heard the voices of Nepeese and Pierrot. He caught the rattle of stones under their feet. And he was filled with a great dread. Then he looked at Wakayoo. The big bear had not moved an inch. He, too, was listening. But to him there was a thing more disturbing than the sounds he heard. It was the scent which he caught in the air--the man scent.

Baree, watching him, saw his head swing slowly even as the footsteps of Nepeese and Pierrot became more and more distinct. It was the first time Baree had ever stood face to face with the big bear. He had watched him fish; he had fattened on Wakayoo's prowess; he had held him in splendid awe. Now there was something about the bear that took away his fear and gave him in its place a new and thrilling confidence. Wakayoo, big and powerful as he was, would not run from the two-legged creatures who pursued him! If Baree could only get past Wakayoo he was safe!

Baree darted to one side and ran for the open meadow. Wakayoo did not stir as Baree sped past him--no more than if he had been a bird or a rabbit. Then came another breath of air, heavy with the scent of man. This, at last, put life into him. He turned and began lumbering after Baree into the meadow trap. Baree, looking back, saw him coming--and thought it was pursuit. Nepeese and Pierrot came over the slope, and at the same instant they saw both Wakayoo and Baree.

Where they entered into the grassy dip under the rock walls, Baree turned sharply to the right. Here was a great boulder, one end of it tilted up off the earth. It looked like a splendid hiding place, and Baree crawled under it.

But Wakayoo kept straight ahead into the meadow.

From where he lay Baree could see what happened. Scarcely had he crawled under the rock when Nepeese and Pierrot appeared through the break in the dip, and stopped. The fact that they stopped thrilled Baree. They were afraid of Wakayoo! The big bear was two thirds of the way across the meadow. The sun fell on him, so that his coat shone like black satin. Pierrot stared at him for a moment. Pierrot did not kill for the love of killing. Necessity made him a conservationist. But he saw that in spite of the lateness of the season, Wakayoo's coat was splendid--and he raised his rifle.

Baree saw this action. He saw, a moment later, something spit from the end of the gun, and then he heard that deafening crash that had come with his own hurt, when the Willow's bullet had burned through his flesh. He turned his eyes swiftly to Wakayoo. The big bear had stumbled; he was on his knees. And then he struggled to his feet and lumbered on.

The roar of the rifle came again, and a second time Wakayoo went down. Pierrot could not miss at that distance. Wakayoo made a splendid mark. It was slaughter. Yet for Pierrot and Nepeese it was business--the business of life.

Baree was shivering. It was more from excitement than fear, for he had lost his own fear in the tragedy of these moments. A low whine rose in his throat as he looked at Wakayoo, who had risen again and faced his enemies--his jaws gaping, his head swinging slowly, his legs weakening under him as the blood poured through his torn lungs. Baree whined--because Wakayoo had fished for him, because he had come to look on him as a friend, and because he knew it was death that Wakayoo was facing now. There was a third shot--the last. Wakayoo sank down in his tracks. His big head dropped between his forepaws. A racking cough or two came to Baree's ears. And then there was silence. It was slaughter--but business.

A minute later, standing over Wakayoo, Pierrot said to Nepeese:

"Mon dieu, but it is a fine skin, Sakahet! It is worth twenty dollars over at Lac Bain!"

He drew forth his knife and began whetting it on a stone which he carried in his pocket. In these minutes Baree might have crawled out from under his rock and escaped down the canyon; for a space he was forgotten. Then Nepeese thought of him, and in that same strange, wondering voice she spoke again the word "Baree." Pierrot, who was kneeling, looked up at her.

"Oui, Sakahet. He was born of the wild. And now he is gone--"

The Willow shook her head.

"Non, he is not gone," she said, and her dark eyes searched the sunlit meadow.

 

CHAPTER 8

As Nepeese gazed about the rock-walled end of the canyon, the prison into which they had driven Wakayoo and Baree, Pierrot looked up again from his skinning of the big black bear, and he muttered something that no one but himself could have heard. "Non, it is not possible," he had said a moment before; but to Nepeese it was possible--the thought that was in her mind. It was a wonderful thought. It thrilled her to the depth of her wild, young soul. It sent a glow into her eyes and a deeper flush of excitement into her cheeks and lips.

As she searched the ragged edges of the little meadow for signs of the dog pup, her thoughts flashed back swiftly. Two years ago they had buried her princess mother under the tall spruce near their cabin. That day Pierrot's sun had set for all time, and her own life became filled with a vast loneliness. There had been three at the graveside that afternoon as the sun went down--Pierrot, herself, and a dog, a great, powerful husky with a white star on his breast and a white-tipped ear. He had been her dead mother's pet from puppyhood--her bodyguard, with her always, even with his head resting on the side of her bed as she died. And that night, the night of the day they buried her, the dog had disappeared. He had gone as quietly and as completely as her spirit. No one ever saw him after that. It was strange, and to Pierrot it was a miracle. Deep in his heart he was filled with the wonderful conviction that the dog had gone with his beloved Wyola into heaven.

But Nepeese had spent three winters at the missioner's school at Nelson House. She had learned a great deal about white people and the real God, and she knew that Pierrot's idea was impossible. She believed that her mother's husky was either dead or had joined the wolves. Probably he had gone to the wolves. So--was it not possible that this youngster she and her father had pursued was of the flesh and blood of her mother's pet? It was more than possible. The white star on his breast, the white-tipped ear--the fact that he had not bitten her when he might easily have buried his fangs in the soft flesh of her arms! She was convinced. While Pierrot skinned the bear, she began hunting for Baree.

Baree had not moved an inch from under his rock. He lay like a thing stunned, his eyes fixed steadily on the scene of the tragedy out in the meadow. He had seen something that he would never forget--even as he would never quite forget his mother and Kazan and the old windfall. He had witnessed the death of the creature he had thought all-powerful. Wakayoo, the big bear, had not even put up a fight. Pierrot and Nepeese had killed him WITHOUT TOUCHING HIM. Now Pierrot was cutting him with a knife which shot silvery flashes in the sun; and Wakayoo made no movement. It made Baree shiver, and he drew himself an inch farther back under the rock, where he was already wedged as if he had been shoved there by a strong hand.

He could see Nepeese. She came straight back to the break through which his flight had taken him, and stood at last not more than twenty feet from where he was hidden. Now that she stood where he could not escape, she began weaving her shining hair into two thick braids. Baree had taken his eyes from Pierrot, and he watched her curiously. He was not afraid now. His nerves tingled. In him a strange and growing force was struggling to solve a great mystery--the reason for his desire to creep out from under his rock and approach that wonderful creature with the shining eyes and the beautiful hair.

Baree wanted to approach. It was like an invisible string tugging at his very heart. It was Kazan, and not Gray Wolf, calling to him back through the centuries, a "call" that was as old as the Egyptian pyramids and perhaps ten thousand years older. But against that desire Gray Wolf was pulling from out the black ages of the forests. The wolf held him quiet and motionless. Nepeese was looking about her. She was smiling. For a moment her face was turned toward him, and he saw the white shine of her teeth, and her beautiful eyes seemed glowing straight at him.

And then, suddenly, she dropped on her knees and peered under the rock.

Their eyes met. For at least half a minute there was not a sound. Nepeese did not move, and her breath came so softly that Baree could not hear it.

Then she said, almost in a whisper:

"Baree! Baree! Upi Baree!"

It was the first time Baree had heard his name, and there was something so soft and assuring in the sound of it that in spite of himself the dog in him responded to it in a whimper that just reached the Willow's ears. Slowly she stretched in an arm. It was bare and round and soft. He might have darted forward the length of his body and buried his fangs in it easily. But something held him back. He knew that it was not an enemy. He knew that the dark eyes shining at him so wonderfully were not filled with the desire to harm--and the voice that came to him softly was like a strange and thrilling music.

"Baree! Baree! Upi Baree!"

Over and over again the Willow called to him like that, while on her face she tried to draw herself a few inches farther under the rock. She could not reach him. There was still a foot between her hand and Baree, and she could not wedge herself forward an inch more. And then she saw where on the other side of the rock there was a hollow, shut in by a stone. If she had removed the stone, and come in that way--

She drew herself out and stood once more in the sunshine. Her heart thrilled. Pierrot was busy over his bear--and she would not call him. She made an effort to move the stone which closed in the hollow under the big boulder, but it was wedged in tightly. Then she began digging with a stick. If Pierrot had been there, his sharp eyes would have discovered the significance of that stone, which was not larger than a water pail. Possibly for centuries it had lain there, its support keeping the huge rock from toppling down, just as an ounce weight may swing the balance of a wheel that weighs a ton.

Five minutes--and Nepeese could move the stone. She tugged at it. Inch by inch she dragged it out until at last it lay at her feet and the opening was ready for her body. She looked again toward Pierrot. He was still busy, and she laughed softly as she untied a big red-and-white Bay handkerchief from about her shoulders. With this she would secure Baree. She dropped on her hands and knees and then lowered herself flat on the ground and began crawling into the hollow under the boulder.

Baree had moved. With the back of his head flattened against the rock, he had heard something which Nepeese had not heard. He had felt a slow and growing pressure, and from this pressure he had dragged himself slowly--and the pressure still followed. The mass of rock was settling! Nepeese did not see or hear or understand. She was calling to him more and more pleadingly:

"Baree--Baree--Baree--"

Her head and shoulders and both arms were under the rock now. The glow of her eyes was very close to Baree. He whined. The thrill of a great and impending danger stirred in his blood. And then--

In that moment Nepeese felt the pressure of the rock on her shoulder, and into the eyes that had been glowing softly at Baree there shot a sudden wild look of horror. And then there came from her lips a cry that was not like any other sound Baree had ever heard in the wilderness--wild, piercing, filled with agonized fear. Pierrot did not hear that first cry. But he heard the second and the third--and then scream after scream as the Willow's tender body was slowly crushed under the settling mass. He ran toward it with the speed of the wind. The cries were now weaker--dying away. He saw Baree as he came out from under the rock and ran into the canyon, and in the same instant he saw a part of the Willow's dress and her moccasined feet. The rest of her was hidden under the deathtrap. Like a madman Pierrot began digging.

When a few moments later he drew Nepeese out from under the boulder she was white and deathly still. Her eyes were closed. His hand could not feel that she was living, and a great moan of anguish rose out of his soul. But he knew how to fight for a life. He tore open her dress and found that she was not crushed as he had feared. Then he ran for water. When he returned, the Willow's eyes were open and she was gasping for breath.

"The blessed saints be praised!" sobbed Pierrot, falling on his knees at her side. "Nepeese, ma Nepeese!"

She smiled at him, and Pierrot drew her up to him, forgetting the water he had run so hard to get.

Still later, when he got down on his knees and peered under the rock, his face turned white and he said:

"Mon Dieu, if it had not been for that little hollow in the earth, Nepeese--"

He shuddered, and said no more. But Nepeese, happy in her salvation, made a movement with her hand and said, smiling at him:

"I would have been like--THAT." And she held her thumb and forefinger close together.

"But where did Baree go, mon pere?" Nepeese cried.

 

CHAPTER 9

Impelled by the wild alarm of the Willow's terrible cries and the sight of Pierrot dashing madly toward him from the dead body of Wakayoo, Baree did not stop running until it seemed as though his lungs could not draw another breath. When he stopped, he was well out of the canyon and headed for the beaver pond. For almost a week Baree had not been near the pond. He had not forgotten Beaver Tooth and Umisk and the other little beavers, but Wakayoo and his daily catch of fresh fish had been too big a temptation for him. Now Wakayoo was gone. He sensed the fact that the big black bear would never fish again in the quiet pools and shimmering eddies, and that where for many days there had been peace and plenty, there was now great danger. And just as in another country he would have fled for safety to the old windfall, he now fled desperately for the beaver pond.

Exactly wherein lay Baree's fears it would be difficult to say--but surely it was not because of Nepeese. The Willow had chased him hard. She had flung herself upon him. He had felt the clutch of her hands and the smother of her soft hair, and yet of her he was not afraid! If he stopped now and then in his flight and looked back, it was to see if Nepeese was following. He would not have run hard from her--alone. Her eyes and voice and hands had set something stirring in him; he was filled with a greater yearning and a greater loneliness now. And that night he dreamed troubled dreams.

He found himself a bed under a spruce root not far from the beaver pond, and all through the night his sleep was filled with that restless dreaming--dreams of his mother, of Kazan, the old windfall, of Umlsk--and of Nepeese. Once, when he awoke, he thought the spruce root was Gray Wolf; and when he found that she was not there, Pierrot and the Willow could have told what his crying meant if they had heard it. Again and again he had visions of the thrilling happenings of that day. He saw the flight of Wakayoo over the little meadow--he saw him die again. He saw the glow of the Willow's eyes close to his own, heard her voice--so sweet and low that it seemed like strange music to him--and again he heard her terrible screams.

Baree was glad when the dawn came. He did not seek for food, but went down to the pond. There was little hope and anticipation in his manner now. He remembered that, as plainly as animal ways could talk, Umisk and his playmates had told him they wanted nothing to do with him. And yet the fact that they were there took away some of his loneliness. It was more than loneliness. The wolf in him was submerged. The dog was master. And in these passing moments, when the blood of the wild was almost dormant in him, he was depressed by the instinctive and growing feeling that he was not of that wild, but a fugitive in it, menaced on all sides by strange dangers.

Deep in the northern forests the beaver does not work and play in darkness only, but uses day even more than night, and many of Beaver Tooth's people were awake when Baree began disconsolately to investigate the shores of the pond. The little beavers were still with their mothers in the big houses that looked like great domes of sticks and mud out in the middle of the lake. There were three of these houses, one of them at least twenty feet in diameter. Baree had some difficulty in following his side of the pond. When he got back among the willows and alders and birch, dozens of little canals crossed and crisscrossed in his path. Some of these canals were a foot wide, and others three or four feet, and all were filled with water. No country in the world ever had a better system of traffic than this domain of the beavers, down which they brought their working materials and food into the main reservoir--the pond.

In one of the larger canals Baree surprised a big beaver towing a four-foot cutting of birch as thick through as a man's leg--half a dozen breakfasts and dinners and suppers in that one cargo. The four or five inner barks of the birch are what might be called the bread and butter and potatoes of the beaver menu, while the more highly prized barks of the willow and young alder take the place of meat and pie. Baree smelled curiously of the birch cutting after the old beaver had abandoned it in flight, and then went on. He did not try to conceal himself now, and at least half a dozen beavers had a good look at him before he came to the point where the pond narrowed down to the width of the stream, almost half a mile from the dam. Then he wandered back. All that morning he hovered about the pond, showing himself openly.

In their big mud-and-stick strongholds the beavers held a council of war. They were distinctly puzzled. There were four enemies which they dreaded above all others: the otter, who destroyed their dams in the wintertime and brought death to them from cold and by lowering the water so they could not get to their food supplies; the lynx, who preyed on them all, young and old alike; and the fox and wolf, who would lie in ambush for hours in order to pounce on the very young, like Umisk and his playmates. If Baree had been any one of these four, wily Beaver Tooth and his people would have known what to do. But Baree was surely not an otter, and if he was a fox or a wolf or a lynx, his actions were very strange, to say the least. Half a dozen times he had had the opportunity to pounce on his prey, if he had been seeking prey. But at no time had he shown the least desire to harm them.

It may be that the beavers discussed the matter fully among themselves. It is possible that Umisk and his playmates told their parents of their adventure, and of how Baree had made no move to harm them when he could quite easily have caught them. It is also more than likely that the older beavers who had fled from Baree that morning gave an account of their adventures, again emphasizing the fact that the stranger, while frightening them, had shown no disposition to attack them. All this is quite possible, for if beavers can make a large part of a continent's history, and can perform engineering feats that nothing less than dynamite can destroy, it is only reasonable to suppose that they have some way of making one another understand.

However this may be, courageous old Beaver Tooth took it upon himself to end the suspense.

It was early in the afternoon that for the third or fourth time Baree walked out on the dam. This dam was fully two hundred feet in length, but at no point did the water run over it, the overflow finding its way through narrow sluices. A week or two ago Baree could have crossed to the opposite side of the pond on this dam, but now--at the far end--Beaver Tooth and his engineers were adding a new section of dam, and in order to accomplish their work more easily, they had flooded fully fifty yards of the low ground on which they were working.

The main dam held a strange fascination for Baree. It was strong with the smell of beaver. The top of it was high and dry, and there were dozens of smoothly worn little hollows in which the beavers had taken their sun baths. In one of these hollows Baree stretched himself out, with his eyes on the pond. Not a ripple stirred its velvety smoothness. Not a sound broke the drowsy stillness of the afternoon. The beavers might have been dead or asleep, for all the stir they made. And yet they knew that Baree was on the dam. Where he lay, the sun fell in a warm flood, and it was so comfortable that after a time he had difficulty in keeping his eyes open to watch the pond. Then he fell asleep.

Just how Beaver Tooth sensed this fact is a mystery. Five minutes later he came up quietly, without a splash or a sound, within fifty yards of Baree. For a few moments he scarcely moved in the water. Then he swam very slowly parallel with the dam across the pond. At the other side he drew himself ashore, and for another minute sat as motionless as a stone, with his eyes on that part of the dam where Baree was lying. Not another beaver was moving, and it was very soon apparent that Beaver Tooth had but one object in mind--getting a closer observation of Baree. When he entered the water again, he swam along close to the dam. Ten feet beyond Baree he began to climb out. He did this with great slowness and caution. At last he reached the top of the dam.

A few yards away Baree was almost hidden in his hollow, only the top of his shiny black body appearing to Beaver Tooth's scrutiny. To get a better look, the old beaver spread his flat tail out beyond him and rose to a sitting posture on his hindquarters, his two front paws held squirrel-like over his breast. In this pose he was fully three feet tall. He probably weighed forty pounds, and in some ways he resembled one of those fat, good-natured, silly-looking dogs that go largely to stomach. But his brain was working with amazing celerity. Suddenly he gave the hard mud of the dam a single slap with his tail--and Baree sat up. Instantly he saw Beaver Tooth, and stared. Beaver Tooth stared. For a full half-minute neither moved the thousandth part of an inch. Then Baree stood up and wagged his tail.

That was enough. Dropping to his forefeet. Beaver Tooth waddled leisurely to the edge of the dam and dived over. He was neither cautious nor in very great haste now. He made a great commotion in the water and swam boldly back and forth under Baree. When he had done this several times, he cut straight up the pond to the largest of the three houses and disappeared. Five minutes after Beaver Tooth's exploit word was passing quickly among the colony. The stranger--Baree--was not a lynx. He was not a fox. He was not a wolf. Moreover, he was very young--and harmless. Work could be resumed. Play could be resumed. There was no danger. Such was Beaver Tooth's verdict.

If someone had shouted these facts in beaver language through a megaphone, the response could not have been quicker. All at once it seemed to Baree, who was still standing on the edge of the dam, that the pond was alive with beavers. He had never seen so many at one time before. They were popping up everywhere, and some of them swam up within a dozen feet of him and looked him over in a leisurely and curious way. For perhaps five minutes the beavers seemed to have no particular object in view. Then Beaver Tooth himself struck straight for the shore and climbed out. Others followed him. Half a dozen workers disappeared in the canals. As many more waddled out among the alders and willows. Eagerly Baree watched for Umisk and his chums. At last he saw them, swimming forth from one of the smaller houses. They climbed out on their playground--the smooth bar above the shore of mud. Baree wagged his tail so hard that his whole body shook, and hurried along the dam.

When he came out on the level strip of shore, Umisk was there alone, nibbling his supper from a long, freshly cut willow. The other little beavers had gone into a thick clump of young alders.

This time Umisk did not run. He looked up from his stick. Baree squatted himself, wiggling in a most friendly and ingratiating manner. For a few seconds Umisk regarded him.

Then, very coolly, he resumed his supper.

 

CHAPTER 10

Just as in the life of every man there is one big, controlling influence, either for good or bad, so in the life of Baree the beaver pond was largely an arbiter of destiny. Where he might have gone if he had not discovered it, and what might have happened to him, are matters of conjecture. But it held him. It began to take the place of the old windfall, and in the beavers themselves he found a companionship which made up, in a way, for his loss of the protection and friendship of Kazan and Gray Wolf.

This companionship, if it could be called that, went just so far and no farther. With each day that passed the older beavers became more accustomed to seeing Baree. At the end of two weeks, if Baree had gone away, they would have missed him--but not in the same way that Baree would have missed the beavers. It was a matter of good-natured toleration on their part. With Baree it was different. He was still uskahis, as Nepeese would have said. He still wanted mothering; he was still moved by the puppyish yearnings which he had not yet had the time to outgrow; and when night came--to speak that yearning quite plainly--he had the desire to go into the big beaver house with Umisk and his chums and sleep.

During this fortnight that followed Beaver Tooth's exploit on the dam Baree ate his meals a mile up the creek, where there were plenty of crayfish. But the pond was home. Night always found him there, and a large part of his day. He slept at the end of the dam, or on top of it on particularly clear nights, and the beavers accepted him as a permanent guest. They worked in his presence as if he did not exist.

Baree was fascinated by this work, and he never grew tired of watching it. It puzzled and bewildered him. Day after day he saw them float timber and brush through the water for the new dam. He saw this dam growing steadily under their efforts. One day he lay within a dozen feet of an old beaver who was cutting down a tree six inches through. When the tree fell, and the old beaver scurried away, Baree scurried, too. Then he came back and smelled of the cutting, wondering what it was all about, and why Umisk's uncle or grandfather or aunt had gone to all that trouble.

He still could not induce Umisk and the other young beavers to join him in play, and after the first week or so he gave up his efforts. In fact, their play puzzled him almost as much as the dam-building operations of the older beavers. Umisk, for instance, was fond of playing in the mud at the edge of the pond. He was like a very small boy. Where his elders floated timbers from three inches to a foot in diameter to the big dam, Umisk brought small sticks and twigs no larger around than a lead pencil to his playground, and built a make-believe dam of his own.

Umisk would work an hour at a time on this play dam as industriously as his father and mother were working on the big dam, and Baree would lie flat on his belly a few feet away, watching him and wondering mightily. And through this half-dry mud Umisk would also dig his miniature canals, just as a small boy might have dug his Mississippi River and pirate-infested oceans in the outflow of some back-lot spring. With his sharp little teeth he cut down his big timber--willow sprouts never more than an inch in diameter; and when one of these four or five-foot sprouts toppled down, he undoubtedly felt as great a satisfaction as Beaver Tooth felt when he sent a seventy-foot birch crashing into the edge of the pond. Baree could not understand the fun of all this. He could see some reason for nibbling at sticks--he liked to sharpen his teeth on sticks himself; but it puzzled him to explain why Umisk so painstakingly stripped the bark from the sticks and swallowed it.

Another method of play still further discouraged Baree's advances. A short distance from the spot where he had first seen Umisk there was a shelving bank that rose ten or twelve feet from the water, and this bank was used by the young beavers as a slide. It was worn smooth and hard. Umisk would climb up the bank at a point where it was not so steep. At the top of the slide he would put his tail out flat behind him and give himself a shove, shooting down the toboggan and landing in the water with a big splash. At times there were from six to ten young beavers engaged in this sport, and now and then one of the older beavers would waddle to the top of the slide and take a turn with the youngsters.

One afternoon, when the toboggan was particularly wet and slippery from recent use, Baree went up the beaver path to the top of the bank, and began investigating. Nowhere had he found the beaver smell so strong as on the slide. He began sniffing and incautiously went too far. In an instant his feet shot out from under him, and with a single wild yelp he went shooting down the toboggan. For the second time in his life he found himself struggling under water, and when a minute or two later he dragged himself up through the soft mud to the firmer footing of the shore, he had at last a very well-defined opinion of beaver play.

It may be that Umisk saw him. It may be that very soon the story of his adventure was known by all the inhabitants of Beaver Town. For when Baree came upon Umisk eating his supper of alder bark that evening, Umisk stood his ground to the last inch, and for the first time they smelled noses. At least Baree sniffed audibly, and plucky little Umisk sat like a rolled-up sphinx. That was the final cementing of their friendship--on Baree's part. He capered about extravagantly for a few moments, telling Umisk how much he liked him, and that they'd be great chums. Umisk didn't talk. He didn't make a move until he resumed his supper. But he was a companionable-looking little fellow, for all that, and Baree was happier than he had been since the day he left the old windfall.

This friendship, even though it outwardly appeared to be quite one-sided, was decidedly fortunate for Umisk. When Baree was at the pond, he always kept as near to Umisk as possible, when he could find him. One day he was lying in a patch of grass, half asleep, while Umisk busied himself in a clump of alder shoots a few yards away. It was the warning crack of a beaver tail that fully roused Baree; and then another and another, like pistol shots. He jumped up. Everywhere beavers were scurrying for the pond.

Just then Umisk came out of the alders and hurried as fast as his short, fat legs would carry him toward the water. He had almost reached the mud when a lightning flash of red passed before Baree's eyes in the afternoon sun, and in another instant Napakasew--the he-fox--had fastened his sharp fangs in Umisk's throat. Baree heard his little friend's agonized cry; he heard the frenzied flap-flap-flap of many tails--and his blood pounded suddenly with the thrill of excitement and rage.

As swiftly as the red fox himself, Baree darted to the rescue. He was as big and as heavy as the fox, and when he struck Napakasew, it was with a ferocious snarl that Pierrot might have heard on the farther side of the pond, and his teeth sank like knives into the shoulder of Umisk's assailant. The fox was of a breed of forest highwaymen which kills from behind. He was not a fighter when it came fang-to-fang, unless cornered--and so fierce and sudden was Baree's assault that Napakasew took to flight almost as quickly as he had begun his attack on Umisk.

Baree did not follow him, but went to Umisk, who lay half in the mud, whimpering and snuffling in a curious sort of way. Gently Baree nosed him, and after a moment or two Umisk got up on his webbed feet, while fully twenty or thirty beavers were making a tremendous fuss in the water near the shore.

After this the beaver pond seemed more than ever like home to Baree.

 

CHAPTER 11

While lovely Nepeese was still shuddering over her thrilling experience under the rock--while Pierrot still offered grateful thanks in his prayers for her deliverance and Baree was becoming more and more a fixture at the beaver pond--Bush McTaggart was perfecting a little scheme of his own up at Post Lac Bain, about forty miles north and west. McTaggart had been factor at Lac Bain for seven years. In the company's books down in Winnipeg he was counted a remarkably successful man. The expense of his post was below the average, and his semiannual report of furs always ranked among the first. After his name, kept on file in the main office, was one notation which said: "Gets more out of a dollar than any other man north of God's Lake."

The Indians knew why this was so. They called him Napao Wetikoo--the man-devil. This was under their breath--a name whispered sinisterly in the glow of tepee fires, or spoken softly where not even the winds might carry it to the ears of Bush McTaggart. They feared him; they hated him. They died of starvation and sickness, and the tighter Bush McTaggart clenched the fingers of his iron rule, the more meekly, it seemed to him, did they respond to his mastery. His was a small soul, hidden in the hulk of a brute, which rejoiced in power. And here--with the raw wilderness on four sides of him--his power knew no end. The big company was behind him. It had made him king of a domain in which there was little law except his own. And in return he gave back to the company bales and bundles of furs beyond their expectation. It was not for them to have suspicions. They were a thousand or more miles away--and dollars were what counted.

Gregson might have told. Gregson was the investigating agent of that district, who visited McTaggart once each year. He might have reported that the Indians called McTaggart Napao Wetikoo because he gave them only half price for their furs. He might have told the company quite plainly that he kept the people of the trap lines at the edge of starvation through every month of the winter, that he had them on their knees with his hands at their throats--putting the truth in a mild and pretty way--and that he always had a woman or a girl, Indian or half-breed, living with him at the Post. But Gregson enjoyed his visits too much at Lac Bain. Always he could count on two weeks of coarse pleasures. And in addition to that, his own womenfolk at home wore a rich treasure of fur that came to them from McTaggart.

One evening, a week after the adventure of Nepeese and Baree under the rock, McTaggart sat under the glow of an oil lamp in his "store." He had sent his little pippin-faced English clerk to bed, and he was alone. For six weeks there had been in him a great unrest. It was just six weeks ago that Pierrot had brought Nepeese on her first visit to Lac Bain since McTaggart had been factor there. She had taken his breath away. Since then he had been able to think of nothing but her. Twice in that six weeks he had gone down to Pierrot's cabin. Tomorrow he was going again. Marie, the slim Cree girl over in his cabin, he had forgotten--just as a dozen others before Marie had slipped out of his memory. It was Nepeese now. He had never seen anything quite so beautiful as Pierrot's girl.

Audibly he cursed Pierrot as he looked at a sheet of paper under his hand, on which for an hour or more he had been making notes out of worn and dusty company ledgers. It was Pierrot who stood in his way. Pierrot's father, according to those notes, had been a full-blooded Frenchman. Therefore Pierrot was half French, and Nepeese was quarter French--though she was so beautiful he could have sworn there was not more than a drop or two of Indian blood in her veins. If they had been all Indian--Chipewyan, Cree, Ojibway, Dog Rib--anything--there would have been no trouble at all in the matter. He would have bent them to his power, and Nepeese would have come to his cabin, as Marie had come six months ago. But there was the accursed French of it! Pierrot and Nepeese were different. And yet--

He smiled grimly, and his hands clenched tighter. After all, was not his power sufficient? Would even Pierrot dare stand up against that? If Pierrot objected, he would drive him from the country--from the trapping regions that had come down to him as heritage from father and grandfather, and even before their day. He would make of Pierrot a wanderer and an outcast, as he had made wanderers and outcasts of a score of others who had lost his favor. No other Post would sell to or buy from Pierrot if Le Bete--the black cross--was put after his name. That was his power--a law of the factors that had come down through the centuries. It was a tremendous power for evil. It had brought him Marie, the slim, dark-eyed Cree girl, who hated him--and who in spite of her hatred "kept house for him."

That was the polite way of explaining her presence if explanations were ever necessary. McTaggart looked again at the notes he had made on the sheet of paper. Pierrot's trapping country, his own property according to the common law of the wilderness, was very valuable. During the last seven years he had received an average of a thousand dollars a year for his furs, for McTaggart had been unable to cheat Pierrot quite as completely as he had cheated the Indians. A thousand dollars a year! Pierrot would think twice before he gave that up. McTaggart chuckled as he crumpled the paper in his hand and prepared to put out the light. Under his close-cropped beard his reddish face blazed with the fire that was in his blood. It was an unpleasant face--like iron, merciless, filled with the look that gave him his name of Napao Wetikoo. His eyes gleamed, and he drew a quick breath as he put out the light.

He chuckled again as he made his way through the darkness to the door. Nepeese as good as belonged to him. He, would have her if it cost--PIERROT'S LIFE. And--WHY NOT? It was all so easy. A shot on a lonely trap line, a single knife thrust--and who would know? Who would guess where Pierrot had gone? And it would all be Pierrot's fault. For the last time he had seen Pierrot, he had made an honest proposition: he would marry Nepeese. Yes, even that. He had told Pierrot so. He had told Pierrot that when the latter was his father-in-law, he would pay him double price for furs.

And Pierrot had stared--had stared with that strange, stunned look in his face, like a man dazed by a blow from a club. And so if he did not get Nepeese without trouble it would all be Pierrot's fault. Tomorrow McTaggart would start again for the half-breed's country. And the next day Pierrot would have an answer for him. Bush McTaggart chuckled again as he went to bed.

Until the next to the last day Pierrot said nothing to Nepeese about what had passed between him and the factor at Lac Bain. Then he told her.

"He is a beast--a man-devil," he said, when he had finished. "I would rather see you out there--with her--dead." And he pointed to the tall spruce under which the princess mother lay.

Nepeese had not uttered a sound. But her eyes had grown bigger and darker, and there was a flush in her cheeks which Pierrot had never seen there before. She stood up when he had finished, and she seemed taller to him. Never had she looked quite so much like a woman, and Pierrot's eyes were deep-shadowed with fear and uneasiness as he watched her while she gazed off into the northwest--toward Lac Bain.

She was wonderful, this slip of a girl-woman. Her beauty troubled him. He had seen the look in Bush McTaggart's eyes. He had heard the thrill in McTaggart's voice. He had caught the desire of a beast in McTaggart's face. It had frightened him at first. But now--he was not frightened. He was uneasy, but his hands were clenched. In his heart there was a smoldering fire. At last Nepeese turned and came and sat down beside him again, at his feet.

"He is coming tomorrow, ma cherie," he said. "What shall I tell him?"

The Willow's lips were red. Her eyes shone. But she did not look up at her father.

"Nothing, Nootawe--except that you are to say to him that I am the one to whom he must come--for what he seeks."

Pierrot bent over and caught her smiling. The sun went down. His heart sank with it, like cold lead.

From Lac Bain to Pierrot's cabin the trail cut within half a mile of the beaver pond, a dozen miles from where Pierrot lived. And it was here, on a twist of the creek in which Wakayoo had caught fish for Baree, that Bush McTaggart made his camp for the night. Only twenty miles of the journey could be made by canoe, and as McTaggart was traveling the last stretch afoot, his camp was a simple affair--a few cut balsams, a light blanket, a small fire. Before he prepared his supper, the factor drew a number of copper wire snares from his small pack and spent half an hour in setting them in rabbit runways. This method of securing meat was far less arduous than carrying a gun in hot weather, and it was certain. Half a dozen snares were good for at least three rabbits, and one of these three was sure to be young and tender enough for the frying pan. After he had placed his snares McTaggart set a skillet of bacon over the coals and boiled his coffee.

Of all the odors of a camp, the smell of bacon reaches farthest in the forest. It needs no wind. It drifts on its own wings. On a still night a fox will sniff it a mile away--twice that far if the air is moving in the right direction. It was this smell of bacon that came to Baree where he lay in his hollow on top of the beaver dam.

Since his experience in the canyon and the death of Wakayoo, he had not fared particularly well. Caution had kept him near the pond, and he had lived almost entirely on crayfish. This new aroma that came with the night wind roused his hunger. But it was elusive: now he could smell it--the next instant it was gone. He left the dam and began questing for the source of it in the forest, until after a time he lost it altogether. McTaggart had finished frying his bacon and was eating it.

It was a splendid night that followed. Perhaps Baree would have slept through it in his nest on the top of the dam if the bacon smell had not stirred the new hunger in him. Since his adventure in the canyon, the deeper forest had held a dread for him, especially at night. But this night was like a pale, golden day. It was moonless; but the stars shone like a billion distant lamps, flooding the world in a soft and billowy sea of light. A gentle whisper of wind made pleasant sounds in the treetops. Beyond that it was very quiet, for it was Puskowepesim--the Molting Moon--and the wolves were not hunting, the owls had lost their voice, the foxes slunk with the silence of shadows, and even the beavers had begun to cease their labors. The horns of the moose, the deer, and the caribou were in tender velvet, and they moved but little and fought not at all. It was late July, Molting Moon of the Cree, Moon of Silence for the Chipewyan.

In this silence Baree began to hunt. He stirred up a family of half-grown partridges, but they escaped him. He pursued a rabbit that was swifter than he. For an hour he had no luck. Then he heard a sound that made every drop of blood in him thrill. He was close to McTaggart's camp, and what he had heard was a rabbit in one of McTaggart's snares. He came out into a little starlit open and there he saw the rabbit going through a most marvelous pantomime. It amazed him for a moment, and he stopped in his tracks.

Wapoos, the rabbit, had run his furry head into the snare, and his first frightened jump had "shot" the sapling to which the copper wire was attached so that he was now hung half in mid-air, with only his hind feet touching the ground. And there he was dancing madly while the noose about his neck slowly choked him to death.

Baree gave a sort of gasp. He could understand nothing of the part that the wire and the sapling were playing in this curious game. All he could see was that Wapoos was hopping and dancing about on his hind legs in a most puzzling and unrabbitlike fashion. It may be that he thought it some sort of play. In this instance, however, he did not regard Wapoos as he had looked on Umisk the beaver. He knew that Wapoos made mighty fine eating, and after another moment or two of hesitation he darted upon his prey.

Wapoos, half gone already, made almost no struggle, and in the glow of the stars Baree finished him, and for half an hour afterward he feasted.

McTaggart had heard no sound, for the snare into which Wapoos had run his head was the one set farthest from his camp. Beside the smoldering coals of his fire he sat with his back to a tree, smoking his black pipe and dreaming covetously of Nepeese, while Baree continued his night wandering. Baree no longer had the desire to hunt. He was too full. But he nosed in and out of the starlit spaces, enjoying immensely the stillness and the golden glow of the night. He was following a rabbit-run when he came to a place where two fallen logs left a trail no wider than his body. He squeezed through; something tightened about his neck. There was a sudden snap--a swish as the sapling was released from its "trigger"--and Baree was jerked off his feet so suddenly that he had no time to conjecture as to what was happening.

The yelp in his throat died in a gurgle, and the next moment he was going through the pantomimic actions of Wapoos, who was having his vengeance inside him. For the life of him Baree could not keep from dancing about, while the wire grew tighter and tighter about his neck. When he snapped at the wire and flung the weight of his body to the ground, the sapling would bend obligingly, and thenin its reboundwould yank him for an instant completely off the earth. Furiously he struggled. It was a miracle that the fine wire held him. In a few moments more it must have brokenbut McTaggart had heard him! The factor caught up his blanket and a heavy stick as he hurried toward the snare. It was not a rabbit making those soundshe knew that. Perhaps a fishercata lynx, a fox, a young wolf

It was the wolf he thought of first when he saw Baree at the end of the wire. He dropped the blanket and raised the club. If there had been clouds overhead, or the stars had been less brilliant, Baree would have died as surely as Wapoos had died. With the club raised over his head McTaggart saw in time the white star, the white-tipped ear, and the jet black of Baree's coat.

With a swift movement he exchanged the club for the blanket.

In that hour, could McTaggart have looked ahead to the days that were to come, he would have used the club. Could he have foreseen the great tragedy in which Baree was to play a vital part, wrecking his hopes and destroying his world, he would have beaten him to a pulp there under the light of the stars. And Baree, could he have foreseen what was to happen between this brute with a white skin and the most beautiful thing in the forests, would have fought even more bitterly before he surrendered himself to the smothering embrace of the factor's blanket. On this night Fate had played a strange hand for them both, and only that Fate, and perhaps the stars above, held a knowledge of what its outcome was to be.

 

CHAPTER 12

Half an hour later Bush McTaggart's fire was burning brightly again. In the glow of it Baree lay trussed up like an Indian papoose, tied into a balloon-shaped ball with babiche thong, his head alone showing where his captor had cut a hole for it in the blanket. He was hopelessly caughtso closely imprisoned in the blanket that he could scarcely move a muscle of his body. A few feet away from him McTaggart was bathing a bleeding hand in a basin of water. There was also a red streak down the side of McTaggart's bullish neck.

"You little devil!" he snarled at Baree. "You little devil!"

He reached over suddenly and gave Baree's head a vicious blow with his heavy hand.

"I ought to beat your brains out, andI believe I will!"

Baree watched him as he picked up a stick close at his sidea bit of firewood. Pierrot had chased him, but this was the first time he had been near enough to the man-monster to see the red glow in his eyes. They were not like the eyes of the wonderful creature who had almost caught him in the web of her hair, and who had crawled after him under the rock. They were the eyes of a beast. They made him shrink and try to draw his head back into the blanket as the stick was raised. At the same time he snarled. His white fangs gleamed in the firelight. His ears were flat. He wanted to sink his teeth in the red throat where he had already drawn blood.

The stick fell. It fell again and again, and when McTaggart was done, Baree lay half stunned, his eyes partly closed by the blows, and his mouth bleeding.

"That's the way we take the devil out of a wild dog," snarled McTaggart. "I guess you won't try the biting game again, eh, youngster? A thousand devilsbut you went almost to the bone of this hand!"

He began washing the wound again. Baree's teeth had sunk deep, and there was a troubled look in the factor's face. It was Julya bad month for bites. From his kit he got a small flask of whisky and turned a bit of the raw liquor on the wound, cursing Baree as it burned into his flesh.

Baree's half-shut eyes were fixed on him steadily. He knew that at last he had met the deadliest of all his enemies. And yet he was not afraid. The club in Bush McTaggart's hand had not killed his spirit. It had killed his fear. It had roused in him a hatred such as he had never knownnot even when he was fighting Oohoomisew, the outlaw owl. The vengeful animosity of the wolf was burning in him now, along with the savage courage of the dog. He did not flinch when McTaggart approached him again. He made an effort to raise himself, that he might spring at this man-monster. In the effort, swaddled as he was in the blanket, he rolled over in a helpless and ludicrous heap.

The sight of it touched McTaggart's risibilities, and he laughed. He sat down with his back to the tree again and filled his pipe.

Baree did not take his eyes from McTaggart as he smoked. He watched the man when the latter stretched himself out on the bare ground and went to sleep. He listened, still later, to the man-monster's heinous snoring. Again and again during the long night he struggled to free himself. He would never forget that night. It was terrible. In the thick, hot folds of the blanket his limbs and body were suffocated until the blood almost stood still in his veins. Yet he did not whine.

They began to journey before the sun was up, for if Baree's blood was almost dead within him, Bush McTaggart's was scorching his body. He made his last plans as he walked swiftly through the forest with Baree under his arm. He would send Pierrot at once for Father Grotin at his mission seventy miles to the west. He would marry Nepeeseyes, marry her! That would tickle Pierrot. And he would be alone with Nepeese while Pierrot was gone for the missioner.

This thought flamed McTaggart's blood like strong whisky. There was no thought in his hot and unreasoning brain of what Nepeese might sayof what she might think. His hand clenched, and he laughed harshly as there flashed on him for an instant the thought that perhaps Pierrot would not want to give her up. Pierrot! Bah! It would not be the first time he had killed a manor the second.

McTaggart laughed again, and he walked still faster. There was no chance of his losingno chance for Nepeese to get away from him. HeBush McTaggartwas lord of this wilderness, master of its people, arbiter of their destinies. He was powerand the law.

The sun was well up when Pierrot, standing in front of his cabin with Nepeese, pointed to a rise in the trail three or four hundred yards away, over which McTaggart had just appeared.

"He is coming."

With a face which had aged since last night he looked at Nepeese. Again he saw the dark glow in her eyes and the deepening red of her parted lips, and his heart was sick again with dread. Was it possible

She turned on him, her eyes shining, her voice trembling.

"Remember, Nootaweyou must send him to me for his answer," she cried quickly, and she darted into the cabin. With a cold, gray face Pierrot faced Bush McTaggart.

CHAPTER 13

From the window, her face screened by the folds of the curtain which she had made for it, the Willow could see what happened outside. She was not smiling now. She was breathing quickly, and her body was tense. Bush McTaggart paused not a dozen feet from the window and shook hands with Pierrot, her father. She heard McTaggart's coarse voice, his boisterous greeting, and then she saw him showing Pierrot what he carried under his arm. There came to her distinctly his explanation of how he had caught his captive in a rabbit snare. He unwrapped the blanket. Nepeese gave a cry of amazement. In an instant she was out beside them. She did not look at McTaggart's red face, blazing in its joy and exultation.

"It is Baree!" she cried.

She took the bundle from McTaggart and turned to Pierrot.

"Tell him that Baree belongs to me," she said.

She hurried into the cabin. McTaggart looked after her, stunned and amazed. Then he looked at Pierrot. A man half blind could have seen that Pierrot was as amazed as he.

Nepeese had not spoken to himthe factor of Lac Bain! She had not LOOKED at him! And she had taken the dog from him with as little concern as though he had been a wooden man. The red in his face deepened as he stared from Pierrot to the door through which she had gone, and which she had closed behind her.

On the floor of the cabin Nepeese dropped on her knees and finished unwrapping the blanket. She was not afraid of Baree. She had forgotten McTaggart. And then, as Baree rolled in a limp heap on the floor, she saw his half-closed eyes and the dry blood on his jaws, and the light left her face as swiftly as the sun is shadowed by a cloud. "Baree," she cried softly. "BareeBaree!"

She partly lifted him in her two hands. Baree's head sagged. His body was numbed until he was powerless to move. His legs were without feeling. He could scarcely see. But he heard her voice! It was the same voice that had come to him that day he had felt the sting of the bullet, the voice that had pleaded with him under the rock!

The voice of the Willow thrilled Baree. It seemed to stir the sluggish blood in his veins, and he opened his eyes wider and saw again the wonderful stars that had glowed at him so softly the day of Wakayoo's death. One of the Willow's long braids fell over her shoulder, and he smelled again the sweet scent of her hair as her hand caressed him and her voice talked to him. Then she got up suddenly and left him, and he did not move while he waited for her. In a moment she was back with a basin of water and a cloth. Gently she washed the blood from his eyes and mouth. And still Baree made no move. He scarcely breathed. But Nepeese saw the little quivers that shot through his body when her hand touched him, like electric shocks.

"He beat you with a club," she was saying, her dark eyes within a foot of Baree's. "He beat you! That man-beast!"

There came an interruption. The door opened, and the man-beast stood looking down on them, a grin on his red face. Instantly Baree showed that he was alive. He sprang back from under the Willow's hand with a sudden snarl and faced McTaggart. The hair of his spine stood up like a brush; his fangs gleamed menacingly, and his eyes burned like living coals.

"There is a devil in him," said McTaggart. "He is wildborn of the wolf. You must be careful or he will take off a hand, kit sakahet." It was the first time he had called her that lover's name in CreeSWEETHEART! Her heart pounded. She bent her head for a moment over her clenched hands, and McTaggartlooking down on what he thought was her confusionlaid his hand caressingly on her hair. From the door Pierrot had heard the word, and now he saw the caress, and he raised a hand as if to shut out the sight of a sacrilege.

"Mon Dieu!" he breathed.

In the next instant he had given a sharp cry of wonder that mingled with a sudden yell of pain from McTaggart. Like a flash Baree had darted across the floor and fastened his teeth in the factor's leg. They had bitten deep before McTaggart freed himself with a powerful kick. With an oath he snatched his revolver from its holster. The Willow was ahead of him. With a little cry she darted to Baree and caught him in her arms. As she looked up at McTaggart, her soft, bare throat was within a few inches of Baree's naked fangs. Her eyes blazed.

"You beat him!" she cried. "He hates youhates you"

"Let him go!" called Pierrot in an agony of fear.

"Mon Dieu! I say let him go, or he will tear the life from you!"

"He hates youhates youhates you" the Willow was repeating over and over again into McTaggart's startled face. Then suddenly she turned to her father. "No, he will not tear the life from me," she cried. "See! It is Baree. Did I not tell you that? It is Baree! Is it not proof that he defended me"

"From me!" gasped McTaggart, his face darkening.

Pierrot advanced and laid a hand on McTaggart's arm. He was smiling.

"Let us leave them to fight it out between themselves, m'sieu," he said. "They are two little firebrands, and we are not safe. If she is bitten"

He shrugged his shoulders. A great load had been lifted from them suddenly. His voice was soft and persuasive. And now the anger had gone out of the Willow's face. A coquettish uplift of her eyes caught McTaggart, and she looked straight at him half smiling, as she spoke to her father:

"I will join you soon, mon pereyou and M'sieu the Factor from Lac Bain!"

There were undeniable little devils in her eyes, McTaggart thoughtlittle devils laughing full at him as she spoke, setting his brain afire and his blood to throbbing wildly. Those eyesfull of dancing witches! How he would take pleasure in taming themvery soon now! He followed Pierrot outside. In his exultation he no longer felt the smart of Baree's teeth.

"I will show you my new cariole that I have made for winter, m'sieu," said Pierrot as the door closed behind them.

Half an hour later Nepeese came out of the cabin. She could see that Pierrot and the factor had been talking about something that had not been pleasant to her father. His face was strained. She caught in his eyes the smolder of fire which he was trying to smother, as one might smother flames under a blanket. McTaggart's jaws were set, but his eyes lighted up with pleasure when he saw her. She knew what it was about. The factor from Lac Bain had been demanding his answer of Pierrot, and Pierrot had been telling him what she had insisted uponthat he must come to her. And he was coming! She turned with a quick beating of the heart and hurried down a little path. She heard McTaggart's footsteps behind her, and threw the flash of a smile over her shoulder. But her teeth were set tight. The nails of her fingers were cutting into the palms of her hands.

Pierrot stood without moving. He watched them as they disappeared into the edge of the forest, Nepeese still a few steps ahead of McTaggart. Out of his breast rose a sharp breath.

"Par les milles cornes du diable!" he swore softly. "Is it possiblethat she smiles from her heart at that beast? Non! It is impossible. And yetif it is so"

One of his brown hands tightened convulsively about the handle of the knife in his belt, and slowly he began to follow them.

McTaggart did not hurry to overtake Nepeese. She was following the narrow path deeper into the forest, and he was glad of that. They would be aloneaway from Pierrot. He was ten steps behind her, and again the Willow smiled at him over her shoulder. Her body moved sinuously and swiftly. She was keeping accurate measurement of the distance between thembut McTaggart did not guess that this was why she looked back every now and then. He was satisfied to let her go on. When she turned from the narrow trail into a side path that scarcely bore the mark of travel, his heart gave an exultant jump. If she kept on, he would very soon have her alonea good distance from the cabin. The blood ran hot in his face. He did not speak to her, through fear that she would stop. Ahead of them he heard the rumble of water. It was the creek running through the chasm.

Nepeese was making straight for that sound. With a little laugh she started to run, and when she stood at the edge of the chasm, McTaggart was fully fifty yards behind her. Twenty feet sheer down there was a deep pool between the rock walls, a pool so deep that the water was the color of blue ink. She turned to face the factor from Lac Bain. He had never looked more like a red beast to her. Until this moment she had been unafraid. But nowin an instanthe terrified her. Before she could speak what she had planned to say, he was at her side, and had taken her face between his two great hands, his coarse fingers twining in the silken strands of her thick braids where they fell over her shoulders at the neck.

"Ka sakahet!" he cried passionately. "Pierrot said you would have an answer for me. But I need no answer now. You are mine! Mine!"

She gave a cry. It was a gasping, broken cry. His arms were about her like bands of iron, crushing her slender body, shutting off her breath, turning the world almost black before her eyes. She could neither struggle nor cry out. She felt the hot passion of his lips on her face, heard his voiceand then came a moment's freedom, and air into her strangled lungs. Pierrot was calling! He had come to the fork in the trail, and he was calling the Willow's name!

McTaggart's hot hand came over her mouth.

"Don't answer," she heard him say.

Strengthangerhatred flared up in her, and fiercely she struck the hand down. Something in her wonderful eyes held McTaggart. They blazed into his very soul.

"Bete noir!" she panted at him, freeing herself from the last touch of his hands. "Beastblack beast!" Her voice trembled, and her face flamed. "SeeI came to show you my pooland tell you what you wanted to hearand youyouhave crushed me like a beastlike a great rock See! down thereit is my pool!"

She had not planned it like this. She had intended to be smiling, even laughing, in this moment. But McTaggart had spoiled themher carefully made plans! And yet, as she pointed, the factor from Lac Bain looked for an instant over the edge of the chasm. And then she laughedlaughed as she gave him a sudden shove from behind.

"And that is my answer, M'sieu le Facteur from Lac Bain!" she cried tauntingly as he plunged headlong into the deep pool between the rock walls.

 

CHAPTER 14

From the edge of the open Pierrot saw what had happened, and he gave a great gasp of horror. He drew back among the balsams. This was not a moment for him to show himself. While his heart drummed like a hammer, his face was filled with joy.

On her hands and knees the Willow was peering over the edge. Bush McTaggart had disappeared. He had gone down like the great clod he was. The water of her pool had closed over him with a dull splash that was like a chuckle of triumph. He appeared now, beating out with his arms and legs to keep himself afloat, while the Willow's voice came to him in taunting cries.

"Bete noir! Bete noir! Beast! Beast"

Savagely she flung small sticks and tufts of earth down at him; and McTaggart, looking up as he gained his equilibrium, saw her leaning so far over that she seemed almost about to fall. Her long braids hung down into the chasm, gleaming in the sun. Her eyes were laughing while her lips taunted him. He could see the flash of her white teeth.

"Beast! Beast!"

He began swimming, still looking up at her. It was a hundred yards down the slow-going current to the beach of shale where he could climb out, and a half of that distance she followed him, laughing and taunting him, and flinging down sticks and pebbles. He noted that none of the sticks or stones was large enough to hurt him. When at last his feet touched bottom, she was gone.

Swiftly Nepeese ran back over the trail, and almost into Pierrot's arms. She was panting and laughing when for a moment she stopped.

"I have given him the answer, Nootawe! He is in the pool!"

Into the balsams she disappeared like a bird. Pierrot made no effort to stop her or to follow.

"Tonnerre de Dieu," he chuckledand cut straight across for the other trail.

Nepeese was out of breath when she reached the cabin. Baree, fastened to a table leg by a babiche thong, heard her pause for a moment at the door. Then she entered and came straight to him. During the half-hour of her absence Baree had scarcely moved. That half-hour, and the few minutes that had preceded it, had made tremendous impressions upon him. Nature, heredity, and instinct were at work, clashing and readjusting, impinging on him a new intelligencethe beginning of a new understanding. A swift and savage impulse had made him leap at Bush McTaggart when the factor put his hand on the Willow's head. It was not reason. It was a hearkening back of the dog to that day long ago when Kazan, his father, had lulled the man-brute in the tent, the man-brute who had dared to molest Thorpe's wife, whom Kazan worshiped. Then it had been the dogand the woman.

And here again it was the woman. She had appealed to the great hidden passion that was in Baree and that had come to him from Kazan. Of all the living things in the world, he knew that he must not hurt this creature that appeared to him through the door. He trembled as she knelt before him again, and up through the years came the wild and glorious surge of Kazan's blood, overwhelming the wolf, submerging the savagery of his birthand with his head flat on the floor he whined softly, and WAGGED HIS TAIL.

Nepeese gave a cry of joy.

"Baree!" she whispered, taking his head in her hands. "Baree!"

Her touch thrilled him. It sent little throbs through his body, a tremulous quivering which she could feel and which deepened the glow in her eyes. Gently her hand stroked his head and his back. It seemed to Nepeese that he did not breathe. Under the caress of her hand his eyes closed. In another moment she was talking to him, and at the sound of her voice his eyes shot open.

"He will come herethat beastand he will kill us," she was saying. "He will kill you because you bit him, Baree. Ugh, I wish you were bigger, and stronger, so that you could take off his head for me!"

She was untying the babiche from about the table leg, and under her breath she laughed. She was not frightened. It was a tremendous adventureand she throbbed with exultation at the thought of having beaten the man-beast in her own way. She could see him in the pool struggling and beating about like a great fish. He was just about crawling out of the chasm nowand she laughed again as she caught Baree up under her arm.

"Ohoopi-naobut you are heavy!" she gasped, "And yet I must carry youbecause I am going to run!"

She hurried outside. Pierrot had not come, and she darted swiftly into the balsams back of the cabin, with Baree hung in the crook of her arm, like a sack filled at both ends and tied in the middle. He felt like that, too. But he still had no inclination to wriggle himself free. Nepeese ran with him until her arm ached. Then she stopped and put him down on his feet, holding to the end of the caribou-skin thong that was tied about his neck. She was prepared for any lunge he might make to escape. She expected that he would make an attempt, and for a few moments she watched him closely, while Baree, with his feet on earth once more, looked about him. And then the Willow spoke to him softly.

"You are not going to run away, Baree. Non, you are going to stay with me, and we will kill that man-beast if he dares do to me again what he did back there." She flung back the loose hair from about her flushed face, and for a moment she forgot Baree as she thought of that half-minute at the edge of the chasm. He was looking straight up at her when her glance fell on him again. "Non, you are not going to run awayyou are going to follow me," she whispered. "Come."

The babiche string tightened about Baree's neck as she urged him to follow. It was like another rabbit snare, and he braced his forefeet and bared his fangs just a little. The Willow did not pull. Fearlessly she put her hand on his head again. From the direction of the cabin came a shout, and at the sound of it she took Baree up under her arm once more.

"Bete noirbete noir!" she called back tauntingly, but only loud enough to be heard a few yards away. "Go back to Lac Bainowasesyou wild beast!"

Nepeese began to make her way swiftly through the forest. It grew deeper and darker, and there were no trails. Three times in the next half-hour she stopped to put Baree down and rest her arm. Each time she pleaded with him coaxingly to follow her. The second and third times Baree wriggled and wagged his tail, but beyond those demonstrations of his satisfaction with the turn his affairs had taken he would not go. When the string tightened around his neck, he braced himself; once he growledagain he snapped viciously at the babiche. So Nepeese continued to carry him.

They came at last into a clearing. It was a tiny meadow in the heart of the forest, not more than three or four times as big as the cabin. Underfoot the grass was soft and green, and thickly strewn with flowers. Straight through the heart of this little oasis trickled a streamlet across which the Willow jumped with Baree under her arm, and on the edge of the rill was a small wigwam made of freshly cut spruce and balsam boughs. Into her diminutive mekewap the Willow thrust her head to see that things were as she had left them yesterday. Then, with a long breath of relief, she put down her four-legged burden and fastened the end of the babiche to one of the cut spruce limbs.

Baree burrowed himself back into the wall of the wigwam, and with head alertand eyes wide openwatched his companion attentively. Not a movement of the Willow escaped him. She was radiantand happy. Her laugh, sweet and wild as a bird's trill, set Baree's heart throbbing with a desire to jump about with her among the flowers.

For a time Nepeese seemed to forget Baree. Her wild blood raced with the joy of her triumph over the factor from Lac Bain. She saw him again, floundering about in the poolpictured him at the cabin now, soaked and angry, demanding of mon pere where she had gone. And mon pere, with a shrug of his shoulders, was telling him that he didn't knowthat probably she had run off into the forest. It did not enter into her head that in tricking Bush McTaggart in that way she was playing with dynamite. She did not foresee the peril that in an instant would have stamped the wild flush from her face and curdled the blood in her veinsshe did not guess that McTaggart had become for her a deadlier menace than ever.

Nepeese knew that he must be angry. But what had she to fear? Mon pere would be angry, too, if she told him what had happened at the edge of the chasm. But she would not tell him. He might kill the man from Lac Bain. A factor was great. But Pierrot, her father, was greater. It was an unlimited faith in her, born of her mother. Perhaps even now Pierrot was sending him back to Lac Bain, telling him that his business was there. But she would not return to the cabin to see. She would wait here. Mon pere would understandand he knew where to find her when the man was gone. But it would have been such fun to throw sticks at him as he went!

After a little Nepeese returned to Baree. She brought him water and gave him a piece of raw fish. For hours they were alone, and with each hour there grew stronger in Baree the desire to follow the girl in every movement she made, to crawl close to her when she sat down, to feel the touch of her dress, of her handand to hear her voice. But he did not show this desire. He was still a little savage of the forestsa four-footed barbarian born half of a wolf and half of a dog; and he lay still. With Umisk he would have played. With Oohoomisew he would have fought. At Bush McTaggart he would have bared his fangs, and buried them deep when the chance came. But the girl was different. Like the Kazan of old, he had begun to worship. If the Willow had freed Baree, he would not have run away. If she had left him, he would possibly have followed herat a distance. His eyes were never away from her. He watched her build a small fire and cook a piece of the fish. He watched her eat her dinner.

It was quite late in the afternoon when she came and sat down close to him, with her lap full of flowers which she twined in the long, shining braids of her hair. Then, playfully, she began beating Baree with the end of one of these braids. He shrank under the soft blows, and with that low, birdlike laughter in her throat, Nepeese drew his head into her lap where the scatter of flowers lay. She talked to him. Her hand stroked his head. Then it remained still, so near that he wanted to thrust out his warm red tongue and caress it. He breathed in the flower-scented perfume of itand lay as if dead. It was a glorious moment. Nepeese, looking down on him, could not see that he was breathing.

There came an interruption. It was the snapping of a dry stick. Through the forest Pierrot had come with the stealth of a cat, and when they looked up, he stood at the edge of the open. Baree knew that it was not Bush McTaggart. But it was a man-beast! Instantly his body stiffened under the Willow's hand. He drew back slowly and cautiously from her lap, and as Pierrot advanced, Baree snarled. The next instant Nepeese had risen and had run to Pierrot. The look in her father's face alarmed her.

"What has happened, mon pere?" she cried.

Pierrot shrugged his shoulders.

"Nothing, ma Nepeeseexcept that you have roused a thousand devils in the heart of the factor from Lac Barn, and that"

He stopped as he saw Baree, and pointed at him.

"Last night when M'sieu the Factor caught him in a snare, he bit m'sieu's hand. M'sieu's hand is swollen twice its size, and I can see his blood turning black. It is pechipoo."

"Pechipoo!" gasped Nepeese.

She looked into Pierrot's eyes. They were dark, and filled with a sinister gleama flash of exultation, she thought.

"Yes, it is the blood poison," said Pierrot. A gleam of cunning shot into his eyes as he looked over his shoulder, and nodded. "I have hidden the medicineand told him there is no time to lose in getting back to Lac Bain. And he is afraidthat devil! He is waiting. With that blackening hand, he is afraid to start back aloneand so I go with him. Andlisten, ma Nepeese. We will be away by sundown, and there is something you must know before I go."

Baree saw them there, close together in the shadows thrown by the tall spruce trees. He heard the low murmur of their voiceschiefly of Pierrot's, and at last he saw Nepeese put her two arms up around the man-beast's neck, and then Pierrot went away again into the forest. He thought that the Willow would never turn her face toward him after that. For a long time she stood looking in the direction which Pierrot had taken. And when after a time she turned and came back to Baree, she did not look like the Nepeese who had been twining flowers in her hair. The laughter was gone from her face and eyes. She knelt down beside him and with sudden fierceness she cried:

"It is pechipoo, Baree! It was youyouwho put the poison in his blood. And I hope he dies! For I am afraidafraid!"

She shivered.

Perhaps it was in this moment that the Great Spirit of things meant Baree to understandthat at last it was given him to comprehend that his day had dawned, that the rising and the setting of his sun no longer existed in the sky but in this girl whose hand rested on his head. He whined softly, and inch by inch he dragged himself nearer to her until again his head rested in the hollow of her lap.

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James Oliver Curwood Baree, Son of Kazan
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