Back to God's
Country by James Oliver Curwood
When Shan Tung, the long-cued Chinaman from Vancouver, started up
the Frazer River in the old days when the Telegraph Trail and the
headwaters of the Peace were the Meccas of half the gold-hunting
population of British Columbia, he did not foresee tragedy ahead of
him. He was a clever man, was Shan Tung, a cha-sukeed, a very devil in
the collecting of gold, and far-seeing. But he could not look forty
years into the future, and when Shan Tung set off into the north, that
winter, he was in reality touching fire to the end of a fuse that was
to burn through four decades before the explosion came.
With Shan Tung went Tao, a Great Dane. The Chinaman had picked him
up somewhere on the coast and had trained him as one trains a horse.
Tao was the biggest dog ever seen about the Height of Land, the most
powerful, and at times the most terrible. Of two things Shan Tung was
enormously proud in his silent and mysterious oriental way—of
Tao, the dog, and of his long, shining cue which fell to the crook of
his knees when he let it down. It had been the longest cue in
Vancouver, and therefore it was the longest cue in British Columbia.
The cue and the dog formed the combination which set the forty-year
fuse of romance and tragedy burning. Shan Tung started for the El
Dorados early in the winter, and Tao alone pulled his sledge and
outfit. It was no more than an ordinary task for the monstrous Great
Dane, and Shan Tung subserviently but with hidden triumph passed outfit
after outfit exhausted by the way. He had reached Copper Creek Camp,
which was boiling and frothing with the excitement of gold-maddened
men, and was congratulating himself that he would soon be at the camps
west of the Peace, when the thing happened. A drunken Irishman, filled
with a grim and unfortunate sense of humor, spotted Shan Tung's
wonderful cue and coveted it. Wherefore there followed a bit of
excitement in which Shan Tung passed into his empyrean home with a
bullet through his heart, and the drunken Irishman was strung up for
his misdeed fifteen minutes later. Tao, the Great Dane, was taken by
the leader of the men who pulled on the rope. Tao's new master was a
"drifter," and as he drifted, his face was always set to the north,
until at last a new humor struck him and he turned eastward to the
Mackenzie. As the seasons passed, Tao found mates along the way and
left a string of his progeny behind him, and he had new masters, one
after another, until he was grown old and his muzzle was turning gray.
And never did one of these masters turn south with him. Always it was
north, north with the white man first, north with the Cree, and then
wit h the Chippewayan, until in the end the dog born in a Vancouver
kennel died in an Eskimo igloo on the Great Bear. But the breed of the
Great Dane lived on. Here and there, as the years passed, one would
find among the Eskimo trace-dogs, a grizzled-haired, powerful-jawed
giant that was alien to the arctic stock, and in these occasional
aliens ran the blood of Tao, the Dane.
Forty years, more or less, after Shan Tung lost his life and his cue
at Copper Creek Camp, there was born on a firth of Coronation Gulf a
dog who was named Wapi, which means "the Walrus." Wapi, at full growth,
was a throwback of more than forty dog generations. He was nearly as
large as his forefather, Tao. His fangs were an inch in length, his
great jaws could crack the thigh-bone of a caribou, and from the
beginning the hands of men and the fangs of beasts were against him.
Almost from the day of his birth until this winter of his fourth year,
life for Wapi had been an unceasing fight for existence. He was
maya-tisew—bad with the badness of a devil. His reputation had
gone from master to master and from igloo to igloo; women and children
were afraid of him, and men always spoke to him with the club or the
lash in their hands. He was hated and feared, and yet because he could
run down a barren-land caribou and kill it within a mile, and would
hold a big white bear at bay until the hunters came, he was not
sacrificed to this hate and fear. A hundred whips and clubs and a
hundred pairs of hands were against him between Cape Perry and the
crown of Franklin Bay—and the fangs of twice as many dogs.
The dogs were responsible. Quick-tempered, clannish with the savage
brotherhood of the wolves, treacherous, jealous of leadership, and with
the older instincts of the dog dead within them, their merciless feud
with what they regarded as an interloper of another breed put the devil
heart in Wapi. In all the gray and desolate sweep of his world he had
no friend. The heritage of Tao, his forefather, had fallen upon him,
and he was an alien in a land of strangers. As the dogs and the men and
women and children hated him, so he hated them. He hated the sight and
smell of the round-faced, blear-eyed creatures who were his master, yet
he obeyed them, sullenly, watchfully, with his lips wrinkled warningly
over fangs which had twice torn out the life of white bears. Twenty
times he had killed other dogs. He had fought them singly, and in
pairs, and in packs. His giant body bore the scars of a hundred wounds.
He had been clubbed until a part of his body was deformed and he
traveled with a limp. He kept to himself even in the mating season. And
all this because Wapi, the Walrus, forty years removed from the Great
Dane of Vancouver, was a white man's dog.
Stirring restlessly within him, sometimes coming to him in dreams
and sometimes in a great and unfulfilled yearning, Wapi felt vaguely
the strange call of his forefathers. It was impossible for him to
understand. It was impossible for him to know what it meant. And yet he
did know that somewhere there was something for which he was seeking
and which he never found. The desire and the questing came to him most
compellingly in the long winter filled with its eternal starlight, when
the maddening yap, yap, yap of the little white foxes, the barking of
the dogs, and the Eskimo chatter oppressed him like the voices of
haunting ghosts. In these long months, filled with the horror of the
arctic night, the spirit of Tao whispered within him that somewhere
there was light and sun, that somewhere there was warmth and flowers,
and running streams, and voices he could understand, and things he
could love. And then Wapi would whine, and perhaps the whine would
bring him the blow of a club, or the lash of a whip, or an Eskimo
threat, or the menace of an Eskimo dog's snarl. Of the latter Wapi was
unafraid. With a snap of his jaws, he could break the back of any other
dog on Franklin Bay.
Such was Wapi, the Walrus, when for two sacks of flour, some
tobacco, and a bale of cloth he became the property of Blake, the
uta-wawe-yinew, the trader in seals, whalebone—and women. On this
day Wapi's soul took its flight back through the space of forty years.
For Blake was white, which is to say that at one time or another he had
been white. His skin and his appearance did not betray how black he had
turned inside and Wapi's brute soul cried out to him, telling him how
he had waited and watched for this master he knew would come, how he
would fight for him, how he wanted to lie down and put his great head
on the white man's feet in token of his fealty. But Wapi's bloodshot
eyes and battle-scarred face failed to reveal what was in him, and
Blake—following the instructions of those who should
know—ruled him from the beginning with a club that was more
brutal than the club of the Eskimo.
For three months Wapi had been the property of Blake, and it was now
the dead of a long and sunless arctic night. Blake's cabin, built of
ship timber and veneered with blocks of ice, was built in the face of a
deep pit that sheltered it from wind and storm. To this cabin came the
Nanatalmutes from the east, and the Kogmollocks from the west,
bartering their furs and whalebone and seal-oil for the things Blake
gave in exchange, and adding women to their wares whenever Blake
announced a demand. The demand had been excellent this winter. Over in
Darnley Bay, thirty miles across the headland, was the whaler Harpoon
frozen up for the winter with a crew of thirty men, and straight out
from the face of his igloo cabin, less than a mile away, was the Flying
Moon with a crew of twenty more. It was Blake's business to wait and
watch like a hawk for such opportunities as there, and
tonight—his watch pointed to the hour of twelve,
midnight—he was sitting in the light of a sputtering seal-oil
lamp adding up figures which told him that his winter, only half gone,
had already been an enormously profitable one.
"If the Mounted Police over at Herschel only knew," he chuckled.
"Uppy, if they did, they'd have an outfit after us in twenty-four
Oopi, his Eskimo right-hand man, had learned to understand English,
and he nodded, his moon-face split by a wide and enigmatic grin. In his
way, "Uppy" was as clever as Shan Tung had been in his.
And Blake added, "We've sold every fur and every pound of bone and
oil, and we've forty Upisk wives to our credit at fifty dollars
Uppy's grin became larger, and his throat was filled with an
exultant rattle. In the matter of the Upisk wives he knew that he stood
"Never," said Blake, "has our wife-by-the-month business been so
good. If it wasn't for Captain Rydal and his love-affair, we'd take a
vacation and go hunting."
He turned, facing the Eskimo, and the yellow flame of the lamp lit
up his face. It was the face of a remarkable man. A black beard
concealed much of its cruelty and its cunning, a beard as carefully
Van-dycked as though Blake sat in a professional chair two thousand
miles south, but the beard could not hide the almost inhuman hardness
of the eyes. There was a glittering light in them as he looked at the
Eskimo. "Did you see her today, Uppy? Of course you did. My Gawd, if a
woman could ever tempt me, she could! And Rydal is going to have her.
Unless I miss my guess, there's going to be money in it for us—a
lot of it. The funny part of it is, Rydal's got to get rid of her
husband. And how's he going to do it, Uppy? Eh? Answer me that. How's
he going to do it?"
In a hole he had dug for himself in the drifted snow under a huge
scarp of ice a hundred yards from the igloo cabin lay Wapi. His bed was
red with the stain of blood, and a trail of blood led from the cabin to
the place where he had hidden himself. Not many hours ago, when by
God's sun it should have been day, he had turned at last on a teasing,
snarling, back-biting little kiskanuk of a dog and had killed it. And
Blake and Uppy had beaten him until he was almost dead.
It was not of the beating that Wapi was thinking as he lay in his
wallow. He was thinking of the fur-clad figure that had come between
Blake's club and his body, of the moment when for the first time in his
life he had seen the face of a white woman. She had stopped Blake's
club. He had heard her voice. She had bent over him, and she would have
put her hand on him if his master had not dragged her back with a cry
of warning. She had gone into the cabin then, and he had dragged
Since then a new and thrilling flame had burned in him. For a time
his senses had been dazed by his punishment, but now every instinct in
him was like a living wire. Slowly he pulled himself from his retreat
and sat down on his haunches. His gray muzzle was pointed to the sky.
The same stars were there, burning in cold, white points of flame as
they had burned week after week in the maddening monotony of the long
nights near the pole. They were like a million pitiless eyes, never
blinking, always watching, things of life and fire, and yet dead. And
at those eyes, the little white foxes yapped so incessantly that the
sound of it drove men mad. They were yapping now. They were never
still. And with their yapping came the droning, hissing monotone of the
aurora, like the song of a vast piece of mechanism in the still farther
north. Toward this Wapi turned his bruised and beaten head. Out there,
just beyond the ghostly pale of vision, was the ship. Fifty times he
had slunk out and around it, cautiously as the foxes themselves. He had
caught its smells and its sounds; he had come near enough to hear the
voices of men, and those voices were like the voice of Blake, his
master. Therefore, he had never gone nearer.
There was a change in him now. His big pads fell noiselessly as he
slunk back to the cabin and sniffed for a scent in the snow. He found
it. It was the trail of the white woman. His blood tingled again, as it
had tingled when her face bent over him and her hand reached out, and
in his soul there rose up the ghost of Tao to whip him on. He followed
the woman's footprints slowly, stopping now and then to listen, and
each moment the spirit in him grew more insistent, and he whined up at
the stars. At last he saw the ship, a wraithlike thing in its piled-up
bed of ice, and he stopped. This was his dead-line. He had never gone
nearer. But tonight—if any one period could be called
night—he went on.
It was the hour of sleep, and there was no sound aboard. The foxes,
never tiring of their infuriating sport, were yapping at the ship. They
barked faster and louder when they caught the scent of Wapi, and as he
approached, they drifted farther away. The scent of the woman's trail
led up the wide bridge of ice, and Wapi followed this as he would have
followed a road, until he found himself all at once on the deck of the
Flying Moon. For a space he was startled. His long fangs bared
themselves at the shadows cast by the stars. Then he saw ahead of him a
narrow ribbon of yellow light. Toward this Wapi sniffed out, step by
step, the footprints of the woman. When he stopped again, his muzzle
was at the narrow crack through which came the glimmer of light.
It was the door of a deck-house veneered like an igloo with snow and
ice to protect it from cold and wind. It was, perhaps, half an inch
ajar, and through that aperture Wapi drank the warm, sweet perfume of
the woman. With it he caught also the smell of a man. But in him the
woman scent submerged all else. Overwhelmed by it, he stood trembling,
not daring to move, every inch of him thrilled by a vast and mysterious
yearning. He was no longer Wapi, the Walrus; Wapi, the Killer. Tao was
there. And it may be that the spirit of Shan Tung was there. For after
forty years the change had come, and Wapi, as he stood at the woman's
door, was just dog,—a white man's dog—again the dog of the
Vancouver kennel—the dog of a white man's world.
He thrust open the door with his nose. He slunk in, so silently that
he was not heard. The cabin was lighted. In a bed lay a white-faced,
hollow-cheeked man—awake. On a low stool at his side sat a woman.
The light of the lamp hanging from above warmed with gold fires the
thick and radiant mass of her hair. She was leaning over the sick man.
One slim, white hand was stroking his face gently, and she was speaking
to him in a voice so sweet and soft that it stirred like wonderful
music in Wapi's warped and beaten soul. And then, with a great sigh, he
flopped down, an abject slave, on the edge of her dress.
With a startled cry the woman turned. For a moment she stared at the
great beast wide-eyed, then there came slowly into her face recognition
and understanding. "Why, it's the dog Blake whipped so terribly," she
gasped. "Peter, it's—it's Wapi!" For the first time Wapi felt the
caress of a woman's hand, soft, gentle, pitying, and out of him there
came a wimpering sound that was almost a sob.
"It's the dog—he whipped," she repeated, and, then, if Wapi
could have understood, he would have noted the tense pallor of her
lovely face and the look of a great fear that was away back in the
staring blue depths of her eyes.
From his pillow Peter Keith had seen the look of fear and the
paleness of her cheeks, but he was a long way from guessing the truth.
Yet he thought he knew. For days—yes, for weeks—there had
been that growing fear in her eyes. He had seen her mighty fight to
hide it from him. And he thought he understood.
"I know it has been a terrible winter for you, dear," he had said to
her many times. "But you mustn't worry so much about me. I'll be on my
feet again—soon." He had always emphasized that. "I'll be on my
feet again soon!"
Once, in the breaking terror of her heart, she had almost told him
the truth. Afterward she had thanked God for giving her the strength to
keep it back. It was day—for they spoke in terms of day and
night—when Rydal, half drunk, had dragged her into his cabin, and
she had fought him until her hair was down about her in tangled
confusion—and she had told Peter that it was the wind. After
that, instead of evading him, she had played Rydal with her wits, while
praying to God for help. It was impossible to tell Peter. He had aged
steadily and terribly in the last two weeks. His eyes were sunken into
deep pits. His blond hair was turning gray over the temples. His cheeks
were hollowed, and there was a different sort of luster in his eyes. He
looked fifty instead of thirty-five. Her heart bled in its agony. She
loved Peter with a wonderful love.
The truth! If she told him that! She could see Peter rising up out
of his bed like a ghost. It would kill him. If he could have seen
Rydal—only an hour before—stopping her out on the deck,
taking her in his arms, and kissing her until his drunken breath and
his beard sickened her! And if he could have heard what Rydal had said!
She shuddered. And suddenly she dropped down on her knees beside Wapi
and took his great head in her arms, unafraid of him—and glad
that he had come.
Then she turned to Peter. "I'm going ashore to see Blake
again—now," she said. "Wapi will go with me, and I won't be
afraid. I insist that I am right, so please don't object any more,
She bent over and kissed him, and then in spite of his protest, put
on her fur coat and hood, and stood for a moment smiling down at him.
The fear was gone out of her eyes now. It was impossible for him not to
smile at her loveliness. He had always been proud of that. He reached
up a thin hand and plucked tenderly at the shining little tendrils of
gold that crept out from under her hood.
"I wish you wouldn't, dear," he pleaded.
How pathetically white, and thin, and weak he was! She kissed him
again and turned quickly to hide the mist in her eyes. At the door she
blew him a kiss from the tip of her big fur mitten, and as she went out
she heard him say in the thin, strange voice that was so unlike the old
"Don't be long, Dolores."
She stood silently for a few moments to make sure that no one would
see her. Then she moved swiftly to the ice bridge and out into the
star-lighted ghostliness of the night. Wapi followed close behind her,
and dropping a hand to her side she called softly to him. In an instant
Wapi's muzzle was against her mitten, and his great body quivered with
joy at her direct speech to him. She saw the response in his red eyes
and stopped to stroke him with both mittened hands, and over and over
again she spoke his name. "Wapi—Wapi—Wapi." He whined. She
could feel him under her touch as if alive with an electrical force.
Her eyes shone. In the white starlight there was a new emotion in her
face. She had found a friend, the one friend she and Peter had, and it
made her braver.
At no time had she actually been afraid—for herself. It was
for Peter. And she was not afraid now. Her cheeks flushed with exertion
and her breath came quickly as she neared Blake's cabin. Twice she had
made excuses to go ashore—just because she was curious, she had
said—and she believed that she had measured up Blake pretty well.
It was a case in which her woman's intuition had failed her miserably.
She was amazed that such a man had marooned himself voluntarily on the
arctic coast. She did not, of course, understand his
business—entirely. She thought him simply a trader. And he was
unlike any man aboard ship. By his carefully clipped beard, his calm,
cold manner of speech, and the unusual correctness with which he used
his words she was convinced that at some time or another he had been
part of what she mentally thought of as "an entirely different
She was right. There was a time when London and New York would have
given much to lay their hands on the man who now called himself
Dolores, excited by the conviction that Blake would help her when he
heard her story, still did not lose her caution. Rydal had given her
another twenty-four hours, and that was all. In those twenty-four hours
she must fight out their salvation, her own and Peter's. If Blake
Fifty paces from his cabin she stopped, slipped the big fur mitten
from her right hand and unbuttoned her coat so that she could quickly
and easily reach an inside pocket in which was Peter's revolver. She
smiled just a bit grimly, as her fingers touched the cold steel. It was
to be her last resort. And she was thinking in that flash of the days
"back home" when she was counted the best revolver shot at the Piping
Rock. She could beat Peter, and Peter was good. Her fingers twined a
bit fondly about the pearl-handled thing in her pocket. The last
resort—and from the first it had given her courage to keep the
truth from Peter!
She knocked at the heavy door of the igloo cabin. Blake was still
up, and when he opened it, he stared at her in wide-eyed amazement.
Wapi hung outside when Dolores entered, and the door closed. "I know
you think it strange for me to come at this hour," she apologized, "but
in this terrible gloom I've lost all count of hours. They have no
significance for me any more. And I wanted to see you—alone."
She emphasized the word. And as she spoke, she loosened her coat and
threw back her hood, so that the glow of the lamp lit up the ruffled
mass of gold the hood had covered. She sat down without waiting for an
invitation, and Blake sat down opposite her with a narrow table between
them. Her face was flushed with cold and wind as she looked at him. Her
eyes were blue with the blue of a steady flame, and they met his own
squarely. She was not nervous. Nor was she afraid.
"Perhaps you can guess—why I have come?" she asked.
He was appraising her almost startling beauty with the lamp glow
flooding down on her. For a moment he hesitated; then he nodded,
looking at her steadily. "Yes, I think I know," he said quietly. "It's
Captain Rydal. In fact, I'm quite positive. It's an unusual situation,
you know. Have I guessed correctly?"
She nodded, drawing in her breath quickly and leaning a little
toward him, wondering how much he knew and how he had come by it.
"A very unusual situation," he repeated. "There's nothing in the
world that makes beasts out of men—most men—more quickly
than an arctic night, Mrs. Keith. And they're all beasts out
there—now—all except your husband, and he is contented
because he possesses the one white woman aboard ship. It's putting it
brutally plain, but it's the truth, isn't it? For the time being
they're beasts, every man of the twenty, and you—pardon
me!—are very beautiful. Rydal wants you, and the fact that your
husband is dying—"
"He is not dying," she interrupted him fiercely. "He shall not die!
If he did—"
"Do you love him?" There was no insult in Blake's quiet voice. He
asked the question as if much depended on the answer, as if he must
assure himself of that fact.
"Love him—my Peter? Yes!"
She leaned forward eagerly, gripping her hands in front of him on
the table. She spoke swiftly, as if she must convince him before he
asked her another question. Blake's eyes did not change. They had not
changed for an instant. They were hard, and cold, and searching,
unwarmed by her beauty, by the luster of her shining hair, by the touch
of her breath as it came to him over the table.
"I have gone everywhere with him—everywhere," she began.
"Peter writes books, you know, and we have gone into all sorts of
places. We love it—both of us—this adventuring. We have
been all through the country down there," she swept a hand to the
south, "on dog sledges, in canoes, with snowshoes, and pack-trains.
Then we hit on the idea of coming north on a whaler. You know, of
course, Captain Rydal planned to return this autumn. The crew was
rough, but we expected that. We expected to put up with a lot. But even
before the ice shut us in, before this terrible night came, Rydal
insulted me. I didn't dare tell Peter. I thought I could handle Rydal,
that I could keep him in his place, and I knew that if I told Peter, he
would kill the beast. And then the ice—and this night—" She
Blake's eyes, gimleting to her soul, were shot with a sudden fire as
he, too, leaned a little over the table. But his voice was unemotional
as rock. It merely stated a fact. "That's why Captain Rydal allowed
himself to be frozen in," he said. "He had plenty of time to get into
the open channels, Mrs. Keith. But he wanted you. And to get you he
knew he would have to lay over. And if he laid over, he knew that he
would get you, for many things may happen in an arctic night. It shows
the depth of the man's feelings, doesn't it? He is sacrificing a great
deal to possess you, losing a great deal of time, and money, and all
that. And when your husband dies—"
Her clenched little fist struck the table. "He won't die, I tell
you! Why do you say that?"
"Because—Rydal says he is going to die."
"Rydal—lies. Peter had a fall, and it hurt his spine so that
his legs are paralyzed. But I know what it is. If he could get away
from that ship and could have a doctor, he would be well again in two
or three months."
"But Rydal says he is going to die."
There was no mistaking the significance of Blake's words this time.
Her eyes filled with sudden horror. Then they flashed with the blue
fire again. "So—he has told you? Well, he told me the same thing
today. He didn't intend to, of course. But he was half mad, and he had
been drinking. He has given me twenty-four hours."
"In which to—surrender?"
There was no need to reply.
For the first time Blake smiled. There was something in that smile
that made her flesh creep. "Twenty-four hours is a short time," he
said, "and in this matter, Mrs. Keith, I think that you will find
Captain Rydal a man of his word. No need to ask you why you don't
appeal to the crew! Useless! But you have hope that I can help you? Is
Her heart throbbed. "That is why I have come to you, Mr. Blake. You
told me today that Fort Confidence is only a hundred and fifty miles
away and that a Northwest Mounted Police garrison is there this
winter—with a doctor. Will you help me?"
"A hundred and fifty miles, in this country, at this time of the
year, is a long distance, Mrs. Keith," reflected Blake, looking into
her eyes with a steadiness that at any other time would have been
embarrassing. "It means the McFarlane, the Lacs Delesse, and the Arctic
Barren. For a hundred miles there isn't a stick of timber. If a storm
came—no man or dog could live. It is different from the coast.
Here there is shelter everywhere." He spoke slowly, and he was thinking
swiftly. "It would take five days at thirty miles a day. And the
chances are that your husband would not stand it. One hundred and
twenty hours at fifty degrees below zero, and no fire until the fourth
day. He would die."
"It would be better—for if we stay—" she stopped,
unclenching her hands slowly.
"What?" he asked.
"I shall kill Captain Rydal," she declared. "It is the only thing I
can do. Will you force me to do that, or will you help me? You have
sledges and many dogs, and we will pay. And I have judged you to
He rose from the table, and for a moment his face was turned from
her. "You probably do not understand my position, Mrs. Keith," he said,
pacing slowly back and forth and chuckling inwardly at the shock he was
about to give her. "You see, my livelihood depends on such men as
Captain Rydal. I have already done a big business with him in bone,
oil, pelts—and Eskimo women."
Without looking at her he heard the horrified intake of her breath.
It gave him a pleasing sort of thrill, and he turned, smiling, to look
into her dead-white face. Her eyes had changed. There was no longer
hope or entreaty in them. They were simply pools of blue flame. And
she, too, rose to her feet.
"Then—I can expect—no help—from you."
"I didn't say that, Mrs. Keith. It shocks you to know that I am
responsible. But up here, you must understand the code of ethics is a
great deal different from yours. We figure that what I have done for
Rydal and his crew keeps sane men from going mad during the long months
of darkness. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to help you—and
Peter. I think I shall. But you must give me a little time in which to
consider the matter—say an hour or so. I understand that whatever
is to be done must be done quickly. If I make up my mind to take you to
Fort Confidence, we shall start within two or three hours. I shall
bring you word aboard ship. So you might return and prepare yourself
and Peter for a probable emergency."
She went out dumbly into the night, Blake seeing her to the door and
closing it after her. He was courteous in his icy way but did not offer
to escort her back to the ship. She was glad. Her heart was choking her
with hope and fear. She had measured him differently this time. And she
was afraid. She had caught a glimpse that had taken her beyond the man,
to the monster. It made her shudder. And yet what did it matter, if
Blake helped them?
She had forgotten Wapi. Now she found him again close at her side,
and she dropped a hand to his big head as she hurried back through the
pallid gloom. She spoke to him, crying out with sobbing breath what she
had not dared to reveal to Blake. For Wapi the long night had ceased to
be a hell of ghastly emptiness, and to her voice and the touch of her
hand he responded with a whine that was the whine of a white man's dog.
They had traveled two-thirds of the distance to the ship when he
stopped in his tracks and sniffed the wind that was coming from shore.
A second time he did this, and a third, and the third time Dolores
turned with him and faced the direction from which they had come. A low
growl rose in Wapi's throat, a snarl of menace with a note of warning
"What is it, Wapi?" whispered Dolores. She heard his long fangs
click, and under her hand she felt his body grow tense. "What is it?"
A thrill, a suspicion, shot into her heart as they went on. A fourth
time Wapi faced the shore and growled before they reached the ship.
Like shadows they went up over the ice bridge. Dolores did not enter
the cabin but drew Wapi behind it so they could not be seen. Ten
minutes, fifteen, and suddenly she caught her breath and fell down on
her knees beside Wapi, putting her arms about his gaunt shoulders. "Be
quiet," she whispered. "Be quiet."
Up out of the night came a dark and grotesque shadow. It paused
below the bridge, then it came on silently and passed almost without
sound toward the captain's quarters. It was Blake. Dolores' heart was
choking her. Her arms clutched Wapi, whispering for him to be quiet, to
be quiet. Blake disappeared, and she rose to her feet. She had come of
fighting stock. Peter was proud of that. "You slim wonderful little
thing!" he had said to her more than once. "You've a heart in that
pretty body of yours like the general's!" The general was her father,
and a fighter. She thought of Peter's words now, and the fighting blood
leaped through her veins. It was for Peter more than herself that she
was going to fight now.
She made Wapi understand that he must remain where he was. Then she
followed after Blake, followed until her ears were close to the door
behind which she could already hear Blake and Rydal talking.
Ten minutes later she returned to Wapi. Under her hood her face was
as white as the whitest star in the sky. She stood for many minutes
close to the dog, gathering her courage, marshaling her strength,
preparing herself to face Peter. He must not suspect until the last
moment. She thanked God that Wapi had caught the taint of Blake in the
air, and she was conscious of offering a prayer that God might help her
Peter gave a cry of pleasure when the door opened and Dolores
entered. He saw Wapi crowding in, and laughed. "Pals already! I guess I
needn't have been afraid for you. What a giant of a dog!"
The instant she appeared, Dolores forced upon herself an appearance
of joyous excitement. She flung off her coat and ran to Peter, hugging
his head against her as she told him swiftly what they were going to
do. Fort Confidence was only one hundred and fifty miles away, and a
garrison of police and a doctor were there. Five days on a sledge! That
was all. And she had persuaded Blake, the trader, to help them. They
would start now, as soon as she got him ready and Blake came. She must
hurry. And she was wildly and gloriously happy, she told him. In a
little while they would be at least on the outer edge of this horrible
night, and he would be in a doctor's hands.
She was holding Peter's head so that he could not see her face, and
by the time she jumped up and he did see it, there was nothing in it to
betray the truth or the fact that she was acting a lie. First she began
to dress Peter for the trail. Every instant gave her more courage. This
helpless, sunken-cheeked man with the hair graying over his temples was
Peter, her Peter, the Peter who had watched over her, and sheltered
her, and fought for her ever since she had known him, and now had come
her chance to fight for him. The thought filled her with a wonderful
exultation. It flushed her cheeks, and put a glory into her eyes, and
made her voice tremble. How wonderful it was to love a man as she loved
Peter! It was impossible for her to see the contrast they
made—Peter with his scrubby beard, his sunken cheeks, his
emaciation, and she with her radiant, golden beauty. She was ablaze
with the desire to fight. And how proud of her Peter would be when it
was all over!
She finished dressing him and began putting things in their big
dunnage sack. Her lips tightened as she made this preparation. Finally
she came to a box of revolver cartridges and emptied them into one of
the pockets of her under-jacket. Wapi flattened out near the door,
watched every movement she made.
When the dunnage sack was filled, she returned to Peter. "Won't it
be a joke on Captain Rydal!" she exulted. "You see, we aren't gong to
let him know anything about it." She appeared not to observe Peter's
surprise. "You know how I hate him, Peter dear," she went on. "He is a
beast. But Mr. Blake has done a great deal of trading with him, and he
doesn't want Captain Rydal to know the part he is taking in getting us
away. Not that Rydal would miss us, you know! I don't think he cares
very much whether you live or die, Peter, and that's why I hate him.
But we must humor Mr. Blake. He doesn't want him to know."
"Odd," mused Peter. "It's sort of—sneaking away."
His eyes had in them a searching question which Dolores tried not to
see and which she was glad he did not put into words. If she could only
fool him another hour—just one more hour.
It was less than that—half an hour after she had finished the
dunnage sack—when they heard footsteps crunching outside and then
a knock at the door. Wapi answered with a snarl, and when Dolores
opened the door and Blake entered, his eyes fell first of all on the
"Attached himself, eh?" he greeted, turning his quiet, unemotional
smile on Peter. "First white woman he has ever seen, and I guess the
case is hopeless. Mrs. Keith may have him."
He turned to her. "Are you ready?"
She nodded and pointed to the dunnage sack. Then she put on her fur
coat and hood and helped Peter sit up on the edge of the bed while
Blake opened the door again and made a low signal. Instantly Uppy and
another Eskimo came in. Blake led with the sack, and the two Eskimos
carried Peter. Dolores followed last, with the fingers of one little
hand gripped about the revolver in her pocket. Wapi hugged so close to
her that she could feel his body.
On the ice was a sledge without dogs. Peter was bundled on this, and
the Eskimos pulled him. Blake was still in the lead. Twenty minutes
after leaving the ship they pulled up beside his cabin.
There were two teams ready for the trail, one of six dogs, and
another of five, each watched over by an Eskimo. The visor of Dolores'
hood kept Blake from seeing how sharply she took in the situation.
Under it her eyes were ablaze. Her bare hand gripped her revolver, and
if Peter could have heard the beating of her heart, he would have
gasped. But she was cool, for all that. Swiftly and accurately she
appraised Blake's preparations. She observed that in the six-dog team,
in spite of its numerical superiority, the animals were more powerful
than those in the five-dog team. The Eskimos placed Peter on the
six-dog sledge, and Dolores helped to wrap him up warmly in the
bearskins. Their dunnage sack was tied on at Peter's feet. Not until
then did she seem to notice the five-dog sledge. She smiled at Blake.
"We must be sure that in our excitement we haven't forgotten
something," she said, going over what was on the sledge. "This is a
tent, and here are plenty of warm bearskins—and—and—"
She looked up at Blake, who was watching her silently. "If there is no
timber for so long, Mr. Blake, shouldn't we have a big bundle of
kindling? And surely we should have meat for the dogs!"
Blake stared at her and then turned sharply on Uppy with a rattle of
Eskimo. Uppy and one of the companions made their exit instantly and in
"The fools!" he apologized. "One has to watch them like children,
Mrs. Keith. Pardon me while I help them."
She waited until he followed Uppy into the cabin. Then, with the
remaining Eskimo staring at her in wonderment, she carried an extra
bearskin, the small tent, and a narwhal grub-sack to Peter's sledge. It
was another five minutes before Blake and the two Eskimos reappeared
with a bag of fish and a big bundle of ship-timber kindlings. Dolores
stood with a mittened hand on Peter's shoulder, and bending down, she
"Peter, if you love me, don't mind what I'm going to say now. Don't
move, for everything is going to be all right, and if you should try to
get up or roll off the sledge, it would be so much harder for me. I
haven't even told you why we're going to Port Confidence. Now you'll
She straightened up to face Blake. She had chosen her position, and
Blake was standing clear and unshadowed in the starlight half a dozen
paces from her. She had thrust her hood back a little, inspired by her
feminine instinct to let him see her contempt for him.
The words hissed hot and furious from her lips, and in that same
instant Blake found himself staring straight into the unquivering
muzzle of her revolver.
"You beast!" she repeated. "I ought to kill you. I ought to shoot
you down where you stand, for you are a cur and a coward. I know what
you have planned. I followed you when you went to Rydal's cabin a
little while ago, and I heard everything that passed between you.
Listen, Peter, and I'll tell you what these brutes were going to do
with us. You were to go with the six-dog team and I with the five, and
out on the barrens we were to become separated, you to go on and be
killed when you we're a proper distance away, and I to be brought
back—to Rydal. Do you understand, Peter dear? Isn't it splendid
that we should have forced on us like this such wonderful material for
She was gloriously unafraid now. A paean of triumph rang in her
voice, triumph, contempt, and utter fearlessness. Her mittened hand
pressed on Peter's shoulder, and before the weapon in her other hand
Blake stood as if turned into stone.
"You don't know," she said, speaking to him directly, "how near I am
to killing you. I think I shall shoot unless you have the meat and
kindlings put on Peter's sledge immediately and give Uppy
instructions—in English—to drive us to Fort Confidence.
Peter and I will both go with the six-dog sledge. Give the instructions
quickly, Mr. Blake!"
Blake, recovering from the shock she had given him, flashed back at
her his cool and cynical smile. In spite of being caught in an
unpleasant lie, he admired this golden-haired, blue-eyed slip of a
woman for the colossal bluff she was playing. "Personally, I'm sorry,"
he said, "but I couldn't help it. Rydal—"
"I am sure, unless you give the instructions quickly, that I shall
shoot," she interrupted him. Her voice was so quiet that Peter was
amazed. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Keith. But—"
A flash of fire blinded him, and with the flash Blake staggered back
with a cry of pain and stood swaying unsteadily in the starlight,
clutching with one hand at an arm which hung limp and useless at his
"That time, I broke your arm," said Dolores, with scarcely more
excitement than if she had made a bull's-eye on the Piping Rock range.
"If I fire again, I am quite positive that I shall kill you!"
The Eskimos had not moved. They were like three lifeless, staring
gargoyles. For another second or two Blake stood clutching at his arm.
Then he said,
"Uppy, put the dog meat and the kindlings on the big
sledge—and drive like hell for Fort Confidence!" And then, before
she could stop him, he followed up his words swiftly and furiously in
She almost shrieked the one word of warning, and with it a second
shot burned its way through the flesh of Blake's shoulder and he went
down. The revolver turned on Uppy, and instantly he was electrified
into life. Thirty seconds later, at the head of the team, he was
leading the way out into the chaotic gloom of the night. Hovering over
Peter, riding with her hand on the gee-bar of the sledge, Dolores
looked back to see Blake staggering to his feet. He shouted after them,
and what he said was in Uppy's tongue. And this time she could not stop
She had forgotten Wapi. But as the night swallowed them up, she
still looked back, and through the gloom she saw a shadow coming
swiftly. In a few moments Wapi was running at the tail of the sledge.
Then she leaned over Peter and encircled his shoulders with her furry
"We're off!" she cried, a breaking note of gladness in her voice.
"We're off! And, Peter dear, wasn't it perfectly thrilling!"
A few minutes later she called upon Uppy to stop the team. Then she
faced him, close to Peter, with the revolver in her hand.
"Uppy," she demanded, speaking slowly and distinctly, "what was it
Blake said to you?"
For a moment Uppy made as if to feign stupidity. The revolver
covered a spot half-way between his narrow-slit eyes.
"I shall shoot—"
Uppy gave a choking gasp. "He said—no take trail For'
Con'dence—go wrong—he come soon get you."
"Yes, he said just that." She picked her words even more slowly.
"Uppy, listen to me. If you let them come up with us—unless you
get us to Fort Confidence—I will kill you. Do you
She poked her revolver a foot nearer, and Uppy nodded emphatically.
She smiled. It was almost funny to see Uppy's understanding liven up at
the point of the gun, and she felt a thrill that tingled to her
finger-tips. The little devils of adventure were wide-awake in her,
and, smiling at Uppy, she told him to hold up the end of his driving
whip. He obeyed. The revolver flashed, and a muffled yell came from him
as he felt the shock of the bullet as it struck fairly against the butt
of his whip. In the same instant there came a snarling deep-throated
growl from Wapi. From the sledge Peter gave a cry of warning. Uppy
shrank back, and Dolores cried out sharply and put herself swiftly
between Wapi and the Eskimo. The huge dog, ready to spring, slunk back
to the end of the sledge at the command of her voice. She patted his
big head before she got on the sledge behind Peter.
There was no indecision in the manner of Uppy'S going now. He struck
out swift and straight for the pale constellation of stars that hung
over Fort Confidence. It was splendid traveling. The surface of the
arctic plain was frozen solid. What little wind there was came from
behind them, and the dogs were big and fresh. Uppy ran briskly,
snapping the lash of his whip and la-looing to the dogs in the manner
of the Eskimo driver. Dolores did not wait for Peter's demand for a
further explanation of their running away and her remarkable words to
Blake. She told him. She omitted, for the sake of Peter's peace of
mind, the physical insults she had suffered at Captain Rydal's hands.
She did not tell him that Rydal had forced her into his arms a few
hours before and kissed her. What she did reveal made Peter's arms and
shoulders grow tense and he groaned in his helplessness.
"If you'd only told me!" he protested. Dolores laughed triumphantly,
with her arm about his shoulder. "I knew my dear old Peter too well for
that," she exulted. "If I had told you, what a pretty mess we'd be in
now, Peter! You would have insisted on calling Captain Rydal into our
cabin and shooting him from the bed—and then where would we have
been? Don't you think I'm handling it pretty well, Peter dear?"
Peter's reply was smothered against her hooded cheek.
He began to question her more directly now, and with his ability to
grasp at the significance of things he pointed out quickly the
tremendous hazard of their position. There were many more dogs and
other sledges at Blake's place, and it was utterly inconceivable that
Blake and Captain Rydal would permit them to reach Fort Confidence
without making every effort in their power to stop them. Once they
succeeded in placing certain facts in the hands of the Mounted Police,
both Rydal and Blake would be done for. He impressed this uncomfortable
truth on Dolores and suggested that if she could have smuggled a rifle
along in the dunnage sack it would have helped matters considerably.
For Rydal and Blake would not hesitate at shooting. For them it must be
either capture or kill—death for him, anyway, for he was the one
factor not wanted in the equation. He summed up their chances and their
danger calmly and pointedly, as he always looked at troubling things.
And Dolores felt her heart sinking within her. After all, she had not
handled the situation any too well. She almost wished she had killed
Rydal herself and called it self-defense. At least she had been
criminally negligent in not smuggling along a rifle.
"But we'll beat them out," she argued hopefully. "We've got a
splendid team, Peter, and I'll take off my coat and run behind the
sledge as much as I can. Uppy won't dare play a trick on us now, for he
knows that if I should miss him, Wapi would tear the life out of him at
a word from me. We'll win out, Peter dear. See if we don't!"
Peter hugged his thoughts to himself. He did not tell her that Blake
and Rydal would pursue with a ten- or twelve-dog team, and that there
was almost no chance at all of a straight get-away. Instead, he pulled
her head down and kissed her.
To Wapi there had come at last a response to the great yearning that
was in him. Instinct, summer and winter, had drawn him south, had
turned him always in that direction, filled with the uneasiness of the
mysterious something that was calling to him through the years of forty
generations of his kind. And now he was going south. He sensed the fact
that this journey would not end at the edge of the Arctic plain and
that he was not to hunt caribou or bear. His mental formulae
necessitated no process of reasoning. They were simple and to the point
His world had suddenly divided itself into two parts; one contained the
woman, and the other his old masters and slavery. And the woman stood
against these masters. They were her enemies as well as his own.
Experience had taught him the power and the significance of firearms,
just as it had made him understand the uses for which spears, and
harpoons, and whips were made. He had seen the woman shoot Blake, and
he had seen her ready to shoot at Uppy. Therefore he understood that
they were enemies and that all associated with them were enemies. At a
word from her he was ready to spring ahead and tear the life out of the
Eskimo driver and even out of the dogs that were pulling the sledge. It
did not take him long to comprehend that the man on the sledge was a
part of the woman.
He hung well back, twenty or thirty paces behind the sledge, and
unless Peter or the woman called to him, or the sledge stopped for some
reason, he seldom came nearer.
It took only a word from Dolores to bring him to her side.
Hour after hour the journey continued. The plain was level as a
floor, and at intervals Dolores would run in the trail that the load
might be lightened and the dogs might make better time. It was then
that Peter watched Uppy with the revolver, and it was also in these
intervals—running close beside the woman—that the blood in
Wapi's veins was fired with a riotous joy.
For three hours there was almost no slackening in Uppy's speed. The
fourth and fifth were slower. In the sixth and seventh the pace began
to tell. And the plain was no longer hard and level, swept like a floor
by the polar winds. Rolling undulations grew into ridges of snow and
ice; in places the dogs dragged the sledge over thin crusts that broke
under the runners; fields of drift snow, fine as shot, lay in their
way; and in the eighth hour Uppy stopped the lagging dogs and held up
his two hands in the mute signal of the Eskimo that they could go no
farther without a rest.
Wapi dropped on his belly and watched. His eyes followed Uppy
suspiciously as he strung up the tent on its whalebone supports to keep
the bite of the wind from the sledge on which Dolores sat at Peter's
feet. Then Uppy built a fire of kindlings, and scraped up a pot of ice
for tea-water. After that, while the water was heating, he gave each of
the trace dogs a frozen fish. Dolores herself picked out one of the
largest and tossed it to Wapi. Then she sat down again and began to
talk to Peter, bundled up in his furs. After a time they ate, and drank
hot tea, and after he had devoured a chunk of raw meat the size of his
two fists, Uppy rolled himself in his sleeping bag near the dogs. A
little at a time Wapi dragged himself nearer until his head lay on
Dolores' coat. After that there was a long silence broken only by the
low voices of the woman and the man, and the heavy breathing of the
tired dogs. Wapi himself dozed off, but never for long. Then Dolores
nodded, and her head drooped until it found a pillow on Peter's
shoulder. Gently Peter drew a bearskin about her, and for a long time
sat wide-awake, guarding Uppy and baring his ears at intervals to
listen. A dozen times he saw Wapi's bloodshot eyes looking at him, and
twice he put out a hand to the dog's head and spoke to him in a
Even Peter's eyes were filmed by a growing drowsiness when Wapi drew
silently away and slunk suspiciously into the night. There was no
yapping foxes here, forty miles from the coast. An almost appalling
silence hung under the white stars, a silence broken only by the low
and distant moaning the wind always makes on the barrens. Wapi listened
to it, and he sniffed with his gray muzzle turned to the north. And
then he whined. Had Dolores or Peter seen him or heard the note in his
throat, they, too, would have stared back over the trail they had
traveled. For something was coming to Wapi. Faint, elusive, and
indefinable breath in the air, he smelled it in one moment, and the
next it was gone. For many minutes he stood undecided, and then he
returned to the sledge, his spine bristling and a growl in his
Wide-eyed and staring, Peter was looking back. "What is it,
His voice aroused Dolores. She sat up with a start. The growl had
grown into a snarl in Wapi's throat.
"I think they are coming," said Peter calmly. "You'd better rouse
Uppy. He hasn't moved in the last two hours."
Something that was like a sob came from Dolores' lips as she stood
up. "They're not coming," she whispered. "They've stopped—and
they're building a fire!"
Not more than a third of a mile away a point of yellow flame flared
up in the night.
"Give me the revolver, Peter."
Peter gave it to her without a word. She went to Uppy, and at the
touch of her foot he was out of his sleeping-bag, his moon-face staring
at her. She pointed back to the fire. Her face was dead white. The
revolver was pointed straight at Uppy's heart.
"If they come up with us, Uppy—you die!"
The Eskimo's narrow eyes widened. There was murder in this white
woman's face, in the steadiness of her hand, and in her voice. If they
came up with them—he would die! Swiftly he gathered up his
sleeping-bag and placed it on the sledge. Then he roused the dogs,
tangled in their traces. They rose to their feet, sleepy and
ill-humored. One of them snapped at his hand. Another snarled viciously
as he untwisted a trace. Then one of the yawning brutes caught the new
smell in the air, the smell that Wapi had gathered when it was a mile
farther off. He sniffed. He sat back on his haunches and sent forth a
yelping howl to his comrades in the other team. In ten seconds the
other five were howling with him, and scarcely had the tumult burst
from their throats when there came a response from the fire half a mile
"My God!" gasped Peter, under his breath.
Dolores sprang to the gee-bar, and Uppy lashed his long whip until
it cracked like a repeating rifle over the pack. The dogs responded and
sped through the night. Behind them the pandemonium of dog voices in
the other camp had ceased. Men had leaped into life. Fifteen dogs were
straightening in the tandem trace of a single sledge.
Dolores laughed, a sobbing, broken laugh, that in itself was a cry
of despair. "Peter, if they come up with us, what shall we do?"
"If they overtake us," said Peter, "give me the revolver. It is
"I have cartridges—"
For the first time she remembered that she had not filled the three
empty chambers. Crooking her arm under the gee-bar, she fumbled in her
pocket. The dogs, refreshed by their sleep and urged by Uppy's whip,
were tearing off the first mile at a great speed. The trail ahead of
them was level and hard again. Uppy knew they were on the edge of the
big barren of the Lacs Delesse, and he cracked his whip just as the off
runner of the sledge struck a hidden snow-blister. There was a sudden
lurch, and in a vicious up-shoot of the gee-bar the revolver was
knocked from Dolores' hand—and was gone. A shriek rose to her
lips, but she stifled it before it was given voice. Until this minute
she had not felt the terror of utter hopelessness upon her. Now it made
her faint. The revolver had not only given her hope, but also a
steadfast faith in herself. From the beginning she had made up her mind
how she would use it in the end, even though a few moments before she
had asked Peter what they would do.
Crumpled down on the sledge, she clung to Peter, and suddenly the
inspiration came to her not to let him know what had happened. Her arms
tightened about his shoulders, and she looked ahead over the backs of
the wolfish pack, shivering as she thought of what Uppy would do could
he guess her loss. But he was running now for his life, driven on by
his fear of her unerring marksmanship—and Wapi. She looked over
her shoulder. Wapi was there, a huge gray shadow twenty paces behind.
And she thought she heard a shout!
Peter was speaking to her. "Blake's dogs are tired," he was saying.
"They were just about to camp, and ours have had a rest.
"We shall beat them!" she interrupted him. "See how fast we are
going, Peter! It is splendid!"
A rifle-shot sounded behind them. It was not far away, and
involuntarily she clutched him tighter. Peter reached up a hand.
"Give me the revolver, Dolores."
"No," she protested. "They are not going to overtake us."
"You must give me the revolver," he insisted.
"Peter, I can't. You understand, I can't. I must keep the
She looked back again. There was no doubt now. Their pursuers were
drawing nearer. She heard a voice, the la-looing of running Eskimos, a
faint shout which she knew was a white man's shout—and another
rifle shot. Wapi was running nearer. He was almost at the tail of the
sledge, and his red eyes were fixed on her as he ran.
"Wapi!" she cried. "Wapi!"
His jaws dropped agape. She could hear his panting response to her
A third shot—over their heads sped a strange droning
"Wapi," she almost screamed, "go back! Sick 'em, Wapi—sick
'em—sick 'em—sick 'em!" She flung out her arms, driving him
back, repeating the words over and over again. She leaned over the edge
of the sledge, clinging to the gee-bar. "Go back, Wapi! Sick
'em—sick 'em—sick 'em!"
As if in response to her wild exhortation, there came a sudden
yelping outcry from the team behind. It was close upon them now.
Another ten minutes.
And then she saw that Wapi was dropping behind. Quickly he was
swallowed up in the starlit chaos of the night.
"Peter," she cried, sobbingly. "Peter!"
Listening to the retreating sound of the sledge, Wapi stood a silent
shadow in the trail. Then he turned and faced the north. He heard the
other sound now, and ahead of it the wind brought him a smell, the
smell of things he hated. For many years something had been fighting
itself toward understanding within him, and the yelping of dogs and the
taint in the air of creatures who had been his slave-masters narrowed
his instinct to the one vital point. Again it was not a process of
reason but the cumulative effect of things that had happened, and were
happening. He had scented menace when first he had given warning of the
nearness of pursuers, and this menace was no longer an elusive and
unseizable thing that had merely stirred the fires of his hatred. It
was now a near and physical fact. He had tried to run away from
it—with the woman—but it had followed and was overtaking
him, and the yelping dogs were challenging him to fight as they had
challenged him from the day he was old enough to take his own part. And
now he had something to fight for. His intelligence gripped the fact
that one sledge was running away from the other, and that the sledge
which was running away was his sledge—and that for his sledge he
He waited, almost squarely in the trail. There was no longer the
slinking, club-driven attitude of a creature at bay in the manner in
which he stood in the path of his enemies. He had risen out of his
serfdom. The stinging slash of the whip and his dread of it were gone.
Standing there in the starlight with his magnificent head thrown up and
the muscles of his huge body like corded steel, the passing spirit of
Shan Tung would have taken him for Tao, the Great Dane. He was not
excited—and yet he was filled with a mighty desire—more
than that, a tremendous purpose. The yelping excitement of the oncoming
Eskimo dogs no longer urged him to turn aside to avoid their insolent
bluster, as he would have turned aside yesterday or the day before. The
voices of his old masters no longer sent him slinking out of their way,
a growl in his throat and his body sagging with humiliation and the
rage of his slavery. He stood like a rock, his broad chest facing them
squarely, and when he saw the shadows of them racing up out of the
star-mist an eighth of a mile away, it was not a growl but a whine that
rose in his throat, a whine of low and repressed eagerness, of a great
yearning about to be fulfilled. Two hundred yards—a
hundred—eighty—not until the dogs were less than fifty from
him did he move. And then, like a rock hurled by a mighty force, he was
He met the onrushing weight of the pack breast to breast. There was
no warning. Neither men nor dogs had seen the waiting shadow. The crash
sent the lead-dog back with Wapi's great fangs in his throat, and in an
instant the fourteen dogs behind had piled over them, tangled in their
traces, yelping and snarling and biting, while over them round-faced,
hooded men shouted shrilly and struck with their whips, and from the
sledge a white man sprang with a rifle in his hands. It was Rydal.
Under the mass of dogs Wapi, the Walrus, heard nothing of the shouts of
men. He was fighting. He was fighting as he had never fought before in
all the days of his life. The fierce little Eskimo dogs had smelled
him, and they knew their enemy. The lead-dog was dead. A second Wapi
had disemboweled with a single slash of his inch-long fangs. He was
buried now. But his jaws met flesh and bone, and out of the squirming
mass there rose fearful cries of agony that mingled hideously with the
bawling of men and the snarling and yelping of beasts that had not yet
felt Wapi's fangs. Three and four at a time they were at him. He felt
the wolfish slash of their teeth in his flesh. In him the sense of pain
was gone. His jaws closed on a foreleg, and it snapped like a stick.
His teeth sank like ivory knives into the groin of a brute that had
torn a hole in his side, and a smothered death-howl rose out of the
heap. A fang pierced his eye. Even then no cry came from Wapi, the
Walrus. He heaved upward with his giant body. He found another throat,
and it was then that he rose above the pack, shaking the life from his
victim as a terrier would have shaken a rat. For the first time the
Eskimos saw him, and out of their superstitious souls strange cries
found utterance as they sprang back and shrieked out to Rydal that it
was a devil and not a beast that had waited for them in the trail.
Rydal threw up his rifle. The shot came. It burned a crease in Wapi's
shoulder and tore a hole as big as a man's fist in the breast of a dog
about to spring upon him f rom behind. Again he was down, and Rydal
dropped his rifle, and snatched a whip from the hand of an Eskimo.
Shouting and cursing, he lashed the pack, and in a moment he saw a
huge, open-jawed shadow rise up on the far side and start off into the
open starlight. He sprang back to his rifle. Twice he fired at the
retreating shadow before it disappeared. And the Eskimo dogs made no
movement to follow. Five of the fifteen were dead. The remaining ten,
torn and bleeding—three of them with legs that dragged in the
bloody snow—gathered in a whipped and whimpering group. And the
Eskimos, shivering in their fear of this devil that had entered into
the body of Wapi, the Walrus, failed to respond to Rydal's command when
he pointed to the red trail that ran out under the stars.
At Fort Confidence, one hundred and fifty miles to the south, there
was day—day that was like cold, gray dawn, the day one finds just
beyond the edge of the Arctic night, in which the sun hangs like a pale
lantern over the far southern horizon. In a log-built room that faced
this bit of glorious red glow lay Peter, bolstered up in his bed so
that he could see it until it faded from the sky. There was a new light
in his face, and there was something of the old Peter back in his eyes.
Watching the final glow with him was Dolores. It was their second
Into this world, in the twilight that was falling swiftly as they
watched the setting of the sun, came Wapi, the Walrus. Blinded in the
eye, gaunt with hunger and exhaustion, covered with wounds, and with
his great heart almost ready to die, he came at last to the river
across which lay the barracks. His vision was nearly gone, but under
his nose he could still smell faintly the trail he was following until
the last. It led him across the river. And in darkness it brought him
to a door.
After a little the door opened, and with its opening came at last
the fulfilment of the promise of his dreams—hope, happiness,
things to live for in a new, a white-man's world. For Wapi, the Walrus,
forty years removed from Tao of Vancouver, had at last come home.