Brown Wolf by Jack
She had delayed, because of the dew-wet grass, in order to put
on her overshoes, and when she emerged from the house found her
waiting husband absorbed in the wonder of a bursting
almond-bud. She sent a questing glance across the tall
grass and in and out among the orchard trees.
“Where’s Wolf?” she asked.
“He was here a moment ago.” Walt Irvine drew
himself away with a jerk from the metaphysics and poetry of the
organic miracle of blossom, and surveyed the landscape.
“He was running a rabbit the last I saw of him.”
“Wolf! Wolf! Here Wolf!” she called,
as they left the clearing and took the trail that led down
through the waxen-belled manzanita jungle to the county road.
Irvine thrust between his lips the little finger of each hand
and lent to her efforts a shrill whistling.
She covered her ears hastily and made a wry grimace.
“My! for a poet, delicately attuned and all the rest of
it, you can make unlovely noises. My ear-drums are
pierced. You outwhistle—”
“I was about to say a street-arab,” she concluded
“Poesy does not prevent one from being
practical—at least it doesn’t prevent
me. Mine is no futility of genius that can’t
sell gems to the magazines.”
He assumed a mock extravagance, and went on:
“I am no attic singer, no ballroom warbler. And
why? Because I am practical. Mine is no squalor of
song that cannot transmute itself, with proper exchange value,
into a flower-crowned cottage, a sweet mountain-meadow, a grove
of redwoods, an orchard of thirty-seven trees, one long row of
blackberries and two short rows of strawberries, to say nothing
of a quarter of a mile of gurgling brook. I am a
beauty-merchant, a trader in song, and I pursue utility, dear
Madge. I sing a song, and thanks to the magazine editors I
transmute my song into a waft of the west wind sighing through
our redwoods, into a murmur of waters over mossy stones that
sings back to me another song than the one I sang and yet the
same song wonderfully—er—transmuted.”
“O that all your song-transmutations were as
successful!” she laughed.
“Name one that wasn’t.”
“Those two beautiful sonnets that you transmuted into
the cow that was accounted the worst milker in the
“She was beautiful—” he began,
“But she didn’t give milk,” Madge
“But she was beautiful, now, wasn’t
she?” he insisted.
“And here’s where beauty and utility fall
out,” was her reply. “And there’s the
From the thicket-covered hillside came a crashing of
underbrush, and then, forty feet above them, on the edge of the
sheer wall of rock, appeared a wolf’s head and
shoulders. His braced fore paws dislodged a pebble, and
with sharp-pricked ears and peering eyes he watched the fall of
the pebble till it struck at their feet. Then he
transferred his gaze and with open mouth laughed down at
“You Wolf, you!” and “You blessed
Wolf!” the man and woman called out to him.
The ears flattened back and down at the sound, and the head
seemed to snuggle under the caress of an invisible hand.
They watched him scramble backward into the thicket, then
proceeded on their way. Several minutes later, rounding a
turn in the trail where the descent was less precipitous, he
joined them in the midst of a miniature avalanche of pebbles and
loose soil. He was not demonstrative. A pat and a rub
around the ears from the man, and a more prolonged caressing from
the woman, and he was away down the trail in front of them,
gliding effortlessly over the ground in true wolf fashion.
In build and coat and brush he was a huge timber-wolf; but the
lie was given to his wolfhood by his color and marking.
There the dog unmistakably advertised itself. No wolf was
ever colored like him. He was brown, deep brown, red-brown,
an orgy of browns. Back and shoulders were a warm brown
that paled on the sides and underneath to a yellow that was dingy
because of the brown that lingered in it. The white of the
throat and paws and the spots over the eyes was dirty because of
the persistent and ineradicable brown, while the eyes themselves
were twin topazes, golden and brown.
The man and woman loved the dog very much; perhaps this was
because it had been such a task to win his love. It had
been no easy matter when he first drifted in mysteriously out of
nowhere to their little mountain cottage. Footsore and
famished, he had killed a rabbit under their very noses and under
their very windows, and then crawled away and slept by the spring
at the foot of the blackberry bushes. When Walt Irvine went
down to inspect the intruder, he was snarled at for his pains,
and Madge likewise was snarled at when she went down to present,
as a peace-offering, a large pan of bread and milk.
A most unsociable dog he proved to be, resenting all their
advances, refusing to let them lay hands on him, menacing them
with bared fangs and bristling hair. Nevertheless he
remained, sleeping and resting by the spring, and eating the food
they gave him after they set it down at a safe distance and
retreated. His wretched physical condition explained why he
lingered; and when he had recuperated, after several days’
sojourn, he disappeared.
And this would have been the end of him, so far as Irvine and
his wife were concerned, had not Irvine at that particular time
been called away into the northern part of the state.
Riding along on the train, near to the line between California
and Oregon, he chanced to look out of the window and saw his
unsociable guest sliding along the wagon road, brown and wolfish,
tired yet tireless, dust-covered and soiled with two hundred
miles of travel.
Now Irvine was a man of impulse, a poet. He got off the
train at the next station, bought a piece of meat at a butcher
shop, and captured the vagrant on the outskirts of the
town. The return trip was made in the baggage car, and so
Wolf came a second time to the mountain cottage. Here he
was tied up for a week and made love to by the man and
woman. But it was very circumspect love-making.
Remote and alien as a traveller from another planet, he snarled
down their soft-spoken love-words. He never barked.
In all the time they had him he was never known to bark.
To win him became a problem. Irvine liked
problems. He had a metal plate made, on which was
stamped: Return to Walt Irvine,
Glen Ellen, Sonoma
County, California. This
was riveted to a collar and strapped about the dog’s
neck. Then he was turned loose, and promptly he
disappeared. A day later came a telegram from Mendocino
County. In twenty hours he had made over a hundred miles to
the north, and was still going when captured.
He came back by Wells Fargo Express, was tied up three days,
and was loosed on the fourth and lost. This time he gained
southern Oregon before he was caught and returned. Always,
as soon as he received his liberty, he fled away, and always he
fled north. He was possessed of an obsession that drove him
north. The homing instinct, Irvine called it, after he had
expended the selling price of a sonnet in getting the animal back
from northern Oregon.
Another time the brown wanderer succeeded in traversing half
the length of California, all of Oregon, and most of Washington,
before he was picked up and returned “Collect.”
A remarkable thing was the speed with which he travelled.
Fed up and rested, as soon as he was loosed he devoted all his
energy to getting over the ground. On the first day’s
run he was known to cover as high as a hundred and fifty miles,
and after that he would average a hundred miles a day until
caught. He always arrived back lean and hungry and savage,
and always departed fresh and vigorous, cleaving his way
northward in response to some prompting of his being that no one
But at last, after a futile year of flight, he accepted the
inevitable and elected to remain at the cottage where first he
had killed the rabbit and slept by the spring. Even after
that, a long time elapsed before the man and woman succeeded in
patting him. It was a great victory, for they alone were
allowed to put hands on him. He was fastidiously exclusive,
and no guest at the cottage ever succeeded in making up to
him. A low growl greeted such approach; if any one had the
hardihood to come nearer, the lips lifted, the naked fangs
appeared, and the growl became a snarl—a snarl so terrible
and malignant that it awed the stoutest of them, as it likewise
awed the farmers’ dogs that knew ordinary dog-snarling, but
had never seen wolf-snarling before.
He was without antecedents. His history began with Walt
and Madge. He had come up from the south, but never a clew
did they get of the owner from whom he had evidently fled.
Mrs. Johnson, their nearest neighbor and the one who supplied
them with milk, proclaimed him a Klondike dog. Her brother
was burrowing for frozen pay-streaks in that far country, and so
she constituted herself an authority on the subject.
But they did not dispute her. There were the tips of
Wolf’s ears, obviously so severely frozen at some time that
they would never quite heal again. Besides, he looked like
the photographs of the Alaskan dogs they saw published in
magazines and newspapers. They often speculated over his
past, and tried to conjure up (from what they had read and heard)
what his northland life had been. That the northland still
drew him, they knew; for at night they sometimes heard him crying
softly; and when the north wind blew and the bite of frost was in
the air, a great restlessness would come upon him and he would
lift a mournful lament which they knew to be the long
wolf-howl. Yet he never barked. No provocation was
great enough to draw from him that canine cry.
Long discussion they had, during the time of winning him, as
to whose dog he was. Each claimed him, and each proclaimed
loudly any expression of affection made by him. But the man
had the better of it at first, chiefly because he was a
man. It was patent that Wolf had had no experience with
women. He did not understand women. Madge’s
skirts were something he never quite accepted. The swish of
them was enough to set him a-bristle with suspicion, and on a
windy day she could not approach him at all.
On the other hand, it was Madge who fed him; also it was she
who ruled the kitchen, and it was by her favor, and her favor
alone, that he was permitted to come within that sacred
precinct. It was because of these things that she bade fair
to overcome the handicap of her garments. Then it was that
Walt put forth special effort, making it a practice to have Wolf
lie at his feet while he wrote, and, between petting and talking,
losing much time from his work. Walt won in the end, and
his victory was most probably due to the fact that he was a man,
though Madge averred that they would have had another quarter of
a mile of gurgling brook, and at least two west winds sighing
through their redwoods, had Wait properly devoted his energies to
song-transmutation and left Wolf alone to exercise a natural
taste and an unbiassed judgment.
“It’s about time I heard from those
triolets,” Walt said, after a silence of five minutes,
during which they had swung steadily down the trail.
“There’ll be a check at the post-office, I know, and
we’ll transmute it into beautiful buckwheat flour, a gallon
of maple syrup, and a new pair of overshoes for you.”
“And into beautiful milk from Mrs. Johnson’s
beautiful cow,” Madge added. “To-morrow’s
the first of the month, you know.”
Walt scowled unconsciously; then his face brightened, and he
clapped his hand to his breast pocket.
“Never mind. I have here a nice beautiful new cow,
the best milker in California.”
“When did you write it?” she demanded
eagerly. Then, reproachfully, “And you never showed
it to me.”
“I saved it to read to you on the way to the
post-office, in a spot remarkably like this one,” he
answered, indicating, with a wave of his hand, a dry log on which
A tiny stream flowed out of a dense fern-brake, slipped down a
mossy-lipped stone, and ran across the path at their feet.
From the valley arose the mellow song of meadow-larks, while
about them, in and out, through sunshine and shadow, fluttered
great yellow butterflies.
Up from below came another sound that broke in upon Walt
reading softly from his manuscript. It was a crunching of
heavy feet, punctuated now and again by the clattering of a
displaced stone. As Walt finished and looked to his wife
for approval, a man came into view around the turn of the
trail. He was bare-headed and sweaty. With a
handkerchief in one hand he mopped his face, while in the other
hand he carried a new hat and a wilted starched collar which he
had removed from his neck. He was a well-built man, and his
muscles seemed on the point of bursting out of the painfully new
and ready-made black clothes he wore.
“Warm day,” Walt greeted him. Walt believed
in country democracy, and never missed an opportunity to practise
The man paused and nodded.
“I guess I ain’t used much to the warm,” he
vouchsafed half apologetically. “I’m more
accustomed to zero weather.”
“You don’t find any of that in this
country,” Walt laughed.
“Should say not,” the man answered.
“An’ I ain’t here a-lookin’ for it
neither. I’m tryin’ to find my sister.
Mebbe you know where she lives. Her name’s Johnson,
Mrs. William Johnson.”
“You’re not her Klondike brother!” Madge
cried, her eyes bright with interest, “about whom
we’ve heard so much?”
“Yes’m, that’s me,” he answered
modestly. “My name’s Miller, Skiff
Miller. I just thought I’d s’prise
“You are on the right track then. Only
you’ve come by the foot-path.” Madge stood up
to direct him, pointing up the canyon a quarter of a mile.
“You see that blasted redwood? Take the little trail
turning off to the right. It’s the short cut to her
house. You can’t miss it.”
“Yes’m, thank you, ma’am,” he
said. He made tentative efforts to go, but seemed awkwardly
rooted to the spot. He was gazing at her with an open
admiration of which he was quite unconscious, and which was
drowning, along with him, in the rising sea of embarrassment in
which he floundered.
“We’d like to hear you tell about the
Klondike,” Madge said. “Mayn’t we come
over some day while you are at your sister’s? Or,
better yet, won’t you come over and have dinner with
“Yes’m, thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled
mechanically. Then he caught himself up and added:
“I ain’t stoppin’ long. I got to be
pullin’ north again. I go out on to-night’s
train. You see, I’ve got a mail contract with the
When Madge had said that it was too bad, he made another
futile effort to go. But he could not take his eyes from
her face. He forgot his embarrassment in his admiration,
and it was her turn to flush and feel uncomfortable.
It was at this juncture, when Walt had just decided it was
time for him to be saying something to relieve the strain, that
Wolf, who had been away nosing through the brush, trotted
wolf-like into view.
Skiff Miller’s abstraction disappeared. The pretty
woman before him passed out of his field of vision. He had
eyes only for the dog, and a great wonder came into his face.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he enunciated slowly
He sat down ponderingly on the log, leaving Madge
standing. At the sound of his voice, Wolf’s ears had
flattened down, then his mouth had opened in a laugh. He
trotted slowly up to the stranger and first smelled his hands,
then licked them with his tongue.
Skiff Miller patted the dog’s head, and slowly and
solemnly repeated, “Well, I’ll be damned!”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said the next moment
“I was just s’prised some, that was all.”
“We’re surprised, too,” she answered
lightly. “We never saw Wolf make up to a stranger
“Is that what you call him—Wolf?” the man
Madge nodded. “But I can’t understand his
friendliness toward you—unless it’s because
you’re from the Klondike. He’s a Klondike dog,
“Yes’m,” Miller said absently. He
lifted one of Wolf’s fore legs and examined the foot-pads,
pressing them and denting them with his thumb. “Kind
of soft,” he remarked. “He ain’t been on
trail for a long time.”
“I say,” Walt broke in, “it is remarkable
the way he lets you handle him.”
Skiff Miller arose, no longer awkward with admiration of
Madge, and in a sharp, businesslike manner asked, “How long
have you had him?”
But just then the dog, squirming and rubbing against the
newcomer’s legs, opened his mouth and barked. It was
an explosive bark, brief and joyous, but a bark.
“That’s a new one on me,” Skiff Miller
Walt and Madge stared at each other. The miracle had
happened. Wolf had barked.
“It’s the first time he ever barked,” Madge
“First time I ever heard him, too,” Miller
Madge smiled at him. The man was evidently a
“Of course,” she said, “since you have only
seen him for five minutes.”
Skiff Miller looked at her sharply, seeking in her face the
guile her words had led him to suspect.
“I thought you understood,” he said slowly.
“I thought you’d tumbled to it from his makin’
up to me. He’s my dog. His name ain’t
Wolf. It’s Brown.”
“Oh, Walt!” was Madge’s instinctive cry to
Walt was on the defensive at once.
“How do you know he’s your dog?” he
“Because he is,” was the reply.
“Mere assertion,” Walt said sharply.
In his slow and pondering way, Skiff Miller looked at him,
then asked, with a nod of his head toward Madge:
“How d’you know she’s your wife? You
just say, ‘Because she is,’ and I’ll say
it’s mere assertion. The dog’s mine. I
bred ’m an’ raised ’m, an’ I guess I
ought to know. Look here. I’ll prove it to
Skiff Miller turned to the dog.
“Brown!” His voice rang out sharply, and at the
sound the dog’s ears flattened down as to a caress.
“Gee!” The dog made a swinging turn to the
right. “Now mush-on!” And the dog ceased
his swing abruptly and started straight ahead, halting obediently
“I can do it with whistles,” Skiff Miller said
proudly. “He was my lead dog.”
“But you are not going to take him away with you?”
Madge asked tremulously.
The man nodded.
“Back into that awful Klondike world of
He nodded and added: “Oh, it ain’t so bad as
all that. Look at me. Pretty healthy specimen,
“But the dogs! The terrible hardship, the
heart-breaking toil, the starvation, the frost! Oh,
I’ve read about it and I know.”
“I nearly ate him once, over on Little Fish
River,” Miller volunteered grimly. “If I
hadn’t got a moose that day was all that saved
“I’d have died first!” Madge cried.
“Things is different down here,” Miller
explained. “You don’t have to eat dogs.
You think different just about the time you’re all
in. You’ve never ben all in, so you don’t know
anything about it.”
“That’s the very point,” she argued
warmly. “Dogs are not eaten in California. Why
not leave him here? He is happy. He’ll never
want for food—you know that. He’ll never suffer
from cold and hardship. Here all is softness and
gentleness. Neither the human nor nature is savage.
He will never know a whip-lash again. And as for the
weather—why, it never snows here.”
“But it’s all-fired hot in summer, beggin’
your pardon,” Skiff Miller laughed.
“But you do not answer,” Madge continued
passionately. “What have you to offer him in that
“Grub, when I’ve got it, and that’s most of
the time,” came the answer.
“And the rest of the time?”
“And the work?”
“Yes, plenty of work,” Miller blurted out
impatiently. “Work without end, an’ famine,
an’ frost, an all the rest of the
miseries—that’s what he’ll get when he comes
with me. But he likes it. He is used to it. He
knows that life. He was born to it an’ brought up to
it. An’ you don’t know anything about it.
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
That’s where the dog belongs, and that’s where
he’ll be happiest.”
“The dog doesn’t go,” Walt announced in a
determined voice. “So there is no need of further
“What’s that?” Skiff Miller demanded, his
brows lowering and an obstinate flush of blood reddening his
“I said the dog doesn’t go, and that settles
it. I don’t believe he’s your dog. You
may have seen him sometime. You may even sometime have
driven him for his owner. But his obeying the ordinary
driving commands of the Alaskan trail is no demonstration that he
is yours. Any dog in Alaska would obey you as he
obeyed. Besides, he is undoubtedly a valuable dog, as dogs
go in Alaska, and that is sufficient explanation of your desire
to get possession of him. Anyway, you’ve got to prove
Skiff Miller, cool and collected, the obstinate flush a trifle
deeper on his forehead, his huge muscles bulging under the black
cloth of his coat, carefully looked the poet up and down as
though measuring the strength of his slenderness.
The Klondiker’s face took on a contemptuous expression
as he said finally, “I reckon there’s nothin’
in sight to prevent me takin’ the dog right here an’
Walt’s face reddened, and the striking-muscles of his
arms and shoulders seemed to stiffen and grow tense. His
wife fluttered apprehensively into the breach.
“Maybe Mr. Miller is right,” she said.
“I am afraid that he is. Wolf does seem to know him,
and certainly he answers to the name of
‘Brown.’ He made friends with him instantly,
and you know that’s something he never did with anybody
before. Besides, look at the way he barked. He was
just bursting with joy. Joy over what? Without doubt
at finding Mr. Miller.”
Walt’s striking-muscles relaxed, and his shoulders
seemed to droop with hopelessness.
“I guess you’re right, Madge,” he
said. “Wolf isn’t Wolf, but Brown, and he must
belong to Mr. Miller.”
“Perhaps Mr. Miller will sell him,” she
suggested. “We can buy him.”
Skiff Miller shook his head, no longer belligerent, but
kindly, quick to be generous in response to generousness.
“I had five dogs,” he said, casting about for the
easiest way to temper his refusal. “He was the
leader. They was the crack team of Alaska.
Nothin’ could touch ’em. In 1898 I refused five
thousand dollars for the bunch. Dogs was high, then,
anyway; but that wasn’t what made the fancy price. It
was the team itself. Brown was the best in the team.
That winter I refused twelve hundred for ’m. I
didn’t sell ’m then, an’ I ain’t
a-sellin’ ’m now. Besides, I think a mighty lot
of that dog. I’ve ben lookin’ for ’m for
three years. It made me fair sick when I found he’d
ben stole—not the value of him, but the—well, I liked
’m like hell, that’s all, beggin’ your
pardon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I seen
’m just now. I thought I was dreamin’. It
was too good to be true. Why, I was his wet-nurse. I
put ’m to bed, snug every night. His mother died, and
I brought ’m up on condensed milk at two dollars a can when
I couldn’t afford it in my own coffee. He never knew
any mother but me. He used to suck my finger regular, the
darn little cuss—that finger right there!”
And Skiff Miller, too overwrought for speech, held up a fore
finger for them to see.
“That very finger,” he managed to articulate, as
though it somehow clinched the proof of ownership and the bond of
He was still gazing at his extended finger when Madge began to
“But the dog,” she said. “You
haven’t considered the dog.”
Skiff Miller looked puzzled.
“Have you thought about him?” she asked.
“Don’t know what you’re drivin’
at,” was the response.
“Maybe the dog has some choice in the matter,”
Madge went on. “Maybe he has his likes and
desires. You have not considered him. You give him no
choice. It has never entered your mind that possibly he
might prefer California to Alaska. You consider only what
you like. You do with him as you would with a sack of
potatoes or a bale of hay.”
This was a new way of looking at it, and Miller was visibly
impressed as he debated it in his mind. Madge took
advantage of his indecision.
“If you really love him, what would be happiness to him
would be your happiness also,” she urged.
Skiff Miller continued to debate with himself, and Madge stole
a glance of exultation to her husband, who looked back warm
“What do you think?” the Klondiker suddenly
It was her turn to be puzzled. “What do you
mean?” she asked.
“D’ye think he’d sooner stay in
She nodded her head with positiveness. “I am sure
Skiff Miller again debated with himself, though this time
aloud, at the same time running his gaze in a judicial way over
the mooted animal.
“He was a good worker. He’s done a heap of
work for me. He never loafed on me, an’ he was a
joe-dandy at hammerin’ a raw team into shape.
He’s got a head on him. He can do everything but
talk. He knows what you say to him. Look at ’m
now. He knows we’re talkin’ about
The dog was lying at Skiff Miller’s feet, head close
down on paws, ears erect and listening, and eyes that were quick
and eager to follow the sound of speech as it fell from the lips
of first one and then the other.
“An’ there’s a lot of work in ’m
yet. He’s good for years to come. An’ I
do like him. I like him like hell.”
Once or twice after that Skiff Miller opened his mouth and
closed it again without speaking. Finally he said:
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Your
remarks, ma’am, has some weight in them. The
dog’s worked hard, and maybe he’s earned a soft berth
an’ has got a right to choose. Anyway, we’ll
leave it up to him. Whatever he says, goes. You
people stay right here settin’ down. I’ll say
good-by and walk off casual-like. If he wants to stay, he
can stay. If he wants to come with me, let ’m
come. I won’t call ’m to come an’
don’t you call ’m to come back.”
He looked with sudden suspicion at Madge, and added,
“Only you must play fair. No persuadin’ after
my back is turned.”
“We’ll play fair,” Madge began, but Skiff
Miller broke in on her assurances.
“I know the ways of women,” he announced.
“Their hearts is soft. When their hearts is touched
they’re likely to stack the cards, look at the bottom of
the deck, an’ lie like the devil—beggin’ your
pardon, ma’am. I’m only discoursin’ about
women in general.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Madge
“I don’t see as you’ve got any call to thank
me,” he replied. “Brown ain’t decided
yet. Now you won’t mind if I go away slow?
It’s no more’n fair, seein’ I’ll be out
of sight inside a hundred yards.”—Madge agreed, and
added, “And I promise you faithfully that we won’t do
anything to influence him.”
“Well, then, I might as well be gettin’
along,” Skiff Miller said in the ordinary tones of one
At this change in his voice, Wolf lifted his head quickly, and
still more quickly got to his feet when the man and woman shook
hands. He sprang up on his hind legs, resting his fore paws
on her hip and at the same time licking Skiff Miller’s
hand. When the latter shook hands with Walt, Wolf repeated
his act, resting his weight on Walt and licking both men’s
“It ain’t no picnic, I can tell you that,”
were the Klondiker’s last words, as he turned and went
slowly up the trail.
For the distance of twenty feet Wolf watched him go, himself
all eagerness and expectancy, as though waiting for the man to
turn and retrace his steps. Then, with a quick low whine,
Wolf sprang after him, overtook him, caught his hand between his
teeth with reluctant tenderness, and strove gently to make him
Failing in this, Wolf raced back to where Walt Irvine sat,
catching his coat-sleeve in his teeth and trying vainly to drag
him after the retreating man.
Wolf’s perturbation began to wax. He desired
ubiquity. He wanted to be in two places at the same time,
with the old master and the new, and steadily the distance
between them was increasing. He sprang about excitedly,
making short nervous leaps and twists, now toward one, now toward
the other, in painful indecision, not knowing his own mind,
desiring both and unable to choose, uttering quick sharp whines
and beginning to pant.
He sat down abruptly on his haunches, thrusting his nose
upward, the mouth opening and closing with jerking movements,
each time opening wider. These jerking movements were in
unison with the recurrent spasms that attacked the throat, each
spasm severer and more intense than the preceding one. And
in accord with jerks and spasms the larynx began to vibrate, at
first silently, accompanied by the rush of air expelled from the
lungs, then sounding a low, deep note, the lowest in the register
of the human ear. All this was the nervous and muscular
preliminary to howling.
But just as the howl was on the verge of bursting from the
full throat, the wide-opened mouth was closed, the paroxysms
ceased, and he looked long and steadily at the retreating
man. Suddenly Wolf turned his head, and over his shoulder
just as steadily regarded Walt. The appeal was
unanswered. Not a word nor a sign did the dog receive, no
suggestion and no clew as to what his conduct should be.
A glance ahead to where the old master was nearing the curve
of the trail excited him again. He sprang to his feet with
a whine, and then, struck by a new idea, turned his attention to
Madge. Hitherto he had ignored her, but now, both masters
failing him, she alone was left. He went over to her and
snuggled his head in her lap, nudging her arm with his
nose—an old trick of his when begging for favors. He
backed away from her and began writhing and twisting playfully,
curvetting and prancing, half rearing and striking his fore paws
to the earth, struggling with all his body, from the wheedling
eyes and flattening ears to the wagging tail, to express the
thought that was in him and that was denied him utterance.
This, too, he soon abandoned. He was depressed by the
coldness of these humans who had never been cold before. No
response could he draw from them, no help could he get.
They did not consider him. They were as dead.
He turned and silently gazed after the old master. Skiff
Miller was rounding the curve. In a moment he would be gone
from view. Yet he never turned his head, plodding straight
onward, slowly and methodically, as though possessed of no
interest in what was occurring behind his back.
And in this fashion he went out of view. Wolf waited for
him to reappear. He waited a long minute, silently,
quietly, without movement, as though turned to stone—withal
stone quick with eagerness and desire. He barked once, and
waited. Then he turned and trotted back to Walt
Irvine. He sniffed his hand and dropped down heavily at his
feet, watching the trail where it curved emptily from view.
The tiny stream slipping down the mossy-lipped stone seemed
suddenly to increase the volume of its gurgling noise. Save
for the meadow-larks, there was no other sound. The great
yellow butterflies drifted silently through the sunshine and lost
themselves in the drowsy shadows. Madge gazed triumphantly
at her husband.
A few minutes later Wolf got upon his feet. Decision and
deliberation marked his movements. He did not glance at the
man and woman. His eyes were fixed up the trail. He
had made up his mind. They knew it. And they knew, so
far as they were concerned, that the ordeal had just begun.
He broke into a trot, and Madge’s lips pursed, forming
an avenue for the caressing sound that it was the will of her to
send forth. But the caressing sound was not made. She
was impelled to look at her husband, and she saw the sternness
with which he watched her. The pursed lips relaxed, and she
Wolf’s trot broke into a run. Wider and wider were
the leaps he made. Not once did he turn his head, his
wolf’s brush standing out straight behind him. He cut
sharply across the curve of the trail and was gone.