The Forbidden North,

the Story of A Great Dane Puppy

by Mrs. Honoré Willsie

One hot morning, a year or so ago, an Uncle Tom's Cabin Company arrived in a small Arizona town. On the platform of the blistered station the members of the company learned that the hall in which they were to play had just burned to the ground. That was the last straw for the company. They were without money; they stood, disconsolately staring at the train, which waited for half an hour while the tourists ate breakfast in the lunchroom of the station.

The stage-manager held in leash three dogs—the dogs that the bill-posters displayed as ferocious bloodhounds, pursuing Eliza across the ice. As a matter of fact, Coburg and Hilda were two well-bred, well-trained Great Danes. The third dog, Saxe Gotha, a puppy of ten months, was their son.

A well-dressed tourist eyed the dogs intensely; finally, he came up and felt them over with the hand of the dog-fancier.

"Give me fifty dollars for the three of them!" said the manager suddenly.

The stranger stared at the manager suspiciously. Fifty dollars was a low price for such dogs. The stranger did not believe that so poor a company could have come by them honestly. However, he shrugged his shoulders and drew a roll of bills from his pocket.

"All right," he said. "Only I don't want the pup. He's bad with distemper. I haven't time to fuss with him."

The manager in turn shrugged his shoulders, took the fifty dollars, and, while the new owner led Coburg and Hilda toward the baggage-car of the train, the Uncle Tom's Cabin Company boarded the day coach.

Thus it happened that a thorough-bred Great Dane puppy, whose father and mother had been born in the soft green dusk of a German forest—a young boarhound—was left to fight for his sick life on the parching sands of an alien desert.

There had been no need to tie Saxe Gotha. When the puppy had started down the platform after his father and mother, the manager had given him a hasty kick and a "Get back, you!" Saxe Gotha sat down on his haunches, panting in the burning sun, and stared after the receding train with the tragic look of understanding common to his kind. Yet, in his eyes there was less regret than fear. The Dane is a "one-man dog." If he is given freedom of choice, he chooses for master a man to whom he gives his heart. Other men may own him; no other man except this choice of his heart ever wins his love. Saxe Gotha had yet to find his man.

The station-master started toward the dog, but Saxe Gotha did not heed him. He rose and trotted toward the north, through the little town, quite as if he had business in that direction. The pup was not handsome at this period of his life. He was marked like a tiger with tawny and gray stripes. His feet and his head looked too large for him, and his long back seemed to sag with the weight of his stomach. But, even to the most ignorant observer, he gave promise of distinction, of superb size, and strength, and intelligence.

At the edge of the little town, Saxe Gotha buried his feverish head in the watering-trough at the Wrenn rancho, drank till his sides swelled visibly, then started on along the trail with his business-like puppy trot. When he got out into the open desert, which stretched thirty miles wide from the river range to the Hualpai, and one hundred miles long from the railway to the Colorado River, he found the northern trail with no apparent difficulty.... Saxe Gotha was headed for the north, for the cool, sweet depth of forest that was his natural home.

He took fairly good care of himself. At intervals he dropped in the shade of a joshua-tree, and, after struggling to bite the cholla thorns from his feet, he would doze for a few minutes, then start on again. His distemper was easier in the sun, although his fever and the desert heat soon evaporated the moisture that he had absorbed at the Wrenn's.

About three o'clock he stopped, wrinkled his black muzzle, and raised his finely domed head. The trail now lay along the foot of the Hualpai. He turned abruptly to the right, off the main trail, and trotted into a little cañon. On the other side of a rock that hid it from the main trail was Jim Baldwin's tent. Jim came to the door, at the sound of Saxe Gotha drinking up his little spring. Jim was a lover of dogs. He did not know Saxe Gotha's breed, but he did recognize his promise of distinction.

"Howdy, old man!" said Jim. "Have a can of beef!"

Saxe Gotha responded to the greeting with a puppy gambol, and devoured the beef with gusto. Jim went into the tent for a rope. When he returned, the pup was a receding dot on the north trail.

About four o'clock, the tri-weekly stage from the Happy Luck camp met Saxe Gotha. Dick Furman, the driver, stopped the panting horses and invited the huge puppy to ride with him. Saxe Gotha wriggled, chased his tail round once with a bark like the booming of a town clock, and with this exchange of courtesies Dick drove on southward, and the pup continued on his way to the north.

As darkness came on, he slowed his pace, paused and sniffed, and again turned off the main trail to a rough path up the side of the mountain. Before a silent hut of adobe, he found a half-barrel of water. Saxe Gotha rose on his hind legs, thrust his nose into the barrel and drank lustily. Then he stood rigid, with uncropped ears lifted and nose thrust upward, sniffing. After a minute he whined. The business to the north was pressing; the pup did not want to stop; yet he still stood, listening, sniffing. At last, he started back to the main trail; when he reached it, he stopped once more, and once more sniffed and listened and whined; then he deliberately turned back to the silent hut, and trotted along the narrow trail that led up behind it to the west.

A short distance up the mountain, clear in the light of the moon, a tiny spring bubbled out of the ground, forming a pool the size of a wash-basin. A man lay beside the pool. Saxe Gotha walked up to him, whining, and then walked round and round him, sniffing him from head to foot. He licked his face and pawed at his shoulder with his clumsy paw. But the man lay in the heavy slumber of utter exhaustion. He was a tall, lean, strong young fellow, in his early twenties. His empty canteen, his pick and bar beside him, with a sack of ore, showed that he was just back from a prospecting trip. He had evidently run short of water and, after a forced march to the spring, where he had relieved his thirst, had dropped asleep on the spot.

At last Saxe Gotha lay down with his nose on the young man's shoulder, and his brown eyes were alert in the moonlight. Saxe Gotha had found his man!

Saxe Gotha had found his man! A discovery as important as that, of course, delayed the journey toward the north. All through the desert night the Great Dane pup lay shivering beside his man. What he saw beyond the silent desert, what vision of giant tree trunks, gray-green against an age-old turf, lured his exiled heart we cannot know. To understand what sudden fealty to the heedless form he guarded forbade him his north would solve the riddle of love itself.

Little by little the stars faded. At last dawn lighted the face of the sleeping man; he stirred, and suddenly sat up. Saxe Gotha bounded to his feet with a bark of joy. Startled, the young man jumped up, staggering with weakness, and scowled when he saw the big puppy chasing his tail. Hunger and a guilty conscience are richly productive of vicious moods. Saxe Gotha's man picked up a rock and hurled it at him.

"Git! You blamed hound, you!"

In utter astonishment, Saxe Gotha paused in his joyous barking, and stood staring at the young fellow's sullen face. It was unbelievable! The young man did not in the least realize that he had been found! And yet, despite the eyes inflamed by the glare of the desert, his face was an intelligent one, with good features. He glared at the pup, and then walked weakly down the trail to his hut. Saxe Gotha followed, and sat on his haunches before the door, waiting. After a long time, the young man came out, washed and shaved, and with fresh clothes. He picked up his sack of ore, and as he did so, a haunted look came into his gray eyes. Such a look on so young a face might have told Saxe Gotha that the desert is bad for youth. But Saxe Gotha would not have cared. He kept his distance warily and wagged his tail. When the young man's glance fell on the dog, he saw him as something living on which to vent his own sense of guilt. Again he threw a stone at Saxe Gotha.

"Get out! Go back where you belong!"

The pup dodged, and stood waiting. Strangely dense his man was! The young man did not look at him again, but fell to sorting samples of ore. Certain tiny pieces he gloated over as he found them, and he put them in a sack that he hid behind the door.

Now, Saxe Gotha never meant to do it, but he was young, and his distemper made him very ill, and he had not slept all night. When he saw his man safely absorbed in his work, he curled up in the shade of a rock and went off into the heavy sleep of a sick dog.

When he awoke, his man was gone! Saxe Gotha ran round and round through the adobe. The house was thick with scents of him, but whither he had gone was not to be told, for desert sands hold no scents. On the door-step lay an old vest of the man's. The dog sat down on this, and lifted his voice in a howl of anguish. There was only one thing to do, of course—wait for the man's return.

All day Saxe Gotha waited. He drank deeply from the barrel of water, but he went without food, although the remains of the young man's breakfast lay on the table. It was not in Saxe Gotha's breed to steal. All day and all night he waited. Now and again, he lifted his great voice in grief. With his face to that north which he had forbidden himself to seek, even though he was but a dog, he might have been youth mourning its perennial discovery that duty and desire do not always go hand in hand. Saxe Gotha might have been all the courage, all the loneliness, all the grief of youth, disillusioned.

The morning of the second day, a man rode up the trail. He was not Saxe Gotha's man. He dismounted, and called, "Hey, Evans!"

Saxe Gotha, a little unsteady on his legs, sat on his haunches and growled.

"Where's your boss, pup?" asked the man. "I didn't know he had a dog."

Saxe Gotha growled.

"Humph!" said the man. "Off stealing ore again, I suppose."

The stranger prowled round the outside of the hut, and then came to the door.

"Get out of the way, dog! I'm going to find out where this rich claim is that he's finding free gold in. He's a thief, anyhow, not to report it to his company."

As he put his foot on the door-step, Saxe Gotha snapped at him. The stranger jumped back.

"You brute hound!" he cried. "What do you mean? If I had a gun, I'd shoot you!"

Saxe Gotha's anger gave him strength to rise. He stood lurching; his lips were drawn back over his fangs, his ears were flat to his head. The stranger walked back a few steps.

"He must weigh nearly a hundred pounds!" he muttered. "Come on, old pup. Here, have some of my snack! Here's a piece of corned beef! Come on, old fellow!"

Cajolery and threats were alike futile. Saxe Gotha was guarding for his man. After a while the dog's dumb fury maddened the stranger. He began to hurl rocks at the pup. At first the shots were harmless; then a jagged piece of ore caught the dog on the cheek and laid it open, and another slashed his back. With the snarl of a tiger, Saxe Gotha made a leap from the door at the stranger's throat. The man screamed, and jumped for his horse so hastily that Saxe Gotha caught only the shoulder of his coat and ripped the back out of the garment. Before the pup could gather his weakened body for another charge, the stranger was mounted. He whipped his snorting horse down the trail, and disappeared.

Saxe Gotha feebly worried at the torn coat, then dragged himself back to the door and lay down on the vest, too weak to lick his wounds. The rest of the morning he lay quiet. At noon he suddenly opened his eyes. His ears pricked forward, and his tail beat feebly on the floor. His man rode up. He had a sack of fresh supplies thrown across his saddle. He turned his horse into the corral, then came toward the hut. The vicious mood seemed still to be with him.

"You still here?" he growled.

Then he caught sight of the piece of cloth, picked it up, and looked at the mauled and blood-stained muck on it. He stared at Saxe Gotha curiously.

"Johnson was here, eh? I'd know that check anywhere. The thief! What happened?"

As Evans came up, Saxe Gotha tried to give the old gambol of joy, but succeeded only in falling heavily. The young fellow strode into the hut, and walked slowly about. The sack of nuggets was still behind the door. The map that he had long ago prepared for the company for which he was investigating mines still lay covered with dust. On the table were the hunk of bacon, the fried potatoes, the dry bread. A number of jagged rocks were scattered on the floor. The dog was bloody.

Slowly young Evans turned his whole attention to Saxe Gotha, who lay watching him with passionate intentness. Evans took a handful of raw potato skins from the table and offered them to the pup. Saxe Gotha snatched at them and swallowed them as if frenzied with hunger. Evans looked at the food on the table, then at the famished, emaciated dog. He stood gripping the edge of the table and staring out at the desert. A slow red came up from his neck and crossed his face; it seemed a magic red, for it wiped the vicious lines from his face and left it boyish and shamed. Suddenly his lips trembled. He dropped down in the doorway and ran his hand gently along the pup's sensitive back. His bloodshot eyes were blinded with tears.

"Old man," he whispered to Saxe Gotha, "I wasn't worth it!"

The dog looked up into the young man's face with an expression eager and questioning. And then, summoning all his feeble strength, he crowded his long, awkward body into the young man's lap....

After a moment he set Saxe Gotha on the floor and fed him a can of evaporated milk, carefully warmed, with bits of freshly fried bacon in it. He washed out the dog's cuts, then put him to bed in his own bunk. All that afternoon, while the dog slept, Evans paced the hut, fighting his fight. And, like all solitary desert-dwellers, he talked aloud....

"They promised to pay me regularly, to raise me, to give me a job in the home office after a year. It's been two years now. Yes, I know, I made some promises. I was to report all finds and turn in all valuable ore to them. But they haven't treated me right."

Then he turned to the sleeping dog, and his face softened.

"Wouldn't that beat you, his not eating the stuff on the table! Goodness knows I'd treated him badly enough! It seems as if even a dog might have a sense of honor; as if it didn't matter what I was, the fool pup had to keep straight with himself; as if—"

Suddenly Evans stopped and gulped. Again came the slow, agonizing blush. For a long time he stood in silence. Finally, he squared his shoulders and moistened his lips.

"I can send the maps and what ore I have left by stage tomorrow. But it will take another year to get the whole thing straightened up, and get them paid back—another year of loneliness, and sand-storms, and sweltering. No snowy Christmas or green spring or the smell of burning leaves in the fall this year for me. I guess the pup will stay by me, though."

As if he realized that there was need of him, Saxe Gotha woke, and ambled over to the man's side. Evans sat down in the door, and the dog squatted beside him. Evans turned, took the dog's great head between his hands, and looked into the limpid eyes.

"I guess, old man, that there are more ways than one of making a success of yourself, and money-making is the least of them."

In Evans's eyes were the loneliness and grief of disappointed youth. But the rest of his face once more was clear and boyish with the wonderful courage of the young.

Saxe Gotha pawed Evans's knee wistfully. Perhaps across the stillness of the desert he caught the baying of the hunting pack in some distant, rain-drenched woodland. Yet he would not go. The dog leaned warmly against his man, who slid an arm across the tawny back. Then, with faces to their forbidden north, man and dog watched the desert night advance.