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
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
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
A short distance up the mountain, clear in the light of the
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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,
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
"Johnson was here, eh? I'd know that check anywhere. The thief! What
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,
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