ROBBED once of the joys of parenthood by the murder on the Sun Rock, both Gray Wolf and Kazan were different from what they would have been had the big gray lynx not come into their lives at that time. As if it were but yesterday they remembered the moonlit night when the lynx brought blindness to Gray Wolf and destroyed her young, and when Kazan had avenged himself and his mate in his terrible fight to the death with their enemy. And now, with that soft little handful of life snuggling close up against her, Gray Wolf saw through her blind eyes the tragic picture of that night more vividly than ever and she quivered at every sound, ready to leap in the face of an unseen foe, to rend all flesh that was not the flesh of Kazan. And ceaselessly, the slightest sound bringing him to his feet, Kazan watched and guarded. He mistrusted the moving shadows. The snapping of a twig drew back his upper lip. His fangs gleamed menacingly when the soft air brought a strange scent. In him, too, the memory of the Sun Rock, the death of their first young and the blinding of Gray Wolf had given birth to a new instinct. Not for an instant was he off his guard. As surely as one expects the sun to rise so did he expect that sooner or later their deadly enemy would creep on them from out of the forest. In another hour such as this the lynx had brought death. The lynx had brought blindness. And so day and night he waited and watched for the lynx to come again. And woe unto any other creature of flesh and blood that dared approach the windfall in these first days of Gray Wolf’s motherhood!
But peace had spread its wings of sunshine and plenty over the swamp. There were no intruders, unless the noisy whisky jacks, the big-eyed moosebirds, the chattering bush sparrows, and the wood mice and ermine could be called such. After the first day or two Kazan went more frequently into the windfall, and though more than once he nosed searchingly about Gray Wolf he could find only the one little pup. A little farther west the Dog-Ribs would have called the pup Baree for two reasons–because he had no brothers or sisters, and because he was a mixture of dog and wolf. He was a sleek and lively little fellow from the beginning, for there was no division of mother strength and attention. He developed with the true swiftness of the wolf whelp, and not with the slowness of the dog pup.
For three days he was satisfied to cuddle close against his mother, feeding when he was hungry, sleeping a great deal and preened and laundered almost constantly by Gray Wolf’s affectionate tongue. From the fourth day he grew busier and more inquisitive with every hour. He found his mother’s blind face, with tremendous effort he tumbled over her paws, and once he lost himself completely and sniffled for help when he rolled fifteen or eighteen inches away from her. It was not long after this that he began to recognize Kazan as a part of his mother, and he was scarcely more than a week old when he rolled himself up contentedly between Kazan’s forelegs and went to sleep. Kazan was puzzled. Then with a deep sigh Gray Wolf laid her head across one of her mate’s forelegs, with her nose touching her runaway baby, and seemed vastly contented. For half an hour Kazan did not move.
When he was ten days old Baree discovered there was great sport in tussling with a bit of rabbit fur. It was a little later when he made his second exciting discovery–light and sunshine. The sun had now reached a point where in the middle of the afternoon a bright gleam of it found its way through an overhead opening in the windfall. At first Baree would only stare at the golden streak. Then came the time when he tried to play with it as he played with the rabbit fur. Each day thereafter he went a little nearer the opening through which Kazan passed from the windfall into the big world outside. Finally came the time when he reached the opening and crouched there, blinking and frightened at what he saw, and now Gray Wolf no longer tried to hold him back but went out into the sunshine and tried to call him to her. It was three days before his weak eyes had grown strong enough to permit his following her, and very quickly after that Baree learned to love the sun, the warm air, and the sweetness of life, and to dread the darkness of the closed-in den where he had been born.
That this world was not altogether so nice as it at first appeared he was very soon to learn. At the darkening signs of an approaching storm one day Gray Wolf tried to lure him back under the windfall. It was her first warning to Baree and he did not understand. Where Gray Wolf failed, nature came to teach a first lesson. Baree was caught in a sudden deluge of rain. It flattened him out in pure terror and he was drenched and half drowned before Gray Wolf caught him between her jaws and carried him into shelter. One by one after this the first strange experiences of life came to him, and one by one his instincts received their birth. Greatest for him of the days to follow was that on which his inquisitive nose touched the raw flesh of a freshly killed and bleeding rabbit. It was his first taste of blood. It was sweet. It filled him with a strange excitement and thereafter he knew what it meant when Kazan brought in something between his jaws. He soon began to battle with sticks in place of the soft fur and his teeth grew as hard and as sharp as little needles.
The Great Mystery was bared to him at last when Kazan brought in between his jaws, a big rabbit that was still alive but so badly crushed that it could not run when dropped to the ground. Baree had learned to know what rabbits and partridges meant–the sweet warm blood that he loved better even than he had ever loved his mother’s milk. But they had come to him dead. He had never seen one of the monsters alive. And now the rabbit that Kazan dropped to the ground, kicking and struggling with a broken back, sent Baree back appalled. For a few moments he wonderingly watched the dying throes of Kazan’s prey. Both Kazan and Gray Wolf seemed to understand that this was to be Baree’s first lesson in his education as a slaying and flesh-eating creature, and they stood close over the rabbit, making no effort to end its struggles. Half a dozen times Gray Wolf sniffed at the rabbit and then turned her blind face toward Baree. After the third or fourth time Kazan stretched himself out on his belly a few feet away and watched the proceedings attentively. Each time that Gray Wolf lowered her head to muzzle the rabbit Baree’s little ears shot up expectantly. When he saw that nothing happened and that his mother was not hurt he came a little nearer. Soon he could reach out, stiff-legged and cautious, and touch the furry thing that was not yet dead.
In a last spasmodic convulsion the big rabbit doubled up its rear legs and gave a kick that sent Baree sprawling back, yelping in terror. He regained his feet and then, for the first time, anger and the desire to retaliate took possession of him. The kick had completed his first education. He came back with less caution, but stiffer-legged, and a moment later had dug his tiny teeth in the rabbit’s neck. He could feel the throb of life in the soft body, the muscles of the dying rabbit twitched convulsively under him, and he hung with his teeth until there was no longer a tremor of life in his first kill. Gray Wolf was delighted. She caressed Baree with her tongue, and even Kazan condescended to sniff approvingly of his son when he returned to the rabbit. And never before had warm sweet blood tasted so good to Baree as it did today. Swiftly Baree developed from a blood-tasting into a flesh-eating animal. One by one the mysteries of life were unfolded to him–the mating-night chortle of the gray owl, the crash of a falling tree, the roll of thunder, the rush of running water, the scream of a fishercat, the mooing of the cow moose, and the distant call of his tribe. But chief of all these mysteries that were already becoming a part of his instinct was the mystery of scent. One day he wandered fifty yards away from the windfall and his little nose touched the warm scent of a rabbit. Instantly, without reasoning or further process of education, he knew that to get at the sweet flesh and blood which he loved he must follow the scent. He wriggled slowly along the trail until he came to a big log, over which the rabbit had vaulted in a long leap, and from this log he turned back. Each day after this he went on adventures of his own. At first he was like an explorer without a compass in a vast and unknown world. Each day he encountered something new, always wonderful, frequently terrifying. But his terrors grew less and less and his confidence correspondingly greater. As he found that none of the things he feared did him any harm he became more and more bold in his investigations. And his appearance was changing, as well as his view of things. His round roly-poly body was taking a different form. He became lithe and quick. The yellow of his coat darkened, and there was a whitish-gray streak along his back like that along Kazan’s. He had his mother’s underthroat and her beautiful grace of head. Otherwise he was a true son of Kazan. His limbs gave signs of future strength and massiveness. He was broad across the chest. His eyes were wide apart, with a little red in the lower corners. The forest people know what to expect of husky pups who early develop that drop of red. It is a warning that they are born of the wild and that their mothers, or fathers, are of the savage hunt packs. In Baree that tinge of red was so pronounced that it could mean but one thing. While he was almost half dog, the wild had claimed him forever.
Not until the day of his first real battle with a living creature did Baree come fully into his inheritance. He had gone farther than usual from the windfall–fully a hundred yards. Here he found a new wonder. It was the creek. He had heard it before and he had looked down on it from afar–from a distance of fifty yards at least. But today he ventured going to the edge of it, and there he stood for a long time, with the water rippling and singing at his feet, gazing across it into the new world that he saw. Then he moved cautiously along the stream. He had not gone a dozen steps when there was a furious fluttering close to him, and one of the fierce big-eyed jays of the Northland was directly in his path. It could not fly. One of its wings dragged, probably broken in a struggle with some one of the smaller preying beasts. But for an instant it was a most startling and defiant bit of life to Baree.
Then the grayish crest along his back stiffened and he advanced. The wounded jay remained motionless until Baree was within three feet of it. In short quick hops it began to retreat. Instantly Baree’s indecision had flown to the four winds. With one sharp excited yelp he flew at the defiant bird. For a few moments there was a thrilling race, and Baree’s sharp little teeth buried themselves in the jay’s feathers. Swift as a flash the bird’s beak began to strike. The jay was the king of the smaller birds. In nesting season it killed the brush sparrows, the mild-eyed moosebirds, and the tree sappers. Again and again it struck Baree with its powerful beak, but the son of Kazan had now reached the age of battle and the pain of the blows only made his own teeth sink deeper. At last he found the flesh, and a puppyish snarl rose in his throat. Fortunately he had gained a hold under the wing and after the first dozen blows the jay’s resistance grew weaker. Five minutes later Baree loosened his teeth and drew back a step to look at the crumpled and motionless creature before him. The jay was dead. He had won his first battle. And with victory came the wonderful dawning of that greatest instinct of all, which told him that no longer was he a drone in the marvelous mechanism of wilderness life–but a part of it from this time forth. For he had killed.
Half an hour later Gray Wolf came down over his trail. The jay was torn into bits. Its feathers were scattered about and Baree’s little nose was bloody. Baree was lying in triumph beside his victim. Swiftly Gray Wolf understood and caressed him joyously. When they returned to the windfall Baree carried in his jaws what was left of the jay.
From that hour of his first kill hunting became the chief passion of Baree’s life. When he was not sleeping in the sun, or under the windfall at night, he was seeking life that he could destroy. He slaughtered an entire family of wood mice. Moosebirds were at first the easiest for him to stalk, and he killed three. Then he encountered an ermine and the fierce little white outlaw of the forests gave him his first defeat. Defeat cooled his ardor for a few days, but taught him the great lesson that there were other fanged and flesh-eating animals beside himself and that nature had so schemed things that fang must not prey upon fang–for food. Many things had been born in him. Instinctively he shunned the porcupine without experiencing the torture of its quills. He came face to face with a fishercat one day, a fortnight after his fight with the ermine. Both were seeking food, and as there was no food between them to fight over, each went his own way.
Farther and farther Baree ventured from the windfall, always following the creek. Sometimes he was gone for hours. At first Gray Wolf was restless when he was away, but she seldom went with him and after a time her restlessness left her. Nature was working swiftly. It was Kazan who was restless now. Moonlight nights had come and the wanderlust was growing more and more insistent in his veins. And Gray Wolf, too, was filled with the strange longing to roam at large out into the big world.
Came then the afternoon when Baree went on his longest hunt. Half a mile away he killed his first rabbit. He remained beside it until dusk. The moon rose, big and golden, flooding the forests and plains and ridges with a light almost like that of day. It was a glorious night. And Baree found the moon, and left his kill. And the direction in which he traveled was away from the windfall.
All that night Gray Wolf watched and waited. And when at last the moon was sinking into the south and west she settled back on her haunches, turned her blind face to the sky and sent forth her first howl since the day Baree was born. Nature had come into her own. Far away Baree heard, but he did not answer. A new world was his. He had said good-by to the windfall–and home.