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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBaree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 22
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Baree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 22 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3497

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Baree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 22

A moment later the factor from Lac Bain stood at the edge of the chasm. His voice had called out in a hoarse bellow--a wild cry of disbelief and horror that had formed the Willow's name as she disappeared. He looked down, clutching his huge red hands and staring in ghastly suspense at the boiling water and black rocks far below. There was nothing there now--no sign of her, no last flash of her pale face and streaming hair in the white foam. And she had done THAT--to save herself from him!

The soul of the man-beast turned sick within him, so sick that he staggered back, his vision blinded and his legs tottering under him. He had killed Pierrot, and it had been a triumph. All his life he had played the part of the brute with a stoicism and cruelty that had known no shock--nothing like this that overwhelmed him now, numbing him to the marrow of his bones until he stood like one paralyzed. He did not see Baree. He did not hear the dog's whining cries at the edge of the chasm. For a few moments the world turned black for him. And then, dragging himself out of his stupor, he ran frantically along the edge of the gorge, looking down wherever his eyes could see the water, striving for a glimpse of her. At last it grew too deep. There was no hope. She was gone--and she had faced that to escape him!

He mumbled that fact over and over again, stupidly, thickly, as though his brain could grasp nothing beyond it. She was dead. And Pierrot was dead. And he, in a few minutes, had accomplished it all.

He turned back toward the cabin--not by the trail over which he had pursued Nepeese, but straight through the thick bush. Great flakes of snow had begun to fall. He looked at the sky, where banks of dark clouds were rolling up from the south and east. The sun disappeared. Soon there would be a storm--a heavy snowstorm. The big flakes falling on his naked hands and face set his mind to work. It was lucky for him, this storm. It would cover everything--the fresh trails, even the grave he would dig for Pierrot.

It does not take such a man as the factor long to recover from a moral concussion. By the time he came in sight of the cabin his mind was again at work on physical things--on the necessities of the situation. The appalling thing, after all, was not that both Pierrot and Nepeese were dead, but that his dream was shattered. It was not that Nepeese was dead, but that he had lost her. This was his vital disappointment. The other thing--his crime--it was easy to destroy all traces of that.

It was not sentiment that made him dig Pierrot's grave close to the princess mother's under the tall spruce. It was not sentiment that made him dig the grave at all, but caution. He buried Pierrot decently. Then he poured Pierrot's stock of kerosene where it would be most effective and touched a match to it. He stood in the edge of the forest until the cabin was a mass of flames. The snow was falling thickly. The freshly made grave was a white mound, and the trails were filling up with new snow. For the physical things he had done there was no fear in Bush McTaggart's heart as he turned back toward Lac Bain. No one would ever look into the grave of Pierrot Du Quesne. And there was no one to betray him if such a miracle happened. But of one thing his black soul would never be able to free itself. Always he would see the pale, triumphant face of the Willow as she stood facing him in that moment of her glory when, even as she was choosing death rather than him, he had cried to himself: "Ah! Is she not wonderful!"

As Bush McTaggart had forgotten Baree, so Baree had forgotten the factor from Lac Bain. When McTaggart had run along the edge of the chasm, Baree had squatted himself in the trodden plot of snow where Nepeese had last stood, his body stiffened and his forefeet braced as he looked down. He had seen her take the leap. Many times that summer he had followed her in her daring dives into the deep, quiet water of the pool. But this was a tremendous distance. She had never dived into a place like that before. He could see the black shapes of the rocks, appearing and disappearing in the whirling foam like the heads of monsters at play. The roar of the water filled him with dread. His eyes caught the swift rush of crumbled ice between the rock walls. And she had gone down there!

He had a great desire to follow her, to jump in, as he had always jumped in after her in previous times. She was surely down there, even though he could not see her. Probably she was playing among the rocks and hiding herself in the white froth and wondering why he didn't come. But he hesitated--hesitated with his head and neck over the abyss, and his forefeet giving way a little in the snow. With an effort he dragged himself back and whined. He caught the fresh scent of McTaggart's moccasins in the snow, and the whine changed slowly into a long snarl. He looked over again. Still he could not see her. He barked--the short, sharp signal with which he always called her. There was no answer. Again and again he barked, and always there was nothing but the roar of the water that came back to him. Then for a few moments he stood back, silent and listening, his body shivering with the strange dread that was possessing him.

The snow was falling now, and McTaggart had returned to the cabin. After a little Baree followed in the trail he had made along the edge of the chasm, and wherever McTaggart had stopped to peer over, Baree paused also. For a space his hatred of the man was lost in his desire to join the Willow, and he continued along the gorge until, a quarter of a mile beyond where the factor had last looked into it, he came to the narrow trail down which he and Nepeese had many time adventured in quest of rock violets. The twisting path that led down the face of the cliff was filled with snow now, but Baree made his way through it until at last he stood at the edge of the unfrozen torrent. Nepeese was not here. He whined, and barked again, but this time there was in his signal to her an uneasy repression, a whimpering note which told that he did not expect a reply. For five minutes after that he sat on his haunches in the snow, stolid as a rock. What it was that came down out of the dark mystery and tumult of the chasm to him, what spirit whispers of nature that told him the truth, it is beyond the power of reason to explain. But he listened, and he looked; and his muscles twitched as the truth grew in him. And at last he raised his head slowly until his black muzzle pointed to the white storm in the sky, and out of his throat there went forth the quavering, long-drawn howl of the husky who mourns outside the tepee of a master who is newly dead.

On the trail, heading for Lac Bain, Bush McTaggart heard that cry and shivered.

It was the smell of smoke, thickening in the air until it stung his nostrils, that drew Baree at last away from the chasm and back to the cabin. There was not much left when he came to the clearing. Where the cabin had been was a red-hot, smoldering mass. For a long time he sat watching it, still waiting and still listening. He no longer felt the effect of the bullet that had stunned him, but his senses were undergoing another change now, as strange and unreal as their struggle against that darkness of near death in the cabin. In a space that had not covered more than an hour the world had twisted itself grotesquely for Baree. That long ago the Willow was sitting before her little mirror in the cabin, talking to him and laughing in her happiness, while he lay in vast contentment on the floor. And now there was no cabin, no Nepeese, no Pierrot. Quietly he struggled to comprehend. It was some time before he moved from under the thick balsams, for already a deep and growing suspicion began to guide his movements. He did not go nearer to the smoldering mass of the cabin, but slinking low, made his way about the circle of the clearing to the dog corral. This took him under the tall spruce. For a full minute he paused here, sniffing at the freshly made mound under its white mantle of snow. When he went on, he slunk still lower, and his ears were flat against his head.

The dog corral was open and empty. McTaggart had seen to that. Again Baree squatted back on his haunches and sent forth the death howl. This time it was for Pierrot. In it there was a different note from that of the howl he had sent forth from the chasm: it was positive, certain. In the chasm his cry had been tempered with doubt--a questioning hope, something that was so almost human that McTaggart had shivered on the trail. But Baree knew what lay in that freshly dug snow-covered grave. A scant three feet of earth could not hide its secret from him. There was death--definite and unequivocal. But for Nepeese he was still hoping and seeking.

Until noon he did not go far from the site of the cabin, but only once did he actually approach and sniff about the black pile of steaming timbers. Again and again he circled the edge of the clearing, keeping just within the bush and timber, sniffing the air and listening. Twice he went hack to the chasm. Late in the afternoon there came to him a sudden impulse that carried him swiftly through the forest. He did not run openly now. Caution, suspicion, and fear had roused in him afresh the instincts of the wolf. With his ears flattened against the side of his head, his tail drooping until the tip of it dragged the snow and his back sagging in the curious, evasive gait of the wolf, he scarcely made himself distinguishable from the shadows of the spruce and balsams.

There was no faltering in the trail Baree made; it was straight as a rope might have been drawn through the forest, and it brought him, early in the dusk, to the open spot where Nepeese had fled with him that day she had pushed McTaggart over the edge of the precipice into the pool. In the place of the balsam shelter of that day there was now a watertight birchbark tepee which Pierrot had helped the Willow to make during the summer. Baree went straight to it and thrust in his head with a low and expectant whine.

There was no answer. It was dark and cold in the tepee. He could make out indistinctly the two blankets that were always in it, the row of big tin boxes in which Nepeese kept their stores, and the stove which Pierrot had improvised out of scraps of iron and heavy tin. But Nepeese was not there. And there was no sign of her outside. The snow was unbroken except by his own trail. It was dark when he returned to the burned cabin. All that night he hung about the deserted dog corral, and all through the night the snow fell steadily, so that by dawn he sank into it to his shoulders when he moved out into the clearing.

But with day the sky had cleared. The sun came up, and the world was almost too dazzling for the eyes. It warmed Baree's blood with new hope and expectation. His brain struggled even more eagerly than yesterday to comprehend. Surely the Willow would be returning soon! He would hear her voice. She would appear suddenly out of the forest. He would receive some signal from her. One of these things, or all of them, must happen. He stopped sharply in his tracks at every sound, and sniffed the air from every point of the wind. He was traveling ceaselessly. His body made deep trails in the snow around and over the huge white mound where the cabin had stood. His tracks led from the corral to the tall spruce, and they were as numerous as the footprints of a wolf pack for half a mile up and down the chasm.

On the afternoon of this day the second strong impulse came to him. It was not reason, and neither was it instinct alone. It was the struggle halfway between, the brute mind righting at its best with the mystery of an intangible thing--something that could not be seen by the eye or heard by the ear. Nepeese was not in the cabin, because there was no cabin. She was not at the tepee. He could find no trace of her in the chasm. She was not with Pierrot under the big spruce.

Therefore, unreasoning but sure, he began to follow the old trap line into the north and west.

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During that terrible interval which followed an eternity of time passed slowly through the little cabin on the Gray Loon--that eternity which lies somewhere between life and death and which is sometimes meted out to a human life in seconds instead of years.In those seconds Pierrot did not move from where he stood in the doorway. McTaggart, encumbered with the weight in his arms, and staring at Pierrot, did not move. But the Willow's eyes were opening. And at the same moment a convulsive quiver ran through the body of Baree he lay near the wall. There was not the
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