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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBaree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 5
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Baree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 5 Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :1335

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Baree, Son Of Kazan - Chapter 5

As the Willow pulled the trigger of her rifle, Baree sprang into the air. He felt the force of the bullet before he heard the report of the gun. It lifted him off his feet, and then sent him rolling over and over as if he had been struck a hideous blow with a club. For a flash he did not feel pain. Then it ran through him like a knife of fire, and with that pain the dog in him rose above the wolf, and he let out a wild outcry of puppyish yapping as he rolled and twisted on the ground.

Pierrot and Nepeese had stepped from behind the balsams, the Willow's beautiful eyes shining with pride at the accuracy of her shot. Instantly she caught her breath. Her brown fingers clutched at the barrel of her rifle. The chuckle of satisfaction died on Pierrot's lips as Baree's cries of pain filled the forest.

"Uchi moosis!" gasped Nepeese, in her Cree.

Pierrot caught the rifle from her.

"Diable! A dog--a puppy!" he cried.

He started on a run for Baree. But in their amazement they had lost a few seconds and Baree's dazed senses were returning. He saw them clearly as they came across the open--a new kind of monster of the forests! With a final wail he darted back into the deep shadows of the trees. It was almost sunset, and he ran for the thick gloom of the heavy spruce near the creek. He had shivered at sight of the bear and the moose, but for the first time he now sensed the real meaning of danger. And it was close after him. He could hear the crashing of the two-legged beasts in pursuit; strange cries were almost at his heels--and then suddenly he plunged without warning into a hole.

It was a shock to have the earth go out from under his feet like that, but Baree did not yelp. The wolf was dominant in him again. It urged him to remain where he was, making no move, no sound--scarcely breathing. The voices were over him; the strange feet almost stumbled in the hole where he lay. Looking out of his dark hiding place, he could see one of his enemies. It was Nepeese, the Willow. She was standing so that a last glow of the day fell upon her face. Baree did not take his eyes from her.

Above his pain there rose in him a strange and thrilling fascination. The girl put her two hands to her mouth and in a voice that was soft and plaintive and amazingly comforting to his terrified little heart, cried:

"Uchimoo--Uchimoo--Uchimoo!"

And then he heard another voice; and this voice, too, was far less terrible than many sounds he had listened to in the forests.

"We cannot find him, Nepeese," the voice was saying. "He has crawled off to die. It is too bad. Come."

Where Baree had stood in the edge of the open Pierrot paused and pointed to a birch sapling that had been cut clean off by the Willow's bullet. Nepeese understood. The sapling, no larger than her thumb, had turned her shot a trifle and had saved Baree from instant death. She turned again, and called:

"Uchimoo--Uchimoo--Uchimoo!"

Her eyes were no longer filled with the thrill of slaughter.

"He would not understand that," said Pierrot, leading the way across the open. "He is wild--born of the wolves. Perhaps he was of Koomo's lead bitch, who ran away to hunt with the packs last winter."

"And he will die--"

"Ayetun--yes, he will die."

But Baree had no idea of dying. He was too tough a youngster to be shocked to death by a bullet passing through the soft flesh of his foreleg. That was what had happened. His leg was torn to the bone, but the bone itself was untouched. He waited until the moon had risen before he crawled out of his hole.

His leg had grown stiff, but it had stopped bleeding, though his whole body was racked by a terrible pain. A dozen Papayuchisews, all holding right to his ears and nose, could not have hurt him more. Every time he moved, a sharp twinge shot through him; and yet he persisted in moving. Instinctively he felt that by traveling away from the hole he would get away from danger. This was the best thing that could have happened to him, for a little later a porcupine came wandering along, chattering to itself in its foolish, good-humored way, and fell with a fat thud into the hole. Had Baree remained, he would have been so full of quills that he must surely have died.

In another way the exercise of travel was good for Baree. It gave his wound no opportunity to "set," as Pierrot would have said, for in reality his hurt was more painful than serious. For the first hundred yards he hobbled along on three legs, and after that he found that he could use his fourth by humoring it a great deal. He followed the creek for a half mile. Whenever a bit of brush touched his wound, he would snap at it viciously, and instead of whimpering when he felt one of the sharp twinges shooting through him, an angry little growl gathered in his throat, and his teeth clicked. Now that he was out of the hole, the effect of the Willow's shot was stirring every drop of wolf blood in his body. In him there was a growing animosity--a feeling of rage not against any one thing in particular, but against all things. It was not the feeling with which he had fought Papayuchisew, the young owl. On this night the dog in him had disappeared. An accumulation of misfortunes had descended upon him, and out of these misfortunes--and his present hurt--the wolf had risen savage and vengeful.

This was the first time Baree had traveled at night. He was, for the time, unafraid of anything that might creep up on him out of the darkness. The blackest shadows had lost their terror. It was the first big fight between the two natures that were born in him--the wolf and the dog--and the dog was vanquished. Now and then he stopped to lick his wound, and as he licked it he growled, as though for the hurt itself he held a personal antagonism. If Pierrot could have seen and heard, he would have understood very quickly, and he would have said: "Let him die. The club will never take that devil out of him."

In this humor Baree came, an hour later, out of the heavy timber of the creek bottom into the more open spaces of a small plain that ran along the foot of a ridge. It was in this plain that Oohoomisew hunted. Oohoomisew was a huge snow owl. He was the patriarch among all the owls of Pierrot's trapping domain. He was so old that he was almost blind, and therefore he never hunted as other owls hunted. He did not hide himself in the black cover of spruce and balsam tops, or float softly through the night, ready in an instant to swoop down upon his prey. His eyesight was so poor that from a spruce top he could not have seen a rabbit at all, and he might have mistaken a fox for a mouse.

So old Oohoomisew, learning wisdom from experience, hunted from ambush. He would squat on the ground, and for hours at a time he would remain there without making a sound and scarcely moving a feather, waiting with the patience of Job for something to eat to come his way. Now and then he had made mistakes. Twice he had mistaken a lynx for a rabbit, and in the second attack he had lost a foot, so that when he slumbered aloft during the day he clung to his perch with one claw. Crippled, nearly blind, and so old that he had long ago lost the tufts of feathers over his ears, he was still a giant in strength, and when he was angry, one could hear the snap of his beak twenty yards away.

For three nights he had been unlucky, and tonight he had been particularly unfortunate. Two rabbits had come his way, and he had lunged at each of them from his cover. The first he had missed entirely; the second had left with him a mouthful of fur--and that was all. He was ravenously hungry, and he was gritting his bill in his bad temper when he heard Baree approaching.

Even if Baree could have seen under the dark bush ahead, and had discovered Oohoomisew ready to dart from his ambush, it is not likely that he would have gone very far aside. His own fighting blood was up. He, too, was ready for war.

Very indistinctly Oohoomisew saw him at last, coming across the little open space which he was watching. He squatted down. His feathers ruffled up until he was like a ball. His almost sightless eyes glowed like two bluish pools of fire. Ten feet away, Baree stopped for a moment and licked his wound. Oohoomisew waited cautiously. Again Baree advanced, passing within six feet of the bush. With a swift hop and a sudden thunder of his powerful wings the great owl was upon him.

This time Baree let out no cry of pain or of fright. The wolf is kipichi-mao, as the Indians say. No hunter ever heard a trapped wolf whine for mercy at the sting of a bullet or the beat of a club. He dies with his fangs bared. Tonight it was a wolf whelp that Oohoomisew was attacking, and not a dog pup. The owl's first rush keeled Baree over, and for a moment he was smothered under the huge, outspread wings, while Oohoomisew--pinioning him down--hopped for a claw hold with his one good foot, and struck fiercely with his beak.

One blow of that beak anywhere about the head would have settled for a rabbit, but at the first thrust Oohoomisew discovered that it was not a rabbit he was holding under his wings. A bloodcurdling snarl answered the blow, and Oohoomisew remembered the lynx, his lost foot, and his narrow escape with his life. The old pirate might have beaten a retreat, but Baree was no longer the puppyish Baree of that hour in which he had fought young Papayuchisew. Experience and hardship had aged and strengthened him. His jaws had passed quickly from the bone-licking to the bone-cracking age--and before Oohoomisew could get away, if he was thinking of flight at all, Baree's fangs closed with a vicious snap on his one good leg.

In the stillness of night there rose a still greater thunder of wings, and for a few moments Baree closed his eyes to keep from being blinded by Oohoomisew's furious blows. But he hung on grimly, and as his teeth met through the flesh of the old night-pirate's leg, his angry snarl carried defiance to Oohoomisew's ears. Rare good fortune had given him that grip on the leg, and Baree knew that triumph or defeat depended on his ability to hold it. The old owl had no other claw to sink into him, and it was impossible--caught as he was--for him to tear at Baree with his beak. So he continued to beat that thunder of blows with his four-foot wings.

The wings made a great tumult about Baree, but they did not hurt him. He buried his fangs deeper. His snarls rose more fiercely as he got the taste of Oohoomisew's blood, and through him there surged more hotly the desire to kill this monster of the night, as though in the death of this creature he had the opportunity of avenging himself for all the hurts and hardships that had befallen him since he had lost his mother.

Oohoomisew had never felt a great fear until now. The lynx had snapped at him but once--and was gone, leaving him crippled. But the lynx had not snarled in that wolfish way, and it had not hung on. A thousand and one nights Oohoomisew had listened to the wolf howl. Instinct had told him what it meant. He had seen the packs pass swiftly through the night, and always when they passed he had kept in the deepest shadows. To him, as for all other wild things, the wolf howl stood for death. But until now, with Baree's fangs buried in his leg, he had never sensed fully the wolf fear. It had taken it years to enter into his slow, stupid head--but now that it was there, it possessed him as no other thing had ever possessed him in all his life.

Suddenly Oohoomisew ceased his beating and launched himself upward. Like huge fans his powerful wings churned the air, and Baree felt himself lifted suddenly from the earth. Still he held on--and in a moment both bird and beast fell back with a thud.

Oohoomisew tried again. This time he was more successful, and he rose fully six feet into the air with Baree. They fell again. A third time the old outlaw fought to wing himself free of Baree's grip; and then, exhausted, he lay with his giant wings outspread, hissing and cracking his bill.

Under those wings Baree's mind worked with the swift instincts of the killer. Suddenly he changed his hold, burying his fangs into the under part of Oohoomisew's body. They sank into three inches of feathers. Swift as Baree had been, Oohoomisew was equally swift to take advantage of his opportunity. In an instant he had swooped upward. There was a jerk, a rending of feathers from flesh--and Baree was alone on the field of battle.

Baree had not killed, but he had conquered. His first great day--or night--had come. The world was filled with a new promise for him, as vast as the night itself. And after a moment he sat back on his haunches, sniffing the air for his beaten enemy. Then, as if defying the feathered monster to come back and fight to the end, he pointed his sharp little muzzle up to the stars and sent forth his first babyish wolf howl into the night.

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Baree's fight with Oohoomisew was good medicine for him. It not only gave him great confidence in himself, but it also cleared the fever of ugliness from his blood. He no longer snapped and snarled at things as he went on through the night.It was a wonderful night. The moon was straight overhead, and the sky was filled with stars, so that in the open spaces the light was almost like that of day, except that it was softer and more beautiful. It was very still. There was no wind in the treetops, and it seemed to Baree that the howl
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When Baree ventured forth from under his rock at the beginning of the next day, he was a much older puppy than when he met Papayuchisew, the young owl, in his path near the old windfall. If experience can be made to take the place of age, he had aged a great deal in the last forty-eight hours. In fact, he had passed almost out of puppyhood. He awoke with a new and much broader conception of the world. It was a big place. It was filled with many things, of which Kazan and Gray Wolf were not the most important.
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