Chapter IV - The Battle of the Fangs
It was the she-wolf who had first caught the sound of men's voices
and the whining of the sled-dogs; and it was the she-wolf who was
first to spring away from the cornered man in his circle of dying
flame. The pack had been loath to forego the kill it had hunted
down, and it lingered for several minutes, making sure of the
sounds, and then it, too, sprang away on the trail made by the she-
Running at the forefront of the pack was a large grey wolf - one of
its several leaders. It was he who directed the pack's course on
the heels of the she-wolf. It was he who snarled warningly at the
younger members of the pack or slashed at them with his fangs when
they ambitiously tried to pass him. And it was he who increased
the pace when he sighted the she-wolf, now trotting slowly across
She dropped in alongside by him, as though it were her appointed
position, and took the pace of the pack. He did not snarl at her,
nor show his teeth, when any leap of hers chanced to put her in
advance of him. On the contrary, he seemed kindly disposed toward
her - too kindly to suit her, for he was prone to run near to her,
and when he ran too near it was she who snarled and showed her
teeth. Nor was she above slashing his shoulder sharply on
occasion. At such times he betrayed no anger. He merely sprang to
the side and ran stiffly ahead for several awkward leaps, in
carriage and conduct resembling an abashed country swain.
This was his one trouble in the running of the pack; but she had
other troubles. On her other side ran a gaunt old wolf, grizzled
and marked with the scars of many battles. He ran always on her
right side. The fact that he had but one eye, and that the left
eye, might account for this. He, also, was addicted to crowding
her, to veering toward her till his scarred muzzle touched her
body, or shoulder, or neck. As with the running mate on the left,
she repelled these attentions with her teeth; but when both
bestowed their attentions at the same time she was roughly jostled,
being compelled, with quick snaps to either side, to drive both
lovers away and at the same time to maintain her forward leap with
the pack and see the way of her feet before her. At such times her
running mates flashed their teeth and growled threateningly across
at each other. They might have fought, but even wooing and its
rivalry waited upon the more pressing hunger-need of the pack.
After each repulse, when the old wolf sheered abruptly away from
the sharp-toothed object of his desire, he shouldered against a
young three-year-old that ran on his blind right side. This young
wolf had attained his full size; and, considering the weak and
famished condition of the pack, he possessed more than the average
vigour and spirit. Nevertheless, he ran with his head even with
the shoulder of his one-eyed elder. When he ventured to run
abreast of the older wolf (which was seldom), a snarl and a snap
sent him back even with the shoulder again. Sometimes, however, he
dropped cautiously and slowly behind and edged in between the old
leader and the she-wolf. This was doubly resented, even triply
resented. When she snarled her displeasure, the old leader would
whirl on the three-year-old. Sometimes she whirled with him. And
sometimes the young leader on the left whirled, too.
At such times, confronted by three sets of savage teeth, the young
wolf stopped precipitately, throwing himself back on his haunches,
with fore-legs stiff, mouth menacing, and mane bristling. This
confusion in the front of the moving pack always caused confusion
in the rear. The wolves behind collided with the young wolf and
expressed their displeasure by administering sharp nips on his
hind-legs and flanks. He was laying up trouble for himself, for
lack of food and short tempers went together; but with the
boundless faith of youth he persisted in repeating the manoeuvre
every little while, though it never succeeded in gaining anything
for him but discomfiture.
Had there been food, love-making and fighting would have gone on
apace, and the pack-formation would have been broken up. But the
situation of the pack was desperate. It was lean with long-
standing hunger. It ran below its ordinary speed. At the rear
limped the weak members, the very young and the very old. At the
front were the strongest. Yet all were more like skeletons than
full-bodied wolves. Nevertheless, with the exception of the ones
that limped, the movements of the animals were eftortless and
tireless. Their stringy muscles seemed founts of inexhaustible
energy. Behind every steel-like contraction of a muscle, lay
another steel-like contraction, and another, and another,
apparently without end.
They ran many miles that day. They ran through the night. And the
next day found them still running. They were running over the
surface of a world frozen and dead. No life stirred. They alone
moved through the vast inertness. They alone were alive, and they
sought for other things that were alive in order that they might
devour them and continue to live.
They crossed low divides and ranged a dozen small streams in a
lower-lying country before their quest was rewarded. Then they
came upon moose. It was a big bull they first found. Here was
meat and life, and it was guarded by no mysterious fires nor flying
missiles of flame. Splay hoofs and palmated antlers they knew, and
they flung their customary patience and caution to the wind. It
was a brief fight and fierce. The big bull was beset on every
side. He ripped them open or split their skulls with shrewdly
driven blows of his great hoofs. He crushed them and broke them on
his large horns. He stamped them into the snow under him in the
wallowing struggle. But he was foredoomed, and he went down with
the she-wolf tearing savagely at his throat, and with other teeth
fixed everywhere upon him, devouring him alive, before ever his
last struggles ceased or his last damage had been wrought.
There was food in plenty. The bull weighed over eight hundred
pounds - fully twenty pounds of meat per mouth for the forty-odd
wolves of the pack. But if they could fast prodigiously, they
could feed prodigiously, and soon a few scattered bones were all
that remained of the splendid live brute that had faced the pack a
few hours before.
There was now much resting and sleeping. With full stomachs,
bickering and quarrelling began among the younger males, and this
continued through the few days that followed before the breaking-up
of the pack. The famine was over. The wolves were now in the
country of game, and though they still hunted in pack, they hunted
more cautiously, cutting out heavy cows or crippled old bulls from
the small moose-herds they ran across.
There came a day, in this land of plenty, when the wolf-pack split
in half and went in different directions. The she-wolf, the young
leader on her left, and the one-eyed elder on her right, led their
half of the pack down to the Mackenzie River and across into the
lake country to the east. Each day this remnant of the pack
dwindled. Two by two, male and female, the wolves were deserting.
Occasionally a solitary male was driven out by the sharp teeth of
his rivals. In the end there remained only four: the she-wolf,
the young leader, the one-eyed one, and the ambitious three-year-
The she-wolf had by now developed a ferocious temper. Her three
suitors all bore the marks of her teeth. Yet they never replied in
kind, never defended themselves against her. They turned their
shoulders to her most savage slashes, and with wagging tails and
mincing steps strove to placate her wrath. But if they were all
mildness toward her, they were all fierceness toward one another.
The three-year-old grew too ambitious in his fierceness. He caught
the one-eyed elder on his blind side and ripped his ear into
ribbons. Though the grizzled old fellow could see only on one
side, against the youth and vigour of the other he brought into
play the wisdom of long years of experience. His lost eye and his
scarred muzzle bore evidence to the nature of his experience. He
had survived too many battles to be in doubt for a moment about
what to do.
The battle began fairly, but it did not end fairly. There was no
telling what the outcome would have been, for the third wolf joined
the elder, and together, old leader and young leader, they attacked
the ambitious three-year-old and proceeded to destroy him. He was
beset on either side by the merciless fangs of his erstwhile
comrades. Forgotten were the days they had hunted together, the
game they had pulled down, the famine they had suffered. That
business was a thing of the past. The business of love was at hand
- ever a sterner and crueller business than that of food-getting.
And in the meanwhile, the she-wolf, the cause of it all, sat down
contentedly on her haunches and watched. She was even pleased.
This was her day - and it came not often - when manes bristled, and
fang smote fang or ripped and tore the yielding flesh, all for the
possession of her.
And in the business of love the three-year-old, who had made this
his first adventure upon it, yielded up his life. On either side
of his body stood his two rivals. They were gazing at the she-
wolf, who sat smiling in the snow. But the elder leader was wise,
very wise, in love even as in battle. The younger leader turned
his head to lick a wound on his shoulder. The curve of his neck
was turned toward his rival. With his one eye the elder saw the
opportunity. He darted in low and closed with his fangs. It was a
long, ripping slash, and deep as well. His teeth, in passing,
burst the wall of the great vein of the throat. Then he leaped
The young leader snarled terribly, but his snarl broke midmost into
a tickling cough. Bleeding and coughing, already stricken, he
sprang at the elder and fought while life faded from him, his legs
going weak beneath him, the light of day dulling on his eyes, his
blows and springs falling shorter and shorter.
And all the while the she-wolf sat on her haunches and smiled. She
was made glad in vague ways by the battle, for this was the love-
making of the Wild, the sex-tragedy of the natural world that was
tragedy only to those that died. To those that survived it was not
tragedy, but realisation and achievement.
When the young leader lay in the snow and moved no more, One Eye
stalked over to the she-wolf. His carriage was one of mingled
triumph and caution. He was plainly expectant of a rebuff, and he
was just as plainly surprised when her teeth did not flash out at
him in anger. For the first time she met him with a kindly manner.
She sniffed noses with him, and even condescended to leap about and
frisk and play with him in quite puppyish fashion. And he, for all
his grey years and sage experience, behaved quite as puppyishly and
even a little more foolishly.
Forgotten already were the vanquished rivals and the love-tale red-
written on the snow. Forgotten, save once, when old One Eye
stopped for a moment to lick his stiffening wounds. Then it was
that his lips half writhed into a snarl, and the hair of his neck
and shoulders involuntarily bristled, while he half crouched for a
spring, his claws spasmodically clutching into the snow-surface for
firmer footing. But it was all forgotten the next moment, as he
sprang after the she-wolf, who was coyly leading him a chase
through the woods.
After that they ran side by side, like good friends who have come
to an understanding. The days passed by, and they kept together,
hunting their meat and killing and eating it in common. After a
time the she-wolf began to grow restless. She seemed to be
searching for something that she could not find. The hollows under
fallen trees seemed to attract her, and she spent much time nosing
about among the larger snow-piled crevices in the rocks and in the
caves of overhanging banks. Old One Eye was not interested at all,
but he followed her good-naturedly in her quest, and when her
investigations in particular places were unusually protracted, he
would lie down and wait until she was ready to go on.
They did not remain in one place, but travelled across country
until they regained the Mackenzie River, down which they slowly
went, leaving it often to hunt game along the small streams that
entered it, but always returning to it again. Sometimes they
chanced upon other wolves, usually in pairs; but there was no
friendliness of intercourse displayed on either side, no gladness
at meeting, no desire to return to the pack-formation. Several
times they encountered solitary wolves. These were always males,
and they were pressingly insistent on joining with One Eye and his
mate. This he resented, and when she stood shoulder to shoulder
with him, bristling and showing her teeth, the aspiring solitary
ones would back off, turn-tail, and continue on their lonely way.
One moonlight night, running through the quiet forest, One Eye
suddenly halted. His muzzle went up, his tail stiffened, and his
nostrils dilated as he scented the air. One foot also he held up,
after the manner of a dog. He was not satisfied, and he continued
to smell the air, striving to understand the message borne upon it
to him. One careless sniff had satisfied his mate, and she trotted
on to reassure him. Though he followed her, he was still dubious,
and he could not forbear an occasional halt in order more carefully
to study the warning.
She crept out cautiously on the edge of a large open space in the
midst of the trees. For some time she stood alone. Then One Eye,
creeping and crawling, every sense on the alert, every hair
radiating infinite suspicion, joined her. They stood side by side,
watching and listening and smelling.
To their ears came the sounds of dogs wrangling and scuffling, the
guttural cries of men, the sharper voices of scolding women, and
once the shrill and plaintive cry of a child. With the exception
of the huge bulks of the skin-lodges, little could be seen save the
flames of the fire, broken by the movements of intervening bodies,
and the smoke rising slowly on the quiet air. But to their
nostrils came the myriad smells of an Indian camp, carrying a story
that was largely incomprehensible to One Eye, but every detail of
which the she-wolf knew.
She was strangely stirred, and sniffed and sniffed with an
increasing delight. But old One Eye was doubtful. He betrayed his
apprehension, and started tentatively to go. She turned. and
touched his neck with her muzzle in a reassuring way, then regarded
the camp again. A new wistfulness was in her face, but it was not
the wistfulness of hunger. She was thrilling to a desire that
urged her to go forward, to be in closer to that fire, to be
squabbling with the dogs, and to be avoiding and dodging the
stumbling feet of men.
One Eye moved impatiently beside her; her unrest came back upon
her, and she knew again her pressing need to find the thing for
which she searched. She turned and trotted back into the forest,
to the great relief of One Eye, who trotted a little to the fore
until they were well within the shelter of the trees.
As they slid along, noiseless as shadows, in the moonlight, they
came upon a run-way. Both noses went down to the footprints in the
snow. These footprints were very fresh. One Eye ran ahead
cautiously, his mate at his heels. The broad pads of their feet
were spread wide and in contact with the snow were like velvet.
One Eye caught sight of a dim movement of white in the midst of the
white. His sliding gait had been deceptively swift, but it was as
nothing to the speed at which he now ran. Before him was bounding
the faint patch of white he had discovered.
They were running along a narrow alley flanked on either side by a
growth of young spruce. Through the trees the mouth of the alley
could be seen, opening out on a moonlit glade. Old One Eye was
rapidly overhauling the fleeing shape of white. Bound by bound he
gained. Now he was upon it. One leap more and his teeth would be
sinking into it. But that leap was never made. High in the air,
and straight up, soared the shape of white, now a struggling
snowshoe rabbit that leaped and bounded, executing a fantastic
dance there above him in the air and never once returning to earth.
One Eye sprang back with a snort of sudden fright, then shrank down
to the snow and crouched, snarling threats at this thing of fear he
did not understand. But the she-wolf coolly thrust past him. She
poised for a moment, then sprang for the dancing rabbit. She, too,
soared high, but not so high as the quarry, and her teeth clipped
emptily together with 'a metallic snap. She made another leap, and
Her mate had slowly relaxed from his crouch and was watching her.
He now evinced displeasure at her repeated failures, and himself
made a mighty spring upward. His teeth closed upon the rabbit, and
he bore it back to earth with him. But at the same time there was
a suspicious crackling movement beside him, and his astonished eye
saw a young spruce sapling bending down above him to strike him.
His jaws let go their grip, and he leaped backward to escape this
strange danger, his lips drawn back from his fangs, his throat
snarling, every hair bristling with rage and fright. And in that
moment the sapling reared its slender length upright and the rabbit
soared dancing in the air again.
The she-wolf was angry. She sank her fangs into her mate's
shoulder in reproof; and he, frightened, unaware of what
constituted this new onslaught, struck back ferociously and in
still greater fright, ripping down the side of the she-wolf's
muzzle. For him to resent such reproof was equally unexpected to
her, and she sprang upon him in snarling indignation. Then he
discovered his mistake and tried to placate her. But she proceeded
to punish him roundly, until he gave over all attempts at
placation, and whirled in a circle, his head away from her, his
shoulders receiving the punishment of her teeth.
In the meantime the rabbit danced above them in the air. The she-
wolf sat down in the snow, and old One Eye, now more in fear of his
mate than of the mysterious sapling, again sprang for the rabbit.
As he sank back with it between his teeth, he kept his eye on the
sapling. As before, it followed him back to earth. He crouched
down under the impending blow, his hair bristling, but his teeth
still keeping tight hold of the rabbit. But the blow did not fall.
The sapling remained bent above him. When he moved it moved, and
he growled at it through his clenched jaws; when he remained still,
it remained still, and he concluded it was safer to continue
remaining still. Yet the warm blood of the rabbit tasted good in
It was his mate who relieved him from the quandary in which he
found himself. She took the rabbit from him, and while the sapling
swayed and teetered threateningly above her she calmly gnawed off
the rabbit's head. At once the sapling shot up, and after that
gave no more trouble, remaining in the decorous and perpendicular
position in which nature had intended it to grow. Then, between
them, the she-wolf and One Eye devoured the game which the
mysterious sapling had caught for them.
There were other run-ways and alleys where rabbits were hanging in
the air, and the wolf-pair prospected them all, the she-wolf
leading the way, old One Eye following and observant, learning the
method of robbing snares - a knowledge destined to stand him in
good stead in the days to come.