Chapter III - The Hunger Cry
The day began auspiciously. They had lost no dogs during the
night, and they swung out upon the trail and into the silence, the
darkness, and the cold with spirits that were fairly light. Bill
seemed to have forgotten his forebodings of the previous night, and
even waxed facetious with the dogs when, at midday, they overturned
the sled on a bad piece of trail.
It was an awkward mix-up. The sled was upside down and jammed
between a tree-trunk and a huge rock, and they were forced to
unharness the dogs in order to straighten out the tangle. The two
men were bent over the sled and trying to right it, when Henry
observed One Ear sidling away.
"Here, you, One Ear!" he cried, straightening up and turning around
on the dog.
But One Ear broke into a run across the snow, his traces trailing
behind him. And there, out in the snow of their back track, was
the she-wolf waiting for him. As he neared her, he became suddenly
cautious. He slowed down to an alert and mincing walk and then
stopped. He regarded her carefully and dubiously, yet desirefully.
She seemed to smile at him, showing her teeth in an ingratiating
rather than a menacing way. She moved toward him a few steps,
playfully, and then halted. One Ear drew near to her, still alert
and cautious, his tail and ears in the air, his head held high.
He tried to sniff noses with her, but she retreated playfully and
coyly. Every advance on his part was accompanied by a
corresponding retreat on her part. Step by step she was luring him
away from the security of his human companionship. Once, as though
a warning had in vague ways flitted through his intelligence, he
turned his head and looked back at the overturned sled, at his
team-mates, and at the two men who were calling to him.
But whatever idea was forming in his mind, was dissipated by the
she-wolf, who advanced upon him, sniffed noses with him for a
fleeting instant, and then resumed her coy retreat before his
In the meantime, Bill had bethought himself of the rifle. But it
was jammed beneath the overturned sled, and by the time Henry had
helped him to right the load, One Ear and the she-wolf were too
close together and the distance too great to risk a shot.
Too late One Ear learned his mistake. Before they saw the cause,
the two men saw him turn and start to run back toward them. Then,
approaching at right angles to the trail and cutting off his
retreat they saw a dozen wolves, lean and grey, bounding across the
snow. On the instant, the she-wolf's coyness and playfulness
disappeared. With a snarl she sprang upon One Ear. He thrust her
off with his shoulder, and, his retreat cut off and still intent on
regaining the sled, he altered his course in an attempt to circle
around to it. More wolves were appearing every moment and joining
in the chase. The she-wolf was one leap behind One Ear and holding
"Where are you goin'?" Henry suddenly demanded, laying his hand on
his partner's arm.
Bill shook it off. "I won't stand it," he said. "They ain't a-
goin' to get any more of our dogs if I can help it."
Gun in hand, he plunged into the underbrush that lined the side of
the trail. His intention was apparent enough. Taking the sled as
the centre of the circle that One Ear was making, Bill planned to
tap that circle at a point in advance of the pursuit. With his
rifle, in the broad daylight, it might be possible for him to awe
the wolves and save the dog.
"Say, Bill!" Henry called after him. "Be careful! Don't take no
Henry sat down on the sled and watched. There was nothing else for
him to do. Bill had already gone from sight; but now and again,
appearing and disappearing amongst the underbrush and the scattered
clumps of spruce, could be seen One Ear. Henry judged his case to
be hopeless. The dog was thoroughly alive to its danger, but it
was running on the outer circle while the wolf-pack was running on
the inner and shorter circle. It was vain to think of One Ear so
outdistancing his pursuers as to be able to cut across their circle
in advance of them and to regain the sled.
The different lines were rapidly approaching a point. Somewhere
out there in the snow, screened from his sight by trees and
thickets, Henry knew that the wolf-pack, One Ear, and Bill were
coming together. All too quickly, far more quickly than he had
expected, it happened. He heard a shot, then two shots, in rapid
succession, and he knew that Bill's ammunition was gone. Then he
heard a great outcry of snarls and yelps. He recognised One Ear's
yell of pain and terror, and he heard a wolf-cry that bespoke a
stricken animal. And that was all. The snarls ceased. The
yelping died away. Silence settled down again over the lonely
He sat for a long while upon the sled. There was no need for him
to go and see what had happened. He knew it as though it had taken
place before his eyes. Once, he roused with a start and hastily
got the axe out from underneath the lashings. But for some time
longer he sat and brooded, the two remaining dogs crouching and
trembling at his feet.
At last he arose in a weary manner, as though all the resilience
had gone out of his body, and proceeded to fasten the dogs to the
sled. He passed a rope over his shoulder, a man-trace, and pulled
with the dogs. He did not go far. At the first hint of darkness
he hastened to make a camp, and he saw to it that he had a generous
supply of firewood. He fed the dogs, cooked and ate his supper,
and made his bed close to the fire.
But he was not destined to enjoy that bed. Before his eyes closed
the wolves had drawn too near for safety. It no longer required an
effort of the vision to see them. They were all about him and the
fire, in a narrow circle, and he could see them plainly in the
firelight lying down, sitting up, crawling forward on their
bellies, or slinking back and forth. They even slept. Here and
there he could see one curled up in the snow like a dog, taking the
sleep that was now denied himself.
He kept the fire brightly blazing, for he knew that it alone
intervened between the flesh of his body and their hungry fangs.
His two dogs stayed close by him, one on either side, leaning
against him for protection, crying and whimpering, and at times
snarling desperately when a wolf approached a little closer than
usual. At such moments, when his dogs snarled, the whole circle
would be agitated, the wolves coming to their feet and pressing
tentatively forward, a chorus of snarls and eager yelps rising
about him. Then the circle would lie down again, and here and
there a wolf would resume its broken nap.
But this circle had a continuous tendency to draw in upon him. Bit
by bit, an inch at a time, with here a wolf bellying forward, and
there a wolf bellying forward, the circle would narrow until the
brutes were almost within springing distance. Then he would seize
brands from the fire and hurl them into the pack. A hasty drawing
back always resulted, accompanied by an yelps and frightened snarls
when a well-aimed brand struck and scorched a too daring animal.
Morning found the man haggard and worn, wide-eyed from want of
sleep. He cooked breakfast in the darkness, and at nine o'clock,
when, with the coming of daylight, the wolf-pack drew back, he set
about the task he had planned through the long hours of the night.
Chopping down young saplings, he made them cross-bars of a scaffold
by lashing them high up to the trunks of standing trees. Using the
sled-lashing for a heaving rope, and with the aid of the dogs, he
hoisted the coffin to the top of the scaffold.
"They got Bill, an' they may get me, but they'll sure never get
you, young man," he said, addressing the dead body in its tree-
Then he took the trail, the lightened sled bounding along behind
the willing dogs; for they, too, knew that safety lay open in the
gaining of Fort McGurry. The wolves were now more open in their
pursuit, trotting sedately behind and ranging along on either side,
their red tongues lolling out, their-lean sides showing the
udulating ribs with every movement. They were very lean, mere
skin-bags stretched over bony frames, with strings for muscles - so
lean that Henry found it in his mind to marvel that they still kept
their feet and did not collapse forthright in the snow.
He did not dare travel until dark. At midday, not only did the sun
warm the southern horizon, but it even thrust its upper rim, pale
and golden, above the sky-line. He received it as a sign. The
days were growing longer. The sun was returning. But scarcely had
the cheer of its light departed, than he went into camp. There
were still several hours of grey daylight and sombre twilight, and
he utilised them in chopping an enormous supply of fire-wood.
With night came horror. Not only were the starving wolves growing
bolder, but lack of sleep was telling upon Henry. He dozed despite
himself, crouching by the fire, the blankets about his shoulders,
the axe between his knees, and on either side a dog pressing close
against him. He awoke once and saw in front of him, not a dozen
feet away, a big grey wolf, one of the largest of the pack. And
even as he looked, the brute deliberately stretched himself after
the manner of a lazy dog, yawning full in his face and looking upon
him with a possessive eye, as if, in truth, he were merely a
delayed meal that was soon to be eaten.
This certitude was shown by the whole pack. Fully a score he could
count, staring hungrily at him or calmly sleeping in the snow.
They reminded him of children gathered about a spread table and
awaiting permission to begin to eat. And he was the food they were
to eat! He wondered how and when the meal would begin.
As he piled wood on the fire he discovered an appreciation of his
own body which he had never felt before. He watched his moving
muscles and was interested in the cunning mechanism of his fingers.
By the light of the fire he crooked his fingers slowly and
repeatedly now one at a time, now all together, spreading them wide
or making quick gripping movements. He studied the nail-formation,
and prodded the finger-tips, now sharply, and again softly, gauging
the while the nerve-sensations produced. It fascinated him, and he
grew suddenly fond of this subtle flesh of his that worked so
beautifully and smoothly and delicately. Then he would cast a
glance of fear at the wolf-circle drawn expectantly about him, and
like a blow the realisation would strike him that this wonderful
body of his, this living flesh, was no more than so much meat, a
quest of ravenous animals, to be torn and slashed by their hungry
fangs, to be sustenance to them as the moose and the rabbit had
often been sustenance to him.
He came out of a doze that was half nightmare, to see the red-hued
she-wolf before him. She was not more than half a dozen feet away
sitting in the snow and wistfully regarding him. The two dogs were
whimpering and snarling at his feet, but she took no notice of
them. She was looking at the man, and for some time he returned
her look. There was nothing threatening about her. She looked at
him merely with a great wistfulness, but he knew it to be the
wistfulness of an equally great hunger. He was the food, and the
sight of him excited in her the gustatory sensations. Her mouth
opened, the saliva drooled forth, and she licked her chops with the
pleasure of anticipation.
A spasm of fear went through him. He reached hastily for a brand
to throw at her. But even as he reached, and before his fingers
had closed on the missile, she sprang back into safety; and he knew
that she was used to having things thrown at her. She had snarled
as she sprang away, baring her white fangs to their roots, all her
wistfulness vanishing, being replaced by a carnivorous malignity
that made him shudder. He glanced at the hand that held the brand,
noticing the cunning delicacy of the fingers that gripped it, how
they adjusted themselves to all the inequalities of the surface,
curling over and under and about the rough wood, and one little
finger, too close to the burning portion of the brand, sensitively
and automatically writhing back from the hurtful heat to a cooler
gripping-place; and in the same instant he seemed to see a vision
of those same sensitive and delicate fingers being crushed and torn
by the white teeth of the she-wolf. Never had he been so fond of
this body of his as now when his tenure of it was so precarious.
All night, with burning brands, he fought off the hungry pack.
When he dozed despite himself, the whimpering and snarling of the
dogs aroused him. Morning came, but for the first time the light
of day failed to scatter the wolves. The man waited in vain for
them to go. They remained in a circle about him and his fire,
displaying an arrogance of possession that shook his courage born
of the morning light.
He made one desperate attempt to pull out on the trail. But the
moment he left the protection of the fire, the boldest wolf leaped
for him, but leaped short. He saved himself by springing back, the
jaws snapping together a scant six inches from his thigh. The rest
of the pack was now up and surging upon him, and a throwing of
firebrands right and left was necessary to drive them back to a
Even in the daylight he did not dare leave the fire to chop fresh
wood. Twenty feet away towered a huge dead spruce. He spent half
the day extending his campfire to the tree, at any moment a half
dozen burning faggots ready at hand to fling at his enemies. Once
at the tree, he studied the surrounding forest in order to fell the
tree in the direction of the most firewood.
The night was a repetition of the night before, save that the need
for sleep was becoming overpowering. The snarling of his dogs was
losing its efficacy. Besides, they were snarling all the time, and
his benumbed and drowsy senses no longer took note of changing
pitch and intensity. He awoke with a start. The she-wolf was less
than a yard from him. Mechanically, at short range, without
letting go of it, he thrust a brand full into her open and snarling
mouth. She sprang away, yelling with pain, and while he took
delight in the smell of burning flesh and hair, he watched her
shaking her head and growling wrathfully a score of feet away.
But this time, before he dozed again, he tied a burning pine-knot
to his right hand. His eyes were closed but few minutes when the
burn of the flame on his flesh awakened him. For several hours he
adhered to this programme. Every time he was thus awakened he
drove back the wolves with flying brands, replenished the fire, and
rearranged the pine-knot on his hand. All worked well, but there
came a time when he fastened the pine-knot insecurely. As his eyes
closed it fell away from his hand.
He dreamed. It seemed to him that he was in Fort McGurry. It was
warm and comfortable, and he was playing cribbage with the Factor.
Also, it seemed to him that the fort was besieged by wolves. They
were howling at the very gates, and sometimes he and the Factor
paused from the game to listen and laugh at the futile efforts of
the wolves to get in. And then, so strange was the dream, there
was a crash. The door was burst open. He could see the wolves
flooding into the big living-room of the fort. They were leaping
straight for him and the Factor. With the bursting open of the
door, the noise of their howling had increased tremendously. This
howling now bothered him. His dream was merging into something
else - he knew not what; but through it all, following him,
persisted the howling.
And then he awoke to find the howling real. There was a great
snarling and yelping. The wolves were rushing him. They were all
about him and upon him. The teeth of one had closed upon his arm.
Instinctively he leaped into the fire, and as he leaped, he felt
the sharp slash of teeth that tore through the flesh of his leg.
Then began a fire fight. His stout mittens temporarily protected
his hands, and he scooped live coals into the air in all
directions, until the campfire took on the semblance of a volcano.
But it could not last long. His face was blistering in the heat,
his eyebrows and lashes were singed off, and the heat was becoming
unbearable to his feet. With a flaming brand in each hand, he
sprang to the edge of the fire. The wolves had been driven back.
On every side, wherever the live coals had fallen, the snow was
sizzling, and every little while a retiring wolf, with wild leap
and snort and snarl, announced that one such live coal had been
Flinging his brands at the nearest of his enemies, the man thrust
his smouldering mittens into the snow and stamped about to cool his
feet. His two dogs were missing, and he well knew that they had
served as a course in the protracted meal which had begun days
before with Fatty, the last course of which would likely be himself
in the days to follow.
"You ain't got me yet!" he cried, savagely shaking his fist at the
hungry beasts; and at the sound of his voice the whole circle was
agitated, there was a general snarl, and the she-wolf slid up close
to him across the snow and watched him with hungry wistfulness.
He set to work to carry out a new idea that had come to him. He
extended the fire into a large circle. Inside this circle he
crouched, his sleeping outfit under him as a protection against the
melting snow. When he had thus disappeared within his shelter of
flame, the whole pack came curiously to the rim of the fire to see
what had become of him. Hitherto they had been denied access to
the fire, and they now settled down in a close-drawn circle, like
so many dogs, blinking and yawning and stretching their lean bodies
in the unaccustomed warmth. Then the she-wolf sat down, pointed
her nose at a star, and began to howl. One by one the wolves
joined her, till the whole pack, on haunches, with noses pointed
skyward, was howling its hunger cry.
Dawn came, and daylight. The fire was burning low. The fuel had
run out, and there was need to get more. The man attempted to step
out of his circle of flame, but the wolves surged to meet him.
Burning brands made them spring aside, but they no longer sprang
back. In vain he strove to drive them back. As he gave up and
stumbled inside his circle, a wolf leaped for him, missed, and
landed with all four feet in the coals. It cried out with terror,
at the same time snarling, and scrambled back to cool its paws in
The man sat down on his blankets in a crouching position. His body
leaned forward from the hips. His shoulders, relaxed and drooping,
and his head on his knees advertised that he had given up the
struggle. Now and again he raised his head to note the dying down
of the fire. The circle of flame and coals was breaking into
segments with openings in between. These openings grew in size,
the segments diminished.
"I guess you can come an' get me any time," he mumbled. "Anyway,
I'm goin' to sleep."
Once he awakened, and in an opening in the circle, directly in
front of him, he saw the she-wolf gazing at him.
Again he awakened, a little later, though it seemed hours to him.
A mysterious change had taken place - so mysterious a change that
he was shocked wider awake. Something had happened. He could not
understand at first. Then he discovered it. The wolves were gone.
Remained only the trampled snow to show how closely they had
pressed him. Sleep was welling up and gripping him again, his head
was sinking down upon his knees, when he roused with a sudden
There were cries of men, and churn of sleds, the creaking of
harnesses, and the eager whimpering of straining dogs. Four sleds
pulled in from the river bed to the camp among the trees. Half a
dozen men were about the man who crouched in the centre of the
dying fire. They were shaking and prodding him into consciousness.
He looked at them like a drunken man and maundered in strange,
"Red she-wolf. . . . Come in with the dogs at feedin' time. . . .
First she ate the dog-food. . . . Then she ate the dogs. . . . An'
after that she ate Bill. . . . "
"Where's Lord Alfred?" one of the men bellowed in his ear, shaking
He shook his head slowly. "No, she didn't eat him. . . . He's
roostin' in a tree at the last camp."
"Dead?" the man shouted.
"An' in a box," Henry answered. He jerked his shoulder petulantly
away from the grip of his questioner. "Say, you lemme alone. . . .
I'm jes' plump tuckered out. . . . Goo' night, everybody."
His eyes fluttered and went shut. His chin fell forward on his
chest. And even as they eased him down upon the blankets his
snores were rising on the frosty air.
But there was another sound. Far and faint it was, in the remote
distance, the cry of the hungry wolf-pack as it took the trail of
other meat than the man it had just missed.