Outlaws of the Trail
It was hate of one man that made this dog an outlaw; a hate that led him implacably against his foe, mixed with a loyalty for his new-found friend.
BUSINESS & INVESTMENTS
EDITH B. HENDERSON
DAY was breaking as Brodie drew on his heavy coat and lifted his rifle from its nook behind the door. It was warm and cosy in the cabin, and the man thought a trifle reluctantly of the chilly trapline. It was a white, still morning, intensely cold.
Once outside, it was the work of a moment to slip his feet into ^he webs as he pulled his fur eap closer about his ears to keep out the nipping air. Then he crooked his rifle under his arm and set off with a loose, easy stride.
When he reached the top of the slope he turned; the sun had just peeped inquiringly over the tree tops and a pink blush was spreading over the flats. The smoke from the cabin went up in a straight blue plume.
It was a satisfying picture and the trapper felt the beauty of it grip him as it always did. And yet, there was very little in the picture, only a tiny hut set in the middle of the snow-covered flats, with the forest crowding close on every hand, sombre and mysterious.
Leaving the open spaces behind, the trapper entered the almost unbroken forest where the long blue shadows still lay under the trees. It was very still here. All the little people of the woods had apparently taken themselves to other parts. Brodie went on down the trail.
“Snap!” The man started as the sound re-echoed among the trees; then smiled at his tensed nerves. Jack Frost s greeting this morning had the crisp, sharp bark of a rifle shot; Brodie could feel his eye-brows stiffen with his congealed breath. He hastened his steps.
HE man looked small and insignificant as he strode along under the great pines; he seemed a puny thing to match himself against the grim solitudes of the north. It was no task for a weakling, but Brodie was no weakljng; he was tall, wide shouldered, with muscles that rippled like silver wire. And Brodie loved the woods, loved their warm sweetness in summer, the mystic beauty of their winter-locked trails. The shadowy aisles of the pines were Nature’s own Cathedral, where, all unknowingly, the man communed with his Maker. It made his face strangely boyish for his years and gave a listening look to his keen blue eyes.
Brodie went swiftly down the slope, then branching to the left he stooped to inspect a thicket that made a snug hiding for his trap. There was nothing there and the trapper went down the line. At the next set he found the trap sprung and the bait gone and Brodie knew by the tell-tale bits of fur that clung to the jaws that he had taken a mink and lost it.
Brodie was puzzled. He examined the tracks about the trap and where they boldly crossed the line; it was a wolf. Yet Brodie felt sure that there were no wolves in
the Moose Hills. He went on, broodingly, his anger rising as he found each trap rifled or sprung.
Muttering to himself, the man followed the trail, making new sets and inspecting the dead-falls; he would take little or nothing to-day, but the work must be done. The thief could be attended to later.
He all but stumbled over it before he saw it, the lean, gray beast crouching in the snow, his foot in the trap. He had taken trap and drag with him until the drag had lodged in a tree and held him fast, to lick his bleeding foot and wait.
At the man’s shout of surprise he rose to his feet, his body rigid, green eyes shooting fire. There was nothing of the slinking of the solitary wolf in this splendid outlaw; he faced the man with raising spines and baring of white, sharp teeth. Then he lunged forward! Brodie’s rifle spoke as the brute sprang and it crumpled at his feet, the chain taut about its leg. The trapper placed a hand in the shaggy coat and turned it, deftly. Then he laughed, grimly.
“By Golly!” he said, wonderingly, “it’s a dog.”
STANDING at bay, his mouth drawn in a wicked snarl, ^the dog had been all wolf. His rough, thick coat was the color of the timber wolf; he had the powerful limbs and long, narrow jaw of the breed, but the brute lying stark against the snow was dog again, the wild look had gone. Brodie felt a stir of pity as he bent and sprung the teeth of the trap from the bleeding foot.
Like most quiet men Brodie was a lover of dogs, but the trap-line was no place for one. Looking down, he was able to piece together the history of the brute at his feet. He had started life, no doubt, as a husky pup, a miner’s pet. Something had made him an outlaw, a lost dog turning rapidly into wolf; a robber of the trails. Well, he
had stolen his last bait, Brodie reflected with satisfaction. He slung the dog to his shoulder and walked back up the slope to the camp.
Throwing the beast into a corner, the trapper drew out his skinning knife, running his thumb along the steel to test the edge. Even a dog’s pelt is not to be despised, and he would—in the ironic justice of the north—use the body for bait. He drew the dog toward him and thrust a hand into the thick hair; it was still warm. Then Brodie noted the heart-beats under his touch, he had only stunned him.
The trapper sat back on his heels, hesitatingly, the knife held loosely in his grasp. Brodie thought slowly; his were no snap judgments. Suddenly he replaced the knife in his belt and taking a thin rope he fashioned a noose for the beast’s neck and tied him to a post. This done, he went clumsily to work to examine the path of the bullet.
He saw that he had only creased the scalp, the dog would undoubtedly pull around again. He bandaged the torn leg, the bite of the water in the wound bringing the dog out of his stupor, to stare with dazed eyes into the trapper’s face. Then he growled and staggering to his feet, commenced to pull desperately at the rope. Brodie watched him in silence, then as he quieted down, he left him and went back to his traps.
THAT night the dog lay motionless, with the acquiescence of despair, watching the man prepare and eat the evening meal. His red-rimmed, sullen eyes were fixed balefully on the trapper. Brodie paid him no attention until he.had cleared away, then he brought a pan of water and set it down. The dog snapped at his hand.
“You’ll feel better in the morning, old fellow,” he told him soothingly, “and if you’re a good dog and behave yourself, I’ll make a pard of you. At any rate you won’t steal from my traps again.”
Brodie found himself wondering what his name might be or if he ever owned one. He tried Nipper, Bull, Nero, and as many others as he could remember but the dog merely crouched by the wall and kept his head between his paws. Only when the man moved he growled. Brodie shoved the pan nearer with his foot and went to bed.
The next morning he found it empty and filled it again, chuckling. “There, old fellow,” he said, as he put it down, “I won that trick, anyway.”
Before he left for the line, he laid a bone temptingly near and waited a moment, expectantly. The dog ignored it, but his sombre eyes lifted. Brodie went on his way, whistling.
The bone still lay untouched when he returned and he went about his work of skinning the animals he had taken, wondering a little at the dog’s implacable enmity.
IT WAS dark in the cabin when he had finished and he lit the smoky lamp to prepare his simple meal. This time he made a pot of mush, emptied a can of milk into it and laid it before the dog, who lay regarding him almost wistfully. His brave defiance touched Brodie, he was no whiner, this fellow. He felt foolishly elated when the dog eagerly lapped up the warm, tempting dish.
Saturday night Brodie finished running his line early, and after he had snugged up the cabin he took his violin down from the shelf, tipped his chair back against the wall in the firelight and began to coax the music from the strings. He played softly at first, little tender, whispering tunes that sounded like the wind sighing through the pines. Then the airs grew wilder, more martial, snatches of the tunes he had learned to know and love in France.
Brodie’s body swayed with the rhythm, his eyes grew cloudy with emotion; the little cabin fairly throbbed with the stirring strains. Something touched his hand and his gaze fell swiftly. The dog had crept to his feet, his head out-stretched, lifting a quivering nose to his knee. Brodie played softly on, then slowly ceased. The dog whimpered and drew back, his teeth gleaming, bristling with hate; a wolf once more. The man stared at him, puzzled but hopeful. There had been a strange look of love and pleading in the brown eyes lifted to his— awakened memories.
The next day he encountered Mark Duval on the trail.
\/f ARK had the next section south, but Brodie saw very -*-’-1 little of him. He was a swarthy, low-browed man who walked with a slight limp; a garrulous, foul-mouthed boaster, but an excellent trapper. Brodie greeted him pleasantly but briefly. Duval fell into step beside him. “Brodie,” he inquired huskily, his voice seemed habitually roughened—“how about throwing our lines together for the rest of the season? We could get a lot more out of it when she breaks.”
“Now, I dunno,” he said, finally. “I think I get about all that’s running. Don’t see much use in changing now.” But Mark was insistent. He had discovered a way to cross sections the trails and make trips easier. They would split fifty-fifty, of course, although he had the better line. Two could do better than one and finally, after much talk, Brodie began to think so too. “Now, I’ll tell you,” Mark had said; “there is a silver fox in here somewhere. I saw him last week, crossing the swale. We stand a good chance of getting him, together, but suit yourself.”
Brodie hesitated, the scheme certainly sounded good. It would be fine to have help when the rat season came, even if he didn’t care much for Mark ... he nodded, slowly.
“All right,” he consented; “come over to the camp.”
As Duval followed Brodie into the camp the dog growled menacingly and the man drew back; “What the hell you got there?” he inquired gruffly. “A dog?”
His face was ugly as he took the seat Brodie offered; he hated dogs.
“What you aiming to do with him?” he asked suspiciously.
“Ain’t takin’ him on the trap-line, be you?”
“Hardly that.” He glanced at Mark’s sullen face. “Just for company, I guess. I found him in one of the traps one morning.”
Duval laughed brutally: “Looks
to me a hunk o’ poisoned meat is what he needs.
He’s a hell of a pet.”
“He’ll come around in time,”
Brodie asserted cheerfully, as he lit his pipe. “Now, let’s talk this thing over, Mark.”
T IFE went on the same after that with the exception that
Mark Duval came oftener to the camp. The dog was tied outside during the day now, and seemed fairly content. He had ceased to growl at Steve, although he refused to be friends. He had signed, as it were, an armed truce. Brodie looked at him wistfully; he could not understand a dog that would not welcome him with boisterous glee.
You’re a dumb cuss,” he told him soberly; “why can’t you call it off and make up, hey?”
The dog looked at him silently and moved over and Brodie wondered resentfully why he harbored the brute.
That night he took his violin from the case and rasped the bow across the strings. The dog, lost in dreams behind the stove, moved restlessly and whined. For Steve, playing to the strange heart of the outlaw dog, had never wrung sweeter music from his battered fiddle. It brought the brute to his knee, his strange brown eyes full of warm light. Brodie feared to stop; there was a fascination in seeing the brute drawn to his side, his hate forgotten. The music died away. The outlaw’s head still lay on his knee, the eyes were closed. Brodie laid his hand on the rough neck, lightly. The dog drew back and stole into his corner apparently as stubborn and unfriendly as ever, but Brodie felt satisfied.
That night Brodie was awakened by the outlaw’s warning growl. Raising himself on his elbow he looked out of the window. A man was stealing softly away from the hut and he walked with the limping gait of Mark Duval. Brodie lay back and laughed, dryly; “Good dog,” he said, approvingly, and was rewarded with the sound of an unmistakable thump of the outlaw’s tail.
The man lay awake a while conjecturing on the cause of Duval’s visit but, deciding that it had something to do with the trap lines, he dismissed it from his mind.
Duval called early the next morning. The dog gave him the usual snarling greeting but this time he did not slink away as usual; he stood facing him, his eyes bloodshot and watchful. The man seated himself and turned his baleful gaze on the outlaw, then spat in the direction of the stove and fell to discussing the new sets.
Brodie eyed him a little curiously but as Duval did not speak of his nocturnal visit, he, too, held his tongue.
r'XUVAL waited impatiently while Brodie fed the dog ^ and gave him a longer leash. He seemed to hold a grudge against the brute—a grudge that was fully reciprocated.
At the fork in the trail the men parted, each going over his allotted lines. There was a hint of spring in the air this morning; the crust rasped under the foot and a smoky mist hung along the horizon. Brodie found it difficult to repress the whistle that hovered about his lips; it was almost impossible to be still a morning like this. His thoughts kept wandering away from his work.
He reached the end of the line at last; he would now circle about and meet Duval at the forks, if he were not delayed. They always met to tally up the catch and talk it over.
To-day Brodie’s luck had been poor, two mink and a small marten were all he had taken, but the trapper did not worry. One learns to take life as it comes on the trail.
Along the foot of the slope lay the Black Swamp and already the dark stain was seeping through the snow. Soon the swamp would be a miniature lake and they would commence to set the muskrat traps along the shore. The rat season was a busy time and Brodie considered that he had done well in taking Duval as a partner, even though he had little use for the man himself. Mark was a clever trapper and eager to work, but Brodie found it impossible to shake his first impressions.
He had passed the swamp now. The day had been warm, and he was tired. He threw the dead animals across the root of a pine stump and sat down beside them.
The March sun made him drowsy and he thought reluctantly of the miles he had yet to go. It was still and restful there on the side of the slope and somewhere in the woods he could hear a partridge drumming. The sky above him seemed a huge turquoise bowl and by the streaks of gold that shot through the blue the trapper knew that the sun was far west. He sighed and prepared to rise.
Then he froze, motionless as the trees behind him, waiting.
Something was crossing the swamp toward him; here and there through the dense second growth he caught a glimpse of some swift moving animal. Suddenly it merged into the open and sprang gracefully to a rock. Brodie drew a quick breath—it was a silver fox. He raised the gun. Up went the slim beautiful head, the pointed silken ears, the silvery plume sinking slowly as he turned, nostrils quivering at the hated scent.
Brodie’s hand shook, the prize was so near but it was so easy to miss. Then the rifle spoke and the fox tumbled backward off the stone and lay still.
The trapper picked him up and held the warm body caressingly, exultation mingled with regret in his face. The fur was soft and rippled back firmly as he pressed it down. It was magnificent, a treasure, yet Brodie was remembering the keen, eager eyes of the fox as they had met his own. He shook himself angrily; the trap-line is no place for sentiment.
DUVAL was waiting as he "Came up and Brodie’s face flushed with boyish pride as he threw the fox at his partner’s feet. Duval broke into loud voiced wonder, well larded with profanity.
“So you got him, did you?” he remarked sourly, shifting
his wad of tobacco into his cheek. “Told you I seen him. Where d i d you pick him up?” “Shot him over in the swamp,” Brodie said cheerfully, throwing out the spent shell from his rifle. “That’s a good day’s work?” “For you,” Duval growled, his face surly. Brodie looked up.
“For us both, of course. We’re splitten even, ain’t we?”
Duval made no reply; he was running his hand through the smoky fur and making mental calculations as to the price it would bring. Brodie noted that Duval’s catch had been small; he had taken only one undersized mink and a few weasel. Luck would have been poor without the fox.
“Takin’ it home now?” Duval handed over the fox reluctantly, but he had thrown off his sullen man-
Continued on page 57
Continued, from page 33
Outlaws of the Trail
ner. Then as Brodie nodded, he said; eagerly: “I’ll give you a hand at the skin, if you say so.” “Sure Mark,” Brodie responded heartily, “We’ll have an early bite and fix em right up. Come along.” THE outlaw sighted them as they reached the flats and retreated around the corner of the camp. He refused to come around for Brodie and bristled up as Duval approached. The man’s eyes held a
kind of furtive venom as he looked at the dog and Brodie noticed it. It struck him that Duval and the dog were near of a kin, both sullen, suspicious and ready to bite. They ate supper—of beans and heavy bacon—as only two hearty bushmen can —and washed it down with steaming coffee. Duval’s tongue loosened under the pleasant snap of the fire and the warm food; he became chatty, even jovial.
Continued on page 59
Continued from page 57
Brodie’s dislike evaporated, he began to think that he had misjudged Duval; he was not to blame for his îll-favoured face.
“Weren’t walkin’ around in your sleep, last night, Mark?” husked, jokingly, as he reached for the coffee and poured Duval another cup.
Duval turned sharply, the swarthy red darkening his cheeks. “What do you mean?” he barked. “Nothing much,” Brodie returned coolly. “I thought I saw you walking away from the camp last night. Must of dreamed it.”
For a moment Duval was silent then he burst into a hoarse laugh. “You saw me alright,” he explained. “I thought I heard that pet of yours on the trap line and I came over to make sure.”
“You found out?”
“Rather. He started to cuss as soon as I whistled, so I lit out. I never thought about scaring you, though.” Duval spoke sneeringly and Brodie felt that he was lying. But he was a cool man; he pushed the table back and said quietly; “Now, we’ll get to work.”
They worked steadily, with little talk and both men felt relieved when the skins were stretched and hung on the wall.
“We ought to do pretty well.”
Duval stood gloating over the pile of skins that represented Brodie’s winter’s work. “We ought to pull out with a few thousand apiece, eh, Brodie?”
“We ought to,” Brodie answered, a bit absently. He was wondering if Mark’s help would offset the loss of half the silver gray. He hadn’t been doing so well lately.
He brought the dog in and fed him, after which the outlaw curled up by the fire and watched the two men with his smoldering gaze. And Duval in turn watched him, with something like recognition in his near set eyes.
“You’ll be pulling out when the season’s over, I suppose?” Brodie said casually, as he lit the lamp. “This your first year up here, Mark?”
“Yes, by Judas,” he responded loudly, “and my last. What ails that confounded brute, anyway?”
THE dog had risen, had crept forward, the leash straining at his neck. He was watching Duval with lips that curled away from his white fangs and a look of almost human hate was in his eyes. Duval sprang to his feet and picked up a heavy stool menacingly, but Brodie caught it and said, sharply: “Don’t be a fool. Sit down.”
“Seems like he knows you, don’t it? Ever see him before, do you think?” Duval snorted, wrathfully:
“He ain’t no dog,” he grumbled. “He’s a devil. If he ever tries his teeth on me, he’ll know it. You’re crazy to keep him.” “Perhaps,” Brodie sucked his pipe stubbornly. “But he wont bite if you leave him alone, Pardner.” The other laughed, sheepishly; “Well, there ain’t no use us scrappin’ over a damned dog, is there? You’re welcome to him. Have a -cigar?”
He drew two cigars from his breast pocket, lit one and tossed the other to Brodie. Then he stood up.
“Guess it is time I was going,” he said, yawning. “Well, so long, Steve.”
He went stumbling out into the night and Brodie shut the door with a distinct sense of relief. He snapped his fingers at the dog. “Glad to get shut of him, eh?” he asked gently, as the brute raised his head. “Hate him like poison, don’t you?”
He sat down, fingering the cigar, his brow creased into heavy lines. He was thinking, deeply, purposely. Then he got up, laid the cigar on the shelf by the lamp and pulled on his coat. He loosened the dog and went out, locking the door.
IT WAS bright moonlight; the trees were making long black shadows on the snow and down in the swamp a lonely owl hooted, mournfully. Brodie hurried across the flats and the forest swallowed him. After a half hour’s steady tramp he reached Duval’s lines; here he paused and listened, keeping well in the shadow. It was easy to find the trail and Brodie followed it, until he had covered at least half of Duval’s range. Trap after trap he found and .examined, his keen eyes noting every track. It was a dangerous undertaking; the trapper knew that he might be shot on sight, for pelt thieves get short thrift; still he went on. And at last he turned, satisfied, knowing that Duval would never fool him a second time.
Brodie had discovered the reason of Duval’s dwindling catch—he was holding
out on him. Not once only, but many times he had found evidence of the kill, yet Duval had reported a far smaller number. Brodie smiled grimly. He ought to have been wise to a trick like that. Yet if he had not seen the man hanging about the camp he might have swallowed it— bait, hook and sinker.
As Brodie let himself into the cabin again the dog thumped a greeting and he reflected on the fact that the outlaw had distrusted the man from the first. Was he an earlier master whom the dog feared and hated?
Brodie was wide awake after his disturbing discovery. He thrashed the matter over by the fire, then with a chuckle he took Duval’s cigar from the shelf and lit it._ It was a good cigar and the trapper sniffed it keenly; he gave himself few luxuries like this. The fragrant nervelulling weed made him drowsy, he moved across the bunk and relaxed into it, almost asleep. The still burning stub fell unheeded to the floor and as he drifted off to sleep Brodie remembered that he had forgotten to tie the dog or lock the door again.
IN SHIFTI ' dawn a man crept softly to the cabin door and stood, listening. All was still. A smoky lamp burned with a sick flame on the shelf and the man, emboldened, peered in the unshaded window. He saw Brodie sleeping heavily on the bed, one arm trailing to the floor. The dog was not in sight.
Duval hesitated, then drawing a heavy revolver from his belt, he tried the door. It opened silently, under his touch. The man drew a quick breath and stepped inside. It was almost too easy.
He stood by the stove, looking down on the helpless Brodie with a mocking smile on his lips. He was his own man again, when he had the gun. The dog was gone evidently, but he no longer feared the brute. Still, it was a relief to find him gone. With another look at the flushed face of the sleeping man he turned and began leisurely to pick over the bundle of pelts. His eyes rested, triumphantly, on the silver fox.
There had been no sound, but something made him turn, the furs slipping to the floor.
Before him, crouched for a spring, was the Outlaw, his powerful muscles quivering, teeth bared and gleaming. Duval fired, but the bullet whistled harmlessly into the rafters as the hurtling bulk of fury sent his arm up and the gun flying from his hand. He uttered a bellow of fear and shrank back against the wall, shielding his face.
At the shot Brodie stirred, moaned, then presently raised his head. His bloodshot eyes wavered, then focussed on the face of Mark Duval, white with fear and with the look of a trapped wolverine. He sat up, swaying, feeling sick and weak, and saw the dog on guard, motionless on the floor. He lay back puzzled, clutching at his wandering wits.
Duval was cursing now, raving in angry fury, and again pleading in a shaken whine, threatening. Brodie’s brain cleared. A grin wrinkled across his face as he remembered, piecing the past few hours together; the fox, the cheating; the drugged cigar. He had laid his plans well, but thanks to the outlaw, they were not working just right. The dog had never stirred; he was like fate, grim, patient, biding his time.
BRODIE sat up and Duval let his arms drop. “Call off this damned dog, Brodie,” he commanded threateningly. Brodie smiled grimly. “Why should I?” he drawled slowly. “Visitin’ kind of early ain’t you, Mark?”
“Call him off, I say, or I’ll brain him and you too.”
Brodie had discovered the silver pelt on the floor. He reached for his gun. As he did so, the heavy stool crashed down on the outlaw’s head and Duval leaped. The dog yelped once and was still, but the man’s leap had carried him over and his powerful hands caught the rifle that Brodie was lifting from the hook.
“Now,” he sneered, brutally, looking into the other’s eyes with an evil leer; “Now, we’ll settle with you.” The next instant Brodie felt himself thrown forward on his aggressor’s shoulders. The white teeth flashed and Duval’s screams of terror died with a gurgle. He raised wildly imploring eyes and commenced to sob, horribly. Brodie picked himself up: the room seemed to rock madly and he
stood swaying, unable to move. Then the door opened. “Good Heavens! What’s this?” The short, stocky man exclaimed as he rushed forward, and the men behind him pressed into the camp, staring. He pulled the dog off and bent to examine the wounded man. Then he grunted. “Well, we’ve found him, boys,” he said briskly. “It’s Cocaine Charley, all right. He’s about all in, too.” He turned to Brodie: “How’d it come, Stranger?” Brodie took his eyes from Duval’s white face and lifted them to the curious ones that surrounded him. “I’ll have to begin at the beginning,” he said painfully, and the men listened eagerly. He saw the look of suspicion leave their faces as he told his story, while the man who was binding up Duval’s lacerated throat stared keenly at the dog. He rose at last and walked to where the outlaw lay licking his shoulder where the stool had cut it and looked down at him thoughtfully. Then he turned to Brodie. “You’re mighty lucky, Stranger,” he assured him. “This fellow is a bad egg. He’s wanted for shooting Inspector Brock
last winter and for peddling dope. The dog knew him, you bet.” “Knew him?” “Sure thing. That’s Jock, the best police dog in the north. Brock raised and trained him t> i hv, wandered away after Brock was shot. Trailing Cocaine Charley I suppose. Good old Jock.” “Jock?” echoed Brodie, chuckling, “I never thought of Jock.” After the men had gone Brodie sat down and looked thoughtfully at Jock. He lay sprawled at his ease, a different posture than his usual tense crouch. It was as though his work was done. Jock was surely a one man dog; he had revenged his master’s death and other men would be just men to him. So Brodie reasoned and asked himself why he had kept him. The men would have taken him gladly, for their comrade’s sake. He bent forward and held out his hand. “Jock,” he asked, wistfully, “goin’ to be pals now?” Stiffly the dog rose and crept shyly to his knee. He lifted his slim nose and a red tongue touched the trapper’s cheek. After which he curled himself at his feet and promptly went to sleep again.