The love story of the wolf man of Fire River and the girl who believed that “a man's country" must always be a woman's country too
SEWELL PEASLEE WRIGHT
SADI GAUVIN waited, seated comfortably on a broad, heavy counter of the Hudson’s Bay store at Fire River, and looked around the big room contentedly.
It was good to be back among his friends. Here were familar sights, familiar smells, familiar faces. The flyspecked display cases, the lanterns dangling from the ceiling, the old cross-cut saws on their pegs overhead, along the beams. The familiar bouquet of woollens and kerosene, soap and bacon, cheap prints and onions. The great stove, glowing. Old Keenan, the factor, pottering around selling coarse, splintery-looking woollen socks to a greasy half-breed. And little ’Toinette D’Anjou, who worked in the store, filling a grocery order for the ’breed’s squaw.
Yes, it was good to get back. Not that his trips “outside” were not good, too: they were. They made him much money, those trips. Tours, Sadi called them.
He smiled, and leaned back more comfortably on the counter, waiting for the attention of his little audience again.
There were few men in all the north country of more imposing build. Sadi stood six feet three inches in his naked feet, and he weighed two hundred and thirty pounds. None of that weight was fat.
His head was huge and shaggy like a bison’s, his face round and pink, and he wore a full beard, short and curly and very, very black. Many men in the North grow beards in the winter. Sadi’s eyes were dark and jovial; at times there was a roguish twinkle in their depths that was almost boyish.
Sadi was a bushman, but he was more than this. He was a showman. It was because he was a showman that he called himself “Mahagan Sadi.”
Mahagan, in the Cree tongue, means “wolf,” and Sadi Gauvin was, according to the numerous newspaper clippings he carried in a capacious wallet, “the only man in the world who had ever harnessed and driven a team of fullblooded timber wolves.” “Mahagan Sadi”: that had a wild northern flavor to that name; people “outside” rolled it under their tongues.
They liked that sort of thing, just as they liked Sadi’s amazing size, his thunderous bass voice, his bright, strange garments, and his marvellously long and cupninglybraided Eskimo whip.
The ’breed and his squaw completed their bargaining and left, the squaw carrying all the packages, the man slouching along behind, lighting a crumpled cigarette. Sadi straightened and smiled as old Keenan lounged up, and ’Toinette sat down behind the counter across the aisle.
“An’ so,” Sadi went on, picking up the thread of his story where he had dropped it, “I drive the team through the main street of the city, right up to the newspaper office, where there are cameras to take my picture. That night it is on the front page, one picture, with a big story about Mahagan Sadi, the wolf-man; the only human who has ever dared to harness up the timber wolves and drive them like dogs.” Sadi roared with pleasure at the thought.
“That night there is a banquet, in the honor
of,~ myself," he con tinued, chuckling. "It is that I must mak' the speech after it is over.
“It is warm in that room, but I wear my pacs, my heavy mackinaw trousers, and the great fur koulatang with the capote of red fox fur thrown back. Oh, a brave sight, that; every eye v/as on Sadi Gauvin as we ate. At my waist, through the ceinture fléchée around my middle, I carry my long whip—you have seen that whip, you; thirty feet in length it is, made by the Eskimos; and as I get up to speak, I take the whip in my hand and play with it, that all may see it. There is no other whip like that one in this country; you should see their eyes grow big as they stare at the long, looped lashes of Mahagan Sadi’s whip!”
Sadi paused to laugh again, his jovial eyes roaming around the room. The creamy oval face of ’Toinette D’Anjou was shining with interest; her dark eyes fixed on Sadi with outspoken admiration and worship. Sadi’s chest swelled a little, and he made a sweeping gesture with one mighty arm as he went on.
“These people, they look upon me as a strange creature from the wild country of the north. In the States, this is a far country indeed, one understands.
“So I speak to them brokenly. I say, ‘An’ so I mak’ the . . . what you say?
We call him Le loup. And I stop there and look around as though I do not know how to go on. Someone who sits near speaks some French, and
he helps me: Le loup, that means “wolf”,’ he says, and I smile and thank him. ‘The wolf, that is it,’ I say. ‘In my own tongue, it is Le loup, and in the Indian which I speak also it is mahagan; I do not know the English so well. You will pardon, non?
“You should see them smile and clap their hands then. They think I am very savage and strange. And so, all through my speech, I stumble over words, and use the French or the Indian. They laugh when I tell them my lead wolf is named Waskapiskitagin, and I get three or four to try to say that word. I tell them it means, in Cree, ‘dynamite,’ and one man writes it down, asking me to spell it. But I shrug, so, and tell him I cannot spell. I can only say it—which is very true. One cannot spell the Cree.
“An’ when I am finish, there is much clapping of hands; you should hear the room. It is like the ice breaking up in the spring. And the newspaper man, he gives me my cheque—which is large, I promise you!— and there is a great whoom as the flashlight goes off and another picture of me is taken, and then the banquet is all over, and there is a crowd of men and women around me, asking many, many questions.
Ami not afraid of the big wolves? An’ will they not bite? How cold does it get in my country? An’ do we really use dogs and wolves to pull our sleds? Have I ever seen a moose? An’ do I trap the wolves full grown,
or tame them from pups? Oh, a thousand questions, and all the time the women, who are very beautiful, look up into my face with
eyes which do not show hate, I willingly promise you !” Sadi roared again his thunderous laugh, boastful and proud, and his wandering eyes rested again for a moment on the rapt, worshipping face of ’Toinette. “Ho! ’Tite-femme,” he nodded, “you should have been there! The silks and satins and the fine furs of those women! And their beauty ! I tell you, you would have cried your pretty eyes out with envy!”
’Toinette colored with confusion; her eyes were happy, yet there was a hurt look in their depths. Sadi knew why her eyes were happy, and he laughed again, rocking jovially on the broad counter. He had addressed himself to her; he had called her eyes pretty. Less notice than that from Mahagan Sadi would have made happy the eyes of many women. He knew also the why of that look of hurt; she did not like it that he had thought other women beautiful.
Sadi had not lied in calling ’Toinette’s eyes pretty. They were pretty, with their long black lashes, and they were not the only attractive feature of that little oval face. Her nose was small and delicately molded, and her mouth was soft, vivid scarlet against the creamy beauty of her skin. Oh, there were many men in Fire River who would have given much to hear ’Toinette say “yes” to their pleadings, and very few single men who had not heard her, softly and regretfully, say “no.”
That was one of the reasons, undoubtedly, why Sadi was not particularly popular with the male element of the little backwoods town. It was so evident that little ’Toinette worshipped the huge Sadi, and just as evident that Sadi cared nothing for her.
True, he had a pet name for her, “’Tite-femme,” and he did seem to take particular pleasure in her admiration, but Mahagan Sadi was not, it would appear, the kind that marries.
“A woman? Pouf! There are many women,” he would say, with a shrug and a gesture which seemed to imply that to Mahagan Sadi all women were but playthings. “Weak and full of tears and words, these women. I like men!” And Sadi would flex the mighty muscles of his arms, then, as though to show that he was indeed a man among men.
Sadi slipped down from the counter, both hands thrust deep into the capacious pockets of his plaid mackinaw trousers, and swaggered across the room toward ’Toinette.
Was he not Mahagan Sadi with his pictures in a score of papers? Had he not driven his team of timber wolves through the streets of Montreal and New York and Buffalo and Detroit and other great cities, while thousands stood along the curb and cheered? He had. Was he not the strongest of all the strong men in Fire River, and the bush for many miles around? He was. And did he not make more money than any, except Joe Simard, who made high wine back in the bush, and lived in fear
of the Red Coats and the Provincials?
He did. Then is it any wonder that Mahagan Sadi should swagger a trifle?
Indolently, patronizingly, Sadi leaned his huge bulk across ’Toinette’s counter.
“You would like to see these beautiful women outside, eh?” he asked jovially.
“Out there, in the so big cities?”
“I would be afraid of those cities,” replied ’Toinette shyly. “I do not know them and their ways, as well as you do, Sadi.”
Mahagan Sadi laughed deep in his cavernous, barrellike chest, and his black beard, short and curly, rippled with his laughter.
“It is so; it is so,” he nodded. “I know those cities, ’Tite-femme. Have not I and my wolves raced down their main streets?”
“It must be wonderful to do so,” breathed ’Toinette adoringly. “But I—I should be afraid. Afraid of the cities and the so many people, and afraid also of your wolves. They are very fierce, those ones ! That Waskapiskitagin—some day he will hurt you, Sadi.” Throwing back his huge head, Sadi roared delightedly. “Me? Hurt me? Ho! It is like a woman to be afraid. That is why I do not care for women. They cry and turn white; they do not fight; they are weak. But Mahagan Sadi is not afraid, even of Waskapiskitagin who is a very bad wolf. No. Some day I will give you a ride with my wolves, ’Tite-femme; you would like that?” ’Toinette’s eyes grew round and bright; her lips parted in a quick, delighted smile.
“You would take me to ride behind your wolves? Oh, could that be done, Sadi?”
“But certainly,” nodded Sadi generously. “Have I not driven the wives of two mayors? Some day very soon you shall ride behind my wolves. This very next Sunday, yes. I promise you.”
Casually, Sadi made a few small purchases for the house, exchanged some comments on the price of fur with the taciturn Keenan, and strolled grandly out of the store.
rT*'HE street—there was but one street in Fire River— was dark and nearly deserted. Great mounds of shadowy snow were piled up between the walk and the street, and far down the railroad tracks, a red switch light shone like a spark of fire.
As Sadi stepped down to the sidewalk, the thin coating of snow singing crisply beneath his pacs, he became aware of a motionless, silent figure standing against the building; a
heavy, stoop-shouldered figure clad in a strange mixture of fur and ragged woollen garments.
Sadi looked into the stolid, downcast face, and smiled with sudden recognition.
“Jou, Mary,” he cried, clapping her on the shoulder. ‘‘Where’s Charley?”
The squaw looked up, her face devoid of all expression in the dim yellow
light that came through the frosted glass of the store front.
“Charley, he no good,” she commented flatly. “Him sell fur, buy booze; sell paskasagan, buy more booze. Now we have nothing to eat, eh?”
“Even sold his gun to buy liquor?” chuckled Sadi. “That’s like Charley. And you are out of grub?”
The squaw nodded hopelessly.
Sadi reached for his wallet; brought forth a greasy bill.
“Look,. Mary,” he said with a flourish. “Take this and buy what you need. Pay me in the spring, when you have many furs ... if you can. If not, then it is a gift from Mahagàn Sadi!”
A fat and grimy hand reached out and clutched the bill.
“Good,” nodded Mary. “You good man, you. Me
pay you, come spring, sure!” Sadi waved away her thanks with a generous gesture and strode down the narrow walk, the snov. whining under his feet. There was a smile on his bearded lips, and his eyes were twinkling jovially in the darkness.
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Women! How they depended upon ■nen for their happiness! And how rappy a man like Mahagan Sadi could uake them !
Under his breath he began to hum the lir of an ancient song of the voyageurs:
“La Fill’ du roi d'Espagne Vogue, marinier, vogue!
Veut apprendre un metier,
Veut apprendre un metier,
On the edge of the town a wolf howled nournfully, and Sadi smiled beneath his jeard, already frosting with his breath.
He knew that voice in the darkness; it vas the voice of old Waskapiskitagin, the eader of his string.
Wolves ! There were fit companions for L man !
^/fETHODICALLY and carefully, with
Ja sort of elephantine clumsiness, Sadi dried his few dishes and put them iway. Sadi was a bushman, and a bushnan is a good housekeeper.
He had been born in the bush country; lad lived there until he was nineteen, rhen he had worked for a time on the ailroad, and still later had joined up vith a circus as a canvasman. He had >een boss of the crew when he quit to go iack to the bush. Sooner or later, a bushnan always comes back.
But the circus had left an imprint on lim. He had learned to think as a shownan thinks. He knew how the crowds ell for the odd and unusual; the men and he animals from far places. And since >oth bushmen and circus men have to be hrewd in order to exist, Sadi had seen the lossibilities of his country and of his ucturesque self.
A crack dog team had been his first hought, but his acquired showman’s intinct told him that something more inusual was called for, to assure success. íe had cast around for a new idea, and íad hit upon the wolves. Men drove luskies, which were half wolves. Why tot drive full-blooded wolves?
They laughed at him, the men of Fire liver, but Sadi was not one to be laughed lown. He trapped his wolves, and nonths later, harnessed them. It was lecessary, at first, to starve them weak >efore he could work with them, but in ime the savage beasts learned.
A timber wolf cannot be tamed even /hen taken young, but there is a keen nalytical brain back of a timber’s 'blique eyes, and Sadi’s five gaunt beasts iad found that only by obeying could hey avoid unpleasant things. So they beyed, not with any love in their hearts, i0t with willingness or loyalty, but ullenly and silently, with only the moldering lights in their slitted eyes, and he flattening of their ears, to reveal the late that filled them.
Sadi quickly found that he had thought learly and planned well. His string of rild timber wolves struck the popular ancy. His picturesque appearance and lersonality, which he knew so well how to ccent, had helped wonderfully. At ice arnivals, and for other publicity purioses, generally sponsored by some ggressive newspaper, he had appeared vith his wolves in most of the larger ¡ties of eastern Canada and in many of he northern cities of the States.
Yes, on the whole, Sadi had done very /el) indeed. His last trip had been an 'utstanding success, and he had a wonderul letter from the newspaper man, ecommending him to other papers. He could get much business through that etter.
Humming softly beneath his breath, iadi tidied up the kitchen of his little louse at the edge of the town, and donned fis heavy mackinaw coat, his mittens,
and two grey woollen toques which he wore, as did most bushmen, one over the other. The gay koulatang with the deep, fur-lined hood, and the colorful old ceinture fléchée he left hanging on the walls of his rooms. These were not for wear around Fire River; they were “props,” for public appearances only.
As Sadi opened the door and came toward the kennels, the five wolves, who had been pacing back and forth restlessly at the ends of their chains, darted silently into their kennels.
Sadi chuckled, deep in his chest. Sly, those ones. They guessed he was coming for them.
His toboggan was stuck in a huge drift beside the house; he picked it up carelessly and tossed it down, bottom side up, before the kennels. From beneath the broad, overhanging eaves of the house he produced the harness, with its fine steel trace chains that jingled musically. Last of all he took from its peg his dog-whip; not the long, braided Eskimo affair he used for show purposes, but one only a little over a yard in length, with a thick, short lash, and a butt of soft leather heavily loaded with shot.
Holding the whip in his right hand, the loaded butt ready for use, Sadi approached the first kennel. A sullen, rippling growl came from the depths of the rude log hut, and Sadi chuckled again.
“Come, Géant,” he coaxed, pulling gently on the chain. “Come, my great one.”
Géant was the wheel dog; truly a giant in size. Outside of Waskapiskitagin, he had been the hardest of all the string to train.
Sadi dragged the wolf out • into the snow, the strength of his huge arms winning easily over the resistance offered by the wolf’s braced forelegs.
Working swiftly and carefully, Sadi slipped the collar over the wolf’s head and along the rigid neck. Then deftly he buckled the broad leather band around the belly, and snapped the steel chain traces to the inverted toboggan. Géant growled softly in his throat, and he turned to look back at his master. Laughing mockingly, Sadi sent the heavy lash hissing by a fraction of an inch from the laid-back ears.
“Do not speak so, Géant, he chuckled. “Your voice is not good, this afternoon.” The wolf threw himself in the snow, his frosty muzzle on his paws, his green, slanting eyes fixed on Sadi.
Sadi repeated the harnessing process with the next three wolves, snapping the trace of each on to the trace of the wolf immediately behind, a few inches in the rear of the collar. The traces were longer than were used ordinarily with dogs, and of fine steel chain rather than leather, for one snap of those sharp white fangs would have slashed in two the heaviest leather trace.
With four wolves harnessed and waiting, stretched out sullenly in the bluewhite snow, Sadi turned to the last kennel. Something of the good-natured, mocking light was gone from his eyes now, and he gripped his heavy whip more firmly.
Waskapiskitagin, as Sadi had said, means dynamite, and his lead dog had been well named. Here was a brute both cunning and savage; a dangerous combination always, and particularly so when both qualities are bound up together in the tawny hide of a timber wolf.
“An’ now you, Kit,” rumbled Sadi, picking up the chain that was drawn tightly into the kennel. Waskapiskitagin was a fine name for publicity purposes, but much too long for actual use, so Sadi had shortened it to “Kit.” He pulled gently on Kit’s chain, and a low, soft rumble, as of distant thunder, came from the dark depths of the kennel.
“Mon calvaire!” groaned Sadi in mock despair, “You will not come ...”
But at that instant Kit shot out from the kennel like a bolt of black lightning. Black, for Kit was a Mackenzie River wolf, taller and darker and more savage than the lighter timbers.
Kit’s eyes blazed with green fire. His ears were tucked back into the thick, erect black hair of his neck, and his jaws were parted to show his slavering white fangs and soft, blood-red tongue. His leap was straight for Sadi’s throat, protected only by his wavy black beard.
But Sadi knew Kit of old. He flung up his left arm to shield his throat, and with his right he brought the loaded whip down across Kit’s muzzle. The wolf’s teeth snapped shut with the pain of the blow, and he fell sprawling in the snow. Swiftly, Sadi brought the whip down again, as a warning and as a punishment.
“You are hard to teach, Kit,” rebuked Sadi, shaking his massive head. He slipped on Kit’s harness, the wolf’s muscles twitching at the touch of the leather. “You must learn that Mahagan Sadi is your master. Mon dieu, great one, men do not call me ‘the wolf-man’ for nothing!”
For answer, Kit turned his great head and stared back balefully. The green fire still flamed in his slitted eyes, and his hackle still bristled stiffly. A low rumble vibrated the tense cords of his lean, hard throat.
Sadi, righting the overturned toboggan, laughed jovially; a deep-chested roar of pleasure that shook his mountainous shoulders.
“What a companion for a man,” he cried. “There is spirit for you, Kit, an’ fire. I love you, Kit; there is strength an’ hate an’ fight in you. An’ now for the ’Tite-femme!”
Still chuckling in his short black beard, Sadi knelt on the back of the toboggan, tail-rope in his left hand, the whip in the other.
“Hola,” he shouted, and the wolves behind Kit sprang to their feet. “ Hi-ya!
Kit glanced back over his shoulder, and lunged forward. His traces tightened, sending a fine spray of snow into the air. His companions threw themselves into their collars, and with a jerk the toboggan started.
“Gee!” cried Sadi, his dark eyes dancing. “Gee, Kit, Gee!”
Obediently Kit swung to the right, the rest of the team following, out on to the packed snow of Fire River’s one street and raced over the packed snow toward the waiting ’Tite-femme, while Sadi chanted happily a mournful song of his people:
“Je veux mourir dans mon canot,
Sur le tombeau, près du rivage,
Vous renverserez mon canot.”
TOINETTE’S home was at the other end of the street, close to the river from which the little town got its name. Her mother had died when ’Toinette was a little girl, and she lived with her father who was a sawyer in the mill.
The five wolves raced down the long street, and Sadi noted with considerable satisfaction that the few people who were out, turned to look after him. When Mahagan Sadi drove his team of wolves, people stared—even in his own town. That was a tribute that warmed Sadi’s heart, and he waved and shouted to his team.
“ Hola, hi-ya, Kit ! Vite!” No dogs had the strength and the speed of this team; this was a string for a man to drive. Sadi thrilled as he flashed by the little greenand-black railroad station, the packed snow crisping musically beneath his weight on the toboggan.
“Ho!” he shouted in his tremendous voice as they came to ’Toinette’s modest little home. “Ho, Kit!” The wolves came to a sudden stop, their long traces clinking. All except Kit squatted in the
snow, their lolling tongues steaming. Kit stood disdainfully, and cast a glance of green hate over his shoulder.
’Toinette came hurrying from the house. She was dressed in her very best, Sadi noted with approval—for was she not being singled out for an honor she shared only with the wives of great mayors and other lovely women “outside?”
She was really very charming, Sadi decided, after a critical examination. Her creamy woollen breeches and sweater were set off by the scarlet ceinture around her waist, and the toque of the same bright color she wore over her black, crisply curling hair. ’Toinette’s perfect oval face was shining with pleasure; her great dark eyes were gleaming.
“Bo’jou’!” shouted Sadi, touching his grey toque, and bowing low. “My ’Tite-femme is beautiful today.”
“How gallant is this one,” laughed ’Toinette. “You have learned, outside, to make pretty speeches to women, non?”
There was a gay, almost mocking note in her voice that caused Sadi to glance at her in surprise. He had expected to see her flush and grow embarrassed at his broad compliment; instead—Sadi did not know that a woman is never so confident as when she knows she is beautiful, and that she is admired. This was rather a new ’Toinette, and Sadi stared at her wonderingly.
“Mahagan Sadi has made pretty speeches before this,” he countered darkly.
“Of that I have no doubt,” replied ’Toinette demurely, her eyes twinkling. “What wonderful animals those are, Sadi! So strong and savage . . . are you not afraid of these, really? Not even that leader who looks at you with his eyes so full of hate?”
Sadi, his momentarily ruffled feelings soothed instantly, glanced casually at Kit and shrugged his mighty shoulders, making little scrolls in the snow with his whip.
“They are all wolves,” he replied with magnificent carelessness. “An’ that Waskapiskitagin is very large and very savage. It takes a man to keep them in their places, those. But they know Mahagan Sadi is their master. Shall we go now, ’Tite-femme?”
’Toinette nodded, and took her place on the toboggan, tucking her little toes against the last cleat, as Sadi had done, settling her weight expertly.
“We will go up the river, eh?” proposed Sadi. “It will be smooth, and the wind has swept it nearly clear of snow. You would like that?”
“Anywhere,” nodded ’Toinette, smiling, “any trail behind such a string would be wonderful.”
Sadi smiled broadly. Here was appreciation. He cracked his whip and shouted gaily; the five wolves lunged forward, heading toward the river.
The street became a trail that wound its crooked way between stumps and brushpiles, and through a brief stretch of swamp, where the thin ice cracked and snapped beneath Sadi’s pacs. Then they swung out on to the broad, smooth surface of the river.
The sharp nails of the wolves dug into the smooth black ice; the toboggan, its bottom worn glass-smooth, drifted along behind without effort, whispering softly. Sadi trotted beside the girl, chatting casually, and at times shouting exuberantly at Kit, or cracking his whip close to the ear of a soldiering wolf.
For perhaps an hour they followed the winding river, sometimes between broad, desolate stretches of muskeg, and sometimes between narrowing, frowning banks of black, jagged rock, crested with tall, aloof black jack-pines, far above them. But most of the time the river wound easily between gently sloping hills, covered with the charred, entangled skeletons of a fire-swept forest, very black and harsh against the soft white snow. _ u
“A wonderful, beautiful country, this,'.
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said ’Toinette, her dark eyes shining. “I love it.”
Sadi smiled indulgently. He, too, loved this country. A hard, merciless, man’s country; a fitting country for Mahagan Sadi. He wondered how such a tiny, helpless little thing could love the mighty snow country, so cold, so desolate, so vast.
“A man’s country,” nodded Sadi solemnly.
’Toinette looked up at him and laughed.
“Any country that is a man’s country is a woman’s country also, my big one,” she replied quickly. “Where men go, their women go also. That has always been; it always will be.” Still smiling, she threw her weight suddenly forward, rose to her feet, and stepped lightly, perfectly balanced, off the moving toboggan.
“I become cold, Sadi,” she explained. “I will run with you for a few minutes, to get the blood stirring in my feet again.”
Kit, feeling the lightened load, turned his head and looked back. His eyes met Sadi’s, and the wolf snarled, his green eyes slitted, his twitching black lips drawn back to bare his gleaming fangs.
“Kit !” The word cracked like the whip that shot out instantly. Here was rebellion, and Sadi knew the temper of his wolves. Kit snarled again as the lash stung his withers; snarled and stopped in his tracks, half turning to face his master.
Sadi sprang forward, the heavy loaded butt of the whip lifted. Kit gathered his legs under him for a spring, his long, flat muscles twitching, a rumble like distant thunder rattling in his corded throat.
“Mon calvaire!” roared Sadi. “I—”
Just as he was about to bring his whip down on Kit’s muzzle, Sadi’s right foot slipped off a little hummock of ice, and both smooth-soled pacs shot out from under him. ’Toinette screamed, a sharp, terrible cry that seemed to hang for seconds, shuddering, in the air.
Sadi struck the ice with a crash, and gaunt black shape was upon him instantly, eyes smoking with hate; long white fangs slashing, slashing.
White with rage, Sadi fought back weakly. He had struck his head terrific blow on the ice. He was dazed and very faint. Sharp pains racked across his face, stabbed through his arm. The hot, fetid breath of the wolf was horrible in his nostrils. Sadi struggled with strengthless fury, trying to locate his whip, which had somehow been lost.
Kit lunged savagely, again and again, at Sadi’s throat, whining terribly in his eagerness. Sadi had crooked his left arm across his chest to protect this vital spot as he fell, and only this instinctive action saved his life. But the great black wolf was wearing Sadi down. Sadi felt strangely weak. There was the strong, salty taste of blood in his mouth, and a great pain seemed to have numbed his face, and his right arm—the one arm he could fight with.
But he must not give up. There was ’Tite-femme ... so very small . . . helpless . . . \ile bon dieu would but give him the strength . . .
It was strange, very strange. He remembered, now. She had been beside him almost as he fell. She had been doing something . . . something with his whip. That was why he had not found it.
He could hear the whip crashing down on Kit’s muzzle. He heard Kit whine— with pain, now. That was good. And from a very great distance . . . Had they run away and left him? . . . He could hear ’Tite-femme shouting; “Kit! Back! Back! And you others also. Down, Kit; down !” And all the time the sound of the loaded whip falling, falling . . . Why, ’Tite-femme was . . . was . . .
The world grew very dim and tilted this way and that. Then it started spinning . . . faster and faster . . .
“’Tite-femme,” whispered Sadi, and smiled, while a great pool of blood, very red and thick on the ice, gathered beside his twisted head.
BUT, Sadi,” protested ’Toinette gently. “The doctor . . ”
“Am I a man, or am I a child?” rumbled Sadi, with something like his old fire. “For three days, you say, I have been here on this bed. My beard is gone, I am bandaged; tell me what has happened, ’Tite-femme.” He ended up in a tone of voice almost wheedling.
“You are injured,” began ’Toinette hesitantly. “Your head, it struck on the ice. Then Kit . . . oh, I cannot talk of that, Sadi.”
“Tell me,” insisted Sadi fiercely.
And ’Toinette told him then, very quietly and very simply, how she had fought back the wolves, and made a tourniquet from her scarlet ceinture and kept Sadi from bleeding to death from the great gash torn in Sadi’s arm by Kit’s slashing fangs. How she had dragged him over the ice to the toboggan, and rolled him on to the thin boards, tying his body in place with the lashing ropes, while the wolves fought in their tangled traces, crazed and trembling at the scent of fresh blood.
And with Sadi’s eyes fixed on her averted, softly oval face, she told of the long trip back to town, a race against death. How she had prayed, and lashed the wolves mercilessly, blindly, through her tears.
“So,” she concluded, “I took you here to my own home and called the doctor, and when he said a man like you could not be killed by but a few wolves, I hated him for his jesting at that moment, yet loved him too ... I drove the team home and tied them out, each in his own kennel. They were so weary, they were like kittens, those. I have fed them every day since; they are well and rested and very savage again, Sadi.”
Sadi did not reply at once. He lay there, a rather pitiful figure, his face swathed in layer after layer of orderly, cris-crossing white bandages. He kept his gaze fixed on ’Toinette’s face, and his dark eyes grew softly humid.
“’Tite-femme,” he whispered. “You did all this . . . fought my wolves . . . for . . . for me?”
’Toinette turned her head away in sudden confusion; some woman’s instinct told her no human being had ever seen this side of Mahagan Sadi. She felt as though she had peeped, unexpectedly, into a very sacred, secret shrine . . .
“Yes,” she said very softly. “For you, Sadi.” Then suddenly she turned and faced him squarely, a strange, happy light in her eyes, and a faint, trembling smile upon her soft red lips. “Oh, Sadi, Sadi! Such a great figure of a man to house the heart of a little boy! Can you not see, even yet, that you . . . you are my man, Sadi? And that I . . . that I ...” But she did not need to go on, for Sadi had half risen in his bed, and his one good arm was stretched eagerly toward her.
“’Tite-femme! ’Tite-femme!” he whispered over and over. “Little woman; my little woman.”
After all, Sadi’s was but a little boy’s heart in the body of a very strong, clumsy, and not very understanding man.
AND Sadi’s poor, poor face,” mur■^A mured ’Toinette, minutes later, stroking the white bandages with a gentle hand. “There will be a great scar there, Sadi.”
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“But you do not care?” asked Sadi eagerly. “It does not matter that I will have such a scar upon my face?”
“No,” replied ’Toinette softly. “It is a scar such as a man need not be ashamed of.”
Sadi lay silent for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. A light grew slowly in his eyes; a broad smile spread across his lips.
“It is a good scar,” he said at length. “I shall always have my picture taken with that side of my face toward the camera, eh? An’ I shall tell the story of how Mahagan Sadi came by that scar; an’ the story will lose nothing in the telling, ’Tite-femme!”
“ ‘Mahagan Sadi, the wolf-man,’ these newspaper men will write, ‘bears on his face a great scar made by the fangs of that huge brute, Waskapiskitagin, his leader.’ They will love to write that, ’Tite-femme.
“An’ there will be more, much more,” he went on quickly, “Beside me as that picture is taken, there will be a little woman in a very beautiful costume of fine fur, with a ceinture of scarlet at her waist. An’ of her these newspaper men
will say, ‘The so charming wife of Mahagan Sadi: Madame Gauvin. It was this brave little woman who saved the life of her husband when he lay beneath the rending fangs of his savage leader who had turned on him. Madame Gauvin is the only one of her sex who has ever dared to lay whip or hand on the great gaunt timber wolves of ‘Mahagan Sadi!’ And those newspaper men will love to write that even more than they will love to write of the great scar upon my face, ’Tite-femme. You will be a great heroine to those men and women outside, my little one.”
“But,” whispered ’Toinette, who understood men as only women understand them, “to be the wife of this great man with the little boy’s heart, that is enough. What the others outside may say or think—pouf!” She dismissed these matters with an airy wave of one little hand, and a quick, warm smile.
Mahagan Sadi’s chest swelled just bare trifle.
“We shall do very well together, we two,” he smiled back at her. And then, almost shyly:
“Bend down ... a little closer, ’Tite-femme,” said the wolf-man softly.