In that same moment blind Gray Wolf leaped in with a snarling cry, and fighting under Kazan’s belly, she fastened her jaws in one of the cat’s hindlegs. The bone snapped. The lynx, twice outweighed, leaped backward, dragging both Kazan and Gray Wolf. It fell back down on one of the porcupines, and a hundred quills drove into its body. Another leap and it was free—fleeing into the face of the smoke. Kazan did not pursue. Gray Wolf came to his side and licked his neck, where fresh blood was crimsoning his tawny hide. The fisher-cat lay as if dead, watching them with fierce little black eyes. The porcupines continued to chatter, as if begging for mercy. And then a thick black suffocating pall of smoke drove low over the sand-bar and with it came air that was furnace-hot.
At the uttermost end of the sand-bar Kazan and Gray Wolf rolled themselves into balls and thrust their heads under their bodies. The fire was very near now. The roar of it was like that of a great cataract, with now and then a louder crash of falling trees. The air was filled with ash and burning sparks, and twice Kazan drew forth his head to snap at blazing embers that fell upon and seared him like hot irons.
Close along the edge of the stream grew thick green bush, and when the fire reached this, it burned more slowly, and the heat grew less. Still, it was a long time before Kazan and Gray Wolf could draw forth their heads and breathe more freely. Then they found that the finger of sand reaching out into the river had saved them. Everywhere in that triangle between the two rivers the world had turned black, and was hot underfoot.
The smoke cleared away. The wind changed again, and swung down cool and fresh from the west and north. The fisher-cat was the first to move cautiously back to the forests that had been, but the porcupines were still rolled into balls when Gray Wolf and Kazan left the sand-bar. They began to travel up-stream, and before night came, their feet were sore from hot ash and burning embers.
The moon was strange and foreboding that night, like a spatter of blood in the sky, and through the long silent hours there was not even the hoot of an owl to give a sign that life still existed where yesterday had been a paradise of wild things. Kazan knew that there was nothing to hunt, and they continued to travel all that night. With dawn they struck a narrow swamp along the edge of the stream. Here beavers had built a dam, and they were able to cross over into the green country on the opposite side. For another day and another night they traveled westward, and this brought them into the thick country of swamp and timber along the Waterfound.
And as Kazan and Gray Wolf came from the west, there came from the Hudson’s Bay post to the east a slim dark-faced French half-breed by the name of Henri Loti, the most famous lynx hunter in all the Hudson’s Bay country. He was prospecting for “signs,” and he found them in abundance along the Waterfound. It was a game paradise, and the snow-shoe rabbit abounded in thousands. As a consequence, the lynxes were thick, and Henri built his trapping shack, and then returned to the post to wait until the first snows fell, when he would come back with his team, supplies and traps.