They had left the swamp over a month before when it was smothered deep in snow. On the day they returned to it the sun was shining warmly in the first glorious days of spring warmth. Everywhere, big and small, there were the rushing torrents of melting snows and the crackle of crumbling ice, the dying cries of thawing rock and earth and tree, and each night for many nights past the cold pale glow of the aurora borealis had crept farther and farther toward the Pole in fading glory. So early as this the poplar buds had begun to swell and the air was filled with the sweet odor of balsam, spruce and cedar. Where there had been famine and death and stillness six weeks before, Kazan and Gray Wolf now stood at the edge of the swamp and breathed the earthy smells of spring, and listened to the sounds of life. Over their heads a pair of newly-mated moose-birds fluttered and scolded at them. A big jay sat pluming himself in the sunshine. Farther in they heard the crack of a stick broken under a heavy hoof. From the ridge behind them they caught the raw scent of a mother bear, busy pulling down the tender poplar buds for her six-weeks-old cubs, born while she was still deep in her winter sleep.
In the warmth of the sun and the sweetness of the air there breathed to Gray Wolf the mystery of matehood and of motherhood. She whined softly and rubbed her blind face against Kazan. For days, in her way, she tried to tell him. More than ever she wanted to curl herself up in that warm dry nest under the windfall. She had no desire to hunt. The crack of the dry stick under a cloven hoof and the warm scent of the she-bear and her cubs roused none of the old instincts in her. She wanted to curl herself up in the old windfall—and wait. And she tried hard to make Kazan understand her desire.
Now that the snow was gone they found that a narrow creek lay between them and the knoll on which the windfall was situated. Gray Wolf picked up her ears at the tumult of the little torrent. Since the day of the Fire, when Kazan and she had saved themselves on the sand-bar, she had ceased to have the inherent wolf horror of water. She followed fearlessly, even eagerly, behind Kazan as he sought a place where they could ford the rushing little stream. On the other side Kazan could see the big windfall. Gray Wolf could smell it and she whined joyously, with her blind face turned toward it. A hundred yards up the stream a big cedar had fallen over it and Kazan began to cross. For a moment Gray Wolf hesitated, and then followed. Side by side they trotted to the windfall. With their heads and shoulders in the dark opening to their nest they scented the air long and cautiously. Then they entered. Kazan heard Gray Wolf as she flung herself down on the dry floor of the snug cavern. She was panting, not from exhaustion, but because she was filled with a sensation of contentment and happiness. In the darkness Kazan’s own jaws fell apart. He, too, was glad to get back to their old home. He went to Gray Wolf and, panting still harder, she licked his face. It had but one meaning. And Kazan understood.