The boys had practised the manipulation of the whip all their lives. They could flick a square inch of ice at thirty feet with its tip. It was capable of a gentle tap, or the force of a pistol shot, at its wielder’s discretion. The whip was the terror of the team, for even at his distance Tinker, the leader, could be brought to account if he failed to do his duty or obey commands.
There was little sickness in the Bay, and after patching up a lumberman at Grampus River, and providing some medicine for old Molly Budd’s rheumatics, Andy and Jamie turned homeward with Doctor Joe.
Near the mouth of Grampus River there was a section of “bad ice” or ice that was not always safe to be crossed, the result doubtless of cross currents in the tide. To avoid this bad ice Andy followed the shore for a considerable distance before turning northward for the twelve-mile run directly across the Bay to The Jug.
It was a dull, cold, dreary day. The snow ground and squeaked under the sledge runners. Now and again a confusion of shore ridges rendered the hauling bad and the dogs lagged.
They were midway between Grampus River and the place where they were to make the turn northward when Jamie warned:
“Look out, Andy! There’s some loose dogs comin’ out of the woods! They’ll be fightin’ the team!”
Six big beasts, larger even than Thomas Angus’s big dogs, were trotting out of the woods and upon the ice a hundred yards in advance. The team saw them, and with a howl rushed forward to the attack.
“Wolves!” yelled Andy. “They’s wolves!”
The wolves were free. The dogs were bound by harness, and thus fettered were no match for the big, wild creatures. Andy’s rifle was lashed upon the komatik. It was out of the question to free it in the moment before the wolves were upon them, and it was to be a hand-to-hand fight.
THE ALARM IN THE NIGHT
The clash came instantly. The wolf pack was upon the dogs, and dogs and wolves were at once a howling, snarling, fighting mass. Great bared fangs gleamed and snapped. It was a fight to the death, a primordial fight for the survival of the fittest.
The attack was launched with such indescribable suddenness that Doctor Joe and Jamie had scarcely time to drop from the komatik before it was begun. Andy had instinctively seized his whip and began to ply it with every opening that offered. The first stroke caught a big wolf across the eyes, and with howls of pain it immediately endeavoured to extricate itself from the fight. The lash had blinded it.
With feverish haste Doctor Joe and Jamie undid the axe and rifle from the komatik, and Doctor Joe with the axe and Jamie with the rifle charged the fighting beasts. A lucky blow from the axe split a wolf’s head. Jamie quickly found that to shoot at a distance he must take the risk of killing one of the dogs, but watching for an opening, with the muzzle of the rifle within an inch of a big wolf’s body, he fired and another wolf was disposed of.