Nosing weakly to and fro, Jan found on a low shelf a can of milk. A half-blind jab of his muzzle brought it tumbling to the ground. Its lid was open, but the milk was firmly frozen. Jan licked at it, cutting his deep flews as he did so on the uneven edges of the tin. The warmth of his tongue extracted a certain sweet milkiness from this. But the metal edges were raw and sharp; Jan’s exhaustion was very great, and presently he sank down upon the twig-strewn ground, and lay there, breathing in weak, sobbingly uncertain gasps, the milk-can between his outstretched paws.
Jan was now drawing very near, nearer than he had ever been before, to the Great Divide.
Within a hundred yards of Jan were groups of solid frame houses, with warm kitchens in them, and abundant food. But the tent, standing by itself, came first; and, though he could not know it, the tent was, on the whole, the very best of all the habitations in that bleak little town—for Jan. For this tent was the temporary home of an American named Willis—James Gurney Willis; as knowledgeable a man as Jean himself and, in addition, one known wherever he went into the northland as a white man.
Not many minutes after Jan’s lying down there Jim Willis came striding up to his tent from the wharf, and found the half of its floor-space occupied by the gaunt wreck of the biggest hound he had ever seen. Willis was a man of experience in other places than the northland, and he would always have known a bloodhound when he saw one. But never had he seen a hound of any kind with such a frame as that he saw before him now. The dead, blood-matted black and iron-gray coat was no bloodhound’s coat, he thought; too long and wiry and dense for that. But yet the head—And, anyway, thought Willis, how came the poor beast to have died just there, in his tent?
And in that moment the heavy lids of Jan’s eyes twitched and lifted a little. It was rather ghastly. They showed no eyes, properly speaking. The eyes seemed to have receded, turned over, disappeared in some way. All that the lifted lids showed Willis was two deep, triangular patches of blood-red membrane. And above the prominent, thatched brows rose the noble bloodhound forehead, serried wrinkle over wrinkle to the lofty peak of the skull.
“My God!” muttered Willis, with no irreverent intent.
Always rich in the bloodhound characteristic of abundant folds of loose, rolling skin about the head, neck, and shoulders, the wreck of Jan, from which so very many pounds of solid flesh had been lost during the past month, seemed to carry the skin of two hounds. And set deep in these pouched and pendent folds of skin—tattered, blood-stained banners of the hound’s past glories—the face of Jan was as a wedge, incredibly long and narrow.
His eyes had been torn out, it seemed. That was what forced the exclamation from Willis. But it was only an abnormal extension of the blood-red haws that Willis saw. The eyeballs had rolled up and back somewhat, as they mostly do when a hound is in extremis; but they would have shown if Jan had had the strength properly to lift his lids. Yet he had seen Willis. It was his utter weakness, combined with the hanging weight of his wrinkled face and flew-skin, that caused the ghastly show of blood-red membrane only where eyeballs should have been.