Jim Willis flung all his master’s authority into the harsh peremptoriness of his last call. And Jan checked in his stride as he heard it. Then the hound shook his shoulders as though a whip-lash had struck them, sniffed hard again at the trail, and went on.
Willis caused his whip to sing, and himself shouted till he was hoarse. Jan, the perfect exemplar of sled-dog discipline, apparently defied him. The big hound was out of sight now.
“Well!” exclaimed Willis as he turned to unharness and feed his other dogs. And again, “Well!” And then, after a pause: “Now I know you’re plumb crazy. But all the same—Well, it’s got me properly beat. Anyhow, crazy or no, I guess you’re meat just the same, an’, by the great Geewhillikins! you’ll be dead meat, an’ digested meat at that, before you’re an hour older, my son, if I know anything o’ wolves.” Later, as he proceeded to thaw out his supper, “Well, I do reckon that’s a blame pity,” growled Willis to his fire, by way of epitaph. And for Jim Willis that was saying a good deal.
THE END OF JAN’S LONE TRAIL
With every stride in his solitary progress along that dark trail Jan’s gait and appearance took on more of certitude and of swift concentration upon an increasingly clear and definite objective.
Of the wolves in the neighborhood all save two remained, uneasily ranging the neighborhood of the trail to the rear of Willis’s camp. As it seemed to them, Jim Willis’s outfit was a sure and safe quarry. It represented meat which must, in due course, become food for them. And so they did not wish to leave it behind them, in a country bare of game.
Two venturesome speculators from the pack had, however, worked round to the front, one on either side of the trail. And these were now loping silent along, each sixty or seventy yards away, watching Jan. Jan was conscious of their presence, as one is conscious of the proximity of mosquitoes. He regarded their presence neither more nor less seriously than this. But he did not forget them. Now and again one or other of them would close in to, perhaps, twenty or thirty paces in a sweeping curve. Then Jan’s lip would writhe and rise on the side nearest the encroaching wolf, and a long, bitter snarl of warning would escape him.
“If I hadn’t got important business in hand, I’d stop and flay you for your insolence,” his snarl said. “I’ll do it now, if you’re not careful. Sheer off!”
And each time the wolf sheered off, in a sweeping curve, still keeping the lone hound under careful observation.
Wolves are very acute judges; desperate fighters for their lives and when driven by hunger, but at no time really brave. If Jan had fallen by the way, these two would have been into him like knives. While he ran, exhibiting his fine powers, and snarled, showing his fearlessness, no two wolves would tackle him, and even the full pack would likely have trailed him for miles before venturing an attack.