Here again, and for the hundredth time that night, Bill’s icy self-control, his really marvelous command of his impulses, was sorely tried. His enemy actually was recumbent in the snow before him, while he, taut as a strung bow, was most exquisitely poised for the attack. Why fight? Why not swift delicious murder, and the gush of the loathed one’s throat-blood between his fangs? Bill knew well why it must not be. But given the knowledge, how many dogs in his case, nay, how many men similarly tempted, could have forced discretion to master impulse?
Attempted murder must mean furious uproar, and uproar must mean attempted rescue; and attempted rescue, so close to camp, might well rob Bill of the life he claimed. It might leave Jan alive and himself clubbed into insensibility. In the fire-lighted brain of Bill was understanding of all things, and the determination to take no chances with regard to this the greatest killing of his life.
And so, with the most delicate care, the most minutely measured instalments of provocation, he proceeded to “crowd” the infinitely sluggish Jan. So sunk in sloth was Jan that he, who three hours earlier had been pricked to fury by an insolent glance from Bill’s eyes, now positively submitted to the actual touch of Bill’s nose on his hocks before he would budge. And then with a long snarl he only edged himself a yard or two away.
“Be still, be still! For God’s sake give peace!” his heavy movements seemed to say.
Peace! And in Bill’s lighted brain the roar of furnaces and the remorseless whirl of swiftly driven machinery!
With the fathomless scorn of the self-mastering ascetic for the sodden debauchee, Bill proceeded coldly with his task of “crowding” Jan out and away from the safety of that place and into the wilderness. In a few minutes he ventured to hasten matters by actually nipping one of Jan’s hind legs with his teeth. But with what precise delicacy! It had been sweet to drive the fangs home and feel the bone and sinew crack. But that would not mean death and might bring rescue. So Bill’s jaws pressed no more hardly than those of a nursing-mother of his kind what time she draws a too venturesome pup into the shelter of her warm dugs.
It was beautifully done; a triumph of self-mastery and an exquisitely gauged piece of tactics. It brought Jan quickly lumbering to his feet, snarling savagely but not very loudly. It sent him sullenly some twenty, thirty paces nearer to his doom and farther from the camp. A dozen paces Bill followed him, crowding threateningly to enforce the right direction. And then Bill halted, not wishing to risk causing Jan to dodge and double backward toward the camp. And because his persecutor stopped when he did, Jan followed the line of least resistance, lumbering on down the slope into the deep wood for twenty paces more before lowering himself again with a grunt for the repose which, to his glutted sloth, seemed more desirable now than all the meat in the world, aye, and of more pressing import than all his dignity, than all his new pride in working efficiency in his leadership.