With a patience no red Indian could have excelled, Bill repeated these tactics twenty or thirty times; but always with the same nicely balanced accuracy; with ample pauses between each fresh beginning; with mathematically accurate gauging of the precise provocation needed to shift Jan farther and farther into the wilderness without seriously and dangerously arousing his somnolent faculties.
But though he himself did not know it, and Bill could not possibly suspect it, it yet was a fact that something of wakefulness remained and grew through the intervals between Jan’s forced marches. It seemed that though he did most unwillingly move on and on at Bill’s cunningly given behests, Jan barely was roused from his heavy sleep into which he plunged fathoms deep every time he resumed the recumbent position. So it seemed. Thus Bill saw the outworking of his devilishly ingenious tactics. And could Jan have understood any challenge on the subject, he would have admitted that this was the way it worked.
And now, toward the end of Jan’s twentieth or thirtieth move, when his subconsciousness was simply one ache of continuous boding discomfort, while still his outer consciousness barely permitted the lifting of his heavy eyelids, now Bill, that incarnation of calculating watchfulness, gathered up his magnificent muscles for the act which should bring the first instalment of his reward, the guerdon of his season of super-canine self-mastery. In another second or so Jan would sink down again to sleep. Bill did not snarl or growl. He needed no trumpet-call. He made no more sound than a cat makes in leaping for a bird. Yet he rushed upon the blinking, half-comatose Jan as though impelled thereto from the mouth of a spring cannon.
There was no possibility that in his then condition Jan could withstand the shock of that furious impact. And he did not. Indeed, he spun through the air feet uppermost, and Bill, in his eyes a cold flame of elation, knew that when he did reach earth it would be to yield the throat-hold at which your fighting-dog always aims, and to die the death which he, Bill, had long pictured for the usurper of his office.
THE FIGHT IN THE WOODS
The one thing for which Bill had made no allowance was the thing of which he could not possibly have any knowledge; the strength of Jan’s subconscious self which had now been wide awake for some time.
During the fraction of time which Jan’s body spent in mid-air this subconscious self of his worked several miracles simultaneously. It jagged the whole of Jan’s outer consciousness into the widest wakefulness. It explained to him the inner meaning of most things that had happened since Jean shot the moose. And acting through a muscular system which, always fine, had been made well-nigh perfect during the past six weeks, it succeeded in accomplishing the patently impossible and bringing Jan to earth again almost erect, certainly on his four feet and with spread jaws pointing toward Bill—instead of landing him on the broad of his back where Bill had quite properly and logically expected to see him.