For a long while he waited after that, straining ears and eyes out over the moving ice, and the water, and the night that was there; but nothing could he see, and nothing more he heard except at last, far away, one last, long, lonely, ghastlily lonesome howl—the howl of defeat.
Then it seemed—but truly it may only have been a trick of the moonlight as he snarled, revealing his white fangs under his wickedly-curled-back lip—it seemed, I say, that the White Wolf of the Frozen Waste grinned. And good reason had he to grin, for the life of the white wolf had been nothing more nor less than one long, bad, bold, blustering, bullying bluff! What’s that? Yes, sirs—bluff! And in this wise.
Firstly, his extraordinarily long legs gave him a height out of all proportion to his real hulk; secondly, his abnormally long and woolly coat gave him an apparent bulk which was out of all proportion to fact; thirdly, his actual bulk was really scarcely larger than that of any very large wolf; and, fourthly—but this concerned him only now—he was really quite an old wolf; one long past his prime, one quite unable to face any really full-grown fine young wolf, one retaining only his matchless speed by reason of his abnormally long legs, and his leadership by terrific and cleverly acted ferocity on the strength of his apparent giant dimensions. That was all, but it was enough; wasn’t it, boys? Would you care to have changed places with the old rascal, and played that bluff out against those odds, in that company, for years as he had done? I don’t think. No, nor I, either. It was some gamble, that. What?
At last the White Wolf of the Frozen Waste turned, with an insolent flourish of his brush, and trotted up the bank on the heels of the she-wolf, who had come to life again and preceded him into the dense tangle of the woods, which swallowed him up, him and his darned bluff, utterly.
FATE AND THE FEARFUL
We are the little folks—we!
Too little to love or to hate.—RUDYABD KIPLING.
No one ever accused him of not being all there. The job was to see what was there.
A tiny alderman of the red bank-vole people, whose tunnels marched with the road through the wood, taking the afternoon sun—a slanting copper net, it was—at his own front-door under the root of the Scots fir, was aware of a flicker at a hole’s mouth. He looked again, and saw the mouth of that hole was empty. He blinked his star-bright eyes in his fat, furry, little square head, after the manner of one who thought he had been dreaming. But catch a bank-vole dreaming! Besides, how about the squirrel overhead? He was hanging over a branch where the flicker had been, swearing fit to slit his lungs, and old squirrel wasn’t much given to make mistakes, as a rule.
The bank vole turned back into his hole, knowing the law against taking chances in the wild, and the first stride fetched him up short in violent collision with another bank-vole—otherwise red-backed field-mouse, if you like—coming the other way.