Surely this was the time for Nepeese to come home! He watched for her expectantly. He went still more frequently to their swimming pool in the forest, and he hung closely to the burned cabin and the dog corral. Twice he sprang into the pool and whined as he swam about, as though she surely must join him in their old water frolic. And now, as the spring passed and summer came, there settled upon him slowly the gloom and misery of utter hopelessness. The flowers were all out now, and even the bakneesh vines glowed like red fire in the woods. Patches of green were beginning to hide the charred heap where the cabin had stood, and the blue-flower vines that covered the princess mother’s grave were reaching out toward Pierrot’s, as if the princess mother herself were the spirit of them.
All these things were happening, and the birds had mated and nested, and still Nepeese did not come! And at last something broke inside of Baree, his last hope, perhaps, his last dream; and one day he bade good-bye to the Gray Loon.
No one can say what it cost him to go. No one can say how he fought against the things that were holding him to the tepee, the old swimming pool, the familiar paths in the forest, and the two graves that were not so lonely now under the tall spruce. He went. He had no reason—simply went. It may be that there is a Master whose hand guides the beast as well as the man, and that we know just enough of this guidance to call it instinct. For, in dragging himself away, Baree faced the Great Adventure.
It was there, in the north, waiting for him—and into the north he went.
It was early in August when Baree left the Gray Loon. He had no objective in view. But there was still left upon his mind, like the delicate impression of light and shadow on a negative, the memories of his earlier days. Things and happenings that he had almost forgotten recurred to him now, as his trail led him farther and farther away from the Gray Loon. And his earlier experiences became real again, pictures thrown out afresh in his mind by the breaking of the last ties that held him to the home of the Willow. Involuntarily he followed the trail of these impressions—of these past happenings, and slowly they helped to build up new interests for him.
A year in his life was a long time—a decade of man’s experience. It was more than a year ago that he had left Kazan and Gray Wolf and the old windfall, and yet now there came back to him indistinct memories of those days of his earliest puppyhood, of the stream into which he had fallen, and of his fierce battle with Papayuchisew. It was his later experiences that roused the older memories. He came to the blind canyon up which Nepeese and Pierrot had chased him. That seemed but yesterday. He entered the little meadow, and stood beside the great rock that had almost crushed the life out of the Willow’s body; and then he remembered where Wakayoo, his big bear friend, had died under Pierrot’s rifle—and he smelled of Wakayoo’s whitened bones where they lay scattered in the green grass, with flowers growing up among them.