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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Yellow Horde By Hal G. Evarts Characters: 10661

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The exhilarating element of danger in trap robbing, which appeals so strongly to the coyote, held no fascination for Shady. She was vastly trap-wise but used her knowledge solely for self-preservation. Every scrap of meat on the range represented possible pain or death to her and she found no sport in close investigation with its attendant risks. She was entirely dependent upon Breed, feeling a sense of security in his nearness, but weighed down by the vast unknown which seemed to close in upon her whenever the gap between them exceeded the span of one leap. She would not touch any food other than that which he provided.

The coyotes clustered round the steer that Breed pulled down a few hours after luring Shady from the cabin and she viewed them suspiciously, warning them off by repeated growls. Peg and Cripp edged in to feed. Shady's protest rose frenziedly and she raged at them but did not attack, and the two old coyotes eyed her warily as they ate. She noted that Breed accepted their presence and she quieted and patterned her actions according to her mate's.

The rest of the pack came in. Her uneasiness persisted and for an hour she ate but little, edging away from physical contact with those who crowded about her. She pressed close to Breed's side and whirled to snap at any coyote who attempted to wedge between them, but her suspicions subsided as she found that these nips were never returned. Whenever a dog coyote was inclined to make friendly advances to Shady a low growl from Breed warned him from her side. The sense of strangeness, of having been catapulted from a sheltered life into the midst of a growling mob, wore off and Shady rapidly accustomed herself to these new conditions.

The feast was but half finished when the head of every coyote in the pack was raised at once and the shuffling feet and grinding jaws were stilled as a timber wolf howled from the slope of the Hardpan Spur. All animal sounds were suspended till the last ripples of Breed's answering cry died away; then lesser beasts, having preserved strict silence while two mighty hunters spoke, resumed their own interrupted communications.

The Coyote Prophet heard the two cries, and that baffling quality in Breed's voice was instantly clear to him, as was the reason why he had never before been able to give it name. He had quested for the difference with his ear,-and the difference lay in the feel of the sound. Collins had felt the crawling of his flesh and the roughening of his skin at the gray wolf's cry; for a man may hear that note every night of his life and the wolf shiver will shake his frame the last time it sounds as surely as it does the first. It is not fear; no man can name it; but the wolf shiver is as inseparably linked with the wolf howl as the involuntary gasp is linked with a dash of ice water on the spine. And Collins knew that that quality was lacking in Breed's cry. The personality of the gray wolf was marked by absolute savagery, his bleak outlook on life undiluted by a single ray of that humor which is so evident in every act of the dog and the prairie wolf; and this difference of temperament was reflected in his voice, apparent to the ears of the animal world, apparent to Collins only in the different way in which his subconscious mind reacted to his howl. Collins, having once defined Breed's note, its sound so identical with that of the wolf howl yet so dissimilar in the elusive feeling which accompanied it, had no further doubt that he could thereafter identify Breed by his howl.

"You, Breed! I've got your number now," he said. "I could pick you out from amongst a hundred wolves." This was merely a casual assertion, a self-congratulation over having solved the puzzle, and the Coyote Prophet made it without a thought that the day would ever come when he might have opportunity to file it among prophecies fulfilled.

The wolf howl affected Shady in a similar way, its stark savagery clashing discordantly with the dog strain in her. She felt the grating along her spine, and the hair rose with it. There was an air of expectancy among the coyotes. Heads were raised between mouthfuls and all eyes were repeatedly turned toward the hills. It was the first time that Shady had heard the cry of one of the big gray hunters. She noted the tension among her new friends without reading its portent. Of them all, Breed seemed the only one unaffected. One by one the coyotes left the feast, then the remaining few sidled hurriedly away as a huge dog wolf moved swiftly across the flat. His pace slowed as he neared the kill and he halted ten feet away, his quivering nose taking stock of the two who fed there.

Shady's long run through the sage had whipped her soft fur full of sage dust, its sharp scent nearly obliterating the conglomerate smell of the cabin which usually clung to her. The reek of coyote scent and fresh blood that permeated the spot still further concealed it, and though the wolf caught the peculiar odor he could not trace its source to her without closer inspection. He was hungry and advanced to the meat, tearing off huge bites and gulping them down till the wire edge of his hunger was appeased, then sidled cautiously round the steer to nose the mating she-wolf. As he neared her his eyes peered over her at Breed. That foreign

odor which he had noted he now traced to Shady, but having once accepted her it did not trouble him. Shady flinched away from him and Breed's lips writhed up and cupped away from his ivory fangs. There was no mistaking the snarl that accompanied this baring of his teeth and the gray wolf moved back to the opposite side of the steer.

Thereafter both wolves ate sparingly and each watched for the least hostile move in the other. The coyote pack ringed in close, awaiting the departure of the timber wolf. He frequently turned his head and favored the closer ones with a baleful stare, the move always accompanied by a flattening of his ears, and the ones so fixed by his appraising eye shrank deeper into the sage. Each time this occurred his head swung abruptly back toward Breed.

Shady feared and hated the wolf. If she thought of him in human words she would have given him the name of Flatear, and with good reason. In coyote, fox and wolf the ears are even more expressive than the eyes. A wolf's ears work when he sleeps, one of them inclining toward the least sound that reaches him. When awake his ears seem to work automatically in conjunction with nose and eyes, tipping sharply forward and turning in the direction of any strange object or questionable scent that excites his curiosity. And the flattening of the ears is indicative of his mood, preceding even the snarl, their backward angle an accurate gauge of his intent. It seemed to Shady that the big wolf's ears were chronically laid as he regarded Breed. She was unversed in the ways of her wild kinsfolk and could not know that the yellow wolf and the gray were sparring for the advantage of the first blow in the savage fight that would soon be waged for the right of proprietorship,-herself as the prize.

Both wolves centered their attention on the main issue and waited only for an opening. Shady and the restless coyotes out in the sage were forgotten, each wolf conscious only of his foe. Those others mattered not at all, for there were certain known laws which all past experience had proved unalterable. She-wolves showed small concern over the clashes of rival males; coyotes never fought with their big gray cousins, and there were no other wolves about. The issue was squarely up to them.

Each time that Breed appeared off guard for a split second the gray wolf laid his ears, the involuntary betrayal of muscles tensing for the fatal spring; and Breed's own flattening ears each time evidenced his readiness to counter. Shady sensed the enmity between them without knowing the inevitable result. Her mode of fighting was the impulsive way of the dog, the act almost simultaneous with the desire, and this protracted, cold-blooded calculation was new to her.

Breed gave an opening at last, turning and reaching for a bite of meat, and exposing the unprotected side of his neck. Flatear struck for it without a sound, driving straight across the steer with all his weight behind the gleaming rows of teeth. Breed dropped flat and as his enemy swept over him he swung his head up and sidewise in a terrible slash that tore an ugly rent in the gray wolf's paunch. They whirled face to face,-and both were treated to a series of tremendous surprises which shattered all previous convictions.

Shady harked back to the ways of her domestic ancestors, to the custom of dashing into a neighborhood dog fight and mauling the one strange dog in the lot, regardless of sex,-and Breed had been her friend long before he had become her mate. Flatear was the one strange dog to Shady, and he found himself assailed by a screeching fury who fought without care or caution, her sole aim being to sink her teeth in any available part of him. As he leaped away from this unnatural she-wolf he was met by a second surprise. The coyote pack had learned to strike when the leader struck. Peg flashed round a sage and laid open his flank, and as he whirled to face this new enemy Cripp slashed him from behind. Three coyotes darted past Breed and before he had recovered from the shock of the surprise his enemy had fled.

Flatear did not flee from fear but from an overwhelming sense of the whole world gone mad, the shattering of tradition and the overthrow of natural laws. The chaos in his mind sent him flying from this insane place within six seconds after his first attack. A mating she-wolf had been transformed into a she-fiend and in the same second he had been mobbed by coyotes. No doubt he believed with Collins that strange things had come to pass of late in the ranks of the coyote tribe. Flatear headed back for the hills out of which he had come, and as he ran his bewilderment crystallized into a consuming hatred for the strange yellow wolf, the hybrid beast who had upset the established order of things. He did not know that Breed himself had been so nearly paralyzed with sheer astonishment that he had not joined the attack.

The coyotes settled once more to the enjoyment of their interrupted banquet. Breed little realized that he had made a mortal enemy, one who would not merely attempt to deprive him of his mate during the running moon as would any other unattached dog wolf, but one whose enmity was for the individual and who had marked him for the slaughter when next they met, regardless of time or season.

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