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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Yellow Horde By Hal G. Evarts Characters: 13173

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The number of coyotes in Collins' territory had been cut down by half and only the wisest were left. As they grew more trap-wise the wolfer increased the cunning of his sets. Clearly marked cow trails crossed through every low saddle in the foothills and Collins studded these with traps. After once his scent was cold the coyotes had nothing to warn them of these sets, but trail trapping is largely chance and not productive of great results.

Breed saw one coyote in a trail trap and he forswore the following of cow trails. The coyotes soon learned to avoid them. Collins noted the absence of coyote tracks on trails that had once been padded thick with them and the wolfer chuckled over this evidence of their resourcefulness.

Some of Breed's pack had fallen victims to the trap line but their places had been filled by new recruits, every one trap-wise to the last degree. But even these found it increasingly difficult to retain their lives.

A new menace hovered over every coyote that ranged near the foot of the Hardpan Spur, a menace that filled the hardiest prairie wolf with dread. Many a lone coyote was suddenly startled by a huge shape that leaped for him and bore him down. None thus attacked lived to spread the warning and the only knowledge the others had of the lurking fiend was the finding of old friends, stiff and dead, their throats gashed open by savage teeth. The tracks and scent round these murder spots identified the slayer.

Flatear spent his days high in the hills and at night he dropped to the low country to perpetrate his unnatural crimes. Coyotes had violated the customs of centuries and turned their teeth against him. He now wreaked vengeance for this affront. There were no wolves to answer his call, so Flatear no longer howled, but prowled the range without a sound to warn prospective victims, a silent assassin that struck without notice.

At the end of a week he had left a long trail of victims behind but not one of Breed's pack was among them. Those that had pack-hunted with the yellow wolf and learned the advantages of combined attack in killing heavy game now put that same knowledge to good use for their own protection, sufficient evidence of the quick adaptability with which coyotes rise to meet any new emergency.

Mated pairs now ran close when hunting, sometimes traveling in fours. Flatear soon discovered that the teamwork of a pair of fighting coyotes was more than a match for even his great prowess and his kills grew fewer.

Cold fear clutched every coyote that caught a fugitive scent of the gray killer, but Breed did not share this dread. He was Flatear's match in size and strength and so was not concerned. Breed could not know that Flatear's hatred had become almost an obsession; that night after night the slayer was craftily trailing him and that killing coyotes was but a side line to lighten the hours of a protracted stalk for Breed himself. Flatear was a veteran warrior and he waited only for an opportunity to attack when he should find Breed alone. Nose and ears kept him apprised of the yellow wolf's whereabouts, but usually there were coyotes running with him and invariably the tracks of the she-fury were mingled with those of her mate. Breed was untroubled by any thought that sudden death lurked in wait for him the first time he should run alone through the sage.

While Flatear plied his bloody trade and made the nights fearsome for the coyotes, men found one more method of harrying them by day.

The first Breed knew of this danger was one day when he lay with Shady on a high point of ground. There were many things about Shady which he could not fathom. From the first he had found much of mystery in her. She insisted on traveling in broad daylight whenever the notion seized her and she seemed not to share his fear of horsemen, often rising incautiously from her bed for a better view of them, careless of the risk of their seeing her.

Shady cocked her ears alertly at a distant sound, and the same note, faint as it was, roused Breed from his nap. Somewhere off across the foothills several men had raised their voices in a wild outburst of cheers. This sounded again and again, each time from a point nearer to where Breed lay. A band of antelope sped past without following their usual custom of stopping to look back. Breed caught the vibrations of pounding hoofs, the sound of many hard-running horses blended in one. Through it all he heard an occasional note that was strange to him, a shrill, sharp note that had something of the wolf in it, yet which he knew was not made by any beast he had met before. And at this note Shady laid her ears and growled.

The cheers and the hammering hoofs came closer and Breed fixed his eyes on the edge of the flat bench spread out for half a mile before him. A coyote spurted from the mouth of a draw off to the left of Breed's position and raced across the flat. He was stretched out and running his best, but before he had covered two hundred yards five great wolfhounds poured out of the draw. They were slender and long-coupled, capable of tremendous speed, and before the coyote passed below Breed the lead dog was but a few lengths behind.

For the most part the dogs ran silently and wasted no breath in senseless clamor, but occasionally one of them loosed an eager yelp, the sound as thin and keen as his body. A dozen riders streamed across the flat on furiously running horses, cheering as they came. The coyote doubled to evade the snapping jaws of the foremost dog, and as he turned another struck him. He rolled over twice, and when he gained his feet he faced his enemies. He knew the game was up but he went down fighting,-fighting against odds without a whine; and Breed watched five savage dogs mauling a limp dead thing that ten seconds past had been his valued friend. These strange beasts did not move off as the men rode up, and Breed realized with a shock that the men did not ride with the purpose of killing them; that they were leagued together and that the dogs were the creatures of men the same as sheep and cows were their property.

He stole down the far slope, keeping the high ground between himself and the horsemen. Shady followed him closely, moving furtively and with many backward glances, her tail tucked almost between her legs, and Breed, accustomed to Shady's indifference to the approach of riders, wondered at this sudden reversal of her usual ways.

But it was not the men that roused Shady's fear; above all other things she feared and hated dogs. The few that ha

d followed their masters to Collins' house had always sensed the wild blood in her, and at the first opportunity they had pounced on her with intent to kill. Shady had found friends among the coyotes and had found only hostility among dogs. Savagery is only relative, according to the views of the one who pronounces upon it, and from Shady's experience she was right in her judgment that the ultimate limit of savagery was reached only in the dog.

The owner of the dog pack lived some ten miles from Collins and the whole countryside had assembled to witness the first race. There were fewer riders in each chase as the novelty wore off but the days were few when the owner failed to take the dogs out for a run. Wolfhounds run only by sight and coyotes are slippery prey, doubling and twisting on their trails to throw their pursuers off, so the result was always in doubt and every chase did not yield a coyote pelt.

After that first day Breed did not wait for the dogs to draw near but started off the instant he found that they were coming his way. It was Shady's habit of daylight traveling that led Breed into grave danger within a week after the dog pack had made their first run. He followed Shady down the bed of a gulch which screened their movements from prying eyes but at the same time served to shut out all the various signs by which Breed received long-range warnings. As they loitered along the bottom of the draw the antelope bands were flashing the danger sign; range cows on the ridges all stood facing the same way; everywhere coyotes were scurrying for cover, but all these things passed over Breed's head. A coyote flipped into the gulch and he did not tarry but passed Breed with merely a sidelong look and vanished round a bend.

Breed was instantly alert. He darted to the rim of the draw and looked warily about him. There was not an antelope in sight and no cows grazed in the little basin that flanked the gulch at the point where he left it; not a sign to warn him of the source of the danger. He ran for the crest of a ridge for a better view,-and the next instant he was in full flight back the way he had come, for as he sky-lined himself on the ridge five sharp-eyed wolfhounds a quarter of a mile away had darted toward him. He knew that they had seen him and were coming, that death was sweeping down on him.

He turned up the gulch and followed it toward the hills, Shady running her best to keep up with him. The dogs fanned out to look for him as they topped the ridge. The upper end of the draw widened to blend into a broad mesa and the hounds caught sight of the two wolves as they headed out across the flat. Breed had held his lead but a clean race of over a mile confronted him, the flat affording not one shred of cover. He swung his head slightly to one side as he ran, one backward-rolling eye taking in every detail of what transpired behind him.

He saw the five specks increase their speed and knew that they had sighted him again; they angled slightly and he watched them draw gradually together, their courses converging on the center of his line of flight till they were once more running well bunched,-and gaining.

His lead was being steadily cut down, the gap perceptibly lessened; the specks showed larger with every backward glance till every dog was clearly visible. Shady was fleet but her speed was no match for Breed's and he would not leave her. The high-pitched sinister yelps sounded from behind him as the eager dogs closed up, putting forth every effort to end the race before the wolves reached the choppy badland breaks at the far edge of the flat. Shady's pace was lagging, and they gained the first gulch of the broken country a bare fifty yards ahead of the leading hound.

The gulch feathered out into a maze of branching draws and Shady lost Breed on the first sharp turn and ran on alone while the dogs streamed past after the yellow wolf.

Breed slowed his pace, fear for Shady's life surmounting even the fear for his own, but as the lead dog flashed into view without any sound of a fight behind him, Breed knew that his mate was safe and he turned on the reserve speed he had not been free to use while she ran with him.

The country ahead was a tangle of small flat-tops, crisscrossed by a network of badland washes and cut-bank draws, and for two miles he eluded the dog pack by sheer brainwork and cunning. But the hounds pressed him hard. Their speed was greater than his own and each time they lost sight of him they spread out both ways. Whenever he crossed a flat-top bench some one of them always sighted him and bored straight for the spot, and his team-mates, noting this sudden burst of speed, wheeled as one and fell in behind him.

Breed's one aim was to reach the hills, knowing that once among the trees he could shake them off. His course led him ever nearer to the base of the spur but he knew at last that he could not make his goal. His muscles had lost their spring and his breath came in leaky gasps; the dogs would pull him down on the first sagebrush slopes of the hills before he could gain the shelter of the trees.

He broke cover and started up the last long sloping bench that led to the base of the spur. The mouth of every gulch behind him seemed to belch forth a dog and they raced across the bench, spread out for two hundred yards.

Then Breed sprung one last desperate trick,-a coyote trick. A badland wash intersected the flat squarely across his route and Breed leaped to the bed of it and fled fifty yards along its course, then flashed into a narrow coulee that led straight back toward the dogs. The draw was shallow, with scarcely sufficient depth to cover him, but the dogs did not suspect and as they darted on ahead Breed doubled back through the very center of the pack. He ran with the last of his strength, crept from the sheltering coulee and leaped into the center of a heavy clump of sage where he crouched flat and peered out at the puzzled dogs. Of all the beasts there are but few with the brains to plan such a coup and the nerve to carry it through when winded and played out,-and with certain death the penalty for a single slip. The ruse would not have fooled a trail hound for an instant, but with sight-hunting coursers it worked.

Breed watched the dogs swing wide and scour the country off to the right of him till they appeared as swift-skimming dots in the distance. Then one of them lined out with increased speed as he topped a ridge. One after another Breed saw them flash over the skyline and disappear.

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