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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Yellow Horde By Hal G. Evarts Characters: 12254

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Shady's first impression after taking the wrong turn in the coulee was one of vast relief at having evaded the dogs. The recovery of her breath was accompanied by a vague sense of loss which rapidly deepened into an ache of loneliness so oppressive that her whole spirit was weighed down by it. She started up through the long crescent-shaped neck of badlands that partially encircled Collins' cabin and extended clear to the foot of the spur, knowing that this was Breed's favorite route when making for the hills. She moved slowly and with many halts, cocking her head sidewise and tilting her ears for some sound of her mate. She came out into a funnel-shaped basin that sloped down from the first sharp rise of the spur. The small end of it formed a saddle between two knobs, leading to Collins' shack as through a natural gateway.

Shady trotted to the saddle and gazed down at the wolfer's cabin five hundred yards away, the spot which had meant home to her over the greatest part of her life. The door stood invitingly open. She turned and saw the five dogs pouring down the funnel of the basin. The sudden purposeful increase of speed which Breed had noticed as the dogs left his field of view had been occasioned by the sight of Shady standing in the notch.

Without an instant's hesitation Shady headed straight for that open door, a haven of refuge which had served her well in the past when assailed by the dogs of visiting ranchers. The dogs were jaded and Shady was fresh, and she reached her goal without their gaining an inch.

Collins sat smoking his pipe when he was startled by the frenzied entrance of his former pet. Shady failed to pause for greetings but made one mad leap from the door and slid to the farthest corner under the wolfer's bunk.

Collins grunted with surprise and for a space of five seconds his brain refused to function with its usual snap. Then he rose and crossed to the door to discover the reason for Shady's headlong home-coming,-and slammed it shut with but a single second to spare.

One dog rose on his hind feet, standing higher than a man, and savagely raked the door from top to bottom with his claws while another opened his jaws wide and closed them, his teeth splintering across the smooth surface as he sought to gnaw his way inside. The remaining three circled the cabin, sniffing explosively at the cracks between the logs. Shady was seized with a fit of excessive shivering induced by these dread sounds, and Collins heard her hind leg-joints beating a spasmodic tattoo on the cabin floor. Then he turned on his ready grin.

"Just one split second more," he said, "and they'd have surged in here and wrecked this plant for fair,-and that's a fact!"

That night when Breed sent out his call for Shady there was no answering cry. He called again and again, an agony of longing and entreaty in his tones. A sickening dread entered his soul,-the fear that his mate had been caught in a trap, shot by some rider or killed in some other way by man. He little suspected that Shady was at that instant resting her head on a man's knee and enjoying the feel of his fingers scratching behind her ears.

"Good old Shady," Collins said, roughing her head between his hands. "You're a renegade now, old girl,-a she-outlaw, that's what you are. You've gone over to the wild bunch, and men will be out after your scalp; and they'll get it too. You'll go ambling up to some man and he'll blow you up. You won't stick with me now unless I keep you chained. You'll go back to 'em,-and if you're lucky you may go right on living for mebbe a month. You don't know the ropes out there and they'll pick you up."

Shady suddenly stiffened at Breed's first cry.

"Don't need to be afraid of that," Collins assured her. "That's old Breed. He won't bother you. It must be hell, Shady, to be born astraddle of a fence like you, afraid of tame dogs and the wild bunch too."

Breed howled again and Shady moved to the door and whined, scratching and sniffing along the crack. Her uneasiness increased with every howl. She clawed so vigorously at the door that it rattled on the hinges; then her pent-up emotions sought partial relief in action and she ran in crazy circles about the cabin, weaving in and out among the furniture at top speed, running over and under the bunk and leaping over chairs, then brought up in front of Collins and gazed pleadingly up into his face. The Coyote Prophet regarded her speculatively.

"I read you wrong, Shady," he said. "You're not afraid of Breed-you want to go to him, that's what; he's a friend of yours. Surely now, an old savage like him didn't go and take up with a little misfit like you."

Breed's voice sounded again and Shady raised her own, the whole cabin ringing with her long-drawn howl. Up in the funnel basin Breed had picked up her trail and was trying to work it out from among the trails left by the dogs. He stopped abruptly and listened. A strange muffled sound had reached him, hollow and drumlike, but there was a familiar chord in it, and Breed swept ahead on Shady's trail, his hope of finding her alive renewed.

"You're mated up with that yellow wolf," Collins stated. "Two freaks paired up! If you track round with Breed you may live longer than I thought. He'll show you how to beat the game." The Coyote Prophet crossed to the door and opened it. "Go to it, Pet," he said. "He's a-calling you." But the last remark was addressed to a streak that vanished into the night.

Shady met Breed in the notch and frisked wildly around him. Breed's delight in this reunion was as deep as hers but he was more dignified and staid, his emotions less openly apparent. All through the night Shady held so close to him as to brush against him frequently as they ran.

Shady rapidly absorbed much of Breed's caution. Two days after their race with the dogs Shady had occasion to revise her estimates of horsemen. Twice in the same day, after imprudently showing herself in the open, she heard the vicious reports of their guns and the balls tossed up spurts of earth about her. Thereafter she followed Breed's le

ad in all such cases. Breed's way was the wolf way, recognizing no individuals among men but classing them as a dangerous whole. Shady, having lived among them, knew them as individuals, but this knowledge was soon blurred and she too acquired the views of the wild things toward men and lumped them as a whole. There was but one reservation. She placed Collins, the one man who had been kind to her, in a class by himself.

This eccentricity was the source of much worry to Breed. Shady could see no good reason why she should not revisit Collins when the mood so moved her. One night she turned abruptly from her course and headed for the twinkling lights of the wolfer's cabin. Breed turned with her. Cripp and Peg, each with his mate, ran on either flank. The coyotes stopped two hundred yards from the house but Shady held straight ahead. Breed tried to dissuade her but to no avail. He nipped her sharply, and its only effect was to cause her to tuck her tail and spurt for the house.

Breed stopped twenty yards away, every nerve quivering from excitement over this suicidal move. He heard Shady scratch at the door. It swung back and a flood of light streamed out into the night. Breed heard a man's voice booming out a welcome; saw his mate jump up and put her paws against him, their outlines framed in the lighted doorway. Then the door closed and his mate was inside with a man, the arch enemy of all wolves. Breed whirled and fled. He ran blindly and at high-pressure speed as if he fled before an actual enemy. All his sense of balance was thrown out of gear, the fitness of things upset, and he felt his reason tottering. For his ear, attuned to receive the meaning of all animal sounds, could detect the least tremor of menace in any animal note; when a range bull bellowed Breed knew whether the tones held invitation to his cows or husked a warning to some intruder that had strayed over into his chosen range. In any animal voice the quiver of anger or fear was easily apparent to him; and there had been no vibrations of anger in the man's tones, only those of friendliness.

The coyotes were hard pressed to keep abreast of him, and after a wild race of some four miles he wheeled abruptly and retraced his course, the longing for his mate combining with curiosity to draw him irresistibly back to the spot where this impossible thing had transpired.

His pace slackened as he neared the house, then increased as he heard Shady's voice. Shady had met Breed in the notch after her first visit to the cabin and she naturally assumed that she would find him there again. She repaired to the spot at once after leaving the cabin and waited for him to come.

For three nights in succession Shady made her pilgrimage to meet her one friend among the world of men. Breed could not unravel the mystery of these visits. He could only know the actual that reached him over the trails of his physical senses. Sights, scents and sounds were facts to him. Those senses combined to show him that the unnatural visits were real,-that Shady actually entered the lair of a man and came back smelling strong of him. Yet when she was with him Breed felt a sense of unreality in his memories of those visits, partaking of the same vague qualities that dreams possessed for him after waking.

But he fathomed it at last, evidence that his brain came from his coyote mother, a brain that is capable of constructive reasoning, of taking two facts which the physical senses have verified and evolving a third from them,-the association of ideas.

His nose told him that there was something in Shady's scent that was similar to that left by the dog pack. His eyes had proved that those dogs were the companions of men. Eyes, ears and nose testified that Shady visited the haunts of men and was accepted as a friend. His nose further told him that Shady was half coyote, and her voice added proof of this. From out this fragmentary assortment of facts Breed found a satisfactory answer. He knew that Shady was of the wild, yet that she was also linked with the world of men, thus combining two things which in the past had seemed widely separate, a chasm too wide to span, dividing the animals of the wild from those belonging to man.

Each recurring visit confirmed this fact. Shady missed two nights, but on the third she headed for the cabin with the coming of night. The comparative warmth of early winter had given way to the gripping, penetrating cold of January. Breed's appetite increased with a corresponding drop in temperature and he was hungry. But from Shady's actions he knew that she was seized with one of those queer lapses which called her back to former ways and he delayed the hunt until she should return from this trip. The coyotes had all mated and the season for pack-hunting was past, yet many of them still rallied to his call; but on this night he lingered in the notch and waited for Shady to come back to him before summoning the pack.

He prowled uneasily about the narrow saddle, and in his nervousness over Shady's protracted absence he forgot the danger of following cow trails and padded restlessly up and down those which threaded through the gap. And as he waited for her a mortal enemy found the chance he had sought so long and began stalking him from behind.

Flatear dropped from the hills to follow his ruthless trade and as he swung down the funnel basin Breed's scent was wafted to his nose. The breeze held up the slope,-he had the wind on the yellow wolf. He shifted across the wind but it carried no coyote scent. His victim was alone. Flatear followed up the drifting current of scent and sighted Breed at a hundred yards. His feet made no sound and the wind held right; the breed-wolf was unaware of his approach.

Breed saw a sudden flow of light from the cabin and knew that Shady was leaving it to come back to him. He sent forth the rally call to the pack and turned to trot along a cow trail. He gave a sudden mighty leap into the air and crashed down four feet away as he struck the end of the chain swiveled to the trap that had crushed his foot.

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