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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Yellow Horde By Hal G. Evarts Characters: 23811

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


All through the Yellowstone country the evidence of Breed's teachings was apparent on every hand. The progeny of the members of his original band had been taught pack-hunting by their parents, as they themselves had learned the art from Breed. For a hundred miles each way from Two Ocean Pass the hills were full of the disciples of the yellow wolf. The elk now fled from coyotes as once they had fled from wolves. The coyotes brought all their native trickery and resourcefulness into play and made pack-hunting a very different affair from that practiced by timber wolves. They did not hunt bunched, but scattered, saving their own strength and wearing down that of their prey. When an elk was singled out the coyotes relayed him and kept him on the move. Whenever he attempted a straightaway flight some coyote flashed out in front of him to turn him back, and he was headed through bogs and spongy ground on the slides at the foot of old snow drifts until his strength was gone.

Breed's movements now lost their aimlessness, and each day found him a few miles farther north. The home love in him was working, but he himself was unconscious of the fact that he was seeking some land that would answer all requirements. It was not given to him to plan largely for the future, and each move was occasioned by the dissatisfaction with the country in which he found himself, rather than from any definite idea of mapping out a course for a permanent range and there establishing his home.

Nevertheless he held steadily to the north and the faithful pack moved with him. Other coyotes flanked their line of march, urged on by fear of the madness that lay behind and finding courage for their pioneering in the fact that every night they heard the howls of the coyote pack ahead.

The game herds were milling restlessly in high basins. The blacktail bucks had short new coats of sleek blue-gray; they had shed the long hair of the previous season,-the season of short blue, the Short Blue Moon of the Northwest Indian tribes. Broad vistas of the low country showed through revealing gaps in the hills, marked by the blue-gray tinge of the sage; a pale haze hung in the hills and turned distant green spruce slopes to silvery blue; the rivers had long since passed the flood tide of melting drifts, and were cleared of the roily effects of late summer rains, and lakes and streams, now free of sediment, showed blue-green to their very depths; the high peaks were held in silhouette against a clear blue sky. Everything showed a touch of blue,-such is the Short Blue Moon.

And the love-making time of the antlered tribes is ushered in with the season of short blue. As Breed moved north the whistling snorts of lovelorn bucks reached his ears day after day. The clarion bugles of challenging bulls was promise of meat in plenty. Bighorn rams squired their bands of ewes on the plateaus and pinnacles above timber line.

Breed's course was by no means a straight line. Hunts drew him to the east and west and frequently back to the south, but the general trend of it all was a northward migration for the coyote pack. Some days they gained twenty miles, some but three or four, and on others they lost ground. At the end of a month the land of the Yellowstone was a hundred miles southeast.

The big gray wolves were more plentiful here, but scattered and not traveling in packs. At every wolf howl Breed felt the old hatred of Flatear surge up in him, but though he frequently met wolves none of them proved to be his enemy. The big grays showed only a casual interest in coyotes, evidencing neither enmity nor delight at any chance meeting, indifference the keynote of their attitude.

Autumn blended into early winter and the gain toward the north was less apparent, Breed lingering in the vicinity of good hunting grounds as he found them, moving on when the supply of meat diminished. He held to the main divide of the Rockies, and when the heavy storms of midwinter set in, he was well across Montana and nearing the Canadian line. The deep snowfall had driven the game down out of the peaks to the lower valleys of the hills and Breed was forced to follow. He moved westward across the South Fork of the Flathead to the Kootenai Range. There were fewer elk here than in the Yellowstone, living in scattered bunches and not congregating in droves of hundreds on the winter feed grounds. Deer ranged the Kootenai country in plentiful numbers and Breed elected to stay. Mating was close at hand and the northward movement halted.

Stray coyotes drifted continually up from the south and joined the ranks of the pack, and there were stray wolves crossing the range from the Flathead to Swan River and back. Many of these mated with the unattached coyotes as they straggled north. Breed's pack was rapidly thinned down, pairs dropping out to den till at last only Peg and Fluff were left.

When the chinook set in Fluff chose a den site and stopped. Breed held on for another five miles, then Shady refused to travel. She picked her own site and showed a keener interest in home building than she had the season past, working short shifts to relay Breed on the digging, and the three tunnels that led to this new nest hole were longer and more elaborately curved and twisted than those of the old den on the Yellowstone. The last day of February seven pups came to share the den with Shady.

The rest of the pack had denned to the south and few encroached on Breed's hunting territory. Deer were still plentiful, even after a winter of hard hunting, and he found little difficulty in supplying meat. There was but one flaw in his contentment.

One day when the pups were a month old and had recently been out for their first romp Breed hunted across the divide and down the western slope of the Kootenais. He stood on a ridge in the gathering dusk when he was suddenly aware that other hunters were abroad before him. His eye caught flashes of white through the green of the spruce on the opposite slope. He knew that a band of deer had been startled to sudden flight, that the jerky gleams of white were the brief exposures of the underparts of their tails as they were upflung in hurdling windfalls. The wind was wrong and Breed could not catch the scent. He traced their course through the timber by their white flags and saw three deer break cover and start out across a long narrow opening on the slope, the path of a snowslide that had stripped a lane through the trees on the steep side hill, its trail a clean split in the solid green of the spruce. In the center of the slide the lead deer suddenly collapsed and the sharp report of a rifle rolled across the hills.

At the sound of the shot Breed heard a few deep-chested dog notes half a mile down the narrow valley. He looked that way and saw a slender tongue of smoke curling lazily above the trees around a bend. The deep note was strange to him, but again the association of ideas came to his aid. Shady's occasional fits of barking and her strange ways; the wolf hounds that had belonged to men and had chased him in Sand Coulee Basin; this note that rose in answer to a rifle shot and came from near the smoke that denoted a cabin. Breed himself was unconscious of assorting these ideas, but he knew that the hoarse note came from some dog beast that belonged to man.

Breed was compelled to hunt farther from home as the deer quit the valleys. Page 191.

A lone prospector had built his cabin on the west slope of the Kootenais, and hereafter Breed avoided this vicinity.

When the pups were six weeks old Shady felt the call to help Breed rustle food and she hunted by herself in the neighborhood of the den, but her earnest efforts were unavailing, as there was no small game and she was unable to stalk a deer.

Breed was compelled to hunt farther from home as the deer quit the valleys to descend to the foothills for the first nips of green grass. One morning, when far south of the den, he heard again the note of the hound. It rose and fell, an eager bellow that moved slowly through the hills, and Breed did not like the music. This same baying reached him on three other days. The reason for all this uproar was beyond his comprehension, but from the fact that it came from a dog he knew that it meant no good for the wild things.

A few days after he first heard this strange sound he came face to face with a pair of coyotes that had run with his pack. Their air was one of dejection and there was no springiness in their gait. From their dispirited manner Breed knew that tragedy had overtaken his friends, that some calamity had befallen their pups. Later he met a second pair, a dog coyote and a she-wolf, and they too were traveling aimlessly, their family torn from them. But Breed had no way of linking these disasters with the music of the trail hound. The prospector kept a single hound and when he found a fresh wolf kill in the spring he put the dog on the tracks that led from it, keeping him in leash, and the hound led him to the den. He had found good hunting near his cabin this spring, as the hills were full of the dens of the small yellow wolves that had turned up in such numbers the preceding winter, but his activities so far had been confined to the country that lay south of Breed's range.

Breed led the pups forth for a few short trips as their strength increased. In his hunts toward the south he frequently crossed the trails of other coyotes that had led their offspring out for a ramble. At least one out of every three families were breeds, and the pups were uniform. They were heavier than coyotes and their backstrips were dark; but their language was pure coyote, their voices perhaps slightly deeper and with fuller volume, but the change was so slight as to escape detection from the ears of man. These pups were the same sort of hybrids as Breed, their parental strains identical, yet among them all he found only one with his own qualities, the coyote fur and the voice of the wolf. In all others this was reversed.

Breed's own pups grew strong and active, capable of covering ten miles of rough hill country in a single night, and the family would soon have left the den but that Shady indulged in one of her flighty streaks,-a streak prompted by the dog strain in her rising temporarily above the wild.

She had hunted tirelessly but had failed to bring home a scrap of meat. Her hopes ran high and she ranged continually farther from the den till she eventually crossed over the divide for a look at the west slope. The breeze held steadily from the west and Shady caught a whiff of wood smoke and moved toward it to investigate. She scouted along the edge of the timber, watching the cabin in the little clearing for signs of life. It appeared deserted. She crossed to it and sniffed at a crack,-then fled for her life. At the first sniff there came a deafening bellow and a great hound surged round the corner of the house.

As Shady fled she rolled her eyes back, coyote fashion, for a glimpse behind. She noted that the hound seemed to have trouble in getting started, and once back in the timber she stopped. She heard the rattle of a chain,-the hound was anchored! From long experience in the past Shady knew the futility of striving to break a chain. The dog was powerless to harm her. Even if he should free himself it would avail him nothing; these slow running hounds were known to her, and their speed was no match for her own.

Shady returned to the cabin and peered round one corner at the raging hound whose six-foot chain prevented his clearing the next corner by more than a foot. She moved along the side of the house till within ten feet of him and sat down, her tongue lolling out contentedly as she watched the frenzied hound almost strangle himself in his efforts to reach her.

A flutter of canvas caught her eye and s

he rose with her forefeet against the logs as she stretched her nose up toward it. The prospector had rolled the cloth round a ten-pound piece of fresh venison to keep the flies from it. Shady sprang and seized it, swinging clear of the ground, all four feet braced against the logs, then fell sprawling as the nail from which it was suspended bent and allowed the cord to slip. She started off across the open, and the first fold of canvas flapped loosely under her feet and tripped her. Halfway to the timber the meat dropped out and she took it, leaving the cloth behind; something over an hour later she turned up at the den with the first meat she had ever furnished for her own pups.

The prospector returned to his cabin and while still a mile away he heard the bellowing of the dog. The first sight that greeted him was the canvas, flapping limply in the open, and he found Shady's dust tracks round the cabin, and swore. He ducked hurriedly into the house and reappeared with a shotgun, unsnapped the chain from the cabin wall and resnapped it in his belt, and he was off, with the eager hound tugging ahead of him on Shady's trail.

Shady, elated by her first success, had left the den for another hunt. As she swung back toward home she heard the steady bellow of a hound and put on full speed ahead. The baying ceased except for an occasional bark, and when Shady came to the last fringe of trees along the ridge she saw a man standing at the den. The hound was chained to a single tree some thirty yards away and she knew there was naught to fear from him. The man started excavating with a light miner's pick and a short-handled shovel which he unslung from his back. In half an hour he had opened one tunnel till he could peer into the den hole. Then he unwound a strange instrument from about his waist, a wolfer's "feeler", three strands of wire twisted into a pliable cable ten feet long, the three ends of the strands extending forklike a bare two inches beyond the cable braid at one end. This simple invention eliminates much tedious excavation work, the sensitive tool following the curves of the branching tunnels which each wolf pup makes for himself as soon as he is able to dig. Shady prowled along the edge of the timber and viewed these preparations suspiciously.

The man inserted the end of the feeler in a hole that led off the main cavity of the den, and advanced it by gentle thrusts, twisting it as he pushed to clear the forks. There was not a sound from the den. The feeler would go no farther. He grasped it flat between the palms of his hands and twirled the cable rapidly from right to left. There was a sudden spitting explosion of baby snarls from the depths of the hole. The man gave one tentative tug and felt resistance, then hauled the feeler in hand over hand and drew forth a fighting pup, the three tines twisted firmly into his soft fur. The hound opened up excitedly; the short pick swept up and down,-and the pup was a lifeless heap.

Terror and rage flooded Shady in equal parts. She gave one sharp cry,-and the other two openings disgorged a shower of frightened pups that scattered toward the timber as so many flushed partridges, fleeing in response to their mother's sharp command, and Shady raged straight at the man!

The prospector was an old hand at rifling wolf dens. Occasionally a pup would dart from another exit, and the shotgun was an effective weapon with which to check his flight. But never had he seen such a mad outpouring of pups as this, and in all his long life in the hills a she-wolf had never rushed him, even in defense of her pups. Shady's charge was reversed so suddenly as to appear that she turned a flip in mid-air when she saw the man's hand stretch forth and lift the shotgun from the ground, for she knew well its purpose and its power.

The thunderous roar of black powder sounded behind her and a charge of heavy shot raked her hips and loins as she gained the trees. Shot pierced both ears and furrowed along her skull. The man turned and pulled the second barrel at the rearmost pup and he went down limply, a puff of fur flung into the air above him, his life snuffed out in a single instant as the heavy charge pulverized him from end to end.

A piercing series of yelps issued from the timber as Shady gave voice to her agony. The prospector nodded. The mystery was cleared; for he knew that he might shoot a wolf or coyote to mincemeat and neither would make a sound.

"A dog," he said. "A renegade. I should have knowed it all along; her stealing thataway right alongside of Buge; and her bristling up to me-no wolf would carry on like that."

He strode to the tree and unleashed the hound.

"Go to it, Buge!" he said. "Go clean up them pups."

As the dog sped into the timber a sharp note sounded from far down the slope. Shady had partially recovered her upset faculties and called the pups, and they gathered swiftly to her and ran their best. Even in her crippled state Shady could have outrun the trail hound, for her wounds had not yet had time to stiffen, but the pups could scarcely hold their own, and the dog's endurance was far greater.

Breed was returning to the den with a ragged chunk of venison when he heard the double roar of the gun and Shady's agonized yelps. Her later cry to gather the pups indicated the general direction of her flight. Then the steady tonguing of the hound broke forth. Breed flanked the dog's route till he drew abreast of him. The baying voice filled the valley and echoed among the rims till it seemed that the whole breadth of the hills was filled with dogs, but Breed knew that the sound came from but one. He could hear no sounds of man, and he dropped swiftly in behind Buge to decipher the signs of the trail. There were the hot tracks of Shady and the pups, the hound's tracks on top of theirs, and no man had come that way. Breed spurted ahead and sighted the dog, and swung out to flank him and get the wind.

Buge ran with his nose close to the ground. He was gaining on his prey, and his mind was so wholly centered on the trail that he was unaware of the deadly yellow wolf that ran almost abreast of him and forty yards downwind. Breed was puzzled as to how to handle the situation that confronted him. He feared the hound, believing that an ally of man might be endowed with man's strange power for harm. The dog was a slow, cumbersome animal and Breed knew that Shady was far speedier, yet he wished the spotted beast would quit her trail. He saw Buge's nose lifted from the trail as he caught the warm body scent from close at hand. The dog ran now with head held high, the body scent reeking in his nostrils. Then Breed saw Shady and the pups running under the trees a hundred yards ahead. The steady baying rose to a slobbering bellow as the hound followed his prey by sight. The gap narrowed, and Breed could see his slavering jaws, the froth drooling stringily back across his shoulders. The last pup was running desperately a bare twenty yards ahead,-and then the great hound was suddenly thrown off his feet as a fighting yellow devil struck him from the side without a sound to announce his rush. Breed's shoulder had caught him fairly in the middle of a stride and the shock of the impact slammed him down six feet away; as Buge landed heavily on his side two flashing rows of teeth closed on his throat and sliced into it, and his life was torn out with the yellow wolf's backward wrench.

Then Breed ran on after Shady and the pups, knowing now that a single short-haired dog, despite the terrifying volume of his voice, was no formidable antagonist for a wolf when once caught outside the radius of man's protection.

Night settled down over the hills as Breed came to the end of Shady's trail and found her lying in a half-swoon with the pups crouching near. Breed felt that he was leaving this country to return no more, and almost unconsciously he raised the call for the pack, knowing that the pack season was far in the future, yet longing to hear the voices of his friends. Far to the south a pair of coyote voices answered him, and still beyond them, so far that the sound did not reach Breed's ears, a second pair of coyotes relayed the message that the yellow leader called.

Breed urged Shady on, but in three miles the wolf family was forced to lay over for a rest. Here a pair of coyotes overtook them. The slow march was resumed with frequent halts for rest, and before morning two other pairs of coyotes caught up with them, and these were all members of the original pack that had hunted together in Sand Coulee Basin. Just at dawn the dog coyote Breed had met some time earlier in the spring brought his she-wolf mate and joined the band. All of the new arrivals had lost their pups through the efforts of the hound that Breed had slain, and they were free to follow where the leader willed.

Breed moved east across the Flathead and for two days he urged Shady on relentlessly till they were far up the sheltering slopes of the main divide. Shady then took shelter in a windfall, and for the next three days she refused to move. Her wounds stiffened and festered from imbedded shot, and she was dry and feverish. Three stray coyotes crossed the Flathead and joined those that prowled within a few miles of Shady's retreat.

The third night Breed heard a well-known voice far down the slope and he threw all the force of his lungs into a welcoming cry.

A coyote invariably deserts a den that is neared by man. Peg had discovered Breed's rifled den and his keen nose interpreted the signs. He had heard the leader's call and wondered why it had been raised so early in the year. He followed the sign till he found the body of the hound. It was morning when he reached his own home, and the following night Peg and Fluff had led their pups off in the general direction taken by Breed. The trail had cooled, but in moist and sheltered spots he found sufficient trace to guide him, and in the heavy timber where the great drifts lingered he could follow it by sight. Then at last he heard Breed's voice above him and an hour later Peg and Fluff led six half-grown pups to the windfall.

When Shady was once more able to travel Breed led the way to the north, the band not traveling together, but every coyote's course laid out to accord with Breed's, and within hailing distance so that each might apprise the others of his whereabouts at night. When the pups were old enough to shift for themselves Breed had crossed the Canadian line and was two hundred miles north of it along the great divide that marks the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta.

All along this route clear from the Yellowstone there had been coyote country to the east of him. The prairie wolves had long since populated the valleys of the Musselshell, and, farther north, the Marias River and the Breast. There were coyotes east of him now, running the prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but he had at last arrived at a point west of the extreme northern limits of the coyote range. All over the continent to the south and east of him pioneering coyotes were pushing on into new lands: they had penetrated the hill country of Pennsylvania to the east, and south almost to Panama; but it had fallen to the lot of the yellow wolf to lead the way for the horde that was invading the northwest hills.

During the first storm of the early fall Breed pulled down a yearling mountain sheep on a high plateau. A motley crew answered the meat call. Breed, the yellow hybrid, Shady, the half-blood renegade, and four pairs of coyotes born in Sand Coulee Basin; the dog coyote with his timber-wolf mate and several of Breed's and Shady's conglomerate pups; all were there to feed. And when the bones were picked Breed led his nondescript band on into the unmapped wilds of the British Columbia hills.

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