Katharine Newlin Burt.

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"Oh, little song you sang to me" -

Ah, yes, at heart she had been singing to him -

"A hundred, hundred days ago,
Oh, little song, whose melody
Walks in my heart and stumbles so;
I cannot bear the level nights,
And all the days are over-long,
And all the hours from dark to dark
Turn to a little song ..."

Dickie, not knowing how he got there, was at his table again. He was
writing. He was happy beyond any conception he had ever had of happiness.
That there was agony in his happiness only intensified it. The leader of
the wolf-pack, beast with a god's face, the noblest of man's desires,
that passionate and humble craving for beauty, had him by the throat.

So it was that Dickie wrote his first poem.



Winter snapped at Hidden Creek as a wolf snaps, but held its grip as a
bulldog holds his. There came a few November days when all the air and
sky and tree-tops were filled with summer again, but the snow that had
poured itself down so steadily in that October storm did not give way. It
sank a trifle at noon and covered itself at night with a glare of ice. It
was impossible to go anywhere except on snow-shoes. Sheila quickly
learned the trick and plodded with bent knees, limber ankles, and
wide-apart feet through the winter miracle of the woods. It was another
revelation of pure beauty, but her heart was too sore to hold the
splendor as it had held the gentler beauty of summer and autumn. Besides,
little by little she was aware of a vague, encompassing uneasiness. Since
the winter jaws had snapped them in, setting its teeth between them and
all other life, Miss Blake had subtly and gradually changed. It was as
though her stature had increased, her color deepened. Sometimes to Sheila
that square, strong body seemed to fill the world. She was more and more
masterful, quicker with her orders, charier of her smiles, shorter of
speech and temper. Her eyes seemed to grow redder, the sparks closer to
flame, as though the intense cold fanned them.

Once they harnessed the dogs to the sled and rode down the country for
the mail. The trip they made together. Sheila sat wrapped in furs in
front of the broad figure of her companion, who stood at the back of the
sledge, used a long whip, and shouted to the dogs by name in her great
musical voice of which the mountain echo made fine use. They sped close
to the frozen whiteness of the world, streaked down the slopes, and were
drawn soundlessly through the columned vistas of the woods. Here, there,
and everywhere were tracks, of coyotes, fox, rabbit, martin, and the
little pointed patteran of winter birds, yet they saw nothing living.
"What's got the elk and moose this season?" muttered Miss Blake. Nothing
stirred except the soft plop of shaken snow or the little flurry of
drifting flakes. These frost-flakes lay two inches deep on the surface of
the snow, dry and distinct all day in the cold so that they could be
blown apart at a breath. Miss Blake was cheerful on this journey. She
sang songs, she told brief stories of other sled trips. At the
post-office an old, lonely man delivered them some parcels and a vast
bagful of magazines. There was a brief passage of arms between him and
Miss Blake. She accused him of withholding a box of cartridges, and would
not be content till she had poked about his office in dark corners. She
came out swearing at the failure of her search. "I needed that shot,"
she said. "My supply is short. I made sure it'd be here to-day." There
were no letters for either of them, and Sheila felt again that queer
shiver of her loneliness. But, on the whole, it was a wonderful day, and,
under a world of most amazing stars, the small, valiant ranch-house, with
its glowing stove and its hot mess of supper, felt like home.... Not long
after that came the first stroke of fate.

The little old horse left them and, though they shoed patiently for miles
following his track, it was only to find his bones gnawed clean by
coyotes or by wolves. Sheila's tears froze to her lashes, but Miss
Blake's face went a little pale. She said nothing, and in her steps
Sheila plodded home in silence. That evening Miss Blake laid hands on
her.... They had washed up their dishes. Sheila was putting a log on the
fire. It rolled out of her grasp to the bearskin rug and struck Miss
Blake's foot. Before Sheila could even say her quick "I'm sorry," the
woman had come at her with a sort of spring, had gripped her by the
shoulders, had shaken her with ferocity, and let her go. Sheila fell
back, her own hands raised to her bruised shoulders, her eyes
phosphorescent in a pale face.

"Miss Blake, how dare you touch me!"

The woman kicked back the log, turned a red face, and laughed.

"Dare! You little silly! What's to scare me of you?"

An awful conviction of helplessness depressed Sheila's heart, but she
kept her eyes leveled on Miss Blake's.

"Do you suppose I will stay here with you one hour, if you treat me
like this?"

That brought another laugh. But Miss Blake was evidently trying to make
light of her outbreak. "Scared you, didn't I?" she said. "I guess you
never got much training, eh!"

"I am not a dog," said Sheila shortly.

"Well, if you aren't" - Miss Blake returned to her chair and took up a
magazine. She put the spectacles on her nose with shaking hands. "You're
my girl, aren't you? You can't expect to get nothing but petting from
me, Sheila."

If she had not been icy with rage, Sheila might have smiled at this. "I
don't know what you mean, Miss Blake, by my being your girl. I work for
you, to be sure. I know that. But I know, too, that you will have to
apologize to me for this."

Miss Blake swung one leg across the other and stared above her glasses.

"Apologize to _you_!"

"Yes. I will allow nobody to touch me."

"Shucks! Go tell that to the marines! You've never been touched, have
you? Sweet sixteen!"

Hudson's kiss again scorched Sheila's mouth and her whole body burned.
Miss Blake watched that fire consume her, and again she laughed.

"I'm waiting for you to apologize," said Sheila again, this time between
small set teeth.

"Well, my girl, wait. That'll cool you off."

Sheila stood and felt the violent beating of her heart. A log in the wall
snapped from the bitter frost.

"Miss Blake," she said presently, a pitiful young quaver in her voice,
"if you don't beg my pardon I'll go to-morrow."

Miss Blake flung her book down with a gesture of impatience. "Oh, quit
your nonsense, Sheila!" she said. "What's a shaking! You know you can't
get out of here. It'd take you a week to get anywhere at all except into
a frozen supper for the coyotes. Your beau's left the country - Madder
told me at the post-office. Make the best of it, Sheila. Lucky if you
don't get worse than that before spring. You'll get used to me in time,
get broken in and learn my ways. I'm not half bad, but I've got to be
obeyed. I've got to be master. That's me. What do you think I've come
'way out here to the wilderness for, if not because I can't stand
anything less than being master? Here I've got my place and my dogs and a
world that don't talk back. And now I've got you for company and to do my
work. You've got to fall into line, Sheila, right in the ranks. Once,
some one out there in the world" - she made a gesture, dropped her chin on
her big chest, and looked out under her short, dense, rust-colored
eyelashes - "tried to break _me_. I won't tell you what he got. That's
where I quit the ways of women - yes, ma'am, and the ways of men." She
stood up and walked over to the window and looked out. The dogs were
sleeping in their kennels, but a chain rattled. "I've broke the
wolf-pack. You've seen them wriggle on their bellies for me, haven't you?
Well, my girl, do you think I can't break you?" She wheeled back and
stood with her hands on her hips. It was at that moment that she seemed
to fill the world. Her ruddy eyes glowed like blood. They were not quite
sane. That was it. Sheila went suddenly weak. They were not _quite_
sane - those red eyes filled with sparks.

The girl stepped back and sat down in her chair. She bent forward,
pressed her hands flat together, palm to palm between her knees, and
stared fixedly down at them. She made no secret of her desperate

Miss Blake's face softened a little at this withdrawal. She came back to
her place and resumed her spectacles.

"I'll tell you why I'm snappy," she said presently. "I'm scared."

This startled Sheila into a look. Miss Blake was moistening her lips.
"That horse - you know - the coyotes got him. I guess he went down and they
fell upon him. Well, he was to feed the dogs with until I could get my
winter meat."

"What do you mean?"

"That's what I buy 'em for. Little old horses, for a couple of bits,
and work 'em out and shoot 'em for dog-feed. Well, Sheila, when they're
fed, they're dogs. But when they're starved - they're wolves ... And I
can't think what's come to the elk this year. To-morrow I'll take out my
little old gun."

To-morrow and the next day and the next she took her gun and strapped on
her shoes and went out for all day long into the cold. Each time she came
back more exhausted and more fierce. Sheila would have her supper ready
and waiting sometimes for hours.

"The dogs have scared 'em off," said Miss Blake. "That must be the
truth." She let the pack hunt for itself at night, and they came back
sometimes with bloody jaws. But the prey must have been small, for they
were not satisfied. They grew more and more gaunt and wolfish. They would
howl for hours, wailing and yelping in ragged cadence to the stars.
Table-scraps and brews of Indian meal vanished and left their bellies
almost as empty as before.

"And," said Miss Blake, "we got to eat, ourselves."

"Hadn't we better go down to the post-office or to Rusty?" Sheila asked

Miss Blake snapped at her. "Harness that team now? As much as your life
is worth, Sheila! And we can't make it on foot. We'd drop in our tracks
and freeze. If it comes to the worst we may have to try it, but - oh, I'll
get something to-morrow."

But to-morrow brought no better luck. During the hunting the dogs were
left on their chains, and Sheila, through the lonely hours, would watch
them through the window and could almost see the wolfishness grow in
their deep, wild eyes. She would try to talk to them, pat them, coax them
into doggy-ness. But day by day they responded more unwillingly. All but
Berg: Berg stayed with her in the house, lay on her feet, leaned against
her knee. He shared her meals. He was beginning to swing his heart from
Miss Blake to her, and this was the second cause for strife.

Since that one outbreak, Sheila had gone carefully. She was dignified,
aloof, very still. She obeyed and slaved as she had never done in the
summer days. The dread of physical violence hung on her brain like a
cloud. She encouraged Berg's affection, and wondered, if it came to a
struggle, whether he would side with her. She was given the opportunity
to put this matter to the test.

Miss Blake was very late that night. It was midnight, a stark midnight of
stars and biting cold, when Berg stood up from his sleep and barked his
low, short bark of welcome. Outside the other dogs broke into their
clamor, drowning all other sound, and in the midst of it the door flew
rudely open. Miss Blake stood and clung to the side of the door. Her face
was bluish-white. She put out her hand toward Sheila, clutching the air.
Sheila ran over to her.

"You're hurt?"

"Twisted my blamed ankle. God!" She hobbled over, a heavy arm round
Sheila, to her chair and sat there while the girl gave her some brandy,
removed the snowshoes, and cut away the boot from a swollen and
discolored leg.

"That's the end of my hunting," grunted the patient, who bore the agony
of rubbing and bathing stoically. "And, I reckon, I couldn't have stood
much more." She clenched her hand in Berg's mane. "God! Those dogs! I'll
have to shoot them - next." Sheila looked up to her with a sort of
horrified hope. There was then a way out from that fear.

"I'd rather die, I think," said the woman hoarsely. "I love those dogs."
Sheila looked up into a tender and quivering face - the face of a mother.
"They mean something to me - those brutes. I guess I kind of centered my
heart on 'em - out here alone. I raised 'em up, from puppies, all but Berg
and the mother. They were the cutest little fellows. I remember when
Wreck got porcupine quills in his nose and came to me and lay on his back
and whined to me. It was as if he said, 'Help me, momma.' Sure it was.
And he pretty near died. Oh, damn! If I have to shoot 'em I might just as
well shoot myself and be done with it...Thanks, Sheila. I'll eat my
supper here and then you can help me to bed. When my ankle's all well, we
can have a try for the post-office, perhaps." She leaned back and drew
Berg roughly up against her. She caressed him. He made little soft,
throaty sounds of tenderness.

Sheila came back with a tray and, as she came, Berg pulled himself away
from his mistress and went wagging over to greet her.

"Come here!" snapped Miss Blake. Berg hesitated, cuddled close to Sheila,
and kept step beside her.

Miss Blake's eyes went red. "Come here!" she said again. Berg did not
cringe or hasten. He reached Miss Blake's chair at the same instant as
Sheila, not a moment earlier.

Miss Blake pulled herself up. The tray went shattering to the floor. She
hobbled over to the fire, white with the anguish, took down the whip from
its nail. At that Berg cringed and whined. The woman fell upon him with
her terrible lash. She held herself with one hand on the mantel-shelf,
while with the other she scored the howling victim. His fur came off his
back under the dreadful, knife-edge blows.

"Oh, stop!" cried Sheila. "Stop! You're killing him!" She ran over and
caught Miss Blake's arm.

"Damn you!" said the woman fiercely. She stood breathing fast. Sweat
of pain and rage and exertion stood out on her face. "Do _you_ want
that whip?"

She half-turned, lifting her lash, and at that, with a snarl, Berg
crouched himself and bared his teeth.

Miss Blake started and stared at him. Suddenly she gave in. Pain and
anger twisted her spirit.

"You'd turn my Berg against me!" she choked, and fell heavily down on the
rug in a dead faint.

When she came to she was grim and silent. She got herself with scant
help to bed, her big bed in the corner of the living-room, and for a week
she was kept there with fever and much pain. Berg lay beside her or
followed Sheila about her work, and the woman watched them both with
ruddy eyes.



In January a wind blew steadily from the east and snow came as if to
bury them alive. The cabin turned to a cave, a small square of warmth
under a mountain of impenetrable white; one door and one window only,
opening to a space of sun. Against the others the blank white lids of
winter pressed. Sheila shoveled this space out sometimes twice a day.
The dog kennels were moved into it, and stood against the side of a
snow-bank eight feet high, up which, when they were unchained, the
gaunt, wolfish animals leapt in a loosely formed pack, the great mother,
Brenda, at their head, and padded off into the silent woods in their
hungry search for food.

But, one day, they refused to go. Miss Blake, her whip in her hand,
limped out. The snow had stopped. The day was still and bright again
above the snowy firs, the mountain scraped against the blue sky like a
cliff of broken ice. The dogs had crept out of their houses and were
squatted or huddled in the sun. As she came out they rose and strained at
their tethers. One of them whined. Brenda, the mother, bared her teeth.
One by one, as they were freed, they slunk close to Miss Blake, looking
up into her face. They crowded close at her heels as she went back to the
house. She had to push the door to in their very jaws and they pressed
against it, their heads hung low, sniffing the odor of food. Presently a
long-drawn, hideous howling rose from them. Time and again Miss Blake
drove them away with lash and voice. Time and again they came back. They
scratched at the threshold, whimpered, and whined.

Sheila and Miss Blake gave them what food they would have eaten
themselves that day. It served only to excite their restlessness, to hold
them there at the crack of the door, snuffling and slobbering. The outer
circle slept, the inner watched. Then they would shift, like sentries.
They had a horrible sort of system. Most of that dreadful afternoon Miss
Blake paced the floor, trying to strengthen her ankle for the trip to the
post-office. At sunset, when the small snow-banked room was nearly dark,
she stopped, threw up her head, and looked at Sheila. The girl was
sitting on the lowest step of the ladder washing some dried apples. Her
face had thinned to a silvery wedge between the thick square masses of
her hair. There was a haunted look in her clear eyes. The soft mouth had

"How in God's name," said Miss Blake, "shall I get 'em on their
chains again?"

Sheila stopped her work, and her lips fell helplessly apart. She looked
up at the older woman and shook her head.

Miss Blake's fear snapped into a sort of frenzy. She gritted her teeth
and stamped. "You simpleton!" she said. "You never have a notion in
your head."

Sheila stood up quickly. Something told her that she had better be on her
feet. She kept very still. "You will know better than I could what to do
about the dogs," she said quietly. "They'll go back on their chains for
you, I should think. They're afraid of you."

"Aren't you?" Miss Blake asked roughly.

"No. Of course not."

"You little liar! You're scared half out of your wits. You're scared of
the whole thing - scared of the snow, scared of the cold, scared of the
dogs, and scared sick of me. Come, now. Tell me the truth."

It was almost her old bluff, bullying tone, but back of it was a
disorder of stretched nerves. Sheila weighed her words and tried to
weigh her thoughts.

"I don't think I am afraid, Miss Blake. Why should I be afraid of the
dogs, if you aren't? And why should I be afraid of you? You have been
good to me. You are a good woman."

At this Miss Blake threw back her head and laughed. She was terribly like
one of the dogs howling. There was something wild and wolfish in her
broad neck and in the sound she made. And she snapped back into silence
with wolfish suddenness.

"If you're not scared, then," she scoffed, "go and chain up the dogs

For an instant Sheila quite calmly balanced the danger out of doors
against the danger within.

"I think," she said - and managed one of her drifting smiles - "I think I
am a great deal more afraid of the dogs than I am of you, Miss Blake."

The woman studied her for a minute in silence, then she walked over to
her elk-horn throne and sat down on it.

She leaned back in a royal way and spread her dark broad hands across the

"Well," she said coolly, "did you hear what I said? Go out and chain up
the dogs!"

Sheila held herself like a slim little cavalier. "If I go out," she said
coolly, "I will not take a whip. I'll take a gun."

"And shoot my dogs?"

"Miss Blake, what else is left for us to do? We can't let them claw down
the door and tear us into bits, can we?"

"You'd shoot my dogs?"

"You said yourself that we might have to shoot them."

Miss Blake gave her a stealthy and cunning look. "Take my gun, then" - her
voice rose to a key that was both crafty and triumphant - "and much good
it will do you! There's shot enough to kill one if you are a first-rate
shot. I lost what was left of my ammunition the day I hurt my ankle. The
new stuff is down at the post-office by now, I guess."

The long silence was filled by the shifting of the dog-watch outside the

"We must chain them up at any cost," said Sheila. Her lips were dry and
felt cold to her tongue.

"Go out and do it, then." The mistress of the house leaned back and
crossed her ankles.

"Miss Blake, be reasonable. You have a great deal of control over the
dogs and I have none. I _am_ afraid of them and they will know it.
Animals always know when you're afraid..." Again she managed a smile.
"I shall begin to think you are a coward," she said.

At that Miss Blake stood up from her chair. Her face was red with a
violent rush of blood and the sparks in her eyes seemed to have broken
into flame.

"Very good, Miss," she said brutally. "I'll go out and chain 'em up and
then I'll come back and thrash you to a frazzle. Then you'll know how to
obey my orders next time."

She caught up her whip, swung it in her hand, and strode to the door.

"And mind you, Sheila, you won't be able to hide yourself from me. Nor
make a getaway. I'll lock this door outside and winter's locked the
other. You wait. You'll see what you'll get for calling me a coward. Your
friend Berg's gone off on a long hunt ... he's left his friends outside
there and he's left you.... Understand?"

She shouted roughly to the dogs, snapped her whip, threw open the door,
and stepped out boldly. She shut the door behind her and shot a bolt. It
creaked as though it had grown rusty with disuse.

In the stillness - for, except for a quick shuffling of paws, there was no
sound at first - Sheila chose her weapon of defense. She took down from
its place the Eskimo ivory spear, and, holding it short in her hand, she
put herself behind the great elk-horn chair. Her Celtic blood was
pounding gloriously now. She was not afraid; though if there had been
time to notice it, she would have confessed to an abysmal sense of horror
and despair. And again she wondered at her own loneliness and youth and
the astounding danger that she faced. Yes, it was more astonishment than
any other emotion that possessed her consciousness. The horror was below
the threshold practicing its part.

Then anger, astonishment, horror itself were suddenly thrown out of her.
She was left like an empty vessel waiting to be filled with fear. Miss
Blake had cried aloud, "Help, Sheila! Help!" This was followed by a
dreadful screaming. Sheila dropped her spear and leapt to the door. On
it, outside, Miss Blake beat and screamed, "Open, for God's sake!"

Sheila shouted in as dreadful a key. "On your side - the bolt! Miss
Blake - the bolt!"

Fingers clawed at the bolt, but it would not slip. Through all the
horrible sounds the woman made, Sheila could hear the snarling and
leaping and snapping of the dogs. She dashed to the small, tight window,
broke a pane with her fist, and thrust out her arm. She meant to reach
the bolt, but what she saw took the warm life out of her. Miss Blake had
gone down under the whirling, slobbering pack. The screaming had stopped.
In that one awful look the poor child saw that no human help could save.
She dropped down on the floor and lay there moaning, her hands pressed
over her ears....

So she lay, shuddering and gasping, the great part of the night. At last
the intense cold drove her to the fire. She heaped up the logs high and
hung close above them. Her very heart was cold. Liquid ice moved
sluggishly along her veins. The morning brought no comfort or courage to
her, only a freshening of horror and of fear. The dogs had gone, and all
the winter world lay still about the house.

She was shaken by a regular pulse of nervous sobbing. But, driven by a
sort of restlessness, she made herself coffee and forced some food down
her contracted throat. Then she put on her coat, took down Miss Blake's
six-shooter and cartridge belt, and saw, with a slight relaxing of the
cramp about her heart, that there were four shots in the chamber. Four
shots and eight dogs, but - at least - she could save herself from _that_
death! She strapped the gun round her slim hips, filled her pockets with
supplies - a box of dried raisins, some hard bread, a cake of chocolate,
some matches - pulled her cap down over her ears, and took her snowshoes
from the wall. With closed eyes she put her arm out through the broken
pane, and, after a short struggle, slipped the rusty bolt. Then she went
over to the door and, leaning against it, prayed. Even with the
mysterious strength she drew from that sense of kinship with a superhuman
Power, it was a long time before she could force herself to open. At
last, with a big gasp, she flung the door wide, skirted the house, her
hands against the logs, her eyes shut, ran across the open space,
scrambled up the drift, tied on her snowshoes, and fled away under the
snow-laden pines. There moved in all the wilderness that day no more

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Online LibraryKatharine Newlin BurtHidden Creek → online text (page 14 of 17)