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Книга White Fang. Содержание - CHAPTER I-THE LONG TRAIL

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Having learned to snuggle, White Fang was guilty of it often. It was the final word. He could not go beyond it. The one thing of which he had always been particularly jealous was his head. He had always disliked to have it touched. It was the Wild in him, the fear of hurt and of the trap, that had given rise to the panicky impulses to avoid contacts. It was the mandate of his instinct that that head must be free. And now, with the love-master, his snuggling was the deliberate act of putting himself into a position of hopeless helplessness. It was an expression of perfect confidence, of absolute self-surrender, as though he said: «I put myself into thy hands. Work thou thy will with me.»

One night, not long after the return, Scott and Matt sat at a game of cribbage preliminary to going to bed. «Fifteen-two, fifteen– four an' a pair makes six,» Mat was pegging up, when there was an outcry and sound of snarling without. They looked at each other as they started to rise to their feet.

«The wolf's nailed somebody,» Matt said.

A wild scream of fear and anguish hastened them.

«Bring a light!» Scott shouted, as he sprang outside.

Matt followed with the lamp, and by its light they saw a man lying on his back in the snow. His arms were folded, one above the other, across his face and throat. Thus he was trying to shield himself from White Fang's teeth. And there was need for it. White Fang was in a rage, wickedly making his attack on the most vulnerable spot. From shoulder to wrist of the crossed arms, the coat-sleeve, blue flannel shirt and undershirt were ripped in rags, while the arms themselves were terribly slashed and streaming blood.

All this the two men saw in the first instant. The next instant Weedon Scott had White Fang by the throat and was dragging him clear. White Fang struggled and snarled, but made no attempt to bite, while he quickly quieted down at a sharp word from the master.

Matt helped the man to his feet. As he arose he lowered his crossed arms, exposing the bestial face of Beauty Smith. The dog– musher let go of him precipitately, with action similar to that of a man who has picked up live fire. Beauty Smith blinked in the lamplight and looked about him. He caught sight of White Fang and terror rushed into his face.

At the same moment Matt noticed two objects lying in the snow. He held the lamp close to them, indicating them with his toe for his employer's benefit-a steel dog-chain and a stout club.

Weedon Scott saw and nodded. Not a word was spoken. The dog– musher laid his hand on Beauty Smith's shoulder and faced him to the right about. No word needed to be spoken. Beauty Smith started.

In the meantime the love-master was patting White Fang and talking to him.

«Tried to steal you, eh? And you wouldn't have it! Well, well, he made a mistake, didn't he?»

«Must 'a' thought he had hold of seventeen devils,» the dog-musher sniggered.

White Fang, still wrought up and bristling, growled and growled, the hair slowly lying down, the crooning note remote and dim, but growing in his throat.



It was in the air. White Fang sensed the coming calamity, even before there was tangible evidence of it. In vague ways it was borne in upon him that a change was impending. He knew not how nor why, yet he got his feel of the oncoming event from the gods themselves. In ways subtler than they knew, they betrayed their intentions to the wolf-dog that haunted the cabin-stoop, and that, though he never came inside the cabin, knew what went on inside their brains.

«Listen to that, will you!» the dug-musher exclaimed at supper one night.

Weedon Scott listened. Through the door came a low, anxious whine, like a sobbing under the breath that had just grown audible. Then came the long sniff, as White Fang reassured himself that his god was still inside and had not yet taken himself off in mysterious and solitary flight.

«I do believe that wolf's on to you,» the dog-musher said.

Weedon Scott looked across at his companion with eyes that almost pleaded, though this was given the lie by his words.

«What the devil can I do with a wolf in California?» he demanded.

«That's what I say,» Matt answered. «What the devil can you do with a wolf in California?»

But this did not satisfy Weedon Scott. The other seemed to be judging him in a non-committal sort of way.

«White man's dogs would have no show against him,» Scott went on. «He'd kill them on sight. If he didn't bankrupt me with damaged suits, the authorities would take him away from me and electrocute him.»

«He's a downright murderer, I know,» was the dog-musher's comment.

Weedon Scott looked at him suspiciously.

«It would never do,» he said decisively.

«It would never do!» Matt concurred. «Why you'd have to hire a man 'specially to take care of 'm.»

The other suspicion was allayed. He nodded cheerfully. In the silence that followed, the low, half-sobbing whine was heard at the door and then the long, questing sniff.

«There's no denyin' he thinks a hell of a lot of you,» Matt said.

The other glared at him in sudden wrath. «Damn it all, man! I know my own mind and what's best!»

«I'm agreein' with you, only . . . «

«Only what?» Scott snapped out.

«Only . . . « the dog-musher began softly, then changed his mind and betrayed a rising anger of his own. «Well, you needn't get so all-fired het up about it. Judgin' by your actions one'd think you didn't know your own mind.»

Weedon Scott debated with himself for a while, and then said more gently: «You are right, Matt. I don't know my own mind, and that's what's the trouble.»

«Why, it would be rank ridiculousness for me to take that dog along,» he broke out after another pause.

«I'm agreein' with you,» was Matt's answer, and again his employer was not quite satisfied with him.

«But how in the name of the great Sardanapolis he knows you're goin' is what gets me,» the dog-musher continued innocently.

«It's beyond me, Matt,» Scott answered, with a mournful shake of the head.

Then came the day when, through the open cabin door, White Fang saw the fatal grip on the floor and the love-master packing things into it. Also, there were comings and goings, and the erstwhile placid atmosphere of the cabin was vexed with strange perturbations and unrest. Here was indubitable evidence. White Fang had already scented it. He now reasoned it. His god was preparing for another flight. And since he had not taken him with him before, so, now, he could look to be left behind.

That night he lifted the long wolf-howl. As he had howled, in his puppy days, when he fled back from the Wild to the village to find it vanished and naught but a rubbish-heap to mark the site of Grey Beaver's tepee, so now he pointed his muzzle to the cold stars and told to them his woe.

Inside the cabin the two men had just gone to bed.

«He's gone off his food again,» Matt remarked from his bunk.

There was a grunt from Weedon Scott's bunk, and a stir of blankets.

«From the way he cut up the other time you went away, I wouldn't wonder this time but what he died.»

The blankets in the other bunk stirred irritably.

«Oh, shut up!» Scott cried out through the darkness. «You nag worse than a woman.»

«I'm agreein' with you,» the dog-musher answered, and Weedon Scott was not quite sure whether or not the other had snickered.

The next day White Fang's anxiety and restlessness were even more pronounced. He dogged his master's heels whenever he left the cabin, and haunted the front stoop when he remained inside. Through the open door he could catch glimpses of the luggage on the floor. The grip had been joined by two large canvas bags and a box. Matt was rolling the master's blankets and fur robe inside a small tarpaulin. White Fang whined as he watched the operation.

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