While the sleighing was good, Jim
hauled more logs and Janet did the chores around the cabin at the noon
hour. They had hens now, as well as two sows, and she would see that they
had feed and water and at the same time let Gamey and the cow out to drink
at the creek. There were always other chores to do, and on this particular
day she was in no hurry; it was pleasant to putter around in the warm
stable and watch the animals. Suddenly there was a racket in the yard and
a frantic whinny from Gamey. She had only opened the door halfway when the
horse pushed his way into the barn, his eyes rolling.
"Gamey! What's the matter, boy?"
Janet slipped outside, and then she
saw the dogs. They had the cow cornered halfway from the creek. As she
watched, one moved swiftly to catch the cow's hind leg. The cow bellowed
and swung horns and hooves faster than she had ever seen any cow move
before. The dogs slipped warily aside and then returned to the attack.
Janet screamed and ran, pitchfork in hand, to the rescue. The dogs turned,
unhurried, and watched as this phenomenon bore down on them. Sensing an
opportunity to escape, the cow bellowed and headed for the stable, tail in
air. Twenty feet from these arrogant animals, and with pitchfork raised,
Janet came to a stop, feet sliding in the snow. It was suddenly and
shockingly apparent to her that these were not dogs, they were not even
the slinky brush wolves she had seen before, but timber wolves. They
stared at her coolly, their amber eyes cold, expressionless, their
attitude casual, unhurried. Their ears were short, partly hidden in thick,
tawny fur; their foreheads were broad; and they stood thirty inches at the
shoulder. To Janet, frightened now and unsure what she should do, they
seemed almost contemptuous, these creatures from another world, the world
of rocks and trees and endless space stretching to the northern ocean.
But, in fact, the wolves were not as enigmatic as they looked. They were
more curious than anything, wary but not afraid. They were young, had
mated recently, the first time for both, and were on a honeymoon of sorts.
They had set out in a careless foray into these southern regions in sheer
high spirits, travelling rapidly for three days and covering an
astonishing amount of territory. They had found the long swamp in the
middle of the county and run the length of it and now they were hungry and
the cow had seemed the answer. Older wolves would not have stopped to
argue the point; they would have been long gone by now.
But Janet didn't know this, and she
stood, fighting the panic. Whatever happened she mustn't run, she mustn't
turn her back on these monstrous things. She was a good fifty feet from
the house, but at least she had the pitchfork. She shook it now,
menacingly, at the nearest wolf. He merely sat down on his haunches and
regarded her coolly. Both Janet and the wolves stood for a time, none
willing to make the first move. It was no more than five minutes, but to
Janet it seemed an hour. To the pair it was nothing; time had no meaning
Janet knew she would have to move;
she would have to back slowly through the snow until she could dash to the
house. Slowly she retreated, gaining only a few steps before the seated
wolf got up. She stopped, and they all stood for a time. Then she tried
moving sideways, but angling to gain a few more yards. The wolves moved
too. Another move and another stop and she was halfway to the house, her
feet feeling the path. Now she could turn and risk a dash, but what if the
animals sprang on her back; they could move so fast. There was another
stalemate. And then Janet became angry. What was she doing here, cowed by
these primitive brutes? She was supposed to have the brains, wasn't she?
She took off her apron, stuck the fork handle in the snow, pulled the
apron down on the tines of the fork, and backed slowly to the house door.
The wolves regarded these new developments with interest, but made no
move. She quickly slammed the door-bar shut and pulled the little shotgun
down from its pegs. She pulled out a drawer with shaking hands, looking
for the shells; as she yanked it out, everything-yarns, patches, odds and
ends-fell on the floor. By the time she had found the shells and got the
gun loaded, a bellow came from the barn.
The wolves had wasted no time. With
the odd creature out of the way they would try the cow again. They stood
now in the open stable door. The place had a pungent smell. It would be
wise not to be hasty. The cow bellowed again and they licked their chops:
there was a lot of meat there. They heard the house door open and turned
to see the two-legged animal coming. Janet walked halfway to the barn,
knelt on one knee, took cool aim, and fired. The dog wolf went three feet
in the air and came down facing the other way. His face stung like a
hundred bee stings. In a few seconds both wolves were out of sight.
"Why didn't you use the rifle?" Jim
"I'm afraid of the rifle; it seems
such a vicious thing."
"Just as well to have the vicious
things on your side. If it had been a bear at that range the shotgun would
just have made him mad."
"Well, I was mad, too. Is it true
what they say about wolves, that they won't attack humans?"
"Perhaps it's true about brush
wolves; as to timber wolves, I don't know. I haven't seen that many. I
would hate to trust them, and besides there is always the wolf who might
not know the rules."
So Janet learned to use the rifle.
She practised until she could shoot offhand with either shotgun or rifle,
but it took a good deal of egg money to buy the ammunition.