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DURING the last few days in December all trails for ten thousand square miles around led to Post Fort O' God. It was the eve of Ooske Pipoon – of the New Year – the mid-winter carnival time of the people of the wilderness, when from teepees and cabins far and near come the trappers and their families to sell their furs and celebrate for a few days with others of their kind. To this New Year gathering men, women, and children look forward through long and weary months. The trapper's wife has no neighbour. Her husband's "line" is a little kingdom inviolate, with no other human life within many miles of it; so for the women the Ooske Pipoon is a time of rejoicing; for the children it is the "big circus," and for the men a reward for the labour and hardship of catching their fur. During these few days old acquaintanceships are renewed and new ones are made. It is here that the "news" of the trackless wilderness is spread, the news of deaths, of marriages, and of births; of tragic happenings that bring horror and grief and tears, and of others that bring laughter and joy. For the first and last time in all the seven months' winter the people of the forests "come to town." Indian, half-breed, "blood," and white man, join in the holiday without distinction of colour or creed.
This year there was to be a great caribou roast, a huge barbecue, at Fort O' God, and by the time Henri Durant came within half a dozen miles of the Post the trails from north and south and east and west were beaten hard by the tracks of dogs and men. That year a hundred sledges came in from the forests, and with them were three hundred men and women and children and half a thousand dogs.
Durant was a day later than he had planned to be, but he had made good use of his time. For Miki, while still muzzled, now followed at the end of the babiche that was tied to Henri's sledge. In the afternoon of the third day after leaving Nanette Le Beau's cabin Durant turned off the main-travelled trail until he came to the shack of Andre Ribon, who kept the Factor and his people at the Post supplied with fresh meat. Andre, who was becoming over-anxious at Durant's delay, was still waiting when his friend came. It was here that Henri's Indian had left his fighting dog, the big husky. And here he left Miki, locked in Andre's shack. Then the two men went on to the Post which was only a mile away.
Neither he nor Ribon returned that night. The cabin was empty. And with the beginning of dusk Miki began to hear weird and strange sounds which grew louder as darkness settled deeper. It was the sound of the carnival at the Post – the distant tumult of human voice mingled with the howling of a hundred dogs. He had never heard anything like it before, and for a long time he listened without moving. Then he stood up like a man before the window with this fore-paws resting against the heavy sash. Ribon's cabin was at the crest of a knoll that overlooked the frozen lake, and far off, over the tops of the scrub timber that fringed the edge of it, Miki saw the red glow in the sky made by a score of great camp fires. He whined, and dropped on his four feet again. It was a long wait between that and another day. But the cabin was more comfortable than Le Beau's prison-cage had been. All through the night his restless slumber was filled with visions of Nanette and the baby.
Durant and Ribon did not return until nearly noon the next day. They brought with them fresh meat, of which Miki ate ravenously, for he was hungry. In an unresponsive way he tolerated the advances of these two. A second night he was left alone in the cabin. When Durant and Ribon came back again in the early dawn they brought with them a cage four feet square made of small birch saplings. The open door of this cage they drew close to the door of the cabin, and by means of a chunk of fresh meat Miki was induced to enter through it. Instantly the trap fell, and he was a prisoner. The cage was already fastened on a wide toboggan, and scarcely was the sun up when Miki was on his way to Fort O' God.
This was the big day at the carnival – the day of the caribou-roast and the fight. For many minutes before they came in. sight of Fort O' God Miki heard the growing sound. It amazed him, and he stood up on his feet in his cage, rigid and alert, utterly unconscious of the men who were pulling him. He was looking ahead of them, and Durant chuckled exultantly as they heard him growl, and his teeth click.
"Oui, he will fight! He would fight now," he chuckled.
They were following the shore of a lake. Suddenly they came around the end of a point, and all of Fort O' God lay on the rising shelf of the shore ahead of them. The growl died in Miki's throat. His teeth shut with a last click. For an instant his heart seemed to grow dead and still. Until this moment his world had held only half a dozen human beings. Now, so suddenly that he had no flash of warning, he saw a hundred of them, two hundred, three hundred. At sight of Durant and the cage a swarm of them began running down to the shore. And everywhere there were wolves, so many of them that his senses grew dazed as he stared. His cage was the centre of a clamouring, gesticulating horde of men and boys as it was dragged up the slope. Women began joining the crowd, many of them with small children in their arms. Then his journey came to an end. He was close to another cage, and in that cage was a beast like himself. Beside this cage there stood a tall, swarthy, shaggy-headed half-breed who looked like a pirate. The man was Grouse Piet, Durant's rival.
A contemptuous leer was on his thick-lipped face as he looked at Miki. He turned, and to the group of dark-faced Indians and breeds about him he said something that roused a guttural laugh.
Durant's face flamed red.
"Laugh, you heathen," he challenged, "but don't forget that Henri Durant is here to take your bets!" Then he shook the two cross and ten red foxes in the .face of Grouse Piet.
"Cover them, Grouse Piet," he cried. "And I have ten times more where they came from!" With his muzzle lifted, Miki was sniffing the air. It was filled with strange scents, heavy with the odours of men, of dogs, and of the five huge caribou roasting on their spits fifteen feet over the big fires that were built under them. For ten hours those caribou would roast, turning slowly on spits as thick as a man's leg. The fight was to come before the feast.
For an hour the clatter and tumult of voices hovered about the two cages. Men appraised the fighters and made their bets, and Grouse Piet and Henri Durant made their throats hoarse flinging banter and contempt at each other. At the end of the hour the crowd began to thin out. In the place of men and women half a hundred dark-visaged little children crowded about the cages. It was not until then that Miki caught glimpses of the hordes of beasts fastened in ones and twos and groups in the edge of the clearing. His nostrils had at last caught the distinction. They were not wolves. They were like himself.
It was a long time before his eyes rested steadily on the wolf-dog in the other cage. He went to the edge of his bars and sniffed. The wolf-dog thrust his gaunt muzzle toward him. He made Miki think of the huge wolf he had fought one day on the edge of the cliff, and instinctively he showed his fangs, and snarled. The wolf-dog snarled back. Henri Durant rubbed his hands exultantly, and Grouse Piet laughed softly.
"Oui; they will fight!" said Henri again.
"Ze wolf, he will fight, oui," said Grouse Piet. "But your dog, m'sieu, he be vair seek, lak a puppy, w'en ze fight come!"
A little later Miki saw a white man standing close to his cage. It was MacDonnell, the Scotch factor. He gazed at Miki and the wolf-dog with troubled eyes. Ten minutes later, in the little room which he had made his office, he was saying to a younger man:
"I'd like to stop it, but I can't. They wouldn't stand for it. It would lose us half a season's catch of fur. There's been a fight like this at Fort O' God for the last fifty years, and I don't suppose, after all, that it's any worse than one of the prize fights down there. Only, in this case –"
"They kill," said the younger man.
"Yes, that's it. Usually one of the dogs dies." The younger man knocked the ash out of his pipe.
love dogs," he said, simply. "There'll never be a fight at my post,
Mac – unless it's between men. And I'm not going to see this fight, because I'm
afraid I'd kill some one if I did."