The Country Beyond_ A Romance of the Wilderness
"We'll make it, Peter," she whispered.
THE COUNTRY BEYOND
A ROMANCE OF THE WILDERNESS
BY JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
AUTHOR OF THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN, THE FLAMING FOREST, ETC.
|CHAPTER I||CHAPTER II||CHAPTER III||CHAPTER IV||CHAPTER V|
|CHAPTER VI||CHAPTER VII||CHAPTER VIII||CHAPTER IX||CHAPTER X|
|CHAPTER XI||CHAPTER XII||CHAPTER XIII||CHAPTER XIV||CHAPTER XV|
|CHAPTER XVI||CHAPTER XVII||CHAPTER XVIII||CHAPTER XIX||CHAPTER XX|
|CHAPTER XXI||CHAPTER XXII||CHAPTER XXIII|
List of Illustrations
A glass of wine once lost a kingdom, a nail turned the tide of a mightybattle, and a woman's smile once upon a time destroyed the homes of amillion people. Thus have trivial things played their potent parts inthe history of human lives; yet these things Peter did not know.
THE COUNTRY BEYOND
Not far from the rugged and storm-whipped north shore of Lake Superior,and south of the Kaministiqua, yet not as far south as the Rainy Riverwaterway, there lay a paradise lost in the heart of a wildernessworld—and in that paradise "a little corner of hell."
That was what the girl had called it once upon a time, when sobbing outthe shame and the agony of it to herself. That was before Peter hadcome to leaven the drab of her life. But the hell was still there.
One would not have guessed its existence, standing at the bald top ofCragg's Ridge this wonderful thirtieth day of May. In the whiteness ofwinter one could look off over a hundred square miles of freezingforest and swamp and river country, with the gleam of ice-covered lakeshere and there, fringed by their black spruce and cedar and balsam—acountry of storm, of deep snows, and men and women whose blood ran redwith the thrill that the hardship and the never-ending adventure of thewild.
But this was spring. And such a spring as had not come to the Canadiannorth country in many years. Until three days ago there had been adeluge of warm rains, and since then the sun had inundated the landwith the golden warmth of summer. The last chill was gone from the air,and the last bit of frozen earth and muck from the deepest and blackestswamps, North, south, east and west the wilderness world was a glory ofbursting life, of springtime mellowing into summer. Ridge upon ridge ofyellows and greens and blacks swept away into the unknown distanceslike the billows of a vast sea; and between them lay the valleys andswamps, the lakes and waterways, glad with the rippling song of runningwaters, the sweet scents of early flowering time, and the joyous voiceof all mating creatures.
Just under Cragg's Ridge lay the paradise, a meadow-like sweep of plainthat reached down to the edge of Clearwater Lake, with clumps ofpoplars and white birch and darker tapestries of spruce and balsamsdotting it like islets in a sea of verdant green. The flowers were twoweeks ahead of their time and the sweet perfumes of late June, insteadof May, rose up out of the plain, and already there was nesting in thevelvety splashes of timber.
In the edge of a clump of this timber, flat on his belly, lay Peter.The love of adventure was in him, and today he had sallied forth on hismost desperate enterprise. For the first time he had gone alone to theedge of Clearwater Lake, half a mile away; boldly he had trotted up anddown the white strip of beach where the girl's footprints stillremained in the sand, and defiantly he had yipped at the shimmeringvastness of the water, and at the white gulls circling near him inquest of dead fish flung ashore. Peter was three months old. Yesterdayhe had been a timid pup, shrinking from the bigness and strangeness ofeverything about him; but today he had braved the lake trail on his ownnerve, and nothing had dared to come near him in spite of his yipping,so that a great courage and a great desire were born in him.
Therefore, in returning, he had paused in the edge of a great clump ofbalsams and spruce, and lay flat on his belly, his sharp little eyesleveled yearningly at the black mystery of its deeper shadows. The bitof forest filled a cup-like depression in the plain, and was possiblyhalf a rifle-shot distance from end to end—but to Peter it was as vastas life itself. And something urged him to go in.
And as he lay there, desire and indecision struggling for masterywithin him, no power could have told Peter that destinies greater thanhis own were working through the soul of the dog that was in him, andthat on his decision to go in or not to go in—on the triumph ofcourage or cowardice—there rested the fates of lives greater than hisown, of men, and women, and of little children still unborn. A glass ofwine once lost a kingdom, a nail turned the tide of a mighty battle,and a woman's smile once upon a time destroyed the homes of a millionpeople. Thus have trivial things played their potent parts in thehistory of human lives, yet these things Peter did not know—nor thathis greatest hour had come.
At last he rose from his squatting posture, and stood upon his feet. Hewas not a beautiful pup, this Peter Pied-Bot—or Peter Club-foot, asJolly Roger McKay—who lived over in the big cedar swamp—had named himwhen he gave Peter to the girl. He was, in a way, an accident and ahomely one at that. His father was a blue-blooded fighting Airedale whohad broken from his kennel long enough to commit a mesalliance with ahuge big footed and peace-loving Mackenzie hound—and Peter was theresult. He wore the fiercely bristling whiskers of his Airedale fatherat the age of three months; his ears were flappy and big, his tail wasknotted, and his legs were ungainly and loose, with huge feet at theend of them—so big and heavy that he stumbled frequently, and fell onhis nose. One pitied him at first—and then loved him. For Peter, inspite of his homeliness, had the two best bloods of all dog creation inhis veins. Yet in a way it was like mixing nitro-glycerin with oliveoil, or dynamite and saltpeter with milk and honey.
Peter's heart was thumping rapidly as he took a step toward the deepershadows. He swallowed hard, as if to clear a knot out of his scrawnythroat. But he had made up his mind. Something was compelling him, andhe would go in. Slowly the gloom engulfed him, and once again thewhimsical spirit of fatalism had chosen a trivial thing to work out itsends in the romance and tragedy of human lives.
Grim shadows began to surround Peter, and his ears shot up, and ascraggly brush stood out along his spine. But he did not bark, as hehad barked along the shore of the lake, and in the green opens. Twicehe looked back to the shimmer of sunshine that was growing more andmore indistinct. As long as he could see this, and knew that hisretreat was open, there still remained a bit of that courage which wasswiftly ebbing in the thickening darkness. But the third time he lookedback the light of the sun was utterly gone! For an instant the knotrose up in his throat and choked him, and his eyes popped, and grewlike little balls of fire in his intense desire to see through thegloom. Even the girl, who was afraid of only one thing in the world,would have paused where Peter stood, with a little quickening of herheart. For all the light of the day, it seemed to Peter, had suddenlydied out. Over his head the spruce and cedar and balsam tops grew sothick they were like a canopy of night. Through them the snow nevercame in winter, and under them the light of a blazing sun was only aghostly twilight.
And now, as he stood there, his whole soul burning with a desire to seehis way out, Peter began to hear strange sounds. Strangest of all, andmost fearsome, was a hissing that came and went, sometimes very near tohim, and always accompanied by a grating noise that curdled his blood.Twice after that he saw the shadow of the great owl as it swooped overhim, and he flattened himself down, the knot in his throat growingbigger and more choking. And then he heard the soft and uncannymovement of huge feathered bodies in the thick shroud of boughsoverhead, and slowly and cautiously he wormed himself around,determined to get back to sunshine and day as quickly as he could. Itwas not until he had made this movement that the real chill of horrorgripped at his heart. Straight behind him, directly in the path he hadtraveled, he saw two little green balls of flame!
It was instinct, and not reason or experience, which told Peter therewas menace and peril in these two tiny spots blazing in the gloom. Hedid not know that his own eyes, popping half out of his head, wereequally terrifying in that pit of silence, nor that from him emanated astill more terrifying thing—the scent of dog. He trembled on hiswobbly legs as the green eyes stared at him, and his back seemed tobreak in the middle, so that he sank helplessly down upon the softspruce needles, waiting for his doom. In another flash the twin ballsof green fire were gone. In a moment they appeared again, a littlefarther away. Then a second time they were gone, and a third time theyflashed back at him—so distant they appeared like needle-points in thedarkness. Something stupendous rose up in Peter. It was the soul of hisAiredale father, telling him the other thing was running away! And inthe joy of triumph Peter let out a yelp. In that night-infested place,alive with hiding things, the yelp set loose weird rustlings in thetangled treetops, strange murmurings of chortling voices, and the nastysnapping of beaks that held in them the power to rend Peter's skinnybody into a hundred bits. From deeper in the thicket came the suddencrash of a heavy body, and with it the chuckling notes of a porcupine,and a hoo-hoo-hoo-ee of startled inquiry that at first Peter took for ahuman voice. And again he lay shivering close to the foot-deep carpetof needles under him, while his heart thumped against his ribs, and hiswhiskers stood out in mortal fear. There followed a weird and appallingsilence, and in that stillness Peter quested vainly for the sunlight hehad lost. And then, indistinctly, but bringing with it a new thrill, heheard another sound. It was a soft and distant rippling of runningwater. He knew that sound. It was friendly. He had played among therocks and pebbles and sand where it was made. His courage came back,and he rose up on his legs, and made his way toward it. Somethinginside him told him to go quietly, but his feet were big and clumsy,and half a dozen times in the next two minutes he stumbled on his nose.At last he came to the stream, scarcely wider than a man might havereached across, rippling and plashing its way through the naked rootsof trees. And ahead of him Peter saw light. He quickened his pace,until at the last he was running when he came out into the edge of themeadowy plain, with its sweetness of flowers and green grass and songof birds, and its glory of blue sky and sun.
If he had ever been afraid, Peter forgot it now. The choking went outof his throat, his