Wild at HeartShasta of the Wolves by Olaf Baker

Wild at Heart Homepage | Contents | Previous Chapter

After Shasta’s exploit against Kennebec, he became doubly marked as a person among the forest folk. Along the Wild news flies quickly. It is carried not only by swift feet and keen noses: it seems to travel as well by mysterious carriers, who spread it through the length and breadth of the land. What these carriers are, and what is the manner and meaning of their coming and going, only the wild creatures know. They see them with their large eyes which deepen with the dusk! They hear the soft whisper of their going on the wind-trails of the air! We should not see them, you or I, because our eyes are too accustomed to the artificial lights, and because around our minds are built the brick walls of the world. But the wild creatures, whose eyes have never been dulled by electricity, nor their ears stunned by the roar of the motors, see and hear the spirit faces and the flowing shapes which go by under the trees.

So not many hours had passed before the great news of Shasta’s coming had spread through the wilderness. And particularly the wolves took hold of it, and regarded Shasta as a sort of little god. No one had ever dared to dispute Kennebec’s mastery before. Kennebec was so high and mighty that whatever he did must be suffered, even though you raged against it in your heart. But now the strange cub had done the unthinkable deed. He had done it and escaped. All those who had lost their young through Kennebec’s evil claws rejoiced that now at last the tyrant was punished, and felt their wrongs avenged. Never more would Kennebec feel safe upon his precipice that climbed up to the stars. Feet and hands that had scaled it before might do so again. The fear of it would haunt him through the burning days and the breathless nights.

Yet, in spite of Shasta’s growing importance among his wild kindred, a strange restlessness began to stir within him, and to move along his blood. And when the mood was strongest, his thoughts turned continually towards the place of the rocks where he had joined the wolf chorus and sung himself into the heart of the pack. It was the memory of the music which haunted him most, and when, from afar off, he would hear some wild wolf-note come sobbing through the night, the sound would set him thrilling till every hair on his body seemed to be alive. Yet always, following hard upon the remembrance of the chorus, would come that other memory of tall wolfish shapes, that moved on their hind legs, and of that red glow in the circle of things that did not move: all of it down there, at the foot of the precipice, as if one looked down through the canyon of sleep to the low lair of a dream.

One day when the thing was strong upon him, he met Gomposh, and asked him what it was. Gomposh said little, but thought much. He knew that at certain seasons all things follow a craving within them, and that it made them follow far trails, leading to distant ranges from which they did not always return. The geese went north, honking their mysterious cry. The caribou made long journeys, and deepened the ancient trails. The mountain sheep left their high pastures, guided by an instinct, which never failed, to the salt-lick in the lowlands to the south. And now it was plain to Gomposh that the strange cub had a craving within him also. It was not to find a lair in the north, nor a salt-lick in the south. It was not to change pasture for pasture, in the way of the caribou. Gomposh knew certainly that it was none of those things; but that it was the call of the blood that was in him, the secret Indian call, that penetrated even through the deep forests, far into the inmost heart of the wilderness where he lay outcast from his kind. But though Gomposh thought the thing clearly enough in his deep mind, he did not worry it into actual words.

“It is a good restlessness,” he said. “It is of the other part of you that is not wolf. Follow the restlessness of your blood.”

That, in the sense of it, was what Gomposh gave Shasta to understand, though he said it in his own peculiar way.

After that Shasta’s mind was very busy with the new thing that had come to him, and before long he let it have its way, and started on his journey by himself. The wolves watched him go, but did not attempt to stop him. The growing unrest that had been in him had not escaped them. For, apart from the feeling which it produced, Shasta’s outward behaviour was different from before. He came and went continually, restless and ill at ease. The very air about the cave seemed to breathe unrest, and the wolves themselves became restless, though they could not tell the reason why. Yet, although they did nothing to hinder hini in his final departing, Nitka’s eyes watched him regretfully as his little body disappeared among the trees.

He travelled on without stopping until he reached the spot where the great chorus had taken place. As he approached the neighbourhood, he grew more and more excited. The memories of that wonderful singing night came crowding back upon him. It was broad daylight now, for it was at the middle of the afternoon; and when he reached the high rocks, he could see far and wide over the foothills and the prairies beyond. He marvelled at the bigness of the world, and at the vast sunny spaces, shadowless in the heat. Out there in the immense sunlight there were no forests to break the glare. The heat glimmered and swam. It was as if the sunlight were a beating pulse. From where he crouched first the Indian camp was hidden; but his curiosity was too strong to allow him to remain where he was; so, very cautiously, he crept to the extreme edge of the rocks and looked over.

There it was, the same strange circle of things which he could not understand. Also the upright wolves were there, walking about singly, or standing in little groups. Shasta watched them intently with shining eyes. And as he looked, the confused murmur of an Indian camp rose to his ears--voices of men and women, the barking of dogs, and the crying of children; also a slow and measured sound, which seemed to the boy to be even more disquieting than the other unaccustomed noises--the beating of an Indian tom-tom for a sacred dance. He was so intent upon watching the camp below that it was only a slight noise behind which made him aware that danger was approaching. He turned his head quickly and then remained spellbound.

Not a dozen paces away stood a tall form, motionless as a rock. Its hair was long, falling to its shoulders. A single eagle’s feather stood up straight behind the head. It was dressed in tanned buckskin, and carried a bow of sarvis-berry wood. The quiver, from which the ends of the long feathered arrows appeared, was of the yellow skin of a buffalo calf. Shasta gazed at this strange apparition with awe. Somehow or other, he felt that it had to do with the camp down below. He was afraid of it. He wanted to run. Yet an overmastering desire to look his fill at the thing left him where he was. For a minute or two the Indian and the boy looked at each other without making a sound. Then the Indian made a step forward, and Shasta growled low in his throat.

If Shasta was astonished at the Indian, the Indian was equally astonished at Shasta. The boy’s appearance was extraordinarily wild. His matted hair fell straggling over his face. In order to see clearly, he had to shake it out of his eyes continually. It was more like an animal’s mane than human hair, and gave him a ferocious look. His constant exposure to the sun and air, unprotected by any clothes, had thickened the short hair upon his body till it was covered completely with a fine downy growth.

When the Indian heard the wolfish snarl he paused. Through the thick mane of Shasta’s head he saw the gleam of intensely black eyes. Then he advanced again.

Shasta looked sharply to left and right, measuring distances. Then he leapt to his feet and began to run. But he ran in wolf fashion, on all fours. Fast though he went, the Indian was faster. He heard the quiet pad of moccasined feet behind him. Terror seized him. His one thought was to gain the shelter of the friendly trees. Before he could reach them, however, the Indian was upon him. Shasta felt something seize his hair behind.

His first instinct was that of a wild animal trapped, and he turned in fury upon his assailant. But before he could do any damage, the Indian threw him down, and fastened his arms with a throng. It was in vain that Shasta struggled with all his strength to free himself. The Indian was too powerful and the deerskin throng held fast. When he was finally secured, his captor lifted him under his arm and carried him down towards the camp.

After struggling fiercely for some time, Shasta became still. It was not only that he felt that further resistance would be useless. Something seemed to tell him that, as long as he remained quiet, the Indian would do him no harm. For the first time since he was a tiny papoose, the smell that clings about all things Indian came to his nose. It was an un familiar smell, yet, somehow, it was not new. His eyes and his ears had brought with him no memories of his forgotten infancy: his nose was faithful to the past. What faint, glimmering memories of the Indian lodges it brought; of the camp fire, and the cooking; of the buckskin clothes and untanned hides; all the clinging odours of that old Indian life who shall say? Now, as he was carried captive to his own people, quite unconscious though he was that he belonged to them, the Indian scent was a pleasant thing, so that he was soothed by it, and even, for the moment, subdued.

It took some time to gain the camp, for the downward way was steep, and there was no trail. Moreover Shasta, lying limp as he did, was a dead weight, and not easy to carry. At last the descent was made, and the camp reached. The Indian put his burden down.

Return to Top of Page | Contents | Next Chapter