The Glutton Of The Great Snow





I



NORTHWARD interminably, and beneath a whitish, desolate sky, stretched

the white, empty leagues of snow, unbroken by rock or tree or hill, to

the straight, menacing horizon. Green-black, and splotched with snow

that clung here and there upon their branches, along the southward

limits of the barren crowded down the serried ranks of the ancient fir

forest. Endlessly baffled, but endlessly unconquered, the hosts of the

firs thrust out their grim spire-topped vanguards, at intervals, into

the hostile vacancy of the barren. Between these dark vanguards, long,

silent aisles of whiteness led back and gently upward into the heart

of the forest.



Out across one of these pale corridors of silence came moving very

deliberately a dark, squat shape with blunt muzzle close to the snow.

Its keen, fierce eyes and keener nostrils were scrutinizing the white

surface for the scent or trail of some other forest wanderer.

Conscious of power, in spite of its comparatively small stature--much

less than that of wolf or lynx, or even of the fox--it made no effort

to conceal its movements, disguise its track or keep watch for

possible enemies. Stronger than any other beast of thrice its size, as

cunning as the wisest of the foxes, and of a dogged, savage temper

well known to all the kindred of the wild, it seemed to feel secure

from ill-considered interference.



Less than three feet in length, but of peculiarly massive build, this

dark, ominous-looking animal walked flat-footed, like a bear, and with

a surly heaviness worthy of a bear's stature. Its fur, coarse and

long, was of a sooty gray-brown, streaked coarsely down each flank

with a broad yellowish splash meeting over the hind quarters. Its

powerful, heavy-clawed feet were black. Its short muzzle and massive

jaw, and its broad face up to just above the eyes, where the fur came

down thickly, were black also. The eyes themselves, peering out

beneath overhanging brows, gleamed with a mixture of sullen

intelligence and implacable savagery. In its slow, forbidding

strength, and in its tameless reserve, which yet held the capacity for

outbursts of ungovernable rage, this strange beast seemed to incarnate

the very spirit of the bitter and indomitable North. Its name was

various, for hunters called it sometimes wolverene, sometimes

carcajou, but oftener "Glutton," or "Injun Devil."



Through the voiceless desolation the carcajou--it was a female--continued

her leisurely way. Presently, just upon the edge of the forest-growth,

she came upon the fresh track of a huge lynx. The prints of the lynx's

great pads were several times broader than her own, but she stopped

and began to examine them without the slightest trace of apprehension. For

some reason best known to herself, she at length made up her mind to

pursue the stranger's back trail, concerning herself rather with what

he had been doing than with what he was about to do.



Plunging into the gloom of the firs, where the trail led over a

snow-covered chaos of boulders and tangled windfalls, she came

presently to a spot where the snow was disturbed and scratched. Her

eyes sparkled greedily. There were spatters of blood about the place,

and she realized that here the lynx had buried, for a future meal,

the remnant of his kill.



Her keen nose speedily told her just where the treasure was hidden,

and she fell to digging furiously with her short, powerful fore paws.

It was a bitter and lean season, and the lynx, after eating his fill,

had taken care to bury the remnant deep. The carcajou burrowed down

till only the tip of her dingy tail was visible before she found the

object of her search. It proved to be nothing but one hind quarter of

a little blue fox. Angrily she dragged it forth and bolted it in a

twinkling, crunching the slim bone between her powerful jaws. It was

but a morsel to such a hunger as hers. Licking her chops, and passing

her black paws hurriedly over her face, as a cat does, she forsook the

trail of the lynx and wandered on deeper into the soundless gloom.

Several rabbit-tracks she crossed, and here and there the dainty trail

of a ptarmigan, or the small, sequential dots of a weasel's foot. But

a single glance or passing twitch of her nostril told her these were

all old, and she vouchsafed them no attention. It was not till she had

gone perhaps a quarter of a mile through the fir-glooms that she came

upon a trail which caused her to halt.



It was the one trail, this, among all the tracks that traversed the

great snow, which could cause her a moment's perturbation. For the

trail of the wolf-pack she had small concern--for the hungriest wolves

could never climb a tree. But this was the broad snowshoe trail, which

she knew was made by a creature even more crafty than herself. She

glanced about keenly, peering under the trees--because one could never

judge, merely by the direction of the trail, where one of those

dangerous creatures was going. She stood almost erect on her haunches

and sniffed the air for the slightest taint of danger. Then she

sniffed at the tracks. The man-smell was strong upon them, and

comparatively, but not dangerously, fresh. Reassured on this point,

she decided to follow the man and find out what he was doing. It was

only when she did not know what he was about that she so dreaded him.

Given the opportunity to watch him unseen, she was willing enough to

pit her cunning against his, and to rob him as audaciously as she

would rob any of the wilderness kindreds.



Hunting over a wide range as she did, the carcajou was unaware till

now that a man had come upon her range that winter. To her experience

a man meant a hunter--and--trapper, with emphasis distinctly upon the

trapper. The man's gun she feared--but his traps she feared not at

all. Indeed, she regarded them rather with distinct favour, and was

ready to profit by them at the first opportunity. Having only strength

and cunning, but no speed to rely upon, she had learned that traps

could catch all kinds of swift creatures, and hold them inexorably.

She had learned, too, that there was usually a succession of traps and

snares set along a man's trail. It was with some exciting expectation,

now, that she applied herself to following this trail.



Within a short distance the track brought her to a patch of trampled

snow, with tiny bits of frozen fish scattered about. She knew at once

that somewhere in this disturbed area a trap was hidden, close to the

surface. Stepping warily, in a circle, she picked up and devoured the

smallest scraps. Near the centre lay a fragment of tempting size; but

she cunningly guessed that close beside that morsel would be the

hiding-place of the trap. Slowly she closed in upon it, her nose close

to the snow, sniffing with cautious discrimination. Suddenly she

stopped short. Through the snow she had detected the man-smell, and

the smell of steel, mingling with the savour of the dried fish. Here,

but a little to one side, she began to dig, and promptly uncovered a

light chain. Following this she came presently to the trap itself,

which she cautiously laid bare. Then, without misgiving, she ate the

big piece of fish. Both her curiosity and her hunger, however, were

still far from satisfied, so she again took up the trail.



The next trap she came to was an open snare--a noose of bright wire

suspended near the head of a cunningly constructed alley of fir

branches, leading up to the foot of a big hemlock. Just behind this

noose, and hardly to be reached save through the noose, the bait had

evidently been fixed. But the carcajou saw that some one little less

cunning than herself had been before her. Such a snare would have

caught the fierce, but rather stupid, lynx; but a fox had been the

first arrival. She saw his tracks. He had carefully investigated the

alley of fir branches from the outside. Then he had broken through it

behind the noose, and safely made off with the bait. Rather

contemptuously the old wolverene went on. She did not understand this

kind of trap, so she discreetly refrained from meddling with it.






Fully a quarter mile she had to go before she came to another; but

here she found things altogether different and more interesting. As

she came softly around a great snow-draped boulder there was a snarl,

a sharp rattle of steel, and a thud. She shrank back swiftly, just

beyond reach of the claws of a big lynx. The lynx had been ahead of

her in discovering the trap, and with the stupidity of his tribe had

got caught in it. The inexorable steel jaws had him fast by the left

fore leg. He had heard the almost soundless approach of the strange

prowler, and, mad with pain and rage, had sprung to the attack without

waiting to see the nature of his antagonist.



Keeping just beyond the range of his hampered leap, the carcajou now

crept slowly around the raging and snarling captive, who kept pouncing

at her in futile fury every other moment. Though his superior in sheer

strength, she was much smaller and lighter than he, and less

murderously armed for combat; and she dreaded the raking, eviscerating

clutch of his terrible hinder claws. In defence of her burrow and her

litter, she would have tackled him without hesitation; but her sharp

teeth and bulldog jaw, however efficient, would not avail, in such a

combat, to save her from getting ripped almost to ribbons. She was far

too sagacious to enter upon any such struggle unnecessarily. Prowling

slowly and tirelessly, without effort, around and around the excited

prisoner, she trusted to wear him out and then take him at some deadly

disadvantage.



Weighted with the trap, and not wise enough to refrain from wasting

his strength in vain struggles, the lynx was strenuously playing his

cunning antagonist's game, when a sound came floating on the still air

which made them both instantly rigid. It was a long, thin, wavering

cry that died off with indescribable melancholy in its cadence. The

lynx crouched, with eyes dilating, and listened with terrible

intentness. The carcajou, equally interested but not terrified, stood

erect, ears, eyes and nose alike directed to finding out more about

that ominous voice. Again and again it was repeated, swiftly coming

nearer; and presently it resolved itself into a chorus of voices. The

lynx made several convulsive bounds, wrenching desperately to free his

imprisoned limb; then, recognizing the inevitable, he crouched again,

shuddering but dangerous, his tufted ears flattened upon his back,

his eyes flickering green, every tooth and claw bared for the last

battle. But the carcajou merely stiffened up her fur, in a rage at the

prospective interruption of her hunting. She knew well that the

dreadful, melancholy cry was the voice of the wolf-pack. But the

wolves were not on her trail, that she was sure of; and possibly

they might pass at a harmless distance, and not discover her or her

quarry.



The listeners were not kept long in suspense. The pack, as it chanced,

was on the trail of a moose which, labouring heavily in the deep snow,

had passed, at a distance of some thirty or forty yards, a few minutes

before the carcajou's arrival. The wolves swept into view through the

tall fir trunks--five in number, and running so close that a

table-cloth might have covered them. They knew by the trail that the

quarry must be near, and, urged on by the fierce thrust of their

hunger, they were not looking to right or left. They were almost past,

and the lynx was beginning to take heart again, when, out of the tail

of his eye, the pack-leader detected something unusual on the snow

near the foot of the big rock. One fair look explained it all to him.

With an exultant yelp he turned, and the pack swept down upon the

prisoner; while the carcajou, bursting with indignation, slipped up

the nearest tree.



The captive was not abject, but game to the last tough fibre. All

fangs and rending claws, with a screech and a bound he met the

onslaught of the pack; and, for all the hideous handicap of that thing

of iron on his leg, he gave a good account of himself. For a minute or

two the wolves and their victim formed one yelling, yelping heap. When

it disentangled itself, three of the wolves were badly torn, and one

had the whole side of his face laid open. But in a few minutes there

was nothing left of the unfortunate lynx but a few of the heavier

bones--to which the pack might return later--and the scrap of fur and

flesh that was held in the jaws of the trap.






As the carcajou saw her prospective meal disappearing, her rage became

almost uncontrollable, and she crept down the tree-trunk as if she

would fling herself upon the pack. The leader sprang at her, leaping

as high as he could against the trunk; and she, barely out of reach of

his clashing, bloody fangs, snapped back at him with a vicious growl,

trying to catch the tip of his nose. Failing in this, she struck at

him like lightning with her powerful claws, raking his muzzle so

severely that he fell back with a startled yelp. A moment later the

whole pack, their famine still unsatisfied, swept off again upon the

trail of the moose. The carcajou came down, sniffed angrily at the

clean bones which had been cracked for their marrow, then hurried off

on the track of the wolves.





II



Meanwhile, it had chanced that the man on snowshoes, fetching a wide

circle that would bring the end of his line of traps back nearly to

his cabin, had come suddenly face to face with the fleeing moose. Worn

out with the terror of his flight and the heart-breaking effort of

floundering through the heavy snow--which was, nevertheless, hard

enough, on the surface, to bear up his light-footed pursuers--the

great beast was near his last gasp. At sight of the man before him,

more to be dreaded even than the savage foe behind him, he snorted

wildly and plunged off to one side. But the man, borne up upon his

snowshoes, overtook him in a moment, and, suddenly stooping forward,

drew his long hunting-knife across the gasping throat. The snow about

grew crimson instantly, and the huge beast sank with a shudder.



The trapper knew that a moose so driven must have had enemies on

its trail, and he knew also that no enemies but wolves, or another

hunter, could have driven the moose to such a flight. There was no

other hunter ranging within twenty miles of him. Therefore, it was

wolves. He had no weapon with him but his knife and his light axe,

because his rifle was apt to be a useless burden in winter, when he

had always traps or pelts to carry. And it was rash for one man,

without his gun, to rob a wolf-pack of its kill! But the trapper

wanted fresh moose-meat. Hastily and skilfully he began to cut

from the carcass the choicest portions of haunch and loin. He had no

more than fairly got to work when the far-off cry of the pack

sounded on his expectant ears. He laboured furiously as the voices

drew nearer. The interruption of the lynx he understood, in a

measure, by the noises that reached him; but when the pack came

hot on the trail again he knew it was time to get away. He must

retreat promptly, but not be seen retreating. Bearing with him such

cuts as he had been able to secure, he made off in the direction of

his cabin. But at a distance of about two hundred yards he stepped

into a thicket at the base of a huge hemlock, and turned to see

what the wolves would do when they found they had been forestalled. As

he turned, the wolves appeared, and swept down upon the body of the

moose. But within a couple of paces of it they stopped short, with a

snarl of suspicion, and drew back hastily. The tracks and the

scent of their arch-enemy, man, were all about the carcass. His

handiwork--his clean cutting--was evident upon it. Their first

impulse was toward caution. Suspecting a trap, they circled warily

about the body. Then, reassured, their rage blazed up. Their own

quarry had been killed before them, their own hunting insolently

crossed. However, it was man, the ever-insolent overlord, who had

done it. He had taken toll as he would, and withdrawn when he would.

They did not quite dare to follow and seek vengeance. So in a few

moments their wrath had simmered down; and they fell savagely upon the

yet warm feast.



The trapper watched them from his hiding-place, not wishing to risk

attracting their attention before they had quite gorged themselves. He

knew there would be plenty of good meat left, even then; and that

they would at length proceed to bury it for future use. Then he could

dig it up again, take what remained clean and unmauled, and leave the

rest to its lawful owners; and all without unnecessary trouble.



As he watched the banqueting pack, he was suddenly conscious of a

movement in the branches of a fir a little beyond them. Then his quick

eye, keener in discrimination than that of any wolf, detected the

sturdy figure of a large wolverene making its way from tree to tree at

a safe distance above the snow, intent upon the wolves. What one

carcajou--"Glutton," he called it--could hope, for all its cunning, to

accomplish against five big timber-wolves, he could not imagine.

Hating the "Glutton," as all trappers do, he wished most earnestly

that it might slip on its branch and fall down before the fangs of the

pack.



There was no smallest danger of the wary carcajou doing anything of

the sort. Every faculty was on the alert to avenge herself on the

wolves who had robbed her of her destined prey. Most of the other

creatures of the wild she despised, but the wolves she also hated,

because she felt herself constrained to yield them way. She crawled

carefully from tree to tree, till at last she gained one whose lower

branches spread directly over the carcass of the moose. Creeping

out upon one of those branches, she glared down maliciously upon

her foes. Observing her, two of the wolves desisted long enough from

their feasting to leap up at her with fiercely gnashing teeth. But

finding her out of reach, and scornfully unmoved by their futile

demonstrations, they gave it up and fell again to their ravenous

feasting.



The wolverene is a big cousin to the weasel, and also to the skunk.

The ferocity of the weasel it shares, and the weasel's dauntless

courage. Its kinship to the skunk is attested by the possession of a

gland which secretes an oil of peculiarly potent malodour. The smell

of this oil is not so overpowering, so pungently strangulating, as

that emitted by the skunk; but all the wild creatures find it

irresistibly disgusting. No matter how pinched and racked by famine

they may be, not one of them will touch a morsel of meat which a

wolverene has defiled ever so slightly. The wolverene itself, however,

by no means shares this general prejudice.



When the carcajou had glared down upon the wolves for several minutes,

she ejected the contents of her oil-gland all over the body of the

moose, impartially treating her foes to a portion of the nauseating

fluid. With coughing, and sneezing, and furious yelping, the wolves

bounded away, and began rolling and burrowing in the snow. They could

not rid themselves at once of the dreadful odour; but, presently

recovering their self-possession, and resolutely ignoring the polluted

meat, they ranged themselves in a circle around the tree at a safe

distance, and snapped their long jaws vengefully at their adversary.

They seemed prepared to stay there indefinitely, in the hope of

starving out the carcajou and tearing her to pieces. Perceiving this,

the carcajou turned her back upon them, climbed farther up the tree to

a comfortable crotch, and settled herself indifferently for a nap. For

all her voracious appetite, she knew she could go hungry longer than

any wolf, and quite wear out the pack in a waiting game. Then the

trapper, indignant at seeing so much good meat spoiled, but his

sporting instincts stirred to sympathy by the triumph of one beast

like the carcajou over a whole wolf-pack, turned his back upon the

scene and resumed his tramp. The wolves had lost prestige in his

eyes, and he now felt ready to fight them all with his single axe.





III



From that day on the wolf-pack cherished a sleepless grudge against

the carcajou, and wasted precious hours, from time to time, striving

to catch her off her guard. The wolf's memory is a long one, and the

feud lost nothing in its bitterness as the winter weeks, loud with

storm or still with deadly cold, dragged by. For a time the crafty old

carcajou fed fat on the flesh which none but she could touch, while

all the other beasts but the bear, safe asleep in his den, and the

porcupine, browsing contentedly on hemlock and spruce, went lean with

famine. During this period, since she had all that even her great

appetite could dispose of, the carcajou robbed neither the hunter's

traps nor the scant stores of the other animals. But at last her

larder was bare. Then, turning her attention to the traps again, she

speedily drew upon her the trapper's wrath, and found herself obliged

to keep watch against two foes at once, and they the most powerful in

the wilderness--namely, the man and the wolf-pack. Even the magnitude

of this feud, however, did not daunt her greedy but fearless spirit,

and she continued to rob the traps, elude the wolves, and evade the

hunter's craftiest efforts, till the approach of spring not only eased

the famine of the forest but put an end to the man's trapping. When

the furs of the wild kindred began to lose their gloss and vitality,

the trapper loaded his pelts upon a big hand-sledge, sealed up his

cabin securely, and set out for the settlements before the snow should

all be gone. Once assured of his absence, the carcajou devoted all her

strength and cunning to making her way into the closed cabin. At last,

after infinite patience and endeavour, she managed to get in, through

the roof. There were supplies--flour, and bacon, and dried apples, all

very much to her distinctly catholic taste--and she enjoyed herself

immensely till private duties summoned her reluctantly away.



Spring comes late to the great snows, but when it does come it is

swift and not to be denied. Then summer, with much to do and little

time to do it in, rushes ardently down upon the plains and the

fir-forests. About three miles back from the cabin, on a dry knoll in

the heart of a tangled swamp, the old wolverene dug herself a

commodious and secret burrow. Here she gave birth to a litter of tiny

young ones, much like herself in miniature, only of a paler colour and

softer, silkier fur. In her ardent, unflagging devotion to these

little ones she undertook no hunting that would take her far from

home, but satisfied her appetite with mice, slugs, worms and beetles.



Living in such seclusion as she did, her enemies the wolves lost all

track of her for the time. The pack had broken up, as a formal

organization, according to the custom of wolf-packs in summer. But

there was still more or less cohesion, of a sort, between its

scattered members; and the leader and his mate had a cave not many

miles from the wolverene's retreat.



As luck would have it, the gray old leader, returning to the cave one

day with the body of a rabbit between his gaunt jaws, took a short cut

across the swamp, and came upon the trail of his long-lost enemy. In

fact, he came upon several of her trails; and he understood very well

what it meant. He had no time, or inclination, to stop and look into

the matter then; but his sagacious eyes gleamed with vengeful

intention as he continued his journey.



About this time--the time being a little past midsummer--the man came

back to his cabin, bringing supplies. It was a long journey between

the cabin and the settlements, and he had to make it several times

during the brief summer, in order to accumulate stores enough to last

through the long, merciless season of the great snows. When he reached

the cabin and found that, in spite of all his precautions, the greedy

carcajou had outwitted him and broken in, and pillaged his stores, his

indignation knew no bounds.



The carcajou had become an enemy more dangerous to him than all the

other beasts of the wild together. She must be hunted down and

destroyed before he could go on with his business of laying in stores

for the winter.



For several days the man prowled in ever-widening circles around his

cabin, seeking to pick up his enemy's fresh trail. At last, late one

afternoon, he found it, on the outskirts of the swamp. It was too late

to follow it up then. But the next day he set out betimes with rifle,

axe and spade, vowed to the extermination of the whole carcajou

family, for he knew, as well as the old wolf did, why the carcajou had

taken up her quarters in the swamp.



It chanced that this very morning was the morning when the wolves had

undertaken to settle their ancient grudge. The old leader--his mate

being occupied with her cubs--had managed to get hold of two other

members of the pack, with memories as long as his. The unravelling of

the trails in the swamp was an easy task for their keen noses. They

found the burrow on the dry, warm knoll, prowled stealthily all about

it for a few minutes, then set themselves to digging it open. When the

man, whose wary, moccasined feet went noiselessly as a fox's, came in

eyeshot of the knoll, the sight he caught through the dark jumble of

tree-trunks brought him to a stop. He slunk behind a screen of

branches and peered forth with eager interest. What he saw was three

big, gray wolves, starting to dig furiously. He knew they were digging

at the carcajou's burrow.



When the wolves fell to digging their noses told them that there were

young carcajous in the burrow, but they could not be sure whether the

old one was at home or not. On this point, however, they were

presently informed. As the dry earth flew from beneath their furious

claws, a dark, blunt snout shot forth, to be as swiftly withdrawn.

Its appearance was followed by a yelp of pain, and one of the younger

wolves drew back, walking on three legs. One fore paw had been bitten

clean through, and he lay down whining, to lick and cherish it. That

paw, at least, would do no more digging for some time.



The man, in his hiding-place behind the screen, saw what had happened,

and felt a twinge of sympathetic admiration for his enemy, the savage

little fighter in the burrow. The remaining two wolves now grew more

cautious, keeping back from the entrance as well as they could, and

undermining its edges. Again and again the dark muzzle shot forth, but

the wolves always sprang away in time to escape punishment. This went

on till the wolves had made such an excavation that the man thought

they must be nearing the bottom of the den. He waited breathlessly for

the denouement, which he knew would be exciting.



He had not long to wait.



On a sudden, as if jerked from a catapult, the old carcajou sprang

clear out, snatching at the muzzle of the nearest wolf. He dodged, but

not quite far enough; and she caught him fairly in the side of the

throat, just behind the jaw. It was a deadly grip, and the wolf rose

on his hind legs, struggling frantically to shake her off. But with

her great strength and powerful, clutching claws, which she used

almost as a bear might, she pulled him down on top of her, striving to

use his bulk as a shield against the fangs of the other wolf; and the

two rolled over and over to the foot of the knoll.



It was the second young wolf, unfortunately for her, that she had

fastened upon, or the victory, even against such odds, might have been

hers. But the old leader was wary. He saw that his comrade was done

for; so he stood watchful, biding his chance to get just the grip he

wanted. At length, as he saw the younger wolf's struggles growing

feebler, he darted in and slashed the carcajou frightfully across the

loins. But this was not the hold that he wanted. As she dropped her

victim and turned upon him valiantly, he caught her high up on the

back, and held her fast between his bone-crushing jaws. It was a final

and fatal grip; but she was not beaten until she was dead. With her

fierce eyes already glazing she writhed about and succeeded in fixing

her death-grip upon the victor's lean fore leg. With the last ounce

of her strength, the last impulses of her courage and her hate, she

clinched her jaws till her teeth met through flesh, sinew and the

cracking bone itself. Then her lifeless body went limp, and with a

swing of his massive neck the old wolf flung her from him.



Having satisfied himself that she was quite dead, the old wolf now

slunk off on three legs into the swamp, holding his maimed and

bleeding limb as high as he could. Then the man stepped out from his

hiding-place and came forward. The wolf who had been first bitten got

up and limped away with surprising agility; but the one in whose

throat the old carcajou had fixed her teeth lay motionless where he

had fallen, a couple of paces from his dead slayer. Wolf-pelts were no

good at this season, so the man thrust the body carelessly aside with

his foot. But he stood for a minute or two looking down with whimsical

respect on the dead form of the carcajou.



"Y' ain't nawthin' but a thief an' stinkin' Glutton," he muttered

presently, "an' the whole kit an' bilin' of ye's got to be wiped out!

But, when it comes to grit, clean through, I takes off my cap to ye!"





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