Wapi dropped on his belly and watched. His eyes followed Uppy suspiciously as he strung up the tent on its whalebone supports to keep the bite of the wind from the sledge on which Dolores sat at Peter’s feet. Then Uppy built a fire of kindlings, and scraped up a pot of ice for tea-water. After that, while the water was heating, he gave each of the trace dogs a frozen fish. Dolores herself picked out one of the largest and tossed it to Wapi. Then she sat down again and began to talk to Peter, bundled up in his furs. After a time they ate, and drank hot tea, and after he had devoured a chunk of raw meat the size of his two fists, Uppy rolled himself in his sleeping bag near the dogs. A little at a time Wapi dragged himself nearer until his head lay on Dolores’ coat. After that there was a long silence broken only by the low voices of the woman and the man, and the heavy breathing of the tired dogs. Wapi himself dozed off, but never for long. Then Dolores nodded, and her head drooped until it found a pillow on Peter’s shoulder. Gently Peter drew a bearskin about her, and for a long time sat wide-awake, guarding Uppy and baring his ears at intervals to listen. A dozen times he saw Wapi’s bloodshot eyes looking at him, and twice he put out a hand to the dog’s head and spoke to him in a whisper.
Even Peter’s eyes were filmed by a growing drowsiness when Wapi drew silently away and slunk suspiciously into the night. There was no yapping foxes here, forty miles from the coast. An almost appalling silence hung under the white stars, a silence broken only by the low and distant moaning the wind always makes on the barrens. Wapi listened to it, and he sniffed with his gray muzzle turned to the north. And then he whined. Had Dolores or Peter seen him or heard the note in his throat, they, too, would have stared back over the trail they had traveled. For something was coming to Wapi. Faint, elusive, and indefinable breath in the air, he smelled it in one moment, and the next it was gone. For many minutes he stood undecided, and then he returned to the sledge, his spine bristling and a growl in his throat.
Wide-eyed and staring, Peter was looking back. “What is it, Wapi?”
His voice aroused Dolores. She sat up with a start. The growl had grown into a snarl in Wapi’s throat.
“I think they are coming,” said Peter calmly. “You’d better rouse Uppy. He hasn’t moved in the last two hours.”
Something that was like a sob came from Dolores’ lips as she stood up. “They’re not coming,” she whispered. “They’ve stopped–and they’re building a fire!”
Not more than a third of a mile away a point of yellow flame flared up in the night.
“Give me the revolver, Peter.”
Peter gave it to her without a word. She went to Uppy, and at the touch of her foot he was out of his sleeping-bag, his moon-face staring at her. She pointed back to the fire. Her face was dead white. The revolver was pointed straight at Uppy’s heart.
“If they come up with us, Uppy–you die!”
The Eskimo’s narrow eyes widened. There was murder in this white woman’s face, in the steadiness of her hand, and in her voice. If they came up with them–he would die! Swiftly he gathered up his sleeping-bag and placed it on the sledge. Then he roused the dogs, tangled in their traces. They rose to their feet, sleepy and ill-humored. One of them snapped at his hand. Another snarled viciously as he untwisted a trace. Then one of the yawning brutes caught the new smell in the air, the smell that Wapi had gathered when it was a mile farther off. He sniffed. He sat back on his haunches and sent forth a yelping howl to his comrades in the other team. In ten seconds the other five were howling with him, and scarcely had the tumult burst from their throats when there came a response from the fire half a mile away.
“My God!” gasped Peter, under his breath.
Dolores sprang to the gee-bar, and Uppy lashed his long whip until it cracked like a repeating rifle over the pack. The dogs responded and sped through the night. Behind them the pandemonium of dog voices in the other camp had ceased. Men had leaped into life. Fifteen dogs were straightening in the tandem trace of a single sledge.
Dolores laughed, a sobbing, broken laugh, that in itself was a cry of despair. “Peter, if they come up with us, what shall we do?”
“If they overtake us,” said Peter, “give me the revolver. It is fully loaded?”
“I have cartridges–“