(Continued from yesterday.)
For three nights Pal whimpered and Shepherd slept next to him by the fire.
Before long the cold that crept over the mountains and swept along the river from the north showed its bitter and fearsome teeth. It was as if there was anger to it. As if the wilderness was taking displeasure in Shepherd’s presence.
They sat alone by the fire. Pal watching the flames with curiosity and Shepherd reading White Fang by the light of a small lamp. The wind howled through the pines like forlorn souls from the ancient hunting grounds of the north who died in search of their quarry.
Pal became frightened and got to his feet and sat before Shepherd. He pawed at Shepherd’s feet. Shepherd looked at Pal’s worried eyes. Shepherd moved aside the book and Pal sprung into his lap. Shepherd began reading aloud. Pal soon went to sleep.
The night was eerie in every respect. The cabin creaked and snapped as if prodded by the unseen. There were strange sounds whether real of imaginary; Shepherd did not know.
Pal was still a pup; his powers of perception not fully developed. Shepherd felt Pal tremble. He wondered if his instincts were telling him to be in fear. Could there be a grizzly that had not yet hibernated? Are there wolves in the area?
Shepherd cradled pal in one arm and retrieved the rifle from next to the door. He made certain it was loaded and ready for use.
Thoughts of legendary beast that roamed the north woods crept into his mind.
“It is no wonder the natives conceived of Amarok, a wolf-like creature who fed off hunters foolish enough to hunt on their own. Perhaps he will find a man foolish enough to live on his own,” Shepherd thought, smiled, and said just above a whisper, “But I am not alone. I have Pal.”
One of Pal’s ears lifted.
“What is it you hear?” Shepherd said.
Pal growled low and quiet.
“Stay here, Pal,” Shepherd said sitting him in front of the fire. “Stay.”
Shepherd flipped off the small lamp and went to the window. He peered out trying to see as much as possible. There was nothing but loneliness and cold. Snow sifted across the plain to the front of the cabin. Suddenly something in the distance trudged through the snow coming straight for the cabin.
“Could it be Daniel,” Shepherd thought, “perhaps hunting and can not make it to his home?”
Pal moved anxiously as if he wanted to be with Shepherd.
“Come on, boy,” Shepherd said and Pal dashed to his side immediately. Shepherd reached down petted Pa. “Nobody said this was going to be without fear.” He looked out the window to where he last spotted the mysterious figure moving toward the cabin. It was gone.
Shepherd squinted and scanned the plain. He knelt down next to Pal and rested his hand on his neck. Pal was no longer trembling.
“What was it, Pal?” Shepherd said.
Pal slowly walked over to the fireplace and laid on his crumpled blanket.
Shepherd made coffee and sipped it through the night. Pal slept contently.