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BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952
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“Certainly.
Now, where do we start in, next? Jebs, if you
want to get back at the dam, I’m with you there. Driscoll’s yearning to nail on
more shingles.”

 
          
Work
continued until near sundown, when the four assembled in the yard once more.
Sam stooped inside the tool shed.

 
          
“Now,
before we settle in for the night,” he said as he turned back with a sheaf of
traps dangling from his big hand, “I’m going to set these. I used to trap mink
and muskrat and raccoon with them. Maybe they won’t hold a very big wild dog if
they snap on him, but they’ll pinch his toe. Since that pack drifted in pretty close
last night, let’s prepare for another visit.”

 
          
At
the main approaches to sty, calf shed and chicken run, they set traps,
fastening them to roots of trees or to pegs driven firmly into the ground.

 
          
“I’ll
feed the calves and the chickens,” offered Driscoll. “
Jebs,
let Sam show you and Randy about getting some com to the pigs. Then we’ll eat.”

 
          
Supper
was good and plentiful, as breakfast and dinner had been, but it was not quite
so cheerful. Finally Driscoll paused in the act of giving a pork chop to Rebel,
and looked at Randy.

 
          
“Why
the strong, silent pose?” he asked. “You haven’t spoken for a quarter of an
hour, and neither has Jebs.”

 
          
“I’m
usually a steady talker, but I keep remembering Willie Dubbin and his dog
notions,” said Jebs. “They sound silly in the daytime, but when the sun goes
down—”

 
          
“And
I’m thinking about that blind man, Mr. Tasman,” put in Randy. “I remember how
sharp his ears were. He could hear our movements and voices, and he knew right
away how old we were, and made fairly good guesses about our way of thinking
and doing. Blind folks are apt to hear
better
than
people with good eyes.”

 
          
“I
see what you’re getting at,” said Jebs. “He ought to be able to hear those wild
dogs at night. But he didn’t seem to worry about ’em. He never even mentioned
wild dogs.”

 
          
“He
doesn’t have any pigs or chickens to attract them,” suggested Sam. “Maybe they
leave him alone.”

 
          
“But
Mr. Martin said they might be dangerous to people,” reminded Jebs. “What if
they didn’t find any pigs or chickens, but did find someone who was too blind
to run or fight?”

 
          
Rebel
lifted his head from his plate of scraps and growled, deeply and softly.

 
          
From
out in the darkening woods rose a long- drawn, trembling cry to salute the
moon.

 
          
“That’s
the dog they call Bugler,” muttered Jebs. “Yes, it’s getting dark,” said
Sam
Cohill
. “The wild dogs are coming back.”

 

 
        
CHAPTER FIVE

 

 
          
ATTACK
AND DEFENSE

 

 
          
The
dishes washed and stacked, everyone went to the front room. The night seemed
chilly for June. Driscoll quickly kindled a fire of small chips and sticks on
the big hearth.
Sam
Cohill
lighted the lamp and sat down in his
massive chair.

 
          
“Wild
dogs seem fantastic,” he said, his great fingers stroking his pointed beard.
“If any animal seems tame, it’s a dog. Yet all dogs were wild once. Every
#
dog you see is descended from a wild ancestor.”

 
          
“Can’t
we drop the subject?” Jebs almost groaned. “It’s like Randy says, I’m getting
to be like Willie Dubbin.”

 
          
“If
we could forget it, I’d be glad to drop it,” replied Sam. “But even if we don’t
talk about wild dogs, we’ll have them in our thoughts.”

 
          
“I
agree,” said Randy. “And what Sam says is true. Probably men have had dogs ever
since the Stone Age. But in the days before the first dog was tamed, probably
they sat around a fire, the way we’re sitting now, and in the night they could
hear—”

 
          
He
broke off. Bugler’s quavering cry rang again. It sounded nearer. Rebel sat up
and growled as before.

 
          
“They
could hear that,” finished Randy, trying to keep his voice steady.

 
          
Rebel
rose from beside the hearth. He stood stifflegged, and his cropped ears
strained forward, his stubby tail cocked itself like a trigger. Once more he
rumbled deeply in his throat. Driscoll, too, got to his feet.

 
          
“I
have a hunch we’re going to have visitors,” he said softly. “That’s the way
Rebel acted last night when the wild dogs zeroed in on you two, out in the
front yard.”

 
          
Rising
swiftly for his great bulk,
Sam
Cohill
cupped a tremendous hand around the lamp
chimney and blew into it. The flame went out.

 
          
Darkness
fell, so instantly that it was like diving into a heap of coal. Only a tiny red
glow remained on the hearth, where the fire had died almost away. Everyone
stood silent, the three boys, their upstanding friend, and the bull terrier.
After a moment, Rebel crooned his low warning growl, and they heard his claws
rattle on the floor boards. He was moving stealthily toward the kitchen.

 
          
“Whatever
it is, it’s coming toward the back yard,” muttered Driscoll tensely.

 
          
“Wait
another second or so, and your eyes will get used to the dark,” advised Sam.

 
          
“I
can see a little bit already,” said Jebs.

 
          
“All
right, let’s head for the kitchen,” Sam directed.

 
          
They
followed his towering back, a darker silhouette in the dusky room. Driscoll
paused by the fireplace long enough to snatch down his machete and clear it
from its sheath. In the kitchen, Sam groped hurriedly in a corner and passed
something to Randy.

 
          
“That’s
a hickory pole I whittled out to make a mop from,” he said. “Maybe it’ll come
in useful. Here, Jebs, this is a spare axe handle. How do you feel, worried?”

 
          
“Excited,”
said Jebs, “but not worried.”

           
Rebel scratched at the door. He was
growling all the time, in a tone of soft menace. Driscoll was with them now,
machete in hand.

 
          
“Now,”
said Sam, “I’m going to open the door. I’ll stop just outside, by the wood
pile—I know just the big chunk I want to get my own hand on. It’ll take me long
enough to stoop and reach out, then I’ll be with you. Go on and charge past me.
Follow Rebel when he charges for whatever we’ve got out there.”

 
          
“Roger,”
said Jebs.

 
          
“Then
here we go,” said Sam.

 
          
He
pulled open the door and sprang out.

 
          
Rebel
fairly sailed into the night, a flying white blob like a newspaper blown before
a gale. Randy, swift and ready, followed him at a dead run. Jebs and Driscoll
came galloping behind. Straight for the sheds where the animals were kept,
Rebel led the rush.

 
          
The
terrier reached his objective, yards in advance of even the swift-racing Randy.
As on the previous night, there sounded a scuffling impact of bodies, a click
as of teeth coming together, and an agonized canine howl. Then Randy had caught
up.

 
          
He
had come almost against the stockade around the pigpen, just as the moon rose
into an open space among the heavy clouds. By its light he saw that one of the
tall perpendicular slabs was down, and that beside it Rebel had encountered and
seized a floundering shape, darker than
himself
.
Another dog, faintly outlined, rushed for Rebel’s flank, and Randy struck at
this rusher with the long, tough hickory stick. It found its mark solidly, and
a sharp cry of angry pain answered. But the dog he had struck did not run. It
wheeled clear of another blow, and he saw its teeth gleam as it faced him.

 
          
“Yiee-hee!”
rang a shrill, fierce rebel yell at Randy’s elbow.

 
          
Driscoll
was beside him. His machete made a whipping sound in the night, as he made play
with it like a saber. Randy could hear the heavy scrambling of
Sam
Cohill
, and from the corner of his eye saw that
Rebel’s opponent had pulled loose from the terrier’s hold and was fleeing. The
dog before him and Driscoll pivoted nimbly and also dashed away. Others were
retreating, here and there among the trees.

 
          
“Stay
here, Rebel!” called Driscoll sharply, and Rebel abandoned the pursuit at once.
“Don’t want my dog messed up with a whole regiment of them,” said Driscoll.
“Look, they’re really pulling foot.”

 
          
“It’s
an organized withdrawal,” wheezed Jebs, catching up. “A strategic retreat—like
an army—”
Sam
Cohill
, too, lumbered into position beside them. A
length of rough wood, big as a fence post, flourished over his head.

 
          
“Look
over there by the garden!” he yelled. “We’ve caught one of them in a trap!”

 
          
Hurrying
forward all together, they scrambled and shoved through an intervening clump of
trees. The moon was beginning to slide behind the clouds again, but there was
light to see what Sam, from his greater height, had already made out.

 
          
A
big, gaunt dog, of a darkness that probably would be brown by day, danced and
tugged as though at a tether. Another dog, that looked light with dark spots,
crouched beside him.

 
          
“That
must be Bugler!” cried Randy, again darting ahead of his slower-footed friends.

 
          
“Let’s
get ’em both!” yelled Driscoll behind him.
“Yiee-hee!
Come on, Rebel!”

 
          
But,
as Randy rushed close, the dark dog seemed to leap free from whatever held it.
It sped off into the woods. Even as Randy reached the other dog, the spotted
one, it came out of its crouch and seemed to lift itself.

 
          
It
rose upright, in the dimness. Its forelimbs flung themselves out like arms. As
it pulled its head backward to face Randy, he had a blood-freezing impression
of eyes that shone in the night like pale fire. And Rebel, who had caught up
with Randy, fell violently back on his haunches, as though putting on brakes.

 
          
“Look
out!” Randy fairly screamed.
“That—that isn’t a dog!”

 
          
At
his words, the spotted shape fairly spun itself around and dashed after the
retreating pack. It was gone among the trees beyond the garden. To Randy it
seemed to lope on two legs instead of four.

 
          
He
stood still, and the others came up around him, breathing heavily.
Sam
Cohill
took a long, powerful stride as though to
give chase. His big, bearded face shoved forward, staring. Clouds had covered
the moon again. They could see almost nothing.

 
          
“Wait,
Rebel,” cautioned Driscoll shakily as the bull terrier gathered himself for
another rush. “Don’t —don’t go after that thing. What were you saying, Randy?”

 
          
“I
said it wasn’t a dog,” repeated Randy. “It got up and ran on two legs, like a
man.”

 
          
Sam
Cohill
, just ahead of him, hoisted his big square
shoulders,
then
stooped a little.

 
          
“Well,
they ran away,” said the giant slowly.

           
“They’re out of here for the night,
I think. We can’t catch them now.”

 
          
He
faced about. “Randy, what’s the matter? You still act as if you’d seen a
ghost.”

 
          
“If
it only
was
a ghost,” quavered Randy.

 
          
“Now
it’s you that’s getting to believe like Willie Dubbin,” accused Jebs.

 
          
“It
was your imagination,” urged Driscoll. “Maybe you saw the dog lift itself up to
jump over something.”

 
          
Randy
did not argue. He hoped that Driscoll was right, that he had only imagined the
weird change from beast-form to man-form. Driscoll moved to one side and
stooped above something.

 
          
“Look
here,” he called. “Here’s where we set one of the traps. It’s been sprung!”

 
          
Jebs
and Randy joined him to look. The jaws of the trap were clamped shut.

 
          
“And
another was set here where we saw that dog caught,” called
Sam
Cohill
. “He was in it, but he got free.”

 
          
“The
spotted one helped him escape,” spoke up Randy. “Doesn’t that sound like more
than dog- sense?”

 
          
“You’re
quoting Willie Dubbin again,” said Jebs.

 
          
“And
look at where a slab was pulled loose from the pigpen,” went on Randy, walking
toward it. “That was another smart try.”

 
          
Sam
came and propped the slab back in place. “Head for the house, somebody, and get
me a hammer. I’ll nail it back in place. We can leave Rebel out to keep tab for
a while. Meanwhile, we ought to let the world know about what’s happening
here.” “I’ll drive over to Martin’s and telephone to the sheriff,” said
Driscoll. “And, by the way, you won’t mind if I stay over there all night, will
you?”

 
          
“I’d
think you were silly if you didn’t,” Jebs proclaimed. “It isn’t any treat,
coming back here after dark, with wild dogs howling and sneaking around.” “Come
with me, Jebs,” invited Driscoll. “Mr. Martin’s boy—Lee Martin—has an electric
railroad, and you’re interested in things like that.”

 
          
“I
sure enough am,” said Jebs, “but I think I’ll stick here with Randy. It’s up to
me to talk Randy out of this crazy notion he has, about a dog going two-legged
on him.” He glanced toward his friend. “It was just your imagination, wasn’t
it, Randy?”

BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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