THE WILD GEESE
So when the first chill days of the late autumn came the four were once more together, Dan, Kate, Black Bart, and Satan. Buck and old Joe Cumberland made the background of their happiness. It was the latter's request which kept the wedding a matter of the indefinite future. He would assign no reason for his wish, but Kate guessed it.
All was not well, she knew. Day after day, as the autumn advanced, Dan went out with the wolf and the wild black stallion and ranged the hills alone. She did not ask him where or why, for she understood that to be alone was as necessary to him as sleep is to others. Yet she could not explain it all and the cold fear grew in her. Sometimes she surprised a look of infinite pity in the eyes of Buck or her father. Sometimes she found them whispering and nodding together. At last on an evening when the three sat before the fire in solemn silence and Dan was away, they knew not where, among the hills, she could bear it no longer.
"Do you really think," she burst out, "that the old wildness is still in Dan?"
"Wild?" said her father gently. "Wild? I don't say he's still wild—but why is he so late tonight, Kate? The ground's all covered with snow. The wind's growin' sharper an' sharper. This is a time for all reasonable folk to stay home an' git comfortable beside the fire. But Dan ain't here. Where is he?"
"Hush!" said Buck, and raised a hand for silence.
Far away they heard the wail of a wolf crying to the moon. She rose and went out on the porch of the house. The others followed her. Outside they found nothing but the low moaning of the wind, and the snow, silver glimmering where the moonlight fell upon it. Then they heard the weird, inhuman whistling, and at last they saw Dan riding towards the house. A short distance away he stopped Satan. Black Bart dropped to his haunches and wailed again. Dan was staring upwards.
"Look!" said Kate, and pointed.
Across the white circle of the moon drove a flying wedge of wild geese. The wail of the wolf died out. A faint honking was blown to them by the wind, now a distant, jangling chorus, now a solitary sound repeated like a call.
Without a word the three returned to their seats close by the fire, and sat silent, staring. Presently the rattle of the wolf's claws came on the floor; then Dan entered with his soft step and stood behind Kate's chair. They were used to his silent comings and goings. Black Bart was slinking up and down the room with a restless step. His eyes glowed from the shadow, and as Joe looked up to the face of Dan he saw the same light repeated there, yellow and strange. Then, like the wolf, Dan turned and commenced that restless pacing up and down, up and down, a padding step like the fall of a panther's paw.
"The wild geese——" he said suddenly, and then stopped.
"They are flying south?" said Kate.
"South!" he repeated.
His eyes looked far away. The wolf slipped to his side and licked his hand.
"Kate, I'd like to follow the wild geese."
Old Joe shaded his eyes and the big hands of Buck were locked together.
"Are you unhappy, Dan?" she said.
"The snow is come," he muttered uneasily.
He began pacing again with that singular step.
"When I went out to Satan in the corral this evenin', I found him standin' lookin' south."
She rose and faced him with a little gesture of surrender.
"Then you must follow the wild geese, Dan!"
"You don't mind me goin', Kate?"
"But your eyes are shinin'!"
"It's only the reflection of the firelight."
Black Bart whined softly. Suddenly Dan straightened and threw up his arms, laughing low with exultation. Buck Daniels shuddered and dropped his head.
"I am far behind," said Dan, "but I'll go fast."
He caught her in his arms, kissed her eyes and lips, and then whirled and ran from the room with that noiseless, padding step.
"Kate!" groaned Buck Daniels, "you've let him go! We've all lost him for ever!"
A sob answered him.
"Go call him back," pleaded Joe. "He will stay for your sake."
She whispered: "I would rather call back the wild geese who flew across the moon. And they are only beautiful when they are wild!"
"But you've lost him, Kate, don't you understand?"
"The wild geese fly north again in spring," said Buck, "and he'll——"
"Hush!" she said. "Listen!"
Far off, above the rushing of the wind, they heard the weird whistling, a thrilling and unearthly music. It was sad with the beauty of the night. It was joyous with the exultation of the wind. It might have been the voice of some god who rode the northern storm south, south after the wild geese, south with the untamed.