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Batard
by [?]

Batard was a devil. This was recognized throughout the Northland. “Hell’s Spawn” he was called by many men, but his master, Black Leclere, chose for him the shameful name “Batard.” Now Black Leclere was also a devil, and the twain were well matched. There is a saying that when two devils come together, hell is to pay. This is to be expected, and this certainly was to be expected when Batard and Black Leclere came together. The first time they met, Batard was a part-grown puppy, lean and hungry, with bitter eyes; and they met with snap and snarl, and wicked looks, for Leclere’s upper lip had a wolfish way of lifting and showing the white, cruel teeth. And it lifted then, and his eyes glinted viciously, as he reached for Batard and dragged him out from the squirming litter. It was certain that they divined each other, for on the instant Batard had buried his puppy fangs in Leclere’s hand, and Leclere, thumb and finger, was coolly choking his young life out of him.

“SACREDAM,” the Frenchman said softly, flirting the quick blood from his bitten hand and gazing down on the little puppy choking and gasping in the snow.

Leclere turned to John Hamlin, storekeeper of the Sixty Mile Post. “Dat fo’ w’at Ah lak heem. ‘Ow moch, eh, you, M’sieu’? ‘Ow moch? Ah buy heem, now; Ah buy heem queek.”

And because he hated him with an exceeding bitter hate, Leclere bought Batard and gave him his shameful name. And for five years the twain adventured across the Northland, from St. Michael’s and the Yukon delta to the head-reaches of the Pelly and even so far as the Peace River, Athabasca, and the Great Slave. And they acquired a reputation for uncompromising wickedness, the like of which never before attached itself to man and dog.

Batard did not know his father–hence his name–but, as John Hamlin knew, his father was a great grey timber wolf. But the mother of Batard, as he dimly remembered her, was snarling, bickering, obscene, husky, full-fronted and heavy-chested, with a malign eye, a cat-like grip on life, and a genius for trickery and evil. There was neither faith nor trust in her. Her treachery alone could be relied upon, and her wild-wood amours attested her general depravity. Much of evil and much of strength were there in these, Batard’s progenitors, and, bone and flesh of their bone and flesh, he had inherited it all. And then came Black Leclere, to lay his heavy hand on the bit of pulsating puppy life, to press and prod and mould till it became a big bristling beast, acute in knavery, overspilling with hate, sinister, malignant, diabolical. With a proper master Batard might have made an ordinary, fairly efficient sled-dog. He never got the chance: Leclere but confirmed him in his congenital iniquity.

The history of Batard and Leclere is a history of war–of five cruel, relentless years, of which their first meeting is fit summary. To begin with, it was Leclere’s fault, for he hated with understanding and intelligence, while the long-legged, ungainly puppy hated only blindly, instinctively, without reason or method. At first there were no refinements of cruelty (these were to come later), but simple beatings and crude brutalities. In one of these Batard had an ear injured. He never regained control of the riven muscles, and ever after the ear drooped limply down to keep keen the memory of his tormentor. And he never forgot.

His puppyhood was a period of foolish rebellion. He was always worsted, but he fought back because it was his nature to fight back. And he was unconquerable. Yelping shrilly from the pain of lash and club, he none the less contrived always to throw in the defiant snarl, the bitter vindictive menace of his soul which fetched without fail more blows and beatings. But his was his mother’s tenacious grip on life. Nothing could kill him. He flourished under misfortune, grew fat with famine, and out of his terrible struggle for life developed a preternatural intelligence. His were the stealth and cunning of the husky, his mother, and the fierceness and valour of the wolf, his father.