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Back to God's Country and Other Stories
James Oliver Curwood
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Back To God's Country
When Shan Tung, the long-cued Chinaman from Vancouver, started up the Frazer River
in the old days when the Telegraph Trail and the headwaters of the Peace were the
Meccas of half the gold-hunting population of British Columbia, he did not foresee
tragedy ahead of him. He was a clever man, was Shan Tung, a cha-sukeed, a very devil in
the collecting of gold, and far-seeing. But he could not look forty years into the future,
and when Shan Tung set off into the north, that winter, he was in reality touching fire to
the end of a fuse that was to burn through four decades before the explosion came.
With Shan Tung went Tao, a Great Dane. The Chinaman had picked him up somewhere
on the coast and had trained him as one trains a horse. Tao was the biggest dog ever seen
about the Height of Land, the most powerful, and at times the most terrible. Of two things
Shan Tung was enormously proud in his silent and mysterious oriental way--of Tao, the
dog, and of his long, shining cue which fell to the crook of his knees when he let it down.
It had been the longest cue in Vancouver, and therefore it was the longest cue in British
Columbia. The cue and the dog formed the combination which set the forty-year fuse of
romance and tragedy burning. Shan Tung started for the El Dorados early in the winter,
and Tao alone pulled his sledge and outfit. It was no more than an ordinary task for the
monstrous Great Dane, and Shan Tung subserviently but with hidden triumph passed
outfit after outfit exhausted by the way. He had reached Copper Creek Camp, which was
boiling and frothing with the excitement of gold-maddened men, and was congratulating
himself that he would soon be at the camps west of the Peace, when the thing happened.
A drunken Irishman, filled with a grim and unfortunate sense of humor, spotted Shan
Tung's wonderful cue and coveted it. Wherefore there followed a bit of excitement in
which Shan Tung passed into his empyrean home with a bullet through his heart, and the
drunken Irishman was strung up for his misdeed fifteen minutes later. Tao, the Great
Dane, was taken by the leader of the men who pulled on the rope. Tao's new master was a
"drifter," and as he drifted, his face was always set to the north, until at last a new humor
struck him and he turned eastward to the Mackenzie. As the seasons passed, Tao found
mates along the way and left a string of his progeny behind him, and he had new masters,
one after another, until he was grown old and his muzzle was turning gray. And never did
one of these masters turn south with him. Always it was north, north with the white man
first, north with the Cree, and then wit h the Chippewayan, until in the end the dog born
in a Vancouver kennel died in an Eskimo igloo on the Great Bear. But the breed of the
Great Dane lived on. Here and there, as the years passed, one would find among the
Eskimo trace-dogs, a grizzled-haired, powerful-jawed giant that was alien to the arctic
stock, and in these occasional aliens ran the blood of Tao, the Dane.
Forty years, more or less, after Shan Tung lost his life and his cue at Copper Creek Camp,
there was born on a firth of Coronation Gulf a dog who was named Wapi, which means
"the Walrus." Wapi, at full growth, was a throwback of more than forty dog generations.
He was nearly as large as his forefather, Tao. His fangs were an inch in length, his great
jaws could crack the thigh-bone of a caribou, and from the beginning the hands of men
and the fangs of beasts were against him. Almost from the day of his birth until this