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ALBERT DORRINGTON

CLEOPATRA OF THE COYOTES

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Ex Libris

As published in
The Sunday Times, Perth, Australia, 22 December 1912

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-30
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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A FINNISH sailor named Borka owned Bill. He carried him, one night, aboard a plug-headed schooner wedged in a forest of spars and groaning lighters at the wharf end. The bull-dog never quite accustomed himself to the light of the in-rolling tramp steamers or the hootings of the fog-bound liners creeping like frightened mammoths from buoy to buoy. In time, however, he neglected to growl at the launches that shrieked and made cat-noises whenever he was seen sleeping on the schooner's bows. Every greaser and engine-room up-start considered it his duty to blow a pound of steam at Bill when passing.

Bill hated noise and music. A fo'c's'le hand with Norwegian eyes, and an unpronounceable name once tried to amuse Bill with a fiddle. The bulldog walked away with backward glances of protest. The Norwegian followed, indiscreetly filling the salt air with resinous discords and Viking sonatas.

Everyone on deck laughed at the dog's misery. The Finn, Borka, alone protested.

"Ah tank it ees not goot business to hurt Beel mit a fiddle," he interposed.

The Norwegian began rendering a series of Norse melodies, his body bent over the bulldog's tortured ears. The crew howled when Bill slunk to the galley for refuge, but the fiddle pursued with maddening strains from its two-dollar-fifty interior. What happened afterward no one could state with precision. It is a fact, however, that the Norse melody ended abruptly in Bill's six-inch mouth. The bulldog gripped the violin and masticated the end of the song.

No Italian maestro ever conducted a theme to its final close as Bill did. He shredded and tore until the fiddle resembled a pile of hair combings. The cook afterward lit his fire with the violin shavings while Bill, thoroughy aroused, hunted round the schooner for any part of the Norse melody that might have escaped his observation.

Bill's past was somewhat of a mystery to Borka. It was known that the dog had won for his former owner many a hundred-dollar wager at the ringside. Fighting dogs with classic reputations had gone out of the business after a brief study of Bill. No one had ever accurately gauged his temperament. He had romped with children while they pounded his ribs and rolled him in the dust. He had also fought and chased into obscurity every wharfside cur between Cape Caribou and Los Angeles.


ONE night Bill beheld a strange scene on the schooner's deck. Three Finns sat around a cask of rum and began to drink. There was a moon on the starboard quarter, a long stretch of forest-clad coast on the port. From time to time the Finn at the wheel addressed the drinkers sternly, but they regarded him sombrely, and held up their glasses in derision.

Later, a wild and horrible fight began that interested Bill, because the man Borka, who fed him most, was attacked by the others. Bill remained neutral until Borka's sudden cry for help decided him. Pinning a scuffling giant by the neck he brought him howling to the deck.

A temporary peace was arranged to allow the wounded Borka and the dog to be put ashore. Some food and water were placed in the boat, and they were landed at the mouth of a sandy inlet and left on the beach.

The Finn crawled into the sand licking his swollen lips. A big knife cut gaped on his bare dark chest. He wiped it sulkily with his hand and looked at the dog.

Bill slunk away and lay down. The schooner picked up the boat and stood away on the skyline. The Finn regarded the coast with dull, unseeing eyes. Black stretches of forest-clad ridges filled the north and south. The surf broke in loud, thunderous heaps at his feet. He lay down and closed his eyes, but the pain of the knife wound kept him awake till dawn.

"I am not well, Beel," he said huskily.

The dog regarded him steadily. A collie would have bounded over at the sound of his voice, but Bill only watched the hurt man and blinked.

The surf beat through the heavy coast mist. A jagged cape sloped toward the surf line: the dull booming of the waves marked each moment of the desolation.

"Beel!" The Finn crawled to his elbow, and fell back gasping. "I vas hurt, Beel."


THE afternoon wore on. The pain of the knife cut grew large until it gripped his arms and breast like a stream of molten lead. His head became a volcano of activity, but at dawn the furies left him, taking with them the red children of pain, that bite with lion's teeth. A bark heaved across the horizon, then put about and sailed toward the rising sun.

Bill moved uneasily in the sand; a hoarse whimper broke from him. With uplifted paw he tapped, tapped the Finn's breast. Then he ran back and crouched on a wave-worn ridge.

The receding tide left the beach white and desolate. Gulls drowsed aimlessly about a wet sand strip.

The dog returned and rifled the package of food with his nose, then stopped suddenly and looked at the Finn. A big yellow fly swung over Bill's nose: then another and another. A savage impatience came over the dog. He ran to the surf edge to drink, but the water stayed bitter in his mouth. He lay with panting sides in the cool, wet sand.

A red moon swam with theatrical stealth across the distant mesquite. It stood over a forest-clad ridge for a moment, like a clock with its face to the sea.

A tremulous howl stole from the Dante-esque hill. It ran in fleet sobs through the distant hollows and across the hill overlooking the beach. Bill with his nose in the sand, made no movement. His small ears pricked forward slightly, but his breathing was slow and regular as a sleeping athlete's.

The howling ceased. A pack of gaunt shapes lined the sandhill above. Their spindly shadows flashed here and there. Eyes that grew livid in the moonlight ran in skirmishing order from point to point.

A sudden tigerish resentment settled in Bill's eyes. He stood up almost imperceptibly, his big chest half imbedded in sand. A sound like a human sigh came from him.

Three lank shapes trotted toward the beach, and drew up stiffly within stone-throw of the supine Finn. Bill raised himself about two inches, and they vanished with flying strides.

Five gaunt shadows now approached the Finn. One, a long-snouted ruffian, with shark's eyes, dashed in, unmindful of the white, plug-shaped thing sitting at the Finn's head.

Hunger presided like a live god in the salt night air. The loping coyote shape swerved from his brothers, and as he swung past the supine body he snatched like a jackal. Then something seemed to knock his legs from under him, and he rolled ten yards, with Bill tearing his throat away.


THE moon grew white as a tortured face. Across the long shadow-clothed ridge sat the spindly marauders, and they howled at Bill. At dawn, when the hunger-god pinched tied incidentally on the sand ridge: Bill shook water from his back, and rolled on the hot beach.

He slept with his jaw on the Finn's boot. The sunlight showed through his thin white ears, and the keen, wind-driven sand stung him like duck shot. Lifting himself suddenly, he settled on the lee side of the Finn.

Silently the wolflike gang appeared on the hilltop and watched Bill. A council of spindly legs was formed to discuss the unreasonableness of Bill. They roamed the distant beach in circling groups: they made crude feint attacks to draw him from the Finn; Bill's body twisted occasionally so that his nose always faced them.

Then they regarded him with stiff ears and friendly eyes. Two of them approached with ambassadorial frankness. They trotted near as though anxious to put forward certain views in a friendly and lucid spirit. It was distinctly understood that there was to be no fighting.

Bill appeared overcome by such generosity and refinement, and when the nearest ambassador loped near the Finn's exposed hand. Bill seemed to leap from his ears across Borka's body.

A sharp howl of dismay broke from the council on the hill. The sight of their ambassador rolling in agony with a white plug attached to his throat was distressing to their coyote nerves.

Bill, with a red gaping mouth, slunk to the water, and lay with heaving sides until the waves lapped over his back. Then he returned to the Finn and settled down.

A sudden calm came upon the coyotes. They receded from view and Bill whined uneasily. With pointed ears and half-closed eyes he saw a sleek yellow shape sidling toward him across the beach.


A COYOTE slut with alert eyes and finely-rounded head picked her way through the drifts with great precision. Her eyes were soft and full of pity for Bill. She stayed in a wave-worn margin to wash her paws and lick back the soft hair under her throat.

Bill looked confused, and for no particular reason sat up and growled. The new ambassadress pricked her ears. She gave a soft whining note that seemed to depress Bill. Thrusting his nose into the Finn's sleeve, he watched her with a policeman's eye.

She was not afraid of Bill. She regarded the blood on his jaws with tender melancholy. There was no hurry in her movements; elegance and sympathy were her crowning virtues.

Bill was impressed. She was standing over him, her lean sides quivering with excitement, her ears drooped forward. She began slowly to lick the blood drops from his shoulders and flanks. Bill rolled lazily in the sand while she bit him softly on the ribs. Bill affected a sudden rage and sprang up, his tail moving like a thin lash.

The elegant one lay on her side and kicked sand over him. Bill barked hoarsely and invited her to go with him into the water. He rushed in, tearing round and round, swimming strongly against the tide.

She shook herself on the water's edge, but would not wet her feet. She trotted after him, whining lamentably, as though afraid he would drown.

Bill suddenly remembered something, and returned hastily to where the Finn lay in his shroud on the sand. The little she-coyote sniffed suspiciously, wandering in a wide circle round the body; then trotted off gently towards the hill.

Bill stood up in surprise as she halted, her ears thrown forward, and called him. With an uneasy glance at the Finn, he followed. Arriving at the hilltop, the pair looked back.

A hump of sand indicated where the Finn lay. The sun had set behind the illimitable forest.

A moment later and the pack had raced round the side of the hill toward the beach. The old coyotes led the way. Behind them ran the stiff-eared yelping cub.

Bill watched them with the grief of Antony in his heart, while Cleopatra, with the long ears and the tender eyes, licked his face.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.