WASHER GOES TO THE SILVER BIRCH GROVE
Black Wolf's unexpected defense of Mother Wolf and Washer saved them from what might have been sure death to the latter and serious injury to the former. None of the pack dared to offer battle to their leader, and the moment he sided with Mother Wolf they broke ranks and ran off into the woods.
When they were gone, Mother Wolf turned gratefully to the big leader, and said: "You have saved my life, Black Wolf. What can I do to repay you?"
"Hurry home with your foster child, Mother Wolf, before the pack changes its mind and returns. I will accompany you."
More than ever grateful now for seeing that she got back to her den in safety, Mother Wolf led the way through the woods, with Washer close behind her, and the leader of the pack bringing up the rear. Silently and noiselessly they stole single file through the woods, with eyes and ears alert to catch any unusual sound.
But nothing happened on the way. They reached the cave in safety, where Black Wolf stopped. "I'll not go in," he said. "Now you're home you'll know how to defend yourself."
"Yes, I can defend my home," she replied. "I'll not need any help now. Thank you a thousand times for helping me."
"I did it, Mother Wolf," replied the leader, "because I remember how we used to play together when young, and because I wanted to see justice done. But now that you've got your foster child home, what are you going to do with him? He can't hunt with the pack, and not being under their protection they will hunt him down and kill him. Wherever he goes they will follow. You can't always stay in the den watching him. You must hunt with the pack at times to get your share of food. If you stay here alone you'll starve."
Mother Wolf looked troubled, and said nothing. She knew how true Black Wolf's words were, and she had not taken them lightly. When he finally left her, she walked into the cave with Washer by her side. It was empty. Sneaky and the cubs had not yet returned.
"They're out hunting, and won't return until morning," she said. "Now, Little Brother, we can find some rest."
But Washer was not anxious for rest--not in the Wolf's den. He felt that the nights adventure had broken up his old home. There could no longer be any ties to hold him to it. In time the cubs would side with pack and turn upon him.
"I can never stay here," he said suddenly. "If I do I'm in constant danger, and you, too, will be in trouble. The whole pack will turn against you. I must leave."
"But where can you go, Little Brother?" asked Mother Wolf anxiously.
"I must return to my own people."
"But they won't have you. Didn't you say one of them bit you and threatened your life?"
"Yes, but he didn't know me. I must find one of my real brothers, and he will understand."
Mother Wolf sat down and considered. After a while she got up and paced back and forth in the den. "Maybe you're right," she said finally, stopping before him. "There would be nothing but danger here for you, and in time my own children would drive you out and perhaps kill you. Yes, it's better that you should return to your own people. But if they won't have you, I'll still protect you."
Washer rose excitedly to his feet. "Then I must go at once--before the cubs and Sneaky return. They must find me gone, and if you don't tell them where I am they'll never know."
"That's true, Little Brother. But where shall we go tonight?"
"To the Silver Birch grove where my people live. It's above the falls where I fell in the water. Take me there, and I'll watch and wait for them."
"But suppose some of the wolves found you in the Silver Birch Grove?"
"What matter's that?" laughed Washer. "I can climb a tree which is more than any of the wolves can do. I'll go up the biggest tree, and laugh at them."
"Yes, Little Brother, you can do that. I'd forgotten that your people are tree climbers. Well," sighing heavily, "it's the only thing to do, but it makes me sad to lose you. I shall mourn you every day you're away."
"Not more than if you saw me killed by your own people," added Washer, smiling up into her face.
She nodded her head and began licking his fur. In a short time she was ready to accompany him to the grove of Silver Birches. This was some distance from the cave, and they had to be wary in their movements, for the whole wolf pack was abroad on the hunt. They heard their distant howls on the clear night air, but by keeping away from them they soon got beyond their echo.
They trotted along through the moonlight, following the river toward the falls. Just below them they stopped, while Washer pointed out where Sneaky had found him when he jumped ashore from his raft.
"That must have been a terrible adventure, Little Brother," Mother Wolf said. "I never heard of any animal coming over the falls and living. It must be you have a charmed life."
"If so it's because I've had such a good foster mother," replied Washer. "You saved me from Sneaky, and tonight you saved me from the pack. You're as brave as you are kind and loving. I shall never forget you."
Mother Wolf was greatly affected by these words, and she showed her gratitude in her eyes. Once more she slicked down the soft fur of her foster child and murmured gentle words of love. Then they started off once more on their journey.
They climbed the steep rocks that led to the upper part of the falls, and once on their summit they headed directly for the grove of Silver Birches. In the soft moonlight the birches glistened and shone like twinkling stars, the leaves showing white and silvery. It was almost like a fairy scene, and Washer raised his head in delight. He was near his original home, in the land of his own people, and his little heart beat with excitement.
What would his own people do? Would they receive him or drive him away? The very thought of this made him shiver. He would then be without a home or country of his own. He would be an outcast, which is the worst thing that can be said of man or animal.
"I shall wait here in this big birch until some of my people appear," Washer said when they stole silently under the shadow of the grove. "I am safe here. I shall climb up in that crotch and sleep until morning. No wolf can get me."
"No, not even Black Wolf could reach you up there. None of my people could jump that high. Are you quite sure you can climb that high?"
"I'll show you," laughed Washer. "You never saw me climb a tree before."
He wanted to show her how well he could run up the tree, and he was proud of his accomplishment when she watched him in silence, and then said: "Wonderful, Little Brother! I wish my cubs could do as well. Now, if you're safe I'll go. Good-bye!"
Washer waved a paw to her until she had disappeared from sight, and then with a sigh of contentment he curled up in a round ball and went to sleep. He was very tired after the night's adventure, and was glad to get a few hours of sleep before morning dawned. He was safe from the wolves. In the morning he would see if he was safe among his own people. In the next story Washer meets an enemy that can climb trees.
WASHER WAVED A PAW AT HER