The narrator, Arthurs, is a tenderfoot from Toronto, gone West to visit a college chum who has taken up cattle ranching. The mysterious deaths of two other chums while visiting the same ranch should have been warning enough to stay in Toronto, but this fellow has a lot to learn.
Plot. The blue wolf of the title is a much-feared predator believed to lurk in the vicinity of the ranch. Arthurs has a close encounter with the creature in the opening chapters, its startling howl sending the horse he’s been riding over a precipice. Fortunately for Arthurs, he’d just dismounted.
It’s old home week when he gets to the ranch, discovering that another man, Dicky, has also arrived. Together with the rancher Jock, they are the remaining three of the original circle of five chums. Also at the ranch are Jock’s wife Aggie, whom they all loved while in university, and her sister Margaret.
Arthurs has some history with Margaret. Their reunion is somewhat awkward, especially as he learns she’s been keeping company with a local Mountie, Corporal Humby. The corporal has his eye on a communal settlement of farmers who call themselves Dreamers and are led by an unsavory character, Maskin.
A handful of other characters figure into the story: a consumptive Englishman, Mathers, with his wife and young daughter, Rosa, and the ranch’s foreman, Squart. During the novel Mathers dies and is buried near the verandah of his house, under a Union Jack flying at half-mast.
There are peculiar goings-on. Jock behaves strangely. Margaret is meeting someone in the woods around the ranch house at night. Long after dark, a gunshot takes out a ranch house window. Corporal Humby seems to have everyone under surveillance and keeps popping up unannounced.
More curiously, Arthurs sees flashes of light and a climber on a rocky peak that rises from the Hills, but Jock warns him not to investigate. There’s mysterious singing from a nearby lake to be heard after nightfall. The Dreamers have clandestine, moonlit meetings in the hills, where they are harangued by Maskin. And so on.
Everyone has secrets, and rather like a Hardy Boys’ novel, Arthurs and Dicky try to piece together a disconnected series of clues. When the mystery is finally solved, it involves a Jekyll-Hyde mad scientist and technology that would be at home in a science fiction pulp novel. The nerve-wracking climax includes a literal cliffhanger and multiple deaths. In the final scene, two pairs of lovers are united.
|Canadian cowboy, c1917|
Cowboys. The cowboy on the cover would make a reader expect a shoot-em-up tale akin to Zane Grey. In fact, the single cowboy character in the novel, Squart, plays only a small part in the story. Still, Amy’s interest in him is not peripheral. He’s a three-dimensional creation and larger than life.
Besides the usual trappings of hat, spurs, and sheepskin chaps, he sports a mouth full of gold teeth, having lost the originals in a bad fall from a broncho. He also does not drink, smoke, chew, or swear. He is almost, but not quite, a comic character.
With a heart as big as all outdoors, he is devoted to the care and protection of the English family, the Matherses, especially the eighteen-year-old Rosa. He herds cattle within sight of their house, which overlooks the prairie. When the old man is dying, he rides his horse for help until it drops dead of exhaustion.
Women. Arthurs, the narrator, is a bit unreliable as a chronicler of life on the prairie for women. He’s brought his Eastern prejudices with him and finds the condition of the ranch house not up to his Toronto standards for feminine domesticity. Despite the presence of a German maid, he considers the furnishings sadly shabby.
Arthurs is not convinced the West is a good place for anybody with the refinements afforded by urban living and a university education. Aggie, a tender soul, yearns to return to Toronto and relies on her husband like an emotionally fragile child.
Her sister Margaret seems made of tougher material. She is independent and intelligent, ready to confront a gang of belligerent college men, as we learn in a flashback. She also easily holds her own in an exchange of wits with Arthurs, who carries a torch for her that years of separation should have extinguished by now. He manfully resists his jealousy when he sees there’s something going on between her and Corporal Humby.
Somewhat oddly, he makes an issue of Margaret’s riding “astride” a horse, western-style. It embarrasses him when she doesn’t ride sidesaddle, and she herself claims to dislike wearing a divided skirt. Meanwhile, Rosa is a true horse-loving girl of the West and, for that reason, seems excused from being more lady-like.
|North West Mounted Polive, 1898|
East vs West. The opening pages describe the narrator’s arrival in the Canadian West after a long, uncomfortable train ride from Toronto. There are horses, a cattle ranch, and a vast sea of prairie, which Arthurs finds lifeless, dreary, and sometimes frightening in its vastness.
People out here are unfriendly and impolite. The farmer, Maskin, makes no pretense of courtesy or generosity. His physical appearance, his posture, and his manner trigger immediate dislike for Arthurs:
In the steadiness of his gaze there was something so self-confident, something so expectant of servile recognition, that I was impelled to resentment.
The U.S. is only a few miles to the south, and the Canadian prairie offers refuge for outcasts from “Uncle Sam Land” like the agrarian religious sect, the Dreamers.
Disturbing to Arthurs is the leveling of social classes in the West that permits a Maskin to behave discourteously to his betters. In one scene, Dicky refuses to get out of his way as Maskin impolitely attempts to enter the ranch house without being invited.
Wrapping up. According to one source, William Lacey Amy was born in Ontario and was for a short time editor and owner of the Medicine Hat Times. In 1920, he began a popular western series based on a half-breed cowboy, Blue Pete. There were over 20 Blue Pete novels, published chiefly in England, featuring both cowboys and Mounted Police.
Ebooks of The Blue Wolf: A Tale of the Cypress Hills seem to be currently unavailable. Used copies can be found at AbeBooks. Friday's Forgotten Books is the bright idea of Patti Abbott over at pattinase.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: Gregory Peck, The Stalking Moon (1968)