My rifle I left where it was; it was useless and heavy. I cast many a glance behind me as, almost at a trot, I made my way down the long hillside.
I strode on rapidly, for I had certainly a mile to cover before I could strike Alaric's trail, much more before I could catch my nimble guide. I was cheerful and unalarmed until, pausing to look behind, I saw, a hundred yards away, a tawny animal quickly slip behind a tree.
I hastily drew my revolver and knife; but no movement came from its hidden breast, and rather than stand and wait, I pursued my retreat. I moved more slowly, yet as fast as I could and still guard myself against another fall and watch for a rush from behind.
I scanned the ground in front of me, and glanced back every second.
For some time I saw no more of the catamount.
But when I did see him, I was startled at his nearness; he was within fifty yards. I hurried on as he slipped aside again; but looking again in a moment, I saw him now following boldly upon my trail. I stopped, but he stopped, too, and stood regarding me. He was too far away for me to fire yet, and as he made no movement to approach, I cautiously continued my retreat, always after a few steps stopping to face him.
He stopped as I stopped, yet each time I turned away he came quickly closer. I was already thinking of awaiting him without further movement, when the way was blocked by a ravine.
It was cut by the stream that drained the valley, and its steep sides were nearly fifteen feet in height. They even overhung in places, but this I did not then know. I was in no mind to trust myself in the deep gully, where the catamount might drop upon me before I could scramble out upon the other side.
I walked into an open space, and took my stand close to a birch that grew on the very edge of the bank. For thirty feet there was no good cover for the catamount; so, armed and determined, I waited his action.
The animal skirted the bushes about me, as if examining the ground, and to my disappointment, began to come upon me along the edge of the ravine. This gave him the best cover before his charge, and at the same time assured him that the momentum of his rush would not carry him tumbling into the gully. Always keeping too well concealed for a good mark, he crept up behind a fallen tree, on the near side of which a little bush grew, and flattened himself there, watching me, I felt sure, and waiting, in the hope that he might catch me off my guard.
I cannot describe how stealthy and noiseless and altogether perfect his maneuvering was. Although the trees that grew about were all small and the bushes bare, and although the white snow gave no background for concealment, he covered himself so perfectly at one time, and slipped in and out of sight so quickly at another, that although I stood with revolver pointed and cocked, I could find no opportunity for a shot.
As he circled for position he came ever nearer, and I could see at one time the round head, with its short, pointed ears; at another the long, sinuous, muscular body; but they moved so rapidly that before I could shoot they were gone from sight.
All the time he made no sound but a little rustle. In his final concealment I saw nothing of him but his tail, that twitched and twitched and twitched.
At last I caught the glint of his pale green eye and fired. There came a snarl from behind the bush, and it was dashed to one side and the other, while round head and bared teeth and tawny body came crashing through. I pulled trigger again, and the report sounded muffled, and the smoke for an instant obscured the beast. All was white, when, like a breath, it passed, and I saw the rushing catamount not ten feet from me.
I had not time to fire or crouch, but with ready legs hurled myself to one side, and threw my left arm around the tree that grew at the edge of the bank. With an awful dread I felt the ground giving way beneath me.
I dropped my knife and caught the tree closer, when it, too, leaned to fall. It hung for a moment over the steep slope, and I could not save myself. The frost had not clamped the over-hang to the solid ground. The last fall rains had cut it under; the first spring thaw would have brought it down, had not my weight been thrown upon it.
With a twist the tree and I fell together. I clutched my revolver desperately, despite the sickening fear of the fall, and in my grasp it exploded in mid air. Then I fell, and although my body struck easily in the snow-covered ravine, my right hand had been beaten against a sharp rock, and the birch was upon me so that I could not move.
My legs were on the bank, and underneath the snow beneath my shoulders I soon felt the ice, from which stones protruded. One snow-covered rock received and supported my head. I lay upon my right side, and my right hand, swinging in a curve, had struck with force upon another stone, and lay upon the ice, the only part of my body, except my head, which was free. My left arm was pressed close to my side by the birch, which lay across my body and legs.
The weight was not so great but that I could have lifted it, could I but have gained purchase. But I must at the same time lift my own body, for my hips were lower than my feet, my shoulders lower than my hips; and I could not gather ten pounds of force in that position.
My fall confused me somewhat, and I could not at first feel anything, either the pain in my hand or the danger I was in. I noticed only the fine, powdery snow which, cast up by the fall, settled upon me as I lay. Then I saw my arm, stretched out in front of me, with a bloody hand at the end of it, and I came fully to myself.
A pain shot from finger-tip to shoulder as I closed my hand tighter upon the butt of the revolver. But I clenched my teeth and tried to rise--tried twice more before I gave it up as hopeless. Then I raised my hand and put it in a better position, propped upon a stone.
The movements hurt me terribly, but I thought of the catamount, which would surely not be satisfied with two bullets for its breakfast. I was scarcely ready when the head of the beast was thrust over the edge of the bank to look for me.
He saw, and gloated as a human enemy might have done. His savage snarl was full of intelligence, and his slow approach was deliberate torture. He stood for a moment in full view--then slipped and slid down to the surface of the ice, where, ten yards away, he stood and looked at me.
I saw his magnificent build, his superb muscular development, as with his body in profile, his head turned toward me, he waited before approaching, playing with my helplessness; but I was not entirely helpless! With shaking hand I took aim; I could not use my thumb to cock the revolver, but drew hard at the trigger, and the hammer rose and fell.
My turn for gloating had come now, for the catamount was crying with rage and pain. He fell writhing, striking with his forepaws at the snow, and raising his head to snap at nothing; but this did not last long. Slowly he dragged himself to a sitting posture, and I could understand his plight and estimate my own danger.
My first two bullets had but torn his flesh. My last had broken his back. He was paralyzed in his hind legs, as I have seen a deer, yet he had many minutes to live, perhaps hours, and was strong and angry enough to finish me. Painfully he started on that short journey to me. With his forepaws, his claws digging the snow, he began to drag himself toward me.
I could only wait. I had but one more shot, and wished to hold it till he should be close; but my torn hand was weak, and the bruised tendons had already begun to stiffen. Into that deep place, where bank and trees overhung, the sun did not come, and I felt the cold striking into my raw flesh. More than that, my weight upon my shoulder began to cut off the blood from my arm. I felt pricking in my flesh, my arm began to be numb, and I feared that I might not be able to shoot.
If he could but hurry! He dragged himself at a snail's pace. It would be so long before he came close that my hand would be useless. Yet as he crawled directly at me, the mark was a poor one.
I saw with satisfaction that he would have to turn aside for one of the rocks in his path. When at last he reached it, and began to drag himself around it, he gave me my last chance.
I saw the space behind his shoulder, prayed that my bullet might miss his ribs, summoned the last force at my almost dead hand, and fired.
A little drift of air blew the smoke aside so quickly that I could see the fur fly. He bit savagely at his side, but he crawled on without stopping. From my numb hand the revolver fell without noise in the snow--my fight was finished. He came on; he was only fifteen feet away from me, when he stopped and coughed. Would he sink, unable to move farther?
No; he started again! Although his legs dragged behind him, impeding, although he left a red trail on the snow, and each step forced a snarl from him, he came on. With glittering eyes and hoarse breath, he forced himself to cross the last space. Minutes passed before he was close enough to touch me.
Ah! Even as he turned toward my hand to seize it, even as I waited to see, rather than feel, the crunching of my senseless arm, his head drooped. He raised it once more, but his power was gone. He laid his head, once so powerful, upon my hand, rested his body against the stone, that stood high enough to support him, and glared at me with his fierce, malignant eyes.
Then the fire changed in his eyes, clouded, flickered, glowed--went out. The last breath was expelled with a wheeze. He was dead.
Then my own powers sank, and I thought that I was dying, too.
Somewhere in the midst of my faintness I had a sense as if I felt, rather than heard, hasty, heavy footsteps on the bank above me. As soon as I knew anything clearly, I knew that the tree had been pulled away, and that Alaric was bending over me. He had, with ears alert for any sound, and with footsteps kept as near to me as they might be with obedience to my order, come rushing to my aid at the sound at my first revolver-shot. But the distance was so great that he did not arrive until my fight was over.
IN CANADA WITH A LYNX
By Roe L. Hendrick
This adventure came about through an invitation which Ray Churchill received from his friend, Jacques Pourbiere of Two Rivers, New Brunswick. Ray had half-promised to visit his New Brunswick acquaintance during the deer-hunting season, and late in August was reminded of the fact. A second letter came in September, the carefully worded school English of the writer not being able to conceal the warmth and urgency of the invitation.
So Ray telegraphed his acceptance, and four days later arrived at Fredericton, where he secured a hunting license. The next morning he reached Two Rivers, and Jacques met him with a span of ponies, attached to a queer spring vehicle, mounted on wheels that seemed out of all proportion to the body of the carriage. Ray wondered if it was a relic of Acadia, but did not like to ask. They drove for a dozen miles through a wooded and hilly country, and arrived at their destination shortly before nightfall.
Jacques was quite alone at the time, as his parents had gone to visit their older children along the St. John River. He promised Ray at least one deer within a couple of days, and another within a week.
The Pourbiere home resembled those of the better class of _habitants_, but with a difference due to the greater prosperity of the family in preceding generations. The main room had a huge fireplace, used only occasionally, for there was an air-tight stove connected with the chimney just above it, to afford greater warmth in winter. The other rooms Were chiefly detached, although there was an entry-like porch on the south front of the living-room, and a huge door opening at the east end, both connecting with the yard outside.
But the wood-shed, milk-house and summer kitchen were in the rear, each being a rectangular building of heavy logs, with low lofts above. The homestead was, in fact, a cluster of houses rather than a single dwelling.
What most attracted Ray's attention were the huge bedsteads in the living-room. They were tall four-posters, such as he had seen elsewhere, but with the difference that a canopy covered them. Each had a carved wooden frame, surmounting the top of the posts like a roof. The wood was black with age, its surface being covered with elaborate foliage and armorial devices, representing the toil of some old French artisan of the seventeenth century. They probably had been brought across the Atlantic by the original emigrant, and carefully preserved ever since. They stood in diagonally opposite corners of the room, and upheld the hugest of feather beds, with gay, home-made worsted coverlets and valances that shamed the hues of the rainbow. They certainly tempted to rest in that climate and at that season, but would have seemed suffocating in a warmer region.
That evening Ray said:
"See here, Jacques, you have double windows, with no way of opening them that I can find, and your fireplace is closed to make a better draft for this stove. I'm used to fresh air at night. If I leave the end door ajar, you won't be afraid of burglars, will you?"
The Canadian shrugged his shoulders at this exhibition of his guest's eccentricity, but his hospitality was more than equal to the strain.
_"Non, non!"_ he replied. "Nobody rob. We nevaire lock doors here," and his white teeth flashed.
Ray laughed softly as he thrust a billet of wood between the door and its frame. "But why do you say 'br-r-r!' under your breath?" he asked.
"Co-old before morning, ver' cold!"