A TALE OF THE MICHIGAN WILDS
By THOMAS F. HALLEY
THE dark creeping shadows of the great North woods were beginning to steal across the hills. The day was done and now that the night — the forest night — was nearing, the woods would soon be wrapped in utter darkness.
The nocturnal animals were already beginning to bestir themselves. Far away — towards the eastward could be heard the long-drawn-out, dismal howl of the timber wolf.
Some distance from the usually traveled trail there stood a small hut unoccupied in summer except by the denizens of the forest or birds of the air; but now that the trapping season was just opening in the North woods, an old man had taken up his annual residence in the hut and settled down to his winter's work of trapping the fur-bearing animals of these parts.
For nearly two-score years the old trapper had made these woods his winter residence, coming up the river early each fall from the southern country, until now that old age had overtaken him, he still felt that he could not leave the old scenes of his earlier days, so he had again decided to spend another winter here — and it was lucky for a certain young man that he did.
It was autumn and the forest leaves in all their gorgeous colors had strewn the forest pathways to a depth of several inches. For a few days the woods had been unusually silent, which foreboded a storm of some kind. As the shadows of night were fast closing over the woods, a young man about eighteen years of age, carrying a small rifle in one hand a pack thrown over his shoulder, halted to rest on the summit of a low hill not far from the hut. On his way to a northern lumber camp he had taken the wrong trail and as the dusk began to deepen among the trees, he decided to pass the night here and await the appearance of dawn. After building a small fire and eating a few sandwiches from his pack, he lay down to rest.
Already it had grown very dark — until now every little shadow in the forest had become a big shadow and all the big shadows had joined as if by mutual consent into one great shadow that wrapped all the woods in a complete black slumber cloud.
Tired from his journey the youth soon fell asleep; and the campfire, not to be outdone, also fell asleep. All was quiet in that vicinity; but not in all that forest. Far off to the west could be heard the mournful wail of the lynx, a sound that could the sleeper have heard it, would have caused him to be on the alert; for it is a well known fact that when a lynx strikes a man's track, and is hungry, as they nearly always are, it very seldom leaves it. So without doubt the lynx had struck a track and was at present pursuing it to its end.
The traveler slept on, all unconscious of his danger should the great cat of these hills arrive in his locality. But the lynx was not the only prowler out among the hills that night; the old man of the hut was also upon a trail. Longing for a hunt, and hearing the cry of the beast, he had taken his old rifle and started forth into the night. Was he afraid? If he was it was the first time in his long career as a hunter and trapper. How many of these animals had he caught in his traps in these woods?
Quickening his steps, he was soon but a short distance behind the beast; he could tell by the cry of the cat that was slackening its pace. As if to aid the old man in his work, a faint gleam of light now broke over the dark forest. A young moon had burst from behind the clouds and flooded the hills with its silvery light, which soon enabled the hunter to get within sight of the great cat.
The animal was a monster of his race and would make a formidable foe in combat. All this the old man took into consideration, not that he intended to challenge the foe to any such fray, but merely as a precautionary measure, if by any chance it should come to pass that they would come into contact with each other.
Instinctively dropping his hand to his side, he assured himself that his trusty hunting knife was in its customary place. His rifle was of an old style but of deadly caliber. But it was no easy task to get within range of this beast without arousing the animal's suspicions. Therefore when the animal stopped the hunter stopped also and carefully measured the distance between them with his practiced eye. It was hard, very hard, to get within range; but had he not many times before captured just such animals? He was perfectly acquainted with their habits.
He had not gone far when the animal sniffed the air and caught a trace of danger thereon — the moment of action had come. He must not waste any time; he must act soon or the cat might turn. Slowly he raised his trusty rifle but wait! What was the animal about to do? Surely it had sighted some prey; better wait and maybe he could get 'two birds with one stone'.
The animal had sighted its prey. Yes, no doubt of it. It had paused and with crouching, halting, stealthy -steps it crept forward over the dry leaves, but silent as its foot-falls were, it snapped a dry twig and in an instant a dark from arose close at hand and leaped into view — it was the young traveler.
For a moment the animal was taken aback by the suddenness of the action, but only for a moment; then crouched to make one of its deadly springs. No evading that spring once it had started. What could the youth do? His rifle was leaning against a tree several yards away and the beast was between him and it. He was doomed!
Before he had time to decide on any course of action the great beast gathered on its haunches and with a terrible cry shot forward into the air — straight toward the youth. At the same instant the stillness of the forest was interrupted by another sound — the sharp crack of a rifle. Before the echoes had died away, the huge cat, with jaws apart, dropped with a convulsive shiver at the youth's feet — a dead lynx.
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