THE USURPER

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE December 1 1921

THE USURPER

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE December 1 1921

THE USURPER

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE

ABOVE the dim forest horizon an angry gash of crimson stood

like a snarl in the pale gold woof of sunset. The brackish lakes freed of ice rested grey and lifeless, awaiting the coaxing, clarifying touch of sun and breeze. The promise of life, whispered by the warm allnights rain, was yet to be fulfilled. The wilderness had stirred in sleep; no more. Spring had kissed the open spaces, but glowering Winter still held beneath his icey lock the world of denser shadows.

Throughout the enshrouded fastness ran the eternal requiem of giant pines which from the beginning of time had sighed this same soft song of loneliness.

It was a veritable world of pines, sweeping, step-like, from the wide valley upward and out to where the height of land brushed an irregular line against the eastern sky, a world of blue gloom, resinous scents and never-dying whispers.

WITH the quick passing of day and the sudden closing of northern light, an animal detached itself from the massed shadows, and, tufted ears lifted enquiringly, pale eyes gleaming like green fires, moved soundlessly into the open glade which sloped to the lake. Its head was round and cat-like; a coarse, heavy ruff of drab.white hair along its cheeks gave it a grotesque and ferocious appearance.

Its color was tawny-grey, deepening to brown along the short back which sloped downward from high hindquarters to strong neck. The legs were disproportionately long and heavy, ending in big padded feet.

But despite its ungainly appearance, the animal walked with a certain grace and sureness. There was in its movements a feline suppleness, a perfect poise and a ripple of muscle beneath grey hide which belied ts seeming clumsiness.

In fact, the big tom-lynx who had just emerged from the dense grove was nothing more than a cat, in habits and temperament, if not so much in looks; a wild one, to be sure, and five times larger than pussy, but just as comfortloving and as fond of companionship as is purring Tabby who sleeps before your grate.

Too, like Tabby, he was a relentless stalker, a merciless killer. He possessed all of the domesticated cat’s suspiciousness and curiosity.

Curiosity had led him into the glade now; suspicion had brought the snarl to his lips and the twitch to his short stubby tail. As his pale eyes probed his surroundings, a low hiss escaped his lifted lips. There was something here he could not understand. He was doubtful of this spot which was new to him It was no part of the limited roaming-range which was his by right of might. Loneliness had led him here, this and the hope that he might find the mate who for some reason had hidden herself away from him. Upon him was the hunger which comes with the lifting of winter skies and the melting of winter snows.

For perhaps five minutes he stood immovable, then gradually the lashing stub grew still. He was satisfied that he was alone—and safe. With a single bound he crossed to the further side of the glade, and raising himself against the trunk of a pine, scratched with sharp, curved claws a long jagged challenge in its pitchy bark. Lower down against the tree’s roots he left a challenge of a different nature which might catch the scent of one of his kind and sex providing its eyes did not discover the other.

Then suddenly, with the temperamentality of his breed, he seemed to forget his loneliness and unreasoning anger against any other grey male skulker of the pine woods. Throwing himself on the soft snow, he rolled over and over, finally resting on his back, fore-feet pawing the air. He sat up at length and proceeded to w ash his face by brushing his paw across it in a downward stroke from eyes to chin. This accomplished to his satisfaction, he curled his fore-paws beneath his breast and rested his chin upon them, purring hoarsely the while.

One not well-versed in the J»ig cat’s habits might have thought that he was resting, contented after feeding and play. Not so. When he rested it was in the fork of a sheltering tree, never on the ground. This was simply

his method of notifying all other tom-lynxes of the pines that he had taken possession of a new hunting territory and would henceforth hold it inviolate by the ancient law of tooth and claw.

The darkness had deepened so that his form had melted with the shadows, and only his wide eyes gleamed like stars through the gloom to show that he was still there, when he stirred erect and with taut muscles moved down toward the lake.

Tj'ROM its ice-encrusted shore had come a little splash ” which his quick ears had heard. He was not now hungry, having just feasted on a hare, which he had captured ; nevertheless he never failed to respond when food called to him thus.

Warily, silently, he passed down to the lake’s margin. Just beyond the honeycombed ice, a slight ripple disturbed the water. As he waited, a muskrat climbed out on the ice and with clumsy, rolling gait came straight towards him. In all likelihood it would have been Mr. Muskrat’s last journey landward, had not something quite unforeseen happened just at the moment when the lynx had gathered his muscles to spring. As his claws bit the frozen snow, there came from up in the pine gloom a long, wavering, almost human cry.

Swiftly the big lynx pivoted, and with a growl sprang away up the incline toward the sound.

As he crept watchfully into the glade, another tom-

lynx sprang from a tree straight upon him. There was a scurry of spitting growls and cries like the fighting snarls of two tom-cats one hundred times intensified; then came a rending, ripping sound followed by a wild cry of pain which was quickly hushed.

The lynx who had found the other’s challenge on the pine, and had answered it, had paid the penalty of his indiscretion, just as other cats had paid it who had contested supremacy with that scarred old warrior. The smaller animal had fought tactfully and valiantly. His had been all the advantage, but as he sprang, the usurper had thrown himself on the snow and with fierce, ripping strokes of his hind feet had inflicted terrible punishment upon his aggressor, who, fleeing in terror, left dark blotches on the snow. These the grey conqueror ignored completely, as, after licking his wound, he passed, head low, tail lashing, into the spicy tangle of his new kingdom. ■

ACROSS the little lake, deep in a roomy fissure of rock, the runaway mate of the big lynx lay curled, peacefully purring and nursing two tiny striped atoms of life who sniffed and raised round heads with blind eyes occasionally for a caress of her rough tongue. Maternal instinct to protect the kittens yet unborn had warned her to steal from her mate one night as full-fed, he slept soundly, and hide herself away so cunningly that he could never find her. And, as though nature had tunnelled this nest for her special use, she had taken up her abode in the rock burrow, and had one stormy dawn given birth to her babies.

It is very doubtful, as she nursed her kittens, if she gave so much as a thought to the lonely mate she had left behind; or if so, it is unlikely that it was a kind one. For now he was no longer her mate but her enemy. He would, without compunction, kill her kittens if he found them, and she knew it. So much the Great Something which whispers counsel to all wild things had told her. She had travelled a long way through silent, frozen forest and across ice-locked lakes to find a refuge such as was hers. She did not dread leaving her kittens alone in this safe retreat while she ventured forth in quest of needful food. They were, she felt, perfectly safe.

With the passing of the late winter day, the mother lynx stirred from sleep, roughly washed the sniffing, sleeping little ones, and crept out into the falling shadows. Along a stream where a black ribbon of water ran soundlessly between rain-etched walls of ice, she surprised a young fisher who had hopefully ventured to the stream in search of spawning pike. With one sweep of her armed paw she killed and impaled him, then throwing him free from her claws, disdainfully sniffed him and went on her way. Providing she was unsuccessful in killing grouse or rabbit, she would return and feed upon the fisher. But, being a cat, her taste was somewhat fastidious. She preferred plump, sweet birds or rabbits to these tough-hided animals, although she never failed to kill the latter on principle.

Deep into the pine gloom she passed on soundless feet, pausing now and then beside decayed stub or frozen fernclump to listen for scratch or squeak of mice. As she rounded a big tree, a grouse thundered up almost from under her feet. With a snarl she leaped high, striking up and out with curved claws. Her aim was true. Another moment and she moved off, stiff-legged, into the shadows, the fluttering bird in her jaws.

At the foot of a wind-thrown pine in a tiny, open pocket of the evergreens, she paused and, short tail lashing, let her cold sure-reading eyes sweep her surroundings. As though satisfied that the spot offered it but small protection, she set the badly injured grouse free. Immediately the bird scuttled for cover. But before it reached the sheltering pine top, the she-cat was upon it again. She carried it back to the foot of the tree and again set it at liberty. Half a dozen times she repeated this performance, each time allowing the injured grouse to almost reach safety before pouncing upon it, then finally, as though tiring of the cruel sport or remembering that she had a little family to nourish, she tossed it in the air, caught it as it fell and killed it with one quick snap of her sharp teeth. Quickly, cleanly, she devoured the bird, then went on

her way homeward, pausing every now and again to pounce upon a bunch of dead, rustling fern, or strike playfully at the moving shadows. As she crept up through the stunted spruce that lined the lake, her keen nose and keener eyes detected the presence of a rabbit. The animal was feeding beneath the low sweeping branches of one of the trees. Belly low to earth, she crept upon it, capturing it before it was even aware of her presence. The rabbit gave a frightened squeak and struggled vainly to free itself from her vise-like grip. Then it grew still and, eyes staring and heart palpitating wildly, hung limp, feigning death.

It was not the lynx’s intention to kill the animal outright. She would carry it to the den and there torture it to her heart’s content: the maternal instinct to carry

live food to her kittens was stirring within her, although as yet those little blind morsels demanded nothing more than the nourishing milk she provided.

But an all-wise Destiny which presides over the hunted things of the tangle had ordained otherwise than that the mother lynx should that night end the life of the little grey lover of the night runs. As she emerged from the thicket to seek the rocky path of her cleft, from across the lake came the unmistakable wail of two male lynxes in combat. The sudden sound seemed to electrify her, freeze her into terrified inaction. With a fierce snarl he’r red mouth opened; her whiskered lips drew back from long curved fangs. The rabbit, half_dead with fear, fell to the snow, where for a brief moment it lay quivering. Then, like a grey streak, it shot for cover.

The lynx let it go. It is doubtful if she so much as gave it a thought. Her whole attention was centred on what was taking place in that cone-scented sweep of forest across the lake. Intuitively she knew that one of the combatants was the mate from whom she had so much to fear. Already he might have discovered in the cleft the striped kittens who now claimed all her affection.

All the fury of her nature awoke at the thought of danger to her young. With a growl she leaped the brook whose black, listless current had even during the past hour widened between its honeycombed walls, and sped upward toward her den.

She found her kittens safe, awake and mewing hungrily. With a hoarse “purret”, she lay down beside them and with soft paws gathered them to her.

[ AD the big, grey usurper of the valley pines guessed that just across that little spruce-hedged lake the mate for whom his wild heart longed lay in hiding, he would have sought her out, and patiently waiting her absence from the den, entered its sacred portals and slain the tiny kittens which were the cause of her desertion of him. These once out of the way, she would, he knew, turn to him again. But he did not guess it, and although he prowled the pine gloom night after night hoping to read in the damp spring breeze that mysterious summons which would guide him to her, his waiting was unrewarded. He killed relentlessly now, stalking untiringly, glorying in the spring-in and the kill. In his heart was sullen anger and defiance of all things alive.

There were others of his breed and sex in the pine woods; so much he knew from long claw-wounds on the trees and the yellow stain onsnow and ice bannocks. It would have suited him well to have engaged any one of them in bloody combat ; but for some reason • perhaps because he was their superior in size they refused to accept the yowling challenge he often voiced when the soft spring stars ßprayed the roof of his new realm. So, day by day, as spring advanced, his morbid anger grew until at length he forgot the caution which was his by heredity, and entered the forbidden

The forbidden world, which lay a long night’s journey from the valley of great pines, swept westward from a wide champing river, treeless, colorless, a barren waste studded with second-growth spruce, tamaracks and drab stumps which marked the graves of manslain monarchs. Ever from the time strange, two-lfgged creatures, who walked upr ght, brought the great trees crashing to earth and sent their shorn trunks bound and flashing down the swift river, this spot had been avoided by the animals of the forest. They feared the jarring sounds of the timber cutters, the strange smells which spelt menace to their safety.

Then as suddenly as they had come, the strange animals vanished. No longer was heard the crash of falling trees, the ring of biting axes.

Upon the man-violated region rested the silence

of the solitude. .

But the spot held dangers still, for into

the shorn, stumpy waste tw"Lothe/'s ,of, strange bipeds had come. They had built themselves a beaver-like home from the trunks

of pines and like furtive shadows went about silently. And not content with holding to the sweep others of their kind had made desolate, they usurped the tangled world of the wild things.

Along the streams of the forest the big tom-lynx had found evidences of the trapper’s encroachment; muskrats who had suicided by drowning themselves in their runways after being caught in steel traps; minks and fishers held fast in glittering steel shackles and feigning death in their pitiful helplessness, after the manner of all wood-born creatures. More than once, too, he had come unexpectedly upon one of his own kind, swinging with distorted face and glassy eyes at the end of a noose suspended from a sprung sapling.

At such times an uncontrollable anger swept him, making him forget for a brief space the deadly fear that froze his veins, and all but overwhelming his caution. He hated these creatures who were taking toll of his fellows; his short brown lip curled back from curved fangs at the slightest sign of their coming and going in the leafy realm of the food-seekers.

It was this murderous hatred that held him to the edge of the forest when safety, he knew, lay far within the spicy gloom of the pines. His big, sprawling paw marks—half as large again as those of other lynx—were to be found on the clay shores of streams where traps lay cleverly concealed, or marking a curve in the snow about the snares and dead-falls. He had learned that a rabbit huddled mute, or a partridge standing rigid were things to avoid. They meant a trap. Tender bits of meat which sometimes his hungry nose located on the snow-crust were left untouched by him. Neither trap, snare or poisoned bait would ever claim him. He held close to the clearing, the forbidden world of dangers.

And then suddenly one winter night he fled from the spot, deadly terror driving him; nor did he pause until he was far, far into the protecting heart of the forest.

He was crossing a frozen stream which emptied its spring waters into the noisy river, a dim illusive shape in the drab-dusk, when, without warning, one of the trappers stepped from a clump of firs directly in front of him. Like tempered springs his muscles sprang to action, throwing him backward in a half somersault. As he leaped for the shelter of the trees, a thin arrow of fire streaked the gloom. Behind him sounded a sharp whining report like the splitting of thick ice in spring, and something seared the bunched muscles of his left foreleg like the rip of a sharp thorn.

Since that almost fatal t^A#4r^intil now, he had held to the thick timber, stalking, a grey, relentless killer, through shadows which matched his coat, and throughout the days, full fed and contented, basking in the crotch of sun-steeped tree.

BUT now. propelled by the urge of consuming anger, green eyes lit by the baleful fire of hate, he covered the space between his wooded sanctuary and the forbidden world and on the brambled verge which marked its boundary, looked out across the stumpy desolation, sheeted and cold in the light of a full moon.

At his feet a tiny trout stream gurgled and sang. He crept forward, and, lowering his head, lapped a drink from the ice-cold water; then gathering his forepaws beneath his breast he rested. The spring night deepened. The moon sailed high above the clearing: far up, a flock of

geese drifted a honking shadow between it and the world below.

The night was nearly spent when at length the big lynx arose and leaping the stream, crept stiff-legged and belly low to earth toward the distant blot on the moonlight which marked the trapper’s cabin.

Inside that cabin, two men, weary after a long day's tramp along their trap-line, slept securely; outside, in a pole enclosure, a flock of mallard ducks, hatched from eggs gathered by the trappers from neighbouring swamps, slept with green heads beneath their wings. They were to be sent to a duck preserve far distant, to be used as decoys. The trappers were to receive five dollars a pair for them.

A little apart from the enclosure, in a section of hollow buttonwood, a female beagle hound dosed fitfully, while close against her, wrapped in the heavy slumber of puppyhood, cuddled four reddish-brown atoms of life.

Suddenly, upon the still air arose the frenzied quacking of the ducks; and with a throaty growl, the little beagle hound leaped erect. As she dashed toward the enclosure, a light flashed from the cabin window.

The door swung open, and a man’s voice called command ingly, “Back, Bess, back!”

But the game little dog had caught sight of the grey marauder, as the big lynx leaped the pole fence, a big drake in his jaws; hers was the courage of faultless strain backed by the fearlessness of hallowed motherhood. The presence of this tufted-eared killer meant danger to her puppies. Unheeding her master’s command, she dashed forward to intercept the lynx, who was bounding toward a willow-hedged ditch which led to the forestbrook. Half way across the moonlit open, the lynx threw the slain drake from him and pivoted swiftly at bay.

He might easily have out-distanced the slowrunning beagle, and without difficulty found safety in the ditch thicket. But this did not fit his catship’s scheme of things. He intended to kill that long-bodied, short-legged thing who had so relentlessly tracked his kindred to tree and hole, then lead those two-legged creatures, whom he no longer feared, away from the cabin, and, doubling back, crush the lives of the puppies in the buttonwood. He had already taken deadly toll of the ducks.

So now he crouched, long claws biting the black loam for the spring and stroke which would still the fluted voice of his hated pursuer forever.

But suddenly, when almost within springing distance, the hound checked her lope and, with forepaws braced, slid to a stand. It was not the beagle’s nature to pursue, save when the quarry fled before her. Jaws open and bob tail furiously lashing, the lynx crouched for a brief moment, then, as though realizing that he must now be the aggressor, contracted his muscles for the spring. At the same moment the whining crash of a high-power rifle rent the stillness, and, as something hot tore across his neck, he became conscious that his tw’o-legged enemies were swiftly approaching across the clearing.

With a hissing snarl, he somersaulted sideways, and sprang into the thicket. For the second time in his life he had felt the burning smart of the trapper’s soft-nosed bullet; for the second time he was experiencing the strength-robbing terror. And, as before, it sent hint a cringing, fleeing thing from this world of hidden dangers into the dim, protectting heart of his solitude.

BY GAR. dat Lucifee was beeg lak panther; he was for keel dat leetle bitch fer sure, ef dat bullet you sen’ after heem didn’ give heem close call an' change hees min'. 1 guess.”

In the early dawn the trapi>ers stood ruefully surveying the devastation the tom-lynx had wrought among their prized mallards.

The speaker, a slender, swarthy-faced man, bent and patted the brown side of the little

hound. She rubbed her nose against him affectionately.

“I’m guessin' no Lucifee is ever goin’ to fool this ol’ gal into close grips,” spoke his companion, a tall, stoopshouldered man, some years the Frenchman’s senior. “She’s wise enough to keep outen’ claw reach of any cat. She thought he was after her pups; that’s why she went plumb crazy, I’m thinkin’.”

The hound turned soft, brown eyes on her master, and with a low whine, trotted off to her puppies.

“Sacré!” swore the Frenchman, “to t’ink dat beeg feller sneak in here an’ right under our very eye raise so mooch of hell. What you make of dat, Jim, eh?” -

The other man shook his head. "That big tom’s matehungry, Joe,” he explained. "He’s as daffy and dangerous as a bull moose in the ruttin’ season. Likely his mate has a nest of kittens hid somewheres. He’d kill ’em quick, if he could find ’em, but he’d kill anythin’ jest as quick that tried to molest ’em. There’s no use tryin’ to understan’ wild cats, an’ I’m tellin’ you this Lucifee is no ordinary one. He sneaked in here to get us and ours jest cause we’ve been after him an’ his. That’s all there is to it ’cept that fer a start he’s made pretty fair head-

The Frenchman had thrown the dead ducks in a pile and stood frowningly surveying them.

“Tonight he will come back some more, yes? He will no get away again— heem.”

“He won’t come back tonight,” said the other man, “nor ever again, most like. My bullet nicked him bad. I found ha’r an’ blood this side of the ditch scrubs. That Lucifee’s miles away by now.”

“You mean he’s got de bad scare, an’ will stay where it is safe, eh?”

“He’ll stay away, but not because he’s scared, Joe. That old tom is about due to meet his mate, I’m thinkin’. Spring’s pretty well on, an’ she’ll be weanin’ her kittens about now. She’ll be sendin’ him an invite to come an’ behold his fambily, soon. That’s all there is to it. He’ll be as sof’ an’ purry as a bridegroom then. You needin’ worry about him cornin’ back very soon.”

“But maybee he will come later, you t’ink?” the younger trapper asked hopefully.

“Wall, yes. Likely when the kits have growed big enough to be able to wanter stalk trouble, we’ll have the hull pa’cel of ’em back on us. It all de-pends.”

The grizzled trapper had gleaned hih knowledge of the wild things through long experience with the forest which shaped their lives. He knew that the habits and temperament of one male lynx might vary greatly from the habits and temperament of another, but in all of them he had found the paternal instinct to rule and guard mate and young—a paramount quality not to be lightly ignored.

To him those cold-eyed, grotesque-shaped skulkers of the tangle were negligent quantities during the summer, autumn and early winter seasons of the year, but forces to be coped with when spring set her warm wet lips to the cold face of the solitude. Moody, taciturn and maddened by mate-hunger they were in the spring season more likely to seek encounter than avoid it. The fearless coming of this big cat to the very door of their cabin, his wanton destruction of the penned mallards, his clever ruse to draw the little hound within sweep of his death dealing claws, were undeniable proof of this.

He bent now and closely scrutinized one of the great pawmarks the lynx had left on the soft loam about the pen. When he arose his eyes had narrowed. “A giant Lucifee, that,” he said grimly, “and all devil from tip to tuft.” He reached for the rifle that leaned against the pen.

“You go get heem, eh?” asked the Frenchman eagerly.

The other shook his head. “I’d like to, Joe,” he said regretfully, “but there’s the Huckleberry line to be looked after. Besides, we gotta get our rat-traps set along the creek. The ice is runnin’ free now. Plenty work to do, fer sure.”

The Frenchman sighed. “Dat’s so, Jim. I’ll go get de breakfas’, me. By Gosh,” as his glance fell on the pile of slain ducks, “to t’ink dat dam’ Lucifee in two short minute’ keel fer us twenty good dollar."

THROUGH the pale-green meshes of creeping vines golden arrows of sunlight stole to waken the dewdrenched glades to shimmering life, and probe the curved shoots of baby plants in search of soft-tinted bud.

From the dense pines, with the light of morning, the she-lynx crept into the open, a fluttering grouse held loosely between her jaws.

Seen in the light of day, she was a beautiful animal, graceful in spite of short, slender body and long, heavy legs. The round, perfectly poised head closely resembled that of a domestic cat, save

for the up-standing tufts on the ears. Her coat was of « deeper grey than the tom-lynx, darkening to almost brown along the spine.

This morning, the pale, glowing eyes had deepened to a limpid amber. She crossed the glade with the sure, smooth stride of a warrior queen and entered the timber sloping to the lake.

Fifteen minutes later, she appeared on the top of the rock on the lake’s far shore. At the entrance of her den she stood still. Lowering the fluttering bird to the rock, she placed a paw upon it, and gave a soft “purrit.” Almost immediately, from the opening in the rock two striped kittens came clumsily bounding toward her.

Apparently, the kittens had been expecting her. They scrambled up on the table of rock, mewing hungrily, and at once pounced upon the imprisoned grouse. As they fought each other and tore with little sharp teeth at the bird, the mother licked each striped body with her rough tongue; then she proceeded to make her own toilet by brushing her face and eyes with saliva-dampened paw.

Her task finished, she stretched herself, exposing two rows of salt-white teeth in a huge yawn; then snatching the torn grouse from the kittens, she carried it into the den, her complaining family following at her heels.

Once in the safety of her retreat, she allowed the kittens re-possession of their meal, and stretching out, belly down on the rocky floor, fell almost instantly to sleep. The kittens, their breakfast over, curled up side-by-side. As the morning advanced the kittens stirred restlessly. One of them sat up with a plaintive mew and, creeping across to its mother, nosed her coaxingly. With a sweep of her paw, she sent him sprawling. Meekly the chastised one rejoined his brother and curled up to slumber again.

The mother lynx was weaning her kittens; the tenderness and solicitude which had marked her treatment of them when they were drawing nourishment from her breasts were gone from her; she had become a stern and forbidding mother, harsh, quick to punish misdemeanour. When she washed them now, which was many times a day, she held them firmly, stilling complaints with sharp cuffs and throwing them roughly aside when her work was finished to her “particular” satisfaction.

It was perhaps natural that the kittens should copy their mother’s manner. Sometimes they, too, growled and spat and lashed their stubby tails, and the diminishing light of love and pride in the mother’s amber eyes would glow up anew when they battled fiercely over the food she brought in to them.

It was early twilight when the mother arose, and with a command, which was half a growl, half a purr, to the kittens playing on the floor, slipped from the den into the forest.

On all sides of her stretched inviting trails along which was food for the taking, but she was not thinking of food as she passed down the rocky plateau and sought the reedy shore of the lake. Once again she was going into the blue gloom of the pine forest through which she had fled when the deep snow bound it in white death.

All that day the kittens in the den went hungry. Darkness cloaked the forest when at length the mother lynx crept into the fissure and threw a maimed rabbit down before the famished young ones. Immediately they pounced upon it tooth and nail. Their meal over, she washed their sniffing noses and sleepy eyes with rough tongue and stretched herself, belly to earth, beside them.

When at last sleep claimed them, she arose stealthily and stole from the den into the dewy, scented night. She went swiftly down the rocks and entered the spruce thicket which hedged the lake. Again shewas going into 'the pine woods, but by a different route than she had that morning taken.

Skirting the shore like a grey shadow, pausing only long enough to snatch from a startled mink a spawning fish he had captured from the reedy shallows, and which she devoured with the appetite of an epicure, she entered the pine timber from the lake’s far end. Her whole demeanour now was marked by a strange, intent eagerness. Her movements were quick, nervous. Her gait was no longer the long, smooth stride of the stalker, but the jerky lope of a cat who fears pursuit and would leave no tell-tale track behind it.

Reaching the edge of the pines, she crouched, tufted ears laid back and tail lashing, as from the valley pines a long plaintive cry wavered up and died on the night.

With a single bound the she-lynx leaped to the trunk of a dead tree lodged in another ten feet above the earth. From this she sprang to another, and in this manner made her way, unseen, toward the point from which the cry had come.

Fifteen minutes later, from a frowzy tree-top, she gazed down with wide, amber eyes upon the mate whom she had so heartlessly deserted when the Great Guardian had whispered “go.”

FOLLOWING his brazen intrusion into their realm, and his almost fatal encounter with the trappers of the forbidden world, the big tom-lynx had held to the densest of the thickets of the pine forest. The spirit of destructiveness, the bitter hatred of all things alive which had driven him hence, had in a measure abated. He still longed to slay, and did; the desire to subdue and rend still swayed him, but no longer was he the mad and unreasoning thing that had sought out and challenged the trappers of the clearing.

Nature, that strange, soothing mother who points the way for her children tó follow, had taken him in hand, and was making him almost a safe animal for the mate who had left him to meet again.

As the spring nights grew softer, he took less to stalking indefatigably from dusk till dawn, sometimes resting for long periods in tree-crotch or jam. Often, too, when the moonlight sprayed softly the greening carpet of forest glade, he played with the shifting, pencil-like shadows on the moss, or with kittenish antics rolled upon the sward.

But the great loneliness did not for a moment leave him. With advancing spring, the longing for his mate grew upon him more and more. Every night he sought for her, penetrating the darkest recesses of the valley, probing the blue gloom of cone-tipped groves and spearlike thickets of baby cedars, searching hopefully for some token of her presence, the while he snarled his challenge or left long, ragged slashes on the trees as token of his contempt for all other tom-lynxes of the shagland.

Tonight he made his way through the pines toward the lake, and, as he crossed a white pocket of moonlight between two shadowy groves of trees, he paused suddenly, stiffening to tense watchfulness.

Slowly his round head lifted and the brown lip curled back from his fangs. But instead of a challenge to battle, he gave a low, rumbling purr of joy. At last he had found the token for which he had been seeking so diligently.

He bounded further into the moonlight, eyes like points of green fire searching his surroundings. He knew that his mate was no longer there. But that she had been there, and recently, he was sure. There in the moon-sprayed open he called to her; a call intensely pleading that she seek with him again the joy-trails which stretched numberless through a shagland of plenty. But no answering call came to him. At the foot of a tall, frowzy-headed pine he lay down, and, with fore-paws beneath his breast, waited.

The white splash had vanished from the glade when suddenly he found her beside him. With a low, throaty cry, he bounded up and toward her. But she was away, a darting, illusive shadow among the shadows.

TOWARD morning the kittens were awakened by the rough caress of the mother. Food lay before them. While they fought and feasted, she slipped out of the den, and away. All the following day she was absent Continued on page 64

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from home. At dusk she returned with more food, and immediately departed.

Days and nights followed in which the kittens, fast growing into sturdy, roughplaying youngsters, saw but little of the mother. This did not bother them, so long as their daily sustenance was provided. As spring gave way to summer and a canopy of rustling green grew up between the golden light above and the flowerstarred floor of the forest, they took to basking on the warm rock entrance of their home, listening there, with all their inquisitive cat-natures alive, to the calling voices of furred and feathered wooddenizens.

One day as they lay sprawled in the sun, they saw their mother emerge from the spruce thicket on the shore of the lake. Eagerly they bounded up and away to meet her, as lately they had been allowed to do. But suddenly they paused, all the animosity of their kind for a stranger in their bearing. Out from the thicket, behind their mother, had stalked a ferocious-looking strange lynx.

Pivoting quickly, spitting and snarling in real terror, the kittens scooted for the shelter of the den. Reaching the opening, they literally hurled themselves into the fissure and lay growling, hearts beating wildly. All the rest of that day they huddled low, side by side, fearful of what might happen. However, their fears were groundless. In the early night the mother returned with food, as had become her custom, tarrying only long enough to inspect her young—who now attended to their own toilet—and with sure eyes note if any part of them had been slighted. Woe betide them, if she found that it had. It meant a cuff on tufted, sensitive ear, perhaps more.

There came a night of soft moon.

It may have been an extra sense which told the mother lynx that the time had come when she could no longer hope to curb that growing desire which had gripped her young to creep the dim aisles and seek for themselves that which tempted them. On this white night she led them forth to give them the first of the many lessons they had yet to learn.

As they passed from the spruce grove into the valley pines, the kittens close behind their mother, the big lynx which had so frightened them on that morning when they had seen him with their mother, came out of the shadows and stood before them. His pale, cold eyes rested on the kittens indifferently. Oddly, their fear of him was gone; they sensed in him protection and mastery.

The mother lynx threw herself on her back and gave a low “purrit.” The kittens sprang upon her and the three played in a splash of moonlight while the father lynx looked on amazed. One of the kittens, detaching himself from the mother, moved toward him; but the big lynx backed away, hissing.

After the kitten had rejoined mother and brother, he came forward and stood close beside his family. He half raised a heavy paw as though to join in the fun, then changing his mind, apparently, lowered it and sat down on his haunches. When at last the game was over, he reached down and gingerly sniffed of the kittens. Then he gave a command, and the four passed on into the forest.

During the many splendid night hunts which followed this, their first, the kittens came to know and understand the big tom-lynx better. They copied his methods, learning that strict obedience to his orders meant food, while the slightest disobedience meant severe chastisement. To them, in time, he became the most wonderful thing in the world—not excepting their mother. The latter was sometimes freakish, taciturn, cruel. Often the father’s interference saved the wilful young from scratch or cutting fang; there were times even when he threatened his wife; just exactly what he threatened her with they were never able to learn, for although he often scolded, he never so much as touched the mate of his choice.

Sometimes, too, he allowed them to pounce upon him in play and interfere with his after-dinner nap, although he refused sternly to be drawn into their games. At other times he led them to patches of spicy catnip, in which they would roll until intoxicated and scarcely able to stagger along.

There were nights, as the summer grew late, when the big tom’s strength and fighting prowess stood the kittens in good stead. They learned that all animals have their enemies— and that the larger and stronger did not hesitate to attack the smaller and weaker. But every day they were growing in size, strength and wisdom. If they continued to imbibe the lore of their teacher, they would some day be able to take care of themselves.

Summer passed and autumn stole upon the pine forest. A great hush gripped the solitude and held it motionless. Up the step-like heights reaching to the hardwoods eastward, the tom-lynx led his family, and one dawn the young looked upon a strange, new world, a world canopied by soft colors of ochre, gold and crimson, and steeped in a shimmering haze of sun-mist..

The days shortened, darkened. Lowhanging clouds sifted snow. The coats of the young lynxes had lost their soft stripes and were grey now like those of the parents. As winter deepened, the father and mother left the young more to their own devices. Now when the four hunted together, it was after big game only.

One night when the snow lay deep, and the lakes were dead in the clutch of ice, the big tom-lynx led his mate from the hardwood hunting ground, back to the spicy gloom of-the valley pines. He had done his part. He had trained and disciplined his young, protected them as long as they needed protection, and had led them to the upland range wrested by himself from inferior ones of his breed. This range was theirs if they could hold it. He and his mate would hold to the pines. She would leave him later, he knew; but he would find her again. Meanwhile, the whitened aisles of his domain were his. And the trails of the tangle were calling, calling.

TT WAS nearing the end of a fruitful winter season that Jim Hawley, the older of the two upland trappers, returning at dusk from making his line of traps, found unmistakable evidence that the big tom-lynx had come back once more to the forbidden world. Deeply imprinted in the soft snow wej-e the animal’s tracks. They led from the forest across the stumpy open to the forks of a stream. Here, the trapper found the mangled carcass of a fisher. The animal had been tom from the trap which held it prisoner and its beautiful fur destroyed by the slashing claws of the Usurper and cast to the four winds as though in challenge to his enem-

That night while he and the Frenchman, LeBuc, ate their supper, he was silent and thoughtful. The younger trapper was happy. It had been a splendid season, so far; the finest catch they had ever made. And spring was opening auspiciously. There would be an excellent harvest of muskrat and mink. Besides, had they not received word but yesterday that the Struthers Hunting Club would pay fifty dollars each for the four Beagle puppies now being tenderly suckled by the little mother in the buttonwood gum.

So LeBuc sang happily, as he cleared the supper table and placed juicy meatscraps in the earthen bowl for little Bess.

While he was out feeding the dog, Hawley unscrewed the fore sight from his Winchester and replaced it with one of

LeBuc returning, found him just completing his task. “Sacre,” he exclaimed, “You go for shoot by moonlight, yes?”

Hawley smiled grimly. “That ol’ he Lucifee is on the war-path again,” he informed his partner. “This time he’s not goin’ to get away.”

“Ba Gosh! What you tink of dat, now?” the Frenchman cried. “Two tarn already, you burn dat lynx wit bullet, an’ still he come back some more. He one beeg devil, fer sure.”

“He’s a cat, Joe. That’s why he ain’t forgettin’, I reckon,” said Hawley. “A bear or a wolf would stay away. But a

lynx......” He shrugged and proceeded

to fill the magazine of his rifle with softnosed cartridges.

“This time it ain’t goin’ to be any clean drill, either. I’ve got to mushroom that ol’ boy. An ordinary soft-nose don’t seem to stop him any, at all.”

LeBuc nodded. “You tink he come pretty soon, eh?”

“He’s waitin’, Joe,” Hawley returned. "It may be tonight, and it may not. One thing’s sure, though: he’ll

come.”

“I guess we take Bess an’ de pup in here, eh, Jim?”

“No. If we did that, he wouldn’t come, likely. And I want to have it out once and for all with that killer. If we don’t get him, he’ll be raisin’ hell with our catches, just like he did with that fisher. I have an idea this full moon will bring him. You go to bed an’ I’ll watch first part of the night.”

EVEN as he spoke, from the buttonwood kennel came the startled cry of the mother beagle.

Hawlev leaped to his feet.

“That’s him now, Joe. Get your rifle quick!” he cried.

He leaped outside, pumping a cartridge into the firing chamber of his rifle as he

ra At the mouth of the kennel he saw a writhing mass; heard the shrill snarls of the big lynx mingling with the hoarser ones of the mother beagle, who was fighting gamely for the lives of her puppies.

The trapper dared not risk a shot for fear of hitting the dog or puppies He did the only thing left to do. Clubbing his rifle, he charged straight for attacker and attacked. .

As he struck with all his strength at that round swiftly darting head, with its tufted ears, the Lynx wheeled and leaped straight for him. It is doubtful if the big cat realized that the thing which had come upon him was human. Perhaps it sensed only that in the man was a menace to be met by craft and fighting-tactics.

Luckily, Hawley’s foot slipped on the snow End he stumbled just ES the EÏIIITIEI launched itself toward him. As it was the trapper did not wholly escape the stroke of those killing claws. Along his right shoulder he felt a burning pain. As he stood up groggily, he heard the spitting stutter of LeBuc’s rifle, saw the Usurper leaping across the snow-clad upland toward the sumachs of the dry creek-bed. LeBuc was shooting wild.

A full moon was rising above the shaggy border of the lowland. Hawley lifted his rifle, lowering it until the ivory bead caught the crotch of the back sight and held to the centre of that luminous disc. The big lynx would have to pass that point in order to make cover. It was a long shot, two hundred and fifty yards. Perhaps, with luck. ...

A dark blot touched the moon. Hawley’s heavy rifle spat flame shattering the stillness with its whining roar.

From the edge of the sumachs came a snarl which died in a smothered wail.

The Frenchman’s voice came to Hawley as from a long distance. “Got heem,

byHawiey sat down weakly on the edge of the kennel. He could feel the blood trickling from the wound in his shoulder. He laid a hand on the torn, uplifted head of the little hound. She whimpered and lowering her muzzle, tenderly licked the faces of two dead, mangled puppies.

The trapper lifted the two who had escaped and tucking the little mother beneath his arm, staggered up to the cabin.

He was bathing the beagles wounds when LeBuc opened the door.

He raised his eyes questionally.

LeBuc nodded. “Right froo de head Jim,” he said. “Ba Gosh she was wan

fine shot.” 19»

“You didn’t bring him in, Joe.'

The Frenchman shook his head and pointed to the little dog, who was watching them with pensive eyes.

Hawley laughed. “You thought Bess would sorter like to find that old cat herself, eh? Well, I guess you was right. Wanter go get him, girl?” he asked, turning to the hound.

She whined and ran to the door. Hawley opened it, and she sprang outside eagerly.

Standing in the doorway, they watched her lope the snowy highlands to the edge of the sumachs, heard her give the long mellow note of victory as she found the thing she sought.

“By gar!” cried LeBuc. “Dat leetle Bess tink she did et all, Jim.”

Hawley smiled. “That’s what we want her to think, eh, Joe?”

The Frenchman nodded. “Sure. Didn’t she lose two baby? She can tink whatever she dam’ lak, dat leetle dog.”