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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXX Alfred Seized by a Puma

The party had proceeded many miles before they arrived at the spot where Malachi thought that they would fall in with some venison, which was the principal game that they sought. It was not till near ten o’clock in the morning that they stood on the ground which had been selected for the sport. It was an open part of the forest, and the snow lay in large drifts, but here and there on the hill-sides the grass was nearly bare, and the deer were able, by scraping with their feet, to obtain some food. They were all pretty well close together when they arrived. Percival and Henry were about a quarter of a mile behind, for Percival was not used to the snow-shoes, and did not get on so well as the others, Malachi and the rest with him halted, that Henry and Percival might come up with them, and then, after they had recovered their breath a little, he said, “Now, you see there’s a fine lot of deer here, Master Percival, but as you know nothing about woodcraft, and may put us all out, observe what I say to you. The animals are not only cute of hearing and seeing, but they are more cute of smell, and they can scent a man a mile off if the wind blows down to them; so you see it would be useless to attempt to get near to them if we do not get to the lee side of them without noise and without being seen. Now the wind has been from the eastward, and as we are to the southward, we must get round by the woods to the westward, before we go upon the open ground, and then, Master Percival, you must do as we do, and keep behind, to watch our motions. If we come to a swell in the land, you must not run up, or even walk up, as you might show yourself; the deer might be on the other side, within twenty yards of you, but you must hide yourself, as you will see that we shall do; and when we have found them, I will put you in a place where you shall have your shot as well as we. Do you understand, Master Percival?”

“Yes, I do, and I shall stop behind, and do as you tell me.”

“Well then, now, we will go back into the thick of the forest till we get to leeward, and then we shall see whether you will make a hunter or not.”

The whole party did as Malachi directed, and for more than an hour they walked through the wood, among the thickest of the trees, that they might not be seen by the animals. At last they arrived at the spot which Malachi desired, and then they changed their course eastward, towards the more open ground, where they expected to find the deer.

As they entered upon the open ground, they moved forward crouched to the ground, Malachi and Martin in the advance. When in the hollows, they all collected together, but on ascending a swell of the land, it was either Malachi or Martin who first crept up, and looking over the summit, gave notice to the others to come forward. This was continually repeated for three or four miles, when Martin, having raised his head just above a swell, made a signal to those who were below that the deer were in sight. After a moment or two reconnoitring, he went down and informed them that there were twelve or thirteen head of deer scraping up the snow about one hundred yards ahead of them upon another swell of the land; but that they appeared to be alarmed and anxious, as if they had an idea of danger being near.

Malachi then again crawled up to make his observations, and returned.

“It is sartain,” said he, “that they are flurried about something; they appear just as if they had been hunted, and yet that is not likely. We must wait and let them settle a little, and find out whether any other parties have been hunting them.”

They waited about ten minutes, till the animals appeared more settled, and then, by altering their position behind the swell, gained about twenty-five yards of distance. Malachi told each party which animal to aim at, and they fired nearly simultaneously. Three of the beasts fell, two others were wounded, the rest of the herd bounded off like the wind.

They all rose from behind the swell and ran forward to their prey. Alfred had fired at a fine buck which stood apart from the rest, and somewhat farther off; it was evident that the animal was badly wounded, and Alfred had marked the thicket into which it had floundered; but the other deer which was wounded was evidently slightly hurt, and there was little chance of obtaining it, as it bounded away after the rest of the herd. They all ran up to where the animals lay dead, and as soon as they had reloaded their rifles, Alfred and Martin went on the track of the one that was badly wounded. They had forced their way through the thicket for some fifty yards, guided by the track of the animal, when they started back at the loud growl of some beast. Alfred, who was in advance, perceived that a puma (catamount, or painter, as it is usually termed) had taken possession of the deer, and was lying over the carcase. He levelled his rifle and fired; the beast, although badly wounded, immediately sprang at him and seized him by the shoulder. Alfred was sinking under the animal’s weight and from the pain he was suffering, when Martin came to his rescue, and put his rifle ball through the head of the beast, which fell dead.

“Are you hurt much, sir?” said Martin.

“No, not much,” replied Alfred; “at least I think not but my shoulder is badly torn, and I bleed freely.” Malachi and the others now came up, and perceived what had taken place. Alfred had sunk down and was sitting on the ground by the side of the dead animals.

“A painter!” exclaimed Malachi; “well, I didn’t think we should see one so far west. Are you hurt, Mr Alfred?”

“Yes, a little,” replied Alfred, faintly.

Malachi and Martin, without saying another word, stripped off Alfred’s hunting-coat, and then discovered that he had received a very bad wound in the shoulder from the teeth of the beast, and that his side was also torn by the animal’s claws.

“John, run for some water,” said Malachi; “you are certain to find some in the hollow.”

John and Percival both hastened in search of water, while Malachi, and Martin, and Henry tore Alfred’s shirt into strips and bound up the wounds, so as to stop in a great measure the flow of blood. As soon as this was done, and he had drunk the water brought to him in John’s hat, Alfred felt revived.

“I will sit down for a little longer,” said he, “and then we will get home as fast as we can. Martin, look after the game, and when you are ready I will get up. What a tremendous heavy brute that was; I could not have stood against him for a minute longer, and I had no hunting-knife.”

“It’s a terrible beast, sir,” replied Malachi. “I don’t know that I ever saw one larger; they are more than a match for one man, sir, and never should be attempted singlehanded, for they are so hard to kill.”

“Where did my ball hit him?” said Alfred.

“Here, sir, under the shoulder, and well placed, too. It must have gone quite close to his heart; but unless you hit them through the brain or through the heart, they are certain to make their dying spring. That’s an ugly wound on your shoulder, and will put a stop to your hunting for five or six weeks, I expect. However, it’s well that it’s no worse.”

“I feel quite strong now,” replied Alfred.

“Another ten minutes, sir; let John and me whip off his skin, for we must have it to show, if we have all the venison spoiled. Mr Henry, tell Martin only to take the prime pieces and not to mind the hides, for we shall not be able to carry much. And tell him to be quick, Mr Henry, for it will not do for Mr Alfred to remain till his arm gets stiff. We have many miles to get home again.”

In the course of ten minutes Malachi and John had skinned the puma, and Martin made his appearance with the haunches of two of the deer, which he said was as much as they well could carry, and they all set off on their return home.

Alfred had not proceeded far when he found himself in great pain, the walking upon snow-shoes requiring so much motion as to open the wounds and make them bleed again; but Malachi gave him his assistance, and having procured him some more water, they continued their route.

After a time the wounds became more stiff, and Alfred appeared to be more oppressed by the pain; they proceeded, however, as fast as they could, and at nightfall were not far from home. But Alfred moved with great difficulty; he had become very faint—so much so, that Martin requested John would throw down the venison, and hasten before them to request Mr Campbell to send some brandy or other cordial to support Alfred, who was scarcely able to move on from weakness and loss of blood. As they were not more than a mile from the house, John was soon there, and hastening in at the door, he gave his message in presence of Mrs Campbell and his cousins, who were in a state of great distress at the intelligence. Mr Campbell went to his room for the spirits, and as soon as he brought it out, Emma seized her bonnet, and said that she would accompany John.

Mr and Mrs Campbell had no time to raise any objection if they were inclined, for Emma was out of the door in a moment, with John at her heels. But Emma quite forgot that she had no snow-shoes, and before she had gone half the distance, she found herself as much fatigued as if she had walked miles, and she sank deeper and deeper in the snow every minute that she advanced. At last they arrived, and found the party. Alfred was lying insensible on the snow, and the others making a litter of branches that they might carry him to the house.

A little brandy poured down his throat brought Alfred to his senses; and as he opened his eyes he perceived Emma hanging over him.

“Dear Emma, how kind of you!” said he, attempting to rise.

“Do not move, Alfred; they will soon have the litter ready, and then you will be carried to the house. It is not far off.”

“I am strong again now, Emma,” replied Alfred. “But you must not remain here in the cold. See, the snow is falling again.”

“I must remain now till they are ready to carry you, Alfred, for I dare not go back by myself.”

By this time the litter was prepared, and Alfred placed on it. Malachi, Henry, Martin, and John took it up.

“Where is Percival?” said Emma.

“He’s behind a little way,” replied John. “The snow-shoes hurt him, and he could not walk so fast. He will be here in a minute.”

They carried Alfred to the house, where Mr and Mrs Campbell and Mary were waiting at the door in great anxiety; poor Emma was quite knocked up by the time that they arrived, and went into her own room.

Alfred was laid on his bed, and his father then examined his wounds, which he considered very dangerous, from the great laceration of the flesh. Mr Campbell dressed them, and then they left Alfred to the repose which he so much required. The state of Alfred so occupied their minds and their attention, that nothing and nobody else was thought of for the first hour. Emma, too, had been taken very ill soon after she came in, and required the attention of Mrs Campbell and Mary. It was not until they were about to sit down to supper that Mr Campbell said, “Why, where’s Percival?”

“Percival! Is he not here?” was the question anxiously uttered by all the party who had been hunting.

“Percival not here!” exclaimed Mrs Campbell, starting up. “Where—where is my child?”

“He was just behind us,” said John; “he sat down to alter his snow-shoes: the ties hurt him.”

Malachi and Martin ran out of doors in consternation; they knew the danger, for the snow was now falling in such heavy flakes that it was impossible to see or direct their steps two yards in any direction.

“The boy will be lost for sartain,” said Malachi to Martin; “if he has remained behind till this fall of snow, he never will find his way, but wander about till he perishes.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “he has but a poor chance, that is the truth. I would have given my right arm this had not happened.”

“Misfortune never comes single,” replied Malachi; “what can we do? Madam Campbell will be beside herself, for she loves that boy beyond all measure.”

“It’s useless our going out,” observed Martin; “we should never find him, and only lose ourselves; but still we had better go back, and say that we will try. At all events, we can go to the edge of the forest, and halloo every minute or so; if the boy is still on his legs, it will guide him to us.”

“Yes,” replied Malachi, “and we may light a pine torch; it might be of some use. Well, then, let’s go in, and tell them that we are going in search of the boy; as long as Madam knows that we are seeking him, she will not lose hope, and hope will keep up her spirits for the time, till she is better prepared for her loss.”

There was much good sense and knowledge of the human heart in the observation of Malachi, who, although he was aware that all search would be useless, could not resolve to destroy at once all hope in the mind of the afflicted and anxious mother.

They went in, and found Mrs Campbell weeping bitterly, supported by her husband and Mary. They stated that they were going to search for the boy, and bring him home if they could, and, taking three or four pine torches, one of which they lighted, they set off for the edge of the forest, where they remained for two hours with the light, shouting at intervals; but the snow fell so fast, and the cold was so intense, for the wind blew fresh from the northward, that they could remain no longer. They did not, however, return to the house, but went to their own lodge to recover themselves, and remained there till daylight. They then went out again; the snowstorm had ceased, and the morning was clear and bright; they went back into the forest (on the road by which they had come home) for three or four miles, but the snow now fallen had covered all the tracks which they had made the day before, and was in many places several feet deep. They proceeded to where Percival was last seen by John, who had described the spot very exactly; they looked everywhere about, made circuits round and round, in hopes of perceiving the muzzle of his rifle peeping out above the snow, but there was nothing to be discovered, and after a search of four or five hours, they returned to the house. They found Mr Campbell and Henry in the kitchen, for Mrs Campbell was in such a state of anxiety and distress, that she was in her room attended by Mary. Mr Campbell perceived by their countenances that they brought no satisfactory tidings. Malachi shook his head mournfully, and sat down.

“Do you think that my poor boy is lost, Malachi?” said Mr Campbell.

“He is, I fear, sir; he must have sat down to rest himself, and has been overpowered and fallen asleep. He has been buried in the snow, and he will not wake till the day of resurrection.”

Mr Campbell covered his face with his hands, and after a time exclaimed, “His poor mother!”

After a few minutes, he rose and went into Mrs Campbell’s room.

“What of my child,—my dear, dear Percival?” exclaimed Mrs Campbell.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” replied Mr Campbell; “your child is happy.”

Mrs Campbell wept bitterly; and having thus given vent to the feelings of nature, she became gradually more calm and resigned; her habitually devout spirit sought and found relief in the God of all comfort.

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