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The Spoil Of The Puma
by [?]

Just at the point where the Peace River first hugs the vast outpost hills of the Rockies, before it hurries timorously on, through an unexplored region, to Fort St. John, there stood a hut. It faced the west, and was built half-way up Clear Mountain. In winter it had snows above it and below it; in summer it had snow above it and a very fair stretch of trees and grass, while the river flowed on the same, winter and summer. It was a lonely country. Travelling north, you would have come to the Turnagain River; west, to the Frying Pan Mountains; south, to a goodly land. But from the hut you had no outlook towards the south; your eye came plump against a hard lofty hill, like a wall between heaven and earth. It is strange, too, that, when you are in the far north, you do not look towards the south until the north turns an iron hand upon you and refuses the hospitality of food and fire; your eyes are drawn towards the Pole by that charm–deadly and beautiful–for which men have given up three points of the compass, with their pleasures and ease, to seek a grave solitude, broken only by the beat of a musk-ox’s hoofs, the long breath of the caribou, or the wild cry of the puma.

Sir Duke Lawless had felt this charm, and had sworn that one day he would again leave his home in Devon and his house in Pont Street, and, finding Pierre, Shon M’Gann, and others of his old comrades, together they would travel into those austere yet pleasant wilds. He kept his word, found Shon M’Gann, and on an autumn day of a year not so long ago lounged in this hut on Clear Mountain. They had had three months of travel and sport, and were filled, but not sated, with the joy of the hunter. They were very comfortable, for their host, Pourcette, the French Canadian, had fire and meat in plenty, and, if silent, was attentive to their comfort–a little, black-bearded, grey-headed man, with heavy brows over small vigilant eyes, deft with his fingers, and an excellent sportsman, as could be told from the skins heaped in all the corners of the large hut.

The skins were not those of mere foxes or martens or deer, but of mountain lions and grizzlies. There were besides many soft, tiger-like skins, which Sir Duke did not recognise. He kept looking at them, and at last went over and examined one.

“What’s this, Monsieur Pourcette?” he said, feeling it as it lay on the top of the pile.

The little man pushed the log on the fireplace with his moccasined foot before he replied: “Of a puma, m’sieu’.”

Sir Duke smoothed it with his hand. “I didn’t know there were pumas here.”

“Faith, Sir Duke–“

Sir Duke Lawless turned on Shon quickly. “You’re forgetting again, Shon. There’s no ‘Sir Dukes’ between us. What you were to me years ago on the wally-by-track and the buffalo-trail, you are now, and I’m the same also: M’Gann and Lawless, and no other.”

“Well, then, Lawless, it’s true enough as he says it, for I’ve seen more than wan skin brought in, though I niver clapped eye on the beast alive. There’s few men go huntin’ them av their own free will, not more than they do grizzlies; but, bedad, this French gintleman has either the luck o’ the world, or the gift o’ that man ye tould me of, that slew the wild boars in anciency. Look at that, now: there’s thirty or forty puma-skins, and I’d take my oath there isn’t another man in the country that’s shot half that in his lifetime.”

Pourcette’s eyes were on the skins, not on the men, and he did not appear to listen. He sat leaning forward, with a strange look on his face. Presently he got up, came over, and stroked the skins softly. A queer chuckling noise came from his throat.