Short Stories » The Great Cat's Nursery

The Great Cat's Nursery - Page 1 of 6

A HARSH and hateful cry of a sudden broke the peace of a midsummer night upon the creek called Bear-runs-in-the- Lodge. It told many things to the Red hunter, who, though the hour was late, still sat beside the dying camp-fire, pulling away at his long-stemmed pipe.

"Ugh!" he muttered, as he turned his head in the direction of the deep woods and listened attentively. The great cat's scream was not repeated. The hunter resumed his former attitude and continued to smoke.

The night was sultry and threatened storm, and all creatures, especially the fiercer wild animals, become nervous and irritable when thunder is in the air. Yet this fact did not fully explain to his mind Igmutanka's woman-like, almost hysterical complaint.

Having finished his smoke, he emptied the ashes out of the bowl of the pipe and laid it against the teepee-pole at his back. 'Ugh!" the hunter once more muttered to himself, this time with a certain complacency. ' I will find your little ones tomorrow! That is what you fear."

The Bear-runs-in-the-Lodge is a deep and winding stream, a tributary of the Smoking Earth River, away up at the southern end of the Bad Lands. It is, or was then, an ideal home of wild game, and a resort for the wild hunters, both four - footed and human. Just here the stream, dammed of many beaver, widens its timbered bottoms, while its high banks and the rough country beyond are studded with dwarf pines and gullied here and there with canon-like dry creeks.

Here the silvertip held supreme sway over all animals, barring an occasional contest with the mountain lion and with the buffalo bull upon the adjoining plains. It is true that these two were as often victorious as he of the big claws and sharp incisors, yet he remained the terror of that region, for he alone takes every opportunity to fight and is reckless in his courage, while other chiefs of the Wild Land prefer to avoid unnecessary trouble.

Igmutanka, the puma mother, had taken her leave of her two little tawny babes about the middle of the afternoon. The last bone of the buffalo calf which she had brought home from her last hunt had been served for dinner. Polished clean by her sharp teeth, it lay in the den for the kittens to play with. Her mate had left her early on that former hunt, and had not returned. She was very nervous about it, for already she feared the worst.

Since she came to Bear-runs they had been together, and their chance acquaintance had become a love affair, and finally they had chosen and made a home for themselves. That was a home indeed ! Wildness, mystery, and beauty combined in its outlook and satisfied every craving of the savage pair. They could scarcely say that it was quiet; for while they were unassuming enough and willing to mind their own affairs, Wild Land is always noisy, and the hubbub of the wild people quite as great in its way as that of the city of man.

The stream was dammed so often that Igmu did not have to jump it. The water- worn cliffs, arching and overhanging every turn of the creek, were dark with pines and cedars. Since her babies came she had not ventured upon any long hunts, although ordinarily she was the more successful of the two.

Now Igtin was gone and she was very hungry. She must go out to get meat. So, after admonishing her babies to be still during her absence, and not to come out of their den when Shunktokecha, the wolf, should invite them to do so, she went away.

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