Now he heaped it high, throwing on without stint withered hemlock boughs and massive logs, which were soon wrapped in a sheet of flame, making an isle of light amid a surrounding sea of impenetrable darkness.
Many times during the night the watchful fellow arose to replenish this fire, so that there might be no decrease in the flood of heat which entered the tent, and kept his charges comfortable. Once, while he was so engaged, the placid sleepers whom he had noiselessly quitted were aroused to terror—sudden, bewildering night-terror—by a gasping cry from his lips, followed by the leaping and rushing of some brute in flight, and by a screech which was one defiant note of unutterable savagery.
“Good heavens! What’s that?” said Cyrus.
“Is it—can it—could it be a panther?” stammered Dol.
“Get out!” answered Neal contemptuously. “The panthers have got out long ago, so every one says.”
“A lynx! A Canada lynx, boys, as sure as death and taxes!” panted Herb Heal, springing into the tent on the instant, with a burning brand in his hand. “’Tain’t any use your tumbling out, for you won’t see him. He’s away in the thick of the woods now.”
Cyrus gurgled inarticulate disappointment. At the first two words he had sprung to his legs, having never encountered a lynx.
“The brute must have been prowling round our tent,” went on Herb, his voice thick from excitement. “He leaped past me just as I was stooping to fix the fire, and startled me so that I guess I hollered. He got about half a dozen yards off, then turned and crouched as if he was going to spring back. Luckily, the axe was lying by me, just where I had tossed it down after chopping the last heap of logs. I caught it up, and flung it at him. It struck him on the side, and curled him up. I thought he was badly hurt; but he jumped the next moment, screeched, and made off. A pleasant scream he has; sounds kind o’ cheerful at night, don’t it?”
No one answered this sarcasm; and Herb flung himself again upon his boughs, pulling his worn blanket round him, determined not to relinquish his night’s sleep because a lynx had visited his camp. The city fellows sensibly tried to follow his example; but again and again one of them would shake himself, and rise stealthily, convinced that he heard the blood-curdling screech ringing through the silent night.
It was nearly morning before fatigue at last overmastered every sensation, and the three fell into an unbroken sleep, which lasted until the sun was high in the sky. When they awoke, their sense of smell was the first sense to be tickled. Fragrant odors of boiling coffee were floating into the tent. One after another they scrambled up, threw on their coats, and hurried out to find their guide kneeling by the camp-fire on the very spot from which he had hurled his axe at the lynx a few hours before. But now his right hand held a green stick, on which he was toasting some slices of pork into crisp, appetizing curls.