In the following excerpt from our historical adventure INTO THE AMERICAS (A novel based on a true story) young English seaman John Jewitt and American sailmaker Jonathan Thompson are pursued by Mowachaht savages as they cross Vancouver Island’s snow-covered mountain ranges in their attempt to reach the Strait of Georgia.
Anxious to catch sight of the escapees before nightfall, Maquina was keen to resume the chase. To his eyes, it was obvious their quarry had descended to the stream at the foot of the hill and then waded upstream, or possibly downstream, so as to leave no tracks. However, Katlahtik suspected otherwise. The tracker motioned to Maquina to study the false tracks more closely.
Mowachaht chief Maquina
Joining Katlahtik, the chief immediately saw what his tracker had noticed: on close inspection it was evident the borders of some of the tracks overlapped, signaling that whoever had made the tracks had stepped into the same tracks again.
Maquina smiled to himself. “The White-Faces have learnt much from us,” he said, looking eastward, “yet they still have much to learn.”
The chief set off after the escapees, his warriors in tow. They moved quickly now.
John and Thompson fought their way through dense undergrowth as they entered the timberline of the mountain range they’d just crossed. Aware they’d soon run out of daylight, they made haste, anxious to find a place to overnight before darkness finally descended.
Englishman John Jewitt…in later life.
The escapees were unaware they’d entered the territory of the Ehattesaht tribe, a warlike people whose violent history of interaction with whites would not have brought the pair any joy had they been aware of it. Right now, the Ehattesahts were the least of their problems. Hungry and exhausted, they were resigned to spending at least one more night in the mountains before they reached their destination.
“We gotta find shelter,” Thompson gasped, stating the obvious.
John nodded. He was very aware of the dangers a night in the open presented. Even though they’d reached the shelter of trees, there was still snow underfoot and the temperature was close to freezing. Unless they kept moving, he doubted they’d survive a night in the open.
They descended via a forest trail carved out by generations of elk and other animals of the region. Steep in places, it caused them to slip and slide their way down the mountainside.
Thompson tripped and John hurried to help him to his feet. When they looked up, a cougar appeared on the trail barely thirty yards ahead of them.
“Holy shit!” Thompson muttered.
The escapees froze. So, too did the cougar. She stood looking at the pair through huge eyes that seemed to glow almost orange in the semi-dark of the forest.
John’s first thought was for the musket he’d lost in the ravine. Next to him, Thompson was already unshouldering his musket.
“Easy!” John whispered, anxious that his companion made no sudden movement that could prompt the cougar to attack.
Thompson didn’t need any such warning. He moved so slowly it took him an age to unshoulder his musket. As he did, the cougar bared her fangs and growled. It was a long, low growl that was barely audible, but it sent shivers through the pair. Both were convinced the feline was viewing them as dinner.
Still the cougar made no move. Which was just as well as Thompson had yet to prime his musket. A task he could normally perform in a few seconds took him another age – by which time both he and John were sweating profusely despite the cold.
Anxious not to spook the cougar, John resisted the temptation to ask Thompson whether he was loading a musket ball or shot into the musket. He prayed it was the latter as firing pellets required less accuracy than did firing a solitary musket ball.
The cougar suddenly emitted a bone-chilling scream and pounced, her charge so quick Thompson barely had time to raise his musket and pull the trigger.
Strait of Georgia…the escapees’ intended destination.
Thompson’s aim was true, and the musket ball he’d just loaded struck the cougar between the eyes, killing her instantly. She hit the ground hard just ten yards from them, rolling over and over until she stopped almost at their feet.
“Great shot!” John rejoiced, the relief evident in his voice.
Thompson was momentarily speechless. He looked down at his hands and saw they were trembling violently. Then he started laughing.
John joined in the laughter. Their delight was unrestrained. Neither thought it odd. It seemed a natural way of expressing their huge relief, and neither gave any thought to the possibility others may have heard the shot.
Finally, Thompson said, “Well, fuck me! I thought we were gonners.”
As their laughter subsided, John said, “At least we have meat on tonight’s menu.”
Thompson looked down at the cougar and smiled as he pictured himself tucking into a meal of barbecued cougar rump.
You have been reading an excerpt from Into the Americas — available exclusively via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Into-Americas-novel-based-story-ebook/dp/B00YJKM51E/