An imaginative story about one of New Brunswick’s most puzzling mysteries
Just two or three more weeks of work and he’d be free. Just two or three more weeks to build the pile of bills and coins he’d need to buy the inn above the fast-flowing Dungarvon River and then to set up himself and Mary there as landlord and landlady. He’d spoken already to the owner, asked him to hold off selling for a space while he plied his trade in yet another Miramichi lumber camp, cooking the plain victuals for men who never thanked him as they should. Soon enough, he’d have his own kitchen, his own neat dining room with lacy cloths and china Mary’d picked, and guests he’d handpicked as well, another less elegant room for those woodsmen whose mouths he now was filling, for when they came to town for drink and mayhem, a pass-through cut into the wall to keep the kitchen girls and Mary too away from their hands.
Just two or three more weeks. When he’d signed on, he’d shown his purse, he’d kept it belted round his waist lest it be stolen from him in the night. He’d shown the boss and let him know that he’d work for him for just those two or three more weeks, until another cook could be found that had less lofty ambitions.
“Why Ryan,” the boss had said, “that purse looks heavy enough already. It won’t be much more the heavy with the little that I can pay you.” But it would be enough in two or three more weeks.
Each night he’d slept he’d kept his purse about his waist. Each morning with the breakfast made and lunch pails full of plain yet hearty fare, he gave a whoop to call them all to the table. They’d enter grumbling, for unlike him they’d sleep till doomsday if they could, with no more thought than where the next night’s drink would come from.
One night as he was walking to his bunk, he’d seen the blood upon the snow, a rabbit’s torn carcass a little further on. He’d seen a sandy-coloured beast with amber eyes that watched him from the brush. He’d heard its cry the night before, a scream like that of a creature enraged or one bereft, a scream to turn the blood to stone.
Next morning he lay upon the wooden planks before the stove. No wound was seen to stain the wood. The boss who stood beside him when the men slowly straggled in, for there had been no call to rouse them, said he had been taken with a fit and had just drawn his last breath. His purse was gone, sent, the boss said, ahead to his intended so she could buy the inn.
It snowed that day as if the heavens were emptying. They put him in a shallow grave, as deep as they could dig before the snow piled high above the ground, and as they returned to eat their cold collation, for there had been no cutting that day, nor cooking either, they saw a trace of blood upon the snow, the tracks of a big cat, and heard its chilling whoop.
Next day the boss was gone, and soon they heard that he had bought the inn and married the wife that had promised herself to Ryan. That night and many nights to come, in bed they heard the chilling cry.
“It’s that blasted cougar,” said the boss, now landlord. “He’ll never stop that infernal whooping.”