Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
VIII
 

How long Jim and I sat there we never knew. The second tragedy, not so pitiful but as heart sickening as the first, crushed our spirits.

"Shore he was a game lion," said Jim. "An' I'll have to get his skin."

"I'm all in, Jim. I couldn't climb out of that hole." I said.

"You needn't. Rest a little, take a good drink an' leave your canteen here for me; then get your things back there on the trail an' climb out. We're not far from West Point. I'll go back after the first lion's skin an' then climb straight up. You lead my horse to the point where you came off the rim."

He clattered along the gorge knocking the stones and started down. I watched him letting himself over the end of the huge slabs until he passed out of my sight. A good, long drink revived me and I began the ascent.

From that moment on time did not matter to me. I forgot all about it. I felt only my leaden feet and my laboring chest and dripping skin. I did not even notice the additional weight of my rifle and camera though they must have overburdened me. I kept my eyes on the lion runway and plunged away with short steps. To look at these towering walls would have been to surrender.

At last, stumbling, bursting, sick, I gained the rim and had to rest before I could mount. When I did get into the saddle I almost fell from it.

Jones and Emett were waiting for me at the promontory where I had tied my horse, and were soon acquainted with the particulars of my adventure, and that Jim would probably not get out for hours. We made tracks for camp, and never did a place rouse in me such a sense of gratefulness. Emett got dinner and left on the fire a kettle of potato stew for Jim. It was almost dark when that worthy came riding into camp. We never said a word as he threw the two lion skins on the ground.

"Fellows, you shore have missed the wind-up!" he exclaimed.

We all looked at him and he looked at us.

"Was there any more?" I asked weakly.

"Shore! An' it beats hell! When I got the skin of the lion the dogs killed I started to work up to the place I knowed you'd leave my horse. It's bad climbing where you came down. I got on the side of that cliff an' saw where I could work out, if I could climb a smooth place. So I tried. There was little cracks an' ridges for my feet and hands. All to once, just above where I helped you down, I heard a growl. Looking up I saw a big lion, bigger'n any we chased except Sultan, an' he was pokin' his head out of a hole, an' shore telling me to come no further. I couldn't let go with either hand to reach my gun, because I'd have fallen, so I yelled at him with all my might. He spit at me an' then walked out of the hole over the bench as proud as a lord an' jumped down where I couldn't see him any more. I climbed out all right but he'd gone. An' I'll tell you for a minute, he shore made me sweat."

"By George!" I yelled, greatly excited. "I heard that lion breathing. Don chased him up there. I heard hard, wheezing breaths somewhere behind me, but in the excitement I didn't pay any attention to them. I thought it was Jones panting, but now I know what it meant."

"Shore. He was there all the time, lookin' at you an' maybe he could have reached you."

We were all too exhausted for more discussion and putting that off until the next day we sought our beds. It was hardly any wonder that I felt myself jumping even in my sleep, and started up wildly more than once in the dead of night.

Morning found us all rather subdued, yet more inclined to a philosophical resignation as regarded the difficulties of our special kind of hunting. Capturing the lions on the level of the plateau was easy compared to following them down into canyons and bringing them up alone. We all agreed that that was next to impossible. Another feature, which before we had not considered, added to our perplexity and it was a dawning consciousness that we would be perhaps less cruel if we killed the lions outright. Jones and Emett arrayed themselves on the side that life even in captivity was preferable; while Jim and I, no doubt still under the poignant influence of the last lion's heroic race and end, inclined to freedom or death. We compromised on the reasonable fact that as yet we had shown only a jackass kind of intelligence.

About eleven o'clock while the others had deserted camp temporarily for some reason or other, I was lounging upon an odorous bed of pine needles. The sun shone warmly, the sky gleamed bright azure through the openings of the great trees, a dry west breeze murmured through the forest. I was lying on my bed musing idly and watching a yellow woodpecker when suddenly I felt a severe bite on my shoulder. I imagined an ant had bitten me through my shirt. In a moment or so afterward I received, this time on my breast, another bite that left no room for imagination. There was some kind of an animal inside my shirt, and one that made a mosquito, black-fly, or flea seem tame.

Suddenly a thought swept on the heels of my indolent and rather annoying realization. Could I have gotten from the Navajo what Jim and Jones so characteristically called "'em"? I turned cold all over. And on the very instant I received another bite that burned like fire.

The return of my companions prevented any open demonstration of my fears and condition of mind, but I certainly swore inwardly. During the dinner hour I felt all the time as if I had on a horsehair shirt with the ends protruding toward my skin, and, in the exaggerated sensitiveness of the moment, made sure "'em" were chasing up and down my back.

After dinner I sneaked off into the woods. I remembered that Emett had said there was only one way to get rid of "'em," and that was to disrobe and make a microscopical search of garments and person. With serious mind and murderous intent I undressed. In the middle of the back of my jersey I discovered several long, uncanny, gray things.

"I guess I got 'em," I said gravely.

Then I sat on a pine log in a state of unadorned nature, oblivious to all around, intent only on the massacre of the things that had violated me. How much time flew I could not guess. Great loud "Haw-haws!" roused me to consternation. There behind me stood Jones and Emett shaking as if with the ague.

"It's not funny!" I shouted in a rage. I had the unreasonable suspicion that they had followed me to see my humiliation. Jones, who cracked a smile about as often as the equinoxes came, and Emett the sober Mormon, laughed until they cried.

"I was--just wondering--what your folks would--think--if they--saw you--now," gurgled Jones.

That brought to me the humor of the thing, and I joined in their mirth.

"All I hope is that you fellows will get 'em' too," I said.

"The Good Lord preserve me from that particular breed of Navvy's," cried Emett.

Jones wriggled all over at the mere suggestion. Now so much from the old plainsman, who had confessed to intimate relations with every creeping, crawling thing in the West, attested powerfully to the unforgettable singularity of what I got from Navvy.

I returned to camp determined to make the best of the situation, which owing to my failure to catch all of the gray devils, remained practically unchanged. Jim had been acquainted with my dilemma, as was manifest in his wet eyes and broad grin with which he greeted me.

"I think I'd scalp the Navvy," he said.

"You make the Indian sleep outside after this, snow or no snow," was Jones' suggestion.

"No I won't; I won't show a yellow streak like that. Besides, I want to give 'em to you fellows."

A blank silence followed my statement, to which Jim replied:

"Shore that'll be easy; Jones'll have 'em, so'll Emett, an' by thunder I'm scratchin' now."

"Navvy, look here," I said severely, "mucha no bueno! heap bad! You--me!" here I scratched myself and made signs that a wooden Indian would have understood.

"Me savvy," he replied, sullenly, then flared up. "Heap big lie."

He turned on his heel, erect, dignified, and walked away amid the roars of my gleeful comrades.