Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
IX
 

One by one my companions sought their blankets, leaving the shadows, the dying embers, the slow-rising moan of the night wind to me. Old Moze got up from among the other hounds and limped into my tent, where I heard him groan as he lay down. Don, Sounder, and Ranger were fast asleep in well-earned rest. Shep, one of the pups, whined and impatiently tossed his short chain. Remembering that he had not been loose all day, I unbuckled his collar and let him go.

He licked my hand, stretched and shook himself, lifted his shapely, sleek head and sniffed the wind. He trotted around the circle cast by the fire and looked out into the darkening shadows. It was plain that Shep's instincts were developing fast; he was ambitious to hunt. But sure in my belief that he was afraid of the black night and would stay in camp, I went to bed.

The Navajo who slept with me snored serenely and Moze growled in his dreams; the wind swept through the pines with an intermittent rush. Some time in the after part of the night I heard a distant sound. Remote, mournful, wild, it sent a chill creeping over me. Borne faintly to my ears, it was a fit accompaniment to the moan of the wind in the pines. It was not the cry of a trailing wolf, nor the lonesome howl of a prowling coyote, nor the strange, low sound, like a cough, of a hunting cougar, though it had a semblance of all three. It was the bay of a hound, thinned out by distance, and it served to keep me wide awake. But for a while, what with the roar and swell of the wind and Navvy's snores, I could hear it only at long intervals.

Still, in the course of an hour, I followed the sound, or imagined so, from a point straight in line with my feet to one at right angles with my head. Finally deciding it came from Shep, and fancying he was trailing a deer or coyote, I tried to go to sleep again.

In this I would have succeeded had not, all at once, our captive lions begun to growl. That ominous, low murmuring awoke me with a vengeance, for it was unusual for them to growl in the middle of the night. I wondered if they, as well as the pup, had gotten the scent of a prowling lion.

I reached down to my feet and groped in the dark for Moze. Finding him, I gave him a shake. The old gladiator groaned, stirred, and came out of what must have been dreams of hunting meat. He slapped his tail against my bed. As luck would have it, just then the wind abated to a soft moan, and clear and sharp came the bay of a hound. Moze heard it, for he stopped wagging his tail, his body grew tense under my hand, and he vented his low, deep grumble.

I lay there undecided. To wake my companions was hardly to be considered, and to venture off into the forest alone, where old Sultan might be scouting, was not exactly to my taste. And trying to think what to do, and listening for the bay of the pup, and hearing mostly the lions growling and the wind roaring, I fell asleep.

"Hey! are you ever going to get up?" some one yelled into my drowsy brain. I roused and opened my eyes. The yellow, flickering shadows on the wall of my tent told me that the sun had long risen. I found my companions finishing breakfast. The first thing I did was to look over the dogs. Shep, the black-and-white pup, was missing.

"Where's Shep?" I asked.

"Shore, I ain't seen him this mornin'," replied Jim.

Thereupon I told what I had heard during the night.

"Everybody listen," said Jones.

We quieted down and sat like statues. A gentle, cool breeze, barely moving the pine tips, had succeeded the night wind. The sound of horses munching their oats, and an occasional clink, rattle, and growl from the lions did not drown the faint but unmistakable yelps of a pup.

"South, toward the canyon," said Jim, as Jones got up.

"Now, it'd be funny if that little Shep, just to get even with me for tying him up so often, has treed a lion all by himself," commented Jones. "And I'll bet that's just what he's done."

He called the hounds about him and hurried westward through the forest.

"Shore, it might be." Jim shook his head knowingly. "I reckon it's only a rabbit, but anythin' might happen in this place."

I finished breakfast and went into my tent for something--I forget what, for wild yells from Emett and Jim brought me flying out again.

"Listen to that!" cried Jim, pointing west.

The hounds had opened up; their full, wild chorus floated clearly on the breeze, and above it Jones' stentorian yell signaled us.

"Shore, the old man can yell," continued Jim. "Grab your lassos an' hump yourselves. I've got the collar an' chain."

"Come on, Navvy," shouted Emett. He grasped the Indian's wrist and started to run, jerking Navvy into the air at every jump. I caught up my camera and followed. We crossed two shallow hollows, and then saw the hounds and Jones among the pines not far ahead.

In my excitement I outran my companions and dashed into an open glade. First I saw Jones waving his long arms; next the dogs, noses upward, and Don actually standing on his hind legs; then a dead pine with a well-known tawny shape outlined against the blue sky.

"Hurrah for Shep!" I yelled, and right vigorously did my comrades join in.

"It's another female," said Jones, when we calmed down, "and fair sized. That's the best tree for our purpose that I ever saw a lion in. So spread out, boys; surround her and keep noisy."

Navvy broke from Emett at this juncture and ran away. But evidently overcome by curiosity, he stopped to hide behind a bush, from which I saw his black head protruding.

When Jones swung himself on the first stubby branch of the pine, the lioness, some fifteen feet above, leaped to another limb, and the one she had left cracked, swayed and broke. It fell directly upon Jones, the blunt end striking his head and knocking him out of the tree. Fortunately, he landed on his feet; otherwise there would surely have been bones broken. He appeared stunned, and reeled so that Emett caught him. The blood poured from a wound in his head.

This sudden shock sobered us instantly. On examination we found a long, jagged cut in Jones' scalp. We bathed it with water from my canteen and with snow Jim procured from a nearby hollow, eventually stopping the bleeding. I insisted on Jones coming to camp to have the wound properly dressed, and he insisted on having it bound with a bandana; after which he informed us that he was going to climb the tree again.

We objected to this. Each of us declared his willingness to go up and rope the lion; but Jones would not hear of it.

"I'm not doubting your courage," he said. "It's only that you cannot tell what move the lion would make next, and that's the danger."

We could not gainsay this, and as not one of us wanted to kill the animal or let her go, Jones had his way. So he went up the tree, passed the first branch and then another. The lioness changed her position, growled, spat, clawed the twigs, tried to keep the tree trunk between her and Jones, and at length got out on a branch in a most favorable position for roping.

The first cast of the lasso did the business, and Jim and Emett with nimble fingers tied up the hounds.

"Coming," shouted Jones. He slid down, hand over hand, on the rope, the lioness holding his weight with apparent ease.

"Make your noose ready," he yelled to Emett.

I had to drop my camera to help Jones and Jim pull the animal from her perch. The branches broke in a shower; then the lioness, hissing, snarling, whirling, plunged down. She nearly jerked the rope out of our hands, but we lowered her to Emett, who noosed her hind paws in a flash.

"Make fast your rope," shouted Jones. "There, that's good! Now let her down--easy."

As soon as the lioness touched ground we let go the lasso, which whipped up and over the branch. She became a round, yellow, rapidly moving ball. Emett was the first to catch the loose lasso, and he checked the rolling cougar. Jones leaped to assist him and the two of them straightened out the struggling animal, while Jim swung another noose at her. On the second throw he caught a front paw.

"Pull hard! Stretch her out!" yelled Jones. He grasped a stout piece of wood and pushed it at the lioness. She caught it in her mouth, making the splinters fly. Jones shoved her head back on the ground and pressed his brawny knee on the bar of wood.

"The collar! The collar! Quick!" he called.

I threw chain and collar to him, which in a moment he had buckled round her neck.

"There, we've got her!" he said. "It's only a short way over to camp, so we'll drag her without muzzling."

As he rose the lioness lurched, and reaching him, fastened her fangs in his leg. Jones roared. Emett and Jim yelled. And I, though frightened, was so obsessed with the idea of getting a picture that I began to fumble with the shutter of my camera.

"Grab the chain! Pull her off!" bawled Jones.

I ran in, took up the chain with both hands, and tugged with all my might. Emett, too, had all his weight on the lasso round her neck. Between the two of us we choked her hold loose, but she brought Jones' leather leggin in her teeth. Then I dropped the chain and jumped.

"**-- **--!" exploded Jones to me. "Do you think more of a picture than of saving my life?" Having expressed this not unreasonable protest, he untied the lasso that Emett had made fast to a small sapling.

Then the three men, forming points of a triangle around an animated center, began a march through the forest that for variety of action and splendid vociferation beat any show I ever beheld.

So rare was it that the Navajo came out of his retreat and, straightway forgetting his reverence and fear, began to execute a ghost-dance, or war-dance, or at any rate some kind of an Indian dance, along the side lines.

There were moments when the lioness had Jim and Jones on the ground and Emett wobbling; others when she ran on her bound legs and chased the two in front and dragged the one behind; others when she came within an ace of getting her teeth in somebody.

They had caught a Tartar. They dared not let her go, and though Jones evidently ordered it, no one made fast his rope to a tree. There was no opportunity. She was in the air three parts of the time and the fourth she was invisible for dust. The lassos were each thirty feet long, but even with that the men could just barely keep out of her reach.

Then came the climax, as it always comes in a lion hunt, unerringly, unexpectedly, and with lightning swiftness. The three men were nearing the bottom of the second hollow, well spread out, lassos taut, facing one another. Jones stumbled and the lioness leaped his way. The weight of both brought Jim over, sliding and slipping, with his rope slackening. The leap of the lioness carried her within reach of Jones; and as he raised himself, back toward her, she reached a big paw for him just as Emett threw all his bull strength and bulk on his lasso.

The seat of Jones' trousers came away with the lioness' claws. Then she fell backward, overcome by Emett's desperate lunge. Jones sprang up with the velocity of an Arab tumbler, and his scarlet face, working spasmodically, and his moving lips, showed how utterly unable he was to give expression to his rage. I had a stitch in my side that nearly killed me, but laugh I had to though I should die for it.

No laughing matter was it for them. They volleyed and thundered back and forth meaningless words of which "hell" was the only one distinguishable, and probably the word that best described their situation.

All the while, however, they had been running from the lioness, which brought them before they realized it right into camp. Our captive lions cut up fearfully at the hubbub, and the horses stampeded in terror.

"Whoa!" yelled Jones, whether to his companions or to the struggling cougar, no one knew. But Navvy thought Jones addressed the cougar.

"Whoa!" repeated Navvy. "No savvy whoa! No savvy whoa!" which proved conclusively that the Navajo had understanding as well as wit.

Soon we had another captive safely chained and growling away in tune with the others. I went back to untie the hounds, to find them sulky and out of sorts from being so unceremoniously treated. They noisily trailed the lioness into camp, where, finding her chained, they formed a ring around her.

Thereafter the day passed in round-the-camp-fire chat and task. For once Jim looked at Navvy with toleration. We dressed the wound in Jones' head and laughed at the condition of his trousers and at his awkward attempts to piece them.

"Mucha dam cougie," remarked Navvy. "No savvy whoa!"

The lions growled all day. And Jones kept repeating: "To think how Shep fooled me!"