Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
Next morning Jones was out bright and early, yelling at Navvy to hurry with the horses, calling to the hounds and lions, just as usual.
Navvy had finally come to his full share of praise from all of us. Even Jim acknowledged that the Indian was invaluable to a hunting party in a country where grass and water were hard to find and wild horses haunted the trails.
"Tohodena! Tohodena! (hurry! hurry!)" said Navvy, mimicking Jones that morning.
As we sat down to breakfast he loped off into the forest and before we got up the bells of the horses were jingling in the hollow.
"I believe it's going to be cloudy," said Jones, "and if so we can hunt all day."
We rode down the ridge to the left of Middle Canyon, and had trouble with the hounds all the way. First they ran foul of a coyote, which was the one and only beast they could not resist. Spreading out to head them off, we separated. I cut into a hollow and rode to its head, where I went up. I heard the hounds and presently saw a big, white coyote making fast time through the forest glades. It looked as if he would cross close in front of me, so I pulled Foxie to a standstill, jumped off and knelt with my rifle ready. But the sharp-eyed coyote saw my horse and shied off. I had not much hope to hit him so far away, and the five bullets I sent after him, singing and zipping, served only to make him run faster. I mounted Foxie and intercepted the hounds coming up sharply on the trail, and turned them toward my companions, now hallooing from the ridge below.
Then the pack lost a good hour on several lion tracks that were a day old, and for such trails we had no time. We reached the cedars however at seven o'clock, and as the sky was overcast with low dun-colored clouds and the air cool, we were sure it was not too late.
One of the capes of the plateau between Middle and Left Canyon was a narrow strip of rock, covered with a dense cedar growth and cut up into smaller canyons, all running down inevitably toward the great canyon. With but a single bark to warn us, Don got out of our sight and hearing; and while we split to look and call for him the remainder of the pack found the lion trail that he had gone on, and they left us trying to find a way out as well as to find each other. I kept the hounds in hearing for some time and meanwhile I signalled to Emett who was on my right flank. Jones and Jim might as well have vanished off the globe for all I could see or hear of them. A deep, narrow gully into which I had to lead Foxie and carefully coax him out took so much time that when I once more reached a level I could not hear the hounds or get an answer to my signal cry.
"Waa-hoo!" I called again.
Away on the dry rarified air pealed the cry, piercing the cedar forest, splitting sharp in the vaulted canyons, rolling loud and long, to lose power, to die away in muffling echo. But the silence returned no answer.
I rode on under the cedars, through a dark, gloomy forest, silent, almost spectral, which brought irresistibly to my mind the words "I found me in a gloomy wood astray." I was lost though I knew the direction of the camp. This section of cedar forest was all but impenetrable. Dead cedars were massed in gray tangles, live cedars, branches touching the ground, grew close together. In this labyrinth I lost my bearings. I turned and turned, crossed my own back trail, which in desperation I followed, coming out of the cedars at the deep and narrow canyon.
Here I fired my revolver. The echo boomed out like the report of heavy artillery, but no answering shot rewarded me. There was no alternative save to wander along the canyon and through the cedars until I found my companions. This I began to do, disgusted with my awkwardness in losing them. Turning Foxie westward I had scarcely gotten under way when Don came trotting toward me.
"Hello, old boy!" I called. Don appeared as happy to see me as I was to see him. He flopped down on the ground; his dripping tongue rolled as he panted; covered with dust and flecked with light froth he surely looked to be a tired hound.
"All in, eh Don!" I said dismounting. "Well, we'll rest awhile." Then I discovered blood on his nose, which I found to have come from a deep scratch. "A--ah! been pushing a lion too hard this morning? Got your nose scratched, didn't you? You great, crazy hound, don't you know some day you'll chase your last lion?"
Don wagged his tail as if to say he knew it all very well. I wet my handkerchief from my canteen and started to wash the blood and dust from his nose, when he whined and licked my fingers.
"Thirsty?" I asked, sitting down beside him. Denting the top of my hat I poured in as much water as it would hold and gave him to drink. Four times he emptied my improvised cup before he was satisfied. Then with a sigh of relief he lay down again.
The three of us rested there for perhaps half an hour, Don and I sitting quietly on the wall of the canyon, while Foxie browsed on occasional tufts of grass. During that time the hound never raised his sleek, dark head, which showed conclusively the nature of the silence. And now that I had company--as good company as any hunter ever had--I was once more contented.
Don got up, at length of his own volition and with a wag of his tail set off westward along the rim. Remounting my mustang I kept as close to Don's heels as the rough going permitted. The hound, however, showed no disposition to hurry, and I let him have his way without a word.
We came out in the notch of the great amphitheater or curve we had named the Bay, and I saw again the downward slope, the bold steps, the color and depth below.
I was just about to yell a signal cry when I saw Don, with hair rising stiff, run forward. He took a dozen jumps, then yelping broke down the steep, yellow and green gorge. He disappeared before I knew what had happened.
Shortly I found a lion track, freshly made, leading down. I believed I could follow wherever Don led, so I decided to go after him. I tied Foxie securely, removed my coat, kicked off spurs and chaps, and remembering past unnecessary toil, fastened a red bandana to the top of a dead snag to show me where to come up on my way out. Then I carefully strapped my canteen and camera on my back, made doubly secure my revolver, put on my heavy gloves, and started down. And I realized at once that only so lightly encumbered should I have ever ventured down the slope.
Little benches of rock, grassy on top, with here and there cedar trees, led steeply down for perhaps five hundred feet. A precipice stopped me. From it I heard Don baying below, and almost instantly saw the yellow gleam of a lion in a tree-top.
"Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" I yelled in wild encouragement.
I felt it would be wise to look before I leaped. The Bay lay under me, a mile wide where it opened into the great slumbering smoky canyon. All below was chaos of splintered stone and slope, green jumble of cedar, ruined, detached, sliding, standing cliff walls, leaning yellow crags--an awful hole. But I could get down, and that was all I cared for. I ran along to the left, jumping cracks, bounding over the uneven stones with sure, swift feet, and came to where the cliff ended in weathered slope and scaly bench.
It was like a game, going down that canyon. My heavy nailed boots struck fire from the rocks. My heavy gloves protected my hands as I slid and hung on and let go. I outfooted the avalanches and wherever I came to a scaly slope or bank or decayed rock, I leaped down in sheer delight.
But all too soon my progress was barred; once under the cliff I found only a gradual slope and many obstacles to go round or surmount. Luck favored me, for I ran across a runway and keeping to it made better time. I heard Don long before I tried to see him, and yelled at intervals to let him know I was coming. A white bank of weathered stones led down to a clump of cedars from where Don's bay came spurring me to greater efforts. I flew down this bank, and through an opening saw the hound standing with fore feet against a cedar. The branches over him swayed, and I saw an indistinct, tawny form move downward in the air. Then succeeded the crash and rattle of stones. Don left the tree and disappeared.
I dashed down, dodged under the cedars, threaded a maze of rocks, to find myself in a ravine with a bare, water-worn floor. In patches of sand showed the fresh tracks of Don and the lion. Running down this dry, clean bed was the easiest going I ever found in the canyon. Every rod the course jumped in a fall from four to ten feet, often more, and these I slid down. How I ever kept Don in hearing was a marvel, but still I did.
The lion evidently had no further intention of taking to a tree. From the size of his track I concluded he was old and I feared every moment to hear the sounds of a fight. Jones had said that nearly always in the case of one hound chasing an old lion, the lion would lie in wait for him and kill him. And I was afraid for Don.
Down, down, down, we went, till the yellow rim above seemed a thin band of gold. I saw that we were almost to the canyon proper, and I wondered what would happen when we reached it. The dark shaded watercourse suddenly shot out into bright light and ended in a deep cove, with perpendicular walls fifty feet high. I could see where a few rods farther on this cove opened into a huge, airy, colored canyon.
I called the hound, wondering if he had gone to the right or left of the cove. His bay answered me coming from the cedars far to the right. I turned with all the speed left in me, for I felt the chase nearing an end. Tracks of hound and lion once more showed in the dust. The slope was steep and stones I sent rolling cracked down below. Soon I had a cliff above me and had to go slow and cautiously. A misstep or slide would have precipitated me into the cove.
Almost before I knew what I was about, I stood gasping on the gigantic second wall of the canyon, with nothing but thin air under me, except, far below, faint and indistinct purple clefts, red ridges, dotted slopes, running down to merge in a dark, winding strip of water, that was the Rio Colorado. A sullen murmur soared out of the abyss.
The coloring of my mood changed. Never had the canyon struck me so terribly with its illimitable space, its dread depth, its unscalable cliffs, and particularly with the desolate, forbidding quality of its silence.
I heard Don bark. Turning the corner of the cliff wall I saw him on a narrow shelf. He was coming toward me and when he reached me he faced again to the wall and barked fiercely. The hair on his neck bristled. I knew he did not fancy that narrow strip of rock, nor did I. But a sudden, grim, cold something had taken possession of me, and I stepped forward.
"Come on, Don, old fellow, we've got him corralled."
That was the first instance I ever knew of Don's hesitation in the chase of a lion. I had to coax him to me. But once started he took the lead and I closely followed.
The shelf was twenty feet wide and upon it close to the wall, in the dust, were the deep imprints of the lion. A jutting corner of cliff wall hid my view. I peeped around it. The shelf narrowed on the other side to a yard in width, and climbed gradually by broken steps. Don passed the corner, looked back to see if I was coming and went on. He did this four times, once even stopping to wait for me.
"I'm with you Don!" I grimly muttered. "We'll see this trail out to a finish."
I had now no eyes for the wonders of the place, though I could not but see as I bent a piercing gaze ahead the ponderous overhanging wall above, and sense the bottomless depth below. I felt rather than saw the canyon swallows, sweeping by in darting flight, with soft rustle of wings, and I heard the shrill chirp of some strange cliff inhabitant.
Don ceased barking. How strange that seemed to me! We were no longer man and hound, but companions, brothers, each one relying on the other. A protruding corner shut us from sight of what was beyond. Don slipped around. I had to go sidewise and shuddered as my fingers bit into the wall.
To my surprise I soon found myself on the floor of a shallow wind cave. The lion trail led straight across it and on. Shelves of rock stuck out above under which I hurriedly walked. I came upon a shrub cedar growing in a niche and marveled to see it there. Don went slower and slower.
We suddenly rounded a point, to see the lion lying in a box-like space in the wall. The shelf ended there. I had once before been confronted with a like situation, and had expected to find it here, so was not frightened. The lion looked up from his task of licking a bloody paw, and uttered a fierce growl. His tail began to lash to and fro; it knocked the little stones off the shelf. I heard them click on the wall. Again and again he spat, showing great, white fangs. He was a Tom, heavy and large.
It had been my purpose, of course, to photograph this lion, and now that we had cornered him I proposed to do it. What would follow had only hazily formed in my mind, but the nucleus of it was that he should go free. I got my camera, opened it, and focused from between twenty and twenty-five feet.
Then a growl from Don and roar from the lion bade me come to my senses. I did so and my first movement after seeing the lion had risen threateningly was to whip out my revolver.
The lion's cruel yellow eyes darkened and darkened. In an instant I saw my error. Jones had always said in case any one of us had to face a lion, never for a single instant to shift his glance. I had forgotten that, and in that short interval when I focused my camera the lion had seen I meant him no harm, or feared him, and he had risen. Even then in desperate lessening ambition for a great picture I attempted to take one, still keeping my glance on him.
It was then that the appalling nature of my predicament made itself plain to me. The lion leaped ten feet and stood snarling horribly right in my face.
Brave, noble Don, with infinitely more sense and courage than I possessed, faced the lion and bayed him in his teeth. I raised the revolver and aimed twice, each time lowering it because I feared to shoot in such a precarious position. To wound the lion would be the worst thing I could do, and I knew that only a shot through the brain would kill him in his tracks.
"Hold him, Don, hold him!" I yelled, and I took a backward step. The lion put forward one big paw, his eyes now all purple blaze. I backed again and he came forward. Don gave ground slowly. Once the lion flashed a yellow paw at him. It was frightful to see the wide-spread claws.
In the consternation of the moment I allowed the lion to back me across the front of the wind cave, where I saw, the moment it was too late, I should have taken advantage of more space to shoot him.
Fright succeeded consternation, and I began to tremble. The lion was master of the situation. What would happen when I came to the narrow point on the shelf where it would be impossible for me to back around? I almost fainted. The thought of heroic Don saved me, and the weak moment passed.
"By God, Don, you've got the nerve, and I must have it too!"
I stopped in my tracks. The lion, appearing huge now, took slow catlike steps toward me, backing Don almost against my knees. He was so close I smelt him. His wonderful eyes, clear blue fire circled by yellow flame, fascinated me. Hugging the wall with my body I brought the revolver up, short armed, and with clinched teeth, and nerve strained to the breaking point, I aimed between the eyes and pulled the trigger.
The left eye seemed to go out blankly, then followed the bellow of the revolver and the smell of powder. The lion uttered a sound that was a mingling of snarls, howls and roars and he rose straight up, towering high over my head, beating the wall heavily with his paws.
In helpless terror I stood there forgetting weapon, fearing only the beast would fall over on me.
But in death agony he bounded out from the wall to fall into space.
I sank down on the shelf, legs powerless, body in cold sweat. As I waited, slowly my mind freed itself from a tight iron band and a sickening relief filled my soul. Tensely I waited and listened. Don whined once.
Would the lion never strike? What seemed a long period of time ended in a low, distant roar of sliding rock, quickly dying into the solemn stillness of the canyon.