Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
XI
 

I lay there for some moments slowly recovering, eyes on the far distant escarpments, now darkly red and repellent to me. When I got up my legs were still shaky and I had the strange, weak sensation of a long bed-ridden invalid. Three attempts were necessary before I could trust myself on the narrow strip of shelf. But once around it with the peril passed, I braced up and soon reached the turn in the wall.

After that the ascent out of the Bay was only a matter of work, which I gave with a will. Don did not evince any desire for more hunting that day. We reached the rim together, and after a short rest, I mounted my horse, and we turned for camp.

The sun had long slanted toward the western horizon when I saw the blue smoke of our camp-fire among the pines. The hounds rose up and barked as Don trotted in to the blaze, and my companions just sitting to a dinner, gave me a noisy greeting.

"Shore, we'd began to get worried," said Jim. "We all had it comin' to us to-day, and don't you forget that."

Dinner lasted for a long hour. Besides being half famished we all took time between bites to talk. I told my story first, expecting my friends to be overwhelmed, but they were not.

"It's been the greatest day of lion hunting that I ever experienced," declared Jones. "We ran bang into a nest of lions and they split. We all split and the hounds split. That tells the tale. We have nothing to show for our day's toil. Six lions chased, rounded up, treed, holed, and one lion killed, and we haven't even his skin to show. I did not go down but I helped Ranger and two of the pups chase a lion all over the lower end of the plateau. We treed him twice and I yelled for you fellows till my voice was gone."

"Well," said Emett, "I fell in with Sounder and Jude. They were hot on a trail which in a mile or two turned up this way. I came on them just at the edge of the pines where they had treed their game. I sat under that pine tree for five hours, fired all my shots to make you fellows come, yelled myself hoarse and then tried to tie up the lion alone. He jumped out and ran over the rim, where neither I nor the dogs could follow."

"Shore, I win, three of a kind," drawled Jim, as he got his pipe and carefully dusted the bowl. "When the stampede came, I got my hands on Moze and held him. I held Moze because just as the other hounds broke loose over to my right, I saw down into a little pocket where a fresh-killed deer lay half eaten. So I went down. I found two other carcasses layin' there, fresh killed last night, flesh all gone, hide gone, bones crushed, skull split open. An' damn me fellows, if that little pocket wasn't all torn to pieces. The sage was crushed flat. The ground dug up, dead snags broken, and blood and hair everywhere. Lion tracks like leaves, and old Sultan's was there. I let Moze loose and he humped the trail of several lions south over the rim. Major got down first an' came back with his tail between his legs. Moze went down and I kept close to him. It wasn't far down, but steep and rocky, full of holes. Moze took the trail to a dark cave. I saw the tracks of three lions goin' in. Then I collared Moze an' waited for you fellows. I waited there all day, an' nobody came to my call. Then I made for camp."

"How do you account for the torn-up appearance of the place where you found the carcasses?" I asked.

"Lion fight sure," replied Jones. "Maybe old Sultan ran across the three lions feeding, and pitched into them. Such fights were common among the lions in Yellowstone Park when I was there."

"What chance have we to find those three lions in a cave where Jim chased them?"

"We stand a good chance," said Jones. "Especially if it storms to-night."

"Shore the snow storm is comin'," returned Jim.

Darkness clapped down on us suddenly, and the wind roared in the pines like a mighty river tearing its way down a rocky pass. As we could not control the camp-fire, sparks of which blew fiercely, we extinguished it and went to bed. I had just settled myself comfortably to be sung to sleep by the concert in the pines, when Jones hailed me.

"Say, what do you think?" he yelled, when I had answered him. "Emett is mad. He's scratching to beat the band. He's got 'em."

I signalled his information with a loud whoop of victory.

"You next, Jones! They're coming to you!"

I heard him grumble over my happy anticipation. Jim laughed and so did the Navajo, which made me suspect that he could understand more English than he wanted us to suppose.

Next morning a merry yell disturbed my slumbers. "Snowed in--snowed in!"

"Mucha snow--discass--no cougie--dam no bueno!" exclaimed Navvy.

When I peeped out to see the forest in the throes of a blinding blizzard, the great pines only pale, grotesque shadows, everything white mantled in a foot of snow, I emphasized the Indian words in straight English.

"Much snow--cold--no cougar--bad!"

"Stay in bed," yelled Jones.

"All right," I replied. "Say Jones, have you got 'em yet?"

He vouchsafed me no answer. I went to sleep then and dozed off and on till noon, when the storm abated. We had dinner, or rather breakfast, round a blazing bonfire.

"It's going to clear up," said Jim.

The forest around us was a somber and gloomy place. The cloud that had enveloped the plateau lifted and began to move. It hit the tree tops, sometimes rolling almost to the ground, then rising above the trees. At first it moved slowly, rolling, forming, expanding, blooming like a column of whirling gray smoke; then it gathered headway and rolled onward through the forest. A gray, gloomy curtain, moving and rippling, split by the trees, seemed to be passing over us. It rose higher and higher, to split up in great globes, to roll apart, showing glimpses of blue sky.

Shafts of golden sunshine shot down from these rifts, dispelling the shadows and gloom, moving in paths of gold through the forest glade, gleaming with brilliantly colored fire from the snow-wreathed pines.

The cloud rolled away and the sun shone hot. The trees began to drip. A mist of diamonds filled the air, rainbows curved through every glade and feathered patches of snow floated down.

A great bank of snow, sliding from the pine overhead almost buried the Navajo, to our infinite delight. We all sought the shelter of the tents, and sleep again claimed us.

I awoke about five o'clock. The sun was low, making crimson paths in the white aisles of the forest. A cold wind promised a frosty morning.

"To-morrow will be the day for lions," exclaimed Jones.

While we hugged the fire, Navvy brought up the horses and gave them their oats. The hounds sought their shelter and the lions lay hidden in their beds of pine. The round red sun dropped out of sight beyond the trees, a pink glow suffused all the ridges; blue shadows gathered in the hollow, shaded purple and stole upward. A brief twilight succeeded to a dark, coldly starlit night.

Once again, when I had crawled into the warm hole of my sleeping bag, was I hailed from the other tent.

Emett called me twice, and as I answered, I heard Jones remonstrating in a low voice.

"Shore, Jones has got 'em!" yelled Jim. "He can't keep it a secret no longer."

"Hey, Jones," I cried, "do you remember laughing at me?"

"No, I don't," growled Jones.

"Listen to this: Haw-haw! haw! haw! ho-ho! ho-ho! bueno! bueno!" and I wound up with a string of "hi! hi! hi! hi! hi!"

The hounds rose up in a body and began to yelp.

"Lie down, pups," I called to them. "Nothing doing for you. It's only Jones has got 'em."