Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
When we trooped out of the pines next morning, the sun, rising gloriously bright, had already taken off the keen edge of the frosty air, presaging a warm day. The white ridges glistened; the bunches of sage scintillated, and the cedars, tipped in snow, resembled trees with brilliant blossoms.
We lost no time riding for the mouth of Left Canyon, into which Jim had trailed the three lions. On the way the snow, as we had expected, began to thin out, and it failed altogether under the cedars, though there was enough on the branches to give us a drenching.
Jim reined in on the verge of a narrow gorge, and informed us the cave was below. Jones looked the ground over and said Jim had better take the hounds down while the rest of us remained above to await developments.
Jim went down on foot, calling the hounds and holding them close. We listened eagerly for him to yell or the pack to open up, but we were disappointed. In less than half an hour Jim came climbing out, with the information that the lions had left the cave, probably the evening after he had chased them there.
"Well, then," said Jones, "let's split the pack, and hunt round the rims of these canyons. We can signal to each other if necessary."
So we arranged for Jim to take Ranger and the pups across Left Canyon; Emett to try Middle Canyon, with Don and Moze, and we were to perform a like office in Right Canyon with Sounder and Jude. Emett rode back with us, leaving us where we crossed Middle Canyon.
Jones and I rimmed a mile of our canyon and worked out almost to the west end of the Bay, without finding so much as a single track, so we started to retrace our way. The sun was now hot; the snow all gone; the ground dry as if it had never been damp; and Jones grumbled that no success would attend our efforts this morning.
We reached the ragged mouth of Right Canyon, where it opened into the deep, wide Bay, and because we hoped to hear our companions across the canyon, we rode close to the rim. Sounder and Jude both began to bark on a cliff; however, as we could find no tracks in the dust we called them off. Sounder obeyed reluctantly, but Jude wanted to get down over the wall.
"They scent a lion," averred Jones. "Let's put them over the wall."
Once permitted to go, the hounds needed no assistance. They ran up and down the rim till they found a crack. Hardly had they gone out of sight when we heard them yelping. We rushed to the rim and looked over. The first step was short, a crumbled section of wall, and from it led down a long slope, dotted here and there with cedars. Both hounds were baying furiously.
I spied Jude with her paws up on a cedar, and above her hung a lion, so close that she could nearly reach him. Sounder was not yet in sight.
"There! There!" I cried, directing Jones' glance. "Are we not lucky?"
"I see. By George! Come, we'll go down. Leave everything that you don't absolutely need."
Spurs, chaps, gun, coat, hat, I left on the rim, taking only my camera and lasso. I had forgotten to bring my canteen. We descended a ladder of shaly cliff, the steps of which broke under our feet. The slope below us was easy, and soon we stood on a level with the lion. The cedar was small, and afforded no good place for him. Evidently he jumped from the slope to the tree, and had hung where he first alighted.
"Where's Sounder? Look for him. I hear him below. This lion won't stay treed long."
I, too, heard Sounder. The cedar tree obstructed my view, and I moved aside. A hundred feet farther down the hound bayed under a tall pinon. High in the branches I saw a great mass of yellow, and at first glance thought Sounder had treed old Sultan. How I yelled! Then a second glance showed two lions close together.
"Two more! two more! look! look!" I yelled to Jones.
"Hi! Hi! Hi!" he joined his robust yell to mine, and for a moment we made the canyon bellow. When we stopped for breath the echoes bayed at us from the opposite walls.
"Waa-hoo!" Emett's signal, faint, far away, soaring but unmistakable, floated down to us. Across the jutting capes separating the mouths of these canyons, high above them on the rim wall of the opposite side of the Bay, stood a giant white horse silhouetted against the white sky. They made a brave picture, one most welcome to us. We yelled in chorus: "Three lions treed! Three lions treed! come down--hurry!"
A crash of rolling stones made us wheel. Jude's lion had jumped. He ran straight down, drawing Sounder from his guard. Jude went tearing after them.
"I'll follow; you stay here. Keep them up there, if you can!" yelled Jones. Then in long strides he passed down out of sight among the trees and crags.
It had all happened so quickly that I could scarcely realize it. The yelping of the hounds, the clattering of stones, grew fainter, telling me Jude and Sounder, with Jones, were going to the bottom of the Bay.
Both lions snarling at me brought me to a keen appreciation of the facts in the case. Two full-grown lions to be kept treed without hounds, without a companion, without a gun.
"This is fine! This is funny!" I cried, and for a moment I wanted to run. But the same grim, deadly feeling that had taken me with Don around the narrow shelf now rose in me stronger and fiercer. I pronounced one savage malediction upon myself for leaving my gun. I could not go for it; I would have to make the best of my error, and in the wildness born of the moment I swore if the lions would stay treed for the hounds they would stay treed for me.
First I photographed them from different positions; then I took up my stand about on a level with them in an open place on the slope where they had me in plain sight. I might have been fifty feet from them. They showed no inclination to come down.
About this moment I heard hounds below, coming down from the left. I called and called, but they passed on down the canyon bottom in the direction Jones had taken.
Presently a chorus of bays, emphasized by Jones' yell, told me his lion had treed again.
"Waa-hoo!" rolled down from above.
I saw Emett farther to the left from the point where he had just appeared.
I surveyed the walls of the Bay. Cliff on cliff, slide on slide, jumble, crag, and ruin, baffled my gaze. But I finally picked out a path.
"Farther to the left," I yelled, and waited. He passed on, Don at his heels.
"There," I yelled again, "stop there; let Don go down with your lasso, and come yourself."
I watched him swing the hound down a wall, and pull the slip noose free. Don slid to the edge of a slope, trotted to the right and left of crags, threaded the narrow places, and turned in the direction of the baying hounds. He passed on the verge of precipices that made me tremble for him; but sure-footed as a goat, he went on safely down, to disappear far to my right.
Then I saw Emett sliding, leg wrapped around his lasso, down the first step of the rim. His lasso, doubled so as to reach round a cedar above, was too short to extend to the landing below. He dropped, raising a cloud of dust, and starting the stones. Pulling one end of his lasso up around the cedar he gathered it in a coil on his arm and faced forward, following Don's trail.
What strides he took! In the clear light, with that wild red and yellow background, with the stones and gravel roaring down, streaming over the walls like waterfalls, he seemed a giant pursuing a foe. From time to time he sent up a yell of encouragement that wound down the canyon, to be answered by Jones and the baying hounds and then the strange echoes. At last he passed out of sight behind the crests of the trees; I heard him going down, down till the sounds came up faint and hollow.
I was left absolutely alone with my two lions and never did a hunter so delight in a situation. I sat there in the sun watching them. For a long time they were quiet, listening. But as the bays and yells below diminished in volume and occurrence and then ceased altogether, they became restless. It was then that I, remembering the lion I had held on top of the crag, began to bark like a hound. The lions became quiet once more.
I bayed them for an hour. My voice grew from hoarse to hoarser, and finally failed in my throat. The lions immediately grew restless again. The lower one hissed, spat and growled at me, and made many attempts to start down, each one of which I frustrated by throwing stones under the tree. At length he made one more determined effort, turned head downward, and stepped from branch to branch.
I dashed down the incline with a stone in one hand and a long club in the other. Instinctively I knew I must hurt him--make him fear me. If he got far enough down to jump, he would either escape or have me helpless. I aimed deliberately at him, and hit him square in the ribs. He exploded in a spit-roar that raised my hair. Directly under him I wielded my club, pounded on the tree, thrashed at the branches and, like the crazy fool that I was, yelled at him:
"Go back! Go back! Don't you dare come down! I'd break your old head for you!"
Foolish or not, this means effectually stopped the descent. He climbed to his first perch. It was then, realizing what I had done, that I would certainly have made tracks from under the pinon, if I had not heard the faint yelp of a hound.
I listened. It came again, faint but clearer. I looked up at my lions. They too heard, for they were very still. I saw how strained they held their heads. I backed a little way up the slope. Then the faint yelp floated up again in the silence. Such dead, strange silence, that seemed never to have been broken! I saw the lions quiver, and if I ever heard anything in my life I heard their hearts thump. The yelp wafted up again, closer this time. I recognized it; it belonged to Don. The great hound on the back trail of the other lion was coming to my rescue.
"It's Don! It's Don! It's Don!" I cried, shaking my club at the lions. "It's all up with you now!" What feelings stirred me then! Pity for those lions dominated me. Big, tawny, cruel fellows as they were, they shivered with fright. Their sides trembled. But pity did not hold me long; Don's yelp, now getting clear and sharp, brought back the rush of savage, grim sensations.
A full-toned bay attracted my attention from the lions to the downward slope. I saw a yellow form moving under the trees and climbing fast. It was Don.
"Hi! Hi! old boy!" I yelled.
Then it seemed he moved up like a shot and stood all his long length, forepaws against the pinon, his deep bay ringing defiance to the lions.
It was a great relief, not to say a probable necessity, for me to sit down just then.
"Now come down," I said to my lions; "you can't catch that hound, and you can't get away from him."
Moments passed. I was just on the point of deciding to go down to hurry up my comrades, when I heard the other hounds coming. Yelp on yelp, bay on bay, made welcome music to my ears. Then a black and yellow, swiftly flying string of hounds bore into sight down the slope, streaked up and circled the pinon.
Jones, who at last showed his tall stooping form on the steep ascent, seemed as long in coming as the hounds had been swift.
"Did you get the lion? Where's Emett?" I asked in breathless eagerness.
"Lion tied--all fast," replied the panting Jones. "Left Emett--to guard--him."
"What are we to do now?"
"Wait--till I get my breath. Think out--a plan. We can't get both lions--out of one tree."
"All right," I replied, after a moment's thought. "I'll tie Sounder and Moze. You go up the tree. That first lion will jump, sure; he's almost ready now. Don and the other hounds will tree him again pretty soon. If he runs up the canyon, well and good. Then, if you can get the lasso on the other, I'll yell for Emett to come up to help you, and I'll follow Don."
Jones began the ascent of the pinon. The branches were not too close, affording him easy climbing. Before we looked for even a move on the part of the lions, the lower one began stepping down. I yelled a warning, but Jones did not have time to take advantage of it. He had half turned, meaning to swing out and drop, when the lion planted both forepaws upon his back. Jones went sprawling down with the lion almost on him.
Don had his teeth in the lion before he touched the ground, and when he did strike the rest of the hounds were on him. A cloud of dust rolled down the slope. The lion broke loose and with great, springy bounds ran up the canyon, Don and his followers hot-footing it after him.
Moze and Sounder broke the dead sapling to which I had tied them, and dragging it behind them, endeavored in frenzied action to join the chase. I drew them back, loosening the rope, so in case the other lion jumped I could free them quickly.
Jones calmly gathered himself up, rearranged his lasso, took his long stick, and proceeded to mount the pinon again. I waited till I saw him slip the noose over the lion's head, then I ran down the slope to yell for Emett. He answered at once. I told him to hurry to Jones' assistance. With that I headed up the canyon.
I hung close to the broad trail left by the lion and his pursuers. I passed perilously near the brink of precipices, but fear of them was not in me that day. I passed out of the Bay into the mouth of Left Canyon, and began to climb. The baying of the hounds directed me. In the box of yellow walls the chorus seemed to come from a hundred dogs.
When I found them, close to a low cliff, baying the lion in a thick, dark pinon, Ranger leaped into my arms and next Don stood up against me with his paws on my shoulders. These were strange actions, and though I marked it at the moment, I had ceased to wonder at our hounds. I took one picture as the lion sat in the dark shade, and then climbed to the low cliff and sat down. I called Don to me and held him. In case our quarry leaped upon the cliff I wanted a hound to put quickly on his trail.
Another hour passed. It must have been a dark hour for the lion--he looked as if it were--and one of impatience for the baying hounds, but for me it was a full hour. Alone with the hounds and a lion, far from the walks of men, walled in by the wild-colored cliffs, with the dry, sweet smell of cedar and pinon, I asked no more.
Sounder and Moze, vociferously venting their arrival, were forerunners to Jones. I saw his gray locks waving in the breeze, and yelled for him to take his time. As he reached me the lion jumped and ran up the canyon. This suited me, for I knew he would take to a tree soon and the farther up he went the less distance we would have to pack him. From the cliff I saw him run up a slope, pass a big cedar, cunningly turn on his trail, and then climb into the tree and hide in its thickest part. Don passed him, got off the trail, and ran at fault. The others, so used to his leadership, were also baffled. But Jude, crippled and slow, brought up the rear, and she did not go a yard beyond where the lion turned. She opened up her deep call under the cedar, and in a moment the howling pack were around her.
Jones and I toiled laboriously upward. He had brought my lasso, and he handed it to me with the significant remark that I would soon have need of it.
The cedar was bushy and overhung a yellow, bare slope that made Jones shake his head. He climbed the tree, lassoed the spitting lion and then leaped down to my side. By united and determined efforts we pulled the lion off the limb and let him down. The hounds began to leap at him. We both roared in a rage at them but to no use.
"Hold him there!" shouted Jones, leaving me with the lasso while he sprang forward.
The weight of the animal dragged me forward and, had I not taken a half hitch round a dead snag, would have lifted me off my feet or pulled the lasso from my hands. As it was, the choking lion, now within reach of the furious, leaping hounds, swung to and fro before my face. He could not see me, but his frantic lunges narrowly missed me.
If never before, Jones then showed his genius. Don had hold of the lion's flank, and Jones, grabbing the hound by the hind legs, threw him down the slope. Don fell and rolled a hundred feet before he caught himself. Then Jones threw old Moze rolling, and Ranger, and all except faithful Jude. Before they could get back he roped the lion again and made fast to a tree. Then he yelled for me to let go. The lion fell. Jones grabbed the lasso, at the same time calling for me to stop the hounds. As they came bounding up the steep slope, I had to club the noble fellows into submission.
Before the lion recovered wholly from his severe choking, we had his paws bound fast. Then he could only heave his tawny sides, glare and spit at us.
"Now what?" asked Jones. "Emett is watching the second lion, which we fastened by chain and lasso to a swinging branch. I'm all in. My heart won't stand any more climb."
"You go to camp for the pack horses," I said briefly. "Bring them all, and all the packs, and Navvy, too. I'll help Emett tie up the second lion, and then we'll pack them both up here to this one. You take the hounds with you."
"Can you tie up that lion?" asked Jones. "Mind you, he's loose except for a collar and chain. His claws haven't been clipped. Besides, it'll be an awful job to pack those two lions up here."
"We can try," I said. "You hustle to camp. Your horse is right up back of here, across the point, if I don't mistake my bearings."
Jones, admonishing me again, called the hounds and wearily climbed the slope. I waited until he was out of hearing; then began to retrace my trail down into the canyon. I made the descent in quick time, to find Emett standing guard over the lion. The beast had been tied to an overhanging branch that swung violently with every move he made.
"When I got here," said Emett, "he was hanging over the side of that rock, almost choked to death. I drove him into this corner between the rocks and the tree, where he has been comparatively quiet. Now, what's up? Where is Jones? Did you get the third lion?"
I related what had occurred, and then said we were to tie this lion and pack him with the other one up the canyon, to meet Jones and the horses.
"All right," replied Emett, with a grim laugh. "We'd better get at it. Now I'm some worried about the lion we left below. He ought to be brought up, but we both can't go. This lion here will kill himself."
"What will the other one weigh?"
"All of one hundred and fifty pounds."
"You can't pack him alone."
"I'll try, and I reckon that's the best plan. Watch this fellow and keep him in the corner."
Emett left me then, and I began a third long vigil beside a lion. The rest was more than welcome. An hour and a half passed before I heard the sliding of stones below, which told me that Emett was coming. He appeared on the slope almost bent double, carrying the lion, head downward, before him. He could climb only a few steps without lowering his burden and resting.
I ran down to meet him. We secured a stout pole, and slipping this between the lion's paws, below where they were tied, we managed to carry him fairly well, and after several rests, got him up alongside the other.
"Now to tie that rascal!" exclaimed Emett. "Jones said he was the meanest one he'd tackled, and I believe it. We'll cut a piece off of each lasso, and unravel them so as to get strings. I wish Jones hadn't tied the lasso to that swinging branch."
"I'll go and untie it." Acting on this suggestion I climbed the tree and started out on the branch. The lion growled fiercely.
"I'm afraid you'd better stop," warned Emett. "That branch is bending, and the lion can reach you."
But despite this I slipped out a couple of yards farther, and had almost gotten to the knotted lasso, when the branch swayed and bent alarmingly. The lion sprang from his corner and crouched under me snarling and spitting, with every indication of leaping.
"Jump! Jump! Jump!" shouted Emett hoarsely.
I dared not, for I could not jump far enough to get out of the lion's reach. I raised my legs and began to slide myself back up the branch. The lion leaped, missing me, but scattering the dead twigs. Then the beast, beside himself with fury, half leaped, half stood up, and reached for me. I looked down into his blazing eyes, and open mouth and saw his white fangs.
Everything grew blurred before my eyes. I desperately fought for control over mind and muscle. I heard hoarse roars from Emett. Then I felt a hot, burning pain in my wrist, which stung all my faculties into keen life again.
I saw the lion's beaked claws fastened in my leather wrist-band. At the same instant Emett dashed under the branch, and grasped the lion's tail. One powerful lunge of his broad shoulders tore the lion loose and flung him down the slope to the full extent of his lasso. Quick as thought I jumped down, and just in time to prevent Emett from attacking the lion with the heavy pole we had used.
"I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" roared Emett.
"No you won't," I replied, quietly, for my pain had served to soothe my excitement as well as to make me more determined. "We'll tie up the darned tiger, if he cuts us all to pieces. You know how Jones will give us the laugh if we fail. Here, bind up my wrist."
Mention of Jones' probable ridicule and sight of my injury cooled Emett.
"It's a nasty scratch," he said, binding my handkerchief round it. "The leather saved your hand from being torn off. He's an ugly brute, but you're right, we'll tie him. Now, let's each take a lasso and worry him till we get hold of a paw. Then we can stretch him out."
Jones did a fiendish thing when he tied that lion to the swinging branch. It was almost worse than having him entirely free. He had a circle almost twenty feet in diameter in which he could run and leap at will. It seemed he was in the air all the time. First at Emett, than at me he sprang, mouth agape, eyes wild, claws spread. We whipped him with our nooses, but not one would hold. He always tore it off before we could draw it tight. I secured a precarious hold on one hind paw and straightened my lasso.
"That's far enough," cried Emett. "Now hold him tight; don't lift him off the ground."
I had backed up the slope. Emett faced the lion, noose ready, waiting for a favorable chance to rope a front paw. The lion crouched low and tense, only his long tail lashing back and forth across my lasso. Emett threw the loop in front of the spread paws, now half sunk into the dust.
"Ease up; ease up," said he. "I'll tease him to jump into the noose."
I let my rope sag. Emett poked a stick into the lion's face. All at once I saw the slack in the lasso which was tied to the lion's chain. Before I could yell to warn my comrade the beast leaped. My rope burned as it tore through my hands. The lion sailed into the air, his paws wide-spread like wings, and one of them struck Emett on the head and rolled him on the slope. I jerked back on my rope only to find it had slipped its hold.
"He slugged me one," remarked Emett, calmly rising and picking up his hat. "Did he break the skin?"
"No, but he tore your hat band off," I replied. "Let's keep at him."
For a few moments or an hour--no one will ever know how long--we ran round him, raising the dust, scattering the stones, breaking the branches, dodging his onslaughts. He leaped at us to the full length of his tether, sailing right into our faces, a fierce, uncowed, tigerish beast. If it had not been for the collar and swivel he would have choked himself a hundred times. Quick as a cat, supple, powerful, tireless, he kept on the go, whirling, bounding, leaping, rolling, till it seemed we would never catch him.
"If anything breaks, he'll get one of us," cried Emett. "I felt his breath that time."
"Lord! How I wish we had some of those fellows here who say lions are rank cowards!" I exclaimed.
In one of his sweeping side swings the lion struck the rock and hung there on its flat surface with his tail hanging over.
"Attract his attention," shouted Emett, "but don't get too close. Don't make him jump."
While I slowly manoeuvered in front of the lion, Emett slipped behind the rock, lunged for the long tail and got a good hold of it. Then with a whoop he ran around the rock, carrying the kicking, squalling lion clear of the ground.
"Now's your chance," he yelled. "Rope a hind foot! I can hold him."
In a second I had a noose fast on both hind paws, and then passed my rope to Emett. While he held the lion I again climbed the tree, untied the knot that had caused so much trouble, and very shortly we had our obstinate captive stretched out between two trees. After that we took a much needed breathing spell.
"Not very scientific," growled Emett, by way of apologizing for our crude work, "but we had to get him some way."
"Emett, do you know I believe Jones put up a job on us?" I said.
"Well, maybe he did. We had the job all right. But we'll make short work of him now."
He certainly went at it in a way that alarmed me and would have electrified Jones. While I held the chain Emett muzzled the lion with a stick and a strand of lasso. His big blacksmith's hands held, twisted and tied with remorseless strength.
"Now for the hardest part of it," said he, "packing him up."
We toiled and drudged upward, resting every few yards, wet with sweat, boiling with heat, parching for water. We slipped and fell, got up to slip and fall again. The dust choked us. We senselessly risked our lives on the brinks of precipices. We had no thought save to get the lion up. One hour of unremitting labor saw our task finished, so far. Then we wearily went down for the other.
"This one is the heaviest," gloomily said Emett.
We had to climb partly sidewise with the pole in the hollow of our elbows. The lion dragged head downward, catching in the brush and on the stones. Our rests became more frequent. Emett, who had the downward end of the pole, and therefore thrice the weight, whistled when he drew breath. Half the time I saw red mist before my eyes. How I hated the sliding stones!
"Wait," panted Emett once. "You're--younger--than me--wait!"
For that Mormon giant--used all his days to strenuous toil, peril and privation--to ask me to wait for him, was a compliment which I valued more than any I had ever received.
At last we dropped our burden in the shade of a cedar where the other lions lay, and we stretched ourselves. A long, sweet rest came abruptly to end with Emett's next words.
"The lions are choking! They're dying of thirst! We must have water!"
One glance at the poor, gasping, frothing beasts, proved to me the nature of our extremity.
"Water in this desert! Where will we find it? Oh! why, did I forget my canteen!"
After all our hopes, our efforts, our tragedies, and finally our wonderful good fortune, to lose these beautiful lions for lack of a little water was sickening, maddening.
"Think quick!" cried Emett. "I'm no good; I'm all in. But you must find water. It snowed yesterday. There's water somewhere."
Into my mind flashed a picture of the many little pockets beaten by rains into the shelves and promontories of the canyon rim. With the thought I was on the jump. I ran; I climbed; I seemed to have wings; I reached the rim, and hurried along it with eager gaze. I swung down on a cedar branch to a projecting point of rock. Small depressions were everywhere still damp, but the water had evaporated. But I would not give up. I jumped from rock to rock, and climbed over scaly ledges, and set tons of yellow shale into motion. And I found on a ragged promontory many little, round holes, some a foot deep, all full of clear water. Using my handkerchief as a sponge I filled my cap.
Then began my journey down. I carried the cap with both hands and balanced myself like a tight-rope performer. I zigzagged the slopes; slipped over stones; leaped fissures and traversed yellow slides. I safely descended places that in an ordinary moment would have presented insurmountable obstacles, and burst down upon Emett with an Indian yell of triumph.
"Good!" ejaculated he. If I had not known it already, the way his face changed would have told me of his love for animals. He grasped a lion by the ears and held his head up. I saturated my handkerchief and squeezed the water into his mouth. He wheezed, coughed, choked, but to our joy he swallowed. He had to swallow. One after the other we served them so, seeing with unmistakable relief the sure signs of recovery. Their eyes cleared and brightened; the dry coughing that distressed us so ceased; the froth came no more. The savage fellow that had fought us to a standstill, and for which we had named him Spitfire, raised his head, the gold in his beautiful eyes darkened to fire and he growled his return to life and defiance.
Emett and I sank back in unutterable relief.
"Waa-hoo!" Jones' yell came, breaking the warm quiet of the slope. Our comrade appeared riding down. The voice of the Indian, calling to Marc, mingled with the ringing of iron-shod hoofs on the stones.
Jones surveyed the small level spot in the shade of the cedars. He gazed from the lions to us, his stern face relaxed, and his dry laugh cracked.
"Doggone me, if you didn't do it!"