Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
As we were sitting round the camp-fire, eating breakfast, R.C. and Edd returned; and R.C. carried a turkey gobbler the very size and color of the one I had shot the night before. R.C.'s face wore the keen, pleased expression characteristic of it when he had just had some unusual and satisfying experience.
"Sure was great," he said, warming his hands at the fire. "We went up on the hill where you killed your gobbler last night. Got there just in the gray light of dawn. We were careful not to make any noise. Edd said if there were any more turkeys they would come down at daylight. So we waited until it was light enough to see. Then Edd got out his turkey bone and began to call. Turkeys answered from the trees all around. By George, it was immense! Edd had picked out a thicket of little pines for us to hide in, and in front of us was a glade with a big fallen tree lying across it. Edd waited a few moments. The woods was all gray and quiet. I don't know when I've felt so good. Then he called again. At once turkeys answered from all around in the trees. Next I heard a swish of wings, then a thump. Then more swishes. The turkeys were flying down from their roosts. It seemed to me in my excitement that there were a hundred of them. We could hear them pattering over the dry ground. Edd whispered: 'They're down. Now we got to do some real callin'.' I felt how tense, how cautious he was. When he called again there was some little difference, I don't know what, unless it was his call sounded more like a real turkey. They answered. They were gathering in front of us, and I made sure were coming into the glade. Edd stopped calling. Then he whispered: 'Ready now. Look out!'... Sure I was looking all right. This was my first experience calling turkeys and I simply shook all over. Suddenly I saw a turkey head stick up over the log. Then!--up hopped a beautiful gobbler. He walked along the log, looked and peered, and stretched his neck. Sure he was suspicious. Edd gave me a hunch, which I took to be a warning to shoot quick. That was a hard place for me. I wanted to watch the gobbler. I wanted to see the others. We could hear them all over the glade. But this was my chance. Quickly I rose and took a peg at him. A cloud of feathers puffed off him. He gave a great bounce, flapping his wings. I heard a roaring whirr of other turkeys. With my eye on my gobbler I seemed to see the air full of big, black, flying things. My gobbler came down, bounced up again, got going--when with the second barrel I knocked him cold. Then I stood there watching the flock whirring every way into the forest. Must have been thirty-five or forty of them, all gobblers. It was a great sight. And right here I declared myself--wild turkey is the game for me."
Romer manifestly listened to this narrative with mingled feelings of delight and despair. "Uncle Rome, wild turkey's the game for me, too ... and by Gosh! I'll fix those boots of mine!"
That morning we were scheduled for another bear hunt, on which I had decided to go down under the rim with Edd and George. Lee had his doubts about my horse, and desired me to take his, or at least one of the others. Now his horse was too spirited for me to ride after hounds, and I did not want to take one of the others, so I was compelled to ride my own. At the last moment Lee had been disappointed in getting a mustang he particularly wanted for me, and so it had fallen about that my horse was the poorest in the outfit, which to put it mildly was pretty poor. I had made the best of the matter so far, and hoped to continue doing so.
We rode up the east slope of Beaver Dam Canyon, through the forest, and out along the rim for five or six miles, way on the other side of the promontory where I had gotten lost. Here Haught left us, taking with him R.C. and Lee and Nielsen, all of whom were to have stands along the rim. We hoped to start a bear and chase him round under the high points toward Horton Thicket.
The magnificent view from the head of a trail where Edd started down impressed me so powerfully that I lagged behind. Below me heaved a split, tossed, dimpled, waving, rolling world of black-green forestland. Far across it stood up a rugged, blue, waved range of mountains--the Sierra Anchas.
The trail was rough, even for Arizonians, which made it for me little short of impassable. I got off to lead my horse. He had to be pulled most of the time, wherefore I lost patience with him. I loved horses, but not stubborn ones. All the way down the rocky trail the bunch grass and wild oak and manzanita were so thick that I had to crush my way through. At length I had descended the steep part to find Edd and George waiting for me below on the juniper benches. These were slopes of red earth or clay, bare of grass, but thick with junipers, cactus, and manzanita. This face of the great rim was a southern exposure, hot and dusty. The junipers were thick. The green of their foliage somewhat resembled cedars, but their berries were gray-blue, almost lavender in color. I tasted several from different trees, until I found one with sweet, somewhat acrid taste. Significant it was that this juniper had broken branches where bears had climbed to eat the fruit, and all around on the ground beneath was bear sign. Edd said the tracks were cold, but all the same he had to be harsh with the hounds to hold them in. I counted twenty piles of bear manure under one juniper, and many places where bears had scraped in the soft earth and needles.
We went on down this slope, getting into thicker brush and rougher ground. All at once the hounds opened up in thrilling chorus of bays and barks. I saw Edd jump off his horse to stoop and examine the ground, where evidently he had seen a bear track. "Fresh--made last night!" he yelled, mounting hurriedly. "Hi! Hi! Hi!" His horse leaped through the brush, and George followed. In an instant they were out of sight. Right there my trouble began. I spurred my horse after them, and it developed that he differed from me in regard to direction and going. He hated the brush. But I made him take to it and made him run. Dodging branches was an old story for me, and if I had been on a good fast horse I might have kept Edd and George in sight. As it was, however, I had to follow them by the sound of hoofs and breaking brush. From the way the hounds bayed I knew they had struck a hot scent. They worked down the slope, and assuredly gave me a wild ride to keep within hearing of them. My horse grew excited, which fact increased his pace, his obstinacy, and likewise my danger. Twice he unseated me. I tore my coat, lost my hat, scratched my face, skinned my knees, but somehow I managed to keep within hearing.
I came to a deep brush-choked gorge, impassable at that point. Luckily the hounds turned here and started back my way. By riding along the edge of this gorge I kept up with them. They climbed out an intersecting ravine and up on the opposite side. I forced my horse to go down this rather steep soft slope. At the bottom I saw a little spring of water with fresh bear tracks around it, and one place where the bear had caved in a soft bank. Here my horse suddenly plunged and went to his knees in the yielding red clay. He snorted in fright. The bank slid with him and I tumbled off. But nothing serious happened. I ran down, caught him, mounted, and spurred him up the other side. Once up he began to run. I heard the boys yelling not far away and the hounds were baying up above me. They were climbing fast, working to the left, toward an oak thicket. It took effort to slow down my steed. He acted crazy and I began to suspect that he had caught a whiff of the bear. Most horses are afraid of bears and lions. Sight of Edd and George, who appeared in an open spot, somewhat quieted my mount.
"Trail's gettin' hot up there," declared Edd. "That bear's bedded somewhere an' I'll bet the hounds jumped him. Listen to Old Tom!"
How the deep sonorous bay of Old Tom awoke the echoes under the cliffs! And Old Dan's voice was a hoarse bellow. The other hounds yelped.
Edd blew a mellow blast from his hunting-horn, and that awoke other and more melodious echoes. "There's father up on the rim," he said. I looked, and finally saw Haught perched like a black eagle on a crag. His gun flashed in the strong sunlight.
Somewhere up there the hounds jumped the bear. Anybody could have told that. What a wild chorus! Edd and George answered to it with whoops as wild, and they galloped their horses over ground and through brush where they should have been walked. I followed, or tried to follow; and here my steed showed his bull-headed, obstinate nature. If he had been afraid but still game I would have respected him, but he was a coward and mean. He wanted to have his way, which was to go the other direction, and to rid himself of me. So we had it hot and heavy along that rough slope, with honors about even. As for bruises and scratches, however, I sustained the most. In the excitement of the chase and anger at the horse I forgot all about any risks. This always is the way in adventure. Hot racing blood governed me entirely. Whenever I got out in an open place, where I could ride fast and hear and see, then it was all intensely thrilling. Both hounds and comrades were above me, but apparently working down.
Thus for me the necessity of hurry somewhat lessened. I slowed to a trot, peering everywhere, listening with all my ears. I had stopped yelling, because my horse had misunderstood that. We got into a region of oak thickets, small saplings, scrubby, close together, but beautiful with their autumn-tinted leaves. Next I rode through a maple dell, shady, cool, where the leafy floor was all rose-pink-red. My horse sent the colored leaves flying.
Soon, however, we got into the thickets again, low live-oak and manzanita, which kind of brush my horse detested. I did not blame him for that. As the hounds began to work down my keen excitement increased. If they had jumped the bear and were chasing him down I might run upon him any moment. This both appealed to me and caused me apprehension. Suppose he were a bad cinnamon or a grizzly? What would become of me on that horse? I decided that I had better carry my rifle in my hand, so in case of a sudden appearance of the bear and I was thrown or had a fall off, then I would be prepared. So forthwith I drew the rifle out of the scabbard, remembering as I did so that Haught had cautioned me, in case of close quarters with a bear and the need of quick shooting, to jerk the lever down hard. If my horse had cut up abominably before he now began to cover himself with a glory of abominableness. I had to jam him through the thickets. He was an uncomfortable horse to ride under the best circumstances; here he was as bad as riding a picket-fence. When he got his head, which was often, he carried me into thickets of manzanita that we could not penetrate, and had to turn back. I found that I was working high up the slope, and bad luck as I was having with my horse, I still appeared to keep fairly close to the hounds.
When we topped a ridge of this slope the wind struck us strong in the face. The baying of the hounds rang clear and full and fierce. My horse stood straight up. Then he plunged back and bolted down the slope. His mouth was like iron. I could neither hold nor turn him. However perilous this ride I had to admit that at last my horse was running beautifully. In fact he was running away! He had gotten a hot scent of that bear. He hurdled rocks, leaped washes, slid down banks, plunged over places that made my hair stand up stiff, and worst of all he did not try to avoid brush or trees or cactus. Manzanita he tore right through, leaving my coat in strips decorating our wake. I had to hold on, to lie flat, to dodge and twist, and all the time watch for a place where I might fall off in safety. But I did not get a chance to fall off. A loud clamoring burst from the hounds apparently close behind drove my horse frantic. Before he had only run--now he flew! He left me hanging in the thick branches of a juniper, from which I dropped blind and breathless and stunned. Disengaging myself from the broken and hanging branches I staggered aside, rifle in hand, trying to recover breath and wits.
Then, in that nerveless and shaken condition, I heard the breaking of twigs and thud of soft steps right above me. Peering up with my half-blinded eyes I saw a huge red furry animal coming, half obscured by brush. It waved aside from his broad back. A shock ran over me--a bursting gush of hot blood that turned to ice as it rushed. "Big cinnamon bear!" I whispered, hoarsely.
Instinctively I cocked and leveled the rifle, and though I could not clearly see the red animal bearing down the slope, such was my state that I fired. Then followed a roaring crash--a terrible breaking onslaught upon the brush--and the huge red mass seemed to flash down toward me. I worked the lever of the rifle. But I had forgotten Haught's caution. I did not work the lever far enough down, so that the next cartridge jammed in the receiver. With a second shock, different this time, I tried again. In vain! The terrible crashing of brush appeared right upon me. For an instant that seemed an age I stood riveted to the spot, my blood congealing, my heart choking me, my tongue pasted to the roof of my mouth. Then I dropped the rifle and whirled to plunge away. Like a deer I bounded. I took prodigious bounds. To escape--to find a tree to leap into--that was my only thought. A few rods down the slope--it seemed a mile--I reached a pine with low branches. Like a squirrel I ran up this--straddled a limb high up--and gazed back.
My sensations then were dominated by the relief of salvation. I became conscious of them. Racing blood, bursting heart, labored pang of chest, prickling, burning skin, a queer involuntary flutter of muscles, like a palsy--these attested to the instinctive primitive nature of my state. I heard the crashing of brush, the pound of soft jumps over to my left. With eyes that seemed magnifying I gazed to see a big red woolly steer plunge wildly down the slope and disappear. A third shock possessed me--amaze. I had mistaken a wild, frightened steer for a red cinnamon bear!
I sat there some moments straddling that branch. Then I descended, and went back to the place I had dropped my rifle, and securing that I stood a moment listening. The hounds had taken the chase around below me into the gorge and were drawing away. It was useless to try to follow them. I sat down again and gave myself up to meditation.
I tried to treat the situation as a huge joke, but that would not go. No joke indeed! My horse had made me risk too much, my excitement had been too intense, my fright had been too terrible. Reality for me could not have been any more grave. I had risked my neck on a stubborn coward of a horse, I had mistaken a steer for a bear, I had forgotten how to manipulate the borrowed rifle. These were the careless elements of tragedy. The thought sobered me. I took the lesson to heart. And I reflected on the possible point of view of the bear. He had probably gone to sleep on a full stomach of juniper berries and a big drink of spring water. Rudely he had been routed out by a pack of yelping, fiendish hounds. He had to run for his life. What had he done to deserve such treatment? Possibly he might have killed some of Haught's pigs, but most assuredly he had never harmed me. In my sober frame of mind then I rather disapproved of my wholly unjustifiable murderous intent. I would have deserved it if the steer had really been the bear. Certainly I hoped the bear would outrun the hounds and escape. I weighed the wonderful thrill of the chase, the melody of hounds, the zest of spirited action, the peril to limb and life against the thing that they were done for, with the result that I found them sadly lacking. Peril to limb and life was good for man. If this had not been a fact my performance would have been as cowardly as that of my horse. Again I had rise up before my mind the spectacle of opposing forces--the elemental in man restrained by the spiritual. Then the old haunting thought returned to vex me--man in his development needed the exercise of brawn, muscle, bone red-blood, violence, labor and pain and agony. Nature recognized only the survival of the fittest of any species. If a man allowed a spiritual development, intellect, gentleness, to keep him from all hard, violent action, from tremendous exertion, from fierce fight with elements and beasts, and his own kind--would he not soon degenerate as a natural physical man? Evolution was a stern inevitable seeking of nature for perfection, for the unattainable. This perfection was something that lived and improved on strife. Barbarians, Indians, savages were the most perfect specimens of nature's handiwork; and in proportion to their development toward so-called civilized life their physical prowess and perfectness--that was to say, their strength to resist and live and reproduce their kind--absolutely and inevitably deteriorated.
My reflection did not carry me at that time to any positive convictions of what was truest and best. The only conclusions I eventually arrived at were that I was sore and bruised and dirty and torn--that I would be happy if the bear got away--that I had lost my mean horse and was glad therefore--that I would have half a dozen horses and rifles upon my next hunt--and lastly that I would not be in any hurry to tell about mistaking a steer for a bear, and climbing a tree. Indeed these last facts have been religiously kept secret until chronicled here.
Shortly afterward, as I was making a lame and slow headway toward Horton Thicket, where I hoped to find a trail out, I heard Edd yelling, and I answered. Presently we met. He was leading my horse, and some of the hounds, notably Old Tom and Dan, were with him.
"Where's the bear?" I asked.
"He got away down in the breaks," replied Edd. "George is tryin' to call the hounds back. What happened to you? I heard you shoot."
"My horse didn't care much for me or the brush," I replied. "He left me--rather suddenly. And--I took a shot at what I thought was a bear."
"I seen him once," said Edd, with eyes flashing. "Was just goin' to smoke him up when he jumped out of sight."
My mortification and apprehension were somewhat mitigated when I observed that Edd was dirty, ragged, and almost as much disheveled as I was. I had feared he would see in my appearance certain unmistakable evidences that I had made a tenderfoot blunder and then run for my life. But Edd took my loss of hat, and torn coat, and general bedraggled state as a matter of course. Indeed I somehow felt a little pride at his acceptance of me there in the flesh.
We rode around the end of this slope, gradually working down into Horton Thicket, where a wild confusion of dense timber engaged my sight. Presently George trotted up behind us with the other dogs. "We lost him down on the hot dry ridges. Hounds couldn't track him," was all George said. Thereupon Edd blew four blasts upon his hunting-horn, which were signals to those on the stands above that the hunt was over for the day.
Even in the jungle tropics I had never seen such dense shade as this down in Horton Thicket. The timber grew close and large, and the foliage was matted, letting little sunlight through. Dark, green and brown, fragrant, cool thicket indeed it was. We came to a huge spruce tree, the largest I ever saw--Edd said eight feet through at the base, but he was conservative. It was a gnarled, bearded, gray, old monarch of the forest, with bleached, dead top. For many years it had been the home of swarms of wild honey bees. Edd said more than one bee-hunter had undertaken to cut down this spruce. This explained a number of deeply cut notches in the huge trunk. "I'll bet Nielsen could chop it down," declared Edd. I admitted the compliment to our brawny Norwegian axe-wielder, but added that I certainly would not let him do it, whether we were to get any honey or not.
By and bye we reached the bottom of the thicket where we crossed a swift clear cold brook. Here the smells seemed cool, sweet, wild with spruce and pine. This stream of granite water burst from a spring under a cliff. What a roar it made! I drank until I could drink no more. Huge boulders and windfalls, moved by water at flood season, obstructed the narrow stream-bed. We crossed to start climbing the north slope, and soon worked up out of the thicket upon a steep, rocky slope, with isolated pines. We struck a deer-trail hard to follow. Above me loomed the pine-tipped rim, with its crags, cliffs, pinnacles, and walls, all gray, seamed and stained, and in some clefts blazes of deep red and yellow foliage.
When we surmounted the slope, and eventually reached camp, I found Isbel entertaining strangers, men of rough garb, evidently riders of the range. That was all right, but I did not like his prodigality with our swiftly diminishing store of eatables.
To conclude about Isbel--matters pertaining to our commissary department, during the next few days, went from bad to worse. Doyle advised me not to take Isbel to task, and was rather evasive of reasons for so advising me. Of course I listened and attended to my old guide's advice, but I fretted under the restraint. We had a spell of bad weather, wind and rain, and hail off and on, and at length, the third day, a cold drizzling snow. During this spell we did but little hunting. The weather changed, and the day afterward I rode my mean horse twenty miles on a deer hunt. We saw one buck. Upon our arrival at camp, about four o'clock, which hour was too early for dinner, I was surprised and angered to find Isbel eating an elaborate meal with three more strange, rough-appearing men. Doyle looked serious. Nielsen had a sharp glint in his gray eye. As for myself, this procedure of our cook's was more than I could stand.
"Isbel, you're discharged," I said, shortly. "Take your outfit and get out. Lee will lend you a pack horse."
"Wal, I ain't fired," drawled Isbel. "I quit before you rode in. Beat you to it!"
"Then if you quit it seems to me you are taking liberties with supplies you have no right to," I replied.
"Nope. Cook of any outfit has a right to all the chuck he wants. That's western way."
"Isbel, listen to this and then get out," I went on. "You've wasted our supplies just to get us to hurry and break camp. As for western ways I know something of them. It's a western way for a man to be square and honest in his dealings with an outsider. In all my years and in all my trips over the southwest you are the first westerner to give me the double-cross. You have that distinction."
Then I turned my back upon him and walked to my tent. His acquaintances left at once, and he quickly packed and followed. Faithful old Doyle took up the duties of cook and we gained, rather than missed by the change. Our supplies, however, had been so depleted that we could not stay much longer on the hunt.
By dint of much determination as to the manner and method of my next hunt I managed to persuade myself that I could make the best of this unlucky sojourn in the woods. No rifle, no horse worth riding, no food to stay out our time--it was indeed bad luck for me. After supper the tension relaxed. Then I realized all the men were relieved. Only Romer regretted loss of Isbel. When the Doyles and Haughts saw how I took my hard luck they seemed all the keener to make my stay pleasant and profitable. Little they knew that their regard was more to me than material benefits and comforts of the trip. To travelers of the desert and hunters and riders of the open there are always hard and uncomfortable and painful situations to be met with. And in meeting these, if it can be done with fortitude and spirit that win the respect of westerners, it is indeed a reward.
Next day, in defiance of a thing which never should be considered--luck--I took Haught's rifle again, and my lazy, sullen, intractable horse, and rode with Edd and George down into Horton Thicket. At least I could not be cheated out of fresh air and beautiful scenery.
We dismounted and tied our horses at the brook, and while Edd took the hounds up into the dense thicket where the bears made their beds, George and I followed a trail up the brook. In exactly ten minutes the hounds gave tongue. They ran up the thicket, which was favorable for us, and from their baying I judged the bear trail to be warm. In the dense forest we could not see five rods ahead. George averred that he did not care to have a big cinnamon or a grizzly come running down that black thicket. And as for myself I did not want one so very exceedingly much. I tried to keep from letting the hounds excite me, which effort utterly failed. We kept even with the hounds until their baying fell off, and finally grew desultory, and then ceased. "Guess they had the wrong end of his trail," said George. With this exasperating feature of bear and lion chases I was familiar. Most hounds, when they struck a trail, could not tell in which direction the bear was traveling. A really fine hound, however, like Buffalo Jones' famous Don, or Scott Teague's Sampson or Haught's Old Dan, would grow suspicious of a scent that gradually cooled, and would eventually give it up. Young hounds would back-track game as far as possible.
After waiting a while we returned to our horses, and presently Edd came back with the pack. "Big bear, but cold trail. Called them off," was all he said. We mounted and rode across the mouth of Horton Thicket round to the juniper slopes, which I had occasion to remember. I even saw the pine tree which I had so ignominiously climbed. How we ridicule and scorn some of our perfectly natural actions--afterwards! Edd had brought three of the pups that day, two-year-olds as full of mischief as pups could be. They jumped a bunch of deer and chased them out on the hard red cedar covered ridges. We had a merry chase to head them off. Edd gave them a tongue-lashing and thrashing at one and the same time. I felt sorry for the pups. They had been so full of frolic and fight. How crestfallen they appeared after Edd got through! "Whaddaye mean," yelled Edd, in conclusion. "Chasin' deer!... Do you think you're a lot of rabbit dogs?" From the way the pups eyed Edd so sheepishly and adoringly, I made certain they understood him perfectly, and humbly confessed their error.
Old Tom and Old Dan had not come down off the slopes with us after the pups. And upon our return both the old hounds began to bay deep and fast. With shrill ki-yi the pups bounded off, apparently frantic to make up for misbehavior. Soon the whole pack was in full chorus. Edd and George spurred into the brush, yelling encouragement to the hounds. This day I managed to make my horse do a little of what I wanted. To keep in sight of the Haught boys was indeed beyond me; but I did not lose sound of them. This chase led us up slope and down slope, through the brush and pine thickets, over bare ridges and into gullies; and eventually out into the basin, where the hounds got beyond hearing.
"One of them long, lean, hungry bears," remarked Edd. "He'd outrun any dogs."
Leisurely then we turned to the three-hour ride back to camp. Hot sun in the open, cool wind in the shade, dry smells of the forest, green and red and orange and purple of the foliage--these rendered the hours pleasant for me. When I reached camp I found Romer in trouble. He had cut his hand with a forbidden hunting knife. As he told me about it his face was a study and his explanation was astounding. When he finished I said: "You mean then that my hunting knife walked out of its sheath on my belt and followed you around and cut you of its own accord?"
"Aw, I--I--it--" he floundered.
Whereupon I lectured him about forbidden things and untruthfulness. His reply was: "But, Dad, it hurts like sixty. Won't you put somethin' on it?"
I dressed and bandaged the trifling cut for him, telling him the while how little Indian boys, when cut or kicked or bruised, never showed that they were hurt. "Huh!" he grunted. "Guess there's no Indian in me.... I must take after mother!"
That afternoon and night the hounds straggled in, Old Tom and Dan first, and then the others, one by one, fagged-out and foot-sore. Next morning, however, they appeared none the worse for their long chase. We went again to Horton Thicket to rout out a bear.
This time I remained on top of the rim with R.C. and Nielsen; and we took up a stand across the canyon, near where my first stand had been. Here we idled the hours away waiting for the hounds to start something. While walking along the rim I happened to look across the big cove that cut into the promontory, and way on the other slope what did I espy but a black bear. He appeared to be very small, or merely a cub. Running back to R.C. and Nielsen I told them, and we all took up our rifles. It occurred to me that the distance across this cove was too far for accurate shooting, but it never occurred to me to jump on my horse and ride around the head of the cove.
"He's not scared. Let's watch him," suggested R.C.
We saw this bear walk along, poke around, dig into the ground, go behind trees, come out again, and finally stand up on his hind feet and apparently reach for berries or something on a bush. R.C. bethought himself of his field-glass. After one look he exclaimed: "Say, fellows, he's a whopper of a bear! He'll weigh five hundred pounds. Just take a look at him!"
My turn with the glasses revealed to me that what I had imagined to be a cub was indeed a big bear. After Nielsen looked he said: "Never saw one so big in Norway."
"Well, look at that black scoundrel!" exclaimed R.C. "Standing up! Looking around! Wagging his head!... Say, you saw him first. Suppose you take some pegs at him."
"Wish Romer were here. I'd let him shoot at that bear," I replied. Then I got down on my knee, and aiming as closely as possible I fired. The report rang out in the stillness, making hollow echoes. We heard the bullet pat somewhere. So did the bear hear it. Curiously he looked around, as if something had struck near him. But scared he certainly was not. Then I shot four times in quick succession.
"Well, I'll be darned!" ejaculated R.C. "He heard the bullets hit and wonders what the dickens.... Say, now he hears the reports! Look at him stand!"
"Boys, smoke him up," I said, after the manner of Haught's vernacular. So while I reloaded R.C. and Nielsen began to shoot. We had more fun out of it than the bear. Evidently he located us. Then he began to run, choosing the open slope by which he had come. I got five more shots at him as he crossed this space, and the last bullet puffed up dust under him, making him take a header down the slope into the thicket. Whereupon we all had a good laugh. Nielsen appeared particularly pleased over his first shots at a real live bear.
"Say, why didn't you think to ride round there?" queried R.C. thoughtfully. "He didn't see us. He wasn't scared. In a few minutes you could have been on the rim of that slope right over him. Got him sure!"
"R.C. why didn't you think to tell me to do that?" I retorted. "Why don't we ever think the right thing before it is too late?"
"That's our last chance this year--I feel it in my bones," declared R.C. mournfully.
His premonition turned out to be correct. Upon our arrival at camp we heard some very disquieting news. A neighbor of Haught's had taken the trouble to ride up to inform us about the epidemic of influenza. The strange disease was all over the country, in the cities, the villages, the cow-camps, the mines--everywhere. At first I thought Haught's informant was exaggerating a mere rumor. But when he told of the Indians dying on the reservations, and that in Flagstaff eighty people had succumbed in a few weeks--then I was thoroughly alarmed. Imperative was it indeed for me to make a decision at once. I made it instantly. We would break camp. So I told the men. Doyle was relieved and glad. He wanted to get home to his family. The Haughts, naturally, were sorry. My decision once arrived at, the next thing was to consider which way to travel. The long ten-day trip down into the basin, round by Payson, and up on the rim again, and so on to Flagstaff was not to be considered at all. The roads by way of Winslow and Holbrook were long and bad. Doyle wanted to attempt the old army road along the rim made by General Crook when he moved the captured Apaches to the reservation assigned to them. No travel over this road for many years! Haught looked dubious, but finally said we could chop our way through thickets, and haul the wagon empty up bad hills. The matter of decision was left to me. Decisions of such nature were not easy to make. The responsibility was great, but as the hunt had been for me it seemed incumbent upon me to accept responsibility. What made me hesitate at all was the fact that I had ridden five miles or more along the old Crook road. I remembered. I told Lee and I told Nielsen that we would find it tough going. Lee laughed like a cowboy: "We'll go a-hummin'," he said. Nielsen shrugged his brawny shoulders. What were obstacles to this man of the desert? I realized that his look had decided me.
"All right, men, we'll try the old Crook road," I said. "Pack what you can up to the wagon to-day, and to-morrow early we'll break camp."
I walked with the Haughts from our camp across the brook to theirs, where we sat down in the warm sunshine. I made light of this hunting trip in which it had turned out I had no gun, no horse, no blankets, no rain-proof tent, no adequate amount of food supplies, and no good luck, except the wonderful good luck of being well, of seeing a magnificent country, of meeting some more fine westerners. But the Haughts appeared a little slow to grasp, or at least to credit my philosophy. We were just beginning to get acquainted. Their regret was that they had been unable to see me get a bear, a deer, a lion, and some turkeys. Their conviction, perhaps formed from association with many sportsman hunters, was that owing to my bad luck I could not and would not want to come again.
"See here, Haught," I said. "I've had a fine time. Now forget about this hunt. It's past. We'll plan another. Will you save next fall for me?"
"I shore will," he replied.
"Very well, then, it's settled. Say by August you and the boys cut a trail or two in and out of Horton Thicket. I'll send you money in advance to pay for this work, and get new hounds and outfit. I'll leave Flagstaff on September fifteenth. Meet you here September twenty-first, along about noon."
We shook hands upon the deal. It pleased me that the Haughts laughed at me yet appeared both surprised and happy. As I left I heard Edd remark: "Not a kick!... Meet him next year at noon! What do you know about thet?" This remark proved that he had paid me a compliment in eastern slang most likely assimilated from R.C. and Romer.
The rest of the afternoon our camp resembled a beehive, and next morning it was more like a bedlam. The horses were fresh, spirited, and they had tender backs; the burros stampeded because of some surreptitious trick of Romer's. But by noon we had all the outfit packed in the wagon. Considering the amount of stuff, and the long, rough climb up to the wagon, this was a most auspicious start. I hoped that it augured well for us, but while I hoped I had a gloomy foreboding. We bade good-bye to Haught and his son George. Edd offered to go with us as far as he knew the country, which distance was not many miles. So we set out upon our doubtful journey, our saddle-horses in front of the lumbering wagon.
We had five miles of fairly level road through open forest along the rim, and then we struck such a rocky jumble of downhill grade that the bundles fell off the wagon. They had to be tied on. When we came to a long slow slant uphill, a road of loose rocks, we made about one mile an hour. This slow travel worked havoc upon my mind. I wanted to hurry. I wanted to get out of the wilds. That awful rumor about influenza occupied my mind and struck cold fear into my heart. What of my family? No making the best of this! Slowly we toiled on. Sunset overtook us at a rocky ledge which had to be surmounted. With lassos on saddle horses in front of the two teams, all pulling hard, we overcame that obstacle. But at the next little hill, which we encountered about twilight, one of the team horses balked. Urging him, whipping him, served no purpose; and it had bad effect upon the other horses. Darkness was upon us with the camp-site Edd knew of still miles to the fore. No grass, no water for the horses! But we had to camp there. All hands set to work. It really was fun--it should have been fine for me--but my gloomy obsession to hurry obscured my mind. I marveled at old Doyle, over seventy, after that long, hard day, quickly and efficiently cooking a good hot supper. Romer had enjoyed the day. He said he was tired, but would like to stay up beside the mighty camp-fire Nielsen built. I had neither energy or spirit to oppose him. The night was dark and cold and windy; the fire felt so good that I almost went asleep beside it. We had no time to put up tents. I made our bed, crawled into it, stretched out with infinite relief; and the last thing I was aware of was Romer snuggling in beside me.
Morning brought an early bestirring of every one. We had to stir to get warm. The air nipped like cold pincers. All the horses were gone; we could not hear a bell. But Lee did not appear worried. I groaned in spirit. More delay! Gloom assailed me. Lee sallied out with his yellow dog Pups. I had forgotten the good quality of Pups, but not my dislike for him. He barked vociferously, and that annoyed me. R.C. and I helped Edd and Nielsen pack the wagon. We worked quick and hard. Then Doyle called us to breakfast. We had scarcely started to eat when we heard a jangle of bells and the pound of hoofs. I could not believe my ears. Our horses were lost. Nevertheless suddenly they appeared, driven by Lee riding bareback, and Pups barking his head off. We all jumped up with ropes and nose-bags to head off the horses, and soon had them secured. Not one missing! I asked Lee how in the world he had found that wild bunch in less than an hour. Lee laughed. "Pups. He rounded them up in no time."
Then I wanted to go away and hide behind a thicket and kick myself, but what I actually did was to give Pups part of my meat. I reproached myself for my injustice to him. How often had I been deceived in the surface appearance of people and things and dogs! Most of our judgments are wrong. We do not see clearly.
By nine o'clock we were meeting our first obstacle--the little hill at which the sorrel horse had balked. Lo! rested and full of grain, he balked again! He ruined our start. He spoiled the teams. Lee had more patience than I would have had. He unhitched the lead team and in place of the sorrel put a saddle horse called Pacer. Then Doyle tried again and surmounted the hill. Our saddle horses slowly worked ahead over as rocky and rough a road as I ever traveled. Most of the time we could see over the rim down into the basin. Along here the rim appeared to wave in gentle swells, heavily timbered and thickly rock-strewn, with heads of canyons opening down to our right. I saw deer tracks and turkey tracks, neither of which occasioned me any thrills now. About the middle of the afternoon Edd bade us farewell and turned back. We were sorry to see him go, but as all the country ahead of us was as unfamiliar to him as to us there seemed to be no urgent need of him.
We encountered a long, steep hill up which the teams, and our saddle horses combined, could not pull the wagon. We unpacked it, and each of us, Romer included, loaded a bundle or box in front of his saddle, and took it up the hill. Then the teams managed the wagon. This incident happened four times in less than as many miles. The team horses, having had a rest from hard labor, had softened, and this sudden return to strenuous pulling had made their shoulders sore. They either could not or would not pull. We covered less than ten miles that day, a very discouraging circumstance. We camped in a pine grove close to the rim, a splendid site that under favorable circumstances would have been enjoyable. At sunset R.C. and Nielsen and Romer saw a black bear down under the rim. The incident was so wonderful for Romer that it brightened my spirits. "A bear! A big bear, Dad!... I saw him! He was alive! He stood up--like this--wagging his head. Oh! I saw him!"
Our next day's progress was no less than a nightmare. Crawling along, unpacking and carrying, and packing again, we toiled up and down the interminable length of three almost impassable miles. When night overtook us it was in a bad place to camp. No grass, no water! A cold gale blew out of the west. It roared through the forest. It blew everything loose away in the darkness. It almost blew us away in our beds. The stars appeared radiantly coldly white up in the vast blue windy vault of the sky. A full moon soared majestically. Shadows crossed the weird moon-blanched forest glades.
At daylight we were all up, cramped, stiff, half frozen, mostly silent. The water left in the buckets was solid ice. Suddenly some one discovered that Nielsen was missing. The fact filled me with consternation and alarm. He might have walked in his sleep and fallen over the rim. What had become of him? All his outfit lay scattered round in his bed. In my bewilderment I imagined many things, even to the extreme that he might have left us in the lurch. But when I got to that sad pass of mind I suddenly awakened as if out of an evil dream. My worry, my hurry had obsessed me. High time indeed was it for me to meet this situation as I had met other difficult ones. To this end I went out away from camp, and forgot myself, my imagined possibilities, and thought of my present responsibility, and the issue at hand. That instant I realized my injustice toward Nielsen, and reproached myself.
Upon my return to camp Nielsen was there, warming one hand over the camp-fire and holding a cup of coffee in the other.
"Nielsen, you gave us a scare. Please explain," I said.
"Yes, sir. Last night I was worried. I couldn't sleep. I got to thinking we were practically lost. Some one ought to find out what was ahead of us. So I got up and followed the road. Bright moonlight. I walked all the rest of the night. And that's all, sir."
I liked Nielsen's looks then. He reminded me of Jim Emett, the Mormon giant to whom difficulties and obstacles were but spurs to achievement. Such men could not be defeated.
"Well, what did you find out?" I inquired.
"Change of conditions, sir," he replied, as a mate to his captain. "Only one more steep hill so far as I went. But we'll have to cut through thickets and logs. From here on the road is all grown over. About ten miles west we turn off the rim down a ridge."
That about the turning-off place was indeed good news. I thanked Nielsen. And Doyle appeared immensely relieved. The packing and carrying had begun to tell on us. Pups ingratiated himself into my affections. He found out that he could coax meat and biscuit from me. We had three axes and a hatchet; and these we did not pack in the wagon. When Doyle finally got the teams started Lee and Nielsen and R.C. and I went ahead to clear the road. Soon we were halted by thickets of pines, some of which were six inches in diameter at the base. The road had ceased to be rocky, and that, no doubt, was the reason pine thickets had grown up on it, The wagon kept right at our heels, and many times had to wait. We cut a way through thickets, tore rotten logs to pieces, threw stumps aside, and moved windfalls. Brawny Nielsen seemed ten men in one! What a swath he hacked with his big axe! When I rested, which circumstance grew oftener and oftener, I had to watch Nielsen with his magnificent swing of the axe, or with his mighty heave on a log. Time and again he lifted tree trunks out of the road. He sweat till he was wringing wet. Neither that day nor the next would we have ever gotten far along that stretch of thicketed and obstructed road had it not been for Nielsen.
At sunset we found ourselves at the summit of a long slowly ascending hill, deeply forested. It took all the horses together to pull the wagon to the top. Thus when we started down a steep curve, horses and men both were tired. I was ahead riding beside Romer. Nielsen and R.C. were next, and Lee had fallen in behind the wagon. As I turned the sharp curve I saw not fifty feet below me a huge log obstructing the road.
"Look out! Stop!" I yelled, looking back.
But I was too late. The horses could not hold back the heavily laden wagon, and they broke into a gallop. I saw Doyle's face turn white--heard him yell. Then I spurred my horse to the side. Romer was slow or frightened. I screamed at him to get off the road. My heart sank sick within me! Surely he would be run down. As his pony Rye jumped out of the way the shoulder of the black horse, on the off side, struck him a glancing blow. Then the big team hurdled the log, the tongue struck with a crash, the wagon stopped with a lurch, and Doyle was thrown from his seat.
Quick as a flash Nielsen was on the spot beside the team. The bay horse was down. The black horse was trying to break away. Nielsen cut and pulled the bay free of the harness, and Lee came tearing down to grasp and hold the black.
Like a fool I ran around trying to help somehow, but I did not know what to do. I smelled and then saw blood, which fact convinced me of disaster. Only the black horse that had hurdled the log made any effort to tear away. The other lay quiet. When finally it was extricated we found that the horse had a bad cut in the breast made by a snag on the log. We could find no damage done to the wagon. The harness Nielsen had cut could be mended quickly. What a fortunate outcome to what had seemed a very grave accident! I was thankful indeed. But not soon would I forget sight of Romer in front of that plunging wagon.
With the horses and a rope we hauled the log to one side of the road, and hitching up again we proceeded on our way. Once I dropped back and asked Doyle if he was all right. "Fine as a fiddle," he shouted. "This's play to what we teamsters had in the early days." And verily somehow I could see the truth of that. A mile farther on we made camp; and all of us were hungry, weary, and quiet.
Doyle proved a remarkable example to us younger men. Next morning he crawled out before any one else, and his call was cheery. I was scarcely able to get out of my bed, but I was ashamed to lie there an instant after I heard Doyle. Possibly my eyesight was dulled by exhaustion when it caused me to see myself as a worn, unshaven, wrinkled wretch. Romer-boy did not hop out with his usual alacrity. R.C. had to roll over in his bed and get up on all fours.
We had scant rations for three more days. It behooved us to work and waste not an hour. All morning, at the pace of a snail it seemed, we chopped and lifted and hauled our way along that old Crook road. Not since my trip down the Santa Rosa river in Mexico had I labored so strenuously.
At noon we came to the turning-off junction, an old blazed road Doyle had some vague knowledge of. "It must lead to Jones' ranch," Doyle kept saying. "Anyway, we've got to take it." North was our direction. And to our surprise, and exceeding gladness, the road down this ridge proved to be a highway compared to what we had passed. In the open forest we had to follow it altogether by the blazes on the trees. But with all our eyes alert that was easy. The grade was down hill, so that we traveled fast, covering four miles an hour. Occasionally a log or thicket halted rapid progress. Toward the end of the afternoon sheep and cattle trails joined the now well-defined road, and we knew we were approaching a ranch. I walked, or rather limped the last mile, for the very good reason that I could not longer bear the trot of my horse. The forest grew more open, with smaller pines, and fewer thickets. At sunset I came out upon the brow of a deep barren-looking canyon, in the middle of which squatted some old ruined log-cabins. Deserted! Alas for my visions of a cup of cold milk. For hours they had haunted me. When Doyle saw the broken-down cabins and corrals he yelled: "Boys, it's Jones' Ranch. I've been here. We're only three miles from Long Valley and the main road!"
Elated we certainly were. And we rushed down the steep hill to look for water. All our drinking water was gone, and the horses had not slaked their thirst for two days. Separating we rode up and down the canyon. R.C. and Romer found running water. Thereupon with immense relief and joy we pitched camp near the cabins, forgetting our aches and pains in the certainty of deliverance.
What a cold, dismal, bleak, stony, and lonesome place! We unpacked only bedding, and our little store of food. And huddled around the camp-fire we waited upon Doyle's cooking. The old pioneer talked while he worked.
"Jones' ranch!--I knew Jones in the early days. And I've heard of him lately. Thirty years ago he rode a prairie schooner down into this canyon. He had his wife, a fine, strong girl, and he had a gun, an axe, some chuck, a few horses and cattle, and not much else. He built him that cabin there and began the real old pioneering of the early days. He raised cattle. He freighted to the settlements twice a year. In twenty-five years he had three strapping boys and a girl just as strapping. And he had a fortune in cattle. Then he sold his stock and left this ranch. He wanted to give his faithful wife and his children some of the comforts and luxuries and advantages of civilization. The war came. His sons did not wait for the draft. They entered the army. I heard a story about Abe Jones, the old man's first boy. Abe was a quiet sort of chap. When he got to the army training camp a sergeant asked Abe if he could shoot. Abe said: 'Nope, not much.' So they gave him a rifle and told him to shoot at the near target. Abe looked at it sort of funny like and he picked out the farthest target at one thousand yards. And he hit the bull's eye ten times straight running. 'Hey!' gasped the sergeant, 'you long, lanky galoot! You said you couldn't shoot.' Abe sort of laughed. 'Reckon I was thinkin' about what Dad called shootin'.'... Well, Abe and his brothers got to France to the front. Abe was a sharpshooter. He was killed at Argonne. Both his brothers were wounded. They're over there yet.... I met a man not long ago who'd seen Jones recently. And the old pioneer said he and his wife would like to be back home. And home to them means right here--Jones' Ranch!"
Doyle's story affected me profoundly. What a theme for a novel! I walked away from the camp-fire into the dark, lonely, melancholy Arizona night. The ruined cabins, the broken-down corrals, the stone fence, the wash where water ran at wet season--all had subtly changed for me. Leaning in the doorway of the one-room cabin that had been home for these Joneses I was stirred to my depths. Their spirits abided in that lonely hut. At least I felt something there--something strange, great, simple, inevitable, tragic as life itself. Yet what could have been more beautiful, more splendid than the life of Jones, and his wife, and daughter, and sons, especially Abe? Abe Jones! The name haunted me. In one clear divining flash I saw the life of the lad. I yearned with tremendous passion for the power to tell the simplicity, the ruggedness, the pathos and the glory of his story. The moan of wind in the pines seemed a requiem for the boy who had prattled and romped and played under them, who had chopped and shot and rode under them. Into his manhood had gone something of their strength and nature.
We sought our beds early. The night down in that deep, open canyon was the coldest we had experienced. I slept but little. At dawn all was hoar-white with frost. It crackled under foot. The air had a stinging bite. Yet how sweet, pure, cold to breathe!
Doyle's cheery: "Come and get it," was welcome call to breakfast. Lee and Pups drove the horses into one of the old corrals. In an hour, while the frost was yet hard and white, we were ready to start. Then Doyle somewhat chilled our hopes: "Twenty years ago there was a bad road out of here. Maybe one's been made since."
But one had not been made. And the old road had not been used for years. Right at the outset we struck a long, steep, winding, rocky road. We got stalled at the very foot of it. More toil! Unloading the wagon we packed on our saddles the whole load more than a mile up this last and crowning obstacle. Then it took all the horses together to pull the empty wagon up to a level. By that time sunset had overtaken us. Where had the hours gone? Nine hours to go one mile! But there had to be an end to our agonies. By twilight we trotted down into Long Valley, and crossed the main road to camp in a grove we remembered well. We partook of a meagre supper, but we were happy. And bed that night on a thick layer of soft pine needles, in a spot protected from the cold wind, was immensely comfortable.
Lee woke the crowd next morning. "All rustle," he yelled. "Thirty-five miles to Mormon Lake. Good road. We'll camp there to-night."
How strange that the eagerness to get home now could only be compared to the wild desire for the woods a few weeks back! We made an early start. The team horses knew that road. They knew they were now on the way home. What difference that made! Jaded as they were they trotted along with a briskness never seen before on that trip. It began to be a job for us to keep up with Lee, who was on the wagon. Unless a rider is accustomed to horseback almost all of the time a continuous trot on a hard road will soon stove him up. My horse had an atrocious trot. Time and again I had to fall behind to a walk and then lope ahead to catch up. I welcomed the hills that necessitated Lee walking the teams.
At noon we halted in a grassy grove for an hour's rest. That seemed a precious hour, but to start again was painful. I noticed that Romer-boy no longer rode out far in front, nor did he chase squirrels with Pups. He sagged, twisted and turned, and lolled in his saddle. Thereafter I tried to keep close to him. But that was not easy, for he suspected me of seeing how tired he was, and kept away from me. Thereafter I took to spying upon him from some distance behind. We trotted and walked, trotted and walked the long miles. Arizona miles were twice as long as ordinary properly measured miles. An event of the afternoon was to meet some Mexican sheepherders, driving a flock south. Nielsen got some fresh mutton from them. Toward sunset I caught Romer hanging over his saddle. Then I rode up to him. "Son, are you tired?" I asked. "Oh, Dad, I sure am, but I'm going to ride Rye to Mormon Lake." I believed he would accomplish it. His saddle slipped, letting him down. I saw him fall. When he made no effort to get up I was frightened. Rye stood perfectly still over him. I leaped off and ran to the lad. He had hit his head on a stone, drawing the blood, and appeared to be stunned. I lifted him, holding him up, while somebody got some water. We bathed his face and washed off the blood. Presently he revived, and smiled at me, and staggered out of my hold.
"Helluva note that saddle slipped!" he complained. Manifestly he had acquired some of Joe Isbel's strong language. Possibly he might have acquired some other of the cowboy's traits, for he asked to have his saddle straightened and to be put on his horse. I had misgivings, but I could not resist him then. I lifted him upon Rye. Once more our cavalcade got under way.
Sunset, twilight, night came as we trotted on and on. We faced a cold wind. The forest was black, gloomy, full of shadows. Lee gave us all we could do to keep up with him. At eight o'clock, two hours after dark, we reached the southern end of Mormon Lake. A gale, cold as ice, blew off the water from the north. Half a dozen huge pine trees stood on the only level ground near at hand. "Nielsen, fire--pronto!" I yelled. "Aye, sir," he shouted, in his deep voice. Then what with hurry and bustle to get my bedding and packs, and to thresh my tingling fingers, and press my frozen ears, I was selfishly busy a few minutes before I thought of Romer.
Nielsen had started a fire, that blazed and roared with burning pine needles. The blaze blew low, almost on a level with the ground, and a stream of red sparks flew off into the woods. I was afraid of forest fire. But what a welcome sight that golden flame! It lighted up a wide space, showing the huge pines, gloom-encircled, and a pale glimmer of the lake beyond. The fragrance of burning pine greeted my nostrils.
Dragging my bags I hurried toward the fire. Nielsen was building a barricade of rocks to block the flying sparks. Suddenly I espied Romer. He sat on a log close to the blaze. His position struck me as singular, so I dropped my burdens and went to him. He had on a heavy coat over sweater and under coat, which made him resemble a little old man. His sombrero was slouched down sidewise, his gloved hands were folded across his knees, his body sagged a little to one side, his head drooped. He was asleep. I got around so I could see his face in the firelight. Pale, weary, a little sad, very youthful and yet determined! A bloody bruise showed over his temple. He had said he would ride all the way to Mormon Lake and he had done it. Never, never will that picture fade from my memory! Dear, brave, wild, little lad! He had made for me a magnificent success of this fruitless hunting trip. I hoped and prayed then that when he grew to man's estate, and faced the long rides down the hard roads of life, he would meet them and achieve them as he had the weary thirty-five Arizona miles from Long Valley to Mormon Lake.
Mutton tasted good that night around our camp-fire; and Romer ate a generous portion. A ranger from the station near there visited us, and two young ranchers, who told us that the influenza epidemic was waning. This was news to be thankful for. Moreover, I hired the two ranchers to hurry us by auto to Flagstaff on the morrow. So right there at Mormon Lake ended our privations.
Under one of the huge pines I scraped up a pile of needles, made Romer's bed in it, heated a blanket and wrapped him in it. Almost he was asleep when he said: "Some ride, Dad--Good-night."
Later, beside him, I lay awake a while, watching the sparks fly, and the shadows flit, feeling the cold wind on my face, listening to the crackle of the fire and the roar of the gale.