Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
Early next morning before the sun had tipped the pines with gold I went down Barber Shop Canyon with Copple to look for our horses. During the night our stock had been chased by a lion. We had all been awakened by their snorting and stampeding. We found our horses scattered, the burros gone, and Copple's mules still squared on guard, ready to fight. Copple assured me that this formation of his mules on guard was an infallible sign of lions prowling around. One of these mules he had owned for ten years and it was indeed the most intelligent beast I ever saw in the woods.
We found three beaver dams across the brook, one about fifty feet long, and another fully two hundred. Fresh turkey tracks showed in places, and on the top of the longer dam, fresh made in the mud, were lion tracks as large as the crown of my hat. How sight of them made me tingle all over! Here was absolute proof of the prowling of one of the great cats.
Beaver tracks were everywhere. They were rather singular looking tracks, the front feet being five-toed, and the back three-toed, and webbed. Near the slides on the bank the water was muddy, showing that the beaver had been at work early. These animals worked mostly at night, but sometimes at sunset and sunrise. They were indeed very cautious and wary. These dams had just been completed and no aspens had yet been cut for food. Beaver usually have two holes to their home, one under the water, and the other out on the bank. We found one of these outside burrows and it was nearly a foot wide.
Upon our return to camp with the horses Haught said he could put up that lion for us, and from the size of its track he judged it to be a big one. I did not want to hunt lions and R.C. preferred to keep after bears. "Wal," said Haught, "I'll take an off day an' chase thet lion. Had a burro killed here a couple of years ago."
So we rode out with the hounds on another bear hunt. Pyle's Canyon lay to the east of Dude Creek, and we decided to run it that day. Edd and Nielsen started down with the hounds. Copple and I followed shortly afterward with the intention of descending mid-way, and then working along the ridge crests and promontories. The other boys remained on the rim to take up various stands as occasion called for.
I had never been on as steep slopes as these under the rim. They were grassy, brushy, rocky, but it was their steepness that made them so hard to travel. Right off, half way down, we started a herd of bucks. The noise they made sounded like cattle. We found tracks of half a dozen. "Lots of deer under the rim," declared Copple, his eyes gleaming. "They're feedin' on acorns. Here's where you'll get your big buck." After that I kept a sharp lookout, arguing with myself that a buck close at hand was worth a lot of bears down in the brush.
Presently we changed a direct descent to work gradually along the slopes toward a great level bench covered with pines. We had to cross gravel patches and pits where avalanches had slid, and at last, gaining the bench we went through the pine grove, out to a manzanita thicket, to a rocky point where the ledges were toppling and dangerous. The stand here afforded a magnificent view. We were now down in the thick of this sloped and canyoned and timbered wildness; no longer above it, and aloof from it. The dry smell of pine filled the air. When we finally halted to listen we at once heard the baying of the hounds in the black notch below us. We watched and listened. And presently across open patches we saw the flash of deer, and then Rock and Buck following them. Thus were my suspicions of Rock fully confirmed. Copple yelled down to Edd that some of the hounds were running deer, but apparently Edd was too far away to hear.
Still, after a while we heard the mellow tones of Edd's horn, calling in the hounds. And then he blew the signal to acquaint all of us above that he was going down around the point to drive the next canyon. Copple and I had to choose between climbing back to the rim or trying to cross the slopes and head the gorges, and ascend the huge ridge that separated Pyle's Canyon from the next canyon. I left the question to Copple, with the result that we stayed below.
We were still high up, though when we gazed aloft at the rim we felt so far down, and the slopes were steep, stony, soft in places and slippery in others, with deep cuts and patches of manzanita. No stranger was I to this beautiful treacherous Spanish brush! I shared with Copple a dislike of it almost equal to that inspired by cactus. We soon were hot, dusty, dry, and had begun to sweat. The immense distances of the place were what continually struck me. Distances that were deceptive--that looked short and were interminable! That was Arizona. We covered miles in our detours and we had to travel fast because we knew Edd could round the base of the lower points in quick time.
Above the head of the third gorge Copple and I ran across an enormous bear track, fresh in the dust, leading along an old bear trail. This track measured twelve inches. "He's an old Jasper, as Haught says," declared Copple. "Grizzly. An' you can bet he heard the dogs an' got movin' away from here. But he ain't scared. He was walkin'."
I forgot the arduous toil. How tight and cool and prickling the feel of my skin! The fresh track of a big grizzly would rouse the hunter in any man. We made sure how fresh this track was by observing twigs and sprigs of manzanita just broken. The wood was green, and wet with sap. Old Bruin had not escaped our eyes any too soon. We followed this bear trail, evidently one used for years. It made climbing easy for us. Trust a big, heavy, old grizzly to pick out the best traveling over rough country! This fellow, I concluded, had the eye of a surveyor. His trail led gradually toward a wonderful crag-crowned ridge that rolled and heaved down from the rim. It had a dip or saddle in the middle, and rose from that to the lofty mesa, and then on the lower side, rose to a bare, round point of gray rock, a landmark, a dome-shaped tower where the gods of that wild region might have kept their vigil.
Long indeed did it take us to climb up the bear trail to where it crossed the saddle and went down on the other side into a canyon so deep and wild that it was purple. This saddle was really a remarkable place--a natural trail and outlet and escape for bears traveling from one canyon to another. Our bear tracks showed fresh, and we saw where they led down a steep, long, dark aisle between pines and spruces to a dense black thicket below. The saddle was about twenty feet wide, and on each side of it rose steep rocks, affording most effective stands for a hunter to wait and watch.
We rested then, and listened. There was only a little wind, and often it fooled us. It sounded like the baying of hounds, and now like the hallooing of men, and then like the distant peal of a horn. By and bye Copple said he heard the hounds. I could not be sure. Soon we indeed heard the deep-sounding, wild bay of Old Dan, the course, sharp, ringing bay of Old Tom, and then, less clear, the chorus from the other hounds. Edd had started them on a trail up this magnificent canyon at our feet. After a while we heard Edd's yell, far away, but clear: "Hi! Hi!" We could see a part of the thicket, shaggy and red and gold; and a mile or more of the opposite wall of the canyon. No rougher, wilder place could have been imagined than this steep slope of bluffs, ledges, benches, all matted with brush, and spotted with pines. Holes and caves and cracks showed, and yellow blank walls, and bronze points, and green slopes, and weathered slides.
Soon the baying of the hounds appeared to pass below and beyond us, up the canyon to our right, a circumstance that worried Copple. "Let's go farther up," he kept saying. But I was loath to leave that splendid stand. The baying of the hounds appeared to swing round closer under us; to ring, to swell, to thicken until it was a continuous and melodious, wild, echoing roar. The narrowing walls of the canyon threw the echoes back and forth.
Presently I espied moving dots, one blue, one brown, on the opposite slope. They were Haught and his son Edd slowly and laboriously climbing up the steep bluff. How like snails they climbed! Theirs was indeed a task. A yell pealed out now and then, and though it seemed to come from an entirely different direction it surely must have come from the Haughts. Presently some one high on the rim answered with like yells. The chase was growing hotter.
"They've got a bear up somewhere," cried Copple, excitedly. And I agreed with him.
Then we were startled by the sharp crack of a rifle from the rim.
"The ball's open! Get your pardners, boys," exclaimed Copple, with animation.
"Ben, wasn't that a.30 Gov't?" I asked.
"Sure was," he replied. "Must have been R.C. openin' up. Now look sharp!"
I gazed everywhere, growing more excited and thrilled. Another shot from above, farther off and from a different rifle, augmented our stirring expectation.
Copple left our stand and ran up over the ridge, and then down under and along the base of a rock wall. I had all I could do to keep up with him. We got perhaps a hundred yards when we heard the spang of Haught's.30 Gov't. Following this his big, hoarse voice bawled out: "He's goin' to the left--to the left!" That sent us right about face, to climbing, scrambling, running and plunging back to our first stand at the saddle, where we arrived breathless and eager.
Edd was climbing higher up, evidently to reach the level top of the bluff above, and Haught was working farther up the canyon, climbing a little. Copple yelled with all his might: "Where's the bear?"
"Bar everywhar!" pealed back Haught's stentorian voice. How the echoes clapped!
Just then Copple electrified me with a wild shout. "Wehow! I see him.... What a whopper!" He threw up his rifle: spang--spang--spang--spang--spang.
His aim was across the canyon. I heard his bullets strike. I strained my eyes in flashing gaze everywhere. "Where? Where?" I cried, wildly.
"There!" shouted Copple, keenly, and he pointed across the canyon. "He's goin' over the bench--above Edd.... Now he's out of sight. Watch just over Edd. He'll cross that bench, go round the head of the little canyon, an' come out on the other side, under the bare bluff.... Watch sharp-right by that big spruce with the dead top.... He's a grizzly an' as big as a horse".
I looked until my eyes hurt. All I said was: "Ben, you saw game first to-day". Suddenly a large, dark brown object, furry and grizzled, huge and round, moved out of the shadow under the spruce and turned to go along the edge in the open sunlight.
"Oh! look at him!" I yelled. A strong, hot gust of blood ran all over me and I thrilled till I shook. When I aimed at the bear I could see him through the circle of my peep sight, but when I moved the bead of the front sight upon him it almost covered him up. The distance was far--more than a thousand yards--over half a mile--we calculated afterward. But I tried to draw a bead on the big, wagging brown shape and fired till my rifle was empty.
Meanwhile Copple had reloaded. "You watch while I shoot," he said. "Tell me where I'm hittin'."
Wonderful was it to see how swiftly he could aim and shoot. I saw a puff of dust. "Low, Ben!" Spang rang his rifle. "High!" Again he shot, wide this time. He emptied his magazine. "Smoke him now!" he shouted, gleefully. "I'll watch while you shoot."
"It's too far, Ben," I replied, as I jammed the last shell in the receiver.
"No--no. It's only we don't hold right. Aim a little coarse," said Copple. "Gee, ain't he some bear! 'No scared tall' as the Jap says.... He's one of the old sheep-killers. He'll weigh half a ton. Smoke him now!"
My excitement was intense. It seemed, however, I was most consumed with admiration for that grizzly. Not in the least was he afraid. He walked along the rough places, trotted along the ledges, and here and there he halted to gaze below him. I waited for one of these halts, aimed a trifle high, and fired. The grizzly made a quick, angry movement and then jumped up on a ledge. He jumped like a rabbit.
"You hit close that time," yelled Ben. "Hold the same way--a little coarser."
My next bullet struck a puff from rock above the bear, and my third, hitting just in front of him, as he was on a yellow ledge, covered him with dust. He reared, and wheeling, sheered back and down the step he had mounted, and disappeared in a clump of brush. I shot into that. We heard my bullet crack the twigs. But it routed him out, and then my last shot hit far under him.
Copple circled his mouth with his hands and bellowed to the Haughts: "Climb! Climb! Hurry! Hurry! He's just above you--under that bluff."
The Haughts heard, and evidently tried to do all in their power, but they moved like snails. Then Copple fired five more shots, quick, yet deliberate, and he got through before I had reloaded; and as I began my third magazine Copple was so swift in reloading that his first shot mingled with my second. How we made the welkin ring! Wild yells pealed down from the rim. Somewhere from the purple depths below Nielsen's giant's voice rolled up. The Haughts opposite answered with their deep, hoarse yells. Old Dan and Old Tom bayed like distant thunder. The young hounds let out a string of sharp, keen yelps. Copple added his Indian cry, high-pitched and wild, to the pandemonium. But I could not shoot and screech at one and the same time.
"Hurry, Ben," I said, as I finished my third set of five shots, the last shot of which was my best and knocked dirt in the face of the grizzly.
Again he reared. This time he appeared to locate our direction. Above the bedlam of yells and bays and yelps and echoes I imagined I heard the grizzly roar. He was now getting farther along the base of the bluff, and I saw that he would escape us. My rifle barrel was hot as fire. My fingers were all thumbs. I jammed a shell into the receiver. My last chance had fled! But Copple's big, brown, swift hands fed shells to his magazine as ears of corn go to a grinder. He had a way of poking the base of a shell straight down into the receiver and making it snap forward and down. Then he fired five more shots as swiftly as he had reloaded. Some of these hit close to our quarry. The old grizzly slowed up, and looked across, and wagged his huge head.
"My gun's on fire all right," said Copple, grimly, as he loaded still more rapidly. Carefully he aimed and pulled trigger. The grizzly gave a spasmodic jerk as if stung and suddenly he made a prodigious leap off a ledge, down into a patch of brush, where he threshed like a lassoed elephant.
"Ben, you hit him!" I yelled, excitedly.
"Only made him mad. He's not hurt.... See, he's up again.... Will you look at that!"
The grizzly appeared to roll out of the brush, and like a huge furry ball of brown, he bounced down the thicketed slope to an open slide where he unrolled, and stretched into a run. Copple got two more shots before he was out of sight.
"Gone!" ejaculated Copple. "An' we never fetched him!... He ain't hurt. Did you see him pile down an' roll off that slope?... Let's see. I got twenty-three shots at him. How many had you?"
"I had fifteen."
"Say, it was some fun, wasn't it--smokin' him along there? But we ought to have fetched the old sheep-killer.... Wonder what's happened to the other fellows."
We looked about us. Not improbably the exciting moments had been few in number, yet they seemed long indeed. The Haughts had gotten to the top of the bluff, and were tearing through the brush toward the point Copple had designated. They reached it too late.
"Where is he?" yelled Edd.
"Gone!" boomed Copple. "Runnin' down the canyon. Call the dogs an' go down after him."
When the Haughts came out into the open upon that bench one of the pups and the spotted hound, Rock, were with them. Old Dan and old Tom were baying up at the head of the canyon, and Sue could be heard yelping somewhere else. Bear trails seemingly were abundant near our whereabouts. Presently the Haughts disappeared at the back of the bench where the old grizzly had gone down, and evidently they put the two hounds on his trail.
"That grizzly will climb over round the lower end of this ridge," declared Copple. "We want to be there."
So we hurriedly left our stand, and taking to the South side of the ridge, we ran and walked and climbed and plunged down along the slope. Keeping up with Copple on foot was harder than riding after Edd and George. When soon we reached a manzanita thicket I could no longer keep Copple in sight. He was so powerful that he just crashed through, but I had to worm my way, and walk over the tops of the bushes, like a tight-rope performer. Of all strong, thick, spiky brush manzanita was the worst.
In half an hour I joined Copple at the point under the dome-topped end of the ridge, only to hear the hounds apparently working back up the canyon. There was nothing for us to do but return to our stand at the saddle. Copple hurried faster than ever. But I had begun to tire and I could not keep up with him. But as I had no wild cravings to meet that old grizzly face to face all by myself in a manzanita thicket I did manage by desperate efforts to keep the Indian in sight. When I reached our stand I was wet and exhausted. After the hot, stifling, dusty glare of the yellow slope and the burning of the manzanita brush, the cool shade was a welcome change.
Somewhere all the hounds were baying. Not for some time could we locate the Haughts. Finally with the aid of my glass we discovered them perched high upon the bluff above where our grizzly had gone round. It appeared that Edd was pointing across the canyon and his father was manifesting a keen interest. We did not need the glass then to tell that they saw a bear. Both leveled their rifles and fired, apparently across the canyon. Then they stood like statues.
"I'll go down into the thicket," said Copple. "Maybe I can get a shot. An' anyway I want to see our grizzly's tracks." With that he started down, and once on the steep bear trail he slid rather than walked, and soon was out of my sight. After that I heard him crashing through thicket and brush. Soon this sound ceased. The hounds, too, had quit baying and the wind had lulled. Not a rustle of a leaf! All the hunters were likewise silent. I enjoyed a lonely hour there watching and listening, not however without apprehensions of a bear coming along. Certain I was that this canyon, which I christened Bear Canyon, had been full of bears.
At length I espied Copple down on the edge of the opposite slope. The way he toiled along proved how rough was the going. I watched him through my glasses, and was again impressed with the strange difference between the semblance of distance and the reality. Every few steps Copple would halt to rest. He had to hold on to the brush and in the bare places where he could not reach a bush he had to dig his heels into the earth to keep from sliding down. In time he ascended to the place where our grizzly had rolled down, and from there he yelled up to the Haughts, high above him. They answered, and soon disappeared on the far side of the bluff. Copple also disappeared going round under the wall of yellow rock. Perhaps in fifteen minutes I heard them yell, and then a wild clamor of the hounds. Some of the pack had been put on the trail of our grizzly; but gradually the sound grew farther away.
This was too much for me. I decided to go down into the canyon. Forthwith I started. It was easy to go down! As a matter of fact it was hard not to slide down like a streak. That long, dark, narrow aisle between the spruces had no charm for me anyway. Suppose I should meet a bear coming up as I was sliding down! I sheered off and left the trail, and also Copple's tracks. This was a blunder. I came out into more open slope, but steeper, and harder to cling on. Ledges cropped out, cliffs and ravines obstructed my passage and trees were not close enough to help me much. Some long slopes of dark, mossy, bare earth I actually ran down, trusting to light swift steps rather than slow careful ones. It was exhilarating, that descent under the shady spruces. The lower down I got the smaller and more numerous the trees. I could see where they left off to the dense thicket that choked the lower part of the v-shaped canyon. And I was amazed at the size and density of that jungle of scrub oaks, maples and aspens. From above the color was a blaze of scarlet and gold and green, with bronze tinge.
Presently I crossed a fresh bear track, so fresh that I could see the dampness of the dark earth, the rolling of little particles, the springing erect of bent grasses. In some places big sections of earth, a yard wide had slipped under the feet of this particular bear. He appeared to be working down. Right then I wanted to go up! But I could not climb out there. I had to go down. Soon I was under low-spreading, dense spruces, and I had to hold on desperately to keep from sliding. All the time naturally I kept a keen lookout for a bear. Every stone and tree trunk resembled a bear. I decided if I met a grizzly that I would not annoy him on that slope. I would say: "Nice bear, I won't hurt you!" Still the situation had some kind of charm. But to claim I was not frightened would not be strictly truthful. I slid over the trail of that bear into the trail of another one, and under the last big spruce on that part of the slope I found a hollow nest of pine needles and leaves, and if that bed was not still warm then my imagination lent considerable to the moment.
Beyond this began the edge of the thicket. It was small pine at first, so close together that I had to squeeze through, and as dark as twilight. The ground was a slant of brown pine needles, so slippery, that if I could not have held on to trees and branches I never would have kept my feet. In this dark strip I had more than apprehensions. What a comfortable place to encounter an outraged or wounded grizzly bear! The manzanita thicket was preferable. But as Providence would have it I did not encounter one.
Soon I worked or wormed out of the pines into the thicket of scrub oaks, maples and aspens. The change was welcome. Not only did the slope lengthen out, but the light changed from gloom to gold. There was half a foot of scarlet, gold, bronze, red and purple leaves on the ground, and every step I made I kicked acorns about to rustle and roll. Bear sign was everywhere, tracks and trails and beds and scratches. I kept going down, and the farther down I got the lighter it grew, and more approaching a level. One glade was strangely luminous and beautiful with a blending of gold and purple light made by the sun shining through the leaves overhead down upon the carpet of leaves on the ground. Then I came into a glade that reminded me of Kipling's moonlight dance of the wild elephants. Here the leaves and fern were rolled and matted flat, smooth as if done by a huge roller. Bears and bears had lolled and slept and played there. A little below this glade was a place, shady and cool, where a seep of water came from under a bank. It looked like a herd of cattle had stamped the earth, only the tracks were bear tracks. Little ones no longer than a child's hand, and larger, up to huge tracks a foot long and almost as wide. Many were old, but some were fresh. This little spot smelled of bear so strongly that it reminded me of the bear pen in the Bronx Park Zoological Garden. I had been keen for sight of bear trails and scent of bear fur, but this was a little too much. I thought it was too much because the place was lonely and dark and absolutely silent. I went on down to the gully that ran down the middle of the canyon. It was more open here. The sun got through, and there were some big pines.
I could see the bluff that the Haughts had climbed so laboriously, and now I understood why they had been so slow. It was straight up, brush and jumbled rock, and two hundred feet over my head. Somewhere above that bluff was the bluff where our bear had run along.
I rested and listened for the dogs. There was no wind to deceive me, but I imagined I heard dogs everywhere. It seemed unwise for me to go on down the canyon, for if I did not meet the men I would find myself lost. As it was I would have my troubles climbing out.
I chose a part of the thicket some distance above where I had come down, hoping to find it more open, if not less steep, and not so vastly inhabited with bears. Lo and behold it was worse! It was thicker, darker, wilder, steeper and there was, if possible, actually more bear sign. I had to pull myself up by holding to the trees and branches. I had to rest every few steps. I had to watch and listen all the time. Half-way up the trunks of the aspens and oaks and maples were all bent down-hill. They curved out and down before the rest of the tree stood upright. And all the brush was flat, bending down hill, and absolutely almost impassable. This feature of tree and brush was of course caused by the weight of snow in winter. It would have been more interesting if I had not been so anxious to get up. I grew hotter and wetter than I had been in the manzanitas. Moreover, what with the labor and worry and exhaustion, my apprehensions had increased. They increased until I had to confess that I was scared. Once I heard a rustle and pad on the leaves somewhere below. That made matters worse. Surely I would meet a bear. I would meet him coming down-hill! And I must never shoot a bear coming down-hill! Buffalo Jones had cautioned me on that score, so had Scott Teague, the bear hunter of Colorado, and so had Haught. "Don't never shoot no ole bar comin' down hill, 'cause if you do he'll just roll up an' pile down on you!"
I climbed until my tongue hung out and my heart was likely to burst. Then when I had to straddle a tree to keep from sliding down I got desperate and mad and hoped an old grizzly would happen along to make an end to my misery.
It took me an hour to climb up that part of the slope which constituted the thicket of oak, maple and aspen. It was half-past three when finally I reached the saddle where we had shot at the grizzly. I rested as long as I dared. I had still a long way to go up that ridge to the rim, and how did I know whether or not I could surmount it.
However, a good rest helped to revive strength and spirit. Then I started. Once above the saddle I was out clear in the open, high above the canyons, and the vast basin still farther below, yet far indeed under the pine-fringed rim above. This climb was all over stone. The ridge was narrow-crested, yellow, splintered rock, with a few dwarf pines and spruces and an occasional bunch of manzanita. I did not hear a sound that I did not make myself. Whatever had become of the hounds, and the other hunters? The higher I climbed the more I liked it. After an hour I was sure that I could reach the rim by this route, and of course that stimulated me. To make sure, and allay doubt, I sat down on a high backbone of bare rock and studied the heave and bulge of ridge above me. Using my glasses I made sure that I could climb out. It would be a task equal to those of lion-hunting days with Jones, and it made me happy to realize that despite the intervening ten years I was still equal to the task.
Once assured of this I grew acute to the sensations of the hour. This was one of my especial joys of the open--to be alone high on some promontory, above wild and beautiful scenery. The sun was still an hour from setting, and it had begun to soften, to grow intense, and more golden. There were clouds and lights that promised a magnificent sunset.
So I climbed on. When I stopped to rest I would shove a stone loose and watch it heave and slide, and leap out and hurtle down, to make the dust fly, and crash into the thickets, and eventually start an avalanche that would roar down into the canyon.
The Tonto Basin seemed a vast bowl of rolling, rough, black ridges and canyons, green and dark and yellow, with the great mountain ranges enclosing it to south and west. The black-fringed promontories of the rim, bold and rugged, leagues apart, stood out over the void. The colors of autumn gleamed under the cliffs, everywhere patches of gold and long slants of green and spots of scarlet and clefts of purple.
The last benches of that ridge taxed my waning strength. I had to step up, climb up, pull myself up, by hand and knee and body. My rifle grew to weigh a ton. My cartridge belt was a burden of lead around my waist. If I had been hot and wet below in the thicket I wondered what I grew on the last steps of this ridge. Yet even the toil and the pain held a keen pleasure. I did not analyze my feelings then, but it was good to be there.
The rim-rock came out to a point above me, seeming unscalable, all grown over with brush and lichen, and stunted spruce. But by hauling myself up, and crawling here, and winding under bridges of rock there, and holding to the brush, at last, panting and spent, I reached the top.
I was ready to drop on the mats of pine needles and lie there, unutterably grateful for rest, when I heard Old Tom baying, deep and ringing and close. He seemed right under the rim on the side of the ridge opposite to where I had climbed. I looked around. There was George's horse tied to a pine, and farther on my own horse Stockings.
Then I walked to the rim and looked down into the gold and scarlet thicket. Actually it seemed to me then, and always will seem, that the first object I clearly distinguished was a big black bear standing in an open aisle at the upper reach of the thicket close to the cliff. He shone black as shiny coal. He was looking down into the thicket, as if listening to the baying hound.
I could not repress an exclamation of surprise and thrilling excitement, and I uttered it as I raised my rifle. Just the instant I saw his shining fur through the circle of my rear sight he heard me and jumped, and my bullet missed him. Like a black flash he was gone around a corner of gray ledge.
"Well!" I ejaculated, suddenly weak. "After all this long day--to get a chance like that--and miss!"
All that seemed left of that long day was the sunset, out of which I could not be cheated by blunders or bad luck. Westward a glorious golden ball blazed over the rim. Above that shone an intense belt of color--Coleridge's yellow lightning--and it extended to a bank of cloud that seemed transparent purple, and above all this flowed a sea of purest blue sky with fleecy sails of pink and white and rose, exquisitely flecked with gold.
Lost indeed was I to weariness and time until the gorgeous transformation at last ended in dull gray. I walked along the rim, back to where I had tied my horse. He saw me and whinnied before I located the spot. I just about had strength enough left to straddle him. And presently through the twilight shadows I caught a bright glimmer of our camp-fire. Supper was ready; Takahashi grinned his concern away; all the men were waiting for me; and like the Ancient Mariner I told my tale. As I sat to a bountiful repast regaling myself, the talk of my companions seemed absolutely satisfying.
George Haught, on a stand at the apex of the canyon, had heard and seen a big brown bear climbing up through the thicket, and he had overshot and missed. R.C. had espied a big black bear walking a slide some four hundred yards down the canyon slope, and forgetting that he had a heavy close-range shell in his rifle instead of one of high trajectory, he had aimed accordingly, to undershoot half a foot and thus lose his opportunity. Nielsen had been lost most of the day. It seemed everywhere he heard yells and bays down in the canyon, and once he had heard a loud rattling crash of a heavy bear tearing through the thicket. Edd told of the fearful climb he and his father had made, how they had shot at the grizzly a long way off, how funny another bear had rolled around in his bed across the canyon. But the hounds got too tired to hold the trails late in the day. And lastly Edd said: "When you an' Ben were smokin' the grizzly I could hear the bullets hit close above us, an' I was sure scared stiff for fear you'd roll him down on us. But father wasn't scared. He said, 'let the old Jasper roll down! We'll assassinate him!'"
When the old bear hunter began to tell his part in the day's adventures my pleasure was tinglingly keen and nothing was wanting on the moment except that my boy Romer was not there to hear.
"Wal, shore it was an old bar day," said Haught, with quaint satisfaction. His blue shirt, ragged and torn and black from brush, surely attested to the truth of his words. "All told we seen five bars. Two blacks, two browns an' the old Jasper. Some of them big fellars, too. But we missed seein' the boss bar of this canyon. When Old Dan opened up first off I wanted Edd to climb thet bluff. But Edd kept goin' an' we lost our chance. Fer pretty soon we heard a bustin' of the brush. My, but thet bar was rockin' her off. He knocked the brush like a wild steer, an' he ran past us close--not a hundred yards. I never heard a heavier bar. But we couldn't see him. Then Edd started up, an' thet bluff was a wolf of a place. We was half up when I seen the grizzly thet you an' Ben smoked afterward. He was far off, but Edd an' I lammed a couple after him jest for luck. One of the pups was nippin' his heels. Think it was Big Foot.... Wal, thet was all of thet. We plumb busted ourselves gettin' on top of the bench to head off your bar. Only we hadn't time. Then we worried along around to the top of thet higher bluff an' there I was so played-out I thought my day had come. We kept our eyes peeled, an' pretty soon I spied a big brown bar actin' queer in an open spot across the canyon. Edd seen him too, an' we argued about what thet bar was doin'. He lay in a small open place at the foot of a spruce. He wagged his head slow an' he made as if to roll over, an' he stretched his paws, an' acted shore queer. Edd said: 'Thet bar's crippled. He's been shot by one of the boys, an' he's tryin' to get up.' But I shore didn't exactly agree with Edd. So I was for watchin' him some more. He looked like a sick bar--raisin' his head so slow an' droppin' it so slow an' sort of twistin' his body. He looked like his back had been broke an' he was tryin' to get up, but somehow I couldn't believe thet. Then he lay still an' Edd swore he was dead. Shore I got almost to believin' thet myself, when he waked up. An' then the old scoundrel slid around lazy like a torn cat by the fire, and sort of rolled on his back an' stretched. Next he slapped at himself with his paws. If he wasn't sick he was shore actin' queer with thet canyon full of crackin' guns an' bayin' hounds an' yellin' men. I begun to get suspicious. Shore he must be a dyin' bear. So I said to Edd: 'Let's bast him a couple just fer luck.' Wal, when we shot up jumped thet sick bar quicker'n you could wink. An' he piled into the thicket while I was goin' down after another shell.... It shore was funny. Thet old Jasper never heard the racket, an' if he heard it he didn't care. He had a bed in thet sunny spot an' he was foolin' around, playin' with himself like a kitten. Playin'! An' Edd reckoned he was dyin' an' I come shore near bein' fooled. The old Jasper! We'll assassinate him fer thet!"