Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
The last day of everything always comes. Time, like the tide, waits for no man. Anticipation is beautiful, but it is best and happiest to enjoy the present. Live while we may!
On this last day of my hunt we were up almost before it was light enough to see. The morning star shone radiant in the dark gray sky. All the other stars seemed dimmed by its glory. Silent as a grave was the forest. I started a fire, chopped wood so vigorously that I awakened Nielsen who came forth like a burly cave-man; and I washed hands and face in the icy cold brook. By the time breakfast was over the gold of the rising sun was tipping the highest pines on the ridges.
We started on foot, leaving the horses hobbled near camp. All the hounds appeared fit. Even Old Dan trotted along friskily. Pyle, a neighbor of Haught's, had come to take a hunt with us, bringing two dogs with him. For this last day I had formulated a plan. Edd and one of the boys were to take the hounds down on the east side of the great ridge that made the eastern wall of Dude Canyon. R.C. was to climb out on this ridge, and take his position at the most advantageous point. We had already chased half a dozen bears over this saddle, one of which was the big frosty-coated grizzly that Edd and Nielsen had shot at. The rest of us hurried to the head of Dude Canyon. Copple and I were to go down to the first promontories under the rim. The others were to await developments and go where Haught thought best to send them.
Copple and I started down over and around the crags, going carefully until we reached the open slope under the rim-rock. It seemed this morning that I was fresh, eager, agile like a goat on my feet. In my consciousness of this I boasted to Copple that I would dislodge fewer stones and so make less noise than he. The canyon sloped at an angle of about forty-five degrees, and we slid, stepped, jumped and ran down without starting an avalanche.
When we descended to the first bare cape of projecting rock the hour was the earliest in which I had been down under the rim. All the canyon and the great green gulf below were unusually fresh and beautiful. I heard the lonely call of strange birds and the low murmur of running water. An eagle soared in the sunlight. High above us to the east rose the magnificent slope of Dude Canyon. I gazed up to the black and green and silver ascent, up to the gold-tipped craggy crest where R.C. had his stand. I knew he could see me, but I could not see him. Afterward he told me that my red cap shone clearly out of green and gray, so he had no difficulty in keeping track of my whereabouts. The thickets of aspens and oaks seemed now to stand on end. How dark in the shade and steely and cold they looked! That giant ridge still obstructed the sun, and all on this side of it, under its frowning crest and slope was dark and fresh and cool in shadow. The ravines were choked black with spruce trees. Here along this gray shady slant of wall, in niches and cracks, and under ledges, and on benches, were the beds of the bears. Even as I gazed momentarily I expected to see a bear. It looked two hundred yards across the canyon from where we stood, but Copple declared it was a thousand. On our other side capes and benches and groves were bright in sunshine, clear across the rough breaks to the west wall of Dude Canyon. I saw a flock of wild pigeons below. Way out and beyond rolled the floor of the basin, green and vast, like a ridged sea of pines, to the bold black Mazatzals so hauntingly beckoning from the distance. Copple spoke now and then, but I wanted to be silent. How wild and wonderful this place in the early morning!
But I had not long to meditate and revel in beauty and wildness. Far down across the mouth of the canyon, at the extreme southern end of that vast oak thicket, the hounds gave tongue. Old Dan first! In the still cool air how his great wolf-bay rang out the wildness of the time and place! Already Edd and Pyle had rounded the end of the east ridge and were coming up along the slope of Dude Canyon.
"Hounds workin' round," declared Copple. "Now I'll tell you what. Last night a bear was feedin' along that end of the thicket. The hounds are millin' round tryin' to straighten out his trail.... It's a dead cinch they'll jump a bear an' we'll see him."
"Look everywhere!" I cautioned Copple, and my eyes roved and strained over all that vast slope. Suddenly I espied the flash of something black, far down the thicket, and tried to show it to my comrade.
"Let's go around an' down to that lower point of rock. It's a better stand than this. Closer to the thicket an' commands those.... By Golly, I see what you see! That's a bear, slippin' down. Stay with me now!"
Staying with Copple was a matter of utter disregard of clothes, limbs, life. He plunged off that bare ledge, slid flat on his back, and wormed feet first under manzanita, and gaining open slope got up to run and jump into another thicket. By staying with him I saw that I would have a way opened through the brush, and something to fall upon if I fell. He rimmed the edge of a deep gorge that made me dizzy. He leaped cracks. He let himself down over a ledge by holding to bushes. He found steps to descend little bluffs, and he flew across the open slides of weathered rock. I was afraid this short cut to the lower projecting cape of rock would end suddenly on some impassable break or cliff, but though the travel grew rough we still kept on. I wore only boots, trousers, and shirt, and cap, with cartridge belt strapped tight around me. It was a wonder I was not stripped. Some of my rags went to decorate the wake we left down that succession of ledges. But we made it, with me at least, bruised and ragged, dusty and choked, and absolutely breathless. My body burned as with fire. Hot sweat ran in streams down my chest. At last we reached the bare flat projecting cape of rock, and indeed it afforded an exceedingly favorable outlook. I had to sink down on the rock; I could not talk until I got my breath; but I used my eyes to every advantage. Neither Copple nor I could locate the black moving object we had seen from above. We were much closer to the hounds, though they still were baying a tangled cross trail. Fortunate it was for me that I was given these few moments to rest from my tremendous exertions.
My eyes searched the leaf-covered slope so brown and sear, and the shaggy thickets, and tried to pierce the black tangle of spruce patches. All at once, magically it seemed, my gaze held to a dark shadow, a bit of dense shade, under a large spruce tree. Something moved. Then a big bear rose right out of his bed of leaves, majestically as if disturbed, and turned his head back toward the direction of the baying hounds. Next he walked out. He stopped. I was quivering with eagerness to tell Copple, but I waited. Then the bear walked behind a tree and peeped out, only his head showing. After a moment again he walked out.
"Ben, aren't you ever going to see him?" I cried at last.
"What?" ejaculated Copple, in surprise.
"Bear!" and I pointed. "This side of dead spruce."
"No!... Reckon you see a stump.... By Golly! I see him. He's a dandy. Reddish color.... Doc, he's one of them mean old cinnamons."
"Watch! What will he do?--Ben, he hears the hounds."
How singularly thrilling to see him, how slowly he walked, how devoid of fear, how stately!
"Sure he hears them. See him look back. The son-of-a-gun! I'll bet he's given us the bear-laugh more than once."
"Ben, how far away is he?" I asked.
"Oh, that's eight hundred yards," declared Copple. "A long shot. Let's wait. He may work down closer. But most likely he'll run up-hill."
"If he climbs he'll go right to R.C.'s stand," I said, gazing upward.
"Sure will. There's no other saddle."
Then I decided that I would not shoot at him unless he started down. My excitement was difficult to control. I found it impossible to attend to my sensations, to think about what I was feeling. But the moment was full of suspense. The bear went into a small clump of spruces and stayed there a little while. Tantalizing moments! The hounds were hot upon his trail, still working to and fro in the oak thicket. I judged scarcely a mile separated them from the bear. Again he disappeared behind a little bush. Remembering that five pairs of sharp eyes could see me from the points above I stood up and waved my red cap. I waved it wildly as a man waves a red flag in moments of danger. Afterward R.C. said he saw me plainly and understood my action. Again the bear had showed, this time on an open slide, where he had halted. He was looking across the canyon while I waved my cap.
"Ben, could he see us so far?" I asked.
"By Golly, I'll bet he does see us. You get to smokin' him up. An' if you hit him don't be nervous if he starts for us. Cinnamons are bad customers. Lay out five extra shells an' make up your mind to kill him."
I dropped upon one knee. The bear started down, coming towards us over an open slide. "Aim a little coarse an' follow him," said Copple. I did so, and tightening all my muscles into a ball, holding my breath, I fired. The bear gave a savage kick backwards. He jerked back to bite at his haunch. A growl, low, angry, vicious followed the echoes of my rifle. Then it seemed he pointed his head toward us and began to run down the slope, looking our way all the time.
"By Golly!" yelled Copple. "You stung him one an' he's comin'!... Now you've got to shoot some. He can roll down-hill an' run up-hill like a jack rabbit. Take your time--wait for open shots--an' make sure!"
Copple's advice brought home to me what could happen even with the advantage on my side. Also it brought the cold tight prickle to my skin, the shudder that was not a thrill, the pressure of blood running too swiftly, I did not feel myself shake, but the rifle was unsteady. I rested an elbow on my knee, yet still I had difficulty in keeping the sight on him. I could get it on him, but could not keep it there. Again he came out into the open, at the head of a yellow slide, that reached to a thicket below. I must not hurry, yet I had to hurry. After all he had not so far to come and most of the distance was under cover. Through my mind flashed Haught's story of a cinnamon that kept coming with ten bullets in him.
"Doc, he's paddin' along!" warned Copple. "Smoke some of them shells!"
Straining every nerve I aimed as before, only a little in advance, held tight and pulled at the same instant. The bear doubled up in a ball and began to roll down the slide. He scattered the leaves. Then into the thicket he crashed, knocking the oaks, and cracking the brush.
"Some shot!" yelled Copple. "He's your bear!"
But my bear continued to crash through the brush. I shot again and yet again, missing both times. Apparently he was coming, faster now--and then he showed dark almost at the foot of our slope. Trees were thick there. I could not see there, and I could not look for bear and reload at the same moment. My fingers were not very nimble.
"Don't shoot," shouted Copple. "He's your bear. I never make any mistakes when I see game hit."
"But I see him coming!"
"Where?... By Golly! that's another bear. He's black. Yours is red.... Look sharp. Next time he shows smoke him!"
I saw a flash of black across an open space--I heard a scattering of gravel. But I had no chance to shoot. Then both of us heard a bear running in thick leaves.
"He's gone down the canyon," said Copple. "Now look for your bear."
"Listen Ben. The hounds are coming fast. There's Rock.--There's Sue."
"I see them. Old Dan--what do you think of that old dog?... There!--your red bear's still comin' ... He's bad hurt."
Though Copple tried hard to show me where, and I strained my eyes, I could not see the bear. I could not locate the threshing of brush. I knew it seemed close enough for me to be glad I was not down in that thicket. How the hounds made the welkin ring! Rock was in the lead. Sue was next. And Old Dan must have found the speed of his best days. Strange he did not bay all down that slope! When Rock and Sue headed the bear then I saw him. He sat up on his haunches ready to fight, but they did not attack him. Instead they began to yelp wildly. I dared not shoot again for fear of hitting one of them. Old Dan just beat the rest of the pack to the bear. Up pealed a yelping chorus. I had never heard Old Dan bay a bear at close range. With deep, hoarse, quick, wild roars he dominated that medley. A box canyon took up the bays, cracking them back in echo from wall to wall.
From the saddle of the great ridge above pealed down R.C.'s: "Waahoo!"
I saw him silhouetted dark against the sky line. He waved and I answered. Then he disappeared.
Nielsen bellowed from the craggy cape above and behind us. From down the canyon Edd sent up his piercing: "Ki Yi!" Then Takahashi appeared opposite to us, like a goat on a promontory. How his: "Banzai!" rang above the baying of the hounds!
"We'd better hurry down an' across," said Copple. "Reckon the hounds will jump that bear or some one else will get there first. We got to skedaddle!"
As before we fell into a manzanita thicket and had to crawl. Then we came out upon the rim of a box canyon where the echoes made such a din. It was too steep to descend. We had to head it, and Copple took chances. Loose boulders tripped me and stout bushes saved me. We knocked streams of rock and gravel down into this gorge, sending up a roar as of falling water. But we got around. A steep slope lay below, all pine needles and leaves. From this point I saw Edd on the opposite slope.
"I stopped one bear," I yelled. "Hurry. Look out for the dogs!"
Then, imitating Copple, I sat down and slid as on a toboggan for some thirty thrilling yards. Some of my anatomy and more of my rags I left behind me. But it was too exciting then to think of hurts. I managed to protect at least my rifle. Copple was charging into the thicket below. I followed him into the dark gorge, where huge boulders lay, and a swift brook ran, and leaves two feet deep carpeted the shady canyon bed. It was gloomy down into the lower part. I saw where bear had turned over the leaves making a dark track.
"The hounds have quit," called Copple suddenly. "I told you he was your bear."
We yelled. Somebody above us answered. Then we climbed up the opposite slope, through a dense thicket, crossing a fresh bear track, a running track, and soon came into an open rocky slide where my bear lay surrounded by the hounds, with Old Dan on guard. The bear was red in color, with silky fur, a long keen head, and fine limbs, and of goodly size.
"Cinnamon," declared Copple, and turning him over he pointed to a white spot on his breast. "Fine bear. About four hundred pounds. Maybe not so heavy. But he'll take some packin' up to the rim!"
Then I became aware of the other men. Takahashi had arrived on the scene first, finding the bear dead. Edd came next, and after him Pyle.
I sat down for a much needed rest. Copple interested himself in examining the bear, finding that my first shot had hit him in the flank, and my second had gone through the middle of his body. Next Copple amused himself by taking pictures of bear and hounds. Old Dan came to me and lay beside me, and looked as if to say: "Well, we got him!"
Yells from both sides of the canyon were answered by Edd. R.C. was rolling the rocks on his side at a great rate. But Nielsen on the other side beat him to us. The Norwegian crashed the brush, sent the avalanches roaring, and eventually reached us, all dirty, ragged, bloody, with fire in his eye. He had come all the way from the rim in short order. What a performance that must have been! He said he thought he might be needed. R.C. guided by Edd's yells, came cracking the brush down to us. Pale he was and wet with sweat, and there were black brush marks across his face. His eyes were keen and sharp. He had started down for the same reason as Nielsen's. But he had to descend a slope so steep that he had to hold on to keep from sliding down. And he had jumped a big bear out of a bed of leaves. The bed was still warm. R.C. said he had smelled bear, and that his toboggan slide down that slope, with bears all around for all he knew, had started the cold sweat on him.
Presently George Haught joined us, having come down the bed of the canyon.
"We knew you'd got a bear," said George. "Father heard the first two bullets hit meat. An' I heard him rollin' down the slope."
"Well!" exclaimed R.C. "That's what made those first two shots sound so strange to me. Different from the last two. Sounded like soft dead pats! And it was lead hitting flesh. I heard it half a mile away!"
This matter of the sound of bullets hitting flesh and being heard at a great distance seemed to me the most remarkable feature of our hunt. Later I asked Haught. He said he heard my first two bullets strike and believed from the peculiar sound that I had my bear. And his stand was fully a mile away. But the morning was unusually still and sound carried far.
The men hung my bear from the forks of a maple. Then they decided to give us time to climb up to our stands before putting the hounds on the other fresh trail.
Nielsen, R.C., and I started to climb back up to the points. Only plenty of time made it possible to scale those rugged bluffs. Nielsen distanced us, and eventually we became separated. The sun grew warm. The bees hummed. After a while we heard the baying of the hounds. They were working westward under the bases of the bluffs. We rimmed the heads of several gorges, climbed and crossed the west ridge of Dude Canyon, and lost the hounds somewhere as we traveled.
R.C. did not seem to mind this misfortune any more than I. We were content. Resting a while we chose the most accessible ridge and started the long climb to the rim. Westward under us opened a great noble canyon full of forests, thicketed slopes, cliffs and caves and crags. Next time we rested we again heard the hounds, far away at first, but gradually drawing closer. In half an hour they appeared right under us again. Their baying, however, grew desultory, and lacked the stirring note. Finally we heard Edd calling and whistling to them. After that for a while all was still. Then pealed up the clear tuneful melody of Edd's horn, calling off the chase for that day and season.
"All over," said R.C. "Are you glad?"
"For Old Dan's sake and Tom's and the bears--yes," I replied.
"Me, too! But I'd never get enough of this country."
We proceeded on our ascent over and up the broken masses of rock, climbing slowly and easily, making frequent and long rests. We liked to linger in the sun on the warm piny mossy benches. Every shady cedar or juniper wooed us to tarry a moment. Old bear tracks and fresh deer tracks held the same interest, though our hunt was over. Above us the gray broken mass of rim towered and loomed, more formidable as we neared it. Sometimes we talked a little, but mostly we were silent.
Like an Indian, at every pause, I gazed out into the void. How sweeping and grand the long sloping lines of ridges from the rim down! Away in the east ragged spurs of peaks showed hazily, like uncertain mountains on the desert. South ranged the upheaved and wild Mazatzals. Everywhere beneath me, for leagues and leagues extended the timbered hills of green, the gray outcroppings of rocks, the red bluffs, the golden patches of grassy valleys, lost in the canyons. All these swept away in a vast billowy ocean of wilderness to become dim in the purple of distance. And the sun was setting in a blaze of gold. From the rim I took a last lingering look and did not marvel that I loved this wonderland of Arizona.