Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
V
 

We rode in different directions toward the hollow, the better to chance meeting with Emett, but none of us caught a glimpse of him.

It happened that when we headed into the hollow it was at a point just above where the deer carcass hung in the scrub oak. Don in spite of Jones' stern yells, let out his eager hunting yelp and darted down the slope. The pack bolted after him and in less than ten seconds were racing up the hollow, their thrilling, blending bays a welcome spur to action. Though I spoke not a word to my mustang nor had time to raise the bridle, he wheeled to one side and began to run. The other horses also kept to the ridge, as I could tell by the pounding of hoofs on the soft turf. The hounds in full cry right under us urged our good steeds to a terrific pace. It was well that the ridge afforded clear going.

The speed at which we traveled, however, fast as it was, availed not to keep up with the pack. In a short half mile, just as the hollow sloped and merged into level ground, they left us behind and disappeared so quickly as almost to frighten me. My mustang plunged out of the forest to the rim and dashed along, apparently unmindful of the chasm. The red and yellow surface blurred in a blinding glare. I heard the chorus of hounds, but as its direction baffled me I trusted to my horse and I did well, for soon he came to a dead halt on the rim.

Then I heard the hounds below me. I had but time to see the character of the place--long, yellow promontories running out and slopes of weathered stone reaching up between to a level with the rim--when in a dwarf pine growing just over the edge I caught sight of a long, red, pantherish body.

I whooped to my followers now close upon me and leaping off hauled out my Remington and ran to the cliff. The lion's long, slender body, of a rare golden-red color, bright, clean, black-tipped and white-bellied, proclaimed it a female of exceeding beauty. I could have touched her with a fishing rod and saw how easily she could be roped from where I stood. The tree in which she had taken refuge grew from the head of a weathered slope and rose close to the wall. At that point it was merely a parapet of crumbling yellow rock. No doubt she had lain concealed under the shelving wall and had not had time to get away before the hounds were right upon her.

"She's going to jump," yelled Jones, in my rear, as he dismounted.

I saw a golden-red streak flash downward, heard a mad medley from the hounds, a cloud of dust rose, then something bright shone for a second to the right along the wall. I ran with all my might to a headland of rock upon which I scrambled and saw with joy that I could command the situation.

The lioness was not in sight, nor were the hounds. The latter, however, were hot on the trail. I knew the lioness had taken to another tree or a hole under the wall, and would soon be routed out. This time I felt sure she would run down and I took a rapid glance below. The slope inclined at a steep angle and was one long slide of bits of yellow stone with many bunches of scrub oak and manzanita. Those latter I saw with satisfaction, because in case I had to go down they would stop the little avalanches. The slope reached down perhaps five hundred yards and ended in a thicket and jumble of rocks from which rose on the right a bare yellow slide. This ran up to a low cliff. I hoped the lion would not go that way, for it led to great broken battlements of rim. Left of the slide was a patch of cedars.

Jim's yell pealed out, followed by the familiar penetrating howl of the pack when it sighted game. With that I saw the lioness leaping down the slope and close behind her a yellow hound.

"Go it, Don, old boy!" I yelled, wild with delight.

A crushing step on the stones told me Jones had arrived.

"Hi! Hi! Hi!" roared he.

I thought then that if the lioness did not cover thirty feet at every jump I was not in a condition to judge distance. She ran away from Don as if he had been tied and reached the thicket below a hundred yards ahead of him. And when Don leaving his brave pack far up the slide entered the thicket the lioness came out on the other side and bounded up the bare slope of yellow shale.

"Shoot ahead of her! Head her off! Turn her back!" cried Jones.

With the word I threw forward the Remington and let drive. Following the bellow of the rifle, so loud in that thin air, a sharp, harsh report cracked up from below. A puff of yellow dust rose in front of the lioness. I was in line, but too far ahead. I fired again. The steel jacketed bullet hit a stone and spitefully whined away into the canyon. I tried once more. This time I struck close to the lioness. Disconcerted by a cloud of dust rising before her very eyes she wheeled and ran back.

We had forgotten Don and suddenly he darted out of the thicket, straight up the slide. Always, in every chase, we were afraid the great hound would run to meet his death. We knew it was coming sometime. When the lioness saw him and stopped, both Jones and I felt that this was to be the end of Don.

"Shoot her! Shoot her!" cried Jones. "She'll kill him! She'll kill him!"

As I knelt on the rock I had a hard contraction of my throat, and then all my muscles set tight and rigid. I pulled the trigger of my automatic once, twice. It was wonderful how closely the two bullets followed each other, as we could tell by the almost simultaneous puffs of dust rising from under the beast's nose. She must have been showered and stung with gravel, for she bounded off to the left and disappeared in the cedars. I had missed, but the shots had served to a better end than if I had killed her.

As Don raced up the ground where a moment before a battle and probably death had awaited him, the other hounds burst from the thicket. With that, a golden form seemed to stand out from the green of the cedar, to move and to rise.

"She's treed! She's treed!" shouted Jones. "Go down and keep her there while I follow."

From the back of the promontory where I met the main wall, I let myself down a niche, foot here and there, a hand hard on the soft stone, braced knee and back until I jumped to the edge of the slope. The scrub oak and manzanita saved me many a fall. I set some stones rolling and I beat them to the bottom. Having passed the thicket, I bent my efforts to the yellow slide and when I had surmounted it my breath came in labored pants. The howling of the hounds guided me through the cedars.

First I saw Moze in the branches of cedar and above him the lioness. I ran out into a little open patch of stony ground at the end of which the tree stood leaning over a precipice. In truth the lioness was swaying over a chasm.

Those details I grasped in a glance, then suddenly awoke to the fact that the lioness was savagely snarling at Moze.

"Moze! Moze! Get down!" I yelled.

He climbed on serenely. He was a most exasperating dog. I screamed at him and hit him with a rock big enough to break his bones. He kept on climbing. Here was a predicament. Moze would surely get to the lioness if I did not stop him, and this seemed impossible. It was out of the question for me to climb after him. And if the lioness jumped she would have to pass me or come straight at me. So I slipped down the safety catch on my automatic and stood ready to save Moze or myself.

The lioness with a show of fury that startled me, descended her branch a few steps, and reaching below gave Moze a sounding smack with her big paw. The hound dropped as if he had been shot and hit the ground with a thud. Whereupon she returned to her perch.

This reassured me and I ran among the dogs and caught Moze already starting for the tree again and tied him, with a strap I always carried, to a small bush nearby. I heard the yells of my companions and looking back over the tops of the cedars I saw Jim riding down and higher to the left Jones sliding, falling, running at a great rate. I encouraged them to keep up the good work, and then gave my attention to the lioness.

She regarded me with a cold, savage stare and showed her teeth. I repaid this incivility on her part by promptly photographing her from different points.

Jones and Jim were on the spot before I expected them and both were dusty and dripping with sweat. I found to my surprise that my face was wet as was also my shirt. Jones carried two lassos, and my canteen, which I had left on the promontory.

"Ain't she a beauty?" he panted, wiping his face. "Wait--till I get my breath."

When finally he walked toward the cedar the lioness stood up and growled as if she realized the entrance of the chief actor upon the scene. Jones cast his lasso apparently to try her out, and the noose spread out and fell over her head. As he tightened the rope the lioness backed down behind a branch.

"Tie the dogs!" yelled Jones.

"Quick!" added Jim. "She's goin' to jump."

Jim had only time to aid me in running my lasso under the collar of Don, Sounder, Jude and one of the pups. I made them fast to a cedar. I got my hands on Ranger just as Moze broke his strap. I grabbed his collar and held on.

Right there was where trouble commenced for me. Ranger tussled valiantly and Moze pulled me all over the place. Behind me I heard Jones' roar and Jim's yell; the breaking of branches, the howling of the other dogs. Ranger broke away from me and so enabled me to get my other hand on the neck of crazy Moze. On more than one occasion I had tried to hold him and had failed; this time I swore I would do it if he rolled me over the precipice. As to that, only a bush saved me.

More and louder roars and yells, hoarser howls and sharper wrestling, snapping sounds told me what was going on while I tried to subdue Moze. I had a grim thought that I would just as lief have had hold of the lioness. The hound presently stopped his plunging which gave me an opportunity to look about. The little space was smoky with a smoke of dust. I saw the lioness stretched out with one lasso around a bush and another around a cedar with the end in the hands of Jim. He looked as if he had dug up the ground. While he tied this lasso securely Jones proceeded to rope the dangerous front paws.

The hounds quieted down and I took advantage of this absence of tumult to get rid of Moze.

"Pretty lively," said Jones, spitting gravel as I walked up. Sand and dust lay thick in his beard and blackened his face. "I tell you she made us root."

Either the lioness had been much weakened or choked, or Jones had unusual luck, for we muzzled her and tied up her paws in short order.

"Where's Ranger?" I asked suddenly, missing him from the panting hounds.

"I grabbed him by the heels when he tackled the lion, and I gave him a sling somewheres," replied Jim.

Ranger put in an appearance then under the cedars limping painfully.

"Jim, darn me, if I don't believe you pitched him over the precipice!" said Jones.

Examination proved this surmise to be correct. We saw where Ranger had slipped over a twenty-foot wall. If he had gone over just under the cedar where the depth was much greater he would never have come back.

"The hounds are choking with dust and heat," I said. When I poured just a little water from my canteen into the crown of my hat, the hounds began fighting around and over me and spilled the water.

"Behave, you coyotes!" I yelled. Either they were insulted or fully realized the exigency of the situation, for each one came up and gratefully lapped every drop of his portion.

"Shore, now comes the hell of it," said Jim appearing with a long pole. "Packin' the critter out."

An argument arose in regard to the best way up the slope, and by virtue of a majority we decided to try the direction Jim and I thought best. My companions led the way, carrying the lioness suspended on the pole. I brought up the rear, packing my rifle, camera, lasso, canteen and a chain.

It was killing work. We had to rest every few steps. Often we would fall. Jim laughed, Jones swore, and I groaned. Sometimes I had to drop my things to help my companions. So we toiled wearily up the loose, steep way.

"What's she shakin' like that for?" asked Jim suddenly.

Jones let down his end of the pole and turned quickly. Little tremors quivered over the lissome body of the lioness.

"She's dying," cried Jim, jerking out the stick between her teeth and slipping off the wire muzzle.

Her mouth opened and her frothy tongue lolled out. Jones pointed to her quivering sides and then raised her eyelids. We saw the eyes already glazing, solemnly fixed.

"She's gone," he said.

Very soon she lay inert and lifeless. Then we sat beside her without a word, and we could hardly for the moment have been more stunned and heartbroken if it had been the tragic death of one of our kind. In that wild environment, obsessed by the desire to capture those beautiful cats alive, the fateful ending of the successful chase was felt out of all proportion.

"Shore she's dead," said Jim. "And wasn't she a beauty? What was wrong?"

"The heat and lack of water," replied Jones. "She choked. What idiots we were! Why didn't we think to give her a drink."

So we passionately protested against our want of fore-thought, and looked again and again with the hope that she might come to. But death had stilled the wild heart. We gave up presently, still did not move on. We were exhausted, and all the while the hounds lay panting on the rocks, the bees hummed, the flies buzzed. The red colors of the upper walls and the purple shades of the lower darkened silently.