Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
"Shore we can't set here all night," said Jim. "Let's skin the lion an' feed the hounds."
The most astonishing thing in our eventful day was the amount of meat stowed away by the dogs. Lion flesh appealed to their appetites. If hungry Moze had an ounce of meat, he had ten pounds. It seemed a good opportunity to see how much the old gladiator could eat; and Jim and I cut chunks of meat as fast as possible. Moze gulped them with absolute unconcern of such a thing as mastication. At length he reached his limit, possibly for the first time in his life, and looking longingly at a juicy red strip Jim held out, he refused it with manifest shame. Then he wobbled and fell down.
We called to him as we started to climb the slope, but he did not come. Then the business of conquering that ascent of sliding stone absorbed all our faculties and strength. Little headway could we have made had it not been for the brush. We toiled up a few feet only to slide back and so it went on until we were weary of life.
When one by one we at last gained the rim and sat there to recover breath, the sun was a half globe of fire burning over the western ramparts. A red sunset bathed the canyon in crimson, painting the walls, tinting the shadows to resemble dropping mists of blood. It was beautiful and enthralling to my eyes, but I turned away because it wore the mantle of tragedy.
Dispirited and worn out, we trooped into camp to find Emett and a steaming supper. Between bites the three of us related the story of the red lioness. Emett whistled long and low and then expressed his regret in no light terms.
"Roping wild steers and mustangs is play to this work," he said in conclusion.
I was too tired to tease our captive lions that evening; even the glowing camp-fire tempted me in vain, and I crawled into my bed with eyes already glued shut.
A heavy weight on my feet stirred me from oblivion. At first, when only half awake, I could not realize what had fallen on my bed, then hearing a deep groan I knew Moze had come back. I was dropping off again when a strange, low sound caused my eyes to open wide. The black night had faded to the gray of dawn. The sound I recognized at once to be the Navajo's morning chant. I lay there and listened. Soft and monotonous, wild and swelling, but always low and strange, the savage song to the break of day was exquisitely beautiful and harmonious. I wondered what the literal meaning of his words could have been. The significance needed no translation. To the black shadows fading away, to the brightening of the gray light, to the glow of the east, to the morning sun, to the Giver of Life--to these the Indian chanted his prayer.
Could there have been a better prayer? Pagan or not, the Navajo with his forefathers felt the spiritual power of the trees, the rocks, the light and sun, and he prayed to that which was divinely helpful to him in all the mystery of his unintelligible life.
We did not crawl out that morning as early as usual, for it was to be a day of rest. When we did, a mooted question arose--whether we or the hounds were the more crippled. Ranger did not show himself; Don could just walk and that was all; Moze was either too full or too tired to move; Sounder nursed a foot and Jude favored her lame leg.
After lunch we brightened up somewhat and set ourselves different tasks. Jones had misplaced or lost his wire and began to turn the camp topsy-turvy in his impatient efforts to locate it. The wire, however, was not to be found. This was a calamity, for, as we asked each other, how could we muzzle lions without wire? Moreover, a half dozen heavy leather straps which I had bought in Kanab for use as lion collars had disappeared. We had only one collar left, the one that Jones had put on the red lioness.
Whereupon we began to blame each other, to argue, to grow heated and naturally from that to become angry. It seems a fatality of campers along a wild trail, like explorers in an unknown land, to be prone to fight. If there is an explanation of this singular fact, it must be that men at such time lose their poise and veneer of civilization; in brief, they go back. At all events we had it hot and heavy, with the center of attack gradually focusing on Jones, and as he was always losing something, naturally we united in force against him.
Fortunately, we were interrupted by yells from the Navajo off in the woods. The brushing of branches and pounding of hoofs preceded his appearance. In some remarkable manner he had gotten a bridle on Marc, and from the way the big stallion hurled his huge bulk over logs and through thickets, it appeared evident he meant to usurp Jim's ambition and kill the Navajo. Hearing Emett yell, the Indian turned Marc toward camp. The horse slowed down when he neared the glade and tried to buck. But Navvy kept his head up. With that Marc seemed to give way to ungovernable rage and plunged right through camp; he knocked over the dogs' shelter and thundered down the ridge.
Now the Navajo, with the bridle in his hand was thoroughly at home. He was getting his revenge on Marc, and he would have kept his seat on a wild mustang, but Marc swerved suddenly under a low branch of a pine, sweeping the Indian off.
When Navvy did not rise we began to fear he had been seriously hurt, perhaps killed, and we ran to where he lay.
Face downward, hands outstretched, with no movement of body or muscle, he certainly appeared dead.
"Badly hurt," said Emett, "probably back broken. I have seen it before from just such accidents."
"Oh no!" cried Jones, and I felt so deeply I could not speak. Jim, who always wanted Navvy to be a dead Indian, looked profoundly sorry.
"He's a dead Indian, all right," replied Emett.
We rose from our stooping postures and stood around, uncertain and deeply grieved, until a mournful groan from Navvy afforded us much relief.
"That's your dead Indian," exclaimed Jones.
Emett stooped again and felt the Indian's back and got in reward another mournful groan.
"It's his back," said Emett, and true to his ruling passion, forever to minister to the needs of horses, men, and things, he began to rub the Indian and call for the liniment.
Jim went to fetch it, while I, still believing the Navvy to be dangerously hurt, knelt by him and pulled up his shirt, exposing the hollow of his brown back.
"Here we are," said Jim, returning on the run with the bottle.
"Pour some on," replied Emett.
Jim removed the cork and soused the liniment all over the Indian's back.
"Don't waste it," remonstrated Emett, starting to rub Navvy's back.
Then occurred a most extraordinary thing. A convulsion seemed to quiver through the Indian's body; he rose at a single leap, and uttering a wild, piercing yell broke into a run. I never saw an Indian or anybody else run so fleetly. Yell after yell pealed back to us.
Absolutely dumfounded we all gazed at each other.
"That's your dead Indian!" ejaculated Jim.
"What the hell!" exclaimed Emett, who seldom used such language.
"Look here!" cried Jones, grabbing the bottle. "See! Don't you see it?"
Jim fell face downward and began to shake.
"What?" shouted Emett and I together.
"Turpentine, you idiots! Turpentine! Jim brought the wrong bottle!"
In another second three more forms lay stretched out on the sward, and the forest rang with sounds of mirth.