Chapter III. Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon
VII
 

That night the wind switched and blew cold from the north, and so strong that the camp-fire roared like a furnace. "More snow" was the verdict of all of us, and in view of this, I invited the Navajo to share my tent.

"Sleepie-me," I said to him.

"Me savvy," he replied and forthwith proceeded to make his bed with me.

Much to my surprise all my comrades raised protestations, which struck me as being singularly selfish considering they would not be inconvenienced in any way.

"Why not?" I asked. "It's a cold night. There'll be frost if not snow."

"Shore you'll get 'em," said Jim.

"There never was an Indian that didn't have 'em," added Jones.

"What?" I questioned.

They made mysterious signs that rather augmented my ignorance as to what I might get from the Indian, but in no wise changed my mind. When I went to bed I had to crawl over Navvy. Moze lay at my feet as usual and he growled so deep that I could not but think he, too, resented the addition to my small tent.

"Mista Gay!" came in the Indian's low voice.

"Well Navvy?" I asked.

"Sleepie--sleepie?"

"Yes, Navvy, sleepy and tired. Are you?"

"Me savvy--mucha sleepie--mucha--no bueno."

I did not wonder at his feeling sleepy, tired and bad. He did not awaken me in the morning, for when my eyes unclosed the tent was light and he had gone. I found my companions up and doing.

We had breakfast and got into our saddles by the time the sun, a red ball low down among the pines, began to brighten and turn to gold. No snow had fallen but a thick frost encrusted the ground. The hounds, wearing cloth moccasins, which plainly they detested, trotted in front. Don showed no effects of his great run down the sliding slope after the red lioness; it was one of his remarkable qualities that he recuperated so quickly. Ranger was a little stiff, and Sounder favored his injured foot. The others were as usual.

Jones led down the big hollow to which he kept after we had passed the edge of the pines; then marking a herd of deer ahead, he turned his horse up the bank.

We breasted the ridge and jogged toward the cedar forest, which we entered without having seen the hounds show interest in anything. Under the cedars in the soft yellow dust we crossed lion tracks, many of them, but too old to carry a scent. Even North Hollow with its regular beaten runway failed to win a murmur from the pack.

"Spread out," said Jones, "and look for tracks. I'll keep the center and hold in the hounds."

Signalling occasionally to one another we crossed almost the breadth of the cedar forest to its western end, where the open sage flats inclined to the rim. In one of those flats I came upon a broken sage bush, the grass being thick thereabout. I discovered no track but dismounted and scrutinized the surroundings carefully. A heavy body had been dragged across the sage, crushing it. The ends of broken bushes were green, the leaves showed bruises.

I began to feel like Don when he scented game. Leading my mustang I slowly proceeded across the open, guided by an occasional down-trodden bush or tuft of grass. As I neared the cedars again Foxie snorted. Under the first tree I found a ghastly bunch of red bones, a spread of grayish hairs and a split skull. The bones, were yet wet; two long doe ears were still warm. Then I saw big lion tracks in the dust and even a well pressed imprint of a lion's body where he had rolled or lain.

The two yells I sent ringing into the forest were productive of interesting results. Answers came from near and far. Then, what with my calling and the replies, the forest rang so steadily with shrill cries that the echoes had no chance to follow.

An elephant in the jungle could not have caused more crashing and breaking of brush than did Emett as he made his way to me. He arrived from the forest just as Jim galloped across the flat. Mutely I held up the two long ears.

"Get on your horse!" cried Jim after one quick glance at the spread of bones and hair.

It was well he said that, for I might have been left behind. I ran to Foxie and vaulted upon him. A flash of yellow appeared among the sage and a string of yelps split the air.

"It's Don!" yelled Jim.

Well we knew that. What a sight to see him running straight for us! He passed, a savage yellow wolf in his ferocity, and disappeared like a gleam under the gloomy cedars.

We spurred after him. The other hounds sped by. Jones closed in on us from the left, and in a few minutes we were strung out behind Emett, fighting the branches, dodging and swerving, hugging the saddle, and always sending out our sharp yells.

The race was furious but short. The three of us coming up together found Emett dismounted on the extreme end of West Point.

"The hounds have gone down," he said, pointing to the runway.

We all listened to the meaning bays.

"Shore they've got him up!" asserted Jim. "Like as not they found him under the rim here, sleeping off his gorge. Now fellows, I'll go down. It might be a good idea for you to spread along the rim."

With that we turned our horses eastward and rode as close to the rim as possible. Clumps of cedars and deep fissures often forced us to circle them. The hounds, traveling under the walls below, kept pace with us and then forged ahead, which fact caused Jones to dispatch Emett on the gallop for the next runway at North Hollow.

Soon Jones bade me dismount and make my way out upon one of the promontories, while he rode a little farther on. As I tied my mustang I heard the hounds, faint and far beneath. I waded through the sage and cedar to the rim.

Cape after cape jutted out over the abyss. Some were very sharp and bare, others covered with cedar; some tottering crags with a crumbling bridge leading to their rims; and some ran down like giant steps. From one of these I watched below. The slope here under the wall was like the side of a rugged mountain. Somewhere down among the dark patches of cedar and the great blocks of stone the hounds were hunting the lion, but I could not see one of them.

The promontory I had chosen had a split, and choked as this was with brush, rock, and shale, it seemed a place where I might climb down. Once started, I could not turn back, and sliding, clinging to what afforded, I worked down the crack. A wall of stone hid the sky from me part of the way. I came out a hundred feet below upon a second promontory of huge slabs of yellow stone. Over these I clambered, to sit with my feet swinging over the last one.

Straight before my gaze yawned the awful expanse of the canyon. In the soft morning light the red mesas, the yellow walls, the black domes were less harsh than in the full noonday sun, purer than in the tender shadow of twilight. Below me were slopes and slides divided by ravines full of stones as large as houses, with here and there a lonesome leaning crag, giving irresistible proof of the downward trend, of the rolling, weathering ruins of the rim. Above the wall bulged out full of fissures, ragged and rotten shelves, toppling columns of yellow limestone, beaded with quartz and colored by wild flowers wonderfully growing in crannies.

Wild and rare as was this environment, I gave it but a glance and a thought. The bay of the hounds caused me to bend sharp and eager eyes to the open spaces of stone and slide below. Luck was mine as usual; the hounds were working up toward me. How I strained my sight! Hearing a single cry I looked eastward to see Jones silhouetted against the blue on a black promontory. He seemed a giant primeval man overlooking the ruin of a former world. I signalled him to make for my point.

Black Ranger hove in sight at the top of a yellow slide. He was at fault but hunting hard. Jude and Sounder bayed off to his left. I heard Don's clear voice, permeating the thin, cool air, seemingly to leave a quality of wildness upon it; yet I could not locate him. Ranger disappeared. Then for a time I only heard Jim. Moze was next to appear and he, too, was upward bound. A jumble of stone hid him, and then Ranger again showed. Evidently he wanted to get around the bottom of a low crag, for he jumped and jumped only to fall back.

Quite naturally my eyes searched that crag. Stretched out upon the top of it was the long, slender body of a lion.

"Hi! hi! hi! hi! hi!" I yelled till my lungs failed me.

"Where are you?" came from above.

"Here! Here!" I cried seeing Jones on the rim. "Come down. Climb down the crack. The lion is here; on top of that round crag. He's fooled the hounds and they can't find him."

"I see him! I see him!" yelled Jones. Then he roared out a single call for Emett that pealed like a clear clarion along the curved broken rim wall, opening up echoes which clapped like thunder.

While Jones clattered down I turned again to the lion. He lay with head hidden under a little shelf and he moved not a muscle. What a place for him to choose! But for my accidental venturing down the broken fragments and steps of the rim he could have remained safe from pursuit.

Suddenly, right under my feet, Don opened his string of yelps. I could not see him but decided he must be above the lion on the crag. I leaned over as far as I dared. At that moment among the varied and thrilling sounds about me I became vaguely aware of hard, panting breaths, like coughs somewhere in my vicinity. As Jones had set in motion bushels of stone and had already scraped his feet over the rocks behind me I thought the forced respiration came from him. When I turned he was yet far off--too far for me to hear him breathe. I thought this circumstance strange but straightway forgot it.

On the moment from my right somewhere Don pealed out his bugle blast, and immediately after Sounder and Jude joining him, sent up the thrice welcome news of a treed lion.

"There 're two! There 're two!" I yelled to Jones, now working down to my right.

"He's treed down here. I've got him spotted!" replied Jones. "You stay there and watch your lion. Yell for Emett."

Signal after signal for Emett earned no response, though Jim far below to the left sent me an answer.

The next few minutes, or more likely half an hour, passed with Jones and me separated from each other by a wall of broken stone, waiting impatiently for Jim and Emett, while the hounds bayed one lion and I watched the other.

Calmness was impossible under such circumstances. No man could have gazed into that marvel of color and distance, with wild life about him, with wild sounds ringing in his ears, without yielding to the throb and race of his wild blood.

Emett did not come. Jim had not answered a yell for minutes. No doubt he needed his breath. He came into sight just to the left of our position, and he ran down one side of the ravine to toil up the other. I hailed him, Jones hailed him and the hounds hailed him.

"Steer to your left Jim!" I called.. "There's a lion on that crag above you. He might jump. Round the cliff to the left--Jones is there!"

The most painful task it was for me to sit there and listen to the sound rising from below without being able to see what happened. My lion had peeped up once, and, seeing me, had crouched closer to his crag, evidently believing he was unseen, which obviously made it imperative for me to keep my seat and hold him there as long as possible.

But to hear the various exclamations thrilled me enough.

"Hyar Moze--get out of that. Catch him--hold him! Damn these rotten limbs. Hand me a pole--Jones, back down--back down! he's comin'--Hi! Hi! Whoop! Boo--o! There--now you've got him! No, no; it slipped! Now! Look out, Jim, from under--he's going to jump!"

A smashing and rattling of loose stones and a fiery burst of yelps with trumpet-like yells followed close upon Jones' last words. Then two yellow streaks leaped down the ravine. The first was the lion, the second was Don. The rest of the pack came tumbling helter-skelter in their wake. Following them raced Jim in long kangaroo leaps, with Jones in the rear, running for all he was worth. The animated and musical procession passed up out of the ravine and gradually lengthened as the lion gained and Jones lost, till it passed altogether from my jealous sight.

On the other side of the ridge of cedars the hounds treed their quarry again, as was easy to tell by their change from sharp intermittent yelping to an unbroken, full, deep chorus. Then presently all quieted down, and for long moments at a time the still silence enfolded the slope. Shouts now and then floated up on the wind and an occasional bark.

I sat there for an hour by my watch, though it seemed only a few minutes, and all that time my lion lay crouched on his crag and never moved.

I looked across the curve of the canyon to the purple breaks of the Siwash and the shaggy side of Buckskin Mountain and far beyond to where Kanab Canyon opened its dark mouth, and farther still to the Pink Cliffs of Utah, weird and dim in the distance.

Something swelled within my breast at the thought that for the time I was part of that wild scene. The eye of an eagle soaring above would have placed me as well as my lion among the few living things in the range of his all-compassing vision. Therefore, all was mine, not merely the lion--for he was only the means to an end--but the stupendous, unnameable thing beneath me, this chasm that hid mountains in the shades of its cliffs, and the granite tombs, some gleaming pale, passionless, others red and warm, painted by a master hand; and the wind-caves, dark-portaled under their mist curtains, and all that was deep and far off, unapproachable, unattainable, of beauty exceeding, dressed in ever-changing hues, was mine by right of presence, by right of the eye to see and the mind to keep.

"Waa-hoo!"

The cry lifted itself out of the depths. I saw Jones on the ridge of cedars.

"All right here--have you kept your line there?" he yelled.

"All's well--come along, come along," I replied.

I watched them coming, and all the while my lion never moved. The hounds reached the base of the cliff under me, but they could not find the lion, though they scented him, for they kept up a continual baying. Jim got up to the shelf under me and said they had tied up the lion and left him below. Jones toiled slowly up the slope.

"Some one ought to stay down there; he might jump," I called in warning.

"That crag is forty feet high on this side," he replied.

I clambered back over the uneven mass, let myself down between the boulders and crawled under a dark ridge, and finally with Jim catching my rifle and camera and then lending his shoulders, I reached the bench below. Jones came puffing around a corner of the cliff, and soon all three of us with the hounds stood out on the rocky shelf with only a narrow space between us and the crouching lion.

Before we had a moment to speak, much less form a plan of attack, the lion rose, spat at us defiantly, and deliberately jumped off the crag. We heard him strike with a frightful thud.

Surprise held us dumb. To take the leap to the slope below seemed beyond any beast not endowed with wings. We saw the lion bounding down the identical trail which the other lion had taken. Jones came out of his momentary indecision.

"Hold the dogs! Call them back!" he yelled hoarsely. "They'll kill the lion we tied! They'll kill him!"

The hounds had scattered off the bench here and there, everywhere, to come together on the trail below. Already they were in full cry with the matchless Don at the fore. Manifestly to call them back was an injustice, as well as impossible. In ten seconds they were out of sight.

In silence we waited, each listening, each feeling the tragedy of the situation, each praying that they would pass by the poor, helpless, bound lion. Suddenly the regular baying swelled to a burst of savage, snarling fury, such as the pack made in a vicious fight. This ceased--short silence ensued; Don's sharp voice woke the echoes, then the regular baying continued.

As with one thought, we all sat down. Painful as the certainty was it was not so painful as that listening, hoping suspense.

"Shore they can't be blamed," said Jim finally. "Bumping their nose into a tied lion that way--how'd they know?"

"Who could guess the second lion would jump off that quick and run back to our captive?" burst out Jones.

"Shore we might have knowed it," replied Jim. "Well, I'm goin' after the pack."

He gathered up his lasso and strode off the bench. Jones said he would climb back to the rim, and I followed Jim.

Why the lions ran in that particular direction was clear to me when I saw the trail. It was a runway, smooth and hard packed. I trudged along it with rather less enjoyment than on any trail I had ever followed to the canyon. Jim waited for me over the cedar ridge and showed me where the captive lion lay dead. The hounds had not torn him. They had killed him and passed on after the other.

"He was a fine fellow, all of seven feet, we'll skin him on our way back."

Only dogged determination coupled with a sense of duty to the hounds kept us on that trail. For the time being enthusiasm had been submerged. But we had to follow the pack.

Jim, less weighted down and perhaps less discouraged, forged ahead up and down. The sun had burned all the morning coolness out of the air. I perspired and panted and began to grow weary. Jim's signal called me to hurry. I took to a trot and came upon him and the hounds under a small cedar. The lion stood among the dead branches. His sides where shaking convulsively, and his short breaths could be plainly heard. He had the most blazing eyes and most untamed expression of any wild creature I have ever seen; and this amazed me considering I had kept him on a crag for over an hour, and had come to look upon him as my own.

"What'll we do, Jim, now that we have him treed?"

"Shore, we'll tie him up," declared Jim.

The lion stayed in the cedar long enough for me to photograph him twice, then he leaped down again and took to his back trail. We followed as fast as we could, soon to find that the hounds had put him up another cedar. From this he jumped down among the dogs, scattered them as if they had been so many leaves, and bounded up the slope out of sight.

I laid aside my rifle and camera and tried to keep up with Jim. The lion ran straight up the slope and treed again under the wall. Before we covered half the distance he was on the go once more, flying down in clouds of dust.

"Don is makin' him hump," said Jim.

And that alone was enough to spur us on. We would reward the noble hound if we had the staying power. Don and his pack ran westward this time, and along a mile of the beaten trail put him up two more trees. But these we could not see and judged only by the sound.

"Look there!" cried Jim. "Darn me if he ain't comin' right at us."

It was true. Ahead of us the lion appeared, loping wearily. We stopped in our tracks undecided. Jim drew his revolver. Once or twice the lion disappeared behind stones and cedars. When he sighted us he stopped, looked back, then again turning toward us, he left the trail to plunge down. He had barely got out of sight when old Don came pattering along the trail; then Ranger leading the others. Don did not even put his nose to the ground where the lion had switched, but leaped aside and went down. Here the long section of slope between the lion's runway and the second wall had been weathered and worn, racked and convulsed into deep ravines, with ridges between. We climbed and fell and toiled on, always with the bay of the hounds in our ears. We leaped fissures, we loosened avalanches, rolling them to crash and roar below, and send long, rumbling echoes out into the canyon.

A gorge in the yellow rock opened suddenly before us. We stood at the constricted neck of one of the great splits in the second wall. The side opposite was almost perpendicular, and formed of mass on mass of broken stones. This was a weathered slope on a gigantic scale. Points of cliffs jutted out; caves and cracks lined the wall.

"This is a rough place," said Jim; "but a lion could get over the second wall here, an' I believe a man could too. The hounds seemed to be back further toward where the split narrows."

Through densely massed cedars and thickets of prickly thorns we wormed our way to come out at the neck of the gorge.

"There ye are!" sang out Jim. The hounds were all on a flat shelf some few feet below us, and on a sharp point of rock close by, but too far for the dogs to reach, crouched the lion. He was gasping and frothing at the mouth.

"Shore if he'd only stay there--" said Jim.

He loosened his lasso, and stationing himself just above the tired beast he prepared to cast down the loop. The first throw failed of its purpose, but the rope hit the lion. He got up painfully it seemed, and faced the dogs. That way barred he turned to the cliff. Almost opposite him a shelf leaned out. He looked at it, then paced to and fro like a beast in a cage.

He looked again at the hounds, then up at us, all around, and finally concentrated his attention on the shelf; his long length sagged in the middle, he stretched low, his muscles gathered and strung, and he sprang like a tawny streak.

His aim was true, the whole forepart of his body landed on the shelf and he hung there. Then he slipped. We distinctly heard his claws scrape the hard, smooth rock. He fell, turning a somersault, struck twenty feet below on the rough slant, bounded from that to fall down, striking suddenly and then to roll, a yellow wheel that lodged behind a rock and stretched out to move no more.

The hounds were silent; Jim and I were silent; a few little stones rattled, then were still. The dead silence of the canyon seemed to pay tribute to the lion's unquenchable spirit and to the freedom he had earned to the last.