All at once, the two on-coming figures saw us. The first one paused, doubtful which of the two dangers to choose. His foe caught up with him. He wheeled and charged in self-defence, their horns met with a crash, and the smaller was thrown to the ground. He was clearly no match for his opponent.
He sprang to his feet. His only safety was in flight, but where? His strength was nearly gone. He ran a short distance away from us, circling our cavalcade. His foe was nearly up to him again. He stopped an instant with uplifted foot, then turned and made directly for us. Three loaded guns hung at our saddles, but no hand went towards them. Not thirty feet away from our motionless horses the buck dropped, exhausted. We could easily have lassoed him. His adversary kept beyond gunshot, not daring to follow him into the power of an enemy all wild things fear; and an eagle who had perched on a rock near by, in hopes of a coming feast, flapped his wings and slowly flew away to search elsewhere for his dinner. The conquering buck walked back to his spoils of war, and soon marshalled them out of sight behind a hill.
The young buck almost at our feet quickly recovered. He was not seriously hurt, only frightened and winded. He rose to his feet and stood for an instant looking directly at us, his head with its growing horns held high in the air, as if to thank us for the protection from a lesser foe he had so boldly asked and so freely received of an all powerful enemy. Then, turning, he lightly sped over the plain in an opposite direction, and the eagle, who had kept us in sight until now, perhaps with a lingering hope, rose swiftly upwards and was lost to sight.
One elk with an eleven-point crown, and one antelope, of the finest ever brought down, is the tax I levied on the wild things. Of the many, many times I have watched them and left them unmolested, and of the lessons they have taught me, under Nimrod's guidance, I have not space to tell, for the real fascination of hunting is not in the killing but in seeing the creature at home amid his glorious surroundings, and feeling the freely rushing blood, the health-giving air, the gleeful sense of joy and life in nature, both within and without.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT WAHB OF THE BIGHORN BASIN.
A fourteen-inch track is big, even for a grizzly. That was the size of Wahb's. The first time I saw it, the hole looked big enough for a baby's bath tub.
We were travelling in Mr. A.'s pack train across the Shoshones from Idaho to Wyoming. It was the first of October, and by then, in that region, winter is shaking hands with you—pleasant hands to be sure, but a bit cool. The night before we had made a picturesque camp on the lee side of a rock cliff which was honeycombed with caves. A blazing camp fire was built at the mouth of one of these and we lounged on the rock ledges inside, thoroughly protected from the wind and cold. A storm was brewing. We could hear the pine trees whistle and shriek as they were lashed about in the forest across the brook. The lurid light of the fire showed us ourselves in distorted shadows. The whole place seemed wild and wicked, like a robber camp, and under its spell one thought things and felt things that would have been impossible in the sun shine, where everything is revealed. It began to snow, but we laughed at that. What did it matter in the shelter of the cave? For the first time in days I was thoroughly toasted on all sides at once. We had changed abruptly from the steam-heated Pullman to camping in snow, and it takes a few days to get used to such a shock. We told tales as weird as the scene, until far into the night. The next morning the sun was bright, but the cook had to cut a hole in the ice blanket over the brook to get water. We dared not linger at our robber camp, for at any time a big snowstorm might come that would cover the Wind River Divide, which we had to cross, with snow too deep for the horses to travel.
Two days later, the weather still promising well, we decided to camp for a few days on the Upper Wiggin's Fork to hunt. It was a lovely spot; one of those little grassy parks which but for the uprising masses of mountains and towering trees might have surrounded your country home.
That first night as we sat around the camp fire there came out of the blackness behind us a faint greeting—Wheres Who—Wheres Who—from a denizen of this mountain park, the great horned owl. The next morning we packed biscuits into our saddle-bags and separated for the day into two parties, Nimrod and the Horsewrangler, the Host and myself, leaving the Cook to take care of camp. We were hunting for elk, mountain lion, or bear. Nimrod had his camera, as well as his gun, a combination which the Horsewrangler eyed with scant tolerance.
The Host led me down the Wiggin's Fork for two miles, when we came out upon a sandy, pebbly stretch which in spring the torrents entirely covered, but now had been dried up for months. I was following mechanically, guiding Blondey's feet among the cobblestones, for nature had paved the place very badly, without much thought for anything beyond the pleasure of being alive, when the Host suddenly stopped and pointed to the ground. There I made out the track of a huge bear going the way we were, and beyond was another, and another. Then they disappeared like a row of post-holes into the distance. The Host said there was only one bear in that region that could make a track like that; in spite of the fact that this was beyond his range, it must be Meeteetsee Wahb. He got off his horse and measured the track. Yes, the hind foot tracked fourteen inches. What a hole in the ground it looked!
The Host said the maker of it was probably far away, as he judged the track to be several weeks old. I had heard so many tales of this monster that when I gazed upon his track I felt as though I were looking at the autograph of a hero.
We saw other smaller grizzly and black bear tracks that day, so it was decided to set a bear bait. Our Host was a cattle king, and could wage war on bears with a good conscience. The usual three-cornered affair of logs was fixed, the trap in the centre and elk meat as a decoy. Horse meat is more alluring, but we deemed we would not need that, since we had with us "a never-failing bear charm." Its object was to suggest a lady bear, and thus attract some gallant to her side. The secret of the preparation of this charm had been confided to Nimrod by an old hunter the year before. It was a liquid composed of rancid fish oil, and—but I suppose I must not tell. A more ungodly odour I have never known. Nimrod put a few drops of it on his horse's feet, and all the other horses straightway ostracised him for several days till the worst of it wore away. Even the cook allowed "it was all-fired nasty." So some of this bear charm went on the bait.
The next morning, as we started out for the day to roam the mountains, we first inspected the bear pen. Nothing had been near it. Indeed that charm would keep everything else away, if not the bear himself.
The next day it was the same story, but this really was no argument for or against the charm, because, as I was told, bears in feeding usually make about a two weeks' circuit, and although we had seen many tracks they were all stale, demonstrating in a rough way that if we could linger for a week or two we would be sure to catch some one of the trackers on the return trip.
This we could not do, as the expected snow-storm was now threatening, and we were still two days from the Divide. To be snowed up there would be serious. Before we could get packed up the snow began, falling steadily and quietly as though reserving its forces for later violence. We had been travelling about an hour from where we broke camp, when Nimrod beckoned me to join him where he had halted with the Horsewrangler a little off the line the pack train was following. I rode up quietly, thinking it might be game. But no; Horsewrangler pointed to a little bank where there was a circular opening in the trees. I looked, but did not understand.
"Do you see that dip in the ground there where the snow melts as fast as it drops?"
"Wal, that there's a bear bath."
"A bear's bath!" I exclaimed, suspecting a hoax.
"Yes, a sulphur spring. I reckon this here one belongs to the Big Grizzly."
We examined the place with much interest, but found no fresh tracks, and the snow had covered most of the stale ones, as "of course he ain't got no call for it in winter. Like as not, he's denned up somewheres near, though it's a mite early."
This was thrilling. Perhaps we might pass within a few feet of Wahb and never know it. It was like being told that the ghost of the dear departed is watching you. Nimrod pointed out to me a tree with the bark scratched and torn off for several feet—one of Wahb's rubbing trees. He located the sunning ledge for me, and then we reluctantly hurried on, for the journey ahead promised to be long and hard. Indeed I found it so.
There were many indications that the storm was a serious one, and not the least of these was the behaviour of the little chief hare, or pika. As we ascended the rocky mountain-side we saw many of these little creatures scurrying hither and thither with bundles of hay in their mouths, which they deposited in tiny hay-cocks in sheltered places under rocks. So hard were they working that they could not even stop to be afraid of us. As all the party, but myself, knew, this meant bad weather and winter; for these cute, overgrown rats are reliable barometers, and they gave every indication that they were belated in getting their food supply, which had been garnered in the autumn after the manner of their kind, properly housed for winter use.
All that day we worked our way through the forest with the silent snow deepening around us, ever up and up, eight thousand, nine thousand, ten thousand feet. It was an endless day of freezing in the saddle, and of snow showers in one's face from the overladen branches. I was frightfully cold and miserable. Every minute seemed the last I could endure without screeching. But still our Host pushed on. It was necessary to get near enough to the top of the Continental Divide so that we could cross it the next day. It began to grow dark about three o'clock; the storm increased. I kept saying over and over to myself what I was determined I should not say out loud:
"Oh, please stop and make camp! I cannot stay in this saddle another minute. My left foot is frozen. I know it is, and the saddle cramp is unbearable. I am so hungry, so cold, so exhausted; oh, please stop!" Then, having wailed this out under my breath, I would answer it harshly: "You little fool, stop your whimpering. The others are made of flesh and blood too. We should be snowbound if we stopped here. Don't be a cry-baby. There is lots of good stuff in you yet. This only seems terrible because you are not used to it, so brace up."
Then I would even smile at Nimrod who kept keen watch on me, or wave my hand at the Host, who was in front. This appearance of unconcern helped me for a few seconds, and then I would begin the weary round: "Oh, my foot, my back, my head; I cannot endure it another moment; I can't, I can't." Yet all the while knowing that I could and would. Thus I fought through the afternoon, and at last became just a numb thing on the horse with but one thought, "I can and will do it." So at last when the order came to camp in four feet of snow ten thousand feet above the sea, with the wind and snow blowing a high gale, I just drew rein and sat there on my tired beast.
We disturbed a band of mountain sheep that got over the deep snow with incredible swiftness. It was my first view of these animals, but it aroused no enthusiasm in me, only a vague wonder that they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Finally Nimrod came and pulled me off, I was too stiff and numb to get down myself. Then I found that the snow was so deep I could not go four feet. Not to be able to move about seemed to me the end of all things. I simply dropped in the snow—it was impossible to ever be warm and happy again—and prepared at last to weep.
But I looked around first—Nimrod was coaxing a pack animal through the snow to a comparatively level place where our tent and bed things could be placed. The Host was shovelling a pathway between me and the spot where the Cook was coaxing a fire. The Horsewrangler was unpacking the horses alone (so that I might have a fire the sooner). They were all grim—doubtless as weary as I—but they were all working for my ultimate comfort, while I was about to repay them by sitting in the snow and weeping. I pictured them in four separate heaps in the snow, all weeping. This was too much; I did not weep. Instead by great effort I managed to get my horse near the fire, and after thawing out a moment unsaddled the tired animal, who galloped off gladly to join his comrades, and thus I became once more a unit in the economic force. But bad luck had crossed its fingers at me that day without doubt, and I had to be taught another lesson. I tell of it briefly as a warning to other women; of course—men always know better, instinctively, as they know how to fight. I presume you will agree that ignorance is punished more cruelly than any other thing, and that in most cases good intentions do not lighten the offence. My ignorance that time was of the effect of eating snow on an empty stomach. My intentions were of the best, for, being thirsty, I ate several handfuls of snow in order to save the cook from getting water out of a brook that was frozen. But my punishment was the same—a severe chill which made me very ill.
I had been cold all day, but that is a very different thing from having a chill. I felt stuffed with snow; snow water ran in my veins, snow covered the earth, the peaks around me. I was mad with snow. They gave me snow whisky and put me beside a snow fire. I had not told any one what I had done, not realising what was the mischief maker, and it really looked as though I had heart disease, or something dreadful.
They put rugs and coats around me till I could not move with their weight; but they were putting them around a snow woman. The only thing I felt was the icy wind, and that went through my shivering, shaking self. The snow was falling quietly and steadily, as it had fallen all day. We must cross yonder divide to-morrow. It was no time to be ill. Every one felt that, and big, black gloom was settling over the camp, when I by way of being cheerful remarked to the Host: "Do you-ou kno-ow, I feel as though there was n-nothing of me b-but the sno-ow I ate an hour ago."
"Snow!" he exclaimed. "Did you eat much? Well, no wonder you are ill."
The effect was instantaneous. Everybody looked relieved; I was not even a heroine.
"I will soon cure you," said the Host, as he poured out more whisky, and the Cook reheated some soup and chocolate. The hot drinks soon succeeded in thawing me from a snow woman back to shivering flesh and blood which was supportable.
Nimrod looked pleasant again and began studying the mountain sheep tracks. The cook fell to whistling softly from one side of his mouth, while a cigarette dangled from the other, as was his wont when he puttered about the fire. The Horsewrangler was making everything tight for the night against wind and snow. The Host lighted a cigarette, a calm expression glided over his face, and he became chatty, and, although the storm was just as fierce and the thermometer just as low, peace was restored to Camp Snow.
The next day we crossed the divide, and not a day too soon. The snow was so deep that the trail breaker in front was in danger of going over a precipice or into a rock crevice at any time. After him came the pack, animals, so that they could make a path for us. The path was just the width of the horse, and in some places the walls of it rose above my head. In such places I had to keep my feet high up in the saddle to prevent them from being crushed. For a half day we struggled upwards with danger stalking by our sides, then on the very ridge of the divide itself, 11,500 feet in the air, with the icy wind blowing a hurricane of blinding snow, we skirted along a precipice the edge of which the snow covered so that we could not be sure when a misstep might send us over into whatever is waiting for us in the next world.
But fortunately we did not even lose a horse. Then came the plunging down, down, with no chance to pick steps because of the all-concealing snow. Those, indeed, were "stirring times," but we made camp that night in clear weather and good spirits. We were on the right side of the barrier and only two days from the Palette Ranch—and safety, not to say luxury.
If you had Aladdin's lamp and asked for a shooting box, you could hardly expect to find anything more ideal than the Palette Ranch. There is no spot in the world more beautiful or more health giving. It is tucked away by itself in the heart of the Rockies, 150 miles from the railroad, 40 miles from the stage route, and surrounded on the three sides by a wilderness of mountains. And when after travelling over these for three weeks with compass as guide, one dark, stormy night we stumbled and slipped down a mountain side and across an icy brook to its front lawn, the message of good cheer that streamed in rosy light from its windows seemed like an opiate dream.
We entered a large living room, hung with tapestries and hunting trophies where a perfectly appointed table was set opposite a huge stone fireplace, blazing with logs. Then came a delicious course dinner with rare wines, and served by a French chef. The surprise and delight of it in that wilderness—but the crowning delight was the guestroom. As we entered, it was a wealth of colour in Japanese effect, soft glowing lanterns, polished floors, fur rugs, silk-furnished beds and a crystal mantelpiece (brought from Japan) which reflected the fire-light in a hundred tints. Beyond, through an open door, could be seen the tiled bath-room. It was a room that would be charming anywhere, but in that region a veritable fairy's chamber. Truly it is a canny Host who can thus blend harmoniously the human luxuries of the East and the natural glories of the West.
In our rides around the Palette I saw Wahb's tracks once again. The Host had taken us to a far away part of his possessions. Three beautiful wolf hounds frisked along beside us, when all at once they became much excited about something they smelt in a little scrub-pine clump on the right. We looked about for some track or sign that would explain their behaviour. I spied a huge bear track.
"Hah!" I thought, "Wahb at last," and my heart went pit-a-pat as I pointed it out to Nimrod. He recognised it but remained far too calm for my fancy. I pointed into the bushes with signs of "Hurrah, it's Wahb." I received in reply a shake of the head and a pitying smile. How was I to know that the dogs were saying as plainly as dogs need to "A bobcat treed"?
So I followed meekly and soon saw the bobcat's eyes glaring at us from the topmost branches. The Host took a shot at it with the camera which the lynx did not seem to mind, and calling off the disappointed dogs we went on our way. The Host allows no shooting within a radius of twelve miles of the Palette. Any living thing can find protection there and the result is that any time you choose to ride forth you can see perfectly wild game in their homeland.
* * * * *
It was not till the next year that I really saw Wahb. It was at his summer haunt, the Fountain Hotel in the Yellowstone National Park. If you were to ask Nimrod to describe the Fountain geyser or Hell Hole, or any of the other tourist sights thereabouts, I am sure he would shake his head and tell you there was nothing but bears around the hotel. For this was the occasion when Nimrod spent the entire day in the garbage heap watching the bears, while I did the conventional thing and saw the sights.
About sunset I got back to the hotel. Much to my surprise I could not find Nimrod; and neither had he been seen since morning, when he had started in the direction of the garbage heap in the woods some quarter of a mile back from the hotel. Anxiously I hurried there, but could see no Nimrod. Instead I saw the outline of a Grizzly feeding quietly on the hillside. It was very lonely and gruesome. Under other circumstances I certainly would have departed quickly the way I came, but now I must find Nimrod. It was growing dark, and the bear looked a shocking size, as big as a whale. Dear me, perhaps Nimrod was inside—Jonah style. Just then I heard a sepulchral whisper from the earth.
"Keep quiet, don't move, it's the Big Grizzly."
I looked about for the owner of the whisper and discovered Nimrod not far away in a nest he had made for himself in a pile of rubbish. I edged nearer.
"See, over there in the woods are two black bears. You scared them away. Isn't he a monster?" indicating Wahb.
I responded with appropriate enthusiasm. Then after a respectful silence I ventured to say:
"How long have you been here?"
"All day—and such a day—thirteen bears at one time. It is worth all your geysers rolled into one.
"H'm—Have you had anything to eat?"
"No." Another silence, then I began again.
"Aren't you hungry? Don't you want to come to dinner?"
He nodded yes. Then I sneaked away and came back as soon as possible with a change of clothes. The scene was as I had left it, but duskier. I stood waiting for the next move. The Grizzly made it. He evidently had finished his meal for the night, and now moved majestically off up the hill towards the pine woods. At the edge of these he stood for a moment, Wahb's last appearance, so far as I am concerned, for, as he posed, the fading, light dropped its curtain of darkness between us, and I was able to get Nimrod away.
THE DEAD HUNT.
To hunt the wily puma, the wary elk, or the fleet-footed antelope is to have experiences strange and varied, but for the largest assortment of thrills in an equal time the 'dead hunt' is the most productive. My acquaintance with a 'dead hunt'—which is by no means a 'still hunt'—began and ended at Raven Agency. It included horses, bicycles, and Indians, and followed none of the customary rules laid down for a hunt, either in progress or result.
And, not to antagonise the reader, I will say now that it was very naughty to do what I did, an impolite and ungenerous thing to do, on a par with the making up of slumming parties to pry into the secrets of the poor. It was the act of a vandal, and at times—in the gray dawn and on the first day of January—I am sorry about it; but then I should not have had that carved bead armlet, and as that is the tail of my story, I will put it in the mouth and properly begin.
Nimrod and I went to the United States agency for the Asrapako or Raven Indians in—well, never mind, not such a far cry from the Rockies, unless you are one of those uncomfortable persons who carry a map of the United States in your mind's eye—because Burfield was there painting Many Whacks, the famous chief; because Nimrod wanted to know what kind of beasties lived in that region; and because I wanted a face to face encounter with the Indian at home. I got it.
The first duty of a stranger at Raven Agency is to visit the famous battlefield, three miles away; and the Agent, an army officer, very charmingly made up a horseback party to escort us there. He put me on a rawboned bay who, he said, was a "great goer." It was no merry jest. I was nearly the last to mount and quite the first to go flying down the road. The Great Goer galloped all the way there. His mouth was as hard as nails, and I could not check him; still, the ride was no worse than being tossed in a blanket for half an hour. On the very spot, I heard the story of the tragic Indian fight by one who claimed to have been an eye-witness. Every place where each member of that heroic band fell, doing his duty, is marked by a small marble monument, and as I looked over the battle ground and saw these symbols of beating hearts, long still in death, clustered in twos and threes and a dozen where each had made the last stand, every pillar seemed to become a shadowy soldier; the whole awful shame of the massacre swept over me, and I was glad to head my horse abruptly for home. And then there were other things to think about, things more intimate and real. No sooner did the Great Goer's nose point in the direction of his stable than he gave a great bound, as though a bee had stung him; then he lowered his head, laid back his ears, and—gallopped home.
I yanked and tugged at the bit. It was as a wisp of hay in his mouth. I might as well have been a monkey or a straw woman bobbing up and down on his back. Pound, pound, thump, thump, gaily sped on the Great Goer. There were dim shouts far behind me for a while, then no more. The roadside whipped by, two long streaks of green. We whizzed across the railroad track in front of the day express, accompanied by the engine's frantic shriek of "down brakes." If a shoe had caught in the track—ah! I lost my hat, my gold hatpin, every hairpin, and brown locks flew out two feet behind.
Away went my watch, then the all in two pockets, knife, purse, match-box—surely this trail was an improvement on Tom Thumb's' bread crumbs. One foot was out of the stirrup. I wrapped the reins around the pommel and clung on. There is a gopher hole—that means a broken leg for him, a clavicle and a few ribs for me. No; on we go. Ah, that stony brook ahead we soon must cross! Ye gods, so young and so fair! To perish thus, the toy of a raw-boned Great Goer!
Pound, pound, pound, the hard road rang with the thunder of hoofs. Could I endure it longer? Oh, there is the stream—surely he will stop. No! He is going to jump! It's an awful distance! With a frantic effort I got my feet in the stirrups. He gathered himself together. I shut my eyes. Oh! We missed the bank and landed in the water—an awful mess. But the Great Goer scrambled out, with me still on top somehow, and started on. I pulled on the reins again with every muscle, trying to break his pace, or his neck anything that was his. Then there was a flapping noise below. We both heard it, we both knew what it was—the cinch worked loose, that meant the saddle loose.
In desperation I clutched the Great Goer's mane with both hands and, leaning forward, yelled wildly in his ears:
"Whoa, whoa! The saddle's turning! Whoa! Do you wa-ant to ki-ill me?"
Do not tell me that the horse is not a noble, intelligent animal with a vast comprehension of human talk and sympathy for human woe. For the Great Goer pulled up so suddenly that I nearly went on without him in the line of the least resistance. Then he stood still and went to nibbling grass as placidly as though he had not been doing racing time for three miles, and I should have gone on forever believing in his wondrous wit had I not turned and realised that he was standing in his own pasture lot.
Seeking to console my dishevelled self as I got off, I murmured, "Well, it was a sensation any way—an absolutely new one," just as Nimrod gallopped up, and seeing I was all right, called out:
"Hello, John Gilpin!" That is the way with men.
My scattered belongings were gathered up by the rest of the party, and each as he arrived with the relic he had gathered, made haste to explain that his horse had no chance with my mount.
I thanked the Agent for the Great Goer without much comment. (See advice to Woman-who-goes-hunting-with-her-husband.) But that is why, the next day, when Burfield confided to me that he knew where there were some 'Dead-trees' (not dead trees) that could be examined without fear of detection, I preferred to borrow the doctor's wife's bicycle.
Dead-trees? Very likely you know what I did not until I saw for myself, that the Asrapako, in common with several Indian tribes, place their dead in trees instead of in the ground. As the trees are very scarce in that arid country, and only to be found in gullies and along the banks of the Little Big Buck River, nearly every tree has its burden of one or more swathed-up bodies bound to its branches, half hidden by the leaves, like great cocoons—most ghastly reminders of the end of all human things.
It was to a cluster of these "deadtrees," five miles away, that Burfield guided me, and it was on this ride that the wily wheel, stripped of all its glamour of shady roads, tete-a-tetes, down grades, and asphalts, appeared as its true, heavy, small seated, stubborn self.
I can undertake to cure any bicycle enthusiast. The receipt is simple and here given away. First, take two months of Rocky Mountains with a living sentient creature to pull you up and down their rock-ribbed sides, to help out with his sagacity when your own fails, and to carry you at a long easy lope over the grassy uplands some eight or ten thousand feet above the sea in that glorious bracing air. Secondly, descend rapidly to the Montana plains—hot, oppressive, enervating—or to the Raven Agency, if you will, and attempt to ride a wheel up the only hill in all that arid stretch of semi desert, a rise of perhaps three hundred feet.
It is enough. You will find that your head is a sea of dizziness, that your lungs have refused to work, that your heart is pounding aloud in agony, and you will then and there pronounce the wheel an instrument of torture, devised for the undoing of woman.
I tried it. It cured me, and, once cured, the charms of the wheel are as vapid as the defence of a vigilant committee to the man it means to hang. Stubborn—it would not go a step without being pushed. It would not even stand up by itself, and I literally had to push it—it, as well as myself on it—in toil and dust and heat the whole way. Nimrod said his bicycle betrayed itself, too, only not so badly. Of course, that was because he was stronger. The weaker one is, the more stubbornly bicycles behave. Every one knows that. And they are so narrow minded. They needs must stick to the travelled road, and they behave viciously when they get in a rut. Imagine hunting antelope across sage-brush country on a bicycle! I know a surveyor who tried it once. They brought him home with sixteen broken bones and really quite a few pieces of the wheel, improved to Rococo. Bah! Away with it and its limitations, and those of its big brother, the automobile! Sing me no death knell of the horse companion.
At last, with the assistance of trail and muscle, the five miles were covered, and we came to a dip in the earth which some bygone torrent had hollowed out, and so given a chance for a little moisture to be retained to feed the half-dozen cottonwoods and rank grass, that dared to struggle for existence in that baked up sage-brush waste which the government has set aside for the Raven paradise.
We jumped—no, that is horse talk—we sprawled off our wheels and left the stupid things, lying supinely on their sides, like the dead lumpish things they are, and descended a steep bank some ten feet into the gully.
It was a gruesome sight, in the hour before sunset, with not a soul but ourselves for miles around. The lowering sun lighted up the under side of the leaves and branches and their strange burdens, giving an effect uncanny and weird, as though caused by unseen footlights. Not a sound disturbed the oppressive quiet, not the quiver of a twig. Five of the six trees bore oblong bundles, wrapped in comforters and blankets, and bound with buckskin to the branches near the trunk, fifteen or twenty feet from the ground, too high for coyotes, too tight for vultures. But what caught our attention as we dropped into the gully was one of the bundles that had slipped from its fastenings and was hanging by a thong.
It needed but a tug to pull it to the ground. Burfield supplied that tug, and we all got a shock when the wrappings, dislodged by the fall, parted at one end and disclosed the face of a mummy. I had retreated to the other end of the little dip, not caring to witness some awful spectacle of disintegration; but a mummy—no museum-cased specimen, labelled 'hands off', but a real mummy of one's own finding—was worth a few shudders to examine.
I looked into the shrivelled, but otherwise normal, face of the Indian woman. What had been her life, her heart history, now as completely gone as though it had never been—thirty years of life struggle in snow and sun, with, perhaps, a little joy, and then what?
Seven brass rings were on her thumb and a carved wooden armlet encircled the wrist. These I was vandal enough to accept from Burfield. There were more rings and armlets, but enough is enough. As the gew-gaws had a peculiar, gaseous, left-over smell, I wrapped them in my gloves, and surely if trifles determine destiny, that act was one of the trifles that determined the fact that I was to be spared to this life for yet a while longer. For, as I was carelessly wrapping up my spoil, with a nose very much turned up, Burfield suddenly started and then began bundling the wrappings around the mummy at great speed. Something was serious. I stooped to help him, and he whispered:
"Thought I heard a noise. If the Indians catch us, there'll be trouble, I'm afraid."
We hastily stood the mummy on end, head down, against the tree, and tried to make it look as though the coyotes had torn it down, after it had fallen within reach, as indeed they had, originally. Then we crawled to the other end of the gully, scrambled up the bank, and emerged unconcernedly.
There was nothing in sight but long stretches of sage brush, touched here and there by the sun's last gleams. We were much relieved. Said Burfield:
"The Indians are mighty ugly over that Spotted Tail fight, and if they had caught us touching their dead, it might have been unhealthy for us."
"Why, what would they do?" I asked, suddenly realising what many white men never do—that Indians are emotional creatures like ourselves. The brass rings became uncomfortably conspicuous in my mind.
"Well, I don't suppose they would dare to kill us so close to the agency, but I don't know; a mad Injun's a bad Injun."
Nevertheless, this opinion did not deter him from climbing a tree where three bodies lay side by side in a curious fashion; but I had no more interest in 'dead-trees,' and fidgeted. Nimrod had wandered off some distance and was watching a gopher hole-up for the night. The place in the fading light was spooky, but it was of live Indians, not dead ones, that I was thinking.
There is a time for all things, and clearly this was the time to go back to Severin's dollar-a-day Palace Hotel. I started for the bicycles when two black specks appeared on the horizon and grew rapidly larger. They could be nothing but two men on horseback approaching at a furious gallop. It was but yaller-covered-novel justice that they should be Indians.
"Quick, Burfield, get out of that tree on the other side!" It did not take a second for man and tree to be quit of each other, at the imminent risk of broken bones. I started again for the wheels.
"Stay where, you are," said Burfield; "we could never get away on those things. If they are after us, we must bluff it out."
There was no doubt about their being after us. The two galloping figures were pointed straight at us and were soon close enough to show that they were Indians. We stood like posts and awaited them. Thud, thud—ta-thud, thud—on they charged at a furious pace directly at us. They were five hundred feet away—one hundred feet—fifty.
Now, I always take proper pride in my self possession, and to show how calm I was, I got out my camera, and as the two warriors came chasing up to the fifty-foot limit, I snapped it. I had taken a landscape a minute before, and I do not think that the fact that that landscape and those Indians appeared on the same plate is any proof that I was in the least upset by the red men's onset. Forty feet, thirty—on they came—ten—were they going to run us down?
Five feet, full in front of us they pulled in their horses to a dead stop—unpleasantly, close, unpleasantly sudden. Then there was an electric silence, such as comes between the lightning's flash and the thunder's crack. The Indians glared at us. We stared at the Indians, each measuring the other. Not a sound broke the stillness of that desolate spot, save the noisy panting of the horses as they stood, still braced from the shock of the sudden stop.
For three interminable minutes we faced each other without a move. Then one of the Indians slowly roved his eyes all over the place, searching suspiciously. From where he stood the tell-tale mummy was hidden by the bank and some bushes, and the tell-tale brass rings and armlet were in my gloves which I held as jauntily as possible. He saw nothing wrong. He turned again to us. We betrayed no signs of agitation. Then he spoke grimly, with a deep scowl on his ugly face:
"No touch 'em; savey?" giving a significant jerk of the head towards the trees.
We responded by a negative shake of the head. Oh, those brass rings! Why did I want to steal brass rings from the left thumb of an Indian woman mummy! Me! I should be carving my name on roadside trees next!
There was another silence as before. None of us had changed positions, so much as a leaf's thickness. Then the second Indian, grim and ugly as the first, spoke sullenly:
"No touch 'em; savey?" He laid his hand suggestively on something in his belt.
Again we shook our heads in a way that deprecated the very idea of such a thing. They gave another dissatisfied look around, and slowly turned their horses.
We waited breathless to see which way they would go. If they went on the other side of the gully, they must surely see that bundle on the ground and—who can tell what might happen? But they did not. With many a look backwards, they slowly rode away, and with them the passive elements of a tragedy.
I tied my ill-gotten, ill-smelling pelt on the handle bar of the doctor's wife's bicycle, and we hurried home like spanked children. That night, after I had delivered unto the doctor's wife her own, and disinfected the gewgaws in carbolic, I added two more subjects to my Never-again list—bicycling in Montana and 'dead hunts.'
It is a blessing that a rattlesnake has to coil before it can spring. No one has ever written up life from a rattler's point of view, although it has been unfeelingly stated that fear of snakes is an inheritance from our simian ancestors.
To me, I acknowledge, a rattler is just a horrid snake; so, when we were told at Markham that rattlers were more common than the cattle which grazed on every hill, I discovered that there were yet new imps to conquer in my world of fear. Shakspere has said some nice things about fear—"Of all the wonders, ... it seems to me most strange that men should fear"—but he never knew anything about squirming rattlesnakes.
The Cuttle Fish ranch is five miles from Markham. That thriving metropolis has ten houses and eleven saloons, in spite of Dakota being 'prohibition.' Markham is in the heart of the Bad Lands, the wonderful freakish Bad Lands, where great herds of cattle range over all the possible, and some of the impossible, places, while the rest of it—black, green, and red peaks, hills of powdered coal, wicked land cuts that no plumb can fathom, treacherous clay crust over boiling lava, arid horrid miles of impish whimsical Nature—is Bad indeed.
Nimrod and I had been lured to the Cuttle Fish ranch to go on a wolf hunt. The house was a large two storey affair of logs, with a long tail of one storey log outbuildings like a train of box cars. We sat down to dinner the first night with twenty others, a queer lot truly to find in that wild uncivilised place. There was an ex-mayor and his wife from a large Eastern city; a United States Senator—the toughest of the party—who appeared at table in his undershirt; four cowboys, who were better mannered than the two New York millionaires' sons who had been sent there to spend their college vacation and get toughened (the process was obviously succeeding); they made Nimrod apologise for keeping his coat on during dinner; the three brothers who owned the ranch, and the wife of one of them; several children; a prim and proper spinster from Washington—how she got there, who can tell?—and Miss Belle Hadley, the servant girl.
In studying the case of Belle I at last appreciated the age-old teaching that the greatest dignity belongs to the one who serves. Else why did the ex-mayor's wife bake doughnuts, and the rotund Senator toil at the ice cream freezer with the thermometer at 112 degrees, and the millionaires' sons call Belle "Miss Hadley," and I make bows for her organdie dress, while she curled her hair for a dance to be held that evening ten miles away, and to which she went complacently with her pick of the cowboys and her employers' two best horses, while they stayed at home and did her work! Else why did this one fetch wood for her, that one peel the potatoes, another wash the dishes? And when she and the rest of us were seated at meals, and something was needed from the kitchen, why did the unlucky one nearest the door jump up and forage? Belle was never nearest the door. She sat at the middle of the long table, so that she could be handy to everything that was 'circulating.' But I refer this case to the author of those delightful papers on the "Unquiet Sex," and hark back to my story.
That night the moon was full, and the coyotes made savage music around the lonely ranch house. First from the hill across the creek came a snappy wow-wow, yac-yac, and then a long drawn out ooo-oo; then another voice, a soprano, joined in, followed by a baritone, and then the star voice of them all—loud, clear, vicious, mournful. For an instant I saw him silhouetted against the rising moon on the hill ridge, head thrown back and muzzle raised, as he gave to the peaceful night his long, howling bark, his "talk at moon" as the Indians put it. The ranchman remarked that there were "two or three out there," but I knew better. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them; I am not deaf.
The next morning we were up with the dawn and started by eight to run down Mountain Billy, the grey wolf who lived on the ranchmen of the Bad Lands. Our outfit was as symmetrical as a pine cone;—dogs, horses, mess wagon, food, guns and men. All we needed was the grey wolf. I was the only woman in the party, and, like "Weary Waddles," tagged behind.
It was the middle of September, and the weather should have known better. But it was the Bad Lands, and there was a hot spell on. By three o'clock the thermometer showed 116-1/2 in the shade, and I believed it. The heat and glare simmered around us like fire. The dogs' tongues nearly trailed in the baked dust, the horses' heads hung low, an iron band seemed ever tightening around my head, as the sun beat down upon all alike with pitiless force.
When we came to the Little Missoula, even its brackish muddy water was welcome, and I shut my eyes to the dirt in the uninviting brown fluid, and my mind to the knowledge of the horrid things it would do to me, and drank; Tepid, gritty, foul—was it water I had swallowed? The horse assigned to me, a small, white, benevolent animal named 'Whiskers,' waded in knee deep and did the same. Whiskers was a 'lady's horse,' which, being interpreted, meant aged eighteen or twenty, with all spirit knocked out by hard work; a broken down cow pony, in fact, or, in local parlance, a 'skate,' a 'goat.' He had lagged considerably behind the rest of the party.
However, Whiskers did not matter; nothing mattered but the waves on waves of heat that quivered before my eyes. I shut them and began repeating cooling rhymes, such as 'twin peaks snow clad,' 'From Greenland's Icy Mountains,' and the 'Frozen North,' by way of living up to Professor James' teachings. Whiskers was ambling on, half-stupefied with the heat, as I was, when from the road just in front came a peculiar sound. I did not know what it was, but Whiskers did, and he immediately executed a demi volte (see Webster) with an energy I had not thought him capable of.
Again came the noise, yes, surely, just as it had been described—like dried peas in a pod—and gliding across the road was a big rattlesnake. I confess had Whiskers been so inclined, I should have been content to have passed on with haughty disdain. But Whiskers performed a left flank movement so nearly unseating me that I deemed it expedient to drop to the ground, and Whiskers, without waiting for orders, retreated down the road at what he meant for a gallop. The rattler stopped his pretty gliding motion away from me, and seemed in doubt. Then he began to take on a few quirks. "He is going to coil and then to strike," said I, recalling a paragraph from my school reader. It was an unhappy moment! I knew that tradition had fixed the proper weapons to be used against rattlesnakes: a stone (more if necessary), a stick (forked one preferred), and in rare cases a revolver (when it is that kind of a story). I had no revolver. There was not a stick in sight, and not a stone bigger than a hazelnut; but there was the rattler. I cast another despairing glance around and saw, almost at my feet and half hidden by sage brush, several inches of rusty iron—blessed be the passing teamster who had thrown it there. I darted towards it and, despite tradition, turned on the rattler armed with the goodly remains of—a frying pan.
The horrid thing was ready for me with darting tongue and flattened head—another instant it would have sprung. Smash on its head went my valiant frying pan and struck a deadly blow, although the thing managed to get from under it. I recaptured my weapon and again it descended upon the reptile's head, settling it this time. Feeling safe, I now took hold of the handle to finish it more quickly. Oh, that tail—that awful, writhing, lashing tail! I can stand Indians, bears, wolves, anything but that tail, and a rattler is all tail, except its head. If that tail touches me I shall let go. It did touch me, I did not let go. Pride held me there, for I heard the sound of galloping hoofs. Whiskers' empty saddle had alarmed the rest of the party.
My snake was dead now, so I put one foot on him to take his scalp—his rattles, I mean—when horrid thrills coursed through me. The uncanny thing began to wriggle and rattle with old-time vigour. I do not like to think of that simian inheritance. But, fortified by Nimrod's assurance that it was 'purely reflex neuro-ganglionic movement,' I hardened my heart and captured his 'pod of dry peas.'
Oh, about the wolf hunt! That was all, just heat and rattlesnakes.
The hounds could not run; one died from sunstroke while chasing a jack rabbit. No one lifted a finger if it could be avoided. All the world was an oven, and after three days we gave up the chase, and leaving Mountain Billy panting triumphantly somewhere in his lair, trailed back to the ranch house with drooping heads and fifteen rattle-snakes' tails. Oh, no, the hunt was not a failure—for Mountain Billy.
Till the time of the "WB" round-up all cows looked alike to me. We were still at the Cuttle Fish ranch, which was in a state of great activity because of the fall roundup. Belle, the servant girl, had received less attention of late and had been worked harder, a combination of disagreeables which caused her to threaten imminent departure. The cowboys, who had been away for several days gathering in the stragglers that had wandered into the wild recesses of those uncanny Bad Land hills, assembled in full force for the evening meal, and announced, between mouthfuls, that the morrow was to be branding day for the several outfits, about two thousand head of cattle in all, the 'WB' included, which were rounded up on the Big Flat two miles distant from the ranch.
This was the chance for me to be relieved of my crass ignorance concerning round-ups, really to have a definite conception of the term instead of the sea of vagueness and conjecture into which I was plunged by the usual description—"Oh, just a whole lot of cattle driven to one place, and those that need it are cut out and frescoed." How many was a whole lot, how were they driven, where were they driven from, what were they cut out with, how were they branded, and when did they need it? My ignorance was hopeless and pathetic, and those to whom I applied were all too familiar with the process to be able to describe it. I might as well have asked for a full description of how a man ate his dinner.
"Will you take me to the round-up to-morrow?" I asked of the 'WB' boss.
"Well, I could have a team hitched up, and Bob could drive you to the Black Nob Hill, where you can get a good view," was the tolerant reply.
Bob had wrenched his foot the day before, when roping a steer, and was therefore incapacitated for anything but 'woman's work'—'a soft job.'
"Oh, but I do not want to be so far away and look on; I want to be in it."
He looked at me out of the angle of his eye to make sure that I was in earnest. "Tain't safe," he said.
"Then you mean to say that every cowboy risks his life in a round-up?"
"Oh, well, they're men and take their chances. Besides, it's their business."
I never yet have been able to have a direct question answered by a true mountaineer or plainsman by a simple yes or no. Is there something in the bigness of their surroundings that causes the mind to spread over an idea and lose directness like a meadow brook?
However, by various wiles known to my kind, the next morning at daybreak I was mounted upon the surest-footed animal in the 'bunch.'
"She's a trained cow pony and won't lose her head," the boss remarked.
Thus equipped, I was allowed to accompany the cowboys to their work, with the understanding that I was to keep at a safe distance from the herd. Van Anden, a famous 'cutter out,' whatever that meant, was deputed to have an especially watchful eye upon me. Van Anden was a surprisingly graceful fellow, who got his six foot of stature in more places during the day than any of the smaller men. He was evidently a cowboy because he wanted to be one. There were many traces of a college education and a thorough drilling in good manners in an Eastern home, which report said could still be his if he so wished; and report also stated that he remained a bachelor in spite of being the most popular man in the country, because of a certain faithless siren who with gay unconcern casts languishing glances and spends papa's dollars at Newport.
But this was no Beau Brummel day. There was work to do, and hard work, as I soon discovered. We had ridden perhaps a mile; my teeth were still chattering in the early morning cold (breaking ice on one's bath water and blowing on one's fingers to enable one to lace heavy boots may suit a cowboy: I do not pretend to like it), when we began to notice a loud bellowing in the distance. Instantly my companions spurred their horses and we went speeding over the Little Missoula bottom lands, around scrub willows and under low hanging branches of oak, one of which captured my hat, after breaking both of the hat pins, and nearly swept me from the saddle.
On I rushed with the rest, hatless, and as in a cloud of fury. Van Anden took a turn around that tree and was at my side again with the hat before I realised what, he was doing. I jerked out a "thank you" between lopes, and of course forbore to remark that a hat without pins was hollow mockery. I dodged the next low branch so successfully that the pommel in some miraculous way jumped up and smashed the crystal in my watch, the same being carried in that mysterious place, the shirt waist front, where most women carry their watches, pocket books, and love letters.
When we got into the open the terrible bellowing—a combination of shriek, groan, and roar in varying pitch—grew louder, and I could just discern a waving ghostly mass in the gray morning mist. I wondered if this were the herd, but found it was only the cloud of dust in which it was enveloped.
Four of the cowboys had already disappeared in different directions. I heard the 'WB' boss say, "Billy, to the left flank. Van, them blamed heifers," as he flew past them.
Van dashed forward, I gave my black mare a cut with the quirt and followed. Van's face, as he turned around to remonstrate, was a study of surprise, distress, and disgust, for I was undoubtedly breaking rules.
"Don't bother about me," I called as airily as possible, as I shot past him. He had checked his horse's speed, but now there was nothing to do but to follow me as fast as he could. I shall have to record that he swore, as he turned sharply to the right into a group of cattle. Poor man, it was dreadful to saddle him with a woman at such a juncture, but I was not a woman just then. I was a green cowboy and frightened to death, as the cattle closed around me, a heavy mass of ponderous forms, here wedged in tightly and bellowing, some with the pain of being crushed, some for their calves. I expected every instant to be trampled under foot.
"Stick to your horse, whatever you do, and work to the left," I heard Van shouting to me over the backs of a dozen cows. The dust, the noise, and the smell of those struggling creatures appalled and sickened me. How was I ever going to work to the left in that jam? I could see nothing but backs and heads and horns. I allowed myself one terrified groan which was fortunately lost in the general uproar. But the pony had been in such a situation before, if I had not, and she taught me what to do. She gave a sudden spring forward when a space just big enough for her appeared, then wove her way a few paces forward between two animals who had room enough on the other side of them to give way a little, while the space I had just left had closed up, a tight mass of groaning creatures.
Thus we worked our way to the left whenever there was a chance, and at last through the dust I could see the heavenly open space beyond. Forgetting my tactics, I made straight for it, and was caught in one of those terrible waves of tightly pressed creatures which is caused by those on the outside pressing towards the centre, and the centre giving until there is no more space, when comes the crush. Fortunately I was on the outskirts of this crush, and by holding my feet up high we managed to squeeze through that dreadful, dust covered, stamping, snorting bedlam into the glorious free air and sunshine. Already I had a much better conception of what a 'whole lot' of cattle meant.
From the vantage ground of a little hill I could see the whole herd, and realised that I had been in only a small bunch of it, composed of cows and calves. Had I gone to the right I should soon have gotten into a raging mass of some thousand head of bulls. They were pawing and tearing up the ground that but a little before had been covered with grass and late flowers, and occasionally goring one another. The cowboys were riding on the outskirts of this life-destroying horde, forcing the stragglers back into line, and by many a sudden dash forward, then to the right, sharp wheel about, and more spurts this way and that, were slowly driving it toward another mass of cattle, a half mile further on, which could be distinguished only by the clouds of dust which enveloped it.
Van Anden, meanwhile, in the small bunch with which I had had such an intimate acquaintance, was acting as though he had lost his wits, or so it seemed to me until I began to understand what he was doing. He would dart into the bunch, scattering cattle right and left, and would weave in and out, out and in, waving his arms, shouting, throwing his rope, occasionally hitting an animal across the nose or the flank, sometimes twisting their tails, dodging blows and kicks, and finally emerge driving before him a cow followed by her calf. These another cowboy would take charge of and drive to a small bunch of cows and calves which I now noticed for the first time, separating them from their relations, who remonstrated in loud bellowings, stampings and freakish, brief, ill judged attacks. And then I understood what it meant to 'cut out' cattle from 'a whole lot.'
When the calves and cows were finally separated, it was necessary to drive them also to the Big Flat for the afternoon's work of branding those that 'needed it.' Van guarded the rear of the bunch and of course I rode with him, that is as near as I could, for he was as restless as a blue bottle fly in a glass jar, dashing hither and thither, keeping those crazy creatures together, and ever pushing them forward. The dust and heat and noise and smell and continual action made my head ache. So this was cowboy life, Van's choice! I thought of a certain far away, well ordered home, with perhaps a sweet voiced mother and well groomed sister, and wondered, even while I knew the answer. On the one hand, peace, comfort, affection, and the eternal sameness; on the other, effort, hardship, fighting sometimes, but ever with the new day a whole world of unlived possibilities, change, action, and bondage to no one.
A particularly fractious heifer at this point suddenly changed my contemplation of Van Anden's character into a lively share of Van Anden's job. The creature was making good time straight towards me, and as I had dropped considerably behind the herd in order to breathe some fresh air and to be free from the dust, I knew that it meant a long hard chase for Van and his tired horse if I did not head off that heifer; I felt I owed him that much. I had seen the cowboys do that very thing a hundred times that morning, but you cannot stand on your toe by watching a ballet dancer do it. However, I started on a gallop, slanting diagonally towards the creature, swinging one arm frantically (I really could not let go with both) and yelling "Hi, hi!" I wondered what would happen next, for to be honest, I was exquisitely scared. Why scared? It is not for me to explain a woman's dread of the unknown and untried.
I heard Van shouting, but could not understand. To know you are right and then go ahead is a pretty plan, but how to know? The animal did not stop or swerve from its course. We would surely collide. What was I to do? Oh, for a precedent! Evidently the mare was aware of one, for she wheeled to the right just in time to miss the oncoming heifer, and we raced alongside for a few seconds. I had so nearly parted company with my mount in the last manoeuvre (centaurs would have an enormous advantage as cowboys) that I had lost all desire to help Van and only wanted to get away from that heifer, to make an honourable dismount, and go somewhere by myself where a little brook babbled nothings, and the forget-me-nots placidly slept. Rough riding and adventures of the Calamity Jane order tempted me no more.
Whether now the heifer did the proper thing or not, I cannot say, but she circled around with me on the outer side (I suspect my cow pony knew how it was done) and was half way back to the herd when Van took it in charge. His face bore a broad grin for the first time that day, from what emotions caused I have never been able to determine. I, of course, said nothing.
Then, oh, the joy of that round up dinner! The 'WB' outfit had a meal tent, a mess wagon, and a cook for the men, and a rope corral, food and water for the horses. Everybody was happy for the noon hour, save the unlucky ones whose turn it was to guard the herd. Bob had driven the ex-mayor's wife, the sad eyed spinster, and Nimrod over to join us at dinner. The boss greeted Nimrod with the assurance that I was 'all right' and could apply any time for a job. I may as well say that Nimrod had allowed me to go without him in the morning, because the cattle business was no novelty to him; because daybreak rising did not appeal to him as a pastime; and because, at the time I broached the subject, being engaged in writing a story, he had removed but one-eighth of his mind for the consideration of mundane affairs, and that, as any one knows, is insufficient to judge fairly whether the winged thing I was reaching out for was a fly or a bumble bee. In the morning, the story being finished and the other seven-eights of brain at liberty to dwell upon the same question, he decided to follow me, with the result that in the afternoon I rode in the wagon.
The cowboy meal, which I believe was not elaborated for us, was a healthy solid affair of meat, vegetables, hot biscuit, coffee, and prunes, appetisingly cooked and unstintingly served, for the Bad Land appetite is like unto that of the Rocky Mountains, lusty and big. The saddling of fresh horses made a lively scene for a few moments in the corral; then the men rode off for the afternoon's business of branding.
The ranch party packed itself into a three-seated buckboard and we followed behind. We went at a wide safe distance from the half-crazed herds, which had been driven this way and that until they knew not what they wanted, nor what was wanted of them, to where a huge fire was blazing and rapidly turning cold black iron to red hot. These irons were fashioned in curious shapes, from six to ten inches long and fastened to a four foot iron handle. The smell of burning flesh was in the air, and horrid shrieks. Beyond was the ceaseless bellowing and stamping and weaving of the herds.
From the time I got into the wagon and became a mere onlooker, my point of view changed. The exhilaration of action had disappeared. I was a cowboy no longer. The cattle in the morning had been stupid foolish creatures, dangerous in their blind strength, which must be made to do what one willed. Now they were poor, dumb, persecuted beasts which must be tormented, even tortured (for who shall say that red hot iron on tender flesh is not torture?) and eventually butchered for the swelling of man's purse. I saw the riders dash towards an animal who 'needed branding'—which I discovered to mean one that had hitherto escaped the iron, or that had changed owners—throw a rope over its head or horns, fasten the other end to the pommel, and drag it to the fire, where it was thrown and tied. Then it was seized by several men who sat on its head and legs to hold it comparatively still while another took the hot brand from the fire and pressed it against the quivering side of the animal. It was then released and, bawling with pain and fright, allowed to return to its mother, who had been kept off by another rider. A sound at my side informed me that the little old maid was weeping copiously.
It is a pity I could not have had the cowboy's point of view, for mine was most unpleasant, but my little glimpse of the other side was gone, and gladly I drove away from the mighty smells and sounds of that unfortunate mass of seething life, subjected to the will of a dozen men, Van Anden the worst of the lot. And as we went silently through the sweet cool air, crisp as an October leaf, where a bluebird was twittering a wing-free song on the poplar yonder, where silver-turned willows were gently swaying, and a jolly chipmunk was rippling from log to stone, I wondered whether the Newport girl had really done so wrong after all.
THE SWEET PEA LADY SOMEONE ELSE'S MOUNTAIN SHEEP.
It was at Winnipeg (you do not want to know how we got there) that I first walked into the aura of the Sweet Pea Lady, and by so doing prepared the way for the shatterment of another illusion—namely, that 'little deeds of kindness' always result in mutual pleasure.
Flowers and fruit in Manitoba are treasured as sunshine in London, for you must remember that Manitoba is a very new country, that it is only a paltry few thousands of years since its thousands of miles were scraped flat as a floor. Everything even yet looks so immodest on those vast stretches. The clumps of trees stand out in such a bold brazen fashion. The houses appear as though stuck on to the landscape. Even an honest brown cow can not manage to melt herself into the endless stretch of prairies. In fact, the little scenic accidents of trees and hollows, which mean fruit and flowers, are mainly due to man.
So, when our friends who saw us off on the west-bound Canadian Pacific left in our sleeper two huge bouquets of sweet peas and ten pounds of blackberries, we knew that the finest garden in Winnipeg had been rifled to do us pleasure. Now, I dearly love flowers and fruit, as I did the giver, but ten pounds of great, fat blackberries and an armful of sweet peas in a cramped stuffy Pullman caused my heart to resound in the minor chords. We rallied again and again to demolish the fruit as we voyaged, and sat with one foot on top of the other to avoid crushing the lovely pea blossoms as we fidgeted about, but the results of our efforts, messy fruit in hopeless abundance and withering leaves in dreary profusion, were discouraging.
When the noon hour came, Nimrod carried the fruit basket into the Diner and set it down on the table. The waiter eyed us askance. "It's a dollar each for dinner, sah." It was clear we were emigrants. We paid the waiter's demand and then from soup to coffee ate blackberries—blackberries until we were black in the mouth and pale in the face. Then we picked up our basket, upon the contents of which our labours had apparently made no impression, and, hastily pushing a plate over the rich red stain it had left on the table cloth, departed with our fruit and a grieved feeling in the region of our hearts. It may not be amiss to remark that I have never eaten a blackberry since. To get to our car it was necessary to pass through another sleeper, where I noticed a made up berth in which was reclining a young woman, and hovering over her solicitously a man, evidently the husband.
Hope and joy awoke within me—perhaps she would like some blackberries! No, she would not venture to eat fruit, and with many thanks, oh, many, many thanks, she declined it. But the blessedness of giving I felt must be mine, so I bribed the porter to take as many sweet peas as he could carry and present them to the sick lady in the next car, and on no account to tell where he got them. I did not want the thanks, neither did I want the sweet peas, but I was illogical enough to hope that the Recording Angel would be busy and accept the act at its face value as a "deed of kindness."
It must have been a slack day with the angel, for this is a brief but accurate account of what followed, and I am willing to leave it to any human, whether my punishment was not out of all proportion to the offense committed:
One hour later. Train stops for ten minutes. I got out for fresh air and promenade on platform. Behold, the first object that meets my gaze is the sick lady, miraculously recovered. She swooped down upon me with the deadly light of determination in her eyes. I was discovered. There was no escape. I was going to be thanked—and I was thanked. Up and down, backwards and forwards, inside and out, and all hands around. And when she paused breathless her husband took up the theme. It seems she was a semi invalid, and the sweet peas were quite the most heavenly thing that could have happened to her. Nimrod joined me at this moment and he was thanked separately and dually, for being the husband of his wife, I suppose. At last we were able to retire with profuse bows, tired but exceedingly thankful that the incident, though trying, was ended.
Three minutes later. Have been driven indoors by the sweet pea woman, as each turn of the walk brought us face to face, when it immediately became necessary to nod and smile, and for our husbands to lift hats and smile, until we looked like loose-necked manikins. At least, the sleeper is tranquil, if stuffy.
Supper time. Have been thanked again by the Sweet Pea Lady, who sat at our table. She had sweet peas in her hair, and at her belt. The husband had a boutonniere of them.
Next morning, Carberry. Bade an elaborate farewell to the Sweet Pea Lady. She is going straight to the coast where they catch steamer for Japan. Praise be to Allah! I shall see her no more. The heavy polite is wearing.
Next day, Banff Hot Springs. First person on the hotel steps I see is the S.P. Lady. She rushed up and assured me that the S.P.'s were still fresh, and that she and her husband had unexpectedly stopped over for a day.
Next day. Spent the day avoiding S.P.L. Left for Glacier House in the evening. At least, I shall not see S.P.L. there, as they have to go right through to catch steamer.
Two days later, Glacier House. Had horrid shock. Found apparition of S.P. Lady sitting beside me at breakfast table. She began to speak, then I knew it was the real thing. She assured me that many of the S.P.'s were still fresh, as she had clipped their stems night and morning. I again said good by to her, and to those ghastly flowers. She just has time to catch her steamer.
Three days later: Vancouver. Ran across the S.P. Lady in hotel corridor. She saw me first. There was another weary interchange of the heavy polite. Her steamer had been delayed from sailing for two days—in order that we might meet again, I have no doubt.
Next morning. She's gone. Ring the bells, boom the cannon! I saw the Japan steamer bear the Sweet Pea Lady rapidly into deep water. At last easeful peace may again dream on my shoulder. When I returned to the hotel the clerk handed me an envelope enclosing a lady's visiting card (kind fate, she lives in Japan) on which was written "In grateful appreciation of your kindness," and with the card were two sprays of Pressed Sweet Peas.
After this when it comes to "scattering deeds of kindness on the weary way," I shall be the woman who didn't, and who shall say me nay? However, all this flower and fruit piece was but an episode; the event of that journey was the intimate acquaintance we made of the Great Glacier of the Selkirks, and the nice opportunity I had to lose my life. And the only reason this tale is not more tragic is because, given the choice, I preferred to lose the opportunity rather than the life.
I wonder if I can give any idea to one who has not seen it what a snow slide really is; how it sweeps away every vestige of trees, grass, and roots, and leaves a surface of shirting, unstable earth almost as treacherous as quicksand.
Nimrod and I had paid a superficial visit to the Glacier the day before: that is, we had gone as far as its forefoot, a hard but thoroughly safe climb, and had explored with awe the green glass ice caves with which the Great Glacier has seen fit to decorate its lower line, wonderful rooms of ice, emerald in the shadows, with glacial streams for floors.
So the next morning we started out, intending a little bit to further explore the vast, cold, heartless ice sheet (vaster than all the Swiss glaciers together), but more to hunt for the warm beating heart of a mountain sheep, whose home is here. We had been travelling for miles in the wildest kind of earth upheavals, for the Selkirks are still hard and fast in the grip of the ice king; huge boulders, uprooted trees, mighty mountains, released but recently from the glacial wet blanket, when Nimrod discovered the stale track of a mountain sheep. We followed it eagerly till it brought us across the path of a snow slide. At that point it was about five hundred feet across, at an angle of forty-five degrees; below us a thousand feet was a vicious looking glacial torrent; above, an equal distance, was the lower edge of the glacier, the mother of all this devastation.
The fearless-footed mountain sheep had crossed this sliding crumbling earth and gravel incline with apparent ease. For us it was go on or go back. There was no middle course. The row of tiny hoof marks running straight across from one safe bank to the other deceived us. It could not be so very difficult. We dismounted; Nimrod threw the bridle over his horse's head and started across, leading his beast. The animal snorted as he felt the foot-hold giving way beneath him, but Nimrod pulled him along. It was impossible to stand still. It would have been as easy for quicksilver to remain at the top of an incline. Amid rattling stones and sliding earth they landed on the firm bank beyond, fully three hundred feet below me.
It was a shivery sight, but I started expecting the horse would follow. He, however, jerked back snorting and trembling, which unexpected move upset my equilibrium, uncertain at best, and I fell. Nothing but the happy chance of a tight grip on the reins kept me from sliding down that dreadful bank, over the rock into the water, and so into eternity (Please pardon the Salvation Army metaphor).
I had barely time to right myself and get out of the way of my horse, which now plunged forward upon the sliding rock with me. The terrified animal lost his head completely. I could not keep away from his hoofs. He would not let me keep in front, I dare not get above for fear I should slip under his feet, or below him for fear he should slide upon me. I lost my balance again while dodging away from him as he plunged and balked, but managed to grab his mane and we both slid a horrible distance. I could hear Nimrod shouting on the bank, but did not seem to understand him. I had the stage, centre front, and it was all I could attend to.
We were now opposite to Nimrod, but only half way across. Such an ominous rolling and tumbling of stones and tons of earth sliding down over the low precipice into the water! I expected to be with it each instant. Nimrod had started out after me.
Then I understood what he was shouting: "Let go that horse." Why, of course! Why had I not thought of that? I did let go and, thus freed, managed to get across, falling, slipping, but still making progress until I reached the safe ground one hundred feet lower in a decidedly dilapidated condition. My animal followed me instinctively for a short distance, and Nimrod got him the rest of the way—I do not know how. It did not interest me then.
And the saddest of all, the mountain sheep had vanished into the unknown, taking his little tracks with him, so we had to go back in a roundabout way, without sheep, without joy—and without a tragedy.
IN WHICH THE TENDERFOOT LEARNS A NEW TRICK.
For those who have driven four-in-hand, this will have no message. But as four-in-hand literature seems to be somewhat limited and my first lesson was somewhat drastic, I shall venture to tell you how it felt.
Of coaching there are two kinds: Eastern coaching, with well-groomed full-fed horses, who are never worked harder than is good for them; with silver-plated harness, and coach with the latest springs and running gear, umbrella rack, horn, lunch larder, and what not; with footmen or postilions, according to the degree of style, to run to the horses' heads at the first hitch; with the gentleman driver in cream box coat and beribboned whip; with everything down to the pole pin correct and immaculate.
Then there is Western coaching, which is more properly termed staging, for which is used any vehicle that will hold together and whose wheels will turn round. This is pulled by half-broken shaggy horses which would kick any man who ventured near them with brush or currycomb, and which are sometimes made to travel until they drop in the road. The harness on such coaching trips is an assortment of single, double, leaders and wheelers sets, mended with buckskin or wire and thrown on irrespective of fit. Lucky the cayuse who happens to be the right size for his harness.
And the driver! No cream box coat for him—provident the one who owns a slicker and a coat of weather green (the same being the result of sun and rain on any given color). And the people in the stage hoist no white and red silk parasols. They are there because they are "going somewhere." My multi-murderous cook taught me the distinction between "just travellin'" and "going somewhere."
As for the roads—oh, those Rocky Mountain roads! They make coaching quite a different thing from that on the smooth boulevards around New York. I have twice made seventy-five miles in twelve hours, by having four relays, but the average rate of travel is about twenty miles in eight hours. And the day when I first took the ribbons in my hands to guide—four horses we were from nine in the morning till five at night going twelve miles. This was the way of it: Nimrod and I were on a hunting trip in the Canadian Rockies, and as the government map said there was a road, though not a good one, we decided to carry our belongings in a four-horse wagon, in which we could also ride if we liked, and to have saddle horses besides.
Green, a man of the region, was the driver and cook, and we had as guest a famous bear hunter from the Sierra Nevadas. On the first two days out from the little mountain town where we started, we saw many tracks of black bear, which encouraged the hunters to think that they might find a grizzly (which, by the way, they did not).
The dust was thick and red, enveloping us all day long like some horrible insistent monster that had resolved itself into atoms to choke, blind and strangle us. Nimrod looked like a clay man—hair, eyebrows, mustache, skin, and clothes were all one solid coating of red dust. We were all alike. Even the sugar, paper-wrapped in the bottom of a box, covered by other boxes, bags and a canvas, became adulterated almost past use.
On the fourth day this changed, and we camped at the foot of a granite mountain. It made one think of the Glass Mountain of fable, with its smooth stretches of polished rock shining in the sun. That a human being should dare to take a wagon over such a place seemed incredible. Yet there the road was, zigzagging up the rocky slope, while here and there the jagged outlines of blasted rock showed where the all-powerful dynamite had been used to make a resting place for straining horses.
That morning excitement surrounded our out-of-door breakfast table. We had had strange visitors during the night, while we slept. A mountain lion, the beautiful tan-coated vibrant-tailed puma, had nosed within ten feet of me and then, not liking the camp-fire glow and unalarmed by my inert form, had silently retreated.
It made me feel creepy to see how easily that lithe-limbed powerful creature might have had me for a midnight meal. But I was not trying to do him harm, and so he granted me the same tolerance. Then, too, not far away was a bear track, and the canned peaches were fewer than the night before.
All of this caused Nimrod and the bear-hunter to saddle their horses early; and agreeing to meet us at night on the other side of the mountain, where the map showed a stream, they set out for a day's hunt. Nimrod's horse having gone slightly lame, I offered mine, a swift-footed intelligent dear, and agreed to ride in the wagon.
It was the same old story. Virtue is somebody else's reward. I never had a worse day in the mountains. Green and I started blithely enough by nine, which had meant a 5:30 rising in the cold gray dawn. The horses had been worked every day since the start, and were jaded.
We went slowly along the only level road in our journey that day; but the load did not seem to be riding well, and at the beginning of the ascent Green got out to investigate. He said the spring was out of order. The wagon was what is known as a thorough-brace, which means that there are two large loopy steel bands on which the wagon box rests; the loops are filled in with countless strips of leather, forming a pad for the springs to play on. (The Century Dictionary will please not copy this definition.) The Deadwood stage coach was a thorough-brace, I believe. Another interesting out-of-date detail in the construction of this wagon was that the brake had no mechanical device for holding it in position when it was put on hard, and the driver had to rely upon his strength of limb to keep it in place. It seems that Green, in pounding these bits of leather in the spring, had badly crushed his left hand. He said nothing to me, and I did not notice that, contrary to custom, he was driving with his right hand, which he usually reserved for the whip and the brake.
We crossed the shallow brook and started up the very steep and very rocky road, when everything happened at once. Two of the horses refused to pull and danced up and down in the one spot, a sickening thing for a horse to do. This meant the instant application of the brake. We had already begun to slip backward (the most uncomfortable sensation I know, barring actual pain). Nimrod's horse, tied on behind, gave a frightened snort and broke his rope. Green attempted to take the reins with his left hand. They dropped from his grasp, and I saw that his fingers were purple and black.
"Grab the lines, can you?" he said, as he seized the whip and put both feet on the brake. The leaders were curveting back on the wheelers in a way which meant imminent mix up, their legs over traces and behind whiffle-trees. On the right, of us was solid rock up, on the left solid rock down, one hundred feet to the stream, and just ahead was the sharp turn the road made to a higher ledge in its zigzag up the mountain. I had always intended to learn to drive four-in-hand, but this first lesson left me no pleasure in the learning. There were no little triumphs of difficulties mastered, no gentle surprises, no long, smooth, broad, and level stretches with plenty of room to pull a rein and see what would happen. I had to spring into the situation with knowledge, as Minerva did into life, full grown. It was no kindergarten way of learning to drive four-in-hand.
I grabbed the reins in both hands. There were yards of them, rods of them, miles of them—they belonged to a six or sixteen horse set. I do not know which. I sat on them. They writhed in my lap, wrapped around my feet, and around the gun against my knee, in a hopeless and dangerous muddle. Of course the reins were twisted. I did not know one from the other. I gave a desperate jerk which sent the leaders plunging to the right, where fortunately they brought up against the rock wall. Had they gone the other way nothing but our destiny could have saved us from going over the edge. Crack went the whip in the right place.
"Slack the lines!" Green cried, as he eased the brake. A lash of the whip for each wheeler, and we started forward, the horses disentangling themselves from the harness as by a miracle, just as the rear wheels were hovering over the bluff. Green dropped the whip (his left hand was quite useless) and straightened out the reins for me.
"Can you do it?" he asked, grasping the whip, as the horses showed signs of stopping again. To attend to the brake was physically impossible. Green could not do it and drive with one hand.
"Yes," I said, "but watch me"—an injunction scarcely necessary.
If ever a woman put her whole mind to a thing, I did on that four-in-hand. There was no place for mistakes. There was no place for anything but the right thing, and do it I must or run the risk of breaking my very dusty, very brown, but none the less precious neck.
A sharp turn in a steep road with rocks a foot high disputing the right of way with the wheels, a heavy load, horses that do not want to pull, and a green driver—that was the situation. If it does not appeal to you as one of the horribles in life, try it once.
"Run your leaders farther up the bank—left, left! Get up, Milo! Frank, get out of that! Now sharp to the right. Whoa! Steady! Left—left, I say! Milo, whoa! Now to the right, quick! Let 'em on the bank more. Nellie, easy—Whoa! Steady, George!" Crack went the whip on the leaders.
"Hold your lines tighter. Pull that nigh leader. Get out of that, Frank! Now steady, boys! Don't pull—there!"
Down went the brake; we were safely round the turn, and all hands rested for a moment.
Thus we worked all that morning, Green with the brake, the whip, and his tongue; I with the lines, what strength I had and mother wit in lieu of experience.
There were stretches of two hundred feet of granite, smooth and polished as a floor, where the horses repeatedly slipped and fell, and where the wheels brought forth hollow mocking rumbles.
There were sections where the rocky ledges succeeded one another in steps, and the animals had to pull the heavy wagon up rises from a foot to eighteen inches high by sheer strength—as easy to drive up a flight of brownstone steps on Fifth Avenue. There were places between huge boulders where a swerve of a foot to the right or to the left would have sent us crashing into the unyielding granite.
When we got to the top there was no place to rest—only rock, rock everywhere. No water, no food for the exhausted horses, nothing to do but to push on to the bottom—and such going! Have you ever felt the shuddering of a wagon with brake hard on, as it poised in air the instant before it dropped a foot or two to the next level, from hard rock to hard rock? Have you ever tried to keep four horses away from under a wagon, and yet sufficiently near it not to precipitate the crash? Have you ever at the same time tried to keep them from falling on the rocks ahead and from plunging over the bank as you turn a sharp curve on a steep down grade? If you have, then you know the nature of my first lesson in four-in-hand driving.
We got to the bottom at dusk. I was too tired to speak. Every muscle set up a separate complaint and I had had nothing to eat since morning, as we had expected to make camp by noon. The world seemed indeed a very drab place. We found the hunters careering around searching for us. They thought they had missed us—as they had done the bear.
I have driven, and been driven, hundreds of miles since, but there never was a ride like those twelve, cruel, mocking, pitiless miles over Granite Mountain, when necessity taught me a very pretty trick, which, however, I have not yet been tempted to display at the Madison Square Garden in November.
It now behooves me to state that, between the events of the last chapter and this, Nimrod and I heard the hum, the wail, and the shriek that make the song of the Westinghouse brake before we found ourselves deposited at the flourishing mining camp of Red Ridge in the Arizona Rockies, nine thousand feet in the air.
Did ever a tenderfoot escape from the mountains without at least having a try at making his or her fortune in a mine—gold one preferred? We, of course, had the chance of our lives, and who knows what might have happened if only the fat woman and the lean woman had not gotten jealous of each other, and thereby wrecked the company?
The gold is, or is not, in the fastnesses of the earth as before, but where, oh, where, is the lean woman of lineage and the fat woman of money? The lean woman had quality. She was the daughter of somebody who had done something, but, unlike Becky Sharp, she had not been successful in living richly in San Francisco on nothing a year. Nobody knows whose daughter the fat woman was, but in her very comfortable home in Kansas that had not mattered, and, besides, she had saved a few hundreds.
These two women had husbands, who had entered into a mining scheme together. The man from Frisco was a good-looking, well-educated, jovial fellow, with the purses of several rich friends to back him up, and with a great desire to replenish his purse with the yellow metal direct, rather than to acquire it by the sweat of his brow. He was many other things, but, to be brief, he was a promoter. The man from Kansas had the pride of the uneducated, and a little money, and was also not averse to getting rich fast.
Nimrod, the third partner, likewise encumbered with a wife on the spot, desired to make his everlasting fortune, retire from the painting of pictures and the making of books, and grub in the field of science and live happily ever after.
For two weeks we were all together at the only hotel at Cartersville, a hamlet of perhaps thirty souls. It took only two weeks to wreck the company. The mine was a mile and a half away, over a very up-and-down mountain road which on the first day the fat woman and I walked with our husbands, and which Mrs. Frisco and her husband had travelled in Mrs. Kansas' phaeton—the result of a little way Mrs. Frisco had of getting the best.
Three days of this calm appropriation of her carriage while she walked ruffled Mrs. Kansas' temper. When she heard a rumour that Mrs. Frisco had stated disdainfully to the landlady that there could be no thought of recognising Mrs. Kansas socially, but that she must be tolerated because of her money in the enterprise, her politeness grew frigid and the trouble began to brew.
While perfectly willing to watch the logomachy when it should arrive, I had no wish to take part. I was willing to make money, but not to make enemies, so Nimrod and I removed ourselves as much as possible from the Cartersville Hotel, took long walks and rides over the glorious Chihuahua Mountains, poked around the abandoned mines, spied out the deer and mountain lion and the ubiquitous coyote and all the indigenous beasts and birds of the air thereof. We usually managed to arrive at the mine when the partners and their wives were elsewhere.
The mine, our mine, was a long horizontal hole in the mountain, with a tiny leaf-choked stream trickling past the entrance, heavy timbers propping up the inert mass of dirt and stone just above our heads, piles of uninteresting rock dumped to one side, the "pay dirt." I had seen such things before, and they had said nothing to me. But this was our mine, our stream, our dump.
McCaffrey, the foreman, put rubber boots on me in the little smithy which formed a part of the entrance of the tunnel, and thus equipped I entered the tunnel. The day shift, represented by two dancing lights far off in the blackness, was preparing to blast.
I advanced uncertainly, my own candle blinding me. Water trickled from the roof and walls of this rock-bound passage seven feet high and four feet wide. A stream of it flowed by the tiny tram track. The hollow sound of the mallet on the crowbar forcing its way into the stubborn wall grew louder as we approached, until we stood with the miners in a foot or so of water which showed yellow and shining in the flickering light of four candles. Then we went back to the smithy to wait the result of the blast.
There was a horrid jarring booming sound. The miners listened intently. McCaffrey said, "One." Another explosion in the tunnel followed—"Two." Another—"Three." Then a silence. "That's bad," said McCaffrey, shaking his head. "An unexploded cap."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"There were four charges and should have been four explosions. It's liable to go off when we go in there."
"Oh!" I said.
The miners waited a while for the fumes of the dynamite to be dissipated and kept me away from the tunnel mouth, saying:
"If you ever get a dynamite headache you will never want to come near the mine again. And, besides, that unexploded cap may do damage yet."
I went back to the smithy to wait, for it was the last of October, and snow in the mountains at ten thousand feet is cold. I attempted to sit down on a keg behind the little sheet-iron stove, which was nearly red hot.
"You better not sit down on that kaig," said one of the men calmly, without pausing in his work.
"Well, it's dirty, and, besides, it's nitro-glycerine."
"Nitro-glycerine! Why is it in here, and so close to the stove? Won't it explode?" and I checked a desire to retreat in disorder.
"No, 't'ain't no danger, if it don't get too hot and ain't jarred. You see, it won't go off if it's too cold, so we keep a little in here and kind o' watch it."
The keg was within two feet of the stove. Suppose that a dog or something were to knock it over! But miners do not suppose.
Just then a tremendous explosion in the tunnel seemed to make the whole earth vibrate. It was followed by a rattling and crashing of rocks, which told us that the last cap had gone off and had done good work.
Half an hour later, when it was safe from dynamite fumes, I went back to our hole in the ground. Nimrod had left me, lured away by some fox tracks trailing up the mountain. The weird scene was too interesting for me to leave until the arrival of the fat and lean women (Mrs. Frisco had persuaded Mrs. Kansas to drive her over) caused me to remember that the parlour fire at the Cartersville Hotel must be very comfortable, and that it was a mile and a half of tiresome snow away.
Evidently the wives of my husband's partners had disagreed on the way, for the air was electric as they greeted me, and to avoid another tete-a-tete they at once turned to accompany me out of the tunnel. I was the last.
The scene was now properly set for a mining accident, so there was nothing for a self respecting tunnel to do but to accordingly, which it did. Just as the fat woman and the lean woman passed into the open air, and I was nearly at the mouth of the tunnel, it caused its roof to cave in so close behind me that, had I not instinctively rushed out, some of the flying stones, timbers, and dirt must have knocked me to the ground.
As it was, I landed sprawling in the snow outside, sweeping the lean woman down with me. It was very like a dime novel. Three lone women who, for purposes of intensification, may be called enemies, staring with white faces at a wall of dirt, and trying to realise that a minute before it had been a black hole. And at the other end of that hole now were two men horribly imprisoned in a rock-walled tomb without air or food, perhaps dead. We could not tell how much of a cave-in it was.
The lean woman rushed for Mrs. Kansas' horse and wagon and went to alarm the hamlet. I dashed up the hill a quarter of a mile to awaken the night shift, who were in their cabin sleeping. And the fat woman at a safe distance wrung her hands and uttered exclamations of horror and ill judged advice to our departing forms.
Between the fright, the altitude, and the hill I had no breath left to speak with as I pounded on the door of the miner's hut. Mountaineers sleep lightly and do not make toilets, so it was barely ten minutes from the time of the cave-in when three men were working at the tunnel's mouth with pickaxes and shovels.
The tunnel had not meant to be malicious, but merely to do the proper thing (it had not even disturbed the nitro-glycerine in the smithy). Not much earth had fallen, and in less than an hour we heard the shouts of the imprisoned men; in two hours they crawled into the air unhurt, and soon were helping the others to shore up the treacherous entrance, so that such a stirring thing could not happen again.
There is not much more to tell. I believe that the tunnel is still there, boring its way into the heart of the mountain, where, perhaps, the lovely yellow gold is; but we no longer refer to it as ours, and Nimrod still has to work for our daily jam. For the insolence of Mrs. Frisco in leaving Mrs. Kansas stranded in the snow and obliging her to walk home on the cave-in day developed the brewing storm into such proportions that the next day their husbands did not speak as we gathered round the morning coffee. And the Kansases moved away into one of the other five houses in Cartersville. Mr. Kansas was not "going to see his wife insulted by an upstart—not he: he'd soon show them," and he did so effectively that the Red Ridge Mining Company was soon no more. We docketed our golden dreams 'unusable,' stowed them away, and returned with tranquil minds, if lighter purse, to milder and slower ways of getting rich.
THE LAST WORD.
Now this is the end. It is three years since I first became a woman-who-goes-hunting-with-her-husband. I have lived on jerked deer and alkali water, and bathed in dark-eyed pools, nestling among vast pines where none but the four footed had been before. I have been sung asleep a hundred times by the coyotes' evening lullaby, have felt the spell of their wild nightly cry, long and mournful, coming just as the darkness has fully come, lasting but a few seconds, and then heard no more till the night gives place to the fresh sheet of dawn. I have pored in the morning over the big round footprints of a mountain lion where he had sneaked in hours of darkness, past my saddle pillowed head. I have hunted much, and killed a little, the wary, the beautiful, the fleet-footed big game. I have driven a four-in-hand over corduroy roads and ridden horseback over the pathless vasty wilds of the continent's backbone.
I have been nearly frozen eleven thousand feet in air in blinding snow, I have baked on the Dakota plains with the thermometer at 116 degrees, and I have met characters as diverse as the climate. I know what it means to be a miner and a cowboy, and have risked my life when need be, but, best of all, I have felt the charm of the glorious freedom, the quick rushing blood, the bounding motion, of the wild life, the joy of the living and of the doing, of the mountain and the plain; I have learned to know and feel some, at least, of the secrets of the Wild Ones. In short, though I am still a woman and may be tender, I am a Woman Tenderfoot no longer.