THE BLACK WOLF PACK
NATIONAL SCOUT COMMISSIONER, B.S.A.
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY BOYS' LIFE
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons
BELMORE AND FRED (BELMORE BROWNE) (FREDERICK K. VREELAND)
NO BETTER WILDERNESS MEN EVER WORE MOCCASINS
After numerous visits to a number of remote and unfrequented places in the Rocky Mountains, from Wyoming to Alberta, the writer was deeply impressed with the awesome mystery of the wilderness and the weird legends he heard around the camp fires, while the bigness of the things he saw was photographed on his brain so distinctly and permanently as to act as a compelling force causing him, aye, almost forcing him to write about it.
When the spell came upon him, like the Ancient Mariner, he needs must tell the story, and thus the tale of the Black Wolf Pack was written with no thought, at the time, of publishing the narrative, but primarily for the real enjoyment the author derived from writing it, and also for the entertainment of the author's family and intimate friends.
The tale, however, pleased the members of the Editorial Board of the Boy Scouts of America, and Mr. Franklin K. Mathiews, Chief Scout Librarian, asked permission to have it edited for the Scout Magazine, which request was cheerfully granted.
The author hereby freely and cheerfully acknowledges the useful changes and practical suggestions injected into the story by his friend and associate, Mr. Irving Crump, Editor of Boys' Life, in which magazine the Black Wolf Pack, in somewhat abbreviated form, first appeared.
Flushing, June 1st, 1922.
It was a shadowy figure yet it moved Frontispiece FACING PAGE The eagle screamed, descended like a thunderbolt ... and struck the bull 36
More than once while I clung to the chance projection ... I regretted making the fool-hardy attempt 92
"I think the name 'Pluto' fits his character to a nicety" 192
The Black Wolf Pack
It was a terrible shock to me (said the Scoutmaster as he fingered a beaded buckskin bag). Old Blink Broosmore was responsible. It was a malicious thing for him to do. He meant it to be mean, too,—wanted to hurt me,—to wound my feelings and make me ashamed. And all because he nursed a grudge against dad—I mean Mr. Crawford.
It started because of that defective spark-plug in the engine of the roadster. Strange what a tiny thing such as a crack in a porcelain jacket around an old spark-plug can do in the way of changing the course of a fellow's whole life.
My last period in the afternoon at high school was a study period and I cut it because I had several things to do down town. I hurried home and took the roadster, and on my way out mother—I mean Mrs. Crawford—gave me an armful of books to return to the library and a list of errands she wanted me to do. While motoring down town I noticed that one cylinder was missing occasionally and I told myself I would change that spark-plug as soon as I got home.
I made all the stops I had planned and even drove around to the church because I wanted to look in at the parish house where some of my scouts (I was the assistant scoutmaster of Troop 6, of Marlborough) were putting up decorations for the very first Fathers and Sons dinner ever given which we were to have on Washington's birthday. That was in 1911.
As I was leaving I looked at my new wrist watch and discovered that it was a quarter of five.
"Just in time to catch dad and drive him home from the office," I said to myself, for I knew that he left the office of his big paper-mill down at the docks at five o'clock.
I jumped into the car and bowled along down Spring Street and the Front Street hill and arrived at the mill office at exactly five. Dad wasn't in sight so I decided to turn around and wait for him at the curb. That is how the trouble started. I got part way around on the hill when that cylinder began missing a lot and next thing I knew the motor stalled and there was I with my car crosswise on the hill, blocking traffic—and traffic is heavy on Front Street hill about five o'clock, because all the mills are rushing their trucks down to the piers with the last loads of merchandise before the down-river boats leave, at six o'clock.
In about two minutes I was holding up a line of trucks a block long and those drivers were saying a lot of things that were not very complimentary to me and not printed in Sunday-school papers. And old Blink Broosmore was right up at the head of the line with a truck load of cases from the box factory and the look on his face was about as ugly as a mud turtle's. Then, to make matters worse, my starter wouldn't work at the critical moment, and I had to get out to crank the engine. What a howl of indignation went up from those stalled truck drivers! I felt like a bad two-cent piece in a drawer full of five-dollar gold pieces. Guess my face was red behind my ears.
And then old Blink made the unkindest remark of all—no, he didn't make it to me; he just yelled it out to a couple of other truck-drivers.
"That's what happens with these make-believe dudes," he shouted. "That's the kid old Skin Flint Crawford took out of an orphan asylum. He's a kid that old Crawford took up with because he was too mean t' have t' Lord bless him with one o' his own. That's straight, fellers. I was Crawford's gardener when it happened an'—"
Old Blink stopped and got red and then white, and I could see the other truck men looking uncomfortable. I looked up and there was Dad Crawford on the curb boring holes into Blink with those cold gray eyes of his and looking as white as marble. No one said a word. It seemed as if the whole street became hushed and silent. I got the car around to the curb somehow and dad got in and the line of trucks trundled by with every driver looking straight ahead and some of them grinning nervously and apparently feeling mighty uncomfortable.
But that wasn't a patch to the way I felt, and I could see by the lack of color and set expression of dad's face and the way he stared straight ahead of him without saying a word that he was feeling very unhappy about it too. There was something behind it all—something that raised in my mind vague doubts and very unpleasant thoughts.
Dad never spoke a word all the way home, and, needless to say, I did not either—I couldn't; my whole world seemed to have been turned upside down in the space of half an hour. Was it true that I was not Donald Crawford? Was it possible that Alexander Crawford, this fine, big, broad-shouldered, kindly man beside me was not my real father? Was it a fact that that noble, generous, happy woman whom I called mamma was not my mother at all? Each of those questions took shape in my mind and each was like a stab in the heart, for Blink Broosmore had answered them all, and Alexander Crawford, though he must know how anxious I was to have Blink denied, did not speak to refute him.
We rolled up the drive and dad stepped out, still silent, but he did smile wistfully at me as he closed the car door.
"Put it away, Don, and hurry in for dinner," he said and I felt certain I detected a break in his voice. I felt sorry—sorry for him and sorry for myself, and as I put the car in the garage, I had a hard time trying to see things clearly; my eyes would get blurred and a lump would get into my throat in spite of me.
As I dressed for dinner I felt half dazed. I hardly realized what I was doing, and I had to stop and pull myself together before I started downstairs to the dining room, for I knew if I did not have myself well in hand I would blubber like a big chump.
Mother and dad were waiting for me and I could see by mother's sad expression and the troubled look in her eyes that dad had told her of the whole occurrence. And that only added to my unhappiness because I felt for a certainty that all that Blink Broosmore had shouted must be true.
For the first time in my memory dad forgot to say grace, and none of us ate with any apparent relish and none of us tried to make conversation. It was a painful sort of a meal and I wanted to have it over with as soon as I could. It seemed hours before Nora cleared the table and served dad's demi-tasse.
I guess I then looked him full in the eyes for the first time since the occurrence on Front Street.
"That was a very unkind thing for Blink Broosmore to do," said dad, and I knew by the firmness and evenness of his voice that he had gained full control of his feelings.
"Is—is—oh, did he tell the truth, dad?" I gulped helplessly and for the life of me I could not keep back the tears.
"Unfortunately, Donald, there is just enough truth in it to make it hurt," said dad and I could see mother wince as if she had been struck, and turn away her face.
"They why—why? Oh! who am I?" I cried, for the whole thing had completely unnerved me.
"Don dear, we do not know to a certainty," said mother struggling with her emotions.
"But now that you are partly aware of the situation, I think there is a way you can find out, at least as much as we know," said dad, getting up and going into the library.
Through the doorway I could see him fumbling at the safe that he kept there beside the desk. Presently he drew out a battered and dented red tin box and a bundle of papers. These he brought into the dining room and laid on the table. Then he drew up a chair, cleared his throat, rather loudly it seemed to me, and began.
"Don, we always wanted a child, and why the Lord never blessed us with one of our own we do not know. Anyway, we wanted one so badly that we decided to adopt one. That was seventeen years ago, wasn't it, mother?"
"Doctor Raymond, the physician at the county institution, knew our desires and, being an old friend of the family, he volunteered to find us a good healthy baby that we could adopt and call our own. Not a week later you appeared on the scene. Dr. Raymond told us that a wagon drawn by a raw-boned horse, and loaded with household goods, drew up to the orphanage and a tired and worn-out looking old lady got out with a lusty year old child in one arm and this box and these papers under the other.
"At the office of the asylum she explained how she and her husband were moving from a Connecticut town to a little farm they had bought in Pennsylvania. Somewhere at a crossroad near Derby, Connecticut, they had found the baby and this box and bundle of papers in a basket under a bush with a card attached to the basket requesting that the finder adopt and take care of the baby.
"Of course, they could not pass the infant by, but the woman explained that they were too poor and too old to adopt the child so they had gone miles out of their way to find an orphanage and leave the baby there, along with the box and papers.
"When Dr. Raymond heard the story and saw you, for you were the baby, he got me on the telephone and told me all about you. And that night he brought you here, and you were such a chubby, bright, interesting little fellow that mother and I fell in love with you immediately and decided to adopt you, which we did according to law. So you are our legal child, Don, and all that, although we are not your real parents."
Somehow that made me feel a little happier. Dad and mother did have a claim on me at least. That was something.
"It was not until after Dr. Raymond had left," went on father, "that mother and I examined the box and papers that had come with you. Here they are."
Dad took up a worn and age-yellowed envelope addressed in a bold hand:
To the Finder
Inside was the following brief message:
TO THE FINDER:—
The mother of this child, Donald Mullen, is dead. I, his father, cannot give him the care he should have. Will you, the finder, adopt him, care for him, and bring him up to be an honest, trustworthy man, and win the eternal gratitude of his dead mother and
DONALD MULLEN, his father.
"Then my name is—or was Mullen," I exclaimed.
"According to that," said dad softly, "but when you became our son we kept your first name and discarded the family name of course."
"But—but what has become of my father, Donald Mullen?" I asked.
"My boy, we have tried both for your sake and for our own to find out. We have followed up and searched every possible clue and—but wait, here are other papers of interest and after you have read them I will tell you all we have done to locate your real father and afterwards we will talk the whole situation over." As dad was speaking he passed over the battered tin box. On the lid was inscribed the simple lines—
The contents of this box belong to the boy. If you are honest you will see that it comes into his hands at the proper time. If you are dishonest, then God help the boy and God help you!
It was some time before I could make up my mind to force the lid. When I did the first thing that my eyes fell upon was this buckskin bag of unmistakable Indian design, beautifully decorated with bead work and highly colored porcupine quills cunningly worked into a good luck design. As I picked up the bag I saw that it was sealed with wax and to it was attached a card on which was penned:
To my son:—
Here is all the wealth I possess. It isn't much. The bag with its contents was sent to me by my brother, Fay, who is out in the Rockies. He gave it to me to pay my expenses out there to join him. I am leaving it for you. It may help you over some rocky places if it ever gets into your hands, and I trust the good Lord that it does.
Lovingly, YOUR FATHER.
The bag gave forth the unmistakable clink of gold coins as I dropped it on the table.
That message from my father, whom I had never seen, made my heart heavy and again that lump gathered in my throat, for I could feel the heartaches that the writing of that note must have caused him. I had not the courage to break the seal of the bag and examine its contents. I pushed it aside and took from the box another time-yellowed envelope addressed to
MY SON DONALD
Inside I found the following:
I cannot determine whether I am giving you a mean deal or whether this is all for your good. Your mother, Barbara Parker Mullen, is dead, God bless her! She has been dead now six months. It seems to me like eternity. I have tried to take care of you as she would have cared for you but I am afraid I have lost heart, and my courage, and I am afraid my faith has slipped from me. I fear that I am a broken-spirited failure. The passing of your mother has taken everything from me. I am no longer fit or able to care for you and I must pass you on to someone else and trust your welfare to God. For neither your mother nor I have any relatives left who are able to take care of you.
What will become of you I cannot guess. I can only hope for the best. But by the time you are old enough to read and understand this message you will, I hope, have forgiven me or praised me for my effort to find you a home.
What will become of me I do not know. I have one brother left in the world, Fay Mullen, and he is out in Piute Pass in the Rockies grubbing for gold. I am going out to join him for I know the only way I can forget my grief and get hold of myself once more is to bury myself in the wilderness.
Fay has sent me a bag of double eagles to pay my expenses west. That is all the money I have in the world. I am not going to use it. I will work my way west and leave the gold for you. It is the least and probably the last that I can do for you.
If, when you read this you have any desires to know who you really are, I will leave you the following information:
Your mother, a wonderful woman, was Barbara Parker of Litchfield, Connecticut, daughter of Judge Arnold Parker of Litchfield, now deceased. I am Donald Mullen, the eldest of three brothers; Fay Mullen is the next of age and Patrick Mullen, the gunsmith of Maiden Lane, New York, is the youngest. We were born in Byron Bridge, Ireland, and we three came to this country after our parents died. You come of an honest, worthwhile people on my side, and of the best American blood on your mother's, Donald, and I ask only that you live an honest, honorable life and have faith in your country and your God, and He will be with you to the end.
Lovingly, YOUR FATHER.
I read the letter aloud but I confess that my voice broke toward the end and I choked up until reading was difficult.
For some time after I finished, we three sat in silence. The thoughts and mental pictures of that broken man parting with his baby son seventeen years before made me most unhappy.
Dad broke the silence.
"Well, now you are acquainted with the whole situation, what do you think?"
"I scarcely know what to think," said I. "It does not appear natural for a man to abandon his own son in the manner he did. It seems heartless and cruel. I cannot understand it; yet I wish I could see my poor father. I wonder if he is still alive. Certainly with the information at hand it should not be impossible for me to trace him or some relatives of my mother. Don't you think so?"
"That is what I thought, Don, for when you were three years old I began to wonder about your father's whereabouts. I wanted to meet him and perhaps help him if I could. Do not think that your poor father was cruel, for it is evident that the man was suffering from a nervous breakdown and consequently more or less irresponsible; I think he acted wonderfully well under the circumstances. In order to help him I began a search and for ten years I have had detectives and private individuals following up every possible lead. Yet, with all my efforts, the search has amounted to nothing. Your father's trail ended at a Spokane outfitting store. I could not locate anyone nearer to you than an old maiden great-aunt of your mother's although I have had every clue investigated.
"The only relative of your father's that I could get any information about was his youngest brother, Patrick Mullen, your uncle and a famous gunsmith of Maiden Lane, New York. He is dead now but his reputation for making an exceptionally fine hand-forged gun lives on even to-day. Patrick Mullen died just before I began my search for your father, but in digging around for facts about him, I learned that he had made a limited number of very fine guns, on each of which he had stamped his full name, 'Patrick Mullen.' Other guns of an inferior quality that he made bore the simple stamp of 'P. Mullen.' The old man was very proud of each 'Patrick Mullen' that he turned out and like the true artist that he was he kept track of each one, sold them only to men he knew and when the owner died he bought the gun back himself so that he always knew its whereabouts.
"In that way all of the 101 'Patrick Mullen's' he made came back to him, save one. There is one of the complete number still missing and no one seems to know where it is. This is more remarkable because the missing gun is a flint-lock rifle of the style of seventy years ago. That gun has always struck me as being a valuable clue in our search, because it is the only rifle ever made by the old gunsmith and I have a feeling that that missing 'Patrick Mullen' may have been given to your father by the brother, and that may account for the fact that among the papers of Patrick Mullen there is no record of its whereabouts; this is in a measure confirmed by the report that the man outfitting at Spokane had a long old-fashioned rifle, and collectors say there used to be an expert in antique arms by the name of Mullen."
The suggestion made me tremendously excited. Beyond a doubt in my mind that missing "Patrick Mullen" was my father's gun. I imagined him parting with everything else save the unique gun his famous brother had made for him. Why he should wish for a flint-lock rifle was an unanswerable question, but someone wanted that sort of a gun or it would not have been made, and my father's letters showed him to be a man of sentiment, and impractical, just the sort of fellow to use a flint-lock when he might just as well have had a modern breech-loading high-power rifle.
"I believe you've hit it, dad. Hot dog!" I exclaimed. "Bet a cookie that that gun does belong to my father and if we can find it we will probably find him too—would not that be bully?"
"I feel the same way too, Don. But finding that missing gun will be as difficult as finding your father. I have searched the country over for it and made a wonderful collection of flint-lock guns, as you see by looking at yonder gun-rack; I have had dozens of arms collectors and detectives looking for guns of that description, but no Patrick Mullen rifle has turned up anywhere. There have, of course, been many false clues and many queer rifles offered to me and I have put a great many thousands of dollars into the search, and my collection of flint-locks is the best in the land, Don. But so far nothing but failures seem to have rewarded my search—no, I'm wrong, there is one man out west—out in the little jerk-water town of Grave Stone, who insists that there is a wild man living in a lonely, almost inaccessible valley in the mountains, who shoots a gun which looks like the one for which I am searching. For a number of years this man of mystery, it seems, has been appearing and reappearing, according to Big Pete Darlinkel, my informant, but even Pete has never got in personal touch with this eccentric hermit. Neither have several detectives I have sent out there for that purpose. The detectives seem to be all right in towns or cities and are undoubtedly brave men, but something out there appears to frighten them and they lose interest the moment they cut the trail of the wild hunter. I begin to think this wild man is a myth, too. Strange, though, that just a week ago I received another letter from Pete Darlinkel. Wait, I'll find it."
He returned from the library presently with a letter which he opened and passed over to me. It read:
DEAR MR. CRAWFORD:—
Maybe you hain't interested no more but thet tha' ole Dopped ganger, the Wild Hunter, the spooky old critter, has been seen agin. i wuz on the top of the painted Butte yesterday squinten one i in the valley look'n for elk and look'n up with tother i for Big horn on the mountain, when i staged the old duffer snoop'en along in one of the parks an' he had the same long hair and long rifle he uster have. He sure is a ghost or else he's a nut or an old timer gone locoed. He sends the chills down my backbone every time i sots my eyes on him.
Your obedients sarvent, BIG PETE.
There was something about that crude letter that stirred me deeply.
Could this strange freak that Big Pete saw from the top of the painted Butte possess that Patrick Mullen rifle? If so did he know anything about the whereabouts of my father? It is not uncommon for people suffering from a mental breakdown to flee to the country or wilderness and there live the life of a recluse, and from my father's last letter it was evident that he had had a nervous breakdown from anxiety and brooding over the loss of my mother, to whom he evidently was devotedly attached. It might, therefore, be possible that this strange, wild man himself was my father, an unpleasant possibility. At any rate, I felt that I could not rest, at least until I discovered to a certainty the name of the maker of the long rifle said to be carried by the wild hunter and I told dad just how I felt about it.
"I knew you would feel that way, son," said he. "I have often wanted to go west for the very same purpose and I knew that when I told you everything you would want to go too. I intended to lay all the facts before you when you were twenty-one but now that Blink Broosmore has taken it upon himself to inform you and his truck-driving friends of the mystery surrounding your real parentage, I guess it is best you know all there is to be known about the situation. The rest I'll leave to you. In fact, it would please me a great deal if you would run down this last vague clue to see if your father really is still alive. Go, Donald, and God bless you, and take that bag of gold with you, unopened, for it may now stand your father in good stead, and if you do find him, bring him here and I promise you he will never want for a thing, nor will you, my son, for you are still my boy whatever your real parentage may be."
The stage pulled up in front of a typical western saloon, post office and general store. There was the usual crowd of prospectors, gamblers, cow punchers and trappers assembled to meet the incoming stage. When I scrambled off the top of the old-fashioned coach, and before I had time to shake the alkali dust from my clothes, or moisten my dry and cracked lips, a typical western bully approached me roaring the verses of a song with which he evidently intended to terrify me,
"He blowed into Lanigan swinging a gun A new one, A blue one, A colt's forty-one, An' swearing Declaring Red Rivers 'ud run Down Alkali Valley, An' oceans of gore 'ud wash sudden death On the sage brush shore, An' he shot a big hole—"
He got no further with the song. Another man stepped out from the crowd, a very tall, powerful man who would have attracted attention in any garb in any place by his distinguished appearance, who with little ceremony rudely brushed the roughneck to one side, and my instinct told me the handsome stranger could be no other than Big Pete Darlinkel.
My! my! what a man he was! Looked as if he just stepped out of one of Fred Remington's pictures, or Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, or slipped from between the leaves of a volume of Captain Mayne Reid's "Scalp Hunters"—Big Pete was evidently a hold-over from another age. He would have fitted perfectly and with nicety in a picture of Davy Crockett's men down in old Texas. He seemed, however, perfectly at home in this border town, and I noted that the most hard-boiled and toughest men in the crowd treated him with marked respect and deference.
Pete was a wilderness fop and a dandy, and evidently was as careful of his clothes as a West Point cadet. In dress he affected the old-fashioned picturesque garb of the mountains. His appearance filled me with wonder and admiration; he stood six feet two or three inches in his moccasins, straight as an arrow and lithe as a cat.
His costume consisted of a tunic of dressed deer skin, smoked to the softness of the finest flannels. He wore it belted in at the waist, but open at the breast and throat where it fell back like a sailor's collar into a short cape covering the shoulders. Underneath was the undershirt of dressed fawn skin; his leggins and moccasins were of the same material as his hunting shirt, and on his head he wore a fox skin cap; the fox's head adorned with glass eyes ornamented the front and the tail hung like a drooping plume over the left shoulder.
Big Pete Darlinkel was a blonde, and his golden hair hung in sunny curls upon his massive shoulders; a light mustache, soft yellow beard, with a pair of the deepest, clearest, most innocent baby-like blue eyes, all made a face such as an angel might have after years of exposure to sun and wind.
Not only are Big Pete's revolvers gold mounted, but the shaft of his keen-edged knife is rich with figures, rings, and stars filed from gold coins and set in the horn. The very stock of his long, single-barreled rifle is inlaid like an Arab's gun, and, as for his buckskin hunting suit, it is a mass of embroidery and colored quills from his beaded moccasins to the fringed cape of his shirt.
Big Pete was a dandy, fond of color, fond of display; yet in spite of all this he wore absolutely nothing for decoration alone, but every article of use about his person was ornamented to an oriental degree. Gaudy and rich as his costume was when viewed in detail, as a whole it harmonized not only with Pete, his hair, his complexion, his weapons, but with whatever natural objects surrounded him.
Big Pete also seemed to know me instinctively and approached with a graceful and swinging step; holding out his hand he greeted me in a low, soft, well-modulated voice with, "Howdy, kid; yes, I'm Big Pete and allow you are the tenderfoot dude from New York what wants to shoot big game, an' reckon you'd like to meet the wild mountain man? Well, he's a queer one, I tell you. He's got us all buffaloed out this-a-way, most of us don't care to meet him close up and we give him wide range when we cut his trail."
That was Big Pete's greeting. Of course, I had not told him of my real interest in this mysterious man of the mountains, only suggesting that I would like to do some big game shooting and see the spooky hunter.
"Well," I answered, "I would like to get a record elk head to take home to dad. As for the mountain wildman, I wish you'd tell me more about him, he is awfully interesting."
"Tell you more? Well, sho, I reckon I can tell you more than most people round these parts for he makes my game park his stampin' grounds every onct in a while, an' let me tell you he hunts some peculiar, he do, he's half man and half wolf—but shucks, I won't spoil the show, you will see how he hunts for yourself if you stay here long. Glory be, but he's got me some bashful and shy. But mosey along and I'll hist yore stuff on this here cayuse while you let them tha' dogs out of their chicken coop boxes. You can cache your dude duds in the Emporium general store over yonder next to Squinty Quinn's saloon, an' then we're off for the hills. I'll yarn about this Wild Hunter while we hit the trail."
An hour spent in Grave Stone gave me an opportunity to wash myself and change my clothes for some that would be more substantial for out-of-door wear, start several letters east telling of my safe arrival, buy the things I had overlooked, store my surplus clothes with the postmaster at the general store, and repack my kit for pony travel. Then, after watching Big Pete skilfully throw the diamond hitch, we were off for the hills and our first camp. I hoped that I was on my way to find my real father and unravel the mystery that surrounded my strange babyhood. But I little guessed what adventures I was to have or the strange things I was to see before my quest was ended.
We traveled fast all the remaining portion of the afternoon and toward evening we made camp and for the first time in my life I slept under the sky. At the end of the fifth day we reached the secret and narrow opening of a big valley or "park" in the midst of a wild tumble of mountains. Big Pete said we would pitch our tent in the park.
"Tha's plenty of signs 'round too an' if we loosen t' dogs p'raps we kin stir up a mountain lion or collar some fresh meat t' start camp with," said he as he slid off his horse and took the leashes off the dogs.
It took us but a short time to arrange our camp, then Big Pete followed by the frisking dogs slipped silently into the woods. He was gone scarcely a quarter of an hour when he reappeared again without the dogs, motioned for me to get my gun and follow him.
"Tha's elk signs all bout," he said, "an' the muts broke away on a fresh trail. Now you an' me'll climb through that draw yonder and hide out on the runway till they drive an elk in gun shot. Come along."
I followed eagerly and presently we had climbed through a thickly grown poplar grove and found a suitable hiding place among the small poplars. We had the wind right and a clear view of most of the open park. Big Pete stooped down and motioned for me to do likewise.
I quietly crouched beside him and waited—waited until my legs were cramped, waited until the dampness from the moss struck through the heavy soles of my tenderfoot shoes and chilled my feet; waited until my arm was so numb that it felt like a piece of lead—then, in spite of the danger of incurring Big Pete's displeasure and in spite of my dread of being thought a dude tenderfoot, I changed my position, rubbed life into my arm and assumed an easier pose.
In front of us was a small lake, deep, dark and unruffled. All around the edge was a natural wharf formed from the gigantic trunks of trees which had fallen for ages into the lake and been washed by wind and waves and forced by winter ice into such regular order and position along the shore that their arrangement looked like the work of men. Back of this wharf and all about was the wilderness of silent wood; a wilderness enclosed by a wall of mountains, whose lofty heads were uplifted far above the soft white clouds that floated in the blue sky overhead and were mirrored in the lake below. An eagle, on apparently immovable wings, soared over the lake in spiral course. As I watched the bird its wings seemed suddenly endowed with life. At the same instant my guide gave a low grunt of warning.
"What is it?" I asked in a whisper, for there was a strange expression in my companion's eyes.
"It's—it's him, so help me!—Keep yer ears open and yer meat-trap shut!" growled Pete.
I did so. The trained ear of the hunter had detected the sound of crackling twigs and swishing branches made by some animals in rapid motion.
"Ah!" I exclaimed, "the dogs. You startled me; I thought it was Indians."
"I wish it was nothing wuss," muttered my guide, as he examined his weapons with a critical eye and loosened the cartridges for his revolvers in his belt to make sure that they would be easy to pluck out.
"Those hain't our dogs, mister," he remarked after he had examined his whole arsenal.
As I again fixed my attention on the noise, in place of the resonant voice of the hounds, I heard nothing but the crackling of branches, with an occasional half-suppressed wolf-like yelp.
Big Pete turned pale and muttered, "It's them for sartin; it's them agin! And I hain't been drinkin', nuther!"
Big Pete Darlinkel remained crouching in exactly the same pose he had first assumed, but his face looked sallow and worn. I marveled. Was this big westerner really awed by the situation we were facing? What disaster impended?
My guide's eyes were fixed upon an opening in the woods and I knew that something would soon bound from that spot. I could hear the crashing of brush and half-suppressed wolf-like yelps, followed by a pause, then a rushing noise, and out leaped as beautiful a bull elk as I had ever seen—in fact the first I had ever seen at close range in his native wilderness. I had only time to take note of his muscular neck, clean cut limbs, his grand branching antlers, and—not my dogs but a pack of immense black wolves at his heels before I instinctively brought my gun to my shoulder. But before I could draw a bead Big Pete struck it, knocking the muzzle up.
"Hist!" he exclaimed, pointing to the bird.
The eagle screamed, descended like a thunderbolt and skilfully avoiding the branching antlers, struck the bull, driving one talon into the neck and the other into the back, flapping its huge wings as it tore with its beak at the body of the elk like a trained "bear coote."
I was thunderstruck. The evident partnership of the wolves and bird needed explanation and it was not long in coming. A shrill whistle pierced the air, the black wolves immediately ceased to worry the elk, the eagle soared overhead, and for an instant the elk stood confused, then leaped high in the air and fell dead. The next moment I heard the crack of a rifle and saw a puff of blue smoke across the lake.
"That's no ghost," I said, when partly recovered from my astonishment.
"Wait," said Pete laconically.
Not long afterward there was a movement among the wolves and, noiselessly as a panther the figure of a man lithe and youthful in every movement slipped to the side of the dead elk. He made no noise, uttered no word to the fierce black animals that sat with their red tongues hanging from their panting jaws, but without a moment's hesitation whipped out a knife and with a dexterity and skill that brought the color to Big Pete's face, proceeded to take the coat off the wapiti, while the great eagle perched upon the branching antlers. The skin was removed and with equal dexterity all the best parts of the meat were skilfully detached and packed in the green hide, after which, removing a large slice of red flesh, the strange hunter held up one finger. One of the wolves gravely walked up to him, received the morsel, gulped it down and retired. Each in turn was fed, then the great bird flopped on his shoulder and was fed from his hand, and before I could realize what had happened the man, the wolves and the eagle had disappeared, leaving nothing but the dismembered carcass of the elk to remind us of the strange episode.
To say that the whole spectacle that I had just witnessed startled me would be stating it mildly indeed. The strange appearance of this big, powerful, smooth shaven man in a buckskin hunting costume with a retinue of black wolves and a trained eagle, the mysterious manner of his hunting and his coming and going, aroused in me great interest and curiosity and I could realize the effect it evidently had upon Big Pete's superstitious mind in spite of the fact that the big fellow was accustomed to facing almost any sort of danger. As for me, I could not myself prevent the creeping chills from running down my spine whenever I thought of the wild man.
Could it be possible that this strange, half-wild man of the mountains, this killer, this master of a wolf pack, could be in any way connected with my father? I wondered, and as I wondered I found that a vague fear of this mad man who despite his reputed age seemed as youthful and as agile as a man in his thirties, was gripping me. Perhaps the strangeness of the wilderness park added to my awe, for certainly one could expect almost anything supernatural to happen in the twilight of the forest of giant trees, whose interlacing branches overhead shut out the light of heaven.
Recovering somewhat from my astonishment and surprise, I realized that what I had witnessed, strange though it appeared, was not a supernatural occurrence. I knew that it was a real gun I had heard, real smoke I had seen, real man, real bird, real elk, and real wolves.
"But, Pete," I exclaimed, as a sudden thought struck me, "what's become of our dogs?"
"Better ask them black fiends up the mountains. I reckon you won't see them tha' hounds of yours agin."
And I never did, but having hunted the wolf with cowboys and having been a witness to their extraordinary biting power, I knew the fate that must necessarily befall a couple of ordinary hounds when overtaken by half a dozen full-grown wolves. On such occasions we do not spend much time in grief over a loss of any kind, "it taint according to mountain law," Pete would say.
"Reckon we had better swipe some of that elk before the coyotes get at it," growled Pete. "The wild mountainman knows the good parts, but an elk is an elk, and one wild man, even if he is a giant, can't carry off all the good meat, not by a long shot."
"He may come back," I suggested.
"Not he," said Pete. "He's too stuck up for that. When he wants more, them tha' black demons and that voodoo bird of his'n will get 'em for him, and he's a hanging his long legs off'ner a rock some whar smoking a long cigar."
"Dod rot him," growled Pete. "Why couldn't he leave a piece of hide to carry the meat in and the stomach to cook it in? That's the fust time I ever stayed long 'nough to see him collar his meat, though they say he do eat the game raw, but I reckon that's a lie, leastwise he didn't do't this time."
With a good square meal of the locoed hunter's elk under our belts and a rousing camp fire before which to toast our shins, both the big westerner and I felt a little more natural and comfortable, but our conversation turned again to this wild hunter of the mountains.
I could see that the mysterious old man with his wolf pack and eagle aroused almost every possible form of superstition in Big Pete and I confess that I was not free from some of it myself. The guide was certain that the man was either a ghost or a reincarnated devil, and he displayed no uncertain signs of awe.
"I tell you," said Pete, "he's a devil. He's over a hundred years old, for my dad says he seed him, an' an Injun before dad's time told him about him. They are all skeered t' death o' him. An' I don't blame 'em. He's a shore enough hant and them tha' houn's o' his'n is devils in wolf skins. Jumping Gehoosaphats, ef they shed ever cut my trail I reckon I'd just lay right down an' die," and Big Pete actually shuddered at the possibility.
"Why, young feller," he went on, "that ol' man shoots gold bullets out o' a real Patrick Mullen gun."
"A Mullen gun, Pete?" I cried, "how do you know, man; speak for goodness sake!"
"I don't know it's a Patrick Mullen and guess it tain't one 'cause a Patrick Mullen rifle would cost a thousand or more. But the old Injun, Beaver Tail, says, someone told his father and his father told him that et is a Patrick Mullen gun an' is a special make inlaid with gold and silver, an' all ornamented up, an' built for an ol' muzzle-loadin' flint-lock. Now Mullen never made no flint-lock rifles that I hear'n tell of, his specialty be shotguns an' if he made this rifle I'm ganderplucked if I cud tell how this spook got it."
"Unless the wild Hunter might be a relative of old Patrick Mullen," I said, thinking aloud, and gasping at the thought, for the description of the rifle somehow impressed me again with the possibility that this wild man of the mountains might himself be Donald Mullen, and my own father!
"Why do you say that, kid?" asked Big Pete with a queer look in his eyes.
"Oh, I don't know, I was just wondering to myself. But what makes you think he's a supernatural being, and, Pete, does this wild loony hunter look at all like me?"
"Super what? Say when did you swallow a dictionary?—Oh, you mean what makes me think he's a devil. No, he don't favor you none," he added with a grin, "he's a handsome devil, although he's done terrified every white man, an' Injun, in these parts half t' death, so most of 'ems afeared to come back here at all. Men have gone in the park jest to get this wild man's scalp, but they've done come back scared yaller an' they ain't opened their trap much about him since nuther. They do say he spits fire an' chaws his meat offen the bone an' then cracks the bones like a dog an' swallers it all. They do say, too, that he roars like forty devils with their tails cut off when he gits mad an' some say as when he wants t' git som wha' in a hurry he jest grabs aholt o' the feet o' tha' there thunder bird and she flies off with him and draps him anywha' he asks her to—Nope, I hain't seen none of these things myself but others say they has, an' believe me, I'm plumb cautious when travelin' these parts alone. Howsomever, he hain't yet skeered me 'nough to make my ha'r come out by the roots," said Pete with a yawn. "There, kick that back log over so's the fire can lick at t'other side; now let's turn in."
Big Pete and I spent several weeks in our charming little camp at the lower end of the park, for my guide decided that despite the recent presence of the wild hunter, here would be a good place to get a shot at some black-tail deer. In fact we saw signs of those animals all about and my guide was only looking for fresh indication to start out on our last hunt before we made our way deeper into the wilderness.
On the third day of our stay I was returning to camp with my shotgun over my shoulder and a brace of sage grouse in my hand, when I came upon Big Pete in a swail about a mile from camp. He was bending low and examining fresh signs when he saw me.
"Howdy, kid, here's some doin's. Shall we foller him?"
"Of course, Pete; what are we here for, the mountain air?" I answered.
"No," answered Pete, in his deep, low voice, "we're here for game," and off he started, but slowly and with great caution. I felt impatient, but restrained myself, saying nothing and continued to follow my big guide who now moved with the most painstaking care. Not a twig broke beneath his moccasins as with panther-like step and crouching form he led me through a lot of young trees over a rocky place until we struck a small spring with a soft muddy margin. Here Pete came to a sudden halt. I asked him why he did not go on, and he pointed to a ledge of rock that ran up the mountain side diagonally with a flat, natural roadbed on top, graded like a stage road but unlike a traveled road, ending in a bunch of underwood and brush about a hundred yards ahead.
Above the ledge of the rocks was a steep declivity of loose shale sprinkled over with large and small boulders of radically different formations, and in no manner resembling the friable, uncertain bed upon which they rested.
These boulders undoubtedly showed the result of the grinding and polishing of an ancient, slow-moving glacier, but some other force had deposited them in the present position.
"He's in tha'," whispered Pete.
"Who, the wild mountain man?" I asked.
"No," answered my guide, "th' grizzly."
"The what?" I almost shouted.
"Th' grizzly," answered Pete; "what do you think we've been following?"
"Black-tailed deer," I said softly, with my eyes glued on the thicket.
"Well, tenderfoot, here's the trail of that tha' deer, and he hain't been gone by here mor'n nor a week ago, nuther."
I looked and there in the soft mud was the print of a foot, a human-looking foot, but for the evenness in the length of the toes and the sharpness and length of the toe nails. Yes, there was another difference, and that was the size. It was the footprint of a savage Hercules, the track of an enormous grizzly bear, and the soft mud that had dripped from the big foot was still undried on the leaves and grass when Pete pointed it out to me.
"Well, Pete, don't forget your promise that I am to have first shot at all big game," I whispered with my best effort at coolness, but my heart was thumping against my ribs at a terrific rate.
"But—why, bless you old man!" I whispered excitedly as I looked at my gun, "I am armed only with a shotgun."
"Tha's all right," replied the big trapper complacently; then, with a quick motion, he whipped out his keen-edged knife and snatching one of my cartridges he severed the shell neatly between the two wads which separated the powder and shot; that is, a wad in each piece of the cartridge was exposed by the cut.
Guided by the faint longitudinal seam where the edges of the colored paper join on the shell, Big Pete carefully fitted the two parts of the cartridge together exactly as they were before being cut apart. Breaking my gun, he slipped the mutilated ammunition into the unchoked barrel.
"Tha'," he grunted, "tha's better than a bullet at short range, an'll tar a hole in old Ephraim big enough to put your arm through."
He cut two more in the same manner, saying, "Be darned kerful not to get excited and put them in your choke barl, or tha' may be trouble."
Hunting a grizzly with a shotgun and bird shot was not my idea of safe sport, but I was too much of a moral coward to acknowledge to Pete that I was frightened. Pete examined his gun, ran his finger over the cartridges in his belt, and went through all the familiar motions which to him were unconscious but always foretold danger ahead.
"You drap on your prayer hinges behind that tha' nigger head," said Pete, "and you will have a dead shot at the brute, an' I'll go up and roll a stone down the mountain side and follow it as fast as I kin, so as to be ready to help you if you need it; but you ought to drap him at first shot at short range. Yer must drap him, yer must or I allow tha'll be a right smart of a scrap here, and don't yer forget it!"
"This is no Christmas turkey shooting, young feller, so look sharp," and with a noiseless tread Pete vanished in the wood, while I with beating heart and bulging eyes watched the thicket at the end of the ledge. I had not long to wait before I heard a blood-curdling yell and then crash! crash! crash! came a big boulder tearing down the mountain side. It reached a point just over the thicket, struck a small pine tree, broke the tree and leaped high into the air, then crashed into the middle of the brush.
Following with giant leaps came Big Pete Darlinkel down the rocky declivity, but I only looked that way for one instant, then my eyes were again fixed on the thicket, and in my excitement I arose to a standing position. There was but a momentary silence after the fall of the boulder before I heard the rustling of sticks and leaves, saw the top of the bushes sway as some heavy body moved beneath, then there appeared a head, and what a head it was! Bigger than all outdoors! I aimed my gun, but my body swayed and the end of my shotgun described a large circle in the air. I knew that my position was serious, but my nerves played me false.
I had never before faced a grizzly. I heard Big Pete's voice calling to me to drop behind the rock, but I only stood there with a dogged stupidity, trying to aim my gun at a mark which seemed to me as big almost as a barn-door.
I heard Pete give a sudden cry then there was a rattle of stones and dirt on the ledge in front of the mountain of brownish hair that was advancing in sort of side leaps or bounds like a big ball.
The bear came to a sudden stop, and to my horror I saw the form of my friend shoot over the edge of the overhanging rock right in the path of the grizzly. It all flashed through my mind in a moment. Pete in his haste to reach me had lost control of himself and slid with the rolling stones and dirt over the mountain side, a fall of at least twenty-five feet!
Instantly my nerve returned and I rushed madly up the incline to rescue my companion. I bounded between the branches of some stout saplings, they parted as my body struck them but sprung together again before my leg had cleared the V-shaped opening.
My foot was imprisoned and I fell with a heavy thud on my face. For an instant I was dazed, but even in my dazed state I was fully conscious of Pete's impending peril, and I kicked and struggled blindly to free myself. My gun had been flung from my hand in my fall and was out of my reach. Then to my horror I heard the howl the wolf gives when game is in sight, and even half blind as I was I saw dark, dog-like forms sweep by me; I heard the scream of an eagle; I heard a snarling and yelping, the sounds of a struggle—I ceased to kick, wiped the blood from my eyes and looked ahead.
There lay Big Pete Darlinkel, dead or unconscious, and within ten feet of him stood the giant bear surrounded by a vicious pack of gaunt red-mouthed wolves. The bear made a rush and a shadow passed over the ground; I heard the sound of a large body rushing swiftly through the air, and an immense eagle struck the bear like a thunderbolt; at the same instant the wolves attacked him from all sides; then there was a whistle keen and clear; the wolves retreated; the bird again soared aloft; the bear made several passes in the air in search of the bird, fell forward again on all fours, rose on its hind legs and killed a wolf with one sweep of its great paw.
The bear now made a dash at the giant leader of the pack, only to fall forward, dead, with its ugly nose across Big Pete's chest.
Then I remembered hearing the crack of a rifle, and knew that the Wild Mountain Man had saved our lives. I tried to rise but found my ankle so badly sprained that I could not stand on it.
Suddenly a low voice with a hint of an Irish accent said, "Sit down, stranger, while I look to your mate," and I saw the tall lithe figure of a man clothed in buckskin bending over Pete.
"Only stunned, friend," said he, and I heard no more. The blow on my head, combined with the pain from my ankle was too much for me, and now that the danger was over it was a good time to faint, and I took advantage of it.
How long I remained unconscious I do not know, but when my eyes opened again it was night; through the interlacing boughs overhead the stars were shining brightly, my head was neatly bandaged and so was my foot and ankle. I could hear our horses cropping grass near by. I raised my head and there lay Pete; he was alive I knew by his snores that issued from his nose, and we were in our own camp; but—what are those animals by our camp fire? Wolves! gaunt, shaggy wolves!
I hastily arose to a sitting posture, but my alarm subsided when in the dim light of the fire I could trace the outline of another man's figure, and on a stick close to the stranger's head roosted a giant bird.
Could it be that this wild man of the mountain—possibly my own father—was camping with us?
"Moseyed, by gum! I'll be tarnally tarnashuned if that terri-fa-ca-cious spook hain't pulled out!" was the exclamation that awakened me the morning after our adventure with the bear.
Lazily opening my eyes I gazed a moment at the sun just peeping over the mountain, then closed them again; but when I attempted to change my position a sharp pain in my ankle thoroughly awakened me. Still I lay quiet because it was some time before I could collect my scattered senses and separate in my mind the real incident and the dream phantasms.
The pain in my ankle, the swelled and irritated condition of my nose plainly proved to me that there was no dream about my injuries, but I discovered that my head and leg were neatly bandaged with strips of fine linen. I sat for a while busily collecting the incidents of the past twenty-four hours, arranging them in my mind in their proper order and place. I cut out the dream portion from the realities with very little trouble until I reached the part where I had awakened in the night and had seen the wolves, the eagle and the Wild Hunter. I could not be sure whether that was a dream or reality. Had I seen this strange old man with his eagle and his wolf pack beside our camp fire or had I dreamed it? Had this hobgoblin man, who might be my own father, rescued me from death at the claws of the grizzly and bound my wounds for me, or was that but a dream too? Had not Big Pete saved me perhaps and cared for me afterward?
"Pete, old fellow," I said presently, rising to my elbow, "who brought me to camp? Who killed that bear? Who saved our lives?"
"The Wild Hunter," replied Pete gravely. "He bathed my head with some sort of good smelling stuff and, though I am as heavy as a dead buffaler, toted me to camp; he 'lowed that I was all sort of shuk up and a little hazy; he fixed my blanket, then he fotched you in on his shoulders just as if you was a dead antelope, fixed you up with bandages torn from handkerchiefs in your pocket, gave you a drink which you didn't seem to appreciate, but just swallowed like you were asleep, then he laid you out. I had my eye peeled on him but he said nary a word, an' when we wuz both all comfortable he pulled out a long cigar, sot down by the fire and was smoking tha' with his bird and his wolves around him when I went to sleep.
"He cut his bullets out, as he allus does," muttered Pete a little while later.
"Who cut what bullets?" I asked.
"Whomsoever cud I mean but th' Wild Hunter, and wha's tha' been any bullets lately but in th' b'ar?" queried my companion.
"Yes, of course," I admitted, "but why do you suppose he cut out the bullets?"
"Wal, I reckon tha' might be right scarce and he haster be kinder sparing with them. I calculate you'd like to have a hatful of them balls, leastwise most folks would; cause the Wild Hunter don't use no common low-flung lead for his bullets, no-sir-ree bob-horsefly! Tain't good 'nuff for a high-cock-alorum like him—he shoots balls of virgin gold!"
But I was more interested in what had become of this strange man than in the sort of projectiles rumor said that he used in his gun and so dismissed the subject with a request for further information about our rescuer.
"This morning when I opened my peepers," Pete continued, "I t'ought maybe the Wild Hunter had only gone off on a tramp; but he's done clared out for good, and tuk his wolves and bird with him. I'm some glad he took th' wolves, I don't sorter like the look of their mean eyes; they do say that he is a wolf himself and the head of the pack."
"What's that, Pete? Steady, old man, now let's go slow."
"All right; tha's wha' I mean ter do. 'Cause it hain't a varmint natur' to help men folks, and he done helped us, and no mistake, and left us the bulk of the b'ar too,—only took the claws, teeth and tenderloin or two for himself and pack; that is, if he be a wolf. But we will settle that if your foot will let you walk a bit."
"How far?" I asked.
"Only over yan way to the first piece of wet ground, and the trail leads down to tha' spring tha', and tha' is quite a right smart bit of muddy swail beyont."
"All right, I'll try it," I exclaimed. But I could not touch my foot on the ground, and it was not until my guide had made me a crutch of a forked branch, padded with a piece of fur, that I was able to go limping along after Big Pete.
We followed the trail left by the Wild Hunter to the spring. The trail after that was plain, even to my inexperienced eyes; and when we reached the muddy spot the print of the moccasined feet and the dog-like tracks of the wolves were distinctly visible.
But look at Big Pete!
As motionless as a statue, with a solemn face he stoops with a rigid figure pointing to the trail! I hastened to his side and saw that the moccasin prints ceased in the middle of an open, bare, muddy place and beyond were nothing but the dog-like tracks of the wolves.
I looked up and all around; there were no overhanging branches that a man could swing himself upon, no stones that he could leap upon—nothing but the straggling bunches of ferns; but here in this open spot the Wild Hunter vanished.
We walked back in silence, for I had nothing to say, and Pete did not volunteer any further information.
To have one's nose all but broken, both eyes blackened and a twisted ankle is a sad misfortune wherever it occurs, but when such a thing happens to a fellow many weary miles from the nearest human habitation and in a howling wilderness it might be considered anything but pleasant. Yet, strange as it may appear, among the most pleasant and precious memories I have stored away in my mind, only to be tapped upon special occasions, is the memory of the glorious days spent nursing my bruises and lolling around that far-away camp. Sometimes I listened to the quaint yarns of my unique and interesting guide or idly watched the changing colors and effects which the sun and the atmosphere produced on the snow-capped mountains of Darlinkel's Park. I made friends with our little neighbors the rock-chuck, whose home was in the base of the cliff back of the spring, and became intimate with the golden chipmunk and its pretty little black and white cousin, the four-striped chipmunk, both of which were common and remarkably tame about camp.
Back of the camp in the dark shade of the evergreens there was a bark mound composed entirely of the fragments of the conifera cones, which Pete said was the squirrel's dining room. This mound contained at least four good cart-loads of fragments and all of it was the work of the impudent little blunt-nosed red squirrels, which were plentiful in the woods.
How long it took these small rodents to heap such a mass of material together I was unable to calculate, but the mound was as large as some of the shell heaps made by the ancient oyster-eating men and left by them along our coast from Florida to Maine.
The numerous magpies seemed to be conscious of my admiration of their beautiful piebald plumage and to take every opportunity to show off its iridescent hues to the best advantage in the sunlight.
Pete evidently thought I was a chap of very low taste, with a great lack of discrimination in the choice of my friends among the forest folk, and he could see no reason for my intimacy with "all th' outlaws and most rascally varmints of the park."
Truth compels me to admit that the pranks of some of my little friends were often mischievous and annoying, but they were also humorous and entertaining and I laughed when the "tallow-head" jay swooped down and snatched a tid-bit from Pete's plate just as he was about to eat it, and when the irate trapper threw his plate at the camp robber it was a charming sight to see a number of birds flutter down to feast upon the scattered food.
The loud-mouthed, self-asserting fly-catcher in the cottonwood tree learned to know my whistle, and whenever I attempted to mimic him he would send back a ringing answer. The charming little lazulii buntings were tamer than the irritating dirty English sparrows at home.
It was interesting to notice how quickly all our little wild neighbors learned to know that the sound produced by banging on a tin plate meant dough-god and other good things at our camp, and as they came rustling among the grasses or fluttering from bush and trees they showed more fear of each other than they did of Pete and me.
When the myriads of bright stars would twinkle in the blue black sky or the great round-faced moon climb over the mountain tops to see what was doing in the park, the birds and chipmunks were quiet, but then the big pack-rats, with squirrel-like tails, would troop out from their secret caves and invade the camp.
In the gray dawn, while sleeping in a tent, I often awakened to hear something scamper up its steep side and then laughed to see the shadow of a comical little body toboggan down the canvas. Our pocket-knives, compasses and all other small objects were never safe unless securely packed away out of reach of these nocturnal marauders.
Our conversations around the camp fire evenings were highly interesting too, for Big Pete was a fluent talker with a wealth of stories of the Great West at his tongue's end. Indeed, the story of his family and their migration west was one that fascinated me. His father had been a trapper in the old days; he had done his share of roaming the mountains, prospecting and making his strikes, small and large, fighting Indians and living the strenuous life of the border pioneer. He had found the woman he afterward married unconscious under an overturned wagon of an emigrant train that had been raided by the Indians, and after nursing her back to health in his mining shack, had married her. With money he had worked from the "diggin's" he had acquired, by grants from the government, the beautiful and expansive mountain park where he had planned to develop a ranch. He never went very far with his project, however, for a raiding party of Indians caught him alone in the mountains and his wife found his body pinned to the ground with arrows. The shock of his tragedy killed Big Pete's mother soon after, and the young Peter Darlinkel, then three years old, went to a nearby settlement to be brought up by an uncle and a squaw aunt. Pete became prospector, scout, trapper and hunter, using this beautiful park that became his as a result of the passing of his father, as a private game preserve, so to speak. That is, it was private except for the intrusion of the Wild Hunter and his black wolf pack.
In a fragmentary way Big Pete told me this story and other interesting tales of this wild western country, but mostly our conversation turned to this old man of the mountains who was such a mystery to everyone, even to Big Pete, but who, despite the lugubrious reputation, had proved a kindly gentleman and a good friend to me.
There were no visible signs of a change in the weather which had been clear for weeks, and the sky was otherwise clear blue save where the white mares' tails swept across the heavens. But when we sat down to supper that evening I could hear the rumbling of distant thunder. I knew it was thunder for, although the fall of avalanches makes the same noise, avalanches choose the noon time to fall when the sun is hottest and the snows softest. Soon I could see the heads of some dark clouds peering at us over the mountains and before dark the clouds crept over the mountain tops and overcast our sky.
It rained all that night in a fitful manner and came to a stop about four A. M. The wind went down and the air seemed to have lost its vivacity and life; it was a dead atmosphere; we arose from our blankets feeling tired and listless.
While we were eating our breakfast dark clouds again suddenly obscured the heavens and before we had finished the meal big drops of rain set the camp fire spluttering and drove us to the shelter of our tent; then it rained! Lord help us! the water came down in such torrents that on account of the spray we could not see thirty feet; then came hailstones as large as hen's eggs. There was some lightning and thunder, but either the splashing of the water drowned the rumbling or the electric fluid was so far distant that the reports were not loud when they reached us. Suddenly there was a ripping noise, followed by a sort of subdued roar which stampeded our horses from their shelter under a projecting rock and made the earth shudder.
"Earthquake!" I exclaimed.
"Wuss," said Pete, "hit's a landslide."
Instantly a thought went through my brain like a hot bullet and made me shudder.
"Pete," I shouted.
"I'm right hyer, tenderfut, you needn't holler so loud," he answered, and calmly filled his pipe.
I flung myself impulsively on my companion, grasped his big brawny shoulders, and with my face close to his I whispered, "Pete, I believe the slide occurred at the gate."
"Well, hit did sound that-a-way," admitted Pete composedly.
"Pete," I continued, "that butte has caved in on our trail!"
"Wull, tenderfut, we ain't hurt, be we? Tha's plenty of game here fur the tak'n of it and plenty of water, as fine as ever spouted from old Moses' rock, right at hand. If the Mesa's cut our trail we can live well here for a hundred years and not have to chew wolf mutton neither. I don't reckon I can go to York with you just yet," drawled my comrade in a most provokingly imperturbable manner, as he slowly freed himself from my grasp and made for the camp fire, which being to a great extent sheltered by an overhanging rock, was still smouldering in spite of the drenching rain. Raking the ashes until he found a red glowing coal, Pete deftly picked it up and by juggling it from one hand to the other, he conducted the live ember to his pipe-bowl, then he puffed away as calmly as if there was nothing in this world to trouble him.
"If the gate be shut," he resumed, "it will keep out prospectors, tramps and Injuns." With that he went to smoking his red-willow bark again.
[Footnote 1: The trappers and Indians made Kil-i-ki-nic, or Kinnikinick, by mixing tobacco with the inside bark of red willow, which is the common name for the red osier of the dogwood family. EDITOR.]
But I could not view the situation so complacently, and when the rain had ceased as suddenly as it began, with some difficulty I caught my horse and made my way to the gate, to discover that my worst fears were realized; a large section of the cliff had split off the Mesa and slid down into the narrow gateway completely filling the space and leaving a wall of over one hundred feet of sheer precipice for us to climb before we could escape from our Eden-like prison.
Again a wave of superstitious dread swept over me as I viewed the tightly closed exit, a dread that perhaps after all there was more to Big Pete's superstitions about the Wild Hunter than I dared to admit, else why should that cliff which had stood for thousands of years take this opportunity to split off and choke up the ancient trail?
The longer I questioned myself, the less was my ability to answer. I sat on a stone and for some time was lost in thought. When at length I looked up it was to see Big Pete with folded arms silently gazing at the barricaded exit and the muddy pool of water extending for some distance back of the gateway into the park.
"Well, tenderfut, you was dead right in your judication. The gate air shut sure 'nuff. Our horses ain't likely to take the back trail and leave us, that's sartin."
"Oh, Pete," I exclaimed, "how will we ever get out? Must we spend the remainder of our lives here?"
"It do look as if we'd stop hyer a right smart bit," he admitted, "maybe till this hyer holler between the mountains all fills with water agin like it was onct before, I reckon. Don't you think that we'd better get busy and build a Noah's Ark?"
"Pete, you'd joke if the world came to an end. But seriously I think we might move our camp back to the far end of your park."
One day after we had selected our new camp, I took my rod along and wandered into the wonderful forest of ancient trees. There I seated myself on a log to think over my experience. Somehow my own trials and ambitions seemed small, trivial and not worth while when I looked upon those grand trees standing silently on guard as they were standing when Columbus was busy smashing a hard-boiled egg to make it stand on end. Yes, naturalists tell us some of these same trees were standing before the New Testament was written and then as now their branches concealed their lofty tops and formed a screen through which the powerful rays of the noon-day sun are filtered, refined and subdued to a dreamy twilight below, a twilight in which the soft green mosses and lace-like ferns thrive into luxuriant growth.
It was so still and quiet in that forest that the silence seemed to hurt my ears and I found myself listening to see if I could not hear the deep dark blue blossoms of the fringed gentians whispering scandals about the flaming Indian paint brushes that flourished in the opening in the woods where the sun's ray could reach and warm the dark earth. As I listened I could not help but speculate a great deal as to the possibilities of the odd old man of this forest being in some way connected with my father's history, but the story of the wolf-man as given to me by my big companion was so varied and so mixed with the superstitions of the Indians and trappers who had come in contact with him, or had seen him and his weird wolf pack roaming the mountains, that I could not in any way take it as the basis for a solution of the problem.
Indeed, the more Big Pete told me the less I believed that this strange and probably mad man could be my father. In truth, the only real clue or even faint reason I had for believing that he owned the missing "Patrick Mullen" was because this gun at a distance seemed to correspond with the description of the Mullen's gun. It was a faint clue indeed and sometimes seemed not worth investigation. Yet when I began to doubt the possibility an unexplained impulse or force kept urging me on to believe that if I but persisted and found an opportunity to examine this gun it would prove to be the one I sought, and if I had a chance to talk to this strange Wild Hunter much of the mystery that surrounded my own babyhood would be cleared up, so I found myself earnestly longing for a real interview with this mysterious creature.
The more I thought of it the more I was inclined to believe that I was on the right track, until at last convinced that this was so, I cried aloud, "I have found him!"
"Who! Who!" queried a startled owl, as it peered down at me from its hiding place in the dense foliage of a cedar far above.
"Never mind who, you old rascal," I laughingly replied, and picking up my fishing-rod I parted the underbrush to start on my way through the wood for some trout, but suddenly halted when I found myself staring into the face of a huge timber wolf. The beast's lips were drawn back displaying its gleaming fangs, its back hair was as erect as the cropped mane of a pony, its mongolian eyes shone green through their narrow slits and its whole attitude seemed to say, "Well, now that you have found me, what do you propose to do?"
Now, boys, do not make any mistake about me, I am not a hero and never posed as one; in truth my timidity at times amounts to cowardice, a fact which I usually keep to myself, but I never was afraid of wolves until I so unexpectedly met this one. It is needless to say that I have no hair on my back, it is as bare as that of any other fellow's, nevertheless, on this occasion I could distinctly feel my bristles rise from the nape of my neck to the end of my spine, just the same as those on the oblique-eyed, shaggy monster whose snapping teeth were so near my face.
Everybody is familiar with the fact that people who have had limbs amputated often complain of pains or itching in the missing members. My missing back hair, the hair which my ancestors lost by the slow process of evolution, the hair which grew on the back of the "missing link," stood on end at the sight of this wolf. However, this fear was but momentary and when my courage returned I lifted my rod case in a threatening manner, and the wolf slunk away as noiselessly as a shadow, and like a shadow faded out of sight in the dim twilight of the ancient forest. When I reached the open land beyond the forest another surprise awaited me.
Surely this is heaven, I thought as I waded knee-deep among the beautiful flowers of the prairie, starting the sharp pin-tailed grouse, prairie chickens and sage grouse from their retreats and sending the meadow-larks skimming away over flowering billows. Reaching an elevation where I could peer beyond the crests of one of the "ground swells" which furrowed the sea of nodding blossoms, I saw through the stems of the plants, a part of the prairie at first concealed from view, and there appeared to be numerous irregular boulders of dark brown stone scattered around among the vegetation, and the boulders were moving!
Careful scrutiny, however, proved them to be not stones but live buffalo. Big Pete had often told me that these animals lived unmolested by him in the park; but when I realized that I was looking at between three and four hundred real buffalo my heart gave a great jump of joy. I tried to view them so as to take in their details, but the apparently shapeless masses of dark reddish brown wool appeared to have none, unless indeed the comical fur trousers with frayed bottoms on their front legs might be called detail.
Even the faces of the beasts were so concealed by masks of knotted wool that at first I could distinguish neither eyes, noses, horns or ears; but in spite of their ragged trousers and their masked faces, the bison are sublime in their mighty strength and ponderous proportions, and as this was the first wild herd I had ever seen and one of the very few, if not the only one, then extant, I viewed them with the keenest interest.
But the scattered bunches of antelope, which I now noticed were dotting the plains around the buffalo, appealed to my love of the beautiful. Knowing that in other localities these charming little creatures are rapidly being slaughtered and steadily decreasing in numbers and that all attempts to breed them in captivity have so far failed, they at once absorbed my attention to the exclusion of their larger neighbors.
When we moved our camp to the far side of the lake, Big Pete told me that I could find plenty of trout streams beyond the timber belt, and he also informed me that I could there see the walls of the park and satisfy myself that there was but one trail leading into the preserve.
I do not now recall the sort of walls that were pictured in my mind or know what I really expected to see enclosing Darlinkel's Park, but I do know that when I suddenly emerged from the dark forests into the sunlit prairie, the scene which greeted my vision was not the one painted by my imagination.
Before me stretched an open plain surrounded by mountains arising abruptly from a bed of many colored flowers; they were the same ranges whose snow-covered peaks formed a feature of the landscape at the lake and at our first camp.
Here, however, their appearance was different, as different as the dark forest from the open sunlit prairie. The scene at first did not seem real, it had a sort of a drop-curtain effect that was as familiar to me as the row of footlights and gilded boxes, but never did I expect to see those delicate tints, that blue atmosphere, the fresco colored rocks and all the theatrical properties of a drop-curtain duplicated in nature, yet here it was before me, not a detail wanting, even the impossible mammoth bed of gaudy flowers at the foot of the mountain was here and the numerous cascades had not been forgotten. Well, it does seem wonderful to me that unknown theatrical daubers should know so much more of nature than the public for whom they paint.
But, nature is a bolder artist than even the daring scenic painters; in front of me was a prairie of flowers, acres and acres of waving, undulating masses of color; thousands of Arizona wyetha (wild sunflowers) mingled with the brilliant tips of the fire-weed and clumps of odorous and delicately colored horsemint. There were other flowers unfamiliar to me and hundreds of big blossoms of what I took to be a member of the primrose family. It was in this garden that the buffalo and antelope were grazing.
An old buck antelope saw me and I instantly dropped to the ground and was concealed by the flowering vegetation. I wanted to see the home life of these animals, but was disappointed because of the attention I had attracted. When first discovered the does were browsing with heads down and the kids were playing tag with one another, every once in a while spreading the white hair on their rumps and then lowering the "white flag" again, they apparently used it as a Morse signal system of their own. But now they were all alert and facing me; the bucks had seen something and that something had suddenly disappeared. This must be investigated, so they circled round hesitatingly; the apparition might be a foe but still they must satisfy their curiosity and discover what it was of which they had had a moment's glimpse and thus they approached nearer and ever nearer to my place of concealment.
Soon, however, I became aware of the fact that the antelope had unaccountably lost all thought of me and were deeply interested in something else which from their actions I concluded to be recognized as an enemy. It was now apparent that if Big Pete did not hunt the prong-horns someone or something else did hunt them.
As a bunch broke away from the scattered groups and came in my direction, making great leaps over the prairie, I detected the cause of their panic in the form of a huge eagle which was keeping pace with and flying over the fleeing prong-horns.
The bird was not more than a dozen feet above the animals' backs and in vain did the poor creatures try to distance their pursuer. At length they scattered, each one taking a course of his own. Then the bird did a strange thing. It singled out the largest buck and persistently following him, it came directly towards me and passed within ten feet of my ambush, the broad wings of the antelope's relentless foe casting a dark shadow over the straining muscles of the beautiful animal's back. I was tempted to drive the bird away or shoot at it with my revolver, but the thought that I had seen that bird before restrained me and the fact that it pursued a strong, healthy buck instead of selecting a weaker and more easy prey convinced me that this eagle had been trained to the hunt and was not a wild bird, for the immutable law that "labor follows the line of least resistance" holds good with all wild creatures. It was not long before I had to use my field glasses to follow the chase and then I discovered that the poor prong-horn was showing signs of fatigue. It had made a grave error in dashing up an incline and the eagle from his position above knew that the time had come to strike and, like a thunderbolt, it fell, striking its hooked talons in the graceful neck of the terror-stricken antelope.
[Footnote 2: The late Howard Eaton of Wolf, Wyoming, watched an eagle hunt down a prong-horned buck.—EDITOR.]
Hoping to get a nearer view of the last tragedy, I hastened towards the spot and before I was aware of my position, found myself close to the herd of buffalo. I then saw that these beasts being unaccustomed to man, did not fear him, but on the contrary meant to show fight. As I came to a sudden halt the old bulls began to paw the earth, throwing the dirt up over their backs and bellowing with a low vibrating roar that was terror-inspiring. Then they dropped to their knees, rolled on their backs, got up, shook themselves, licked their noses, "rolled up their tails" into stiff curves, put down their heads and came at me. The cows with their hair standing on end like angry elks and bellowing loudly were not behind their lords in aggressiveness and the comical little calves came bouncing along after their dame.
Was I frightened? That depends upon one's definition of the word. I was not panic-stricken, but to say that I was not excited when I saw those animated masses of dark brown wool come roaring and thundering at me would be to make boast that no one who has had a similar experience would believe.
Fortunately, not far behind me was the hollow or gully already mentioned and I bolted over the edge of it. As soon as the bank concealed my person I ran as I never ran before taking a course at right angles to my original one and leeward of the herd, and at last, out of breath, I rolled over in the weeds and lay there panting and straining my ears to hear the snorting beasts.
My chest felt dry, hot and oppressed from forced and labored breathing, and had the buffalo discovered me I do not think I could have run another step. But the big brutes halted at the edge of the bank and seeing no one in sight walked around pawing and throwing up great clouds of dust and in their rage apparently daring me to come forth. Like a small boy when he hears a challenge from a gang of toughs, I decided that I did not want to fight and lay as quiet as possible among the sunflowers until I had regained my breath. When the buffalo wandered back to their original pasture land I, like a coyote, slunk away and consoled myself with the thought that although I had had my run for my money, at least, I had seen the death of the antelope even if I did miss again seeing the Wild Hunter "collar his game," as Big Pete would have called the act of securing it. Besides this I had a real exciting adventure with good red-blooded American animals and learned the lesson that large horned beasts which have not been taught to fear man are exceedingly dangerous to man.
Rising abruptly from the prairie was a frowning precipice a thousand or more feet high and above and beyond the top of this cliff, the mountains.
When Big Pete told me that his park was "walled in" he told me the mildest sort of truth; the prairie is the bottom of a wide canyon, in fact everything seems to indicate that the whole park had settled, sunk—"taken a drop" of a thousand or more feet; forming what miners would call a fault.
From the glaciers up among the clouds numerous streams of melted ice came dashing down the sides of the mountain range, fanciful cascades leaping without fear from most stupendous heights spreading out in long horse-tail falls over the face of the cliff, doing everything but looking real. At the foot of each of the falls there was a pool of deep water, in one or two instances the pools were smooth basins hollowed out of solid rock in which the water was as transparent as air and but for the millions of air bubbles caused by the falling water every inch of bottom could be plainly seen by an observer at the brink of the pool.
The trout in these basins were almost as colorless as the water itself (the light color of the fish is due to their chameleon-like power of modifying their hue to imitate their surroundings)—this mimicry is so perfect that after looking into one of these stone basins, the rounded smooth sides of which offered no shade or nook where a trout might hide, I was ready to declare the waters uninhabited but no sooner had my brown hackel or professor settled lightly on the surface of the pool than out from among the air bubbles a fish appeared and seized the fly.
My sprained ankle was now so much improved that upon discovering a diagonal fracture in the face of the cliff, which looked as if offering a foot hold, and feeling reckless, I determined to make the effort to scale the wall at this point.
If the giant "fault" is of comparatively recent occurrence, geologically speaking, it seemed reasonable that there would be trout in the streams above the cliff and the memory of the fact that Pete had reported that both Rocky Mountain sheep and goats were up there decided me to attempt to scale the wall by the fracture. It was a long, hard climb and more than once while I clung to the chance projections or dug my fingers into small cracks and looked down upon the backs of some golden eagle sailing in spirals below me, I regretted making the fool-hardy attempt, but when the top was reached and I saw signs of sheep and had a peep at a white object I took to be a goat, I felt repaid for my arduous climb.
The elevated prairie or table-land on which I found myself corresponded in every important particular with the park below; there were the same natural divisions of prairie and forests, the same erratic boulders, but on account of the difference in elevation there was a corresponding difference in plant life, and most interesting of all to me, there were the trout streams. The tablelands above the park were comparatively level in places where the stream ran almost as quietly as a meadow brook, but these level stretches were interrupted at short distance by foaming rapids, jagged rocks and roaring falls.
My angler's instinct told me that the biggest fish lurked in the deep pools, to reach which it was necessary to creep and worm myself over the open flats of sharp stones and patches of heather, but once on the vantage ground the swish of a trout rod sounded there for the first time since the dawn of Creation.
There was an audible splash at my first cast. My, how that reel did sing! Before I realized it, my fish had reached rapid water and taken out a dangerous amount of line; still I dared not check him too severely among the sharp rocks and swift waters, so I ran along the bank, stumbling over stones, but managing to avail myself of every opportunity to wind in the line until I had the satisfaction of seeing enough line on my reel to prepare me for possible sudden dashes and emergencies.
Ah! that was a glorious fight, and when at last I was able to steer my tired fish into shallow water I saw there were three of them, one lusty trout on each of my three flies. I had no landing net so I gently slid the almost exhausted fish onto a gravel bar and as I did so I experienced one of those delightful thrills which comes to a fellow's lot but once or twice in a life-time. But it was not because I had captured three at a strike, for I have done that before and since, but I thrilled because they were not only a new and strange kind of trout, but they were of the color and sheen of newly minted gold. Never before had any man seen such trout.
I have since been informed that I had blundered on to water inhabited by the rarest of all game fish, the so-called golden trout, which has since been discovered and which scientists declare to be pre-glacier fish left by some accident of nature to exist in a new world in which all their original contemporaries have long been extinct.
Think of it! Fish which had never seen an artificial fly nor had any family traditions of experiences with them. It is little wonder that they would jump at a brown hackle, a professor or even a gaudy salmon fly. Why they would jump at a chicken feather! They were ready and eager to bite at any sort of bunco game I saw fit to play upon them. They were veritable hayseeds of the trout family, but when they felt the hook in their lips, the wisest trout in the world could not show a craftier nor half as plucky a fight. They would leap from the water like small-mouthed bass and by shaking their heads, try to throw off the hateful hook.
The constant vigorous exercise of leaping water-falls and forging up boiling rapids had developed these sturdy mountaineer trout into prodigies of strength and endurance. Even now my nerves tingle to the tips of my toes as in fancy I hear my reel hum or see the tip of my five ounce split bamboo bend so as to almost form a circle.
I fished that stream with hands trembling with excitement and had filled my creel with the rare fish before I began to notice other objects of interest. Suddenly I became aware of the presence of two birds hovering over and diving under the cold water. They were evidently feeding on some aquatic creature which my duller senses could not discern.
Although they were the first of the kind that I had ever seen alive, I at once recognized the feathered visitors to be water ouzels. The birds preceded me on my way along the water course towards camp, and were never quiet a minute. They would hop on a rock in mid-stream and bob up and down in a most solemn but comical manner for a moment before plunging fearlessly into the cold white spray of the falls or the swift dashing current, where they would disappear below the surface only to reappear once more on another rock to bob again.
A ducking did not trouble the ouzels, for as they came out of the water the liquid rolled in crystal drops from their feathers and their plumage was as dry as if it had never been submerged. The wilder and swifter the cold glacier water ran the more the birds seemed to enjoy it.
The nearer I approached the edge of the precipitous walls, enclosing the valley comprising Big Pete's park, the rougher grew the trail, and as I was picking my way I paused to gaze at the distant purple peaks and watch the sun set in that lonely land as if I was witnessing it for the first time. As my eyes roamed over the stupendous distance and unnamed mountains I felt my own puny insignificance, as who has not when confronted with the vastness of nature.
I turned from my view of the sunset to retrace my steps to the valley, and peeping over the top of a large boulder, saw seated upon an inaccessible crag directly in front of me, a gigantic figure of a man clad in a hunter's garb, and he was smoking a long cigar!
When I thought of Big Pete's description of how the Wild Hunter was wont to sit with his long legs dangling from some rock while he smoked one of those unprocurable cigars, and when I realized that the figure before me was fully sixty feet tall, I must confess to experiencing a queer sensation.
It was a shadowy figure yet it moved, arose, held out one hand, and a bird as large as the fabled roc alighted on the wrist of the outstretched hand.
A slight breeze sprang up, the white mists from the valley rolled up the mountainside and drifted away and the man and bird disappeared from view.
It was long after dark when I reached camp and was greeted by my friend and guide with "Gol durn your pictur tenderfut, if it hain't tuk you longer to get a pesky mess of yaller fish than it orter to kill a bar."
"Little wonder," thought I, "that the Wild Hunter used golden bullets in a land where even the fish's scales seemed to be of the same precious metal"; but I said nothing as I sat down to clean my "yaller trout."
It was always interesting to me when I could get Pete's theories and his brand of philosophy on almost any subject and it was my intention that night at supper to lead up to the apparition I had seen on the cliffs that day. With a substantial supper tucked away I was in a better frame of mind to realize that the illusion I had seen was not uncommon in mountain districts. I recalled that I had read of, and seen pictures of, a particular illusion of this nature that is often present in the Hartz Mountains in Germany and I knew full well that the setting sun, the mist and the atmospheric condition had all contributed to throwing a greatly enlarged shadow of the real Wild Hunter onto the screen made by the mist very much as today a motion picture increases the size of the small film image when it is thrown on the movie screen.
I intended to get Big Pete's idea on the subject but I never did for I was not adroit enough to steer the conversation in that direction, for Big Pete seized my first statement and made it a subject for a veritable lecture.
"There was a smashing lot of those trout up there, Pete. Bet I could have brought home all I could have carried if I had been a game hog," I said, as I stirred the fire with a stick and set the coffee pot nearer the flames to warm a second cup.
"You see, tenderfut, it's like this," he said, "when a man goes out to kill a deer for the fun of blood-spilling or to get th' poor critter's head to hang in his shack, he's nothing more than a wolf or butcher; hain't half as good a man as the one who never shot a deer, but goes back home and lies about it. The liar hain't harmed nothin' with his lies. His fairy stories don't hurt game an' they be interesting to the tenderfuts in the States. The real sportsman is the pot-hunter. Yes, that's jist what I mean, a pot-hunter—he's out 'cause the camp kettle is empty, and it's up agin him to fill it or starve. Now then, this fellow is not after blood; nor trophies, nor is he hunting for the market. It's self-preservation with him, that's what it is. He's an animal along with the rest of 'em and he knows he's got jest as much a right to live as tha' have and no more! He's hustling for his living along with the bunch, forcing it from savage nature, and I tell you boy, there is no greater physical pleasure in life than holding old Mother Nature up and just saying to her, 'You've got a living for me, ole' gal, and I'm going to get it.'
"Such talk pleases the old lady, makes her your friend 'cause she likes your spunk, and because of it she'll give you the wind of a grey wolf, the step of the panther, the strength of the buffalo and the courage of a lion. She is always generous with her favorites. Ah! lad, she kin make your blood dance in your veins, make fire flash from your eyes and give you the steady nerve necessary to face a she-grizzly when she is fightin' for her cubs."
"Why? 'cause you see, you are a grizzly yourself when the camp kettle is empty!" And Big Pete relapsed into silence, turned his attention to his tin platter, examining it carefully, and then with a piece of dough-god, carefully wiped the platter clean and contentedly munched the savory bit.