THE HIGH TRAIL
Author of –«Unexplored» — «Twinkly Eyes- (3 vols)», — «Sitka», — «Fuzzy-Wuzz», —
«Fleet Foot», «The Travels of Honk-a- Tonk, — and — Trail and Tree Top».
THE RIVAL PACKERS [STEN to this, folks! — Bart Blais-
J_j dell leapt from his horse and burst through the corral gate holding out a letter. — Weve won the contract for the Sequoia Club high trip!
— Good work! — his sister Norma congrat¬ ulated him.
— Mother, cant I go too? — clamored four- teen-year old Tim.
— What do they write? — asked Mrs. Blais- dell.
Bart passed the blue sheet to Norma.
— Mr. Bartlett Blaisdell, — (she read) — Three Pines, — Inyo County, California,
— Dear Mr. Blaisdell, —
— We have decided to accept your offer to
2 Adventures on the High Trail
guide and pack our party of fifty, with your sister in charge of commissary, at your rate of $60 apiece for the thirty days, beginning July sixth.
— We will make the circuit covered last year by the Sierra Club, — that is, from Giant Forest to Mt. Whitney by Little Five Lakes Basin, and back by Junction Pass and Kings 9 River Canyon. We look forward to a most enjoyable trip with you.
— Enclosed please find check for the full amount, ($3,000), as requested, that you may hire pack-mules and purchase supplies in advance.
— Winthrop Clarke.
And its headed, Winthrop Clark, M. D., Call Building, San Francisco. June sec¬ ond. —
— My, but Carlin will be mad! — Bart so¬ bered. (Carlin was a rival packer.)
— Children, — insisted the pink cheeked woman who seemed too young to be Barts mother, — come in to dinner now, and well
3 The Rival Packers
settle the details afterwards. Tim, are your hands clean? Norma, bring that small jar of cream.-
Bart whisked the saddle from huge gray Moro, turning him into the field with an affectionate slap on the shoulder. The yel¬ low-haired girl lifted the lid from a huge flat box built over the brook that tinkled through the back yard, selecting from among jars of milk and other products of the little ranch.
The daily wind of the Owens Valley des¬ ert was just beginning to relieve the dry heat of noonday, and the best of appetites were applied to the veal steak and new po¬ tatoes, cucumbers, corn on the cob, and green apple pie. Then Bart acknowledged his check and rode back to Three Pines to cash it.
As he reached the far end of the business block, he found Carlin just coming out of the post office, his square face with its two- story chin so red with anger that his sandy mustache looked pale. Bart recognized the
4 Adventures on the High Trail
blue envelope of the Sequoia Club in his hand.
— So youve been trying to under-bid the Triple X! — he bellowed. — His voice car¬ ried clear to the crowd of idlers around the blacksmith shop a block away.
— I dont know what you bid, — drawled Bart placidly, — but I made my own bid, — and it has been accepted.- — Some of the loungers had started down the street, scent¬ ing excitement.
— I call it dirty business! — and this time the blacksmith had no trouble in hearing Carlins half of the dialogue. — Yes, sir, I call it downright dirty business! — To under-bid a man thats held the contract all these years! —
— Youve had the monopoly long enough, then, — Bart uttered with irritating calm.
Well, youll be a fool to try it, with your inexperience! Why, — — to the gathering circle, that boys not fit to handle a re¬ sponsibility like that — taking fifty people off into the back-country where most any-
5 The Rival Packers
thing might happen to them! — Hes not fit, and if I hadnt bid myself, (which would make it look like a personal matter), Id write the Sequoia Club and tell them so.- Carlin was a big man, and he had a plat¬ form voice.
— The Club president already knows what I can do as a packer.- Barts drawl was forgotten. — And if theyd a-been satisfied with the Triple X, they sure wouldnt have asked me for rival bids.- He straight¬ ened the saddle so abruptly that Moro pranced.
— You dont know what youre talking about. — He dont know what hes talking about. Its a lie, thats what it is! — roared Carlin. — They took his bid because it was the lowest. Any one will do that. Its hu¬ man nature. Thats only human nature. But I know a thing or two, and I know the trip cant be made at the price.-
— What price? — smiled Bart irritatingly.
— Any price lower than the figure I gave them. — I tell you, it cant be done, and
6 Adventures on the High Trail
youll find it out quick enough, and serve you right, — - with more that would be unfit for print. — Where he learned so much about packing I dont know. I wouldnt give him a job in my corral, not if he paid me to. He certainly never learned how to make a success of anything from his father. His father couldnt have — —
Bart drowned his roar. — Leave my fathers name out of this! —
— Yes, lay off, Carlin, — the blacksmith championed, for he had joined the group. — Havent you common decency*? — And there was a chorus of — Drop it! — - Re¬ spect a man thats dead n buried!
The big man scowled at the assemblage, yanking the sombrero from his red head to mop his forehead. — You wait! — he ad¬ jured them, and to Bart: — You just wait! Thats all Ive got to say. That trip will come to grief, as sure as shooting! — and he flung himself heavily to his saddle and dug spurs in his mount.
— Jumping wildcats! But he loves a
7 The Rival Packers
scrap, laughed one of the bystanders. — Old Carlin picks a scrap where other men go on a spree.-
— Its his hair, — laughed another.
— Hey, Bart, — warned the blacksmith, — Youd better watch out or hell git you fr that! — Hes just mean enough to.-
— I sure will, — promised Bart.
— Nobody cant bust in on his mnopoly without might nigh gettin busted him¬ self.-
Bart thought of his year as State Lion Hunter, — in which he had so many close calls that his mother had persuaded him to give it up for her sake. He banked his money and galloped back to the ranch. — Im sorry, — his mother commented, when she had heard about the meeting.
— Why, isnt it true, what Bart told him? — Normas chin squared.
— Yes, its true enough, but Bart has made an enemy, and Im not sure it is going to be worth the price. Carlin is a mean man to fight. Bart was victor anyway, and
8 Adventures on the High Trail
Carlin would probably have felt bitter enough without a comparative youngster adding all this personal irritation. — I wish you had been big enough to have re¬ plied in a more businesslike manner.-
Barts ears reddened.
4 Do you suppose, — asked Norma, — that Carlin knows about next years trip? —
— They probably wrote us both the same letter, — Bart reasoned, — when they asked for bids.-
— Thats why he takes it so hard. A big horseback trip like that, with several hun¬ dred people, will be sure to be written up, — prophesied Mrs. Blaisdell.- Yes, — agreed Norma. The John Muir Trail is already famous, and its just high enough and dangerous enough, and roman¬ tic enough to be following the backbone of the continent, — cant you picture the in¬ terest it will arouse? —
— Itll sure be great advertisement! — Barts eyes shone.
— It would be the making of either of
9 The Rival Packers
you, — declared Mrs. Blaisdell. — So, natu¬ rally Carlin is about frantic at your having this chance to show them what you can do.-
— I dont see how he can interfere, — com¬ mented Norma.
— Trust him, — laughed Bart, — to give me a black eye, the first thing he hears of going wrong.-
— Well, lets put our minds on what we are going to do, — Mrs. Blaisdell gently turned the subject, and there was a com¬ mittee of the whole gathered around Nor¬ mas provision list.
— The Sierra Club gets their hams by the ton, — suggested Norma.
— The Sequoia Clubs too small for that, but I figure Ill need thirty pack-mules any¬ way, — decided Bart.
They had saddle horses and Normas little pet mule, Tinker, and Bart had se¬ cured an option at a low figure on the hire of the rest of the stock.
According to his estimate, he would need four men to help handle the pack-train.
10 Adventures on the High Trail
He could count on fat, faithful Joe, the Piute Indian who worked on the place, then Joe had a cousin who had just graduated from the Indian school, but where to find another packer Bart did not know. He had scoured the Valley from Bishop down to Mojave. The new concrete highway to Los Angeles had pledged every unemployed man above Death Valley. Unless Car¬ lins outfit would now have time on its hands? — He even doubted that, as the Triple X Corral was always busy at this time of year taking fishermen into the back country, and yet even with five men they would have their hands full. He almost considered tow-headed Tims plea to be al¬ lowed to lead a string of mules.
Two Chinese student cooks were available.
He left Norma deep in conference with her mother and Tim over the question of dehydrated supplies as weighed against the bulk of fresh food that could be taken into the mountains. Milk powder, for one, was voted upon in place of canned milk, by rea-
11 The Rival Packers
son of its lighter weight. Norma told a story of the rangers wife near Marvin Pass. A woman tourist had ridden that far and then begged her hospitality for the night. — How I wish youd take me to board! — she urged, but the rangers wife explained that she was too busy to do any extra cooking. — Oh, Id be perfectly happy, — insisted the tourist, — on just milk and eggs.- — Milk and eggs, — said the ran¬ gers wife, — are exactly the two things I have had to learn to do without, in the mountains. By the time a box of eggs had been brought in by stage and horseback, it would be either chickens or omelette, ac¬ cording to the eggs.-
Of course flour and cereals, ham, bacon, and dried fruits, were the staples, together with such dried vegetables as potatoes and onions and Brussels sprouts.
— How much were you figuring on spend¬ ing? — asked Tim importantly, now that he was to go.
His mother suppressed a desire to smile.
12 Adventures on the High Trail
She had decided on a new method of handling the boy. — The question/ she told him as she would have addressed an expert authority, — is to keep weight and bulk down as much as possible, while giving them a good variety. What do you Scouts carry? —
Tims bony chest rose visibly. — I gener¬ ally about live on the trout I catch. Gee! Ive caught so many trout, I cant bear to look one in the face for weeks after! —
— Good! — then we can count on you, — Norma beamed at him, after exchanging a glance with her mother. — Trout would certainly help solve the problem of fresh meat.-
Tim looked a trifle uneasy, and shortly slipped away to examine his trout rod. They were certainly putting him on his up¬ pers.
Norma thought it would be worth while to take — real- coffee, in sealed half pound tins, instead of the powdered kind. This they could get at wholesale, as the Club was
18 The Rival Packers
entitled to a rate at a couple of the Los An¬ geles houses. The canned butter and some of the less usual dried fruits, like pears and cherries, they could buy there too. Then Bart could get fresh meat from the abbatoir three miles from Giant Forest, and ten days later at Camp Funston. The sheet-iron wood stove in the shed would be small enough to take on mule back. The Sierra Club had taken four of these little cook stoves. The chef had fried griddle-cakes and steaks over the whole top of them.
Supper time found them still figuring on the menus possible after a day on the trail. Like the Sierra Club, they would have cafe¬ teria service, and eat seated about on logs or on the pine needles.
— Youll have to learn to get up in the morning, Norma, — her mother laughed. The ranch woman, bride of the early days, had gone everywhere through the mountains with her husband, prospecting.
It was two weeks before Bart came in one evening with the news that he had a packer.
14 Adventures on the High Trail
He had found a college fellow at the hotel, one Morgan, who was strong, knew horses, wanted the trip, and was nowise averse to earning his $2.50 a day — and found.-
A few days later he engaged a Mexican, Mariscal, who had been with Carlins outfit, but claimed to be out of a job.
— With Carlins outfit! — Mrs. Blaisdell meditated aloud. — Well, it may be all right, but Id keep an eye on him.-
On the appointed evening, the pack outfit, with loaded mules, started with the cool of sundown on the twenty-eight mile stretch of sand and sagebrush to Independ¬ ence Creek. They would travel all that moonlight night, and camp next day in the shade of the cottonwoods below the fish hatchery. Norma led the way on Prince, while the rest rode behind the mules, who spread out fan-wise, refusing to keep to the hard road. One animal in particular prom¬ ised to give them trouble, — - Reverse- they named him, by reason of the reverse action of his hind legs. Every time any-one ap-
15 The Rival Packers
proached, he shot his heels viciously — first in one direction, then in the other, — as if to make doubly sure of his aim. It was there¬ fore necessary to keep him at the tail end of the procession. Then there was the Goat, a white mule with whiskers and a goat-like gleam in his pink-rimmed eye that had earned him his title. That gleam had a meaning, too, for the Goat gave more trouble than the rest of the mules put to¬ gether, with the sole exception of Reverse. Little Tinker, with the curl of brown fur where he had been ear-marked, led the pack- train, tripping along so fast on his neat, small hoofs that Bart had all he could do to persuade him to halt when the need arose.
On the right towered the Sierras, black and white in the vivid moonlight, their snow caps agleam, and in the midst of the Eastern wall, that slight notch that Bart knew for Kearsarge Pass. Here the High Trail crossed the divide at almost twelve thousand feet, between peaks that towered clear up to Mt. Whitney, the highest point
16 Adventures on the High Trail
in the United States, a sharp rise — on its Eastern wall — of 10,000 feet from the Val¬ ley floor.
Norma gazed at the huge yellow globe be¬ fore them. — You know how the Indians speak of the Hunting Moon, and the Moon of Falling Leaves? — asked Norma. — When we go a-gypsying, oughtnt it to be the Gypsy Moon? —
— Why not? — agreed her brother. — Hey, sis, youre the sardines whiskers in those togs! — He studied her for a moment. There was something magnetic about the girl, — perhaps her large gray eyes, with their curling lashes. The crowd would take to her, he felt sure. She rode ahead dash¬ ingly.
Tim sang as he spurred his mount to the pursuit of the errant ones. He was having the time of his life.
— Take me back to Arizona, — he begged tunefully,
17 The Rival Packers
— When it lived its wild career,
When they had a man for breakfast Every morning in the yearl — —
u Hey, you, Reverse! Come back, you broncho! — yelled Bart.
4 Hey, you, Goat! — shrilled Tim, with flattering mimicry, riding after the white mule on his pinto pony.
All that moonlight night they traveled, stopping at three to eat the fried chicken and chocolate cake that Mrs. Blaisdell had put up for them, — the last of such fare, as she had pointed out, they would taste for weeks to come. About seven in the morn¬ ing they came to their camping place and turned the stock out to graze. Being healthily fatigued, they unrolled their sleeping-bags, by way of mattresses, and after a light meal, drowsed, despite the glare of light. At four they would start out again, camping that night in a valley high under the Pass, where they would need all their warm bedding. Jose Mariscal,
18 Adventures on the High Trail
shifty eyed, taciturn beneath his drooping moustachios, was to take his turn the last quarter at keeping the stock from roving.
They had passed a purple patch of fuzzy- stemmed loco-weed, that toxic plant, named for the Mexican word for — mad-, which so crazes a horse that eats it that he will ac¬ tually attack a man murderously with his fore hoofs. Gray balls of tumble-weed rolled about in the wind, and the air was redolent of that rather distasteful sweet¬ ness and oiliness of tar-weed. Here and there were clumps of mesquite, and an occa¬ sional tall cactus raised prickly arms to the sky. It was the poorest kind of forage, but Bart had arranged to turn the stock into a stubble-field where they could pick up a good meal.
Happening to be unable to get to sleep again after he had turned his watch over to the Mexican, for the wind was blowing sand which stung his face irritatingly, he was surprised to see the slouching figure of Mariscal driving the horses out of the field
19 The Rival Packers
and down the road. Watching from be¬ neath a lowered hat-brim, and finally rising to stare at the mysterious action, he found the animals in the midst of a patch of pur¬ ple. He bounded to the spot. — It was loco-weed!
— Stop! — Bart commanded the packer. — Dont you know thats loco? — and he whis¬ tled to the lead mare, who brought the whole bunch back on the gallop.
The Mexican looked injured innocence. — Dat no loco.-
Bart studied his shifting eyes. — Youll bear watching, — he decided inwardly.
He confided his suspicions of the Mex¬ ican to Joe, as the latter, one foot braced against Reverses pack, began cinching him. The mule, with ears laid back and teeth bared for a possible nip, blew his sides full of air till the belt should be adjusted, and circled about for a kick, but Joe was too quick for him.
— W-i-i-i-ld and reckless! —
20 Adventures on the High Trail
— Just got outa Texas! The mule rolled his eyes at him.
— Wild and woolly and full o fleas,
Never been curried below the knees! —
Bart watched thankfully, as one after the other, Morgan helped get the mule-strings under way on the mounting trail. He won¬ dered if the college boy was going to stand the test of camp life as well as he promised.
Above, white cloud wisps rose between the peaks. — Isnt it going to be a glorious trip! — Norma exulted.
— Youre sure going to scramble over s-o-m-e scenery! — Bart agreed.
As the trail doubled around the face of a cliff next morning, Bart, who had fallen be¬ hind the others till he could see them merely as moving specks on the Pass, raised his eyes from the narrow trail to enjoy the cloud-flecked pinnacles, pink with iron ore and tinted with olive fungus. On the min¬ iature snow bank melting in the sunshine Moro slipped. For a moment he struggled
21 The Rival Packers
to recover his balance, then slid, quivering, down the granite ledge, — and before Bart realized what had happened, he lay with one leg pinned painfully beneath his horse. They had been brought to an abrupt halt by the rope tied to the saddle-horn, — the lead rope of the string of pack-mules, who now braced their small, sure feet, and waited on the trail above.
Had it not been for the horsehair rope, horse and rider would have slid to the white water churning far below, between the boulders of the mountain torrent. — Bart dared not struggle to free his pinioned leg, lest he should destroy their present equilib¬ rium.
He could just see that the earthy bank where Moro had lost his footing had been freshly undermined, as if with a spade. The trap had been deliberately laid for his undoing, — and the Mexican from Carlins outfit had been next in line!
Bart had no longer any doubt that Maris- cal was in Carlins hire — not that the rival
22 Adventures on the High Trail
packer could have sanctioned the actual manslaughter that had nearly resulted, but he might have paid the muleteer to throw as many obstacles as possible in the way of a successful trip.
THE COWBOY AND THE MEXICAN
H OW long would the lariat bear the heavy weight? Bart asked himself, as he measured the possibilities. How long would the pack-mules stand docile under the strain?
Had it not been for the rope, the horse would not be held there, pinning his rider to the slope of the cliff. 4 Steady, Moro!,, he bade the frightened animal. — If he cut the rope from the saddle-horn, and so re¬ leased the horse, he could pull himself back to the trail by the lariat, but Moro would go crashing to the rocks below. — Nothing doing, old friend! — he decided. — Im sure not going to sacrifice you.- Help would come, if only they could hold out long enough.
24 Adventures on the High Trail
He eyed the slope below, as well as he could from behind the fallen horse. A twisted juniper clung valiantly to the cliff, its roots evidently fast in a frost crack. If the lariat broke, he might have the luck to slide within clinging distance of the gnome¬ like tree. — But if he missed!
How long would it be till they missed him? He must signal. His pinioned leg was numb now, — it no longer pained him, — and he could think more clearly. He gave the far-carrying cry of the coyote, though he knew it could hardly reach the line of moving specks who continued to zigzag along the trail. In the holster of his chaparejos was his gun. With infinite pa¬ tience he might wriggle it from beneath him, and fire the prescribed three shots for help, but that would scare the mules, who might either drag them or break loose. Al¬ ready a jingle of bells appraised him that the animals were getting restless. Fortun¬ ately Tinker was in the lead, — little Tinker, whom they had raised from a colt, and who,
The Cowboy and the Meancan 25 at his steadying call, braced his small, sure hoofs against the urgings of the next mule in line.
Barts ears pricked to the sound from below, — the clatter of shod hoofs on granite — some one was coming up the trail!
— Hello! — Hey, there! Hello! — he called at the top of his lungs.
— Ya-hoo-o-o! — came back to him, as a cowboy rounded the bend. He took in the situation at a glance. Wasting no time on words, he swung the coiled riata on his sad¬ dle-horn and neatly lassooed the head of the fallen horse. Bart widened the coil to ease it over Moros fore-legs, and the puncher pulled it taut. His mount, trained to cat¬ tle branding, braced all fours mightily, and the gray horse was hauled steadily back the way he had fallen.
— Ketch a-hold of his tail! — yelled the cowman, as Barts leg was loosed. The boy made a frantic reach, but too late! Down — down he slipped. Below churned the white water of the boulder-strewn gorge
26 Adventures on the High Trail
— but he had presence of mind enough to throw his weight toward the twdsted juni¬ per. His hand grazed one of the storm- flattened branches, and he gripped it with all his might. The horse was by now safely back on the trail, and the lariat swung with unerring accuracy about Barts shoulders. When he had slipped it beneath his arms, he too was drawn to the trail above.
4 Hurt? — the stranger demanded, noting the way he drew himself to a standing pos¬ ture by the aid of the nearest pine.
— Guess not, — he winced, as the feeling be¬ gan to come back to his leg. — How about my horse? —
Moros side was bleeding, but there ap¬ peared to be no serious cut, and his legs were uninjured.
Barts knees crumpled, and he slid to a sitting posture, a movement that the puncher observed with penetrating steel gray eyes. — You shore could stand a cup of coffee, — he suggested. He dipped into his saddle-bags, and deftly conjuring a
The Cowboy and the Mexican 27
liandful of fire between two stones, filled his pint tin cup from his canteen, and Bart was shortly gulping down a reviving potion.
— No bones broken, — they diagnosed the injured leg, to Barts infinite relief.
After a short rest he was able to mount his rescuers horse, the vaquero insisting on walking. Bart could see, from the way he hobbled along in his high-heeled riding boots, bow-legged like all cowmen, that such exercise was new to him.
— Go on, Moro, — Bart commanded, and the mountain-bred pony 1 led the way along the narrow ledge.
The up-trail was not hard for the bruised and shaken boy, since all he had to do was to sit the slow-walking animal, with his game leg dangling free of the stirrup. Tex panted, for the air was thin at this altitude, and Bart tried to give back his mount, but the offer was derided. Bart told him of his undertaking, and of Carlin.
Every horse kept solely for riding purposes is called a pony in that country, regardless of his size.
28 Adventures on the High Trail
— I know him, — Tex declared. — Hes one bad hombre if hes your enemy. Wont scruple at nothin.-
— Anyway, the Mexicans fired! — decided Bart.
Turning for a glance along the back-trail as the mules stopped for breath, they could see the gray-green chaparral that was Owens Valley, and in its midst, the white checker-board of Independence. Beyond the white-clad range that hemmed the Val¬ ley on the East, they knew, lay Nevada. A cavalcade of moving specks seemed to be winding along the way they had just come.
— Another pack-train! — ejaculated Bart.
The drifting cloud that came darkly from the South now began sending a chill drizzle down on them, then a brief drenching, which they little minded, in their felt hats and leathern chaps. Tex added a canvas coat; Bart took it in his sweater. The rain stopped, and a watery sun broke through, sending long bars slanting through the little grove they had reached, and the
The Cowboy and the Meocican 29
breeze dried their clothing. One more steep effort and the trail paused on the summit of the Pass to peer over into the valley of Kearsarge Lakes, in whose mirrored calm the surrounding peaks and pinnacles shone lifelike but inverted. Below, lined up waiting for him, Bart recognized the rest of the cavalcade.
Biding up to Mariscal, he asked in a cas¬ ual tone, — Got a spade V 9
— 1STo, Senor, — — the Mexican answered, eyeing him guiltily.
Bart looked along the pack-train till he saw an alforjah with flecks of fresh mud on the upper edge. With a swift movement he reached into its depths. The Mexican made an involuntary gesture of protest, as Bart brought to light one of the short-han¬ dled trench spades. To it clung particles of the moist soil of the trail. — You didnt ex¬ pect to see me again so soon? — Bart asked with quiet sarcasm. — Not in this life? — Well, I dont want to see you again, either. Heres your pay, — and your duffel.- He
30 Adventures on the High Trail
unstrapped the Mexicans bed-roll and tossed it to him. Mariscal hesitated, then grabbing at the money, set spurs to his horse and turned back.
4 Heres some one going our way, — Bart introduced his rescuer. — Meet my friend, Tex.- And he made no mention of the ac¬ cident till Norma demanded to know why Moros side was bleeding. The shaken horse was taking the huge granite steps more and more uncertainly.
— Guess he dont feel very skookum, — said the cowman. Norma pricked her ears at the Alaskan phrase. They had reached a level place where she could ride beside him. She also noted a tinge in his accent. — Youre Southern, arent you? — she asked.
— Not exackly. — Started life punchin cows in Texas, — he began the saga of his adventures. He had roved from the gold fields of Alaska to the Mexican border — and beyond. He had been a ranger in Ari¬ zona, a lion hunter in Oregon, and had earned his bread variously on sea and sage-
The Cowboy and the Mexican 31
brush — yet he was only twenty-eight. Norma studied his lean face, — his steady gray eyes, his strong nose and the scar across one temple. It was a face that inspired trust, despite its homeliness. When, at dusk, they reached their nights camping place, he had woven for her a figure of ro¬ mance. Yet she felt that, if anything, he had under-stated his adventures. She wished boastful Tim might take Tex for his model. If Carlin were to make trou¬ ble, she would feel better about the expedi¬ tion if Tex were along — but the cowman, it seemed, had business in Visalia.
As the clouds had been gathering about the peaks all afternoon, they were not sur¬ prised when one blacker than the rest blew a thunder-storm across their path. Kear- sarge Pinnacles and the Videttes attracted storms, as they could see from the lush green of the meadows around the peninsula of higher ground on which they were to camp. First tying a little A-tent for the girl between two pines, they turned the an-
32 Adventures on the High Trail
imals loose, while lightning struck among the peaks, and thunder echoed back and forth. The mules, turning their heads away from the drive of the cold drops, fell to grazing along the curve of the swollen river. The supplies in the canvas kyacks they stacked and covered with a tarpaulin. Here Bart planned to cache the food that had been brought thus far on the dunnage mules: they would get it as the Club reached this part of the circuit, three weeks hence.
The men now stretched a lean-to with Texs tarp, threw their bed-rolls under in a row, and built a fire between that and the girls tent. The rain quieted to a steady patter, mule-bells tinkled here and there through the surrounding darkness, and Piute Joes wide bronze face beamed at the mounting stack of griddle-cakes. Tex had won Tims gratitude by teaching him how to flap them.
Tex had begun by raking the soft-wood from one end of the bed of embers over which Norma was cooking canned beans
The Covoboy and the Mexican 33
and tomatoes. He set his frying-pan to melting a liberal allotment from his can of cold bacon fat, then, stirring up a rather thin batter, he soon had a huge cake ready to turn. Tim watched with the fascinated eyes of the Boy Scout whose flap-jacks come to grief. The puncher tossed, and the browned cake landed neatly.
— Let me try one, — begged the youngster.
— You want to sorta loosen it first, — Tex explained, gently rotating the pan till the cake slid easily about. Tim took the han¬ dle. — Now, quick! — — The third attempt landed squarely, and Tims chest rose vis¬ ibly. — After that Tex was his model in all things culinary.
Meanwhile, Norma had been broiling ham and cooking canned tomatoes. Tim was to make the coffee. — I dont start with no hot water, — Tex volunteered. — Give me that pot.- Norma watched with interest. Filling the smoke-grimed kettle half full of cold water, he added the coffee and let it come to a boil. At that precise point he
34 Adventures on the High Trail
poured in more cold, and again let it come to the boil. This he repeated till the pot was full, dribbling the last of the cold water from as high as he could reach. The rain-sweet air was fragrant with that finest of all odors to a campers nostrils, and Norma invited: — Come and g-e-t it! — Soon the acute pangs of their mountain appetites had been somewhat eased.
— So youre to he in charge of feeding em? — Tex wondered skeptically, as he studied Normas flushed face, almost child¬ like as the rain fluffed her hair in ringlets about it. She had slipped a pair of boys blue overalls over her trim riding clothes while she stooped about the cook-fire, though she had brought a skirt and flannel middy to change to after the Chinese cooks had come. No one gave a thought to her attire, for skirts were an anachronism in the mountains.
— Norma knows how to feed people, all right, — Bart championed.
— Ill say she does, — Joe seconded him.
The Cowboy and the Meoeican 35
They lounged sociably about the fire till the pails of dishwater should be hot. — I re¬ member when she was — let me see, four years ago, I was sixteen and she was two years younger. Mother had to go to my aunt, who had fallen ill, just at the begin¬ ning of haying week. Whos going to cook for all those men? she kept worrying. It was hard enough to get help at all, those war years, and they wouldnt stay two days if they didnt get honest-to-goodness cooking. You just leave it to me! said Norma. Ill manage. — And she did! That kid just calmly went to work and made out a list of what she would have to order from the butcher, and what shed have each meal, and the day beforehand she baked a batch of pies and cake, all ready. (I ran the bread mixer for her.) And do you know, those men vowed at the end of the week that it was the best eating they had had in years.-
— All right, — teased Tex, — but I have to be shown.-
36 Adventures on the High Trail
— Then youll have to come back our way, — invited Norma.
— Shall I? — he asked her seriously.
— Youd enjoy meeting the Club, Im sure, — she evaded.
Tim also began urging the cowman to complete the trip with them.
— Well, — said Bart, — I am short one packer.-
— See here! — Tex lighted his pipe before continuing. — Dont you go to worryin none. Ive about decided to see this thing through myself.-
— Youre hired! — Bart thumped him re¬ joicingly.
That night the men were to take turns keeping an eye on the stock. Once a pan¬ ther screamed, away off on some mountain¬ side, and every-one awoke for a moment. Later they half awakened at the sound of another outfit pitching camp farther up the river. The young Indian had the last watch but one. Then came Bart.
The rain was over. To Barts surprise,
The Cowboy and the Mexican 37
he found that the stock had strayed. Only Moro remained behind. The young Indian still slept audibly under the now brilliant stars.
Following the hoof prints in the oozy meadow, he found — on a muddy knoll — where a huge hob-nailed boot had printed its signature. It was a fresh print, plainly made since the rain had ceased. The wearer evidently had flat feet, as Barts practised eye read the arrangement of the hob-nails, for they were peppered thick along the outer edge of the foot, and their print extended clear under the instep. The heel had been reinforced with one of the metal braces sometimes worn to keep it straight. Offhand, he could think of no one in his party whose boot was of that de¬ scription, but he made assurance doubly sure by an immediate inspection. — Let me see your sole, — he bade Tex, who, characteris¬ tically, complied without a question. — No, — Bart nodded to himself.
Three horses and a dozen mules were
38 Adventures on the High Trail
f oraging at the opposite end of the meadow, but they were not his stock. At his feet he found the bell of the lead mule. It had been unbuckled from his neck, as it could only have been done by human hands. Wrath- fully seeking out the campers who had ar¬ rived in the night, he came face to face with Carlin.
— Seen your mules? — roared the new¬ comer. — The questions an insult! — His neck reddened rancorously.
— Wouldnt I hev ketched em if Id seen em rovin? — Its an outrage! Steal a mans bread and butter from his mouth, and then expect him to help you at it! — He had begun to enjoy his own oratory.
Bart held his temper leashed. I thought you might have seen em, — he said evenly. — I noticed your footprint in the meadow just where my mules were driven out.- He had been eyeing Carlins boots, as they stood propped by the fire on two sticks. The design unquestionably matched the one
The Cowboy and the Mexican 39
he had seen. Carlin became speechless, apoplectic.
Tex sauntered casually up behind.
— If you dont mind, Mr. Carlin, — Barts voice was hard, — well just borrow a couple of horses while we round up the strays.- With a swift backward step he was on one of the horses, bareback, and Tex was on another, galloping away, before Carlin could protest.
They lost three hours in rounding up the foraging animals who, driven from the pas¬ ture, were roving the mountains on both sides of the river bed. — Thanks for a neighborly service, — said Bart, when he re¬ turned the horses. Carlin stared: the sar¬ casm was lost on him. — I knew, — Bart added, — you wouldnt want me to miss meet¬ ing my party on time at Giant Forest.-
— Ive got a party of my own to meet! — Carlin exploded, with garnishments of a variety in which he was proficient.
— Hm! — ejaculated the cowman, his eyes
40 Adventures on the High Trail
narrowing. And Carlin dont wish you no good luck. — Ive got it, Sister! — How does this listen? That hombre, Carlin, hed just be tickled if you was to miss your party at Giant Forest. Mebbe-so. He aims to be there hisself, in case there was need to take the crowd off your hands.-
— He wouldnt dare — ! —
— Mebbe not. Bullies are generally cow¬ ards.-
The dawn that followed their starlit breakfast was one that filled them with amazed ecstasy. As the white clouds rose above the pinnacles, first the bare granite dome of East Vidette caught fire, while yet the watchers stood in shadow. The snow that still traced the pattern of the crevasses glittered silver against the rose; then as the warming sunshine crept lower, the dark tips of the wet pine trees caught its gilded rays and shown lacy against the vivid blue above them.
They would have a long day, going down into Kings Canyon and out again, — for the
The Cowboy and the Mexican 41
canvas hotel owned the pasture on the Can¬ yon floor. Their trail would be the same the Club would cover on the last lap of its cir¬ cuit. Norma stared as if she could never get her fill of the purple peaks and spire¬ like pinnacles, and the green tracery of forest growth against the granite.
The trail now led precariously along shifting stones as fine as hard coal, now over the rounded cobblestones of a rivulet of melted snow, slippery with wet moss, and again between gigantic boulders that had been stranded there in the last glacial pe¬ riod, when the river of ice ground out the titanic box canyon before them. There were places where the trail rounded the sheer drop of a cliff, and a mis-step would have meant catastrophe, and there was the park-like level of the canyon floor, — eight miles of open forest aisles through which the river coursed soundingly.
Tex, holding the reins and his lead rope in one hand, while he deftly felt in the pock¬ ets of his sheepskin vest for — the mak-
42 Adventures on the High Trail
ings, — rolled himself a cigarette, and watched while Morgan cinched up prepara¬ tory to the down grade. His own saddle had been centre-fire; he was new to double¬ rig. Consequently he attempted to tighten the rear cinch first, whereat the animal promptly bucked. Norma could not re¬ strain a laugh at his expense, but he joined in even more heartily. — She liked that.
— I spotted him for a tenderfoot, Tex con¬ fided, — the minute I took in them pants of his, — referring to the cloth riding-breeches behind the goatskin chaps. Texs worn cowhide chaps fronted nothing more pictur¬ esque than ordinary pantaloons.
— Yes, — Norma retorted, — he never claimed to be a real puncher. Hes a Jun¬ ior at the U. C. Hes just helping us out for a spree.-
Carlins outfit trailed along behind them.
When they came to the first branch of the river that they had to cross, the melting snow of the higher elevations had swollen the green water till the animals could no
The Cowboy and the Mexican 43
longer ford it with dry packs, and Bart started to lead them across the narrow log foot-bridge. At this, the horses shied, then capered skittishly across. But the mules, true to their donkey heritage, refused to set foot on the unstable structure. Obdu¬ rate alike to bribes and blows, they simply braced all fours and stood immovable, their great ears laid back and their eyes rolling till the whites showed. With their small feet, mules are apt to mire in a boggy place, and they know it.
The cowmans soft felt sombrero, which, dented into a mountain peak sloping to¬ wards the back, served him variously for bellows, water-pail, and pillow, sun-shade, wind-break, and umbrella, now slapped re¬ soundingly on the haunches of the soldier¬ ing mules, — and Tims imitatively dented headgear also punished the errant ones.
16 Come on, you Goat, you! — Tex adjured the white mule, pulling him out on the wob¬ bly foot-bridge by sheer force.
The Goat gave one snort and backed off
44 Adventures on the High Trail
into the river. Landing on his haunches in three feet of water, he simply sat there, ears turned forward inquiringly, all fours thrust straight out in front of him, his pack slipped around under his belly.
Bart and Tex finally had to wade into the river to help the white mule to his feet, and right his pack. With his ears saying volumes, as he sat in mid-stream, he had been comical.
After that the pack-train was more skit¬ tish than ever about the foot-bridge. Bart had an idea. Cutting green boughs, he had the packers line both sides of the bridge with upstanding branches, — which they held temporarily in place by an ar¬ rangement of their lariats. The mules, seeing what now appeared to be a trail through the woods, for they do not see plainly what lies to one side, allowed them¬ selves to be led across. There was a second of the narrow log foot-bridges and a shal¬ low ford, but at last they were all across.
Carlin had stood by, watching skepti-
The Cowboy and the Mexican 45
cally, and nowise lending a hand. That did not prevent him, though, from afterwards taking advantage of the means to get his own mules across.
The view, as they climbed out of the Can¬ yon, was superb. Just before dark the trail widened on a small area of level ground with a fenced tourist pasture that was Sum¬ mit Meadow. It was a poor place to camp, because there was only a muddy trickle of water for any purpose, but they were too exhausted, mules and men, to go farther. Carlins outfit went on, — probably to a mea¬ dow two miles farther. At the drawn look in Normas white face, Tex tried to bully her into crawling into her sleeping-bag and letting him bring her plate when supper was ready, but she insisted on doing her share of the camp work.
She also found time to take her horse a piece of apple and a lump of sugar. Gentle Prince whom she had raised from a colt, and who always responded to the lightest touch of her heel when she rode, laid his
46 Adventures on the High Trail
brown velvet muzzle warmly against her cheek. She had curried him to a glossy satin before they started the trip, and she feasted her eyes on his graceful beauty. — I do think horses are all but human, — she told Tex, as she caught Princes great soft eyes following her about the camp grounds.
She was glad the Mexican was gone, for she had more than once caught his little black eyes watching covetously as she patted the high arched neck of the slender footed pony. Prince had racing blood in his veins, and Norma meant to train him to steeple¬ chase over fallen logs when cruising off the trail.
Tex told of a horse he used to have, that had saved his life on the Mexican border. When the cowman — then a Ranger — had been shot from ambush and his leg broken, he had whistled that horse to his side amid flying bullets, and the faithful animal had knelt till the man was in the saddle and roped to his back, — a wise precaution, — for ten hours later the horse had come into
The Cowboy and the Mexican 47
headquarters with the now unconscious man on his back.
— I think Prince would do as much for me/ Norma commented.
That night she was startled from her dreams by a scream from Prince, — an awful, agonized scream that took her to him on the run. A sheath knife stuck in his quivering flank: it had cut a gash inches deep. Norma found it had just missed the big artery. From the tail of her eye she had caught a human form that disappeared into the shadow of the manzanita bushes, but just now her whole thought must be given to preventing Prince from bleeding to death.
AN EXCITING NIGHT
O NLY by prompt action did Norma save her horse.
Rousing Bart and Tex, she found herself unable to take the necessary stitches with the first aid kit: she had to leave that to Tex, while she stood at Princes head. With the ponys clean young blood, the cowman as¬ sured her from his own experience, that the red gash would heal quickly, though of course she could not ride him for some time. But he thought Prince could follow the hikers from day to day, provided he did not have to forage all night. Norma would buy oats for him at Giant Forest and carry enough to help materially for at least two weeks. She would ride little Tinker, the mule, till Bart had a chance to pick up an-48
An Exciting Night 49
other saddle horse. If Prince was not fit to ride by the time they circled around to Vidette, she would leave him there till their return to Three Pines.
Bart, meantime, had gone on moccasined feet to investigate a mysterious biped who crossed the far end of the pasture. The sheath knife pulled from Princes flank had been the Mexicans! Keeping to the sha¬ dows of the manzanita bushes, he heard a sound of sibilant whispering. His own name pricked his ear. Holding so still that he hardly breathed, he heard: — You havent earned your money.-
— I tell you, I keel dat orse. He die, sure. Den wat? It all help.-
— I didnt tell you to kill a horse. I said, keep them from getting in to the Forest to¬ morrow.-
— Give me d cash.-
— You havent earned it yet.- It was Carlins voice, for he had changed the whis¬ per to a low voiced rumble.
The other voice now proved to be that of
50 Adventures on the High Trail
the Mexican. — I tell you. I feex it tomor night sure! —
— How? —
— Ifind way.-
— Youll get no money from me unless you queer this trip before it starts. Thats flat! — The larger figure strode off up the trail, the other following at a little distance.
Bart felt like having it out with them right there, but decided to wait.
He thought grimly: — Forewarned is fore-armed — but against what? He meant to keep a double watch that night — a pre¬ caution that postponed the Mexicans re¬ turn.
They made Cahoon Meadows the next afternoon, — eight miles from Giant Forest. Carlin was there before them. They had been assigned a camp site at Crescent Mea¬ dow, — a special courtesy on the part of the Park officials. Here would be lush pasture, good water, and a thickly carpeted grove of yellow pines for the sleepers. — Carlin too, had been assigned one end of the Meadow.
An Exciting Night 51
Norma had ridden the little mule before: he trotted along directly behind a certain pack-mule whom he had previously selected as the proper one to follow, and Norma had rather to hold him back than to urge him. The only trouble came when she wanted to make a detour, and Tinker thought best to continue following the pack-train. In the argument that followed, Tinker proved to have a tough mouth and a mulish disposi¬ tion, and they compromised by following the pack-train, — after which the little rascal again trotted meekly along on his small, neat hoofs. His ears rotated placidly save when he heard his name pronounced, when back would go one of those rabbit-like mem¬ bers like a funnel to catch the sound.
Bart bought Norma a lean ex-racing mare from the tourist corral at Giant Forest, and thereafter, where others would have forded a small stream, Norma found herself sailing over it, with Sylph leaping like a greyhound. Sylph could not endure seeing any horse get ahead of her on the
52 Adventures on the High Trail
trail: she would race till she had overtaken him and again held the lead. Norma de¬ cided there was no reason why the ex-racers temperament should not be indulged on that point. Sylph was not bred to the trail, though, and had to be guided, as the others did not.
Poor Prince walked with drooping head behind the last of the pack-train, one leg stiff, though healing rapidly. At every pool and stream he drank feverishly, but he was unwilling to be left behind. Norma petted him lavishly each night when he came into camp.
On the fifth day after the departure from Three Pines, Barts patient procession — despite the delay caused by straying stock — filed past the tent colonies at Giant Forest in time to meet the half hundred dusty en¬ thusiasts in hiking clothes who, with their half hundred dunnage bags, were disgorged from the Visalia motor stage and its sup¬ plementary vans. A fine air of good fel¬ lowship initiated the expedition. Norma
53 An Exciting Night
was relieved to find her two Chinese stu¬ dents not only good cooks, but as cheerful and courteous as their English was impec¬ cable. She was hugely delighted when, in reply to some ones question: — What time you catch-em grub? — she replied: — Din¬ ner will be ready about six.- That first night Norma asked Tim and Morg to stand with her behind the row of kettles and serv¬ ing-pans ranged on the smoothed upper side of a log as the cafeteria line formed with their white enamel plates and their tin cups, but no sooner had she started la¬ dling the steaming soup into the cups than a ruddy faced, motherly voiced woman asked: — Wont you let me help? — It was Mrs. Clark, the Presidents wife. Norma knew the members of the Sierra Club volunteered that way, but she was glad to have some one set the pace.
She eyed the assemblage appraisingly, that night at the bonfire. Dr. Clark was joviality itself. In his first speech he sent them into gales of laughter by his account
54 Adventures on the High Trail
of the hypothetical hardships they would have to undergo. He made Norma think of a pirate, with his red bandanna bound, Club fashion, above his shaggy black brow, his rich out-door color and his generous propor¬ tions. — Yo, heave ho! and a bottle of rum! — she quoted softly to herself.
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