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Brighty: Of the Grand Canyon (Marguerite Henry Horseshoe Library #5)by Marguerite Henry
As the summer days passed, Brighty became Uncle Jim's steady companion in all his work. By and by he actually went on lion hunts.
One cool, bracing morning in late July the very air seemed charged with expectancy. A heavy dew had drenched the earth, and lion scent promised to be sharp and clean.
Everyone was eager to be off, Uncle Jim and his hounds and Brighty and the mules. But most excited of all were the special guests, President Theodore Roosevelt and his towheaded son, Quentin. They had come all the way from the capital city for Quentin's first cougar hunt.
Just as gray dawn gave way to sunrise, the party took off. Brighty alone wore a warning bell, as he was the only animal young and tender enough for lions to attack.
"Ah!" the President exclaimed as the company jog-trotted out of Uncle Jim's meadow. "This is the way to live. Close to earth and sky." Then he chuckled. "With a dash of danger to give it spice!"
There was no need for answer. Everyone was feeling the bigness of the morning — hounds whiffing and carrying their tails well up, pack mules stepping out on a slack rope, and Brighty capering in the dew, as if this were the morning of the world.
For a mile or so they wound through the forest toward the canyon rim, and as the trees gave way to thicket the youngest hound began yipping and running in circles.
Quentin cantered up alongside Uncle Jim. "Lion?"
"Nope," snorted Uncle Jim. "Rabbit!" Then he wheeled his mule, and with Brighty helping, drove the overeager pup back into the pack.
Uncle Jim as he rode flung little pebbles that struck the earth a mere inch or so behind the hound. "Less'n I have a nosebag of li'l bitty stones," he called to Quentin, "one o' the youngsters goes kitin' off on rabbits and upsets the hull pack."
With the pebbles to remind them, the hounds settled down to lion business in earnest, their noses lower than ever. They fanned out as they moved through the underbrush, scenting cold trails too old to puzzle out. And they came in again. And they scattered until Brighty was bewildered, not knowing which to tail.
It was well toward noon when Old Bones, a bluetick hound, bayed the news that he had found fresh lion scent.
"Hear 'im! Hear 'im!" Uncle Jim shouted to the pack.
With a rush the others hit the line behind Bones and broke out in full cry. Their voices rang quivering in the air, and the very melody made Brighty's blood quicken.
Instantly he was on his toes, flying with the pack, pounding along the forest duff, dodging tree trunks, jumping fallen logs, galloping along the rim. He could hear Uncle Jim whooping and hollering behind, and the air gone wild with hound music and mules snorting and hoofs beating. And under his chin his own tinkly bell adding to the tumult.
Suddenly in the rimrock ahead the tawny body of a full-grown lion leaped from a tree and disappeared over the rim into a tangle of scrub oak. The pack was after him, a screaming stream of bodies, diving into the cover.
Although the brush was heavy in shadow, Brighty, trotting along the rim, could see their tails waving him on. Their cries, too, stirred him with excitement. To him the hunt meant but two things — keeping pace with the hounds or, better still, setting pace! He saw ahead a notch in the rim and flew toward it. And now he was scrambling down the notch through spiny undergrowth, picking his way carefully. All the while the hounds were coming along toward him. Now to outsmart them!
Breath snorting in his nostrils, he skidded down the steep red cliffs, almost sitting on his haunches. He landed on a little shelf of rock that ran along the wall several hundred yards.
As he minced along this ledge, he was enjoying the threeway race — mules and men on the rim, hounds lower down thrashing through the cover, and lower still he, Brighty, tittuping along, sending little stones spitting into space.
Meanwhile the mountain lion kept to cover, gliding through the close-growing oak on thickly padded feet. He ran with stealthy, flowing step, and the color of his fur was one with the sand and the shadows.
Minutes passed, and more minutes, and just when the scent seemed hottest, the lion shot from cover, up the rock layer parallel with the hounds. For a few yards he dashed forward, then dropped again into the thicket.
The hounds, baffled, broke out too, casting themselves in and out of the underbrush, trying to regain the scent. Up on the rim Uncle Jim cheered lustily, yelling to each by name. "You own him, Bones; go away with him! Hunt him up, Warbler! Try on, Possum! Go into 'im, Younker and Whiffet!"
His cheering was magic. Old Bones pushed on and hit the line again. With a shrill cry he voiced his find to the rest of the hounds.
Brighty had no thought but the fun of the race. He did not see the big cat now heading for a yellow pine in a hollow, now climbing up the trunk like a lineman up a telephone pole. He was conscious only of hound music, wild and shrill, and that he was leading the pack, dancing along his ledge loose and free, his bell sounding his own excitement and joy.
Up in the pine tree, right up in the open sunlight, the lion glanced from side to side. His enemies were closing in. On the rim above, the men with rifles ready; behind him, the panting, blood-hungry hounds; and far below, the yawning chasm. But near below, his cunning eyes spied a gray creature traveling with the wind, his back a safe landing place.
As a fish leaps when it is hooked, so the cougar made one stupendous leap. He landed with a thump on the burro's back, and the jar drove Brighty to his knees. Then he was up, bucking in terror as he fled, trying to shake loose his fearsome rider. The ledge was narrowing into the face of the cliff now, and he tried to scrape the lion off before they would both go hurtling into space. He tried again, a desperate bucking and a scraping, but the weight was still there.
And now the ledge tapering finer and finer, and death riding on his back and rocky death below, and his blood beating with the powerful urge to live. He wheeled on his hind legs, and his forelegs went clawing up the bare wall toward the patch of cover. Above him three rifles pointed and three bullets pinged the silence as a mass of fur and fangs and claws went mushrooming into the briar. Almost at once a lasso whirred through the air, encircled its thrashing prey, and pulled the great beast to the rim, the hounds yelping behind.
Brighty shuddered his coat to make sure he was rid of his burden. Except for the stinging scratches on his neck and shoulders, he found he was not really hurt. So with a happy grunt he went bounding up to join the mules and the men.
The President and Quentin and Uncle Jim, too, made a great fuss over him, as if he were a hero come home from the wars. No one could tell whose bullet it was that had killed the lion, but each of the hunters secretly felt sure it was his own.
When Uncle Jim saw that the claw marks on Brighty's back were not deep, he busied himself skinning and butchering the cougar, throwing a piece to each of the hounds. He talked while he worked.
"Fear instinct, I'm thinkin', is what told Brighty to come toward us 'stead o' leapin' into the abyss. But now, gentlemen, if he'll pack this skin, then he's a hero sure 'nough."
The President and Quentin stood silent, watching while Uncle Jim used his knife with quick, sure strokes. When he had loaded the meat on the pack mules, he rolled up the hide and tied it with a thong.
"Now, don't ye do this if'n ye ain't a mind to," he said to Brighty. "If ye're frighted o' the lion smell you just skedaddle and I'll hoist 'er up on my ole mule."
Brighty took a whiff of the skin and seemed to know that now it held no danger. He stood transfixed, letting Uncle Jim lace it on his back while Quentin stroked him and whispered into his ear.
The President was mightily impressed. "You're game, Brighty!" he exclaimed, looking into the quizzical brown eyes.
"Ye're durn tootin' he is, Mister President!" Uncle Jim agreed. "'Tain't easy to pack yer enemy, dead or alive. I kin see his heart tappin' to double time and his nose hatin' the job. But he'll do 'er!"
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