If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing. — Benjamin Franklin

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




A Try at the "Grand Peak"

Early in the morning the lieutenant set the men at work cutting down fourteen trees, for stockade be logs. A stockade was a fort. This fort was to only a pen, open on the river and five feet high on the three other sides.

Soldiers John Brown and Terry Miller were the men chosen. That made a party of five. They all took only a blanket or robe apiece, and a little dried meat, besides their guns and Stub's bow and arrows. They started horseback at one o'clock, to cross the river and travel up the north fork, for the Grand Peak.

The men paused long enough to give three cheers, and wave their caps.

"Bon voyage (Good journey)," Baroney called. "Good luck to yez."

"We'll be lookin' for you back."

"When ye get to the top, be lightin' us a bonfire, Terry."

The lieutenant raised his hat, in reply. The doctor waved, the two soldiers and Stub waved. And the five splashed through the ice-cold water and left the eleven men under Sergeant Meek to build the fort.

According to the doctor, this was the twenty-fourth day of the month named November. By the morning light the Grand Peak, glistening white, had looked to be nearer than ever. The lieutenant was certain that a half-day's march would bring them to its base; to-morrow they would climb it, and would be back in camp on the third day.

Mile after mile they hastened, their eyes scanning the distance before. The route up along the small fork was gravelly and bare, except for clumps of sage brush, and the willows bordering the stream. In places they had to cross deep washes cut by the rains. Not a living thing was sighted, save rabbits and prairie-dogs and a few antelope. And the

Grand Peak and the line of lesser peaks—some white, some steel-gray, waited.

The sun sank low and lower, over their southern end. The Grand Peak grew bluer and colder, and the other mountains darkened.

The lieutenant and the doctor led. They always rode together. Stub and soldiers Miller and Brown followed close behind. After a while they all quit the stream, to strike westward, on a trail more direct. Soldier Miller scratched his head, on which the hair was long.

"It's a queer thing, John," he said. "There it is, that peak—and there it's been for more'n a hundred miles, with us a-making for it and never reaching it."

"We'll not reach it this day, that's sure, lad," answered John. "We've covered ten miles, and you'd think we'd been standin' still!"

In two miles more the sun had set. The shadows of the mountains seemed to extend out over the plain and turn it dark and cold. Stub pulled his robe closer around his neck. Now the Grand Peak had changed to deep purple—it had pulled its own robe up, for the night.

The lieutenant and the doctor suddenly veered aside, to a single low cedar, the only tree of the kind, around. There they halted and swung from their saddles.

"We'll make camp, men," the lieutenant ordered. "The base of the mountain evidently is farther than we had figured. But we'll reach it to-morrow morning, easily, and doubtless the top also, before night."

This was a cold camp—very cold with the breath from the mountains. They had dried buffalo-meat to chew on, but no water except that in the canteens, and the lieutenant wished to save on water, for the climb.

He started them out again early, before sunrise. They headed for the Grand Peak. The horses were stiff, from the night, and thirsty, and moved slowly at first. Presently the sun rose. The Grand Peak flashed white in its beams, and assuredly was near. The foothills at its base were dark green: trees.

And there they stayed, the peak and the foothills, all day! Stub's eyes ached with gazing. Soldier Brown grumbled a little.

"It's a wild-goose chase. I've said that no man will ever climb yon peak. We'll wear out ourselves and our hosses for nothin'. Even if we ever reach the foot of it, look what's ahead of us."

"You may be sure the cap'n'll climb it, whether or no," retorted soldier Miller. "He's set out to do it, and do it he will."

"Oh, well; we're gettin' into a more likely country, anyhow," John granted. "The sign is better—that's one comfort."

This was true. They were entering among low hills, covered with cedars and pines. Up and down, up and down, and winding over and through, they hopefully pushed on—and from each rise they might see the long dark-green slope of the Grand Peak more plainly. What a tremendous huge fellow he was, as he towered, shadow-flecked, into the floating clouds! The clouds veiled his top; he pierced them, and thus he sat gazing above the world.

"Gosh!" murmured John Brown. "He's a neck-cracker."

Toward evening the lieutenant and doctor, in advance and just crossing another of the many rolling hills, shouted back, and waved.

"Almost there, men!"

When the three others toiled up to the same place, they saw. A shallow valley lay before; at the farther edge the timbered slope of the Grand Peak commenced.

Hurrah!

Several buffalo were feeding, below. The lieutenant and the doctor made a dash for them—cleverly headed them off, shot rapidly, and downed two.

"Fresh hump for supper," cheered Terry. "I could eat a whole one, myself."

"Sure, I could drink a river dry, first," wheezed John. "Do you mind that we've struck no water since mornin'?"

"Water there," Stub hazarded, pointing at a line of lighter green near the foot of the mountain.

They arrived below in time to help butcher the buffalo while the lieutenant and the doctor rode on looking for a good camping place. It was too late to do anything more this day.

A good camp spot was found on a little creek of ice cold water from several springs flowing out of the mountain's base.

"Here we are at last, lads," the lieutenant welcomed, as they brought the meat in. "We've wood, meat and water, and to-morrow we'll climb to the top. Success awaits us."

"It's been a long pull, eh?" laughed the doctor. "How about you, Stub? Are you game? I mean, are you ready to try?"

"I go," Stub announced.

"With the cap'n's permission we'll all go, sir," added soldier Miller. "'Twill be a view worth the seeing, up yonder above the clouds."

"No tellin' what we'll find, I reckon," put in John Brown.

"Whatever happens, we'll be content in the knowledge that we're losing no opportunity," the lieutenant declared. "When we stand up there, on what may prove to be the uttermost southwestern border of the United States, we will have extended the authority of the Flag into a region doubtless never before penetrated by man."

"And procured considerable geographic information," said the doctor.

"Yes, sir. The Government will be enabled to revise its atlases with accuracy, according to our new data as to the course of certain rivers, and the National boundary between the United States and the Mexican territory westward. And we may perceive a route that will take us directly from the Arkansaw to the head of the Red River and the Comanche country."

The long slope of the mountain rose dark and brooding right above them. They were so close in that from the campfire they could not see the top, but they felt the snow whitely waiting, up toward the black sky beyond the million stiffly marshaled, sighing pines.

Yes, cold it was, even here at the base; much colder than last night, out on the plain. In spite of the fire, their coverings were all too thin. At breakfast, before sun-up in the morning, the lieutenant's instrument by which he read the cold said nine degrees above freezing. In his moccasins, made from a piece of his buffalo-robe, Stub's feet tingled. Several days back John Sparks had given him an old pair of cotton trousers, cut off at the knees, but these did not seem to amount to much, here. Still, Terry Miller and John Brown had nothing better, and their bare toes peeped through the holes in their shoes.

"We'll leave the camp as it is," the lieutenant briskly ordered. "We'll be back by night, so we'll not need our blankets or meat. See that the horses are well staked, Miller, where they'll be able to drink and forage during the day."

Doctor Robinson had gone outside for a minute. They heard his gun. He came in, packing a partly dressed deer.

"It's a new kind, lieutenant," he panted.

"Good. We'll hang up the hide, to inspect later."

The new kind of deer—a large deer with ears like mule ears—was quickly butchered. They hung its hide and the best of the meat upon a tree, until their return at evening.

"Forward march, to the top, men," the lieutenant bade. "Take only your guns and ammunition. Never mind the canteens. We'll find plenty of water, I'm sure. All ready, doctor?"

"All ready."

With the lieutenant in the lead and Stub bringing up the rear, they attacked the timbered slope. Puff, puff! Wheeze, wheeze! The pine needles underfoot and the frosty soil were slippery. Clouds veiled the sky, the timber depths were dark and cold, but presently they all were sweating. Gulches and draws cut the way, so that by sliding down in and clambering out, or else making circuits they lost much time. The mountain fought them with cliffs and canyons, too, and sometimes they could scarcely make distance on hands and knees. Now and then they had to halt, to rest and catch breath.

Once or twice they jumped the new species of deer, from sudden coverts; there were many large birds, that rose with loud whirr. "Pheasants," the doctor and lieutenant called them. And twice, in the early morning, they saw buffalo feeding—a smaller buffalo than those upon the plains.

But they did not stop to hunt any of these.

About mid-morning they paused to rest again, and gaze behind from an open rocky knoll. The sun had burst forth.

"A fine day after all," panted the lieutenant.

"Yes, sir, up here. But look below. Ain't that a snowstorm, sir?" wheezed Terry Miller. The feet of him and of John Brown, where seen through their worn-out shoes, were bruised and bleeding. Stub's moccasins were shredded and soaked. The feet of the lieutenant and the doctor were in no better shape.

Now when they gazed backward and down, they looked upon a layer of dull cloud. With occasional break, the cloud rested over all the country at the mountain's base—and through the breaks might be seen the spume of falling snow!

"We've come some way, eh?" remarked the doctor. "Thank fortune, we're above the storm. We ought to be near the top."

But peer as they might, they could not see the top. The timber and the rocks extended on and on and on.

"A pair o' stockin's would feel mighty good, on this kind of a trip," muttered John Brown. "'Tain't what you'd call a barefoot trail, in winter."

They rested a minute, the men leaning upon their muskets. Then—

"Come, boys," the lieutenant urged impatiently. "One more stint and we'll make it. Forget your feet. Think only of the top."

They climbed, breathing short and fast while they clambered and slipped. At noon they still had not reached the top; several times the top seemed at hand, but when they glimpsed it, shining white, it always was across another ridge, and higher.

Stub's ears rang, his heart drummed, his feet weighed like lead. The two soldiers staggered and stumbled. The snowstorm below appeared far. But the lieutenant and the doctor knew no quitting.

"We'll not reach it, this day," gasped John Brown. "'Tis the same old story. Marchin', and marchin', and never gettin' there."

"Anyhow, we'll reach it to-morrow," Terry replied.

The sun sank; the air grew very cold. Up here there was nothing moving but themselves; the deer and the pheasants and the squirrels had gone to bed. The pines were soughing mournfully in an evening breeze.

The lieutenant came to a stop before a reddish cliff which overhung and formed a shallow cave.

"We've done enough for one day," he panted. Even he looked tired out. "I think we'll gain the top shortly in the morning. We're into snow, and the trees are thinning; the top cannot be far. We'll take advantage of this cave, for the night. It's a shelter, at least."

"That's one piece of luck," the doctor laughed.

"We'll bunk together, so as to keep warm," announced the lieutenant. "We'll waive question of rank—we're all men, serving our Flag."

He made no mention of the fact that they were tired, hungry and thirsty after a long day's climb, and that they did not have blankets or food or water. He seemed to think that if he could stand it, they should stand it, too, for the sake of duty. That was his style—that was one reason the men loved him. He never asked them to do more than he did, and he never took his ease even when he might, as commander.

But this proved to be a miserable night. The fire at the mouth of the cave smudged and smouldered. The rock bed was hard and cold. There was nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to see; all around stretched the slope of the mountain, black and white and silent and lifeless—and cold, cold, cold.

Nobody slept much, as they all lay huddled close to each other for mutual warmth. They only dozed shiveringly, afraid to move for fear of losing what little warmth they were making.

It seemed to Stub that he had just dropped off, at last, when he was aroused.

The lieutenant was standing outside the cave. Daylight had come.

"Up, men," the lieutenant cried. "See this view! Oh, doctor! Be quick. It's glorious."

They piled out, with sundry grunts and groans over muscles stiffened by yesterday's work and by the hard bed. The lieutenant had spoken truly. The sky overhead was flushed rosily with sunrise—a clear day, here; but the storm still raged down below. The clouds there extended, level, in a thick layer of drab and white and pink, closing off the plains world from the mountain world.

"And yonder is the top, boys." The lieutenant pointed. "It's nearer than we thought. Let's try for it now, and get back to camp and our supplies before dark."

He struck out and upward; in single file they followed, trudging through the brittle snow, and weaving among the pines. The final white ridge which their eyes had been marking during most of yesterday loomed large and plain above.

The snow gradually deepened. Its surface bore not a trace of foot or paw or hoof. Soon it was to their knees, soon thigh high; but they were out from the trees and upon the bald space which formed the top.

Only a few more steps, now, through snow waist high, with rocks and gravel underfoot. Whew! Now for it! Hooray! The lieutenant was there first, to halt, and gaze about.

"Is that it, lieutenant?" puffed the doctor, anxiously.

Terry Miller huskily cheered, stumbled, but forged ahead.

The lieutenant stood, fixedly peering beyond.

"What!" uttered the doctor, arrived.

"It's the wrong Peak, men," quietly said the lieutenant, his voice flat in the thin air. "Yes, the wrong peak."

The others floundered to him and the doctor, to gaze also. They all leaned heavily upon their guns. fire at the mouth of the cave smudged and smouldered. The rock bed was hard and cold. There was nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to see; all around stretched the slope of the mountain, black and white and silent and lifeless—and cold, cold, cold.

Nobody slept much, as they all lay huddled close to each other for mutual warmth. They only dozed shiveringly, afraid to move for fear of losing what little warmth they were making.

It seemed to Stub that he had just dropped off, at last, when he was aroused.

The lieutenant was standing outside the cave. Daylight had come.

"Up, men," the lieutenant cried. "See this view! Oh, doctor! Be quick. It's glorious."

They piled out, with sundry grunts and groans over muscles stiffened by yesterday's work and by the hard bed. The lieutenant had spoken truly. The sky overhead was flushed rosily with sunrise—a clear day, here; but the storm still raged down below. The clouds there extended, level, in a thick layer of drab and white and pink, closing off the plains world from the mountain world.

"And yonder is the top, boys." The lieutenant pointed. "It's nearer than we thought. Let's try for it now, and get back to camp and our supplies before dark."

He struck out and upward; in single file they followed, trudging through the brittle snow, and weaving among the pines. The final white ridge which their eyes had been marking during most of yesterday loomed large and plain above

The snow gradually deepened. Its surface bore not a trace of foot or paw or hoof. Soon it was to their knees, soon thigh high; but they were out from the trees and upon the bald space which formed the top.

Only a few more steps, now, through snow waist high, with rocks and gravel underfoot. Whew! Now for it! Hooray! The lieutenant was there first, to halt, and gaze about.

"Is that it, lieutenant?" puffed the doctor, anxiously.

Terry Miller huskily cheered, stumbled, but forged ahead.

The lieutenant stood, fixedly peering beyond. "What!" uttered the doctor, arrived.

"It's the wrong peak, men," quietly said the lieutenant, his voice flat in the thin air. "Yes, the Wrong peak."

The others floundered to him and the doctor, to gaze also. They all leaned heavily upon their guns. Stub's legs trembled; he had nothing upon which to lean; but he stared, wide-eyed, his heart thumping.

It was the top. On the other side the mountain fell away, in a long, long snowy timbered slope, down into a deep, broad valley of dark pines; and at the farther edge of the valley there arose a mountain again—a snow-capped, much higher mountain: the Grand Peak itself!

"And all our climb's for nothin', you say, sir?" wheezed John Brown. "We're not on the Grand Peak at all?"

"No. But our climb had not been for naught. We've done our best, as soldiers." The lieutenant's tone was dull and disappointed.

"I don't see how we made the mistake," the doctor proffered. "We thought that we were at the true base."

"We had no means of telling otherwise, doctor. This mountain looked to be a part of that other; but that other is separate, and twice as high. I judge it's fully fifteen miles distant, now."

"Shall we try for it, sir?" Terry Miller asked. "The day's young, sir."

The lieutenant shook his head decisively.

"Not this trip, Miller. 'Twould take a whole day to reach its base. You and Brown have no stockings, we none of us have proper clothing—no blankets, no provisions, and there's little prospect of game. We've come so far, and taxed our strength to the limit. Comparing the height of that mountain with this, I believe that no human being can climb the Grand Peak and survive. It is a region of eternal snow, barred to all vestige of life. We'll go back while we can. We have performed our duty, and we can see nothing from up here by reason of the cloud bank."

He looked at his thermometer.

"Four degrees below zero." Zero was the freezing-point.

He glanced sharply about.

"We must make haste. The storm is rising on us."

And even as he spoke the air turned raw and cloud wreaths began to float around them. So they back-tracked as fast as they could, and guided by a convenient ravine followed it down with such speed that they reached their camp at the base before dark, but in a snowstorm.

"Well," sighed John Brown. "The horses are safe, but the birds and beasts have eaten our deer and everything else."

The lieutenant shot a pheasant; of their meat there was left only two deer-ribs; and they drank and ate.

"Rather limited rations, for five hungry persons after a two-days' fast," the doctor joked.

"'We have our blankets, and we are safe, sir," the lieutenant answered. "Such a matter as diet should not enter into the calculations of men who explore the wilderness. They must expect only what they will get."

"The little cap'n's a man o' iron; he's not flesh and blood," Terry murmured, to John and Stub. "But I reckon he'd not refuse a bit more rib, himself."

"With him, when your belt's at the last hole, why, cut another," said John.

However, safe they were, although still very hungry. In the morning they rode down the creek, constantly getting lower and finding less snow. Just after noon the men shot two buffalo. That made a full feast—the first square meal in three days. So to-night they camped more comfortably under some shelving rock, outside the hills.

The place seemed to he a favorite camp ground for Indians, also. The valley was strewn with their horse sign, and with broken lodge-poles and old lodge-pins. The lieutenant thought that these had been Ietan or Comanche camps, and was much interested.

The next afternoon they sighted the stockade; they were almost home.

"The flag's still flying. Thank God, the party's all right," exclaimed the lieutenant. "Give them a cheer, boys, when we arrive. We return disappointed, but not defeated, and far from conquered."

The hoarse cheer was answered. The soldiers—Sergeant Meek, Corporal Jerry Jackson, Freegift Stout, Alec Roy, and all—trooped out, to stand in line and present arms as the lieutenant, leading, rode through the gate. He saluted them like an officer again, and smiled wanly as if glad to be back.